Chap 16: Slow Progress

Chap 16: the Causes of the slow Progress of Opulence

  • It is somewhat surprising that every nation should continue so long in a poor state, when we consider the immediate effects of the division of labour to improve the arts.
  • This is caused by:
    1. Natural impediments
    2. The oppression by the government

 

  • A barbarous people are ignorant of the effects of the division of labour.
    • It takes a long time before one person can produce more than is necessary for his daily subsistence.
  • Before labour can be divided, some accumulation of stock is necessary,
    • A poor man with no stock can never begin a manufacture.
  • Before a man can be a farmer, he must at least have laid in a year’s provision, because he does not receive the fruits of his labour until the season’s end.
    • In a nation of hunters or shepherds, no one can quit his employment until he has some stock to maintain him and begin the new trade.
  • Everyone knows how difficult it is, even in a refined society, to raise one’s self to moderate circumstances.
    • It is still more difficult to raise one’s self by those trades which require no art nor [223] ingenuity.
    • A porter or day-labourer must continue poor forever.
  • In the beginnings of society, this is still more difficult.
  • Bare subsistence is almost all that a savage can procure.
    • Having no stock to begin upon, nothing to maintain him but what is produced by the exertion of his own strength, it is no wonder he continues long in an indigent state.
  • The meanest labourer in a polished society has in many respects an advantage over a savage: he has more assistance in his labour.
    • He has only one particular thing to do, which, by assiduity, he attains a facility in performing.
  • He has also machines and instruments which greatly assist him.
  • An Indian has not so much as a pick-axe, a spade, or a shovel, nor anything else but his own labour.
    • This is one great cause of the slow progress of opulence in every country.
  • Until some stock be produced there can be no division of labour, and before a division of labour take place there can be very little accumulation of stock.

 

  • The other cause that was assigned was the nature of civil government.
    • In the infancy of society, government is weak and feeble.
    • It takes a long time before it can protect the industry of individuals from the rapacity of their neighbours.
  • When people find themselves in danger of being robbed of all they possess, they have no motive to be industrious.
    • There could be little accumulation of stock, because the indolent, which would be the greatest number, would live upon the industrious and spend whatever they produced.
  • When the power of government becomes so great as to defend the produce of industry, another obstacle arises from a different quarter.
    • Among neighbouring nations in a barbarous state there are perpetual wars.
    • One continually invades and plunders the other.
    • Though private property is secured from the violence of neighbours, it is in danger from hostile invasions.
  • In this [224] way, it is next to impossible that any accumulation of stock can be made.
  • Among savage nations, there are always more violent convulsions than among those farther advanced in refinement.
    • Among the Tartars and Arabs, great bands of barbarians are always roaming from one place to another in quest of plunder.
      • They pillage every country as they go along.
      • Thus large tracts of country are often laid waste and all the effects carried away.
    • Germany too was in the same condition around the fall of the Roman Empire.
    • Nothing can be more an obstacle to the progress of opulence.

 

  • We shall next consider the effect of oppressive measures on agriculture and commerce.

 

  • Of all the arts, agriculture is the most beneficent to society.
    • Whatever retards its improvement is extremely prejudicial to the public interest.
  • The produce of agriculture is much greater than that of any other manufacture.
    • The rents of the whole lands in England amounts to about 24 million.
    • The rent is generally about 1/3 of the produce.
    • The whole annual produce of the lands must be about 72 million.
  • This is much more than the produce of the linen or woollen manufactures.
    • For, as the annual consumption is computed to be about 100 million, if you deduce from this the 72 million, the produce of agriculture, there will remain only 28 million for all the other manufactures of the nation.
  • Whatever measures therefore discourage the improvement of this art are extremely prejudicial to the progress of opulence.

