Sir James Steuart (1767)
When competition is much stronger on one side of the contract than on the other, I call it simple, and then it is a term synonimous with what I have called compound demand. This is the species of competition which is implied in the term high demand, or when it is said, that demand raises prices.
Double competition is, when, in a certain degree, it takes place on both sides of the contract at once, or vibrates alternately from one to the other. This is what restrains prices to the adequate value of the merchandize.
I frankly confess I feel a great want of language to express my ideas, and it is for this reason I employ so many examples, the better to communicate certain combinations of them, which otherwise would be inexplicable.
The great difficulty is to distinguish clearly between the principles of demand, and those of competition; here then follows the principal differences between the two, relatively to the effects they severely produce in the mercantile contract of buying and selling, which I here express shortly by the word contract.
Simple demand is what brings the quantity of a commodity to market. Many demand, who do not buy; many offer, who do not sell. This demand is called great or small; it is said to increase, to augment to swell; and is expressed by these and other synonimous terms, which mark an augmentation or diminution of quantity. In this species, two people never demand the same thing, but a part of the same thing, or things quite alike.
Compound demand is the principle which raises prices, and never can make them sink; because in this case more than one demands the very same thing. It is solely applicable to the buyers, in relation to the price they offer. This demand is called high or low, and is said to rise, to fall, to mount, to sink, and is expressed by these and other synonimous terms.
Simple competition, when between buyers, is the same as compound or high demand, but differs from it so far, as this may equally take place among sellers, which compound demand cannot, and then it works a contrary effect: it makes prices sink, and is synonimous with low demand: it is this competition which overturns the balance of work and demand; of which afterwards.
Double competition is what is understood to take place in almost every operation of trade; it is this which prevents the excessive rise of prices; it is this which prevents their excessive fall. While double competition prevails, the balance is perfect, trade and industry flourish.
The capital distinction, therefore, between the terms demand and competition is, that demand is constantly relative to the buyers, and when money is not the price, as in barter, then it is relative to that side upon which the greatest competition is found.
We therefore say, with regard to prices, demand is high or low. With regard to the quantity of merchandize, demand is great or small. With regard to competition, it is always called great or small, strong or weak.
Competition, I have said, is, with equal propriety, applicable to both parties in the contract. A competition among buyers is a proper expression: a competition among sellers, who have the merchandize, is full as easily understood, though it be not quite so striking, for reasons which an example will make plain.
You come to a fair where you find a great variety of every kind of merchandize, in the possession of different merchants. These, by offering their goods to sale, constitute a tacit competition; every one of them wishes to sell in preference to another, and at the same time with the best advantage to himself.
The buyers begin, by cheapning at every shop. The first price asked marks the covetousness of the seller; the first price offered, that of the buyer. From this operation, I say, competition begins to work its effects on both sides, and so becomes double. The principles which influence this operation are now to be deduced.
It is impossible to suppose the same degree of eagerness, either to buy or to sell, among several merchants; because the degree of eagerness I take to be exactly in proportion to their view of profit; and as this must necessarily be influenced and regulated by different circumstances, that buyer, who has the best prospect of selling again with profit, obliges him, whose prospect is not so good, to content himself with less; and that seller, who has bought to the best advantage, obliges him, who has paid dearer for the merchandize, to moderate his desire of gain.
It is from these principles, that competition among buyers and sellers must take place. This is what confines the fluctuation of prices within limits which are compatible with the reasonable profits of both buyers and sellers; for, as has been said, in treating of trade, we must constantly suppose the whole operation of buying and selling to be performed by merchants; the buyer cannot be supposed to give so high a price as that which he expects to receive, when he distributes to the consumers, nor can the seller be supposed to accept of one so low as that which he paid to the manufacturer. This competition is properly called double, because of the difficulty to determine upon which side it stands; the same merchant may have it in his favour upon certain articles, and against him upon others; it is continually in vibration, and the arrival of every post may less or more pull down the heavy scale.
In every transaction between merchants, the profit resulting from the sale must be exactly distinguished from the value of the merchandize. The first may vary, the last never can. It is this profit alone which can be influenced by competition; and it is for this reason we find such uniformity every where in the prices of goods of the same quality.
