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  1. Table of contents
  2. Online Library of Liberty
  3. The Collected Economic Sophisms of Bastiat - Online Library of Liberty

The Development of the Declension System. The Left-Periphery in Old French. Grammatical Meaning and the Old French Subjunctive.

Documentation en Population et Développement

Back Matter Pages About this book Introduction The present volume presents scholarly study into Old French as it is practiced today, in all of its forms, within a variety of theoretical frameworks, from Optimality Theory to Minimalism to Discourse Analysis. Editors and affiliations. Deborah L. His procedure is not very dissimilar to what that of a philosopher would have been, who, desiring to investigate the nature of wind, should have assumed it as already known, not as an event, but as a thing, and should have conceived it his business merely to connect and arrange the various phenomena in relation to it, with which practice had previously made mankind familiar.

Such a system could not have failed to have embodied great radical defects, for it would have been built on principles fundamentally erroneous. His followers, by the use they make of definitions, appear to me rather to have introduced new evils, than to have applied a remedy to those already existing. Definitions give us the mastery of words, not of things, 3 and therefore by taking them as they have done, for principles of investigation, not auxiliaries to it, their labors have generally issued in adducing arguments instead of collecting and arranging facts, the former being the proper fruit of an attention to words, the latter of an inquiry into the nature of things.

I conceive that the fallacies of the particular doctrines I oppose may be most effectually exposed, by tracing out the true nature of that wealth, the manner of the augmentation and diminution of which, forms the subject of controversy. That we can neither assume this as a thing already known, nor hope, by any mere intellectual effort, to comprehend it in an ingenious definition.

That when it is really discovered, it must be, as has happened in other things, that disputes concerning its manner of existence, its increase and decrease will terminate, or instead of hinging on plausible arguments, may be settled by a reference to ascertainable facts. It is, therefore, such an investigation, that I propose partially to attempt; and it is chiefly on the results of it, that I mean to rest my demonstration of the reality of those errors, my conviction of the existence of which, has been my motive for engaging in the present undertaking.

By entering on such an investigation immediately, however, the subject would be brought before the reader under an aspect so different from that in which it is viewed in the Wealth of Nations, and subsequent works following in the same train of thought, that I should not have an opportunity of directly meeting some of the arguments there advanced. For this reason I shall first endeavor to show, that even proceeding on similar principles to those adopted in the Wealth of Nations itself, there exist great and insuperable objections to the doctrines in question.

This forms the subject of the First Book. In the Second, I enter on the analysis of the nature of wealth and the laws governing its increase and diminution. The Third is devoted to a practical application to the doctrines in question, of the principles established. When wealth, considered in the general, is conceived to be a thing either so clear as to require no definition, or so simple as to be fully grasped by any definition, two different and opposing systems naturally seem to arise concerning it. The wealth of all the individuals in a state being, it may be said, of necessity measured by the amount of the national wealth, whatever adds to the wealth of the nation must increase the stocks of individuals.

But it has always been found that nations have become most wealthy when they have engaged most extensively in commerce and manufactures. To encourage commerce and manufactures by every possible means, should, therefore, be the great aim of the legislator; and every enactment and regulation of his conducing to this effect, as it cannot but tend to the increase of the general funds, must ultimately add to the stocks of individuals. This view of the matter leads directly to a system of unceasing regulation and restraint.

Again, on the other hand, it may be said, that, as the wealth of the nation is necessarily made up of the riches of the various individuals in it, so the national wealth must grow as each individual adds to the portion of it which he possesses. But every restraint is a hindrance to a man's acquiring wealth, and he always gains by evading it.

As, therefore, all interference on the part of the legislator, operates as a restraint, he never in any case ought to interfere. As the former view of the subject produces a system of general regulation and restraint, this teaches the doctrine of complete inaction on the part of the legislator, of the removal of all restraint, and of perfect freedom of trade. Both systems proceed on the assumption of the exact identity of public and private wealth; of Wealth, as it is the same word, being always the same thing, whether applied to individuals or communities, and being in its increase and decrease subjected in all cases to similar laws; an assumption flowing easily from the conception that its nature is very simple and may without difficulty be apprehended.

