Chap 16: Slow Progress

Chap 16: the Causes of the slow Progress of Opulence

  • It is somewhat surprising that every nation should continue to be poor for so long when we consider the immediate effects of the division of labour in improving 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 a 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.
    • He has no stock to begin with.
    • He has nothing to maintain him but what is produced by his own strength.
    • It is no wonder that he continues long in an indigent state.
  • The meanest labourer in a polished society has an advantage over a savage: he has more assistance in his labour.
    • He has only one thing to do.
      • By assiduity, he becomes able to to perform it well.
    • 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 is produced, there can be no division of labour.
    • Before a division of labour take place, there can be very little accumulation of stock.

 

  • The other cause was the nature of civil government.
    • In society’s infancy, 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 everything, 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 on the industrious and spend whatever they produced.
  • When the government’s power becomes so great as to defend the produce of industry, another obstacle arises from a different quarter.
    • There are perpetual wars among neighbouring barbarous nations.
    • 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 nearly impossible for any accumulation of stock.
  • There are always more violent convulsions among savage nations than among advanced ones.
    • Among the Tartars and Arabs, great bands of barbarians are always roaming in quest of plunder.
      • They pillage every country as they go along.
      • 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 around 72 million.
  • This is much more than the produce of the linen or woollen manufactures.
    • The annual consumption is computed to be about 100 million.
    • If you exclude from this the 72 million produce of agriculture, there will remain only 28 million for all the other manufactures of the nation.
  • Whatever measures that 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 conquers a country, the great and powerful divide the whole lands among them.
    • They leave none for the lower ranks of people.
  • In this way, the Celts and the Saxons took possession of our own island.
  • When land is divided in big portions among the powerful, it is cultivated by slaves.
    • It 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 not work at all.
      • If he exerts 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 might exert himself a little at first, to attain his master’s favour.
      • But he soon finds that:
        • it is all in vain.
        • he will always get the same severe treatment no matter what his behaviour is.
    • 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.
      • He allowed the man to maintain himself by it
      • He obliged the man to give whatever was over his own maintenance.
    • This was equally unfavourable to the progress of agriculture.
      • 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.
  • The planters could not have supported the expense of slaves if the sugar profits weren’t  very great.
    • But their profits have been so enormous, that 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
    • has much less to lay out on improvements.
  • When a country sends out a colony, it may hinder a large tract of land from being occupied by a single person.
    • But when savages seize a country, they are subject to no laws.
    • The strongest man takes most of the 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 to the landlord at the end of the year.
  • 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 hinder improvement by depriving the farmer of 10% of his produce.
    • 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.
    • They offered their masters a fixed rent for the ground.
    • In time, the present method of cultivation was introduced.
      • But it was [227] liable to inconveniences for a long time.
  • 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 also invented a method to get rid of the tenant when he pleased by selling the estate to another.
      • He had a back bond to the buyer 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.
  • Under the tyranny of the feudal aristocracy, the landlords could:
    • squeeze their tenants and
    • raise 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 attended to this day with the same bad consequences.
    • The embarrassment of the feudal law in transferring property also retarded the progress of agriculture.
  • Commodities can be bought or sold in an instant.
    • But in buying four or five acres of land, a lot 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 who had some money would be ready to lay it out on land.
    • The land would be much better improved by passing through the different hands.
  • There is no natural reason why a thousand acres should not be as easily bought 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 wants to:
    • improve it, and
    • make the most of it.
  • Great and ancient families have seldom either stock or inclination to improve their estates, except a small piece of pleasure-ground around their house.

 

  • There are many errors in the policy of almost every country which can stop the progress of agriculture.
    • Our fathers banned corn exports during grievous [229dearths occurring every two or three years.
    • This is still the policy of most of Europe.
      • It causes the dearth which it is trying 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 ancient Italy’s depopulation.
  • 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 didn’t know that the real cause was the immense amount of corn daily imported from Egypt and 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 also 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 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 amount 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 encounter 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 for them to accumulate much stock 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.

 

  • Their mean and despicable idea 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 merchants could never amass that stock necessary for making the division of labour and improving manufactures when they were:
    • so despicable and
    • taxed heavily for the liberty to trade.
  • The only persons then 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 what 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 lack of navigable rivers 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 wagons, etc.
  • In our own country, a man made his testament before he set out from Edinburgh to Aberdeen.
    • It was even 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, 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 had the same effect was the fairs and markets all over Europe.
    • Our forefathers thought that these were wise.
    • Until the 16th century, all commerce was carried on by fairs.
  • The following fairs were much talked of in antiquity:
    • Bartholomew of Leipzig
    • Troyes in Champagne, France
    • 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 buyer 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 there 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 advantageous than bringing them to a fixed market.
    • The latter confines 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 their causes 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, it was the staple for wool for a long time.
      • Its price was very high as men were obliged to carry their wool very far.
      • However, it was a very great advantage to any town to have the staple.
      • Therefore, the king:
        • gave it to the town that he was best pleased with, and
        • took it away whenever it disobliged him.
  • Staple towns had all the disadvantages of fairs and markets.
    • It had an extra disadvantage that the staple commodity could not be sold at any other market or fair.
    • By this, the liberty of [236] exchange, and consequently the division of labour, was reduced.

 

  • All taxes on export and imported goods also hinder commerce.
    • At first, merchants were in a state so contemptible that the law abandoned them.
    • The law obliged the merchants to pay and to have their goods taxed.
      • The price of goods 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.
    • They imagined that the cause of so much bad cloth was that the weaver had not been properly educated.
      • So they made a statute that he should serve a seven years apprenticeship before he pretended to make any cloth.
      • But this is not 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 on.
  • Above all other causes, the giving bounties for one commodity, and the discouraging another, reduces the concurrence of opulence and hurts the natural state of commerce.

 

  • Before we treat of the effects of police on the manners of a people, we should consider taxes or revenue.
    • In reality, it is one of the causes of the slowness of the progress of opulence.

 


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