The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

TWoN Chapter 11 Part 3

| 0 comments

Page 194: “In call new colones the great quantity of waste land, which can for many years be applied to no other purpose but the feeding of cattle, soon renders them extremely abundant, and in every thing great cheapness is the necessary consequence of great abundance.”

Page 197: “In the progress of improvement, the period at which every particular sort of animal food is dearest, must naturally be that which immediately precedes the general practice of cultivating land for the sake of raising it.”

He then discusses how certain animals (especially poultry and hogs) are at first raised purely on the excess, inedible byproducts of small farmers, until the increase in price made it profitable to grow things specifically for these animals to be raised.  “The great rise in the price of both hogs and poultry has in Great Britain been frequently imputed to the dimnution of the number of cottagers and other small occupiers of land; an event which has in every part of Europe been the immediate forerunner of improvement and better cultivation, but which at the same time may have contributed to raise the price of those articles…”

Page 208: “A market which, from requiring only one thousand, comes to require annually ten thousand ton of fish, can seldom be supplied without employing more than ten times teh quantity of labor which had before been sufficient to supply it.  The fish must generally be sought for at a great distance, large vessels must be employed, and more expensive machinery of every kind made use of.”  This especially grabbed my interest because here, for the first time (I think), he refers to requirements of the market. Let us remember that, before capitalism (ie, before a market economy), the notion of a market having requirements would have been absurd.  People had requirements, some of which (though very few) could be met at the market.  The raising of the market to its own independant force, abstracting it, if you will, from the people who make it up, is a fundamental feature of capitalism, and Smith must be given the credit for identifying it, even if he has not (yet at least) made this point explicitly.

On page 210 he discusses the value of precious metals, changing as more fertile mines are discovered or become exhausted.  “Its nominal value, the quantity of gold and silver by which this annual produce could be expressed or represented, would, no doubt, be very different; but its real value, the reaql quantity of labor which it could purchase or command, would be precisely the same.”

Page 211: “It is the natural effect of improvement, however, to diminish gradually the real price of almost all manufactures.”  Hints here of what Marx, in a hundred years, would call the the falling rate of profit.  “In consequence of better machinery, of greater dexterity, and of a more proper division and distribution of work, all of which are the natural effects of improvement, a much smaller quantity of labor becomes requisite for executing any particular piece of work; and though, in consequence of the flourishing circumstances of the society, the real price of labor should rise very considerably, yet the great diminution of the quantity will generally much more than compenstate the greatest rise which can happen in the price.”

Page 216: “It was not then the policy of Europe to restrain, by high huties, the importation of foreign manufactures, but rather to encourage it, in order that merchants might be enabled to supply, at as easy a rate as possible, the great men with the conveniences and luxuries which they wanted, and which the industry of their own country could not afford them.”  This is another important–very important–observation.  In fuedal monarchial society, providing goods to landlords was a higher prority than the profits of those who sold the goods.  When the State enters the service of capitalism, this is reversed, and the need for profit becomes the most important factor.

Continued in next part

corwin

Author: corwin

Site administrative account, so probably Corwin, Felix or DD-B.

0 Comments

  1. Smith’s p. 216 and your comment re “When the state enters the service of capitalism, this is reversed, and the need for profit becomes the most important factor.”

    Fine, except, what Smith really had his undies in a bunch about, through all of Part III, is that “the state” of his day–along with many other nation-states across a fair chunk of Europe–believed it was *harnessing* capitalism for nationalistic purposes. It wasn’t specifically the need for profit, but rather the need to maintain a favorable balance of exports over imports–the very root of mercantilism–that was driving economic policy in Great Britain at the time. It was also mercantilism that exalted the idea of coinage, in the form of those precious metals that Smith discusses in painfully long and painstakingly documented detail (and I thought *I* was bad), as a true measure of a nation’s wealth. When Smith mentions duty imposed on selected imports, outright bans on other imports as well as on certain exports, taxes on some internally-manufactured goods, bounties on targeted commodities–even, to a limited extent, sumptuary laws–those were all pieces of GB’s mercantilistic economic policy, which Smith saw as being based on false premises and faulty logic. Sorry; I just thought somebody ought to mention that.

Leave a Reply