Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAP. V.: Of Usury. - The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, vol. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAP. V.: Of Usury. - Sir William Petty, The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, vol. 1 
The Economic Writings of Sir William Petty, together with The Observations upon Bills of Mortality, more probably by Captain John Graunt, ed. Charles Henry Hull (Cambridge University Press, 1899), 2 vols.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
WHat reason there is for taking or giving Interest or Usury for any thing which we may certainly have again whensoever we call for it, I see not; nor why Usury should be scrupled, where money or other necessaries valued by it, is lent to be paid at such a time and place as the Borrower chuseth, so as the Lender cannot have his money paid him back where and when himself pleaseth, I also see not. Wherefore when a man giveth out his money upon condition that he may not demand it back until a certain time to come, whatsoever his own necessities shall be in the mean time, he certainly may take a compensation for this inconvenience which he admits against himself: And this allowance is that we commonly call Usury.
2. And when one man furnisheth another with money at some distant place, and engages under great Penalties to pay him there, and at a certain day besides; the consideration for this, is that we call Exchange or local Usury1 .
As for example, if a man wanting money at Carlisle in the heat of the late Civil Wars, when the way was full of Souldiers and Robbers, and the passage by Sea very long, troublesome, and dangerous, and seldom passed; why might not another take much more then an 100 l. at London for warranting the like Summe to be paid at Carlisle on a certain day?
3. Now the Questions arising hence are; what are the natural Standards of Usury and Exchange? As for Usury, the least that can be, is the Rent of so much Land as the money lent will buy, where the security is undoubted; but where the security is casual, then a kinde of ensurance must be enterwoven with the simple natural Interest, which may advance the Usury very conscionably unto any height below the Principal it self. Now if things are so in England, that really there is ‖ no such security as abovementioned, but that all are more or less hazardous, troublesome, or chargeable to make, I see no reason for endeavoring to limit Usury upon time, any more then that upon place, which the practice of the world doth not, unless it be that those who make such Laws were rather Borrowers then Lenders: But of the vanity and fruitlessness of making Civil Positive Laws against the Laws of Nature, I have spoken elsewhere, and instanced in several particulars.
4. As for the natural measures of Exchange, I say that in times of Peace, the greatest Exchange can be but the labour of carrying the money in specie, but where are hazards† emergent uses for money more in one place then another, &c. or opinions of these true or false, the Exchange will begoverned by them.
5. Parallel unto this, is something which we omit‡ concerning the price of Land; for as great need of money heightens Exchange, so doth great need of Corn raise the price of that likewise, and consequently of the Rent of the Land that bears Corn, and lastly of the Land it self; as for example, if the Corn which feedeth London, or an Army, be brought forty miles thither1 , then the Corn growing within a mile of London, or the quarters of such Army, shall have added unto its natural price, so much as the charge of bringing it thirty nine miles doth amount unto: And unto perishable Commodities, as fresh fish, fruits, &c. the ensurance upon the hazard of corrupting, &c. shall be added also; and finally, unto him that eats these things there (suppose in Taverns) shall be added the charge of all the circumstancial appurtenances† of House-rent, Furniture, Attendance, and the Cooks skill as well as his labour to accompany the same.
6. Hence it comes to pass, that Lands intrinsically alike near populous places, such as where the perimeter of the Area that feeds them is great, will not onely yield more Rent for these Reasons, but also more years purchase then in remote places, by reason of the pleasure and honour extraordinary of having Lands there; for
—Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci1 . ‖
7. Having finished our digression upon the measures of the Rents and Values of Lands and Moneys, we now return to our second way of leavying Publick Charges, which was the taking of a proportion of the Rent (commonly called Assessment) it follows next to speak of the way of computing the said Rents, otherwise then according to the bargains which a few men make one with another, through ignorance, haste, false suggestion, or else in their passion or drink: Although I acknowledge, that the medium or common result of all the bargains made within three years (or other such Cycle of time, as within which all contingencies of Land revolve) may be very sufficient to this purpose, being but the summe synthetically computed by casual opinions, as I would endeavour to cast up analytically by a distinct particularizing of the Causes.
