trower to ricardo
[Reply to 373—Answered by 380]
Unsted Wood—Godalming Aug. 13. 1820—
My Dear Ricardo
Many thanks for your last kind letter. Perhaps you are not aware, that I still am, and have been for more than 5 weeks, a prisoner on the Sopha. I, unfortunately, violently dislocated my knee, in getting over a gate, and although I dont suffer from pain, I fear I shall, for some time, have to suffer from confinement. I cannot blame myself for any boyish trick, not suited to my staid time of life, as I was jumping down very quietly from the top of a field gate, on which I had been sitting. Thus circumstanced, I look to my Library for my principal resource, and the Volumes of Ricardo and Malthus occupy no small portion of my time, and my thoughts. No doubt, Malthus’ Book is a very elaborate performance, and must have occasioned him much labor. As far as I have hitherto advanced in his work I perfectly agree with you in thinking, that he has left all your main and substantial points untouched. His objections appear to me as applying to the qualification of your principles, and not to the principles themselves. On the question of Rent I conceive, that even, by his own shewing, he has surrendered the point in dispute. He admits there may be some land which pays only wages and profit, and that the price of corn must be limited by the cost on the worst land.—That peculiar quality in the land, about which he says so much, and which he considers the source of Rent; is nothing more than that surplus produce, which both in raw produce and manufactures is the source of profit. No doubt, if there were no surplus there would be no rent, but it does not, on that account follow, that this positive surplus will produce rent.
I agree with you in thinking, that much false reasoning, and many inconsistencies, are to be found in his pages. Have the goodness to turn to page 125. where he says, that “when labor commands the smallest quantity of food it commands the greatest quantity of other commodities,” &. &. and to page 128. where he says—“at a period when a given quantity of corn will command the greatest quantity of necessaries and a given quantity of labor will always command the smallest quantity of such objects” &. Surely these cant both be true? Labor commands the smallest quantity of food and the greatest quantity of necessaries in an advanced state of society, where Corn is of high value and necessaries of low value; therefore, I take the position in page 125 to be true. But, when Corn can command the greatest quantity of necessaries, its exchangeable value in relation to necessaries must be high. And when the value of Corn is high in comparison with necessaries, although the wages of labor may be such as to enable the laborer to obtain a small supply of Corn, with that portion of his wages, which he allots to food, yet they will enable him to obtain an ample supply of necessaries with that portion which he allots to that purpose.
In page 145. The inferences he draws from the supposed diminution of ½ of the fertility of the land appear to me incorrect. His object seems to be to shew, that the largest portion of the lands would be thrown out of cultivation, not in consequence of the diminished demand by the destruction of the consumers, but because the quantity of produce being only half of what was before obtained by the same labor and capital it could not pay the costs of production. But surely in such a deplorable case wretched as must be the condition of the survivors the price of produce required for the people would be sufficient to cover the costs of production—it must be carried up to that pitch, be it what might. It might be such as to leave no surplus for profit, and then none but cultivators could exist, and the quantity of land cultivated, in proportion to the number of the people would be double what it was before.
I have not yet made much progress in Malthus’ Book, but I shall continue my enquiries in which I feel much interest.
In page 566. of the first Edition of your Book you say, “In the natural course of things the Demand for all Commodities precedes their Supply,” and on page 560 you say “It is not the abundance of necessaries which raises up Demanders but the abundance of demanders which raises up necessaries”—
Is this true? I doubt it. Is not population limited by Capital? and do not necessaries constitute a part of Capital? Must not some time elapse before the fruits of labor are gathered? And during that interval must there not be a preexisting supply to satisfy the laborers wants? Does not an encrease of capital occasion a demand for labor? And is not a demand for labor, the same thing as a supply of necessaries? Are not capital and labor equivalent to supply and demand? How could labor be demanded, if the demander had not, in his possession, or within his command, a supply of necessaries to satisfy the immediate and indispensable wants of the laborers? Again, what are the profits of Capital but a surplus of commodities, over and above the wants of the community? But, a surplus of commodities, is the same thing as an abundance, and in proportion to the amount of that abundance is the rate of profit? No doubt there is an action, and a reaction of capital and labor maintained constantly in every progressive Country; but how could these operations have commenced if there had not been a previous supply of necessaries? What would have become of our illustrious first parent if he had not been sent into a World provided with necessaries suited to his condition; or in other words, if supply had not preceded demand!
I venture to throw out these observations for your consideration. They have had considerable influence upon my opinion on the point in question, and I should be glad to know what you have to say to them.
When do you come up to the horrible investigation? I am not without hopes it may yet be avoided. No doubt, the circumstances of the case are such as to warrant enquiry; but, the object is not of such importance as to render it expedient to hazard the peace of the Country in prosecuting it. And, the opinion of so large a portion of the public has been so strongly expressed, that it is doubtful what effect might be produced by altogether disregarding it. The address of Lord J. Russell will of course have no effect. The arguments it contains have long been before the public; but I should have expected from a Noble Lord, from a Senator, and above all, from an author, that the materials would have [been] better arranged, and more happily concocted. But the letter and address are both written in a very careless and slovenly manner, and are not at all suited to the important occasion which called them forth —
There is a very good reply to them in the Chronicle signed an Old Whig. Which however affords proof that the New Whigs think they spy a vista view of Downing Street through the Columns of Addressers who are constantly marching to the Queens House!—
Adieu My Dear Ricardo pray make our united kind Compliments to Mrs. Ricardo and your family and believe me
Yrs very sincerely
I have referred to the passages of Malthus quoted in your letter and agree with you in what you say upon them.
Pray tell me, have you made any alterations in the 2 edition of your Book, is it necessary to enable me to pursue my examination of the points in dispute between you and Malthus.