 

  • One great hindrance to the progress of agriculture is the throwing great tracts of land into the hands of single persons.
  • If any man’s estate is more than he is able to cultivate, a part of it is lost in a way.
  • When a nation [225] of savages takes possession of a country, the great and powerful divide the whole lands among them.
    • They leave none for the lower ranks of people.
  • In this manner the Celtae, and the Saxons, took possession of our own island.
  • When land is divided in great portions among the powerful, it is cultivated by slaves.
    • It is is a very unprofitable method of cultivation.
  • The labour of a slave proceeds only from the dread of punishment.
    • If he could escape this, he would work none at all.
    • Should he exert himself in the most extraordinary manner, he cannot expect any reward.
    • He has no encouragement to industry since all the produce of his labour goes to his master.
    • A young slave may perhaps exert himself a little at first, to attain his master’s favour.
      • But he soon finds that it is all in vain.
      •  and that, be his behaviour what it will, he will always meet with the same severe treatment.
  • Therefore, when lands are cultivated by slaves, they cannot be greatly improved, as they have no motive to industry.
  • A cultivation of the same kind is that by villains.
    • The landlord gave a man a piece of ground to cultivate, allowing him to maintain himself by it, and obliging him to restore whatever was over his own maintenance.
    • This was equally unfavourable to the progress of agriculture, because the villains, who were a kind of slaves, had no motive to industry but their own maintenance.
  • This objection lies equally against all cultivation by slaves.
    • Some of the West India islands have been cultivated and greatly improved by slaves.
    • But they might have been cultivated by freemen at less expense.
  • Had not the profits of sugar been very great, the planters could not have supported the expense of slaves.
    • But their profits have been so enormous, that all the extraordinary expense of slave cultivation has vanished before it.
  • In the northern [226] colonies they employ few slaves.
    • Though they are in a very flourishing condition in those colonies, the lands are generally cultivated by the proprietors.
    • This method is the most favourable method to the progress of agriculture.
  • A tenant of the best kind always:
    • has a rent to pay, and
    • therefore has much less to lay out on improvements.
  • When a country sends out a colony, it may hinder a large tract of land to be occupied by a single person.
    • But when savages seize a country, they are subject to no laws.
    • The strongest man takes possession of most ground.
    • Agriculture cannot be quickly promoted among them.

 

  • After villains went out, tenants by steel bow succeeded.
    • The landlord gave a farm with a stock to a villain, which were restored with half of the produce, at the end of the year to the landlord.
  • But the tenant had:
    • no stock
    • no encouragement to lay it out on improvements.
  • This method always was unfavourable to agriculture.
    • For the same reason that tithes, by depriving the farmer of 10% of his produce, hinder improvement.
    • This was a bigger hindrance because the tenant was deprived of 50% of the produce.
  • A great part of France is still cultivated by steel bow tenants.
    • It still remains in some parts of the Highlands of Scotland.

 

  • The next kind of cultivation was that by our present tenants.
    • Some of the tenants by steel bow, by extreme pinching and cunning, got a small stock laid up and offered their masters a fixed rent for the ground.
  • Thus, in time, the present method of cultivation was introduced.
    • Though it was long [227] liable to inconveniences.
  • If the landlord sold his land, the new proprietor was not bound to the terms of agreement.
    • The tenant was often turned out of his farm.
    • The landlord too invented a method to get rid of the tenant when he pleased by selling the estate to another, on whom he had a back bond to make him return the estate whenever the tenants were turned out.
  • The tenants had no motive to improve the ground because they were continually in danger of being turned out.
    • This takes place to this day in every European country, except Britain.
    • In Scotland, contracts of this kind were rendered real rights in the reign of James III, and in England in that of Henry VII.

 

  • Besides these there were several other impediments to the progress of agriculture.
    • At first all rents were paid in kind.
    • In a dear year, the tenants were in danger of being ruined.
  • A reduction of produce seldom hurts the tenant who pays his rent in money, because corn prices rise in proportion to its scarcity.
    • Society, however, is considerably advanced before money becomes the whole instrument of commerce.

 

  • Another embarrassment was that the feudal lords sometimes allowed the king to levy subsidies from their tenants.
    • This greatly discouraged their industry.
  • Besides all, under the tyranny of the feudal aristocracy, the landlords had nothing to stop them from squeezing their tenants and raising the rents as high as they pleased.
  • England is better secured in this respect than [228] any country.
    • Everyone who holds but 40 shillings a year for life has a vote for a member of parliament.
    • This vote secures him from oppression if he rents a farm.

