Elements of Political Economy by James Mill (1844)

Chapter 3. Interchange

Section XIV. The Value of the Precious Metal, or Medium of Exchange, Which Exportation Is Not Determines the Same in all Countries

When we speak of the value of the precious metal, we mean the quantity of other things for which it will exchange.

But it is well known that money is more valuable, that is, goes farther in the purchase of commodities, not only in one country than another, but in one part than another of the same country.

In some of the more distant places of Wales, for example, money is more valuable than in London; in common language, we say, that living is more cheap; in other words, commodities may be purchased with a smaller quantity of money: and this state of things is habitual, money having no tendency to go from London where its value is low, to increase its quantity in Wales where its value is high. This phenomenon requires explanation.

The fact is, that the whole of such difference as is habitual, and has no tendency to produce a transit of the metals, resolves itself into cost of carriage. Corn, butchers' meat, and other commodities, which are produced in Wales, are cheaper than in London, because the supply of London comes from a distance, and the original price is enhanced by cost of carriage. But as there are certain commodities which thus are cheaper in Wales than in London, so there are others which are cheaper in London than in Wales. Such are all the commodities which are either manufactured in London, or imported into London from abroad. Just as the corn and other commodities, which come from Wales to London, are enhanced by the cost of carriage; so those commodities which are sent from London to Wales, are dearer in Wales than in London, by the whole of the cost which is incurred in transporting them. The fact, therefore, is, that in Wales some commodities are cheaper, and some are dearer, than in London ; but those which are cheaper are the articles of principal importance ; they are the necessaries of life, the articles the consumption of which constitutes the principal part of almost every man's expenditure. What is more, they are the articles the money-value of which determines the money-value of labour ; every thing which a man has done for him, therefore, is done cheaper than it is in London. And, lastly, the gross commodities, which are the produce of Wales, cost much more for carriage, in proportion to their value, than the fine commodities which are received from London: the cost of the gross commodities in London is much more raised above the price of them in Wales, than the price of the fine commodities in Wales is raised above the price of them in London. The cost of living, therefore, is greater in London than in Wales, for this reason, solely, because people in London pay more for carriage. If the value of the metal in Wales rose ever so little above that limit, a profit equal to that rise would immediately operate as a motive for sending it to Wales.

From two places in the same country, let us transfer the consideration to two different countries. The cost of living is higher; in other words, the value of the precious metals is lower in England, than in Poland. The difference here, also, resolves itself wholly into the cost of carriage. Let us suppose that England receives a considerable portion of her supply of corn from Poland, and sends her the whole, or the greater part, of her fine manufactures : corn, it is evident, will be dearer in England; but fine manufactures will be dearer in Poland. For the same reasons that money, as we have shown, goes farther in Wales, than in London, it is easy to see that it will, in this case, go farther in Poland than in England ; in other words, the value of gold in Poland will be greater than in England, just so much as to compensate for the greater cost of carriage which England sustains. The moment it rises above that value, a profit may be made by sending it to England.

Section XV. Mode in which the Precious Metal, or Medium of Exchange, Distributes Itself Among the Nations of the Globe

In the country of' the mines, whence gold distributes itself to the rest of the world, gold is in relative plenty. As an addition is constantly making to the quantity already possessed, there is a constant tendency in the gold of that country to fall in relative value; in other words, a constant tendency in the price of other things to rise. As soon as any commodities have risen sufficiently high to enable them to be imported, they will come in from that country, be it what it may, from which, prime cost and cost of carriage taken together, they come the cheapest; and gold will go out in exchange.

By this importation of gold into that second country, it becomes relatively plentiful there, and prices rise. Some commodity, or commodities, become there at last so dear, that they can be imported, with profit, from another country : commodities, as in the previous instance, come in, and gold goes out. It is unnecessary to trace the operation farther. In this manner gold proceeds from country to country, through the whole connected chain of the commercial world.

In a preceding section we found, that it is the interest of two nations to exchange with one another two sorts of commodities, as often as the relative cost of producing them is different in the two countries. If four quarters of corn, for example, and 20 yards of cloth, cost, each, the same quantity of labour in England, but not the same quantity in Poland, it would be the interest of the two countries, the one to produce corn, the other to produce cloth, and to exchange them with one another.

Suppose, while four quarters of corn and 20 yards of cloth required the same quantity of labour in England ; that in Poland 20 yards of cloth required twice as much labour as four quarters of corn. In these circumstances, cloth, as compared with corn, would be twice as dear in Poland as in England; in other words, four quarters of corn, which in England would be of equal value with 20 yards of cloth, would in Poland be equal to no more than 10 yards. In a traffic of these commodities, between England and Poland, there would be a value of 5 yards of cloth to be gained by each upon every repetition of the transaction.

Supposing, as we have done, that in Poland, if she produced corn and cloth for herself, four quarters of corn would have the same value as 10 yards of cloth, it follows, that if she had the use of money, the price of four quarters of corn, and of 10 yards of cloth, would be the same. In England, according to the supposition, the price of four quarters of corn and that of 20 yards of cloth would be the same.

There are two supposeable cases. The price of one of the two commodities, corn for example, is either - 1. equal in the two countries, or - 2. it is not equal. The illustration of any one of these cases will suffice for both.