The competition between sellers does not appear so striking, as that between buyers; because he who offers to sale, appears passive only in the first operation; whereas the buyers present themselves one after another; they make a demand, and when the merchandize is refused to one at a certain price, a second either offers more, or does not offer at all: but so soon as another seller finds his account in accepting the price the first had refused, then the first enters into competition, provided his profits will admit his lowering the first price; and thus competition takes place among the sellers, until the profits upon their trade prevent prices from falling lower.
In all markets, I have said, this competition is varying, though insensibly, on many occasions; but in others, the vibrations are very perceptible. Sometimes it is found strongest on the side of the buyers, and in proportion as this grows, the competition between the sellers diminishes. When the competition between the former has raised prices to a certain standard, it comes to a stop; then the competition changes sides, and takes place among the sellers, eager to profit of the highest price. This makes prices fall, and according as they fall, the competition among the buyers diminishes. They still wait for the lowest period. At last it comes; and then perhaps some new circumstance, by giving the balance a kick, disappoints their hopes. If therefore it ever happens, that there is but one interest upon one side of the contract, as in the example in the former chapter, where we supposed the sellers united, you perceive, that the rise of the price, occasioned by the competition of the buyers, and even its coming to a stop, could not possibly have the effect of producing any competition on the other side; and therefore, if prices come afterwards to sink, the fall must have proceeded from the prudential considerations of adapting the price to the faculties of those, who, from the height of it, had withdrawn their demand.
From these principles of competition, the forestalling of markets is made a crime, because it diminishes the competition which ought to take place between different people, who have the same merchandize to offer to sale. The forestaller buys all up, with an intention to sell with more profit, as he has by that means taken other competitors out of the way, and appears with a single interest on one side of the contract, in the face of many competitors on the other. This person is punished by the state, because he has prevented the price of the merchandize from becoming justly proportioned to the real value; he has robbed the public, and enriched himself; and in the punishment, he makes restitution. Here occur two questions to be resolved, for the sake of illustration.
Can competition among buyers possibly take place, when the provision made is more than sufficient to supply the quantity demanded? On the other hand, can competition take place among the sellers, when the quantity demanded exceeds the total provision made for it?
I think it may in both cases; because in the one and the other, there is a competition implied on one side of the contract, and the very nature of this competition implies a possibility of its coming on the other, provided separate interests be found upon both sides. But, to be more particular:
First, Experience shews, that however justly the proportion between the demand and the supply may be determined in fact, it is still next to impossible to discover it exactly, and therefore buyers can only regulate the prices they offer, by what they may reasonably expect to sell for again. The sellers, on the other hand, can only regulate the prices they expect, by what the merchandize has cost them when brought to market. We have already shewn, how, under such circumstances, the several interests of individuals affect each other, and make the balance vibrate.
Secondly, The proportion between the supply and the demand is seldom other than relative among merchants, who are supposed to buy and sell, not from necessity, but from a view to profit. What I mean by relative is, that their demand is great or small, according to prices: there may be a great demand for grain at 35 shillings per quarter, and no demand at all for it at 40 shillings, I say, among merchants.
Here I must observe, how essential it is, to attend to the smallest circumstance in matters of this kind. The circumstance I here have in my eye, is the difference I find in the effect of competition, when it takes place purely among merchants on both sides of the contract, and when it happens, that either the consumers mingle themselves with the merchant-buyers, or the manufacturers, that is, the furnishers mingle themselves with the merchant-sellers. This combination I shall illustrate, by the solution of another question, and then conclude my chapter with a few reflections upon the whole.
Can there be no case formed, where the competition upon one side may subsist, without a possibility of its taking place on the other, although there should be separate interests upon both?
I answer. The case is hardly supposable among merchants who buy and sell with a view to profit; but it is absolutely supposable, and that is all, when the direct consumers are the buyers; when the circumstances of one of the parties is perfectly known; and when the competition is so strong upon one side, as to prevent a possibility of its becoming double, before the whole provision is sold off, or the demand satisfied. Let me have recourse to examples.
