Memorials and Other Papers V2
Thomas de Quincey
Part 4 out of 5
with no auxiliary means of motion or support beyond his own languishing
powers: blind and broken-hearted, he must have wandered into snares and
ruin; his own feet must have been supplanted immediately: but then came
to his aid another foot, the holy Antigone. She it was that guided and
cheered him, when all the world had forsaken him; she it was that
already, in the vision of the cruel Sphinx, had been prefigured dimly
as the staff upon which dipus should lean, as the _third_ foot
that should support his steps when the deep shadows of his sunset were
gathering and settling about his grave.
In this way we obtain a solution of the Sphinx's riddle more
commensurate and symmetrical with the other features of the story,
which are all clothed with the grandeur of mystery. The Sphinx herself
is a mystery. Whence came her monstrous nature, that so often renewed
its remembrance amongst men of distant lands, in Egyptian or Ethiopian
marble? Whence came her wrath against Thebes? This wrath, how durst it
tower so high as to measure itself against the enmity of a nation? This
wrath, how came it to sink so low as to collapse at the echo of a word
from a friendless stranger? Mysterious again is the blind collusion of
this unhappy stranger with the dark decrees of fate. The very
misfortunes of his infancy had given into his hands one chance more for
escape: these misfortunes had transferred him to Corinth, and staying
_there_ he was safe. But the headstrong haughtiness of youthful
blood causes him to recoil unknowingly upon the one sole spot of all
the earth where the coefficients for ratifying his destruction are
waiting and lying in ambush. Heaven and earth are silent for a
generation; one might fancy that they are _treacherously_ silent,
in order that dipus may have time for building up to the clouds the
pyramid of his mysterious offences. His four children, incestuously
born, sons that are his brothers, daughters that are his sisters, have
grown up to be men and women, before the first mutterings are becoming
audible of that great tide slowly coming up from the sea, which is to
sweep away himself and the foundations of his house. Heaven and earth
must now bear joint witness against him. Heaven speaks first: the
pestilence that walketh in darkness is made the earliest minister of
the discovery,--the pestilence it is, scourging the seven-gated Thebes,
as very soon the Sphinx will scourge her, that is appointed to usher
in, like some great ceremonial herald, that sad drama of Nemesis,--that
vast procession of revelation and retribution which the earth, and the
graves of the earth, must finish. Mysterious also is the pomp of ruin
with which this revelation of the past descends upon that ancient house
of Thebes. Like a shell from modern artillery, it leaves no time for
prayer or evasion, but shatters by the same explosion all that stand
within its circle of fury. Every member of that devoted household, as
if they had been sitting--not around a sacred domestic hearth, but
around the crater of some surging volcano--all alike, father and
mother, sons and daughters, are wrapt at once in fiery whirlwinds of
ruin. And, amidst this general agony of destroying wrath, one central
mystery, as a darkness within a darkness, withdraws itself into a
secrecy unapproachable by eyesight, or by filial love, or by guesses of
the brain--and _that_ is the death of dipus. _Did_ he die? Even
_that_ is more than we can say. How dreadful does the sound fall
upon the heart of some poor, horror-stricken criminal, pirate or
murderer, that has offended by a mere human offence, when, at
nightfall, tempted by the sweet spectacle of a peaceful hearth, he
creeps stealthily into some village inn, and hopes for one night's
respite from his terror, but suddenly feels the touch, and hears the
voice, of the stern officer, saying, "Sir, you are wanted." Yet that
summons is but too intelligible; it shocks, but it bewilders not; and
the utmost of its malice is bounded by the scaffold. "Deep," says the
unhappy man, "is the downward path of anguish which I am called to
tread; but it has been trodden by others." For dipus there was no such
comfort. What language of man or trumpet of angel could decipher the
woe of that unfathomable call, when, from the depth of ancient woods, a
voice that drew like gravitation, that sucked in like a vortex, far off
yet near, in some distant world yet close at hand, cried, "Hark,
dipus! King dipus! come hither! thou art wanted!" _Wanted!_ for
what? Was it for death? was it for judgment? was it for some wilderness
of pariah eternities? No man ever knew. Chasms opened in the earth;
dark gigantic arms stretched out to receive the king; clouds and vapor
settled over the penal abyss; and of him only, though the neighborhood
of his disappearance was known, no trace or visible record survived--
neither bones, nor grave, nor dust, nor epitaph.
Did the Sphinx follow with her cruel eye this fatal tissue of calamity
to its shadowy crisis at Colonus? As the billows closed over her head,
did she perhaps attempt to sting with her dying words? Did she say, "I,
the daughter of mystery, am _called_; I am _wanted_. But, amidst the
uproar of the sea, and the clangor of sea-birds, high over all I hear
another though a distant summons. I can hear that thou, dipus, the son
of mystery, art _called_ from afar: thou also wilt be _wanted_." Did
the wicked Sphinx labor in vain, amidst her parting convulsions, to
breathe this freezing whisper into the heart of him that had overthrown
Who can say? Both of these enemies were pariah mysteries, and may have
faced each other again with blazing malice in some pariah world. But
all things in this dreadful story ought to be harmonized. Already in
itself it is an ennobling and an idealizing of the riddle, that it is
made a double riddle; that it contains an exoteric sense obvious to all
the world, but also an esoteric sense--now suggested conjecturally
after thousands of years--_possibly_ unknown to the Sphinx, and
_certainly_ unknown to dipus; that this second riddle is hid
within the first; that the one riddle is the secret commentary upon the
other; and that the earliest is the hieroglyphic of the last. Thus far
as regards the riddle itself; and, as regards dipus in particular, it
exalts the mystery around him, that in reading this riddle, and in
tracing the vicissitudes from infancy to old age, attached to the
general destiny of his race, unconsciously he was tracing the dreadful
vicissitudes attached specially and separately to his own.
THE TEMPLARS' DIALOGUES.
ORIGINAL ADVERTISEMENT, IN APRIL, 1824.
I have resolved to fling my analysis of Mr. Ricardo's system into the
form of Dialogues. A few words will suffice to determine the principles
of criticism which can fairly be applied to such a form of composition
on such a subject. It cannot reasonably be expected that dialogues on
Political Economy should pretend to the appropriate beauty of dialogues
_as_ dialogues, by throwing any dramatic interest into the parts
sustained by the different speakers, or any characteristic distinctions
into their style. Elegance of this sort, if my time had allowed of it,
or I had been otherwise capable of producing it, would have been here
misplaced. Not that I would say even of Political Economy, in the words
commonly applied to such subjects, that "_Ornari res ipsa negat,
contenta doceri:_" for all things have their peculiar beauty and
sources of ornament--determined by their ultimate ends, and by the
process of the mind in pursuing them. Here, as in the processes of
nature and in mathematical demonstrations, the appropriate elegance is
derived from the simplicity of the means employed, as expressed in the
"Lex Parcimoniæ" ("Frustra fit per plura, quod fieri fas erat per
pauciora"), and other maxims of that sort. This simplicity, however,
must be looked for in the order and relation of the thoughts, and in
the steps through which they are trained to lead into each other,
rather than in any anxious conciseness as to words; which, on the
contrary, I have rather sought to avoid in the earlier Dialogues, in
order that I might keep those distinctions longer before the reader
from which all the rest were to be derived. For he who has fully
mastered the doctrine of Value is already a good political economist.
Now, if any man should object, that in the following dialogues I have
uniformly given the victory to myself, he will make a pleasant logical
blunder: for the true logic of the case is this: Not that it is myself
to whom I give the victory; but that he to whom I give the victory (let
me call him by what name I will) is of necessity myself; since I cannot
be supposed to have put triumphant arguments into any speaker's mouth,
unless they had previously convinced my own understanding. Finally, let
me entreat the reader not to be impatient under the disproportionate
length (as he may fancy it) of the opening discussions on Value: even
for its own sake, the subject is a matter of curious speculation; but
in relation to Political Economy it is all in all; for most of the
errors (and, what is much worse than errors, most of the perplexities)
prevailing in this science take their rise from this source. Mr.
Ricardo is the first writer who has thrown light on the subject; and
even he, in the last edition of his book, still found it a "difficult"
one (see the Advertisement to the Third Edition). What a Ricardo has
found difficult, cannot be adequately discussed in few words; but, if
the reader will once thoroughly master this part of the science, all
the rest will cost him hardly any effort at all.
* * * * *
(SPEAKERS THROUGHOUT THE DIALOGUES ARE PHÆDRUS, PHILEBUS, AND X. Y. Z.)
_Phædrus_. This, Philebus, is my friend X. Y. Z., whom I have long
wished to introduce to you; he has some business which calls him into
this quarter of the town for the next fortnight; and during that time
he has promised to dine with me; and we are to discuss together the
modern doctrines of Political Economy; most of which, he tells me, are
due to Mr. Ricardo. Or rather, I should say, that I am to become his
pupil; for I pretend to no regular knowledge of Political Economy,
having picked up what little I possess in a desultory way amongst the
writers of the old school; and, out of that little, X. obligingly tells
me that three fourths are rotten. I am glad, therefore, that you are in
town at this time, and can come and help me to contradict him. Meantime
X. has some right to play the tutor amongst us; for he has been a
regular student of the science: another of his merits is, that he is a
Templar as well as ourselves, and a good deal senior to either of us.
_Philebus_. And for which of his merits is it that you would have
me contradict him?
_Phæd_. O, no matter for his merits, which doubtless are past all
computation, but generally as a point of hospitality. For I am of the
same opinion as M----, a very able friend of mine in Liverpool, who
looks upon it as criminal to concede anything a man says in the process
of a disputation: the nefarious habit of assenting (as he justly says)
being the pest of conversation, by causing it to stagnate. On this
account he often calls aside the talking men of the party before
dinner, and conjures them with a pathetic earnestness not to agree with
him in anything he may advance during the evening; and at his own
table, when it has happened that strangers were present who indulged
too much in the habit of politely assenting to anything which seemed to
demand no particular opposition, I have seen him suddenly pause with
the air of the worst-used man in the world, and exclaim, "Good heavens!
is there to be no end to this? Am I _never_ to be contradicted? I
suppose matters will soon come to that pass that my nearest relations
will be perfidiously agreeing with me; the very wife of my bosom will
refuse to contradict me; and I shall not have a friend left on whom I
can depend for the consolations of opposition."
_Phil_. Well, Phædrus, if X. Y. Z. is so much devoted as you
represent to the doctrines of Mr. Ricardo, I shall perhaps find myself
obliged to indulge your wishes in this point more than my own taste in
conversation would lead me to desire.
_X_. And what, may I ask, is the particular ground of your
opposition to Mr. Ricardo?
_Phæd_. I suppose that, like the man who gave his vote against
Aristides, because it wearied him to hear any man surnamed _the
just_, Philebus is annoyed by finding that so many people look up to
Mr. Ricardo as an oracle.
_Phil_. No: for the very opposite reason; it is because I hear him
generally complained of as obscure, and as ambitiously paradoxical; two
faults which I cannot tolerate: and the extracts from his writings
which I have seen satisfy me that this judgment is a reasonable one.
_Phæd_. In addition to which, Philebus, I now recollect something
which perhaps weighs with you still more, though you have chosen to
suppress it; and _that_ is, that you are a disciple of Mr. Malthus,
every part of whose writings, since the year 1816 (I am assured), have
had one origin--jealousy of Mr. Ricardo, "quem si non aliqua nocuisset,
_X_. No, no, Phædrus; we must not go so far as _that_; though
undoubtedly it is true that Mr. Malthus has often conducted his
opposition in a most vexatious and disingenuous manner.
_Phil_. How so? In what instance? In what instance?
