ricardo to brown
[Reply to 334 & 335]
Gatcomb Park, Minchinhampton Gloucestershire 13 Octr. 1819
Your letters, with their inclosures, were forwarded from my house in London to this place, which is my residence for six months in the year, but as I was absent on a little excursion, I did not receive them till sunday last. Their perusal has given me very great satisfaction. In the first place I am pleased that a mind so capable as your letters prove yours to be, is employed on a subject in which I take a peculiar interest, and which it is generally acknowledged is of great importance to the welfare and prosperity of this and every other country. Political Economy is daily engaging more and more of the public attention, and it is of the first consequence that our errors in legislation on subjects of trade should be made clear and evident to any one who is willing to give to them a moderate degree of attention. In the second place I am pleased that my humble efforts to improve the science of Political Economy have met with your approbation, and have in your opinion been in some degree successful. Your praise is the more valuable from its discrimination, and it would have been more valuable still, if you had been more free in your comments on such parts of my book as in your view require amendment.
On the subject of my difference with Mr. Malthus in the passage to which you refer me in your letter, I am glad to find that you are decidedly of my opinion; and here it will be proper for me to correct a little misapprehension under which you appear to be respecting Mr. Malthus’ concern in the Corn Law as it now stands. Mr. Malthus is a very intimate friend of mine, and a more candid or better man nowhere exists. Although you have not expressed any doubt, or indeed any opinion of his good qualities, I could not mention his name without giving this testimony in his favor. He has I think some erroneous opinions respecting the expediency of a free trade in corn, but they are honest conscientious opinions. From the respect which is paid to every thing that comes from him his views on this subject may have had great weight in influencing the judgments of those who were finally to decide on the question in Parliament, but he was never consulted by those who originated the measure, and his opinions were only collected from his writings, which did not appear till after the measure was before Parliament.—
If it were not for the necessity of taxation the business of Government regarding Agriculture, Commerce and Manufactures would be very easy indeed,—all that would be required of them would be to avoid all interference, neither to encourage one source of production nor to depress another, but the necessity of raising money by taxes renders some interference necessary. The aim of the legislature should nevertheless be to press on all equally, so as to interfere as little as possible with the natural equilibrium which would have prevailed if no disturbance whatever had been given. It may I think be a curious matter for speculation, to know whether Agriculture is more productive of wealth to the country than Manufactures, or manufactures than Agriculture, but however accurate our knowledge might be as to the facts, that would not justify either restraints on one, or encouragements to the other. Every research into this subject convinces me that trade should be left perfectly free, and that taxation should be so managed as to interfere with that freedom as little as possible. Manufactures and trade are alternately the cause and effect of wealth. An agricultural nation without trade and manufactures cannot be rich, because neither an individual or a nation can be said to be rich, if it have only food to eat. An agricultural nation might however have the command of a great quantity of labour besides that employed on the land, which it might expend on war, or in supporting the rude ostentation and magnificence conferred by a great number of retainers. Such a nation would have powerful resources, and would I think be more than a match for a country of the same extent and fertility which was also a manufacturing country. Why have we not heard of any such Agricultural nation? because none ever persevere in the course from which they commence—they prefer manufactures to menial servants—instead of a great man having a thousand persons about him ready to obey his mandates, they are accumulated in workshops manufacturing his lace, his china and his furniture, or they are digging the earth for the purpose of obtaining the precious metals of which he is so greedy. Give a country wealth, or let it acquire wealth, and it ceases to be purely agricultural, not because there is any thing which necessarily obliges it to be any thing else, but because with wealth a desire for manufactures is excited, and this desire becomes a powerful stimulus to the accumulation of capital, in order that the desire may be gratified. Even with this desire for manufactures, a country might continue to be purely agricultural, if by means of trade, she could in exchange for a portion of her agricultural produce obtain a larger quantity of manufactured goods, than, with the capital employed on the production of such portion of agricultural produce as she exported, she could manufacture at home.
It is the accumulation of wealth from Agriculture which first gives the notion and the means of establishing Manufactures. Manufactures in their turn become the cause of new accumulations of capital which tend to produce a fresh demand for labour, an increased population, and a greater consumption of agricultural produce. Thus Agriculture is alternately the cause and effect of manufacturing industry.
Your remark respecting the relative value of the Corn, and the Butcher’s meat, annually consumed, is new to me, and does not accord with my preconceived notions. It is important, and deserves particular investigation.—
We all have to lament the present distressed situation of the labouring classes in this country, but the remedy is not very apparent to me. The correcting of our errors in legislation with regard to trade would ultimately be of considerable service to all classes of the community, but it would afford no immediate relief: On the contrary I should expect that it would plunge us into additional difficulties. If all the prohibitions were removed from the importation of corn and many other articles, the sudden fall in the price of corn and those other articles, which could not fail to follow, would ruin most of the farmers, and many of the manufacturers; and although others would be benefited, the derangement which such measures would occasion in the actual employments of capital, and the changes which would become necessary, would rather aggravate than relieve the distress under which we are now labouring.
With most of your definitions and remarks in the paper inclosed in your first letter, I should agree, with the alteration of a few words. In one of your remarks you say that the wisdom of the senate must be estimated according to the nicety or skill with which they restrain and adjust the conflictive interests of those employed in obtaining wealth. You take for granted that some measures of restraint and adjustment on the part of Government are necessary. This should be first proved for it is one of the important points in dispute. In another place you call money a Pledge or Security. Now according to my ideas of a pledge or security when that is given the transaction is not concluded. A man gives a pledge which he is bound at some future time to redeem—it may be of more or less value than the thing for which it is pledged—but this is not the case with money—money is an equivalent. When I buy a piece of cloth and pay for it in money, I become possessed of the cloth and the seller becomes possessed of the money. I am subject to all the loss which may arise from the fall in the value of cloth, he to all that may take place in the value of money. I have given him value for value—the transaction is for ever closed between us—he has obtained from me an equivalent, and not a pledge.
These Sir are the hasty notions which I have formed on the perusal of your letter and I have as hastily communicated them to you which must be my apology for all the inaccuracies which you may observe in this letter.
I have the honor to be Sir with great respect Your obedt. and humble Servt.
James Brown Esqre.