Изображения страниц

not meet with any difficulty in expressing our opinions so as to be obvious to all. If, however, we commence writing before we have properly digested our subject, and, from the absence of any fixed plan, or from the indistinctness and confusion of our crude notions, are compelled to give hasty and unexamined explications of the terms on which our reasonings are to rest, and then, from pride of opinion, are led to defend the conclusions into which our terms have carried us, a vagueness and want of object will be visible in even the best part of our speculations, and many of our deductions will be remarkable only for their absurdity. Such we believe to be the origin of many of the immature, unshapen publications, of which the fruitful press is delivered.* With much kindness, we would humbly advise these premature authors to avoid the Herculean labour of writing a book on Political Economy. Neither should any one think that he has explored the depths of a subject, which has exercised the acute and comprehensive minds of Smith and Ricardo, and many others, and is yet incomplete, because he may have perused the works of all these celebrated writers. In this science, in a greater degree perhaps than in any other, it is wisdom, "multum, non multa legere;" and it would require some search to find a better reason of a man's deficiency in the knowledge of its principles, than the fact of his having looked into so many publications. If an individual, without having previously studied any one author thoroughly, and thus by a careful investigation of his arguments, fixed some fundamental truths in his mind, to which as a standard he may bring his future reading, should have the confidence to think himself qualified to weigh the conflicting statements of political economists, he will almost inevitably wrap himself about with a mantle of darkness; and this not in consequence of any want of clearness in the science, but because its reasonings, like all others founded on the observation of facts, are modified by the greater or less degree of penetration and industry in the observers. Thus one may have carried his knowledge of particular facts to a certain extent, and then based his arguments upon them; and his positions to himself, and to those of no more information, will seem to be immoveable. But another person, who has analyzed the facts more fully, and weighed some circumstances which had not before been noticed, will draw different conclusions from apparently the same premises. We have repeated instances of tbis in our daily ex

It will be seen that we are not speaking of such books, as the Letters of“ Hamil. ton," or of Professor List, or the reports of the late Secretary of the Treasury. Nothing is easier than to manufacture a thing of that kind.

perience; and doubtless much of the diversity of opinion, which prevails in relation to subjects that are founded on eternal, immutable truth, is owing to the difference of the progress made by men of various powers, in their investigation. “When we have arrived at the end of our own line, we are apt to imagine that we have reached the bottom of the ocean.'

But we have wandered from the point that we had in view, which was to illustrate the importance of clear and determinate explanations of the leading words in the science of Political Economy :--of those words which recur so frequently, and the right uuderstanding of which is indispensable in our disquisitions. This has not been sufficiently attended to by Smith and Say; and to this source may be referred many difficulties, that seem insuperable at first view, but which disappear so soon as we have ascertained the exact meaning of the terms employed. Mr. Raymond complains loudly that this accuracy in the use of language has been entirely neglected ;* and gives us ground for believing that the evil will be remedied by his publication. It would seem however from Mr. R.'s remarks that this is by no means the only, nor the principal improvement which the world may enjoy from his labours. Former writers, we are instructed, have been busied only in “ spreading successive layers of clouds over the science.”+ All the sagacity and power of intellect of such men as Smith, and Ricardo, and Say, seem only “darkness visible" to the keener optics of our countryman! For ourselves we must admit that if our author has high talents and attainments, there is no very alarming probability of their remaining in obscurity from the want of some person to inform the world of the fact.

But let us leave the author, and turn our attention to his work. The word "value" is of frequent occurrence in the cominon use of language. We speak of the “ value” of life, and of the “value” of gold, &c. Now it is obvious that the term cannot be of the same signification in all its various applications.Life is not valuable in the same sense of the word with gold.-Hence Dr. Smith makes the foilowing distinction : “ The word value has two different meanings, and sometimes expresses the utility of some particular object, and sometimes the power of purchasing other goods, which the possession of that object conveys. The one may be called "value in use;' and the other, 'value in exchange. The things which have the greatest value in use, have frequently little or no value in exchange; and on the contrary, those which have the greatest value in ex

* Vol. 1, p. 70, 71, et passim. Vol. 1, p. 76.

[ocr errors]

change, have frequently little or no value in use. Nothing is more useful than water; but it will purchase scarce any thing; scarce any thing can he had in exchange for it. A diamond, on the contrary, has scarce any value in use; but a very great quantity of other goods may frequently be had in exchange for


This seems obvious enough. Mr. R. however, is not satisfied. Hear himself: “To talk about the value of a thing which either has no value, or cannot be valued, is certainly an inaccurate and ambiguous mode of expression. But in truth the word has but one appropriate meaning, which should always be applied to it, when we would speak with precision.”+ Now in despite of the very general concession of superiority to the individual, wise enough to discover flaws in the workmanship of others, we are inclined to believe that Dr. Smith's language possesses the higher degree of scientific precision. Mr. R. has issued his mandate that the word has but one meaning; but we remember to have read of “latis a summis Pontificibus contra Telluris motum decretis ;” and that the sturdy old eartb still continued to move on as usual, with a great want of reverence for his Holiness; and thus instructed, we have great fears that the world will speak as formerly, and talk of the "value” of knowledge and modesty as absurdly as ever.

