Front Page Titles (by Subject) 34.: ABSENTEEISM MORNING CHRONICLE, 16 SEPT., 1825, P. 3 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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34.: ABSENTEEISM MORNING CHRONICLE, 16 SEPT., 1825, P. 3 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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The letter, dated 15 Sept. (with an additional paragraph oddly inserted in a leading article, Morning Chronicle, 22 Sept., 1825, p. 2), responds to two leading articles in the Morning Chronicle, 7 Sept., p. 2, and 14 Sept., p. 2 (and probably also to “Absenteeism,” a letter signed “A,” that appeared in the Morning Chronicle, 12 Sept., p. 4), all critical of John Ramsay McCulloch’s evidence in “Fourth Report from the Select Committee Appointed to Inquire into the State of Ireland,” PP, 1825, VIII, 807-38. McCulloch (1789-1864), the Scottish economist and statistician, was closely allied to the Philosophic Radicals at this time. Headed as title, subheaded “To the Editor of the Morning Chronicle,” the letter is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A letter on Absenteeism, signed J.S. which appeared in the Chronicle of 16 September 1825” (MacMinn, p. 7); the additional paragraph is not there mentioned.
In several of your recent Papers you have combated the opinion expressed by Mr. M’Culloch in his evidence, concerning the effect of the expenditure of Irish absentees on the prosperity of that country from which their incomes are drawn.1 As I agree almost in every particular with Mr. M’Culloch, and think that the arguments which you have urged against him are fallacious, and that the notions which they inculcate are as pernicious as they are, unhappily, common, I submit to your well-known candour the following statement of my reasons for dissenting from your conclusion.
The income of a landlord, like any other income, may be expended in two ways; in the hiring of labourers, or, in the purchase of commodities. In point of fact, it is expended partly in the former way, and partly in the latter; but in one or other of these ways it must be expended, if it be expended at all, unless, indeed, it were given away.
Now I admit that in so far as the income of the landlord is expended in the hiring of labourers, whether these are employed in building a house, in digging a garden, in making or keeping a park, in shooting Catholics or poachers, in washing dishes, or in blacking shoes; to that extent it does give employment to a certain number of persons who would be thrown out of employment if the landlord were to go abroad, and consequently tends to keep wages somewhat higher, or to enable a somewhat larger population to be maintained at the same wages, than would be the case if he were to live in London or Paris, and employ English or French labourers for the above purposes, instead of Irish.
What I do not admit is, that (in so far as his income is expended, not in the hiring of labourers, but in the purchase of commodities,) it has the slightest tendency to keep wages higher, or to give employment to as much as one labourer more, than if he were living at the antipodes: nor do I believe that (in so far as this part of his expenditure is concerned) as much as one man would be thrown out of employment, if every resident landlord in the island were to go abroad, or to send abroad for every article which he had a mind to consume.
If the landlord remained in Ireland, he would (we shall suppose) eat Irish bread and beef, wear Irish shirts and breeches, sit on Irish chairs, and drink his wine off an Irish table. Now, then, I will put a case:—Suppose that he goes to London, leaving directions behind him that all the bread and beef which he would have eaten, all the shirts and breeches which he would have worn, all the chairs which he would have sat upon, and all the tables off which he would have drank his wine, should be regularly sent to him in London. You will not deny, I suppose, that he would give just as much employment to Irish labour as if he had consumed all these articles in the true orthodox way, close to the doors of the very people who produced them.
It would puzzle you, I think, to discover any error in this proposition, or to shew any difference which it can make to the Irish producers, provided they supply the commodities, whether they are consumed on the spot, or at a thousand miles distance. I would advise you to ponder well, however, before you admit this; since you will find, if you do admit it, that you have conceded the whole question.
In fact, this case, which I have put as an imaginary one, exactly corresponds in every thing that is material to the purpose, with the actual state of the facts. The Irish do not, indeed, always send the identical bread, beef, chairs, tables, &c. which the landlord would have consumed on the spot, to be consumed by him in the foreign country; but they either send those very articles, or, what comes to the same thing, they send other articles of exactly the same value. Some readers will say (I do not impute to yourself such a degree of ignorance) that they do not send goods, but money; to which my answer is short—if they sent any money, they could not send much, because Ireland has no gold and silver mines, and, therefore, cannot continue to export money to one place, without getting it back again from another. Every body knows that if a quantity of the precious metals is exported, unless its place is supplied by paper, it always comes back again. In point of fact, however, every body who knows any thing about the way in which the matter is actually managed, knows that no money whatever is sent. The landlord’s steward sends over to him a Bill of Exchange, drawn upon a mercantile house; and the drawer of the bill sends over a quantity of goods to the drawee, to meet the bill when it becomes due.
