Adam SmithSeptember 30, 2015
Adam Smith was educated in that school in Scotland which has produced so many scholars, historians, and philosophers, of the highest celebrity. He published his Wealth of Nations in 1776.
He demonstrated that:
- wealth was the exchangeable value of things
- its extent was proportional to the number of things in our possession having value
- wealth could be created and engrafted on things previously destitute of value just as value could be given or added to matter
- wealth could be preserved, accumulated, or destroyed. 21
Many principles strictly correct had often been advanced before Dr. Smith. 23 But he was the first to establish their truth.
He gave us the true method of detecting errors. He has applied to political economy the new mode of scientific investigation of not looking for principles abstractedly, but by ascending from facts the most constantly observed, to the general laws which govern them.
Every fact has a particular cause. The spirit of system looks at the cause. The spirit of analysis looks at why a cause has produced this effect in order to prove that it could not have been produced by any other cause.
His work is a succession of demonstrations, which has elevated many propositions to the rank of indisputable principles, and plunged a still greater number into that imaginary gulph, into which extravagant hypotheses and vague opinions for a certain period struggle, before being forever swallowed up.
He said that the origin of value is from the labour of man. He should have called it “industry” which is a more comprehensive and significant word than “labour”. He saw which causes stifle the productive powers of labour which are prejudicial to the growth of wealth.
I cannot perceive in what these obligations consist. In the conception of his subject, Dr. Smith displays the elevation and comprehensiveness of his views, whilst the researches of Stewart exhibit but a nar- row and insignificant scope.
He was opposed by Stewart who supported the mercantilist system maintained by Colbert, adopted afterwards by all the French writers on commerce, and steadily followed by most European governments.
It says that national wealth is not on the value of its productions, but on its sales to foreign countries.
One of the most important portions of Dr. Smith’s work is devoted to refuting this theory.
The phenomena of production being now better known than they were in the time of Dr. Smith, have enabled his succes- sors to distinguish, and to assign the difference found to exist, between a real and a relative rise in prices; 25 a difference which furnishes the solution of numerous problems, other- wise wholly inexplicable.
Such, for example, as the following= Does a tax, or any other impost, by enhancing the price of commodities, increase the amount of wealth? 26
The income of the producer arising from the cost of production, why is not this income impaired by a diminution in the cost of production?
Now it is the power of resolving these abstruse problems which, nevertheless, constitutes the science of political economy. 27
The economists have also pretended, that Dr. Smith was under= obligations to them. But to what do such pre tensions amount? A man of genius is indebted to everything around him; to the scattered lights which he has concentrated, to the errors which he has overthrown, and even to the enemies by whom he has been assailed; inasmuch as they all contribute to the formation of his opinions. But when out of these materials he afterwards embodies enlarged views, useful to his contemporaries and posterity, it rather behoves us to acknowledge the extent of our own obligations, than to reproach him with what he has been supplied by others.
Moreover, Dr. Smith has not been backward in acknowledging the advantages he had derived from his intercourse with the most enlightened men in France, and from his intimate correspondence with his friend and countryman Hume, whose essays on political economy, as well as on various other subjects, contain so many just views.
By the exclusive restriction of the term wealth to values fixed and realized in material substances, Dr. Smith has narrowed the boundary of this science. He should, also, have included under its values which, although immaterial, are not less real, such as natural or acquired talents.
Of two individuals equally destitute of fortune, the one in possession of a particular tal- ent is by no means so poor as the other. Whoever has acquired a particular talent at the expense of an annual sacri- fice, enjoys an accumulated capital; a description of wealth, notwithstanding its immateriality, so little imaginary, that, in the shape of professional services, it is daily exchanged for gold and silver.
Dr. Smith, who with so much sagacity unfolds the manner in which production takes place, and the peculiar circumstances accompanying it in agriculture and the arts, on the subject of commercial production presents us with only obscure and indistinct notions. He, accordingly, was unable to point out with precision, the reason why, and the extent to which, facilities of communication are conducive to production.
After having shown, as fully as so rapid a sketch will permit, the improvement which the science of political economy owes to Dr. Smith, it will not, perhaps, be useless to indicate, in as summary a manner, some of the points on which he has erred, and others which he has left to be elucidated.
