J. R. (John Ramsay) McCulloch.

A discourse on the rise, progress, peculiar objects, and importance, of political economy : containing an outline of a course of lectures on the principles and doctrines of that science online

. (page 1 of 8)
Online LibraryJ. R. (John Ramsay) McCullochA discourse on the rise, progress, peculiar objects, and importance, of political economy : containing an outline of a course of lectures on the principles and doctrines of that science → online text (page 1 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook



















LEGES LEGUM, ex quibus informatio peti possit quid in singulis
legibus bene aut perperam positum aut constitutum sit. -BACON.




' ;


Printed by John Stark.

MY object in publishing the following
Discourse has been to furnish the Students
of Political Economy with a general view
of the principles on which the science is
founded; the distinguishing features of the
most celebrated theories that have been
advanced to explain its various results ; the
distinction between it and Politics ; the
utility of its study to all ranks and orders
of the community ; and the plan I follow
in teaching it, both in my public and pri-
vate classes. I had previously attempted
to do this in an Introductory Lecture to
the Course I have delivered here and in
London ; but it was impossible, in so nar-
row a space, to touch on many topics that
I have here discussed at considerable
length, or to treat others so fully as their
importance seemed to require. Though
the Discourse is chiefly intended for the
use of those who may attend my classes
I am not without hopes that it may be of
service to others.

Oct. 1824. f





IF the interest and importance of the subjects of
which it treats be any test of the interest and im-
portance of a science, Political Economy will be
found to have the strongest possible claims on the
public attention. Its object is to point out the
means by which the industry of man may be ren-
dered most productive of those necessaries, com-
forts,, and enjoyments, which constitute wealth ;
to ascertain the proportions in which this wealth is
divided among the different classes of the com-
munity ; and the mode in which it may be most
advantageously consumed. The intimate connec-
tion of such a science, with all the best interests of


society, is abundantly obvious. There is no other,
indeed, which comes so directly home to the every-
day occupations and business of mankind. The con-
sumption of wealth is indispensable to existence ;
but the eternal law of Providence has decreed, that
wealth can only be procured by industry, that
man must earn his bread in the sweat of his brow.
This twofold necessity renders the production of
wealth a constant and principal object of the exer-
tions of the vast majority of the human race ; has
subdued the natural aversion of man from labour ;
given activity to indolence ; and armed the patient
hand of industry with zeal to undertake, and pa-
tience to overcome, the most irksome and disagree-
able tasks.

But when wealth is thus necessary, when the de-
sire to acquire it is sufficient to induce us to sub-
mit to the greatest privations, the science which
teaches the means by which its acquisition may be
most effectually promoted, by which we may be
enabled to obtain the greatest possible amount of
wealth with the least possible difficulty, must cer-
tainly deserve to be carefully studied and meditated.
There is no class of persons to whom this know-
ledge can be considered as either extrinsic or su-
perfluous. There are some, doubtless, to whom it
may be of more advantage than to others ; but it
is of the utmost consequence to all. The prices
of all sorts of commodities the profits of the manu-


fhcturer and merchant the rent of the landlord-
the wages of the day-labourer and the incidence
and effect of taxes and regulations, all depend on
principles which Political Economy can alone as-
certain and elucidate.

Neither is the acquisition of wealth necessary
only because it affords the means of subsistence :
without it we should never be able to cultivate and
improve our higher and nobler faculties. Where
wealth has not been amassed, the mind being con-
stantly occupied in providing for the immediate
wants of the body, no time is left for its culture ;
ajnd the views, sentiments, and feelings of the peo-
ple, become alike contracted, selfish, and illiberal.
The possession of a decent competence, or the being
able to indulge in other pursuits than those which
directly tend to satisfy our animal wants and de-
sires, is necessary to soften the selfish passions ; to
improve the moral and intellectual character, and to
ensure any considerable proficiency in liberal studies
and pursuits. And hence, the acquisition of wealth
is not desirable merely as the means of procuring
immediate and direct gratifications, but as being
indispensably necessary to the advancement of so-
ciety in civilization and refinement. Without the
tranquillity and leisure afforded by the possession
of accumulated wealth, those speculative and ele-
gant studies which expand and enlarge our views,
purify our taste, and lift us higher in the scale of