_X_. In this, for one. Mr. Malthus, in his "Political Economy"
(1820), repeatedly charged Mr. Ricardo with having confounded the two
notions of "cost" and "value:" I smile, by the way, when I repeat such
a charge, as if it were the office of a Ricardo to confound, or of a
Malthus to distinguish: but
"Non usque adeo permiscuit imis
Longus summa dies, ut non--si voce Metelli
Serventur leges--malint a Cæsare tolli."
[Footnote: For the sake of the unclassical reader, I add a prose
translation:--Not to such an extent has the lapse of time confounded
things highest with things lowest, as that--if the laws can be saved
only by the voice of a Metellus--they would not rather choose to be
abolished by a Cæsar.]
_Phil_. "Imis!" Why, I hope, if Mr. Ricardo may do for the Cæsar
of the case, Mr. Malthus is not therefore to be thought the Metellus.
_X_. As to _this_, he is: his general merits of good sense and
ingenuity we all acknowledge; but for the office of a distinguisher, or
any other which demands logic in the first place, it is impossible to
conceive any person below him. To go on, however, with my instance:--
this objection of Mr. Malthus' about "cost" and "value" was founded
purely on a very great blunder of his own--so great, that (as I shall
show in its proper place) even Mr. Ricardo did not see the whole extent
of his misconception: thus much, however, was plain, that the meaning
of Mr. Malthus was, that the new doctrine of value allowed for wages,
but did _not_ allow for profits; and thus, according to the
Malthusian terminology, expressed the cost but not the value of a
thing. What was Mr. Ricardo's answer? In the third edition of his book
(p. 46), he told Mr. Malthus that, if the word "cost" were understood
in any sense which _excluded_ profits, then he did not assert the
thing attributed to him; on the other hand, if it were understood in a
sense which _included_ profits, then of course he did assert it;
but, then, in that sense Mr. Malthus himself did not deny it. This
plain answer was published in 1821. Will it be believed that two years
after (namely, in the spring of 1823), Mr. Malthus published a
pamphlet, in which he repeats the same objection over and over again,
without a hint that it had ever met with a conclusive explanation which
it was impossible to misunderstand? Neither must it be alleged that Mr.
Malthus might not have seen this third edition; for it is the very
edition which he constantly quotes in that pamphlet.
_Phæd_. What say you to this, my dear Philebus? You seem to be in
_X_. But an instance of far greater disingenuousness is this: Mr.
Ricardo, after laying down the general law of value, goes on to state
three cases in which that law will be modified; and the extraordinary
sagacity with which he has detected and stated these modifications, and
the startling consequences to which they lead, have combined to make
this one of the most remarkable chapters in his books. Now, it is a
fact, gentlemen, that these very restrictions of his own law--so openly
stated as restrictions by Mr. Ricardo--are brought forward by Mr.
Malthus as so many objections of his own to upset that law. The logic,
as usual, is worthy of notice; for it is as if, in a question about the
force of any projectile, a man should urge the resistance of the air,
not as a limitation of that force, but as a capital objection to it.
What I here insist on, however, is its extreme disingenuousness. But
this is a subject which it is unpleasant to pursue; and the course of
our subject will of itself bring us but too often across the blunders
and misstatements of Mr. Malthus. To recur, therefore, to what you
objected about Mr. Ricardo--that he was said to be paradoxical and
obscure--I presume that you use the word "paradoxical" in the common
and improper sense, as denoting what has a specious air of truth and
subtlety, but is in fact false; whereas I need not tell _you_ that
a paradox is the very opposite of this--meaning in effect what has a
specious air of falsehood, though possibly very true; for a paradox,
you know, is simply that which contradicts the popular opinion--which
in too many cases is the false opinion; and in none more inevitably
than in cases as remote from the popular understanding as all questions
of severe science. However, use the word in what sense you please, Mr.
Ricardo is no ways interested in the charge. Are my doctrines true, are
they demonstrable? is the question for him; if not, let them be
overthrown; if _that_ is beyond any man's power, what matters it
to him that the slumbering intellect of the multitude regards them as
strange? As to obscurity, in general it is of two kinds--one arising
out of the writer's own perplexity of thought; which is a vicious
obscurity; and in this sense the opponents of Mr. Ricardo are the
obscurest of all economists. Another kind--
_Phæd_. Ay, now let us hear what is a virtuous obscurity.
_X_. I do not say, Phædrus, that in any case it can be meritorious
to be obscure; but I say that in many cases it is very natural to be
so, and pardonable in profound thinkers, and in some cases inevitable.
For the other kind of obscurity which I was going to notice is that
which I would denominate elliptical obscurity; arising, I mean, out of
the frequent ellipsis or suppression of some of the links in a long
chain of thought; these are often involuntarily suppressed by profound
thinkers, from the disgust which they naturally feel at overlaying a
subject with superfluous explanations. So far from seeing too dimly, as
in the case of perplexed obscurity, their defect is the very reverse;
they see too clearly; and fancy that others see as clearly as
themselves. Such, without any tincture of confusion, was the obscurity
of Kant (though in him there was also a singular defect of the art of
communicating knowledge, as he was himself aware); such was the
obscurity of Leibnitz (who otherwise was remarkable for his felicity in
explaining himself); such, if any, is the obscurity of Ricardo; though,
for my own part, I must acknowledge that I could never find any; to me
he seems a model of perspicuity. But I believe that the very ground of
his perspicuity to me is the ground of his apparent obscurity to some
others, and _that_ is--his inexorable consistency in the use of
words; and this is one of the cases which I alluded to in speaking of
an "inevitable obscurity;" for, wherever men have been accustomed to
use a word in two senses, and have yet supposed themselves to use it
but in one, a writer, who corrects this lax usage, and forces them to
maintain the unity of the meaning, will always appear obscure; because
he will oblige them to deny or to affirm consequences from which they
were hitherto accustomed to escape under a constant though unconscious
equivocation between the two senses. Thus, for example, Mr. Ricardo
sternly insists on the _true_ sense of the word Value, and (what
is still more unusual to most men) insists on using it but in
_one_ sense; and hence arise consequences which naturally appear
at once obscure and paradoxical to M. Say, to Mr. Malthus, to the
author of an Essay on Value; [Footnote: I forget the exact title; but
it was printed for Hunter, St. Paul's Church-yard.] and to all other
lax thinkers, who easily bend their understandings to the infirmity of
the popular usage. Hence, it is not surprising to find Mr. Malthus
complaining ("Polit. Econ.," p. 214) of "the _unusual_ application
of common terms" as having made Mr. Ricardo's work "difficult to be
understood by many people;" though, in fact, there is nothing at all
unusual in his application of any term whatever, but only in the
steadiness with which he keeps to the same application of it.
_Phil_. These distinctions of yours on the subject of obscurity I
am disposed to think reasonable; and, unless the contrary should appear
in the course of our conversations, I will concede them to be
applicable to the case of Mr. Ricardo; his obscurity may be venial, or
it may be inevitable, or even none at all (if you will have it so). But
I cannot allow of the cases of Kant and Leibnitz as at all relevant to
that before us. For, the obscurity complained of in metaphysics, etc.,
is inherent in the very _objects_ contemplated, and is independent
of the particular mind contemplating, and exists in defiance of the
utmost talents for diffusing light; whereas the objects about which
Political Economy is concerned are acknowledged by all persons to be
clear and simple enough, so that any obscurity which hangs over them,
must arise from imperfections in the art of arranging and conveying
ideas on the part of him who undertakes to teach it.
_X_. This I admit: any obscurity which clouds Political Economy,
unless where it arises from want of sufficient facts, must be
subjective; whereas the main obscurity which besets metaphysics is
objective; and such an obscurity is in the fullest sense inevitable.
But this I did not overlook; for an objective obscurity it is in the
power of any writer to aggravate by his own perplexities; and I alleged
the cases of Kant and Leibnitz no further than as they were said to
have done so; contending that, if Mr. Ricardo were at all liable to the
same charge, he was entitled to the same apology; namely, that he is
never obscure from any confusion of thought, but, on the contrary, from
too keen a perception of the truth, which may have seduced him at times
into too elliptic a development of his opinions, and made him impatient
of the tardy and continuous steps which are best adapted to the
purposes of the teacher. For the fact is, that the _laborers of the
Mine_ (as I am accustomed to call them), or those who dig up the
metal of truth, are seldom fitted to be also _laborers of the
Mint_--that is, to work up the metal for current use. Besides which,
it must not be forgotten that Mr. Ricardo did not propose to deliver an
entire system of Political Economy, but only an investigation of such
doctrines as had happened to be imperfectly or erroneously stated. On
this account, much of his work is polemic; and presumes, therefore, in
the reader an acquaintance with the writers whom he is opposing.
Indeed, in every chapter there is an under reference, not to this or
that author only, but to the whole current of modern opinions on the
subject, which demands a learned reader who is already master of what
is generally received for truth in Political Economy.
_Phil_. Upon this statement it appears at any rate that Mr.
Ricardo's must be a most improper book as an elementary one. But, after
all, you will admit that even amongst Mr. Ricardo's friends there is a
prevailing opinion that he is too subtle (or, as it is usually
expressed, too theoretic) a writer to be safely relied on for the
practical uses of legislation.
_X_. Yes. And, indeed, we are all so deeply indebted to English
wisdom on matters where theories really _are_ dangerous, that we
ought not to wonder or to complain if the jealousy of all which goes
under that name be sometimes extended to cases in which it is idle to
suppose any opposition possible between the _true_ theory and the
practice. However, on the whole question which has been moved in regard
to Mr. Ricardo's obscurity or tendency to paradox or to over refinement
and false subtlety, I am satisfied if I have won you to any provisional
suspension of your prejudices; and will now press it no further--
willingly leaving the matter to be settled by the result of our
_Phæd_. Do so, X.; and especially because my watch informs me that
dinner--an event too awfully practical to allow of any violation from
mere sublunary disputes--will be announced in six minutes; within which
space of time I will trouble you to produce the utmost possible amount
of truth with the least possible proportion of obscurity, whether
"subjective" or "objective," that may be convenient.
_X_. As the time which you allow us is so short, I think that I
cannot better employ it than in reading a short paper which I have
drawn up on the most general distribution of Mr. Ricardo's book;
because this may serve to guide us in the course of our future
Mr. Ricardo's Principles of Political Economy consisted in the second
edition of thirty-one chapters, to which, in the third edition, was
added another, making thirty-two. These thirty-two chapters fall into
the following classification:--Fourteen are on the subject of Taxation,
namely, the eighth to the eighteenth, [Footnote: The eleventh is on
Tithes; and the eighteenth on Poor Rates; but these of course belong to
the subject of Taxation properly defined. The present Lord Chancellor
(late Earl of Eldon) said on some cause which came before him about a
year ago, that Tithes were unjustly called a Tax; meaning only that
Tithes were not any arbitrary imposition of the government, but claimed
by as good a tenure as any other sort of property. In this doctrine no
doubt the Chancellor was perfectly right; and only wrong in supposing
that any denial of that doctrine is implied by the Political Economists
in calling Tithes a Tax; which, on the true definition of a Tax (as I
shall show hereafter), they certainly are.] inclusively, the twenty-
second, twenty-third, and twenty-ninth; and these may be entirely
omitted by the student, and ought at any rate to be omitted on his
first examination of the work. For, though Mr. Ricardo has really been
not the chief so much as the sole author of any important truths on the
subject of Taxation, and though his fourteen chapters on that head are
so many inestimable corollaries from his general doctrines, and could
never have been obtained without them, yet these general doctrines have
no sort of reciprocal dependency upon what concerns Taxation.
