ricardo to mill
[Reply to 297.—Answered by 303]
Gatcomb Park 28 Decr. 1818
My dear Sir
On friday, I sent you the observations which I had written on Torrens paper in the Edinb. Mag., and yesterday I dispatched to you the paper on reform which I was before going to send you, but of which I was ashamed at the moment that I was about to enclose it. You have asked for it, and now you will see that I ought to have put it in the fire, instead of consenting that your valuable time should be taken up in reading such miserable effusions.—My reply to Torrens was never meant for publication—you recommend me to write, and I thought that I might as well employ an hour on that subject as on any other. I have perhaps said too much on my agreement with Dr. Smith in the passage that I have quoted from Torrens. The fact is that Torrens does not represent Smith’s opinion fairly he makes it appear that Smith says that after capital accumulates and industrious people are set to work the quantity of labour employed is not the only circumstance that determines the value of commodities, and that I oppose this opinion. Now I want to shew that I do not oppose this opinion in the way that he represents me to do so, but Adam Smith thought, that as in the early stages of society, all the produce of labour belonged to the labourer, and as after stock was accumulated, a part went to profits, that accumulation, necessarily, without any regard to the different degrees of durability of capital, or any other circumstance whatever, raised the prices or exchangeable value of commodities, and consequently that their value was no longer regulated by the quantity of labour necessary to their production. In opposition to him, I maintain that it is not because of this division into profits and wages,— it is not because capital accumulates, that exchangeable value varies, but it is in all stages of society, owing only to 2 causes: one the more or less quantity of labour required, the other the greater or less durability of capital:—that the former is never superseded by the latter, but is only modified by it. But, say my opposers, Torrens, and Malthus, capital is always of unequal durability in different trades, and therefore of what practical use is your enquiry? Of none, I answer, if I pretended to shew that cloth should be at such a price,— shoes at such another—muslins at such another and so on— this I have never attempted to do,—but I contend it is of essential use to determine what the causes are which regulate exchangeable value, although they may be so complicated, and intricate, that practically, the knowledge may be very little useful. Malthus thinks it monstrous that I should say labour had fallen in value, when perhaps the quantity of necessaries allotted to the labourer may be really increased. I attempted to use the Socratic method of arguing with him, and had nearly succeeded in shewing him that he really admitted my proposition, when he became as cautious, and wary, as the man whom Franklin had often refuted by that method. I asked him whether if corn could be produced with a great deal less labour, it would not fall in value as well as in price:—he answered yes, it would so fall. I then asked him whether with such a fall in the price of corn, labour would continue to be permanently at the same money price, and to this question he would not give me any positive answer. Now if corn fell 50 pct., and labour only fell 5, my proposition would be made out, because in all those mediums which had not varied in value, according to his own admission, labour would have fallen in value, although the labourer would enjoy a greater abundance of commodities. But you will be sick of all this, and will wish that I had forgot that I might address you at any length I pleased, since I could make use of Mr. Hume’s privelege.—
I did not expect that you would be satisfied with Say’s notes.—Some of them are ingenious, but he does not grapple with the real question in dispute,—he makes a shew of answering it, but he completely evades it. In his note on gross and net revenue —he begs the question;—he first supposes that a part of the revenue received by the labourers is more than their wants require—that is to say is net revenue, and then he says that there is an advantage in increasing the gross revenue altho’ you do not thereby increase the net revenue. In what I said on that subject I expressly guarded myself, by saying, that Adam Smith had not argued this question on a supposition that by increasing the number of labourers you were increasing the number of human beings susceptible of and enjoying happiness,—but as it regarded the increase of the disposable wealth and power of the country; and yet M Say answers my observations by saying that there would be a greater number of human beings enjoying happiness. I have left it to Murray to do as he pleases respecting translating the notes, and adding them to the end of the work. If they were much more able I should both from my wish to have the subject well discussed, and from a feeling of pride in having a distinguished and able adversary have liked to have made them as public as I could, although it might have been thought that I had the worst of the argument,—but now it is quite indifferent to me. I think of making no other answer to M Say’s observations but that of remarking that he has left my main position respecting the regulator of rent unanswered. Is it not wonderful that after Malthus publication on rent, after acknowledging the same principles as I contend for, he should now agree with Say, and contend that there is no corn grown in any country which does not pay a rent?—he says that he committed an error in saying otherwise, and that I have followed him in it, and by the conclusions which I draw from it, have proved the incorrectness of the principle. His book is delayed, I believe, partly at Murray’s suggestion of the time of year now fixed upon being the most favourable time for publication, and partly, I think, from doubts which he cannot help entertaining of the correctness of his opinions. So much for Polit. Econ.