Grain arriving in a small quantity, at a port where the inhabitants are starving, produces so great a competition among the consumers, who are the buyers, that their necessity becomes evident; all the grain is generally bought up before prices can rise so high as to come to a stop; because nothing but want of money, that is, an impossibility of complying with the prices demanded by the merchants, can restrain them: but if you suppose, even here, that prices come naturally to a stop; or that, after some time, they fall lower, from prudential considerations, then there is a possibility of a competition taking place among the sellers, from the principles above deduced. If, on the contrary, the stop is not natural, but occasioned by the interposition of the magistrate, from humanity, or the like, there will be no competition, because then the principles of commerce are suspended; the sellers are restrained on one side, and they restrain the buyers on the other. Or rather, indeed, it is the magistrate, or compassion, who in a manner fixes the price, and performs the office of both buyer and seller.
A better example still may be found, in a competition among sellers; where it may be so strong, as to render a commodity in a manner of no value at all, as in the case of an uncommon and unexpected draught of fish, in a place of small consumption, when no preparations have been made for salting them. There can then be no competition among the buyers; because the market cannot last, and they find themselves entirely masters, to give what price they please, being sure the sellers must accept of it, or lose their merchandize. In the first example, humanity commonly stops the activity of the principle of competition; in the other it is stopt by a certain degree of fair-dealing, which forbids the accepting of a merchandize for nothing.
In proportion therefore as the rising of prices can stop demand, or the sinking of prices can increase it, in the same proportion will competition prevent either the rise or the fall from being carried beyond a certain length: and if such a case can be put, where the rising of prices cannot stop demand, nor the lowering of prices augment it, in such cases double competition does not subsist; because these circumstances unite the most separate interests of buyers and sellers in the mercantile contract, and when upon one side there is no separate interest, there can then be no competition.
From what has been said, we may form a judgment of the various degrees of competition. A book not worth a shilling, a fish of a few pounds weight, are often sold for considerable sums. The buyers here are not merchants. When an ambassador leaves a court in a hurry, his effects are sold for less than the half of their value: he is no merchant, and his situation is known. When, at a public market, there are found consumers, who buy their provision, or manufacturers, who dispose of their goods for present subsistence; the merchants, who are respectively upon the opposite side of the contract to these, profit of their competition; and those who are respectively upon the same side with them, stand by with patience, until they have finished their business. Then matters come to be carried on between merchant and merchant, and then, I allow, that profits may rise and fall, in the proportion of quantity to demand; that is to say, if the provision is less than the demand, the competition among the demanders, or the rise of the price, will be in the compound proportion of the falling short of the commodity, and of the prospect of selling again with profit. It is this proportion which regulates the competition, and keeps it within bounds. It can affect the profits only upon the transaction; the intrinsic value of the commodity stands immoveable: nothing is ever sold below the real value; nothing is ever bought for more than it may probably bring. I mean in general. Whereas so soon as consumers and needy manufacturers mingle in the operation, all proportion is lost. The competition between them is too strong for the merchants; the balance vibrates by jerks. In such markets merchants seldom appear: the principal objects there, are the fruits and productions of the earth, and articles of the first necessity for life, not manufactures strictly so called. A poor fellow often sells, to purchase bread to eat; not to pay what he did eat, while he was employed in the work he disposes of. The consumer often measures the value of what he is about to purchase, by the weight of his purse, and his desire to consume.
As these distinctions cannot be conveyed in the terms by which we are obliged to express them, and as they must frequently be implied, in treating of matters relating to trade and industry, I thought the best way was, to clear up my own ideas concerning them, and to lay them in order before my reader, before I entered farther into my subject.
All difference of opinion upon matters of this nature proceeds, as I believe, from our language being inadequate to express our ideas; from our inattention in using terms, which appear synonimous, and are not so; and from our natural propensity to include, under general rules, things which upon some occasions, common reason requires to be set asunder.
As we have been employed in explaining of terms, it will not be amiss to say a word concerning those which stand in the title of this chapter.
The term expence, when simply expressed, without any particular relation, is always understood to be relative to money. This kind I distinguish under the three heads, of private, public, and national.
