An Essay on the Influence of a low Price of Corn on the Profits of Stock; shewing the Inexpediencyof Restrictions on Importation: With Remarks on Mr Malthus' Two Last Publications: "An Inquiry intothe Nature and Progress of Rent;" and "The Grounds of an Opinion on the Policy of restricting theImportation of Foreign Corn" London: Printed for John Murray, Albemarle Street, 1815 In treating on the subject of the profits of capital, it isnecessary to consider the princples which regulate the rise andfall of rent; as rent and profits, it will be seen, have a veryintimate connexion with each other. The principles which regulaterent are briefly stated in the following pages, and differ in avery slight degree from those which have been so fully and soably developed by Mr Malthus in his late excellent publication,to which I am very much indebted. The consideration of thoseprinciples, together with those which regulate the profit ofstock, have convinced me of the policy of leaving the importationof corn unrestricted by law. From the general principle set forthin al Mr Malthus's publications, I am persuaded that he holds thesame opinion as far as profit and wealth are concerned with thequestion; -- but, viewing, as he does, the danger as formidableof depending on foreign supply for a large portion of our food,he considers it wise, on the whole, to restrict importation. Notparticipating with him in those fears, and perhaps estimating theadvantages of a cheap price of corn at a higher value, I havecome to a different conclusion. Some of the objections urged inhis last publication, -- "Grounds of an Opinion," &c. I haveendeavoured to answer; they appear to me unconnected with thepolitical danger he apprehends, and to be inconsistent with thegeneral doctrines of the advantages of a free trade, which he hashimself, by his writings, so ably contributed to establish.
Mr Malthus very correctly defines, "the rent of land to be thatportion of the value of the whole produce which remains to theowner, after all the outgoings belonging to its cultivation, ofwhatever kind, have been paid, including the profits of thecapital employed, estimated according to the usual and ordinaryrate of the profits of agricultural stock at the time being." Whenever, then, the usual and ordinary rate of the profits ofagricultural stock, and all the outgoings belonging to thecultivation of land, are together equal to the value of the wholeproduce, there can be no rent.
And when the whole produce is only equal in value to theoutgoings necessary to cultivation, there can neither be rent norprofit.
In the first settling of a country rich in fertile land, and which may be had by any one who chooses to take it, the wholeproduce, after deducting the outgoings belonging to cultivation,will be the profits of capital, and will belong to the owner ofsuch capital, without any deduction whatever for rent.
Thus, if the capital employed by an individual on such landwere of the value of two hundred quarters of wheat, of which halfconsisted of fixed capital, such as buildings, implements, &c.
and the other half of circulating capital, -- if, after replacingthe fixed and circulating capital, the value of the remainingproduce were one hundred quarters of wheat, or of equal valuewith one hundred quarters of wheat, the neat profit to the ownerof capital would be fifty per cent or one hundred profit on twohundred capital.
For a period of some duration, the profits of agriculturalstock might continue at the same rate, because land equallyfertile, and equally well situated, might be abundant, andtherefore, might be cultivated on the same advantageous terms, inproportion as the capital of the first, and subsequent settlersaugmented.
Profits might even increase, because the populationincreasing, at a more rapid rate than capital, wages might fall;and instead of the value of one hundred quarters of wheat beingnecessary for the circulating capital, ninety only might berequired: in which case, the profits of stock would rise fromfifty to fifty-seven per cent.
Profits might also increase, because improvements might takeplace in agriculture, or in the implements of husbandry, whichwould augment the produce with the same cost of production.
If wages rose, or a worse system of agriculture werepractised, profits would again fall.
These are circumstances which are more or less at all timesin operation -- they may retard or accelerate the natural effectsof the progress of wealth, by rising or lowering profits -- byincreasing or diminishing the supply of food, with the employmentof the same capital on the land.(1*) We will, however, suppose that no improvements take place inagriculture, and that capital and population advance in theproper proportion, so that the real wages of labour, continueuniformly the same; -- that we may know what peculiar effects areto be ascribed to the growth of capital, the increase ofpopulation, and the extension of cultivation, to the more remote,and less fertile land.
In this state of society, when the profits on agriculturalstock, by the supposition, are fifty per cent the profits on allother capital, employed either in the rude manufactures, commonto such a stage of society, or in foreign commerce, as the meansof procuring in exchange for raw produce, those commodities whichmay be in demand, will be also, fifty per cent.(2*) If theprofits on capital employed in trade were more than fifty percent capital would be withdrawn from the land to be employed intrade. If they were less, capital would be taken from trade toagriculture.
After all the fertile land in the immediate neighbourhood ofthe first settlers were cultivated, if capital and populationincreased, more food would be required, and it could only beprocured from land not so advantageously situated. Supposing thenthe land to be equally fertile, the necessity of employing morelabourers, horses, &c. to carry the produce from the place whereit was grown, to the place where it was to be consumed, althoughno alteration were to take place in the wages of labour, wouldmake it necessary that more capital should be permanently employed to obtain the same produce. Suppose this addition to beof the value of ten quarters of wheat, the whole capital employedon the new land would be two hundred and ten, to obtain the samereturn as on the old; and, consequently the profits of stockwould fall from fifty to forty-three per cent or ninety on twohundred and ten.(3*) On the land first cultivated, the return would be the same asbefore, namely, fifty per cent or one hundred quarters of wheat;but, the general profits of stock being regulated by the profitsmade on the least profitable employment of capital onagriculture, a division of the one hundred quarters would takeplace, forty-three per cent or eighty-six quarters wouldconstitute the profit of stock, and seven per cent or fourteen,quarters, would constitute rent. And that such a division musttake place is evident, when we consider that the owner of thecapital of the value of two hundred and ten quarters of wheatwould obtain precisely the same profit, whether he cultivated thedistant land, or paid the first settler fourteen quarters forrent.
In this stage, the profits on, all capital employed in tradewould fall to forty-three per cent.
If, in the further progress of population and wealth, theproduce of more land were required to obtain the same return, itmight be necessary to employ, either on account of distance, orthe worse qualIty of land, the value of two hundred and twentyquarters of wheat, the profits of stock would then fall tothirty-six per cent or eighty on two hundred and twenty, and therent of the first land would rise to twenty-eight quarters ofwheat, and on the second portion of land cultivated, rent wouldnow commence, and would amount to fourteen quarters.
