Every question of Political Economy is, in one sense, a question of fact. I do not mean by this, that we are to deal only with things that have actually occurred; but I mean that we are inquiring into principles that exist in the external world, and which will continue to exist, whether we perceive them or no. The laws which regulate the economic process around us, will go on in perfect independence of our reasonings and our theories; we can lay down no law to bind that process; it will not bend to our rules, nor accommodate itself to our deductions; and the value of all our investigations is not in proportion as they form any beautiful or consistent system, in our own reasonings, but only and entirely as they accord with the results that must go on, in their natural relations of cause and effect, even if we never reasoned about them at all.
The inquiry in which we are now engaged is, in this sense, strictly into a matter of fact; and the test of any proposition we lay down is, not how far it agrees with any general principles, but how far its statement accords with that which our reason and our experience tells us must actually occur in the course of events. To this test you must bring every proposition of Political Economy; and I have engaged your attention in the inquiries that now occupy us, because I believed that I could better teach your minds to form just and correct notions of the principles of our science, by proposing an inquiry into a state of things actually existing, and endeavouring to see how far we could trace, on such a state of things, the effects which would follow from certain causes, than by laying down general and abstract propositions; while the present interest attached to this particular subject presented a favourable opportunity for thus engaging your attention, and enabling you, perhaps, in your own minds, to correct the common mode of reasoning upon such subjects, by a comparison with the strict deductions which the rigidness of our science demands.
The possibility of benefiting a large proportion of our population, by the use, whether voluntary or enforced — to any considerable extent, of home, in substitution for foreign or even English manufactures, we believe to be matter of demonstration. In investigating this question, it is true we must be led to considerations of the nature of industrial production, which may largely modify or colour our views upon many other subjects not immediately before us; I ask you, however, as I apply myself to the particular state of facts with which, in the circumstances of our own country, we have to deal, to go with me step by step — to refuse your assent only when I draw deductions which the particular circumstances I am dealing with do not warrant; and if at the end you find that we have arrived, in the particular case, by fair and sound reasoning, at any conclusions inconsistent with what you may have considered general propositions, the effect ought to be, not to cause you to refuse your assent to the deductions by which we lead you on, but to disbelieve in the truth, or, at least, in the universality of these propositions.
The facts of the case are these: — we are inhabitants of a country that annually exports very large quantities of provisions, and annually imports a very considerable amount of articles wrought up and manufactured by the labour of the workmen of other countries; and we have at home a very large number of workmen capable of making up these very goods — willing to work, but now unemployed, and because unemployed, and depending upon the proceeds of their labour, without any certain means of ensuring to themselves or their families sufficient food.
In this state of things it is proposed to give to these workmen a portion of the very provisions that are now exported, and to set them to work for us in return. This is proposed to be done by a large number of the population beginning to purchase Irish manufacture, where they now use imported goods. I hold it to be matter of absolute demonstration, that if by any means the use of Irish manufactures is so substituted for those which we import, that the effect will and must be to give to the workmen who would be employed upon that manufacture, their portion of the food which we now export.
It is, therefore, possible, in such a case as I have supposed, for a preference to home industry, to increase the means of supporting human beings within the reach of the population. I hold it also to be matter of demonstration, that if this end be by any means accomplished — if the use of Irish manufactures be in effect substituted or preferred, that there will be added to the national revenue of Ireland — to the wealth of Ireland — to the means of subsistence and enjoyment at the disposal of its people all that will be retained at home, that would otherwise be exported; while the utmost deduction that would be made from the means of enjoyment, from the comforts of any human being in the kingdom would be simply as far as by choosing, or being compelled to resort to Irish manufacture, he was obliged to put up with an inferior article. This is the entire amount of inconvenience which to any one would result. Our wives and daughters would be compelled to wear Irish tabinets, or, perhaps, inferior dresses made at home, instead of French and Flanders silks and satins; and we ourselves would put up with Irish broadcloth, perhaps a little coarser in its texture than we get from England.
This is a fair statement of the balance of advantages and disadvantages that would attend, in this particular case, upon protection to our home industry. The loss in substituting home for foreign production, is always easily calculated by the inconvenience which the substitution of the goods that could be raised at home would entail; the gain, in many instances, is not so easily estimated; in the present instance, however, it is plain and obvious enough.
I will offer to you, in a shape a little different from that in which I placed it yesterday, the argument which I confess to my own mind, appears to be demonstrative of the proposition, that it is possible for us in the circumstances in which Ireland is now placed, to improve and raise the condition of a portion of our labouring population, by using home manufactures, instead of those that are imported from abroad.
There is no one who has at all reflected on those subjects, who will deny that every use of foreign commodities, increases exportation of something or other from the country, and as exportation from Ireland, is of the produce of the soil, it increases from this country the exportation of the necessaries of life. For every bottle of wine, for instance, which we consume, something must go abroad to pay for it, and strange, perhaps, as it may appear to those not familiar with the reasonings of political economy, there is no escape from the sternness of the deduction that forces us irresistibly to the conclusion, that every time we spend our money in buying foreign wines, we do, by the act of that expenditure, send away from our shores the value of that money in the produce of our fields, to pay for the Birmingham, or Sheffield, or other manufacture, which, in turn, must pay the Portuguese or French producer for his wines.
