Imagens das páginas

price of any commodity, we can never know whether that fall is really advantageous, or whether a part of the wealth of the producers has not been gratuitously transferred to the consumers, unless we are at the same time informed, whether the cost of production has been diminished. If this has been the case, the fall of price will be permanent; but if this has not been the case, if the expense of production continues the same, prices must very soon rise to their former level. It is the same with a rise of prices. No rise can continue, except where the cost of production has been proportionably increased. If that cost has remained stationary, or has not increased in a corresponding ratio, prices will decline as soon as the causes of temporary enhancement are removed.

The comparative values of gold and silver in the markets of Europe, are at present in the proportion of about 15 to 1. This is not, however, a consequence, as is very generally supposed, of the supply of gold being less, and the demand for it greater than for silver. It arises solely from the comparative difficulty of its production. If the expenses of producing equal quantities of gold and silver were equal, their average market prices would also be equal. Although the demand for one of these metals should permanently be greater than for the other, that circumstance would make no difference whatever on their relative values. It would only, by attracting a greater portion of capital to the producing of the metal which was most in demand, proportion the supply to the consumption; but, as it would neither increase nor diminish the cost of its production, it could not exercise any lasting influence on its price. The influx of the precious metals into Europe, subsequent to the discovery of America, is estimated to have lowered their value to about one fourth part of what they had formerly possessed. But the continued depression of the value of gold and silver since that epoch, has not been a consequence of the increase of their quantity, but of the comparative facility with which the mines of Mexico and Peru are worked. Had the expense of extracting gold and silver from them been as great as the expense of their extraction from the mines of Europe and Asia, the fall in the value of the precious metals, posterior to the discovery of America, would have been but temporary; and, long ere now, unless the expense of mining had been reduced, they would have recovered their former value.

It would be easy to extend these remarks; but we have already said enough to explain our meaning: And shall now direct our attention to the inquiry with which Mr Ricardo commences his work; and endeavour to determine the circumstanees which regulate the cost of the production of a commodity, and the elements which enter into its real price. This is, of all others, the most important, as it is the most radical inquiry in the whole science of political economy; and, without possessing accurate notions on this subject, it is impossible to advance a single step without falling into errors.

Dr Smith was of opinion, that, in that early and rude state of society, which precedes both the accumulation of stock, and the appropriation of land, the proportion between the quantities of Labour necessary for acquiring different objects, was the only circumstance which could afford any rule for exchanging them for one another. If, among a nation of hunters," he observes, it usually costs twice the labour to kill a beaver which • it does to kill a deer, one beaver would naturally exchange for, • or be worth two deer. It is natural, that what is usually the produce of two days' or two hours' labour, should be worth

double of what is usually the produce of one day's or one • hour's labour. In this state of things, the whole produce of • labour belongs to the labourer; and the quantity of labour * commonly employed in acquiring or producing any commo

dity, is the only circumstance which can regulate the quantity • of labour which it ought commonly to purchase, command, or ' exchange for.'*

As soon, however, as capital had been accumulated, and as soon as a rent was paid for land, Dr Smith, † and with him,

Wealth of Nations, vol. 1. p. 70. + • In this state of things, the whole produce of labour does not always belong to the labourer. He must, in most cases, share it with the owner of the stock which employs him. Neither is the quantity of labour commonly employed in acquiring or producing any commodity, the only circumstance which can regulate the quantity which it ought commonly to purchase, command, or exchange for. An additional quantity, it is evident, must be due for the profits of the stock which advanced the wages, and furnished the materials, for that labour.

• As soon as the land of any country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce. The wood of the forest, the grass of the field, and all the natural fruits of the earth, which, when land was in common, cost the labourer only the trouble of gathering them, come, even to him, to have an additional price fixed upon them. He must then pay for the license to gather them; and must give up to the landlord a portion of what his labour either collects or produces. This portion, or, what comes to the same thing, the price of this portion, constitutes the rent of land; and, in the price of the greater part of commodities, makes a third. component part.' Wealth of Nations, vol. 1. p. 74.

every other political economist down to Mr Ricardo, were of opinion, that the circumstances which, in a rude state of society, had determined the exchangeable value of commodities, would be altered. They considered the profits of stock, and the rent of land, as then entering as component parts into price; and they therefore held, that the real price of commodities, or the cost of their production, would be increased by every increase in the ordinary rate of profits, in the rate of wages, and in the rent of land.

Mr Ricardo, however, is of a very different opinion. He considers that the accumulation of capital, and the payment of rent, have no effect whatever in increasing the real price of commodities; and that, in every case, the exchangeable value of such as can be increased in quantity by the exertion of human industry, and, on the production of which, competition operates without restraint, can only be augmented by an augmentation of the quantity of labour necessarily required to bring them to market.

