Imágenes de página
[ocr errors]

We are far from intending by this remark to depreciate the merit of the work before us; but however useful simplicity of theory may be to establish sound principles, it has the natural effect of fixing the attention too exclusively on some one of the many co-operating or contending powers in the mechanism of society, and among many necessarily co-existing causes to conşider one only as essential, and all the others as contingent and subordinate.

Theoretic investigations of particular topics are a sort of useful division of labour in preparing philosophical instruments for the practical politician, and as such we very highly esteem them; but if without estimating their respective powers, or considering the probable effects of their compound operation, the practical politician looks to the agency of one of them only, and forms his plans on so contracted a principle, the chances are that he will fail of success, or if he should succeed, it would not be art but empiricism.

As far, therefore, as the attention we wish to bestow on Professor Hamilton's work will allow us room for collateral remarks, we mean to take a wider view of the subject than he has done, which


enable us to point out more clearly the reasons why we can by no means join in his almost general disapprobațion of the plans which for many years past have been adopted or modified, in creating our funded debt, and in attempting to redeem it.

We therefore request the attention of our readers to the following important circumstances of comparison between the state of England now, after more than twenty years of almost uninterrupted war, and in 1714, when the Peace of Utrecht terminated a contest which had lasted from 1689, with four years. cessation. The same cause of hostility has already extended the present wars, considered as one political era, to nearly the length of the two former, considered in the same manner. 1. From 1714 to the present time the population of England

and Wales has somewhat more than doubled. 2. The increase of real wealth has certainly been greater than

of the population. 3. The average increase of money prices has been threefold.

When we have explained the chief causes of these very great changes in the state of this part of the British empire, we mean to apply them in examining the causes of the progress of the public debt of this country, and its successive proportions to the private revenue, by which, through the medium of government, and by means of taxation, its interest is paid.

The recent enumerations and revised returns of the parochial registers, enable us to ascertain with considerable precision, that during this interval of almost an hundred years the population of England and Wales has somewhat more than doubled. In 1710 it was about 5,240,000, and had been decreasing.-In 1811 it was about 10,488,000, and rapidly increasing.

The causes of this great increase have, without doubt, been chiefly various ameliorations in the state of the lower orders of the people, and more especially of late years. Much has been gained by medical improvements, but much more by the effect of the poor laws; a system, of which the present magnitude and internal principle of increase cannot be contemplated without alarm as to its ultimate consequences, but which, as now practically employed, certainly promotes early marriages, preserves helpless infancy, makes sickness less fatal, and prolongs old age. Add to this, that during the whole period, hardly any of the extraordinary checks to the increase of mankind have existed in this country. It has suffered very little from civil war; not at all from pestilence; and during many years, the influx of inhabitants has probably equalled, if not exceeded, the emigrations.

The progress, in this respect, of the other parts of the united kingdoms, cannot be computed with equal precision; but there are very safe grounds for asserting, that if in Scotland it has been somewhat more slow, it has been far niore rapid in Ireland, and that, on the whole, the total numbers have much more than doubled.

It is easy to shew that this increase of numbers has been accompanied by even a greater increase of intrinsic wealth and sources of private revenue. During the period included in these remarks, habitations, furniture, implements, &c. have been progressively provided for the additional families; all are, undoubtedly, in these respects, better provided than an hundred years ago; and therefore this part of our intrinsic wealth has much more than doubled.

As to territorial and other productions which require to be constantly replaced, in proportion to their constant consumption, the circumstances have been somewhat different. While the increase of provisions has been somewhat less than in proportion to the additional population, that of all other territorial produce from mines, &c. has far exceeded it, and the produce of manufacturing labour not only creates an abundantly greater surplus beyond the consumption of a duplicate number, but having been more and more aided by the invention and general use of artificial facilities of production, the means of augmenting the quantity are in the duplicate proportion of the labour of the additional numbers, together with that of the augmented means by which their labour is assisted.'

During the earlier part of this period, it appears from the returns of the parochial registers, confirmed by abundant other proof, that the increase of inhabitants was chiefly agricultural, producing, till after the middle of the last century, an increasing surplus of provisions; since that time the increase has been very much greater in towns and manufacturing districts. While, therefore, the surplus of the productions of all kinds of the latter proportion of the people, aided by constantly increasing and improving facilities, has increased to a wonderful extent, the agricultural produce has become inadequate to the necessities of the nation; and since this deficiency of the necessaries of life could only be supplied by an exchange with foreign nations of the surplus of manufactures, however great that surplus might become, and however adequate in value to supply what is wanted, yet the political inconvenience is manifest.

The profit of labour to the employer is the general cause of such fluctuations; and heré, in England, the peculiar cause of the change already stated has, without doubt, been this—that the facilities which obtain a greater produce from an equal quantity of human labour, increased more rapidly as applied to manufactures than to agriculture, At present, various causes which we cannot allow ourselves space to explain, are evidently co-operating to equalize the profit of agricultural and manufacturing labour, and perhaps even to make the former preponderate; and we have good reason to hope that the political inconvenience before mentioned will gradually, though perhaps slowly, be removed.