Just the same thing is true of the lady who purchases a dress, or the man who buys a waistcoat wrought in a foreign loom. That purchaser sends from our shores, to feed the workers on that dress or waist coat, the value of it in the staple export of our country. Now, let us suppose, that the man who is on his way to give an order that will lead to the importation of foreign wines, or to purchase an English waistcoat, meets, upon his way, an unemployed artizan. To give the picture the colouring of reality, let us suppose that chance leads his steps to some of the squalid abodes of our Liberty, the wretched hiding places of a decayed manufacture, and an unemployed people — suppose him moved by some scene of distress — to resolve that he will deny himself the wine, or that he will make his old waistcoat last him a few months longer, and to place in the hands of an unemployed weaver, to purchase beef and bread for his children, for many days, the very money he had intended to appropriate to the purchase of his imported superfluities — I suppose him to do this as a free gift — I suppose that the money is laid out as he desires it, and that beef and bread are bought with it. This, otherwise, would not have been consumed in Ireland, for this new destination of the money has not deprived one single Irishman, except the donor himself, of an iota of enjoyment, or the means of purchasing; all persons in the country remain as they were, except the giver and receiver of the gift. The object of this bounty enjoys the very produce which would have gone abroad to pay for the wine or the waistcoat, had the giver purchased them. He, himself, is worse off by not having the wine or the waistcoat, but is worse off in no other way. The home market for beef and bread is manifestly by so much increased, so that the mind cannot escape, turn the matter as it will, from the demonstration that forces on it the inference, that the effect of this change of purpose is simply this, that the artizan of our Liberty has eaten the food, which, had the original purpose been persevered in, would have gone to feed the English weaver or mechanic.
As far as the sum-total of human enjoyment is concerned, it may be urged that this will make but little difference. Unless you increase the quantity to be used, all that you can do is to transfer to one what you take from another. This may be true — in one sense it is, no doubt, true — as far as regards the world at large. But as far as the Irish artizan is concerned, it just makes the difference between comfort and starvation. For our present purpose it is enough so to answer the argument. We prove to demonstration, the proposition with which we started as to our own country.
Do not, however, understand me as admitting that it might even be the same to the world at large. The interest of mankind will be best attended to, when each of the families into which it is divided, concern themselves to provide for their own. The nations, as well as individuals, that provide not for their own, are worse than infidels to the great principles that should animate states. Let us have the artizans and the peasantry of our own country comfortable and prosperous, before we weigh the chances of feeding those of the world at large. The man who cares for no one in particular, has very little affection for his species at all; and the economical philanthropy that cares for the comforts of the workmen of all countries alike, will, assuredly, end in an equal disregard of all. For myself, I am quite ready to adhere to the narrow and illiberal system that regards our own people, as a first care, and to be content with the old-fashioned charity that begins at home.
Neither will you understand me as conceding that it is not possible for a permanent appropriation of a share of the national revenues, even to the gratuitous support of the poor, to increase in the country the supply of commodities, intended for the use of the labouring population. This question, as a general one, is far too large, and too difficult for an incidental discussion. I advert to it now, to shew those who have thought on the subject, that it is not overlooked, but in the case I have put to you, the case of that gratuitous appropriation, being of money withdrawn from foreign commodities, and applied to the purchase at home of the articles we export, in such conditions as those, it is not difficult to solve the problem which the question, as applied to these particular circumstances, involves.
In the case I have supposed, there can be no doubt of the effect. If our consumers of foreign produce chose to deny themselves the luxury of using them, and to bestow upon their poor neighbours the price they pay for them, our people will consume, to the extent of the gift, produce which is now exported from our shores. The revenue of the country is that which is raised within it, and everyone who has property, I care not of what kind, in a country, is an owner of a portion of that revenue — in Ireland, almost exclusively, an agricultural produce. Each of us has it in his power to send his portion of that revenue abroad, for the production of other countries, or to give it to feed the people of our own.
I have supposed the case of a gratuitous charity; but to the immediate effect on the distribution of the provisions now exported, it could not make the slightest difference, if the person whom we have supposed to make the charitable gift, desired the object of his bounty to employ himself in weaving for him a waistcoat or a coat. Better, indeed, it would be for all parties — infinitely better, in a moral point of view better, economically, for the giver, by the value of the coat and the waistcoat, increasing, by so much, the means of human enjoyment. But the effect of the appropriation of the money to his use will be precisely the same. The effect will be, that the artizan will eat the food which before was exported; and this is just what we believe would be effected, on a large scale, by the use of home manufactures. To get articles of manufacture wrought by our artizans at home, and to give to them a portion of our share of the revenue of the country — a share of that which is raised in it — not to be exported to feed strangers, but to support our own manufacturers at home.