8. 1. Therefore I propound a Survey of the Figures, Quantities, and Scituations of all the Lands both according to the civil bounds of Parishes, Farms, &c. and the natural distinctions thereof by the Sea, Rivers, ridges of Rocks, or Mountains, &c.
9. 2. I propound that the quality of each denomination were described by the Commodities it had usually born, in some Land, some sort of Timber, Grain, pulse or root growing more happily then in others: Also by the encrease of things sown or planted, which it hath yielded communibus annis; and withall, the comparative goodness of the said Commodities not unto the common Standard money, but to one another. As for example; if there be ten acres of Land, I would have it judged whether they be better for Hay or Corn; if for Hay, whether the said ten Acres will bear more or less of Hay then ten other Acres; and whether an hundred weight of the said Hay will feed or fatten more or less, then the same weight of other Hay, and not as yet comparing it to money, in which the value of the said Hay will be more or less, according to the plenty of money, which hath changed strangely since the discovery of the West Indies, and according to the multitudes of people living near this Land, together ‖ with the luxurious or frugal living of them; and besides all, according to the Civil, Natural, and Religious Opinions of the said people: As for example, Eggs in the fore-part of Lent (because their goodness and delicacy decayes before Lent be done) being worth little in some Popish Countreys; nor Swines flesh among the Jews, nor Hedgehogs, Frogs, Snails, Mushrooms, &c. to those that fear to eat them, as poisonous or unwholesome; nor Currans and Spanish Wines, if they were all to be destroyed as the great thieves of this Nations, by an Edict of the State1 .
10. This I call a Survey or Inquisition into the† intrinsick Values of Land,‡ that of extrinsick or accidentall follows2 . We said, that the change of the store of money would change the rates of commodities according to our reckoning in names and words, (pounds, shillings, and pence being nothing else) as for example:
If a man can bring to London an ounce of Silver out of the Earth in Peru, in the same time that he can produce a bushel of Corn, then one is the natural price of the other; now if by reason of new and more easie Mines a man can get two ounces of Silver as easily as formerly he did one, then Corn will be as cheap at ten shillings the bushel, as it was before at five shillings cœteris paribus.
11. It behoves us therefore to have a way, whereby to tell the money of our Countrey (which I think I have, and that in a short time, and without cost, and (which is more) without looking into particular mens pockets; of which hereafter.) Now if we know what Gold and Silver we had in England two hundred years ago, and could tell it again now; and though we also knew the difference of our denominations then, when thirty seven shillings were made out the same quantity of Silver as sixty two are now1 ; also that of the alloy, labour in Coinage, remedies for weight and fineness, and duties to the King; nay, if we also knew the Labourers wages then and now, yet all this would not shew the difference of the Riches of our Nation even in money alone.
12. Wherefore we must adde to the premises, the knowledge ‖ of the difference of the numbers of the people, and conclude, that if all the money in the Nation were equally divided amongst all the people both then and now, that that time wherein each Devisee had wherewith to hire most labourers, was the richer. So that we want the knowledge of the People and Bullion which is now in this Land, and which was heretofore; all which I think may be found out even for the time past, but more probably for the time present and to come.
13. But to proceed; suppose we had them, then we would pitch the accidental values upon our Lands about London; as thus; viz. We would first at hazzard compute the materials for food and covering, which the Shires of Essex, Kent, Surrey, Middlesex and Hertford, next circumjacent to London, did communidus annis produce; and would withal compute the Consumptioners of them living in the said five Shires, and London. The which if I found to be more then were the Consumptioners living upon the like scope of other Land, or rather upon as much other Land as bore the like quantity of Provisions. Then I say, that Provisions must be dearer in the said five Shires then in the other; and within the said Shires cheaper or dearer, as the way to London was more or less long, or rather more or less chargeable.