On the question of Reform I shall not have much more to say, and therefore you will be relieved from the distasteful employment of looking over my meagre performances. Malthus used one or two arguments here which I think I successfully answered at the time, but I shall be more satisfied to see his objection, and my endeavor at refutation, on paper. I wish too to consider, and on that point I must have the advantage of some conversation with you, whether, if reform was obtained in such a degree as to make the House of Commons the real and efficient representatives of the people, the monarchical part of our constitution would be in any danger of being overthrown. Are there not great and manifest advantages attending a monarchical executive, which would secure the preference of that form, if we had to establish for the first time the Government of this country? Being established, would not the evil of change—the known sentiments of the people—the powers which the monarch has of appointing to all places of honour and profit—of dissolving parliament and some other of his prerogatives, which he would not be disposed to yield without a struggle, make it almost certain that the only change which would result from a reform would be a change in the administration of the Government, and not in its essential forms? At the time that Magna Charta was obtained—when the star chamber was abolished, and other priveleges obtained for the people, in the reign of Charles It. —when the executive Government was more strictly restrained at the revolution, no attempt was made to alter the form of the Government, but in the progress of knowledge the people became more sensible of the fences necessary for their security. Is it not the same now? Do we not see that we want additional securities—that some which we thought would prove effectual have not proved so—that we have new dangers to guard against, and perhaps also that we have improved in knowledge and in the science of Government, which enable us not only to discover the causes to which we may attribute misgovernment, but also suggest to us the remedy? Are not all these improvements perfectly compatible with the preservation of the monarchy? and not only compatible, but is there any one symptom of the reformers generally being republicans in disguise, who call out indeed for reform, but mean revolution? If they really were so, I should not abate my wish for reform, because I should be sure that if we had a good and wise legislature, no countenance would be given to any project which had revolution for its object. I should be sure that any end which they would pursue, would be that of the happiness of the community, and with the accomplishment of that end I should be satisfied.
It would be of great use if our adversaries could be convinced not only that good men would pursue good ends, but that those good ends were precisely the same as they deem good. They cannot believe that if power be given to overturn, it will not be used for that purpose. They might as consistently argue that a man’s hands should be tied because if they were loose, he would have the power of doing mischief to himself and others.—I must have your opinion not only on the best means by which we may be finally enabled to obtain a good government, but also supposing the means obtained what measures a conscientious legislator would recommend as constituting the good government sought.—
I am glad that you approved of my answer to Trower,— my strength lay in his weakness. I do not find that I manage my arguments with any improved skill; and at our County meeting when I heard the Duke of Beaufort falter and pause, so painfully, that no one thought he could proceed, in proposing the Address to the Prince Regent, I thought of the probability of my being placed in a similar awkward predicament, if I ventured to listen to the sound of my own voice.
I am glad to hear that your health is improving, and my pleasure is increased in finding that you attribute it to my brother’s advice. When we admit the principle that different professions should be represented in parliament, we will use our interest to have him returned as representative of the medical profession.—
I have received a letter from Mess. Bleasdale my attornies —they have at last received the Abstract of Lord P.’s title but not in a perfect state,—they are promised to have the deficiency supplied immediately. To shew you that the 6 pct. interest could not be Mr. Brougham’s inference only, I will copy a passage from their letter. “We understand from Lord Portalington’s solicitor that it had been agreed in case the interest was regularly paid in London by a day to be fixed it was to be only 5 pct., but otherwise it was to be 6.” Unless guaranteed by bankers here I would rather receive 6pct. in Ireland, but the original agreement was 6 pct. payable in England.—
About 3 years ago I was very much pleased by reading Turgot’s life and works. He was a reformer,—but although the abuses which he wished to remove were most convincingly demonstrated by him to be such, what difficulties had he not to encounter and for how short a time was he entrusted with the power of being useful! At least this is the impression that remains with me. He was a very able political economist, considering the prejudices of his time.— I have read Millar with great pleasure. I have been reading Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws, I expect to see something better on that subject bye and bye. His views are liberal but he speaks too much in favour of Glory and of pure monarchy, —and the virtue which he makes the active principle in Republics is represented too much as a disinterested principle of action.
We were all very much affected here by the perusal of poor Romilly’s will. Every thing tends to shew that he was an upright, excellent man. His kindness and attention to his relations were amiable features in his character.—