Header Image
link to help page link to about page link to search page link to browse page

Book Review

From: The North American Review 25, no. 57 (1827): 408-426.

Lectures on the Elements of Political Economy. By Thomas Cooper, M.D. President of the South Carolina College, and Professor of Chemistry and Political Economy. Columbia, S.C. 1826. 8vo. pp.280.

The author of this volume has long been known for his literary enterprise, as well as for a singular versatility of talent, exhibited in several treatises on a variety of subjects. He held a high rank, in the first place, as a writer on those connected more immediately with his profession. We have heard him spoken of as a chemist and mineralogist of no common attainments. With the extensive and intricate science of law and of jurisprudence, general as well as local, he seems to have been familiar. He is the translator of the elementary Institutes of Justinian, and the elaborate, practical commentator on that work; and we believe he was the first to make accessible to American students a book, about which they were destined to hear so much, and which yet, in the common course of legal education, was placed far beyond their reach. It is now on the shelves of every lawyer’s library. In profound political inquiries too, Dr Cooper has not been inactive. We have seen essays from his pen in this department, which cannot fail to have a certain degree of interest with the mass of readers; for whatever may be thought of the soundness of the principles, or of the accuracy of the reasonings by which they are established, they display at least ability, and are entitled to the praise of being written with spirit and perspicuity, although they are upon difficult and somewhat abstruse questions.

Dr Cooper is president of the South Carolina College; and having been relieved from the professorship of Rhetoric Criticism, and Belles Lettres, which, it seems, devolved upon him as part of his official duties, he delivered, at the request of the trustees, a series of lectures to the senior class on the science of political economy. These lectures make up the volume before us. It lays no claim to the merit of much originality in anything. The author says, that he writes not for the adept. It was his business to introduce the pupils under his care to a full knowledge of the science in all its departments; and he hesitated not to gather his materials from every quarter, where they most advantageously presented themselves to his view, without always trying to throw over them an air of novelty, and sometimes without even changing the language of the author to whom he stood indebted, when it appeared to him to express the reasoning and the principles clearly and forcibly. His style is not always perfectly to our taste; it sometimes wants dignity, and in some places is even destitute of ordinary care; faults hardly excusable, we should say, in a professor of belles letters and criticism; yet the general characteristic of it is to bring home plainly to the student’s mind the aim and the sentiments of the writer; and in comparison with this, all other things are, perhaps, of little moment.

Before we proceed to a more particular examination of this volume, the occasion suggests to us the propriety of saying a word or two on the importance of giving the science of political economy higher ground at all our principal seminaries of education. We think the study of it in every way advantageous. If the student becomes thoroughly interested in it, he will be led to a careful investigation of the most important facts in the policy of nations, and thus to a knowledge of their situation, of their various natural productive powers, of their resources, of their connexion and transactions with each other, of their institutions, of their character, moral as well as intellectual, of everything, in short, which has raised them, or which tends to bring about their decline.

National wealth lies at the foundation of national intelligence, and indeed of all true national greatness. It was the accumulation of that, which first drew the strong line of distinction between the savage and the civilized. Polished states owe to it all their superiority and power. By establishing the division of labor, and enabling a comparatively small number to provide the necessaries of life, and supply the common wants of every individual in society, it leaves the residue at leisure for grander and more extensively useful pursuits. It thus gives birth to the sciences and arts, to discovery, invention, improvement of every kind, and carries indefinitely far the purest and noblest enjoyments of which we are capable, as well as all those comforts and conveniences, which are indispensable to our existence. The object of political economy is to show, whence this wealth first arises; how it is naturally diffused throughout society; what are the easiest and most efficient causes of the production of it in any particular nation; and the true way in which governments can best secure its judicious appropriation and encourage its rapid advancement. Ought not the study of it, then, to be earlier and more extensively known, in our own country especially? The protection of enterprise, and of wealth in some shaper, forms the sole aim of all civil legislation.

