Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

AN INQUIRY

INTO

THE NATURE AND CAUSES

OF THE

WEALTH OF NATIONS.

INTRODUCTION AND PLAN OF THE WORK.

THE

NHE annual labour of every nation is the fund? which originally

supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life which it annually consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other nations.

According therefore as this produce, or what is purchased with it, bears a greater or smaller proportion to the number of those who are to consume it, the nation will be better or worse supplied with all the necessaries and conveniences for which it has occasion.

But this proportion must in every nation be regulated by two different circumstances : first, by the skill, dexterity, and judgment

1 Smith does not define wealth. Most Smith probably had before him the economists limit it to such material enumeration of Turgot : objects as have been appropriated by La totalité des richesses d'une nation labour, are in demand, and are subject - 1. La somme des capitaux employés to exchange. But labour, representing à toutes les entreprises de culture d'inas it does capital invested in man, is as dustrie et de commerce, et qui n'en much wealth as any other material ob- doivent jamais sortir. 2. Toutes les ject. Adam Smith's equivalent expres- avances en toute genre d'entreprise desion, the annual produce of land and vant sans cesse rentrer aux entrepreneurs, labour,' is faulty: first, because it puts pour être sans cesse renverséés dans the sources of wealth in place of those l'entreprise. 3. Tous les meubles, vêteproducts in which everybody allows that ments, bijoux,' &c.-Sur la Formation et wealth must consist; and next, because la Distribution des Richesses, 90. it omits to consider those accumulations of ? Mr. Gibbon Wakefield rightly obpast time, which in all wealthy countries serves that labour is the agent, not the constitute a large and increasing part of fund, and that the distinction is not the wealth which a community possesses. merely verbal, but important. VOL. I.

B

with which its labour is generally applied; and, secondly, by the proportion between the number of those who are employed in useful labour, and that of those who are not so employed. Wbatever be the soil, climate, or extent of territory of any particular nation, the abundance or scantiness of its annual supply must, in that particular situation, depend upon those two circumstances 1.

The abundance or scantiness of this supply too seems to depend more upon the former of those two circumstances than upon the latter. Among the savage nations of hunters and fishers, every individual who is able to work is more or less employed in useful labour, and endeavours to provide, as well as he can, the necessaries and conveniences of life, for himself, or such of his family or tribe as are either too old, or too young, or too infirm to go a hunting and fishing. Such nations, however, are so miserably poor, that, from mere want, they are frequently reduced, or at least think themselves reduced, to the necessity sometimes of directly destroying, and sometimes of abandoning their infants, their old people, and those afflicted with lingering diseases, to perish with hunger or to be devoured by wild beasts. Among civilised and thriving nations, on the contrary, though a great number of people do not labour at all, many of whom consume the produce of ten times, frequently of a hundred times more labour than the greater part of those who work; yet the produce of the whole labour of the society is so great, that all are often abundantly supplied, and a workman, even of the lowest and poorest order, if he is frugal and industrious, may enjoy a greater share of the necessaries and conveniences of life than it is possible for any savage to acquire.

The causes of this improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the order according to which its produce is naturally distributed among the different ranks and conditions of men in the society, make the subject of the First Book of this Inquiry.

Whatever be the actual state of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which labour is applied in any nation, the abundance or scantiness of its annual supply must depend, during the continuance

1 The number of persons who can be land was engaged in agriculture; at maintained in any country depends on present (1880) the food of three-fifths the economy with which the necessaries is probably supplied by the labour of of life can be procured. Five centuries one-seventh. ago, nearly the whole population of Eng.

of that state, upon the proportion between the number of those who are annually employed in useful labour, and that of those who are not so employed. The number of useful and productive labourers, it will hereafter appear, is everywhere in proportion to the quantity of capital stock which is employed in setting them to work, and to the particular way in which it is so employed. The Second Book, therefore, treats of the nature of capital stock, of the manner in which it is gradually accumulated, and of the different quantities of labour which it puts into motion, according to the different ways in which it is employed.

Nations tolerably well advanced as to skill, dexterity, and judgment in the application of labour, have followed very different plans in the general conduct or direction of it; and those plans have not all been equally favourable to the greatness of its produce. The policy of some nations has given extraordinary encouragement to the industry of the country; that of others to the industry of towns. Scarce any nation has dealt equally and impartially with every sort of industry. Since the downfall of the Roman empire, the policy of Europe has been more favourable to arts, manufactures, and commerce, the industry of towns; than to agriculture, the industry of the country. The circumstances which seem to have introduced and established this policy are explained in the Third Book.

Though those different plans were, perhaps, first introduced by the private interests and prejudices of particular orders of men, without any regard to, or foresight of, their consequences upon the general welfare of the society; yet they have given occasion to very different theories of political economy; of which some magnify the importance of that industry which is carried on in towns, others of that which is carried on in the country. Those theories have had a considerable influence, not only upon the opinions of men of learning, but upon the public conduct of princes and sovereign states. I have endeavoured, in the Fourth Book, to explain, as fully and distinctly as I can, those different theories, and the principal effects which they have produced in different ages and nations.

To explain in what has consisted the revenue of the great body of the people, or what has been the nature of those funds which, in different ages and nations, have supplied their annual consumption,

« AnteriorContinuar »