Consequently, it will greatly lighten the burden to a student if these
fourteen chapters are sequestered from the rest of the work, and
reserved for a separate and after investigation, which may furnish a
commentary on the first. The chapters on Taxation deducted, there
remain, therefore, seventeen in the second edition, or eighteen in the
third. These contain the general principles, but also something more--
which may furnish matter for a second subtraction. For, in most
speculations of this nature it usually happens that, over and above the
direct positive communication of new truths, a writer finds it
expedient (or, perhaps, necessary in some cases, in order to clear the
ground for himself) to address part of his efforts to the task of
meeting the existing errors; hence arises a division of his work into
the doctrinal or _affirmative_ part, and the polemic [Footnote:
_Polemic_.--There is an occasional tendency in the use and practice
of the English language capriciously to limit the use of certain words.
Thus, for instance, the word _condign_ is used only in connection with
the word _punishment_; the word _implicit_ is used only (unless by
scholars, like Milton) in connection with _faith_, or _confidence_. So
also _putative_ is restricted most absurdly to the one sole word,
_father_, in a question of doubtful affiliation. These and other words,
if unlocked from their absurd imprisonment, would become extensively
useful. We should say, for instance, "condign honors," "condign rewards,"
"condign treatment" (treatment appropriate to the merits)--thus at once
realizing two rational purposes: namely, giving a useful function to a
word, which at present has none; and also providing an intelligible
expression for an idea which otherwise is left without means of
uttering itself, except through a ponderous circumlocution. Precisely
in the same circumstances of idle and absurd sequestration stands the
term _polemic_. At present, according to the popular usage, this
word has some fantastic inalienable connection with controversial
theology. There cannot be a more childish chimera. No doubt there is a
polemic side or aspect of theology; but so there is of _all_
knowledge; so there is of _every_ science. The radical and
characteristic idea concerned in this term _polemic_ is found in
our own parliamentary distinction of _the good speaker_, as
contrasted with _the good debater_. The good speaker is he who
unfolds the whole of a question in its affirmative aspects, who
presents these aspects in their just proportions, and according to
their orderly and symmetrical deductions from each other. But _the
good debater_ is he who faces the negative aspects of the question,
who meets sudden objections, has an answer for any momentary summons of
doubt or difficulty, dissipates seeming inconsistencies, and reconciles
the geometrical smoothness of _a priori_ abstractions with the
coarse angularities of practical experience. The great work of Ricardo
is of necessity, and almost in every page, polemic; whilst very often
the particular objections or difficulties to which it replies are not
indicated at all--being spread through entire systems, and assumed as
_precognita_ that are familiar to the learned student.] or
_negative_ part. In Mr. Ricardo's writings, all parts (as I have
already observed) have a latent polemic reference; but some, however,
are more directly and formally polemic than the rest; and these may be
the more readily detached from the main body of the work, because (like
the chapters on Taxation) they are all corollaries from the general
laws, and in no case introductory to them. Divided on this principle,
the eighteen chapters fall into the following arrangement:
Chap. Affirmative Chapters.
4. on Value;
2. on Rent;
5. on Wages;
6. on Profits;
7. on Foreign Trade;
19. on Sudden Changes in Trade;
21. on Accumulation;
25. on Colonial Trade;
27. on Currency and Banks;
31. on Machinery.
Chap. Negative (or Polemic) Chapters.
20. on Value and Riches: against Adam Smith, Lord Lauderdale,
24. Rent of Land: against Adam Smith;
26. Gross and Net Revenue: against Adam Smith;
28. Relations of Gold, Corn, and Labor, under certain
circumstances: against A. Smith;
32. Rent: against Mr. Malthus.
Deducting the polemic chapters, there remain thirteen affirmative or
doctrinal chapters; of which one (the twenty-seventh), on Currency,
&c., ought always to be insulated from all other parts of Political
Economy. And thus, out of the whole thirty-two chapters, twelve only
are important to the student on his first examination; and to these I
propose to limit our discussions.
_Phæd_. Be it so, and now let us adjourn to more solemn duties.
* * * * *
DIALOGUE THE FIRST.
ON THE ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLE OF POLITICAL ECONOMY.
_Phæd_. To cut the matter short, X. Y. Z., and to begin as near as
possible to the end--is there any one principle in Political Economy
from which all the rest can be deduced? A principle, I mean, which all
others presuppose; but which itself presupposes none.
_X_. There is, Phædrus; such a principle exists in the doctrine of
Value--truly explained. The question from which all Political Economy
will be found to move--the question to which all its difficulties will
be found reducible--is this: _What is the ground of exchangeable
value_? My hat, for example, bears the same value as your umbrella;
double the value of my shoes; four times the value of my gloves; one
twentieth of the value of this watch. Of these several relations of
value, what is the sufficient cause? If they were capricious, no such
science as that of Political Economy could exist; not being capricious,
they must have an assignable cause; this cause--what is it?
_Phæd_. Ay, what is it?
_X_. It is this, Phædrus; and the entire merit of the discovery
belongs to Mr. Ricardo. It is this; and listen with your whole
understanding: _the ground of the value of all things lies in the
quantity_ (but mark well that word "quantity") _of labor which
produces them_. Here is that great principle which is the corner-
stone of all tenable Political Economy; which granted or denied, all
Political Economy stands or falls. Grant me this one principle, with a
few square feet of the sea-shore to draw my diagrams upon, and I will
undertake to deduce every other truth in the science.
_Phæd_. Take it and welcome. It would be impossible for most
people to raise a cabbage out of the sea-shore, though the sand were
manured by principles the noblest. You, therefore, my dear friend, that
promise to raise from it, not a cabbage, but a system of Political
Economy, are doubly entitled to your _modicum_ of sand, and to
your principle beside; which last is, I dare say, a very worthy and
respectable principle, and not at all the worse for being as old as my
_X_. Pardon me, Phædrus; the principle is no older than the first
edition of Mr. Ricardo's book; and when you make me this concession so
readily under the notion that you are conceding nothing more than has
long been established, I fear that you will seek to retract it, as soon
as you are aware of its real import and consequences.
_Phæd_. In most cases, X., I should hesitate to contradict you
peremptorily upon a subject which you have studied so much more closely
than myself; but here I cannot hesitate; for I happen to remember the
very words of Adam Smith, which are--
_X_. Substantially the same, you will say, as those which I have
employed in expressing the great principle of Mr. Ricardo: this is your
meaning, Phædrus; and excuse me for interrupting you; I am anxious to
lose no time; and therefore let me remind you, as soon as possible,
that "the words" of Adam Smith cannot prove any agreement with Mr.
Ricardo, if it appears that those words are used as equivalent and
convertible at pleasure with certain other words not only
irreconcilable with Mr. Ricardo's principle, but expressing the very
doctrine which Mr. Ricardo does, and must in consistency, set himself
to oppose. Mr. Ricardo's doctrine is, that A and B are to each other in
value as the _quantity_ of labor is which produces A to the
quantity which produces B; or, to express it in the very shortest
formula by substituting the term _base_, as synonymous with the
term _producing labor, All things are to each other in value as their
bases are in quantity_. This is the Ricardian law: you allege that
it was already the law of Adam Smith; and in some sense you are right;
for such a law is certain to be found in the "Wealth of Nations." But,
if it is _ex_plicitly affirmed in that work, it is also _im_plicitly
denied: formally asserted, it is virtually withdrawn. For Adam Smith
everywhere uses, as an equivalent formula, that A and B are to each
other in value as the _value_ of the labor which produces A to the
_value_ of the labor which produces B.
_Phæd_. And the formula for Mr. Ricardo's law is, if I understand
you, that A and B are to each other in value not as the _value_,
but as the _quantity_ of the labor which produces A to the
_quantity_ which produces B.
_X_. It is.
_Phæd_. And is it possible that any such mighty magic can lurk in
the simple substitution of _quantity_ for _value_? Surely, X., you are
hair-splitting a little in this instance, and mean to amuse yourself
with my simplicity, by playing off some logical legerdemain upon me
from the "seraphic" or "angelic" doctors.
_X_. The earnestness and good faith of my whole logic and reasoning
will soon become a pledge for me that I am incapable of what you
call hair-splitting; and in this particular instance I might appeal
to Philebus, who will tell you that Mr. Malthus has grounded his entire
opposition to Mr. Ricardo on the very distinction which you are now
treating as aërial. But the fact is, you do not yet perceive to what
extent this distinction goes; you suppose me to be contending for some
minute and subtle shades of difference; so far from _that_, I mean
to affirm that the one law is the direct, formal, and diametrical
negation of the other: I assert in the most peremptory manner that he
who says, "The value of A is to the value of B as the _quantity_
of labor producing A is to the _quantity_ of labor producing B,"
does of necessity deny by implication that the relations of value
between A and B are governed by the _value_ of the labor which
severally produces them.
_Phil_. X. is perfectly right in his distinction. You know, Phædrus, or
you soon will know, that I differ from X. altogether on the choice
between the two laws: he contends that the value of all things is
determined by the _quantity_ of the producing labor; I, on the other
hand, contend that the value of all things is determined by the _value_
of the producing labor. Thus far you will find us irreconcilable in our
difference; but this very difference implies that we are agreed on the
distinction which X. is now urging. In fact, so far are the two
formulae from presenting merely two different expressions of the same
law, that the very best way of expressing negatively Mr. Ricardo's law
(namely, A is to B in value as the _quantities_ of the producing labor)
would be to say, A is _not_ to B in value as the _values_ of the
_Phæd_. Well, gentlemen, I suppose you must be right; I am sure
you are by the logic of kings, and "according to the flesh;" for you
are two to one. Yet, to my poor glimmering understanding, which is all
I have to guide me in such cases, I must acknowledge that the whole
question seems to be a mere dispute about words.
_X_. For once, Phædrus, I am not sorry to hear you using a phrase
which in general is hateful to my ears. "A mere dispute about words" is
a phrase which we hear daily; and why? Is it a case of such daily
occurrence to hear men disputing about mere verbal differences? So far
from it, I can truly say that I never happened to witness such a
dispute in my whole life, either in books or in conversation; and
indeed, considering the small number of absolute synonymes which any
language contains, it is scarcely possible that a dispute on words
should arise which would not also be a dispute about ideas (that is,
about realities). Why, then, is the phrase in every man's mouth, when
the actual occurrence must be so very uncommon? The reason is this,
Phædrus: such a plea is a "sophisma pigri intellectus," which seeks to
escape from the effort of mind necessary for the comprehending and
solving of any difficulty under the colorable pretext that it is a
question about shadows, and not about substances, and one therefore
which it is creditable to a man's good sense to decline; a pleasant
sophism this, which at the same time flatters a man's indolence and his
vanity. For once, however, I repeat that I am not sorry to hear such a
phrase in your mouth, Phædrus: I have heard it from you before; and I
will frankly tell you that you ought to be ashamed of such a plea,
which is becoming to a slothful intellect, but very unbecoming to
yours. On this account, it gives me pleasure that you have at length
urged it in a case where you will be obliged to abandon it. If that
should happen, remember what I have said; and resolve never more to
shrink effeminately from the toil of an intellectual discussion under
any pretence that it is a verbal dispute. In the present case, I shall
drive you out of that conceit in less time than it cost you to bring it
forward. For now, Phædrus, answer me to one or two little questions
which I will put. You fancy that between the expressions "_quantity_ of
producing labor" and "_value_ of producing labor" there is none but a
verbal difference. It follows, therefore, that the same effect ought to
take place whether the value of the producing labor be altered or its
_Phæd_. It does.
_X_. For instance, the production of a hat such as mine has
hitherto cost (we will suppose) four days' labor, at three shillings a
day: now, without any change whatsoever in the _quantity_ of labor
required for its production, let this labor suddenly increase in value
by twenty-five per cent. In this case, four days' labor will produce a
hat as heretofore; but the value of the producing labor being now
raised from three shillings a day to three shillings and nine pence,
the value of the total labor necessary for the production of a hat will
now be raised from twelve shillings to fifteen shillings. Thus far, you
can have nothing to object?
