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By all who are acquainted with the most recent and most noted works on Political Economy, it will be readily admitted that the science is at present in a very unsettled and unsatisfactory state. There is indeed scarcely a single doctrine-if we except that of commercial freedom, as explained long since by the French economists-upon which there is a perfect and uniform, or even a general agreement, among the numerous sects and schools into which this science is now divided.
Almost all Dr Smith's doctrines have been controverted and rejected separately by one or another, whilst every one still assents and adheres to the greater part of them, and whilst all still continue to bestow on their author the highest eulogiums. For although every different school and sect finds a fault, and picks out a feature to condemn, in the "Wealth of Nations," it so happens that where one finds a deformity, another finds a beauty; so that the greater part of that work is still approved of by the majority, and still it is deemed worthy of the highest commendations.
Such notoriously is the present condition of this science ;* * and it is now at length beginning to be pretty generally felt and acknowledged, that it has been chiefly owing to the admixture and addition of the dogmas and paradoxes of Mr Ricardo and his followers with the plain and luminous doctrines of Dr Smith that the result described has been brought about. Even the Edinburgh Review, which has long lent its sanction and its powerful aid to propagate those dogmas, seems at length inclined to look about upon them with suspicion, and to show palpable symptoms of a disposition to retrace its steps, and to repudiate the misshapen and unsightly brood it has been induced to foster. On the subject of poor-laws it has recanted downright,† and in the last number it says, "There are so many crude and mischievous theories afloat which are dignified with the name of Political Economy, that the science is in no small danger of falling into disrepute with a large portion of the world."§
When I began the following work, although I was chiefly stimulated to undertake it from observing those numerous new, and, as it appeared to me, false theories, which were then first broached, it was my intention not to have
• If indeed that can deserve the name of science in which so many discordant opinions and doctrines are so pertinaciously maintained. + See No 94, article 2.
No 95, p. 170.
§ What crude theory is it that the Edinburgh Review has not borne afloat and propagated, in reference to the subject alluded to, during the last ten years?
noticed or controverted them directly, but simply to have expounded and set forth what appeared to me to be the truth on the subjects to be treated, and so to have undermined and overturned them in the easiest manner. In the progress of my work, however, I found it impossible to adhere to this resolution, or to avoid all contact or collision with the authors and promulgators of those theories; and the reader will therefore find a considerable portion-I believe about one third of the book-of a controversial nature.
In thus departing from the plan I had originally chalked out for my guidance, it was a great satisfaction, and a pleasure to me to find myself encouraged and supported, and my apology on this head anticipated, by a very able writer on Political Economy, whose work was published while I was in the midst of these investigations.
"In the present state of Political Economy," says the writer I allude to, 66 a critical reference to the doctrines of preceding and contemporary economists cannot be avoided, and ought not to be avoided if it could. A mere direct expository treatise would be of far inferior utility. However true a doctrine may be, it is of little service until its relation to other doctrines, and its connexion with knowledge already extant, has been shown. Embarrassed as the science is with difficulties on which opinion is divided, it is of the utmost importance for its further progress, not only to explain and establish correct principles, but to expose the delusion which has formerly misled, to trace the process of error, to mark the particular point where inquiry departed from the right path, or where the unperceived fallacy, which
has vitiated a train of reasoning, first insinuated itself into the argument. The science cannot yet be exhibited as a regular and perfect structure. The rubbish must be removed, the ground cleared, the scaffolding taken down, and all unnecessary and cumbrous appendages must be discarded, before the building can rise upon the eye in that simple beauty in which it is destined hereafter to appear."*
And further, the same author observes in the same place,— "From the defects here imputed to the science, it is evident that in any work, which professes to examine and remove them, the points discussed must be questions as to
* See the preface to " A Critical Dissertation on the Nature, Measures, and Causes of Value," by the author of " Essays on the Formation and Publication of Opinions."
Notwithstanding the very high respect I entertain for this author, it will be seen in the course of the following pages, that I find occasion to differ from him very widely in his main positions in the "Critical Dissertation." It appears to me that the fundamental error in that work, and that from which all the others to be found in it flow, consists in his treating of value as if it were a mere relation of commodities between themselves; whereas it appears to me that the idea of value in commodities cannot even be conceived without being mingled with the idea of their relation to mankind and to human labour, of which some portion must always be employed in producing or procuring them originally.
Lord Lauderdale is quoted as an authority for saying, “ We cannot express value, or a variation of value, without a comparison of two commodities," (see the work referred to, p. 4.) Now this is a mistake, for we can express it by a comparison with labour, which is not a commodity.