 

  • Several circumstances concurred to continue land engrossment.
    • The right of primogeniture was pretty early established.
      • This hindered estates from being divided.
    • The institution of entails is to this day attended with the same bad consequences.
    • The embarrassment of the feudal law in transferring property also retarded the progress of agriculture.
  • Any quantity of any other commodity may be bought or sold in an instant.
    • But in purchasing four or five acres of land a great deal [of] time must be spent in examining the progress of writs, and getting your right legally constituted.
    • This tends greatly to the engrossment of lands, and consequently stops their improvement.
  • If all the forms in buying lands were abolished, every person almost who had got a little money would be ready to lay it out on land.
    • The land by passing through the different hands would be much better improved.
  • There is no natural reason why a thousand acres should not be as easily purchased as a thousand yards of cloth.
  • The keeping land out of the market always hinders its improvement.
  • A merchant who buys a little piece of land has it in his eye to improve it, and make the most of it he can.
  • Great and ancient families have seldom either stock or inclination to improve their estates, except a small piece of pleasure-ground about their house.

 

  • There are many errors in the policy of almost every country, which have contributed greatly to stop the progress of agriculture.
    • Our fathers, finding themselves once in every two or three years under the most grievous [229dearths, banned corn exports.
  • This is still the policy of most of Europe.
    • It is the cause of all that dearth it is intended to prevent.
  • Spain is the most fertile country in the world.
    • In a plentiful year, its corn is not worth harvesting.
    • They let it rot on the ground because they would get nothing for it.
  • The cause of this is not the indolence of the people, as is commonly imagined.
    • The cause is that the farmer is unable to dispose of his corn this year.
      • He turns his grounds to grass.
      • Next year, a famine ensues.
      • He sows more than can be disposed of for the following season.
    • This was one great cause of the depopulation of ancient Italy.
  • Corn exportation was banned by severe penalties.
    • Its importation was encouraged by high premiums.
    • The Italian farmers had no encouragement to industry, not being sure of a market.
  • In the latter times of the Republic, the Emperors tried several ways to promote the country’s cultivation.
    • But they were ignorant that the real cause of their lack was the immense quantity of corn daily imported from Egypt and other parts of Africa.
      • All their endeavours were ineffectual.
    • Caligula and Claudius gave their soldiers land on the condition that they would cultivate it.
      • But as the soldiers had no other motive, very inconsiderable improvements were made.
    • Virgil, too, published his Georgics to bring the cultivation of land into fashion, but all was in vain.
  • Foreign corn was always sold cheaper than their own could be raised.
    • Agreeably to this, we find Cato in the Third Book of Cicero’s Offices, preferring pasturage of any kind to farming.
  • The Kings of Spain have also done all in their [230] power to promote land improvement.
    • Philip IV himself farmed, to set the fashion.
    • He did everything for the farmers except bringing them a good market.
    • He conferred the titles of nobility on several farmers.
    • He very absurdly tried to oppress manufacturers with heavy taxes to force them to the countryside.
    • He thought that the rural population decreased as the urban population increased.
      • This notion was highly ridiculous.
      • The populousness of a town is the very cause of the populousness of the countryside, because it gives greater encouragement to industry.
  • Every man in a town must be fed by a man in the countryside.
    • It is always a sign that the country is improving when men go to town.
  • The best inhabited and cultivated lands are those near populous cities.

 

  • All these causes have hindered, and still hinder, the improvement of agriculture.
    • Agriculture is the most important industry.
  • The more manufacturers there are in any country, the more improved agriculture is.
    • The causes which prevent the progress of these react on agriculture.
  • It is easy to show that the free export and import of corn is favourable to agriculture.
  • England has been better stored with corn.
    • Corn prices have gradually sunk, since its exportation was allowed.
  • The bounty on exportation does harm in other respects.
    • But it increases the quantity of corn.
  • In Holland, corn is cheaper and plentier than anywhere else.
    • A dearth there is unknown.
    • That country is the magazine of corn for a big part of Europe.
    • This is entirely owing to the free export and import they enjoy.
    • If no improper regulations took [231] place, any European country might do more than maintain itself with all sorts of grain.

