THE WEALTH OF NATIONS ILLUSTRATED BY THE AUTHOR OF ENGLAND
IT might be said with little exaggeration, that the chief utility of modern Writers on Political Economy has been to enable the stu- dent more fully to understand the great work of AnAM SMITH.
When the first intoxication of novelty has worn off, and the mind is at leisure to compare the theory of the dogmatist with existing facts, And to meditate upon both, the most ingenious discoveries which SMITH'S successors have hitherto made are found to be only true to the extent asserted in the assumed hypothetical condition, but exaggerated or false when applied to time world around us. The celebrated doctrine of Rent may afford an instance of this. On
its first economical propagation by WEST and MALTHUS, there
was a general shout of Eureka. Rent became as repulsive to the economist as it was attractive to the landlord. The " decreasing fertility was the bugbear used to frighten states withal; the land- owners were held up as a caste whose interests were naturally and necessarily upposed to that of all the rest of the community ; and it was suggested, inter alia, to abolish the class, to make one great landlord of the state, and to apply rent to the purposes of taxes. This philosophical delusion lasted fur sonic years; but its practical truth saute to be gradually questioned. Experience, observation, and reflection taught people, that theme were many other elements in rent besides fertility of soil alone. The first reclaimer of the land %rill have a ',rola on the capital Ise expends in reclaiming it so as to render it capable of being cultivated ; and the greater the fer- tility of the soil (creative of high prat s), the higher will this prgfit- rent be. Land, again, which is situated near a market, or is in- tersected by good roads or by water-ways, was seen to be of more value than land of a greater fertility tvithont these advantages ; and hence another element, in site or ground-rent. It was also remembered, that by means of a lavish expenditure, the natural qualities of the soil could lie greatly increased ; and here was an im- proved-rent,—beneficial, no doubt, to the public, though mostly injurious or ruinous to the improver. From all which it was deduced, that the mere natural difference its the fertility of soils was, practically, only one, and not always the most important, element of rent ; and that the celebrated exposition of the subject in the Wealth of Nations is, in the main, just and true. But it was soon seen that, apart from any question of rent, either with respect to its elements or its recipients, important consequences flowed from this doctrine of decreasing fertility, both as regarded the wages of the labourer and the profits of thecapitalist. When the most fertile soils alone were cultivated, and no landlord took away any part of the produce, it all, of course, remained to be divided between the labourers and their employer, and the share of each would be great. As increasing numbers rendered it necessary to draw subsistence from soils of decreasing fertility, the landlord would come in for a lion's share, and that of the productive classes would be less and less. It was held that ADAM SMITH, not having clearly perceived the laws which regu- late rent, was mistaken in his opinions on profits; whose gradual fall with the advance of society he attributed to " competition;" whereas, according to the new school, it arose from the decreasing productiveness of industry. This opinion of Mr. M'CuLtoca's is ably combated in the Notes to the edition before us ; yet the strongest passage perhaps has been overlooked by the Commentator. If any one, with all the lights of the successive discussions upon the subject, were required to trace time progress and point out the cause of the decline of profits, it would be difficult to do it with more comprehension, exactness, and felicity, than in these words—
High wages of labour and high profits of stock, however, are things, perhaps, which scarce ever go together, except in the peculiar circumstances of new colonies. A new colony must always for some time be more understocked in proportion to the extent of its territory, and more underpeopled in proportion to
the extent of its stock, than the greater part of ether countries. They have more land than they have stock to cultivate. What they have, therefore, is applied to the cultivation only of what is most fertile and most favourably situatcd,—the land mete the sea-shore and along the banks of navigable rivers. Such land, too, is frequently purchased at a price below the value teen of its na- tural produce. Stock employed in the purchase and improvement of such lands must yield a very large prutit, and consequently afford to pay a very large in- terest. Its rapid accumulation in so prctitable an employment enables the plan- ter to increase the number of his hawk faster than he can find them in a new settlement. Those whom he can find, therefore, are very liberally rewarded. As the colony increases, the profits of stock gradually diminish. When the most fertile and best situalcd lands leave been oil occupied, less profit can be made by the cultivation if what is inferior both in soil and situation, and less interest can be afforded for the stock which is so employed.
If the causes of the extraordinary excellence in the Wealth of Nations be sought after, they will be found various. Much belongs to the wonderful genius and intuitive sagacity of its author's mind ; a good deal to the time and care employed in its production, for nearly half a life was spent in accumulating the materials, and ten years of studious retirement were gi‘ en to its execution. The greater soundness of its doctrinal truths is, however, perhaps attributable to the mode of their discovery : ADAM SMITH observed and reflected—his successors, for the most part, speculate; he analyzed the existent—they " imagine a vain thing." Is it meant to infer that commentators are useless ? By no means. They are most serviceable. Whether the author designedly gave in a chapter the results of a volume, leaving it to future ages to write disquisitional volumes upon the points involved,—or whether his extraordinary sagacity enabled him from the observation of timings existing unconsciously to hit upon their latent and essen- tial truths,—it is sufficient for us to know that be has an esoteric and an exoteric meaning. Bating perhaps time fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of the first book, and the "Disquisitions" in the first and second books, the most romantic lady with a grain of sense would read the Wealth of Nations with pleasure ; for
she would have an expositiol of a new and most delightful study, that would eat and her interect and open up a new field of observath n, as well as enlighten her on the means by which
every luxury that surrounded her was produced, whilst it in- structed her how to use and how to apply the facts of his- tory. But mere reading would not. in many places, acquaint her with the cryptical meaning of her author. ADAM SMITH
may be sa:d to have vivified an abstract science, and to have clothed it with a living form. The proportions, the colour,
and the life of the figure, will yield pleasure; but it is, so to spt ah, only after a dissection that we can understand the wonders of its construction. Tie modern writers on politiell economy are the physiologists and anatomists of the Wealth of Nations : the authors arc entitled to the praise of ingenuity and in- dustry; their labours will advance the interests and increase the knowledge of mankind ; but their doctrines should be received with caution, and they themselves be considered perhaps as ex- positors lather than improvers.. Holding thee opinions, it is hardly necessary to say that we wel- come a new edition of the Wealth of Nations; especially when we know by former experience that the editor is a person of sagacity and observation, who, though not affecting to undervalue his own discover'es, is evidently an admirer and defender of Ansm SMITH. He is a'sto an economist wl:o is versed in the original text, and competently acquainted with all that has been written upon the science einoe the decease of its founder ; a person, moreover, who is indisposed to submit to mere authority, however respectable, and who holds, like his great master, that all hypothetical specu- lations are to be received with caution, and tiled by the test of experience.
In a new edition of a standard work, the first questien relates to its mote mechanical and soleeted parts. The size, appearance, and typographical character of the volume before us, are similar to the popu'ar editions of BYRON and CR A ISBE ; and are at once elegant and handy —adapted alike fir the pocket, the boudoir-table, or the library-shelves. The chief borrowed accessories to the text, are the Life of the Author by DUG.tLD STEWART, and GARNIER'S View of the Doctrine of SMITH, and the analysis be which he es:dem-ours to faci!itate the study of the work. The leading objeets of the editor, in his original communications, are four. (1.) To defend those positions of the author which have been considered erroneous, and heave to exhibit incidentally a sufficient idea of the new school of political economy ; (2.) To correct what he himself deems the mistakes or oversights of ADAM SMITH ; (3.) To warn the student against implicit reliance upon all the doctrines of political economy, for it is a science which he consid. is yet in its infancy ; (h.) To apply some of those doctrines with a view to discover the econo- mical evils under which we labour, and to poiot out the remedies. Upon the whole of these points, a decision cannot be passed till the couclusion of the work. In the pre‘en t toluene, the indepeedent Notes relate chiefly to the two first objects, and principally regard the Rates of Wages and Plats, the Nature of Value and Ex- change, and the Division of Labour ; and on these our judgment must be general. In the last subject, our author would substitute "employments" for "labour," and use the term " combination " instead of "division of labour." The difference is chiefly one of terms, as ADAM SMITH and his followers evidently thought it, for they frequently vary the expression so as to express all that our Commentator expesses; but lie is entitled to the high praise of enabling us more clearly to understand the original discovery, of expanding it with skill, and illustrating by existing historical facts the uses to which it may still be applied. Without actually deciding the difficult question of Value, he inclines to the view of SMITH. Under the head of Exchanges, be takes up the subject where his author left off; and, without attempting to exhaust it, en- deavours to trace the origin ef exchanging to an innate propensity of acquisition in man, and shows that " money " is a very small ele- ment in its nature. Of his views on Profits ue have already spoken. Upon Wages he likewise maintains the doctrine of SMITH ; and from the combined principles of the two, he proceeds to show that the root of all the economical evils which now afflict us, is the want of a field in which to employ our. superabundant capital and labour. It may be tided, that the new annotations have more of reason and less of dogmatism in them, than has lately been exhi- bited in r o'itical economy ; resembling in this quality the work illustrated,and being traceable probably to a similar cause—a wider survey of history and of life.
