Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

nominally high, yet owing to the depreciated state of the currency, the real quantity of necessaries and conveniences which the laborer earned was much less than it was either previously, or has been since, while on the other hand profits were very high. But this state of the distribution gave to the whole produce of the country the power of putting so much labor into motion, that the demand for labor was prodigiously increased : not only did women and children find ready employment, but task work was resorted to in order to make up for the want of hands. During the few first years of peace, when all commodities, without scarcely an exception, fell considerably in value, and consequently a much larger proportion than before went to the laborers, numbers of them were thrown out of work for want of the means of employment. And indeed a moment's reflection will convince us it cannot be otherwise. When a cake is cut up into a few small slices, the number of partakers cannot be so great as when it is divided into a larger number of small ones. In like manner it is impossible that the demand for labor can increase, when the means of employing it are diminished; and this must necessarily happen whenever the same or a larger quantity of produce is divided among a smaller number of individuals a case which is of frequent occurrence. It is not uncommon to see agricultural laborers thrown out of employment by an excessively abundant harvest. The farmers not being indemnified by quantity for the fall in the value of their corn, cannot put so much labor into motion as before, and they are consequently under the necessity of reducing the number of their hands, while the main article of the laborer's sub, sistence is cheaper than ever.' When this state of things is not confined to a few commodities, but extends itself to nearly the whole mass of them, it is called a general glut or stagnation, the existence of which the school of Mr. Ricardo denies, because it is inexplicable on their principles, Its occurrence may indeed be a

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

* This curious and important fact of quantity and value not varying in the exact inverse ratio of each other, has not been so much dwelt on by Political Economists as it deserves to be. It has been recently brought more into notice by Mr. Tooke in his valuable work on “ High and Low Prices.” But he has fallen into the common error of supposing that when a fall takes place in the value of a commodity so as to reduce it below its cost, the consumers gain as much as the producers lose. This is no doubt the case as to quantity, but not as it respects value and the means of employing labor. It is therefore sure to occasion distress, first, among the producers themselves, and finally among the laborers, some of whoin must be thrown out of employment.

? The ground on which M. Say and Mr. Mill deny the possibility of a general glut is, that the excess of one or more commodities implies, in their opinion, a corresponding deficiency of others. But surely these distinguished writers have totally misapprehended the nature of that species of superabundance which is usually termed a glut. It does not consist, as

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

matter of surprise, for it might be thought that the competition of those who are thrown out of employment would lower wages and enable all to have a share as before. But this we know by experience is not the case ; and that it should not be, may appear less extraordinary, when it is considered that the quantity of every commodity which is absorbed in wages is never practically ascertained till the commodity itself is brought to market; and the inability of the laborer to alter the distribution, which depends entirely on the state of the demand and the supply, fully confirms Adam Smith's doctrine, that it is the commodities themselves which vary in their value, and not the labor for which they are exchanged.

It appears, too, that the condition of the laborer is by no means improved in proportion to the increase in the quantity of his wages. When he receives much in exchange for his labor, he must in his turn part with much, in order to purchase the labor of others. In those countries where corn is cheap and plentiful, the surplus in the laborer's hands will go but a little way towards procuring him the other requisites of clothing and lodging of which he stands in need ; and when, owing to the abundance of capital and commodities, every thing is cheap and plentiful, the laboring class are not in so florishing a condition as might-at first be supposed, owing to the slack demand for labor, which is the necessary result of that peculiar state of the distribution. On the other hand, when profits are high, and the laborer's proportion less, he and his fansily get full employment, and on the whole they frequently earn more.


they imagine it does, in certain commodities being produced in an undue proportion relatively to others, but in their being produced in such abundance, that the laborer absorbs nearly the whole of them, or so large a portion as reduces the profit on them considerably below its natural rate. The proportion of each and every commodity, which goes to the laborer, has nothing whatever to do with the existence of any other commodity in the market. If the rate of profit be tén per cent., and that cottons are so abundant as to yield only two per cent. profit, it is not by producing more of coffee, or sugar, or corn, or iron, or of any other commodity, that we can raise the rate of profit on cotion. To mul iply these commodities would indeed increase the laborer's share of them, but could not in the slightest degree affect the ratio between labor and cotton. Their increased quantity would therefore only lower their value, and they would create no greater effective demand for the cotton than before such ipcrease louk place. The only way in which cottons could be made to rise in value, would be by diminishing the supply of them, or by employing a larger portion of the national revenue in the purchase of theni, to the exclusion of something else. Now this being the case, it is vbvious that a glut of all cominudities is just as possible, as the glut of any single one; for though they may be multiplied in such proporcions as not to vary in their relative value, they may be all so abundant as scarcely to be worth the labor they have cost'; and this is what is meant by a general glut.

