Sir James Steuart (1767)
Before I enter upon this second book, I must premise a word of connexion, in order to conduct the ideas of my reader by the same way through which the chain of my own thoughts, and the distribution of my plan have naturally led me.
My principal view hitherto has been to prepare the way for an examination of the principles of modern politics, by inquiring into those which have, less or more, operated regular effects in all the ages of the world.
In doing this, I confess, it has been impossible for me not to anticipate many things which, according to the plan I have laid down, will in some measure involve me in repetitions.
I propose to investigate principles which are all relative and depending upon one another. It is impossible to treat of these with distinctness, without applying them to the objects on which they have an influence; and as the same principles extend their influence to several branches of my subject, those of my readers who keep them chiefly in their eye, will not find great variety in the different applications of them.
In all compositions of this kind, two things are principally requisite. The first is, to represent such ideas as are abstract, clearly, simply, and uncompounded. This part resembles the forging out the links of a chain. The second is, to dispose those ideas in a proper order; that is, according to their most immediate relations. When such a composition is laid before a good understanding, memory finishes the work, by cementing the links together; and provided any one of them can be retained, the rest will follow of course.
Now the relations between the different principles of which I treat, are indeed striking to such as are accustomed to abstract reasoning, but not near so much as when the application of them is made to different examples.
The principle of self-interest will serve as a general key to this inquiry; and it may, in one sense, be considered as the ruling principle of my subject, and may therefore be traced throughout the whole. This is the main spring, and only motive which a statesman should make use of, to engage a free people to concur in the plans which he lays down for their government.
I beg I may not here be understood to mean, that self-interest should conduct the statesman: by no means. Self-interest, when considered with regard to him, is public spirit; and it can only be called self-interest, when it is applied to those who are to be governed by it.
From this principle, men are engaged to act in a thousand different ways, and every action draws after it certain necessary consequences. The question therefore constantly under consideration comes to be, what will mankind find it their interest to do, under such and such circumstances?
In order to exhaust the subject of political oeconomy, I have proposed to treat the principles of it in relation to circumstances; and as these are infinite, I have taken them by the more general combinations, which modern policy has formed. These, for the sake of order, I have represented as all hanging in a chain of consequences, and depending on one another. See Book I. Chap. ii.
I found this the best method for distributing my plan, from which it is natural to infer, that it will also prove the best for enabling my readers to retain it.
I shall do what I can to diversify, by various circumstances, the repetitions which this disposition must lead me into. There is no seeing a whole kingdom, without passing now and then through a town which one has seen before. I shall therefore imitate the traveller, who, upon such occasions, makes his stay very short, unless some new curiosity should happen to engage his attention.
I have said, that self-interest is the ruling principle of my subject, and I have so explained myself, as to prevent any one from supposing, that I consider it as the universal spring of human actions. Here is the light in which I want to represent this matter.
The best way to govern a society, and to engage every one to conduct himself according to a plan, is for the statesman to form a system of administration, the most consistent possible with the interest of every individual, and never to flatter himself that his people will be brought to act in general, and in matters which purely regard the public, from any other principle than private interest. This is the utmost length to which I pretend to carry my position. As to what regards the merit and demerit of actions in general, I think it fully as absurd to say, that no action is truly virtuous, as to affirm, that none is really vicious.
It might perhaps be expected, that, in treating of politics, I should have brought in public spirit also, as a principle of action; whereas all I require with respect to this principle is merely a restraint from it; and even this is, perhaps, too much to be taken for granted. Were public spirit, instead of private utility, to become the spring of action in the individuals of a well-governed state, I apprehend, it would spoil all. Let me explain myself.
Public spirit, in my way of treating this subject, is as superfluous in the governed, as it ought to be all-powerful in the statesman; at least, if it is not altogether superfluous, it is fully as much so, as miracles are in a religion once fully established. Both are admirable at setting out, but would shake every thing loose, were they to continue to be common and familiar. Were miracles wrought every day, the laws of nature would no longer be laws: and were every one to act for the public, and neglect himself, the statesman would be bewildered, and the supposition is ridiculous.
