Chapter 7


March 16, 2022

Political economists must always take 2 elements together:

  1. The increase of happiness in intensity
  2. Its diffusion among all classes of people

This makes the political economy the theory of beneficence. Everything which does not concern happiness in the long run does not belong to this science.

The human race originated in a single family.

It has multiplied, and spread itself over the globe. A lot of time was needed for it to adjust to the means of subsistence possible in the different parts of this globe. This work of nature is repeated:

  • in new counties, or
  • in a colony established in a desert

We often see large populations as the mark of prosperity and good government. This is why our law and constitution all tend to favour this increase even if the symptoms of prosperity are very different from cause of that prosperity.

Humans can continue to have children until old age. Their posterity increases which quickly occupies all the allotted space.

In several counties, in consequence of the social organization, not more than 25% of the people marry. The rest grow old in celibacy. Yet this 25% is enough to keep up the population at the same level.

If their brothers and sisters could also marry with the same advantage, the population would be quadrupled in a single generation.

Thus, every nation very soon becomes populous without changing its social institutions. It soon arrives at the population limit which its revenue can support.

A great transient calamity, a war, a pestilence, a famine might reduce the population. But if these are followed by a period of general security and comfort, this renewing power of human generation is speedily developed.

But, on the other hand, so soon as this term has been reached, a greater increase of the population is a national calamity; the earth soon consumes those whom it cannot feed.

But the more numerous births are, the more will mortality display its ravages, to maintain constantly the same level. This mortality, the effect of misery and suffering, is preceded by the lengthened punishments not of those who perish only, but of those who have struggled with them for existence.

In every country, it is essential to know well those different periods of increase, stagnation, and decline in order to adapt the laws and social institutions. But too frequently, the laws hasten the destruction which we fear.

The class of cultivators should be increased and enabled to accomplish cultivation whenever:

  • most of the country is uncultivated, or
  • the land is undeveloped

The manufacturing population should increase whenever:

  • manufactures are imperfectly supplied to the consumer, or
  • manufactures are expensive

The population of the guardian professions should increase whenever the general population increases.

This population will quickly be replaced. But it is not enough that it be replaced, if it cannot find the niche, to which it is destined.

Sometimes a fertile soil is in vain abundant, and remains uncultivated. There is no chance of the most numerous population assembled in its neighbourhood coming to profit by its resources. This soil has become the property of a few families; it is declared indivisible and unalienable; it will always pass to a single proprietor, according to the order of primogeniture, without the capacity either to be subjected to an emphyteutic lease, or burdened with a mortgage.

The proprietor has not the capital necessary for its cultivation; he can give no security to such as have this capital, that will engage them to employ it in his land.

Thus the idle population of Rome in vain calls for labour; the waste Campagna di Roma in vain calls for labourers; the social organization is bad; and so long as this shall remain unchanged, the day-labourer will perish from penury, on the surface of fields which, for want of culture, are returning to their wild state; and the population, far from increasing, will diminish.

On the same principle in manufactures, the rich proprietors of Poland will in vain require all the produce of luxury; the bad condition of the roads, prohibiting every distant transport, will in vain present superior advantages to national industry; oppression and servitude destroy all energy, all spirit of enterprise in the lower class.

Elsewhere ruinous monopolies, absurd privileges, affrighting advances, ignorance, barbarity, and want of security, will render the progress of manufactures impossible; no capital will be accumulated to animate them. In those cases, to increase the population will not increase industry.

The births will in vain be doubled, be quadrupled, during a certain number of years; they will not afford an additional workman, they will only be followed by a proportionably quicker mortality. The social organization is bad; so long as this shall remain unchanged, population cannot increase.

The guardian population is fed as well as recruited by the other classes. It is not sufficient that many children are born; unless their parents enjoy a certain degree of opulence, they can never bring them up to the age of men; the prince can never make soldiers of them. In this case, wars by land or sea will devour the population; whilst they employ only its superfluity, the social organization is good.

The population is always measured, in the long run, by the demand for labour.

Wherever labour is required, and a sufficient wage offered, the workmen will arise to earn it. The population, with its expansive force, will occupy the place which is found vacant. Subsistence will also arise for the workmen, or in case of need, be imported. The same demand which calls a man into existence, will likeWise recompense the agricultural labour which provides him with food. If the demand for labour cease, the workman will perish, yet not without a struggle, in which not he alone will suffer, but all his brethren and his rivals.

The subsistence which enabled him to live, and which henceforth he cannot pay for, and cannot demand, will, in its turn, cease to be produced. Thus national happiness rests on the demand for labour, but on a regular and perpetual demand. For, on the contrary, a demand which is intermittent, after having formed workmen, condemns them to suffering and death= it would be far better if they never had existed.

We have seen that the demand for labour, the cause of production, must be proportional to revenue which supports consumption; that this revenue, in its turn, originates in the national wealth, which wealth is formed and augmented by labour.