Let us suppose that, in the two countries, the price of corn is equal. If it is, the price of a yard of cloth must in Poland be twice as great as it is in England. In these circumstances, what will happen is obvious: the cloth, which is cheap in England, will go to Poland, where it is dear; and there it will be sold for gold, because there can be no counter importation of corn, which, by supposition, is already as cheap in England as in Poland.

By the importation, in this manner, of English cloth into Poland, gold goes out of Poland, and comes into England. The consequence is, that gold becomes more plentiful in England, less plentiful in Poland. From this first consequence, a second ensues ; that prices gradually rise in England, fall in Poland: the price of corn, for example, and, along with it, the price of cloth, rise in England, fall in Poland. If when we suppose the traffic to begin, the price of corn in each country is 1 l. per quarter, the price of cloth being, by consequence, in Poland 8 s., in England 4 s. per yard; the supposed exchange of cloth for gold will gradually, in England, raise the price of corn above, in Poland sink it below, 1 l. per quarter; raise the price of cloth in England above 4 s. per yard, sink it below 8 s. per yard in Poland. In this manner, the price of corn in the two countries gradually recedes from equality, the price of cloth gradually approaches it. At a certain point in this progress, corn becomes so dear in England, and cheap in Poland, that the difference of price will pay for the cost of carriage. At that moment a motive arises for the importation of corn into England ; and prices regulate themselves in such a manner, that in England corn is dearer than in Poland, by the expense of carrying corn; cloth is dearer in Poland than in England, by the expense of carrying cloth, from the one country to the other. At this point, the value of the cloth imported into the one country, and that of the corn imported into the other, balance one another. The exchange is then at par, and gold ceases to pass.

From the consideration of the same circumstances, it will farther be seen, that no alteration can take place in the interchange of commodities between the two countries, without a new distribution of the precious metal; that is, a change in the relative quantities which they previously possessed.

Let us suppose that, in England, some new commodity is produced, which Poland desires to obtain. A quantity of this commodity is imported into Poland; and it can be paid for only in gold, because we have supposed that at this time, the corn and cloth, respectively imported, pay for one another. In this case, as in that which I have previously explained, the price of commodities soon begins to rise in England, fall in Poland. In proportion as prices rise in England, and fall in Poland, a motive is produced to import a greater quantity of Polish goods into England, a less quantity of English goods into Poland. And again the balance is restored.

Section XVI. Money Transactions between Nations - Bills of Exchange

The moneys of different countries are different; that is to say, they consist of different portions of the precious metals, and go by different names. The pound sterling, for example, is the money of England, the dollar is the money of certain other countries ; the pound sterling contains one quantity of the precious metal, the dollar contains a less quantity; and so of other varieties.

The purchases which are made by one country in another country, are, like other purchases, made by money. If the Dutch merchant, for example, purchase goods in England, be buys them at so many pounds sterling. If the English merchant buys goods in Holland, he buys them at so many guilders. To pay the pound sterling, the Dutch merchant must either send the English money, or an equivalent. The direct equivalent is a quantity of the precious metal equal to what is contained in the pounds sterling due. If the Dutch merchant has no other medium but guilders, he must send as many guilders as contain an equal quantity of the precious metals.

When the language now used by the merchants of Europe was established, a computation was made of the quantity of one currency which contained the same quantity of the precious metal, as a certain given quantity of another. This was called the par of exchange. The guilder contained not quite so much of the metal as two shillings English ; but to simplify our language, let us suppose that it contained just as much. The par of exchange was then, 10 guilders to 1 l. ; or, in the abridged language of the merchants, 10.

The business of exchange, however, between country and country, is carried on, not by transmitting currency, or the metals, but, in a much greater degree, by the instrumentality of bills. The language, which the merchants have adopted for carrying on the traffic of bills, is very elliptical and abridged ; and being, in several respects, not well chosen, is a source of obscurity and misapprehension.

The simple transaction is this. The merchant in London, to whom a merchant in Amsterdam owes a sum of money, writes a line to the merchant in Amsterdam, directing him to pay the money. The writing of this line is called drawing ; the line itself is called a bill; and the person whom the line is written to, is said to be drawn upon. If the merchant in London, at the same time that he has money to receive from Amsterdam, has money to pay in Amsterdam, he draws his bill upon his debtor in Amsterdam, to the order of his creditor; or, in other words, his line written to the person who owes him money in Amsterdam, is a line directing him to pay the amount to that other person to whom he is indebted. If the sum to be received is equal to the sum to be paid, the bill discharges the debt ; if it is less, it pays as far as it goes, and the difference constitutes a balance.

It so happens, in the course of business, that the individuals who import goods from Holland, for example, are not the same individuals who export goods to Holland. The merchants who import corn, or butter, or tallow, from Holland, are one set of merchants; the merchants who export cottons and hardware to Holland, are merchants of another description ; the individuals, therefore, who have money to receive from Holland, have nothing to do with any payments in Holland ; they make a demand for their money, and expect it shall be paid. There are other individuals, however, who have money to pay in Holland, and who, to save themselves the expense of sending money, are desirous of obtaining from the individuals, who have money to receive from Holland, orders upon their debtors, that is, bills drawn upon them for the sum. The English exporters, who have money to receive from Holland, therefore, draw bills, upon their correspondents in Holland, and, without needing to wait for the return from Holland, receive the money in England from the English importers.