He did not subject to a rigid analysis the different operations comprehended under the general name of industry, or as he calls it, of labour, and, therefore, could not appreciate the peculiar importance of each in the business of production. To the labour of man alone he ascribes the power of producing values. This is an error. A more exact analysis demonstrates, as will be seen in the course of this work, that all values are derived from the operation of labour, or rather from the industry of man, combined with the operation of those agents which nature and capital furnish him. Dr. Smith did not, therefore, obtain a thorough knowledge of the most important phenomenon in production; this has led him into some erroneous conclusions, such, for instance, as attributing a gigantic influence to the division of labour, or rather to the separation of employments.
This influence, however, is by no means inappreciable or even inconsiderable; but the greatest wonders of this description, are not so much owing to any peculiar property in human labour, as to the rise we make of the powers of nature. His ignorance of this principle precluded him from establishing the true theory of machinery in relation to the production of wealth.
His work does not furnish a satisfactory or well connected account of the manner in which wealth is distributed in soci- ety; a branch of political economy, it may be remarked, opening an almost new field for cultivation. The too imperfect views of economical writers respecting the production of wealth precluded them from forming any accurate notions in relation to its distribution. 28
Finally, although the phenomena of the consumption of wealth are but the counterpart of its production, and although Dr. Smith’s doctrine leads to its correct examination, he did not himself develop it; which precluded him from establishing numerous important truths. Thus, by not characterizing the two different kinds of consumption, namely, unproductive and reproductive, he does not satisfactorily demonstrate, that the consumption of values saved and accumulated in order to form capital, is as perfect as the consumption of values which are dissipated. The better we become acquainted with political economy, the more correctly shall we appreciate the im- portance of the improvements this science has received from him, as well as those he left to be accomplished. 29
Sometimes these dissertations have but a very remote connexion with his subject. In treating of public expenditures, he has gone into a very curious history of the various modes in which war was carried on by different nations at different epochs; in this manner accounting for military successes which have had so decided an influence on the civilization of many parts of the earth. These long digressions at times, also, are devoid of interest to every other people but the English. Of this description is the long statement of the advantages Great Britain would derive from the admission of all of her colo- nies into the right of representation in parliament.
Such are the principal imperfections of Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Its organization is also wrong.
The excellence of a literary composition as much depends upon what it does not, as upon what it does contain. So many details, although in themselves useful, unnecessarily encumber a work designed to unfold the principles of political economy. Bacon made us sensible of the emptiness of the Aristotelian philosophy; Smith, in like manner, caused us to perceive the fallaciousness of all the previous systems of political economy; but the latter no more raised the superstruc- ture of this science, than the former created logic.
To both, however, our obligations are sufficiently great, for having deprived their successors of the deplorable possibility of proceeding, for any length of time, with success on an improper route. 30
In many places the author is deficient in perspicuity, and the work almost throughout is destitute of method. To understand him thoroughly, it is necessary to accustom one’s self to collect and digest his views; a labour, at least in respect to some passages, he has placed beyond the reach of most readers; indeed, so much so, that persons otherwise enlightened, pro- fessing both to comprehend and admire his doctrines, have written on subjects he has discussed, namely, on taxes and bank-notes as supplementary to money, without having understood any part of his theory on these points, which, never- theless, forms one of the most beautiful portions of his Inquiry.
There is still no textbook on political economy, so I am making one. My method is to read what had been previously written and afterwards to forget it. Instead, I freely consult the nature and course of things, as actually existing in society.
Smith’s fundamental principles are scattered in the Wealth of Nations Book 4 where he gave two excellent refutations of the exclusive or mercantile system and the economists’ system.
The principles on the real and nominal prices are introduced in the digression on the value of the precious metals during the course of the last four centuries. His opinions on money are in the chapter on commercial treaties.
Dr. Smith’s long digressions have been properly much censured because it leads to information overload.
His Book 3 is but a magnificent digression, the same as his highly ingenious disquisition on public education, replete as it is with erudition and the soundest philosophy, at the same time that it abounds with valuable instruction.