It will hereafter be shewn how an increase of population and of profit to its employers operate very powerfully to increase the money price of all that is necessary for general consumption; or, according to an equivalent expression, to diminish the value of money.

A few words, however, may now be added on the peculiar nature and effects of that portion of national wealth which exists in the means of facilitating production; that is, of obtaining a greater quantity by an equal employment of human labour.

In the progress of civil society the labour of mankind has four distinct objects: to provide things of which the necessity or utility arise in their consumption; as, for instance, food, and which must therefore be constantly reproduced :-to provide durable necessaries and conveniences; as, habitations, &c. which require a less proportion of annual labour to perpetuate than to create :-to provide the instruments, and various artificial means, by which either the two former may be obtained in greater abundance and better, or in equal and sufficient abundance with a less quantity of labour :--to provide for defence, which too often degenerates into aggression, but which becomes more systematic, and more distinctly a separate division of labour, whether employed for civil or military purposes, in proportion to the improved state of society, not only in the country itself, but in all others with which it is politically connected.

It is very obvious, that in proportion as fewer hands are wanted for the first-mentioned purposes, more will be disposable for the use of the government, as civil officers, as soldiers, and as manufacturers for military purposes. Wherefore, since the power of a nation depends on the quantity of the means of defence or annoyance, as its force depends on the energy and skill with which those means are employed; it follow's, that in proportion as the labour of production is facilitated, the politically disposable numbers will be greater when compared with the whole population.

This solves the problem, how a small nation without any diminution of its intrinsic wealth may be able to maintain equal armies with one far more numerous. If, for instance, in one nation two-thirds are usually wanted to reproduce food and other primary objects of consumption, and in another, half only are wanted for these purposes, then all other circumstances being alike, this difference of one-sixth of the whole number may be added to the power of its government. Also, if by means of improved machinery in manufactures, two men can produce as much as three before, the third, if not employed' to increase the former quantity, may be added to the power of the government. 1 An application of these observations to the present state of the British empire will clearly shew, why it has for so long a time been able to spare such an immense proportion of its population for military purposes, not only without being impoverished in point of intrinsic wealth by the loss of the r profitable labour, but with a still remaining surplus of hands to employ very actively in augmenting its present, and still more its progressive, increase.

If also the private revenue of the nation has, from these and other causes, increased in more than a duplicate proportion, it so far follows, that the part of it which may be spared for the use of the government will have equally increased in intrinsic value; and if the money value of that revenue is tripled, its nominal amount, as estimated in money, will be more than six times as great: that is, the population being 'now more than twice as great as in 1714, the intrinsic wealth and revenue being still more increased, and the money price of that wealth being tripled (if tripled?), it conclusively follows, that, one with another, private incomes, would not now be so much diminished in real value by


paying thirty millions a year for the expences of

government, (exclusive of the interest of public debt,) as by paying five millions a year only at the former time.

It will hereafter be shewn that money paid by the subject for interest of public debt, only falls within the case of actual national expence, so far as that debt belongs to foreigners or others to whom its interest is transmitted.

With respect to the degree in which the money prices have increased since 1714, the general opinion that on a medium they are three times as great as formerly, is probably very near the truth. Various causes have been assigned for this increase, of which the greater part have, undoubtedly, more or less contributed to it; and as the effects of any one of them have been more than of others laboriously traced by persons with powers of observation naturally or artificially contracted, to that cause which they happen more clearly to apprehend they usually attribute the combined effect of many causes co-operating.

We hope not to fall into the same error when we state that the progressive increase of the population, and, more especially, of that part wbich lives in towns, or is elsewhere employed otherwise than in reproducing the annual consumption of food, has been a very material cause of the progressive increase of its price, and, by a chain of consequences, of the general cost of labour, and of what is commonly called the depreciation of the value of money. We understand by the latter expression, the diminution of its power as an instrument in estimating, exchanging, and transferring other things of real or imaginary worth, without any direct reference to the commercial value of the material employed in its fabrication.

We believe it will be found historically true, that, independent of the quantity of circulațing metallic money, or of debts performing its functions, and also independent of the immediate effects of powerful causes, such as sudden abundance or scarcity, there exists a fluctuation of money prices, which is usually most - visible with respect to things of most general and necessary consumption; and which very materially depends on the advance or decline of population, and, more generally, on the state of national prosperity.

If, as seems probable, the average supply of the necessaries and comforts of life, during any period of sufficient length to decide the question, will be very nearly in an exact proportion to the consumption, where the population is stationary as to numbers, and the habits of life are little varied by moral or political changes; it is also a probable inference, that a constantly increasing population will anticipate the increase of produce for its own use, and the case will be inverted when, from

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »