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ART. III.-1. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. By ADAM SMITH, LL.D., and F.R.S., of London and Edinburgh; one of the Commissioners of His Majesty's Customs in Scotland, and formerly Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Glasgow. In two volumes. Dublin. MDccLxxxv. 2. A Treatise on Political Economy; or the Production, Distribution, and Consumption, of Wealth. By JEAN-BAPTISTE SAY. Translated from the fourth edition of the French, by C. R. PRINSEP, M. A. With Notes by the Translator. In two vols. Boston: Wells & Lilley. 1821. 3. On the Principles of Political Economy and Taration. By DAvid Ricardo, Esq. Second edition. London: John Murray. 1819. 4. The Principles of Political Economy: with a Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Science. By J. R. M’Culloch, Esq. Edinburgh: 1825. 5. Elements of Political Economy. By SAMUEL P. NEwMAN, Lecturer on Political Economy in Bowdoin College. NewYork: H. Griffin and Co. 1835.
Despite the efforts and wishes of the party of immobility, sciences true and useful are evidently on the increase. Not only are old ones improving, but new ones are multiplying; subjects which, a few centuries ago, lodged reluctantly, if at all, in the boldest imagination, have since sprung into theory, acquired for themselves a “local habitation and a name,” and exult in formulae and principles, an ignorance of which is properly set down to a scholar's discredit. How vast is the debt of gratitude which we owe to the patient student—to the persevering philosopher | We are no friends to novelty for its own sake; we are inclined, from education and experience, to receive original statements at a discount, sometimes higher and sometimes lower, according to circumstances. “Lo here ! and lo there !” present us no attractions. Quidguid accepis diligenter expende—“Take nothing for granted unless it be self-evident, and admit only what is fairly proved”—is our motto. At the same time, this does not discourage investigation, but in vigorous and healthy minds promotes it rather. Explore deeply the mine of thought, pursue the promptings of a well-regulated curiosity to their utmost limit; but for any sake, preserve us from pseudo-philosophy, or at least excuse us from receiving it. We wish to be so far conservatives, as to retain what o in the past is excellent and approved, and to adopt with caution such conclusions as are only in a transition state. These principles we believe are deducible from the general practice of the world; and to them all inquiries have been more or less subject. Judge, then, if the faithful and indefatigable inquirer after truth is not a benefactor to his race, and a hero withal; and so much the more commends himself to our admiration, in proportion as he has won his victory in defiance of all opposition, prejudiced or honest. Good men and true may have smiled at Franklin with his kite and string, and hoped the approaching shower would restore him to his reason: at this time engineers are elevating wires through our village, which will convey intelligence five hundred miles in less time than the reader has consumed in wading through this paragraph. Truth is mighty, and must prevail; but, O, let us cherish the noble and daring hearts which have not abandoned her in the hour of fearfulness and unbelief! Blessed be their memories for ever ! Progress is the order of the world. That is a cheerless and cowardly thought which reckons history as the product of human activity only. Human instrumentality constitutes but a single factor, and the least efficient one. God reigns at the head of affairs; supreme Intelligence is over all—we are not left to ourselves. Hence, though awful periods have come, (and may yet come,) when antagonist forces seemed to induce a stationary and almost regressive state, still, in spite of turns and windings, the main stream moves ever along. “All is conducted,” says a recent writer, “by a higher spirit, which urges forward the wheel of history, turns even the passions and errors of men to its own service, and, through all events, bears the world continually on toward the glorious end established for it in the counsels of God.” One of the subjects which modern history has seen classed with the sciences, is political economy; and the works enumerated at the head of this article comprise but a very small fraction of what has been written upon it. In what we may have to say, we propose to present a brief outline of the general subject, the measure of value, the causes of the delay in completing the science, and some remarks upon its present state of advancement. Mr. M'Culloch defines political economy to be
“the science of the laws which regulate the production, distribution, and consumption, of those articles, or products, which have exchangeable value, or are either necessary, useful, or agreeable, to man.” VALUE.-"The word value has been frequently employed to express, not only the exchangeable worth of a commodity, or its capacity of being exchanged for other commodities, but also its utility or capacity of satisfying our wants, or of contributing to our comforts and enjoyments. But it is obvious that the utility of commodities—the capacity of bread, for example, to appease hunger, or of water to quench thirst—is a totally different and distinct quality from their capacity of being exchanged for other commodities. Dr. Smith perceived this difference, and showed the importance of carefully distinguishing between the utility, or “value in use,’ as he expressed it, of commodities and their value in exchange. But he did not always keep this distinction in view; and it has very often been lost sight of by subsequent writers. There can be no doubt, indeed, that the confounding together of these opposite qualities has been one of the principal causes of the confusion and obscurity in which many branches of the science, not in themselves difficult, are still involved. When we say, for instance, that water is highly valuable, we unquestionably attach a very different meaning to the phrase from what we attach to it when we say that gold is valuable. Water is indispensable to existence, and has, therefore, a high degree of utility or “value in use;' but as it can generally be obtained in large quantities without much labor or exertion, it has in most places but a very low value in exchange. Gold, on the other hand, is of comparatively little utility; but from its existing only in limited quantities, and from a great deal of labor being necessary to procure a small supply of it, it has a comparatively high exchangeable value, and may be exchanged or bartered for a proportionably large quantity of other commodities. To confound these different sorts of value, would evidently lead to the most erroneous conclusions; and, hence, to avoid all chance of mistaking the sense of so important a word as value, I shall never use it except to signify exchangeable worth, or value in exchange; and shall always use the word utility to express the power or capacity of an article to satisfy our wants or gratify our desires.”—Principles, part i.
