Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER VI.: TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE. - Letters of Sidney, on Inequality of Property. To which is added, a Treatise of the Effects of War on Commercial Prosperity
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LETTER VI.: TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE. - John Millar, Letters of Sidney, on Inequality of Property. To which is added, a Treatise of the Effects of War on Commercial Prosperity 
Letters of Sidney, on Inequality of Property. To which is added, a Treatise of the Effects of War on Commercial Prsoperity (Edinburgh: the Office of the Scots Chronicle, 1796).
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TO THE EDITOR OF THE SCOTS CHRONICLE.
September 6. 1796.
The whole capital of a nation is composed of what is saved from the produce of the land and labour. It is that part of the produce which, not having been consumed by individuals, is reserved for the purposes of advancing maintenance to useful labourers, and supplying machinery, from which their exertions are aided and rendered more productive. Each man may either spend his income, or lay it up for future use. If he spends it, he is no richer than before; if he lays it up, he can employ more workmen or better machinery than formerly; and next year he wil enjoy a more plentiful income. What is usually called the national riches, is merely the aggregate of the riches of the inhabitants. Whatever, therefore, diminishes the annual produce of the land and labour of the country, diminishes the funds from which the capital must be derived. In my former letter, I endeavoured to show, that inequality of property produced this effect; that it was detrimental to agriculture; that it maintained a great number of the inhabitants in idleness, and that it prevented the exertions of the rest from being so beneficial as they might otherwise become. Even if we should allow, that the increase of capital is always in proportion to the funds from which it is saved, still we must conclude, that inequality, by diminishing these funds, greatly retards the advancement of riches. But accumulation bears a much greater proportion to the annual income in rich, than in poor, countries. In the latter, the state of the inhabitants is stationary, or improving by almost imperceptible gradations; in countries already opulent and cultivated, riches advance with rapid and gigantic strides.
The profusion which we have traced to inequality can alone retard the natural progress of opulence. By inducing many of the inhabitants to expend the whole of their incomes, it effectually precludes the accumulation of riches; for no argument can be necessary to prove, that what is spent and consumed can form no part of the annual accumulation. It may be urged, that the extravagance of some is balanced by an equal avarice in others; but this counteraction of one vice by means of another, is surely a wretched substitute for the virtues of moderation, industry, and economy in all. The general amount of the savings will never be so great, nor will these immense, overgrown fortunes be so beneficially employed. Part of them serve to accumulate extensive landed estates; and thus, instead of being useful, are perhaps destructive. Some of them are employed in great commercial speculations, which, while by bearing down all smaller adventurers, they destroy that competition which is the soul of commerce, are seldom conducted with the same care and attention that we see bestowed on less extensive undertakings. Under a more equal division, the whole stock of the society would be branched out into smaller ramifications, and the produce would be more abundant. Trade would be carried on in a more regular manner: it would be considered as a sure means, when joined to economy, of rising to ease and opulence. Those great speculations, which are the bane of industry, would be abandoned; for no man would risk the competency he already enjoyed, in pursuit of sudden affluence: Commerce would no longer be a lottery, in which one adventurer is enriched by the ruin of others, but would lead gradually and certainly to the comfort of all.
Great inequality of property, then, in so far as it accumulates enormous landed estates, as it supports multitudes who do not labour, as it raises prejudices against the useful professions, and condemns the people to vice and ignorance, diminishes the produce of the land and labour of the country. This diminution of produce, and the extravagance introduced into all ranks of life, retard the general accumulation of riches; and the unequal distribution of that capital which is accumulated, prevents it from producing its most beneficial effects.
That this inequality is also hurtful to population, is a direct corollary from the preceding observations. It is certainly unnecessary now to prove, that the population of a country is proportioned to the means of subsistence, and that the produce of the land, capital, and labour, is the measure of the means of subsistence, or rather is that revenue, on which all the inhabitants must subsist: It must, consequently, be admitted, that whatever diminishes this produce, exactly in the same degree circumscribes and confines the population. But, if we proceed further, if we attend to the waste occasioned by the rich and luxurious, it is impossible that we should entertain any doubts on this part of the subject. How much is expended on entertainments, without furnishing nourishment to any person whatever? How much is swallowed to feed disease, instead of contributing to health? How much is destroyed and thrown away? How much of the food of man is consumed by useless dogs and horses? How much employed in the insignificant articles of starch and hair powder? Thus, is luxury doubly destructive to population; not only diminishing the means of subsistence, but also wasting, destroying, and misapplying, those provisions which are procured.
I shall now, Sir, conclude this part of the subject. I trust I have shown, that excessive inequality of property occasions misery both to the rich and to the poor; that it is subversive of morality, is the bane of patriotism, the prolific mother of the most flagitious crimes; that it is extremely hurtful to agriculture, commerce, and population. It seems altogether impossible for the mind of man to conceive more numerous or more destructive evils proceeding from one source. I am, Sir,