The profits on all trading capital would also fall tothirty-six per cent.
Thus by bringing successively land of a worse quality, orless favourably situated into cultivation, rent would rise on theland previously cultivated, and precisely in the same degreewould profits fall; and if the smallness of profits do not checkaccumulation, there are hardly any limits to the rise of rent,and the fall of profit.
If instead of employing capital at a distance on new land, anadditional capital of the value of two hundred and ten quartersof wheat be employed on the first land cultivated, and its returnwere in like manner forty-three per cent or ninety on two hundredand ten; the produce of fifty per cent on the first capital,would be divided in the same manner as before forty-three percent or eighty-six quarters would constitute profit, and fourteenquarters rent.
If two hundred and twenty quarters were employed in additionwith the same result as before, the first capItal would afford arent of twenty-eight; and the second of fourteen quarters, andthe profits on the whole capital of six hundred and thirtyquarters would be equal, and would amount to thirty-six per cent.
Supposing that the nature of man was so altered, that herequired double the quantity of food that is now necessary forhis subsistence, and consequently, that the expenses ofcultivation were very greatly increased. Under such circumstancesthe knowledge and capital of an old society employed on fresh andfertile land in a new country would leave a much less surplusproduce; consequently, the profits of stock could never be sohigh. But accumulation, though slower in its progress, mightstill go on, and rent would begin just as before, when moredistant or less fertile land were cultivated.
The natural limit to population would of course be muchearlier, and rent could never rise to the height to which it maynow do; because, in the nature of things, land of the same poorquality would never be brought into cultivation; -- nor could thesame amount of capital be employed on the better land with anyadequate return of profit.(4*) The following table is constructed on the supposition, thatthe first portion of land yields one hundred quarters profit on acapital of two hundred quarters; the second portion, ninetyquarters on two hundred and ten, according to the foregoingcalculations.(5*) It will be seen that during the progress of acountry the whole produce raised on its land will Increase, andfor a certain time that part of the produce which belongs to theprofits of stock, as well as that part which belongs to rent willincrease; but that at a later period, every accumulation ofcapital will be attended with an absolute, as well as aproportionate diminution of profits, -- though rents willuniformly increase. A less revenue, it will be seen, will beenjoyed by the owner of stock, when one thousand three hundredand fifty quarters are employed on the different qualities ofland, than when one thousand one hundred were employed. In theformer case the whole profits will be only two hundred andseventy, in the latter two hundred and seventy five; and when onethousand six hundred and ten are employed, profits will fall totwo hundred and forty-one and a half.(6*) This is a view of the effects of accumulation which isexceedingly curious, and has, I believe, never before beennoticed.
It will be seen by the table, that, in a progressive country,rent is not only absolutely increasing, but that it is alsoincreasing in its ratio to the capital employed on the land; thuswhen four hundred and ten was the whole capital employed, thelandlord obtained three and a half per cent; when one thousandone hundred-thirteen and a quarter per cent; and when onethousand eight hundred and eighty-sixteen and a half per cent.
The landlord not only obtains a greater produce, but a largershare.
TABLE, shewing the Progress of Rent and Profit under an assumedAugmentation of Capital Capital estimated to quarters of wheat [200, 210, 220, 230, 240,250, 260, 270] Profit per cent [50, 43, 36, 30, 25, 20, 15, 11] Neat produce to quarters of wheat after paying the cost ofproduction on each capital. [100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50, 40, 30] Profit of 1st portion of land in quarters of wheat. [100, 86, 72,60, 50, 40, 30, 22] Rent of 1st portion of land in quarters of wheat. [none, 14, 28,40, 50, 60, 70, 78] Profit of 2nd portion of land in quarters of wheat. [ - ,90, 76,63, 52 1/2, 42, 31 1/2, 23] Rent of 2nd portion of land in quarters of wheat. [ - , none, 14,27, 37 1/2, 48, 58 1/2, 67] Profit of 3rd portion of land in quarters of wheat. [ - , - , 80,66, 55, 44, 33, 24] Rent of 3rd portion of land in quarters of wheat. [ - , - , none,14, 25 36, 47, 56] Profit of 4th portion of land in quarters of wheat. [ - , - , - ,70, 57 1/2, 46, 34 1/2, 25.3] Rent of 4th portion of land in quarters of wheat. [ - , - , - ,none, 12 1/2, 24, 35 1/2, 44.7] Profit of 5th portion of land in quarters of wheat. [ - , - , - ,- , 60, 48, 36, 26.4] Rent of 5th portion of land in quarters of wheat. [ - , - , - , -, none, 12, 24, 33.6] Profit of 6th portion of land in quarters of wheat. [ - , - , - ,- , - , 50, 37 1/2, 27 1/2] Rent of 6th portion of land in quarters of wheat. [ - , - , - , -, - , none, 12 1/2, 22 1/2] Profit of 7th portion of land in quarters of wheat. [ - , - , - ,- , - , - , 40, 27.6] Rent of 7th portion of land in quarters of wheat. [ - , - , - , -, - , - , none, 12.4] Profit of 8th portion of land in quarters of wheat. [ - , - , - ,- , - , - , - , 29.7] 1st period, 2nd ditto, 3rd ditto, 4th ditto, 5th ditto, 6thditto, 7th ditto, 8th ditto When the whole capital employed is [200, 410, 630, 860, 1100,1350, 1610, 1880] Whole amount of rent received by landlords to quarters of wheat[none, 14, 42, 81, 125, 180, 248 1/2, 314 1/2] Whole amount of profits to quarters received by owners of stock[100, 176, 228, 259, 175, 270, 241 1/2, 205 1/2] Profits per cent on the whole capital [50, 43, 36, 30, 25, 20,15, 11] Rent per cent on the whole capital [ - , 3 1/2, 6 3/4, 9 1/3, 111/2, 13 1/4, 15 1/2, 16 1/3] Total produce to quarters of wheat, after paying the cost ofproduction [ 100, 190, 270, 340, 400, 450, 490, 520] Rent(7*) then is in all cases a portion of the profitspreviously obtained on the land. It is never a new creation ofrevenue, but always part of a revenue already created.
