Elements of Political Economy by James Mill (1844)


The Subject - Its Limits - and Division

Political Economy is to the State, what domestic economy is to the family.

The family consumes; and, in order to consume, it must supply.

Domestic economy has, therefore, two grand objects; the consumption and supply of the family. The consumption being a quantity always indefinite, for there is no end to the desire of enjoyment, the grand concern is, to increase the supply.

Those things, which are produced, in sufficient abundance for the satisfaction of all, without the intervention of human labour; as air, the light of the sun, water, and so on; are not objects of care or providence; and therefore, accurately speaking, do not form part of the subject of domestic economy. The art of him, who manages a family, consists in regulating the supply and consumption of those things, which cannot be obtained but with cost; in other words, with human labour, "the original purchase money, which is given for every thing."

The same is the case with Political Economy. It also has two grand objects, the Consumption of the Community, and that Supply upon which the consumption depends. Those things, which are supplied without the intervention of human labour, as nothing is required in order to obtain them, need not be taken into account. Had every thing, desired for consumption, existed without human labour, there would have been no place for Political Economy. Science is not implied in putting forth the hand, and using. But when labour is to be employed, and the objects of desire can be multiplied only by a preconcerted plan of operations, it becomes an object of importance to ascertain completely the means of that multiplication, and to frame a system of rules for applying them with greatest advantage to the end.

It is not pretended, that writers on Political Economy have always limited their disquisitions to this object. It seems, however, important to detach the science from all considerations not essential to it. The Reader is therefore requested to observe that, in the following pages, I have it merely in view, to ascertain the laws, according to which the production and consumption are regulated of those commodities, which the intervention of human labour is necessary to procure.

The Science of Political Economy, thus defined, divides itself into two grand inquiries; that which relates to Production, and that which relates to Consumption.

But, after things are produced, it is evident, that, before they are consumed, they must be distributed. The laws of distribution, therefore, constitute an intermediate inquiry.

When commodities are produced, and distributed, it is highly convenient, for the sake both of reproduction and consumption, that portions of them should be exchanged for one another. To ascertain, therefore, the laws, according to which commodities are exchanged for one another, is a second inquiry, preceding that which relates to the last great topic of Political Economy, Consumption.

It thus appears, that four inquiries are comprehended in this science.

1st. What are the laws, which regulate the production of commodities:

2dly. What are the laws, according to which the commodities, produced by the labour of the community, are distributed:

3dly. What are the laws, according to which commodities are exchanged for one another:

4thly. What are the laws, which regulate consumption.

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