There are thus two sets of persons in England: one, who have money to receive from Holland; another, who have money to send to Holland. They who have money to send, are desirous of meeting with the persons who have money to receive, and bills to draw ; the persons, again, who have bills to draw, and money to receive, are desirous of meeting with the persons who have' money to pay, and who would give it them immediately, and save them the delay of waiting the return from Holland. But these two sets of men do not always know how to find one another. This gives rise to a set of middle men, who, under the name of bill-brokers and exchange brokers, perform the function of bringing them together, or rather act as the medium between them.

When it so happens that the amount, for which bills are drawn, is the same with that, for which bills are wanted ; in other words, when those, who have money to receive abroad are equal to those who have money to pay ; the amount of bills to be bought, and the amount to be sold, will be exactly the same. For each man desirous to purchase a bill on Holland, there will be another man, equally desirous to sell one. There will be neither premium, therefore, on the one side, nor discount on the other ; the bills, or in the language of the merchants, the exchange, will be at par.

When it happens, however, that the debts and credits are not equal; that England, for example, has more money to pay, than she has to receive; in other words, has imported to a greater amount than she has exported, there are more persons who want to purchase bills on Holland, than there are persons to sell them. Those who cannot obtain bills to discharge their debts in Holland must send the metals. That, however, is an operation, attended with a considerable cost. There is, therefore, a competition for bills; and the merchants give for them rather more than they are worth. A bill, for example, drawn on Holland, for 10,000 guilders, (the 10,000 guilders being, by supposition, equal to 1,000 l.) will be willingly purchased for something more than 1,000 l. In this case, the exchange is said to be in favour of Holland, and against England. It is against England, because in Holland, when bills are drawn upon England, there are more people who have bills to sell, than people who have any occasion to buy. There is a competition, therefore, among the people who wish to sell, and the price falls. A bill on England for 1000 l., instead of selling for 10,000 guilders, will sell for something less. This, it is evident, is a discouragement to the Dutch merchant who exports goods to England. It is also a discouragement to the English merchant who imports goods from Holland, and who, in addition to the 10,000 guilders, which his goods have cost, must pay something more than 1000 l., or 10,000 guilders, for a bill to pay them. On the other hand, there is an encouragement to the English merchant, who exports goods to Holland, inasmuch as he receives for his bill of 10,000 guilders on Holland, rather more than 1,000 l., which is the value of his goods ; be is, therefore, stimulated, by this increase of profit, to increase the quantity of his trade.

It is very easy to see, what is the limit to this variation in the price of bills, called in the language of merchants, the exchange. The motive to the purchase of a bill is the obligation of paying a debt. The merchant, however, on whom it is incumbent to pay a debt in Holland, can pay it without a bill, by sending the metal. To send the metal is attended with a certain cost. If he can obtain the bill without paying beyond this cost, he will purchase the bill. This cost, therefore, is the utmost amount of the premium which he will pay for a bill, and the limit to the rise of its price. As the cost of sending the metal, which is a great value in a small bulk, is never considerable, the exchange can never vary from par to a considerable amount.

It is well known in commerce, how a balance is transferred from one country to another, by means of bills of exchange.

If a balance is due by England to Holland, and by Hamburgh to England, the holder of a bill at Amsterdam for 1,000 l. upon England, will not send his bill to England, where it will fetch him only 1,000 l.,; if by sending it to Hamburgh, it will fetch him something more ; (i.e.) if he has a debt to pay at Hamburgh, when bills upon England are there at a premium, or if the premium will exceed the cost of transporting the gold from Hamburgh to Amsterdam. A debt, which England owed to Holland, is thus paid by a credit which it had at Hamburgh. In England, the merchants who have imported from Holland, pay for the goods which they have imported, by paying the merchants, who have exported to Hamburgh, for the goods which they have exported.

Such are the transactions between country and country, by means of bills of exchange ; and such is the language in which they are expressed. There are two states of things, in which these operations take place : The First, when the currency of both countries remains the same as at the time when the par of exchange was originally computed ; when 10 guilders of Holland, for example, contained as much of the precious metal as 1 l. sterling; and the par of exchange, of course, was said to be 10: The Second, when the relative value of the two currencies does not remain the same; as, for example, when 1 l., instead of being equal to 10 guilders, becomes equal to 12, or to no more than 8.

If we suppose the quantity of the precious metal in the pound sterling to be diminished in such a degree, that it contains no greater quantity than that which is contained in 8 guilders, the par of exchange, in this case, would really be 8, instead of 10. The merchants, however, from the time at which the par of exchange appears to have been originally computed, never altered their language. If the par of exchange between the guilder and the pound sterling was 10, it continued to be called 10, though the relative value or the currencies might be changed ; though the pound sterling, for example, might become equal to 8 guilders only, instead of 10. Notwithstanding this the value of the bills was regulated according to the real value of the currencies; a bill for so many pounds sterling was not when such a change took place equal to a bill for as many times 10 guilders, but for as many times 8. As the par of exchange, however, still was called 10, though really 8, the exchange was said to be against England, in the proportion of 10 to 8, or 20 per cent. This 20 per cent. of unfavourable exchange was altogether nominal ; for when there was this 20 per cent. of discount on the English bill, the exchange was really at par. The language, therefore, was improper and deceptious but if, in such case, it is borne in mind, that 20 per cent. against England means the same as par, it will then be easy to see that every thing which we demonstrated, in the preceding pages, as true with respect to the par, will, in this case, be true with respect to the 20 per cent. Every thing which raises the exchange above par, according to the proper language, makes it as much less than 20, according to the im. proper ; every thing which reduces it below par, according to the proper, makes it as much more than 20, according to the improper. All the effects which follow from what is called the rise above, or fall below par, in the one case, follow from the same things, but called by different names, in the other. On this, therefore, I have no occasion to enlarge.