I expect, therefore, that every man is to act for his own interest in what regards the public; and, politically speaking, every one ought to do so. It is the combination of every private interest which forms the public good, and of this the public, that is, the statesman only, can judge. You must love your country. Why? Because it is yours. But you must not prefer your own interest to that of your country. This, I agree, is perfectly just and right: but this means no more, than that you are to abstain from acting to its prejudice, even though your own private interest should demand it; that is, you should abstain from unlawful gain. Count Julian, for example, who, from private resentment, it is said, brought the Moors into Spain, and ruined his country, transgressed this maxim. A spy in an army, or in a cabinet, who betrays the secrets of his country, and he who sells his trust, are in the same case: defrauding the state is, among many others, a notorious example of this. To suppose men, in general, honest in such matters, would be absurd. The legislature therefore ought to make good laws, and those who transgress them ought to be speedily, severely, and most certainly punished. This belongs to the coercive part of government, and, falling beyond the limits of my subject, is ever taken for granted.
Were the principle of public spirit carried farther; were a people to become quite disinterested; there would be no possibility of governing them. Every one might consider the interest of his country in a different light, and many might join in the ruin of it, by endeavouring to promote its advantages. Were a rich merchant to begin and sell his goods without profit, what would become of trade? Were another to defray the extraordinary expence of some workmen in a hard year, in order to enable them to carry on their industry, without raising their price, what would become of others, who had not the like advantages? Were a man of a large landed estate to sell his grain at a low price in a year of scarcity, what would become of the poor farmers? Were people to feed all who would ask charity, what would become of industry? These operations of public spirit ought to be left to the public, and all that is required of individuals is, not to endeavour to defeat them.
This is the regular distribution of things, and it is this only which comes under my consideration.
In ill-administered governments, I admire as much as any one every act of public spirit, every sentiment of disinterestediness, and nobody can have a higher esteem for every person remarkable for them.
The less attentive any government is to do their duty, the more essential it is that every individual be animated by that spirit, which then languishes in the very part where it ought to flourish with the greatest strength and vigour; and on the other hand, the more public spirit is shewn in the administration of public affairs, the less occasion has the state for assistance from individuals.
Now as I suppose my statesman to do his duty in the most minute particulars, so I allow every one of his subjects to follow the dictates of his private interest. All I require is an exact obedience to the laws. This also is the interest of every one; for he who transgresses ought most undoubtedly to be punished: and this is all the public spirit which any perfect government has occasion for.
I am now going to treat of trade and industry, two different subjects, but which are as thoroughly blended together, as those we have discussed in the first book. Similar to these in their mutual operations, they are reciprocally aiding and assisting to each other, and it is by the constant vibration of the balance between them, that both are carried to their height of perfection and refinement.
TRADE is an operation, by which the wealth, or work, either of individuals, or of societies, may, by a set of men called merchants, be exchanged, for an equivalent, proper for supplying every want, without any interruption to industry, or any check upon consumption.
INDUSTRY is the application to ingenious labour in a free man, in order to procure, by the means of trade, an equivalent, fit for the supplying every want.
I must observe, that these definitions are only just, relatively to my subject, and to one another: for trade may exist without industry, because things produced partly by nature may be exchanged between men; industry may be exercised without trade, because a man may be very ingenious in working to supply his own consumption, and where there is no exchange, there can be no trade. Industry likewise implies something more than labour. Industry, as I understand the term, must be voluntary; labour may be forced: the one and the other may produce the same effect, but the political consequences are vastly different.
Industry, therefore, is applicable to free men only; labour may be performed by slaves.
Let me examine this last distinction a little more closely, the better to try whether it be just, and to point out the consequences which result from it.
I have said, that without the assistance of one of the three principles of multiplication, to wit, slavery, industry, or charity, there was no possibility of making mankind subsist, so as to be serviceable to one another, in greater numbers than those proportioned to the spontaneous fruits of the earth. Slavery and industry are quite compatible with the selfish nature of man, and may therefore be generally established in any society: charity, again, is a refinement upon humanity, and therefore, I apprehend, it must ever be precarious.
