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tendency to fall; and that consequently, the condition of the lower classes may be expected to become gradually more and more wretched, until their wages are reduced to the smallest pittance that will suffice for their support. It is indispensable that principles, pregnant with such important results, should be carefully investigated.
Comparative Increase of Capital and Population-EpidemicsEmigration.
Ir is not possible to obtain any accurate estimates of the quantities of capital in countries at different periods; but the capacity of that capital to feed and employ labourers, and the rate of its increase, may, notwithstanding, be learned with sufficient accuracy for our purpose, by referring to the progress of population, and the habits of the bulk of the people. The statements already made show that the inhabitants of a country, supposing them to have the same, or about the same, continuous command over necessaries and conveniences, cannot increase without a corresponding increase of capital. Whenever, therefore, we find the people of a country increasing, without any, or with but little variation taking place in their condition, we may conclude that its capital is increasing in the same, or nearly the same, proportion. Now, it has been established beyond all question, that the population of some of the States of North America, after making due allowance for immigrants, has continued to double, for a century past, in so short a period as twenty or at most five and twenty years. And as the command over necessaries and conveniences exercised by the inhabitants of the United States, has not certainly been diminished during the last century, the increase of population shows that their capital has ad
vanced in a corresponding ratio. But in old-settled countries, the increase of capital, and consequently of population, is much slower. The population of Scotland, for example, is supposed to have amounted to 1,265,000 in 1755; and as it amounted to 2,870,784 in 1851, it would follow, on the principle already stated, that the capital of the country had required nearly 76 years to double.1 In like manner, the population of England and Wales amounted to 6,039,000 in 1750, and to 17,905,831 in 1851, showing that the population, and therefore the capital, of the country, applicable to the support of man, or the supply of food, clothes, and other articles necessary for his subsistence, had about trebled in a century.
The cause of this discrepancy in the rates at which capital and population increase in different countries, is to be found in the circumstance of industry being more productive in some than in others. Capital consists of the accumulated products of industry; and wherever, therefore, industry is most productive, there also, it may be presumed, will be the greatest power to increase capital. This presumption may no doubt be, and frequently is, defeated by the greater weight of the public burdens in the more productive country, by defective institutions, a feeling of insecurity, or some such modifying principle. But where these do not occur, or where their influence is not sufficient to countervail the superior productiveness of industry, the means of accumulation will be comparatively extensive. It is obvious, too, that the increase of that portion of capital which consists of the food and other raw products required for the subsistence and accommodation of society, will especially depend on the productiveness of the soils which are under tillage. Were agriculture equally advanced in any two countries, and the soils under cultivation twice as fertile in one of them as in the other, it is evident that the power of adding to its stock of food and other raw materials would also be twice as great in the more fertile country as in the less fertile.
1 It has more than doubled; for the condition of all classes has been greatly improved.
It is on this principle partly, but more on the facility of getting land, that we are able to account for the rapid increase of capital and population in the United States, and generally in all colonies planted in fertile and thinlypeopled countries. America possesses a vast extent of fertile and unoccupied territory, which is sold in convenient portions at very low prices. It is not good land, but labour, that is there the desideratum; and the larger a man's family, that is, the greater the amount of labour at his command, the more prosperous does he become. Hence, in America, while farming is low, profits are high. But in Great Britain, and other long-settled and densely peopled countries, the state of society is widely different. Here farming is high and profits low. All our land has been appropriated for ages; large sums have been expended upon its improvement; and it cannot be obtained except at a high price. Additional supplies of food are in consequence raised with much greater difficulty in old than in newly settled countries. And, cæteris paribus, their advance in wealth and population is comparatively slow. The rate of wages in such countries may not, all things taken into account, differ very materially. But the situation of the labourers in new countries is, notwithstanding, generally preferable, inasmuch as they afford greater facilities to industrious individuals of acquiring land, and raising themselves to a superior station.
It was stated by various witnesses before a committee of the House of Commons on the state of agriculture, in 1822, that the produce obtained from the best lands under wheat in England and Wales varied from thirty-six to forty bushels an acre; while that obtained from the inferior lands did not exceed eight or ten bushels. But in past times, when the population was scanty, and tillage was confined to the superior lands, agriculture was at a very low ebb; and it may be doubted whether the lands which now yield from forty to fifty bushels an acre did then yield more than ten or twelve bushels. The power to increase supplies of food is not, there1 From forty to fifty bushels an acre would now be nearer the mark.
fore, dependent alone on the quality of the soils in cultivation, but partly on that and partly also on the state of agriculture. In Britain, improvements in the latter have more than countervailed for a lengthened period the decreasing fertility of the soils to which we have had to resort for additional supplies of food. This has been most strikingly verified, as every one knows, in the interval that has elapsed since the conclusion of the American, and more especially of the late French, war. We now raise much larger supplies of corn, beef, &c., than we did at the last mentioned period, notwithstanding prices have fallen heavily in the interval.
In England and the United States, the inhabitants of which speak the same language, and have a very extensive intercourse with each other, the arts and sciences may be expected to approach near to an equality. And therefore, if the poorest lands in cultivation in America, were twice as fertile as the poorest lands in cultivation in England, it might be supposed that agricultural industry in the former would be about twice as productive as in the latter, and that the power which each country possesses of furnishing supplies of food, and other farm produce, would be in about that proportion.
It is found, however, that theoretical conclusions of this sort are much modified in practice. Agricultural science may be equal, or nearly equal, in two countries, and yet their agriculture may be widely different. Scientific knowledge, which is generally confined to a few, and the application of that knowledge by the parties engaged in any great department of industry, are totally different things. The former may be in a very advanced state, while the latter may be in its infancy. And such is the case with agricultural science and practice in the United States. The theory of agriculture is there highly advanced, while, speaking generally, the art is imperfect in the extreme. This is a consequence of the facility enjoyed by the Americans of acquiring new land, and of its being more advantageous to cultivate it in the cheapest manner, than to apply improved processes to the old lands. Hence it is that
extensive tracts of the latter, after having been cultivated for a while, have been abandoned; and that, except in a few peculiarly favoured districts, the crops are not nearly so heavy as might have been anticipated. This state of things will, of course, change with the changing circumstances of the country. As it becomes more difficult to obtain supplies of new land, a better and more careful system of tillage will be applied to the old land.
Still, however, there can be no doubt that, partly from the farmers being the owners of the land which they cultivate, partly from their not being obliged to resort to inferior soils, and partly from their exemption from tithes, and the smaller amount of their burdens, industry is decidedly more productive in countries like the United States, and generally in those that are newly settled, than in those that have been long occupied by a comparatively dense population. But in America, as elsewhere, the best lands will, in the long run, be exhausted; and wherever this is the case, increased supplies of food can only be had by resorting to such as are less fertile. This decreasing fertility of the soil may, as we have just seen, be countervailed, or more than countervailed, by improvements in agriculture and the arts. But whether this be so or not, were population as dense, and tillage as far extended over secondary lands, in the United States as in England, the probability is, that industry would be no better rewarded there than here, and that the progress of both countries in wealth and population would not be very different.
The free importation of corn and other articles of food has, however, a considerable influence over these results. It is true that prices in a country which habitually imports a portion of her supplies, must be higher than in the countries from which she imports; and she is thus laid under the same sort of disadvantage, as compared with them, as if she culti vated soils of a less degree of fertility. But with the freedom of the corn trade, this advantage on the one side and disadvantage on the other, is not very material. And while the vast variety of markets to which an importing country like England