When the currencies of two countries are metallic, a change in their relative value beyond the fluctuations which are limited by the expense of transmiting the metals, and continually corrected by their transmission, can only happen by a change in the relative quantity of the metal they contain ; there being checks, as we have already seen, which prevent any considerable difference between the value of a metallic currency and that of the metal which it contains There is, however, another case, namely, that of a paper money, not convertible into the metallic. This requires to be considered by itself.

Let us resume the former supposition, that the pound sterling contains as much of the precious metal as 10 guilders; and let us suppose that a paper money, not payable in the metals, is issued in England, in such quantity, that a pound in that money is reduced 20 per cent. below the value of the metal contained in a pound sterling; it is easy to see that a bill for 100 l. sterling, in this case, is of the same value exactly as a bill for 100 l. sterling when the currency was degraded by losing 20 per cent. of its metal. A bill for 100 l. in both cases, is equal not to 100 times 10 guilders, but 100 times 8 guilders. The reason is, that the bill will in England buy only as much of the metal as is contained in 100 times 8 guilders. It will exchange, therefore, of course, only for a bill of 800 guilders.

The facts may be expressed in the form of a general rule. The value of a bill drawn upon any country is equal, when it arrives, to all the precious metal which the money for which it is drawn can purchase in the market: a bill for 100 l., for example, is equal to all the metal which it can purchase, whether it is the same quantity which would be purchased by 100 l., sterling, or less. To whatever amount the portion which it can purchase is less than what could be purchased by 100 l. of the coins, the paper money is degraded below what would be the value of the coins, if they circulated in its stead. The exchange, therefore, against any country, can never exceed the amount of two sums; First, the difference between the value of the degraded and the undegraded currency or that between the nominal amount of the currency, and the quantity of the precious metal which it can purchase; secondly, the expense of sending the metal, when purchased. It thus appears, how perfectly unfounded is the opinion of those (and some political economists of great eminence are included in the number) who conceive that the real, not merely the nominal, exchange, may exceed the expense of transmitting the precious metals. They say, that when, by some particular cause, a great absorption of the precious metals has taken place, creating a scarcity in consequence of which goods must be sent from the country where it is scarce, to bring it back from the countries where it abounds, bills, drawn by the country in which it is scarce, upon the countries where it abounds, may bear a premium, equal to the cost of sending goods which may fetch in the foreign market the value of the bill; and this, in certain cases, may greatly exceed the cost of sending the precious metals.

If the facts are traced, the answer will be seen to be conclusive.

When the exchange between two countries (call them A and B) is at par, it is implied, that the exports and imports of both are equal: that each receives from the other as much as it sends. In this case the goods which A sends to B must be so much cheaper in A than they can be made in B, that they can there be sold with all the addition required on account of the cost of carriage: in like manner the goods which B sends to A must be so much cheaper in B, that the cost of carriage is covered by the price which they fetch in A. This cost of carriage, it is obvious, does not affect the exchange, any more than an item in the cost of production.

Next, let us observe what happens, when the state of the exchange is disturbed. Let us suppose that a demand is suddenly created in A, for the means of making payments in B, greatly beyond the value of the former exportations. The demand for bills on B is consequently increased beyond the supply, and the price rises. The question is, what is the limit to that rise in the price of bills? At first it is evident the rise of price is limited to the cost of sending the precious metal. As the metal, however, departs, the value of it rises. If the currency is paper, and its value stationary, the gold will rise, and rise equally, both in currency and commodities. The final question, then, is, what is the limit to the rise in the value of gold?

Before the premium on the bills commenced, goods in A were so cheap, that a portion of them could be sent to B, and sold, with all the addition of the cost of carriage, and of course with the ordinary profits of stock. The whole of the premium on the bills, therefore, is an addition to the ordinary profits of stock.

If A be taken for England, and B for the continent of Europe, the case will be, that English goods, when the interchange is at par, go abroad, and are sold at a price which includes both profits and cost of carriage; when the premium on bills rises only so high as to equal the cost of sending bullion, it is to that extent an additional profit on the sending of goods.