_Phæd_. Nothing at all, X. But what next?
_X_. Next, let us suppose a case in which the labor of producing
hats shall increase, not in value (as in the preceding case), but in
quantity. Labor is still at its old value of three shillings a day;
but, from increased difficulty in any part of the process, five days'
labor are now spent on the production of a hat instead of four. In this
second case, Phædrus, how much will be paid to the laborer?
_Phæd_. Precisely as much as in the first case: that is, fifteen
_X_. True: the laborer on hats receives fifteen shillings in the
second case as well as in the first; but in the first case for four
days' labor, in the second for five: consequently, in the second case,
wages (or the value of labor) have not risen at all, whereas in the
first case wages have risen by twenty-five per cent.
_Phæd_. Doubtless: but what is your inference?
_X_. My inference is as follows: according to yourself and Adam
Smith, and all those who overlook the momentous difference between the
quantity and the value of labor, fancying that these are mere varieties
of expression for the same thing, the price of hats ought, in the two
cases stated, to be equally raised, namely, three shillings in each
case. If, then, it be utterly untrue that the price of hats would be
equally raised in the two cases, it will follow that an alteration in
the value of the producing labor, and an alteration in its quantity,
must terminate in a very different result; and, consequently, the one
alteration cannot be the same as the other, as you insisted.
_X_. Now, then, let me tell you, Phædrus, that the price of hats
would _not_ be equally raised in the two cases: in the second
case, the price of a hat will rise by three shillings, in the first
case it will not rise at all.
_Phæd_. How so, X.? How so? Your own statement supposes that the
laborer receives fifteen shillings for four days, instead of twelve
shillings; that is, three shillings more. Now, if the price does not
rise to meet this rise of labor, I demand to know whence the laborer is
to obtain this additional three shillings. If the buyers of hats do not
pay him in the price of hats, I presume that the buyers of shoes will
not pay him. The poor devil must be paid by somebody.
_X_. You are facetious, my friend. The man must be paid, as you
say; but not by the buyers of hats any more than by the buyers of
shoes: for the price of hats cannot possibly rise in such a case, as I
have said before. And, that I may demonstrate this, let us assume that
when the labor spent on a hat cost twelve shillings, the rate of
profits was fifty per cent.; it is of no consequence what rate be fixed
on: assuming this rate, therefore, the price of a hat would, at that
time, be eighteen shillings. Now, when the _quantity_ of labor
rose from four to five days, this fifth day would add three shillings
to the amount of wages; and the price of a hat would rise in
consequence from eighteen shillings to a guinea. On the other hand,
when the _value_ of labor rose from twelve shillings to fifteen
shillings, the price of a hat would not rise by one farthing, but would
still continue at eighteen shillings.
_Phæd_. Again I ask, then, who is to pay the three shillings?
_X_. The three shillings will be paid out of profits.
_Phæd_. What, without reimbursement?
_X_. Assuredly, without a farthing of reimbursement: it is Mr.
Ricardo's doctrine that no variation in either profits or wages can
ever affect the price; if wages rise or fall, the only consequence is,
that profits must fall or rise by the same sum; so again, if profits
rise or fall, wages must fall or rise accordingly.
_Phæd_. You mean, then, to assert that, when the value of the
labor rises (as in the first of your two cases) by three shillings,
this rise must be paid out of the six shillings which had previously
gone to profits.
_X_. I do; and your reason for questioning this opinion is, I am
sure, because you think that no capitalist would consent to have his
profits thus diminished, but would liberate himself from this increased
expense by charging it upon the price. Now, if I prove that he cannot
liberate himself in this way, and that it is a matter of perfect
indifference to him whether the price rises or not, because in either
case he must lose the three shillings, I suppose that I shall have
removed the sole ground you have for opposing me.
_Phæd_. You are right: prove this, X., "et eris mihi magnus
_X_. Tell me, then, Phædrus, when the value of labor rises--in
other words, when wages rise--what is it that causes them to rise?
_Phæd_. Ay, what is it that causes them, as you say? I should be
glad to hear your opinion on that subject.
_X_. My opinion is, that there are only two [Footnote: There is
another case in which wages have a constant tendency to rise--namely,
when the population increases more slowly than the demand for labor.
But this case it is not necessary to introduce into the dialogue:
first, because it is gradual and insensible in its operation; secondly,
because, if it were otherwise, it would not disturb any part of the
argument.] great cases in which wages rise, or seem to rise:
1. When money sinks in value; for then, of course, the laborer must
have more wages nominally, in order to have the same virtually. But
this is obviously nothing more than an apparent rise.
2. When those commodities rise upon which wages are spent. A rise in
port wine, in jewels, or in horses, will not affect wages, because
these commodities are not consumed by the laborer; but a rise in
manufactured goods of certain kinds, upon which perhaps two fifths of
his wages are spent, will tend to raise wages: and a rise in certain
kinds of food, upon which perhaps the other three fifths are spent,
will raise them still more. Now, the first case being only an apparent
rise, this is the only case in which wages can be said really to rise.
_Phæd_. You are wrong, X.; I can tell you of a third case which
occurs to me whilst you are speaking. Suppose that there were a great
deficiency of laborers in any trade,--as in the hatter's trade, for
instance,--that would be a reason why wages should rise in the hatter's
_X_. Doubtless, until the deficiency were supplied, which it soon
would be by the stimulus of higher wages. But this is a case of market
value, when the supply happens to be not on a level with the demand:
now, throughout the present conversation I wish studiously to keep
clear of any reference to market value, and to consider exclusively
that mode of exchangeable value which is usually called natural value--
that is, where value is wholly uninfluenced by any redundancy or
deficiency of the quantity. Waiving this third case, therefore, as not
belonging to the present discussion, there remains only the second; and
I am entitled to say that no cause can really and permanently raise
wages but a rise in the price of those articles on which wages are
spent. In the instance above stated, where the hatter's wages rose from
three shillings to three shillings and nine pence a day, some commodity
must previously have risen on which the hatter spent his wages. Let
this be corn, and let corn constitute one half of the hatter's
expenditure; on which supposition, as his wages rose by twenty-five per
cent., it follows that corn must have risen by fifty per cent. Now,
tell me, Phædrus, will this rise in the value of corn affect the
hatter's wages only, or will it affect wages in general?
_Phæd_. Wages in general, of course: there can be no reason why
hatters should eat more corn than any other men.
_X_. Wages in general, therefore, will rise by twenty-five per
cent. Now, when the wages of the hatter rose in that proportion, you
contended that this rise must be charged upon the price of hats; and
the price of a hat having been previously eighteen shillings, you
insisted that it must now be twenty-one shillings; in which case a rise
in wages of twenty-five per cent, would have raised the price of hats
about sixteen and one half per cent. And, if this were possible, two
great doctrines of Mr. Ricardo would have been overthrown at one blow:
1st, that which maintains that no article can increase in price except
from a previous increase in the quantity of labor necessary to its
production: for here is no increase in the _quantity_ of the
labor, but simply in its value; 2d, that no rise in the value of labor
can ever settle upon price; but that all increase of wages will be paid
out of profits, and all increase of profits out of wages. I shall now,
however, extort a sufficient defence of Mr. Ricardo from your own
concessions. For you acknowledge that the same cause which raises the
wages of the hatter will raise wages universally, and in the same
ratio--that is, by twenty-five per cent. And, if such a rise in wages
could raise the price of hats by sixteen and one half per cent., it
must raise all other commodities whatsoever by sixteen and one half per
cent. Now, tell me, Phædrus, when all commodities without exception are
raised by sixteen arid one half per cent., in what proportion will the
power of money be diminished under every possible application of it?
_Phæd_. Manifestly by sixteen and one half per cent.
_X_. If so, Phædrus, you must now acknowledge that it is a matter
of perfect indifference to the hatter whether the price of hats rise or
not, since he cannot under any circumstances escape the payment of the
three shillings. If the price should _not_ rise (as assuredly it
will not), he pays the three shillings directly; if the price were to
rise by three shillings, this implies of necessity that prices rise
universally (for it would answer no purpose of your argument to
suppose that hatters escaped an evil which affected all other trades).
Now, if prices rise universally, the hatter undoubtedly escapes the
direct payment of the three shillings, but he pays it indirectly;
inasmuch as one hundred and sixteen pounds and ten shillings is now
become necessary to give him the same command of labor and commodities
which was previously given by one hundred pounds. Have you any answer
to these deductions?
_Phæd_. I must confess I have none.
_X_. If so, and no answer is possible, then I have here given you
a demonstration of Mr. Ricardo's great law: That no product of labor
whatsoever can be affected in value by any variations in the
_value_ of the producing labor. But, if not by variations in its
value, then of necessity by variations in its quantity, for no other
variations are possible.
_Phæd_. But at first sight, you know, variations in the
_value_ of labor appear to affect the value of its product: yet
you have shown that the effect of such variations is defeated, and
rendered nugatory in the end. Now, is it not possible that some such
mode of argument may be applied to the case of variations in the
_quantity_ of labor?
_X_. By no means: the reason why all variations in the _value_
of labor are incapable of transferring themselves to the value
of its product is this: that these variations extend to all kinds
of labor, and therefore to all commodities alike. Now, that which
raises or depresses all things equally leaves their relations to each
other undisturbed. In order to disturb the relations of value between
A, B, and C, I must raise one at the same time that I do _not_
raise another; depress one, and _not_ depress another; raise or
depress them unequally. This is necessarily done by any variations in
the _quantity_ of labor. For example, when more or less labor
became requisite for the production of hats, that variation could not
fail to affect the value of hats, for the variation was confined
exclusively to hats, and arose out of some circumstance peculiar to
hats; and no more labor was on that account requisite for the
production of gloves, or wine, or carriages. Consequently, these and
all other articles remaining unaffected, whilst hats required twenty-
five per cent more labor, the previous relation between hats and all
other commodities was disturbed; that is, a _real_ effect was
produced on the value of hats. Whereas, when hats, without requiring a
greater quantity of labor, were simply produced by labor at a higher
value, this change could not possibly disturb the relation between hats
and any other commodities, because they were all equally affected by
it. If, by some application of any mechanic or chemical discovery to
the process of making candles, the labor of that process were
diminished by one third, the value of candles would fall; for the
relation of candles to all other articles, in which no such abridgment
of labor had been effected, would be immediately altered: two days'
labor would now produce the same quantity of candles as three days'
labor before the discovery. But if, on the other hand, the wages of
three days had simply fallen in value to the wages of two days,--that
is, if the laborer received only six shillings for three days, instead
of nine shillings,--this could not affect the value of candles; for the
fall of wages, extending to all other things whatsoever, would leave
the relations between them all undisturbed; everything else which had
required nine shillings' worth of labor would now require six
shillings' worth; and a pound of candles would exchange for the same
quantity of everything as before. Hence, it appears that no cause can
possibly affect the value of anything--that is, its exchangeable
relation to other things--but an increase or diminution in the quantity
of labor required for its production: and the prices of all things
whatsoever represent the quantity of labor by which they are severally
produced; and the value of A is to the value of B universally as the
quantity of labor which produces A to the quantity of labor which
* * * * *
Here, then, is the great law of value as first explained by Mr.
Ricardo. Adam Smith uniformly takes it for granted that an alteration
in the quantity of labor, and an alteration in wages (that is, the
value of labor), are the same thing, and will produce the same effects;
and, hence, he never distinguishes the two cases, but everywhere uses
the two expressions as synonymous. If A, which had hitherto required
sixteen shillings' worth of labor for its production, should to-morrow
require only twelve shillings' worth, Adam Smith would have treated it
as a matter of no importance whether this change had arisen from some
discovery in the art of manufacturing A, which reduced the quantity of
labor required from four days to three, or simply from some fall in
wages which reduced the value of a day's labor from four shillings to
three shillings. Yet, in the former case, A would fall considerably in
price as soon as the discovery ceased to be monopolized; whereas, in
the latter case, we have seen that A could not possibly vary in price
by one farthing.
