417.: mcculloch to ricardo2[Reply to 416.—Answered by 418] - David Ricardo, The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, Vol. 8 Letters 1819-June 1821 
The Works and Correspondence of David Ricardo, ed. Piero Sraffa with the Collaboration of M.H. Dobb (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005). Vol. 8 Letters 1819-1821.
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mcculloch to ricardo
[Reply to 416.—Answered by 418]
Edinburgh 22nd Jany 1821
My Dear Sir
I return you herewith your manuscripts which I have read with as much attention as was possible for me to bestow, and with equal advantage and pleasure—If Mr. Malthus can read over your remarks on his work without renouncing many of those positions on which he has laid the greatest stress, he can have but a very slender claim to the character of a candid reasoner or of a sincere lover of truth—Nothing I apprehend can be more complete and satisfactory than your remarks on accumulation and on the improvement of machinery —Your argument is here quite unassailable—You have not in fact left a single loop-hole or cranny by which your adversary can escape—Nothing remains for him but to surrender unconditionally—I do not, however, think that you are either so perspicuous or so successful in what you have said about value—This in my humble opinion is the least valuable part of your notes—You say that Mr. Malthus “is quite right in asserting that many commodities in which labour chiefly enters, and which can be quickly brought to market will rise with a rise in the value of labour,” meaning I presume with a rise of real wages, that is, with an increase in the proportion of the produce of the labourers exertions given to him—I confess I was not prepared for this proposition, and I should like to have seen you devote three or four pages to explain it—You do not I am sure mean to say that a rise of wages can raise the real value of any class of commodities—It can only raise their relative value, and it does this not in consequence of their rising in absolute value, but of others falling in a still greater ratio—Suppose that the durability of the different capitals employed in production are as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, &c, and that 1 is the least and 10 the most durable—When wages rise they are all affected in the same way but in different degrees. 10 is less affected than 9, 9 than 8 and so on; they must, therefore, all sink in relative value except the first, 2 will fall but a very little, 3 a little more and so on—As any standard with which they can be compared must itself be produced by the employment of capital returnable in a certain period, when wages rise those commodities which are produced by less durable capitals will appear to rise and those which are produced by more durable capitals will appear to fall—In truth, however, the whole would have fallen; and if the standard had been produced by capital whose durability was equal to 1 they would almost all have fallen as compared with this standard while it is plain none could have risen—If I am right in this reasoning it is conclusive as to Mr. Malthus objections, and it shews that no commodities, however rapidly returnable the capital employed in their production may be[,] can be raised by a rise in the wages of labour. I hope you will have the goodness to state to me your opinion on this point, for it is one on which of all others I most wish to have sound opinions.
This, however, is a point which if it be really involved in any degree of obscurity you can very easily clear up, but I have other objections to your publishing your notes in their present shape—They are by far too controversial; and the plan you have adopted has necessarily involved you in what seems to me to be a good deal of tedious and unnecessary repetition—The better way in my humble opinion would have been to have briefly stated the leading objections of Mr. Malthus to your theory, and then to have refuted him, without following him like a commentator from page to page—This is the plan, or nearly so which you adopted in your reply to Mr. Bosanquet, and it is the only one that can be satisfactory to the reader—Satisfied as I truly am of the very great value of your Notes, and of the benefit which their publication would confer on the science, still I should be extremely sorry were you to give them to the world in their present state—If you consider it as too great a sacrifice to recast them in the shape of answers to propositions, you might at least shorten the previous part of them—all before accumulation—with very great advantage—The first economist of the age ought not to waste his time in writing a refutation of every error into which another economist may have fallen, but only to set him right on those great principles which affect the foundations of the science—
I throw myself on your goodness to excuse the freedom of my remarks—It is alone to my anxiety for your reputation as an economist that you must ascribe them—Had my respect and attachment for you been less sincere I should not certainly have troubled you with the previous remarks—
Your observations on Say are excellent, but is there not a little repetition in the first part of the one of what is said in the first part of the other? —
I am heartily glad to see a third edition of your work advertised—Though I am of opinion that it is nearly perfect still I think it may be improved a little—I think you might recast the chapter on Accumulation and make it a good deal more complete; there are also one or two other points on which I think you might make some alterations with advantage—I see Malthus is taking to his old trick of bookmaking —His book instead of being lengthened ought to have been curtailed one third —
I have enclosed you a copy of my article on Interest —I am afraid you will hardly reckon it worth sending—The subject was so hacknied that I had little or nothing new to bring forward—
I am glad you approved of the paper on the Corn laws in the Scotsman; and I wish heartily you would when the subject comes before Parliament make a speech shewing the injurious effects of the Corn Laws on the farmers—This would be a great practical good—I am with the greatest respect and regard
Yours most faithfully
J. R. McCulloch