 

  • The slow progress of arts and commerce is owing to similar causes.
    • In all places where slavery took place, the manufactures were carried on by slaves.
  • It is impossible that they can be so well carried on by slaves as by freemen, because they:
    • can have no motive to labour but the dread of punishment, and
    • can never invent any machine for facilitating their business.
  • Freemen who have a stock of their own, can get anything accomplished which they think may be expedient for carrying on labour.
    • If a carpenter thinks that a plane will serve his purpose better than a knife, he may go to a smith and get it made.
    • But if a slave makes such a proposal he is called a lazy rascal.
    • No experiments are made to give him ease.
  • Presently, the Turks and Hungarians work mines of the same kind, situated on opposite sides of the same range of mountains.
    • But the Hungarians make much more than the Turks, because they employ free men, while the Turks employ slaves.
    • When the Hungarians meet with any obstacle, every invention is on work to find out some easy way of surmounting it.
    • But the Turks only think of setting more slaves to work.
  • In the ancient world, the arts were all carried on by slaves.
    • No machinery could be invented, because they had no stock.
    • This was also the case all over Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.

 

  • In a rude society, only war is honourable.
    • In [232] the Odyssey, Ulysses is sometimes asked, by way of affront, whether he is a pirate or a merchant.
    • At that time, a merchant was reckoned odious and despicable.
    • But a pirate or robber was treated with honour, since he had military bravery.
  • Those principles of the human mind which are most beneficial to society, are not marked by nature as the most honourable.
    • Hunger, thirst, and lust are the great supports of the human species.
    • Yet almost every expression of these excites contempt.
  • In the same way, that principle in the mind which prompts to truck, barter, and exchange is not marked with anything amiable.
    • Though it is the great foundation of arts, commerce, and the division of labour.
  • To perform anything, or to give anything without a reward, is always generous and noble.
    • But to barter one thing for another is mean.
  • This is because these principles are so strongly implanted by nature.
    • They do not need that additional force which the weaker principles need.
  • In rude ages, this contempt rises to the highest pitch.
    • Even in a refined society, it is not utterly extinguished.
    • In Britain, a small retailer is even odious in some degree at this day.
    • The trade of a merchant or mechanic was thus depreciated in the beginnings of society.
    • No wonder that it was confined to the lowest ranks of people.
  • Even when emancipated slaves began to practice these trades, it was impossible that much stock could accumulate in their hands.
  • Because the government oppressed them severely, and they were obliged to pay licences for their liberty of trading.
  • In Doomsday-book we have an account of all the different traders in every [233] county.
    • How many of them were under the king
    • How many under such a bishop, and
    • what acknowledgments they were obliged to pay for their liberty of trading.

 

  • This mean and despicable idea which they had of merchants greatly obstructed the progress of commerce.
  • The merchant is the mean between the manufacturer and the consumer.
  • The weaver must not go to the market himself.
  • There must be somebody to do this for him.
  • This person must have a considerable stock to buy the commodity and maintain the manufacturer.
  • But when merchants were so despicable and laid under so great taxations for liberty of trade, they could never amass that stock necessary for making the division of labour and improving manufactures.
  • The only persons in those days who made any money by trade were the Jews.
    • They were considered as vagabonds.
    • They could not buy lands.
    • They had no other way to dispose of themselves but by becoming mechanics or merchants.
    • Their character could not be spoiled by merchandise because they could not be more odious than their religion made them.
    • Even they were grievously oppressed.
    • Consequently, the progress of opulence was greatly retarded.

 

  • Another thing which greatly retarded commerce was the imperfection of the law with regard to contracts.
    • Contracts were the last kinds of rights that sustained action.
    • Originally, the law gave no redress for any but those concluded on the spot.
  • Presently, all considerable commerce is carried on by commissions.
    • Unless these sustained action, little could be done.
  • The first action on contracts extended only to the moveable goods of the contractor.
    • He and his lands could not be touched.
    • His goods were often very inconsiderable, [234].
    • Probity is not a prevalent virtue among a rude people.
    • It is commerce that introduces probity and punctuality.