_Phæd_. In what way do you suppose that Adam Smith came to make so
great an oversight, as I now confess it to be?
_X_. Mr. Malthus represents Adam Smith as not having sufficiently
explained himself on the subject. "He does not make it quite clear,"
says Mr. Malthus, "whether he adopts for his principle of value the
quantity of the producing labor or its value." But this is a most
erroneous representation. There is not a chapter in the "Wealth of
Nations" in which it is not made redundantly clear that Adam Smith
adopts both laws as mere varieties of expression for one and the same
law. This being so, how could he possibly make an election between two
things which he constantly confounded and regarded as identical? The
truth is, Adam Smith's attention was never directed to the question: he
suspected no distinction; no man of his day, or before his day, had
ever suspected it; none of the French or Italian writers on Political
Economy had ever suspected it; indeed, none of them have suspected it
to this hour. One single writer before Mr. Ricardo has insisted on the
_quantity_ of labor as the true ground of value; and, what is very
singular, at a period when Political Economy was in the rudest state,
namely, in the early part of Charles II's reign. This writer was Sir
William Petty, a man who would have greatly advanced the science if he
had been properly seconded by his age. In a remarkable passage, too
long for quotation, he has expressed the law of value with a Ricardian
accuracy: but it is scarcely possible that even he was aware of his own
accuracy; for, though he has asserted that the reason why any two
articles exchange for each other (as so much corn of Europe, suppose,
for so much silver of Peru) is because the same quantity of labor has
been employed on their production; and, though he has certainly not
vitiated the purity of this principle by the usual heteronomy (if you
will allow me a learned word),--that is, by the introduction of the
other and opposite law derived from the _value_ of this labor,--
yet, it is probable that in thus abstaining he was guided by mere
accident, and not by any conscious purpose of contradistinguishing the
one law from the other; because, had _that_ been his purpose, he
would hardly have contented himself with forbearing to affirm, but
would formally have denied the false law. For it can never be
sufficiently impressed upon the student's mind, that it brings him not
one step nearer to the truth to say that the value of A is determined
by the quantity of labor which produces it, unless by that proposition
he means that it is _not_ determined by the _value_ of the
labor which produces it.
To return to Adam Smith: not only has he "made it quite clear" that he
confounded the two laws, and had never been summoned to examine whether
they led to different results, but I go further, and will affirm that
if he had been summoned to such an examination, he could not have
pursued it with any success until the discovery of the true law of
Profits. For, in the case of the hats, as before argued, he would have
said, "The wages of the hatter, whether they have been augmented by
increased quantity of labor, or by increased value of labor, must, in
any case, be paid." Now, what is the answer? They must be paid, but
from what fund? Adam Smith knew of no fund, nor could know of any,
until Mr. Ricardo had ascertained the true law of Profits, except
Price: in either case, therefore, as Political Economy then stood, he
was compelled to conclude that the fifteen shillings would be paid out
of the price,--that is, that the whole difference between the twelve
shillings and the fifteen shillings would settle upon the purchaser.
But we now know that this will happen only in the case when the
difference has arisen from increased labor; and that every farthing of
the difference which arises from increased value of labor will be paid
out of another fund, namely, Profits. But this conclusion could not be
arrived at without the new theory of Profits (as will be seen more
fully when we come to that theory); and thus one error was the
necessary parent of another.
Here I will pause, and must beg you to pardon my long speeches in
consideration of the extreme importance of the subject; for everything
in Political Economy depends, as I said before, on the law of value;
and I have not happened to meet with one writer who seemed fully to
understand Mr. Ricardo's law, and still less who seemed to perceive the
immense train of consequences which it involves.
_Phæd_. I now see enough to believe that Mr. Ricardo is right;
and, if so, it is clear that all former writers are wrong. Thus far I
am satisfied with your way of conducting the argument, though some
little confusion still clouds my view. But, with regard to the
consequences you speak of, how do you explain that under so fundamental
an error (as you represent it) many writers, but above all Adam Smith,
should have been able to deduce so large a body of truth, that we
regard him as one of the chief benefactors to the science?
_X_. The fact is, that his good sense interfered everywhere to
temper the extravagant conclusions into which a severe logician could
have driven him. [Footnote: The "Wealth of Nations" has never yet been
ably reviewed, nor satisfactorily edited. The edition of Mr. Buchanan
is unquestionably the best, and displays great knowledge of Political
Economy as it stood before the revolution effected by Mr. Ricardo. But
having the misfortune to appear immediately before that revolution, it
is already to some degree an obsolete book. Even for its own date,
however, it was not good as an edition of Adam Smith, its value lying
chiefly in the body of original disquisitions which composed the fourth
volume; for the notes not only failed to correct the worst errors of
Adam Smith (which, indeed, in many cases is saying no more than that
Mr. Buchanan did not forestall Mr. Ricardo), but were also deficient in
the history of English finance, and generally in the knowledge of
facts. How much reason there is to call for a new edition, with a
commentary adapted to the existing state of the science, will appear on
this consideration: the "Wealth of Nations" is the text-book resorted
to by all students of Political Economy. One main problem of this
science, if not the main problem (as Mr. Ricardo thinks), is to
determine the laws which regulate Rents, Profits, and Wages; but
everybody who is acquainted with the present state of the science must
acknowledge that precisely on these three points it affords "very
little satisfactory information." These last words are the gentle
criticism of Mr. Ricardo: but the truth is, that not only does it
afford very little information on the great heads of Rent, Profits, and
Wages, but (which is much worse) it gives very false and misleading
P. S. _September_ 27, 1854.--It is suggested to me by a friend,
that in this special notice of Mr. Buchanan's edition, I shall be
interpreted as having designed some covert reflection upon the edition
of Adam Smith published by Mr. M'Culloch. My summary answer to any such
insinuation is, that this whole paper was written in the spring of
1824, that is, thirty and a half years ago: at which time, to the best
of my knowledge, Mr. M'Culloch had not so much as meditated any such
edition. Let me add, that if I had seen or fancied any reason for a
criticism unfriendly to Mr. M'Culloch, or to any writer whatever, I
should not have offered it indirectly, but openly, frankly, and in the
spirit of liberal candor due to an honorable contemporary.] At this
very day, a French and an English economist have reared a Babel of far
more elaborate errors on this subject; M. Say, I mean, and Mr. Malthus:
both ingenious writers, both eminently illogical,--especially the
latter, with whose "confusion worse confounded" on the subject of
Value, if reviewed by some unsparing Rhadamanthus of logical justice, I
believe that chaos would appear a model of order and light. Yet the
very want of logic, which has betrayed these two writers into so many
errors, has befriended them in escaping from their consequences; for
they leap with the utmost agility over all obstacles to any conclusions
which their good sense points out to them as just, however much at war
with their own premises. With respect to the confusion which you
complain of as still clinging to the subject, this naturally attends
the first efforts of the mind to disjoin two ideas which have
constantly been regarded as one. But, as we advance in our discussions,
illustration and proof will gradually arise from all quarters, to the
great principle of Mr. Ricardo which we have just been considering;
besides which, this principle is itself so much required for the
illustration and proof of other principles, that the mere practice of
applying it will soon sharpen your eye to a steady familiarity with all
* * * * *
DIALOGUE THE SECOND.
REDUCTIO AD ABSURDUM.
_Phil_. X., I see, is not yet come: I hope he does not mean to
break his appointment, for I have a design upon him. I have been
considering his argument against the possibility of any change in price
arising out of a change in the value of labor, and I have detected a
flaw in it which he can never get over. I have him, sir--I have him as
fast as ever spider had a fly.
_Phæd_. Don't think it, my dear friend: you are a dexterous
_retiarius_; but a gladiator who is armed with Ricardian weapons
will cut your net to pieces. He is too strong in his cause, as I am
well satisfied from what passed yesterday. He'll slaughter you,--to use
the racy expression of a friend of mine in describing the redundant
power with which one fancy boxer disposed of another,--he'll slaughter
you "with ease and affluence." But here he comes.--Well, X., you're
just come in time. Philebus says that you are a fly, whilst _he_
is a murderous spider, and that he'll slaughter you with "ease and
affluence;" and, all things considered, I am inclined to think he will.
_Phil_. Phædrus does not report the matter quite accurately;
however, it is true that I believe myself to have detected a fatal
error in your argument of yesterday on the case of the hat; and it is
this: When the value of labor rose by twenty-five per cent., you
contended that this rise would be paid out of profits. Now, up to a
certain limit this may be possible; beyond that it is impossible. For
the price of the hat was supposed to be eighteen shillings: and the
price of the labor being assumed originally at twelve shillings;--
leaving six shillings for profits,--it is very possible that a rise in
wages of no more than three shillings may be paid out of these profits.
But, as this advance in wages increases, it comes nearer and nearer to
that point at which it will be impossible for profits to pay it; since,
let the advance once reach the whole six shillings, and all motive for
producing hats will be extinguished; and let it advance to seven
shillings, there will in that case be no fund at all left out of which
the seventh shilling can be paid, even if the capitalist were disposed
to relinquish all his profits. Now, seriously, you will hardly maintain
that the hat could not rise to the price of nineteen shillings--or of
any higher sum?
_X_. Recollect, Philebus, what it is that I maintain; assuredly
the hat may rise to the price of nineteen shillings, or of any higher
sum, but not as a consequence of the cause you assign. Taking your
case, I _do_ maintain that it is impossible the hat should exceed,
or even reach, eighteen shillings. When I say eighteen shillings,
however, you must recollect that the particular sum of twelve shillings
for labor, and six shillings for profits, were taken only for the sake
of illustration; translating the sense of the proposition into
universal forms, what I assert is, that the rise in the value of the
labor can go no further than the amount of profits will allow it:
profits swallowed up, there will remain no fund out of which an
increase of wages can be paid, and the production of hats will cease.
_Phil_. This is the sense in which I understood you; and in this
sense I wish that you would convince me that the hat could not, under
the circumstances supposed, advance to nineteen shillings or twenty
_X_. Perhaps, in our conversation on _Wages_, you will see
this more irresistibly; you yourself will then shrink from affirming
the possibility of such an advance as from an obvious absurdity;
meantime, here is a short demonstration of it, which I am surprised
that Mr. Ricardo did not use as the strongest and most compendious mode
of establishing his doctrine.
Let it be possible that the hat may advance to nineteen shillings; or,
to express this more generally, from _x_ (or eighteen shillings)--
which it was worth before the rise in wages--to _x_ + _y_;
that is to say, the hat will now be worth _x_ + _y_ quantity
of money--having previously been worth no more than _x_. That is
_Phil_. It is.
_X_. And if in money, of necessity in everything else; because
otherwise, if the hat were worth more money only, but more of nothing
besides, that would simply argue that money had fallen in value; in
which case undoubtedly the hat might rise in any proportion that money
fell; but, then, without gaining any increased value, which is
essential to your argument.
_Phil_. Certainly; if in money, then in everything else.
_X_. Therefore, for instance, in gloves; having previously been
worth four pair of buckskin gloves, the hat will now be worth four pair
_Phil_. It will.
_X_. But, Philebus, either the rise in wages is universal or it is
not universal. If not universal, it must be a case of accidental rise
from mere scarcity of hands; which is the case of a rise in
_market_ value; and that is not the case of Mr. Ricardo, who is
laying down the laws of _natural_ value. It is, therefore,
universal; but, if universal, the gloves from the same cause will have
risen from the value of _x_ to _x_ + _y_.
Hence, therefore, the price of the hat, estimated in gloves, is =
_x_ + _y_.