The latter of these systems, that adopted by Adam Smith, we might expect would at present, be most popular in Europe. Institutions and forms very often endure after the circumstances that had originally called them forth have disappeared, and when, consequently, their operation injuriously restrains the movements of some new order of things. Such seems the condition of most European kingdoms at present. The frame of their existing constitutions and laws was moulded in remote times, in ages of comparative barbarism and stern military rule, and is, therefore, in many pans, unsuited to the circumstances of the present period.

It is perceived that a multitude of abuses exist, and the efforts of the majority are directed to detect, expose, and do away with them. The prejudices of men of liberal minds and enlarged views, for even such men have prejudices, run consequently, rather towards overthrowing and rooting out, than to establishing and maintaining. A system of political economy, the fundamental principles of which, inculcated the doctrine that every attempt of the ruler to direct the industry of the community was injurious, and that all laws having this tendency, should be abrogated, fell in with the current of public opinion and could not but draw to itself a large body of zealous and able advocates.

It is in this temper that Mr.

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Bentham addresses its author. It may be remarked, also, that as the circumstances of Europe, in remote ages, produced the former system, in the present give popularity to the latter; so in North America, where a new form of government suited to the state which society has there assumed, has been established, we might expect, as is the case, that a medium would be taken between the two extremes. My main object, in this book, is to show that that notion of the exact identity of the causes giving rise to individual and national wealth, on which the reasonings and arguments of Adam Smith all along depend, is erroneous, that consequently the doctrines he has engrafted on it, cannot be thus maintained, and are inconsistent with facts admitted by himself.

I have already observed that through every part of his work, in the conduct of all his reasons and arguments, Adam Smith blends together the consideration of the processes by which the capitals of individuals and nations are increased, and always treats of them as precisely identical. Sometimes this is assumed as a self-evident truth, sometimes it is a deduction from an ingenious theory; but, in one shape or other, it forms the basis on which his whole system is built. If this simple view of the subject be admitted as correct, it may very easily be made to lead to the conclusions at which he is desirous of arriving.

The axiom which he brings forward, that the capital of a society is the same with that of all the individuals who compose it, being granted, it follows that to increase the capitals of all the individuals in a society is to increase the general capital of the society. It seems, therefore, also to follow that as every man is best judge of is on business and of the modes in which his own capital may be augmented, so to prevent him from adopting these modes is to obstruct him in his efforts to increase his own capital, and, in so far as his capital is a part of the general capital of the society, to check the increase of that general capital; and hence, that, as all laws for the regulation of commere are in fact means by which the legislator prevents individuals conducting their business as they themselves would deem best, they must operate prejudicially on the increase of individual and so of general wealth.

In pursuance of the same idea of the perfect identity of the means by which individual and national capitals are increased, the argument is thus further enforced. Accumulation is the means by which individual capital is augmented. We know very well that if any person spend as fast as he makes, he can never get richer. Whatever his gains are he must save some part of them, else he can never add to his capital. The amount also of his savings for any period of time must measure the addition, which, during that time he makes to is wealth.

As, therefore, the capital of a single individual is increased by his continually accumulating and adding to it whatever he saves out of his revenue, so the national capital, or the capital of all the individuals in a nation, is increased by these individuals continually accumulating and adding to it what they save out of their respective revenues.

Hence whatever prevents them from making the most of their respective capitals, or drawing from them the largest revenue, in so far as it deprives them of the power of laying past so large a portion of that revenue as they otherwise would, must in a like proportion diminish their individual accumulations, and consequently the sum of all their accumulations, or the amount added to the national capital. But all laws for the regulation of commerce, and all encouragements given to particular branches of industry, do in fact prevent individuals from turning their capitals into the channels which, but for these regulations, they would prefer as offering the largest returns.

They must, therefore, it is said, to a certain extent, diminish individual accumulation, and consequently, in an equal proportion, the increase of national capital. Viewing, then, the subject in this simple light, and taking as undoubted truths the assumptions of our author, that individual and national wealth increase in the same manner, and that the manner in which individuals increase their riches is by saving from their revenues, we would easily arrive at the doctrine he inculcates, that as every man is best judge of his own interests, so he should be left to pursue them in is own way, without the legislator at all interfering with his operations, or pretending to aid or direct them.