Mr Ricardo has illustrated and supported this new and important doctrine with extraordinary talent and ingenuity, and in a manner which is completely conclusive as to its accuracy, Perhaps, however, he has given too mathematical a cast to his reasoning, to make it perfectly intelligible to the generality of readers; and, therefore, in the following observations, we shall endeavour, though we are fully aware of the difficulty of the task, to demonstrate the truth of this theory in a somewhat more familiar and simple manner; referring such of our readers as wish for a full and satisfactory exposition of the principles on which it rests, and of the various important consequences to which it leads, to Mr Ricardo's own work.

If, then, to revert to the example given by Dr Smith, we suppose the huntsmen of the deer and the beaver to have been employed by two capitalists—and that they were paid a certain rate of wages for their labour-still the one beaver would have exchanged for the two deer, exactly in the same manner as when the hunters, instead of being employed for another, carried on their operations on their own account. It is of no consequence, in reference to this conclusion, that the one species of labour may be supposed to require greater skill and dexterity, or to be more severe, and therefore better paid than the other. These circumstances would be taken into account when the huntsmen were independent, as well as after they had been hired. The labour of one hour at some difficult and nice species of work, may be often of the value of a day, or two days' labour, at another and ruder species ; but this is owing to the nature of the work itself, and has nothing to do with the fact of wages being paid to the workmen, or of their working for themselves. If one hour's labour de voted to the killing of a beaver, had, in a rude state of society, from the superior skill and activity, or the greater expenditure of animal exertion which it required, been reckoned equivalent to the labour of a whole day devoted to the killing of a deer, one beaver would have been exchanged for one deer. After the hunters had been engaged as servants to some master huntsman or capitalist, the wages of those engaged an hour in beaver hunting would be equal to the wages of those engaged a day in deer hunting; and the produce of their labour would still retain the same relative value in the market.

But, in such an inquiry as this, it is not at all necessary to advert to the particular rates at which different kinds of labour are paid. In the payment of wages, allowance is always made for the different degrees of skill required in the workmen, and for the different intensity of the labour to be performed. It is this which renders 4s. or 5s. a day paid to a jeweller or coalheaver, not really a greater reward than 1s. 6d. or 2s. paid to a common farm

If it were any thing but a reasonable compensation for the superior skill, precision, accuracy, and strength required in these businesses, there would be an influx of labourers to the jeweller and coalheaver trades; and competition would soon reduce the rate of wages in them to its proper level, or to that sum which is barely adequate to remunerate such workmen. In the following remarks we shall, therefore, exclude all consideration of the difference in the species of labour, and shall suppose the rate of wages, and the rise and fall of that rate, to be quite uniform and general.

From what has been already stated, it cannot we think be disputed, that if a certain quantity of goods, twenty pairs of stockings for example, manufactured by independerit workmen, freely exchanged for forty pairs of gloves, manufactured under similar circumstances, they would continue to do so after both sets of workmen had come to be employed by some master manufacturer. In the first case, it is true, as Dr Smith has observed, that the whole produce of the labour of the workmen would belong to themselves; but that is no reason why, when they became serrants to another person, the exchangeable value of the commodities they manufacture should be at all affected. Commodities are in every case bought by commodities. If the glove manufacturer were to urge the plea of his paying a large proportion, or the value of a large proportion of his gloves as wages, :s an inducement to the stocking manufacturer to give him TOL. XXX. NO. 59.


more stockings in exchange for his gloves, the latter would have it in his power to reply, that the same cause affected him to precisely the same extent. After workmen had been hired, the value of both gloves and stockings would be specifically divided into two different portions—the wages of labour and the profits of stock; but it would not be at all increased. The cause which Dr Smith supposes would increase the price of the stockings, would, if it had any effect, equally increase the price of gloves, and of every other commodity; that is, it would leave the relative values of them all just as it found them. Twenty pairs of stockings would still exchange for forty pairs of gloves, and would continue to do so, until some change had taken place in the quantity of labour necessary to the production of the one or the other. It is this quantity of labour, and not the manner in which the value produced by it is afterwards divided, that determines the real price or the worth in exchange of every commodity.

The circumstance of one set of labourers continuing independent, cannot enable them, as has been contended, to dispose of their goods at a cheaper rate than those which had been manufactured by other labourers working on account of a master. The profits of stock would be included in the price of the commodities manufactured by the one as well as by the other. An independent workman, is only another name for a capitalist who personally superintends the employment of his own stock. Industry by itself is unable to produce almost any commodity possessed of exchangeable value. In the rudest state of society, some capital would be required to support the persons engaged in hunting and fishing, and to construct the weapons necessary to enable them to kill wild animals: And hence the exchangeable value of such animals would depend, not merely on the quantity of labour required to effect their destruction, after hunting and fishing tackle had been provided, but on the whole quantity of labour required to effect that object; including therein a certain proportion of the labour necessary to furnish the implements, or capital, without which the animals could not have been killed.

The same is the case in every stage of society. A profit on stock, or, what is the same thing, a remuneration for the use of the capital which has been either accumulated by the labourer himself, or which has been afforded to him by another, must always be paid out of the value of the commodity he produces. A shoemaker who manufactures shoes on his own account, must secure the same rate of profit on their sale, that would accrue to a master shoemaker were he employed by him as a work

« AnteriorContinuar »