PROF. BONAMY PRICE ON POLITICAL ECONOMY.*
WHEN we say of Mr. Price that he is far more of the "teacher," in the best sense of the word, than of the " professor," as people generally understand that term, we pay him, in our judgment, the highest compliment in our power. At the same time, there is here involved a caution for those who read the book he has just published,—the exact wording of the title-page must be borne in mind. These chapters are " the substance of lectures delivered at Oxford," and delivered, be it always remembered, to under- graduates, who as a rule, when they commence attendance on lectures of this kind, have had just time enough to varnish over their total ignorance of real social phenomena with a transparent coating of sounding phrases. Such a person the great teacher of economics will not attack with learned and elaborate disquisition ; he must take him by the hand, and lead him forth amongst his fellow-men, and help him to use his own eyes and gather wisdom crumb by crumb. He must shatter with unflinching sternness his misguiding acquirements of crack jaw technicalities, he must seat him at Nature's feet, and by his example win him to watch her countenance with patient reverence, in humble hope to read her riddles. This we maintain to be in every sense the scientific method of first approaching political economy, and in holding this view-it will appear that we differ tote ccelo from Professor Bonamy Price in his use of the word scientific. That treatment of political economy to which he takes exception we should prefer to call the disquisitional, and there can be no doubt that most of the sorrows of Professor Price over the decline in the authority of political economy are truly traced by him to that method, and are only too well justified by facts. " I do not know whether you would call that political economy, but I am sure it is common-sense," is an expression which an economist may now have addressed to him at any hour of any day, not merely by the uneducated, but by men of trained intelligence. And this, as Mr. Bonamy Price remarks, is a very grave matter. It is time something were done to restore the credit with the popular mind which political economy seems to be losing. And we fully agree with our author that political economy ought not to be called a science, at any rate not yet ; but when he proceeds to tell of a mass of facts surrounding our every-day life, in the investigation of which lie "supposes the strictly scientific method to be a mistake," when he rules that " men take a shorter and a far clearer path through their own observations than through the tangled jungle of scientific refinements," we are not only unable to follow, but almost at a loss to understand. We submit that there seems here to be a confusion between science and scientific method. Facts when collected may not amount to a science, but to collect facts to any purpose, you must surely be scientific in your methods of procedure. It is possible to be scientific without being recondite. Professor Huxley can lecture to children. And it appears to us that for restoring the authority of political economy, an attack on scientific method is the last thing needed ; rather is it neces- sary to show men that " their own observations," ever trusted, but ever questioned, constitute the true scientific method of handling the facts of human life. And'we much regret that Pro- fessor Price has, as we think, confounded science with long Chapters on Pt adical Political Economy: being the Substance of Lectures Veneered in the Unirersity of Oxford. By Bonamy Price, Professor of Political Beenomy in the 'University of Oxford. London: C. Kagan Paul and Co. 1878. words, and by joining in an outcry against scientific refinements, let slip the opportunity, of which we believe him to have had a better grasp than almost any other living man, of bringing economical science down from the cold regions of abstractions, and seating her, a respected guest, by the hearthstones of ordinary men. It is of the very utmost importance, now, in view of many social questions, that " unscientific " should be felt to be the very hardest reproach that can assail any man's, even the moat ordi- nary man's, procedure. To this end, we must know clearly what we mean by " scientific ;" we must define the word, which 'Mr. Price has nowhere done. And without attempting now any strict definition of so formidable a term, we would ask Professor Price to reconsider his decision, and see whether he cannot consent to bring his almost unequalled powers of homely language and brilliant illustration to bear in teaching men that that only is science which begins with the interrogation of Nature, spreading her facts generously before the patient eye, and smiling at, even whilst she uses, all preconceived hypotheses. The conditions which nature has imposed upon men for being scientific appear to us to be few, and oddly enough, rather moral than intellectual, as thus,—' You shall begin at the beginning, which is the noting of facts as they are, not as you wish them to be ; you shall not be impatient ; you shall be intellectually honest ; and being your- self so small, you shall despise no fact for its smallness.' These conditions are well complied with in the teaching of Professor Price. Why, then, does he repudiate with anger the epithet scientific?