. It is not therefore without reason that Adam Smith has mea. sured the value of capital by the quantity of labor it will command, and not by the quantity of commodities of which it consists. At all times, that is a large capital which will command much labor, and a small capital which will command but little labor ; and hence, a fall in the value of any commodity, which arises from over-abundance, and not from a diminution in the cost of its production, is an evil, for it deprives the sellers of the power of putting so much labor into motion as before, without transferring any such power to the buyers. It is a loss of capital to the country, and diminishes, pro tanto, the means of future production.

This short sketch of these two systems of Political Economy will, it is presumed, enable the reader to perceive the chief points on which they turn. Adam Smith taught that the exchangeable value of commodities, and the shares into which they were divided as rent, profits, and wages, depended entirely on the proportion between the demand and the supply; and he explained in what way the cost of production and other circumstances altered the value and the distribution, by altering this proportion. Mr. Ricardo maintained that the distribution of the produce depended altogether upon the state of fertility of the land, and had nothing to do with demand and supply, excepting for very short periods. The whole of his system, indeed, is an attempt to get rid of this principle, by referring value to cost of production, or more properly speaking, to a portion of the cost, the labor worked


in commodities, to the exclusion of profits and other causes, which either directly or indirectly affect their value.

It is on this account that his theory has been so often found at variance with experience, in spite of the attempts that have been made to reconcile them. It is, for instance, a consequence of his peculiar views on the subject of rent, that a low rate of profit is advantageous to the landlord; or, that rents are highest when profits are lowest. Yet, we find that, in the course of the last thirty years, rents and profits rose together; they were the highest together, and with the decline of agricultural profits, rents also declined.

It was another tenet of Mr. Ricardo's, which was the consequence of his doctrine of profit, that the cultivation of more land was the sole cause of a permanent fall in the rate of profit. Yet, during the greater part of the period above referred to, while profits were every day rising, fresh soils which required more labor to work them, were being daily broken up, and the throwing them out of cultivation, which took place subsequently on the fall of profits, and which was clearly the consequence of that fall, failed to raise


their raté, which, on Mr. Ricardo's hypothesis, it ought to have done.

Again, Mr. Ricardo considered that the variations in the rate of wages, under the same circumstances of fertility, were owing to the greater or less demand for labor ; whereas, it has appeared that the demand for labor has been the greatest when the share earned by the laborer has been the least, and vice versa.

Now the doctrines of Adam Smith, and of those who have followed up and improved his views, are not only perfectly consistent with all these phenomena, but afford a satisfactory solution of them ; and as it is the object of Political Economy to explain things as they are practically found to exist, we cannot but think that Adam Smith's system, which is eminently practical, has a decided advantage over that of Mr. Ricardo.

We are, however, far from wishing to undervalue the services which Mr. Ricardo has rendered to the science of Political Economy. His mode of treating the subject is altogether new and original ; he has made some important discoveries, and has explained with a clearness and perspicuity quite peculiar to himself, several very intricate points which were before but very imper. fectly understood. But no theory which is opposed to facts can long stand its ground; and as the conclusions to which his main doctrines lead are found to be inconsistent with general experience, we do not hesitate to say that his work, in spite of its numerous excellencies, is more to be admired for its ingenuity and brilliancy, than to be depended on for its soundness and accuracy. .

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

• We more particularly allude to the circumstance of rent not entering as a component part into the price of the mass of commodities, or at least in so small a degree, as not materially to affect the general conclusions of a theory which omitted it. Mr. Ricardo was the first to show this, and he deduced from it that most important rule, that profits depended on the proportion of the whole produce which went to the laborer, à proposition which has thrown more light on the whole of this interesting subject than, perhaps, all the rest of his book put together,

기 7

[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]


[blocks in formation]
« ZurückWeiter »