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Whether in Political Economy or in physical science, before proceeding to account for a phe
writers called natural money. If this be a true description of them, they must be distributed by natural laws, and one nation cannot have more of them than another, any more than one man can have more atmospherical air than another. Europe, generally, is in a state of civilisation which makes gold the most convenient metal for its coin ; Asia, generally, is in a state of civilisation which makes silver the most convenient metal for its coin. Europe cannot possibly have all the gold and all the silver too. Gluttonous as it may be-led astray as its inhabitants still may be by the old theories of wealth—to desire to keep for itself all the gold and silver that Providence sends for all the nations of the earth, it cannot possibly be gratified; and so we see the large new supplies of the precious metals pretty fairly distributed over all. Gold comes from America and Australia into Europe ; and silver, displaced by it, goes from Europe to Asia, to India and China, spreading natural money everywhere. So, by the bounty of Providence, the useful instruments of life in society are distributed by two streams running in different directions over all the earth. Man is the agent for making the distribution, but he is not conscious of all the effects he produces.”
Observe the reasoning in this passage :-Gold and silver have in all countries been used as money ; they have been called natural money; therefore (assuming the designation as correct, which the writer does) they must be distributed by natural laws ; and therefore one nation cannot have more of them than another. Now, in the first place, whether gold and silver be distributed according to “natural laws,” cannot in the least depend upon whether they have been properly called "natural money.” Paper credit, e. g. has never been called “natural money,” nevertheless, it is governed by natural laws as certainly as gold and silver ; if it were not so, the attempt to regulate the paper currency would be an absurdity. It is only in so far as things are governed by natural laws known to us—that is to say, it is only in so far as we know that certain effects will follow from certain causes—that we can hope to control them.
But, secondly, it is argued that, because gold and silver are distributed by natural laws, therefore “one nation cannot have more of them than another, any more than one man can have more atmospherical air than another.” In the first place it is not easy to see
nomenon, it is well to ascertain the fact, whether the assumed phenomenon have existence. The problem
what the connexion is between “natural laws” and equal distribution of the commodities which are subject to these laws; but, secondly, it is not true that one nation has no more of the precious metals than another; indeed it is so palpably untrue, that it is scarcely possible to believe that the writer could have meant what he so distinctly asserts. What then does he mean by saying that one nation cannot have more of the precious metals than another ? Does he mean that the share of each is in proportion to its population ? or in proportion to its trade ? In neither of these senses is the doctrine more true than in the former. The trade of England is far greater than that of France, but the quantity of the precious metals in France is greater than in England ; and the quantity in India, in proportion to its trade, is immeasurably greater than in either England or France. Neither is the relation of the precious metals to population more constant than their relation to trade? Will it be said that what is intended is that the precious metals are distributed amongst the different nations of the world in proportion to their requirements for them. This is true, but to give this as an explanation of the principle according to which the distribution takes place, is to show that the writer does not understand in what consists the solution of an economic problem. To adopt his own illustration, it is just as if a person, when asked according to what principles the air is distributed round the globe, should reply according to the laws of pneumatics. What we want to know is, in the one case, what the laws of pneumatics are which regulate the dispersion of the atmosphere ; and in the other, what those requirements are which determine the distribution of the precious metals —we want to know, in short, what principles of human nature they are which, operating upon what external facts, produce the result which we see.
So far with regard to the precious metals generally; next with regard to the metals severally, we are told that silver goes to Asia, while gold remains in Europe, because “Europe is in a state of civilization which makes gold the most convenient metal for its coin,” while “Asia is in a state of civilization which makes silver the most convenient metal for its coin.” Now it is certain that no important change has taken place in the relative civilization of Europe and Asia, and, I may add, of America, during the last ten years. If the principle, then,
is then to be solved not by vague phrases and wholesale assumptions, but by connecting the fact to be accounted for with the ultimate principles of the science to which it belongs; and, in the case of Political Economy, these are the known propensities of human nature and ascertained facts of the external world
were a good one, silver would have been displaced in Europe long ago ; and inasmuch as “the civilization” of America has been equally in advance of oriental nations, silver would never have been the chief currency there. But silver has been the principal currency in both France and America until recently, and might be so still in spite of their “civilization,” were their mint regulations framed with a view to retaining it.
Had the writer of this passage a clear conception of what it is which Political Economy proposes to accomplish, the tracing of the phenomena of wealth up to definite human motives and ascertained external facts, he would scarcely have satisfied himself with such an explanation as I have quoted-an explanation which, in the vagueness of its phraseology and the looseness of its reasoning, is much more allied to the puerile conceits and verbal quibbles of the schoolmen, than to the rigour and precision of thought which modern science demands.
OF THE MALTHUSIAN DOCTRINE OF POPULATION.
I alluded in the opening lecture of this course to the present unsettled and unsatisfactory condition of Political Economy in regard to some of its fundamental principles; attributing this state of things, as you will probally remember, to the loose and unscientific views which prevail respecting the character of economic doctrines and the kind of proof by which they are to be sustained or refuted. This led me in the succeeding lectures to explain and illustrate at some length the character and method of the science. I now propose to vindicate the importance of the topics on which I have been insisting, by showing, in the instance of some fundamental doctrines, the manner in which unscientific views in respect to the nature and method of the science have operated in producing those differences of opinion to which I have referred.
One of those doctrines, as I conceive, quite fundamental in the science of Political Economy, though impugned and controverted in several recent publications, is the doctrine of population as expounded
by Malthus. It would of course be quite impossible, within the compass of a single lecture, to notice, much less satisfactorily to answer, all the various objections that have been in times past, or may still be, urged against this doctrine ; and it would be unnecessary were it possible ; most of them having received as full an answer as they deserve either from Malthus himself or from succeeding writers. I shall therefore confine myself to those which, either from their novelty, or from the circumstance that they have been lately endorsed by some economists of position, or from their logical character, will be most suitable to the object which I have in view—the illustration of economic method.
In order, however, that you should appreciate the force of these objections, it will be necessary for me to state the doctrine against which they have been advanced.
The celebrated Malthusian doctrine is to the following effect, viz. that there is a “constant tendency in all animated life to increase beyond the nourishment prepared for it ;" or, with reference more particularly to the human race, that "population tends to increase faster than subsistence.” From what I have already said of the character of an economic law, as well as from the terms of the proposition itself, you will at once perceive that it is not here asserted that population in fact increases faster than subsistence ; this would of course be physically impossible. You will also perceive that it is not in