It was but reasonable to expect from the lights of the age, and from that method of philosophizing which has so powerfully contributed to the advancement of other sciences, that I might at all times be able to ascend to the nature of things, and
In this respect resembling a philosophical mechanician, who, from undoubted proofs drawn from the nature of the lever, would demonstrate the impossibility of the vaults daily executed by dancers on the stage. And how does this happen?
The reasoning proceeds in a straight line; but a vital force, often un- perceived, and always inappreciable, makes the facts differ very far from our calculation.
From that instant nothing in the author’s work is represented as it really occurs in nature. It is not sufficient to set out from facts; they must be brought to- gether, steadily pursued, and the consequences drawn from them constantly compared with the effects observed.
For Political Economy to be useful, it should not teach, what must necessarily take place, if even deduced by legitimate reasoning, and from undoubted premises; it must show, in what manner that which in reality does take place, is the consequence of other facts equally certain.
It must discover the chain which binds them together, and always, from observation, establish the existence of the two links at their point of connexion.
never lay down an abstract principle that was not immediately applicable in practice; so that, always compared with well established facts, any one could easily find its confirmation by at the same time discovering its utility. Nor is this all. Solid general principles, previously laid down, must be noticed, and briefly but clearly proved, those which had not been laid down must be established, and the whole so combined, as to satisfy every one that no material omission has taken place, nor any fundamental point been overlooked.
The science must be stript of many false opinions; but this labour must be confined to such errors as are generally re- ceived, and to authors of acknowledged reputation. For what injury can an obscure writer or a discredited dogma effect? The utmost precision must be given to the phraseology we employ, so as to prevent the same word from ever being un- derstood in two different senses; and all problems be reduced to their simplest elements, in order to facilitate the detection of any errors, and above all, of our own.
The doctrines of the science must be conveyed in a popular 31 form that is understandable and applicable by everyone.
With respect to the wild or antiquated theories, so often produced, or reproduced by authors who possess neither suffi- ciently extensive nor well digested information to entitle them to form a sound judgment, the most effectual method of refuting them is to display the true doctrines of the science with still greater clearness, and to leave to time the care of disseminating them. We, otherwise, should be involved in inter- minable controversies, affording no instruction to the enlightened part of society, and inducing the uninformed to believe that nothing is susceptible of proof, inasmuch as everything is made the subject of argument and disputation.
The position maintained in this work, that the value of things is the measure of wealth, has been especially objected to. This, perhaps, has been my fault; I should have taken care not to be misunderstood. The only satisfactory reply I can make to the objection, is to endeavour to give more perspicuity to this doctrine. I must, therefore, apologize to the owners of the former editions, for the numerous corrections I have made in the present It became my duty in treating of a subject of such essential importance to the general welfare, to give it all the perfection within my reach.
Since the publications of the former editions of this work, various authors, some of whom enjoy a well merited celeb- rity, 32 have given to the world new treatises on political economy. It is not my province, either to pronounce upon the general character of these productions, or to decide whether they do, or do not, contain a full, clear, and well digested exposition of the fundamental principles of this science. This much I can with sincerity say, that many of these works contain truths and illustrations well calculated greatly to advance the science, and from the perusal of which I have derived important benefit. But, in common with every other inquirer, I am entitled to remark how far some of their principles, which at first sight appear to be plausible, are contradicted by a more cautious and rigid induction of facts.
Disputants, infected with every kind of prejudice, have, with a sort of doctorial confidence, remarked, that both nations and individuals sufficiently well understand how to improve their fortunes without any knowledge of the nature of wealth, and that this knowledge is in itself a purely speculative and useless inquiry. This is but saying that we know perfectly well how to live and breathe, without any knowledge of anatomy and physiology, and that these sciences are, therefore, superfluous. Such a proposition would not be tenable; but what should we say if it were maintained, and by a class of doc- tors, too, who, whilst decrying the science of medicine, should themselves subject you to a treatment founded upon antiquated empiricism and the most absurd prejudices; who, rejecting all regular and systematic instruction, in spite of your remonstrances, should perform upon your own body the most bloody experiments; and whose orders should be enforced with the
Mr. Ricardo generalizes too much. , that he sometimes reasons upon abstract principles to which he gives too great a generalization. When once fixed in an hypothesis which cannot be assailed, from its being founded upon observations not called in question, he pushes his reasonings to their remotest consequences, without comparing their results with those of actual experience.
decision, were known. What would be said of a party passing rapidly in front of a large castle, that should undertake to give an account of every thing that is going on within? weight and solemnity of laws, and, finally, carried into execution by a host of clerks and soldiers?
