« PreviousContinue »
nomy. Difficult as the task may be, we may well hope thus to obtain at last a distinct view of the laws, according to which the produce of their land and labor is divided among the several classes which compose communities of men, under all their varieties of form and circumstances, and of the extent to which the influence of peculiar modes of that division is felt, when reacting on the productive powers, as well as on the political and moral character and structure of nations.
Nor ought the passing theories, which have successively been adopted and disappeared on these branches of political economy, to daunt our hopes for the future. There has obviously been repeated here an error, which has been committed so frequently in the pursuit of other objects of human attainment, that the very effort of exposing it has become wearisome. The warning voice of the great prophet of that wisdom which man earns as " the servant and interpreter of nature,” has again been raised in vain. Men have preferred the way of anticipation to that of induction”; they have shrunk from the inevitable conditions, the appointed labors, by which knowledge can alone be safely acquired; in their effort to establish general princi
1 Nov. Org. Ap. 1. 2 Nov. Org. Ap. 26. to 30. and passim.
ples, they have quitted too soon the duty of dwelling long and humbly among things, that they might prematurely take up the more fascinating employment of laying down those maxims of imposing generality, which seem to elevate the enquirer at once into the legislator of his subject, and gift him, as if by some sudden manifestation of intellectual power, with an instant command over its remotest details.
Truth has been missed therefore, not because a steady and comprehensive survey of the story and condition of mankind would not yield truth, even on this intricate subject, but because those who have been the most prominent in circulating error, have really turned aside from the task of going through such an examination at all: have confined the observations on which they founded their reasonings, to the small portion of the earth's surface by which they were immediately surrounded; and have then proceeded at once to erect a superstructure of doctrines and opinions, either wholly false, or, if partially true, as limited in their application as was the field from which the materials for them were collected'.
1 An instance of this which looks almost like wilfulness (relating however to a doctrine of inferior importance) occurs in a little work on political economy by M. Destutt de Tracy, a metaphysical writer of deserved eminence in his own department of literature. It is curious, because the fault is ushered in by
The work of which the following pages form a part, has been constructed on a different plan, with more humble pretensions, and with an aim less lofty, though it is hoped not less useful, than that of those who begin by laying down axioms which command the whole subject. My object has been to get a sight of the principles, which govern the distribution of the wealth annually produced by the lands and labor of the human race; and of the effects produced by the action of those principles among bodies of men existing under different circumstances. And this I have endeavoured to do, under the guidance of an abiding assurance, that the experience of the past and present, can alone, on such a subject, afford any sure foundations for anticipations as to the future.
a formula which seems meant to serve for its justification in that and all similar cases. After stating his individual experience, as a proprietor in different parts of France, he says, “quand on a “ ainsi un champ suffisant d'observations, ou gagne plus à les “approfoudir qu'à les étendre;" and then upon the str
strength of a maxim so consolatory to indolent speculators, he proceeds to announce as an universal law, that métayer cultivation is peculiar to bad soils, “c'est le propre des mauvais pays," a position, the utter fallacy of which must have become immediately apparent to M. Destutt de Tracy, or indeed to any inquirer very much his inferior, if he had luckily adopted the plan of extending his observations to other districts, countries, or times, instead of that of speculating profoundly upon a limited stock of facts. Traité D'Economie Politique Par M. Le Comte Destutt de Tracy, &c. pp. 122, 123. and note. What M. de Tracy has done in one point, others have done in whole systems, as we shall see.
I have begun by analysing rents, because a small progress in this subject was sufficient to shew, that the greater part of the nations of the earth are still in that state which is properly called agricultural; that is, in which the bulk of their population depends wholly on agriculture for subsistence: and because in this state of society, the relations between the proprietors of the soil and its occupiers determine the details of the condition of the majority of the people, and the spirit and forms of their political institutions. While tracing the circumstances to which rents owe their origin, or those by which they are affected in their progress, there have been first marked out and examined a few extensive and very distinct classes of tenantry, into which the occupiers of the cultivated surface of the globe soon shew themselves to be divided. An endeavour has next been made to throw light on the forms and conditions of the contract between the proprietors and the cultivators, which are peculiar to each of these classes, and on their distinct effects in the societies in which they prevail, whether economical, political or moral. While travelling through this wide examination, some important principles have been developed, which are applicable to the whole mass of rents taken in the most general point of view.
The next, and yet more important division of the annual produce, is that which is consumed as the wages of labor: and it is taken in the second, instead of in the first place, only because a clear perception of the causes which affect the amount of the remuneration received by the majority of the laborers in the world, (the peasant cultivators,) can only be attained after a survey of the forms and conditions of the various rents they pay.
In enquiring into wages, I have begun by appealing to the experience of the past and present to teach, first, what are the funds which support the laboring population of the globe: secondly, what are the laws by which the numbers of those who are to share those funds are determined.
Uniting the results of these two branches of enquiry, we may attain from them a knowledge of the circumstances which determine the condition and prospects of those various and distinct classes of laborers, which a careful view of the whole surface of human society brings before our notice.
Enumerating first the funds from which labor is supported, it has been shewn that they are various and different, and that of these various funds, that which is saved from income, and is most appropriately called capital, is only one and the least.
In approaching the subject of the numbers of those who are to share these funds, the whole