PREFACE TO NEW PRINCIPLES
OF POLITICAL ECONOMY,
AND THE LIGHT WHICH THEY MAY CAST ON THE CRISIS WHICH ENGLAND IS AT THIS TIME EXPERIENCING .
It is seven years since I published my New Principles of Political Economy, of which I am now preparing a second edition, considerab]y increased. I do not wish to conceal that this work did not obtain the approbation of men, who are looked upon, with reason at this time, as having made the most signal progress in their science. I must even attribute to their personal respect the delicacy with which they opposed my book. I am not surprised that I have not made a deeper impression. I raised doubts on principles which were looked upon as fixed; I shook the foundations of a science, which, by its simplicity, by the clear and methodical deduction of its laws, appeared to be one of the noblest creations of human intellect. I attacked orthodoxy, as dangerous an enterprise in philosophy as in religion. At the same time I had another disadvantage, I separated myself from friends, in whose political opinions I agreed; I pointed out the dangers of innovations which they recommended; I showed that many institutions which they have long attacked as abuses, had had beneficial consequences; I invoked more than once the interference of social power to regulate the progress of wealth, instead of reducing Political Economy to that most simple and apparently most liberal maxim, to letalone (de laisser faire et laisser passer).
I had no cause for complaint; I waited, for truth is stronger than the spirit of system. If I had deceived myself, the progress of events could not fail to reveal it to me; if, on the contrmy, I had discovered new principles, which even in my eyes only then began to acquire importance, facts would not be long in supporting them; and, with all respect for the pontiffs of science, I might say with Galileo, eppur si muove.
Seven years have passed, and facts appear to have fought victoriously for me. They have proved, much better than I could have done, that the wise men from whom I have separated myself were in pursuit of a false prosperity; that their theories, wherever they were put in practice, served well enough to increase material wealth, but that they diminished the mass of enjoyment laid up for each individual; that if they tended to make the rich man more rich, they also made the poor man more poor, more dependent, and more destitute. Crises utterly unexpected have succeeded one another in the commercial world; the progress of industry and opulence has not saved the operatives who created this opulence from unheard-of sufferings; facts have not answered either to common expectation, or to the predictions of philosophers; and in spite of the implicit faith which the disciples of Political Economy accord to the instructions of their masters, they are obliged to seek elsewhere new explanations for those phenomena, which diverge so widely from the rules they consider as established.
Among these explanations, those which I had given beforehand have shown themselves entirely conformable to the results. Perhaps to this coincidence may be attributed the more rapid sale of my work, and the demand which has been made for a new edition. It was in England that I performed the task of preparing it. England has given birth to the most celebrated Political Economists; the science is cultivated even at this time with increased ardour; ministers of state, already adepts in the doctrine of public wealth, have been seen attending courses of lectures by the most intelligent professors of Political Economy; its principles are there constantly appealed to in parliament. Universal competition, or the effort always to produce more, and always cheaper, has long been the system in England, a system which I have attacked as dangerous. This system has caused production by manufactures to advance with gigantic steps, but it has from time to time precipitated the manufacturers into frightful distress. It was in presence of these convulsions of wealth that I thought I ought to place myself, to review my reasonings, and compare them with facts.
The study of England has confirmed me in my “New Principles.”In this astonishing country, which seems to be submitted to a great experiment for the instruction of the rest of the world, I have seen production increasing whilst enjoyments were diminishing. The mass of the nation here, no less than philosopllers, seems to forget that the increase of wealth is not the end in political economy, but its instrument in procuring the happiness of all. I sought for this happiness in every class, and I could nowhere find it. The high English aristocracy has indeed arrived to a degree of wealth and luxury which surpasses all that can be seen in other nations; nevertheless it does not itself enjoy the opulence which it seems to have acquired at the expense of the other classes; security is wanting, and in every family most of the individuals experience privation rather than abundance. If I go into houses whose splendour is perfectly regal, I hear the heads of the families affirm, that if the corn monopoly is suppressed their fortunes will he annihilated, for that their estates, which extend over whole provinces, will no longer pay the expense of cultivation. Around these heads I see families of children, more numerous than the aristocratic class elsewhere affords any example of; many have ten, twelve, or even more, but all the younger sons, all the daughters, are sacrificed to the vanity of the eldest; each one's capital is not equal to one year's rent of the oldest brother; they must grow old in celibacy, and they pay dearly by the dependence of their later years for the luxury of their early ones.
