Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

the range of the word wealth, on which it is desirable to make a few remarks. Is a skilled labourer a part of the nation's wealth? Mr Mill is unwilling to permit the people of a country to be accounted a portion of its wealth. They are that for the sake of which its wealth exists. But he allows skill to be wealth. "It has as much right to the title when attached to a man as when attached to a coalpit or a factory." The distinction is fanciful. The skill of the workman helps to make wealth, but so also do his sinews, as the sinews and the man, in this relation, are not distinguishable. A trained horse ranks as wealth, but so also does the young vigorous horse before he is put into training. If skill is acknowledged to be wealth, it cannot be separated from the workman in whom it is embodied, for skill is only knowledge how to use his hands.

But we must go further still. I hold, against Mr Mill's limitation, that the qualities of a people, their moral, intellectual, and physical natures, are parts of their wealth. What men are is a force of enormous power in determining the amount of the wealth they create. The emancipated negroes of Jamaica and of the United States would not labour for more than mere necessaries. They do not care to be wealthy and are not. The Chinese are a great wealth-producing people as a consequence of their character. Their neighbours and kinsmen, the Tatars, are not. The difference lies in the moral temper of every people. Europe lately exhibited a splendid example of the power of character in the creating of wealth. France astonished the world by a recovery from a devastating war, and a crushing penalty of 220 millions of pounds sterling at its close.

Her revival astonished and alarmed her conquerors. And to what was this splendid restoration due? To the temper and character of the French peasant, to his inveterate love of thrift, to his resolute determination to meet losses by curtailed expenditure and by saving. Is not such a quality of soul as truly an economical force, as real a wealth-making machine as a factory or a fertile soil?

But then, it will be said, we must give up all hope of a scientific definition of wealth. We must; and, as shown above, this is no loss to Political Economy. As Mr Mill confesses, the popular notion of wealth suffices.

CHAPTER II.

VALUE.

I PROPOSE, thus early, to speak of Value. It is a word of the widest range; indeed it may be said to pervade the whole of Political Economy. It is met with everywhere, in the production and distribution of wealth, in wages and profits, in every form of exchange. Its power is felt all through the economical life of mankind. It is a matter of supreme importance to obtain a right understanding of its meaning.

All systematic writers on Political Economy have recognised the great significance of this word, and all, it may be said, have occupied themselves in answering the question, What is value? There is one word, says Professor Perry, that marks and circumscribes the field of Political Economy, that word is value. In proportion as an economist is able and eminent does he make vigorous efforts to discover a true and satisfactory answer, but the question has all along been found to be most formidable." "The question is fundamental," remarks Mr Mill. "Almost every speculation respecting the economical interests of a society thus constituted (that is, constituted on the necessity of exchanging products obtained by the labour of another) implies some theory of value. The smallest error on that subject infects with corresponding error all our other conclusions, and anything vague or misty in our conception of it creates confusion and uncertainty in everything else. Happily there is nothing in the laws of value which remains for the present or any future writer to clear up."

But how does Mr Thornton open an article entitled, "Cairnes on Value," in the October, 1876, number of the Contemporary Review:

"Most members of the Political Economy Club must be familiar with an anecdote of Sydney Smith, who not many months after joining the club announced his intention to retire, and on being asked the reason, replied that his chief motive for joining had been to discover what value is, but that all he had discovered was that the rest of the club knew as little about the matter as he did. That his sarcasm, however severe, was probably not unmerited, may be inferred from the haze with which the object of Sydney Smith's curiosity is still surrounded, and from the, at best, but very partial success of the recent attempt made by so powerful a thinker as my lamented friend, the late Professor Cairnes, to pierce the cloudy envelope."

Fortunate would it have been for Political Economy if Mr Mill's happy and confident belief that the meaning of the word value had been discovered once and for ever had been warranted by fact, that the sense of a first-rate expression had been ascertained with the precision of a geometrical truth. But alas the history of economical writing, since the days when Mr Mill had this delightful sensation, records only a series of neverending struggles to catch the ever fugitive meaning of this most baffling of words, till at last Professor Jevons,

C

one of the latest wanderers in this trackless region, is forced to exclaim that "he will discontinue the use of the word altogether." Many may feel disposed to think that Political Economy has come to a pretty pass when Professor Perry flings away the word wealth, and Professor Jevons the word value, both unquestionably able and eminent economists, as hopeless. What is the vaunted science to speak about?

It is now desirable to review the principal explanations which have been given of the word value.

Of Adam Smith it may be affirmed that he has not said, in precise terms, what value is. A dictum which he uttered about it has obtained world-wide celebrity. Every writer feels the duty of drawing the student's attention to it. There is, he affirms, a value in use and a value in exchange. But this formula does not explain what value is. It is often assumed that he declares that there are two kinds of value radically differing in nature, but this interpretation is not necessary to give sense to the expression, and, I am persuaded, misdescribes his meaning. It is troublesome enough to have one word to expound, but to search for two different meanings for the same word would be indeed a hopeless task. What Adam Smith did really affirm is that value is attached to two different objects—to things which are used only, and secondly to things which are exchanged. There are valuable things which are saleable, and there are other valuable things which are not. That is the distinction drawn, and it is perfectly sound. Value is one, but the things it is applied to are two. The dictum may supply us, we hope, with a hint which will give us

« НазадПродовжити »