It is, at first, not easy to familiarize the mind that is not accustomed to look accurately upon these subjects, to the consideration, that the performance of such acts by a whole community, is nothing more than the aggregate of such acts, performed by the individual members that compose it. Yet no proposition is more obvious. If we have rightly estimated the effect produced in our supposed case, by the act of any one individual in this room, the effect produced by similar acts of everyone in this room, would be precisely similar in kind, although different in degree; more artizans would be fed, and more persons would practise acts of self-denial. If such would be the effects of the acts of all here, we may, with perfect confidence, carry on our reasoning as to the nature of the effects, to similar acts, performed by all persons of our rank in Ireland. With the numbers — the nature of the act would not be changed — the new questions that would arise for our consideration, would be questions of degree — questions depending on the number of unemployed artizans to be fed, and the capability of persons in the country to make the sacrifices requisite to the end.
I do believe the argument in the particular instance, to be demonstrative. Before it is answered, it must be shewn that a diversion, such as I have supposed, of the money of an individual, from the purchase of imported goods to the support of an Irish labourer, whether in the shape of charity or wages — which unquestionably does give food to an Irishman who had it not before — deprives that individual, or some other individual, in some other way, of the means of rewarding Irish labour, and deprives him too, to the full extent, of the benefit conferred; and this it cannot do, since almost the entire price of the article would have gone to pay the English workman. I may, indeed, and I do, withdraw from the Irish labourer, who may have been employed about its importation, the almost infinite submultiple of the price which is allotted to his reward; but even this I still expend on the support of Irish labour, while the great bulk of the price, or to speak more properly, of the produce it represents, which is now used in the country, is a clear addition to the fund which would have been in the country for the support of its labour.
The case, then, is made out, if there be not some inaccuracy in the reasoning by which we traced the steps of the process. Taking the present condition of Ireland as our starting post, I say that if the persons in this room determine, and act on their determination, to substitute for the luxuries we import from foreign countries, articles produced by the labour of our own people, we would turn and direct to the extent to which our income gives us command over the revenue of the country, and to the extent to which we now virtually spend that revenue in foreign countries — a portion of the produce which is now going abroad to the feeding of our own people at home, and that the entire loss to our country would be measured exactly by the amount of privation which such self-denial would cost to ourselves.
What is true of the individuals in this room, is true of all the individuals in this country. It is possible for them, by adopting and acting on a similar determination, to produce similar results upon a more extensive scale; and what would be true of this use of Irish manufacture, if brought about — which, perhaps, we can hardly hope to see by a voluntary combination of our people, would be also true if the same were brought about by legislative interference, by a protective duty, or by any other means.
In the view which I have taken of this question, I have not adverted to general propositions, or what have been termed principles of the science with which you have, no doubt, anticipated the observation that the views I have advanced on this particular subject are at variance. I have asked you, independent of any such general propositions, to give your assent to a chain of propositions which naturally and irresistibly follow each other, in which I have assumed nothing but these first principles which our experience assures us do govern the business of production and exchange, and which must be the foundation of all the deductions of the science.
If these reasonings be right — if the inferences we have drawn from premises be conformable to the effects that would follow from causes that act in the economic system, and if you find the conclusions to which they carry you, inconsistent with any propositions that have been laid down as general truths in the science of Political Economy, this should make you not deny the conclusions which follow in the particular instance from the reasoning we bring before you; but disbelieve in the truth, or at least in the universality, of the propositions to which they are opposed.
While I thought that I could best lead your minds to truth by endeavouring to place before you deductions drawn from a particular state of facts, and simply tracing our way from one step in our progress to another, without embarrassing ourselves by considering how far we were meeting with inferences inconsistent with arguments that have by many political economists been used as applicable to all cases — I do not conceal from myself — my object in engaging you in these inquiries would be defeated if you concealed from yourselves, that both our reasonings and conclusions are inconsistent with many propositions that some persons might almost believe it heresy against the faith of political economy to question.
Desiring to give to all my addresses from this chair, as little as possible of a controversial character, I will not now occupy your time by comparing the conclusions at which we have arrived, with those to which they are opposed, but I will briefly detain you, while I call your attention to some few of the propositions, to which, considered as universal ones, our reasonings and our conclusions are opposed. The reasonings of this lecture are altogether inconsistent with the proposition, that protective duties for home industry are, in all cases, to be condemned as injuries to the national wealth.
We do believe that in one instance, at least, we have shewn that it would be possible for the use of home manufactures, even at the sacrifice of using inferior articles — and this is the effect of a protective duty — might create and cause a direct and positive addition to the sum total of the national revenue, to the means at the disposal of the entire population of the country, available to obtain for them the necessaries and the comforts of life. If in any one instance we have proved this, it is impossible in any instance to rely upon the proposition we have cited, as of universal application. In the case of every protective duty, we must decide upon its advantages or disadvantages, by an inquiry into all the circumstances under which it is imposed.
They are obviously too inconsistent with the proposition, that by leaving the industry and capital of a country free, the greatest amount of resulting good will be secured to all its inhabitants; because we think we have established a case in which interference with the natural course, in which the products of the country would be disposed of, may be productive of great and incalculable good.