being, can never be successfully prosecuted. It is
certain, indeed, that the comparative barbarism and
refinement of nations depend more on the compa-
rative amount of their wealth than on any other
circumstance. A poor people are never refined,
nor a rich people ever barbarous. It is impossible
to name a single nation which has made any dis-
tinguished figure either in philosophy or the fine
arts, without having been at the same time cele-
brated for its wealth. The age of Pericles and
Phidias was the flourishing age of Grecian, as the
age of Petrarch and Raphael was of Italian com-
merce. The influence of wealth is, in this respect,
almost omnipotent. It raised Venice from the bo-
som of the deep, and made the desert and sandy
islands on which she is built, and the unhealthy
swamps of Holland, the favoured abodes of litera-
ture, of science, and of art. In our own country
its effects have been equally striking. The num-
ber and eminence of our philosophers, poets, scho-
lars, and artists, have ever increased proportionally
to the increase of the public wealth, or to the means
of rewarding and honouring their labours.

The possession of wealth being thus indispen-
sable to individual existence and comfort, and to
the advancement of nations in civilization, it may
justly excite our astonishment, that so few efforts
should have been made to investigate its sources ;
and that the study of Political Economy is not even


yet considered as forming a principal part in a com-
prehensive system of education. A variety of cir-
cumstances might be mentioned, as occasioning the
unmerited neglect of this science ; but of these
the institution of domestic slavery in the ancient
world, and the darkness of the period when the
plan of education in the universities of modern Eu-
rope was first formed, seem to have had the great-
est influence.

The citizens of Greece and Rome considered it
degrading to engage in those occupations which
form the principal business of the inhabitants of
modern Europe. Instead of endeavouring to en-
rich themselves by their own exertions, they trust-
ed to the reluctant labour of slaves, and to subsi-
dies extorted from conquered countries. In some
of the Grecian States, the citizens were prohibited
from engaging in any species of manufacturing
and commercial industry ; and in Athens and
Rome, where this prohibition did not exist, these
employments were universally regarded as unwor-
thy of freemen, and were, in consequence, exclu-
sively carried on either by slaves or by the very
dregs of the people. Even Cicero, who had
mastered all the philosophy of the ancient world,
and raised himself above many of the prejudices
of his age and country, does not scruple to af-
firm, that there can be nothing ingenuous in a
workshop ; that commerce, when conducted on


a small scale, is mean and despicable ; and when
most extended, barely tolerable Non admodum
vituperanda ! * Agriculture, indeed, was treat*
ed with more respect. Some of the most dis-
tinguished characters in the earlier ages of Ro-
man history had been actively engaged in rural af-
fairs ; but, notwithstanding their example, the cul-
tivation of the soil, in the flourishing period of the
Republic, and under the Emperors, was almost en*
tirely carried on by slaves, belonging to the land-
lord, and employed on his account. The mass of
R-oman citizens were either engaged in the mili-
tary service, t or derived a precarious and depend-
ant subsistence from the supplies of corn furnished
by the conquered provinces. In such a state of
society the relations subsisting in modern Europe

* " Illiberales autem et sordid! questus mercenariorum,
omniumque quorum operae, non quorum artes emuntur. Est
enim illis ipsa merces auctoramentum servitutis. Sordid!
etiam putandi, qui mercantur a mercatoribus quod statim
vendant, nihil enim profi-ciunt^ nisi admodum mentiantur !
Opificesque omnes in sordida arte versantur, nee enim quid-
quam ingenuum potest habere officina * * * Mercatura autem,
si tenuis est, sordida putanda est; sin autem magna et copi-
osa, multa undique apportans, multisque sine vanitate imper-
tiens, non est admodum vituperanda." (De Officiis, Lib. I.
sect. 42.)

