ricardo to trower
[Reply to 371.—Answered by 376]
Brighton 21 July 1820
My dear Trower
I have been here above a week, and ought, before this time, to have acknowledged the receipt of your kind letter of the 5th. instt. All business of consequence had been dispatched in the House of Commons before I quitted London, and as my family had left me alone, in my large house, I was anxious to join them in this place, which they had chosen for their residence for a few weeks, previous to our journey into Gloucestershire. They are much more partial to Brighton than I am, and are much more persuaded also of the beneficial effects of sea air to all persons, and to all constitutions, than I ever shall be—I should have preferred going straight to Gatcomb as soon as I could quit London. It does not appear likely that public business will allow me to stay long in Gloucestershire this year. The enquiry into the charge against the Queen, will, no doubt, make a very early meeting of the House of Commons necessary, and when we meet we shall not I think be very soon discharged from our attendance. I am sorry that this unfortunate business was not settled without an appeal to Parliament. Under all the circumstances of the case I do not think that ministers were justified in making it an affair of state. It can have no other effect but to bring royalty itself into disgrace, and to weaken the attachment of the people to monarchical government. If these proceedings should lead to a change of ministers I am very far from expecting that the proceedings of the whigs when in administration will be essentially different from those of the men they will displace—something they must do to preserve an appearance of consistency, but it will be very little indeed—they are in their hearts as little friendly to any real reform as the tories.
You say more than I deserve in my praise for asserting the true principles of Political Economy in my place in Parliament. I feel that I am quite unequal to do what a better speaker might do, and I am more than usually daunted by observing that on every point where an abuse is to be got rid of there are such powerful interests to oppose, who never fail of making the worse appear the better reason.
I have not met with many persons who have yet read Malthus’ book. I am pleased however with the observations you make on what he has said respecting my doctrine, of price, being ultimately regulated by cost of production. By the very definition of natural price, it is wholly dependent on cost of production, and has nothing to do with demand and supply. The terms on which a commodity can be produced, so as to remunerate the producer, will remain the same altho’ the demand should be for 5 times the quantity produced. We all acknowledge the effect of such a demand on market price.
Mr. Malthus pays me a very unmerited compliment at the end of his chapter on the rent of land, but he is very unjust to me in his comments on my doctrine of rent and profit, in that same chapter. He represents me as holding the landlords up to reproach, because I have said that their interests are opposed to those of the rest of the community, and that the rise of their rents are at the expence of the gains of the other classes. The whole tenor of my book shews how I mean to apply those observations. I have said that the community would not benefit if the landlords gave up all their rent—such a sacrifice would not make corn cheaper, but would only benefit the farmers.—Does not this shew that I do not consider landlords as enemies to the public good? They are in possession of machines of various productive powers, and it is their interest that the least productive machine should be called into action—such is not the interest of the public—they must desire to employ the foreign greater productive machine rather than the English less productive one. Mr. M. charges me too with denying the benefits of improvements in Agriculture to Landlords. I do not acknowledge the justice of this charge, I have more than once said, what is obvious, that they must ultimately benefit by the land becoming more productive. Perhaps I have not expressed myself so strongly on this point as I ought to have done, but it was evident that I acknowledged the principle. I refer you to the last Chap. of my book, and particularly to the paragraph beginning “Another cause of the rise of rent, according to Mr. Malthus &c. &c.,” for the truth of my assertion.
Pray look at Page 237 of Mr. M’s book and you will see an instance of a great (unintentional I am sure) misrepresentation of an adversary’s argument. I contend for free trade in corn on the ground that while trade is free, and corn cheap, profits will not fall however great be the accumulation of capital. If you confine yourself to the resources of your own soil, I say, rent will in time absorb the greatest part of that produce which remains after paying wages, and consequently profits will be low. Not only individual profits but the aggregate amount of profits will be diminished, notwithstanding an increase of capital. The whole net produce will be increased, but less will be enjoyed by capitalists (see Chap. on Profits, Pages 128–129 2d edition ). Now how does Mr. M apply my argument? Do not let cheap corn be imported, says he, because if you do you will lose a part of that portion of your surplus produce which now appears in the form of rent. I agree that this would be the consequence, but then it is known that I contend this would be more than compensated by increased profits, but Mr. M was my authority for the very opposite conclusion: you will have no compensation in increased profits, he says, and I appeal to Mr. Ricardo for the correctness of this opinion, who has admitted that not only each individual capital in the progress of society will yield a continually diminishing revenue, but the whole amount of the revenue derived from profits will be diminished. I admit it! yes I do, but in the case of high rents and a high price of corn,—not in the opposite case to which he applies it of low rents, and a low price of corn.
Pray look to Section 6—Page 192 and you will observe that all the points on which my theory is raised are admitted. There are only 2 causes for a high price of corn. A fall in the value of money. An increase in the quantity of labour and capital necessary to produce corn. After this admission is it not wonderful that any thing should be said in favor of a rise in what Mr. M calls real rent when it is caused by an increase in the quantity of labour and capital necessary to produce corn? and yet this I consider to be Mr. M’s argument, for according to him high rent is in itself a good, independently of its being a sign of wealth and power. Is it not a good to obtain all your productions by the least sacrifice of labour and capital? I could fill sheet after sheet with what appears to me to be false reasoning and inconsistencies in this book, but I will spare you.
You have no doubt observed that Hume has undergone the ordeal of an election committee with success. The ministers have not a more formidable opponent. He never speaks without a formidable array of figures to back his assertions, and he pores over documents with persevering zeal and attention, which most other men fly from with disgust and terror. His manner of speaking is I think improved—he is however generally too diffuse—speaks too often—and sometimes wastes his own strength, and his hearers patience, on matters too trifling for notice.—He justifies this indeed by saying that he contends for sound principles, which are as much outraged by an unjust expenditure of a few hundred pounds, as of a million. He is I think a most useful member of parliament,—always at his post and governed I believe by an ardent desire to be useful to his country.
I hope Mrs. Trower and your girls are well. Mrs. Ricardo joins me in kind remembrances to them.—
Believe me ever My dear Trower Very truly Yrs.
I have seen no account of the Savings Bank Fund on the table of the House, but I believe one is ordered to be presented