They are inconsistent too with the proposition so often and so confidently laid down, that it must always be the interest of a country to buy its goods at the cheapest market, and sell them at the dearest, without reference to the question, whether either market be the foreign or the home. One obvious source of fallacy in this proposition we think we detected in the course of this inquiry-obvious, I mean, in the application of the proposition to the particular case we proposed to examine. When men thus speak of the interest of a country, it must always be remembered that the statement includes merely those who would be benefited by resorting to the particular foreign market. The proposition does not, and it cannot decide the all-important question, whether this benefit to that class does not cause some injury to another, which, in calculating the gain or the loss to the entire community, is more than sufficient to counterbalance the advantage to the first.
That a protective duty might, in one actually existing case of national economy, make a positive addition to the national revenue, that is, to the entire means of living in the country, we have proved; that its absence, (and far stronger would be the case of its withdrawal), by putting a stop to one portion of the national industry, and so extinguishing one part of the sources of our national productions — might cause incalculably greater deduction from the national wealth, than it could add to it, by causing the products of the remaining resources to be advantageously disposed of.
Thus our reasonings are utterly inconsistent with those arguments which assume that protection is, in every instance, an evil, and free trade, in every conceivable case, a good. We say that, in each particular instance, it is a question of fact and of calculation, whether we will add more to the national wealth, by obtaining an article in the home market, or in the foreign, and that the calculation does not rest solely upon the relative cheapness. The great object to be obtained is to make all the resources of the country as productive as possible, and if by resorting to the foreign market we make unprofitable and unproductive, or less productive, any part of the resources we have at home, it matters not whether these resources consist of natural agents, or capital, or labour — whether they be found in the natural capabilities of the country, in property invested and applied to particular purposes, or in industry of workmen, that will cease to find employment — in every case the resources at home that are laid waste, by a resort to the foreign market, form one item on the debtor side of the account, the magnitude of which will obviously depend upon the extent of the resources that will so be left barren and unproductive.
It makes no difference, whether these means of production are inherent in the very nature of the circumstances of the country, or whether their peculiar applicability to any particular species of production, has arisen under any protective law. In the calculation of profit and loss, the resources of the country, as they now exist, must be taken into account; and no one but a madman would pretend to decide upon the question of national advantage or disadvantage of any change, without estimating, as an item in his calculation, the actually and now existing resources and productive powers of the country, which the change would reduce to barrenness and waste.
But when we say that every case of a protective duty must rest upon its own circumstances, and be determined by its own calculations, it would be manifestly an abuse of reasoning, to assume that, because we have shewn some cases in which these propositions do not hold good, that, therefore, we can in all pronounce them untrue. Their authority, indeed, as general propositions, is, by falsifying them in any one instance, destroyed. But we must not, therefore, rashly conclude that they are falsified in all. It does not follow, that a protective duty to home industry must, in every case, be a good; on the contrary, we freely admit, that, as it, in the first instance, entails upon some class in the community some privations, even should it be so inconsiderable as the denial of a ribbon and a silk, it is to the extent of that privation an evil, and requires a counterbalancing advantage to justify its adoption. The presence of that advantage will depend upon the circumstances of each particular case. It would be just as untrue to assume that a protective duty is, in every case, desirable, as to assume that in every case it is the reverse. How far it diminishes the value of any portion of the revenue of the country, by obliging its owners to spend it in an inferior market — how far, on the other hand, it adds to the revenue of the entire country, by calling into activity labour or other means of production, which, but for this protection, would lie waste — these questions constitute in each individual instance the test of whether it adds to or takes from the national wealth.
I have called your attention to some few, and they are but a few, of the propositions with which our reasonings on this subject are inconsistent, treating it merely as a question of the production of wealth; but I am satisfied that inquiries into questions which relate only to the production of wealth are comparatively of little value. We omit the most important point when we forget the question of distribution. I believe a change might be one most advantageous to the great mass of the people of a country which could diminish very considerably the exchangeable value of the entire produce of a country, but which would, at the same time, alter for the better its distribution; and this brings me to another, and perhaps the most important, point in which our reasonings — and our reasonings, perhaps, more than our conclusions — are at variance with those too often recognised as principles by writers on Political Economy.
Generally, the reasonings we have used are inconsistent with any propositions or any mode of reasoning which makes the production of wealth the exclusive test of the economic advantage of any supposed state of things, without taking into full account the nature of the wealth so produced, and the mode of its distribution.
And they are inconsistent, therefore, with all propositions, that, dealing only with the question of value, profess, by any deduction relative to it, to decide questions as to the economic advantage or disadvantage of any supposed state of things.
I cannot hope to bring it to the recollection of all who hear me, that, very early in the lectures which I was called on to deliver here, I observed upon the necessity of strictly attending to the sense in which we used the term value, in estimating the application of all propositions respecting it. Value is purchasing power — but purchasing power with reference to the entire mass of commodities in the world. Propositions respecting value have, of course, their use; but we must be very cautious not to apply them as deciding the economic advantage or disadvantage of any particular state of things. In all such propositions, distribution forms no element. The labour that would procure for a country a diamond worth a thousand pounds, and a thousand pounds’ worth of bread, would add exactly the same value to the country’s property — they would increase its wealth by exactly the same quantity; but that science would be but a delusion and a cheat which would teach men to rest content with this, and assume that therefore it was a matter of indifference to the country which of these two applications of labour were continued, if one must be given up.
