Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

“Messrs. Ricardo and Say do not deny that the increasing demand for labour is a symptom of prosperity, but they affirm that it results inevitably from the increase of productions.

“Mr. Malthus and I deny this. We regard these two increments as resulting from independent, and sometimes even opposite causes. In our opinion, when the demand for labour does not precede and determine production, the market becomes overstocked, and then an increased production becomes a cause of ruin, not of enjoyment."

Even where such men differ, it appears to us that their differences may sometimes arise, if not from a mistatement of a question, at least from viewing it under different aspects, and with different prepossessions. Frequently these discussions approach the confines of metaphysics—they become a mere logomachy—the fair field for the display of keen wits and gladiatorial skill. We know not that we can remove any of the difficulties in this question. We will, however, briefly state our own impressions.

Demand arises from human wants, from the anxious desire of obtaining those objects which minister to the necessity, the comforts, or the mere caprices of mankind—it may be latent or active, expressed or understood. The demand when latent, may yet be as real and ardent as when most actively manifested. It may exist ia full force-it may be as well understood as if openly expressed. It is, perhaps, because this circumstance has not been duly considered, that the opinion, as an abstract theorem, has been adopted, that supply should precede demand. We will offer one or two illustrations to explain our position.

There has been no period, probably, since the days of Dædalus, in which men have not anxiously desired to possess wings. Many, before the age of the Psalmist, probably wished for the wings of the morning, not, however, that they might fly away and be no more seen, but that they might rove from place to place with facility, and change climate and country at pleasure. Yet no one runs from street to street inquiring for wings, because it is well understood that no such useful appendages to our frame have yet been invented. But in these days of discovery, should some one of those who load our patent offices with specifications, for the most part, of old things inade new, only patent a wellformed, powerful, safe and efficient substitute for wings, who can doubt that the demand would be most extensive and active. But it will spring from a pre-existing want, deeply implanted in our nature.

Again, from the first moment that the power of steam was made known, and applied in the most imperfect manner to ma

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

chinery, no wish was more strongly felt than that its tremendous agency should be employed to overcome the currents of rapid rivers, and impel boats along those streams, where the labour of men and the unsteady action of the wind are of so little avail

. It was perfectly immaterial whether the plan of Fitch, or Rumsey, or Fulton succeeded.

This was a

mere personal consideration. What the world wanted, was an application of this power in some form, or in åny form that could be managed with moderate skill, and could drive boats at a rate of not less than four or five miles an hour, against a rapid current. As soon as this was accomplished, the demand became extensive, and is constantly increasing. It cannot, however, be said that in this instance it was produced by the supply; on the contrary, it sprung from the pre-existing wants of society.

In like manner, men in a savage state, but far more in civilized and refined ages, are always feeling the strong desire of acquiring not only those objects which minister to their physical wants, but those which grow out of the refined taste and artificial distinctions of social life. A fondness for decoration in dress, in equipage, in furniture, in houses, are all modifications of this impulse. The particular form or fashion of these objects is immaterial; this is left to accident, to caprice, to the taste of the manufacturer or of his employer. It is, however, in this wide field for the display of ingenuity, in the fabrication of all things necessary for our convenience and luxury, our arts and our sciences, our serious occupations or fantastic amusements, that supply seems to precede and create demand, and in the wonderful contrivances to gratify the vanity, the indolence, the artificial wants of all classes and conditions of men, to tempt them by novelty, or beauty, or some imaginary advantages to purchase the ever varying commodities which industry and skill are constantly offering to their cupidity. It is in this manner that supply appears to increase indefinitely, and almost without limits, national wealth. For those nations who are most skilful in the arts, and who can command labour at the cheapest rate, draw to themselves the productions of all other countries in exchange for their own. How these productions, this wealth is afterwards distributed, we have already seen. That in this manner supply furnishes the means of exchange as well between nations as individuals, and increases consumption, we do not doubt; yet these means have value only when they conform to the wants and desires of men.

It seems also as if theory were pushed to extremes, when it is supposed that there cannot be an overproduction of any ar

ticle, at least of any valuable article, “because the wants and desires of men will always be ready to convert all this abundance to use." We fear the experience of the world, even at the present moment, is contradicting this opinion. When we analyze the subject, and take each particular item of which production is composed, no one will doubt of the possibility of overproduction. No one will deny, for instance, that more hats could be made than the whole human race could use, or shoes, or ploughs, or swords-or, as we remarked above, any individual article out of the whole mass of national wealth. Surely then it would be illogical to deny of the whole what is true of each part. If we were to make any exception, and even this is questionable, it would be in favour of food, because wages must ultimately depend on the price of food, and life, and to a certain extent, comfort, can be maintained under the greatest accumulation. Thus, if food should be produced to the greatest possible excess, so that the labour employed in its production, becomes almost valueless, yet the price of food would fall in the same proportion, and the modicum the labourer would receive, however small, would yet procure food, and having this in abundance, the human frame can easily be accustomed to many other privations. But with regard to other articles, the same advantage would not exist. They might be produced to excess, and the wages of the labour employed on them be reduced to nothing, while food, from other circumstances, may be sustained in value or even become scarce and dear-leaving the labourer no means of supporting life.

