Coquelin on Political Economy
- Essays on Economics: 19thC French Political Economy in Lalor's Cyclopedia
- Subject Area: Economics
- School of Thought: 19thC French Liberalism
Source: This article first appeared in the Dictionnaire d'Économie Politique, ed. Guillaumin and Charles Coquelin (Paris: Guillaumin, 1852) and was translated into English and included in Lalor's Cyclopedia of Political Science, Political Economy, and of the Political History of the United States by the best American and European Authors, ed. John J. Lalor (Chicago: M.B. Carey, 1899) in Vol 3 Oath - Zollverein Chapter: POLITICAL ECONOMY.
Copyright: The text is in the public domain.
Fair Use: This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Charles Coquelin (1805-1852) studied literature and economics before working in the linen textile business between 1839 and 1844 which resulted in a book Traité de la filature du lin (1845). He was active in free trade circles in Paris, becoming an advisor to the newly formed Free Trade Association and was one of the principal contributors to the journal Libre-Échange. Coquelin also wrote articles for the Revue des Deux Mondes and the Journal des Économistes on many economic topics, especially on free banking and currency matters. He is best known for his book on free banking, Du crédit et des banques (1848), and for editing the magisterial Dictionnaire d'Économie Politique.
POLITICAL ECONOMY. I. Preliminary Considerations. In a Cyclopædia like the present it would seem that the article "Political Economy" should form one of the central points of the whole work. It would perhaps be such, if we desired to embrace under this term the various considerations which commend the study of economic science to those whom it interests, and to set forth the many advantages which may be derived from it. It would be so likewise, if in the article "Political Economy" we attempted to touch upon all the subjects which the science embraces, either for the purpose of showing their importance or their connection. We can not enter into such detail here. We wish simply to define political economy, to give it a point of departure, a formula; to determine its character and object, and to indicate, as far as possible, its extent and limits.
—It would be mistaking the nature of such a task to suppose that it can be performed in a few lines. It is not as easy as one might think at first to give an exact definition of political economy, or at least a satisfactory one, one around which all adepts in the science might rally. Many authors, beginning with Adam Smith, have attempted it, but no one seems to have succeeded. Whatever may be the real merit of certain definitions hitherto given, it is certain that, up to the present time, not a single one has been accepted without dispute. It has even frequently happened (and this is a more serious matter) that the very ones who furnished them, subsequently contradicted or modified them in the course of their works. It would perhaps be more correct to say that there is not one of these definitions to which its author himself remained faithful in the manner in which be conceived and treated his subject. This has caused some of the later teachers of the science to say, that political economy has yet to be defined. "Even if we must blush for the science," says Rossi, "the economist must confess that the first question still to be examined is this: 'What is political economy? what is its object, its extent, its limits?'" There is no reason to blush, we think, for being still obliged to put such a question, when we consider the natural difficulties it presents; but we must agree, with Rossi, that it is still awaiting a solution. A Belgian writer, Arrivabene, has called attention to this truth in his introduction to a translation of Senior's "Lectures on Political Economy," in terms more emphatic than those used by Rossi, bitterly deploring the vagueness, the obscurity, the incoherence, and especially the insufficiency, of all the definitions hazarded by the masters of the science, and calling loudly for a more satisfactory and precise formula. To make this clear, we here reproduce some of the definitions furnished by economists generally considered to be of the highest authority.
—Adam Smith was usually very sparing of definitions. He, however, gave a few here and there, and they characterized or defined, in the course of his work, the science which he treated. "Political economy, considered as a branch of the science of a statesman or legislator, proposes two distinct objects: first, to supply a plentiful revenue or subsistence for the people, or, more properly, to enable them to provide such a revenue or subsistence for themselves; and secondly, to supply the state or commonwealth with a revenue sufficient for the public services. It proposes to enrich both the people and the sovereign." ("Wealth of Nations," book iv., introduction.) Without discussing the relative merit of this definition, we shall simply remark that it has in view much less a science than an art, although the idea of a science is put forward in it, and although the word "science" is to be found in it. The author, in fact, appears to enunciate a series of precepts which would indeed constitute an art; but not an exposition or an explanation of certain natural phenomena, which alone can constitute a science. In substance, if not in form, Adam Smith's definition is nearly like that given by J. J. Rousseau under the term économie politique, in the Encyclopédie. We know, however, how widely Adam Smith differed from Rousseau, not only in his conclusions, but especially in his manner of treating his subject. On the other hand, his definition differs greatly, as we shall see, from that of J. B. Say, who followed in his footsteps, and looked on the science as Smith himself had done.
—J. B. Say, in the beginning of his treatise, and even as title to this treatise, gave his principal definition of political economy, the one which has since been most frequently reproduced: "A Treatise on Political Economy, or a simple exposition of the manner in which wealth is produced, distributed and consumed." Whatever may be thought of this formula, it is at least very much superior to that of Adam Smith, in this especially, that it suggests the idea of a real science, and not merely of an art, since it describes an exposition or explanation of certain phenomena presented to our observation. But is this formula really satisfactory? and will it be final? Assuredly not. Men may still disagree as to the nature of the phenomena which it presents for the study of economists, as well as to the extent of the field which it opens to their exploration. And this all the more, since on this last point especially J. B. Say has not always been consistent with himself. In the formula which we have just quoted, he seems to confine the economist to a study of the material facts relating to the production and distribution of wealth; but elsewhere, notably in his Cours, he brings into its domain all facts relating to social life. "The object of political economy," he says, "seems till now to have been restricted to a knowledge of the laws which govern the production, distribution and consumption of wealth. This is how I considered it myself in my Traité d'Economie Politique." "Still," he adds, "it may be seen, even in that work, that the science touches everything in human society, and embraces the whole social system." (Cours d'économie politique, p. 4.) We might add, that in other parts of his works J. B. Say again defines political economy in a way altogether different from that in which he defined it in his Traité and his Cours. The following, for instance, taken from manuscript notes found after his death, has sometimes been quoted: "Political economy is the science of the interests of society, and like every real science is founded on experience, the results of which, grouped and arranged methodically, are principles and general truths." But it is evident that this is less a definition than a qualification, such as every author has the right to introduce in the course of his works, in order to bring out the dignity and importance of the subject he is treating.
—According to Sismondi, "the physical well-being of man, so far as it can be the work of his government, is the object of political economy." This is very different from J. B. Say's first definition. In the first place, it takes us out of the realm of science into the realm of art; for, according to this formula, political economy must be merely a series of rules intended to instruct governments how to insure the physical well-being of man; it is therefore an art, a branch of the art of government. Very much limited, from a certain point of view, since governments alone can practice it, this art is, in other respects, without assignable limits; for what are the acts of a government that have not to do, more or less, with the physical well-being of man?
—According to Storch, "Political economy is the science of the natural laws which determine the prosperity of nations, that is to say, their wealth and their civilization." Preferable to Sismondi's, because it suggests at least the idea of a science, this definition is still very imperfect. "The natural laws which determine the prosperity of nations," present, to our thinking, too complex an idea, and, in any case, a very vague one; and as to civilization, it certainly includes, in its general expression, things with which an economist, as such, has nothing to do.
—There is nothing in Malthus or Ricardo which can be taken as a precise definition of political economy. In the case of Ricardo the reason may be, that in his "Principles of Political Economy and Taxation," being confined, as he says himself in his preface, to defining the laws regulating the distribution of revenue among the various classes of society, he did not consider the science as a whole. It may, however, be inferred from these words, that, if he had had to define science in a general manner, he would have defined it very nearly as J. B. Say had done in his Traité.
—As to Rossi, after he had discussed and rejected, one after another, all the definitions given before his time, he, absolutely speaking, gave nothing in their stead. He contents himself with saying that there are phenomena of a certain order relating to wealth which are not confounded with those of any other order, and that these are just what economic science should study. Political economy is, therefore, in his eyes, as he says elsewhere, purely and simply the "science of wealth." Hence, he thinks, that, setting aside the strangeness of the words, one might call economists chrysologists, chrematisticians or divitiaries, without giving them cause of complaint.
—We may here close our review of the definitions of political economy. What we have stated suffices to show how far the definition of economic science, or the general formula which covers it, is from being finally fixed.
—Now, should we be ashamed of this uncertainty, as Rossi seemed to think? Must we lament it, with Arrivabene and some other writers? We do not think so. A science does not depend on the definition given of it; it is not regulated by an arbitrary formula which may be more or less happy, more or less exact; on the contrary, it is the definition which should come after, mould itself, so to speak, to the science as it exists. So much the worse for writers who cultivate a certain branch of human knowledge, if they are unable to grasp its general data and clothe these data with a fitting expression; but this does not in any way impair the stock of truth which they have to bring to light.—"A science," says J. B. Say, "makes real progress only when its masters have succeeded in determining the territory over which they may extend their researches, and what should be the object of their research." (Traité, Discours Préliminaire.) There is doubtless some truth in this statement. It is well, perhaps even necessary, that the object of a science and the field it covers should be properly determined; but it is not absolutely necessary that this determination should result from definitions hazarded by authors: it is enough if it results from the very nature of their labors. Now, it may well happen that the nature of these labors may be essentially the same for all, while the definitions are different; each author having been led by a kind of instinct to confine himself to a certain order of phenomena, without afterward being able to render an account to himself of the precise object of his researches, or to measure exactly the field he has gone over. And this is really what takes place. We have just seen how much the authors cited differ in regard to the definition of the science, and still the sum and substance of their works are always the same. Who does not know that this is the case with Adam Smith and J. B. Say? It is the case, too, with all the others, in spite of a few slight differences as to the greater or less extent of the ground they embrace.
—It is one thing to feel or express, and another to conceive or define. It is sometimes very difficult to clothe a single thought in a just expression or a fitting formula; the difficulty is much greater when there is question of including a great number of ideas and facts in a single formula. It is not to be wondered at that many writers have failed in this task, in this sense, that the definitions which they give are nothing but more or less unfaithful translations of their own conceptions. J. B. Say acknowledges that this is true in his own case, since he recognizes that his Traité went everywhere beyond the limits, if the expression be allowed, marked out by his definition. And still he is, perhaps, of all economists, the one who has remained the most faithful to the formula which he had adopted. There is much more to be reprehended in Adam Smith and Sismondi in this regard. If we look, for example, at the manner in which the latter defines the science, we might think he was going to confine himself, as J. J. Rousseau had done, to laying down the rules which governments should observe in regard to the material interests of the people; and still, like all other economists since Quesnay, Turgot and Adam Smith, he has discussed the questions of exchange, division of labor, accumulation, savings, the production and distribution of wealth, the laws regulating the value of things, those determining the rate of wages, profits, etc., etc.: things in which governments have almost nothing to do. So true is it that his definition is simply an error, and an error of no consequence, an ill-chosen but empty formula, which in no way influences the real character of his labors.
—It would be very desirable, however, to find for political economy a more satisfactory definition than those hitherto given, a formula at once more comprehensive and more precise, in which the whole science might, so to speak, be reflected in a few words. Will this formula be found? Perhaps. Without flattering ourselves with having found it, we shall try to point out the road to its formulation by determining, as far as possible, the real object which the science proposes to itself, and the extent of its domain.
—The first question to be solved is, whether political economy belongs to the category of science, or merely to the category of art. We have already seen, from what precedes, that the question is not an idle one, especially not idle since the distinction to be made between science and art does not appear to be generally understood.
—II. To what order does Political Economy belong? Is it a Science or an Art? "An art," says Destutt de Tracy, "is a collection of maxims or practical precepts, the observance of which leads to success in doing a thing, no matter what it may be; a science consists in the truths resulting from the examination of any subject whatever. Art consists, therefore, in a series of precepts or rules to be followed; science, in the knowledge of certain phenomena or certain observed and revealed relations." We are not concerned here with examining which of the two is superior to the other, art or science; both may have equal merits, each in its place; it is solely a question of showing in what they differ as to their object and methods of procedure. Art counsels, prescribes, directs; science observes, exposes, explains. When an astronomer observes and describes the course of the stars, he cultivates science; but when, his observations made, he deduces from them rules to be applied in navigation, he is engaged in art. He may be equally right in the two cases; but his object is different, as well as his method of working. Hence, observing and describing real phenomena is science; dictating precepts, laying down rules, is art.