1. Private expence is, what a private person, or private society, lays out, either to provide articles of consumption, or something more permanent, which may be conducive to their ease, convenience, or advantage. Thus we say, a large domestic expence, relatively to one who spends a great income. We say, a merchant has been at great expence for magazines, for living, for clerks, &c. but never that he has been at any in buying goods. In the same way a manufacturer may expend for building, machines, horses, and carriages, but never for the matter he manufactures. When a thing is bought, in order to be sold again, the sum employed is called money advanced; when it is bought not to be sold, it may be said to be expended.
2. Public expence is, the employment of that money, which has been contributed by individuals, for the current service of the state. The contribution, or gathering it together, represents the effects of many articles of private expence; the laying it out when collected, is public expence.
3. National expence, is what is expended out of the country: this is what diminishes national wealth. The principal distinction to be here attended to, is between public expence, or the laying out of public money, and national expence, which is the alienating the nation's wealth in favour of strangers. Thus the greatest public expence imaginable, may be no national expence; because the money may remain at home. On the other hand, the smallest public, or even private expence, may be a national expence, because the money may go abroad.
Profit, and loss, I divide into positive, relative, and compound. Positive profit, implies no loss to any body; it results from an augmentation of labour, industry, or ingenuity, and has the effect of swelling or augmenting the public good.
Positive loss, implies no profit to any body; it is what results from the cessation of the former, or of the effects resulting from it, and may be said to diminish the public good.
Relative profit, is what implies a loss to somebody, it marks a vibration of the balance of wealth between parties, but implies no addition to the general stock.
Relative loss, is what, on the contrary, implies a profit to somebody; it also marks a vibration of the balance, but takes nothing from the general stock.
The compound is easily understood; it is that species of profit and loss which is partly relative, and partly positive. I call it compound, because both kinds may subsist inseparably in the same transaction.
Did I not intend to give myself to very general topics in this chapter I might in a manner exhaust the whole subject of modern oeconomy under this title; for I apprehend that the whole system of modern politics is founded upon the basis of an active foreign trade.
A nation which remains passive in her commerce, is at the mercy of those who are active, and must be greatly favoured, indeed, by natural advantages, or by a constant flux of gold and silver from her mines, to be able to support a correspondence, not entirely hurtful to the augmentation of her wealth.
These things shall be more enlarged upon as we go along: the point in hand, is to consider the consequences of this trade, relatively to those who are actors in the operation.
When I look upon the wide field which here opens to my view, I am perplexed with too great a variety of objects. In one part, I see a decent and comely beginning of industry, wealth flowing gently in, to recompence ingenuity; numbers augmenting, and every one becoming daily more useful to another; agriculture proportionally extending itself; no violent revolutions; no exorbitant profits; no insolence among the rich; no excessive misery among the poor; multitudes employed in producing; great oeconomy upon consumption; and all the instruments of luxury, daily produced by the hands of the diligent, going out of the country for the service of strangers; not remaining at home for the gratification of sensuality. At last augmentations come insensibly to a stop. Then these rivers of wealth, which were in brisk circulation through the whole world, and which returned to this trading nation as blood returns to the heart, to be thrown out again only by new pulsations, begin to be obstructed in their course; and flowing abroad more slowly than before, come to form stagnations at home. These, impatient of restraint, soon burst out into domestic circulation. Upon this cities swell in magnificence of buildings; the face of the country is adorned with palaces, and becomes covered with groves; luxury shines triumphant in every part; inequality becomes more striking to the eye; and want and misery appear more deformed, from the contrast; even fortune grows more whimsical in her inconstancy. the beggar of the other day, now rides in his coach; and he who was born in a bed of state, is seen to die in an alms-house. Such are the effects of great domestic circulation.