It is evident that, in proportion as this premium should rise, it would not only enhance the motive to increase the exportation of the goods which could be exported with a profit before the rise of the bills, but that it would render many other kinds of goods exportable, which before could not be exported. Thus, when the exchange was at par, there were certain kinds of goods in England, which, after paying cost of carriage, could be sold abroad with a profit ; there were certain other kinds which, on account of their high price in England, could not be thus exported; some might thus be 1 per cent. too high to be exported, others 2 per cent. too high, others 3 per cent., and so on. It is obvious that a premium of 1 per cent. on bills would enable the first kind to be exported ; a premium of 2 per cent. would enable the second; and a premium of 10 per cent. would enable two or three kinds to be exported, which could not have been exported before. As the counter operation would be of the same kind and the same power, viz. to prevent the importation of foreign goods into England, exportation would be exceedingly increased, importation nearly prevented. The two operations together would be so powerful, that any great deviation from the real par of exchange could never be of long duration. A deviation equal to the cost of sending the precious metal, permanent circumstances might render permanent. If England, for example, sent every year a large amount of the precious metal to India, and received it from Hamburgh, the exchange would be to the extent of the cost of sending the metals, permanently favourable with Hamburgh, unfavourable with India.

If bills of exchange were always drawn for so much weight of gold, the case would be simple. Suppose a bill in London drawn upon Paris for 100 ounces of gold, no man would pay for that bill more gold beyond the 100 ounces than the cost of sending the 100 ounces. He might purchase the 100 ounces at one time with 390 l. of currency, at another with 410 l. of currency, but that would be entirely owing to changes in the relative value of the currency and the gold. These changes, it is said, may in certain circumstances, take place from a rise in the value of the gold, the currency remaining of the same value. This implies that gold can become more valuable in one country than in the neighbouring countries; in England, for example, than on the Continent. But this it cannot do without increasing the exports in England, and diminishing, almost to nothing, the imports. Suppose the rise in the value of gold to be 1 per cent., 2 per cent., or to amount to 10 per cent.; at this last rate the goods which could be sent abroad with the ordinary profit, could be now sent abroad with 10 per cent. more than the ordinary profit, while all the other kinds of goods, those 1 per cent., those 2 per cent., those 3 per cent., 4 per cent. 5 per cent., and so on, too dear to have been sent before, would now all be sent; at the same time that the counter operation would be equally strong to prevent foreign goods from being imported. These are the necessary effects of a high value of gold in one country as compared with other countries; and they are evidently such as to render it impossible that a high value of the precious metal in one country, compared with the neighbouring countries, can ever in a state of freedom be of long duration.

Section XVII. Bounties and Prohibitions

Under this title I include all encouragements and discouragements, of whatsoever sort, the object of which is, to make more or less of production or exchange to flow in certain channels, than would go into them of its own accord.

The argument, on this subject, I trust, will be clear and conclusive, without a multiplicity of words.

If it should appear, that production and exchange fall into the most profitable channels, when they are left free to themselves; it will necessarily follow that, as often as they are diverted from those channels, by external interpositions of any sort, so often the industry of the country is made to employ itself less advantageously

That production and exchange do, when left to themselves, fall into the most profitable channels, is clear by a very short demonstration.

The cases of production and of exchange require to be considered separately; for, in the case of production, there is hardly any difference of opinion. If a country had no commercial intercourse with other countries, and employed the whole of its productive powers exclusively for the supply of its own consumption, nothing could be more obviously absurd, than to give premiums for the production of one set of commodities, and oppose obstructions of any sort to the production of another; I mean, in the view of Political Economy, or, on account of production : for if any country opposes obstructions to certain commodities, as spirituous liquors, because the use of them is hurtful; this regards morality, and has, for its end, to regulate not production, but consumption. Wherever it is not intended to limit consumption, it seems admitted, even in practice, that the demand will always regulate the supply, in the manner in which the benefit of the community is best consulted. The most stupid governments have not thought of giving a premium for the making of shoes, or imposing a preventive tax upon the production of stockings, in order to enrich the country by making a greater quantity of shoes, and a less quantity of stockings. With a view to the internal supply, it seems to be understood that just as many shoes, and just as many stockings, should be made, as there is a demand for. If a different policy were pursued; if a premium were bestowed upon the production of shoes, a tax or other burthen imposed upon the production of stockings, the effect would only be, that shoes would be afforded to the people cheaper, and stockings dearer, than they otherwise would be: that the people would be better supplied with shoes, worse supplied with stockings, than they would have been, if things had been left to their natural course, that is, if the people had been left to consult freely their own convenience, in other words, if the greatest quantity of benefit, from their labour, had been allowed to be obtained.

All that regulation of industry, therefore, the object of which has been, to increase the quantity of one sort of commodities, lessen the quantity of another, has been directed to the purpose of regulating the exchange of commodities with foreign countries; of increasing, or diminishing, most commonly diminishing, the quantity of certain commodities, which would be received from abroad.

Now it is certain, as has been already abundantly proved, that no commodity, which can be made at home, will ever be imported from a foreign country, unless it can be obtained by importation with a smaller quantity of labour, that is, cost, than it could be produced with at home. That it is desirable to have commodities produced with as small a cost of labour as possible seems to be not only certain, but admitted. This is the object of all the improvements that are aimed at in production, by the division and distribution of labour, by refined methods of culture applied to the land, by the invention of more potent and skilful machines. It seems, indeed, to be a selfevident proposition, that whatever the quantity, which a nation possesses of the means of production, the more productive they can possibly be rendered, so much the better; for this is neither more nor less than saying, that to have, all the objects we desire, and to have them with little trouble, is good for mankind.