Now I take slavery and industry to be equally compatible with great multiplication, but incompatible with one another, without great restrictions laid upon the first. It is a very hard matter to introduce industry into a country where slavery is established; because of the unequal competition between the work of slaves and that of free men, supposing both equally admitted to market. Here is the reason:
The slaves have all their particular masters, who can take better care of them, than any statesman can take of the industrious freemen; because their liberty is an obstacle to his care. The slaves have all their wants supplied by the master, who may keep them within the limits of sobriety. He may either recruit their numbers from abroad, or take care of the children, just as he finds it his advantage. If breeding from the slaves should prove unprofitable, either their children will die for want of care, or by promiscuous living few will be born, or by keeping the sexes asunder, they will be prevented from breeding at all. A troop of manufacturing slaves, considered in a political light, will be found all employed, all provided for, and their work, when brought to market by the master, may he afforded much cheaper, than the like performed by freemen, who must every one provide for himself, and who may perhaps have a separate house, a wife, and children, to maintain, and all this from an industry which produces no more, nay not so much, as that of a single slave, who has no avocation from labour. Why do large undertakings in the manufacturing way ruin private industry, but by coming nearer to the simplicity of slaves? Could the sugar-islands be cultivated to any advantage by hired labour? Were not the expences of rearing children supposed to be great, would slaves ever be imported? Certainly not: and yet it is still a doubt with me, whether or not a proper regulation for bringing up the children of slaves might not turn this expedient to a better account, than the constant importation of them. But this is foreign to the present purpose. All I intend here to observe is the consequences of a competition between the work of slaves and that of free men; from which competition I infer, that, without judicious regulations, it must be impossible for industry ever to get the better of the disadvantages to which it will necessarily be exposed at first, in a state where slavery is already introduced.
These regulations ought to be made with a view to prevent the competition between the industrious freemen and the masters of slaves, by appropriating the occupation of each to different objects: to confine slavery, for example, to the country, that is, to set the slaves apart for agriculture, and to exclude them from every other service of work. With such a regulation perhaps industry might succeed. This was not the case of old; industry did not succeed as at present: and to this I attribute the simplicity of those times.
It is not so difficult to introduce slavery into a state where liberty is established; because such a revolution might be brought about by force, and, for the reasons and violence, which make every thing give way above-mentioned, I must conclude, that the consequences of such a revolution would tend to extinguish, or at least, without the greatest industry: but were such precaution, greatly to check the progress of precautions properly taken; were slavery reduced to a temporary and conditional service, and put under proper regulations; it might prove, of all others, the most excellent expedient for rendering the lower classes of a people happy and flourishing; and for preventing that abusive procreation, from which the great misery to which they are exposed at present chiefly proceeds. But as every modification of slavery is quite contrary to the spirit of modern times, I shall carry such speculations no farther. Thus much I have thought it necessary to observe, by the way, only for the sake of some principles which I shall have occasion afterwards to apply to our own oeconomy for where-ever any notable advantage is found accompanying slavery, it is the duty of a modern statesman to fall upon a method of profiting by it, without wounding the spirit of European liberty. And this he may accomplish in a thousand ways, by the aid of good laws, calculated for cutting off from the lower classes of a people any interest they can have in involving themselves in want and misery, opening to them at the same time an easy progress towards ease and prosperity.
Here follows an exposition of the principles, from which I was led to say, in a former chapter, that the failure of the slavish form of feudal government, and the extension thereby given to civil and domestic liberty, were the source from which the whole system of modern policy has sprung.
Under the feudal form, the higher classes were perhaps more free than at present, but the lower classes were either slaves, or under a most servile dependence, which, as to the consequence of interrupting the progress of private industry, is entirely the same thing.
I cannot pretend to advance, as a confirmation of this doctrine, that the establishment of slavery in our colonies in America was made with a view to promote agriculture, and to curb manufactures in the new world, because I do not know much of the sentiments of politicians at that time: but if it be true, that slavery has the effect of advancing agriculture, and other laborious operations which are of a simple nature, and at the same time of discouraging invention and ingenuity; and if the mother-country has occasion for the produce of the first, in order to subsist or to employ those who are taken up at home in the prosecution of the latter; then I must conclude, that slavery has been very luckily, if not politically, established to compass such an end: and therefore, if any colony, where slavery is not common, shall ever begin to rival the industry of the mother-country, a very good way of frustrating the attempt will be, to encourage the introduction of slaves into such colonies without any restrictions, and to allow it to work its natural effect.