We deem no apology necessary for the length of this extract. The importance of obtaining at the outset a clear and specific meaning of a term so capable of ambiguous application as the word value, is obvious at once; and it is creditable to Mr. M’Culloch that the promise to use it in the sense just ascertained, was faithfully adhered to throughout his work. We expect to meet this troublesome word again when we come to notice the “measure of value.”
PRoduction.—“Production is the adapting of material objects to the wants of man.”—Newman's Elements, p. 20.
This definition is shorter than those usually given, and covers the whole ground. Production contemplates no creation from nothing. It is only adapting to useful purposes what is already at hand, and consists, from first to last, in nothing more nor less than a series of transmutations—changes of place and form. The doctrine, that since creation no addition has been made to the amount of matter, is one to which political economy heartily subscribes. But over matter already in existence, and so constituted as to admit of a great variety of forms, production exercises an almost unlimited control; and it is only by changing the forms of objects that labor is enabled to increase their value.
“To create objects which have any kind of utility is to create wealth; for the utility of things is the ground-work of their value, and their value constitutes wealth. Objects, however, cannot be created by human means; nor is the mass of matter of which the globe consists capable of increase or diminution. All that man can do is to reproduce existing materials under another form, which may give them a value they did not before possess, or merely enlarge one they may have before presented. So that there is, in fact, not a creation of matter, but of utility, [value;] and this I call production of wealth.”—Say's Treatise, book i, chap. 1.
From this explanation of the term production, it will be seen that it constitutes one of the main topics of the science. It will be interesting, therefore, to notice more in detail some of the arrangements by which, in the ordinary course of affairs, “material objects” are “adapted to the wants of man.” It is now generally agreed that labor is the true source of wealth; and in arriving at a knowledge of the means by which industry, intelligibly directed, accomplishes its great objects, it is customary for writers on political economy to select their illustrations from what they suppose to be the regular progress of communities. Against such a course no one can entertain a reasonable objection, provided a strict regard is had to facts. Society in its rude state possesses no property; is destitute of mechanical contrivances; makes no effort toward accumulation. On the contrary, as it emerges from barbarism, it gradually approaches toward an acquisition of these advantages, and just as it comes under the influence of civilization and refinement, in the same proportion do the circumstances which are favorable to production come into full operation.
“If we observe the progress, and trace the history, of the human race in different countries and states of society, we shall find that their comfort and happiness have always been very nearly proportional to the power which they have possessed of rendering their labor effective in appropriating the raw products of nature, and adapting them to their use. The savage, whose labor is confined to the gathering of wild fruits, or to the picking up of shell-fish on the seacoast, is placed at the very bottom of the scale of civilization, and is, in point of comfort, decidedly inferior to many of the lower animals. The first step in the progress of society is made when man learns to hunt wild animals, to feed himself with their flesh, and to clothe himself with their skins. But labor, when confined to the chase, is extremely barren and precarious. Tribes of hunters, like beasts of prey, whom they are justly said to resemble closely in their habits and mode of subsistence, are but thinly scattered over the surface of the countries which they occupy; and notwithstanding the fewness of their numbers, any unusual deficiency in the supply of game never fails to reduce them to the extremity of want. The second step in the progress of society is made when the tribes of hunters and fishers learn to apply their labor, like the ancient Scythians and modern Tartars, to the domestication of wild animals and the rearing of flocks. The subsistence of herdsmen and shepherds is much less precarious than that of hunters; but they are almost entirely destitute of all those comforts and elegancies which give to life its chief value. The third step, and the most decisive, in the progress of civilization—in the great art of procuring the necessaries and conveniences of life—is made when the wandering tribes of hunters and shepherds renounce their migratory habits, and become agriculturists and manufacturers. It is then, properly speaking, that man, shaking off. that indolence which is natural to him, begins fully to avail himself of his productive powers. He then becomes laborious, and, by a necessary consequence, his wants are then for the first time fully supplied, and he acquires an extensive command over the articles necessary for his comfort, as well as his subsistence.”—M’Culloch's Principles, pp. 66, 67.
To the same point, the celebrated author of the Essay concerning the Human Understanding argues, with his usual power. After showing that two acres of land, the one highly cultivated, the other unblessed with the efforts of husbandry, may possess the same natural, intrinsic utility; but that, under these different circumstances, the one benefits society to the value of £5 annually, while the other may not produce the worth of a penny, he says,
“'Tis labor, then, which puts the greatest part of value upon land, without which it would be worth scarcely anything. 'Tis to that we owe the greatest part of its useful products; for all that the strawbran bread of that acre of wheat is more worth than the product of an acre of good land which lies waste, is all the effect of labor. For 'tis not merely the ploughman's pains, the reaper's and thresher's toil, and the baker's sweat, which are to be counted into the bread we eat—the labor of those who broke the oxen; who digged and wrought the iron and stones; who fitted and framed the timber about the plough, mill, oven, or any other utensils, which are a vast number; requisite to this corn, from its being seed to be sown to its being made bread; must all be charged to the account of labor, and received as an effect of that. Nature and art furnish only the almost worthless materials in themselves.”—Locke's Ess. on Civ. Gov., book ii.