Sir James Steuart (1767)
In a former chapter I have examined this question, relatively to mankind fed by the hand of nature: I now come nearer home, and shall keep close to modern times, considering circumstances and effects which by daily experience we see and feel.
I have often said, that numbers are in proportion to the produce of the earth. I now say, that in most countries of Europe, the food produced in the country is nearly consumed by the inhabitants: and by nearly I understand, that the part exported bears a small proportion to the home-consumption. I do by no means establish this as an universal proposition; but I say it is true for the most part: and the intention of this chapter is to enable us to judge how far these limitations should extend. I allow, for example, that Holland, not producing food for its inhabitants, must draw it from some country which produces a superfluity, regularly. but let it be observed that Poland, Germany, Flanders, and England, with many other countries, contribute their contingents to supply the demand of the Dutch; and of several large trading towns which have small territories. This being the case, the quota furnished by each country, must be in a small proportion to the respective quantity growing in it. But these are general conclusions upon vague suppositions, which throw no light on the question. I shall therefore endeavour to apply our reasoning to facts, and then examine consequences.
There are few countries, I believe, in Europe more abounding in grain than England: I shall therefore keep that kingdom in my eye while I examine this matter. Nothing is more common than to hear that an abundant crop furnishes more than three years' subsistence: nay, I have found it advanced by an author of consideration, (Advantages and Disadvantages of France and Great Britain, &c. article Grain,) that a plentiful year produces five years' nourishment for the inhabitants. If this be a mistake, it may prove a very hurtful one in many respects. I am, on the contrary, apt to believe, that no annual produce of grain ever was so great in England as to supply its inhabitants fifteen months, in that abundance with which they feed themselves in a year of plenty. If this be the case, at what may we compute the surplus in ordinary good years? I believe it will be thought a very good year which produces full subsistence for fourteen months; and crops which much exceed this are, I believe, very rare. Here follow my reasons for differing so widely from the gentleman whom I have cited. If I am in the wrong, I shall have the most sensible pleasure in being set right; and nothing will be so easy to any one who has access to be better informed as to facts than I can pretend to be.
I consider all the yearly crop of grain in England as consumed at home, except what is exported; for I cannot admit that any considerable quantity is lost: that it may be abused, misapplied, drunk when it should be eat, I do not deny. These are questions which do not regard the present inquiry. Whether therefore it be consumed in bread, beer, spirits, or by animals, I reckon it consumed; and in a year when the greatest consumption is made at home, this I call the abundance with which the inhabitants feed themselves in years of plenty. Now I find in the performance above cited, a state of exportations for five years, from 1746 to 1750 inclusive, where the quantity exported amounts in all to 5,289,847 quarters of all sorts of grain. This is not one year's provision, according to Sir William Petty's calculation, of which we have made mention above. The bounties upon corn (continues the author above mentioned) have amounted in one year to 500,000l, sterling. He does not mention the year, and I am little able to dispute that matter with him. I suppose it to be true; and still farther, let it be understood that the whole exportation was made out of the produce of one crop. I do not find that this sum answers to the bounty upon 3,000,000 of quarters, which, according to Sir William Petty, make six months' provision. I calculate thus: The bounty upon wheat is 5s. a quarter, that upon rye 3s. 6d. that upon barley 2s. 6d. these are the species of grain commonly exported: cast the three premiums together, and divide by three, the bounty will come to 3s. 8d. at a medium; at which rate 500,000l. sterling will pay the bounty of 2,727,272 quarters of grain. An immense quantity to be exported! but a very inconsiderable part of a crop supposed capable to maintain England for five years. It may be answered, that the great abundance of a plentiful year is considerably diminished when a scanty crop happens to precede it, or to follow upon it. In the first case, it is sooner begun upon; in the last, it supplies the consumption in the year of scarcity, considerably. This I allow to be just; but as it is not uncommon to see a course of good years follow one another, the state of exportation at such times must certainly be the best, nay, the only method of judging of the real extent of superfluity.
On the other hand, I am apt to believe, that there never was a year of such scarcity as that the lands of England did not produce greatly above six months, subsistence, such as the people are used to take in years of scarcity. Were six months of the most slender subsistence to fail, I imagine all Europe together might perhaps be at a loss to supply a quantitY sufficient to prevent the greatest desolation by famine.
As I have no access to look into records, I content myself with less authentic documents. I find then by the London news-papers, that, from the 9th of April to the 13th of August 1757, while great scarcity was felt in England, there were declared in the port of London no more than 71,728 quarters of wheat, of which 15,529 were not then arrived. So that the whole quantity there imported to relieve the scarcity, was 56,199 quarters. Not one month's provision for the inhabitants of that city, reckoning them at 800,000 souls! One who has access to look into the registers of the trade in grain, might in a moment determine this question. (8)
Another reason which induces me to believe what the above arguments seem to prove, I draw from what I see at present passing in Germany; I mean the universal complaints of scarcity in those armies which are now assembled (1757). When we compare the numbers of an army, let it be of a hundred thousand men, and forty thousand horses; suppose the suit of it to be as many more, all strangers (for the others I reckon nothing extraordinary); what an inconsiderable number does this appear, in proportion to the inhabitants of this vast country of Germany! Yet let us observe the quantity of provisions of all sorts constantly coming down the Rhine, the Moselle, and many other rivers, collected from foreign provinces on all hands; the numbers of cattle coming from Hungary; the loads of corn from Poland; and all this in a year which has produced what at any other time would have been called an excellent crop. After these foreign supplies, must not one be astonished to find scarcity complained of in the provinces where the war is carried on, and high prices every where else. From such circumstances I must conclude, that people are generally very much deceived in their estimation of plenty and scarcity, when they talk of two or three years' subsistence for a country being found upon their lands at once. I may indeed be mistaken in my conclusions; but the more I have reflected upon this subject, the more I find myself confirmed in them, even from the familiar examples of the sudden rise of markets from very inconsiderable monopolies, and of their sudden fall by inconsiderable quantities imported. I could cite many examples of these vicissitudes, were it necessary, to prove what every one must observe.
I come now to resolve a difficulty which naturally results from this doctrine, and with which I shall close the chapter.
If it be true, that a crop in the most plentiful year is nearly consumed by the inhabitants, what becomes of them in years of scarcity? for nobody can deny, that there is a great difference, between one crop and another. To this I answer, first, That I believe there is also a very great deception, or common mistake, as to the difference between crops: a good year for one soil, is a bad one for another. But I shall not enlarge on this; because I have no sufficient proof to support my opinion. The principal reason upon which I found it, is, that it is far from being true, that the same number of people consume always the same quantity of food. In years of plenty every one is well fed; the price of the lowest industry can procure subsistence sufficient to bear a division; food is not so frugally managed; a quantity of animals are fatted for use; all sorts of cattle are kept in good heart; and people drink more largely, because all is cheap. A year of scarcity comes, the people are ill fed, and when the lower classes come to divide with their children, the portions are brought to be very small; there is great oeconomy upon consumption, few animals are fatted for use, cattle look miserably, and a poor man cannot indulge himself with a cup of generous ale. Add to all these circumstances that in England the produce of pasture is very considerable, and it commonly happens, that a bad year for grain, which proceeds from rains, is for the same reason a good year for pasture; and in the estimation of a crop, every circumstance must be allowed to enter.
From what has been said I must conclude in general, that the best corn country in the world, provided slavery be not established, does not produce wherewithal fully to maintain, as in years of plenty, one third more than its own inhabitants; for if this should be the case, all the policy of man would not be able to prevent the multiplication of them, until they arose nearly up to the mean proportion of the produce in ordinary years, and it is only what exceeds this standard, and proceeds from unusual plenty, which can be exported. (9) Were plentiful years more common, mankind would be more numerous; were scarcity more frequent, numbers would be less. Numbers therefore must ever be, in my humble opinion, in the ratio of food, and multiplication will never stop until the balance comes to be nearly even.
In the titles of my chapters, I rather seek to communicate a rough idea of the subject than a correct one. In truth and in reason, there is no such thing as a country actually peopled to the full, if by this term numbers only are meant, without considering the proportion they bear to the consumption they make of the productions of their country. I have in a former chapter established a distinction between the physical and moral impossibility of increasing numbers. As to the physical impossibility, the case can hardly exist, because means of procuring subsistence from other countries, when the soil refuses to give more, seem, if not inexhaustible, at least very extensive. A country therefore fully peopled, that is, in a physical impossibility of increasing their numbers, is a chimerical and useless supposition. The subject here under consideration is, the situation of a people, who find it their interest to seek for subsistence from abroad. This may happen, and commonly does, long before the country itself is fully improved: it decides nothing as to the intrinsic fertility of the soil, and proves no more, than that the industry of the free hands has made a quicker progress in multiplying mouths, than that of the farmers in providing subsistence. To illustrate this idea, let me propose the following question: Is multiplication the efficient cause of agriculture, or is agriculture that of multiplication?
I answer, that multiplication is the efficient cause of agriculture, though I allow, that, in the infancy of society, the spontaneous fruits of the earth, which are free to all, are the efficient cause of a multiplication, which may rise to the exact proportion of them; as has been said above. This I am now to explain.
I have already distinguished the fruits of agriculture from the earth's spontaneous productions: I must farther take notice, that when I employ the term agriculture in treating of modern policy, I always consider it to be exercised as a trade, and producing a surplus, and not as the direct means of subsisting, where all is consumed by the husbandman, as has been fully explained above. We have said that it is the surplus produced from it, which proves a fund for multiplying inhabitants. Mow there must be a demand for this surplus. Every person who is hungry will make a demand, but every such demand will not be answered, and will consequently have no effect. The demander must have an equivalent to give: it is this equivalent which is the spring of the whole machine; for without this the farmer will not produce any surplus, and consequently he will dwindle down to the class of those who labour for actual subsistence. The poor, who produce children, make an ineffectual demand, and when they cannot increase the equivalent, they divide the food they have with the newcomers, and prove no encouragement to agriculture. By dividing, the whole become ill fed, miserable, and thus extinguish. Now because it is the effectual demand, as I may call it, which makes the husbandman labour for the sake of the equivalent, and because this demand increases, by the multiplication of those who have an equivalent to give, therefore I say that multiplication is the cause, and agriculture the effect. On the other hand, I think the spontaneous fruits of the earth, as in the supposition, may be considered as the cause of a certain limited multiplication; because in this case there is no equivalent demanded. The earth produces, whether her fruits be consumed or not: mankind are fed upon these gratuitously, and without labour, and the existence of the fruits is anterior to the production of those who are to consume them. Those who are first fed, draw their vigour from their food, and their multiplication from their vigour. Those who are produced, live freely upon their parent earth, and multiply until all the produce be consumed: then multiplication stops, as we have said; but establish agriculture, and multiplication will go on a-new. Consequently, my reader will say, agriculture is as much the cause of this new multiplication, as the spontaneous fruits were of the first. Here is a very natural conclusion, which seems directly to contradict what we have been endeavouring to prove; but the knot is easily untied. We have seen how the existence of agriculture depends upon the industry of man; and how this industry is the only means of establishing agriculture. Now, as this industry is chiefly promoted by the motive of providing for our children, the procreation of them must be considered as the first, or at least the most palpable political cause of setting mankind to work, and therefore may be considered as anterior to agriculture; whereas, on the other hand, the earth's spontaneous productions being in small quantity, and quite independent of man, appear, as it were, to be furnished by nature, in the same way as a small sum is given to a young man, in order to put him in a way of industry, and of making his fortune. The small sum sets him a-going, but it is his industry which makes the fortune. From this illustration it appears, that if the demand for food can be more readily supplied from abroad than from home, it will be the foreign subsistence, which will preserve numbers, produced from industry, not from domestic agriculture; and these numbers will, in their turn, produce an advancement of it at home, by inspiring a desire in the husbandman to acquire the equivalent which their countrymen give to strangers.
Such nations, whose statesmen have not the talent to engage the husbandmen to wish for the equivalent, which the labour of their fellow-citizens can produce, or, in other words, who cannot create reciprocal wants and dependences among their subjects, must stand in a moral incapacity of augmenting in numbers. Of such states we have no occasion to treat in this chapter, any more than of those who are supposed to be in the physical incapacity of multiplying: our point of view is, to examine the natural consequences resulting from a demand for subsistence extending itself to foreign countries. This I take to be the mother of industry at home, as well as of trade abroad; two objects which come to be treated of in the second book.
A country may be fully peopled (in the sense we understand this term) in several different ways. It may be fully stocked at one time with six millions, and at another may maintain perhaps eight or even nine millions with ease, without the soil's being better cultivated or improved. On the other hand, a country may maintain twenty millions with ease, and by being improved as to the soil, become over-stocked with fifteen millions. These two assertions come next to be explained.
The more frugal a people are, and the more they feed upon the plentiful productions of the earth, the more they may increase in numbers.
Were the people of England to come more into the use of living upon bread, and give over consuming so much animal food, inhabitants would certainly increase, and many rich grass fields would be thrown into tillage. Were the French to give over eating so much bread, the Dutch so much the fish, the Flemish so much garden stuff, and the Germans so much sourkraut, and all take to the English diet of pork, beef, and mutton, their respective numbers would soon decay, even although their lands were better improved than at present. These are but reflections, by-the-bye, which the reader may enlarge upon at pleasure. The point in hand is, to know what are the consequences of a country's being so peopled, no matter from what cause, that the soil, in its actual state of fertility, refuses to supply a sufficient quantity of such food as the inhabitants incline to live upon. These are different according to the diversity of spirit in the people.