Not only is it certain, that in a state of freedom no commodity, which can be made at home, will ever be imported, unless it can be imported with a less quantity, or cost, of labour than it could be produced with at home; but, whatever is the country from which it can be obtained with the smallest cost of labour, to that recourse will be had for obtaining it; and whatever the commodity, by the exportation of which, it can be obtained with the smallest quantity of home labour, that is the commodity, which will be exported in exchange. This results, so obviously, from the laws of trade, as not to require explanation. It is no more than saying, that the merchants, if left to themselves, will always buy in the cheapest market, and sell in the dearest.

It seems, therefore, to be fully established, that the business of production and exchange, if left to choose its own channels, is sure to choose those, which are most advantageous to the community. It is sure to choose those channels, in which the commodities, which the community desires to obtain, are obtained with the smallest cost. To obtain the commodities, which man desires, and to obtain them with the smallest cost, is the whole of the good which the business of production and exchange, considered simply as such, is calculated to yield. In whatever degree, therefore, the business of production and exchange is forced out of the channels into which it would go of its own accord, to that degree the advantages arising from production and exchange are sacrificed; or, at any rate, postponed to something else. If there is any case, in which they ought to be postponed to something else, that is a question of politics, and not of political economy.

There is no subject, upon which the policy of the restrictive and prohibitive system has been maintained with greater obstinacy, and with a greater quantity of sophistry, than that of the trade in corn. There can, however, be no doubt, that corn never will be imported, unless when it can be obtained from abroad with a smaller quantity of labour than it can be produced with at home. All the good, therefore, which is obtained from the importation of any commodity, capable of being produced at home, is obtained from the importation of corn. Why should that advantage which, in the case of corn, owing to the diversities of soil and extent of population, is liable to be much greater than in the case of any other commodity, be denied to the community?

The reasons, upon which the advocates for a restriction of the corn trade chiefly support themselves, are two ; neither is of any value.

The first is, that unless the nation derive its corn from its own soil, it may, by the enmity of its neighbours, be deprived of its foreign supply, and reduced to the greatest distress. This argument implies an ignorance both of history, and of principle: Of history, because, in point of fact, those countries which have depended the most upon foreign countries for their supply of corn, have enjoyed beyond all other countries, the advantage of a steady and invariable market for grain : Of principle, because it follows unavoidably, if what, in one country is a favourable, is in other countries an unfavourable season, that obtaining a great part of its supply from various countries is the best security a nation can have against the extensive and distressing fluctuations which the variety of seasons is calculated to produce. Nor is the policy involved in this argument better than the political economy. It sacrifices a real good, to escape the chance of a chimerical evil : an evil so much the less to be apprehended, that the country, from which another derives its supply of corn, is scarcely less dependant upon that other country for a vent to its produce, than the purchasing country is for its supply. It will not be pretended, that a glut of corn, in any country, from the loss of a great market, with that declension of price, that ruin of the farmers, and that depression of rents, which are its unavoidable consequences, is an immaterial evil.

The second reason, upon which the advocates of the corn monopoly support themselves, is, that, if the merchants and manufacturers enjoy in certain cases the monopoly of the home supply, the farmers and landlords are subject to injustice, when a similar monopoly is not bostowed upon them. In the first place, it may be observed, that, if this argument is good for the growers of corn, it is good for every other species of producers whatsoever ; if, because a tax is imposed upon the importation of woollens, a tax ought to be imposed upon the importation of corn, a tax ought also to be imposed upon the importation of every thing, which the country can produce; the country ought, in short, to have no foreign commerce, except in those articles alone, which it has not the means of producing.

The argument moreover supposes, that an extraordinary gain is obtained by the manufacturer, in consequence of his supposed protection ; and that a correspondent evil is sustained by the corn grower, unless he is favoured by a similar tax. The ignorance of principle is peculiarly visible in those suppositions, in neither of which is there a shadow of truth.

The man who embarks his capital in the woollen, or any other manufacture, with the produce of which that of the foreign manufacturers is not allowed to come into competition, does not, on that account, derive a greater profit from his capital. His profit is no greater than that of the man whose capital is embarked in trades open to the competition of all the world. All that happens is, that a greater number of capitalists find employment in that branch of manufacture; that a portion, in short, of the capitalists of the country employ themselves in producing that particular species of manufacture, who would otherwise be employed in producing some other species, probably in producing something for the foreign market, with which that commodity, if imported from the foreign manufacturer, might be bought.

As the man who has embarked his capital in the trade, which is called protected, derives no additional profit from the protection ; so the grower of corn sustains not any peculiar loss or inconvenience. Nothing, therefore, can be conceived more groundless than his demand of a compensation on that account. The market for corn is not diminished because a tax is laid upon the importation of woollens; nor would that market be enlarged if the tax were taken off. His business, therefore, is not in the least degree affected by it.

It would be inconsistent with the plan of a work, confined to the exposition of general principles, to lay open all the fallacies, which lurk in the arguments for restraining the trade in corn. One or two, however, of the sources of deception, cannot be left altogether unnoticed.