Profits of stock fall only, because land equally well adaptedto produce food cannot be procured; and the degree of the fall ofprofits, and the rise of rents, depends wholly on the increased expense of production: If, therefore, in the progress of countries in wealth andpopulation, new portions of fertile land could be added to suchcountries, with every increase of capital, profits would neverfall, nor rents rise.(8*) If the money price of corn, and the wages of labour, did notvary In price in the least degree, during the progress of thecountry in wealth and population, still profits would fall andrents would rise; because more labourers would be employed on themore dIstant or less fertile land, in order to obtain the samesupply of raw produce; and therefore the cost of production wouldhave increased, whilst the value of the produce continued thesame.
But the price of corn, and of all other raw produce, has beeninvariably observed to rise as a nation became wealthy, and wasobliged to have recourse to poorer lands for the production ofpart of its food; and very little consideration will convince us,that such is the effect which would naturally be expected to takeplace under such circumstances.
The exchangeable value of all commodities, rises as thedifficulties of their production increase. If then newdifficulties occur in the production of corn, from more labourbeing necessary, whilst no more labour is required to producegold, silver, cloth, linen, &c. the exchangeable value of cornwill necessarily rise, as compared with those things. On thecontrary, facilities in the production of corn, or of any othercommodity of whatever kind, which shall afford the same producewith less labour, will lower its exchangeable value.(9*) Thus wesee that improvements in agriculture, or in the implements ofhusbandry, lower the exchangeable value of corn;(10*)improvements in the machinery connected with the manufacture ofcotton, lower the exchangeable value of cotton goods; andimprovements in mining, or the discovery of new and more abundantmines of the precious metals, lower the value of gold and silver,or which is the same thing, raises the price of all othercommodities. Wherever competition can have its full effect, andthe production of the commodity be not limited by nature, as inthe case with some wines, the difficulty or facility of theirproduction will ultimately regulate their exchangeablevalue.(11*) The sole effect then of the process of wealth onprices, independently of all improvements, either in agricultureor manufactures, appears to be to raise the price of raw produceand of labour, leaving all other commodities at their originalprices, and to lower general profits In consequence of thegeneral rise of wages.
This fact is of more importance than at first sight appears,as it relates to the interest of the landlord, and the otherparts of the community. Not only is the situation of the landlordimproved, (by the increasing difficulty of procuring food, inconsequence of accumulation) by Obtaining an increased quantityof the produce of the land, but also by the increasedexchangeable value of that quantity. If his rent be increasedfrom fourteen to twenty-eight quarters, it would be more thandoubled, because he would be able to command more than double thequantity of Commodities, in exchange for the twenty-eightquarters. As rents are agreed for, and paid in money, he would,under the circumstances supposed, receive more than double of hisformer money rent.
In like manner, if rent fell, the landlord would suffer twolosses; he would be a loser of that portion of the raw producewhich constituted his additional rent; and further, he would be a loser by the depreciation in the real or exchangeable value ofthe raw produce in which, or in the value of which, his remainingrent would be paid.(12*) As the revenue of the farmer is realized in raw produce, orin the value of raw produce, he is interested, as well as thelandlord, in its high exchangeable value, but a low price ofproduce may be compensated to him by a great additional quantity.
It follows then, that the interest of the landlord is alwaysopposed to the interest of every other class in the community.
His situation is never so prosperous, as when food is scarCe anddear: whereas, all other persons are greatly benefited byprocuring food cheap. High rent and low profits, for theyinvariably accompany each other, ought never to be the subject ofcomplaint, if they are the effect of the natural course ofthings.
They are the most unequivocal proofs of wealth andprosperity, and of an abundant population, compared with thefertility of the soil. The general profits of stock depend whollyon the profits of the last portion of capital employed on theland; if, therefore, landlords were to relinquish the whole oftheir rents, they would neither raise the general profits ofstock, nor lower the price of corn to the consumer. It would haveno other effect, as Mr Malthus has observed, than to enable thosefarmers, whose lands now pay a rent, to live like gentlemen, andthey would have to expend that portion of the general revenue,which now falls to the share of the landlord.
A nation is rich, not accordIng to the abundance of itsmoney, nor to the high money value at which its commoditiescirculate, but according to the abundance of its commodities,contributing to its comforts and enjoyments. Although this is aproposition, from which few would dissent, many look with thegreatest alarm at the prospect of the diminution of their moneyrevenue, though such reduced revenue should have so Improved inexchangeable value, as to procure considerably more of all thenecessaries and luxuries of life.
If then, the principles here stated as governing rent andprofit be correct, general profits on capital, can only be raisedby a fall in the exchangeable value of food, and which fall canonly arise from three causes: 1st. The fall of the real wages of labour, which shall enablethe farmer to bring a greater excess of produce to market.
2d. Improvements in agriculture, or in the implements ofhusbandry, which shall also increase the excess of produce.
3dly. The discovery of new markets, from whence corn may beimported at a cheaper price than It can be grown for at home.
The first of these causes is more or less permanent,according as the price from which wages fall, is more or lessnear that remuneration for labour, which is necessary to theactual subsistence of the labourer.
The rise or fall of wages is common to all states of society,whether it be the stationary, the advancing, or the retrogradestate. In the stationary state, it is regulated wholly by theincrease or falling off of the population. in the advancingstate, it depends on whether the capital or the populationadvance, at the more rapid course. In the retrograde state, itdepends on whether population or capital decrease with thegreater rapidity.
As experience demonstrates that capital and populationalternately take the lead, and wages in consequence are liberalor scanty, nothing can be positively laid down, respectingprofits, as far as wages are concerned.
But I think it may be most satisfactorily proved, that inevery society advancing in wealth and population, independentlyof the effect produced by liberal or scanty wages, generalprofits must fall, unless there be improvements in agriculture,or corn can be imported at a cheaper price.
It seems the necessary result of the principles which havebeen stated to regulate the progress of rent.
This principle will, however, not be readily admitted bythose who ascribe to the extension of commerce, and discovery ofnew markets, where our commodities can be sold dearer, andforeign commodities can be bought cheaper, the progress ofprofits, without any reference whatever to the state of the land,and the rate of profit obtained on the last portions of capitalemployed upon it. Nothing is more common than to hear itasserted, that profits on agriculture no more regulate theprofits of commerce, than that the profits of commerce regulatethe profits on agriculture. It is contended, that theyalternately take the lead; and, if the profits of commerce rise,which it is said they do, when new markets are discovered, theprofits of agriculture will also rise; for it is admitted, thatif they did not do so, capital would be withdraw from the land tobe employed in the more profitable trade. But if the principlesrespecting the progress of rent be correct, it is evident, thatwith the same population and capital, whilst none of theagricultural capital is withdrawn from the cultivation of theland, agricultural profits cannot rise, nor can rent fall: eitherthen it must be contended, which is at variance with all theprinciples of political economy, that the profits on commercialcapital will rise considerably, whilst the profits onagricultural capital suffer no alteration, or, that under suchcircumstances, the profits on commerce will not rise.(13*) It is this latter opinion which I consider as the true one. Ido not deny that the first discoverer of a new and better marketmay, for a time, before competition operates, obtain unusualprofits. He may either sell the commodities he exports at ahigher price than those who are ignorant of the new market, or hemay purchase the commodities imported at a cheaper price. Whilsthe, or a few more exclusively follow this trade, their profitswill be above the level of general profits. But it is of thegeneral rate of profit that we are speaking, and not of theprofits of a few individuals; and I cannot doubt that, inproportion as such trade shall be generally known and followed,there will be such a fall in the price of the foreign commodityin the importing country, in consequence of its increasedabundance, and the greater facility with which it is procured,that its sale will afford only the common rate of profits -- thatso far from the high profits obtained by the few who firstengaged in the new trade elevating the general rate of profits --those profits will themselves sink to the ordinary level.
The effects are precisely similar to those which follow fromthe use of improved machinery at home. Whilst the use of themachine is confined to one, or a very few manufacturers, they mayobtain unusual profits, because they are enabled to sell theircommodities at a price much above the cost of production -- butas soon as the machine becomes general to the whole trade, theprice of the commodities will sink to the actual cost ofproduction, leaving only the usual and ordinary profits.
During the period of capital moving from one employment toanother, the profits on that to which capital is flowing will berelatively high, but will continue so no longer than till therequisite capital is obtained.
There are two ways in which a country may be benefited bytrade -- one by the increase of the general rate of profits,which, according to my opinion, can never take place but inconsequence of cheap food, which is beneficial only to those whoderive a revenue from the employment of their capital, either asfarmers, manufacturers, merchants, or capitalists, lending theirmoney at interest -- the other by the abundance of commodities,and by a fall in their exchangeable value, in which the wholecommunity participate. In the first case, the revenue of thecountry is augmented -- in the second the same revenue becomesefficient in procuring a greater amount of the necessaries andluxuries of life.
It is in this latter mode only (14*) that nations arebenefited by the extension of commerce, by the division of labourin manufactures, and by the discovery of machinery, -- they allaugment the amount of commodities, and contribute very much tothe ease and happiness of mankind; but, they have no effect onthe rate of profits, because they do not augment the producecompared with the cost of production on the land, and it isimpossible that all other profits should rise whilst the profitson land are either stationary, or retrograde.
Profits then depend on the price, or rather on the value offood. Every thing which gives facility to the production of food,however scarce, or however abundant commodities may become, willraise the rate of profits, whilst on the contrary, every thingwhich shall augment the cost of production without augmenting thequantity of food,(15*) will, under every circumstance, lower thegeneral rate of profits. The facility of obtaining food isbeneficial in two ways to the owners of capital, it at the sametime raises profits and increases the amount of consumablecommodities. The facility in obtaining all other things, onlyincreases the amount of commodities.
If, then, the power of purchasing cheap food be of such greatimportance, and if the importation of corn will tend to reduceits price, arguments almost unanswerable respecting the danger ofdependence on foreign countries for a portion of our food, for inno other view will the question bear an argument, ought to bebrought forward to induce us to restrict importation, and therebyforcibly to detain capital in an employment which it wouldotherwise leave for one much more advantageous.
If the legislature were at once to adopt a decisive policywith regard to the trade in corn -- if it were to allow apermanently free trade, and did not with every variation ofprice, alternately restrict and encourage importation, we shouldundoubtedly be a regularly importing country. We should be so inconsequence of the superiority of our wealth and population,compared to the fertility of our soil over our neighbours. It isonly when a country is comparatively wealthy, when all itsfertile land is in a state of high cultivation, and that it isobliged to have recourse to its inferior lands to obtain the foodnecessary for its population; or when it is originally withoutthe advantages of a fertile soil, that it can become profitableto import corn.(16*) It is, then, the dangers of dependence on foreign supply forany considerable quantity of our food, which can alone be opposedto the many advantages which, circumstanced as we are, wouldattend the importation of corn. These dangers do not admit ofbeing very correctly estimated, they are in some degree, mattersof opinion and cannot like the advantages on the other side, bereduced to accurate calculation. They are generally stated to betwo -- 1st, that in the case of war a combination of the continental powers, or the influence of our principal enemy,might deprive us of our accustomed supply -- 2dly, that when badseasons occurred abroad, the exporting countries would have, andwould exercise, the power of withholding the quantity usuallyexported to make up for their own deficient supply.(17*) If we became a regularly importing country, and foreignerscould confidently rely on the demand of our market, much moreland would be cultivated in the corn counties with a view toexportation. When we consider the value of even a few weeksconsumption of corn in England, no interruption could be given tothe export trade, if the continent supplied us with anyconsiderable quantity of corn, without the most extensivelyruinous commercial distress -- distress which no sovereign, orcombination of sovereigns, would be willing to inflict on theirpeople; and, if willing, it would be a measure to which probablyno people would submit. It was the endeavour of Buonaparte toprevent the exportation of the raw produce of Russia, more than[any] other cause which produced the astonishing efforts of thepeople of that county against the most powerful force perhapsever assembled to subjugate a nation.
The immense capital which would be employed on the land,could not be withdrawn suddenly, and under such circumstances,without immense loss; besides which, the glut of corn in theirmarkets, which would affect their whole supply, and lower itsvalue beyond calculation; the failure of those returns, which areessential in all commercial adventures, would occasion a scene ofwide spreading ruin, which if a country would patiently endure,would render it unfit to wage war with any prospect of success.
