431.: mcculloch to ricardo2[Reply to 428.—Answered by 433] - 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 428.—Answered by 433]
Edinburgh 5 June 1821
My Dear Sir
I have to apologise for being so long in returning you my best thanks for the valuable present of the third Edition of your great work—I congratulate you on its success—It is the best proof that can be given of the growing attention now paid to this important science; and it must have a powerful influence in furthering the dissemination of sound principles—
At the same time I must say (and I say it with that regret which I ever must feel in differing widely from one to whom I shall always be proud to look up as to my master) that in my humble opinion the Chapter on Machinery in this Edition is a very material deduction from the value of the work—Little did I expect after reading your triumphant answer to the arguments of Mr. Malthus that you were so soon to shake hands with him, and to give up all—for that is what you have really done—which you had contended for a month or two before —Excess of candour has in this instance occasioned your doing a very serious injury to your favourite science—It was certainly proper that you should have renounced your previous opinions the moment you were satisfied of their fallacy; but this may be done in various ways, and I do not think it was at all necessary for you to make a formal recantation—Your object never has been and never can be any other than to endeavour to promote the real interests of the science; but I apprehend you will agree with me in thinking that nothing can be more injurious to these interests than to see an Economist of the highest reputation strenuously defending one set of opinions one day, and unconditionally surrendering them the next—The fundamental differences that formerly existed (for I am sorry to think they have now nearly disappeared) between you and Messrs. Malthus and Sismondi induced many to believe that Political Economy was a thing of fudge, a fabric without a foundation—And I certainly think that those who were formerly of that opinion have a good deal better ground for entertaining it now—
However the manner in which you have published your change of opinion is of comparatively little consequence—It is what I consider the extreme erroneousness of the principles to which you have incautiously lent the sanction of your name that has excited my principal regret—It is impossible to fritter away your argument by fencing it about with conditions—If it is good for any thing at all it is conclusive against all employment of machinery—It is not with greater or less gross or nett produce that we have the smallest concern in considering this question; but simply whether does machinery produce commodities cheaper or not? If it does not produce them cheaper it will not be erected, and if it does produce them cheaper its erection must be profitable to every class of persons—The example which you have given does not, as far as I can perceive, by any means warrant a single one of the extraordinary conclusions you have drawn from it—You have not said whether the machine worth £7,500 is to last one, ten, or one hundred years —But, it is as plain as any proposition in geometry that if it lasted only one year there could be no diminution of the manufacturers capital, for the goods produced by it at the end of the year would have to sell for £8,250; and the capitalist would have this capital to lay out in the construction of another machine, or in the employment of some sort of labour—If the machine lasts more than one year then the price of the commodities produced by it must sink; and although the proprietor of the machine would not then have an equally large capital wherewith to employ labour, its deficiency will be fully compensated by the increased revenues, or capitals of the purchasers of his goods—Your example differs in no respect from that of Sismondi which I analyzed in the last Number of the Review —And in my apprehension far from affording the shadow of a reason for doubting of the constant advantages attending the employment of machinery, ought to be quoted in proof of it—
I deny that less cloth would be produced by this machine of which you speak at the bottom of page 472 —Such a supposition is totally out of the question. If the machine only lasted one year it must produce more cloth; and for this sufficient reason that if it did not there could be no motive for its erection—But, enduing the machine with greater durability will not lessen its productive power; it will only sink the prices of the commodities produced by it, and render its erection supremely advantageous—
I admit that if machinery were to become less productive according to the increase of its durability, there might be some force in your reasoning—But here you are completely silent . You have neglected to establish this fundamental position; and have not advanced a single word to shew why that should be the case of which the reverse appears obvious—For example an iron plough does not diminish gross produce, or to speak more intelligibly it does not execute less work than one that is constructed of wood: A Dock that is built of granite does not hold fewer ships than one that is built of brick—Nor would the productiveness of the steam engine be at all impaired though the fiat of almighty power were to confer indestructibility on the materials of which it is composed—Before you began to describe to your readers the disadvantages attending the diminution of gross produce by the introduction of machinery, it would have been well had you inquired whether in point of fact such diminution ever did actually take place, or whether it was at all likely that it could take place—Your argument is to be sure hypothetical; but the hypothesis will be thrown aside, and all those who raise a yell against the extension of machinery, and ascribe to it that misery which is a mere necessary consequence of the oppressiveness of taxation, and of the restraints on commerce will fortify themselves by your authority! If your reasoning and that of Mr. Malthus be well founded, the laws against the Luddites are a disgrace to the Statute book—
Let me beg of you to reconsider this subject—A heresy on a mere doctrinal point is of no moment; but really I could not recommend to any of my friends to bestow the least attention on the study of this science, if I was satisfied that it remained yet to be settled whether the reducing of the price of commodities was advantageous or not—Truly if we are not got this length, our disputes about profits and our other remote conclusions ought to afford infinite amusement to the scoffers—But, I, at least, am not in this quandary—I will take my stand with the Mr. Burke of the American war not with the Mr. Burke of the French revolution—with the Mr. Ricardo of the first not of the third edition—Were there nothing else to allege on the subject I should be perfectly satisfied with what I consider the inherent fallacy involved in all the arguments which have been advanced against machinery—To maintain that a reduction of the price of commodities can in any circumstances be disadvantageous, appears to me to contradict every idea of the nature of wealth, and to be in fact absurd—Such opinions are besides in complete contradiction to the universal consent of mankind—It is the object of every individual—a law implanted in him by Providence which compells him to endeavour to produce with the least possible expence—I go a good way when I admit the bare possibility that this general principle may occasionally be productive of bad consequences—But nothing but the clearest and most convincing reasoning will suffice to establish an instance of what is so much at variance with all preconceived opinions, and I will also add with all the sound notions of Political Economy—
Were I not aware that in all your speculations you are actuated solely by a desire to contribute to the improvement of the science, I should not have presumed to address to you this hasty and ill-digested letter—But I am satisfied that opinions dictated equally by a regard to the interests of the science, and coming from one who is not the least sincere of your admirers, though they may seem erroneous, will claim and meet with your attentive perusal—I am with the greatest regard and esteem
ever faithfully yours
J. R. McCulloch