t " Rei militaris virtus proestat cseteris omnibus ; haec po-
pulo Romano, haec huic urbi ceternam gloriam peperit."
(Cicero pro Murena.)


between landlords and tenants, and masters and
servants, were unknown ; and the ancients were,
in consequence, entire strangers to all those inter-
esting and important questions arising out of the
rise and fall of rents and wages, which form so im-
portant a branch of economical science. The spirit
of philosophy in the ancient world was also ex-
tremely unfavourable to the cultivation of Political
Economy. The luxurious or more refined mode
of living, of the rich, was regarded by the ancient
moralists as an evil of the first magnitude. They
considered it as subversive of those warlike virtues,
which were the principal objects of their admira-
tion ; and they, therefore, denounced the passion
for accumulating wealth as fraught with the most

O o

injurious and destructive consequences. It was
impossible that Political Economy could become
an object of attention to minds imbued with such
prejudices ; or that it could be studied by those
who contemned the objects about which it is con-
versant, and vilified the labour by which wealth
is produced.

At the establishment of our universities, the
clergy were almost the exclusive possessors of the
little knowledge then in existence. It is natu-
ral, therefore, that their peculiar feelings and pur-
suits should have a marked influence on the plans
of education they were employed to frame. Gram-
mar, rhetoric, logic, school divinity, and civil law,


comprised the whole course of study. To have
appointed professors to explain the principles of
commerce, and the means by which labour might
be rendered most effective, would have been con-
sidered as equally superfluous and degrading to
the dignity of science. The ancient prejudices
against commerce, manufactures, and luxury, re-
tained a powerful influence in the middle ages.
None were then possessed of any clear ideas con-
cerning the true sources of national wealth, happi-
ness, and prosperity. The intercourse among states
was extremely limited, and was maintained rather
by marauding incursions, and piratical expeditions
iu search of plunder, than by a commerce founded
on the gratification of real and reciprocal wants.

These circumstances sufficiently account for the
late rise of this science, and the little attention
paid to it up to a very recent period. And since it
has become an object of more general attention
and inquiry, the differences which have subsisted
among the most eminent of its professors, have
proved exceedingly unfavourable to its progress,
and have generated a disposition to distrust its best
established conclusions.

It is clear, however, that those who distrust the
conclusions of Political Economy, because of the va-
riety of systems that have been advanced to explain
the phenomena about which it is conversant, might
on the same ground distrust the conclusions of al-


most every other science* The discrepancy between
the various systems that have successively been sanc-
tioned by the ablest physicians, chemists, natural
philosophers, and moralists, is quite as great as the
discrepancy between those advanced by the ablest
political economists. But who would therefore con-
clude that medicine, chemistry, natural philosophy,
and morals, rest on no solid foundation, or that they
are incapable of presenting us with a system of well-
established and consentaneous truths ? We do not
refuse our assent to the demonstrations of Newton
and Laplace, because they are subversive of the hy-
potheses of Ptolemy, Tycho Brahe, and Descartes ;
and why should we refuse our assent to the demon-
strations of Smith and Ricardo, because they have
subverted the false theories that were previously ad-
vanced respecting the sources and the distribution of
wealth ? Political Economy has not been exempted
from the common fate of the other sciences. None
of them has been instantaneously carried to perfec-
tion ; more or less of error has always insinuated it-
self into the speculations of their earliest cultivators.
But the errors with which Political Economy was
formerly infected have now nearly disappeared, and
a very few observations will suffice to show that it
really admits of as much certainty in its conclusions
as any science founded on fact and experiment can
possibly do.


