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Considering, then, that the importance of national wealth is virtually admitted in the discussion of almost every public measure, (even of those which do not immediately relate to revenue,) it might seem, that nothing more was needed to establish the value of a systematic knowledge of the subject; the desirableness of learning to judge rightly on a point on which we continually must judge, either rightly or wrongly. But Mr Senior has to encounter the objections not only of the moralists, who declaim against wealth in general, but of prac• tical men,' who plead the cause of common sense against the refinements of theory, which, it is alleged, are ruinous when practically applied : Political Economy is objected to, not only because it tends to make us rich, but also because it tends to make us poor; first, on the ground that wealth is a bad thing—and next, on the ground that it is a good thing: so that its advocates have nearly as difficult a task as the Jacobite, of whom it is related, that he was pressed by an opponent with two objections to the claims of the Pretender; first, that he was not really the son of King James—and second, that he was the son of King James. We are inclined to regard what is usually termed common sense, (at least the most common sort of it,) as little better than the offspring of Pride begot upon Indolence. Those who are too lazy to take the pains of acquiring accurate knowledge on some point on which they are ignorant, and, at the same time, too proud to own their ignorance, shelter themselves under the convenient plea of being adherents of common sense, and decry speculative doctrines, which would be pernicious in practice. The censure may, in some instances, chance to be right; and so, perhaps, might the grapes in the fable have been really sour-but the fox would have had a better right to pronounce upon them if he had first contrived to taste them. In fact, every theory which fails in practice, must, if duly examined, be found to contain some flaw in principle; and the wiser and more effectual (though not the least laborious) procedure is, to detect its errors, and to condemn it, not for being a theory, but for being an unsound one.
It is observed, however, by Mr Senior, (and the same observation would apply in many other subjects,) that the declaimers against theory are in fact proceeding on a theory of their own, though a theory but partially comprehended, and embraced without reflection, on the authority of popular opinion. No mistake is more prevalent than to suppose, that whatever notions are common must needs be the dictates of common sense.
• We shall be far too favourable,' says Mr Senior, ' 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 80.
• Political Economy was an art long before it was a science; and neither those who first practised it, nor their advisers, were fitted by knowledge, 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 endeavoured 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 monopoly 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 somewhat at large in my next lecture. 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, 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 work, men'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 favourable balance; duties imposed to give monopolies to particular classes of producers, are called protecting duties ; applications of the public revenue, to divert capital and labour 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.'
The mercantile system' here alluded to, the Professor exaVOL. XLVIII. No. 95.
mines more at large in the second of the publications before us ; in which he discusses with great perspicuity and impartiality the causes which gave rise to the theory in question, the effects which have resulted from the attempts to realize it in practice, and the various arguments and quasi-arguments by which it has been defended. On the most attentive perusal, we have been able to detect no flaw or omission of any importance in this able, discussion. If, however, it be in any material point unsound, we do earnestly hope, of such vital consequence are the questions at issue, that the fallacy will be clearly pointed out, and Mr Senior's argument answered by a sober and distinct refutation; not by a mere vague and declamatory repetition of highsounding terms, such as encouragement of domestic industry,' protection of commerce,'' national independence and greatness,' &c. &c.
In the opening of the first of the three Lectures last published, he states fairly and fully the substance of the arguments, pro and con, upon this interesting question. - " The advocate of freedom dwells on the benefit of making full use of our own peculiar advantages of situation, wealth, and skill, and availing ourselves to the utmost of those possessed by our neighbours. He asks, whether we should act wisely, if we were to declare ourselves independent of foreigners for wine, to devote our mineral treasures, and our industry, to the forcing of grapes for the production of homemade port and claret, and discontinue the manufacture of cottons and woollens for the markets of Oporto and Bourdeaux ? And he urges that the same absurdity in kind belongs to every protecting duty and prohibition. He observes, in the words of Adam Smith, that it is the maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to make at home, what it will cost him more to make than to buy. The tailor does not make his own shoes, but buys them of the shoemaker. The shoemaker does not make his own clothes, but buys them of the tailor. The farmer attempts to make neither the one nor the other, but employs those different artificers. All of them find it their interest to employ their whole industry in a way in which they have some advantage over their neighbours, and to purchase, with a part of its produce, whatever else they have occasion for. And he infers, that what is prudence, in the conduct of every private family, can scarcely be folly in that of a great kingdom,
· The advocate of restriction and prohibition admits, that if the interests of the consumers were alone to be considered, the law ought not to force the production at home, of what can be obtained better, or more cheaply, from abroad. But he urges, that the opulence of the whole community is best promoted by encouraging its domestic industry. And that the industry of each class of producers is best encouraged by giving them the command of the home market, undisturbed by foreign competition,
• His opponent replies, that it is impossible to encourage the Industry of one class of producers, by means of commercial restrictions, without discouraging, to an equal degree, the exertions of others, That every prohibition of importation is a prohibition of exportation. That every restriction on the importation of French silks is a restriction on the exportation of those articles with which those silks would have been purchased. That if it benefit the English silk manufacturer, it injures, to at least an equal amount in the whole, though the injury is less perceptible, because more widely diffused, the cotton-spinner, the cutler, or the clothier. That the whole body of producers, therefore, as an aggregate, suffer in their capacity of consumers without compensation.