I have shown you, I think, that in one case, at least, a protective duty might affect most advantageously the distribution of wealth — that it might, in substance and effect, be a poor law, and a poor law of the very best and most efficacious kind — by which the rich would be lightly taxed for the relief of the poor, but the relief of the poor by setting them to work — a poor law, in which the tax imposed upon the rich would bear but a very small proportion indeed to the relief which would be given to the poor, the tax being measured only by the difference between the product of the labour purchased at home and the labour purchased elsewhere, but the relief to the labourer be the entire purchase money itself — a poor law, too, by which no industry was checked, and by which no idle habits were fostered — the relief of which brought with it no degradation, and support from which extinguished no feeling of independence in the breast of the mechanic.
That there is a case in which this could be effected by a protective duty, we say, confidently, is matter of demonstration. It is quite true, that here again we are met by that constantly-recurring question of the rights of labour — a question which it is impossible to separate from any discussion that involves the second branch of the common definition of Political Economy — the distribution of wealth. If that be a right or healthy state of the social system in which every man is permitted to make the most of what he has or can scrape together, without any reference to the interests of those who have nothing — then, indeed, all questions of Political Economy may be reduced to mere propositions about value. But if that be not all that is to be attained in the social system — if that social system be unsound in which there is not full security made for the adequate reward of labour — then no economical inquiry can be satisfactory or useful which does not include the question of distribution.
In this, perhaps, more than in any other respect, is the mode of reasoning adopted in the remarks I have offered to you, inconsistent with many of the reasonings of others, not certainly of all, who have written on these subjects.
I do not hesitate directly to call your attention to this, that all the reasoning I have used is inconsistent with the proposition, whether it be understood economically or morally, that the remuneration of labour — understanding by this the amount to be allotted to the support of all those who depend upon their labour for support — can in every case best be left to the regulation of the ordinary principles of supply and demand.
And all the conclusions at which we arrive are opposed to the proposition that it is impossible, by legislative interference, in any case to increase the fund that is in a country allotted to the maintenance of its labouring classes.
The questions involved in these propositions are of the deepest practical importance. While these lectures have made no pretensions to be a full discussion of them, I may say, perhaps, that we have inquired into them in the way not the least likely to suggest correct ideas upon their subject. I selected a subject relating to a state of facts that admitted of no controversy — a state of facts of which you have all thought, and to the consideration of which you come not unfamiliar with what exists. I have availed myself of the present interest of this subject at this moment, and I have endeavoured to trace what would be the operation of a proposed movement upon the actual state of things that is before and around us. I have endeavoured to do so by reasoning from what we know of the individual case, without reference to any preconceived opinions, or any attempt to conform our deductions to any general propositions previously laid down. If, I repeat, the conclusions at which we arrive in this particular inquiry, contradict propositions that have been laid down as general ones, it may be a reason for more accurately and closely sifting the reasoning by which we have arrived at our conclusions; but once satisfied of the soundness of that reasoning in the particular case, the inference is inevitable that the propositions, as general propositions, are untrue.
I have not pretended to enumerate or advert to all the general propositions with which our conclusions appear inconsistent. I rest those conclusions, not upon the answers that may be given to statements or propositions, with which they clash, but on the positive proofs by which they are supported.
I need hardly, however, observe, that were I to attempt an enumeration of the general propositions with which our conclusions are at issue, foremost among them we would place the proposition which asserts that absenteeism is not injurious to Ireland.
That proposition, indeed, has been amply and satisfactorily refuted, so far as the case of a country exporting agricultural produce is concerned, by Mr. Senior, to whose admirable observations on the circumstances which determine the condition of the labouring classes of the country, I cannot too strongly direct the attention of those who desire to attain correct modes of reasoning upon such subjects.
But those who will read over the arguments of Mr. McCulloch to sustain his celebrated paradox on the subject of absenteeism, and read also the observations of Mr. Senior, to which I have referred, will be satisfied, that it is impossible to distinguish the question of absenteeism, from that of the use of foreign commodities; and that to the extent that the income of a resident landlord is spent on foreign commodities — or, rather, on the exportation of home produce that is to pay for them — it is a matter of indifference to the Irish labourer, to use the words of Mr. McCulloch, whether the act of destruction be performed at Paris or in Dublin.
Mr. Senior’s refutation of the argument is confined to the case we have been considering — the case of a country exporting agricultural produce; and it is confined to the evil that arises from the direct withdrawal from our people of the means of subsistence that must be exported to pay the rents of absentees. We have seen, I think, another evil resulting to the country in the general depreciation of the value of all our produce in exchange, that arises from any cause that forces us to export. To this effect of absenteeism — one obviously felt much more in a country from which the exports consist of articles to which the expense of transit makes a very considerable addition in the way of percentage — Mr. Longfield was the first political economist who called attention. In his Lectures on Commerce and Absenteeism, he has clearly shown that this result must follow from absenteeism — from an excessive taste for foreign commodities — from anything, in fact, which creates or increases the necessity of exporting our own commodities without increasing the disposition of the people of other countries to give us commodities in exchange for them. The publication of these lectures preceded Mr. Senior’s refutation. Both refutations appear to me perfectly satisfactory, although resting on somewhat different grounds. Mr. Longfield’s has the advantage, that it is not confined to the case of a country exporting agricultural produce, and that it points to principles too often overlooked, which must always regulate the relative value of the productions of two countries in exchange with each other.
