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SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ECONOMY.
Introductory.— Allusion made to the defective manner in which the science of Political Economy has been treated, both theoretically and practically.
-The efforts of Adam Smith and the other members of the school of Economists directed more to an exposure of the errors, by which the ancient mercantile system of Europe was supported, than to an elucidation of the science itself. The social law of commerce not discovered by Adam Smith, nor by any member of the school.—The courses of examination, reasoning, and argument that are required for raising the science of Political Economy from its degraded condition, and for placing it in a right position. The inability of the school of Economic writers to introduce into their system a moral law of action. — Also their inability to enter that noble department of the Science embracing the diffusion or distribution of wealth. A new law required to be introduced into the science, the law of definite proportions. - The unwarrantable conduct of writers and statesmen in lending themselves to an advocacy of the courses which men are inclined to pursue instead of to an advocacy of the courses men ought to pursue.— By this conduct, so unfaithful to the cause of science, the main truth of Political Economy has been sacrificed.
THE attention of people in general has, of late years, been so much directed to the subject of Political Economy by means of writings and speeches, and so largely have the statesmen of
our own nation, as well as the statesmen of other nations, adopted, as the foundation of social and national policy, the principles and doctrines which have been laid down by that school of writers who have specially treated of the science, that the simple, or unscientific reader, who has perused the writings on Political Economy with that relying confidence which a predisposition to believe in the soundness and truth of the doctrines, and in their great practical utility, would inspire, will hear, with great surprise and doubt, the assertion made, that the principles of this science require far more comprehensive and accurate treatment to be applied to them than has yet been applied.
But every inquirer into that high and noble field of knowledge which the science of Social and Political Economy presents, who has perused the writings by which it has been attempted to present to the world an exposition of this science with that discriminating carefulness and cultivated power of mind which an intelligent devotion to science requires, must have discovered the large amount of deficiency, —of opinion, mere opinion, of dictate and of contradictate, of error and of confusion, which prevails in these writings. He will have discerned, moreover, that very little has been done, even by the best writers of the modern school, up to the present moment, towards introducing such an increase of the light of truth into the science, as, by the eradication and expulsion of error, to exhibit an intelligible and useful combination of that volume of evidence and of truth, of whatever amount and character it may be, which the several writers have, so far, succeeded in discovering and promulging to the world.
It has to be greatly deplored that a study of the nature of those important human interests which are comprehended within the science of Social and Political Economy has had
to be conducted, even if not during all preceding periods, certainly in modern times, amidst circumstances, amidst human feelings, and amidst prevailing prejudices, that have operated disadvantageously for a calm, scientific, or true treatment of the great subjects involved. The disadvantage here alluded to has consisted of strong and excited feelings of political partisanship of various kinds and degrees, with which the subjects have been connected and under this influence treated, making it impossible that sound and clear views could be attained through an intellectual and moral atmosphere so corrupted and obscured.
An undue bias having been admitted into the minds of writers, and being retained, it has happened that they have attempted to invest their own ideas and inventions with the high character of natural law. The issue of this course has been to present to us, of necessity, those series of contradictions, and of deficiencies, and that confusion, which so greatly perplex, baffle, and disappoint the efforts of every sincere, capable, and honourable inquirer.
The practical field of the subject, too, has been in a still larger degree perplexed, distorted, and confused than the literary. In every nation, that particular trade and commerce which has been felt to constitute the special interest or advantage of individual men and of particular classes of men, has been assisted and sustained by the intervention and application of state laws and regulations, regard not having been paid as to whether these laws and regulations were calculated to operate beneficially or injuriously on the interests of the people in general. It is not, indeed, a matter for surprise, that the idea of supporting and encouraging both labour and trade by means of state regulations should have been practically adopted at the outset of each nation's career.
As it must have been evident to men who were com
mencing a course of civilised life, and thus laying the foundation of a nation's existence and constitution, and providing for its progress, that their subsistence and advancement were ordained, under natural law, to be derived by the instrumentality of labour, industry, and those exchanges amongst themselves of the products of labour which we call commerce and trade, so it was natural for men to assume that the preservation of the interests of the general body of the community was to be more insured by the invention and application of regulations, than by permitting full freedom of action and free exchanges of all the products of labour to prevail.
In proof of this notion having prevailed, the history of every nation, as far as we have access to it, supplies us with the fact of attempts having been made, by means of prohibitions and restrictions, to regulate both labour and commerce. The laws which were required for insuring the fulfilment of social principle, were, during the earlier period of every nation's existence and progress, simple, and may be supposed to have been put into practical working without very much difficulty, having been applied to the trade and commerce arising within the nation, and also to that taking place without the special boundaries, that is, to both home and foreign trade.
Whether or not a study of the science of social and political economy was encouraged and successfully pursued amongst the people of the many ancient and ingenious nations of the world, we have not sufficient means for ascertaining. Desirous of acquiring knowledge upon this point, we look backwards upon man and upon the world. By means of the historical records which man has made of himself and of his deeds, and which have been handed down from age to age, and by language and language, we know that man has multiplied his species; we know that millions upon millions of men and