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to enjoy that abundance; while he is guided only by the apprehension of being undersold. On the other hand, an actual or apprehended scarcity causes him to demand a higher price, or to keep back his goods in expectation of a rise. Thus he cooperates, unknowingly, in conducting a system which no human wisdom directed to that end could have conducted so well, — the system by which this enormous population is fed from day to day.
"I say, 'no human wisdom'; for wisdom there surely is, in this adaptation of the means to the result actually produced. In this instance, there are the same marks of benevolent design which we are accustomed to admire in the anatomical structure of the human body. I know not whether it does not even still more excite our admiration of the beneficent wisdom of Providence, to contemplate, not corporeal particles, but rational free agents, cooperating in systems not less manifestly indicating design, but no design of theirs; and though acted on, not by gravitation and impulse, like inert matter, but by motives addressed to the will, yet accomplishing as regularly and as effectually an object they never contemplated, as if they were merely the passive wheels of a machine. The heavens do indeed 'declare the glory of God,? and the human body is fearfully and wonderfully made; but man, considered not merely as an organized being, but as a rational agent and as a member of society, is perhaps the most wonderfully contrived product of Divine wisdom that we have any knowledge of." *
It is on a large induction from such cases as this, that political economists rest their most comprehensive and most noted maxim, — the laissez-faire, or "let-alone" principle, — the doctrine of non-interference by the government with the economical interests of society. True, these interests are in the hands of individuals, who look only to their own immediate profit, and not to the public advantage, or to the distant future. They are not only selfish; they are often ignorant, shortsighted, and unconscious of much of the work that they do. But society is a complex and delicate machine, the real Author and Governor of which is divine. Men are often his agents, who do his work, and know it not. He turneth their selfishness to good; and ends which could not be accomplished by the greatest sagacity, the most enlightened and disinterested public spirit, and the most strenuous exertions of human legislators and governors, are effected directly and incessantly, even through the ignorance, the wilfulness, and the avarice of men. Man cannot interfere with His work without marring it. The attempts of legislators to turn the industry of society in one direction or another, out of its natural and self-chosen channels, — here to encourage it by bounties, and there to load it with penalties, to increase or diminish the supply of the market, to establish a maximum of price, to keep specie in the country, — are almost invariably productive of harm. Laissez-faire; "these things regulate themselves," in common phrase; which means, of course, that God regulates them by his general laws, which always, in the long run, work to good. In these modern days, the ruler or governor who is most to be dreaded is, not the tyrant, but the busybody. Let the course of trade and the condition of society alone, is the best advice which can be given to the legislator, the projector, and the reformer. Busy yourselves, if you must be busy, with individual cases of wrong, hardship, or suffering; but do not meddle with the general laws of the universe.
* Whately's Lectures on Political Economy, pp. 103-110.
The limitations of this "le1>alone" principle are nearly as obvious as the principle itself. The office of the legislator is not, by his own superior wisdom, to chalk out a path for society to move in, but to remove all casual and unnatural impediments from that path which society instinctively chooses fox itself. It is to give wider scope and more facile action to the principle we have just been considering, rather than to hedge and narrow it by artificial limits or petty restrictions. Human laws, if wisely framed, are seldom mandatory, or such as require an active obedience; they are mostly prohibitive, or designed to prevent such action on the part of the few as would impede or limit the healthful action of the many. Vice and crime, for instance, are stumbling-blocks in the path of the community; they obstruct the working of the natural laws, the ordinances of Divine Providence, by which society is held together, and all well-meaning members of it are made to cooperate, though unconsciously, for each other's good. To remove such stumbling-blocks, then, is not to create, but to prevent, interference with the natural order of things. Legislation directed to this end is only a legitimate carrying out of the laissez-faire principle.
The enforcement of justice in the ordinary transactions between man and man, which often requires further legislation than is needed for the mere prevention of open vice and crime, is another instance of the legitimate exercise of authority by the government. An individual may not erect a powder-manufactory in the midst of a populous village, nor carry on any operations there which would poison the air with noxious exhalations. His neighbors would have a right to call out to him, "Let us alone; you endanger our lives, and prevent us from pursuing our ordinary occupations in safety."