In two ways we have clearly seen that absenteeism is injurious to this country. It withdraws from a country where people are ill fed the food that is raised in it, and it forces us to export that produce at a disadvantage.
On the other hand, we concede to the argument of Mr. McCulloch, that were the absentee landlord to return home, and were his entire income to be spent in the purchase of the productions of other countries, the economic gain to Ireland in this point of view would be very trifling indeed; but we argue from this, not that absenteeism is harmless, but that the use of foreign articles is, to a country circumstanced like Ireland, an evil.
In fact, every man who uses articles of foreign produce must, to the extent upon which he spends his income upon their purchase, deducting the profit which is made by the merchant, and the wages spent upon the workman employed in their importation, be considered as an absentee.
To this extent, however, the country is a gainer, by having the act of destruction performed in Dublin. To the value of this percentage on that portion of the landlord’s income which he spends in foreign articles, agricultural produce is retained in Ireland to meet the necessities of our own people.
You will not understand the principles or the reasonings I have brought before you, as affirming that the exportation of agriculture from a country is, under all circumstances, an evil. Were all our people fed, it then might be both true and applicable to assert, that we exported agricultural produce, because it was that which our country’s resources naturally led us to raise. The exportation of agricultural produce is now an evil, because it is so grievously wanted at home. It is for this reason that the encouragement of our home industry, or any other process which would retain it at home, would be a blessing to the land. But we do not disguise from ourselves, that while we assert these propositions as true of the particular case, they involve principles that are capable of a far wider application; and that palpable and manifest as is the evil in the case of a country exporting produce while its people have not food at home, that evil is, that foreign trade is in this instance made the instrument of the monopoly of wealth, and, equally with absenteeism, enables those who have riches to spend the resources of the country upon themselves, and, at the same time, escape the effect of the compensating principle of being obliged to resort to the employment of home labour for that end, a principle which would oblige them to share those resources with others, in the very process by which they spend them upon themselves.
While we thus freely and unreservedly advocate the right of the artizan to protection against the grinding influence of riches; while we hold that it is the duty of every society to secure for all its members who are willing to work the means of earning their bread; and while we believe it to be a fact, in the science of political economy, that it is possible, by direct interference on the part of the governing power with the order of distribution, to accomplish this; — it is very necessary to impress upon the class that compose our mechanics, that, after all, the real hope of improvement must rest with themselves. The great lesson of self-reliance must be learned. Habits of order, of industry, of regular, and constant, and cheerful labour must be infused. I believe it would be a melancholy picture to trace the injury that has often been done to Irish manufacture by the misconduct of the work men themselves. Against the baneful effect of combination — above all, against violent interference with the free exercise of every man’s calling — no voluntary effort of individuals, no legislative protection itself, could uphold a manufacture in our land. Security for the capital of the capitalist, dependence upon the steadiness of the labour he employs, and confidence in the regularity with which it will be yielded, are essential to the prosperity of the manufactures of a country.
I am very far from saying that it is to any misconduct of our workmen that we are to attribute the depressed state of our manufactures. I am very sure that it is not, but in every country such hints as these are needed. The unfortunate divisions of modern society give us, perhaps, but few opportunities of endeavouring to impress these truths upon our labouring population, whose apparent interests and whose real passions too often lead them to forget them. But as we have opportunities, and these opportunities it is our duty to cultivate far more than we do, we will prove ourselves the best friends of our labouring population, by impressing on them the duty and the prudence of perfect order in their conduct, by shewing them how much depends upon habits of regular and steady industry — of fair dealing with their employers, and faithful observance of their contracts with all — by impressing upon them the lesson that legislative protection, or the protection that voluntary efforts can give by directing public caprice, and so creating fashion, may assist the efforts of our manufacturing population, but they can do no more. The permanent improvement of any class must depend upon the virtues, and the enterprise, and the industry of themselves.
A century has elapsed since the attention of great and powerful intellects was engaged by the anomaly that even then Ireland presented, in exporting provisions while her own people were unfed. The opinions of Swift may, perhaps, be suspected, rightly suspected, of being influenced by the prejudices of the political partizan. Those of the great and good Bishop Berkeley are open to no such suspicion. With a heart the most benevolent, and an intellect the most acute, he combined a sagacity that strangely, but not uncommonly, was united with most perfect simplicity of disposition, and the most entire singleness of heart. An advocate of native manufacture, he acted on his opinions, and contented himself with wearing the articles which the industry of his episcopal village could supply him. From his Querist, a work marked by more shrewdness than almost any book with which I am acquainted, I have extracted a few questions, first put to the Irish public in 1735, which seem not unworthy of an answer from even the wisdom of modern political economists. I do not know that I can better impress upon your minds the views I have been endeavouring to lay before you, than by putting to you some of these singularly shrewd and pertinent queries, illustrating entirely the truth of the proverb — Prudens interrogatio dimidium scientiæ. Sure I am, that by the six hundred questions of the Bishop, more real information, and more correct notions of political economy could be suggested to the mind, than by many a laborious treatise on what are dignified with the names of the principles of the science.