If they be of an indolent disposition, directed in their political oeconomy by established habits and old prejudices, which prevent innovations, although a change of circumstances may demand them, the effect will be to put a stop to population; which cannot augment without an increase of food on one hand, and of industry on the other, to make the first circulate. These must go hand in hand: the precedence between them is a matter of mere curiosity and speculation.
If, on the contrary, a spirit of industry has brought the country to a certain degree of population, this spirit will not be stopped by the want of food; it will be brought from foreign countries, and this new demand, by diminishing among them the quantity usually produced for their own subsistence, will prompt the industrious to improve their lands, in order to supply the new demand without any hurt to themselves. Thus trade has an evident tendency towards the improvement of the world in general, by rendering the inhabitants of one country industrious, in order to supply the wants of another, without any prejudice to themselves. Farther:
The country fully stocked can offer in exchange for this food, nothing but the superfluity of the industry of the free hands, for that of the farmers is supposed to be consumed by the society; except indeed some species of nourishment or productions, which, being esteemed at a higher value in other countries than in those which produce them, bring a more considerable return than the value of what is exported, as when raw silk and delicate wines, &c. are given in exchange for grain and other provisions.
The superfluity of industry must, therefore, form the principal part of exportation, and if the nation fully stocked be surrounded by others which abound in grain and articles of subsistence, where the inhabitants have a taste for elegance, and are eager of acquiring the manufactures and improvements of their industrious neighbours; it is certain, that a trade with such nations will very considerably increase the inhabitants of the other, though fully stocked relatively to the production of their own soil; and the additional inhabitants will increase the number of manufacturers only, not of husbandmen. This is the case with Holland, and with many large trading cities which are free and have but a small territory.
If, on the contrary, the nation fully stocked be in the neighbourhood of others who take the same spirit as itself, this supply of food will become in time more difficult to be had, in proportion as their neighbours come to supply their own wants. They must therefore seek for it at a greater distance, and as soon as the expence of procuring it comes to exceed the value of the labour of the free hands employed in producing the equivalent, their work will cease to be exported, and the number of inhabitants will be diminished to the proportion of the remaining food.
I do not say that trade will cease on this account; by no means. Trade may still go on, and even be more considerable than before; but it will be a trade which never can increase inhabitants, because for this purpose there must be subsistence. It may have however numberless and great advantages: it may greatly advance the wealth of the state, and this will purchase even power and strength. A trading nation may live in profound peace at home, and send war and confusion among her enemies, without even employing her own subjects. Thus trade, without increasing the inhabitants of a country, can greatly add to its force, by arming those hands which she has not bred, and employing them for her service.
This I find has been made a question in modern times. The ancients held in great veneration the inventors of the saw, of the lathe, of the wimble, of the potter's wheel; but some moderns find an abuse in bringing mechanism to perfection (see Les Interets de la France mal entendus, p. 272. 3 13.): the great Montesquieu finds fault with watermills, though I do not find that he has made any objection against the use of the plough.
Did people understand one another, it would be impossible that such points could suffer a dispute among men of sense; but the circumstances referred to, or presupposed, which authors always almost keep in their eye, though they seldom express them, render the most evident truths susceptible of opposition.
It is hardly possible suddenly to introduce the smallest innovation into the political oeconomy of a state, let it be ever so reasonable, nay ever so profitable, without incurring some inconveniences. A room cannot be swept without raising dust, one cannot walk abroad without dirtying one's shoes; neither can a machine, which abridges the labour of men, be introduced all at once into an extensive manufacture, without throwing many people into idleness.
In treating every question of political oeconomy, I constantly suppose a statesman at the head of government, systematically conducting every part of it, so as to prevent the vicissitudes of manners, and innovations, by their natural and immediate effects or consequences, from hurting any interest within the commonwealth. When a house within a city becomes crazy, it is taken down; this I call systematical ruin: were it allowed to fall, the consequences might be fatal in many respects. In like manner, if a number of machines are all at once introduced into the manufactures of an industrious nation, (in consequence of that freedom which must necessarily be indulged to all sorts of improvement, and without which a state cannot thrive,) it becomes the business of the statesman to interest himself so far in the consequences, as to provide a remedy for the inconveniences resulting from the sudden alteration. It is farther his duty to make every exercise even of liberty and refinement an object of government and administration; not so as to discourage or to check them, but to prevent the revolution from affecting the interests of the different classes of the people, whose welfare he is particularly bound to take care of.
The introduction of machines can, I think, in no other way prove it: and I have hurtful by making people idle, than by the suddenness of frequently observed, that all sudden revolutions, let them be ever so advantageous, must be accompanied with inconveniences. A safe, honourable, and lasting peace, after a long, dangerous, and expensive war, forces a number of hands to be idle, and deprives them of bread. Peace then may be considered as a machine for defending a nation, at the political loss of making an army idle; yet nobody, I believe, will allege that, in order to give bread to soldiers, sutlers, and undertakers, the war should be continued. But here I must observe, that it seems to be a palpable defect in policy, if a statesman shall neglect to find out a proper expedient (at whatever first expence it may be procured) for giving bread to those who, at the risk of their lives, have gone through so many fatigues for the service of their country. This expence should be charged to the account of the war, and a state ought to consider, that as their safety required that numbers should be taken out of the way of securing to themselves a lasting fund of subsistence, which would have rendered them independent of every body, (supposing that to have been the case,) she becomes bound by the contract of society which ties all together, to find them employment. Let me seek for another illustration concerning this matter.
I want to make a rampart cross a river, in order to establish a bridge, a mill, a sluice, &c. For this purpose, I must turn off the water, that is, stop the river: would it be a good objection against my improvement to say, that the water would overflow the neighbouring lands? as if I could be supposed so improvident as not to have prepared a new channel for it? Machines stop the river; it is the business of the state to make the new channel, as it is the public which is to reap the benefit of the sluice. I imagine what I have said will naturally suggest an answer to all possible objections against the introduction of machines; as for the advantages of them, they are so palpable that I need not insist upon them. There is, however, one case, in which I think they may be disapproved of; but it seems a chimerical supposition, and is brought in here for no other purpose than to point out and illustrate the principle which influences this branch of our subject.
If you can imagine a country peopled to the utmost extent of the fertility of the soil, and absolutely cut off from any communication with other nations; all the inhabitants fully employed in supplying the wants of one another, the circulation of money going forward regularly, proportionally, and uniformly through every vein, as I may call it, of the political body; no sudden or extraordinary demand at any time for any branch of industry; no redundancy of any employment; no possibility of increasing either circulation, industry, or consumption. In such a situation as this, I should disapprove of the introduction of machines, as I disapprove of taking physic in an established state of perfect health. I disapprove of a machine for no other reason but because it is an innovation in a state absolutely perfect in these branches of its political oeconomy: and where there is perfection there can be no improvement. I farther disapprove of it because it might force a man to be idle, who would be found thereby in a physical impossibility of getting his bread, in any other way than that in which he is supposed to be actually employed.
