« AnteriorContinuar »
which the number of persons so situated can be increased or diminished, we are, at least, bound to inquire into the pretensions of the science which professes to point out those measures.
But it is not true that the extreme case of general pauperism, which I have described, is one to which no civilised society can be exposed. A large portion of the British Empire has been sinking into it during the last thirty years, and apparently with increased rapidity
The House of Commons' Committee, appointed in the beginning of this year to consider the expediency of encouraging emigration from the United Kingdom, commence their Report by stating, as among the results of the evidence collected by them, « That there are extensive districts in Ireland, and districts in England and Scotland, where the population is at the present moment redundant ; in other words, where there exists a very considerable proportion of able-bodied and active laborers, beyond that number to which any existing demand for labor can afford employment. That the effect of this redundancy is not only to reduce a part of this population to a great degree of destitution and misery, but also to deteriorate the general condition of the laboring-classes. That by its producing a supply of labor in excess, as compared with the demand, the wages of labor are necessarily reduced to a minimum, which is utterly insufficient to supply that population with those means of support and subsistence which are necessary to secure a healthy and satisfactory condition of the community.' That in England this redundant population has been, in part, supported by a parochial rate, which, according to the reports and evidence of former committees specially appointed to consider the subject, threatens, in its extreme tendency, to absorb the whole rental of the country. And that in Ireland, where no such parochial rate exists by law, and where the redundancy is found in a still greater degree, a considerable part of the population is dependent for the means of support on the precarious source of charity, or is compelled to resort to habits of plunder and spoliation for the actual means of subsistence.”
If we turn to the Minutes, we shall find from Mr. Bodkin's evidence (p. 214) that the hope of being employed by the Mendicity Society in breaking stones at six-pence or eight-pence per day, a work from which English paupers absconded, produced such an emigration from the south of Ireland to London, that the Society were forced to make a distinction between the applicants, and to refuse the employment to any who had not resided in this country for a certain time. We shall find Mr. Becher stating (p. 199) that “ almost any change of situation would be for the benefit of the lower class in Munster:"-the Bishop of Limerick (p. 144),
that “the existing state of things is truly frightful." Mr. Gabbitt (p. 127) describes the county of Limerick as “ the richest" (that is, I apprehend, the most fertile) “ country in the world.” 'Yet he states that the best description of laborers, those best able to support a family, as soon as they can amass a sum sufficient to pay their passage, emigrate to America, “and leave all their children and families behind them, a load on the bounty of the public.” What must be the general misery of this country, so highlyfavored by nature, when the least miserable part of its laboring population are eager to escape from their wretchedness, not merely by an eternal separation from all those connected with them by nature and affection, but by leaving them a load on the bounty of the public,” that is, to be supported by the charity of those who are too poor to emigrate? I am not sure whether I should not infer as intense suffering from Mr. Gabbitt's facts, as from the Bishop of Limerick's description of a dispossessed tenantry (p. 144), a without house, without food, without money, starving, and almost dying in the ditches.”
Happily there is no general misery in England like this, but even England, rich and prosperous, and well governed as she is beyond any other European community, is not, perhaps, quite be. yond the sphere of a similar calamity. We have among our institutions, and our modes of acting, some which are eminently calculated to do more than merely retard our advancement.
I confidently hope that we shall not long have to contend with them; but my hope is founded solely on the expectation that the diffusion of sound principles of Political Economy will aid our en. lightened ministers with the whole strength of public opinion, and enable them to conquer the ignorance, prejudice, and individual interest which have always been opposed to every improve ment.
There are, however, many reasoners, or rather talkers and wri, ters, who admit the importance of the subject, but distrust the conclusions of the science, and profess to be guided on all questions relating to it, not by the theories of political economists, but by the opinions of practical men, or their own common-sense.
By practical men are meant, I suppose, those who have had experience in the matters which Political Economy considers. But who has not had that experience? _The revenue of all men must consist of rent, profit, or wages. They must all exchange it for commodities or services. They all know, or have equally the means of knowing, for it can be discovered only by reflection, why they set a high value on some things, a low one on others, and disregard a third class.
An academical body is not very commercial, but, probably, there
is no one present who does not make twenty exchanges every week. If this experience is not enough to enable him to understand how the human passions act in buying and selling, he would be unable to comprehend it, though his transactions equalled in number and amount those of Baring or of Rothschild. It is, in fact, as impossible to avoid being a practical economist, as to avoid being a practical logician. The man who, beside the daily traffic in which we are all necessarily engaged, has devoted himself to any peculiar branch of trade or manufacture, (and such is the general character of those who are called practical men,) is much more likely to have his general views contracted than extended by it. He is apt to suppose that what he thinks useful and hurtful to himself, must be useful and hurtful to the community. Thus, the poor working-clothiers of Stroud attributed the public distress to the introduction of machinery in the manufacture of cloth ; and Mr. Webb Hall calculated that a fall in the price of corn of 10s. a quarter would be a loss to the whole country of £20,000,000 a year.