—Art and science often have close connections, in this sense especially, that the precepts of art must be derived as far as possible from the observations of science, but they are none the less different from it on that account. Notwithstanding this, they are confounded every day. A man striving to build up an art gives it emphatically the name of science, believing that by doing so he gives a high idea of the correctness of its precepts. It is notoriously the weak side of physicians to call medicine a science. They are mistaken in the use of the word. If medicine were as certain in its prescriptions as it is uncertain, it would still be no more than an art,38 the art of healing, since it consists in a collection of rules applicable to the cure of human diseases. But anatomy is a science; physiology is a science; because anatomy and physiology both have as their object a knowledge of the human body, which they study, the one in its structure, the other in the play of its organs.
—Rossi grasped this distinction between science and art well, though he abused it by improperly confounding it with the distinction which is made frequently enough between theory and practice.39 "Properly speaking," he says, "science has no object. The moment we try to discover what use can be made of it, what profit may be drawn from it, we leave science and come to art. Science is in all cases nothing more or less than the possession of truth, the well-considered knowledge of relations inherent in the nature of things." Here we have, under another form, the same thought so accurately expressed by Destutt de Tracy.
—This distinction being well drawn between science and art, we may now ask, to which of the two orders of ideas does political economy belong? Is it a collection of precepts, a theory of action, or only an assemblage of truths borrowed from the observation of actual phenomena? Does it show us how to do something? or does it explain what takes place? In other words, is it a science, or an art? We need not hesitate to answer that, in its present condition, political economy is both the one and the other; that is to say, in the direction of economic labors and studies a common name is still given to things which might and should be kept distinct. It is evident, in fact, that in the general treatises on political economy, composed since Adam Smith's time, a great number of really scientific observations are met with, that is to say, observations whose sole object is to tell us what takes place, or what exists. One might even say that observations of this kind predominate. But the directions, precepts, rules to be followed, are also met with in such treatises very frequently. Art is therefore constantly mixed up with science. But it is very different with a multitude of special treatises, or those particular dissertations whose object is to solve certain questions relating to industry, commerce or the economic administration of states: questions of taxation, credit, finance, foreign commerce, etc. Here it is always art that predominates. Counsels, precepts, rules to be followed, all things that pertain by their nature to the domain of art, follow each other in quick succession, while really scientific observations scarcely appear at long intervals. And still all this, without distinction, bears the name of political economy. So true is it that the name still belongs to two orders of labor, and of very different kinds.
—We are far from complaining or finding it strange that from scientific truth once clearly established men should endeavor to draw rules applicable to the conduct of human affairs. It is not well that scientific truths should remain fruitless, and the only way of utilizing them is to base art upon them. There are close ties of relationship, as we have already said, between science and art. Science lends its lights to art, corrects its processes, enlightens and directs its course. Without the aid of science, art would have to feel its way, stumbling at every step. On the other hand, art gives a value to the truths which science has discovered, and science without art would be barren. Art is almost always the principal motor in the labors of science. Man rarely studies for the sole pleasure of knowledge; in general, his research and labor have generally a useful end in view, and it is through art alone that he finds that end.
—In view of all this, who can fail to see how different art is from science? The distance is great between a truth discovered by observation, and a rule deduced from that truth with the intent of giving it an application; the one belongs to nature, to God; man only discovers and states it; the other is the act of man, and it always retains something of him. Everything is absolute in scientific data; they are either false or true, there is no half way; this simply means that the student of science has observed either well or ill, has seen correctly or incorrectly what he communicates. There are, it is true, incomplete data, exact on one side, inexact on the other; but, even then, the true side is true, the false side is false. On the contrary, everything is relative in the rules and the methods of art. As something human is always involved in them, they can not pretend to infallibility, they are always susceptible of more or less variation between the two extreme limits of radical vice and absolute perfection. Finally, scientific truths are immutable as the laws of nature whose revelation they are; while rules of art are changeable, either by reason of the wants they have in view or by reason of the changing views of the men who apply them.
—There is so much the more reason to insist on the distinction which we have just established, viz., that if science and art have frequently many points of contact, their radii and their circumferences are far from being identical. The data furnished by a science may sometimes be utilized in many different arts. Thus, geometry, or the science of the relations of extension, enlightens and directs the work of the surveyor, the engineer, the artillery officer, the navigator, the shipbuilder, the architect, etc., etc. Chemistry comes to the aid of the druggist as well as the dyer, and to a great number of the industrial professions. Who can tell how many different arts make use of the general data of physics? And, so, an art may gain information from the data furnished by many sciences; and it is in this way, to cite but one example, that medicine, or the art of healing, simultaneously consults anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics, botany, etc.
—It is necessary, therefore, in every respect to distinguish art from science, and to indicate clearly the line separating them. This has been carefully done in certain branches of human knowledge. Mathematicians, for example, distinguish carefully pure mathematics, or science properly speaking, from its various applications. So do physicists and chemists. And the distinction exists not in books alone, it is transferred even to instruction, where the study of science and that of the arts depending on it have different chairs. It is thus that a polytechnic school is, if we be permitted to say so, the sanctuary of pure science. It is only after graduating from it that the students, each in his specialty, study the art to which they are to apply the scientific knowledge acquired.
—We could wish that what has been so well done in so many other divisions of study might also be done in the order of economic studies and labors. But, it must be confessed, it has not been done up to the present. The labors of art and the studies of science continue to be, if not altogether mingled, at least embraced, under a common denomination. Sometimes it has been attempted to separate them by giving certain labors, which belong especially to art, the name of public economy, to distinguish them from others. But these attempts, ill directed, and made, in the majority of cases, without a clear view of the results to be obtained, have not succeeded thus far, so that at present, in the order of economic studies, art and science are still mingled and confounded. Whence comes this confusion? It comes, first of all, from the immaturity of the science, which has not yet had time to disengage itself from the art or arts connected with it. It results also, in a certain measure, from the pressing and ever present interest of the subjects than economic science embraces, an interest which has not allowed those who study it to devote themselves entirely to the contemplation of scientific truths, neglecting, for the moment, the artistical deductions, that is to say, the practical maxims, which they might draw from it.
—Political economy was an art before it became a science, and even the etymology of its name shows this; furthermore, before it was an art, that is to say, before it was formulated in general maxims and precepts, it was blind practice in the hands of governments. Such is, however, the course of human things. In the logical order, science precedes art, which should be only a deduction from science; and art precedes practice, which should be only a more or less exact application of the general rules of art. This is the ordinary course followed in our schools, in which the logical order is followed. But in their historic sequence, things take another course: they are generally found there in an inverse order. There practice precedes art, and art science. This is true of almost all the branches of knowledge, and particularly of that which interests us most. Hurried to act, because he must act, man goes straight to action, to practice, without studying deeply that which he undertakes, and with no other guide than his instinct. It is only later, that, by rectifying and correcting the errors of this practice, with the aid of a little acquired experience, he forms rules or general maxims which he erects into an art; and it is later still that the idea comes to him of correcting the errors of this art itself, by the aid of a scientific study of the subject which he has in view. There were physicians before there was an art of healing; men acted at hazard, inspired most frequently by blind superstition, and the art of healing, based at first on a certain acquired experience, existed much earlier than anatomy, physiology, therapeutics, that is to say, earlier than a scientific knowledge of the subject on which it was desired to operate, and of the remedies employed for his cure. Huts were built before the art of building was reduced to rules, and the art of building was subjected to rules, if not written, at least transmitted from mouth to mouth, before it received the mathematical and physical sciences as a foundation. Political economy advanced in the same way. The most ancient governments, as Blanqui very justly says in his history, treated political economy after their own fashion, long before they knew what they did, or were able to give an account of the result of their measures. Later, it was attempted to give an account of these results by the aid of acquired experience, and with the data of these experiences, well or ill understood, an art was created. Sully and Colbert had reached this stage. It was only in the last resort that men undertook to study scientifically this subject, that is to say, general industry, on which they were to operate.
—Now, this liberation of economic science is quite recent; it scarcely dates from the middle of the last century. It was the school of Quesnay which first endeavored to construct in this order of ideas a real science; up to his time there were merely scattered observations, and even final success in building up the science belongs only to Adam Smith. It is not very surprising, therefore, that the science of political economy has not yet been able to free itself entirely from the restrictions of the art from which it sprung.
—It was our wish and duty to state, as we have done, that under the general name of political economy two things are at present understood, things very different in their nature, though tending in many respects to the same end. It has seemed to us all the more important to note this confusion of ideas, since, to our thinking, it is the real cause of the incoherence in the definitions of the science, of the deviations to which it is subject in its course, and the species of discord which reigns almost always in its beginnings. Shall we attempt, on that account, henceforth to make a clearer division between the science and the art, by giving them different names? We confine ourselves to drawing the distinction clearly, time and a better knowledge of the subject will do the rest.
—III. First Idea or General Conception of Economic Science. Do the Facts of Human Industry afford Material for the formation of a real Science? It will doubtless be asked, with some astonishment, how economic science was born so late, how political economy in action could exist so long without a systematic, scientific study of the subject itself on which men had to operate. This astonishment will cease, perhaps, if we consider for a moment the internal nature of a science, and the point of view at which men place themselves on all subjects before the light of science appears.
—A science does not consist merely in a knowledge of certain external facts isolated from each other, for it is an abuse of words to give the name science to a simple collection of facts. Science consists rather in the knowledge of the relations which connect these facts with one another, and of the laws which govern them. A tie, a connection, is necessary, a linking of the phenomena which it takes up and observes, and it is the knowledge of this connection which is its principal study. An incoherent collection of facts without connection may constitute the baggage of a man of erudition, but can never constitute a science. Astronomy would not merit the name if it merely limited itself to noting and naming, one by one, the stars which wander in the deserts of space; it is worthy of the name only because it renders an account of the movements of the stars and the constancy of their evolution. Similarly, in all the other branches of human knowledge, a collection of facts does not constitute a science; we must, further, be able to tell the constant relations which connect, and the general laws which govern, them.
—But the first condition of the study of the laws governing certain phenomena is to suspect their existence; to believe that these phenomena are not governed by chance, and that certain constant relations exist between them. Now, on all subjects, the first impression of men who have not yet submitted facts to continuous observation or patient analysis, is to see in them merely the play of blind chance. It is only much later that they come to suspect that these facts may be subject to a certain order; and it is then only that the idea is gained of studying the laws that govern them. Let us take the ignorant and rude man of primitive ages. All the phenomena of nature are to him disordered and capricious. Wherever he looks, he sees merely accidents without cause, facts without connection or relation. If he looks at the heavens, he sees the stars scattered at hazard, as he thinks, like thistles in a field. In all things that strike him he sees nothing but the play of blind chance, unless, indeed, he supposes the mysterious influence of some occult power. Later, as he gains in knowledge, natural phenomena, at least those of a certain order, range themselves before his eyes; he sees that they are subject to certain rules, he observes the constancy of their relations; here he recognizes law. But always, even in the course of time, and ages of enlightenment, the first impression of men is the same in relation to facts which they have not yet observed. If they come, therefore, so late to study the natural laws which govern phenomena, it is because they had not previously even suspected that there were natural laws to be studied.