The principles on which the production and ac-
cumulation of wealth and the progress of civiliza-
tion depend, are not the offspring of legislative en-
actments. Man must exert himself to produce
wealth, because he cannot exist without it ; and the
desire implanted in the breast of every individual
of rising in the world and improving his condition,
impels him to save and accumulate. The princi-
ples which form the basis of this science make,
therefore, a part of the original constitution of man
and of the physical world ; and their operations,
like those of the mechanical principles, are to be
traced by the aid of observation and analysis. There
is, however, a material distinction between the phy-
sical and the moral and political sciences. The
conclusions of the former apply in every case, while
those of the latter apply only in the majority of
cases. The principles on which the production
and accumulation of wealth depend are inherent in
our nature, and exert a powerful, but not always
the same degree of influence over the conduct of
every individual ; and the theorist must, therefore,
satisfy himself with framing his general rules so
as to explain their operation in the majority of
instances, leaving it to the sagacity of the ob-
server to modify them so as to suit individual
cases. Thus, it is an admitted principle in the
science of Morals, as well as of Political Economy,
that by far the largest proportion of the human



race have a much clearer view of what is conducive
to their own interests, than it is possible for any
other man, or select number of men to have, and,
consequently, that it is sound policy to allow every
individual to follow the bent of his inclination, and
to engage in any branch of industry he thinks pro-
per. This is the general theorem ; and it is one
which is established on the most comprehensive ex-
perience. It is not, however, like the laws which
regulate the motions of the planetary system, it
will hold good in nineteen out of twenty instances,
but the twentieth may be an exception. But it is
not required of the economist, that his theories
should quadrate with the peculiar bias of the mind
of a particular person. His conclusions are drawn
from observing the principles which are found
to determine the condition of mankind, as present-
ed on the large scale of nations and empires. He
has to deal with man in the aggregate with states,
and not with families with the passions and pro-
pensities which actuate the great bulk of the hu-
man race, and not with those which are occasion-
ally found to influence the conduct of a solitary in-

It should always be steadily kept in view, that
it is never any part of the business of the econo-
mist to inquire into the means by which the fortunes
of individuals may have been increased or diminish-
ed, except to ascertain their general operation and


effect. The public interests ought always to form
the exclusive objects of his attention. He is not
to frame systems, and devise schemes, for increasing
the wealth and enjoyments of particular classes ;
but to apply himself to discover the sources of na-
tional 'wealth, and universal prosperity, and the
means by which they may be rendered most pro-

Nothing, indeed, is more common than to hear
it objected to some of the best established truths in
.political and economical science, that they are at
variance with such and such facts, and that, therefore,
they must be rejected. It is certain, however,
that these objections most frequently originate in
an entire misapprehension of the nature of the
science. It would be easy to produce a thousand
instances of individuals who have been enriched by
monopolies, as they are sometimes by robbery and
plunder ; but it would be not a little rash to con-
clude from thence, without farther inquiry, that the
community in general can be enriched by such
means ! This, however, is the single consideration
to which the political economist has to attend.
The question never is, whether a greater or smaller
number of individuals can be enriched by the adop-
tion of a particular measure, or by a particular in-
stitution, but whether its tendency is to enrich the
public. Admitting that monopolies and restrictive
regulations frequently enable individuals to accu-


mulate ample fortunes, this is so far from being, as
is often contended, any proof of their real ad van -
tageousness, that it is distinctly and completely the
reverse. It is demonstrably certain, that if mono-
polies and exclusive privileges enrich the few, they
must, to the same extent, impoverish the many ;
and are, therefore, as destructive of that NATIONAL
WEALTH, to promote which ought to be the princi-
pal object of every institution, as they are of the
natural freedom of industry.

To arrive at a well-founded conclusion in eco-
nomical science, it is not, therefore, enough to
observe results in particular cases, or as they affect
particular individuals ; we must further inquire
whether these results are constant and universally
applicable whether the same circumstances which
have given rise to them in one instance, would in
every instance, and in every state of society, be
productive of the same or similar results. A theo-
ry which is inconsistent with an uniform and con-
stant fact must be erroneous ; but the observation
of a particular result at variance with our custom-
ary experience, and when we may not have had
the means of discriminating the circumstances at-
tending it, ought not to induce us hastily to modi-
fy or reject a principle which accounts satisfactorily
for the greater number of appearances.

