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what before was a luxury, will be counted a necessary; and whilst their means of living are augmented, the real ease and com* fort of life will be diminished.
3. May I be allowed further to observe, that these consequences may become still more aggravated by a successful foreign commerce. It is true, that, by a constant influx of riches into a country, which will be the case while the balance of trade continues in its favour, a poor nation may be raised to that state of mediocrity we have before described; but here the good effects will cease. Should a sudden flow of wealth elevate the major part of it a step higher, it can only be (as formerly remarked) for a short season; some will grow idle; others, having just tasted the intoxicating cup of luxury, will contract new wants much faster than they will be able to supply them; besides, a sufficient number of labouring poor would not be left behind to perform the necessary drudgery of life, which those, therefore, who had lately raised themselves a degree above them, must either do for
themselves, or pay down a price for it, which might soon reduce them to their former level, if not below it. Lastly, should the commercial balance turn against the country, the consequences might be yet more distressing; such a shock could hardly fail to throw multitudes out of employment, labour would have to find out new channels, many private fortunes might be subverted, and the very existence of the state be brought into danger." Hence it may appear, first, that a perpetually increasing commerce ultimately tends to depress the mass of a people beneath mediocrity, however it may elevate the fortunes of individuals; and, secondly, that in respect to manners, its effect is to corrupt a virtuous country, however it may serve to civilize and improve a barbarous One *. . . . -
What then shall we think of that policy
* Le commerce corrompt les moeurs pures; cétoitle sujet des plaintes de Platon: il politet adoucit les moeurs
barbares, comme nous le voyons tous les jours. which would grasp the trade of the world, and in its expansive views, overlooking that system of mediocrity which is the natural seat of virtue and true enjoyment, would let in upon a country an overflow of riches, which is sure to be followed by luxury, with all its mischievous consequences? Yet to establish a better policy, in the latter periods of a great and commercial nation, without giving a check to its industry, and impairing those resources that are necessary to its very existence, may be a matter of much difficulty.
But though a complete reform in this case' might exceed the utmost human efforts, yet something might be done: though it faight be impossible to call back the political sun to the meridian, after it was passed, his further descent might be retarded. By heavy imposts on luxury its progress might be checked, and many of its pernicious effects diminished. A multitude of hands might be recovered to agriculture and useful manufactures, that are now retained by the more opulent citizens in vicious indulgence, or that are engaged in occupations which minister only to curiosity, or luxurious gratification*; a vast quantity of surface that is now consumed by superfluous horses, might be converted to the growth of corn, or the pasturing of those flocks and herds which contribute so largely to our clothing and sustenance; and such a proportionate tax might be laid on property, as would confine it within limits more consistent with the general welfare, and produce a present sensible relief to the national burdens. The utility of these or similar measures must be easily discerned; and there wants, nothing ,but public spirit both to discern and to carry them into execution. But this want is all. —It is for want of this, that a great nation may proceed from one excess to another,
. * " Perhaps two-thirds of the manufactures of England are employed upon articles of confessed luxury, ornament, or splendor; in the superfluous embellishment of some articles which' are useful in their kind, or upon others which have no conceivable use or value, but what is founded in caprice or fashion." • • .
till at length it arrive at a period when it can neither endure its diseases nor their remedies*.
* “Labente paulatim disciplinä, velut desident esprimö mores—deinde magis magisque lapsi—tum ire caeperint precipites—donce ad hac tempora, quibus nec vitia nostra, nec remedia pati possumus, perventum est.” Liv. Hist, lib. 1. initio.