We have all witnessed the distress in this country, and we haveal heard of the still greater distress in Ireland, from a fallin the price of corn, at a time too when it is acknowledged thatour own crop has been deficient; when importation has beenregulated by price, and when we have not experienced any of theeffects of a glut. Of what nature would that distress have beenif the price of corn had fallen to a half a quarter, or an eighthpart of the present price. For the effects of plenty or scarcity,in the price of corn, are incalculably greater than in proportionto the increase or deficiency of quantity. These then, are theinconveniencies which the exporting countries would have toendure.
Ours would not be light. A great diminution in our usualsupply, amounting probably to one-eighth of our wholeconsumption, it must be confessed, would be an evil ofconsiderable magnitude; but we have obtained a supply equal tothis, even when the growth of foreign countries was not regulatedby the constant demand of our market. We all know the prodigiouseffects of a high price in procuring a supply. It cannot, I thinkbe doubted, that we should obtain a considerable quantity fromthose counties with which we were not at war; which, with themost economical use of our own produce, and the quantity instore,(18*) would enable us to subsist till we had bestowed thenecessary capital and labour on our own land, with a view tofuture production. That this would be a most afflicting change, Icertainly allow; but I am fully persuaded that we should not bedriven to such an alternative, and that notwithstanding the war,we should be freely supplied with the corn, expressly grown inforeign counties for our consumption. Buonaparte, when he wasmost hostile to us, permitted the exportation of corn to Englandby licences, when our prices were high from a bad harvest, evenwhen all other commerce was prohibited. Such a state of thingscould not come upon us suddenly; a danger of this nature would be partly foreseen, and due precautions would be taken. Would it bewise then to legislate with the view of preventing an evil whichmight never occur; and to ward off a most improbable danger,sacrifice annually a revenue of some millions? In contemplating a trade in corn, unshackled by restrictionson importation, and a consequent supply from France, and othercountries, where it can be brought to market, at a price not muchabove half that at which we can ourselves produce it on some ofour poorer lands, Mr Malthus does not sufficiently allow for thegreater quantity of corn, which would be grown abroad, ifimportation was to become the settled policy of this country.
There cannot be the least doubt that if the corn countries coulddepend on the markets of England for a regular demand, if theycould be perfectly secure that our laws, respecting the corntrade, would not be repeatedly vacillating between bounties,restrictions, and prohibitions, a much larger supply would begrown, and the danger of a greatly diminished exportation, inconsequence of bad seasons, would be less likely to occur.
Countries which have never yet supplied us, might, if our policywas fixed, afford us a considerable quantity.
It is at such times that it would be particularly theinterest of foreign countries to supply our wants, as theexchangeable value of corn does not rise in proportion only tothe deficiency of supply, but two, three, four, times as much,according to the amount of the deficiency.
If the consumption of England is ten million quarters, which,in an average year, would sell for forty millions of money; and,if the supply should be deficient one fourth, the seven millionfive hundred thousand quarters would not sell for forty millionsonly, but probably for fifty millions, or more. Under thecircumstances then of bad seasons, the exporting country wouldcontent itself with the smallest possible quantity necessary fortheir own consumption, and would take advantage of the high pricein England, to sell all they could spare, as not only would cornbe high, as compared with money, but as compared with all otherthings; and if the growers of corn adopted any other rule, theywould be in a worse situation, as far as regarded wealth, than ifthey had constantly limited the growth of corn to the wants oftheir own people.
If one hundred millions of capital were employed on the land,to obtain the quantity necessary to their own subsistence, andtwenty millions more, that they might export the produce, theywould lose the whole return of the twenty millions in the scarceyear, which they would not have done had they not been anexporting country.
At whatever price exportation might be restricted, by foreigncountries, the chance of corn rising to that price would bediminished by the greater quantity produced in consequence of ourdemand.
With respect to the supply of corn, it has been remarked, inreference to a single country, that if the crops are bad in onedistrict, they are generally productive in another; that if theweather is injurious to one soil, or to one situation, it isbeneficial to a different soil and different situation; and, bythis compensating power, Providence has bountifully secured usfrom the frequent recurrence of dearths. If this remark be just,as applied to one country, how much more strongly may it beapplied to all the countries together which compose our world?Will not the deficiency of one country be made up by the plentyof another? and, after the experience which we have had of thepower of high prices to procure a supply, can we have any just reason to fear that we shall be exposed to any particular dangerfrom depending on importation, for so much corn as may benecessary for a few weeks of our consumption.
From all that I can learn, the price of corn in Holland,which country depends almost wholly on foreign supply, has beenremarkably steady, even during the convulsed times which Europehas lately experienced -- a convincing proof, notwithstanding thesmallness of the country, that the effects of bad seasons are notexclusively borne by importing countries.
That great improvements have been made in agriculture, andthat much capital has been expended on the land, it is notattempted to deny; but, with all those improvements, we have notovercome the natural impediments resulting from our increasingwealth and prosperity, which obliges us to cultivate at adisadvantage our poor lands, if the importation of corn isrestricted or prohibited. If we were left to ourselves,unfettered by legislative enactments, we should graduallywithdraw our capital from the cultivation of such lands, andimport the produce which is at present raised upon them. Thecapital withdrawn would be employed in the manufacture of suchcommodities as would be exported in return for the corn.(19*)Such a distribution of part of the capital of the country, wouldbe more advantageous, or it would not be adopted. This principleis one of the best established in the science of politicaleconomy, and by no one is more readily admitted than by MrMalthus. It is the foundation of all his arguments, in hiscomparison of the advantages and disadvantages attending anunrestricted trade in corn, in his "Observations on the CornLaws." In his last publication, however, in one part of it, hedwells with much stress on the losses of agricultural capital,which the country would sustain, by allowing an unrestrictedimportation. He laments the loss of that which by the course ofevents has become of no use to us, and by the employment of whichwe actually lose. We might just as fairly have been told, whenthe steam-engine, or Mr Arkwright's cotton-machine, was broughtto perfection, that it would be wrong to adopt the use of them,because the value of the old clumsy machinery would be lost tous. That the farmers of the poorer lands would be losers, therecan be no doubt, but the public would gain many times the amountof their losses; and, after the exchange of capital from land tomanufactures had been effected, the farmers themselves, as wellas every other class of the community, except the landholders,would very considerably increase their profits.