The statesman looks about with amazement; he, who was wont to consider himself as the first man in the society in every respect, perceives himself eclipsed by the lustre of private wealth, which avoids his grasp when he attempts to seize it. This makes his government more complex and more difficult to be carried on; he must now avail himself of art and address as well as of power and authority. By the help of cajoling and intrigues, he gets a little into debt; this lays a foundation for public credit, which, growing by degrees, and in its progress assuming many new forms, becomes, from the most tender beginnings, a most formidable monster, striking terror into those who cherished it in its infancy. Upon this, as upon a triumphant war-horse, the statesman gets a-stride, he then appears formidable anew; his head turns giddy; he is choaked with the dust he has raised; and at the moment he is ready to fall, he finds, to his utter astonishment and surprise, a strong monied interest, of his own creating, which, instead of swallowing him up as he apprehended, flies to his support. Through this he gets the better of all opposition, he establishes taxes, multiplies them, mortgages his fund of subsistence, either becomes a bankrupt, and rises again from his ashes; or if he be less audacious, he stands trembling and tottering for a while on the brink of the political precipice. From one or the other of these perilous situations, he begins to discover an endless path which, after a multitude of windings, still returns into itself, and continues an equal course through this vast labyrinth: but of this last part, more in the fourth book.
It is now full time to leave off rhapsody, and return to reasoning and cool inquiry, concerning the more immediate and more general effects and revolutions produced by the opening of a foreign trade in a nation of industry.
The first and most sensible alteration will be an increase of demand for manufacturers, because by supplying the wants of strangers, the number of consumers will now be considerably augmented. What again will follow upon this, must depend upon circumstances.
If this revolution in the state of demand should prove too violent, the consequence of it will be to raise demand; if it should prove gradual, it will increase it. I hope this distinction is well understood, and that the consequence appears just: for, if the supply do not increase in proportion to the demand, a competition will ensue among the demanders; which is the common effect of such sudden revolutions. If, on the other hand, a gentle increase of demand should be accompanied with a proportional supply, the whole industrious society will grow in vigour, and in wholesome stature, without being sensible of any great advantage or inconvenience; the change of their circumstances will even be imperceptible.
The immediate effects of the violent revolution will, in this example, be flattering to some, and disagreeable to others. Wealth will be found daily to augment, from the rising of prices, in many branches of industry. This will encourage the industrious classes, and the idle consumers at home will complain. I have already dwelt abundantly long upon the effects resulting from this to the lower classes of the people, in providing them with a certain means of subsistence. Let me now examine in what respect the higher classes will be likewise made to feel the good effects of this general change, although at first they may suffer a temporary inconvenience from it.
Farmers, as has been observed, will have a greater difficulty in finding servants, who, instead of labouring the ground, will choose to turn themselves to manufactures. This we have considered in the light of purging the lands of superfluous mouths; but every consequence in this great chain of politics draws other consequences after it, and as they follow one another, things put on different faces, which affect classes differently. The purging of the land is but one of the first; here follows another.
The desertion of the hands employed in a trifling agriculture will at first, no doubt, embarrass the farmers, and raise the price of wages; but in a little time every thing becomes balanced in a trading nation, because here every industrious man must advance prosperity, in spite of all combinations of circumstances.
In the case before us, the relative profits upon farming must soon become greater than formerly, because of the additional expence of servants which must affect the whole class of farmers; consequently, this additional expence, instead of turning out to be a loss to either landlord or farmer, will, after some little time, turn out to the advantage of both: because the produce of the ground, being indispensably necessary to every body, must in every article increase in its value, in proportion to the expence of raising it. Thus in a short time accounts will be nearly balanced on all hands; that is to say, the same proportion of wealth will, cateris paribus, continue the same among the industrious. I say among the industrious; for those who are either idle, or negligent, will be great losers.
A proprietor of land, inattentive to the causes of his farmer's additional expence, may very imprudently suffer his rents to fall, instead of assisting him on a proper occasion, in order to make them afterwards rise the higher.
Those who live upon a determinate income in money, and who are nowise employed in traffic, nor in any scheme of industry, will, by the augmentation of prices, be found in worse circumstances than before.
In a trading nation every man must turn his talents to account, or he will undoubtedly be left behind in this universal emulation, in which the most industrious, the most ingenious, and the most frugal will constantly carry off the prize.
This consideration ought to be a spur to every body. The richest men in a trading nation have no security against poverty, I mean proportional poverty; for though they diminish nothing of their income, yet by not increasing it in proportion to others, they lose their rank in wealth, and from the first class in which they stood, they will slide insensibly down to a lower.