The present situation of every country in Europe is so widely distant from this degree of perfection, that I must consider the introduction of machines, and of every method of augmenting the produce or assisting the labour and ingenuity of man, as of the greatest utility. Why do people wish to augment population, but in order to compass these ends? Wherein does the effect of a machine differ from that of new inhabitants?
As agriculture, exercised as a trade, purges the land of idle mouths, and pushes them to a new industry which the state may turn to her own advantage; so does a machine introduced into a manufacture, purge off hands which then become superfluous in that branch, and which may quickly be employed in another.
If therefore the machine proves hurtful, it can only be because it presents the state with an additional number of hands bred to labour; consequently, if these are afterwards found without bread, it must proceed from a want of attention in the statesman: for an industrious man, made idle, may constantly be employed to advantage, and with profit to him who employs him. What could an act of naturalization do more, than to furnish industrious hands, forced to be idle, and demanding employment? Machines therefore I consider as a method of augmenting (virtually) the number of the industrious, without the expence of feeding an additional numbers: this by no means obstructs natural and useful population, for the most obvious reasons.
We have shewn how population must go on, in proportion to subsistence, and in proportion to industry: now the machine eats nothing, therefore does not diminish subsistence; and industry (in our age at least) is in no danger of being over-stocked in any well-governed state: for let all the world copy your improvements, they still will be the scholars. And if, on the contrary, in the introduction of machines you are found to be the scholars of other nations, in that case you are brought to the dilemma of accepting the invention with all its inconveniences, or of renouncing every foreign communication.
In speculations of this kind, one ought not, I think, to conclude, that experience must of necessity prove what we imagine our reasoning has pointed out.
The consequences of innovations in political oeconomy, admit of an finite variety, because of the infinite variety of circumstances which attend them: no reasoning, therefore, however refined, can point out a priori, what upon such occasions must indispensibly follow. The experiment must be made, circumstances must be allowed to operate; inconveniences must be prevented or rectified as far as possible; and when these prove too many, or too great to be removed, the most rational, the best concerted scheme in theory must be laid aside, until preparatory steps be taken for rendering it practicable.
Upon the whole, daily experience shews the advantage and improvement acquired by the introduction of machines. Let the inconveniences complained of be ever so sensibly felt, let a statesman be ever so careless in relieving those who are forced to be idle, all these inconveniences are only temporary; the advantage is permanent, and the necessity of introducing every method of abridging labour and expence, in order to supply the wants of luxurious mankind, is absolutely indispensable, according to modern policy, according to experience, and according to reason.
I have hitherto considered the object of agriculture, as no more than the raising of grain; the food of mankind has been estimated by the quantity they consume of this production; and husbandmen have been supposed to have their residence in the country. As my subject has but an indirect connection with the science of agriculture, I have simplified many things complex in themselves, the better to adapt them to the principal object of my inquiry, and the better to keep my attention fixed upon one idea at a time. I am now going to return to some parts of my subject, which I think I have treated too superficially; and to examine, as I go along, some miscellaneous questions which will naturally arise from what is to be said.
QUEST. I. Every one almost who has written upon population, and upon agriculture, considered as an essential concomitant of it, has recommended the equal distribution of the property of lands as useful to both.. a few reflections upon this question, after what has been thrown out in the course of the foregoing chapters, may not be improper; more in order to examine and apply the principles laid down, than with a view to combat the opinion of others.
I have already, upon several occasions, taken notice of the great difference between the political oeconomy of the ancients, and that of modern times; for this reason, among others, that I perceive that the sentiments of the ancients, which were founded upon reason and common sense, relative to their situation, have been adopted by some moderns, who have not perhaps sufficiently attended to the change of our manners, and to the effects which this change must operate upon every thing relative to our oeconomy. The ancients recommended strongly an equal distribution of lands as the best security for liberty, and the best method, not only to preserve an equality among the citizens, but also to increase their number.
In those days, the citizens did not compose one half, perhaps not one fourth, of the state relatively to numbers; and there was no such thing almost as an established moneyed interest, which can nowhere be founded but upon trade, and an extensive industry. In those days there was no solid income, but in land: and this being equally divided among the citizens, was favourable to their multiplication and produced equality. But in our days, riches do not consist in lands only; nay we sometimes find the most considerable proprietors of these in very indifferent circumstances; loaded with debts, and depending upon the indulgence of men who have not an acre, and who are their creditors. Let us therefore divide our lands as we please, we shall never produce equality by it. This, with respect to one point, is an essential difference between us and the ancients. Now as to the other; to wit, population.
The equal division of lands tends greatly, no doubt, to increase the numbers of one class of inhabitants, to wit, the landlords. In ancient times, as has been observed, the chief attention was to increase the citizens, that is, the higher classes of the state; and the equal division of property so effectually produced this effect, that some Greek states were obliged to allow the exposition of children; and Aristotle looked upon it as a thing indispensably necessary, as M. de Montesquieu has very judiciously observed. The multiplication of the lowest classes, that is, of the slaves, never entered into the consideration of the public, but remained purely a matter of private concern; and we find it was a question with some, whether or not it was worth while to breed from them at all. But in our days the principal object is to support the lower classes from their own multiplication; and for this purpose, an unequal division of property seems to me the more favourable scheme; because the wealth of the rich among us, falls naturally into the pockets of our industrious poor; whereas the produce of a very middling fortune does little more than feed the children of the proprietor, who in course become very commonly and very naturally an useless burthen upon the land. Let me apply this to an example. Do we not familiarly observe, that the consolidation of small estates, and the diminution of gentlemen's families of middling fortune, do little harm to a modern state. There are always abundance of this class of inhabitants to be found whenever there is occasion for them. When a great man buys up the lands of the neighbouring gentry, or small proprietors, all the complaints which are heard, turn upon the distress which thence results to the lower classes, from the loss of their masters and protectors; but never one word is heard of that made by the state, from the extinction of the former proprietor's family. This abundantly shews that the object of modern attention is the multiplication of the lower classes; consequently it must be an inconsistency to adopt the practice of the ancients, when our oeconomy is entirely opposite to theirs.
QUEST. II. Let this suffice to point out how far the difference of our manners should influence the division of our lands. I shall now examine a question relative to the science of agriculture, not considered as a method of improving the soil, (this will come in more naturally afterwards,) but of making it produce to the best advantage, supposing it to be already improved.