To those who profess to be guided solely by common-sense, I will quote, in the first place, Dr. Whately's admirable illustration of the nature of common-sense, and of the absurdity of trusting to it where a better guide is to be found :
“ By common-sense,” says Dr. Whately, “is meant, I apprehend, (when the term is used with any distinct meaning,) an exercise of the judgment unaided by any art or system of rules ; such as we must necessarily employ in numberless cases of daily occurrence; in which, having no established principles to guide us,-no line of procedure, as it were, distinctly chalked out,—we must needs act on the best extemporaneous conjectures we can form. He who is eminently skilful in doing this, is said to possess a superior degree of common-sense. But that common-sense is only our second-best guide
that the rules of art, if judiciously framed, are always desirable when they can be had, is an assertion, for the truth of which I may appeal to the testimony of mankind in general; which is so much the more valuable, inasmuch as it may be accounted the testimony of adversaries. For the generality have a strong predilection in favor of common-sense, except in those points in which they respectively possess the knowlege of a system of rules; but in these points they deride any one who trusts to unaided common sense. A sailor, e. g., will perhaps despise the pretensions of medical men, and prefer treating a disease by common-sense : but he would ridicule the proposal of navigating a ship by common-sense, without regard to the maxims of nautical art. A physician, again, will perhaps contemn Systems of Political Economy, of Logic,
or Metaphysics, and insist
on the superior wisdom of trusting to common sense in such matters; but he would never approve of trusting to commonsense in the treatment of diseases. Neither, again, would the architect recommend a reliance on common-sense alone in building, nor the musician in music, to the neglect of those systems of rules which in their respective arts have been deduced from scientific reasoning aided by experience : and the induction might be extended to every department of practice. Since, therefore, each gives the preference to unassisted common-sense, only in those cases where he himself has nothing else to trust to, and invariably resorts to the rules of art, wherever he possesses the knowlege of them, it is plain that mankind universally bear their testimony, though unconsciously
, and often unwillingly, to the preferableness of systematic knowlege to conjectural judgments.”.
Dr. Whately's reasoning is unanswerable; but we shall be far too favorable to most of those who profess, and perhaps sincerely, to rely on common-sense in matters of Political Economy, if we believe that they actually do so.
Political Economy was an art long before it was a science; and neither those who first practised it, nor their advisers, were filled by knowlege, honesty, or singleness of purpose, to desire right ends, or to employ proper means.
Those who first practised it in modern Europe, (and our maxims of Political Economy have no earlier origin,) those who first endeavored to employ the powers of government in influencing the production, distribution, and consumption of wealth, were semi-barbarous sovereigns, considering their subjects not as a trust, but a property, and desirous only to turn that property to the best and readiest account.
Their advisers were landholders, merchants, and manufacturers, each anxious only for his own immediate gain, and caring little how the rest of society might be affected by the inonopoly he extorted. From the mode in which these persons pursued what they thought their individual interests, aided by national jealousy, and by the ambiguities of language, and unchecked by any sound principles, arose that unhappy compound of theoretic and practical error, the “Mercantile System.” I think I may take it for granted, that all those whom I am addressing are acquainted with the outlines of that system ; and I must necessarily consider it sornewhat at large in my next lectures. I will say no more of it, therefore, in this place, than that it was founded in a belief, that the wealth of a country consists solely of gold and silver, and is to be retained and increased by prohibiting the exportation of money,
' Preface to the Elements of Ligic.
and by giving bounties on the exportation, and imposing restrictions on the importation of other commodities, in the hope of producing a trade in which, the imports being always of less value than the exports, the balance may be paid in money : a conduct, as wise as that of a tradesman who should part with his goods only for money; and instead of employing their price in paying his workmen's wages, or replacing his stock, should keep it for ever in his till.
As is the case, however, with every long-standing abuse, so many persons are immediately interested in supporting particular parts of the system, and the theory on which it is founded so long commanded universal assent, that ninety-nine men out of a hundred imbibe it with their earliest education. Terms which imply the truth of the theory, and, consequently, the propriety of the practice, have even become a part of our language. A trade in which money is supposed to be received in exchange for goods, is called a trade with a favorable balance; duties imposed to give monopolies to particular classes of producers, are called protecting duties; applications of the public revenue, to divert capital and labor from their natural employment, are called bounties. The consequence of all this is, that men who fancy they are applying common-sense to questions of Political Economy, are often applying to them only common prejudice. Instead of opposing, as they fancy, experience to theory, they are opposing the theory of a barbarous age to the theory and experience of an enlightened one. .
There never was a man of stronger common-sense, a man more fitted to draw accurate conclusions from few or doubtful premises, than Napoleon. He had an utter horror of Political Economy; the principles of which, he said, if an empire were built of granite, would grind it to powder. On such subjects he trusted to common-sense. And his common-sense was an undistinguishing acceptance of the whole theory of the mercantile system.
It appears, from his conversations at St. Helena, that he fully believed that the continent must be a loser by its commerce with England, and that it must be so on account of the excellence and cheapness of English commodities. These abominable qualities inust, he thought, enable us, in the jargon of the theory, to undersell the continent in its own market, and ultimately produce its ruin, through that unfavorable balance of trade, in which, what is received is of greater value than what is given. He thought that he could put an end to this trade by his continental system ; without doubt the principal object of that system was to ruin England ; but l'ie appears to have implicitly believed, that it was also a blessing to the continent. The murmurs of his subjects and allies he treated like the complaints of spoiled children, who do not know what is for their own good, and who, when experience has