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An Inquiry into the natural Order of Precedence between Population and the Production of Food.
To establish this order of precedence on either side by an invariable rule, applicable to all states of society, would be an attempt quite as desperate, and almost as wise, as to determine the famous question with respect to the comparative eligibility of a black or a bay horse for the commencement of a journey. If the respective condition of the animals, and not their colour, is the true criterion by which to determine the question as to any two particular horses, the condition of the people, and the state of society in which they may happen to be, will afford data no less conclusive, on which to settle the order of precedence between population and production, as to any particular community. The object is to ascertain the precise means by which population can be permanently encouraged, and food provided for it; or in more technical phraseology, whether agriculture be the efficient cause of the increase of population, or population of the increase of agriculture. On this subject different opinions have been entertained by the writers on political economy, each very much according with the view of the question taken by its author in connexion with the particular system of society with which he has been chiefly conversant. Such a result is natural, and gives just ground for concluding that a comparison of their various opinions, conducted
upon more enlarged principles, may lead to a reasonable compromise. I shall not enter at length into the question as it relates to the earlier stages of society; indeed it scarcely admits of doubt or dispute. Before the hunter, or the shepherd, or the savage tribe of the desert, will betake themselves to the labours of husbandry, they must of course be urged to the exertion by the pressure of want. This pressure can only arise from a population increasing beyond the scanty means of subsistence; population is clearly therefore in this case the efficient cause of agriculture. But to advance to periods more interesting to ourselves:— It is perfectly clear that the ends of all cultivation are to provide subsistence for the cultivator and his family, and to raise produce in exchange for other articles the products of industry. In this all agree: and therefore it may fairly be considered as an established position—that it is the pressure of the want either of food absolutely, or of those necessaries for which food can be exchanged, that is the efficient cause of cultivation in agricultural as well as in commercial countries. It is therefore clear, says one party, that population, either foreign or domestic, is the efficient cause of agriculture; because without a set of manufacturers distinct from the cultivators, those objects could not exist, the desire of which prompts the agriculturist to extend or improve his speculations. But, says the other side, it is equally clear that without a previous supply of food, foreign or domestic, this manufacturing population never could have existed, nor have been reared into a capacity for producing the objects of the agriculturist's wishes. Agriculture, moreover, being capable of raising a surplus produce beyond the bare support of the cultivators, does also actually afford this previous supply of food, which is so necessary. It is not to be disputed therefore that agriculture is the efficient cause of population. Dr. Paley has very ably explained and elucidated the first of these opinions, in the eleventh chapter of the sixth book of his “Moral Philosophy,” where he asserts, that it is the business of one part of mankind to set the other part at work; that is, to provide articles which, by tempting the desires, may stimulate the industry and call forth the activity of those, upon whose exertions the production of food depends. Now this is clearly assigning the order of precedence to population; and that such was Dr. Paley's object, appears further from the following passage. “I believe it is true, that agriculture never arrives at any considerable, much less its highest, degree of perfection, where it is not connected with trade; that is, where the demand for the produce is not increased by the consumption of trading cities. Let it be remembered, them, that agriculture is the immediate source of human provision ; that trade conduces to the production of provision only as it promotes agriculture; that the whole system of commerce, vast and various as it is, hath no other public importance than its subserviency to this end.” (Ed. 1774. vol. ii. p. 375.) Now as the consumption of trading cities and commercial communities arises from the wants of their great population, it is evident that upon this hypothesis the existence of the population can alone with propriety be termed the efficient cause of the increase of agriculture; and wherever the state of society supposed in the in
duction is found to exist, the reasoning appears quite incontrovertible. Dr. Adam Smith has not entered largely into this question, though, in refuting the capital error of the French economists, he of course admits that the labour and industry of the inhabitants of towns come siderably augments the cultivation of rude produce in the country; which is an indirect admission that the increase of people is the efficient cause of such aug. mentation. It is true that in another part of his great work he says, that the cultivation and improvement of the country, which affords subsistence, must necessarily be prior to the increase of the town; for it is the surplus produce of the country only, or what is over and above the maintenance of the cultivators, that constitutes the subsistence of the town, which can therefore only increase with the increase of this surplus produce. These propositions are certainly true, and they convince us very logically that before men can be supported food must exist, at least in sufficient quantity to furnish a bare subsistence. But when we consider that in a state of society involving the existence of large towns, the people is never maintained upon so short an allowance, and that it is not absolutely a demand for food only, but for a variety of other products of the soil, that encourages further cultivation, we must admit that the propositions above mentioned, true as they may be, are far from establishing any general principle respecting the order of precedence which maturally takes place in calling food and population into existence. In a subsequent passage, (b. iv. c. ix. vol. iii. p. 41.) he admits the justice of this reasoning, and illustrates it very happily in the following words: “Whatever tends in any O
country to diminish the number of artificers and manufacturers tends to diminish the home market, the most important of all markets for the rude produce of the land, and thereby to discourage agriculture. Those systems therefore which, by preferring agriculture to all other employments, in order to promote it impose restraints upon manufactures and foreign trade, act contrary to the very end which they propose, and indirectly discourage that very species of industry which they mean to promote. They are so far perhaps more inconsistent than the mercantile system. That system, by encouraging manufactures and foreign trade more than agriculture, turns a portion of capital from a more advantageous to support a less advantageous species of industry; but still it really encourages that which it means to promote. The agricultural systems, on the contrary, really, and in the end, discourage their own favourite species of industry.” There cannot be a clearer admission, that in some cases at least population, arising from commerce and manufactures, is the efficient cause of agriculture. Sir James Steuart, who is referred to by Mr. Malthus as having mistaken this subject, states his opinion to be, (b. i. c. 18.) that the industry of the free hands, that is, of the people not employed in agriculture, may make a quicker progress in multiplying mouths, than that of the farmers in supplying subsistence; which must cause either a further supply from the domestic soil, or importation of food from abroad. In illustrating this point, he takes occasion to propose the following question: Is multiplication the efficient cause of agriculture, or agriculture that of multiplication? and he answers that multiplication