“Whether he whose luxury consumeth foreign products, and whose industry produceth nothing domestic in exchange for them, is not so far forth injurious to the country?”
“Whether those who drink foreign liquors, and deck themselves and their families with foreign ornaments, are not so far forth to be reckoned absentees?”
“Whether the women may not sow, spin, weave, embroider, sufficiently for the embellishments of their persons, and even to excite envy in one another, without being beholden to foreign countries?”
“Suppose the bulk of our inhabitants had shoes to their feet, clothes to their back, and beef in their bellies, might not such a state be eligible for the public, even though the squires were condemned to drink ale and cider?”
“Whether an Irish lady, set out with French silks and Flanders lace, may not be said to consume more beef and butter than a hundred of our labouring peasants?”
“Whether a woman of fashion ought not to be declared a public enemy?”
“Whether a foreigner could imagine that one-half of the people were starving in a country, which sent out such plenty of provisions?”
“Whether, if our ladies drank sage or balm tea out of Irish ware, it would be an insupportable national calamity?”
“Whether it is possible that the country could be well improved, while our beef is exported, and our labourers live upon potatoes?”
“Whether trade be not then on a right footing, when foreign commodities are imported in exchange for domestic superfluities?”
“Whether the quantities of beef, butter, wool, and leather, exported from this country, can be reckoned the superfluities of this country, when there are so many natives naked and famished?”
“Whether she would not be a very vile matron, and justly thought either mad or foolish, that should give away the necessaries of life from her naked and famished children, in exchange for pearls to stick in her hair, and sweetmeats to please her own palate?”
“Whether a nation be not a family?”
“Whether we are not the only people who may be said to starve in the midst of plenty?”
“How much of the necessary sustenance of our people is yearly exported for brandy?”
“When the root yieldeth insufficient nourishment, whether we do not top the tree to make the lower branches thrive?”
“Whether the vanity and luxury of a few ought to be permitted to stand in competition with the interests of a nation?”
“Whether necessity is not to be hearkened to be fore convenience, and convenience before luxury?”
“Whether, if there were a wall of brass, a thousand cubits high, around this kingdom, our natives might not, nevertheless, live cleanly and comfortably, till the land, and reap the fruits of it?”
“Whether it would be a great hardship, if every parish were obliged to find work for their poor?”
“Whether there be a people that so contrive to be impoverished by their trade, and whether we are not that people?”
With these questions, I will leave the views I have endeavoured to bring before you to make whatever is their just impression upon your minds. I did not intend this lecture to be a full or even a direct discussion of the difficult and most important questions which we find to be more or less involved in its inquiries. I selected a particular state of facts, and endeavoured, by positive proofs, to sustain certain propositions as applicable to that state of facts. In this inquiry we have arrived at results inconsistent with general propositions that are confidently put forward as truths of the science. How far, however, the general propositions are, therefore, to be rejected or modified, it would not be possible, within the compass of a lecture, to discuss. Incidentally, indeed, we have touched upon principles and arguments which must, even in the most general application, materially modify the propositions to which I have adverted. I do not, however, wish to be held responsible for inferences that may be drawn from the principles we have laid down. Not that I would shrink from stating any proposition to which I conceive the deductions of science would lead, without caring in the slightest degree what interests it would affect, or what prejudices it would offend; but I know that propositions which will lead to a true result, when applied to one state of things, when applied to another and a little different state of things, may but lead astray.
To have traced out and applied the principles which I have attempted in these lectures to unfold, was, I confess, an object I had set before myself. I believe, that to follow them to their results, would be, to introduce a most important element into many of the calculations of the science, and to redeem to the cause of charity, and of the poor, investigations which have been too often the weapons of a cold, a heartless, and an immoral philosophy. The near approach of the limit to the period, beyond which it is wisely provided that the occupation of this chair by the same person shall not extend — demands of other nature upon my time and thoughts — prevent me from hoping, that this task can be now accomplished by me.
I may, perhaps, have succeeded in turning to those forgotten principles, the attention of some within these walls. I may have impressed upon the thoughts of some who have been engaged in the researches of political economy, a better direction. I may have suggested to you, that the proposition that merely affirms, that one economic system produces more value, or, to use the synonymous term, more wealth than another, in reality teaches you very little on which you can safely rely; that all the reasonings that support it may be true, and yet, before you can use that proposition for any purpose before you can draw from it any practical inference, or give the preference to either system in your own thoughts or feelings — you must begin again at the beginning — you must inquire not merely the amount of value produced, but the articles which represent it, and the numbers that are to share them; you must remember, that to disregard these considerations, would be to forget the most important point of the inquiries of the science — those which concern the distribution of wealth.