This is one consequence of an additional beneficial trade, that it raises demand and increases wealth; but if we suppose no proportional augmentation of supply, it will prove at best but an airy dream which lasts for a moment, and when the gilded scene is passed away, numberless are the inconveniences which are seen to follow.
I shall now point out the natural consequences of this augmentation of wealth drawn from foreign nations, when, in proportion to the augmentation of mouths, and of the demand for the produce of industry, the statesman remains inattentive to increase the supply both of food and manufactures.
In such a situation profits will daily swell, and every scheme for reducing them within the bounds of moderation, will be looked upon as a hurtful and unpopular measure: be it so; but let us examine the consequences.
We have said, that the rise of demand for manufactures naturally increases the value of work: now I must add, that under such circumstances, the augmentation of riches, in a country, either not capable of improvement as to the soil, or where precautions have not been taken for facilitating a multiplication of inhabitants, by the importation of subsistence, will be productive of the most calamitous consequences.
On one side, this wealth will effectually diminish the mass of the food before produced; and on the other, will increase the number of useless consumers. The first of these circumstances will raise the demand for food; and the second will diminish the number of useful free hands, and consequently raise the price of manufactures: here are shortly the outlines of this progress.
The more rich and luxurious a people are, the more delicate they become in their manner of living; if they fed on bread formerly, they will now feed on meat; if they fed on meat, they will now feed on fowl. The same ground which feeds a hundred with bread, and a proportional quantity of animal food, will not maintain an equal number of delicate livers. Food must then become more scarce; demand for it rises; the rich are always the strongest in the market; they consume the food, and the poor are forced to starve. Here the wide door to modern distress opens, to wit, a hurtful competition for subsistence. Farther, when a people become rich, they think less of oeconomy; a number of useless servants are hired, to become an additional dead weight on consumption; and when their starving countrymen cannot supply the extravagance of the rich so cheaply as other nations, they either import instruments of foreign luxury, or seek to enjoy them out of their own country, and thereby make restitution of their gains.
Is it not therefore evident, that if, before things come to this pass, additional subsistence be not provided by one method or other, the number of inhabitants must diminish; although riches may daily increase by a balance of additional matter, supposed to be brought into the country in consequence of the hitherto beneficial foreign trade. This is not all. I say farther, that the beneficial trade will last for a time only. For the infallible consequence of the rise of prices at home will be, that those nations which at first consumed your manufactures, perceiving the gradual increase of their price, will begin to work for themselves; or finding out your rivals who can supply them cheaper, will open their doors to them. These again, perceiving the great advantages gained by your traders, will begin to supply the market; and since every thing must be cheaper in countries where we do not suppose the concurrence of all the circumstances mentioned above, these nations will supplant you, and be enriched in their turn.
Here comes a new revolution. Trade is come to a stop: what then becomes of all the hands which were formerly employed in supplying the foreign demands?
Were revolutions as sudden as we are obliged to represent them, all would go to wreck; in proportion as they happen by quicker or slower degrees, the inconveniences are greater or smaller.
Prices, we have said, are made to rise by competition. If the competition of the strangers was what raised them, the distress upon the manufacturers will be in proportion to the suddenness of their deserting the market. If the competition was divided between the strangers and the home consumers, the inconveniences which ensue will be less; because the desertion of the strangers will be in some measure made up by an increase of home consumption which will follow upon the fall of prices. And if, in the third case, the natives have been so imprudent as not only to support a competition with the strangers, and thereby disgust them from coming any more to market, but even to continue the competition between themselves, the whole loss sustained by the revolution will be national. Wealth will cease to augment, but the inconveniences, instead of being felt by the manufacturers, will affect the state only; these manufacturers will continue in affluence, extolling the generosity of their countrymen, and despising the poverty of the strangers who had enriched them.
Domestic luxury will here prove an expedient for preserving from ruin the industrious part of a people, who, in subsisting themselves, had enriched their country. No change will follow in their condition; they will go on with a painful assiduity to labour, and if the consequences of it become now hurtful to one part of the state, they must, at least, be allowed to be essentially necessary for the support of the other.