The landlord endeavours to represent his own case, and that of the manufacturer, as perfectly similar ; though, in the circumstances which concern this argument, they are not only different, but opposite. The landlord also endeavours to mix up his own case with that of the farmer; and upon the success of that endeavour almost all the plausibility of his pretensions depends. That no pretensions are more unfounded, may be seen by a very short process of reasoning. The farmer, as a producer, requires, like every other producer, that all his outgoings be returned to him, with the due profit upon the capital which he employs. The surplus, which the land yields, over and above this return and profit, is what he pays to his landlord ; and his interest is not affected by the quantity of that surplus, whether it be great or small. His interest, however, is very much affected by wages; because, in proportion as wages are low, his profits, like all other profits, are high. Wages cannot be low, if corn is dear. The interest, therefore, the permanent interest, of the class of farmers, consists, in having corn cheap. This or that individual in the class may, that is, during the currency of a lease, have an interest in high prices; and the reason of the exception shows the truth of the general rule. The individual, who, during the currency of a lease, has an interest in high prices, is, by his lease, converted, to a certain extent, into a receiver of rent. During the continuance of his lease, if prices rise, he gets, not only his due return of profits as a farmer, but something more, namely, a portion of what is truly rent, and which, but for his lease, would have gone to the landlord.

This, then, is the grand distinction. The receivers of rent are benefited by a high price of corn ; the producers of corn, as such are not benefited by it, but the reverse. The case of the farmer corresponds with that of the manufacturer, not with that of the landlord. The farmer is a producer and capitalist; the manufacturer is a producer and capitalist ; and they have both received all that belongs to them, when their capital is replaced with its profits. The landlord is not a producer, nor a capitalist. He is the owner of certain productive powers in the soil; and all which the soil produces belongs to him, after paying the capital which is necessary to put those productive powers in operation. It thus appears that the case of the landlord is peculiar; that a high price of corn is profitable to him, because, the higher the price, the smaller a portion of the produce will suffice to replace, with its profits, the capital of the farmer; and all the rest belongs to himself. To the farmer, however, and to all the rest of the community, it is an evil, both as it tends to diminish profits, and as it enhances the charge to consumers.

Section XVIII. Colonies

Among the expedients which have been made use of, to force into particular channels a greater quantity of the means of production, than would have flowed into them of their own accord; colonies are a subject of sufficient importance to require a particular consideration.

The only point of colonial policy, which it is here necessary to consider, is that of trade with the colonies. And the question is, whether any peculiar advantage may be derived from it.

With respect to colonies, as with respect to foreign countries, the proposition will, doubtless, be admitted, that, whatever advantage is derived from trading with them, consists in what is received from them, not in what is sent; because that, if not followed by a return, would be altogether loss.

The return from them is either money or commodities. The reader is by this time fully aware that a country derives no advantage from receiving money, more than from receiving any other species of commodity. It is also plain that where the colony has not mines of the precious metal, it cannot, under the monopoly of the mother country, have money, or any thing else, beside its own productions, to send.

It is needless to consider the case or free trade with a colony, because that falls under the case or trade with any foreign country.

The monopoly, which a mother country may reserve to herself, of the trade with her colonies, is of two sorts.

First of all, she may trade with her colonies, by means of an exclusive company. In this case, the colony has no purchaser, to whom she is allowed to sell any thing, but the exclusive company; and no other seller, from whom she is allowed to buy any thing. The company, therefore, can make her buy, as dear as it pleases, the goods which the mother country sends to her, and sell, as cheap as it pleases, the goods which she sends to the mother country. In other words, the colony may, in these circumstances, be obliged to give for the produce of a certain quantity of the labour of the mother country, a much greater quantity of goods than the mother country could obtain, with the same quantity, from any other country, or from the colony in a state of freedom.

The cases of a trade in these circumstances are two: the first, where the colony receives from the mother country, luxuries, comforts: the other, where she receives necessaries; either the necessaries of life, or the necessaries of industry, as iron, &c.

In that case, in which the colony receives luxuries and comforts only from the mother country, there is a limit to the degree in which the mother country is enabled to profit by the labour of the colony. The colony may decline receiving such luxuries or comforts, if obliged to sacrifice for them too great a quantity of the produce of her labour, and may think it better to employ that great proportion of her labour, in providing such luxuries and comforts as she herself is capable of producing.

If, however, the colony is dependant for necessaries upon the mother country, the exclusive company exercises over the colony a power altogether despotic. It may compel her to give the whole produce of her labour, for no more of the necessaries in question, than what is just sufficient to enable the population of the colony to live. If it is the necessaries of life, which the colony receives, the conclusion is obvious. If it is commodities, such as iron, and instruments of iron, without which her labour cannot be productively employed, the result is precisely the same. She may be made to pay for these articles so much of the whole produce of her labour, that nothing but what is necessary to keep the population alive may remain. It would be the interest of the mother country, not to lessen the population ; because, with the population, the produce would be lessened, and hence the quantity of commodities which the mother country could receive.

Instead, however, of trading with her colonies by means of an exclusive company, the mother country may leave the trade open to all her own merchants, only prohibiting the colony from trading with the merchants of any other country. In this case, the competition of the merchants in the mother country reduces the price of all the articles received by the colony, as low as they can be afforded-in other words, as low as in the mother country itself, allowance being made for the expense of carrying them. If it be said that the colonies afford a market; I reply, that the capital, which supplies commodities for that market, would still prepare commodities, if the colonies were annihilated ; and those commodities would still find consumers. The labour and capital of a country cannot prepare more than the country will be willing to consume. Every individual has a desire to consume, either productively or unproductively, whatever he receives. Every country, therefore, contains within itself a market for all that it can produce. This will be made still more evident, when the subject of consumption, the cause and measure of markets., comes under consideration. There is, therefore, no advantage whatsoever derived, under freedom of competition, from that part of the trade with a colony which consists in supplying it with goods, since no more is gained by it, than such ordinary profits of stock as would have been gained if no such trade had existed. It is nevertheless true that the colony may lose by such a traffic, if the goods, which she is thus compelled to purchase of the mother country, might have been purchased cheaper in other countries.