—A remarkable example of this is to be found in the case of geological facts. Why did geology, a science so interesting and beautiful, appear so late in the world? Was it impossible to discover and study it sooner? Were the ancients less capable of pursuing that study than the moderns? They were not: geological facts are not of the nature of those which hide themselves from attentive examination, or which demand a distant search. The ancients were as well able to discover and analyze them as we, and they had, besides, almost an equal interest in doing so. This analysis supposes, it is true, certain other preliminary studies, but these studies they could either have pursued themselves or made up for without too much labor. Why did they not do so? Only, as it seems to us, because they did not even suspect that there were in the bowels of the earth which we inhabit natural laws to be studied. During many centuries men had lived in the idea that the earth, whose surface they occupied, was in its composition merely a formless and confused mass, rudis indigestaque moles, whose materials were piled up pell-mell, without order and without law. They did not suspect that there was any order there to be found, any scientific study to be made of the earth; and this is the reason they did not even think of attempting that study. The same thing has taken place with regard to industry, concerning which similar ideas were for a long time held. It was not suspected in ancient times, nor even in the middle ages, that there was any order in the industrial world, the centre of economic facts, the focus of labor, at that time relegated to so low a place. At first view, everything there seemed to be surrendered to the struggle of individual and opposing wills. Only a disordered combination of heterogeneous elements was perceived, a sort of confused conflict, a rudis indigestaque moles; and how could any one conceive the idea of searching there for rules, principles, laws, the ordinary outfit of a real science? In all subjects, we repeat, the first step toward building up a science is to gain the idea that the elements of that science exist, and this idea had not yet suggested itself. It was born only much later, when, by dint of occupation, from the governmental point of view, with industry whose importance men began to understand, they remarked, almost involuntarily, sometimes in one direction and sometimes in another, the regularity of its movements and the constancy of its relations.
—And why should we be astonished that this was the case in the past, when even to-day, after the labors of Quesnay, Adam Smith and his successors, we see that many people misunderstand this industrial order, to which science has already borne witness. Not infrequently we hear at the present time men of some weight, and fairly well informed on other points, assert that industry is a prey to disorder and anarchy. Such, in general, is the rallying cry of the schools called socialistic. They all declare that the industrial world is given up to the struggle of individual wills, conflicting with and crossing each other in terrible confusion, with no trace of organization and order. All rule is absent from the circle in which industry works, and chance alone controls everything. On this account all the socialistic sects conclude, naturally enough, that the industrial world needs some organization imposed by a power above it. Thus, they vie with each other in drawing up and proposing plans of social reconstruction.
—If the premises of this reasoning were correct, if it were true that industry, in its present condition, were given up to anarchy, having no trace of organization and order, political economy, considered as a science, would indeed have little to do; it would not even have a raison d'être. This would not suffice to make us adopt or even discuss seriously any one of these plans of organization proposed to us, persuaded, as we shall always be, that it is not in the power of human intelligence to regulate, even in a tolerable manner, so many interests, and labors so varied; but it would suffice to make us conclude, at least, that science, properly speaking, had no place in such a field. The rôle of the economist, if he had still a rôle to fill, would be limited, in this case, to a barren registration of disconnected facts, without his being able to deduce any principle from them. In vain would he seek to ascend from effects to causes, where chance alone governed everything. Vainly would he endeavor to establish relations between observed phenomena, and discover the laws that ruled them; for how could he find constant relations in disorder, or law in chaos? Happily, we already know our position with reference to these assertions thrown out a priori by men still unenlightened by science. We know that for them all is confusion and disorder. To the man who knows not the discoveries of geology, even from hearsay, the earth is still that confused mass which the ancients called rudis indigestaque moles. To the savage, who has never observed the course of the stars, anarchy reigns in the vault of heaven.
—After all, it must be confessed that the illusion is a natural one. When we cast our eyes at hazard on the moving picture of the industrial world, it is difficult indeed to perceive, at first sight, anything but a confused struggle. A consideration, plausible enough, seems even to justify this first view; it is thus that in industry everything seems abandoned to the arbitrary and capricious impulses of individual wills, without any common principle governing and uniting these wills. And how, it is asked, can anything but disorder and chaos result from the shock of so many divergent, if not opposing, wills? When we see so many millions of stars moving in the deserts of space with perfect harmony and unchangeable constancy, nothing prevents our admitting that a single and sovereign will presides over their movements, and imposes on them its laws. But where is the principle which forces so many free beings to move in unison, each one of whom feels the motive of his action in himself? This is a strong consideration, it must be confessed; it would force economists themselves to doubt the reality of industrial order, if this order were not for them already established and demonstrated.
—And still, even without the aid of science, if we look at industry with a more serious and attentive eye, it is difficult not to recognize in it at once, under the cover of apparent disorder, certain characteristics of harmony and order. Phenomena appear, whose regularity strikes and astonishes us. We gradually catch glimpses, vague at first and then more definite, of constant relations, of invariable movements. As the stars fail not to subordinate themselves to each other in their evolutions, though they seem to wander at chance, and to hasten on without order, so we see that the myriads of individuals moving in the field of industry also connect, arrange and subordinate their labors to each other, in such a way that, in spite of their apparent confusion, they all concur, each in his own way, to produce certain given results. Little by little, chaos is seen not to exist; order appears; laws are recognized.
—Even if economic science had not for a long time noted the existence of certain regulating laws in the industrial world, it would seem that the appearance alone of the results offered would cause us at least to suspect their existence. An immense multitude of human beings, some scattered here and there over the surface of the earth, others grouped in irregular masses in towns, wait every day for general industry to bring them what is necessary for the infinite variety of their wants; and every day industry, active and watchful, answers without fail to all the wants which call upon it: millions of kinds of labor, all different from one another, call on every side, and at all the sources of production, for workmen, and nowhere are the hands of workmen wanting for the kind of labor which calls them; all these different kinds of labor cross each other; more than that, they are corrected and held in union; they complete each other; they form together an immense chain, not a single link of which can be broken without injury to the whole; but nowhere does the chain break or stop; it seems that a mysterious power watches unceasingly to keep in repair its invisible links. Then, by virtue of the principle of exchange, an infinite variety of products circulates continually in every direction over the surface of the earth, and all these products go direct, without loss of time, and without sensible deviation, through countless hands, to the consumers waiting for them. All this takes place under our eyes and is renewed every day, and it is in presence of such a spectacle that men are unaware of the regularity of industrial movements subject to law. In presence of this daily miracle of regularity and order, men talk about industrial anarchy and disorder! What, then, are harmony, and order? Even if certain partial disorders, the causes of which are almost always easily assigned, happen here and there to disturb this beautiful mechanism, would that be sufficient to warrant us to deny the harmony of the whole? Would it not suffice to justify us in concluding triumphantly, that, after all, industry taken as a whole accomplishes with regularity the complex task with which it is charged?
—There is really little philosophy in denying, even a priori, the existence of industrial order. Remember how many surprises nature reserves for man, who is always too ready to appeal to chance. The empire of chance is narrower than is supposed; every day its boundaries become smaller in proportion as our knowledge extends; those boundaries will become still narrower in the future. But, it is asked, is there anything in industry but divergent individual wills? and what is that but confusion or chance? We answer, that individual wills, no matter how free they may appear in the domain of language, or in the domain of industry, are bound to conform to a certain order. In the work of forming languages the initiative and invention may belong to individuals; but supreme control belongs to the masses. Individuals invent words, particular forms or expressions; each one brings his contribution to the language; hence the inexhaustible wealth and the admirable variety of form which are the property of human language. But the mass controls, purifies, corrects; it rejects, with that sure instinct which controls it, everything not conformable to certain analogies or certain laws, and every one is bound to submit to its decisions under pain of not being understood. Hence, the regularity and harmony impressed on all human languages. In like manner the initiative belongs to individuals in industry, but control to the masses. Every one is at liberty to work after his own fashion, but on condition, first, of fitting the result of his labors, which is the first condition of order, to his surroundings; then, to adjust his labors to those of other men, without whose aid he can do nothing; and lastly, on condition of submitting to the whole, and yielding in all things to the decisions of the sovereign public. From the initiative of the individual and the sovereign control of the masses, arises, on the one hand, the infinity of detail, and, on the other, the harmony of the whole, which constitute the two essential characteristics of human industry. If, by supposing the impossible, confusion should be established in language, no two men would be able any longer to understand each other. An assembly of men would then be but a repetition of the confusion of the tower of Babel. If, in like manner, this anarchy should come upon industry, for merely a few days, the irregularity of production would put the very existence of men in peril. No one being able to count upon another for the satisfaction of his wants, each would work for himself and refuse to take part in the division of labor and exchange, and humanity would quickly return to the barbarism of primitive times.
—But the existence of laws governing the industrial world is no longer a mystery. Industrial science has for a long time noted and verified a great number of them. We have ourselves tried to show in the article COMPETITION, the general principle from which they spring. If among those which men have tried to explain, there are some which may still be a matter of discussion or misunderstood, there are others which no one, not even those who deny in principle the regularity of industrial movements, would dare to call in question. We can therefore conclude boldly that the field of the science of political economy is open, and that the elements of that science exist.
—Since, then, human industry is subject to laws; since it discloses to us constant relations, a regular movement, in a word, order, it is this order, these relations, these laws, which we must study. This is the peculiar field of political economy as a science. To explain how industry is organized in its whole and in its parts; to describe the order of its evolutions and its progress; to refer its movements to their principle, and deduce from it their immediate consequences: such is the object which economic science, carefully distinguished from art, should always propose to itself. What, in this order of ideas, should be the extent of its investigations, and what their limits? We shall examine this directly. But we must first justify the preceding definition, if it is one, in so far as it does not conform to those most frequently given of political economy.
—IV. Is Wealth the Object of Economic Science, or Industry the Source of Wealth? In defining or characterizing economic science as we have above, we have spoken of industry and the general laws which govern it. It is evident that in this we have departed, if not in essence, at least in form, from the definitions generally received, and which relate, more or less, not to industry, but to the wealth which industry produces. Which of the two formulæ is the more truthful? We think that wealth is continually put forward as the subject of political economy, without reason. Wealth is merely a result; and in reality it is labor, human industry, the source of wealth, which is the true subject of investigation in political economy. It must be understood, however, that in saying this we have no idea of changing the basis of the science, which we accept as it exists.
—We have already seen that J. B. Say defines political economy, even in the title of his work, as "a simple exposition of the manner in which wealth is produced, distributed and consumed." Still, he draws a distinction from the very beginning of his book, which we must note. There are, he says, two kinds of wealth: one natural, that is to say, that which man receives from nature itself, without his being obliged to produce it, and which does not appear in the market, because nature gives it to all; the other is industrial or social wealth; and he declares that this last is the only one which economic science should consider. Why this distinction, if the definition is correct? If it is really wealth with which we are concerned, what do we care from whence it comes? Is what nature gives us for nothing, and gives to all, less real, of less value, than other wealth? Why should we not take account of it too? The distinction established by J. B. Say is nevertheless correct, whatever Rossi may say of it. Why? Because it is not true that political economy studies wealth as its subject; because it has only industry in view, and consequently it should not touch upon wealth, except in so far as it is a product of industry, in so far as it is either produced or distributed by industry. All this portion of J. B. Say's work is very painful, because his starting point is not correct. Still, the author displays a wonderful sagacity in coming back, by force of attention and correctness of judgment, to the real subject from which he departed in his definition. But the subtle distinctions to which he has been obliged to have recourse could not fail to lead to controversy, as the sequel has shown.
—What is true of J. B. Say is equally true of all those economists, and their number is great, who have expressly admitted with him that political economy has only to do with exchangeable value. It is different with Adam Smith, who did not commence his work, like most of his successors, by a dissertation on the nature of wealth and value. He prefers in the beginning to speak of industry, of man; in which, as it appears to us, he was very happy, although he too thinks, and says frequently, that wealth is the chief subject of his studies. In the course of his work he states nowhere, in an absolute manner, that the only wealth with which he is concerned is that which is convertible into exchangeable value; but when, at the end of chapter iv. of book i., he remarks that the word "value" has a double meaning, or that there are two kinds of values, and calls one "value in use," and the other "salable or exchangeable value," without declaring expressly that the latter is the only one which it is his mission to study, he contents himself with saying that he will examine "the principles which regulate the exchangeable values of merchandise," and as to its value in use he is silent. He has followed, in this, the same path that J. B. Say, his successor, traced out afterward in a more systematic manner.
—Some economists, however, at whose head we must place Rossi, have protested loudly against this view. They contend that the utility of things, or what they call their value in use, is in itself too considerable, too important a fact, to allow an economist to omit taking account of it. Let us remark just here, that no one has said, no one can say, that the real utility of things can be despised. It is, first of all, the original basis of exchangeable value; it is, besides, the principal motive or the final object of the labors of man; for men labor only to procure what is of use to them, that is to say, what contributes to the satisfaction of their wants. It has only been said, which is true, that utility alone, when not transformed into exchangeable value, no matter how interesting it may be in other regards, is not an economic fact, and only becomes such in so far as it gives things a value, a price. But it is precisely against this conclusion that Rossi protests. The opinion of such a man has too much weight not to delay us a moment in order to examine its motives.—"There are many authors," he says, "for whom value in exchange is the only economic fact; they regard the notion of value in use as a pure generality, to which, at most, the honor of mentioning it may be given in passing without paying any attention to it afterward. For them, political economy is more the science of exchange than the science of wealth." We have underlined these last words, because they correspond exactly to what we have said above. It is very true, that, to the authors of whom Rossi speaks, as well as to us, and we shall add directly to Rossi himself, political economy is not the science of wealth, although the word "wealth" is inscribed in large letters on their banners. We have defined it, provisionally, as the science of the laws of the industrial world. One may say, however, if he wishes, shortening the expression a little, that it is the science of exchanges; for exchanges are, in the industrial system, the primordial fact which engenders all the others; but the expression which we have used seems to us at once more noble, more comprehensive, and more exact.
—But to return to Rossi's argument.
—First of all, it is not correct to say that the authors of whom he speaks merely mention the utility of things in passing. On the contrary, they maintain that the utility of things is the first if not the only condition of value in exchange; that things not useful in any respect would be neither asked for nor accepted by any one; and in consequence they would have no value, no price. But they add also that this utility, necessary everywhere, does not become an economic fact until, combining with other conditions, it is changed into exchangeable value. This is precisely what Rossi does not admit. "It is an error," he says, "which attacks the science in its very bases, which mutilates it, and destroys its nature." Why? This is his answer: "Value in use," he continues, "is the expression of a relation which belongs to all times and all places. Value in exchange is in its nature eventual. Not only it can not exist unless the wants of men cease, in a certain measure at least, to be satisfied, but it will disappear completely when the wants of all find unlimited means of satisfaction. No one will then have recourse to exchange." We shall soon find this last argument under another form. Rossi considers it very conclusive in his favor, and consequently reproduces it again. We shall see directly how conclusive it is against him. Now, let us continue our quotation. "I say, that in the system of those who pretend to occupy themselves only with value in exchange, science is mutilated: a great number of economic facts remain without explanation. Why are certain markets glutted with articles which never meet a demand for them? Only because the producers have not studied sufficiently what could be, in a given country, the value in use of such or such kinds of merchandise. The man who sent a cargo of skates to Brazil had forgotten that their value in use, arising from the pleasure which is felt in gliding over an icy surface, is nothing in a country where there is no ice. When publishers prepared immense shiploads of books for South America, they should have remembered that the want of books is only felt by those who know how to read. It is in the absence of value in use that these economic facts find their explanation." Without doubt, it is in the absence of value in use, or of utility, that these facts find their explanation. But how can this embarrass the authors whom Rossi is combating? What difficulty is there in accounting for such facts according to their system? None. They have said, and repeated, that the utility of things is the first condition of their exchangeable value; this condition had been omitted in the cases mentioned above, and consequently the products could not be exchanged. What more simple? The authors in question account for these facts quite as well as Rossi. Only they add that the condition of utility, though primary and essential, is not the only one which gives objects an exchangeable value; that, in addition, a certain degree of scarcity is required; that things found in profusion in nature, such as air, will have no exchangeable value, no matter how useful they may be; and that in this case economists need not busy themselves with them.
—Among the arguments which Rossi heaps up at pleasure against this last conclusion, with very remarkable dialectic power, there are many which square exactly with the one which we have just noted. They merely reproduce the same thought under other forms. We may therefore omit them. But here is one which seems to differ from the others. "The study of value in use, is the study of the wants of men in their relations to economic facts." The study of value in use is the study of the wants of men; this we admit: but is the study of the wants of men the object of political economy? It is not. In the eyes of the economist every man is the judge of his own wants, which he expresses in his own way by the demand which he makes for certain products. It is the sole fact of this demand that the economist meets by following it in its consequences. He sees, on one side, men expressing their wants; on the other, workers studying to divine these wants, and to satisfy them by supplying such articles as they produce; and he studies the very extensive and complex relations arising from this demand and supply. The study of the demand, considered in itself, in its nature and principle, is perhaps the affair of the moralist; but the economist, as an economist, has nothing to do with it.
—If, in the course of his laborious argument, Rossi triumphs in places, it is when he lays stress on the meaning and the use of the word "wealth." He has the advantage, we admit, when he reproaches those with whom he argues, with abusing the term. "Wealth," he rightly says, "is a generic word, which includes all objects in which this relation can be verified. If an object is capable of satisfying our desires, there is a value in it. The object itself is wealth." Rossi is certainly right here; he is right again when he adds, further on: "Ask any sensible man if, in such or such circumstances, such a man or such a country is rich or not, if it is less rich than a certain other country; ask him if the soil of the kingdom of Naples is more or less rich than the soil of Lapland; all will give you the same answer. Economists also, when they do not use the language of their particular systems, call the country rich in which natural goods abound, and in which natural agents are most active. They extend the word wealth to something more than what they call wealth when they give us their systematic definitions." All this is quite correct; but what does it all prove? Only one thing: that the word "wealth" has been very inaptly employed to designate the object of economic science. Let us say what is true, that economic science studies industry, or the relations which industry produces, and all these difficulties will disappear.
—What, in fact, is wealth? A result, and nothing more. It is a fruit of the liberality of nature, or of the labor of man; a fruit which has only to be enjoyed, and which affords no aliment to observation. What is there to be studied in such a fact? Nothing. But the means that men employ to acquire that wealth, when nature does not give it in sufficient quantity, are another matter entirely. This is a great, an important fact, worthy of all the attention of the philosopher, and it is the only one the study of which political economy can dwell upon.
—If a decisive proof of this is required, we shall find it in this last argument of Rossi's, of which we have already spoken. After having laid down this principle, that general wealth is increased by the low price of merchandise and all kinds of products, he adds: "If the price falls to zero, evidently the general wealth will be infinite; there will be no more exchanges; each having all that he can desire, exchange becomes impossible. How, then, could wealth be an exchangeable value, since it would be infinite, if there were no value in exchange?" This, we believe, is decisive against those economists who do not wish to consider wealth as anything else than exchangeable value.40 But does it prove in the same way that political economy should occupy itself with value in use, devoid of exchangeable value? Let us suppose Rossi's somewhat forced hypothesis realized, the prices of everything at zero, and general wealth infinite. What would happen? It is true there would be no exchangeable value, but neither would there be any political economy. Value in exchange, as Rossi correctly says, would disappear completely as soon as the wants of each one found unlimited means of satisfaction. No one would then have recourse to exchange. Nothing is truer; no one would have recourse to exchange, nor even to labor; but neither would any one think of studying political economy, because political economy itself would not have anything to study. The entire earth would present the picture of the Elysian fields described by Fenelon, in his "Adventures of Telemachus." All the wants of men would be satisfied. There would be no wants to express, and consequently no efforts to be made to provide for them. But what would the economist have to do in such an environment? Nothing, but to survey at his ease a picture of universal happiness, and thank God for his goodness. Political economy would disappear with exchangeable value and the realization of universal wealth: so true is it that it is not wealth that it studies, but exchange, with the division of labor and all the important phenomena that accompany it.
—Rossi himself, as we have said, has not studied anything else. And, in reality, once out of these discussions on wealth and value, which embarrass him in the commencement of his work, he goes through the same route already passed over by his predecessors. He follows, in their developments, the phenomena of exchange, the division of labor, the combination and subordination of the different kinds of labor, as well as the complex relations which these phenomena engender. He investigates the laws which determine the exchangeable value of things: those which regulate the rate of wages, the rate of profits, and revenues of every sort. He does not stop a moment, whatever he may have stated at the outset, to consider the absolute and inherent utility of things, or what he calls their value in use, independent of the relative value which they acquire in the great market of labor. Neither does he stop to consider the reason of our wants, admitting, with all economists, that individuals are the only judges of their respective wants, and that they express them sufficiently by the demand which they make for certain products.
—We can, then, say of Rossi what we have said of all the other economists, that it is the industrial movement which he studies, with all its developments and all its consequences, and by no means the simple result, wealth, which would offer no material to his observations. When he frees himself for a moment from the too great anxiety which the word "wealth" causes him, he defines the subject as we ourselves have done. For example, after explaining the series of economic phenomena, he adds: "They appear in all this continued action of men on the material world; they are all embraced in this incessant rotation of labor, of consumption, of reproduction and of exchange." Yes, it is in the continual action of men on the material world that all economic phenomena are included, and it is precisely on this account that the wealth which is not derived from this action of man, or which has not felt that action, that is to say, which does not enter into the current of exchanges, is not an economic fact.
—We should have dwelt less upon this error if it related only to words; but it has had its consequences. It has not precisely changed the basis of economic studies, since, after all, economists have generally continued unfaithful to the definition which they have adopted; but it has given an ambiguous character to the science, which has produced distrust in the minds of those who only half understood it, and it has given too much advantage to the adversaries of political economy. It has, besides, overloaded, especially in the outset, the science with subtle distinctions and vain abstractions, which have become, for economists themselves, an inexhaustible source of barren debates. We shall soon return to these consequences, but it is proper to go first to the source itself of the error which we have just pointed out.
—V. Why Wealth rather than Human Industry has been assigned to Political Economy as a Study. Consequences of this Error. We have already seen that political economy, before it became a science, was, for a long time, an art. It was a branch of the art of governing, an art which concerned especially the material interests of nations. Hence its name, which evidently designates an art. Hence, also, the formula which serves to designate the special object of its labors. Things have changed, the art has given birth to a science; it has been transformed itself, changing in character and object; but the name and formula have been preserved. This is why political economy bears to-day names so inappropriate to its real character.
—The chief tendency of this ancient art, which preceded the science, was, whenever it had not the regulation of taxes and the finances of the state as its sole object, to act directly on the public wealth; to create wealth, if it is permitted to say so, by means of governmental measures or by the mechanism of legislation. All writers who pretended to be economists, therefore, thought themselves called on to furnish methods or receipes calculated to enrich the nation for whose benefit they wrote. We find a curious and sad example of this in the system so unfortunately applied, in France, by the Scotchman, John Law, and which had been preceded, in England, Spain and France, by many other systems, which, if not similar, were at least conceived in the same spirit. Some wished to enrich their country by specially favoring agriculture, considering the direct products of the soil as more abundant and reliable than all the wealth procured by manufacturing industry or commerce; others, generally infected by the idea that people become rich only at the expense of others, placed all the hope of a nation, either in the forced extension of foreign markets or in the exclusion of foreign products; and these last turned their attention mainly toward manufacturing industry and commerce. In other respects they differed from each other, in the nature of the means proposed; some only thought of acting on foreign commerce through the tariff, while others were occupied with the internal management, the organization itself, of industry; but whatever might have been the difference in their principles or their methods, they invariably tended toward the same end, the immediate increase of public wealth. They would have considered that they had done nothing if they had not invented some sovereign recipe, some speedy and marvelous method. Thus, in 1664, one of the most celebrated economists of the seventeenth century, Thomas Mun, published in England a work under the following title, which indicates clearly enough its object and tendency: "England's Treasure by Foreign Trade; or, the balance of our foreign trade is the rule of our treasure." Another writer, Davenant, published in 1699 a book under the no less significant title of "An Essay on the probable method of making the people gainers in the balance of trade." In another style, but guided by the same spirit, W. Potter published, in London, in 1659, a work entitled "The Tradesman's Jewel; or, a safe, easy, speedy and effectual means for the incredible advancement of trade and multiplication of riches, etc., by making bills become current instead of money." The seventeenth century, and even the commencement of the eighteenth, abounded in similar writings, in France, as well as in England and Spain. Projects of this kind are not rare, even in our day; but they are at present merely eccentricities, while then they formed the only basis of economic works. Thus, wealth was the direct object of these works, to such a degree that all writings on political economy which date from that period might be summed up in this general formula: "How must we proceed to enrich a people?" It is true, then, that political economy had wealth as its direct object, and so many economists did not deceive themselves as to the real tendency of their studies when they inscribed the word "wealth" on their banners.