In support of antiquated errors, it has also been said, “that there surely must be some foundations for opinions, so gen- erally embraced by all mankind; and that we ourselves ought rather to call in question the observations and reasonings which overturn what has been hitherto so uniformly maintained and acquiesced in by so many individuals, distinguished alike by their wisdom and benevolence.”
Such reasoning, it must be acknowledged, should make a profound impression on our minds, and even cast some doubts on the most incon- trovertible positions, had wet not alternately seen the falsest hypotheses now universally recognized as such, everywhere received and taught during a long succession of ages. It is yet but a very little time, since the rudest as well as the most refined nations, and all mankind, from the unlettered peasant to the enlightened philosopher, believed in the existence of but lour material elements. No human being had even dreamt of disputing the doctrine, which is nevertheless false; insomuch that a tyro in natural philosophy, who should at present consider earth, air, fire, and water, as distinct ele- ments, would be disgraced. 33 How many other opinions, as universally prevailing and as much respected, will in like manner pass away. There is something epidemical in the opin- ions of mankind; they are subject to be attacked by moral maladies which infect the whole species. Periods at length arrive when, like the plague, the disease wears itself out and loses all its malignity; but it still has required time. The en- trails of the victims were consulted at Rome three hundred years after Cicero had remarked, that the two augurs could no longer examine them without laughter.
Certain individuals, whose minds have never caught a glimpse of a more improved state of society, boldly affirm that it could not exist; they acquiesce in established evils. and console themselves for their existence by remarking, that they could not possibly be otherwise; in this respect reminding us of that emperor of Japan who thought he would have suffocated him- self with laughter, upon being told that the Dutch had no king.
The Iroquois were at a loss to conceive how wars could be carried on with success, if prisoners were not to be burnt. Although, to all appearance, many European nations may be in a flourishing condition, and some of them annually expend from one to two hundred millions of dollars solely for the support of the government, it must not thence be inferred that their situation leaves nothing to be desired.
A rich Sybarite, residing according to his inclination, either at his castle in the country, or in his palace in the metropolis, in both, at an enormous expense, partaking of every luxury that sensuality can devise, transporting himself with the utmost rapidity and comfort in whatever direction new pleasures invite him, engrossing the industry and talents of a multitude of retainers and servants, and killing a dozen horses to gratify a whim, may be of opinion that things go on sufficiently well, and that the science of political economy is not susceptible of any further improvement.
But in countries said to be in a flourishing con- dition, how many human beings can be enumerated, in a situ- ation to partake of such enjoyments? One out of a hundred thousand at most; and out of a thousand, perhaps not one who may be permitted to enjoy what is called a comfortable independence. The haggardness of poverty is everywhere seen contrasted with the sleekness of wealth, the extorted labour of some compensating for the idleness of others, wretched hovels by the side of stately colonnades, the rags of indi- gence blended with the ensigns of opulence; in a word, the most useless profusion in the midst of the most urgent wants. The contemplation of this excessive fluctuation of opinions must not, however, inspire us with a belief that nothing is to be admitted as certain, and thus induce us to yield up to uni- versal scepticism. Facts repeatedly observed by individuals in a situation to examine them under all their aspects, when once well established and accurately described, can no longer be considered as mere opinions, but must be received as ab- solute truths. When it was demonstrated that all bodies are expanded by heat, this truth could no longer be called in ques- tion. Moral and political science present truths equally indis- putable, but of more difficult solution. In these sciences, ev- ery individual considers himself not only as being entitled to make discoveries, but as being also authorized to pronounce upon the discoveries of others; yet how few persons acquire competent knowledge, and views sufficiently enlarged, to become assured that the subject upon which they thus venture to pronounce judgment is thoroughly understood by them in all its bearings. In society, one is astonished to find the most abstruse questions as quickly decided as if every circumstance, which, in any way, could and ought to affect the Persons, who under a vicious order of things have obtained a competent share of social enjoyments, are never in want of arguments to justify to the eye of reason such a state of society; for what may not admit of apology when exhibited in but one point of view? If the same individuals were tomorrow required to cast anew the lots assigning them a place in society, they would find many things to object to.