• The really candid defender of restriction (and I am inclined to think that such persons do exist) admits, perhaps, the force of this argument, as applied to nations willing to take in exchange our commodities. To them he is willing to open our market on a footing, as he calls it, of reciprocity. But he urges, that there are many who refuse our commodities ; and, while they persist in this ungrateful refusal, he retaliates by not accepting theirs.
• The advocate of free trade replies, that the benefit of commerce consists, not in what is given, but in what is received; that if the foreigner refuse to accept our commodities, he must either refuse us his own, or give them to us for nothing ; that, in the first case, the aboli. tion of commercial restrictions can produce no evil ; in the second, it must produce a manifest good.
He would do neither, replies his adversary, he would deluge us with his goods, and receive payment for them in our money.'
Our author proceeds to point out that such an efflux of gold and silver from one (not a mining) country to another, must, if it could be imagined to take place, so lower the money price of all commodities in the one, and raise them in the other, that the precious metals would in consequence flow back immediately into the one country and out of the other on all quarters, so as speedily to restore the equilibrium. To suppose that the • level of the precious metals in the commercial world can be
permanently disturbed by taking money from one country to another, is as absurd as to suppose that the level of a pond can • be altered by taking a bucket-full from one place and pouring • it in another. The water instantly rushes to the place from
whence the bucket-full has been drawn, just as it rushes from • the place into which it has been poured. P. 12.
In the next Lecture, the author traces the mercantile theory, as he calls it; the doctrine that our prosperity depends on a 'favourable balance of trade,' i. e. in which, our exports exceeding our imports, we receive the balance in gold and silver; to the prevailing mistake of regarding money as synonymous with wealth, of which it is the common measure and representative.
That this favourable balance of trade with all the world, i.e. the state of continually receiving more money than we part with, cannot possibly exist but for a very short time in any country, has been already shown; he proceeds to point out (following the track of Adam Smith,) that if it could exist, it would be a detriment rather than a benefit.
• When this strange misapprehension of the nature of wealth had prevailed, I have no doubt that it was indebted for its continuance principally to the impossibility of reducing its principles to practice. We have seen that to sell without buying, or even to continue selling more than you buy, that is, to effect the object proposed by the mer, cantile system, the forcing a constantly favourable balance of trade, is impracticable. But if it had been practicable to a given extent and for a given time ; if, by force of prohibitions, restrictions, and bounties, we had been able for twenty years together to make our exports ex, ceed in value our imports, to the amount, we will say, of five millions sterling, and to receive and retain the balance, we should have found ourselves in time possessed of a hundred millions sterling in gold and silver, in addition to our money previously in circulation, which has never probably exceeded forty millions. It is difficult to say to what extent such an addition to our currency, uncalled for by any previous deficiency, would have raised the prices of all English commodities, and how low its abstraction from the currencies of the rest of the world would have sunk the prices of all foreign commodities. It is evident, however, that the rise here and the fall abroad, must have been such as to be inconsistent with the continuance of foreign commerce. When we found ourselves deprived not only of foreign luxuries and comforts, of wine, tea, and sugar, but of the materials of our most essential arts, of cotton, deals, and hemp, and repaid only by the pleasure of using five sovereigns to make a purchase which might have been previously effected by one, such a reductio ad absurdam would have been irresistible. We should have instantly seen the necessity of rather allowing our superfluous money to be exported, than of remaining, like Midas, abundantly provided with gold, but in want of food, raiment, and shelter. It is precisely because the object of the mercantile system is unattainable, because a balance of trade universally favourable cannot be created under ordinary circumstances, or, if created, could not, under ordinary circumstances, be retained for a month, that the absurdity of this system remained so long undetected, and is still generally unacknowledged. It follows a will-o'-the-wisp, which can remain an object of pursuit only so long as its real nature is unknown.
There is, we think, a slight inaccuracy in one part of this statement, though not affecting the truth of the ultimate conclusion; viz. in the supposition that if it were possible to retain in circulation such an enormous mass of gold and silver, the consequent rise of prices would preclude us from foreign commerce. It is difficult to state accurately the results which would take place under an hypothesis which (like that before us)