There is another matter yet where we are at variance with our author. When from political economy he passes over to poli- tical philosophy, we find him not only, as it seems to us, para- doxical, but even self-contradictory. On page 170 he allows to the individual absolutely no rights at all :—" No man can say to the State to which he belongs, 'I claim, on the ground of personal right given to me by the Creator, to do this, and I forbid you to do that in respect of me.' Every man is embodied in his own people ; he must share their fortunes, and be involved in their acts ; and their acts are finally and necessarily determined by the will of the whole society, as expressed by its laws." This seems bold, on the face of it, for it allows of society stamping out all liberty of thought and discussion. Thought cannot be put in chains, but tongues can be stopped, and no man can say, "I claim " to speak. No persecuted or even unpopular religion has any claims to existence ; the Apostles might of right have been silenced amongst the Jews. In the presence of such a sentence as this, we felt almost inclined to borrow from Mr. Price himself the form of his reproach of Mr. Mill with regard to Protection, and to doubt whether it may not do more harm than all the rest of his teachings can do good. If there be no right of free speech and free writing for all honest and careful thought, our fathers have vainly suffered to rear, not English liberty, but the baseless fabric of a vision, and English life is no longer worth the living to any Englishman cursed with brains. Let not, however, those rejoice too soon whose vocabulary classes thinkers together as "a Radical lot." They need only turn over one leaf to find, on p. 172, their hopes of Mr. Price's powerful alliance dashed to the ground :—" Com- munism is entitled to declare that property is a mischievous insti- tution, and to call for its abolition." Nay, more strongly yet :— " Communism is bound to persuade society that property is in- expedient, or injurious to the happiness of mankind." Again, on p. 177, speaking of the Socialists :—" They have the clearest right to urge their views ; let their advice be calmly
refuted or accepted." The italics are our own, and they seem to us to convey as flat a contradiction of the passage above quoted as it would well be possible to con- coct in words, and to enunciate a noble principle for which Mill so earnestly contended,—that as man is not made to live alone, so neither should he think alone ; that it is as much a duty as an incontestable right to publish all honest conviction, in the highest interests of our fellow-men, to whom silence is a loss and speech a gain, however fallacious the speaker's arguments may be. " A man may explain and urge, but society is the sole arbiter of what is to be instituted." That is the truth of the matter, in Professor Price's own words ; we would urge him to reconstruct a passage which does not, as we think, convey his real opinion, but which is fated to be misapplied, to the damage, so far as an individual's authority goes, of some of the highest of human interests.
But when we turn to consider Professor Price in his more peculiar character of an economist and teacher of economy, we have no more objections,—all is pure pleasure. We do not mean
to say that these lectures form in any way a complete treatment of the subjects with which they deal. We do not, for instance, expect the treatment of so vast a question as Free-trade to be ex- haustive within the limits of a single chapter. None would be more ready than Professor Price to deride the possibility of such an achievement. But the analysis of facts is performed through- out with that charm of ease which follows the master's touch. Lectures, in the ordinary sense, it is well known Professor Price never delivers. His instruction is formed on the model of all the greatest teachers, from Socrates downwards, in being essentially catechetical. And reading this last work, we are more than ever impressed with a doubt whether the Professor could deliver a lecture. We sincerely hope not ; it would be a grand thing for
Oxford to have one teacher incapable of being dreary. And dreari- ness unutterable does overtake a great subject when pounded down into lectures concocted, so far as fervour of style goes, on
the model of Bradshaw, and read in muffled monotone to five "class-men" in an echoing hall. We would not willingly be
thought to be sensation-hunting in education. Heaven forbid! But we submit that that only is education which educates the whole man, and we fear the emotional side of human nature is too often left untrained. To be, then, a great educator, a man must of necessity (we shudder as we write the heresy) have great com- mand of rhetoric. Wide knowledge is the gift of years, and experience may bestow an ant-like patience. But the educator ,oust be born, not made, who has intellect to trace phenomena to their very earliest principles ; patience to begin, where nature bids him, at the simplest of simple facts, and tirelessly to repeat and illustrate till conviction forces itself upon the learners' minds ; and then, to crown all, eloquence to speak to men, not in words alone, but with eye and voice, and carve his facts upon the human heart. Such a one sends forth into the world, not pupils, but disciples. And to this shape the teaching of Mr. Price conforms very closely, as will be clearly seen, on comparison of his treat- ment of some questions with their exposition in Mill's great work. Thus on private property, Mr. Mill says :—
" Private property as an institution did not owe its origin to any of those considerations of utility which plead for the maintenance of it when established. Enough is known of rude ages, both from history and from analogous states of society in our own time, to show that tribunals (which always precede laws) were originally established, not to determine rights, but to repress violence and terminate quarrels. With this object chiefly in view, they naturally enough gave legal effect to first occupancy, by treating as the aggressor the person who first commenced violence, by turning or attempting to turn another out of possession. The preservation of the peace, which was the original object of civil government, was thus attained ; while by confirming to those who already possessed it, even what was not the fruit of personal exertion, a guarantee was incidentally given to them and others that they would be protected in what was so_"
This is no doubt excellent and accurate, but it was written with no view to the instruction of pupils, but for such per-centage
of the general reading public as can understand it. It may be read and approved, but it would strike no spark in the class- room. With it compare the following :—" The universality of the existence of property in every age and every land, throughout the varied history of the human race, is by itself alone decisive. The instinct thus revealed is proved to be rooted in the very essence of human nature. The baby clutches the toy as his own. I made it and it is mine, is a sentiment which asserts property in every human soul." We have here the statement of the teacher, as distinguished from the language of the philosopher, the one excelling in calm- ness, the other in force. We may remark in passing that Mr. Price might have even gone further than to the baby ; a dog that would not attempt to snatch a bone from another dog will fight bravely to defend his own. Unquestionably, the notion of property has become an instinct by hereditary transmission.
