mill to ricardo
[Reply to 143.—Answered by 149]
Ford Abbey Decr. 22d. 1815
My Dear Sir
Though you are yourself the best judge, as best acquainted with the circumstances of the case, yet as your letter appears to imply a kind of appeal to my opinion, I think it necessary to send you what occurs to me.
Of the three practical points which you urge in your discourse, the first, it appeared to me, was not only the most important, by far, but that on which you laid the greatest stress: viz. the regulation to pay Bank of England notes in bullion, not in coin. That is not affected by the principles of any bargain of Perceval. The last of the points, relating to the division, (among the proprietors) of the savings of the bank, is equally exempt from its influence. So that there only remains the point which relates to the surplus payment which the bank receives from the public.
Now if Perceval did make a bargain which sanctions this improper, and, as towards the public, unjust remuneration, it would be something to expose that bargain, and shew that it was such a bargain as ought never to have been made. If I were in your situation, I should go further, and say it is a bargain which ought to be cancelled. There is utility in making bargains between individuals strict, unless where fraud appears to have intervened. There would be utility in holding all bargains between the public and individuals nul, in which the interests of the public are sacrificed. The law even recognizes such a principle; since all grants by the executive power in which the interests of the public seem to be sacrificed, are reducible, on the averment, that the King was deceived in his grant. But whether you urge this point or not, viz. that the minister was deceived in his grant—the bank ought to be stimulated on the score of honour—and told that having inveigled the public with an improvident, and shameful bargain, it is infamous to seek to take advantage of it; and join the crowd of those who wish to grow rich upon the plunder of the people: that they are avowedly receiving from the public, year by year, a great sum of money, which they ought not to receive; which, if the interests of the public had been taken proper care of, they would have been well prevented from receiving; and that decency— common decency—would recommend it to them to give up this undue advantage—against a people oppressed by public burthens. I should treat all the excess above the due remuneration for their public services, as money got upon false pretences, which the law treats as swindling. And without violating the mildness and forbearingness of your own disposition, I think you may put this whole view of the matter in question in a strong and vivid light.
After all, you are the best judge of what, upon this subject, the public are likely to attend to, and hence to be the better for—all that I have been able, or can pretend to do, is, to suggest the above, as among the matters which your judgement has to work upon.
The gratitude which you express for what I did in regard to your M.S.—though far above any benefit you would derive from it—and even any trouble which it gave to me— I am yet highly pleased with—because I am happy to receive any opportunity of improving your regard for me.
Now for still more of the old subject. In anticipation of theM.S. which I expect soon to receive, as part of the great work, I have been reading once more your last pamphlet. And it has suggested this to be given to you, as an advice; which is, that you should all along consider your readers, as people ignorant of the subject; and never set down any material proposition without its immediate proof, or a reference to the very page where the proof is given. You must never leave any such proposition to be inferred, through a number of steps, by your readers themselves, from some distant principles. It is this which has made the pamphlet, in question, be reckoned obscure, and not unjustly, as regards the state of mind of almost every body in regard to the subject. I have resolved on this account to set you an exercise. You have stated repeatedly this proposition, That improvements in agriculture (suppose in such a state as that of England at present) raise the profits of stock, and produce immediately no other effects. But you have no where stated the proof. You have left it to be inferred from your general doctrine, as to rent. The additional produce cannot be received as rent, which is limited by another circumstance. And it cannot go as wages, because they too are otherwise limited. Therefore it must be received as profit. But what I wish you to do, is, not to content yourself with this inference—but to shew by what steps, in practice, the distribution would take place. As for example—By improvements, all the capital employed on the English soil becomes more productive—the same quantity of corn is consumed in cultivating the land; a greater quantity is returned: What, in their order, are the effects which follow? On this subject, I ordain you to perform an exercise—a school exercise: in other words, write me a letter. That is to say, provided you understand what I propose to you. My meaning is, that you should successively answer the question, What comes next? First of all is the improvement. What comes next? Ans. the increase of produce. What comes next? Ans. a fall in the price of corn. What comes next?—and so on. I shall then see what next is to be proposed to you. For as you are already the best thinker on political economy, I am resolved you shall also be the best writer. It wants only capability, and industry—of both of which, in your case, I am assured. All that is required is that you should resist some of the most frivolous of social calls; such calls as you have all your life long resisted for business, and which you ought now to resist for study. For example, you never thought it necessary, for the sake of your friends, to give up to them your mornings, and keep away from the Stock Exchange. So now—give up to your friends cheerfully all that remains of the day from the dinner hour— and when you must go to see them at their houses, you must add as much more as the time necessary to go. But your hour, before breakfast, and before dinner, should be your own, for study, as it formerly was for business. As soon as people know this to be your rule, nobody is offended at. They rise in their respect and esteem, for you, by knowing that you are doing, what so few people are capable of doing. Conducive to these ends, it should be a rule never to stay late at any persons house; and if any body stays late at yours, that you, without noticing any body, disappear at a particular hour. Never mind a little shame at the thought of a little singularity—singularity is always a sign of weakness, when it respects a matter of no importance—always a sign of strength when it respects a matter which is really worthy of it, and which cannot be attained without it.
You must not tell Mrs. Ricardo how I am thus acting the pedagogue over you. She will think (what I think myself) that my impudence truly is not small.—We are still here— and if your letter is ready within a fortnight, it may safely come here. But I shall write to you, before we go, that you may exactly know. I hope you are all well—and about to have a merry Christmas.