Having given the definition of trade and industry, as relative to my inquiry, I come now to examine their immediate connections, the better to cement the subject of this book, with the principles deduced in the former.
In treating of the reciprocal wants of a society, and in shewing how naturally their being supplied by labour and ingenuity tends to increase population on one hand, and agriculture on the other, the better to simplify our ideas, we supposed the transition to be direct from the manufacturer to the consumer, and both to be members of the same society. Matters now become more complex, by the introduction of trade among different nations, which is a method of collecting and distributing the produce of industry, by the interposition of a third principle. Trade receives from a thousand hands, and distributes to as many.
To ask, whether trade owes its beginning to industry, or industry to trade, is like asking, whether the motion of the heart is owing to the blood, or the motion of the blood to the heart. Both the one and the other, I suppose, are formed by such insensible degrees, that it is impossible to determine where the motion begins. But so soon as the body comes to be perfectly formed, I have little doubt of the heart's being the principle of circulation. Let me apply this to the present question.
A man must first exist, before he can feel want; he must want, that is, desire, before he will demand; and he must demand, before he can receive. This is a natural chain, and from it we have concluded in Book I, that population is the cause, and agriculture the effect.
By a parallel reason it may be alleged, that as wants excite to industry, and are considered as the cause of it; and as the produce of industry cannot be exchanged without trade; so trade must be an effect of industry. To this I agree: but I must observe, that this exchange does not convey my idea of trade, although I admit, that it is the root from which the other springs; it is the seed, but not the plant; and trade, as we have defined it, conveys another idea. The workmen must not be interrupted, in order to seek for an exchange, nor the consumer put to the trouble of finding out the manufacturer. The object of trade therefore is no more than a new want, which calls for a set of men to supply it; and trade has a powerful effect in promoting industry, by facilitating the consumption of its produce.
While wants continue simple and few, a workman finds time enough to distribute all his work: when wants become more multiplied, men must work harder; time becomes precious; hence trade is introduced. They who want to consume, send the merchant, in a manner, to the workman for his labour, and do not go themselves; the workman sells to this interposed person, and does not look out for a consumer. Let me now take a familiar instance of infant trade, in order to shew how it grows and refines: this will illustrate what I have been saying.
I walk out of the gates of a city in a morning, and meet with five hundred persons, men and women, every one bringing to market a small parcel of herbs, chickens, eggs, fruits, &c. It occurs to me immediately that these people must have little to do at home, since they come to market for so small a value. Some years afterwards, I find nothing but horses, carts, and waggons, carrying the same provisions. I must then conclude, that either those I used to meet before are no more in the country, but purged off, as being found useless, after a method has been found of collecting all their burdens into a few carts; or that they have found out a more profitable employment than carrying eggs and greens to market. Whichever happens to be the case, this change will point out the introduction of what I call trade; to wit, this collecting of eggs, fruit, fowl, &c. from twenty hands, in order to distribute it to as many more within the walls. The consequence is, that a great deal of labour is saved; that is to say, the cart gives time to twenty people to labour, if they are disposed to it; and when wants increase, they will be ready to supply them.
We cannot therefore say, that trade will force industry, or that industry will force trade; but we may say, that trade will facilitate industry, and that industry will support trade. Both the one and the other however depend upon a third principle; to wit, a taste for superfluity, in those who have an equivalent to give for it. This taste will produce demand, and this again will become the main spring of the whole operation.
This is no new subject; it is only going over what has been treated of very extensively in the first book, under another name, and relatively to other circumstances. These ideas were there kept as simple as possible; here they take a more complex form, and appear in a new dress.
The wants of mankind were said to promote their multiplication, by augmenting the demand for the food of the free hands, who, by supplying these wants, are enabled to offer an equivalent for their food, to the farmers who produced it; and as this way of bartering is a representation of trade in its infancy, it is no wonder that trade, when grown up, should still preserve a resemblance to it.
Demand, considered as a term appropriated to trade, will now be used instead of wants; the term used in the first book relatively to bartering; we must therefore expect, that the operations of the same principle, under different appellations, will constantly appear similar, in every application we can make of it to different circumstances.