There is, however, no lack of carefully elaborated pieces of work in this book. The second chapter is devoted to a considera- tion of one of the greatest difficulties in political economy,—the meaning of the word " value." Volumes might be filled with the discussions about this word, and as is well known, more than one economist of repute has been forced to give it up altogether. The precise difficulty seems not so much to have lain in finding a working definition, as in really explaining the source whence value sprang, and in framing a meaning which should clearly distinguish value from price,—the thing itself, from the measure of it. And here we may notice a remark made by Professor Cairnes, in his Logical Method of Political Economy :—"Let any one follow the course of proof in any actual case, and I think he will find that, in order to the right conduct of the ratiocination, by much the most important condition is, that in each step of the argument the reasoner should keep as fully as possible before him the actual concrete circumstances denoted by the terms he employs." And here has been the very core of the difficulty ; the concrete circumstances wereapt represented in the definitions of the economists. It was easy to explain the ordinary cases of economic value, by tracing them, truly enough, to the original cost of production,—the value of a thing being the result of the amount of labour and abstinence applied to the making of it. But even here a confusion is easily made between value and price. The labour and abstinence, it is said, fix the value : and the question arises, " Whose labour and abstinence?" The answer here must be, not the labour spent by the producer, but the labour saved by the consumer. And not only the labour, but the distastefulness of the work, is also saved, and the saving enters into the value. We here see the entry of certain states of feeling into the question, and the importance of this comes out more clearly yet in various anomalous cases. Take bribery at an election, for instance. The man who refuses his vote at £4, but sells it at £5, values his political honesty at something between the two figures, but the value is not the £5, the price of the vote, but is the feeling which the £5 just overcomes. And there are so many things we value highly, but which have no price in any market. Such things you may exclude from political economy ; you may allow only of value in exchange as coming under economic investigation ; but under the danger that you thus separate your terminology from concrete phenomena, and are very apt to miss the central truth. The fact is that to under- stand the substantive value, it must be translated into the verb to value. The old jingle, "The worth of a thing is what it will bring," originally a satire, has been translated into more precise terms by economist after economist, always with the signal defect that all men knew of things valuable to them, but which if sold would bring nothing. We have all seen advertised, "Lost, a pocket- book, containing papers of no value to any one but the owner," who yet offers a large reward for their recovery. Aud such value was omitted from the definitions given in all the treatises, even in that of Mill. The value of having my chimney swept, in a town where there is only one available sweep, is just what I will give rather than do it myself, or run the risk of a fire, and in this expression " rather than" lies the secret of Professor Price's explanation. It is, in the supposed case, my feeling, my estimate of the disagreeableness of the job. " The word value,' " says Mr. Price, " expresses a feeling, a sense of attachment, of affection for a thing, a caring for it, a desire to possess it, an in- tention, more or less strong, to retain it in possession." There can be no doubt that this description avoids the error pointed out by Professor Jevons in all the previous definitions, the error of substituting the measure of value for the value itself. It also covers all cases of what Adam Smith calls "value in use;" whilst value in exchange or measure of value, in the sense of the amount of commodities an article will command in the market, flows naturally as a consequence from this value in the feeling of the possessor. We confess we see at present neither answer nor objection to this analysis, and should none be found, a very great benefit will have been conferred upon political economy.
How far this solution is entirely original will probably be a subject of discussion. Many have certainly been very near to it. Words are quoted from Professor Jevons in this very chapter which show how he sees the defects of the current definitions, and puts his finger on the weakest spot. But it would be hard to prove that a previous economist has defined value, in so many words, as a mental state. We would suggest that perhaps " value " and " demand " may be well arranged as complemen- tary terms, or inverse functions, as it were, of each other ; demand being the wish to acquire, coupled with the ability to buy, and value the wish to retain, coupled with the absence of necessity to sell.
We must not omit to notice a very instructive correspondence, printed as an appendix to the present work, between the Professor and Mr. Henry Mucks Gibbs, Ex-Governor of the Bank of England. These letters concern the question of the Bank Reserve, and are delightful in many ways, two able men " pelting each other with chaff before the public," as Mr. Price puts it. One thing we note,—Mr. Price says to his opponent, " You make gibes on my caligraphy, but you would be surprised, if you saw any proof sent to me, how perfectly well compositors read it." This being so, we regret that this volume should contain so many uncorrected errors of the press.