« AnteriorContinuar »
In fome very rich and commercial countries, fuch as Holland and the territory of Genoa, corn is dear for the fame reason that it is dear in great towns. They do not produce enough to maintain their inhabitants. They are rich in the induftry and skill of their artificers and manufacturers; in every fort of machinery which can facilitate and abridge labour; in fhipping, and in all the other inftruments and means of carriage and commerce: but they are poor in corn, which, as it must be brought to them from dif tant countries, muft, by an addition to its price, pay for the carriage from thofe countries. It does not coft lefs labour to bring filver to Amfterdam than to Dantzick; but it cofts a great deal more to bring corn. The real coft of filver must be nearly the fame in both places; but that of corn must be very different. different. Diminish the real opulence either of Holland or of the territory of Genoa, while the number of their inhabitants remains the fame: diminish their power of fupplying themfelves from diftant coun tries; and the price of corn, inftead of finking with that diminution in the quantity of their filver, which muft neceffarily accompany this declenfion either as its caufe or as its effect, will rife to the price of a famine. When we are in want of neceffaries we muft part with all superfluities, of which the value, as it rises in times of opulence and profperity, fo it finks in times of poverty and diftrefs. It is otherwife with neceffaries. Their real price, the quantity of labour which they can purchafe or command, rifes in
times of poverty and diftrefs, and finks in times CHA P. of opulence and profperity, which are always times of great abundance; for they could not otherwife be times of opulence and profperity. Corn is a neceffary, filver is only a fuperfluity.
Whatever, therefore, may have been the increafe in the quantity of the precious metals, which, during the period between the middle of the fourteenth and that of the fixteenth century, arofe from the increase of wealth and improvement, it could have no tendency to diminish their value either in Great Britain, or in any other part of Europe. If thofe who have collected the prices of things in ancient times, therefore, had, during this period, no reason to infer the diminution of the value of filver, from any obfervations which they had made upon the prices either of corn or of other commodities, they had still lefs reafon to infer it from any fuppofed increase of wealth and improvement.
BUT how various foever may have been the opinions of the learned concerning the progrefs. of the value of filver during this firft period, they are unanimous concerning it during the fecond.
From about 1570 to about 1640, during a period of about feventy years, the variation in the proportion between the value of filver and that of corn, held a quite oppofite courfe. Sil
BOOK ver funk in its real value, or would exchange for a fmaller quantity of labour than before; and corn rofe in its nominal price, and instead of being commonly fold for about two ounces of filver the quarter, or about ten fhillings of our prefent money, came to be fold for fix and eight ounces of filver the quarter, or about thirty and forty fhillings of our prefent money.
The discovery of the abundant mines of America, feems to have been the fole caufe of this diminution in the value of filver in proportion to that of corn. It is accounted for accordingly in the fame manner by every body; and there never has been any dispute either about the fact, or about the cause of it. The greater part of Europe was, during this period, advancing in industry and improvement, and the demand for filver must consequently have been increasing. But the increase of the fupply had, it feems, fo far exceeded that of the demand, that the value of that metal funk confiderably. The difcovery of the mines of America, it is to be obferved, does not seem to have had any very fenfible effect upon the prices of things in England till after 1570; though even the mines of Potofi had been difcovered more than twenty years before.
From 1595 to 1620, both inclufive, the average price of the quarter of nine bushels of the best wheat at Windfor market, appears from the accounts of Eton College, to have been 2l. 18. 6 d. From which fum, neglecting the fraction, and deducting a ninth, or 4s. 74d.
the price of the quarter of eight bufhels comes c HAP. out to have been 17. 16s. 10d. And from this fum, neglecting likewife the fraction, and deducting a ninth, or 4s. 1d., for the difference between the price of the best wheat and that of the middle wheat, the price of the middle wheat comes out to have been about 1l. 125. 8d., or about fix ounces and one-third of an ounce of filver.
From 1621 to 1636, both inclufive, the average price of the fame measure of the beft wheat at the fame market, appears, from the fame accounts, to have been 27. 10s.; from which, making the like deductions as in the foregoing cafe, the average price of the quarter of eight bufhels of middle wheat comes out to have been 1l. 19s. 6d., or about feven ounces and twothirds of an ounce of filver.
BETWEEN 1630 and 1640, or about 1636, the effect of the difcovery of the mines of America in reducing the value of filver, appears to have been completed, and the value of that metal feems never to have funk lower in propor tion to that of corn than it was about that time. It feems to have rifen fomewhat in the course of the prefent century, and it had probably begun to do fo even fome time before the end of the laft.
From 1637 to 1700, both inclufive, being the fixty-four laft years of the last century, the ave
BOOK rage price of the quarter of nine bushels of the I. best wheat at Windfor market, appears, from the
fame accounts, to have been 2l. 118. od.; which is only is. old. dearer than it had been during the fixteen years before. But in the course of these fixty-four years there happened two events which muft have produced a much greater fcarcity of corn than what the courfe of the feafons would otherwife have occafioned, and which, therefore, without fuppofing any further reduction in the value of filver, will much more than account for this very fmall enhancement of price.
The first of thefe events was the civil war, which, by difcouraging tillage and interrupting commerce, must have raised the price of corn much above what the courfe of the feafons would otherwife have occafioned. It must have had this effect more or lefs at all the different markets in the kingdom, but particularly at thofe in the neighbourhood of London, which require to be fupplied from the greatest distance. In 1648, accordingly, the price of the beft wheat at Windfor market, appears, from the fame accounts, to have been 47. 5s. and in 1649 to have been 47. the quarter of nine bufhels. The excefs of thofe two years above 27. 108. (the average price of the fixteen years preceding 1637) is 31. 58.; which divided among the fixty-four laft years of the last century, will alone very nearly account for that fmall enhancement of price which feems to have taken place in them. Thefe, however, though the higheft, are by no