Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXIV.: On Population. - Letters to Mr. Malthus, and A Catechism of Political Economy
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CHAPTER XXIV.: On Population. - Jean Baptiste Say, Letters to Mr. Malthus, and A Catechism of Political Economy 
Letters to Mr. Malthus, on Several Subjects of Political Economy, and on the Cause of the Stagnation of Commerce. To Which is added, A Catechism of Political Economy, or Familiar Conversations on the Manner in which Wealth is Produced, Distributed, and Consumed in Society, trans. John Richter (London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1821).
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What are the causes which increase or diminish the population of a country?
In general a country is so much the more populous as it produces more values or riches for the maintenance of its inhabitants, and so much the less so as it produces less riches.
Why do not you say more of the commodities proper for the food of men?
Because there are commodities which, without being alimentary, are necessary to life, as clothes and lodging, and because with those which are not alimentary we can procure, by means of commerce and exchange, those which are. It is sufficient for a country to produce values to enable it to exist; the nature of the values will immediately accommodate itself to its wants; for the commodities of which it stands in the greatest need, are those for which it will pay best, and the good price they will then obtain will cause them to become abundant.
But when war or bad laws prevent the arrival of articles of the first necessity, such as those which serve for subsistence, will not the population suffer greatly?
It will suffer the same as when crops fail in bad years.
Without supposing any scourge on the part of men or of nature, if the number of births exceeds what the products of a nation can nourish, what will be the consequence?
It will necessarily follow that part of those born, will perish of want, either in childhood or at a riper age. This evil exists at all times, more or less, because the human species, like all other organised beings, has more means of increase than it has of maintenance. Want does not instantly kill, but it gradually wastes. Few people die for want of food, but for want of food sufficiently abundant or sufficiently wholesome; for want of medicine in illness, for want of cleanliness, for want of rest, for want of dry and warm lodging, and for want of those attentions which we cannot do without in infirmity and old age. From the moment that any one of these objects becomes necessary to them, and they cannot obtain it, they languish for a greater or a less period, and sink at the first shock.
Who first feel the want of the necessaries of life?
The scarcity of one or other of these means of existence, first raises the price of it; it thus gets out of the reach, first of the most indigent; and as the scarcity and dearness increases, the greater is the number of those who suffer from its privation.
Do not wars, epidemics, and in general those plagues which cut off great numbers of men, enable those which are left to enjoy a greater quantity of those commodities of which they are in want?
These scourges, in destroying men, destroy at the same time the means of production; and we do not see that, in countries thinly populated, the wants of the inhabitants are more easily satisfied. It is the abundance of productions, and not the scarcity of consumers, which procures a plentiful supply of whatever our necessities require; and the most populous countries are in general the best supplied.
What is it that induces men to assemble together in villages, towns, or cities?
The nature of their occupations. Those who cultivate the earth spread themselves all over the country, in order to be near their employment, and to have a small distance to carry their crops at harvest time. Those who carry on manufactories place themselves in towns, where they find at hand the materials, utensils, and the artisans of which they are frequently in want. Those who engage in commerce place themselves either in the sea-ports, where the merchandise arrives more easily, or on the roads by which it is distributed through various provinces or countries. Those who produce by means of their lands, but without cultivating them; or by means of their capital, without employing them themselves, being able to expend their incomes in any place whatever, live where they please, but generally in cities, where they find greater resources and amusements of every kind. It is the same with those whose profits are founded on immaterial products; which, not being transportable, are therefore consumed chiefly in places where a number of persons are collected together. It is for this reason that we meet with so many physicians, advocates, and public functionaries in great cities.
Are not great cities a burden to a nation, since they must be provisioned by the country?
By no means: for the inhabitants of cities have incomes equally real with the inhabitants of the country. They do not live at the expense of the latter, as they do not receive from them any value without giving them another value in exchange. And the country cannot have markets more certain or more extensive than the cities, to which they present in their turn, when well cultivated and they are able to purchase much, important markets for the products of manufacture and commerce. Thus there is not a more certain indication of the riches and great revenues of a country, than numerous and extensive cities.