But it is not our present intention to speak of the utility of this science to the legislator or the statesman. This should be in fact, obvious to every intelligent man; for every intelligent man in our country may be called upon either to fill those responsible stations, or to investigate strictly the legislative ability and the public administration of those who do. We are now, however, looking at the subject from an humbler point of view.

As a discipline to the pupil’s mind, this study is peculiarly useful. It leads him into that sort of reasoning and of intellectual effort, which is required by all the great transactions of life. As a source of extremely pleasing as well as profitable intelligence to him, of a far more refined nature, too, than that which we have already mentioned, it holds a still higher rank in our estimation. To the inexperienced graduate at any of our colleges, who has not studied the subject scientifically, nothing can be more unintelligible and mysterious than the extensive business concerns of an opulent and flourishing community like ours. It is a vast and complicated piece of machinery, which may have excited his wonder, perhaps, but which has never called forth his active curiosity, and of which the parts that are the most familiar, and fall continually under his observation, are equally unknown, and seem to him equally inexplicable. Such, for example, is the nature of money, of banks, of the diffusion of credits, and the circulating medium in all its shapes and varieties. It would require the greatest mental power for him to comprehend, unaided, the origin of these and their influence in the accumulation of wealth, and in the improvements of society. The science of political economy explains this, and enables him to do it easily. It points him to a few simple general principles, which reign through all the phenomena, influencing and controlling the whole, and which serve as the master springs to regulate the great movement of commerce and of enterprise in every department of human industry. This is the sort of knowledge, which becomes so indispensable to the statesman and the legislator. We speak of it now merely as it is interesting to the student.

The knowledge of some branches of political economy, too, is of much importance to the profitable perusal and even to the full understanding of history. The study of the former, as we have said, leads the student to a careful examination of the latter. But as history is now read at many of our seminaries of education, it is little better than romance or ingenious fiction. The power of the historian over minds as they are commonly instructed, lies principally in his eloquence, or in the charm of his style, or in the narration of some singularly fortunate or singularly tragical events, which are after all, perhaps, of slight consesequence in themselves; while the truly valuable details are passed by as tedious and unprofitable. The growth, and the decline, and the various revolutions of empires, depend much on the powerful, though usually unnoticed character, of their laws, and of the numerous political regulations which governments think proper, from time to time, to adopt. It is to the examination of these that the student’s mind is immediately conducted by the study of political economy. It is this alone which will lead him to trace to their original sources all just and valuable national wealth, prosperity, and improvement. Without some knowledge of it, the celebrated maxim of Bolingbroke, that ‘History is philosophy teaching by example,’ can never be true. We are not sure of seeing aright the lineaments of individual character, nor of ascertaining the exact truth of any of those startling incidents, which usually excite in common minds the most intense interest. The materials of the story may be false or imperfect. The biographer may be partial. The historian may be partial. It would be most strange, indeed, if either of them were not so. But the great events, springing as they do from laws generally promulgated, and from public political acts, which every one has an opportunity of examining, and of seeing their influences, are made plain and certain. In the records of these things, with which alone political economy has to do, there is nothing to fear from falsehood or favor.

May we not point out to the student also another, a still higher and more elevating pleasure, which he is to derive from the study of political economy? The noblest truths in natural theology are here unfolded to him. He sees the wise and the benevolent designs of Heaven in even the most sordid passions of our nature. The true, the real interests of all nations and of all individuals appear to be in perfect unison, and indeed inseparately joined. The enlightened selfishness of a man or of a people, although accompanied by no generous feeling, and even, it may be, prompted by avarice and a spirit of covetousness, and desires that look not kindly on the rights of others, is yet made, by the beneficent arrangements of Providence, to administer most effectually to the furtherance of those rights. It subserves the purposes of the most perfect benevolence, the most unqualified generosity to them. It adds immediately to the accumulation of their wealth, and leads, in the plainest manner and with unerring steps, to the rapid increase of national wealth, and to the general improvement of all the enjoyments of social life. Such, we say, are the effects which the science of political economy shows will naturally spring from truly enlightened selfishness, kept, as it always must be, within the limits of honesty. Is not this a noble lesson for the intelligent youth thoroughly to study? His own true interest can never be the instrument of evil to others; it is the minister of the highest and most extensive good. This might have been a most fruitful theme in the hands of Paley. The science of natural theology has, however, been confined to our discoveries in the material world. Its noblest field of inquiry is among the affections of the mind. It has been little thought of here.