Though it is, in the general, true that individuals may find some employment, by the prosecution of which they may procure a revenue, and so, by saving from this revenue, acquire wealth, or add to what they have before acquired, yet it seems not so clear that it is by this means alone that nations advance, or can advance, in the acquisition of wealth; because it must occur to us that materials on which the national industry may he employed are to be provided, and often are or may be wanting. It is not altogether correct to say that the sole means, which an individual employs to add to his capital is the process of saving from revenue.

It is very evident he must first gain this revenue, and that the amount he gains, and consequently the amount he can save, must in general depend on the talents and capacities he possesses for the prosecution of the particular employment to which he devotes himself. As an inquiry, therefore, into the manner in which an individual might most rapidly accumulate wealth, would in part resolve itself into an examination of the modes by which he might acquire the greatest perfection of knowledge, skill, dexterity, and other talents and capacities, tending to the successful prosecution of his business; so an inquiry into national wealth, even supposing the process by which nations and individuals add to their riches to be the same, must partly resolve itself into an examination of the modes by which the knowledge, skill, and dexterity of all the individuals in a nation, in the various businesses and professions that may be carried on in it, may be raised to the highest pitch.

These two circumstances render the subject more intricate, than the first simple view we might be inclined to take of it, would lead us to suspect. An attention to the operation of either of them will be sufficient to show that identity of the interests of individuals and states, which is assumed throughout the Wealth of Nations, is not a self-evident principle. In the following observations, I shall, however, confine myself to the former of them.

Individuals, it is very clear, in general, increase their capitals by acquiring a larger portion of the common funds. While one man is growing rich, another is becoming poor, and the change produced, seems not so much a creation of wealth, as a passage of it from one hand to another. These transfer have been going on in all ages of the world and have existed equally, in what has been called the advancing, the stationary, and the declining stages of society.

Every where this means of acquiring wealth is open to individuals, and they every where avail themselves of it. Let any one in any country in Great Britain for instance, trace backwards for fifteen or twenty years the mutations that have occurred in the fortunes of the persons with whom he is acquainted, and he will find that there are few, whose circumstances are not very much changed from what they then were. Good conduct, good fortune, and frugality have made many rich who were then poor; imprudence, misfortune, prodigality have made many poor who were then rich.

But while that man has thus been adding house to house, and farm to farm, and this has been giving up one portion of property after another, till he finds all he once possessed in the hands of others, the whole mass of houses, lands and wealth, has undergone but little alteration; the national capital itself, remains, comparatively, but little changed. It is not by thus acquiring wealth previously in the possession of others, that nations enrich themselves.

But a very small part of the capital of any community, can, I suspect, be accounted for, by tracing its passage from any other community. Instead of one nation growing rich, and another poor, we rather see many neighboring nations advancing at the same pace towards prosperity and affluence, or declining equally, to misery and want. As individuals seem generally to grow rich by grasping a larger and larger portion of the wealth already in existence, nations do so by the production of wealth that did not previously exist.

The two processes differ in this, that the one is an acquisition, the other a creation. Ex nihil fit. Nothing can spring out of nothing. Every thing that exists must have a cause. As we do not see that individuals increase their wealth by creating new wealth, we do not think of inquiring how the riches of an individual came to exist, but how they came into his possession. But as ve do not see how nations can increase their wealth, but by creating new wealth, we naturally inquire, what are the causes of the wealth of nations.

Adam Smith asserts, and as I think truly asserts, that these causes are to be found in the improvement of the productive powers of human labor. Men, and therefore nations, are said to be rich or poor according to the degree in which they can afford to enjoy the necessaries, conveniences, and amusements of human life. But as it is the annual labor of the nation which supplies these necessaries, conveniences and amusements; so as this labor is well or ill directed, the supply it affords must be great or small.