Whether this term be applied to bartering or to trade, it must constantly appear reciprocal. If I demand a pair of shoes, the shoemaker either demands money, or something else for his own use. To prevent therefore the ambiguity of a term, which, from the sterility of language, is taken in different acceptations, according to the circumstances which are supposed to accompany it, I shall endeavour shortly to analyze it.
First, Demand is ever understood to be relative to merchandize. A demand for money, except in bills of exchange, is never called demand. When those who have merchandize upon hand, are desirous of converting them into money, they are said to offer to sale; and if, in order to find a buyer, they lower their price, then, instead of saying the demand for money is high, we say the demand for goods is low.
Secondly, Suppose a ship to arrive at a port loaded with goods, with an intention to purchase others in return, the operation becomes only double. The ship offers to sale, and the demand of the port is said to be high or low, according to the height of the price offered, not according to the quantity demanded, or number of demanders. When all is sold, then the ship becomes demander. and if his demand be proportionally higher than the former, we say upon the whole, that the demand is for the commodities of the port; that is, the port offers, and the ship demands. This I call reciprocal demand.
Thirdly, Demand is either simple or compound. Simple, when the demander is but one, compound, when they are more. But this is not so much relative to persons as to interests. Twenty people demanding from the same determinate interest form but a simple demand; it becomes compound or high, when different interests produce a competition. It may therefore be said, that when there is no competition among buyers, demand is simple, let the quantity demanded be great or small, let the buyers be few or many. When therefore in the contract of barter, the demand upon one side is simple, upon the other compound, that which is compound is constantly called the demand, the other not.
Fourthly, Demand is either great or small: great, when the quantity demanded is great; small, when the quantity demanded is small.
Fifthly, Demand is either high or low. high, when the competition among the buyers is great; low, when the competition among the sellers is great. From these definitions it follows, that the consequence of a great demand, is a great sale; the consequence of a high demand, is a great price. The consequence of a small demand, is a small sale; the consequence of a low demand, is a small price.
Sixthly, The nature of demand is to encourage industry. and when, it is regularly made, the effect of it is, that the supply for the most part is found to be in proportion to it, and then the demand is commonly simple. It becomes compound from other circumstances. As when it is irregular, that is, unexpected, or when the usual supply fails; the consequence of which is, that the provision made for the demand, falling short of the just proportion, occasions a competition among the buyers, and raises the current, that is, the ordinary prices. From this it is, that we commonly say, demand raises prices. Prices are high or low according to demand. These expressions are just; because the sterility of language obliges us there to attend to circumstances which are only implied.
Demand is understood to be high or low, relatively to the common rate of it, or to the competition between buyers, to obtain the provision made for it. When demand is understood to be relative to the quantity demanded, it must be called great or small, as has been said.
Seventhly, Demand has not always the same effect in raising prices. we must therefore carefully attend to the difference between a demand for things of the first necessity for life, and for things indifferent; also between a demand made by the immediate consumers, and one made by merchants, who buy in order to sell again. In both cases the competition will have different effects. Things of absolute necessity must be procured, let the price be ever so great: consumers who have no view to profit, but to satisfy their desires, will enter into a stronger competition than merchants, who are animated by no passion, and who are regulated in what they offer by their prospect of gain alone. Hence the great difference in the price of grain in different years; hence the uniform standard of the price of merchandize, at the India sales and in fairs of distribution, such as Franckfort, Beaucaire, &c., hence, also, the advantage which consumers find in making their provision at the same time that merchants make theirs; hence the sudden rise and fall in the price of labouring cattle in country markets, where every one provides for himself.
Let what has been said suffice at setting out: this principle will be much better explained by its application as we advance, than by all the abstract distinctions I am capable to give of it.
I must now begin by tracing trade to its source, in order to reduce it to its first principles.
The most simple of all trade, is that which is carried on by bartering the necessary articles of subsistence. If we suppose the earth free to the first possessor, this person who cultivates it will first draw from it his own food, and the surplus will be the object of barter: he will give this in exchange to any one who will supply his other wants. This (as has been said) supposes naturally both a surplus quantity of food produced by labour, and also free hands; for he who makes a trade of agriculture cannot supply himself with all other necessaries, as well as food; and he who makes a trade of supplying the farmers with such necessaries in exchange for his surplus of food, cannot be employed in producing that food. The more the necessities of man increase, cateris paribus, the more free hands are required to supply them; and the more free hands are required, the more surplus food must be produced by additional labour, to supply their demand.