To the reader who remembers our copious extracts from England and America, little needs be said as regards the forcible style or the Commentator. On the present occasion it has been— and with advantage—somewhat subdued. Though pressed for room, we will give a specimen. It is from his darling subject— Combination of Labour : and the tenour of the argument is to show, that where great dispersion of labour takes place, not only economical, but psjehological results are produced, affecting the soul as well as the body.
The division of landed property, or any other cause that produces a matinute suOdivision of labour, tends to check the intellectual and moral improve- ment of the people who are subject to it. When a man is not in any degree musted by other men, he cannot live except by cultivating the earth: if the whole labour of a society were divided into fractions as numerous as the p ople, all the people must necessarily be producers of food, since there would be com- bination of labour, or cooperation, if any one should produce food for another. There never was a society, probably, which had advanced beyond the hunting state, and yet subsisted without any cooperation amongst its members ; but there are Loge masses of people, in different parts of the world, whose mode of bolding land tends to make every one of them a cultivator. In a great part of France, such is the tendency of the law of division ; and the mole of letting land in Ireland has a similar tendency. In Turkey, and in many parts of Chins, the laws relating to property in land, or mime other cause or causes, pro. duce a similar result. relating wherever this tendency exists, a large proportion of the people are necessarily engaged in the very same pursuits ; each labourer, or at most each labourer's family, cultivates the ground with a view to :Again. ing food for each family, and pursues some other occupations which are alike, or nearly alike, for all the families. All the .people, it follows, are, or rather would he, under this extreme supposition, precisely like one another : in actual ears it is only a very large proportion of time people wimp are precisely like one another. hut as the number of people who follow occupations different front those of the majority, and different from each other, beaus a small proportion to the majority, the whole people may be said to be, what it is obvious that the majority must be, extremely monotonous. As knowledge mines by com- parison, and the means of comparison are in proportion to variety, a moms tonous people arc necessarily dull and ignorant.
After quoting ADAM Smisith exposition of the principle, and Illestooetes illustratioo of its truth, as regards Forme, he con- tinues—
Monotony, ignorance, and stagnation, ale, in like manner, the characteristics of the great majority of the people in Ireland, Tom key, and China. In all those countries, as well as France, the greater part of society consists of a
mere multiplication of one gtower of food. Snell monotonous, ignorant, and stagnant masses, in which whatever affects one man affects all in the sane way, are well suited to be governed by one central, and, as regards them, wholly irresponsible authority. At the present time, a single man leads or governs the greater part of the bush people, those of them who are precisely like each other, as if he hold them all by one unbroken string. T he facility with which the central and irresponsible governments of China, Turkey, and France, are carried on as well as the passionate Lot unreasoning love of equality which in Tin key and France, at least, seems to lie not inconsistent with a slavish respect for the worst kind of authority, may he flared, it would appear, to the operation of causes in po- litical economy. Here is one proof amongst many, that political economy is not, as it has been termed by a modern poet and novelist of ieputation, a " material science :" it is a science which relates to the intellectual and metal condition of nations, as well as to their physical enjoyments; to philosophy in general, as well as to the useful arts; to the state of literature, as well as of inamifictures; to the character of men and of governments, as well as to objects of a purely mate- rial kind. This is the useful conclusion alit may be drawn ft OM the above in. quirt'; for if it were generally admitted to be true, the first chapter in time book of science would be given to political economy.
When JOHNSON put forth his cummentary on Shot:mane, he advised his readers to peruse the text right on, without regard to the notes, and never to consult them but where they felt the want of them. Similar advice as respects the if "ea lth of Nations would not be altogether judicious; for it is not so much minor obscurities which want explaining, as the coming out of principles to their full extent, and the di-covery of truth be the ce!lisien of opinions, which are required. The billowing moae of study, however, may be safely recommended,--with the exceptions already mentioned, read the text Only; then peruse the w hole with a commentary, front which the mooted points will be discovered; and the student, if desirous of ouing further, will learn what course take. And it would bit well to carry these precepts in his memory,— however conclusive the opposing doctrine may seem, let him still keep his mind open to fresh lights and' further convietien; when- ever lie doubts, let him decide in favour of ADAM' SMITH; and when lie cannot read or cannot uielerstand his opposers or expo- sitors, let him return to them at a future occasion.