Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

vi.] AN EIRENICON. 187

unsex themselves, as far as possible. And then let the masculine rights which they covet be freely conceded to them. Possibly they might fairly be required to doff the petticoat of feminity and to adopt a distinctive costume, say of the Bloomer type: a suggestion for which I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to some of the Eminent Women celebrated in the great work of Elizabeth C. Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda J. Gage. At all events, a deed of relinquishment of sex should be required. And perhaps the proper place for its enrolment would be the Divorce Court. CHAPTER VII.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND.

A Short time ago, I chanced to be passing through a quarter of a great city, which was suffering from what is called "a trade crisis." It appeared that there was "a glut of the goods" produced there: that is to say that the capitalists, in their eagerness to undersell one another, had accumulated a much greater quantity of commodities than could be sold. So they had closed their manufactories, and many men, women, and children had been thrown out of employment. There they were, those poor people, with their pale faces, their idle hands, their empty stomachs, roaming miserably past warehouses full of all sorts of useful things, which they had made, which they badly wanted, and which they could not get, notably food and raiment. The spectacle was as curious as sad: and while I was pondering it, I happened to come upon an excellent man, much distinguished both for his philanthropic zeal and for his attainments in political economy. I imparted to him my misgivings whether the state of things which I had vii.] A TRADE CRISIS. 189

witnessed did not indicate something rotten in the economic system that had produced it. "No, no," he said: "it is very sad, but it will all come right: it is merely a case of overproduction: that will occur, sometimes: you can no more avoid it than a bad harvest." I ventured to reply that the two cases seemed to me hardly parallel, since tho present distress arose, not from a deficiency, but from a superabundance of the means of life. A bad harvest meant too few of the fruits of the earth: a "glut in the market," too many of the fruits of labour. But how " too many "? Certainly not too many for the labourers^ who were manifestly in much need of the things wrought by their<7i toil, and unable to satisfy their wants, their pur-' chasing power being inferior to their productive power. "Ah, my dear fellow," said my friend, "these are very, very dangerous speculations. I am an orthodox political economist. The fundamental principle of Political Economy is the principle of free and unrestricted competition, in virtue of which the price of things—of labour among other things—is regulated by the law of Supply and Demand: a law ruling as absolutely as the laws of Nature." "But," I objected, "is not this trouble really traceable to the greed of manufacturers who, in their anxiety to undersell one another, have flooded the market? Whether or no the love of money be the root of all evil, it certainly seems to be the root of this." "Ah, that

will never do," he replied: "don't introduce a religious maxim into a sphere where it has no validity. From a theological point of view, the love of money may be the root of all evil. From the point of view of Political Economy it is the root of all good. Frank Newman has admirably summed the matter up in what he truly calls 'a grand, a noble theorem.' 'The laws of the market that individual interest generates arc precisely those which tend best to the univcrsal_bencfit.' Read that excellent volume, A Pica for Liberty, and especially Mr. Herbert Spencer's most valuable Introduction." I was about to reply that I had perused this work with some care, and that it appeared to me to be chiefly an apology for the slavery of labour, when our conversation was abruptly terminated. We had reached the doors of a hall, where a public meeting was about to bo held on behalf of Jews, persecuted for usury's sake in some distant part of the globe. My friend, who was most ardent in the cause of civil and religious liberty all the world over, entered, having promised to move a resolution: and I saw him no more.

I suppose of the Shibboleths current in the present day, this of Supply and Demand is one of the most mischievous. I do not think I have myself ever seen anything more monstrous than the application once given to it in India, where the popuvii.] THE PRINCIPLE OF COMPETITION. 191

lations of large districts were allowed to die of starvation, Governments and Boards of Revenue declining "to interfere with the course of trade" or to "check the working of the laws of Political Economy." Happily, a more rational view of the duties of the ruling power to its subjects now prevails in that country. But the Shibboleth of Supply and Demand is still highly honoured among us, and is constantly appealed to by popular writers and orators as the last word in economic questions. My friend was undoubtedly right in affirming that unrestricted competition, regulating the price of things by Supply and Demand, is the great principle upon which hangs what is current in this country as Political Economy. Indeed Mr. Mill expressly says, "Only through the principle of competition has Political Economy any pretension to the character of a science." * What that pretension is worth, we will inquire a little later on. It will be a fitting introduction to the inquiry if we first consider how, in matter of fact, the law of Supply and Demand actually works.

Demand is generally defined as "the wish to purchase combined with the power of purchasing. The Supply of a commodity is an intelligible expression; it means the quantity offered for sale; the quantity that is to be had at a given time and place by those who wish to purchase it." f Demand, then,

* Principles of Political Economy, Book II. chap. iv. § 1. f Ibid. Book III. chap. ii. § 3.

« НазадПродовжити »