Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy [with Biographical Introduction]

Ricardo, David (1772–1823)
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Without these provisions, the millennium promised would, in little more than a generation, sink the people of any country in Europe to one level of poverty. If, then, it is intended that the law, or the persons of property, should assume a control over the multiplication of the people, tell us so plainly, and inform us how you propose to do it. The fact is, he contends, that until there is proper restraint upon numbers, there can be no hope of permanent relief of poverty. All classes are ready enough, without prompting, to believe that whatever ails them is not their fault, but the crime of somebody else; and that they are granting an indemnity to the crime if they attempt to get rid of the evil by any effort or sacrifice of their own.

The National Assembly of France has been much blamed for talking in a rhetorical style about the rights of man, and neglecting to say anything about the duties. The same error is now in the course Edition: current; Page: [ xxviii ] of being repeated with respect to the rights of poverty.

It is most true that the rich have much to answer for in their conduct to the poor. But in the matter of their poverty, there is no way in which the rich could have helped them, but by inducing them to help themselves; and if, while we stimulate the rich to repair this omission, we do all that depends on us to inculcate upon the poor that they need not attend to the lesson, we must be little aware of the sort of feelings and doctrines with which the minds of the poor are already filled.

Books by John Stuart Mill (Author of On Liberty)

If we go on in this course, we may succeed in bursting society asunder by a Socialist revolution; but the poor, and their poverty, we shall leave worse than we found them. It expatiates on the need for education, both at school and beyond, and, with a footnote reference to the experiments of M. The retractation of belief in the existence of a determinate wages fund caused some sensation at the time of its appearance, and indeed it may be held to be one of the influences bringing about the end of the ascendency of classical theory in Great Britain. The treatment of wages in the Principles had followed classical tradition in this respect.

In the long run, wages depended on the tendencies of population increase; in the short run, given Edition: current; Page: [ xxix ] the labour force, they depended upon a fund of determinate size destined for the employment of labour. The other and still more important factor, the number of sharers, remains unaffected by any of the considerations now adduced.

It is clear that the practical implications of this admission fully justified the sensation which it caused. Its intellectual status, however, in the history of economic analysis, is not so impressive. But when he comes to the matter of the wages fund, it is as though the realization that his earlier formulations had been wrong deprived him of his habitual critical insight and compelled merely a bold admission of error.

As Taussig has well shown, the analysis at this point becomes faltering and jejune.

It is not without significance that in the seventh edition of the Principles, the last to appear in his lifetime, Mill made little alteration of what he had said before. After the drama of the retractation, the second part of the paper, with its reflections on the ethics and economics of collective bargaining and trade unionism, comes as something of an anti-climax.

But it is valuable, nevertheless, as affording a more extended treatment than elsewhere of the difficult questions with which it deals. The opening sections, with their illuminating contrast between the a priori and the utilitarian approaches to the problems of productive organization and distributive justice, are as good as anything Mill ever wrote on this matter. And the statement of his attitude to the various problems presented by the activities of combinations of labourers is more thorough and systematic than the treatment of these matters in the Principles.

John Stuart Mill

There are no conspicuous departures from the views expressed in that treatise, but there is much more elaboration; and the total effect is a complex one. Practices restrictive of output are indeed roundly denounced. Similarly, while violence, defamation of character, injury to property, or threats of any of these evils in the course of trade disputes is condemned, there is a defence of the social compulsions exercised to induce workers to form a union or take part in a strike.

It is vain to say that if a strike is really for the good of the workmen, the whole body will join in it from a mere sense of the common interest. There is always a considerable number who will hope to share the benefit without submitting to the sacrifices; and to say that these are not to have brought before them, in an impressive manner, what their fellow-workmen think of their conduct, is equivalent to saying that social pressure ought not to be put upon any one to consider the interests of others as well as his own.

All that legislation is concerned with is, that the pressure shall stop at the expression of feeling, and the withholding of such good offices as may properly depend upon feeling, and shall not extend to an infringement, or a threat of infringement, of any of the rights which the law guarantees to all—security of person and property against violation, and of reputation against calumny. All of which, in the twentieth century, sounds rather naive from the author of On Liberty who foresaw so many inimical trends. This is a sphere in which his thought was Edition: current; Page: [ xxxii ] avowedly tentative and experimental.

He believed firmly that throughout the greater part of civilized history private property in various forms had served positive functions, functions which must be performed somehow if there is to be order and progress—the preservation of peace, the safeguarding of the fruits of accumulation, the reward of enterprise and initiative.

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But he did not believe that these institutions were immutable. They depended on opinion and volition and were capable of variety and development. They were also perhaps capable of being superseded by other arrangements, if these arrangements were such as to secure the same fundamental desiderata.

But within the sphere of existing institutions, he believed in development and improvement. The social arrangements of modern Europe commenced from a distribution of property which was the result, not of just partition, or acquisition by industry, but of conquest and violence: and notwithstanding what industry has been doing for many centuries to modify the work of force, the system still retains many and large traces of its origin.

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The laws of property have never yet conformed to the principles on which the justification of private property rests. They have made property of things which never ought to be property, and absolute property where only a qualified property ought to exist. They have not held the balance fairly between human beings, but have heaped impediments upon some, to give advantage to others; they have purposely fostered inequalities, and prevented all from starting fair in the race.