It might, however, be desirable, that the farmers, duringtheir current leases, should be protected against the losseswhich they would undoubtedly suffer from the new value of money,which would result from a cheap price of corn, under theirexisting money engagements with their landlords.
Although the nation would sacrifice much more than thefarmers would save even by a temporary high price of corn, itmight be just to lay restrictive duties on importation for threeor four years, and to declare that, after that period, the tradein corn should be free, and that imported corn should be subjectto no other duty than such as we might find it expedient toimpose on corn of our own growth.(20*) Mr Malthus is, no doubt, correct, when he says, "If merelythe best modes of cultivation now in use, in some parts of GreatBritain, were generally extended, and the whole country wasbrought to a level, in proportion to its natural advantages ofsoil and situation, by the further accumulation and more equable distribution of capital and skill, the quantity of additionalproduce would be immense, and would afford the means ofsubsistence to a very great increase of population.["] (21*) This rejection is true, and is highly pleasing -- it shewsthat we are yet at a great distance from the end of ourresources, and that we may contemplate an increase of prosperityand wealth, far exceeding that of any country which has precededus. This may take place under either system, that of importationor restriction, though not with an equally accelerated pace, andis no argument why we should not, at every period of ourimprovement, avail ourselves of the full extent of the advantagesoffered to our acceptance -- it is no reason why we should notmake the very best disposition of our capital, so as to ensurethe most abundant return. The land has, as I before said, beencompared by Mr Malthus to a great number of machines, allsusceptible of continued improvement by the application ofcapital to them, but yet of very different original qualities andpowers. Would it be wise at a great expense to use some of theworst of these machines, when at a less expense we could hire thevery best from our neighbours.
Mr Malthus thinks that a low money price of corn would not befavourable to the lower classes of society, because the realexchangeable value of labour; that is, its power of commandingthe necessaries, conveniences, and luxuries of life, would not beaugmented, but diminished by a low money price. Some of hisobservations on this subject are certainly of great weight, buthe does not sufficiently allow for the effects of a betterdistribution of the national capital on the situation of thelower classes. It would be beneficial to them, because the samecapital would employ more hands; besides, that the greaterprofits would lead to further accumulation; and thus would astimulus be given to population by really high wages, which couldnot fail for a long time to ameliorate the condition of thelabouring classes.
The effects on the interests of this class, would be nearlythe same as the effects of improved machinery, which it is now nolonger questioned, has a decided tendency to raise the real wagesof labour.
Mr Malthus also observes, "that of the commercial andmanufacturing classes, only those who are directly engaged inforeign trade will feel the benefit of the importing system." If the view which has been taken of rent be correct, -- if itrise as general profits fall, and falls as general profits rise,-- and if the effect of importing corn is to lower rent, whichhas been admitted, and ably exemplified by Mr Malthus himself, --al who are concerned in trade, -- all capitalists whatever,whether they be farmers, manufacturers, or merchants, will have agreat augmentation of profits. A fall in the price of corn, inconsequence of improvements in agriculture or of importation,will lower the exchangeable value of corn, only -- the price ofno other commodity will be affected. If, then, the price oflabour falls, which it must do when the price of corn is lowered,the real profits of all descriptions must rise; and no personwill be so materially benefited as the manufacturing andcommercial part of society.
If the demand for home commodities should be diminished,because of the fall of rent on the part of the landlords, it willbe increased in a far greater degree by the increased opulence ofthe commercial classes.
If restrictions on the importation of corn should take place,I do not apprehend, that we shall lose any part of our foreign trade; on this point, I agree with Mr Malthus. In the case of afree trade in corn, it would be considerably augmented; but thequestion is not, whether we can retain the same foreign trade --but, whether, in both cases, it will be equally profitable.
Our commodities would not sell abroad for more or for less inconsequence of a free trade, and a cheap price of corn; but thecost of production to our manufacturers would be very differentif the price of corn was eighty, or was sixty shillings perquarter; and consequently profits would be augmented by all thecost saved in the production of the exported commodities.
Mr Malthus notices an observation, which was first made byHume, that a rise of prices, has a magic effect on industry: hestates the effects of a fall to be proportionallydepressing.(22*) A rise of prices has been stated to be one ofthe advantages, to counterbalance the many evils attendant on adepreciation of money, from a real fall in the value of theprecious metals, from rising the denomination of the coin, orfrom the overissue of paper money.
It is said to be beneficial, because it betters the situationof the commercial classes at the expense of those enjoying fixedincomes; -- and that it is chiefly in those classes, that thegreat accumulations are made, and productive industry encouraged.
A recurrence to a better monetary system, it is said, thoughhighly desirable, tends to give a temporary discouragement toaccumulation and industry, by depressing the commercial part ofthe community, and is the effect of a fall of prices: Mr Malthussupposes that such an effect will be produced by the fall of theprice of corn. If the observation made by Hume were well founded,still it would not apply to the present instance: -- for everything that the manufacturer would have to sell, would be as dearas ever: it is only what he would buy that would be cheap,namely, corn and labour by which his gains would be increased. Imust again observe, that a rise in the value of money lowers allthings; whereas a fall in the price of corn, only lowers thewages of labour, and therefore raises profits.
If then the prosperity of the commercial classes, will mostcertainly lead to accumulation of capital, and the encouragementof productive industry; these can by no means be so surelyobtained as by a fall in the price of corn.
I cannot agree with Mr Malthus in his approbation of theopinion of Adam Smith, "that no equal quantity of productivelabour employed in manufactures, can ever occasion so great are-production as in agriculture." I suppose that he must haveoverlooked the term ever in this passage, otherwise the opinionis more consistent with the doctrine of the Economists, than withthose which he has maintained; as he has stated, and I thinkcorrectly, that in the first settling of a new country, and inevery stage of its improvement, there is a portion of its capitalemployed on the land, for the profits of stock merely, and whichyields no rent whatever. Productive labour employed on such landnever does in fact afford so great a reproduction, as the sameproductive labour employed in manufactures.