There are some speculations in our most recent treatises on political economy, which we have heard pronounced by inconsiderate men, unimportant and worthless. It is because they have never examined their true bearings upon the subject with which they are connected. ‘Of what use, for example,’ says the undisciplined legislator, ‘of what use to us are your subtile inquiries into the nature and origin of rent, occupying, as they do, so large a space in your most popular works? They may be curious. They may be interesting to you. Your ingenious theory seems fair, and all its results may be unanswerably true. But cui bono? And how is it available to us in the enactment of laws, or in any one of our political inquiries?’ We find no difficulty in answering such questions as this. Let it be remembered, that rents are intimately connected with capital, with profits, with wages, in short, with every branch and division of wealth. There is a mutual dependence among them all. Particularly let it be remembered, that the question has arisen, how rents should be taxed; and this it is the business of the legislator to decide. Some may say, they ought to be wholly exempted, because the tax will fall doubly upon the same property. The estate itself is first fully taxed, and then the proceeds, which are but part of the estate, are again separately taxed. Others, again, may think this tax ought to be laid freely, and without hesitation, because it falls upon a class of people in the community who can best afford to pay it, and whose property has risen in value by the natural progress of opulence, without any meritorious efforts of their own. It is a tax, too, they say, which will hardly touch consumption. It affects neither the wages of labor, nor the profits of stock, nor the price of any articles of necessity or convenience in the market. It is for the solution of such queries as these, that the disquisitions we have mentioned are useful. We may apply similar remarks to many others.

But it is time to return to the volume under examination. Dr Cooper devotes very few of his pages to the investigation of subjects, about which there can arise any doubt with regard to their utility, or with regard to the valuable practical results to which they may lead. His greatest efforts are, as they should be, upon the most important questions. Sometimes these may seem to betray him into an undue warmth of feeling, and induce him to make severe, though they are brief, animadversions upon the conduct of our national government, rather unnecessary and unsuitable; but all this arises, we suppose, from a deeply settled conviction of the high importance, and of the unanswerable truth of the principles his is maintaining. In these inquiries he collects together, in short and forcible paragraphs, all the arguments in favor of his own views of the subject, and then, in the same clear and impartial manner, states and answers those on the other side. There are some points, it is true, in which we do not agree with him. There are some omissions, too, some well known objections against his favorite doctrines, which he has passed unnoticed. For the writer of a text book, this is wrong. In discussing, for example, the great national question, which is now pressed upon our attention in newspapers and pamphlets from every quarter, about the utility of ‘governmental encouragements,’ for the protection and support of any particular branch of domestic industry, he has neglected to say anything in reply to what may be thought the most popular argument in their favor. This argument is, that admitting them to be unprofitable to the great mass of the community, and even in the long run to the individuals themselves, whom they are particularly designed to benefit, they are still essentially and indispensably necessary in order to secure on a firm foundation our own national independence.

