Billeder på siden

adhere rigidly to his explanation throughout his work, excepting in cases where he gives notice of his deviation from it, by some qualifying epithet or explanatory clause. This seems to be a very plain method of proceeding, and scarcely to need enforcement by reasons; and yet we shall find, that a departure from it is one great cause why the study of this science is so little satisfactory. The same writer will sometimes use this word as synonymous with utility, sometimes with cost, and sometimes with price; and it does in fact coincide with each of them in some respects, but it differs from each in others; and the use of it in its different senses, and the careless substitution of the others for it, and for each other, as synonymous, (for their signification is also quite diverse,) raise a mist in the writer's own mind most probably, and certainly in the reader's; and then follow criticisms and verbal hair-splitting. And thus the science of political economy dwindles into a miserable logomachy; and the reader, instead of making progress in the principles on which a nation is to be made great, and rich, and happy, finds himself involved in grammatical subtilties and verbal disquisitions, as if the matter in hand were what Johnson calls the harmless drudgery of making a dictionary, and not the analysis of the great moving causes whereby millions are brought into a state of well-being or ill-being. But, to return to our definition of value; its proper meaning, in a treatise on political economy, we understand to be, the exchangeable efficacy of a thing; that is, its efficacy in procuring other things by exchange in the market. This signification is plain, and the ordinary one in commerce; and, if it had been scrupulously adhered to, except when a departure from it was distinctly intimated, as by saying value in money, value in wheat, value in labor, or using some other additional epithet or phrase, political economy would ere this have been much better entitled to the rank of a science.

The next subject, or rather a part of the same, is an investigation of the causes of value, and of its enhancement and reduction, that is, its laws. And here we have a wide field for philosophical, speculative investigation, which must not be passed by, and which has interest, and may yield instruction, as long as it remains unexhausted; but our authors are wont to labor and dig in it long after it has become exhausted and yields no fruits. Here too we are presented with

a theory, perhaps two or three, but certainly one, to wit, that value depends on labor, and that its degree is determined by the quantity and quality of labor; so that, if the author painfully labors his chapter, it follows demonstratively that it is proportionably valuable, and so, if he of the antagonist theory labors no less painfully his demolition of this same structure, his chapter of the ruins is equally valuable. This second does not, however, confine himself to demolition; he says, that value is compounded of rent and labor, as Smith asserts; or, as Say contends, the combined production of man coöperating with the agency of nature. Mr. Carey holds, again, that productive land itself is only consolidated labor, being, like all other value, a condensed extract from human mind and muscles; and therefore that rent is only the wages of the labor of some former year, or some former generation, and that effective fertility and habitability are created by industry, and may be analyzed into that primordial and all-forming element. And here the author, having achieved his chapter of construction and demolition of theories on this subject, not without much oracular truism, grave triviality, and no-meaningness, after the manner of Malthus, or metaphysics of the Rialto, after that of Ricardo, usually stops, by way of gratulation of himself, and congratulation with his reader, on the retrospect of his curious and admirable diorama of all the workshops and fields of this world, not forgetting to point out the ruins of that other very respectable author's theory.

Mr. Carey usually gives his reader a bird's-eye retrospect, from his balloon at the end of each stage, of the where and whither of the zigzags and dark passages of the route gone over from the starting-point, where was the man upon a solitary island plucking fruit, down to his present stopping-place. Thereupon the said reader, if he have a happy aptitude to astonishment, sees divers of the laws of nature," as Mr. Carey calls his doctrines, as visible and distinct as the weights and wheels of the town clock in the church tower. He sees, deep down among the arcana mundi, not only that labor creates value, but that it alone creates value and measures it, the two being always in the same precise proportion. He begins to apply his new knowledge practically, and finds it work admirably. He finds out thereby, that men by working build houses, and grow corn, and dig iron ore, and make it into iron, and again this iron into steel; and that even his

goosequill, to write with, is only attainable by the labor of plucking it, at least, if not that of feeding the goose besides ; and that, if he works at a given rate, he will bring more to pass in one hundred days than he can in fifty,a very useful piece of practical knowledge. And here he stops, perhaps, if he is a reader of easy faith, and prompt to be satisfied with knowledge. But, if he is one of the nil admirari school, who looks into things without being wonder-struck with specious appearances, and is given to mathematical tests and practical applications, he readily finds, that any two equally good laborers do not, in the same fifty days, produce the same marketable value; nor the same laborer in any two successive periods of that length; and is apt to conclude, that, though this theory of value may be a bright constellation in the heaven of invention of a transcendental political economist, it is, after all, of no great actual utility in navigation; for its stars dance about in such a maze, and their light is so refracted and warped and criss-crossed by the media through which it comes to him in his sublunary world of affairs, that he cannot, by taking the most careful observation, find out where his ship is, or what land it is like to make.

