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ces do not square with the theory, call in question the science itself, instead of attributing the error to the faulty application of it. Hence arises an unhappy dissension between theory and practice, to the lasting detriment of both.
The Political Economists themselves are somewhat to blame for this result, by pressing too eagerly for the reduction of their favorite doctrines to practice, without regard to the particular circumstances of each case. The general doctrine of Free Trade, for instance, which may be correct when applied to two nations which are similarly situated in every respect, which have grown up under the same institutions and the same laws, and in which the profits of capital, the wages of labor, and the ratio of population to territory are nearly on a level, is extended by a hasty generalization to two countries that are contrasted with each other in all these respects, and in its application to which, to say the least, the correctness of the principle is very doubtful. We have in this country the largest extension of the system of free trade which the world has ever witnessed; we have free trade between Maine and Louisiana, between California and Massachusetts; and no one doubts that the system is equally beneficial to all these States. But before the system is carried out between England and the United States, we may reasonably inquire whether it will not necessarily tend to an equalization of profits and wages in the two countries, and whether it is desirable here to hasten the operation of the causes which are rapidly reducing the rates of both to the English standard. This subject will be considered hereafter ; but I may say here, that the question does not relate to the correctness of the general principle in economical science, but only to its applicability under particular circumstances. That all terrestrial bodies gravitate to the centre of the earth, is a general law, which is not disproved by the floating of a cork in a basin of water.
Another prejudice against Political Economy has arisen from an error of an opposite character ; — from too strict a limitation of it to the causes affecting the increase of national wealth, the other interests of a people being undervalued or left out of sight. The English Economists of Ricardo's school have most frequently fallen into this error; looking merely to the creation of material values, they have tacitly assumed that
this was the only interest of society, the only end which legislation should have in view. The proposition on which they act, though they seldom directly enunciate it, is, that the augmentation of national wealth is at once the sign and the measure of national prosperity. We may admit that it is so, if the wealth be distributed with some approach to equality among the people. But if the vast majority of the nation is beggared, while enormous fortunes are accumulated by a few, - if pauperism increases at one end of the social scale as rapidly as wealth is heaped up at the other, — then, even though the ratio of the aggregate wealth to the aggregate population is constantly growing larger, the tendency of things is downward, and, sooner or later, if a remedy be not applied, society will rush into degradation and ruin.
In order to obtain a broader field of inquiry, the subject to be discussed in this volume will be, the general well-being of society, so far as this is affected by the moral causes regulating the production, distribution, and consumption of wealth. It may be doubted whether the whole of this theme is included within the limits of Political Economy, properly so called ;- and therefore I propose to consider not only the science itself, but its application to a particular case, — the circumstances and institutions of the American people. Thus is opened a wide scope for investigation. The fluctuations of national prosperity; the various social condition of different communities at the same period, and of the same community at different periods; the nature, and effect upon the wealth, happiness, and numbers of the people, of the various institutions, laws, and customs which have obtained in different countries and at different times, - might all pass in review before the subject would be exhausted. Hitherto, history has been in the main a political record, - a narrative of wars, conquests, and changes in the form of government. But the social economy of different states has now become the chief object of interest even to the historian. Statesmen have been obliged to make the study of politics second to that of political economy.
Monarchs now strive to guard their thrones, not so much by the number and efficiency of their standing armies, as by the prudent management of their finances, and by their successful development of the agricultural, commercial, and manufacturing resources of
their people. They build railways, form Customs-Unions to relieve trade of its fetters, establish colonies to get rid of surplus population, and thus aim to acquire or regain a firm basis for that authority which formerly rested only on prescription and military force. Men now coolly count the cost, the comparative value in dollars and cents, of a monarchy and a republic. The idea of political freedom, of choosing their own governors and managing their own affairs, is no longer attractive enough to lead the people, if it be not united with some project for a new organization and a more equal enjoyment of the goods of this life. Hence the rise of so many schemes of Socialism and Communism, which gave a character to the Revolutions of 1848 wholly unlike that of any other political disturbances recorded in the previous history of the world.