The answer to this is perfectly simple and satisfactory. They secure in the same proportion, and to exactly the same extent, the independence of all other nations with whom we deal. They are naturally as much dependent upon us, as we are upon them. If we will not take their exports, they will not take ours. They must be free from us. They must place no reliance upon us. They must turn from us their commerce and their capital, and pour it into new and untried channels, for the benefit of other more generous nations. Or they may learn, like us, selfishly to rest themselves on their own resources alone. We know not where the advocates who use this argument can stop. Surely it cannot be short of absolute independence. It is in vain to make a distinction between the necessaries of life and luxuries. The line of separation cannot be drawn between them. The latter, in fact, soon change their character, and become indispensable. Different countries, then, are to be wholly independent of each other; and why may not different parts of the same country be also, for similar reasons, independent of each other, states independent of each other, towns independent of each other, nay, to carry the argument home, even individuals independent of each other? We think it an unpardonable abuse of the term so to appropriate it. It is an independence of which the savage or the baronial lord might fairly boast. It is an independence which breaks the enlightening spirit of commerce, and shuts up nations within Chinese walls. The most flourishing states, at the moment of their highest elevation, when they were closely connected with every part of the civilized world, by the golden chains of successful commercial enterprise, were, according to this doctrine, in the most perfect state of absolute dependence. It was not till all these connexions were dissolved, and they had sunk in degradation, that their true independence commenced. But this statement cannot be just. There is a natural dependence of nations upon each other, as there is a natural dependence of individuals upon each other. Heaven has so ordered it. Some soils, some climates, some situations, are productive exclusively of some peculiar fruits, which cannot elsewhere be profitably procured. Let nations follow this as their guide. In a rich and rising community, the opulent capitalists may be as dependent upon the poor laborers, as the poor laborers upon the opulent capitalists. So it is with nations. It is the mutual dependence of individuals upon each other, which knits and binds society together, and leads them all to the most harmonious and the most rapid advancement in wealth, in intelligence, in every kind of improvement. In the same manner, though on a much larger scale, it is with the mutual dependence of nations upon each other. To this alone do we owe all the mighty efforts of commerce; and what lights, what a general diffusion of generous feeling and multiplied means of human happiness, has it not everywhere spread?

It was some such reasoning as this that we looked for from the pen of Dr Cooper. We know he is an absolute foe to every one of the principles in the old selfish system of political economy. He should have shown it here. In a text book every popular argument against an important doctrine ought to be met and answered. If it be passed unnoticed, it will be thought by some unanswerable.

We omit some other slight animadversions of this kind, which crowd in upon us, to make room for a few remarks on a single subject, on which we have a right to feel considerable interest. It is a matter of surprise to us, that Dr Cooper has give the sanction of his authority to the singular errors of Malthus. He warmly embraces the theory of population, maintained by the writer. He ranks it, indeed, with Smith’s Wealth of Nations. ‘The next step in the advancement of this science was the Essay on the principle of Population of Mr Malthus.’ All the prominent doctrines of the Essay are then drawn up by our author, in a long series of propositions, which are supported throughout volume. We have said this was matter of surprise to us. It is, because it seems to us at variance with the enlightened views, which generally govern Dr Cooper in his other speculations. His great principle is, that there is a vis medicatrix naturae at work everywhere, and that the natural feelings and dispositions of man, undirected and uncontrolled but by the rules of justice, obviously tend to the most rapid advancement of his own condition, and to the most rapid advancement also in opulence and improvement, of the whole community to which he belongs. Our author must say, the principle is not applicable here. Population has a natural and necessary tendency, as he maintains, to go beyond the means of subsistence. It constantly needs, therefore, check and control.

‘ Population had a natural and inevitable tendency to overreach subsistence; since the human race, where subsistence was easily obtained, had a tendency to increase in a ration approaching a geometrical ration; while the increase of food could not proceed beyond an arithmetical ratio, and even in that case, had its limits. Hence, instead of encouraging population, which no where and at no time needed it, the wisest course for the sake of the poor as well as the rich, was rather to throw obstacles in its way; it being evident that the poor would live better, when subsistence was plentiful, and laborers scarce and in demand.’ p.11

Neither he, nor any of the advocates of this system, has told us what are to be the proper and the truly effectual restrictions on this dangerous tendency of population. It is unnecessary that they should. We believe the great principle, which we have cited, to be as applicable here, as it is in every other department of nature. Some of our views on this subject we have stated at considerable length hitherto. But it is by no means exhausted. And as the doctrine, which we have labored to refute, though peculiarly gloomy, and in collision with the most glorious truths, and extremely injurious, too, in its consequences, is still a favorite one, countenanced by able writers on political economy, and becoming, as it seems, fashionable in our own country we shall not think our time misspent in calling our readers’ attention to it again; keeping clear, however, as far as possible, of what has been previously said with relation to it.