It appears, therefore, conclusively, that the only difference between the expenditure of the resident landlord, and that of the absentee, is this: the one buys, let us say, a thousand pounds worth of Irish goods, every year on the spot; the other has a thousand pounds worth of Irish goods every year sent to him. Perhaps you may be able to discover some great difference which this makes to the capitalists and labourers in Ireland. Perhaps you may—but if you can, you can do more than I can.
This error (for unless the above argument be incorrect, you must give me leave so to denominate your opinion) appears to me to be a relic of the now exploded mercantile system; of that system, from which emanated those wise prohibitions of the importation of foreign commodities, which might have remained to this day monuments of ancestorial wisdom upon our statute-book, had not Mr. Huskisson been somewhat wiser than that Hibernian genius, whose lucubrations you honoured yesterday by a place in your columns.2 The theory on which these sage regulations were founded, was exactly the same with that which this declaimer and yourself maintain in opposition to Mr. M’Culloch. By consuming foreign commodities, you employ foreign labour; by consuming British commodities, you employ British labour. What Englishman, then, it was triumphantly asked, can be so lost to patriotism as to lay out that money upon foreigners, which might have helped to enrich his native country? Admirably argued, truly; one thing, however, which these sagacious reasoners did not advert to, was, that, in buying foreign commodities, you are giving just the same employment to British labour as if you laid out your whole income in commodities of home growth; you are giving employment, namely, to that labourer which was employed in making the British commodities, with which the foreign commodities, that you consume, were bought.
The case of the man who has French goods sent to him in Ireland, and that of the man who goes himself and consumes them at Paris, are precisely similar. If the one be criminal, so must the other be. If the absentee landlord be an enemy to his country, so is every resident landlord who expends a shilling upon any article that is not produced—I was going to say in Ireland—but even on his own estate; and just in proportion to the number of shillings which he so spends, in that same proportion is the mischief which he does. We ought, therefore, if this notion be correct, not only to reimpose upon commerce all the shackles which Ministers have earned such high and such deserved praise for taking off, but we ought to do, what I suppose no Government ever did, prohibit absolutely all foreign, not to say all internal trade. Such is, perhaps, the wise course that we should pursue, if the councils of the nations were taken out of the hands of his Majesty’s Ministers, and placed in those of a set of declaimers, who either are desirous to mislead, or whose incurable ignorance renders them just as mischievous as if they were.
I am not so unjust, Sir, as to confound you with such as these; and I regret the more that you should have given your powerful support to an opinion so utterly inconsistent with those principles of political economy which you habitually maintain; an opinion which has had, as I believe, so great a share in blinding the public to the real causes of the evils by which Ireland is afflicted.
I remain, Sir, your’s, with the greatest respect,
What feeds the journeyman tailors, who make the landlord’s coat, is not the rent of the landlord, but the capital of the master tailor; and if the landlord’s rent were all thrown into the sea, the capital of the tailor would remain, and would employ, if not as many tailors, as many labourers of some sort as it did before.—What employs labourers is capital. More income, unless saved, and added to capital, employs nobody; except menial servants. Ireland has just the same capital when her landlords live in Paris as when they live in Dublin. She, therefore, employs as many labourers, except menial servants, as above.
[1 ]McCulloch, “Evidence,” pp. 815, 818.
[2 ]The “Hibernian genius” identified in the Morning Chronicle’s leading article on 14 Sept. as an anonymous writer in the Dublin Evening Post, is probably William James MacNeven (1763-1841), a medical practitioner and active participant in the United Irish movement, who had been banished to the United States in 1805 but continued to be interested in Irish affairs. The many British laws giving force to the mercantilist policy were replaced in 1825 (see especially 6 George IV, cc. 105 and 107) by Huskisson, who had begun the attack in 1824 by reducing some duties (see 5 George IV, cc. 21 and 47).
[3 ]In the Morning Chronicle of 22 Sept., this paragraph is introduced: “Our correspondent J.S. has sent us the following addition to his communication:”.