But that luxury is no necessary concomitant of foreign trade, in a nation where the true principles of it are understood, will appear very plain, from a contrast I am now going to point out, in the example of a modern state, renowned for its commerce and frugality. The country I mean, is Holland.
A set of industrious and frugal people were assembled in a country, by nature subject to many inconveniences, the removing of which necessarily employed abundance of hands. Their situation upon the continent, the power of their former masters, and the ambition of their neighbours, obliged them to keep great bodies of troops. These troops added to the numbers of the community, without either enriching the state by their labour exported, or producing food for themselves or countrymen.
The scheme of a commonwealth was calculated to draw together the industrious; but it has been still more useful in subsisting them: the republican form of government, being there greatly subdivided, vests authority sufficient in every part of it, to make suitable provision for their own subsistence; and the tye which unites them, regards matters of public concern only. Had the whole been governed by one sovereign, or by one council, this important matter never could have been effectuated.
I imagine it would be impossible for the most able minister that ever lived, to provide nourishment for a country so extended as France, or even as England, supposing these as fully peopled as Holland is: even although it should be admitted that a sufficient quantity of food might be found in other countries for their subsistence. The enterprise would be too great, abuses would multiply; the consequence would be, that the inhabitants would die for want. But in Holland the case is different, every little town takes care of its own inhabitants; and this care, being the object of application and profit to so many persons, is accomplished with success.
When once it is laid down as a maxim in a country, that food must of necessity be got from abroad, in order to feed the inhabitants at home, the corn trade becomes considerable, and at the same time certain, regular, and permanent. This was the case in Holland: as the inhabitants were industrious, the necessary consequence has been, a very extraordinary multiplication; and at the same time such an abundance of grain, that instead of being in want themselves, they often supply their neighbours. There are many examples of England's being supplied with grain from thence, and, which is still more extraordinary, from the re-exportation of the very produce of its own fruitful soil.
It is therefore evident, that the only way to support industry, is to provide a supply of subsistence, constantly proportional to the demand that may be made for it. This is a precaution indispensably necessary for preventing hurtful competition. This is the particular care of the Dutch: so long as it can be effectual, their state can fear no decline; but whenever they come to be distressed in the markets, upon which they depend for subsistence, they will sink into ruin. It is by mere dint of frugality, cheap and parsimonious living, that the navigation of this industrious people is supported. Constant employment, and an accumulation of almost imperceptible gains, fills their coffers with wealth, in spite of the large outgoings to which their own proper nourishment yearly forces them. The large profits upon industry in other countries, which are no proof of the generosity of the consumers, but a fatal effect of the unsteady price of subsistence, is far from dazzling their eyes. They seldom are found in the list of competitors at any foreign port; if they have their cargo to make, they wait with pleasure in their own vessels, consuming their own provisions, and at last accept of what others have left. It may be said, that many other circumstances concur in favour of the Dutch, besides the article of subsistence. I shall not dispute this matter; but only remind my reader of what was said in the first book; to wit, that if a computation be made of the hands employed in providing subsistence, and of those who are severally taken up in supplying every other want, their numbers will be found nearly to balance one another in the most luxurious countries. From this I conclude, that the article of food, among the lower classes, must bear a very high proportion to all the other articles of their consumption; and therefore a diminution upon the price of subsistence, it at all times, must be of and still more an uniformity in the value of infinite consequence to manufacturers, who are obliged to buy it. From this consideration, let us judge of the consequence of such sudden augmentations upon the price of grain, as are familiar to us; 30 or 40 per cent seems nothing. Now this augmentation operates upon one-half of the whole expence of a labouring man: let any one who lives in tolerable affluence make the application of this to himself, and examine how he would manage his affairs if, by accidents of rains or winds, one-half of his expences were to rise 30 per cent without a possibility of restraining them; for this is unfortunately the case with all the lower classes. From whence I conclude, that the keeping food cheap, and still more the preserving it at all times at an equal standard, is the fountain of the wealth of Holland; and that any hurtful competition in this article must beget a disorder which will affect the whole of the manufacturers of a state.
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