ricardo to trower
[Reply to 456.—Answered by 466]
Bromesberrow Place, Ledbury 4 Octr. 1821
My Dear Trower
I was much pleased to find by your last letter, that you thought well of the information, contained in the minutes of Evidence, which accompanied our Report from the Agricultural Committee, and that in your criticisms on the evidence of the different individuals called before the committee, your opinion coincides so nearly with my own. The only part of Mr. Tooke’s evidence, in which I cannot agree with him, is that in which he says, that if the trade in Corn were left perfectly free, the growers of corn in the United Kingdom would be able to compete with the corn growers of other countries, meaning thereby, as he explained himself, there would be as much probability of our exporting corn to other countries, on an average of years, as of importing it from those countries. This I do not believe—our manufacturing superiority—our greater riches—our dense population, all have a tendency to make us importers of corn, and although the quantity we should import would be only a few weeks consumption, yet I think we should be habitually and constantly an importing country. In the Committee the great holders of land went to the other extreme of Mr. Tooke’s opinion, they thought that with a free trade in Corn we should import almost all our corn, and in that case they asked what was to become of the aristocracy; if they were ruined they wanted to know what class in the community could perform the important services which they rendered as magistrates, grand jurors, &c. &c. If indeed all our land was to go out of cultivation, as these alarmists anticipated, then the question of importation would be a serious one indeed, and we should be obliged to give due consideration to the important political consequences which might result from it. Mr. Jacobs facts are interesting, but on the scientific part of the subject I thought him quite wild, and persevered in my questions to him till I believe he thought me rude. I knew by his publications that he had taken a very prejudiced and unskilful view of the subject.
On the subject of “Real value” and “Exchangeable value” you ask why should not these two ideas be kept perfectly distinct, and be expressed by distinct terms? Why indeed should they not? I reply, but I ask in my turn whether they are not kept distinct by prefixing the word “real” to one, and “exchangeable” to the other?
I have neither seen Torrens’ publication, nor Lord Stourton’s letter to Lord Liverpool. Of the last I have heard nothing, but of Torrens’ book I have heard a favorable account from Malthus —he says it is well and clearly written, and on the whole he thinks it makes as much for his (Malthus’s) view of the question, as for mine. I do not know why Mill’s book does not appear, I believe he has finished it.
I, as well as you, would like to see an application of the Principles of Political Economy, as now understood, to the practical operation of taxation, and I hope it will not be long before such a work appears. Ministers will always look more to the facility with which they can raise money by a tax, and the produce they can obtain from it, than to its consequences on the prosperity and future resources of the country (witness the legacy duty); this however is no argument against the general dissemination of good doctrines, for if a minister was not restrained by an honest legislature, he would receive no inconsiderable check from an enlightened public. You make a great mistake in supposing me capable of producing so important a work.
About Gatcomb we have not lost a great deal of corn from the badness of the weather, though it has suffered some damage, but I hear great complaints made by the farmers in the part of the country where I am now writing—their crops are entirely spoiled.
The proceedings of the Coroner’s Inquest on the late Affray at the Queens funeral have a better chance than ever of being made the subject of discussion in parliament, since they have ended in the dismissal of Sir R. Wilson from the army. According to what we at present know, I think he has been very harshly used.
I cannot agree with you that in the investment of one’s money it is necessary to take a much more limited view than what would include the probable variation of half a century. Although we shall not be alive then, our children or our children’s children will, and in investments of money we never fail to estimate a future and contingent benefit at its just value, accordingly as it may be near or distant. In comparing the purchases of land and of tithes it is quite right to estimate the advantages of the former, in the shape of influence, enjoyment and amusement, at its just value; but the objection you make that in buying tithes you only make the common rate of interest and you would have made as much if you had employed the same amount of capital in improving your land, or else you would not so employ it, is not a good one, and entirely changes the question in dispute.
What we were discussing was whether it would be more advantageous to buy land, or buy tithes; but the proposition as stated by you would be whether it was more advantageous to employ a capital in improving land, or in buying tithes. I have no doubt that in an improving country the latter would be most advantageous but it is essentially a different question from that which we were before discussing—if you buy land you have no capital with which to improve land, you obtain only the rent and that rent will improve in proportion as it becomes the interest of your tenant to expend a greater capital on that land, even although he should not in the least improve it. By such expenditure he may derive more from it, and of that increased quantity he may be constrained to give you a portion—you will have a larger portion, and each portion will be of a greater value, but I contend the tithe holder will be still better off—his proportion of the whole produce will be as before—he will not only have a larger portion, but the same proportion, the landlords proportion of the whole produce will be probably diminished.
Sydney Smith and his family passed a couple of days with me on their way from Taunton to York. He was in his usual good spirits and we were sorry to lose him so soon. His articles in the Edin. Review on Spring Guns, and Prisons, are I think both very good,—he is a good reasoner, and has much the best of the argument with the Judges. I like the article on Godwins book, I have not heard who the writer is, but I have no doubt whatever that it was written by Malthus himself. His doctrines are very fairly vindicated against the calumny by which they are usually assailed, and I think the principles themselves most successfully established. In Malthus book there is much attackable matter, but he is very unfairly used by his antagonists, and his leading principle is studiously kept out of view.
I am passing a few days with my son, who is living in a fertile and beautiful country. A walk of ten minutes takes one to the summit of the first and lowest of the Malvern Hills from whence there is an extensive prospect, and a good view of Eastnor Castle (Lord Somers’s) and Park. I dare say you know the country.
Mrs. Ricardo unites with me in compliments to Mrs. Trower.
Believe me My dear Trower Ever truly yours
Sydney Smith when a youth lived in this very spot.