This is the least complex kind of trade, and may be carried on to a greater or less extent, in different countries, according to the different degrees of the wants to be supplied. In a country where there is no money, nor any thing equivalent to it, I imagine the wants of mankind will be confined to few objects; to wit, the removing the inconveniences of hunger, thirst, cold, heat, danger, and the like. A free man who by his industry can procure all the comforts of a simple life, will enjoy his rest, and work no more: And, in general, all increase of work will cease, so soon as the demand for the purposes mentioned comes to be satisfied. There is a plain reason for this. When the free hands have procured, by their labour, wherewithal to supply their wants, their ambition is satisfied; so soon as the husbandmen have produced the necessary surplus for relieving theirs, they work no more. Here then is a natural stop put to industry, consequently to bartering. This, in the first book we have called the moral impossibility of augmenting numbers.
The next thing to be examined, is, how bartering grows into trade, properly so called and understood, according to the definition given of it above; how trade comes to be extended among men; how manufactures, more ornamental than useful, come to be established; and how men come to submit to labour, in order to acquire what is not absolutely necessary for them.
This, in a free society, I take to be chiefly owing to the introduction of money, and a taste for superfluities in those who possess it.
In ancient times, money was not wanting; but the taste for superfluities not being in proportion to it, the specie was locked up. This was the case in Europe four hundred years ago. A new taste for superfluity has drawn, perhaps, more money into circulation, from our own treasures, than from the mines of the new world. The poor opinion we entertain of the riches of our forefathers, is founded upon the modern way of estimating wealth, by the quantity of coin in circulation, from which we conclude, that the greatest part of the specie now in our hands must have come from America.
It is more, therefore, through the taste for superfluity, than in consequence of the quantity of coin, that trade comes to be established; and it is in consequence of trade only that we see industry carry things in our days to so high a pitch of refinement and delicacy. Let me illustrate this by comparing together the different operations of barter, sale, and commerce.
When reciprocal wants are supplied by barter, there is not the smallest occasion for money: this is the most simple of all combinations.
When wants are multiplied, bartering becomes (for obvious reasons) more difficult; upon this money is introduced. This is the common price of all things: it is a proper equivalent in the hands of those who feel a want, perfectly calculated to supply the occasions of those who, by industry, can relieve it. This operation of buying and selling is a little more complex than the former, but still we have here no idea of trade, because we have not introduced the merchant, by whose industry it is carried on.
Let this third person be brought into play, and the whole operation becomes clear. What before we called wants, is here represented by the consumer; what we called industry, by the manufacturer; what we called money, by the merchant. The merchant here represents the money, by substituting credit in its place; and as the money was invented to facilitate barter, so the merchant with his credit, is a new refinement upon the use of money. The merchant, I say, renders money still more effectual in performing the operations of buying and selling. This operation is trade: it relieves both parties of the whole trouble of transportation, and adjusting wants to wants, or wants to money. the merchant represents by turns both the consumer, the manufacturer, and the money. To the consumer he appears as the whole body of manufacturers; to the manufacturers, as the whole body of consumers; and to the one and the other class his credit supplies the use of money. This is sufficient at present for an illustration. I must now return to the simple operations of money in the hands of the two contracting parties, the buyer and the seller, in order to show how men come to submit to labour in order to acquire superfluities.
So soon as money is introduced into a country it becomes, as we have said above, an universal object of want to all the inhabitants. The consequence is, that the free hands of the state, who before stopped working, because all their wants were provided for, having this new object of ambition before their eyes, endeavour, by refinements upon their labour, to remove the smaller inconveniences which result from a simplicity of manners. People, I shall suppose, who formerly knew but one sort of clothing for all seasons, willingly part with a little money to procure for themselves different sorts of apparel properly adapted to summer and inter, which the ingenuity of manufacturers, and their desire of getting money, may have suggested to their invention.