 

  • Another obstacle to the improvement of commerce was the difficulty of transportation one place to another.
  • The countryside was then filled with retainers.
  • They were idle people who depended on the lords.
  • The lords’ violence and disorders rendered travelling very difficult.
    • Besides, there were then no good highways.
  • The want of navigable rivers in many places was also an inconvenience.
  • This is still the case in Asia and other Eastern countries.
    • All inland commerce is carried on by great caravans of several thousands, for mutual defence, with waggons, etc.
  • In our own country, a man made his testament before he set out from Edinburgh to Aberdeen.
    • It was still more dangerous to go to foreign countries.
  • The laws of every country to aliens and strangers are far from being favourable.
    • It is difficult, or rather impossible, for them to obtain satisfaction.
  • After this was a little remedied still conveyance by sea remained difficult.
  • Piracy was an honourable occupation.
    • Men were ignorant of navigation.
    • They were exposed to dangers on this account.
  • The price of all these risks was laid on the goods.
    • This raised their prices so much above the natural price that the improvement of commerce was greatly retarded.

 

  • Another policy which was thought a wise institution by our forefathers had the same effect.
    • This was the fairs and markets all over Europe.
    • Until the 16th century, all commerce was carried on by fairs.
  • The following fairs were much talked of in antiquity:
    • Bartholomew of Leipzig
    • Troy in Champaigne, and
    • Glasgow.
  • These [235] were the most central places best for carrying on business.
  • All linen and black cattle were brought in from the country to these assignations or trysts.
  • Lest the purchaser should be disappointed, they were:
    • all brought on a certain day, and
    • were not allowed to be sold on any other day.
  • Forestallers went up and down the country buying up commodities.
    • They were severely punished, as this was a temptation not to bring them to the market.
  • This might be necessary when it was not safe to go anywhere alone.
    • But though you make no fairs, buyers and sellers will find a way to each other.
  • Easy conveyance and other conveniences of trafficking will be of more advantage than the bringing them to a fixed market and thereby confining buying and selling to a certain season.
  • All fairs, however necessary they then were, are now real nuisances.
    • It is absurd to preserve old customs when the causes of them are removed.

 

  • Another obstacle to commerce was staple towns.
    • These had the exclusive privilege of selling a certain commodity within that district.
    • When Calais belonged to the English, was long the staple for wool.
  • As men were obliged to carry their wool to such a distance, its price was very high.
    • It was however a very great advantage to any town to have the staple.
    • Therefore, the king:
      • gave it to that town with which he was best pleased, and
      • took it away whenever it disobliged him.
  • Staple towns had all the disadvantages of fairs and markets with this additional one, that the staple commodity could be sold at no fair nor market except one.
  • By this the liberty of [236] exchange, and consequently the division of labour, was diminished.

 

  • All taxes on export and imported goods also hinder commerce.
  • Merchants at first were in so contemptible a state that the law abandoned them.
  • It was no matter what they obliged them to pay.
  • However, they must lay the tax on their goods.
    • Their price is raised.
    • Fewer goods are bought
    • Manufactures are discouraged.
    • The division of labour is hindered.

 

  • All monopolies and exclusive privileges of corporations, for whatever good ends they were at first instituted, have the same bad effect.
  • Similarly, the statute of apprenticeship has a bad tendency.
    • It was imagined that the cause of so much bad cloth was that the weaver had not been properly educated.
    • Therefore they made a statute that he should serve a seven years apprenticeship before he pretended to make any.
  • But this is by no means a sufficient security against bad cloth.
    • You cannot inspect a large piece of cloth.
    • This must be left to the stampmaster.
    • His credit must be depended upon.
  • Above all other causes the giving bounties for one commodity, and the discouraging another, diminishes the concurrence of opulence, and hurts the natural state of commerce.

 

  • Before we treat of the effects of police upon the manners of a people, we propose to consider taxes or revenue, which is in reality one of the causes that the progress of opulence has been so slow.