Above all, I shall rejoice if I have suggested to you that it is impossible, in any inquiry of political economy, to escape from the grand problem of the social system — what is the right, and what is the position of the poor? If, indeed, it is to be assumed that those who have a command over the revenues of a country, may be, or ought to be, permitted to direct these resources, without the least regard to those who have not — if it be an object of indifference how wealth be distributed, so that it be created — if it be just the same, whether the wealth created be, as to the articles that compose it, those that will minister to the necessities of many, or those that will be squandered upon the vanity of one —then, indeed, you need not trouble yourselves about the inquiries in which I have engaged you to-day. You may pursue your mathematical calculations about value, and arrive, with complacency, at your results, in perfect carelessness whether some step of the calculation may not involve the misery and degradation of a large mass of the people, provided always, that it increases the aggregate value of materials in the country.
But if you feel that a science, whose investigations are thus limited, were worse than a waste of time; if you feel that when such propositions, true in their abstract sense, are applied in any sense in which they can engage the affections, or influence the conduct of rational men, they become the mere specious plausibilities of falsehoods — scientific expressions for positive untruths; if you feel that it cannot be a matter of indifference whether the country be rich, by having foreign luxuries in lordly halls — or rich in a labouring population, well housed, well clothed, and well fed; if you feel that it is not, as to the amount of value that any given process will produce, but as to the effect which it will have upon the comforts of the great mass of the people, that we demand to be informed by the inquiries of science; — then you will feel it impossible, even as a political economist, to pronounce upon the merits or demerits of any measure, until you have examined and weighed its effects upon all classes in the country — and as they constitute the majority, especially its effect upon the population that depend upon their labour, skilled or unskilled, for their support.
I have stated to you that which is not, perhaps, strictly a portion of Political Economy — my own views of the labourer’s right. I believe that social system to be the best, that country to be the most prosperous — I care not whether you call it the most wealthy or not — in which this right is the most fully recognised. And all that I have said of the necessity and the possibility of counteracting, by some agency, the monopolizing power of wealth, is not confined to this or any other country. I believe this question to be the most important of all that relate to our modern social system. It is a question that concerns the rich as well as the poor. Sooner or later it will force itself upon the attention of those that are at ease, and be heard in the palaces of the proud. The inequalities of property we must have; but it is open to us to control the effects of these inequalities, so far as they affect the means of existence of any portion of our people. That one man should monopolize the labour of hundreds is an evil; but an evil inseparable from our present state of existence, and compensated for by the principle to which I have called your attention: but that one man should sweep from the surface of the land, upon which is located a starving population, the food that might give sustenance to hundreds — this is an evil which is not necessary to be borne — a form of the monopoly of wealth which brings with it no compensation. I will not say that it is a tyranny for which no right of property gives to the nation a warrant; but, I repeat, the right of the labouring man to earn his bread was a right that was chartered to our race before an acre of ground over the wide surface of the globe was claimed as property by man; and I am bold to repeat, that interference there must be, there ought to be, with the workings of that economic process by which matters so result that there are men in the land willing to work who cannot earn bread. It aggravates the evil, perhaps only makes it more palpable, that it takes place in a country which produces abundance of food. But the interest of the question is not confined to Ireland; in England, too, these questions have been stirred; whether it be in the cry of distress that has arisen from trades destroyed by the removal of protective duties — in the indignant denunciations of the change of the poor laws, by which the direct assertion of the right of the labourer to be supported has been destroyed — or in the demands of an enlightened philanthropy, to have the hours of labour even for infants shortened; — in each and all of these is asserted the one great principle, that there ought to be protection for the rights of labour.
And is it not worth an inquiry — a deep, and anxious, and careful inquiry — whether the progress of society, the increase of civilization, may not bring with it elements that require a vigilant caution to prevent that which ought to be a blessing to all, from aggravating the pressure of the inequalities of wealth upon the poor? May it not be, that the refinements of luxury supply new means for the selfish enjoyment of wealth, and the discoveries of art diminish the necessity of resorting for these enjoyments to the purchase of the labour of the poor? No one here will understand me as depreciating the inestimable benefits which both commerce and machinery are conferring upon the empire. But ought we not anxiously to provide not merely that their extension may not bring with it individual suffering and loss, but lest they may become means by which wealth may more and more appropriate to itself the labour of many hands, admitting less and less of the principle of compensation of which we have spoken — lest that progress, in which all ought to share, may but increase the luxury and swell the ostentation of the rich, while it takes from the comforts and the enjoyments of the poor?
From these subjects of inquiry, opening up materials of investigation, to the interest and importance of which each day in the progress of society will add, let us turn back to the subject that has suggested them — a subject which more peculiarly concerns us as Irishmen. Solemn and humiliating are the reflections which to us the state of our own country is calculated to suggest. It ought — may I venture to say it — suggest to us all, that there may be objects more worthy of our attention than those upon which unhappily too much of our energy is squandered. How deeply does the condition of too many of our peasantry reprove the unprofitableness of our politics; and how bitterly, although silently, does it rebuke the rancour of our disunion, and the littleness of our feuds! And when I ask of you to look upon our country’s unimproved resources, her unexplored treasures, her unemployed population, and still uncultivated fields, may I not, in the words of that illustrious philosopher, so many of whose questions I have quoted for you to day, pray of you seriously to reflect upon one more a problem, for which the century which has elapsed since it was proposed has, alas! found no solution?
“What hinders us Irish from exerting ourselves, using our hands and brains, doing something or other, man, woman, and child, like the other inhabitants of God’s earth?”