I shall not here pursue the gradual progress of industry, in bringing manufactures to perfection; nor interrupt my subject with any farther observations upon the advantages resulting to industry, from the establishment of civil and domestic liberty; but shall only suggest, that these refinements seem more generally owing to the industry and invention of the manufacturers (who by their ingenuity daily contrive means of softening or relieving inconveniences, which mankind seldom perceive to be such, till the way of removing them be contrived) than to the taste for luxury in the rich, who, to indulge their ease, engage the poor to become industrious.
Let any man make an experiment of this nature upon himself, by entering into the first shop. He will nowhere so quickly discover his wants as there. Every thing he sees appears either necessary, or at least highly convenient; and he begins to wonder (especially if he be rich) how he could have been so long without that which the ingenuity of the workman alone had invented, in order that from the novelty it might excite his desire; for when it is bought, he ill never once think more of it perhaps, nor ever apply it to the use for which it at first appeared so necessary.
Here then is a reason why mankind labour though not in want. They become desirous of possessing the very instruments of luxury, which their avarice or ambition prompted them to invent for the use of others.
What has been said represents trade in its infancy, or rather the materials with which this great fabric is built.
We have formed an idea of the wants of mankind multiplied even to luxury, and abundantly supplied by the employment of all the free hands set apart for that purpose. But if we suppose the workman himself disposing of his work, and purchasing with it food from the farmer, cloths from the clothier, and in general seeking for the supply of every want from the hands of the person directly employed for the purpose of relieving it; this will not convey an idea of trade, according to our definition.
Trade and commerce are an abbreviation of this long process; a scheme invented and set on foot by merchants, from a principle of gain, supported and extended among men, from a principle of general utility to every individual, rich or poor, to every society, great or small.
Instead of a pin-maker exchanging his pins with fifty different persons, for whose labour he has occasion, he sells all to the merchant for money or for credit; and, as occasion offers, he purchases all his wants, either directly from those who supply them, or from other merchants who deal with manufacturers in the same way his merchant dealt with him.
Another advantage of trade is, that industrious people in one part of the country, may supply customers in another, though distant. They may establish themselves in the most commodious places for their respective business, and help one another reciprocally, without making the distant parts of the country suffer for want of their labour. They are likewise exposed to no avocation from their work, by seeking for customers.
Trade produces many excellent advantages; it marks out to the manufacturers when their branch is under or overstocked with hands. If it be understocked, they will find more demand than they can answer: if it be overstocked, the sale will be slow.
Intelligent men, in every profession, will easily discover when these appearances are accidental, and when they proceed from the real principles of trade. which are here the object of our inquiry.
Posts, and correspondence by letters, are a consequence of trade, by the means of which merchants are regularly informed of every augmentation or diminution of industry in every branch, in every part of the country. From this knowledge they regulate the prices they offer; and as they are many, they, from the principles of competition which we shall hereafter examine, serve as a check upon one another.
From the current prices, the manufacturers are as well informed as if they kept the correspondence themselves: the statesman feels perfectly where hands are wanting, and young people destined to industry, obey, in a manner, the call of the public, and fall naturally in to supply the demand.
Two great assistances to merchants, especially in the infancy of trade, are public markets for collecting the work of small dealers, and large undertakings in the manufacturing way by private hands. By these means the merchants come at the knowledge of the quantity of work in the market, as on the other hand the manufacturers learn, by the sale of the goods, the extent of the demand for them. These two things being justly known, the price of goods is easily fixed, as we shall presently see.
Public sales serve to correct the small inconveniences which proceed from the operations of trade. A set of manufacturers got all together into one town, and entirely taken up with their industry, are thereby as well informed of the rate of the market, as if every one of them carried thither his work; and upon the arrival of the merchant, who readily takes it off their hands, he has not the least advantage over them from his knowledge of the state of demand. This man both buys and sells in what is called wholesale (that is by large parcels) and from him retailers purchase, who distribute the goods to every consumer throughout the country. These last buy from wholesale merchants in every branch, that proportion of every kind of merchandize which is suitable to the demand of their borough, city, or province.
Thus, all inconveniences are prevented, at some additional cost to the consumer, who, for reasons we shall afterwards point out, must naturally reimburse the whole expence. The distance of the manufacturer, the obscurity of his dwelling, the caprice in selling his work, are quite removed; the retailer has all in his shop, and the public buys at a current price.
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