—It was from these unfortunate attempts that the real science came. By force of studying industry and commerce in order to subject them to adventurous plans and govern them according to their views, publicists became accustomed by degrees to observe industry and commerce. They remarked their most striking peculiarities and their most ordinary characteristics. Struck by the regularity of some of the phenomena which took place in this then new world, they caught a glimpse of the existence of certain laws, which they half noted. In this way scientific observations slipped insensibly into these artificial combinations, the unfortunate fruits of the imagination of their authors, and these observations increasing by degrees, in proportion as attention was directed to the subject, ended by impregnating, so to speak, with rather a strong dose of science, the very works composed in view of an art. This infusion of science into art is very evident in some of the writings which date from the end of the seventeenth century and the commencement of the eighteenth. If precepts still abound in them, to the point of predominating everywhere, scientific observations, and observations sometimes very correct, are not rare in them. In this way the science began. But, as the invention of an art was always the fixed idea of writers, and as this art had always the increase of wealth in view, the preconceived notion that the direct object of political economy was wealth, remained.
—It was then that the school of Quesnay arose. It was the first to renounce the discovery of this deceptive and false art, which had been so vainly sought for up to that time. By proclaiming the great principle, Laissez faire, laissez passer, it boldly announced, from the very start, that it did not appear in order to give people special rules to increase their fortune, but to set forth the scientific explanation of that imposing mechanism which human industry presents for the reflection of philosophers. This formula, too little understood, had, in their mouths, a profound significance, which it is well to recall. It was not pure science, as Rossi has wrongly stated; it was art since it was still a precept. But it was a precept which carried with it the negation of all others in this, that it rejected all the artificial combinations which had been imagined up to that time; it was the revelation of science, and was itself the first fruit of this revelation. It might be translated thus: "You have believed up to the present time that the industrial world was a kind of body without soul, an irregular assemblage of incoherent forces, without a principle of conduct, without cohesion, without a bond. You have believed that this world floated about at hazard, and that it needed the hand of an organizer to regulate and conduct it. You have outrivaled each other in striving to propose for it, or impose on it, your artificial combinations and your preconceived systems. Undeceive yourself: this industrial world does not move at hazard; under the apparent disorder of its course is hidden a profound order; it is governed by natural laws, admirable laws, in some regards inflexible laws, which it is necessary to know and respect. Avoid disturbing, by your arbitrary combinations, these natural laws which are superior to man. Respect this providential order; let the work of God alone."
—This did not mean that governments had nothing to do but fold their arms; for governments have their rôle marked out for them in the natural order of society, such as it was understood by the physiocrates; but it did mean that governments should limit themselves to accomplishing their real task without undertaking to substitute an arbitrary system for the natural order of society. Thus understood, this maxim, Laissez faire, laissez passer, is one of the most beautiful, most profoundly philosophical, and at the same time one of the most correct, which had ever been enunciated. It brought with it, we say, the revelation of a science, and asserted the existence of these natural laws, whose study is the mission of science, and without whose existence our science would be without any object to study. It was at the same time the first fruit of this revelation; for, although men may differ yet as to the extension which should be given to governmental action, the maxim, Laissez faire, laissez passer, must always be accepted, in its general expression, by every one who even admits that there is a science of economy. Either the natural order of industry exists, or it does not exist. If it does not exist, you can fill the void by your arbitrary combinations; you can fashion and direct the industrial world according to your pleasure; you may even imagine for it an artificial organization of labor; but in such case speak no more of science. If, on the contrary, you admit that this order exists, your first duty is to respect it.
—Nevertheless, this announcement of science, in which the school of Quesnay had the initiative and the chief glory, by changing at once the tendency and direction of economic study, necessarily involved a change of ancient formulæ and definitions. There was no longer a question, as there was formerly, of inventing an art which would have as its immediate result the creation of wealth by means of legislative enactments. The school of Quesnay admitted, on the contrary, that the true source of wealth is in the industry of man, in the spontaneous activity of individuals, and that the best thing to be done is to let that activity have the greatest possible freedom. It was no longer a question of considering wealth directly, but rather to study the activity of individuals in its natural relations and in its laws. Not that the school of Quesnay absolutely renounced the formulation of an art: it could not renounce it, under pain of leaving science itself barren. But this new art, more rational than the old, in this, above all, that it was deduced from truths observed by science, instead of tending as formerly to the immediate creation of wealth, was forced to have as its sole object the restriction of governmental action within its natural limits, and to regulate it within these limits in conformity with the natural laws of industry. Thenceforth, wealth was no longer the direct object either of science or art. Thenceforth, these changed studies needed new names and new definitions.
—Quesnay's school understood the exigencies of this transformation, and the very titles of the principal works which are due to it attest this fact: physiocracy, natural order of societies; two different titles, but which have nearly the same sense or the same bearing, in that they both announce the scientific statement of certain natural laws, and no longer the invention of an art; more scientific titles surely, and more satisfactory in this regard, than those afterward imagined. Unfortunately, the school of Quesnay committed two capital errors in the erection of its system, which caused its attempts at renewal to fail, and weakened its decisions. The first of these errors consisted in the exaggerated importance which it attributed to the net product of the soil, what we now call the rent of land, which it put forward as the only or main source of the real revenue of a people; the second, in the unnatural mingling of economic phenomena and political facts, between which it was unable to establish the necessary line of demarcation.
—When Adam Smith, who first placed the science on its true foundation, appeared, he returned, unfortunately, in so far as formulæ and titles were concerned, to the old errors. While he exposed the grave mistakes into which the school of physiocrates had fallen, Adam Smith permitted himself to react perhaps too strongly against that school. He repudiated even the spirit of the new formulæ which it had adopted. These formulæ, as we have seen, were generally too ambitious, too broad, in that they seemed always to embrace at once the economic and the political order. It was proper, it was even necessary, to narrow them in a certain sense; but it was neither necessary nor proper to change their spirit, which was perfectly in harmony with the new tendency of economic studies. Instead of saying, as the physiocrates had done, "natural order of societies," and interpreting this formula as they had done, he might have said, "the natural order of industry," or used any other equivalent phrase, which would have preserved to economic studies the scientific character which they had received. Instead of this, in his desire to repudiate what there was excessive, from the point of view at which the physiocrates had placed themselves, Adam Smith returned purely and simply to the errors of his predecessors. The old prejudice remained—the prejudice that the economist is charged with furnishing recipes, the methods necessary to build up the fortune of nations—and Adam Smith himself was not able to guard against it. What was expected of him was the exposition of an art, tending to the creation of wealth, and he believed himself obliged to satisfy this expectation! The man who had left the business, the care of enriching nations altogether to private industry or the spontaneous activity of individuals, and who believed firmly, as his work proves, that it does not belong to governments to add anything to it from their own resources, still believed it incumbent on him to construct a system intended to create national wealth, and to announce it formally, not only in the title of his work, but also, as we have seen, in his definition. It is true that his system is different from those which preceded it; it is the same as that of the physiocrates, Laissez faire, laissez passer, which is the device of every one who understands and practices the science: a system so different from others, and so peculiar in this regard, that those who in our day still take the old point of view ask, with a naïve astonishment, what is the meaning of a system which involves a negation of all systems? But Adam Smith at last proposes, like all the other economists, his method, his means of enriching nations, and this means consists in employing none. It is in this way that, from a point of view altogether new, he preserves the old forms. A man of science, he adopted the formulæ of his predecessors who only wished to invent an art. Devoted to the study of certain natural phenomena, he gives us lessons and precepts at every moment, and in truth gives a great number of them, though these lessons and these precepts only tend in general to show the vanity of those given before him, and that they are merely a negation. In substance the work of Adam Smith is a work of science, since he explains the industrial order in its natural and spontaneous formation; but his work, in form, is almost always a work of art, where all the old formulæ are reproduced. Since the publication of Adam Smith's great work, which founded, and was worthy of founding, a school, these annoying traditions have been maintained. Political economy, though rejuvenated and transformed, has preserved in many respects its old dress.
—Appearing after Adam Smith, and when the science was already freeing itself from the obscurity in which it had been involved, J. B. Say understood, better than his predecessor, the nature of his labors and their real object. He felt very clearly that it was not a means of fortune which he taught to nations, and he was very careful not to say it was; he declared, on the contrary, repeatedly, and under various forms, that it was a simple exposition which he wished to make. "Political economy," be says expressly, "teaches what happens and what is." In this he had a clearer understanding than Adam Smith of the tendencies of the new economic era, and freed himself, more than Adam Smith had done, from old prejudices. Carried away, however, by the same considerations as Adam Smith; wishing, like Adam Smith, to free himself from the physiocrates, who had given the field of the science limits altogether too extensive; and believing that he was thereby merely reducing the science within its limits, he also inscribed the word "wealth" on his banner. Since that time it seems admitted as an article of faith among economists that wealth is the special object of their studies. There is no longer any appeal from this decision. In spite of some isolated and barren protests, here and there, all the labors of economists are supposed to be concerned with wealth.
—We have just seen what were the causes of this deviation. We shall now see what its consequences are. And, first of all, if we suppose that political economy has to do exclusively or primarily with wealth, it is utterly impossible to give it even a partially satisfactory definition; and we are obliged to say, with Rossi, that it is the science of wealth. But what is the science of wealth? Is there, can there be, a science of wealth? Strictly speaking, we can understand an art of producing wealth; but can we conceive a science connected with the analysis or study of such a fact? What is it to study wealth? is it the fact itself, the result, or the means employed to produce it? If it is the fact itself, it will be necessary to limit ourselves to analyzing the elements of which wealth is composed; and what is the object, what the utility, of such a labor? To study wealth in the means employed to produce it, is quite another thing: here there may be material for a vast series of observation; but, then, it is not properly wealth which is studied, for we must not confound the means with the end: it is either human industry, if there be question of wealth produced by the labor of man; or it is the operation of nature, if there be question of the benefits which we receive from nature without labor.
—It is useless for Rossi, in order to give a sort of consistency to his definition, to say that there are phenomena of a certain order, which are distinct from all other phenomena and relate to wealth, and that it is these which political economy should study, All these explanations, in which the embarrassment of the writer is betrayed at every word, in spite of his undoubted talent, only thicken the cloud with which he surrounds us. What are these phenomena of which you speak? They relate to wealth, you say, but apparently they are not wealth itself. Well, describe them, analyze them, indicate at least their character or nature; sum them up, if it is possible, in some definition or formula; perhaps then these phenomena will of themselves form an object worthy of our scientific investigation; but do not tell us that the object of these investigations is wealth, for evidently it is not.
—In his definition, which we have already quoted, J. B. Say was more precise without being happier. In saying that political economy describes how wealth "is produced, distributed and consumed," he escaped the vagueness into which Rossi has fallen, and he has given some body to his formula, but he has not succeeded for all that in being more correct. It will be noted, first of all, that this formula is more than a definition, it is, besides, a classification of materials; to divide one's subject in this way, is to draw a plan, not to define it. And what is the use of it all? The divisions of a subject, the classifications of materials, whatever they may be, belong always to the writer, and depend more or less upon the point of view he assumes; it is, therefore, an error to present them, though the best possible, as being so essential to the subject as to form a part of its definition. Why did J. B. Say commit this error? Only, as it appears to us, because in binding himself to the word "wealth" as the basis of his definition, he had no other means of rendering his thought sensibly clear; he had then either to say too much, as he has done, or to be content with the vague formula of Rossi, which tells us nothing at all. What is this wealth which is produced, distributed and consumed?. Is wealth, perchance, self-producing and self-distributing? Apparently not; save, perhaps, that which nature produces and dispenses without the aid of man, as the air, the light, the heat of the sun, etc. J. B. Say carefully excludes these from his domain. Wealth is not produced by itself; we say, it results from human effort, or from several such efforts combined. Why, then, instead of the result, do you not much rather first take up, as the object of the science, the combination of human efforts that produce it? Why not openly, clearly announce in your formula that it is this combination of the different kinds of human labor which forms the object of your studies, since, after all, this is the only thing that can constitute the object of serious studies? To read the definitions in which wealth is made the subject of which political economy treats, we would suppose that matter acted and moved of itself, and that man counted for nothing. This, it is true, is only appearance; but this appearance is annoying, giving rise to many mistakes; it has often caused it to be said, by men who are strangers to the science, that the economist is devoted exclusively to the worship of matter, while in reality it is man, and man alone, that is the constant object of his labors.