And again, the price of the gloves, estimated in hats, is = _x_ +
In other words, H - _y_ = _x_.
H + _y_ = _x_.
That is to say, H - _y_ = H + _y_.
_Phæd_. Which, I suppose, is an absurdity; and, in fact, it turns
out, Philebus, that he has slaughtered you with "ease and affluence."
_X_. And this absurdity must be eluded by him who undertakes to
show that a rise in the wages of labor can be transferred to the value
of its product.
* * * * *
DIALOGUE THE THIRD.
[Et æquiori sane animo feres, cum hic de primis agatur principiis, si
superstitiose omnia examinavi,--viamque quasi palpando singulaque
curiosius contrectando, lente me promovi et testudineo gradu. Video
enim ingenium humanum ita comparatum esse--ut facilius longe quid
_consequens_ sit dispiciat, quam quid in naturà _primo_
verum; nostramque omnium conditionem non multum ab illà Archimedis
abludere--_Aos æe so kai koiso tæn gæn_. Ubi primum figamus pedem,
inveniro multo magis satagimus, quam (ubi inveninius) ulterius
progredi.--_Henricus Morus in Epist. ad Cartesium._]
PRINCIPLE OF VALUE CONTINUED.
_Phæd_. In our short conversation of yesterday, X., you parried an
objection brought forward by Philebus in a way which I thought
satisfactory. You reduced him to an absurdity, or what seemed such. In
fact, I did verily believe that you had slaughtered Philebus; and so I
told him. But we have since reconsidered the matter, and have settled
it between ourselves that your answer will not do; that your
"absurdity," in fact, is a very absurd absurdity. Philebus will tell
you why. I, for my part, shall have enough to do to take care of a
little argument of my own, which is designed to meet something that
passed in our first dialogue. Now, my private conviction is, that both
I and Philebus shall be cudgelled; I am satisfied that such will be the
issue of the business. And my reason for thinking so is this,--that I
already see enough to discern a character of boldness and determination
in Mr. Ricardo's doctrines which needs no help from sneaking
equivocations, and this with me is a high presumption that he is in the
right. In whatever rough way his theories are tossed about, they seem
always, like a cat, to light upon their legs. But, notwithstanding
this, as long as there is a possibility that he may be in the wrong, I
shall take it for granted that he is, and do my best to prove him so.
_X_. For which, Phædrus, I shall feel greatly indebted to you. We
are told of Trajan, that, in the camp exercises, he not only tolerated
hard blows, but courted them; "alacer virtute militum, et lætus quoties
aut cassidi suæ aut clypeo gravior ictus incideret. Laudabat quippe
ferientes, hortabaturque ut auderent." When one of our theatres let
down an iron curtain upon the stage as a means of insulating the
audience from any fire amongst the scenery, and sent men to prove the
strength of this curtain by playing upon it with sledge-hammers in the
sight and hearing of the public, who would not have laughed at the
hollowness of the mummery, if the blows had been gentle, considerate,
and forbearing? A "make-believe" blow would have implied a "make-
believe" hammer and a "make-believe" curtain. No!--hammer away, like
Charles Martel; "fillip me with a three-man beetle;" be to me a
_malleus hæreticorum_; come like Spenser's Talus--an iron man with
an iron flail, and thresh out the straw of my logic; rack me; put me to
the question; get me down; jump upon me; kick me; throttle me; put an
end to me in any way you can.
_Phæd_. I will, I will, my dear friend; anything to oblige you;
anything for peace. So now tie yourself to the stake, whilst we bait
you. And you begin, Philebus; unmuzzle.
_Phil_. I shall be brief. The case of the hat is what I stand
upon; and, by the way, I am much obliged to you, X., for having stated
the question in that shape; it has furnished me with a very manageable
formula for recalling the principle at issue. The wages alter from two
different causes--in one case, because there is the same quantity of
labor at a different rate; in another case, because there is a
different quantity at the same rate. In the latter case, it is agreed
that the alteration settles upon price; in the former case you affirm
that it will _not_: I affirm that it will. I bring an argument to
prove it; which argument you attempt to parry by another. But in this
counter argument of yours it strikes me that there lurks a _petitio
principii_. Indeed, I am sure of it. For observe the course of our
reasoning. I charge it upon your doctrine as an absurd consequence--
that, if the increase of wages must be paid out of profits, then this
fund will at length be eaten out; and as soon as it is, there will be
no fund at all for paying any further increase; and the production must
cease. Now, what in effect is your answer? Why, that as soon as profits
are all eaten up, the production _will_ cease. And this you call
reducing me to an absurdity. But where is the absurdity? Your answer
is, in fact, an identical proposition; for, when you say, "_As soon
as_ profits are absorbed," I retort, Ay, no doubt "_as soon_"
as they are; but when will that be? It requires no Ricardo to tell us
that, _when_ profits are absorbed, they will be absorbed; what I
deny is, that they ever _can_ be absorbed. For, as fast as wages
increase, what is to hinder price from increasing _pari passu_? In
which case profits will _never_ be absorbed. It is easy enough to
prove that price will not increase, if you may assume that profits will
not remain stationary. For then you have assumed the whole point in
dispute; and after _that_, of course you have the game in your own
hands; since it is self-evident that if anybody is made up of two parts
P and W, so adjusted that all which is gained by either must be lost by
the other, then _that_ body can never increase.
_Phæd_. Nor decrease.
_Phil_. No, nor decrease. If my head must of necessity lose as
much weight as my trunk gains, and _vice versa_, then it is a
clear case that I shall never be heavier. But why cannot my head remain
stationary, whilst my trunk grows heavier? This is what you had to
prove, and you have not proved it.
_Phæd_. O! it's scandalous to think how he has duped us; his
"_reductio_" turns out to the merest swindling.
_X_. No, Phædrus, I beg your pardon. It is very true I did not
attempt to prove that your head might not remain stationary; I could
not have proved this _directly_, without anticipating a doctrine
out of its place; but I proved it _indirectly_, by showing that,
if it were supposed possible, an absurdity would follow from that
supposition. I said, and I say again, that the doctrine of wages will
show the very supposition itself to be absurd; but, until we come to
that doctrine, I content myself with proving that, let that supposition
seem otherwise ever so reasonable (the supposition, namely, that
profits may be stationary whilst wages are advancing), yet it draws
after it one absurd consequence, namely, that a thing may be bigger
than that to which it is confessedly equal. Look back to the notes of
our conversation, and you will see that this is as I say. You say,
Philebus, that I prove profits in a particular case to be incapable of
remaining stationary, by assuming that price cannot increase; or, if I
am called upon to prove that assumption--namely, that price cannot
increase--I do it only by assuming that profits in that case are
incapable of remaining stationary. But, if I had reasoned thus, I
should not only have been guilty of a _petitio principii_ (as you
alleged), but also of a circle. Here, then, I utterly disclaim and
renounce either assumption: I do not ask you to grant me that price
must continue stationary in the case supposed; I do not ask you to
grant me that profits must recede in the case supposed. On the
contrary, I will not have them granted to me; I insist on your refusing
both of these principles.
_Phil_. Well, I _do_ refuse them.
_Phæd_. So do I. I'll do anything in reason as well as another.
"If one knight give a testril--" [Footnote: Sir Andrew Aguecheek, in
_X_. Then let us suppose the mines from which we obtain our silver
to be in England.
_Phæd_. What for? Why am I to suppose this? I don't know but you
have some trap in it.
_X_. No; a Newcastle coal-mine, or a Cornwall tin-mine, will
answer the purpose of my argument just as well. But it is more
convenient to use silver as the illustration; and I suppose it to be in
England simply to avoid intermixing any question about foreign trade.
Now, when the hat sold for eighteen shillings, on Mr. Ricardo's
principle why did it sell for that sum?
_Phil_. I suppose, because the quantity of silver in that sum is
assumed to be the product of four days' labor in a silver-mine.
_X_. Certainly; because it is the product of the same quantity of
labor as that which produced the hat. Calling twenty shillings,
therefore, four ounces of silver, the hat was worth nine tenths of four
ounces. Now, when wages advance from twelve shillings to fourteen
shillings, profits (you allege) will not pay this advance, but price.
On this supposition the price of the hat will now be--what?
_Phil_. Twenty shillings; leaving, as before, six shillings for
_X_. Six shillings upon fourteen shillings are not the same
_rate_ of profit as six shillings upon twelve shillings; but no
matter; it does not affect the argument. The hat is now worth four
entire ounces of silver, having previously been worth four ounces
_minus_ a tenth of four ounces. But the product of four days'
labor in a silver-mine must also advance in value, for the same cause.
Four ounces of silver, which is that product, will now have the same
power or value as 22.22_s_. had before. Consequently the four
ounces of silver, which had previously commanded in exchange a hat and
the ninth of a hat, will now command a hat and two ninths, fractions
neglected. Hence, therefore, a hat will, upon any Anti-Ricardian
theory, manifestly buy four ounces of silver; and yet, at the same
time, it will not buy four ounces by one fifth part of four ounces.
Silver and the denominations of its qualities, being familiar, make it
more convenient to use that metal; but substitute lead, iron, coal, or
anything whatsoever--the argument is the same, being in fact a
universal demonstration that variations in wages cannot produce
corresponding variations in price.
_Phæd_. Say no more, X.; I see that you are right; and it's all
over with our cause; unless I retrieve it. To think that the whole
cause of the Anti-Ricardian economy should devolve upon me! that fate
should ordain me to be the Atlas on whose unworthy shoulders the whole
system is to rest! This being my destiny, I ought to have been built a
little stronger. However, no matter. I heartily pray that I may prove
too strong for you; though, at the same time, I am convinced I shall
not. Remember, therefore, that you have no right to exult if you toss
and gore me, for I tell you beforehand that you will. And, if you do,
that only proves me to be in the right, and a very sagacious person;
since my argument has all the appearance of being irresistible, and yet
such is my discernment that I foresee most acutely that it will turn
out a most absurd one. It is this: your answer to Philebus issues in
this--that a thing A is shown to be at once more valuable and yet not
more valuable than the same thing B. Now, this answer I take by the
horns; it is possible for A to be more and yet not more valuable than
the same thing. For example, my hat shall be more valuable than the
gloves; more valuable, that is, than the gloves were: and yet not more
valuable than the gloves; not more valuable, that is, than the gloves
now are. So of the wages; all things preserve their former relations,
because all are equally raised. This is my little argument. What do you
think of it? Will it do?
_Phæd_. Why, so I told you.
_X_. I have the pleasure, then, to assure you that you were
perfectly right. It will _not_ do. But I understand you perfectly.
You mean to evade my argument that the increase of wages shall settle
upon profits; according to this argument, it will settle upon price,
and not upon profits; yet again on price in such a way as to escape the
absurdity of two relations of value existing between the very same
things. But, Phædrus, this rise will be a mere metaphysical one, and no
real rise. The hat, you say, has risen; but still it commands no more
of the gloves, because they also have risen. How, then, has either
risen? The rise is purely ideal.
_Phæd_. It is so, X.; but that I did not overlook; for tell me--on
Mr. Ricardo's principle, will not all things double their value
simultaneously, if the quantity of labor spent in producing all should
_X_. It will, Phædrus.
_Phæd_. And yet nothing will exchange for more or less than
_X_. True; but the rise is not ideal, for all that, but will
affect everybody. A pound of wheat, which previously bought three
pounds of salt, will still buy three pounds; but, then, the salt-maker
and the wheat-maker will have only one pound of those articles where
before he had two. However, the difference between the two cases cannot
fully be understood, without a previous examination of certain
distinctions, which I will make the subject of our next dialogue; and
the rather, because, apart from our present question, at every step we
should else be embarrassed, as all others have been, by the perplexity
attending these distinctions. Meantime, as an answer to your argument,
the following consideration will be quite sufficient. The case which
your argument respects is that in which wages are supposed to rise?