The difference is not indeed great, and is voluntarilyrelinquished, on account of the security and respectability whichattends the employment of capital on land. In the infancy ofsociety, when no rent is paid, is not the re-production of valuein the coarse manufactures, and in the implements of husbandrywith a given capital, at least as great as the value which thesame capital would afford if employed on the land? This opinion indeed is at variance with all the generaldoctrines of Mr Malthus, which he has so ably maintained in this as well as in all his other publications. In the "Inquiry,"speaking of what I consider a similar opinion of Adam Smith, heobserves, "I cannot, however, agree with him in thinking that allland which yields food must necessarily yield rent. The landwhich is successively taken into cultivation in improvingcountries, may only pay profits and labour. A fair profit on thestock employed, including, of course, the payment of labour, willalways be a sufficient inducement to cultivate." The same motiveswill also induce some to manufacture goods, and the profits ofboth in the same stages of society will be nearly the same.
In the course of these observations, I have often hadoccasion to insist, that rent never falls without the profits ofstock rising. If it suit us to day to import corn rather thangrow it, we are solely influenced by the cheaper price. If weimport the portion of capital last employed on the land, andwhich yielded no rent, will be withdrawn; rent will fall andprofits rise, and another portion of capital employed on the landwill come under the same description of only yielding the usualprofits of stock.
If corn can be imported cheaper than it can be grown on thisrather better land, rent will again fall and profits rise, andanother and better description of land will now be cultivated forprofits only. In every step of our progress, profits of stockincrease and rents fall, and more land is abandoned: besideswhich, the country saves all the difference between the price atwhich corn can be grown, and the price at which it can beimported, on the quantity we receive from abroad.
Mr Malthus has considered, with the greatest ability, theeffect of a cheap price of corn on those who contribute to theinterest of our enormous debt. I most fully concur in many of hisconclusions on this part of the subject. The wealth of Englandwould, I am persuaded, be considerably augmented by a greatreduction in the price of corn, but the whole money value of thatwealth would be diminished. It would be diminished by the wholedifference of the money value of the corn consumed, -- it wouldbe augmented by the increased exchangeable value of all thosecommodities which would be exported in exchange for the cornimported. The latter would, however, be very unequal to theformer; therefore the money value of the commodities of Englandwould, undoubtedly, be considerably lowered.
But, though it is true, that the money value of the mass ofour commodities would be diminished, it by no means follows, thatour annual revenue would fall in the same degree. The advocatesfor importation ground their opinion of the advantages of it onthe conviction that the revenue would not so fall. And, as it isfrom our revenue that taxes are paid, the burthen might not bereally augmented.
Suppose the revenue of a country to fall from ten to ninemil ions, whilst the value of money altered in the proportion often to eight, such country would have a larger neat revenue,after paying a million from the smaller, than it would have afterpaying it from the larger sum.
That the stockholder would receive more in real value thanwhat he contracted for, in the loans of the late years, is alsotrue; but, as the stockholders themselves contribute very largelyto the public burthens, and therefore to the payment of theinterest which they receive, no inconsiderable proportion of thetaxes would fall on them; and, if we estimate at its true valuethe additional profits made by the commercial class, they wouldstill be great gainers, notwithstanding their really augmentedcontributions.
The landlord would be the only sufferer by paying reallymore, not only without any adequate compensation, but withlowered rents.
It may indeed be urged, on the part of the stockholder, andthose who live on fixed incomes, that they have been by far thegreatest sufferers by the war. The value of their revenue hasbeen diminished by the rise in the price of corn, and by thedepreciation in the value of paper money, whilst, at the sametime, the value of their capital has been very much diminishedfrom the lover price of the funds. They have suffered too fromthe inroads lately made on the sinking fund, and which, it issupposed, will be still further extended, -- a measure of thegreatest injustice, -- in direct violation of solemn contracts;for the sinking fund is as much a part of the contract as thedividend, and, as a source of revenue, utterly at variance withal sound principles. It is to the growth of that fund that weought to look for the means of caring on future wars, unless weare prepared to relinquish the funding system altogether. Tomeddle with the sinking fund, is to obtain a little temporary aidat the sacrifice of a great future advantage. It is reversing thewhole system of Mr Pitt, in the creation of that fund: heproceeded on the conviction, that, for a small present burthen,an immense future advantage would be obtained; and, afterwitnessing, as we have done, the benefits which have alreadyresulted from his inflexible determination to leave that funduntouched, even when he was pressed by the greatest financialdistress, when three per cents were so low as forty-eight, wecannot, I think, hesitate in pronouncing, that he would not havecountenanced, had he still lived, the measures which have beenadopted.
To recur, however, to the subject before me, I shall onlyfurther observe, that I shall greatly regret that considerationsfor any particular class, are allowed to check the progress ofthe wealth and population of the country. If the interests of thelandlord be of sufficient consequence, to determine us not toavail ourselves of all the benefits which would follow fromimporting corn at a cheap price, they should also influence us inrejecting all improvements in agriculture, and in the implementsof husbandry; for it is as certain that corn is rendered cheap,rents are lowered, and the ability of the landlord to pay taxes,is for a time, at least, as much impaired by such improvements,as by the importation of corn. To be consistent then, let us bythe same act arrest improvement, and prohibit importation.
1. Mr Malthus considers that the surplus of produce obtained inconsequence of diminished wages, or of improvements inagriculture, to be one of the causes to raise rents. To me itappears that it will only augment profits.
"The accumulation of capital, beyond the means of employingit on land of the greatest natural fertility, and the greatestadvantage of situation, must necessarily lower profits; while thetendency of population to increase beyond the means ofsubsistence must, after a certain time, lower the wages oflabour.
"The expense of production will thus be diminished, but thevalue of the produce, that is, the quantity of labour, and of theother products of labour besides corn, which it can commandinstead of diminishing, will be increased.
"There will be an increasing number of people demandingsubsistence, and ready to offer their services in any way inwhich they can be useful. The exchangeable value of food willtherefore be in excess above the cost of production, including inthis cost the full profits of the stock employed upon the land,according to the actual rate of profits, at the time being. Andthis excess is rent." -- An Inquiry into the Nature and Progressof Rent, page 18.
2. It is not meant, that strictly the rate of profits onagriculture and manufactures will be the same, but that they willbear some proportion to each other. Adam Smith has explained whyprofits are somewhat less on some employments of capital than onothers, according to their security, cleanliness, andrespectibility, &c. &c.
What the proportion may be, is of no importance to myargument, as I am only desirous of proving that the profits onagricultural capital cannot materially vary, without occasioninga similar variation in the profits on capital, employed onmanufactures and commerece.
3. Profits of stock fall because land equally fertile cannot beobtained, and through the whole progress of society, profits areregulated by the difficulty or facility of procuring food. Thisis a principle of great importance, and has been almostoverlooked in the writing of Political Economists. They appear tothink that profits of stock can be raised by commercial causes,independently of the supply of food.
4. In all that I have said concerning the origin and progress ofrent, I have briefly repeated, and endeavoured to elucidate theprinciples which Mr Malthus has so ably laid down, on the samesubject, in his "Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent;" awork abounding in original ideas, -- which are useful not only asthey regard rent, but as connected with the question of taxation;perhaps, the most difficult and intricate of all the subjects onwhich Political Economy treats.
5. It is scarcely necessary to observe that the data on whichthis table is constructed are assumed, and are probably very farfrom the truth. They are fixed on as tending to illustrate theprinciple, -- which would be the same, whether the first profitswere fifty per cent or five, -- or, whether an additional capitalof ten quarters, or of one hundred, were required to obtain thesame produce from the cultivation of new land. In proportion asthe capital employed on the land, consisted more of fixedcapital, and less of circulating captial, would rent advance, andproperty {profits?} fall less rapidly.
6. This would be the effect of a constantly accumulating capital,in a country which refused to import foreign and cheaper corn.
But after profits have very much fallen, accumulation will bechecked, and capital will be exported to be employed in thosecountries where food is cheap and profits high. All Europeancolonies have been established with the capital of the mothercountries, and have thereby checked accumulation. That part ofthe population too, which is employed in the foreign carryingtrade, is fed with foreign corn. It cannot be doubted, that lowprofits, which are the inevitable effects of a really high priceof corn,tend to draw capital abroad; this consideration oughttherefore to be a powerful reason to prevent us from restricting 7. By rent I always mean the remuneration given to the landlordfor the use of the original power of the land. If either thelandlord expends capital on his own land, or the capital of apreceding tenant is left upon it at the expiration of his lease,he may obtain what is indeed called a larger rent, but a portionof this is evidently paid for the use of capital. The otherportion only is paid for the use of the orginal power of theland.
8. Excepting, as has been before observed, the real wages oflabour should rise, or a worse system of agriculture bepractised.
9. The low price of corn, caused by improvements in agriculture,would give a stimulus to population, by increasing profits andencouraging accumulation, which would again raise the price ofcorn and lower profits. But a larger population could bemaintained at the same price of corn, the same profits, and thesame rents. Improvements in agriculture may then be said toincrease profits, and to lower for a time rents.
10. The causes, which render the acquisition of an additionalquantity of corn more difficult are, in progressive countries, inconstant operation, whilst marked improvements in agriculture, orin the implements of husbandry are of less frequent occurrence.
If these opposite causes acted with equal effect, corn would besubject only to accidental variation of price, arising from badseasons, from greater or less real wages of labour, or from analteration in the value of the precious metals, proceeding fromtheir abundance or scarcity.
11. Through the price of all commodities is ultimately regulatedby, and is always tending to, the cost of their production,including the general profits of stock, they are all subject, andperhaps corn more than most others, to an accidental price,proceeding from temporary causes.
12. It has been thought that the price of corn regulates theprices of all other things. This appears to me to be a mistake.
If the price of corn is affected by the rise or fall of the valueof the precious metals themselves, then indeed will the price ofcommodities be also affected, but they vary, because the value ofmoney varies, not because the value of corn is altered.
Commodities, I think, cannot materially rise or fall, whilstmoney and commodities continue in the same proportions, or ratherwhilst the cost of production of both estimated in corn continuesthe same. In the case of taxation, a part of the price is paidfor the liberty of using the commodity, and does not constituteits real price.
13. Mr Malthus has supplied me with a happy illustration -- hehas correctly compared "soil to a great number of machines, allsusceptible of continued improvement by the application ofcapital to them, buy yet of very different original qualities andpowers." How, I would ask, can profits rise whilst we are obligedto make use of that machine which has the worst originalqualities and powers? We cannot abandon the use of it; for it isthe condition on which we obtain the food necessary for ourpopulation, and the demand for food is by the supposition not diminished -- but who would consent to use it if he could makegreater profits elsewhere? 14. Excepting when the extension of commerce enables us to obtainfood at really cheaper prices.
15. If by foreign commerce,or the discovery of machinery, thecommodities consumed by the labourer should become much cheaper,wages would fall; and this, as we have before observed, wouldraise the profits of the farmer, and therefore, all otherprofits.
16. This principle is most ably stated by Mr Malthus in page 42of "An Inquiry," &c.
17. It is this latter opinion which is chiefly insisted upon byMr Malthus in his late publication, "The grounds of An Opinion,"&c.
18. As London is to be a depot for foreign corn, this store mightbe very great.
19. If it be true, as Mr Malthus observes, that in Ireland thereare no manufactures in which capital could be profitablyemployed, capital would not be withdrawn from the land, and thenthere would be no loss of agricultural capital. Ireland would, insuch case, have the same surplus corn produce, although it wouldbe of less exchangeable value. Her revenue might be diminished;but if she would not, or could not manufacture goods, and wouldnot cultivate the ground, she would have no revenue at all.
20. I by no means agree with Adam Smith, or with Mr Malthus,respecting the effects of taxation on the necessaries of life.
The former can find no term too severe by which to characterizethem. Mr Malthus is more lenient. They both think that suchtaxes, incalculably more than any other, tend to diminish capitaland production. I do not say that they are the best of taxes, butthey do not, I think, subject us to any of the disadvantages ofwhich Adam Smith speaks in foreign trade: nor do they produceeffects very different from other taxes. Adam Smith thought thatsuch taxes fell exclusively on the landholder; Mr Malthus thinksthey are divided between the landholder and consumer. It appearsto me that they are paid wholly by the consumer.

Source: http://www.abrasd.com.br/biblioteca/economia/An%20Essay%20on%20Profits%20-%20David%20Ricardo.pdf

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