Front Page Titles (by Subject) 10: Blows Directed Against Commerce: The Exploitation of Mines - Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship
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10: Blows Directed Against Commerce: The Exploitation of Mines - Étienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac, Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship 
Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship, translated by Shelagh Eltis, with an Introduction to His Life and Contribution to Economics by Shelagh Eltis and Walter Eltis (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
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This book was originally published by Edward Elgar Publishing in 1997, copyright 1997 by Shelagh Eltis and Walter Eltis. Reprinted by permission of Edward Elgar Publishing.
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Blows Directed Against Commerce: The Exploitation of Mines
In one of our monarchies mines were found which, being very plentiful in gold and silver, suddenly made the owners, the entrepreneurs, the smelters, the refiners and all those who worked these metals wealthy.
When one becomes rich only slowly and by dint of work, one can be economical: but one is wasteful when money easily reproduces itself and seems bound always to reproduce itself in greater quantity. Now the mines that were plentiful in themselves were even richer still in the public estimation.
So those whom they made wealthy hurried to increase their expenditure; and consequently they shared their wealth with the artisans to whom they gave work, with the merchants from whom they bought, and with the farmers whose products they consumed.
The artisans, the merchants, the farmers, become wealthier also in their turn, spent more than they had before, and, in step with the growing consumption among citizens of every estate, prices rose in all the markets.
This rise in prices did harm to those who had lands whose leases they could not yet renew. But that was only for a while. It was more disastrous for people living as rentiers or on wages. It took from them permanently part of their subsistence and forced many to leave the kingdom. Thus the population fell.
Consumption increased further still when the leases of all the lands had been renewed. Then the kingdom appeared to be flourishing. Everyone was rich. The owner of an estate saw his income doubled. The merchants rapidly emptied their shops: there were scarcely sufficient artisans for the works sought from them: the farmers raised more animals, cleared more lands and cultivated them all more intensively.
In this moment of prosperity, people said: Mines are the power of a state. It is a plentiful spring which so to speak causes the other springs to over flow with wealth. You can see how they make the arts, trade and agriculture flourish. This truth was only momentary and one had to hurry to voice it.
Indeed, when a larger quantity of silver had again raised prices, people bought from abroad, where everything cost less, what they had previously bought in the kingdom. Bit by bit the artisans ceased work, the merchants gradually stopped selling and the farmers gradually stopped growing the products that were no longer wanted from them. Manufactures, agriculture, trade, all fell; and among those who previously lived from their work some left the kingdom, others remained there to beg.
So in the last analysis the product of the mines was depopulation and misery. The silver drawn from them crossed the provinces and passed abroad without leaving traces.
However, no one tired of exploiting the mines, and silver was no easier to come by for all that. People lacked it all the more as everything became more expensive in the neighbouring monarchies, where merchandise doubled and tripled in price, because silver had doubled and tripled there.
At last the increase in prices reached the point where people were obliged to abandon the mines. The costs of extracting the gold and the silver became so great that there was no longer profit in exploiting them. Richer ones were sought: none were found.
So a time comes when the exploitation of mines can no longer be carried out profitably. It is not the same for the cultivation of products which are consumed to reproduce themselves. By the abundance with which they renew themselves they increase each time, by reason both of the amount needed for our consumption and of the advances made and to be made; so that, whatever the costs, the product always ensures a profit. It is a spring which does not dry up. The more one takes from it, the more it increases. That is the advantage of the exploitation of the land over the exploitation of mines.
What would have happened if gold and silver had become as common as iron? These metals would have ceased to be the common measure of value, and it would no longer have been possible for the landowners to receive their incomes in the towns where they lived. When they had been forced to retire to their lands, because they would not have been able to cultivate them all by themselves, they would have left the larger part to the settlers whom the lands had enabled to subsist. So, no more towns, no more large fortunes. But also no more begging; and in place of our four monarchies where wretchedness and depopulation grow constantly, we should see a host of agricultural cities which would become more populous every day. How happy we should be if we could find mines rich enough to make all our gold and all our silver useless!