Our author opposes, and with much ingenuity, the theory of population proposed by Mr. Malthus. He appears to assume the only correct ground on which this theory can be controverted. He undertakes to prove that if the population of the human race increases in a geometrical proportion, the natural increase of vegetables and animals, by which human life is supported, increases in a far more rapid ratio, and that if accidental circumstances obstruct the natural increase of these substances, and limit it within very narrow compass, there is also some inscrutable law of nature acting against the possible increase of man, and defeating also on this point all speculative calculations. We shall, without entering on the question, ourselves, present one of the views of M. Sismondi, for the satisfaction and amusement of our readers, for we suspect, after all that has been written on the subject, that it will always be a point of mere speculative inquiry, without ever producing any practical result.

“ Mr. Malthus has established as a principle, that in every country the population is limited by the quantity of subsistence which the coun

try can furnish. This proposition is only true when applied to the globe itself, or to a portion of it which has no possible means of drawing from abroad any portion of its subsistence. He also supposes that the increase of subsistence can only follow an arithmetical progression, as the numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5—while population advancing in geometrical progression, will multiply in the ratio of 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, &c. This reasoning which forms the basis of the system of Mr. Malthus, and to which he appeals incessantly through his work, appears to us completely sophistical—and what is more important, this proposition is only true in the abstract, and can never be applied to political economy.”

[ocr errors]

M. Sismondi then goes on to state, that Mr. Malthus puts in opposition, without any regard to circumstances, the possible increase of the human race, to the positive and actual increase of vegetables and animals in a confined place, and under the most unfavourable circumstances. But when considered in the abstract, the multiplication of vegetables advances in a geometrical progression infinitely more rapid than that of birds or domestic animals, and these in their turn, multiply far more rapidly than men. It is scarcely possible to number the seeds of some plants—but speaking of those which contribute immediately to the support of man, and taking even a moderate estimate, it may be said that a grain of wheat will produce twenty grains the first year, four hundred the second, and eight thousand the third. The multiplication of the animals that feed on these vegetables is naturally slower, yet sheep double their number in four years, quadruple in eight, &c. In doubling every four years, in the twenty-fourth year, before, according to Mr. Malthus, the human race would have doubled once, sheep would have multiplied at the rate of sixty-four for one.

A famine caused by the inclemency of the seasons, by accidental occurrences, is not the obstacle to population of which Mr. Malthus speaks. He supposes an impossibility of production, not the loss of what may have been produced. The destruction of harvests, caused by rain or drought, is only a casual misfortune; it may be compensated by an increased abundance in the ensuing season, and can only be considered a counterpoise to the devastations which war or pestilence may occasionally make in the human family.

M. Sismondi is certainly happy in the illustrations he employs to prove that there are some latent and moral causes which act on the production of the human species, and that the mere want or abundance of food, is not the only principle which ought to be taken into consideration, when discussing this doctrine. The nobility, he remarks, are every where in possession of sufficient subsistence. They ought then, according to Mr. Malthus,

to multiply until their descendants cover the land, or shall be reduced to the last degree of poverty. But precisely the contrary happens. In every country in the world, ancient families decrease after a certain number of generations, and the body of the nobility is constantly recruited from the commoners. The descendants of those who lived in the time of Henry IV. are not so numerous as their ancestors were.

“ The origin of the Montmorency's is traced back at least as far as the epoch of Hugo Capet, and no one will doubt that from that time all those who had the right of bearing this name, have carefully preserved it. 'The Montmorencys have never wanted bread, their multiplication, according to the system of Mr. Malthus, can never have been stopped through the want of subsistence. Their number ought then to have doubled every twenty-five years. At this rate, supposing that the first had lived in the year one thousand, in the year 1600 his descendants ought to have amounted to the number of 16,777,216. France, at that period, did not contain so many inhabitants—their multiplication continuing at the same rate, the whole world, at the present day, would contain none but Montmorency's.'

This calculation has an air of pleasantry, but it seems to be a legitimate inference from Mr. Malthus' theory. The obstacles which buman vices and passions oppose to the increase of

population,-obstacles always sufficient to check its progress, and altogether independent of the means of subsistence, will constantly anticipate the evils Mr. Malthus apprehends, for we here perceive that it checks, before all others, those ranks of society which are most elevated and the most sheltered from want.

We are aware while we have been presenting M. Sismondi's observations on this question, that he has not exactly met the strong position of his adversaries. Their theory is that from the naturally slow increase of capital, from the carelessness, the profusion, the general profligacy of the rich, from the many political causes that counteract the accumulation of wealth, capital, which must be the support of population, can only increase by slow degrees, by at most an arithmetical progression, while the natural tendency of population is to multiply in the rapid ratio of the geometrical series. It has always appeared to us, however, that one element which ought to enter into the calculation, has been overlooked. In most countries, not more than one-fifth, or one-sixth; in fertile countries, not more than one-tenth of the population are found to be agriculturalists, to be employed in raising food for the maintenance of the rest. Now, as labour is the source of all capital, is capital itself, it seems

« ZurückWeiter »