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this was the only interest of society, the only end which legislation should have in view. The proposition on which they act, though they seldom directly enunciate it, is, that the augmentation of national wealth is at once the sign and the measure of national prosperity. "We may admit that it is so, if the wealth be distributed with some approach to equality among the people. But if the vast majority of the nation is beggared, while enormous fortunes are accumulated by a few, -— if pauperism increases at one end of the social scale as rapidly as wealth is heaped up at the other, — then, even though the ratio of the aggregate wealth to the aggregate population is constantly growing larger, the tendency of things is downward, and, sooner or later, if a remedy be not applied, society will rush into degradation and ruin.
In order to obtain a broader field of inquiry, the subject to be discussed in this volume will be, the general luell-being of society', so far as this is affected by the moral causes regulating the production, distribution, and consumption of ivealth. It may be doubted whether the whole of this theme is included within the limits of Political Economy, properly so called; — and therefore I propose to consider not only the science itself, but its application to a particular case, — the circumstances and institutions of the American people. Thus is opened a wide scope for investigation. The fluctuations of national prosperity; the various social condition of different communities at the same period, and of the same community at different periods; the nature, and effect upon the wealth, happiness, and numbers of the people, of the various institutions, laws, and customs which have obtained in different countries and at different times, — might all pass in review before the subject would be exhausted. Hitherto, history has been in the main a political record, — a narrative of wars, conquests, and changes in the form of government. But the social economy of different states has now become the chief object of interest even to the historian. Statesmen have been obliged to make the study of politics second to that of political economy. Monarchs now strive to guard their thrones, not so much by the number and efficiency of their standing armies, as by the prudent management of their finances, and by their successful development of the agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing resources of their people. They build railways, form Customs-Unions to relieve trade of its fetters, establish colonies to get rid of surplus population, and thus aim to acquire or regain a firm basis for that authority which formerly rested only on prescription and military force. Men now coolly count the cost, the comparative value in dollars and cents, of a monarchy and a republic. The idea of political freedom, of choosing their own governors and managing their own affairs, is no longer attractive enough to lead the people, if it be not united with some project for a new organization and a more equal enjoyment of the goods of this life. Hence the rise of so many schemes of Socialism and Communism, which gave a character to the Revolutions of 1848 wholly unlike that of any other political disturbances recorded in the previous history of the world.
Even if the disastrous consequences of the insane attempts then made to reorganize society should prevent a speedy repetition of the experiment, there is another danger, from which no civilized community is entirely free, — lest the several classes of which it is composed should cherish mutual jealousy and hate, which may finally break out into open hostilities, under the mistaken idea that their interests are opposite, and that one or more of them possess an undue advantage, which they are always ready to exercise by oppressing the others. Twenty years ago, Archbishop Whately pointed out the full extent of this danger in a single pregnant question: —" Can the laboring classes, — and that, too, in a country where they have a legal right to express practically their political opinions, -— can they be safely left to suppose, as many a demagogue is ready, when it suits his purpose, to tell them, that inequality of conditions is inexpedient, and ought to be abolished; that the wealth of a man whose income is equal to that of a hundred laboring families is so much deducted from the common stock, and causes a hundred poor families the less to be sustained; and that a general spoliation of the rich, and an equal division of property, would put an end to poverty for ever?" Under these circumstances, we may ask further, Can we safely neglect to explain and teach the great truths which Political Economy has demonstrated; — that all classes of society are inseparably bound together by a community of interest; that the prosperity of each depends on the welfare of all; that the national industry must be meagre and profitless in its results, if it has not capital or concentrated wealth to cooperate with it; that an equal division of property would in fact destroy or dissipate that which was divided; and that the only equality of condition which human nature renders possible, is an equality of destitution and suffering?
I need not apologize for the science which treats of the creation of wealth, on the ground that it relates only to one of the lower interests of humanity, and that it is not of so much moment for an individual or a society to be rich, as it is to be wise, free, instructed, and virtuous. It is true that wealth is one of the lower elements or supports of civilization, and that the comparative quantity of it is but an imperfect index of national worth and national well-being. But it is also true, that wealth is that element of civilization which supports all the others, and that, without it, no progress, no refinement, no liberal art would be possible. Without property, without large accumulations of wealth, no division of labor would be possible; and without division of labor, each man must provide by his own toil for all his bodily wants. He must plant, sow, and reap for himself. He must be his own tailor, shoemaker, housewright, and cook. The scholar could no longer devote himself exclusively to his books, the man of science to the observation of nature, the artist to the canvas or marble, the physician to the cure of diseases, or the clergyman to the care of souls. All would be bound alike by the stern necessity of daily brutish toil on the most repulsive tasks. National wealth is a condition of progress, — a prerequisite of civilization. It is not in itself ennobling; but it is that which vivifies and maintains all the other elements and influences which dignify humanity and render life desirable.