That all should indeed start on perfectly equal terms, is inconsistent with any law of private property: but if as much pains as has been taken to aggravate the inequality of chances arising from the natural working of the principle, had been taken to temper that inequality by every means not subversive of the principle itself; if the tendency of legislation had been to favour the diffusion, instead of the concentration of wealth—to encourage the subdivision of the large masses, instead of striving to keep them together; the principle of individual property would have been found to have no necessary connexion with the physical and social evils which almost all Socialist writers assume to be inseparable from it.

The papers discussed in the present section illustrate further in various ways this essentially empirical approach to the possible evolution of various aspects of the institution of property. It was his belief that reform of this sort would serve the double purpose of making available for development a larger volume of saving, and at the same time facilitating, on a much larger scale than that then prevailing, the active participation of the working classes in the organization of industry. This involved changes both in the law relating to partnership and the law relating to joint-stock companies, and to both these movements Mill lent the weight of his support.

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In the papers here reprinted the main burden of his argument is directed to the law of partnership, in respect of which he contended that the prohibitions of associations en commandite, as in the French law, had as little justification as the ancient laws against usury. On the larger question of the desirability of limited liability for investors in joint-stock companies, he expresses here some slight reserve on the ground that the privilege involved, if granted, should be extended to all individuals.

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But we know from his discussion of this question in the Principles that he was indeed thoroughly in favour of it. Indeed, his statement of the justification of such arrangements may well be regarded as the classic formulation of the principle. For whose sake?

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Not for that of the partners themselves; for it is they whom the limitation of responsibility benefits and protects. It must therefore be for the sake of third parties; namely, those who may have transactions with the association, and to whom it may run in debt beyond what the subscribed capital suffices to pay. But nobody is obliged to deal with the association: still less is any one obliged to give it unlimited credit.

The class of persons with whom such associations have dealings are in general perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, and there seems no reason that the law should be more careful of their interests than they will themselves be; provided no false representation is held out, Edition: current; Page: [ xxxiv ] and they are aware from the first what they have to trust to. He favoured special provisions in the law safeguarding the position of tenants.

He was fiercely against exclusive rights of access to scenic areas. And he supported special kinds of taxation designed to take from landowners the element of unearned increment in the value of their holdings.

As Professor R. Black has shown in his notable study, Economic Thought and the Irish Question, 38 Mill had a much better record than other economists of the day in correct insight into the nature of the economic problems of Ireland, and this paper is perhaps especially valuable as a concise statement of his attitude in this respect. To secure the abolition of the Law of Primogeniture.

To restrict within the narrowest limits the power of Tying up Land. To claim, for the benefit of the State, the Interception by Taxation of the Future Unearned Increase of the Rent of Land so far as the same can be ascertained , or a great part of that increase, which is continually taking place, without any effort or outlay by the proprietors, merely through the growth of population and wealth; reserving to owners the option of relinquishing their property to the State at the market value which it may have acquired at the time when this principle may be adopted by the Legislature.

To promote a policy of Encouragement to Co-operative Agriculture, through the purchase by the State, from time to time, of Estates which are in the market, and the Letting of them, under proper regulations, to such Co-operative Associations, as afford sufficient evidence of spontaneity and promise of efficiency.

To promote the Acquisition of Land in a similar manner, to be let to Small Cultivators, on conditions, which, while providing for the proper cultivation of the land, shall secure to the cultivator a durable interest in it. Lands belonging to the Crown, or to Public Bodies, or Charitable and other Endowments, to be made available for the same purposes, as suitable conditions arise, as well as for the Improvement of the Dwellings of the Working Classes; and no such lands to be suffered unless in pursuance of the above mentioned ends, or for peculiar and exceptional reasons to pass into Private hands.

All Lands now Waste, or requiring an Act of Parliament to authorize their inclosure, to be retained for National Uses: Compensation being made for Manorial rights and rights of Common.

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Recessions are not, however, caused by oversaving and demand deficiency. As one component of his argument, he denies absolutely any need for concern about demand deficiency. Yet theoretical work always remained his priority, as may be seen from the testimony of those who regularly visited him. In these and other cases, it is important to keep in mind that the arguments in On Liberty are grounded on the principle of Utility, and not on appeals to natural rights. There was a loss of about l.

That while it is expedient to bring a large portion of the present Waste Lands under Cultivation for the purposes and on the principles laid down in the preceding articles, it is desirable that the less fertile portions, especially those which are within reach of populous districts, should be retained in a state of wild natural beauty, for the general enjoyment of the community, and encouragement in all classes of healthful rural tastes, and of the higher order of pleasures; also, in order to leave to future generations the decision of their ultimate uses.

To obtain for the State the power to take possession with a view to their Edition: current; Page: [ xxxvi ] preservation of all Natural Objects, or Artificial Constructions attached to the soil, which are of historical, scientific, or artistic interest, together with so much of the surrounding land as may be thought necessary; the owners being compensated for the value of the land so taken. Separate in the time of their writing by more than thirty-five years, the emphasis of the argument differs; but the essential content remains the same.

As a utilitarian, believing that, in the end, only consideration of the happiness of individuals should influence moral judgment, Mill is clear that it is intolerable that the wishes of dead men should be allowed to bind the dispositions of resources for more than a limited period after their death. If circumstances change, rendering their instructions no longer appropriate, then it is in the general interest that the legislature should intervene and impose new conditions.