14. For if the said five Shires did already produce as much Commodity, as by all endeavour was possible; then what is wanting must be brought from a far, and that which is near, advanced in price accordingly; or if by† the said Shires by greater labour then now is used, (as by digging instead of Ploughing, setting instead of sowing, picking of choice feed instead of taking it promiscuously, steeping it instead of using it wholly unprepared, and manuring the ground with salt instead of rotten straw, &c.)‡ then will the Rent be as much more advanced, as the excess of encrease exceeds that of the labour.
15. Now the price of labour must be certain, (as we see it made by the Statutes which limit the day wages of several work men;) the non-observance of which Laws1 , and the not adapting them to the change of times, is by the way very ‖ dangerous, and confusive to all endeavours of bettering the Trade of the Nation.
16. Moreover, the touchstone to try whether it be better to use those improvements or not, is to examine whether the labour of fetching these things even from the places where they grow wilde, or with less Culture, be not less then that of the said improvements.
17. Against all this will be objected, that these computations are very hard if not impossible to make; to which I answer onely this, that they are so, especially if none will trouble their hands or heads to make them, or give authority for so doing: But withall, I say, that until this be done, Trade will be too conjectural a work for any man to employ his thoughts about; for it will be the same wisdom in order to win with fair Dice, to spend much time in considering how to hold them, how much to shake them, and how hard to throw them, and on what angles they should hit the side of the Tables, as to consider how to advance the Trade of this Nation; where at present particular men get from their neighbours (not from the earth and sea) rather by hit then wit, and by the false opinions of others, rather then their own judgements; Credit every where, but chiefly in London, being become a meer conceit, that a man is responsible or not, without any certain knowledge of his Wealth or true Estate. Whereas I think the nature of credit should be limited onely to an opinion of a mans faculties to get by his art and industry. The way of knowing his Estate being to be made certain, and the way of making him pay what he owes to the utmost of his ability, being to be expected from the good execution of our Laws.
18. I should here enlarge upon a Paradox, to prove that if every mans Estate could be alwayes read in his forehead, our Trade would much be advanced thereby, although the poorer ambitious man be commonly the more industrious. But of this elsewhere.
19. The next objection against this so exact computation of the Rents and works† of lands, &c. is, that the Sovereign would know too exactly every mans Estate; to which I answer, ‖ that if the Charge of the Nation be brought as low as it may be, (which depends much upon the people in Parliament to do) and if the people be willing and ready to pay, and if care be taken, that although they have not ready money, the credit of their Lands and Goods shall be as good; and lastly, that it would be a great discommodity to the Prince to take more then he needs, as was proved before; where is the evil of this so exact knowledge? And as for the proportion of every Contributor, why should any man hope or accept1 to ease himself by his craft and interest in a confusion? or why should he not fear, though he may be advantaged this time, to suffer in the next.
The attempted analogy between usury and exchange is hardly established. In case of usury he who is to receive gets the consideration, in case of exchange he who is to pay. Cf. Quantulumcunque, qu. 28–32.
[†]after [hazards] interline [and]
The 1679 ed., “forty miles together.”
[†]read [apparatus] instead of [appurtenances]
Horace, de arte poetica, 343.
See 12 Charles II., c. 18, § 8.
[†]after [the] interline [former]
[‡]after [Land] read [this latter] instead [of the]
Conjectural emendation: This former I call a Survey or Inquisition into the intrinsick Values of Land, the latter of extrinsick or accidentall follows. Cf. Graunt, “Conclusion.”
In 49 Henry VI. (1460) one pound of silver old standard (viz. II oz. 23 fine silver and 183 alloy) were coined into 37s. 6d. by tale instead of the 30s. previously coined. Pursuant to the indenture between the King and Sir Ralph Freeman, (12 Charles II. 1661), the same weight of bullion was thenceforward coined into £3.2s. Lowndes, Report, 39, 40, 54, 55.
[‡]between [&c and then] interline [could be fertilized]
Cunningham, English Industry, II., 199–200.
[†]read [worth] not [work]
The 1679 ed., “expect.”