Even if the disastrous consequences of the insane attempts then made to reorganize society should prevent a speedy repetition of the experiment, there is another danger, from which no civilized community is entirely free, - lest the several classes of which it is composed should cherish mutual jealousy and hate, which may finally break out into open hostilities, under the mistaken idea that their interests are opposite, and that one or more of them possess an undue advantage, which they are always ready to exercise by oppressing the others. Twenty years ago, Archbishop Whately pointed out the full extent of this danger in a single pregnant question :-“ Can the laboring classes, — and that, too, in a country where they have a legal right to express practically their political opinions, can they be safely left to suppose, as many a demagogue is ready, when it suits his purpose, to tell them, that inequality of conditions is inexpedient, and ought to be abolished; that the wealth of a man whose income is equal to that of a hundred laboring families is so much deducted from the common stock, and causes a hundred poor families the less to be sustained; and that a general spoliation of the rich, and an equal division of property, would put an end to poverty for ever?" Under these circumstances, we may ask further, Can we safely neglect to explain and teach the great truths which Political Economy has demonstrated; — that all classes of society are inseparably bound together by a community of interest; that the prosperity of each depends on the welfare of all; that the national industry must be meagre and profitless in its results, if it has not capital or concentrated wealth to coöperate with it; that an equal division of property would in fact destroy or dissipate that which was divided; and that the only equality of condition which human nature renders possible, is an equal. ity of destitution and suffering ?
I need not apologize for the science which treats of the creation of wealth, on the ground that it relates only to one of the lower interests of humanity, and that it is not of so much moment for an individual or a society to be rich, as it is to be wise, free, instructed, and virtuous. It is true that wealth is one of the lower elements or supports of civilization, and that the comparative quantity of it is but an imperfect index of national worth and national well-being. But it is also true, that wealth is that element of civilization which supports all the others, and that, without it, no progress, no refinement, no liberal art would be possible. Without property, without large accumulations of wealth, no division of labor would be possible; and without division of labor, each man must provide by his own toil for all his bodily wants. He must plant, sow, and reap for himself. He must be his own tailor, shoemaker, housewright, and cook. The scholar could no longer devote himself exclusively to his books, the man of science to the observation of nature, the artist to the canvas or marble, the physician to the cure of diseases, or the clergyman to the care of souls. All would be bound alike by the stern necessity of daily brutish toil on the most repulsive tasks. National wealth is a condition of progress, – a prerequisite of civilization. It is not in itself ennobling; but it is that which vivifies and maintains all the other elements and influences which dig. nify humanity and render life desirable.
Even if popular ignorance and prejudice upon this subject were not dangerous to the state, a liberal curiosity would not rest satisfied without some knowledge of the laws affecting the creation and production of wealth, — laws which are, in truth, as constant and uniform as those which bind the material uni. verse together, and evince the wisdom and goodness of the Creator quite as clearly as any of his arrangements in the organic kingdom. Blanco White, speaking of the inattention of the ancients to the philosophy of wealth, compares their state of mind to that of children in the house of an opulent tradesman, who, finding the comforts and necessaries of life supplied to them with mechanical regularity, never inquire into the machinery by which these effects are produced, or, if they ever do think about it, suppose that breakfast, dinner, and supper succeed one another by the spontaneous bounty of nature, like spring, summer, and autumn. It is true, that men are usually selfish in the pursuit of wealth; but it is a wise and benevolent arrangement of Providence, that even those who are thinking only of their own credit and advantage are led, unconsciously but surely, to benefit others. The contrivance by which this end is effected — this reconciliation of private aims with the public advantage — is often complex, far-reaching, and intricate; and thus more strongly indicates the benevolent purpose of the Designer. In the instance already given, we have seen that the wealth of an individual, perhaps a sordid and covetous one, invested by him with a view only to his own advantage and security, and to spare himself the trouble of superintending it, still circulates through the community without his knowledge, supporting the laborer at his task, supplying means to the ingenious and the enterprising for the furtherance of their designs, and assuming with facility every shape which the necessities or the convenience of society may require.
I borrow, with some abridgment, a simple and striking illustration of the same great truth from Dr. Whately.
“Let any one propose to himself the problem of supplying with daily provisions of all kinds a city like London, containing about two millions of inhabitants. Let him imagine himself a head commissary, intrusted with the office of furnishing to this enormous host their daily rations. A failure in the supply even for a single day might produce the most frightful distress. Some, indeed, of the articles consumed might be stored up in reserve for a considerable time; but many, including most articles of animal food and many of vegetable, are of the most perishable nature. As a deficient supply of these, even for a few days, would occasion great inconvenience, so a redundancy of them would produce a corresponding waste. The city is also of vast extent, - a province covered with houses, - and it is essential that the supplies should be so distributed as to be brought almost to the doors of all the inhab