These are internal impediments to the natural action of society, and as such the government is bound to put them out of the way; its action for this purpose is widely distinguished from the enactment of sumptuary laws, the establishment of a maximum of price, prohibiting the exportation of specie, and other obvious infringements of the laissez-faire principle. But it is also the duty of the legislature to guard society against external dangers and hinderances., Men are separated into distinct communities, the action of which upon each other is not so much restrained by law, or by the natural requisitions of justice, as is that of individuals dwelling in the same community. The law of nations is a very imperfect code, and, from the want of any superior tribunal to enforce its enactments, it is very imperfectly observed. "War is either a present evil to be averted or alleviated, or it is a possible future event, the occurrence of which is to be guarded against. For either of these ends, the action of individuals within the community may need to be restrained; for the safety of all, the freedom of all to pursue their lawful occupations without let or hinderance is not to be imperilled through the avarice or recklessness of a few. Accordingly, not mere restraints upon importation, but an absolute prohibition of intercourse, an embargo on all navigation, are among the legitimate measures, a necessity for which is created by national dissension and hostility.
Independent communities are not always at war with each other; but they are always rivals and competitors in the great market of the world. This feeling of rivalry is whetted by the different circumstances under which they are placed, by the peculiarities in the condition of each, and by the opposition of interests which often grows out of these peculiarities. The legislation of each state is primarily directed, of course, to the protection and promotion of the interests of its own subjects; and thus it often injuriously affects the interests of other nations. There is, therefore, a good deal of retaliatory legislation on the part of different governments. There is often, on both sides, a keen measure of wits in devising commercial regulations which shall affect, or render nugatory, measures adopted by the rival nation, not exactly with a hostile intent, but with an exclusive view to its own interests, and therefore frequently with an injurious effect upon the interests of others. Reciprocity treaties, as they are called, are sometimes formed, to obviate the evil effects upon both parties of this keen spirit of competition, when pushed too far. Now, such retaliatory legislation, so far as it operates upon the members of the very community from which it emanates, so far as it limits or restrains the action of all or a portion of them, is not an inningement, but an application, of the laissez-faire principle. It is designed to procure for them a larger liberty than they would otherwise enjoy; if it is effectual, if it answers its purpose, it removes an impediment created by a foreign state far more serious and extensive than the obstruction which it imposes. It may, indirectly and incidentally, turn industry from one channel to another, and make some changes in the investments of capital. But this change is effected only by opening one channel, which would otherwise, under the effects of foreign competition, have remained entirely closed, and by rendering it possible and profitable to turn capital to other uses than those to which it was formerly limited.
If we suppose that the application of native industry and capital is restricted in its range, not by the legislative policy knowingly adopted by a foreign state for this very purpose, but through the superior natural advantages possessed by that state, the same principle still governs the result. By submitting to a small restraint imposed at home, we get rid of a much larger obstacle to our freedom of action, created either by the commercial regulations, finer climate, more fertile soil, more abundant capital, or larger skill and experience of a rival community. The policy of states leads them to seek independence of each other in their economical, almost as much as in their political, relations; or we might better say, that political independence-—that is, the enjoyment of distinct institutions and laws, chosen and established by ourselves — makes it still more desirable and necessary than it was before, that we should not be entirely dependent upon foreigners for the supply of great articles of consumption of prime necessity, — that we should have within our own borders, and under our own control, the means of satisfying all our natural and imperative wants. It is not even desirable that Massachusetts and Ohio should be rendered so far independent of each other, that each could obtain from its own soil, or by the labor of its own inhabitants, all that it can need; for these two States are one in most of their political relations. Members of the same great confederacy, living under the same laws, and each exercising its due share of influence in the national legislature, neither has cause to apprehend the hostile or injurious action of the other. The political ties between them are strengthened by their dependence on each other for a supply of many of the necessaries of civilized existence. But it is desirable that both should be independent, as far as may be, of the great powers of Europe, with whom they cannot be sure of continued friendly intercourse for any time beyond the present, and from whom they are always separated by a great breadth of ocean, and by dissimilarity of customs, institutions, and laws.
True independence, in an economical point of view, does not require us to forego all commercial intercourse with other nations; this would be rather a curse than a blessing. But it does require that each nation should be able to exercise, within its own limits, all the great branches of industry designed to satisfy the wants of man. It must be able to practise all the arts which would be necessary for its own well-being, if it were the only nation on the earth. If it be restricted to agriculture alone, or to manufactures alone, a portion of the energies of its people are lost, and some of its natural advantages run to waste. To be so limited in its sphere of occupation, to be barred out from some of the natural and necessary employments of the human race, through the overwhelming competition of foreigners, is a serious evil, which it is the object of a