If our readers should be desirous of knowing how much regard Mr. R. pays to his own criticism, in the use of the term "value," they may examine the references given at the foot of the page. Mr. R. is by no means sparing in the employment of such polysyllables as sophistry,' absurdity,' nonsensical,' et id genus omne; and though we will not suffer ourselves to imitate his courtesy, we must briefly notice another particular before leaving this part of our author's work. We find him asserting that what an individual or a nation consumes has no value. “ That portion (of the individual's produce) which is necessary for his own subsistence, and which he actually subsists upon, can no more be valued than his life can be valued. So that portion of the annual produce which a nation subsists upou, or consumes itself, can have no value in a national point of view, because not being to the nation the subject of exchange, the relation of price or value has no existence in regard to it." If Mr. R. means that after the products are consumed, they have no value, we presume no person will question the correctness of his position : since “to consume" is to destroy the value of the articles which are the objects of consumption; and therefore the proposition, that commodities, when consumed, have no value, is equivalent to this, that when the value of objects is destroyed, it no longer exists; which certainly is no very important discovery. But if the gentleman wishes to convey the idea that objects designed for consumption, have no value, this sentence embraces all products whatever: for the only reason why value is produced is that it may be consumed; and this applies not only to what a nation consumes immediately after its having been produced, but also to what has been imported in return for the products of domestic industry exported. In this way we arrive at the conclusion that value does not exist. It is quite probable, however, that Mr. R. has confounded the objects of consumption with the benefits to be derived from them by the consumers. If so, he has merely imposed on himself by neglecting the distinction between the common and technical meaning of the word "value." To the individual, his life is all important. No person could persuade him that the world itself would be a sufficient compensation for its loss ; since this condition would prevent his receiving the reward, and death would have closed his eyes to all its splendours. At the same time, perhaps no other person would give the merest trifle of property for that which he cannot receive or enjoy ; but which to its possessor is above all price. It is like estimating length with a measure of capacity, to speak of exchangeable value with re

* Wealth of Nations, Vol. 1, p. 20. + Vol. 1, p. 60. In Vol. 1, conf. p. 57, with p. 65. In Vol. 1, p. 66, we find Mr. R. using the term "value," in both meanings in the same sentence.

9 Vol. 1, p. 59.

spect to life.

Objects have exchangeable value because they either do, or are supposed to possess intrinsic worth or utility. We must not, however, imagine that their value in exchange is in proportion to their usefulness. “Without utility of some species or other, no article will ever be an object of demand , but how necessary soever any particular article may be to our comfort, or even existence, and however great the demand for it, still, if it be a spontaneous production of nature,-if it exists independantly of human agency, and if every individual has an indefinite command over it, it can never become the subject of an exchange, or afford a basis for the reasonings of the economist.” We may form a pretty accurate estimate of the utility of an article of consumption, by reflecting on the privations we should endure from the want of it. A quantity of gold will exchange for many times its weight of iron; yet when viewed as respects their utility, if we were under the necessity of choosing one of the metals, and relinquishing the other, no person could hesitate a moment. The loss of gold would scarcely be felt; while we could not conveniently do without iron. The absence of air would be certain destruction to all the animated creation ; but its exchangeable value is nothing.

The investigation of a proper standard of value has employed the research of the ablest writers, and is yet unsettled with the partisans of both schools. By Mr. R. however, this difficult matter, which has been viewed in different lights, by the mightiest minds, is seen through at a glance; and he expresses bis surprise, that his predecessors should have been so short-sighted, in the following manner : “Although the nature of value is plain enough when no attempt is made to explain it, and although a permanent standard of value is in the nature of things an impossibility, nay, a palpable absurdity, still both the nature of value and its true standard have occupied the attention of such grave philosophers that it would be disrespectful to pass them over without observation."*

Now a matter may seem exceedingly plain from very different and indeed opposite causes :from the want of knowledge as well as the possession of it. Many persons behold the celestial bodies, and view the moon and stars “walking in their brightness,” with less emotion than that excited by the most ordinary occurrence of life; but the philosopher, who has in some measure been initiated into the mysteries of God's works, and who finds the limits of the universe receding in proportion as he advances, stands overpowered by the magnificent realities spread out before hiin, and still more, by the unknown,-the unexplored ; and feels himself lost in the immensity of creation. An author, therefore, of moderate reflection, and much more an author of only moderate arrogance, would have hesitated to speak sneeringly of the “grave philosophers,” even if he had been well assured that they had wandered from the truth, which their labours had made visible to others. But we gladly leave this subject for the purpose of examining what has been done to ascertain an accurate standard of value. This part of the science is of great moment, since it lies at the foundation of all our reasonings about wealth; and determinate knowledge on this point, will throw a steady light on all our discussions. Without such information, the mind is without a resting place; and oscillates with the supply and demand ; and feels no satisfaction in a study when the first · principles cannot be grasped firmly as tangible, palpabla truth.

Vol. 1, p. 56, 57.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »