« AnteriorContinuar »
BOOK than in a month's industry at an ordinary and obvious employment. But it is not easy to find any accurate measure either of hardship or ingenuity. In exchanging indeed the different productions of different forts of labour for one another, fome allowance is commonly made for both. It is adjusted, however, not by any accurate measure, but by the higgling and bargaining of the market, according to that fort of rough equality which, though not exact, is fufficient for carrying on the business of common life.
Every commodity befides, is more frequently exchanged for, and thereby compared with, other commodities than with labour. It is more natural therefore, to estimate its exchangeable value by the quantity of fome other commodity than by that of the labour which it can purchase. The greater part of people too understand better what is meant by a quantity of a particular commodity, than by a quantity of labour. The one is a plain palpable object; the other an abstract notion, which, though it can be made fufficiently intelligible, is not altogether fo natural and obvious.
But when barter ceafes, and money has become the common inftrument of commerce, every particular commodity is more frequently exchanged for money than for any other commodity. The butcher feldom carries his beef or his mutton to the baker, or the brewer, in order to exchange them for bread or for beer; but he carries them to the market, where he exchanges them for money, and afterwards exchanges that
money for bread and for beer. The quantity CHA P. of money which he gets for them regulates too the quantity of bread and beer which he can afterwards purchase. It is more natural and obvious to him, therefore, to eftimate their value by the quantity of money, the commodity for which he immediately exchanges them, than by that of bread and beer, the commodities for which he can exchange them only by the intervention of another commodity; and rather to say that his butcher's meat is worth threepence or fourpence a pound, than that it is worth three or four pounds of bread, or three or four quarts of fmall beer. Hence it comes to pass, that the exchangeable value of every commodity is more frequently estimated by the quantity of money, than by the quantity either of labour or of any other commodity which can be had in exchange for it.
Gold and filver, however, like every other commodity, vary in their value, are fometimes cheaper and fometimes dearer, fometimes of eafier and fometimes of more difficult purchase. The quantity of labour which any particular quantity of them can purchase or command, or the quantity of other goods which it will exchange for, depends always upon the fertility or barrennefs of the mines which happen to be known about the time when fuch exchanges are made. The discovery of the abundant mines of America reduced, in the fixteenth century, the value of gold and filver in Europe to about a third of what it had been before. As it cofts lefs labour
BOOK to bring thofe metals from the mine to the market, fo when they were brought thither they could purchase or command lefs labour; and this revolution in their value, though perhaps the greateft, is by no means the only one of which history gives fome account. But as a measure of quantity, fuch as the natural foot, fathom, or handful, which is continually varying in its own quantity, can never be an accurate measure of the quantity of other things; fo a commodity which is itself continually varying in its own value, can never be an accurate measure of the value of other commodities. Equal quantities of labour, at all times and places, may be faid to be of equal value to the labourer. In his ordinary ftate of health, ftrength and fpirits; in the ordinary degree of his skill and dexterity, he must always lay down the fame portion of his ease, his liberty, and his happiness. The price which he pays muft always be the fame, whatever may be the quantity of goods which he receives in return for it. Of these indeed it may fometimes purchase a greater and fometimes a finaller quantity; but it is their value which varies, not that of the labour which purchases them. At all times and places that is dear which it is difficult to come at, or which it costs much labour to acquire; and that cheap which is to be had eafily, or with very little labour. Labour alone, therefore, never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real Bandard by which the value of all commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared.
compared. It is their real price; money is their C HA P. nominal price only.
But though equal quantities of labour are always of equal value to the labourer, yet to the perfon who employs him they appear fometimes to be of greater and fometimes of fmaller value. He purchases them fometimes with a greater and fometimes with a fmaller quantity of goods, and to him the price of labour feems to vary like that of all other things. It appears to him dear in the one cafe, and cheap in the other. In reality, however, it is the goods which are cheap in the one cafe, and dear in the other.
In this popular fenfe, therefore, labour, like commodities, may be faid to have a real and a nominal price. Its real price may be faid to confift in the quantity of the neceffaries and conveniences of life which are given for it; its nominal price, in the quantity of money. labourer is rich or poor, is well or ill rewarded, in proportion to the real, not to the nominal price of his labour.
The diftinction between the real and the nominal price of commodities and labour, is not a matter of mere speculation, but may fometimes be of confiderable use in practice. The fame real price is always of the fame value; but on account of the variations in the value of gold and filver, the fame nominal price is fometimes of very different values. When a landed estate, therefore, is fold with a reservation of a perpetual rent, if it is intended that this rent fhould always be of the fame value, it is of importance
BOOK to the family in whofe favour it is referved, that it should not confift in a particular fum of money, Its value would in this cafe be liable to variations of two different kinds; firft, to those which arife from the different quantities of gold and filver which are contained at different times in coin of the fame denomination; and, fecondly, to those which arife from the different values of equal quantities of gold and filver at different times.
Princes and fovereign ftates have frequently fancied that they had a temporary intereft to diminish the quantity of pure metal contained in their coins; but they feldom have fancied that they had any to augment it. The quantity of metal contained in the coins, I believe of all nations, has, accordingly, been almost continually diminishing, and hardly ever augmenting. Such variations therefore tend almost always to diminish the value of a money rent.
The discovery of the mines of America diminished the value of gold and filver in Europe. This diminution, it is commonly fuppofed, though I apprehend without any certain proof, is ftill going on gradually, and is likely to continue to do fo for a long time. Upon this fuppofition, therefore, fuch variations are more likely to diminish, than to augment the value of a money rent, even though it should be ftipulated to be paid, not in fuch a quantity of coined money of fuch a denomination (in fo many pounds fterling, for example), but in fo many ounces either of pure filver, or of filver of a certain fstandard.