—These formulæ, besides being vicious, have become the source of endless discussions, as tiresome as they are barren in results. Starting from the principle that the object of political economy is the study of wealth, the conclusion is drawn, with a certain appearance of reason, that its first care should be to define and characterize wealth; for how can we reason about wealth if we do not know what it is? and taking this specious reasoning as basis, each economist has made it a duty to place an interminable dissertation on this subject at the beginning of his work. They vie with each other, losing themselves in endless discussions and distinctions on utility, the first attribute of wealth, on value which is its complement, the nature of this value, the conditions of its creation, its existence, its extent, etc. Thus the science is made to bristle with abstractions; a terror to those who do not know it, and an object of disgust even for those who have cultivated it for a long time. The worst of all is, that, after so many long dissertations, these writers have not been able to agree whether it is value in use or value in exchange which constitutes wealth.
—What must men who are strangers to political economy, or who are only half acquainted with it, think of these endless discussions? They must think, and in reality do think, that there is nothing fixed or constant in a science in which its very point of departure, that which is or appears to be the foundation of all the rest, is a matter of dispute.
—Suppose that, instead of taking wealth as the subject or text of political economy, human industry had been taken, as is required by the nature and logic of things, it appears to us that things would have taken another course. The substance of the science would have remained the same, but the formulæ would have changed, and thenceforth the difficulties which we have just noticed would have disappeared of themselves. It would have become very easy to give a satisfactory definition of the science, not vague and incomprehensible, like that of Rossi, or complicated, detailed, and, after all, unsatisfactory, like that of J. B. Say, but which would be at once general and simple, comprehensive and clear. It would have been sufficient to say that political economy is the science of the general laws of the industrial world; or that it had as its object the study of labor, not in its technical methods, but in the relations which it produces and the laws which govern it. These formulæ, or equivalent ones, would have been sufficient to indicate the object of the science and its tendencies. Then, fully to define its meaning and bearing, it would have sufficed to prove, by a clear and precise exposition, the reality of the laws which they declare. On the other hand, by starting with such formulæ, the long dissertations on wealth, which obstruct the avenues of the science and render its approaches so difficult, might have been dispensed with. And what use is there in adhering so closely to the definition and description of wealth, since it is man, man as a worker, whom the science has in view? Wealth, it is true, should be the result of the labor of man, as it is its object, and it must consequently appear sometime; but it should appear in its proper place, as the fruit of labor, and then it would not be necessary to define it, since the definition would naturally result from the explanation itself of the labors which man has performed in order to obtain it. There would then be no distinction to be made between value in use and value in exchange; or rather, that distinction, which results from the very nature of things, would appear under another aspect.
—By the labors to which he devotes himself, man tends unceasingly to convert all things to his use, both the material objects which he finds at hand, and the immaterial truths which he discovers. Value in use is, therefore, the constant object of his care. It is wealth, taking the term wealth in its broadest acceptation. But this wealth is to be divided into two parts: one which man is obliged to win from nature every day by continually renewed labor; the other, which is acquired once and forever, and which he enjoys without labor. In this last category may be ranged, not only the advantages or the goods liberally dispensed by nature to all men, such as air, light, and the heat of the sun, but also all those which man has won by previous labor, and which are acquired once and forever to the race, and enjoyed by all without labor. Such, for example, is the stock of knowledge grown common to all in civilized countries, the improvement of the climate by cultivation, the possession of an incalculable number of processes in the arts, which have become habitual and the property of all. This last part of the wealth of man is surely not the least interesting; but as it has been definitively acquired, as man enjoys it henceforth without effort or sacrifice, he need no longer concern himself with it, unless perhaps to endeavor to increase it. The economist, in like manner, need not busy himself with it, except to state its extent and its benefits. It is only the other part, that which is the object of incessant labor, that really enters into his domain, for it is only here that there are real phenomena to observe.
—We have not said all that can be said concerning the annoying results of economic formulæ. The necessity of being continually occupied with wealth, which it has made its special text, has forced political economy to construct a language of its own, an obscure, involved language, full of subtleties and abstractions. Hence, for example, the expression "immaterial products," to designate simple services rendered, or labor which is not realized in any product, and many others of the same kind: annoying expressions, to say nothing of the outrages which they commit on language in this, that they seem to transport us to an unknown world, lying outside of nature.
—To sum up, political economy, turning on an abstraction, wealth, has become, in its forms at least, an abstract science. Taking matter as its text, it has become a material rather than a moral science, in the eyes of those at least who do not see into its depths. Besides, it has borrowed from inanimate matter all the appearances of a dead science, while it could and should be full of life. It is not, moreover, in appearance alone that it experiences this; it has been grievously troubled by it even in its expositions and in the connection of the truths which it teaches. If, instead of a barren and laborious dissertation upon wealth, with which it always sets out, and from which afterward flow, with such difficulty and trouble, the solid truths which constitute its substance, political economy had taken as its point of departure, or its text, human labor, what it would have accomplished! It would have begun with a broad, animated, living picture of the industrial world as it exists; it would have exhibited the general organization of human industry as it results from exchange, from the division of labor, from the subordination of the tasks which connect the labor of some with the labor of other men, and the use of metallic money, which establishes among all the separate kinds of labor a universal connection. It would have next explained the conditions of the existence of these kinds of labor and their principal motives; then, descending by degrees into the details of the structure of industry, it would have unfolded successively all its springs and declared its laws. All the truths which constitute the substance of political economy would have found their place in this grand structure. What a difference there would be in the animation of the subject, the facility, the order, ease and clearness of the deductions! It would have been possible even to introduce, if judged necessary, those subtle distinctions, those abstractions, with which the rudiments of the science are at present actually bristling, with this difference, however, that, taking their places only after an explanation of the primary truths of which they are really but the consequences, those abstractions would have flowed from these truths as easily as corollaries flow from a geometric proposition. We leave it to be considered, if, with such a point of departure and explained in this order, the science of political economy would not wear a different appearance, and be broader, more animated, more living, and even easier than it is to-day.
—VI. Definitive Character of Economic Science: it is a branch of the Natural History of Man. Its Extent and its Limits. When economic science is defined as the science of wealth, it is very difficult to say to what genus of science it belongs. Is it a moral science? It is not; for it seems to be devoted exclusively to the study of matter. Is it a natural science? Still less; for it is concerned almost entirely with an abstraction. It may be pretended that it is the science of matter, or the science of abstractions; and it is in this way that those who judge only by formulæ speak of it. In this case one is very much embarrassed to know where to class it. But this embarrassment ceases the moment it is brought back to its real subject, the labor of man.
—Political economy has been ranged in the category of moral sciences. We accept that title for it, which contains nothing but what is very honorable, and which is correct. It studies the acts and deeds of men, and there is always a certain morality in human actions; but this title, however honorable, is not the only one due to political economy, which is, besides, a natural science, for in its essence it is but a branch of the natural history of man. The anatomist studies man in the physical constitution of his being; the physiologist, in the action of his organs; natural history, properly speaking, in his habits, his instincts, his wants, and in relation to the place which he occupies in the scale of beings; as to political economy, it observes and studies him in the combination of his labors. Is it not a part of the study of a naturalist, and one of the most interesting, to observe the labor of bees in a hive, to study their order, combinations and movements? The economist, in so far as he simply cultivates the science without troubling himself about its applications, does precisely the same thing for that intelligent bee, man: he observes the order, the movements and the combinations of his labors. The two studies are absolutely of the same nature; with this difference only, that the field occupied by the economist is incomparably broader, the combinations which he observes more subtle, more extended and more complex. The theatre of his observations is the great stage of the world. The order which he describes has, besides, a more elevated character, and, although less apparent and more difficult to understand, that order is much more wonderful also than the order of a beehive. The difference is measured by that between an insignificant insect and man.
—We have now determined the character and object of political economy, of that almost intangible science, the definition of which has caused so much embarrassment to those who cultivate it, and given such advantage to its enemies. It is simply a branch of the natural history of man, and surely not the least interesting nor the least beautiful. It only remains to us now to fix its extent and limits.
—For a long time, and during the whole period in which political economy was considered a branch of the art of government, industry itself appeared merely as a fact subordinate to the political order, occupying in each state a fixed and rather narrow place. As it was submitted to the supreme action of the political powers, which were looked upon as its guardians and natural directors, it was examined only in its relations to the state. It was looked upon then as a national fact in politics, and it is from this point of view that it was considered by all the early writers. But, in proportion as men closely observed industry, they were not slow to find that in no place did it stop at the conventional limits of states. They recognized in it an invincible tendency to extend, to spread outward, to go from one people to another, without respect even for the barriers which political power had established. It was seen to possess a sympathetic virtue which impelled it to clear away every barrier and to overturn or avoid every obstacle, to draw together nations the most different, and to rally them all into the great community of labor by a universal exchange of products and services. Such is the essential character of industry. Universal by nature, it has always been so in principle, and tends every day to become so in practice. The relations which it engenders extend from pole to pole; the species of community among men which it creates, already embraces the whole earth; and if certain feeble fractions of the human race appear still to escape its influence, it tends unceasingly and with an invincible force to draw them into its net.
—As the field which economic science explores should be as extended as that of industry itself, whose laws it studies, it can evidently have no other limits in space than the limits of the globe itself. Certain economists, however, have been deceived here. They have tried to give their studies a more real or precise character by confining them, or rather by trying to confine them, within the limits of a given country. Such a tendency is remarked among certain writers of North Germany. But, try as they might, they have not been able to remain faithful to the law which they pretended to impose on themselves. "The theory of social wealth," says Fr. Skarbek, "may comprise the whole earth if we look at it as the patrimony of the human race; from this point of view, as broad as it is elevated, its investigation would, without doubt, offer to the mind many philanthropic ideas which would be shared by all the friends of humanity; but it would not lead to any important result in the science, and would not advance us in the knowledge of the principles of the wealth of nations." (Théorie des richesses sociales, 2d part, introduction.) We beg pardon of the estimable writer, but this point of view, "as broad as it is elevated," which he sets aside through caution, is the only true one. In order that political economy, or, as Fr. Skarbek calls it, "the theory of social wealth," should comprehend the whole earth, it is not at all necessary that economists should be given up to philanthropic ideas, or form wishes more or less realizable for a general union among all nations. It is sufficient that the science be exact and true. Strictly speaking, it is sufficient that it should be occupied with the phenomena which are peculiarly within its domain. Among these phenomena the first place is occupied by exchange, the division of labor, the subordination or the connection of the various kinds of labor, the circulation of products, the use of money. These are in industry the great arterial lines, the primordial facts which engender all the others; and this is true to Fr. Skarbek himself, who, like all other economists, accords them the first rank. Now, of all these phenomena, there is not a single one which stops at the limits of any state. They do not stop even in countries which surround themselves with a triple line of custom houses, and which reject foreign products as far as they can. Everywhere, no matter what is done, exchange extends more or less beyond these artificial barriers, and the labor of each country has its branches outside. The very efforts made at the frontiers of certain states to stop the circulation of products, only show more clearly the expansive tendencies of industrial facts. As to the circulation of money, nothing stops it, and here, with the full force of the term, we have a universal fact. But if all the principal economic phenomena extend beyond the limits of individual states, how can the science itself be confined within them? Fr. Skarbek errs, therefore, in this, for want of rendering an account to himself of the nature of the facts with which he deals. Rossi was in this respect much more in the right when he said that economic science, when carefully considered, had the world for its theatre. Does this mean that political economy should take no account of nationalities? Most assuredly not. On the contrary, it makes great account of them, but it does not confine itself to them; it could not, without mutilating itself or abdicating its place. "We must," says Fr. Skarbek, "look on the human race as it is, that is to say, divided into a great number of societies different from each other in the degrees of civilization and power at which they have severally arrived." (Ibid.) Doubtless it is necessary to look at the human race as it exists, but if this human race is divided into a great number of political societies, it is not specially comprised in any one of them; to speak more clearly, it should comprehend them all. The only question is, whether the facts which political economy considers are political facts, that is to say, peculiar to one or the other of these societies, or facts of humanity, that is to say, common to all the human race. Now, the answer to this question can not be doubtful, at least as regards the science strictly speaking; it is not doubtful even in the writings of Skarbek, who could not have deceived himself on this subject if he had not reasoned on science, as unfortunately so many other economists do, with the preconceived notions of an art.