Accordingly, opinions in political economy are not only main- tained by vanity, the most universal of human infirmities, but by self-interest, unquestionably not less so; and which, with- out our knowledge, and in spite of ourselves, exercises a pow- erful influence over our mode of thinking.
Hence the sharp and sour intolerance by which truth has been so often alarmed and obliged to retire; or which, when she is armed with courage, encompasses her with disgrace, and sometimes with per- secution. Knowledge is at present so very generally diffused, that a philosopher may assert, without the risk of contradic- tion, that the laws of nature are the same in a world and in an atom; but a statesman who should venture to affirm, that there is a perfect analogy between the finances of a nation and those of an individual, and that the same principles of economy should regulate the management of the affairs of both, would have to encounter the clamours of various classes of society, and to refute ten or a dozen different systems. tion of public authority, the first professorship of political economy.
Writers write about articles and volumes on subjects which, according to theirown confession, they do not understand.
This makes the science formed from clouds of their own minds. It obscures what was becoming clear.
Such is the indifference of the public, that they rather prefer trusting to assertions than be at the trouble of investigating them.
Sometimes, a display of figures and calculations imposes on them, as if numerical calculations alone could prove anything, and as if any rule could be laid down, from which an inference could be drawn without the aid of sound reasoning.
At present, authors who venture to write upon politics, history, and a fortiori upon finance, commerce, and the arts, without any previous knowledge of the principles of political economy, only produce works of temporary success, that do not succeed in fixing public attention.
When the youths who are now students shall be scattered through all the various classes of society, and elevated to the principal posts under government, public affairs will be conducted in a much better manner than they hitherto have been. Princes as well as people, becoming more enlightened as to their true interests, will perceive that these interests are not at variance with each other; which on the one side will naturally induce less oppression, and on the other beget more confidence.
But what has chiefly contributed to the advancement of political economy, is the grave posture of affairs in the civilized world during the last thirty years. The expenses of governments have risen to a scandalous height; the appeals which they have been obliged to make to their subjects, in order to relieve their exigencies, have disclosed to them their own importance. A concurrence of public sentiment, or at least the semblance of it, has been almost everywhere called for, if not brought about. The enormous contributions drawn from the people, under pretexts more or less specious, not even having been found sufficient, recourse has been had to loans; and to obtain credit, it became necessary for governments to disclose their wants as well as their resources.
Accordingly, the publicity of the national accounts, and the necessity of vindicating to the world the acts of the administration, have in the science of politics produced a moral revolution, whose course can no longer be impeded.
These have retarded the progress of political economy.
Everything, however, announces that this beautiful, and above all, useful science, is spreading itself with increasing rapid- ity. Since it has been perceived that it does not rest upon hypothesis, but is founded upon observation and experience, its importance has been felt. It is now taught wherever knowledge is cherished. In the universities of Germany, of Scot- land, of Spain, of Italy, and of the north of Europe, professorships of political economy are already established. Hereafter this science will be taught in them, with all the advantages of a regular and systematic study. Whilst the university of Ox- ford proceeds in her old and beaten track, 34 within a few years that of Cambridge has established a chair for the purpose of imparting instruction in this new science. Courses of lectures are delivered in Geneva and various other places; and the merchants of Barcelona have, at their own expense, founded a professorship on political economy. It is now considered as forming an essential part of the education of princes; and those who are called to that high distinction ought to blush at being ignorant of its principles. The emperor of Russia has desired his brothers, the grand dukes Nicholas 35 and Michael, to pur- sue a course of study on this subject under the direction of M. Storch. Finally, the government of France has done itself last- ing honour by establishing in this kingdom, under the sanc- The disorders and calamities incident to the same period, have also produced some important experiments. The abuse of paper money, commercial and other restrictions, have made us feel the ultimate effects of almost all excesses. And the sudden overthrow of the most imposing bulwarks of society, the gigantic invasions, the destruction of old governments and the creation of new, the formation of rising empires in another hemisphere, the colonies that have become indepen- dent, the general impulse given to the human mind, so favourable to the development of all its faculties, and the great expectations and the great mistakes, have all undoubtedly