In the chapter which our author has written in support of the doctrines of Mr Malthus, he has the following strictures upon Mr Everett’s ‘New Ideas on Population.’ To this last work we have, on several occasions, called the attention of our readers. Although in some respects defective, we still think it contains enough to refute the celebrated theory of Malthus.

‘But there is one consideration laying at the root of the whole business, which he {Mr Everett} does not seem to have thought of. Who is to employ these laborers? In the first instance, and when they are not wanted?

‘Suppose a farmer having grazing land barely sufficient for the fattening ten oxen, should purchase fifteen. Is it not clear that if he continues to maintain the fifteen on the land barely sufficient for ten, although they may exist, none of them will fatten?

‘Suppose this farmer has grazing land sufficient to fatten twenty oxen, but has not capital enough to furnish himself with more than ten, is it not evident that his power of giving food to ten more, is circumscribed by his want of power to buy them?

‘ Suppose a community with all its employments filled, the whole of its capital embarked and engaged, and the whole of its working population hired, and every mode of employing labor already occupied, who is to give labor, and wages, and subsistence to a constantly increasing crowd of laborers beyond the demand? Those already in employ, and who have already filled to the utmost every vacant situation, will not give up their means of subsistence to new comers. What is the result? Competition ensues; the new comers offer to work for less compensation; the rate of wages is lowered; the power of purchasing food is diminished; subsistence is more scanty; and a half starved laboring population, produce a sickly debilitated offspring, a prey to diseases of all kinds. At length death, by thinning the ranks of the working class, brings the supply to a level with the demand, and cures the evil. This is the inevitable progress. (See Statistical Illustrations of the British Empire, 1825. Preface, page 14.)

‘It is in vain to talk then of laborers furnishing their own subsistence. Before they can be employed at all, there must be surplus capital and a demand for their labor. Who will employ them who does not want them?’

‘The want, the demand must exist for labor before laborers can be employed. Till then, they are not merely an useless, but a burthensome addition to the population.’ pp.237, 238.

But there is one consideration, also, which Dr Cooper does not seem to have thought of; or else he has assumed the whole ground of the controversy, and taken for granted the very question in dispute. Business, we say, continually increases; capital is always accumulating; employments are multiplying as constantly and as rapidly as human beings; greater calls for industry arise, and new and broader avenues to wealth are opened for the spirit of activity and enterprise. Our author, however, seems to go here on the supposition, that these things are comparatively stationary, or that they are incapable of keeping pace with the progress of population; although he gives us no reasons for this inference. This, we say, is begging the question. He offers no farther considerations on this particular head, than those we have quoted in the foregoing extract, and we confess we can see nothing like an argument there, for all the points of the disputed subject are assumed. Some of the facts we have just stated are too obviously true to require any direct proof. There is a continual, an unvarying tendency towards an equal progress in the increase of our species, the accumulation of capital, and the multiplication of employments, and this in consequence of the extension and improvements in agriculture, in commerce, in manufactures, in every branch and department, in short, of human industry. It is true, each one of these principles may, and often will, in its turn, for a time prevail over and outdo the others. Even the rapid increase of capital may be checked or kept down by the want of laborers. This is a demand, however, which will not be very long without a corresponding supply. Then population increases most rapidly, and at no distant period will overtake and outstrip, though not check, the accumulation of capital. The business is overdone. The laborers for a very short period may find the demand for themselves slack, and employments scarce. But in the mean time the rapid accumulation of capital, so far from being stopped or eve retarded in its career by the great increase of consumers, goes on in fact with an accelerating force merely in consequence of that increase. This moves and keeps it in profitable action, until the required supply is furnished. The restrictions on the one operate as a stimulus to the other. The doctrine of checks and balances applies here, as in every other part of nature. We know perfectly well, that the rapid progress of opulence calls for more and more laborers to keep it productively employed, while these again, in their turn, push on still further the progress of opulence, so that they mutually aid each other onward. We do not believe that either of the great principles we have mentioned naturally tends to continue excessive. We say naturally, because vicious political institutions, operating to debase the character of a people, and pervert and change their true motives to action, may lead to different results, and will require different rules for estimating their causes. These exceptions, however, are not to be taken into account. It is the natural tendency of population always and unremittingly more and more to overreach the means of subsistence, about which the inquiry is now raised. This is the true question on which we are at issue with Dr Cooper.

It does not at all diminish our surprise at his embracing the theory of Malthus, when we recollect that recent writers on political economy, Mill and M’Culloch, for example, have done the same thing. Dr Cooper is not one of those men, who take a name instead of an argument. He commonly, though the present case we believe forms a remarkable exception, examines well the reasonings on which any great principle is founded, before he is willing to adopt and make it his own. Now the reasoning of both the economists we have cited seems to us here entirely inconclusive and false. That of M’Culloch is made up almost entirely of assumptions like those of our author; Mill’s is more specious, and merits a more accurate examination. As we are somewhat anxious to do our little towards setting matters right on this subject, we shall briefly review the ground taken by the last named writer, and ascertain how well his positions are supported. His whole treatise is in high repute. It has never, we believe, been republished in this country; probably, therefore, it is not in the hands of many of our readers.
He thinks that if the increase of capital, and the increase of population, kept pace with each other, all would go on perfectly well. But he agrees with Malthus and our author in supposing, that the latter has a steady and a growing tendency always to outstrip the former, and hence arises the danger. After having stated, at length and elaborately, the increase of population, he says,

‘We come next to consider the tendency which capital may have to increase. If that should increase as fast as population, for every laborer produced the means of employment and subsistence would also be produced, and no degradation of the great body of the people would ensue.

‘ As soon as it is understood from what source all increase of capital must be derived, the opinion of its rapid increase can no longer be retained. All increase of capital is from savings.’ p. 51.

He then speaks of the motives to saving which may exist among the various classes of people in any community, and insists that they are comparatively few and inefficient. ‘This disposition [to save] is still so weak, in almost all the situations in which human beings have ever been placed, as to make the progression slow. That the same will continue to be the case, appears to be secured by the strongest principles of our nature.’ The poor, he says, have not the means of saving. It is needless, therefore, to speak of their motives. The rich have no desire to do it.

‘ It is well known, however, that a class of rich men, in the middle of a class of poor, are not apt to save. The possession of a large fortune generally whets the appetite for immediate enjoyment. And the man who is already in possession of a fortune, yielding him all the enjoyments, which fortune can command, had a feeble inducement to save. Why should he deprive himself of present enjoyment, to accumulate that, of which the use to him is so insignificant?’ p.52

The same sort of reasoning as this he applies in detail to all intermediate classes, to the affluent, to those with moderate fortunes, to those in easy, comfortable circumstances. They all, he says, are totally destitute of any strong motives to save.

‘ When a man possesses, what we are no supposing possessed by the great body of the people, food, clothing, lodging, and all other things sufficient not only for comfortable, but pleasurable existence, he possesses the means of all the substantial enjoyments of human life. The rest is in a great measure fancy. The pleasures, which can be added to those of which he is thus in possession, are comparatively neither numerous nor strong. That any considerable proportion of mankind, with all the temptations of instant enjoyment, will forego, to any considerable degree, the most substantial pleasures, in order to accumulate the means of a few fanciful pleasures at a distant period, our experience of the laws of human nature forbids us to suppose.’ p53.

We are sorry we have not room for more copious extracts from this writer’s remarks on the subject. The result of all is, ‘These considerations prove, that more than moderate effects can rarely flow from the motives to save,’ while the tendency of population to increase rapidly he has fully proved, and indeed is admitted on all hands. The latter, then, is always overreaching and pressing on the former, among some classes of society. This produces all their misery.