Why? In consequence of a _real_ rise in corn or something else. As
a means of meeting this rise, wages rise; but the increased value of
wages is only a means to an end, and the laborer cares about the rise
only in that light. The end is--to give him the same quantity of corn,
suppose. That end attained, he cares nothing about the means by which
it is attained. Now, your ideal rise of wages does not attain this end.
The corn has _really_ risen; this is the first step. In
consequence of this, an ideal rise follows in all things, which evades
the absurdities of a real rise--and evades the Ricardian doctrine of
profits; but, then, only by also evading any real rise in wages, the
necessity of which (in order to meet the real rise in corn) first led
to the whole movement of price. But this you will more clearly see
after our next dialogue.
* * * * *
DIALOGUE THE FOURTH.
ON THE USE AND ABUSE OF TWO CELEBRATED DISTINCTIONS IN THE THEORY OF
_X_. Now, gentlemen, I come to a question which on a double
account is interesting: first, because it is indispensable to the
fluency of our future progress that this question should be once for
all decided; secondly, because it furnishes an _experimentum
crucis_ for distinguishing a true knowledge of Mr. Ricardo's theory
from a spurious or half-knowledge. Many a man will accompany Mr.
Ricardo thus far, and will keep his seat pretty well until he comes to
the point which we have now reached--at which point scarcely one in a
thousand will escape being unhorsed.
_Phæd_. Which one most assuredly will not be myself. For I have a
natural alacrity in losing my seat, and gravitate so determinately to
the ground, that (like a Roman of old) I ride without stirrups, by way
of holding myself in constant readiness for projection; upon the least
hint, anticipating my horse's wishes on that point, and throwing myself
off as fast as possible; for what's the use of taking the negative side
in a dispute where one's horse takes the affirmative? So I leave it to
Philebus to ride through the steeple-chase you will lead him; his be
the honor of the day--and his the labor.
_X_. But _that_ cannot be; Philebus is bound in duty to be dismounted,
for the sake of keeping Mr. Malthus with many others in countenance.
For at this point, Phædrus, more than at any other almost, there is a
sad confusion of lords and gentlemen that I could name thrown out of
the saddle pell-mell upon their mother earth.
"So they among themselves in pleasant vein
I suppose I may add--
"Heightened in their thoughts beyond
All doubts of victory."
Meantime, what is it you allude to?
_X_. You are acquainted, I doubt not, Philebus, with the common
distinction between _real_ and _nominal_ value; and in your judgment
upon that distinction I presume that you adopt the doctrine of Mr.
_Phil_. I do; but I know not why you should call it the doctrine
of Mr. Malthus; for, though he has reurged it against Mr. Ricardo, yet
originally it belongs to Adam Smith.
_X_. Not so, Philebus; _a_ distinction between real and nominal value
was made by Adam Smith, but not altogether _the_ distinction of Mr.
Malthus. It is true that Mr. Malthus tells us ("Polit. Econ.," p. 63)
that the distinction is "exactly the same." But in this he is
inaccurate; for neither is it exactly the same; nor, if it had been,
could Mr. Malthus have urged it in his "Political Economy" with the
same consistency as its original author. This you will see hereafter.
But no matter; how do you understand the distinction?
_Phil_. "I continue to think," with Mr. Malthus, and in his words,
"that the most proper definition of real value in exchange, in
contradistinction to nominal value in exchange, is the power of
commanding the necessaries and conveniences of life, including labor,
as distinguished from the power of commanding the precious metals."
_X_. You think, for instance, that if the wages of a laborer should in
England be at the rate of five shillings a day, and in France of no
more than one shilling a day, it could not, therefore, be inferred that
wages were at a high real value in England, or a low real value in
France. Until we know how much food, &c., could be had for the five
shillings in England, and how much in France for the one shilling,
all that we could fairly assert would be, that wages were at a high
_nominal_ value in England and at a low _nominal_ value in France; but
the moment it should be ascertained that the English wages would
procure twice as much comfort as the French, or the French twice
as much as the English, we might then peremptorily affirm that wages
were at a high _real_ value in England on the first supposition,
or in France on the second:--this is what you think?
_Phil_. It is, and very fairly stated, I think this, in common
with Mr. Malthus; and can hold out but little hope that I shall ever
cease to think it.
"Why, then, know this,
Thou think'st amiss;
And, to think right, thou must think o'er again."
[Footnote: Suckling's well-known song.]
_Phæd_. But is it possible that Mr. Ricardo can require me to
abjure an inference so reasonable as this? If so, I must frankly
acknowledge that I am out of the saddle already.
_X_. Reasonable inference? So far from _that_, there is an end
of all logic if such an inference be tolerated. _That_ man may
rest assured that his vocation in this world is not logical, who feels
disposed (after a few minutes' consideration) to question the following
proposition,--namely: That it is very possible for A continually to
increase in value--in _real_ value, observe--and yet to command a
continually decreasing quantity of B; in short, that A may acquire a
thousand times higher value, and yet exchange for ten thousand times
less of B.
_Phæd_. Why, then, "chaos is come again!" Is this the unparadoxical
_X_. Yes, Phædrus; but lay not this unction to your old prejudices,
which you must now prepare to part with forever, that it is any
spirit of wilful paradox which is now speaking; for get rid of Mr.
Ricardo, if you can, but you will not, therefore, get rid of this
paradox. On any other theory of value whatsoever, it will still
continue to be an irresistible truth, though it is the Ricardian theory
only which can consistently explain it. Here, by the way, is a specimen
of paradox in the true and laudable sense--in that sense according to
which Boyle entitled a book "Hydrostatical Paradoxes;" for, though it
wears a _primâ facie_ appearance of falsehood, yet in the end you
will be sensible that it is not only true, but true in that way and
degree which will oblige him who denies it to maintain an absurdity.
Again, therefore, I affirm that, when the laborer obtains a large
quantity of corn, for instance, it is so far from being any fair
inference that wages are then at a high real value, that in all
probability they are at a very low real value; and inversely I affirm,
that when wages are at their very highest real value, the laborer will
obtain the very smallest quantity of corn. Or, quitting wages
altogether (because such an illustration would drive me into too much
anticipation), I affirm universally of Y (that is, of any assignable
thing whatsoever), that it shall grow more valuable _ad infinitum_,
and yet by possibility exchange for less and less _ad infinitum_ of Z
(that is, of any other assignable thing).
_Phæd_. Well, all I shall say is this,--am I in a world where men
stand on their heads or on their feet? But there is some trick in all
this; there is some snare. And now I consider--what's the meaning of
your saying "by possibility"? If the doctrine you would force upon me
be a plain, broad, straightforward truth, why fetter it with such a
_X_. Think, for a moment, Phædrus, what doctrine it is which I
would force upon you; not, as you seem to suppose, that the quantity
obtained by Y is in the _inverse_ ratio of the value of Y; on the
contrary, if that were so, it would still remain true that an
irresistible inference might be drawn from the quantity purchased to
the value of the thing purchasing, and _vice versa_, from the
value of the thing purchasing to the quantity which it would purchase.
There would still be a connection between the two; and the sole
difference between my doctrine and the old doctrine would be this--that
the connection would be no longer _direct_ (as by your doctrine),
but _inverse_. This would be the difference, and the sole difference.
But what is it that I assert? Why, that there is no connection at all,
or of any kind, direct or inverse, between the quantity commanded and
the value commanding. My object is to get rid of your inference, not to
substitute any new inference of my own. I put, therefore, an extreme
case. This case ought by your doctrine to be impossible. If, therefore,
it be _not_ impossible, your doctrine is upset. Simply as a possible
case, it is sufficient to destroy _you_. But, if it were more than a
possible case, it would destroy _me_. For if, instead of demonstrating
the possibility of such a case, I had attempted to show that it were a
universal and necessary case, I should again be introducing the notion
of a connection between the quantity obtained and the value obtaining,
which it is the very purpose of my whole argument to exterminate. For
my thesis is, that no such connection subsists between the two as
warrants any inference that the real value is great because the
quantity it buys is great, or small because the quantity it buys is
small; or, reciprocally, that, because the real value is great or
small, therefore the quantities bought shall be great or small. From,
or to, the real value in these cases, I contend that there is no more
valid inference, than from, or to, the nominal value with which it is
_Phil_. Your thesis, then, as I understand it, is this: that if A
double its value, it will not command double the quantity of B. I have
a barouche which is worth about six hundred guineas at this moment.
Now, if I should keep this barouche unused in my coach-house for five
years, and at the end of this term it should happen from any cause that
carriages had doubled in value, _my_ understanding would lead me
to expect double the quantity of any commodity for which I might then
exchange it, whether _that_ were money, sugar, besoms, or anything
whatsoever. But _you_ tell me--no. And _vice versa_, if I found
that my barouche at the end of five years obtained for me double
the quantity of sugar, or besoms, or political economists, which it
would now obtain, I should think myself warranted in drawing an
inference that carriages had doubled their value. But you tell me--no;
"non valet consequentia."
_X_. You are in the right, Phædrus; I _do_ tell you so. But
you do not express my thesis quite accurately, which is, that if A
double its value, it will not _therefore_ command double the
former quantity of B. It may do so; and it may also command five
hundred times more, or five hundred times less.
_Phæd_. O tempora! O mores! Here is my friend X., that in any
other times would have been a man of incorruptible virtue; and yet, in
our unprincipled age, he is content to barter the interests of truth
and the "majesty of plain-dealing" for a brilliant paradox, or (shall I
say?) for the glory of being reputed an accomplished disputant.
_X_. But, Phædrus, there could be little brilliancy in a paradox
which in the way you understand it will be nothing better than a bold
defiance of common sense. In fact, I should be ashamed to give the air
of a paradox to so evident a truth as that which I am now urging, if I
did not continually remind myself that, evident as it may appear, it
yet escaped Adam Smith. This consideration, and the spectacle of so
many writers since his day thrown out and at a fault precisely at this
point of the chase, make it prudent to present it in as startling a
shape as possible; in order that, the attention being thoroughly
roused, the final assent may not be languid or easily forgotten. Suffer
me, therefore, Phædrus, in a Socratic way, to extort an assent from
your own arguments--allow me to drive you into an absurdity.
_Phæd_. With all my heart; if our father Adam is wrong, I am sure
it would be presumptuous in me to be right; so drive me as fast as
_X_. You say that A, by doubling its own value, shall command a
double quantity of B. Where, by A, you do not mean some one thing in
particular, but generally any assignable thing whatever. Now, B is some
assignable thing. Whatever, therefore, is true of A, will be true of B?
_Phæd_. It will.
_X_. It will be true, therefore, of B, that, by doubling its own
value, it will command a double quantity of A?
_Phæd_. I cannot deny it.
_X_. Let A be your carriage; and let B stand for six hundred
thousands of besoms, which suppose to express the value of your
carriage in that article at this present moment. Five years hence, no
matter why, carriages have doubled in value; on which supposition you
affirm that in exchange for your barouche you will be entitled to
receive no less than twelve hundred thousands of besoms.
_Phæd_. I do; and a precious bargain I shall have of it; like
Moses with his gross of shagreen spectacles. But sweep on, if you
please; brush me into absurdity.
_X_. I will. Because barouches have altered in value, that is no
reason why besoms should _not_ have altered?
_Phæd_. Certainly; no reason in the world.
_X_. Let them have altered; for instance, at the end of the five
years, let them have been doubled in value. Now, because your assertion
is this--simply by doubling in value, B shall command a double quantity
of A--it follows inevitably, Phædrus, that besoms, having doubled their
value in five years, will at the end of that time command a double
quantity of barouches. The supposition is, that six hundred thousand,
at present, command one barouche; in five years, therefore, six hundred
thousand will command two barouches?