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The skill, dexterity, and judgment with which labor is applied; that is, I presume, the facility of the operations which it employs for executing its ends, and the accuracy with which it conducts them, must consequently mainly regulate the amount which it produces. Thus the increase of the skill, dexterity and judgment with which the national labor is applied, furnishes us with a cause for the increased productive powers of that labor, and so for the increase of the national wealth.

This account of matters will be found sufficiently to agree with the ideas which the contemplation of their progress forces on every one. When we are told that an individual this year employs in agriculture double the capital which he employed last year, the conception which most readily presents itself to us is, that he now farms double the land which he then farmed, owns double the number of horses, cattle, farming utensils, etc.

When we are told that a country has double the agricultural capital which it had a century ago, we cannot, of course, conceive that its farms are double the extent they then were; neither do we conceive that its farmers have simply double the number of barns and other buildings, of cattle, ploughs, harrows, and other farming utensils, which they then had.

We conceive a change in the mode in which its fields are laid out and tilled; in the form and qualities of the stock; in the construction of all the implements of husbandry; in the size and arrangement of the barns and other buildings, and that through these changes the national agricultural labor produces at least double the products it formerly did. It is this change necessarily involved in our conception of the process by which nations increase their capitals, and not necessarily involved in the process by which individuals increase their capitals, that constitutes the difference between them.

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Though they are thus essentially different, there are nevertheless two points in which they agree. When estimated in gold, silver, or any other instrument of exchange, the sum at which the agricultural property presently possessed by the individual would be rated would be double that at which what was formerly in his possession was rated. The sum, also, at which the present agricultural property of the nation would be rated would be double that at which it was formerly rated.

The things, too, that so estimated formed the increase in both, would have been produced by man: they would be his works.

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But though two things may both be estimated as worth a sum of money, and may both be works of man, it follows not that the principles which have produced them are perfectly similar. The poem of Children Harold cost the publisher a certain sum; so did the paper on which it was printed.

They both, too, were works of man, and required mental and corporeal energy to produce them; but we should not, therefore, say the principles that produced them were precisely similar. Within a few centuries the national capital of Great Britain has increased tenfold. Could we imagine that we could tell this fact to some one of the men of the olden time, waked from the slumber of the tomb and raised up to us, we may suppose he would ask how it could be; how there could have been produced so mighty a change; or from whence so full a tide of wealth could have flowed in upon us.

But were we then to take him abroad and show him the wonders and achievements of art with which the land is overspread; the various processes carried on in our manufactories and workshops; the scientific labors of the agriculturist; the curious mechanism with which the vast bulk of our ships is put together and guided; fire and water transformed into our obedient drudges, excavating harbors and draining mines for us, carrying us over the land with the speed of the wind, bearing us through the ocean against tide and storm; he would no longer wonder whence the wealth was that he saw around, or that the land yielded tenfold what it had done of old, though he might well demand how the power had been acquired that had wrought so great a change.

Were such a thing possible as we are thus imagining we can scarce suppose that any one would be found to reply, the whole process is nothing extraordinary; it is just the same as you must have seen in your own days, when, by continual parsimonious saving, an individual accumulated ten times the capital he once had; he began, perhaps, with one house and died owing ten. Such an assertion would evidently be absurd. Invention is the only power on earth, that can be said to create.

It does not necessarily enter into the process of the increase of individual wealth, because that may be simply an acquisition, not a creation. The assumption, therefore, that the two processes are perfectly similar is incorrect, and the doctrine which I have designated as that of the identity of the interests of individuals and communities cannot be thus established. The ends which individuals and nations pursue, are different.

The object of the one is to acquire, of the other to create. The means which they employ, are also different; industry and parsimony increase the capitals of individuals; national wealth, understood in its largest and truest sense, as the wealth of all nations cannot be increased, but through the aid also of the inventive faculty.

Though each member of a community may be desirous of the good of all, yet in gaining wealth, as he only seeks his own good, and as he may gain it by acquiring a portion of the wealth already in existence, it follows not that he creates wealth. The community adds to its wealth by creating wealth, and if we understand by the legislator the power acting for the community, it seems not absurd or unreasonable that he should direct part of the energies of the community towards the furtherance of this power of invention, this necessary element in the production of the wealth of nations.