very much enlarged our views; at first operating upon men of calm observation and reflection, and subsequently upon all man- kind. 22Book I= On Production It is to the facility of tracing the links in the chain of causes and effects that we must ascribe the great improvement in the kindred branches of moral and political science; and hence it is, when once the manner in which political and economical facts bear upon each other is well understood, that we are enabled to decide what course of conduct will be most ad- vantageous in any given situation. Thus, for example, to get rid of mendicity, that will not be done which only tends to multiply paupers; and, in order to procure abundance, the only measures calculated to prevent it will not be adopted. The certain road to national prosperity and happiness being known, it can and will be chosen. large being so, which is wholly improbable, what resistance would not the execution of their wisest plans experience? What obstacles would they not encounter in the prejudices of those even who should most favour their measures? A nation, in order to enjoy the advantages of a good system of political economy, must not only possess statesmen ca- pable of adopting the best plans, but the population must be in a situation to admit of their application. 36
It is also the way of avoiding doubts and perpetual changes of principles, which prevent our profiting even from what- ever, may be good in a bad system. A steady and consistent policy is an essential element of national prosperity; thus England has become more opulent and powerful than would seem to comport with her territorial extent, by an uniform and steadfast adherence to a system, even in many respects objectionable to her, of monopolizing the maritime commerce of other nations.
But to follow for any length of time the same route, it is necessary to be able to choose one not altogether bad; unforeseen and insurmountable difficulties would otherwise have to be encountered, which would oblige us to change our course, without even the reproach of versatility.
For a long time it was thought that the science of political economy could only possibly be useful to the very limited number of persons engaged in the administration of public affairs. It is undoubtedly of importance that men in public life should be more enlightened than others; in private life, the mistakes of individuals can never ruin but a small number of families, whilst those of princes and ministers spread desolation over a whole country. But, is it possible for princes and ministers to be enlightened, when private individuals are not so?
This is a question that merits consideration. It is in the middling classes of society, equally secure from the intoxica- tion of power, and the compulsory labour of indigence, in which are found moderate fortunes, leisure united with hab- its of industry, the free intercourse of friendship, a taste for literature, and the ability to travel, that knowledge originates, and is disseminated amongst the highest and lowest orders of the people.
For these latter classes, not having the leisure necessary for meditation, only adopt truths when presented to them in the form of axioms, requiring no further demonstration.
It is, perhaps, to this cause we must attribute the evils which, for two centuries, have tormented France; a period during which she was within reach of that state of high prosperity she was invited to by the fertility of her soil, her geographical position, and the genius of her inhabitants. With no fixed opinions in relation to the causes of public prosperity, the nation, like a ship without chart or compass, was driven about by the caprice of the winds and the folly of the pilot, alike ignorant of the place of her departure or destination. 37
A consistent policy in France would have extended its influence over many successive administrations; and the vessel of the state would at least not have been in danger of being wrecked, or exposed to the awkward manoeuvres by which she has so much suffered.
A monarch and his principal ministers should be well acquainted with the principles of national prosperity. But what good is it if their measures were not supported by men capable of comprehending and enforcing them?
A society’s prosperity is sometimes dependent on the official acts of a single individual. and the head of a subordi- nate department of government, by provoking an important decision, often exercises an influence even superior to that of the legislator himself. In countries blessed with a representative form of government, each citizen is under a much greater obligation to make himself acquainted with the principles of political economy; for there every man is called upon to deliberate upon public affairs.
Versatility is attended with such ruinous consequences, that it is impossible to pass even from a bad to a good system without serious inconvenience. The exclusive and restrictive system is without doubt vastly injurious to the development of industry, and to the progress of national wealth; nevertheless, the establishments which this policy has created could not be suddenly suppressed, without causing great distress. 38
A more favourable state of things can only be brought about, without any inconvenience, by the gradual adoption of mea- sures introduced with infinite skill and care. A traveller whose limbs have been frozen in traversing the Arctic regions, can only be preserved from the dangers of a too sudden cure, and restored to entire health, by the most cautious and imperceptible remedies.