In treating of the productions of the earth, in consequence of agriculture, I have all along distinguished them from those which spontaneously proceed from the force of nature: these are the immediate gift of God, those are the return of the labour of his creatures. Every one knows that the labour of mankind is not in proportion to their numbers, but to their industry. The produce therefore of agriculture must be estimated, not according to the quantity of fruits only, but also according to the labour employed to produce them. These things premised, the question here proposed to be examined arises, viz. Which species of agriculture is the most advantageous to a modern society, that which produces the greatest quantity of fruits absolutely taken, or that which produces the greatest quantity relatively taken, I mean to the labour employed?
This question might easily be resolved, in general, by the application of principles already deduced; although it cannot admit of a direct answer, in the manner I have put it. One, therefore, may say indeterminately, that species is the best which produces a surplus the best proportioned to the industry, and to the demands of all the free hands of the state. But as this solution would not lead me to the object I have in view, I have thrown in an alternative in order to gain attention to the principles which I am going to examine, and which influence and determine the establishment of the one or the other species of agriculture.
The principal difficulty I find in the examination of this question, is to distinguish the effects of agriculture from those of this spontaneous production of the earth. The returns from pasture, for example, relatively taken, are, as we have observed, both from reason and from experience, far greater than those of corn fields, (vid. supra, chap. 8.) though I little doubt but that, absolutely taken, the case is quite otherwise; that is to say, that an acre of the finest corn-land will produce more nourishment for man, than an equal portion of the finest pasture: but here we are following the proportion of space and produce, not of labour; for if the produce of both acres be considered relatively to the labour necessary for the cultivation, as well as to the extent, the produce of pasture will be found far greater, this however I ascribe to the spontaneous operation of nature, and not to the superior utility of this kind of agriculture.
Since therefore it is impossible rightly to separate the effects of nature from those of art and industry, in this species of improvement, let us confine our speculations to those only which have for their object the turning up the surface, and the sowing or cultivating annual vegetables. For the better conveying our ideas, let us take an example, and reason from a supposition.
Let me suppose an island of a small extent and fruitful soil, suffIciently improved, and cultivated after the manner of the best lands of England, in the ordinary method of farming.
In this case we may infer, from what was laid down in the 8th chapter, that the number of people employed about farming may be nearly about one half of the whole society. Let the whole inhabitants of the island be called 1000, that is 500 farmers, and as many free hands. The 500 farmers must then feed 1000; the 500 free hands must provide for all the other wants of 1000. By this supposition, and allowing that there is an equal degree of industry in these two classes, the providing of food will appear to be an occupation just equal to that of providing for all other wants.
One of the society proposes to augment the number of inhabitants by introducing a more operose species of agriculture, the produce of which may be absolutely greater, though relatively less.
The first question the statesman would naturally put to this reformer would be: What is your view in increasing the number of our inhabitants; is it to defend us against our enemies; is it to supply the wants of strangers, and thereby to enrich ourselves; is it to supply our own wants with more abundance; or is it to provide us more abundantly with food? I can hardly find out any other rational view in wishing for an additional number of people in any country whatsoever. Let it be answered, that all these ends may be thereby obtained: and now let us examine how far this reformation upon agriculture will have the effect of increasing inhabitants, how far such increase will procure the ends proposed, and how far the execution of such a plan is a practicable scheme to an industrious people.
If the inhabitants be not sufficiently fed, which is the only thing that can prevent their multiplication, it must proceed from one of two causes. Either first, that those do procreate who cannot produce an equivalent for the food of their children; or secondly, that industry making a quicker progress than agriculture, the industrious come too strongly in competition with one another, for the surplus of food to be found; which has the effect of raising the prices of it, and reducing the portions too low to suffer a division; and thereby of preventing marriage and multiplication in the lower classes of the free hands.
In the first case, it is to no purpose to increase the produce of agriculture, by rendering it more expensive; for those who have no equivalent to give when food is cheap, will still be in greater necessity when it rises in the price. In the second case, it is hurtful to diminish the surplus of the farmers, because the supposition proves that the balance is already too heavy upon the side of the free hands, that is, that the surplus of the farmers is already become insufficient fully to feed them.
Two remedies may be proposed for this inconvenience, the one tending to population, the other to depopulation; and as the end to be compassed is to set the balance even between husbandmen and freehands, I shall explain both, and point out how far from principles it appears, that in either way the end may be attained.
The first tending to increase population is the remedy proposed, and, no doubt, were it possible to introduce a new system of agriculture of a larger absolute production, although the relative production should be less, the inhabitants of the state, becoming thereby better fed, though at a greater cost, would infallibly multiply. Let me therefore examine this first part before I say any thing of the other; and for the greater distinctness I shall return to my example, and examine both the consequences and the possibility of putting such a plan in execution.
Let me suppose, that by using the spade and rake, instead of the plough and harrow, the lands of our island might be brought to produce with more abundance; this is a method of increasing the expence of agriculture, which would require an additional number of husbandmen.
Now, by the supposition, 500 farmers fed, though scantily, the whole of the inhabitants, that is 1000 persons. If therefore 100 of the free hands can be engaged to become farmers, the end may be attained: more nourishment will be produced; the people will be better fed; they will multiply. that is, their number will rise above 1000. Let us next endeavour to form a judgment of this increase, and of the consequence of the revolution.
The society will now be composed of 600 farmers and 400 free hands. The 600 will certainly produce more fruits than formerly; but as their labour is relatively less productive by the supposition, it will be impossible for them to furnish a surplus equal to their own consumption; consequently, the free hands never will be able to rise to a number equal to theirs; that is, the society will never get up to 1200. But we supposed, that the other wants of the society required the industry of one half of the inhabitants to supply them; that is, of all the 500 free hands; and, as the number of these has been already reduced, and can never more rise to the former proportion, as has been said, must not either the people voluntarily adopt a more simple way of living; or must not the demand for work rise very considerably? Let me consider the consequences in both cases. In the first, you perceive, that if the inhabitants themselves are obliged to simplify their way of living, for want of hands to supply what they formerly consumed, three of the four objects proposed by the reformation become impossible to be attained; to wit, the defending themselves against their enemies, the supplying the wants of strangers, and the supplying their own with more abundance. And with regard to the fourth, the being better fed, this must cease to be the case, the moment the end is obtained; that is, the moment the inhabitants are multiplied up to the proportion of additional food. Consequently, by simplifying their way of life, and allowing farming to stand upon the new footing, they compass not any one of the ends they proposed.
Next, if we suppose, that the inhabitants do not incline to simplify their way of life, but that the wealthy among them insist upon purchasing all the instruments of luxury which they formerly were used to enjoy, must not demand for work greatly rise, and must not, of consequence, an additional encouragement be given to that species of labour which had been diminished, in taking 100 persons from industry, to throw them into the class of farmers? Will not this make them quickly desert their spade, and the rather, as they have taken to an employment less lucrative than that of farming, according to the former system?
So much for the consequences which would follow, in case the plan proposed was found practicable; that is, supposing it to be a thing possible to transport into agriculture a part of an industrious society, already otherwise employed, and to change all at once the relative proportion between those who supply food, and those who purchase it with their industry. We have begun, by taking this first step for granted; and now I am to shew what obstacles will be found in the execution.