Below this titled and not titled aristocracy, I see commerce occupy a distinguished rank; its enterprises embrace the whole world; its agents brave the ices of the poles, and the heats of the equator, whilst every one of its leading men, meeting on Exchange, can dispose of thousands. At the same time, in the streets of London, and in those of the other great towns of England, the shops display goods sufficient for the consumption of the world. But have riches secured to the English merchant the kind of happiness which they ought to ensure him? No: in no country are failures so frequent, nowhere are those colossal fortunes, sufficient in themselves to supply a public loan, to uphold an empire or a republic, overthrown with so much rapidity. All complain that business is scarce, difficult, not remunerative. Twice, within an interval of a few'years, a terrible crisis has ruined part of the bankers, and spread desolation among all the English manufacturers. At the same time another crisis has ruined tile farmers, and been felt in its rebound by retail dea]ers. On the other hand, commerce, in spite of its immense extent, has ceased to call for young men who have their fortunes to make; every place is occupied in the superior ranks of society no less than in the inferior; the greater number offer their labour in vain, without being able to obtain remuneration.
Has, then, this national opulence, whose material progress strikes every eye, nevertheless tended to the advantage of the poor? Not so. The people of England are destitute of comfort now, and of security for the future. There are no longer yeomen, they have been obliged to become day-labourers. In the towns there are scareely any longer artisans, or independent heads of a small business, but only manufacturers. The operative, to employ a word which the system has created, does not know what it is to have a station; he only gains wages, and as these wages cannot suffice for all seasons, he is almost every year reduced to ask alms from the peor-rates.
This opulent nation has found it more economical to sell all the gold and silver which she possessed, to do without coin, and to depend entirely on a paper circulation; she has thus voluntarily deprived herself of the most valuable of all the advantages of coin; stability of value. The holders of the notes of the provincial banks run the risk every day of being ruined by frequent, and, as it were, epidemic failures of the bankers, and the whole state is exposed to a convulsion in the fortune of every individual, if an invasion or a revolution should shake the credit of a national bank. The English nation has found it most economical to give up those modes of cultivation which require much hand-labour, and she has dismissed half the cultivators who lived in her fields; she has found it more economical to supersede workmen by steam-engines; she has dismissed, then employed, then dismissed again, the operatives in towns, and weavers giving place to power-looms, are now sinking under famine; she has found it more economical to reduce all working people to the lowest possible wages on which they can subsist; and these working people being no longer anything but a rabble, have not feared plunging into still deeper misery by the addition of an increasing family. She has found it more economical to feed the Irish with potatoes, and clothe them in rags; and now every packet brings legions of Irish, who, working for less than the English, drive them from every employment. What is the fruit of this immense accumulation of wealth? Have they had any other effect than to make every class partake of care, privation, and the danger of complete ruin? Has not England, by forgetting men for things, sacrificed the end to the means?
The example of England is so much the more striking, because she is a free, enlightened, well-governed nation, because all her sufferings proceed only from having followed a false economical system. No doubt foreigners are struck in England with the arrogant pretensions of the aristocracy, and the accumulation of wealth in the same hands tends continually to increase it In no country, however, is the independence of every class of the nation better secured; in no country does the poor man, with a deference which surprises us, preserve at the bottom of his heart a greater consciousness of his own dignity; in no country does the feeling of confidence in the law, and respect for its authority, more pervade all classes; in no country is the feeling of commiseration more general; in no country are the rich more eager to assist every kind of distress; in no country are the ministers of state more enlightened, more earnest in seeking the general good, more skilful in discovering it. Are, then, so many means, so many virtues, useless in human society?
Yes, when they have the misfortune to be engaged in a false direction. England, more free, more enlightened, more powerful than other nations, has only sooner arrived at the consequences of the error which she has been led to pursue. Her vital strength and the talents of her statesmen will assist her, when she has a strong wish to do so, to return more easily than any other nation into the good path. But science has its prejudices, nations have their habits, and even at this day, in their distress, the English take no measure which does not tend to aggravate it.
I have endeavoured to establish in the book which I shall soon present anew to the public, that for riches to contribute to the happiness of all, being, as they are, the sign of all the material enjoyments of man, their increase must be in conformity to the increase of population, and that they must be distributed among this population, in proportions which cannot be disturbed without extreme danger. I propose to show that it is necessary for the happiness of all, that income should increase with capital, and that the population should not go beyond the income upon which it has to subsist; that consumption should increase with the population, and that reproduction should be equally proportioned to the capital which produces it and to the population which consumes it. I show at the same time that each of these relations may be disturbed independently of the others; that income often does not inerease in proportion to capital; that population may increase without income being augmented; that a population more numerous, but more wretched, may require less for its consumption; that reproduction, in short, may be proportional to the capital to which it owes its returns, and not to the population which demands it; but that whenever any of these relations are disturbed, social suffering ensues.
It is on this proposition that my new principles are founded, it is in the importance that I attach to it, that I differ essentially from those philosophers, who in our time have professed in so brilliant a mànner the economical sciences, from Say, Ricardo, Malthus, and Macoulloch. These philosophers appear to me constantly to have put aside the obstacles which embarrassed them in the building up of their theories, and to have arrived at false conclusions from not having distinguished things which it gave them trouble to distinguish. All the modem economists, in fact, have allowed that the fortune of the public, being only the aggregation of private fortunes, has its origin, is augmented, distributed, and destroyed by the same means as the fortune of each individual. They all know perfectly well, that in a private fortune, the most important fact to consider is the income, and that by the income must be regulated consumption or expenditure, or the capital will be destroyed. But as, in the fortune of the public, the capital of one becomes the income of another, they have been perplexed to decide what was capital, and what income, and they have therefore found it more simple to leave the latter entirely out of their calculations.