—Nevertheless, nationalities, states, and the governments which manage them, are also, from a certain point of view, economic facts, and facts of considerable importance; the more considerable since it is through them that order, security and justice, so necessary in the great workshop of labor, are enforced. They should therefore not be forgotten. But to consider the human race in its totality, with regard to the general phenomena which concern it, it is not necessary to forget, nor to lessen, the particular facts which concern each one of the great fractions of which it is composed. Here, then, we have the field of political economy marked out so far as space is concerned. Its observations should not and can not be concentrated in a particular state; they should embrace the earth. To see what takes place in this or that country, is not to study industry, but fractions of industry. Even this partial survey is impossible, since any one who examines closely what passes in his own country, will recognize without difficulty that each of the phenomena which he has observed has its prolongation elsewhere. It may be of use, doubtless, to show the local influence of the particular kinds of legislation of each state, and the manner in which they modify the action of general laws; it is even necessary, in all cases, to take account of this salutary influence which every government exercises in its sphere, by the single fact of maintaining order and security. All these particular facts have their place in the vast circle of studies which political economy embraces, but it is none the less true that the ground of all these studies is in a sum total of phenomena which includes the human race in its entirety.
—If, as to space, political economy knows no other limits than those of the earth itself, we can also say that it includes in its domain all men without distinction, to whatever class they belong or whatever their occupation. It would, indeed, be a great error to suppose that the industrial phenomena from which economic science draws its life concern only men actually engaged in industry, merchants, manufacturers, and all those commonly included under the name of workingmen; it comprehends all without exception. We are all interested in exploiting this globe of ours, and this is enough to bind us to the scene of our labor. If we are not all bound to it by our labor, we are at least so bound by our wants; and nearly all of us, it must be said, aid in this exploitation of the globe, even without knowing it, in a direct or indirect manner. This is not at all doubtful in the case of men who hold the reins of power in nations, or who govern them; it is by their ministry that order, security and justice reign in the great workshop of industry. From this point of view, functionaries, judges, officials of all kinds, assist in the common labor, by the fact alone that they defend it against acts of violence which might disturb it. This is also true in the case of scholars, who, without taking part in industrial labor properly speaking, throw light on the path of progress. If there is in the world a sufficient number of men of whom one can not say absolutely that they assist, directly or indirectly, in the common labor, they at least render certain services to their equals, and this is enough to warrant us in including them in the grand army of labor. It would, in fact, singularly lessen the scope of human industry to consider it as exclusively devoted to the material exploitation of the terrestial globe; it has a more general object, that of answering to all the wants of man of whatever nature they may be. Thus, whoever renders a service to his fellows, whatever be the occupation to which he is devoted, is connected with general industry by his labor. Who, then, are the men who are not engaged in industry in some way? Apparently only those who live at the expense of their neighbors, by theft, robbery or beggary, but even these, if they do not belong to the industrial order by their labor, are still connected with it indissolubly by their wants.
—In the stage of civilization which humanity has reached, every man, in whatever position he may be, in whatever degree of the social scale he may be placed, depends on exchange, at least so far as his wants are concerned, which he can only satisfy through it. Now, exchange is the first of the general conditions of industry, and the chief source of all the others. He is also connected with the division of labor by the functions which he performs, if he performs any, or, in default of any, by the rank alone which he occupies. There is no person who does not use money, at least in certain cases, and money is one of the principal agents of the industrial order. In fine, we are all obliged to accept the value of things which the general condition of the markets has established. In all this we are irrevocably bound to the industrial order, and we submit to its laws. If a few men escape it, they are mere savages, and the last among savages, those who, lost in some corner of a desert land, have no relations with the rest of the world; for in regard to other savages, they make, after all, some exchanges, and generally devote themselves to some special occupation adapted to their support. Thus, the industrial order not only extends over the whole earth, it embraces, besides, all men, without distinction. Thus, too, the field of political economy, considered as a science, being no other than that of industry itself, whose laws it studies, it is clear that it comprehends in its domain the totality of mankind.
—From this point of view we can say that economic science has no limits; but if it has not, so far as the extent of the circle it embraces is concerned, it has them marked out clearly enough as to the object with which it is concerned. Though connected exclusively with man, it does not take all of man into consideration; that which it studies specially is human industry, comprising under this general denomination the sum of labors which men perform, or the mutual services which they render each other for the satisfaction of their respective wants. Further, it does not consider these special services except in so far as they are rendered under the law of exchange, that is to say, in consideration of a return. Man, living in society, has his duties to fulfill to his neighbors, his duties as a son, a father, husband, citizen; he has others to fulfill to his Creator. These duties political economy considers as foreign to its domain: it leaves the care of determining them and regulating them to religion, to morality, and the law. Besides the strict duties which religion, morality and law impose on him, man has feelings of sympathy which often decide him to come to the assistance of his neighbors without any hope of repayment. This is also an order of things with which political economy has nothing to do. It examines only those positive and strictly definable relations which are established between men, when each of them, while rendering services to others, counts on a just remuneration for these services, and works in reality for himself.
—All this is easily understood, because it all results sufficiently from the single general enunciation of the object which economic science proposes to itself: the study of human industry. But what should be brought out more clearly is this, that political economy does not study even industry under all its phases; that, for example, it never considers industry in the processes which it employs in the technic or scientific means which it uses, but only in the relations which it engenders, and in the general laws by which it is governed. Thus, every industrial worker, manufacturer or merchant comes under the observation of political economy. This is not doubtful with regard to the labors which he executes. But political economy does not consider these labors in themselves and in their technical processes; it only considers them in their connection with the labors which are executed elsewhere and in regard to their relations with the whole. What is seen in an artisan is the place which he occupies in the great workshop of labor, the office which he fills there; but it does not inquire how he fills that office, or at least it only judges by results. It sees the products which he delivers to his neighbors, the condition under which he delivers them, and the remuneration which he obtains. It sees at the same time the action exercised upon him by all of his surroundings, the influences which he undergoes, and the necessities by which he is held to submit to them. But it takes no note of the processes which he uses in the branch of labor with which he is occupied.
—Political economy is in this respect, then, perfectly distinct from technology, and in general from all the arts and sciences which men apply in the particular labors to which each one devotes himself. It takes account of all these arts and sciences, it gives them a place, but always considers them only in regard to their relations with the whole, only in the function which they fulfill, in the action which they exercise, but never in themselves, and in their processes. The reason of this is easily understood. If we admit, in fact, that there is in the industrial world, as it exists, certain constant relations between workmen, invariable laws, a fixed and regular order which can be settled and defined, it is this order, these relations, these laws, which political economy should study, and nothing more; it could go no further, to observe, for example, the particular processes of the labors whose relations it studies, without losing its way. Thus, the field of economic science is limited on all sides. It halts everywhere, if it is permitted to say so, at the very portals of the sanctuary in which the arts are carried on. It touches all these sciences and all these arts, but without interfering with any, examining them only in their relations to the whole.
—This last consideration should establish a clear dividing line between political economy and politics proper. Politics is an art, the art of governing a political society or a nation, in view of certain ends; in view, notably, of establishing order, security and justice therein, of maintaining and making the rights of all respected. Political economy looks on this art, as on all others, in its relations with the total of economic facts, but in no way in its ordinary processes. It makes known, for instance, the salutary influence which a government exercises on the development of industry, when it maintains perfect security for all interests, absolute respect for all rights, and calls attention to the wrong which it inflicts on industry when it suffers these rights to be violated or when it violates them itself; but it does not discuss on what principles or what bases a government should be instituted in order to accomplish its mission in the best manner possible. This is a task which it leaves to politics as it leaves to technology that of determining the best possible methods of manufacturing in one branch of industry or another.
—VII. Actual or Possible Applications of Economic Science. No science is destined to remain barren forever. Considered in itself, a science only studies what takes place and what exists, without inquiring what use may be made of the truths which it establishes. "From the moment that we busy ourselves," says Rossi, justly, "with the employment which may be made, or the profit that may be drawn, from science, we leave science and fall into art." Still, as the profit which may be derived from it is, after all, the final object proposed in studying science, it is not forbidden, even to the scholar, to examine what are or would be its possible applications. This is the more necessary here, since in this Cyclopædia economic art and science are in many regards mingled and confounded. What, then, are the useful applications which may be made of political economy in the present, or those which may be made of it in the future? The study of economic science will not lead, we may be sure, to the discovery of that chimera, that sort of philosopher's stone, so long sought for: the art of enriching nations by means of legislative combinations; on the contrary, the first fruit of this study is to make it clearly understood that the creation of such an art is impossible. Political economy shows, indeed, in the first place, that all wealth is derived from the energy of individual labor or the spontaneous activity of men; it shows, in the second place, that this spontaneous activity obeys, of itself, or by the force of things alone, certain regular laws which direct it unceasingly toward the most fruitful results, toward results the best that human industry can produce. In the presence of these two capital truths, the first that flow from the total of economic investigation, we are convinced that every artificial combination imposed on human labor is capable only of troubling its natural order, and diminishing its fruits. Neither will this study lead to the discovery of that other art so vainly sought for by certain modern sectaries, that of dividing the fruits of labor among the different classes or the different members of society according to conventional laws, to render this division more equal among men, or, as is supposed, more conformable to equity. It shows, and this is another of the capital truths which it gives to the world, that the partition or distribution of the fruits of labor effected by the natural laws of industry, is, when no artificial system intervenes to trouble the action of these natural laws, or when violence does not prevent their effect, the most equitable and the best possible. It proves that this division is continually effected according to the grand principle which men have pretended to inaugurate by other means: to each one according to his capacity, and to each capacity according to its works—a principle of rigorous justice, which does not reduce men to an impossible level, but which leaves to each one a share of enjoyment corresponding to the sum of the labors which he has furnished, or the services which he has rendered.
—In all this, then, the study of political economy leads us, and this is its first fruit, to renounce in an absolute manner the discovery of all those artificial combinations, in the search for which so many distinguished men have wasted their powers. It conducts us to this without effort, by the sole revelation of the natural order which it brings to light. After this revelation, all arbitrary combinations should vanish, because they have no longer any raison d'être, and because they can only trouble the pre-existing natural order. And this is why political economy, from the first, necessarily enunciated this great principle, Laissez faire, laissez passer, a principle which may be called a system if you will, but which has no value but this, that it is the negation of all artificial systems. Is this saying that political economy can not be applied usefully, that it can not reach any practical result? Decidedly not. On the contrary, there are many practical results, whose realization it can help to effect.
—It is, to begin with, a first and very great practical result to have caused the abandonment of all artificial systems, the unhappy fruits of the errors of men, some of which have already brought many evils on humanity, while others have sometimes menaced it with still greater evils. Political economy has shaken these systems to their foundations, beginning with that which consisted in regulating the labors of men, subjecting them to hindrances; including those which strove for nothing less than to substitute a new organization of industry sprung all armed from the head of some excited enthusiast, for that admirable natural organization which human genius has produced. This is the first service which economic science has rendered, and if it had done nothing else, it surely could not be said that it is barren of results. But it can render others still more direct and of a more positive nature.