The example of the few arbitrary princes who
have been equitable, humane, and generous, is not


enough to overthrow the principle which teaches
that it is the nature of irresponsible power to de-
bauch and vitiate its possessors to render them
haughty, cruel, and suspicious : nor is the example
of those who, attentive only to present enjoyment,
and careless of the future, lavish their fortunes in
boisterous dissipation or vain expence, sufficient to
invalidate the general conclusion, that the passion
for accumulation is infinitely stronger and more uni-
versal than the passion for expence. Had this not
been the case, mankind could never have emerged
from the condition of savages. The multiplied and
stupendous improvements which have been made in
different ages and nations the forests that have
been cut down the marshes and lakes that have
been drained and subjected to cultivation the
harbours, roads, and bridges that have been con-
structed the cities and edifices that have been
raised are all the fruits of a saving of income, and
establish, in despite of a thousand particular in-
stances of prodigality, the vast ascendancy and su-
perior force of the accumulating principle.

It is from the want of attention to these consi-
derations that much of the error and misapprehen-
sion with which the science of Political Economy
has been, and still is infected, has arisen. Almost
all the absurd theories and opinions which have
successively appeared have been supported by an
appeal to facts. But a knowledge of facts, without


a knowledge of their mutual relation without be-
ing able to show why the one is a cause and the
other an effect is, to use the illustration of M.
Say, really no better than the indigested erudition
of an almanack-maker, and can afford no means of
judging of the truth or falsehood of a general prin-

Neither should it be forgotten, that the alleged
facts so frequently brought forward to show the
fallacy of general principles, are, in most cases, so
carelessly observed, and the circumstances under
which they have taken place so indistinctly de-
fined, as to render them altogether unworthy
of attention. To observe accurately, requires a
degree of intelligence and acuteness, a freedom
from prejudice, and a patience of investigation be-
longing to a few only. " There is," to use the
words of the celebrated L)r Cullen, " a variety of
circumstances tending to vitiate the statements dig-
nified with the name of experience. The simplest
narrative of a case almost always involves some
theories. It has been supposed that a statement
is more likely to consist of unsophisticated facts,
when reported by a person of no education ; but
it will be found an invariable rule, that the lower
you descend in the medical profession, the more
hypothetical are the prevailing notions. Again,
how seldom is it possible for any case, however
minutely related, to include all the circumstances


with which the event was connected. Hence, in
what is commonly called experience, we have only
a rule transferred from a case imperfectly known,
to one of which we are equally ignorant. Hence,
that most fertile source of error, the applying de-
ductions drawn from the result of one case to
another case, the circumstances of which are not
precisely similar. Without principles deduced
from analytical reasoning, experience is an use-
less and a blind guide." '*

Every one who has had occasion to compare the
discordant statements of the mass of common ob-
servers, with respect to the practical bearing and real
operation of any measure affecting the public inter-
ests, must be convinced that Dr Cullen's reasoning
is still more applicable to political and economical
science than to medicine. Circumstances which al-
together escape the notice of ordinary observers, of-
ten exercise the most powerful influence over na-
tional prosperity; and those again which strike them
as being most important, are often comparatively in-
significant. The condition of nations, too, is affected
by so many circumstances, that without the greatest
skill and caution, joined to a searching and re-
fined analysis, and a familiar command of scienti-
fic principles, it is in most cases quite impossible

* Cullen's MS. Lectures.


to discriminate between cause and effect, and to avoid
ascribing results to one set of causes that have been
occasioned by another set. No wonder, therefore,
when such is the difficulty of observing, that " the
number of false facts, afloat in the world, should
infinitely exceed that of the false theories."* And
after all, however carefully an isolated fact may be
observed, still, for the reasons already stated, it
can never form a foundation for a general theorem
either in the moral or political sciences. Those,

1 3 4 5 6 7 8

Online LibraryJ. R. (John Ramsay) McCullochA discourse on the rise, progress, peculiar objects, and importance, of political economy : containing an outline of a course of lectures on the principles and doctrines of that science → online text (page 1 of 8)