Even if popular ignorance and prejudice upon this subject were not dangerous to the state, a liberal curiosity would not rest satisfied without some knowledge of the laws affecting the creation and production of wealth, — laws which are, in truth, as constant and uniform as those which bind the material universe together, and evince the wisdom and goodness of the Creator quite as clearly as any of his arrangements in the organic kingdom. Blanco White, spealdng of the inattention of the ancients to the philosophy of wealth, compares their state of mind to that of children in the house of an opulent tradesman, who, finding the comforts and necessaries of life supplied to them with mechanical regularity, never inquire into the machinery by which these effects are produced, or, if they ever do think about it, suppose that breakfast, dinner, and supper succeed one another by the spontaneous bounty of nature, like spring, summer, and autumn. It is true, that men are usually selfish in the pursuit of wealth; but it is a wise and benevolent arrangement of Providence, that even those who are thinking only of their own credit and advantage are led, unconsciously but surely, to benefit others. The contrivance by which this end is effected — this reconciliation of private aims with the public advantage —is often complex, far-reaching, and intricate; and thus more strongly indicates the benevolent purpose of the Designer. In the instance already given, we have seen that the wealth of an individual, perhaps a sordid and covetous one, invested by him with a view only to his own advantage and security, and to spare himself the trouble of superintending it, still circulates through the community without his knowledge, supporting the laborer at his task, supplying means to the ingenious and the enterprising for the furtherance of their designs, and assuming with facility every shape which the necessities or the convenience of society may require.
I borrow, with some abridgment, a simple and striking illustration of the same great truth from Dr. Whately.
"Let any one propose to himself the problem of supplying with daily provisions of all kinds a city like London, containing about two millions of inhabitants. Let him imagine himself a head commissary, intrusted with the office of furnishing to this enormous host their daily rations. A failure in the supply even for a single day might produce the most frightful distress. Some, indeed, of the articles consumed might be stored up in reserve for a considerable time; but many, including most articles of animal food and many of vegetable, are of the most perishable nature. As a deficient supply of these, even for a few days, would occasion great inconvenience, so a redundancy of them would produce a corresponding waste. The city is also of vast extent, — a province covered with houses, — and it is essential that the supplies should be so distributed as to be brought almost to the doors of all the inhabitants. The supply of provisions for an army or garrison is comparatively uniform in kind; but here, the greatest possible variety is required, suitable to the wants of the various classes of consumers. Again, this immense population is extremely fluctuating in numbers; and the increase or diminution depends on causes of which some may, others cannot, be distinctly foreseen. Again, and above all, the daily supplies of each article must be so nicely adjusted to the stock from which it is drawn, to the scanty or abundant harvest, importation, or other source of supply, to the interval which must elapse before a fresh stock can be furnished, and to the probable abundance of the new supply, that as little distress as possible may be felt; — that, on the one hand, the population may not unnecessarily be put on short allowance of any article, and, on the other, may be preserved from the more dreadful risk of famine, which must happen if they continued to consume freely when the stock was insufficient to hold out.
"Now let any one consider this problem in all its bearings, and then reflect on the anxious toil which such a task would impose on a board of the most experienced and intelligent commissaries, — who, after all, could discharge their office but very inadequately. Yet this object is accomplished, far better than it could be by any effort of human wisdom, through the agency of men who think each of nothing beyond his own immediate interest, — who, with that object in view, perform their respective parts with cheerful zeal, and combine unconsciously to employ the wisest means for effecting an object, the vastness of which it would bewilder them even to contemplate.
"It is really wonderful to consider with what ease and regularity this important end is accomplished, day after day, and year after year, through the sagacity and vigilance of private interest operating on the numerous class of wholesale, and more especially retail, dealers. Each of these watches attentively the demands of his neighborhood, or of the market he frequents, for such commodities as he deals in. The apprehension, on the one hand, of not realizing all the profit he might, and, on the other, of having his goods left on his hands, — these antagonist muscles, regulate the extent of his dealings and the prices at which he buys and sells. An abundant supply causes him to lower his prices, and thus enables the public