In the following cases it would at least seem not improbable, that the power of the legislator so directed, might be beneficial. By encouraging the discovery of methods of adapting arts, already practised in other countries to the particular circumstances of the territory and community for which he legislates.

In the attainment of all these objects, the aid of the inventive faculty is required. Our judgment of their propriety or impropriety, as far as this is determined by their direct tendency to promote the wealth of the community, would seem to depend on two circumstances.

On the probability of their success, and of this success enabling the industry of its members to acquire with increased facility some of the necessaries, conveniences, or amusements of life, the capacity for producing which, measures the general revenue and riches. On the probability of the future wealth to be derived from this new source, being sufficient to repay the expenditure of present wealth necessary to open it up. As far as any considerations, which I have as yet presented to the reader, warrant us in forming a conclusion, it certainly does appear not impossible, or unlikely, that there might be instances in which the legislator might, with advantage to the progress of the wealth of the community, direct the energies of some of its members towards discoveries in all these different departments of knowledge and action.

But in doing so, he always acts contrary to this doctrine. It teaches that he ought never to disturb the natural course of events; that is, the course which the efforts of individuals, uninterfered with, by him, would give to these events. His agency so directed, according to this doctrine, must be injurious; because, in every instance, it in part changes the direction, and in part retards the progress of the natural course of events. In every such instance, he directs the industry of some of the members of the society from gaining a revenue by the practice of old arts and so accumulating capital, to the discovery either of materials for new arts, or of means of adapting old ones to new countries.

By doing so, he takes from the national revenue, and retards, consequently, the accumulation of the national capital. This doctrine, as given by Adam Smith, is in general, blended with theoretical principles afterwards to be considered. The following is an abstract of it, in his own words, from different parts of his system, separated from these principles.

The conduct of those whose expense just equals their revenue, without either accumulating or encroaching, neither increases nor diminishes it. It can seldom happen that the circumstances of a great nation ca be much affected by the prodigality of individuals; the profusion of some, being always more than compensated by the frugality and good conduct of others. Men are prompted to expense, by the desire of present enjoyment, a passion only momentary and occasional. They are prompted to save by the desire of bettering their condition, a passion which comes with them from the womb, and never leaves them till they go to the grave.

In the whole course of life of the greater part of men, therefore, though the principle of expense prevails occasionally, yet the principle of frugality predominates, and predominates very greatly. Like the unknown principle of animal life, it frequently restores health and vigor to the constitution, in spite, not only of the disease, but of the absurd prescriptions of the doctor. The reader will perceive, that the whole force of these arguments lies in the assumption, that the process of the increase of national capital, is precisely the same as that of the increase of individual capital.

The observation of Bacon is now trite, that men believe that the words they employ in the process of reasoning, serve the intellect as mere passive instruments, but that, in reality, they have often an active reflex power, through which, while the mind deems it governs them, they are enabled to usurp the command of it, and so misdirect its course. Some of the best English writers upon commerce set out with observing, that the wealth of a country consists, not in its gold and silver only, but in its lands, houses, and consumable goods of all different kinds.

In the course of their reasons, however, the lands, houses, and consumable goods, seem to slip out of their memory; and the strain of their argument frequently supposes that all wealth consists in gold and silver, and that to multiply those metals, is the great object of national industry and commerce. It is remarkable that, in the use of the term capital, he himself leads his readers into a somewhat similar error. Capital means in common language a sum of money, or something for which a sum of money can be got; and, as the increase both of national and individual capital produces a sum of money, or something for which a sum of money can be got, the similar estimation of both by a row of figures is the thing that in this way naturally comes uppermost to the mind, and hence, the things themselves in both cases forming the increase not being immediately present to its thoughts, it heedlessly falls into the conclusion that they also are perfectly similar.

In comparing indeed the national capital as it has existed at distant periods, the small national capital of remote periods with the large national capital of the present, we immediately perceive, that not only the sum at which the national wealth was formerly rated is increased, but that the things which constituted it are changed. The wealth of England is certainly ten times now what it was in the reign of Henry the VIII; we do not conceive, however, that it is formed by the multiplying tenfold such articles as constituted the sole riches of its inhabitants in that somewhat rude and barbarous age.