We have said, that it is the multiplicity and complexity of wants which give an encouragement to agriculture, and not agriculture, or an abundance of food, which inspires mankind with a disposition to labour. Now, if this principle be true, the supposition we have proceeded upon is absurd. I am afraid, both reason and experience will abundantly prove that it is so.
The natural and necessary effect of industry, in trades and manufactures, is to promote the increase of relative husbandry; which by augmenting the surplus, tends of course to increase the proportion of the free hands relatively to the farmers. A river may as easily ascend to its source, as a people voluntarily adopt a more operose agriculture than that already established, supposing the lands to be fully improved, the spirit of industry to prevail on one hand, and the farmers to have profit only in view on the other.
What farmer could sell the surplus of an expensive agriculture in competition with another who exercised a species relatively more productive?
When lands are improved, the simplification of agriculture is a necessary concomitant of industry, because diminishing expence is the only method of gaining a preference at market.
QUEST. III. When industry is set on foot, it gives encouragement to agriculture exercised as a trade: and by the allurements of ease, which a large surplus procures to the farmers, it does hurt to that species which is exercised as a method of subsistence. Lands become more generally, and less thoroughly laboured. In some countries, tillage is set on foot and encouraged; this is an operose agriculture. While industry goes forward, and while a people can remain satisfied with a nourishment consisting chiefly of bread, this system of agriculture will subsist, and will carry numbers very high. If wealth increases, and if those who have it begin to demand a much greater proportion of work than formerly, while they consume no more food, then I believe numbers may diminish from the principles I am now going in quest of.
I return to the council of the island where the proposition laid down upon the carpet is, The scanty subsistence of the inhabitants requires redress.
A Machiavelian stands up (of such there are some in every country) and proposes, instead of multiplying the inhabitants, by rendering agriculture more operose, to diminish their number, by throwing a quantity of corn-fields into grass. What is the intention of agriculture, says he, but to nourish a state? By our operose method of plowing and sowing, one half of the whole produce is consumed by those who raise it; whereas by having a great part of our island in pasture, one half of the husbandmen may be saved. Pray what do you propose to do with those whom you intend to make idle? replies a citizen. Let them betake themselves to industry. But industry is sufficiently, nay more than sufficiently, stocked already. If, says Machiavel, the supernumerary husbandmen be thrown out of a way of living, they may go where they please; we have no occasion for them, nor for any one who lives to feed himself alone. But you diminish the number of your people, replies the citizen, and consequently your strength; and if afterwards you come to be attacked by your enemies, you will wish to have those back again for your defence, whom in your security you despised. To this the other makes answer: there you trust to the Egyptian reed. If they be necessary for feeding us at present, how shall we be able to live while we employ them as soldiers? We may live without many things, but not without the labour of our husbandmen. Whether we have our grounds in tillage or in pasture, if this class be rightly proportioned to the labour required, we never can take any from it. In those countries where we see princes have recourse to the land to recruit their armies, we may safely conclude, that there the land is overstocked; and that industry has not as yet been able to purge off all the superfluous mouths: but with us the case is different, where agriculture is justly proportioned to the number of husbandmen. If I propose a reform, it is to augment only the surplus, upon which all the state, except the husbandmen, are fed; if the surplus, after the reform, is greater than at present, the plan is good, although 250 of our farmers should thereby be forced to starve for hunger.
Though no man is, I believe, capable to reason in so inhuman a style, and though the revolution here proposed be an impossible supposition, if meant to be executed all at once, the same effects however must be produced, in every country where we see corn-fields by degrees turned into pasture: the change is gradual only, industry is not overstocked anywhere, and subsistence may be drawn from other countries, where the operose species of agriculture can be carried on with profit.
I must now touch again upon another part of my subject, which I think has been treated too superficially.
In a former chapter I have shewn how industry has the natural effect of collecting into towns and cities the free hands of a state, leaving the farmers in their farms and villages. This distribution served the purpose of explaining certain principles; but when examined relatively to other circumstances which at that time I had not in my eye, it will be found by far too general. Let me therefore add some farther observations upon this matter.
The extensive agriculture of plowing and sowing, is the proper employment of the country, and is the foundation of population in every nation fed upon its own produce. Cities are commonly surrounded by kitchen-gardens, and rich grass-fields; these are the proper objects of agriculture for those who live in suburbs, or who are shut up within the walls of small towns. The gardens produce various kinds of nourishment, which cannot easily be brought from a distance, in that fresh and luxuriant state which pleases the eye, and conduces to health. They offer a continual occupation to man, and very little for cattle; therefore are properly situated in the proximity of towns and cities. The grass fields again are commonly either grazed by cows, for the production of milk, butter, cream, &c. which suffer by long carriage; or kept in pasture for preserving fatted animals in good order until the markets demand them; or they are cut in grass for the cattle of the city. They may also be turned into hay with profit; because the carriage of a bulky commodity from a great distance is sometimes too expensive. Thus we commonly find agriculture disposed in the following manner. In the center stands the city, surrounded by kitchen-gardens; beyond these lies a belt of fine luxuriant pasture or hay-fields; stretch beyond this, and you find the beginning of what I call operose farming, plowing and sowing; beyond this lie grazing farms for the fattening of cattle; and last of all come the mountainous and large extents of unimproved or ill improved grounds, where animals are bred. This seems the natural distribution, and such I have found it almost every where established, when particular circumstances do not invert the order.
The poorness of the soil near Paris, for example, presents you with fields of rye-corn at the very gates, and with the most extensive kitchen-gardens and orchards, even for cherries and peaches, at a considerable distance from town. Other cities I have found, and I can cite the example of this which I at present inhabit (Padoua), where no kitchen-garden is to be found near it, but every spot is covered with the richest grain; two thirds with wheat, and the remaining third with Indian corn. The reason of this is palpable. The town is of a vast extent, in proportion to the inhabitants; the gardens are all within the walls, and the dung of the city enables the corn-fields to produce constantly. Hay is brought from a greater distance, because the expence of distributing the dung over a distant field, would be greater than that of transporting the hay by water-carriage. The farm-houses here appear no larger than huts, as they really are, built by the farmers, because the space to be laboured is very small, in proportion to the produce; hence it is, that a farmer here pays the value of the full half of the crop to the landlord, and out of the remaining half, not only sows the ground and buys the dung, but furnishes the cattle and labouring instruments, nay even rebuilds his house, when occasion requires.