_Phæd_. They will.
_X_. Yet, at the very same time, it has already appeared from your
argument that twelve hundred thousand will command only one barouche;
that is, a barouche will at one and the same time be worth twelve
hundred thousand besoms, and worth only one fourth part of that
quantity. Is this an absurdity, Phædrus?
_Phæd_. It seems such.
_X_. And, therefore, the argument from which it flows, I presume,
_Phæd_. Scavenger of bad logic! I confess that it looks so.
_Phil_. You confess? So do not I. You die "soft," Phædrus; give me
the cudgels, and I'll die "game," at least. The flaw in your argument,
X., is this: you summoned Phædrus to invert his proposition, and then
you extorted an absurdity from this inversion. But that absurdity
follows only from the particular form of expression into which you
threw the original proposition. I will express the same proposition in
other terms, unexceptionable terms, which shall evade the absurdity.
Observe. A and B are at this time equal in value; that is, they now
exchange quantity for quantity. Or, if you prefer your own case, I say
that one barouche exchanges for six hundred thousand besoms. I choose,
however, to express this proposition thus: A (one barouche) and B (six
hundred thousand besoms) are severally equal in value to C. When,
therefore, A doubles its value, I say that it shall command a double
quantity of C. Now, mark how I will express the inverted case. When B
doubles its value, I say that it shall command a double quantity of C.
But these two cases are very reconcilable with each other. A may
command a double quantity of C at the same time that B commands a
double quantity of C, without involving any absurdity at all. And, if
so, the disputed doctrine is established, that a double value implies a
double command of quantity; and reciprocally, that from a doubled
command of quantity we may infer a doubled value.
_X_. A, and B, you say, may simultaneously command a double
quantity of C, in consequence of doubling their value; and this they
may do without absurdity. But how shall I know _that_, until I
know what you cloak under the symbol of C? For if the same thing shall
have happened to C which my argument assumes to have happened to B
(namely, that its value has altered), then the same demonstration will
hold; and the very same absurdity will follow any attempt to infer the
quantity from the value, or the value from the quantity.
_Phil_. Yes, but I have provided against _that_; for by C I
mean any assignable thing which has _not_ altered its own value. I
assume C to be stationary in value.
_X_. In that case, Philebus, it is undoubtedly true that no
absurdity follows from the inversion of the proposition as it is
expressed by you. But then the short answer which I return is this:
your thesis avoids the absurdity by avoiding the entire question in
dispute. Your thesis is not only not the same as that which we are now
discussing; not only different in essence from the thesis which is
_now_ disputed; but moreover it affirms only what _never_ was
disputed by any man. No man has ever denied that A, by doubling its own
value, will command a double quantity of all things which have been
stationary in value. Of things in that predicament, it is self-evident
that A will command a double quantity. But the question is, whether
universally, from doubling its value, A will command a double quantity:
and inversely, whether universally, from the command of a double
quantity, it is lawful to infer a double value. This is asserted by
Adam Smith, and is essential to his distinction of nominal and real
value; this is peremptorily denied by us. We offer to produce cases in
which from double value it shall not be lawful to infer double
quantity. We offer to produce cases in which from double quantity it
shall _not_ be lawful to infer double value. And thence we argue,
that _until_ the value is discovered in some other way, it will be
impossible to discover whether it be high or low from any consideration
of the quantity commanded; and again, with respect to the quantity
commanded--that, _until_ known in some other way, it shall never
be known from any consideration of the value commanding. This is what
we say; now, your "C" contradicts the conditions; "_until_ the
value is discovered in some other way, it shall never be learned from
the quantity commanded." But in your "C" the value is already
discovered; for you assume it; you postulate that C is stationary in
value: and hence it is easy indeed to infer that, because A commands
double quantity of "C," it shall therefore be of double value; but this
inference is not obtained from the single consideration of double
quantity, but from _that_ combined with the assumption of
unaltered value in C, without which assumption you shall never obtain
_Phæd_. The matter is clear beyond what I require; yet, X., for
the satisfaction of my "game" friend Philebus, give us a proof or two
_ex abundanti_ by applying what you have said to cases in Adam
Smith or others.
_X_. In general it is clear that, if the value of A increases in a
duplicate ratio, yet if the value of B increases in a triplicate ratio,
so far from commanding a greater quantity of B, A shall command a
smaller quantity; and if A continually goes on squaring its former
value, yet if B continually goes on cubing its former value, then,
though A will continually augment in value, yet the quantity which it
will command of B shall be continually less, until at length it shall
become practically equal to nothing. [Footnote: The reader may imagine
that there is one exception to this case: namely, if the values of A
and B were assumed at starting to be = 1; because, in that case, the
squares, cubes, and all other powers alike, would be = I; and thus,
under any apparent alteration, the real relations of A and B would
always remain the same. But this is an impossible and unmeaning case in
Political Economy, as might easily be shown.] Hence, therefore, I
1. That when I am told by Adam Smith that the money which I can obtain
for my hat expresses only its _nominal_ value, but that the labor
which I can obtain for it expresses its _real_ value--I reply,
that the quantity of labor is no more any expression of the real value
than the quantity of money; both are equally fallacious expressions,
because equally equivocal. My hat, it is true, now buys me _x_
quantity of labor, and some years ago it bought _x/2_ quantity of
labor. But this no more proves that my hat has advanced in real value
according to that proportion, than a double _money_ price will
prove it. For how will Adam Smith reply to him who urges the double
money value as an argument of a double real value? He will say--No; non
valet consequentia. Your proof is equivocal; for a double quantity of
money will as inevitably arise from the sinking of money as from the
rising of hats. And supposing money to have sunk to one fourth of its
former value, in that case a double money value--so far from proving
hats to have risen in real value--will prove that hats have absolutely
fallen in real value by one half; and they will be seen to have done so
by comparison with all things which have remained stationary; otherwise
they would obtain not double merely, but four times the quantity of
money price. This is what Adam Smith will reply in effect. Now, the
very same objection I make to labor as any test of real value. My hat
now obtains _x_ labor; formerly it obtained only one half of
_x_. Be it so; but the whole real change may be in the labor;
labor may now be at one half its former value; in which case my hat
obtains the same real price; double the quantity of labor being now
required to express the same value. Nay, if labor has fallen to one
tenth of its former value, so far from being proved to have risen one
hundred per cent. in real value by now purchasing a double quantity of
labor, my hat is proved to have fallen to one fifth of its former
value; else, instead of buying me only _x_ labor, which is but the
double of its former value (_x/2_), it would buy me 5 _x_, or
ten times its former value.
_Phil_. Your objection, then, to the labor price, as any better
expression of the _real_ value than the money price, would be that
it is an equivocal expression, leaving it doubtful on which side of the
equation the disturbance had taken place, or whether on both sides. In
which objection, as against others, you may be right; but you must not
urge this against Adam Smith; because, on his theory, the expression is
not equivocal; the disturbance can be only on one side of the equation,
namely, in your hat. For as to the other side (the labor), _that_ is
secured from all disturbance by his doctrine that labor is always of
the same value. When, therefore, your hat will purchase _x_ quantity of
labor instead of half _x_, the inference is irresistible that your hat
has doubled its value. There lies no appeal from this; it cannot be
evaded by alleging that the labor may have fallen, for the labor cannot
_X_. On the Smithian theory it cannot; and therefore it is that I
make a great distinction between the error of Adam Smith and of other
later writers. He, though wrong, was consistent. That the value of
labor is invariable, is a principle so utterly untenable, that many
times Adam Smith abandoned it himself implicitly, though not
explicitly. The demonstration of its variable value indeed follows
naturally from the laws which govern wages; and, therefore, I will not
here anticipate it. Meantime, having once adopted that theory of the
unalterable value of labor, Adam Smith was in the right to make it the
expression of real value. But this is not done with the same
consistency by Mr. Malthus at the very time when he denies the
possibility of any invariable value.
_Phil_. How so? Mr. Malthus asserts that there is one article of
invariable value; what is more, this article is labor,--the very same
as that formerly alleged for such by Adam Smith; and he has written a
book to prove it.
_X_. True, Philebus, he has done so; and he _now_ holds that
labor is invariable, supposing that his opinions have not altered
within the last twelve months. But he was so far from holding this in
1820 (at which time it was that he chiefly insisted on the distinction
between nominal and real value), that he was not content with the true
arguments against the possibility of an invariable value, but made use
of one, as I shall soon show you, which involves what the
metaphysicians call a _non-ens_--or an idea which includes
contradictory and self-destroying conditions. Omitting, however, the
inconsistency in the idea of _real_ value as conceived by Mr.
Malthus, there is this additional error engrafted upon the Smithian
definition, that it is extended to "the necessaries and conveniences of
life" in general, and no longer confined exclusively to labor. I shall,
therefore, as another case for illustrating and applying the result of
2. Cite a passage from Mr. Malthus' "Political Economy" (p. 59): "If we
are told that the wages of day-labor in a particular country are, at
the present time, fourpence a day, or that the revenue of a particular
sovereign, seven or eight hundred years ago, was four hundred thousand
pounds a year, these statements of nominal value convey no sort of
information respecting the condition of the lower class of people in
the one case, or the resources of the sovereign in the other. Without
further knowledge on the subject, we should be quite at a loss to say
whether the laborers in the country mentioned were starving or living
in great plenty; whether the king in question might be considered as
having a very inadequate revenue, or whether the sum mentioned was so
great as to be incredible. [Footnote: Hume very reasonably doubts the
possibility of William the Conqueror's revenue being four hundred
thousand pounds a year, as represented by an ancient historian, and
adopted by subsequent writers.--Note of Mr. Malthus.] It is quite
obvious that in cases of this kind,--and they are of constant
recurrence,--the value of wages, incomes, or commodities, estimated in
the precious metals, will be of little use to us alone. What we want
further is some estimate of a kind which may be denominated real value
in exchange, implying the quantity of the necessaries and conveniences
of life which those wages, incomes, or commodities, will enable the
possessor of them to command."
In this passage, over and above the radical error about real value,
there is also apparent that confusion, which has misled so many
writers, between _value_ and _wealth_; a confusion which Mr.
Ricardo first detected and cleared up. That we shall not be able to
determine, from the mere money wages, whether the laborers were
"starving or living in great plenty," is certain; and that we
_shall_ be able to determine this as soon as we know the quantity
of necessaries, etc., which those wages commanded, is equally certain;
for, in fact, the one knowledge is identical with the other, and but
another way of expressing it; we must, of course, learn that the
laborer lived in plenty, if we should learn that his wages gave him a
great deal of bread, milk, venison, salt, honey, etc. And as there
could never have been any doubt whether we should learn _this_
from what Mr. Malthus terms the real value, and that we should
_not_ learn it from what he terms the money value, Mr. Malthus may
be assured that there never can have been any dispute raised on that
point. The true dispute is, whether, after having learned that the
laborer lived in American plenty, we shall have at all approximated to
the appreciation of his wages as to real value: this is the question;
and it is plain that we shall not. What matters it that his wages gave
him a great deal of corn, until we know whether corn bore a high or a
low value? A great deal of corn at a high value implies wages of a high
value; but a great deal of corn at a low value is very consistent with
wages at a low value. Money wages, it is said, leave us quite in the
dark as to real value. Doubtless; nor are we at all the less in the
dark for knowing the corn wages, the milk wages, the grouse wages, etc.
_Given_ the value of corn, _given_ the value of milk, _given_ the value
of grouse, we shall know whether a great quantity of those articles
implies a high value, or is compatible with a low value, in the wages
which commanded them; but, _until_ that is given, it has been already
shown that the quantity alone is an equivocal test, being equally
capable of coexisting with high wages or low wages.
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