By neglecting a quality so essential to be determined, Say and Ricardo have arrived at the conclusion, that consumption is an unlimited power, or at least having no limits but those of production, whilst it is in fact limited by income. They announced that whatever abundance might be produced, it would always find consumers, and they have encouraged the producers to cause that glut in the markets, which at this time occasions the distress of the civilized world; whereas they should have forewarned the producers that they could only reckon on those producers who possessed income, and every increase of production, which is not met by a corresponding increase of income, causes loss to some one. From the same forgetfulness, Mr. Malthus, in pointing out the danger of unregulated increase of population, has assigned it no limit hut the quantity of subsistence which the earth can produce, a quantity which will be long susceptible of increasing with extreme rapidity; whereas, if he had taken income into consideration, he would soon have seen that it is the disproportion between the labouring population and their income which causes all their sufferings. Mr. Macculloch, in a little essay intended to enlighten the people on the question of wages, affirms that the wages of the poor are necessarily regulated by the relation between population and capital, whereas wages being dependent on the quantity of labour in demand, must also be in proportion to consumption, which is itself proportioned to income. In the same writing he exhorts the poor man to apportion the increase of his family to the increase of the nation's capital, of which it is impossible for him to form even the most confused idea; whereas, he might have observed that every man, when he marries, is always bound to regulate his family according to his own income; from whence it is easy to draw the conclusion, that it is enough for the nation, for all men to regulate their expenses by their income, and that nation in which the very poorest have something, and can tell the income which they shall transmit to their children, will run no risk of suffering from an ill-regulated increase of population.
I think, then, that I may re-publish with confidence my New Principles of Political Economy, not such as they were, but such as I have been enabled to complete them, by observing the great struggle among all the interests of persons engaged in industrial occupations. Their somewhat vague title might lead to the supposition that I only intended them to be a new manual of the rudiments of this science. I carry my pretensions farther. I think I have placed Political Economy on a new basis, whether it be the ascertainment of general income, or the investigation of what distribution of this income will spread the most happiness throughout the nation, and consequently best attain the end of the science.
Other principles, equally new, but of less general application, again flow from these. I have shown that territorial wealth is more productive in proportion to the greater share which the cultivator has in the property of the soil; that the laws intended to preserve their patrimonies to old families caused the ruin of these very families; that that equilibrium among the gains of rival occupations, on which modem economists have founded their calculations, has never been attained, except by the destruction of fixed capital, and the mortality of the workmen engaged in a losing manufacture; that, although the invention of machines, which increase the power of man, may be a benefit to humanity, yet the unjust distribution which we make of profits obtained by their means, changes them into scourges to the poor; that the metallic currency of a nation is, of all its public expenditure, the most useful, of all its magnificence the most national; that the public funds are nothing but an imaginary capital, an assignment-mortgage on the income arising from labour and industry; that the natural limits of population are always respected by men who have something, and always passed over by men who have nothing. Let me not then be accused of having wished to make retrograde steps in this science; it is forward on the contrary, to new ground, that I have carried it. It is thither, I earnestly entreat, that I may be followed, in the name of those calamities which, at the present day, afflict so large a number of our brethren, and which the old principles of this science teach us neither to understand nor to prevent.
The criticisms to which the first edition of my new principles were subjected have not been lost on me. I have almost entirely re-cast this work. Most frequently I have endeavoured to elucidate what might have been lefL obscure, by fixing the attention of my readers on England. In the crisis which she is now experiencing, I wished to show both the cause of our present sufferings, by the connection which exists among the various industrial labours of the world, and the history of our own future, if we continue to act upon the principles which she has followed. But I have also sometimes shown my deference to criticisms which appear to me to be just, by suppressions or alterations. Nevertheless, I think I ought to protest against the often light, often false mode, in which a work on the social sciences is judged in the world. The problem which they offer us to be resolved, involves very different elements from all those which arise out of the natural sciences, at the same time that it is addressed to the heart as well as to the reason. The observer is called upon to take cognizance of cruel sufferings, of unjust sufferings, which proceed from man, and of which man is the victim. We cannot consider them coldly, and pass them over without seeking some remedy. These remedies will sometimes shock the feelings or the prejudices of readers; they will be sometimes superfluous or inapplicable. These are so many errors, no doubt, but they are errors not so much in Political Economy as in the administration of it. The author or the reader may be mistaken as to its application, because all the circumstances which are the basis of this application are not met with in the book. The deduction of principles cannot, however, be shaken by some corollaries open to controversy, or to ridicule. If its principles are true, if they are new, if they are fruitful, they will, in spite of some errors, real or supposed, advance social science, the most important of all sciences, for it is that of the happiness of man.