—If from political economy we can not deduce the art of enriching nations, we can at least deduce from it another art, more rational and truer, that of governing them, in everything touching the interests of labor, in the manner most conformable to their natural tendencies. This still tends to enrich them, but by a different and much surer method, which is to desist from harassing their industry and diminishing its fruits. And if political economy, without interfering in politics, meaning by that whatever relates to the form itself of government, takes into consideration the state, or the power which directs the state in reference to the influence which it exercises and should exercise on the industrial circle which it embraces, it should also, for the same reason, say how far that influence ought to extend in order to protect the industrial order without troubling it. It is, then, its office to determine the real attributes of the state and the limits of these attributes.
—It does more. Even within the limits of these attributes it indicates the best measures to be adopted, keeping always in view the industrial order which it studies, and the spontaneous development of human activity. Among the legitimate attributes of political power, is, beyond doubt, that of levying and collecting taxes, in order to satisfy its own wants. Without examining whose province it is to levy or collect these taxes, a question which belongs to the domain of politics, political economy examines according to what principles and in what form they should be levied and collected in order to obtain the sum of contributions necessary, with the least possible damage to the people. The theory of taxation is therefore one of the first arts which spring from political economy.
—It does not stop here. Although the essential and primitive function of political power is to establish security, justice and law, there are certain other functions which can not be denied it, that, notably, of directing in each state certain interests which can not, without danger, be left to the action of individuals, and which imperatively demand the interference of public power. The state should interfere more or less, for example, in whatever concerns the management of waters, the system of roads, etc. There are still other objects which are evidently within its jurisdiction. Men may discuss, and they will often discuss, the greater or less extension which it is proper to give to these accessory attributes of political power, but no one will deny that there are some which it can not and should not abandon. In all this, it is still economic science that has to furnish the general rules by which the mode and extent of the intervention should be regulated. In all countries, general legislation is necessary to regulate the rights of individuals among themselves, and those of individuals in their relations to the public. Commonly this legislation becomes complicated in proportion as the progress of civilization has created more numerous and complex interests. It is essentially important to the happiness of the human species that in its totality and in its details this legislation should always be in perfect accord with that natural order which political economy reveals. It is true that to establish this accord it is very often sufficient to have recourse to good sense and the common principles of equity, for political economy itself does not demand anything but the triumph of equity; yet this is not sufficient in all cases. Besides the fact that it is not always easy in the complication of various interests to distinguish what is truly equitable from that which is merely specious, there are in all the legislations of the world a great number of provisions which are merely formal, and which belong to what might be called civil police provisions; and which are necessary sometimes to establish the rights of individuals, and sometimes to guarantee their enjoyment and preservation. It is especially in this part of legislation that there is a risk of going astray when one is not aided by the lights of economic science. It often happens in such cases, either that the guarantees offered are not sufficient for the preservation of the rights which it is wished to protect, or that they are superabundant, and stifle the action of these same rights under the weight of the formalities which they impose upon those rights. The legislation of civilized nations is, in our enlightened age, far from being exempt in this regard from all reproach. There is, on the contrary, not one which is not overburdened with annoying provisions and ill-conceived formalities, prejudicial to the public, and opposed to the very interests which they are intended to serve. How is legislation to be purged of these imperfections? By a more careful and general study of that natural order which political economy reveals and whose conditions it explains. Science has already rendered brilliant services in this direction. To it, above all, is due the relative merit of modern legislation, which, though very imperfect, is still far superior, on the whole, to that in force in the past. It will render still greater services here in the future, and we may hope that the world will be indebted to it, sooner or later, for a system of civil laws exactly appropriate to the real wants of human society.
—But it is not to legislators and governments alone that economic science has useful directions to give. Individuals may consult it with profit for the conduct of their private affairs, at least when these affairs extend beyond a certain limit. Individuals are forced, and more so than legislators and governments, to bend in all things to the industrial order to which they are essentially subordinate. They can scarcely, it is true, trouble it by their acts; for they have not the power to do so; at most, they are able to cause, by their errors or their faults, certain transient and altogether local disturbances in it. But the errors into which they allow themselves to be drawn, become fatal by hurrying them to their own ruin. They have, therefore, the greatest interest to avoid these errors, for on that their personal existence depends. Now, the best means of avoiding these errors is to study the industrial order in its essential constitution, in its natural tendencies and its normal development. If this study is not precisely necessary to the artisan and the retail merchant, who address themselves only to a small number of neighboring consumers, it is almost always necessary to those who work on a large scale, and especially to those who intend to embark in new enterprises. The majority of false steps taken on this road, and the disasters which they involve, when they are not purely the result of negligence or incapacity, arise from false ideas concerning the wants of society and its real tendencies.
—Political economy has often been given names different from that which it usually bears, and there is nothing very astonishing in this, for this name, as we have seen, is not very appropriate to it, and has scarcely any merit but that of having been sanctioned by long usage. Of these names we shall recall but a few. First, as to the present and ordinary name of the science: its origin is very ancient, since it is found at the head of a French treatise dated 1615, due to one Montchrestien de Watteville. The publicists of the school of Quesnay, who perhaps contributed more than others to sanction this ancient title, have nevertheless sometimes substituted another, that of physiocracy, which still serves to designate their school and their doctrine. Adam Smith, who cared more for things than for words, adopted the received titles without examination. J. B. Say, though he also accepted them, did not do so, at least in his later works and in the last editions of his Traité, without repugnance and regret. He would have preferred to be able to give another more fitting name to political economy, and he would have doubtless done so had he not feared to change the ideas of the public as to the real character of his labors. The name which he would have adopted in this case would have been social economy or social physiology, as he has himself declared several times. This last title would seem to us the most proper were it not likely to give rise to troublesome misunderstandings. The word physiology would, in every way, be very appropriate to economic science, since its object is to explain the action of the natural organs of industry. As to the word social, it would not be fitting except in so far as it should be well explained and well understood that the word relates to the great human society and that species of universal association which industrial relations create among men, and in no way to political society, which is only a fraction of that great society. Moreover, the word social has been so much abused in recent years, it has been made to serve as a cloak to so many foolish things, to so many anti-social and anti-human doctrines, that it will perhaps be necessary to avoid its employment for a long time to come.
—Fr. Skarbek has entitled his treatise, "Theory of Social Wealth," another name for political economy, less acceptable than those we have just noted, and which, after all that has preceded, we need not discuss.
—When there was created at the conservatory of arts and trades, at Paris, a chair of political economy, occupied at first by J. B. Say, and subsequently by Blanqui, it was called the chair of industrial economy. It may be that this name of industrial economy, imposed officially on a public chair, borrows from this circumstance a certain value, a certain authority. It has already served as title to a work founded on the first lectures of Blanqui, by two of his disciples.
—Some persons, strangers to the science, have also tried to impose on political economy the name of chrematistics, or other names stranger still. But these ill-sounding titles have never been seriously considered by any economist or even by the public.
—Whatever be the relative or absolute merit of some of these titles which we have passed in review, none has been able, up to the present, to prevail over that which long usage has sanctioned. After all, however incorrect this last may be, when it is considered in its etymological sense, perhaps it is better to adhere to it at least for the present. It is always dangerous, in the case of a science cultivated by so many minds, and in so many places, to alter or change received terms. And what importance has the etymological sense here? It is not the first time that a word has been deflected from its primitive sense, either by usage or by a change in the things themselves to which it refers; and we do not see that people who use it understand it the less on this account. If the future offers an opportunity to change the name which political economy still bears, it will be only when its 'general notions are more fully popularized and explained. The public mind will thus be prepared for the change of name.
[38.]We may use the expression medical sciences, because medicine, the art of healing, is aided by several sciences, specially cultivated for its use: anatomy, physiology, pathology, therapeutics; but we should not say the science of medicine.
[39.]The very real distinction which we establish between science and art has nothing in common with that which, rightly or wrongly, is made between theory and practice. There are theories of art, as there are of science, and it is only of the former that we may say, they are sometimes in opposition to practice. Art dictates rules, but general rules; and it is not unreasonable to suppose that these general rules, though correct, may sometimes disagree with the practice in certain particular instances. But this is not the case with science, which neither ordains, counsels nor prescribes anything, which limits itself to observing and explaining. In what sense, then, can it be in opposition to practice? There is, to our thinking, a double error in the following passage from Rossi: "The school of Quesnay has been too much reproached with its laissez faire, laissez passer. It was pure science." No, it was not pure science; it was art, since it was a maxim, a precept, a rule to follow. As to the maxim itself, although susceptible, like all general rules, of many restrictions in practice, instead of saying, like Rossi, that it approached too nearly the school of Quesnay, we should say that it has not been sufficiently landed, because not sufficiently understood.
[40.]It is, however, proper to remark that these economists do not say precisely that there is no wealth except exchangeable values, but that exchangeable value is the only wealth which political economy can take into account.
- Aquinas on fraudulent dealing
- Atkinson: Protection promotes War - Free Trade promotes Peace
- Bentham on Usury
- Boehm-Bawerk’s Theory of Capital
- Böhm-Bawerk, “On the Completion of Marx’s System (of Thought)” (1896, 1898)
- Böhm-Bawerk, “Zum Abschluß des Marxschen Systems” (1896)
- Cobden’s Speeches on Free Trade
- Cobden: An Appreciation I
- Cobden: An Appreciation II
- Condillac’s Economic Thought
- Coquelin on Competititon
- Coquelin on Industry
- Coquelin on Political Economy
- Demsetz and Property Rights
- Early Republican Economic Policy
- Eugen Richter and the Critique of Socialism
- Famous Economists and Political Philosophers
- Faucher on Property
- Fetter’s Economic Thought
- Friedman on “I, Pencil” & the Invisible Hand
- Friedman on Capitalism and Freedom
- Garnier on the Origin of the Term Laissez-faire
- Garnier on the Physiocrats
- Grampp on the Manchester School of Economics
- Hazlitt, The Future of Capitalism
- Heyne, Economics as a Way of Thinking
- Higgs on the Influence of the Physiocrats
- Hirst on the Manchester School
- Hutt, Reflections on the Keynsian Episode
- Ingram, History of the Early Austrian School of Economics
- Invisible Hand Explanations of Society
- Jasay, The Capitalist State
- Jevons on Richard Cantillon
- Kirzner on the Economic Point of View
- Kirzner, Entrepreneurship & the Market Approach to Development
- Lachmann and the Subjective Paradigm
- Lachmann, The Significance of the Austrian School
- Lalor’s Cyclopedia - 19thC French Political Economy
- Lalor’s Cyclopedia - Preface and Table of Contents
- Marshall on The Growth of Free Industry and Enterprise
- Martineau on Property & Slave Labour
- Martineau’s Primer on Laissez-Faire Economics
- Marx’s Works
- McCulloch on Smuggling
- McCulloch on the Balance of Trade
- McCulloch on the Corn Laws
- O'Driscoll, Spontaneous Order and Coordination
- Polanyi and Spontaneous Ordering
- Political Ideas of the Classical Economists
- Rae on the publication of the Wealth of Nations (1776)
- Richard Cobden’s “I have a Dream” speech (1846)
- Rothbard on the Prehistory of the Austrian School
- Rothbard on the Public Sector
- Say on Colonial Slave Labor
- Say on Markets
- Say on Property Rights
- Selgin on Free Banking
- Sennholz, The Chicago Monetary Tradition
- Sirc, Problems of Economic Resposibility
- Smart on Boehm-Bawerk
- Smart on Wieser’s theory of value
- The Economic and Ethical Thought of Paul Heyne
- The Manchester School of Economics by William Grampp
- Tullock and Scientific Inquiry
- Tullock, Application of Economics in Biology
- Viner on International Trade
- Walker on Public Revenue (1899)
- Walker on the Wage Fund (1899)
- Walker on Wages (1899)
- Wicksteed on the Psychology of Choice
- Yeager & Smith on Central Banking