And why, in this stage of the author's inquiry, all this profound diving below the bottom into the mud? or soaring with theoretical sublimity, out of sight, among the clouds? We have no quarry in the air, or pearl oyster in the depths, to consolidate our labor in by making it ours; but we are as yet merely making our preparations at our leisure, choosing our tackle and adjusting our furniture, which is ready supplied to hand. The whole business of the economist is so far merely making an extract from the dictionary, and noting the obvious results of the comparison of any two prices current.

Value, then, being defined to be exchangeableness, how does it happen that a thing is exchangeable? How, but because it is transferable, and somebody, incited by necessity, fancy, or whim, wants it? And he will pay us for it in proportion to the vehemence of his desire, unless he can get it of some one else at a certain rate, or produce it for himself at less sacrifice, by the time he wants it; either of which, if he can do, he is sure not to give any more for it than he can otherwise purchase or can produce it for, unless he is such an outrageous theoretical economist, that he will give us twice as much, merely because it has cost us twice as much labor or sacri

fice of one kind or another, and he considers the value to consist in the cost. Now this is all so very plain, that no one would think of uttering such truisms, unless he had the apology, that it was merely preliminary, a sort of premises to sequents that may be worth expressing; and, therefore, like axioms in geometry, the obviousness of which is their essential recommendation. Now these intuitive aphorisms are economical sublimities to small minds; and, by the frigid enthusiasm of such, have been puffed out into so great an opaque magnitude, with a hazy penumbra of theories, and verbal, dialectic, and grammatical subtilties, as to overshadow and quite eclipse this delectable science of political economy, insomuch that its "gladsome light" is more dismal, than that of jurisprudence as beheld in Coke's Institutes.

Value having been thus defined, and the reason given why people exchange what they have for what they want, if they can find it; and upon what terms, and to what extent they will go; and all this in few words, and without gratulation or congratulation, as if the riddle of the Sphinx had been solved; the inquirer then comes to the examination of the phenomena of the markets; the phases, the waxings and wanings of the price current, from its bright rotundity at the full,in the brilliant sunshine of prosperity, and heyday of sanguineness and speculation,- to the opposite extreme of obscuration of its entire disk, darkened by the shadow of its own immense bulk, at the gloomy time of glut, plethora, and dead stagnation, typified by zero in the price current. Here, then, the more serious business begins of developing scientific doctrines, bearing more immediately upon legislation and affairs, but yet not very intimately, the subjects being still of a somewhat introductory character, and the doctrines following mostly as corollaries from, or being illustrations of, the explanations already given of the causes of the origin of value or exchangeableness, and the general limits of the operation of those causes. Thus we have said, that value originates in the desire that others have to obtain the exchangeable article, and is limited by the intensity of that desire; for a man will not so vehemently want a toothpick, or walking-stick, as to give a good farm in exchange, though he cannot obtain it on any better terms. But when we come to more pressing wants, the value will be without any other limit than the means to buy; as we see in times of scarcity, when hungry

Esau sells his right of primogeniture for a supper, which he will have at any rate; the only question being, at what most favorable rate it can be had, and, if Jacob be the only vendor in the market, his terms must be complied with, whatever they may be. But, if Jacob is only one of a throng of competitors offering the same article, the tables are turned, and Esau does not bargain until he has ascertained the lowest terms upon which either will part with his pottage, rather than take the chance of its spoiling on his hands. Thus any perishable articles, such as many edible ones are, fluctuate more suddenly, and to wider extremes, than those which are less perishable; the vendors of the latter, if they cannot make satisfactory terms, being willing to take the chance of keeping them on hand, a month or a year longer; and this the more readily, if confidence is strong, and credit easy, and enterprise rife, and each man in the community has the command, to a greater or less degree, of the money, goods, capital, in short, of the others. For, though indebtedness reciprocally accumulates and augments all around, and a network of obligations, to and from, involves the whole community, and the circumstances of each one are implicated in the success and honesty, and misfortunes and frauds, of some twenty or a hundred, or five hundred others, still each is easy and sanguine, and confident that he can disengage himself from the meshes if he chooses; since, as demand is quick and steady, he can at any time, at a small sacrifice at least in his sales, dispose of his stock, collect his debts, and wind up his affairs with a fortune, or at least a competence. And, having this resort at the worst, he is disposed to hold on for the best, and stand out for a high profit, until, by and by, a crash happens here and another there, and the network begins to tremble, and he begins to pull upon the strings, the ends of which he holds in his own hands; and they break, one after another; and he begins at the same time to feel himself drawn, more and more strongly, by those in the hands of others; and he attempts to loose them, but the knots will not yield, for they are fastened by a lock that is governed only by a golden key, which is not to be found; and he puts his goods and lands into the auctioneer's crucible, for the wherewithal to fashion another, the same proceeding being resorted to by B, C, D, &c., to the end of the alphabet. The press to sell reduces

« ForrigeFortsæt »