« AnteriorContinuar »
on the superior wisdom of trusting to common-sense in such matters; but he would never approve of trusting to commonsense in the treatment of diseases. Neither, again, would the architect recommend a reliance on common-sense alone in building, nor the musician in music, to the neglect of those systems of rules which in their respective arts have been deduced from scientific reasoning aided by experience : and the induction might be extended to every department of practice. Since, therefore, each gives the preference to unassisted common-sense, only in those cases where he himself has nothing else to trust to, and invariably resorts to the rules of art, wherever he possesses the knowlege of them, it is plain that mankind universally bear their testimony, though unconsciously and often unwillingly, to the preferableness of systematic knowlege to conjectural judgments.”
Dr. Whately's reasoning is unanswerable; but we shall be far too favorable to most of those who profess, and perhaps sincerely, to rely on common-sense in matters of Political Economy, if we believe that they actually do so.
Political Economy was an art long before it was a science; and neither those who first practised it, nor their advisers, were filled by knowlege, honesty, or singleness of purpose, to desire right ends, or to employ proper means.
Those who first practised it in modern Europe, (and our maxims of Political Economy have no earlier origin,) those who first endeavored to employ the powers of government in influencing the production, distribution, and consumption of wealth, were semi-barbarous sovereigns, considering their subjects not as a trust, but a property, and desirous only to turn that property to the best and readiest account.
Their advisers were landholders, merchants, and manufacturers, each anxious only for his own immediate gain, and caring little how the rest of society might be affected by the inonopoly he extorted. From the mode in which these persons pursued what they thought their individual interests, aided by national jealousy, and by the ambiguities of language, and unchecked by any sound principles, arose that unhappy compound of theoretic and practical error, the « Mercantile System.” I think I may take it for granted, that all those whom I am addressing are acquainted with the outlines of that system ; and I must necessarily consider it some, what at large in my next lectures. I will say no more of it, therefore, in this place, than that it was founded in a belief, that the wealth of a country consists solely of gold and silver, and is to be retained and increased by prohibiting the exportation of money,
Preface to the Elements of Legic.
and by giving bounties on the exportation, and imposing restrictions on the importation of other commodities, in the hope of producing a trade in which, the imports being always of less value than the exports, the balance may be paid in money : a conduct, as wise as that of a tradesman who should part with his goods only for money; and instead of employing their price in paying his workmen's wages, or replacing his stock, should keep it for ever in his till.
As is the case, however, with every long-standing abuse, so many persons are immediately interested in supporting particular parts of the system, and the theory on which it is founded so long commanded universal assent, that ninety-nine men out of a hundred imbibe it with their earliest education. Terms which imply the truth of the theory, and, consequently, the propriety of the practice, have even become a part of our language. A trade in which money is supposed to be received in exchange for goods, is called a trade with a favorable balance; duties imposed to give monopolies to particular classes of producers, are called protecting duties; applications of the public revenue, to divert capital and labor from their natural employment, are called bounties. The consequence of all this is, that men who fancy they are applying common-sense to questions of Political Economy, are often applying to them only common prejudice. Instead of opposing, as they fancy, experience to theory, they are opposing the theory of a barbarous age to the theory and experience of an enlightened one.
There never was a man of stronger common-sense, a man more fitted to draw accurate conclusions from few or doubtful premises, than Napoleon. He had an utter horror of Political Economy; the principles of which, he said, if an empire were built of granite, would grind it to powder. On such subjects he trusted to common-sense.' And his common-sense was an undistinguishing acceptance of the whole theory of the mercantile system. It
appears, from his conversations at St. Helena, that he fully believed that the continent must be a loser by its commerce with England, and that it must be so on account of the excellence and cheapness of English commodities. These abominable qualities must, he thought, enable us, in the jargon of the theory, to undersell the continent in its own market, and ultimately produce its ruin, through that unfavorable balance of trade, in which, what is received is of greater value than what is given. He thought that he could put an end to this trade by his continental system ; without doubt the principal object of that system was to ruin England; but he appears to have implicitly believed, that it was also a blessing to the continent. The murmurs of his subjects and allies he treated like the complaints of spoiled children, who do not know what is for their own good, and who, when experience has
made them wiset, will embrace from choice what they have sub mitted to from necessity. There can be no doubt, I think, that these opinions, and the obstinacy into which they led him, were the ultimate causes of his downfal.
But can they be said to have been founded on common-sense? If Napoleon had trusted to his own powerful sense, if he had not been misled by a theory as wild as it is generally received, could he have believed that the continent was injured by enjoying an advantageous market, and was injured precisely in the proportion in which that market was advantageous ?
The length to which this lecture has extended prevents me from dwelling on the many other prejudices which profess to derive their sanction from the much-abused term “common-sense.” I will only suggest, as instances, the common opinion that the unproductive consumption of opulent individuals and of governments, the mere waste of arınies and of courts, is beneficial to the other members of society, because, to use the vague and unintelligible language of common conversation, “it promotes the circulation of money;" and the equally common error, that a fall in the price of subsistence, arising from its abundance, is injurious to the manufacturing-classes, because it diminishes the market for their commodities. These opinions, setting aside their error, are so paradoxical, that I cannot conceive a man with a mind so constituted as to admit them unhesitatingly if they were presented to him when perfectly unbiassed. But they are favorable to the interests, or to the supposed interests, of the most influential members of every community. They have been so long repeated, in so many shapes, and on so many occasions, that they have become « familiar in our ears as household words ;” and there is not a more common mistake than to suppose, that because a proposition is trite it must be true.
In the early part of this lecture I stated that the theoretic branch of Political Economy--that which explains the nature, production, and distribution of wealth-would be found to rest on a few general propositions, the result of observation, or of consciousness. The propositions to which I alluded are these :
Firstly. That wealth consists of all those things, and of those things only, which are transferable; which are limited in quantity; and which, directly or indirectly, produce pleasure or prevent pain: or, to use an equivalent expression, which are susceptible of exchange ; (including under exchange, hire, as well as absolute purchase ;) or, to use a third equivalent expression, which have value.
Secondly. That every person is desirous to obtain, with as little sacrifice as possible, as much as possible of the articles of wealth.
Thirdly. That the powers of labor, and of the other instruments which produce wealth, may be indefinitely increased by using their products as the means of further production.
Fourthly. That, agricultural skill remaining the same, additional labor employed on the land within a given district produces a less proportionate return. And,
Fifthly. That the population of a given district is limited only by moral or physical evil, or by deficiency in the means of obtaining those articles of wealth, or, in other words, those necessaries, decencies, and luxuries, which the habits of the individuals of each class of the inhabitants of that district lead them to require.
The second of these propositions is a matter of consciousness; the others are matter of observation. I shall devote my next lectures, and probably the whole of the present and the next year's course, to the illustration (for it can scarcely be said to require proof) of the second proposition, and to the proof and illustration of the others; and in my subsequent reasonings, I shall assume them all as data.
If these premises are true, I shall be right while I argue from them correctly: that I shall always succeed in doing so, on so abstract: a subject, where the relations are so various, and the nomenclature is so defective, of course is not to be hoped ; but happily I address an audience too acute to suffer my errors to pass undetected, and too friendly not to inform me of them.
I shall endeavor, in all my discussions, and particularly in the introductory ones, to make use of as few terms as possible which, from their vagueness or their technicality, require explanation, without previously defining them. The reasonings in Political Economy are, however, so mutually dependent, that it is seldom possible to define one term without introducing into the definition others equally obscure. The best course in a written treatise is that adopted by M. Say, who has affixed to his valuable work on Political Economy a list of definitions. But it is impossible to imitate his example in viva-voce lectures : for such a list is, in fact, an epitome of the theoretical branch of the science, which the attention of no listener could follow, as the beginning must be unintelligible without the end. Dr. Whately's kindness in permitting me to append to his logic a collection of economical definitions, has a little alleviated this difficulty. That work is probably in the hands of the greater part of my hearers ; and, as most people begin reading a book by the Appendix, I think I may
take it for granted that they have looked through the definitions in
question. I almost regret now, that I did not suggest in each place the definition which appeared to me the most convenient. In its present state, however, that collection will enable even those who are unacquainted with the outline of the science to form a general notion of the meaning of its principal terms, when I am forced, as must sometimes be the case, to use them without previous explanation.
Another difficulty, arising from the same source, is the necessity which will frequently arise of arguing from premises which have been simply assumed, as if they have been conceded. Thus, the whole reasoning of my next lectures will assume “ that every person is desirous to obtain, with as little sacrifice as possible, as much as possible of the articles of wealth.” I shall endeavor to avoid doing this tacitly, except where, as is perhaps the case with the propositions I have just stated, the assumed premise is selfevident. But expressly or tacitly, I shall be forced to do it continually.