We perceive here, that there is, and must be, not only an increase, but a change. When, however, we come to consider the smaller parts of which this increase is gradually made up, as the change here is not perhaps perceptible, and as all we see is the sum produced by it, the fact of the increase being more easily ascertained than the manner of it, the similarity of the terms naturally inclines us to conceive that it resembles the increase of individual capital, and consists of a mere increase of things, not of a change also in them.

Would we take time to consider of it, we must perceive that such an increase of national capital as individuals make of individual capital, is, at least, unlikely, seeing there is no apparent cause for it. Considering capital in general, the only use we can discover for it is its enabling the community to draw from the resources the country affords, the necessaries, conveniences, and amusements of life, its supply of which, according to our author, constitutes its real wealth.

It is only so far as it is instrumental to this end that we can see a use, and therefore find a reason, for its existence. Now, as one individual is more provident and prudent than another, we can easily conceive how one may come to procure for himself a greater share than another of the national funds, the means, or instruments, serving to unlock the stores which the nation possesses; but it is not so easy to conceive how, or for what purpose, a general increase of these means or instruments should take place without some accompanying discovery of an improvement in their construction by which they may put additional stores within reach of the nation.

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We may easily perceive this, by attending to any of the numerous small items of which the national capital is composed. I shall take an example of a very small one. The only instrument used for threshing out grain in Great Britain, until of recent years, was the flail. Hence one or more flails formed a part, though a small part, of every farmer's capital, and therefore all the flails that all the farmers had, a part, though an exceedingly inconsiderable part, of the national capital.

So simple an instrument and one so easily formed, was made, I believe, generally, by the farmer or his servants, though sometimes, by professed mechanics. In whatever way fabricated, it is evident, however, that the number of flails made, though from the convenience of having a supply provided before hand they would exceed, could never much exceed, the number of persons employed in the operation of threshing. A professed flail-maker indeed, if diligent and intelligent, might, by the aid of these qualities, have been able to make them cheaper than his neighbors, and, if economical, to extend his business and come to have some amount of capital in this shape.

But, though thus, by his industry and frugality, an individual might have accumulated capital under this form to an extent to which we can set no precise limits, the national capital never could have been so increased, because, if one person by greater diligence and activity, made more flails, another, from a deficiency of these qualities, would make fewer; or, if we suppose all the makers of the instrument to be alike industrious, and thus the stock of it to accumulate, so as to do more than supply the wants of the threshers, the article would remain on their hands, and they would naturally cease to produce the superabundant supply.

While, therefore, the instrument retained this less perfect form, it is, I think, pretty evident, that, though individuals might accumulate capital by making flails, neither the national capital, nor the national revenue, would be much increased by their efforts so directed. About forty years ago, the easier and more perfect method of executing this process, by what is called the threshing machine, was invented.

These new instruments, though far more expensive than the former, yet, performing the operation more effectually, and with much less labor, became naturally things which farmers were desirous of having. A farmer could have had no motive to accumulate but a very trifling capital in the shape of flails, because half a dozen were as useful to him as half a thousand; but he had a great motive to accumulate a considerable capital in the shape of a threshing machine, because it would save him much annual expenditure of labor, and the operation so performed, separating the grain more effectually, would give him a small addition to the corn yielded by his subsequent crops.

Accordingly its invention was followed by the accumulation in this form, of a large amount of capital, and so by an increase of the whole agricultural capital of the nation. But, besides this direct effect, the saving it produced in one of the main processes of agriculture augmented the profits of the farmers, and tended, therefore, to make all farmers cultivate their farms more perfectly, and some to engage in improving land not before cultivated.

Both the direct and the indirect effects of this invention, therefore, must have helped, in no inconsiderable degree, to augment the agricultural capital, and so the whole capital of the nation. We can easily conceive, that the national capital also, might accumulate in this shape, were some discovery, producing an improvement in the manufacture, to occur.

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