Thus, in political economy, all things are linked together. We move constantly in a circle since each effect becomes a cause in its turn.

Yet all things are progressive, provided that each movement is adjusted to the rest. But all stops, all retrogrades, whenever one of the movements which ought to be combined is disordered.

According to the natural march of things, an augmentation of wealth will produce an augmentation of revenue; from this will arise an increase of consumption, next an increase of labour for reproduction, and therewith of population; and, finally, this new labour will, in its turn, increase the national wealth.

But if, by unreasonable measures, any one of those operations is hastened without regard to all the rest, the whole system is deranged, and the poor are weighed down with suffering, instead of the happiness which was anticipated for them.

The object of society is not fulfilled, so long as the country occupied by this society, presents means of supporting a new population, of enabling it to live in happiness and abundance, whilst yet those means are not resorted to. The multiplication of happiness over the earth, is the object of Providence; it is stamped in all his works, and the duty of men in their human society is to co-operate in it.

A government condemns fertile counties to be deserts and sins against human society when it oppresses them through:

  • its contempt for justice and order
  • the shackles it puts on agriculture and industry

Europe has a double need of the subsistence which it might procure from Barbary, if this magnificent shore of Africa were given back to civilization, and from the consumers we should soon find there. The institution of property is the result of social conventions. In a society subjected to laws and a regulating government, the interest of each may be implicitly relied on for producing the advantage of all, because the aberrations of this private interest are, in every case of need, limited by public authority.

But, in the great human society formed among independent nations, there is no law or general government to repress the passions of each sovereign= besides, the interest of those sovereigns is not necessarily conformable to that of their subjects; or, to speak more correctly, the one is contrary to the other, whenever the object of the rulers is to maintain their tyranny.

Thus respect for the pretended right of properly claimed by each government over its territory, is not referrible to the right of private property, and, besides, it cannot be reciprocal. The same circumstances which cause a tyrannical government to impede its own civilization, render it equally incapable of respecting that of its neighbours, and submitting to the laws of nations.

But whilst more than three quarters of the habitable globe are, by the faults of their governments, deprived of the inhabitants they should support, we, at the present day, in almost the whole of Europe, experience the opposite calamity, that of not being able to maintain a superabundant population, which surpasses the proportion of labour required, and which, before dying of poverty, will diffuse its sufferings over the whole class of such as live by the labour of their hands.

For our part, we owe this calamity to the imprudent zeal of our governments. With us, religious instruction, legislation, social organization, every thing has tended to produce a population, the existence of which was not provided for beforehand. The labour was not adjusted to the number of men; and, frequently, the same zeal with which it was attempted to multiply the number of births, was afterwards employed, in all arts, to diminish the required number of hands. The proportion which should subsist in the progress of the different departments of society has been broken, and the suffering has become universal.

Mr Malthus, the first writer who awakened public attention to this calamity under which nations have long suffered, without knowing it, whilst he gave an alarm to legislators, did not reach the true principles which he seemed on the road to find. On reading his writings, one is stuck at once with an essential error in his reasoning, and with the importance of the facts to which he appeals. Such confusion, in a matter to which the happiness of man is attached, may produce the most fatal consequences. By rigorously applying principles deficient in accuracy, the most grievous errors may be committed; and if, on the other hand, the error is discovered, there is a risk of simultaneously rejecting both the observations and the precepts.

Mr Malthus established as a principle that the population of every country is limited by the quantity of subsistence which that country can furnish. This proposition is true only when applied to the whole terrestial globe, or to a country which has no possibility of trade; in all other cases, foreign trade modifies it; and, farther, which is more important, this proposition is but abstractly true, - true in a manner inapplicable to political economy. Population has never reached the limit of subsistence, and probably it never will. Long before the population can be arrested by the inability of the country to produce more food, it is arrested by the inability of the population to purchase that food, or to labour in producing it.

The whole population of a state, says Mr Malthus, may be doubled every twenty-five years; it would thus follow a geometrical progression= but the labour employed to meliorate a soil, already in culture, can add to its produce nothing but quantities continually decreasing. Admitting that, during the first 25 years, the produce of land has been doubled, during the second we shall scarcely succeed in compelling it to produce a half more, then a third more, then a fourth.

Thus the progress of subsistence will not follow the geometrical, but the arithmetical progression; and, in the course of two centuries, whilst the population increases, as the numbers, 1. 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, subsistence will increase not faster than the numbers, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

This reasoning, which serves as a basis to the system of Mr. Malthus, and to which he incessantly appeals, through the whole course of his book, is completely sophistical. It opposes the possible increase of the human population, considered abstractly, and without regarding circumstances, to the positive increase of animals and vegetables in a confined place, under circumstances more and more unfavourable.

They should not be compared.