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Ireland. This was during the period of the Famine, the winter of 1846-47."
After what we have seen of his mental history, it is easy to anticipate that Mill would no longer be satisfied with the kind of treatment that economics had received at the hands of his father, or in subsequent years of McCulloch or Senior. The "principles" of abstract political economy, as he had inherited them, he entertained no sort of doubt about. As has been well said, within that field "Mill speaks as one expounding an established system." l As late as 1844 he had reprinted in the thin volume entitled Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy his old essay on Method, and had expressed his complete satisfaction, within its range, with the science as it was to be found "in the writings of its best teachers." 3 But he was bound to put this science into some sort of relation with that general Social Science or Philosophy, of which he had gained, or solidified, his notion from the reading of Comte. Accordingly, he gave to his book the title: "Principles of Political Economy, with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy." And he himself spoke of the work in later years in the following terms:
"It was, from the first, continually cited and referred to as an authority, because it was not a book merely of abstract science, but also of application, and treated Political Economy not as a thing by itself, but as a fragment of a greater whole; a branch of Social Philosophy, so interlinked with all the other branches, that its conclusions, even in its own peculiar province, are only true conditionally, subject to interference and counteraction from causes not directed within its scope: while to the ?feS£&£iDer ot a practical guide it has no pretension, apart from other classes of considerations." 3
It must be left to the reader to judge how far this " application" was successful,—how far, indeed, the nature of the abstract science lent itself to application. But the character of the undertaking will be rendered clearer by noticing certain of its characteristics.
Ethology, as we have seen, had receded from Mill's mind. But the thoughts which had given rise to the project have left their traces in the chapter on "Competition and Custom."4 Here Custom is placed side by side with Competition as the other agency determining the division of produce under the rule of private property. It is pointed out not only that Competition is a comparatively modern phenomenon, so that, until recently, rents, for instance, were ruled by custom, but also that "even in the present state of intense competition " its influence is not so absolute as is often supposed: there are very often two prices in the same market. He asserts that
1 Leslie Stephen, The English Utilitarians, ii. 161. "Unsettled Questions, p. 149.
3 Autobiography, p. 236 (Pop. ed. p. 135).
4 Book ii. chap. 4.
"political economists generally, and English political economists above others, are accustomed to lay almost exclusive stress upon the first of these agencies; to exaggerate the effect of competition, and take into little account the other and conflicting principle. They are apt to express themselves as they thought that competition actually does, in all cases, whatever it can be shown to be the tendency of competition to do." The language in which he goes on to formulate an explanation relative justification of their practice is of the utmost significance. "This is partly intelligible, if we consider that only through the principle of competition has political economy any pretension to the character of a science. So far as rents, profits, prices, are determined by competition, laws may be for them. Assume competition to b<rtheir exclusive and principles of broad generality and scientific precision may be laid down, according to which they will beT^guj^ted. The political economist justly deems this his proper business: and as an abstract or hypothetical science, political economy cannot be required to do anything more."
But, as the ascription to Competition of an unlimited sway is, as a matter of fact, "a great misconception of the actual cause of human affairs."
"to escape error, we ought, in applying the conclusions of political economy to the actual affairs of life, to consider not only what will happen supposing the maximum of competition, but how far the result will be affected if competition falls short of the maximum."
After this it might perhaps be expected that Mill would himself embark on a quantitative estimate of the extent of the divergence of the " laws " of " the science " from the facts of life. But certainly no such attempt is made within the covers of his treatise—and he makes it clear that the application of his warning is to be left to the reader:
"These observations must be received as a general correction, to be applied whenever relevant, whether expressly mentioned or not, to the conclusions contained in the subsequent portions of this treatise. Our reasonings must, in general, proceed as if the known and natural effects of competition were actually produced by it."
To discuss the conception of "science" and its relation to "law" which underlies such passages; to compare it with that implied by Mill elsewhere; or to enter into the question whether a systematic ascertainment and grouping of actual facts, guided by the ordinary rules of evidence, might not deserve to be called "scientific," even if it did not result in "law "—would take us too far afield. By confining, as he did, the term " science" to the abstract argument, and by leaving the determination of its relation to actual conditions to what he himself in another connexion calls "the sagacity of conjecture," Mill undoubtedly exercised a profWnd influence on the subsequent character of economic writing in England.
Another result, in the Political Economy, of the preceding phase of Mill's social speculation, is to be found in the distinction between Statics and Dynamics which he now introduces into economics itself.1 In/^the Logic, as we have noticed, this distinction was applied, following Comte, only to the general Sociology \hidfwas to be created by "the historical method." But the general Sociology being indefinitely postponed, because the Ethology which in Mill's judgment was its necessary foundation was not forthcoming, it seemed proper to employ the distinction in the "preliminary" science, and to add in the Political Economy itself a "theory of motion" to the "theory of ,-equilibrium." Thus employed, however, the distinction becomes something very different from what Comte had intended. Almost the whole of Mill's Book IV on the Progress of Society consists of a highly theoretical and abstract argument as to the effect on Prices, Rents, Profits, and Wages, within a competitive society of the present type, of the progress of population, capital, and the arts of production, in various combinations. Much of the substance of these arguments was derived from Ricardo or his school; and the whole discussion, even when Mill takes an independent line of his own, moves within the Ricardian atmosphere. This statement of fact does not necessarily imply condemnation. It is made only to clear Mill's use of 1 Book iv. chap. 1.
the terms "static" and "dynamic" in his Political Economy from the ambiguity which his own previous use of the term in relation to general Sociology might cause to cling to it. And we must except the last chapter of the Book, dealing with "the Probable Futurity of the Working Classes," which is a prophecy of the ultimate victory of Co-operation, and has little or no connexion with what goes before.
And now we come finally to what Mill himself regarded as the distinguishing characteristic of his work; and with it we reach the third of the influences that affected the movement of his mind after his early education. I refer, of course, to the distinction which Mill drew between the laws of the Production and those of the Distribution of wealth.1 With the formal statement in the Principles may be compared the passage in the Autobiography,2 where Mill gives an account of the influence of Mrs. Taylor (who became his wife in April, 1851):
"The purely scientific part of the Political Economy I did not learn from her; but it was chiefly her influence that gave to the book that general tone by which it is distinguished from all previous expositions of political economy that had any pretension to being scientific. . . . This tone consisted chiefly in making the proper distinction between thelaws of the Production of wealth—which are real laws of nature, dependent on the properties of objects—and the modes of its Distribution, which, subject to certain conditions, depend on human will. The common run of political economists confuse these together, under the designation of economic laws, which they deem incapable of being defeated or modified by human effort; ascribing the same necessity to things dependent on the unchangeable conditions of our earthly existence, and to those which, being but the necessary consequences of particular social arrangements, are merely co-extensive with these: given certain institutions and customs, wages, profits, and rent will be determined by certain causes; but this class of political economists drop the indispensable presupposition, and argue that these causes must, by an inherent necessity, against which no human means can avail, determine the shares which fall, in the division of the produce, to labourers, capitalists, and landlords.
1 See the concluding paragraphs in the Preliminary Remarks, and book ii. chap. i. § 1.
- P. 246 (Pop. ed. p. 141).
The Principles of Political Economy yielded to none of its predecessors in aiming at the scientific appreciation of the action of these causes, under the conditions which they presuppose; but it set the example of not treating those conditions as final. The economic generalizations which depend not on necessities of nature but on those combined with the existing arrangements of society, it deals with only as provisional, and as liable to be much altered by the progress of social improvement. I had indeed partially learnt this view of things from the thoughts awakened in me by the speculations of the St. Simonians; but it was made a living principle pervading and animating the book by my wife's promptings."
It would be interesting, had I space, to try to distinguish the various currents of thought which converged at this time upon Mill and his wife. They were both people of warm hearts and generous sympathies; and the one most important fact about Mill's Principles, besides its being the work of the son of his father, is that it was published in the great year 1848. Mill's personal friendship with Carlyle and Maurice in England, his keen interest for years in St. Simonism and all the other early phases of French "socialism," sufficiently disposed him, if he wore the old political economy at all, to wear it " with a difference." I do not propose to add one more to the numerous arguments as to the validity of the distinction between the laws of Production and the modes of Distribution. But I should like to comment on one word which was constantly in Mill's mouth in this connexion—and that is the word "provisional"; a word which, according to his own account, he had picked up from Austin.1 He used it twice in the letter to Comte announcing his intention to write an economic treatise:
"I know your opinion of the political economy of the day: I have a better opinion of it than you have; but, if I write anything on the subject, it will be never losing out of sight the purely provisional character of all its concrete conclusions; and I shall take special pains to separate the general laws of Production, which are necessarily common to all industrial societies, from the principles of the Distribution and Exchange of wealth, which necessarily presuppose a particular state of society, without implying that this state should, or even can, indefinitely continue. ... I believe that such a treatise might have, especially in England, great provisional utility, and that 1 AttfdbiograpJiy, p. 234 (Pop. ed. p. 134).