Finally, in supposing that every person in any way connected with government, from the highest to the lowest, could be well acquainted with these principles, without the nation at
The soundest principles are not at all times applicable. The essential object is to know them, and then such as are appli- cable or desirable can be adopted. There can be no doubt that a new community, which in every in. stance should consult them, would rapidly reach the highest pitch of opulence; but every nation may, nevertheless, in many respects violate them, and yet attain a satisfactory state of prosperity. The powerful action of the vital principle causes the human body to grow and thrive in spite of the accidents and excesses of youth, or of the wounds which have been inflicted on it. Absolute per- fection, beyond which all is evil, and produces only evil, is nowhere found; evil is everywhere mixed with good. When the former preponderates, society declines; when the latter, it advances with more or less rapidity in the road of prosperity. Nothing, therefore, ought to discourage our efforts towards the acquisition and dissemination of sound principles. The least step taken towards the attainment of this knowledge is immediately productive of some good, and ultimately will yield the happiest fruits.
they should have been regarded as visionary dreamers in re- lation to the public good. Hence the contempt which men in power always affect towards everything like first principles. But since the rigorous method of philosophizing, which in every other branch of knowledge leads to truth, has been ap- plied to the investigation of facts, and to the reasonings founded on them, and the science of political economy has been thus confined to a simple exposition of whatever takes place in relation to wealth, it no longer attempts to offer coun- sel to public authorities. Should they, however, be desirous of ascertaining the good or evil consequences likely to result from any favourite project, they may consult this science, exactly as they would consult hydraulics upon the construc- tion of a pump or sluice. All that can be required from politi- cal economy is to furnish governments with a correct repre- sentation of the nature of things, and the general laws neces- sarily resulting from it. Perhaps, until such views be more generally diffused, it may also be required, to point out to them some of the applications of its principles. Should these be despised or neglected, the governments themselves, as well as the people, will be the sufferers. The husbandman who sows tares can never expect to reap wheat.
If, for the interest of the state, it is important that individuals should know what are the true principles of political economy, who will venture to maintain that the same Knowledge will be useless to them in the management of their own private concerns? That money is readily earned without any knowl- edge of the nature or origin of wealth, I admit. For that pur- pose, a very simple calculation, within the reach of the rudest peasant, is all that is necessary= such an article will, including every expense, cost me so much; I shall sell it for so much, and, therefore, shall gain so much. Nevertheless, accurate ideas respecting the nature and growth of wealth, unques- tionably afford us many advantages in forming a sound judg- ment of enterprises in which we are interested, either as prin- cipals or as parties. They enable us to foresee what these en- terprises will require, and what will be their results; to de- vise- the means of their success, and to establish our exclu- sive claims to them; to select the most secure investments, from anticipating the effects of loans and other public mea- sures; to cultivate the earth to advantage, from accurately adjusting actual advances with probable returns; to become acquainted with the general wants of society, and thus be en- abled to make choice of a profession; and to discern the symp- toms of national prosperity or decline.
Certainly, if political economy discloses the sources of wealth, points out the means of rendering it more abundant, and teaches the art of daily obtaining a still greater amount without ever exhausting it; if it demonstrates, that the population of a country may, at the same time, be more numerous and better supplied with the necessaries of life; if it satisfactorily proves that the interest of the rich and poor, and of different nations, are not opposed to each other, and that all rivalships are mere folly; and if from all these demonstrations it neces- sarily results, that a multitude of evils supposed to be without remedy, may not only be reckoned curable, but even easy to cure, and that we need not suffer from them any longer than we are willing so to do; it must be acknowledged that there are few studies of greater importance, or more deserving the attention of an elevated and benevolent mind.
Time is the great teacher. Nothing can replace its operation. It alone can fully demonstrate the advantages from a knowledge of political economy in the general principles of legislation and government.
On the one hand, the custom which condemns so many men of sense, at the same time that they admit the principles of this science, to speak and act as if they were wholly ignorant of them, 39 and on the other, the resistance, which individual as well as general interests, imperfectly understood, oppose to many of these principles, exhibit nothing that ought either to surprise or alarm individuals animated with a desire of promoting the general welfare.
Newton philosophy was unanimously rejected in France for 50 years. But it is now taught in all its schools.
It is wrong to say that the science of political economy is useful to statesmen only. Until Adam Smith’s time, its object was to enlighten the public authorities.