But it seems to us, that in this enumeration of the causes of increasing capital, Mr Mill has passed unnoticed one of the strongest principles of our nature; a principle, which adds infinitely more to it than all the other causes together. We mean the mere spirit of accumulation itself. Let it not be confounded with avarice, or the mere sordid love of property, which as much retards the general accumulation of wealth, as the passion to which we refer promotes it. This is not to be ranked among the calculating motives, of which Mr Mill has been speaking. It is just, it is generous, it is often united with the highest degree of patriotism, benevolence, philanthropy. What noble instances of these have we had among our merchants, who owe all their gains to the spirit of which we are speaking, who are still pursuing them with unabated ardor. Whenever a plan of great public or private liberality is on foot, it is started, or receives its most efficient support, from the body of those enterprising men, whose strongest and most prevailing passion is still the love of accumulation. It is not, in fact, until after this has become in some measure extinct, that avarice commences its reign. Then the mind may turn from enterprise to contemplate what enterprise has gained.

It was the answer of an opulent merchant to a young adventurer, who asked him how much wealth would satisfy him, and at what amount he should be perfectly willing to stop, ‘At no conceivable amount,’ said he, ‘our aim for ever is to procure more.’ And so it is in every department of human genius and industry. Possession brings satiety. An active mind never is content with being stationary, to however noble a height it may be exalted. It is the wise ordering of Providence, that its happiness lies not in repose. Whatever paths it may be pursuing, its great and growing desire is still continually for progress, improvement, even after it has long left all its compeers far behind it. The passion for accumulation is thus an instance, though a very humble one, it is true, of the most powerful and persevering principle of our nature,-the principle of unceasing advancement, the principle which drew tears from Alexander, because he had no more worlds to conquer. It is to this, we believe, and not to the selfish, calculating motives of comfort and convenience, which Mr Mill has enumerated, that we owe the vast fabrics of opulence, which we see rising around us, from commerce, from manufactures, from agriculture, from every quarter, in fact, where human enterprise is left free. These remarks are a sufficient reply to the reflections we have quoted, on the few and slight causes, which necessarily make capital accumulate slowly. We might have contented ourselves with simply denying the fact. We know, indeed, that it does sometimes increase with astonishing rapidity, and for a long period too, with far more rapidity, than even population itself. In the history of various places in our own country, everybody may turn to convincing instances of this. The ratios here might often be reversed. Capital has gone on geometrically, population only arithmetically.

Mr Malthus and his disciples must go on the assumption, that the real price of food is rising and becoming gradually higher from century to century, in every advancing country. This, however, we suspect, is far from the truth. On the contrary, we believe, it as invariably falls and becomes lower. The division of labor succeeds in cheapening this, as it succeeds in cheapening all the other comforts and conveniences of life. Nor are discovery and invention chained and compelled here alone, where they are most wanted, to be inactive. It is impossible, perhaps, to estimate the uniformity or the variations in the real price of an article form period to period, by any particular standard or measure of value, because, in the mean time, the standard or the measure may also have materially varied. A bushel of corn, for example, may command more money now, and probably more of every other article of convenience or luxury, than it would a century ago. But it does not therefore follow that its real price has absolutely risen. The real price of everything else brought into comparison with it has evidently fallen. The real price of this, too, may have fallen, although not so much, perhaps, as that of all the various commodities with which it is directly or indirectly exchanged. The declining motion in the prices of these has been so rapid, compared with that of the other, that this will seem to be stationary, or its apparent motion may be rising, while it is, in fact, lowering along with the rest, but more slowly and unsteadily. These reflections will explain all the phenomena, that can be urged against us on this subject.

There is, however, one circumstance which proves to us incontestably, that the price of food rapidly falls as society advances in opulence. If there were no other, this would be sufficient for our purpose. It is, that a far less proportion of the labor of a whole community is necessary to furnish articles of food to supply the wants of its citizens, than was required in the earliest stages of its progress. In savage life, every man is obliged to toil or hunt for the necessaries of life, in order to procure for himself sustenance from day to day. In the childhood of society the case is continually improving, although it may for a long time wear something of the same character. But in its full maturity and manhood, when it has arrived at high degrees of opulence and prosperity, how changed is its situation in this respect, and how small the number of those, compared with that of the great mass of the community to which they belong, who are called upon, and must make it their sole business to procure and distribute the means of subsistence, sufficient to meet and satisfy the continually multiplying demands. It is to be observed, too, that these demands are not like those in the earlier periods of society. They become refined, grow ore and more luxurious, and are not to be easily appeased or turned off. It is not necessary for us, however, to dwell upon this, or to trace minutely its particular causes. Food evidently becomes cheaper. This may be owing mainly to the extension of agriculture, or rather, we should day, to improvements in every department of the vegetable kingdom; for corn is not the only basis of subsistence, nor indeed in all cases indispensable necessary to it, as Mr Malthus and his followers seem in all their reasonings to assume. How far these improvements may be extended we cannot calculate. They seem to us indefinite. Discovery and invention, those mighty agents, which are the most busy and productive when necessity calls them to her aid, will find nature here, as elsewhere, inexhaustible. The farther they have proceeded, generally, the more clear and boundless is the field before them. We know not why there should be supposed an exception, where an exception is the most alarming, and seems most inconsistent with Heaven’s great general law of universal benevolent design. The fruitful nutritious powers of the earth we believe to be infinite. Let us not give way, then, to the weak, disheartening apprehensions, which seem to have arisen from some of the speculations we have just been considering, that, unless checked by war, by disease, by famine, or pestilence, population must so increase, as at no distant period to overrun all the cultivable parts of the globe, and drain them completely of their fruits and of their resources. Such fears ought not to be allowed to mingle themselves with the views of an enlightened philosophy.

The writers of the new school estimate the tendency of population to increase by the ratio, in which it can actually increase under the most favorable circumstances. We have a right to apply the same principle in estimating the tendency of food to increase. The question then is, not what amount of this, compared with the population, there actually is in any particular country, but what amount it is capable of procuring if at any time it were imperiously called for. Suppose that all the controllable checks on its increase, of which there are many, were suspended, and that the labor, ingenuity, and wealth of an opulent community were for a very short period applied to the growth or to the procuring of various kinds of food alone, we believe that a geometrical ratio will feebly express its tendency to increase, if the amount of it be at intervals compared with the progress of the society from its earliest efforts. It certainly never does multiply in that proportion, and the reason is apparent. It is not wanted. There would be a wild, pernicious waste, the destructive influences of which must be felt by every class of people, if it were so produced. Production would infinitely exceed, for a time, profitable consumption. We have a right, however, to consider such to be its natural tendency of increase, if it be fair to speak, as has been done, of the natural tendency to increase in the human species. It is only applying the same principle of reasoning to both.

The truth is, there is not propriety in so speaking of either of them. Food has no natural tendency to increase, as we have formerly said, even in an arithmetical ratio. Man increases it. Man is capable of increasing it indefinitely at pleasure, and far beyond any ratio that has been assigned to the multiplication of the human race. Even in those very countries, where the laboring classes seem to approach nearest to the borders of famine, there is waste and profusion of subsistence, and vast stores of unappropriated wealth, which might be all turned to the production of infinitely larger quantities, if these were efficiently demanded. The suffering poor may not be able to bring any of this ill-used abundance within their reach. Why is this? Vicious political institutions have cursed them. Or, what is not improbable, they have not chosen aright the professions or the callings, which can alone empower them to procure the supply of what the profusion of the rich is always a full demand. At any rate, there is no universal scarcity of food; nothing that approaches to a general want. There is enough, if it were brought within their reach.

It was our wish, and our intention, to carry our remarks on this question to a greater extent, than we are a present permitted to do. Many other strong considerations in support of our opinions are now before us. But we have already transgressed our limits, and must close this article. Before taking leave of Dr Cooper’s book, however, we are bound to say, that we have hardly spoken so much at length of its merits as it deserves. With a few exceptions, it abounds in enlightened views and clear statements. It is written throughout with force and spirit, and may be recommended to such pupils, as wish to run over a brief outline of the important branches of the science, and awaken a livelier interest in the more extensive study of it.

Page created: July 12, 2004                                            close window