When first I examined these fertile plains, I began to lament the prodigal consumption of such valuable lands, in a multitude of very broad highways, issuing to all quarters; many of which I thought might be saved, in consideration of the vast advantage accruing upon such oeconomy. but upon farther rejection I perceived, that the loss was inconsiderable; for the fertility of the soil proceeding chiefly from the manure laid upon it, the loss sustained from the roads ought to be computed at no more than the value of the land when uncultivated. The case would be very different, were roads now to be changed, or new ones carried through the corn-fields; the loss then would be considerable, though even this would be temporary, and affect particular persons only; for the same dung, which now supports these lands in their fertility, would quickly fertilize others in their place, and in a few years matters would stand as at present.
These last reflections naturally lead me to examine a question which has been treated by a very polite French writer, the author of l'Ami de l'Homme, and which comes in here naturally enough, before I put an end to this first book. Here it is.
QUEST. IV. Does an unnecessary consumption of the earth's productions, either in food, clothing, or other wants; and a prodigal employment of fine rich fields, in gardens, avenues, great roads, and other uses which give small returns, hurt population, by rendering food and necessaries less abundant, in a kingdom such as France, in its present situation?
My answer is, That, were France fully cultivated and peopled, the introduction of superfluous consumption would be an abuse, and would diminish the number of inhabitants; as the contrary is the case, it proves an advantage. I shall now give my reasons for differing in opinion from the gentleman whose performance I have cited.
As the question is put, you perceive the end to be compassed is, to render food and necessaries abundant; because the abuse is considered in no other light, than relatively to the particular effect of diminishing the proper quantity of subsistence, which the king would incline to preserve, for the nourishment and uses of his people. I shall confine myself therefore chiefly to this object, and if I shew, that these superfluous employments of the surface of the earth, and prodigal consumptions of her fruits, are really no harm, but an encouragement to the improvement of the lands of France in her present state, I shall consider the question as sufficiently resolved: because if the abuse, as it is called, prove favourable to agriculture, it can never prove hurtful to population; however, from the inattention of government, it may affect foreign trade: This is an object entirely foreign to the present question. But before I enter upon the subject, it is proper to observe, that I am of opinion, that any system of oeconomy which necessarily tends to corrupt the manners of a people, ought by every possible means to be discouraged, although no particular prejudice should result from it, either to population, or to plentiful subsistence.
Now in the question before us, the only abuse I can find in these habits of extraordinary consumption, appears to be relative to the character of the consumers, and seems in no way to proceed from the effects of the consumption. The vices of men may no doubt prove the cause of their making a superfluous consumption; but the consumption they make can hardly ever be the cause of this vice. The most virtuous man in France may have the most splendid table, the richest clothes, the most magnificent equipages, the greatest number of useless horses, the most pompous palace, and most extensive gardens. The most enormous luxury to be conceived, in our acceptation of this term, so long as it is directed to no other object than the consumption of the labour and ingenuity of man, is compatible with virtue as well as with vice. This being premised, I come to the point in hand.
France, at present, is in her infancy as to improvement, although the advances she has made within a century excite the admiration of the world. I shall not go far in search of the proof of this assertion. Great tracts of her lands are still uncultivated, millions of her inhabitants are idle. When all comes to be cultivated, and all are employed, then she will be in a state of perfection, relatively to the moral possibility of being improved. The people are free, slavery is unknown, and every man is charged with feeding himself, and bringing up his children. The ports of the country are open to receive subsistence, and this nation, as much as any other, may be considered as an individual in the great society of the world; that is, may increase in power, wealth, and ease, relatively to others, in proportion to the industry of her inhabitants. This being the case, all the principles of political oeconomy, which we have been inquiring after, may freely operate in this kingdom.
France has arrived at her present pitch of luxury, relatively to consumption, by slow degrees. As she has grown in wealth, her desire of employing it has grown also. In proportion as her demands have increased, more hands have been employed to supply them; for no article of expence can be increased, without increasing the work of those who supply it. If the same number of inhabitants in the city of Paris consume four times as much of any necessary article as formerly, I hope it will be allowed, that the production of such necessaries must be four times as abundant, and consequently, that many more people must be employed in providing them.
What is it that encourages agriculture, but a great demand for its productions? What encourages multiplication, but a great demand for people; that is, for their work? Would any one complain of the extravagant people in Paris, if, instead of consuming those vast superfluities, they were to send them over to Dover, for a return in English gold? Where is the difference between the prodigal consumption and the sale? The one brings in money, the other brings in none: but as to food and necessaries, for providing the poor and frugal, their contingent, in either case, stands exactly the same.
But, says one, were it not for this extraordinary consumption, every thing would be cheaper. This I readily allow; but will any body say, that reducing the price of the earth's productions is a method to encourage agriculture; especially in a country where grounds are not improved, and where they cannot be improved; chiefly, because the expence surpasses all the profits which possibly can be drawn from the returns? High prices therefore, the effect of great consumption, are certainly advantageous to the extension of agriculture. If I throw my rich corn fields into gravel-walks and gardens, they will no more, I suppose, come into competition with those of my neighbour, the laborious husbandman. Who will then lose by my extravagance? Not the husbandman. It will perhaps be said, the nation in general will lose; because you deprive them of their food. This might be true, were the laying waste the cornfields a sudden revolution, and extensive enough to affect the whole society and were the sea-ports and barriers of the kingdom shut: but that not being the case, the nation, upon the smallest deficiency, goes to market with her money, and loses none of her inhabitants.
Obj. But if living is made dear, manufacturers must starve, for want of employment.
Answ. Not those who supply home consumption, but those only who supply foreigners living more cheaply; and of such I know but few. The interest of this class shall be fully examined in another place. At present I shall only observe, that the laying waste corn-fields in an industrious country, where refinement has set on foot a plan of useful husbandry, will have no other effect, than that of rendering grain for a while proportionally dearer: consequently, agriculture will be thereby encouraged; and in a few years the loss will be repaired, by a farther extension of improvement. This will make food plentiful and cheap: then numbers will increase, until it become scarce again. It is by such alternative vicissitudes, that improvement and population are carried to their height. While the improvement of lands goes forward, I must conclude, that demand for subsistence is increasing; and if this be not a proof of population, I am much mistaken.
I can very easily suppose, that a demand for work may increase considerably, in consequence of an augmentation of riches only because there are no bounds to the consumption of work; but as for articles of nourishment, the case is quite different. The most delicate liver in Paris will not put more of the earth's productions into his belly, than another: he may pick and choose, but he will always find, that what he leaves will go to feed another: victuals are not thrown away in any country I have ever been in. It is not in the most expensive kitchens where there is found the most prodigal dissipation of the abundant fruits of the earth; and it is with such that a people is fed, not with ortolans, truffles, and oysters, sent from Marenne.
From what has been said, I must conclude, that while the consumption of the earth's produce, and of the work of man tends to excite industry, in providing for extraordinary demands; when the interest of foreign trade does not enter into the question; and while there are lands enough remaining unimproved, to furnish the first matter, namely, subsistence, flax, wool, silk, timber, etc. there can be no political abuse from the misapplication or unnecessary destruction of either fruits or labour. The misapplier, or dissipator, is punished by the loss of his money; the industrious man is rewarded by the acquisition of it. We have said, that vice is not more essentially connected with superfluity, than virtue with industry and frugality. But such questions are foreign to my subject. I would however recommend it to moralists, to study circumstances well, before they carry a pretended reformation so far, as to interrupt an established system in the political oeconomy of their country.