If there be any peculiar advantage, therefore, to the mother country, it must be derived from the cheapness of the goods, with which the colony supplies her. It is evident, that if the quantity of goods, sugar, for example, which the colony sends to the mother country, is so great as to glut the mother country; that is to supply its demand beyond the measure of other countries, and make the price of them in the mother country lower than it is in other countries, the mother country profits by compelling the colony to bring its goods exclusively to her market, since she would have to pay for them as high as other countries, if the people of the colony were at liberty to sell wherever they could obtain the greatest price.

This advantage, if drawn by the mother country, would be drawn at the expense of the colony. In free trade, both parties gain. In the advantage produced by forcing, whatever is gained by the one party is lost by the other. The mother country, in compelling the colony to sell goods cheaper to her than she might sell them to other countries, merely imposes upon her a tribute; not direct, indeed, but not the less real because it is disguised.

If any advantage is derived from restraining, any otherwise than by an exclusive company, the trade with the colonies, it must consist in forcing the colonies to sell to none but the mother country, not in forcing them to buy from none but the mother country. A great improvement, therefore, in colonial policy would be, to throw open the supply of the colonies, permitting them to purchase the goods which they want, wherever they could find the most favourable market, only restraining them in the sale of their goods: allowing them to buy wherever they pleased, permitting them to sell to none but the mother country.

It is at the same time to be observed, that if the merchants of the mother country have freedom to export the goods which are derived from the colonies, the price of these goods will be raised in their own country to the level of the price in other countries. The competition of the merchants will, also, raise the price of the goods to a correspondent height in the colonies ; and thus the benefit to the mother country is lost.

Treaties of commerce are sometimes concluded, for the purpose of limiting the freedom of trade. One country can be limited to another in but two ways; either in its purchases, or its sales. Suppose that Great Britain binds some other country to purchase certain commodities exclusively from her; Great Britain can derive no advantage from such a treaty. The competition of her merchants will make them sell those commodities as cheap to the merchants of that country, as to their own countrymen. Their stock is not more profitably employed than it would be if no such trade existed. There are cases in which a country may gain by binding another country to sell to none but itself. If one country is bound to sell no commodities whatsoever, except to another particular country ; this is the same case, exactly, with that of a colony bound to sell to none but the mother country. As no free country, however, is likely to bind itself to sell none of its commodities except to one other, this is not a case which we need to regard as practicable or real.

One country may bind itself to sell exclusively to another particular country, not all the articles it has for foreign sale, but only some of them.

These may be articles which yield nothing, even in a state of freedom, but the ordinary profits of stock ; as cloth, hardware, hats, &c. : or they may be articles which yield something over and above the ordinary profits of stock; as corn, wine, minerals, &c. which are the source of rent.

One country can derive no advantage from compelling another to sell to it, exclusively, articles of the first sort. If the price which the favoured country pays for the goods is not sufficient to afford the ordinary profits of stock, they will not be produced. If the price which it pays is sufficient to afford the ordinary profits of stock, it would, at that price, obtain the goods, without any treaty of restriction.

The case is different, where the goods yield something, as rent, or the profits of a monopoly, over and above the profits of stock. The quantity which may be sent in this case to the favoured country, may sink there the price of the restricted commodity lower than it is in the neighbouring countries; and lower than the restricted country would, if not under restriction, be enabled to sell it in those countries. To this extent, and to this only, can one country benefit, by confining the trade of another to itself. The restriction may operate to a diminution of the profits of a monopolized commodity, or a diminution of rent.

There is one mode of presenting this subject, which is apt to puzzle a mind not accustomed to trace the intricacies of this science.

Suppose two countries, A and B, of which A is bound by treaty, or otherwise, to receive all its shoes from B, and to sell to B all its sugars: Suppose, also, that A could, if left at liberty, obtain its shoes 50 per cent. cheaper from some other country; in that case, it may for a moment appear, that B, obtains the sugars which it buys of A, with 50 per cent. less of its own labour, than it would if A were allowed to purchase where it pleased.

If B paid for the supposed sugars in shoes, it would, no doubt, pay 50 per cent. more in the case of a free trade.

But if there were any other article with which it could purchase those sugars, and which it could afford as cheap as any other country, it would lose nothing in the case of a free trade; it would purchase the same quantity of sugar with the produce of the same quantity of labour as before ; only, that produce would be, not shoes, but some other article.

That there would be articles which B could afford as cheap as any other country, is certain, because otherwise it could have no foreign trade.

It may be said, however, that though B might have articles which it could sell as cheap as other countries, they might not be in demand in the country which produced the sugars. But if shoes only were in demand in the colonies, those other articles could purchase shoes where they were cheapest; and thus obtain the same quantity of sugar, in the free, as in the restricted state of the trade.

Contents | next section | Political Economy Archive