1. Although in common language we call mimsters of state, and even such as are eminent for their knowledge in state affairs, by the name of statesmen, the reader is here advertised to attend carefully to the definition of this word in the text, because the term statesman is uniformly taken in the same acceptation through this whole work.
2. By Roderigo, the last king of the Gothic line.
3. Given by an Austrian officer to a Genoese, which occasioned the revolt in 1747 by which the Germans were expelled the city.
4. As my subject is different from the doctrine of morals, I have no occasion to consider the term luxury in any other than a political sense, to wit, as a principle which produces employment, and gives bread to those who supply the demands of the rich. For this reason I have chosen the above definition of it, which conveys no idea, either of abuse, sensuality, or excess; nor do I, at present, even consider the hurtful consequences of it as to foreign trade. Principles here are treated of with regard to mankind in general, and the effects of luxury are only considered relatively to multiplication and agriculture. Our reasoning will take a different turn, when we come to examine the separate interest of nations, and the principles of trade.
5. I beg, therefore, that at present my reasoning may be carried no farther (from inductions and suppositions) than my intention is that it should be. I am no patron, either of vice, profusion, or the dissipation of private fortunes; althogh I may now and then reason very coolly upon the political consequences of such diseases in a state, when I consider only the influence they have as to feeding and multiplying a people. My subject is too extensive of itself to admit of being confouded with the doctrine either of morals, or of government, however closely these may appear connected with it; and did I not begin by simplifying ideas as nuc as possible, and by banishing combinations of them, I should quickly lose my way, and involve myself in perplexities inextricable.
6. Every transition of money from hand to hand, for a valuable consideration, implies some service done, something wrought by man, or performed by his ingenity, or some consumption of something produced by his labour. The quicker therefore the circulation of money is in any country, the nore strongly it may be inferred, that the inhabitats are laborious; and vice versa: but of this more hereafter.
7. Hence we may conclude, that in those countries where the people live upon the spontaneous fruits, the whole society (considered in a political light) is found composed of free hands. Nature there supplies the place of the whole class of farmers.
We have said that industry and manufactures are the occupation of the free hands of a state; consequently, where the proportion of them is the largest, industry should flourish to the greatest advantage; that is to say, in countries where the inhabitants live upon the spontaneous fruits: but this is not the case. Why? Because there is another circumstance of equal weight which prevents it. These people are unacquainted with want, and want is the spur to industry. Let this suffice, in general, as to the distribution of inhabitants in countries unacquainted with labour.
8. This question is now with the greatest precision resolved by the publisher of a pamphlet intitled, Three Tracts on the Corn Trade and Corn Laws, with a Supplement; Lond. 1766. Second Edit. (C. Smith).
We have there, authentic accounts of all the grain exported from England, or imported into it from abroad, from 1697 to 1765, from which it appears (p. III.) that the greatest quantity of all sorts of grain ever exported, viz. of wheat, barley, oats, oatmeal, and rye, was in the year 1750, and amounted to 1,606,688 English quarters; and (p. 144.) we have an ingenious computation of the growth, consumption, export, and import of these grains, upon averages taken from the 68 years above mentioned; where the ordinary or mean consumption of England is rated at 13,555,850 quarters. So the greatest exportation ever known in one year very little exceeds 1/8 of the ordinary consumption, and is equivalent to about 46 days' provision only.
On the other hand, the greatest importation ever known, was in the year 1757, when the total quantity inmported, was 151,743 quarters of all sorts of grain as above, which does not amount to 1/89 of the ordinary consumption of the people of England, and is equivalent to their subsistence for 4 days 2 hours and 24 minutes (p. 124).
These facts were unknown to me when I wrote this chapter. I had at that time been long abroad, and had very little communication with my own country: and though I very strongly felt the consequences of my own reasoning, I was so far overawed by the force of the popular opinion, that I durst not venture to rate either the surplus or the deficiency otherwise than it is found in the text.
9. The truth of this, also, is made evident from the tracts cited in the last note: but to a far greater extent, than I could take upon me to affirm from theory alone.
It is there said (p. 144.) that the mean export in England, is barely 1/33 (1/32) part of the growth exclusive of the seed; and that the mean import is equal to 1/571 part of the consumption, and 1/18 part of the export.
It would be amazing indeed, were a people, so circumstanced with respect to subsistence, ever found in a real want of foreign supply. But it is nowise amazing, that those who have no interest in agriculture, should complain, and cry out for importation, when a bad policy in the corn trade, and the want of a small granary, equal to the national consumption during five days only, make prices occasionally rise, and when the smallest quantity imported from abroad is found to make them immediately fall, though at a considerable loss both to the agriculture and the trade of the nation.
If it be asked, how so small a deficiency as 1/571 part of the ordinary consumption, should make so sensible a difference to a nation, as to raise prices to an exorbitant height? And how an overplus so small as 1/33 should be considered as great plenty, and make prices fall universally? I answer, that if in a good year, after every nman, and every animal has been fully fed, there shall still remain on hand a quantity equal to 1/33 of what has been consumed, this overplus, considered by itself, is a very great quantity, though small if considered relatively to the total consumption of the kingdom; and were it not exported, it would sink prices too much and ruin the farmer. That in a bad year, again, the deficiency of 1/571 part of the ordinary consumption, though very inconsiderable relatively to the whole, is still very great when we consider, that before prices can rise so high as to nmake government think of opening the ports to importation, the lowest classes of the industrious inhabitants, whose gains are small, must have been already reduced to the minimum of their consumption; and when people are brought to the minimum, a very small diminution upon their food may bring on the greatest distress.
In good years, we are therefore to consider the quantity exported, as that part of the crop which is over and above the full nourishment for men and cattle: And in bad years, we are to consider what is imported, to be what is wanting of the scrimply necessary, for subsisting the lowest classes of our people, at the price they can afford to pay for it.
But among all the ingenious inquiries which the English have made into this subject, I have never seen (till of late in a new publication intitled the Farmer's Letters) any attempt made, to compare the prices of subsistence with the rate of the lowest gains of the industrious who must go to market. From the exposition of this matter by this ingenious author, it appears very plain to me, that prices have never risen so high in England, as to make importation necessary. The very lowest manufacturer and day-labourer there, may live better at the highest price of subsistence in any year since the beginning of this century, than the generality of such of their order actually do, in any country in Europe which I have seen. From which I conclude that as long as matters stand in this situation, all importation of subsistence from foreign nations, not under the dominion of Great Britain should be intirely suspended.
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