Imagens das páginas

Science had to do with very many other questions, and that of a hundred pages, barely two were devoted to the freedom of commercial exchange.

Among the economists whose earlier writings go back to the first half of this century there may be mentioned Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Courcelle-Seneuil, Dunoyer, Cherbuliez, Rossi, Ad. Blanqui, Joseph Garnier, Ambroise Clement, Michel Chevalier, Wolowski, Gustave du Puynode and others, who are here omitted in order not to prolong the list. The works of these authors are sufficiently well-known to make it unnecessary to add their titles.* These economists, with J. B. Say and others, as well as almost all English, American, German and Italian economists are to-day classed as belonging to the "classical" or liberal school. It is sometimes called the "orthodox school," but I cannot accept this designation; first, because it has nothing to do with religion in which one believes-in which one can believe the true, (orthodoxy) or believe the false, (heteradoxy) according as one is inspired more or less from on high. No; political economy is a science; if writers have properly observed causes and effects, ONE KNOWS; if they have not rightly observed, then ONE DOES NOT KNOW. I present a second objection to the word orthodox; it is that although there have always been differences of opinion among economists and although these differences have been of a certain importance, yet it is true that they did not, for that reason, consider themselves hostile to one another.

[ocr errors]

It is since the rise of the "new schools" that names more or less significant have been given to the one of which Adam Smith is considered as the founder, and the term classical' is fairly suitable, although I prefer the term liberal, and it is that which I advocate. Some German and Italian writers, the one echoing the other, have occasionally divided the school and distinguished in its ranks an "optimistic school" in recognition of Bastiat, who wrote "Les harmonies

* The catalogue of their books may easily be obtained gratis from Guillaumin et Cie., Paris.

économiques," and also because certain French writers in opposition to extreme official regulation have based their reasoning somewhat too emphatically on the proposition that every man knows best that which is most expedient for him. But this is mere caviling. First; it goes without saying, that the economist who writes every man, has in mind only intelligent men. Second; all the schools, or to be more exact, all those who believe that they have reached the truth, are optimistic relatively to their doctrine; of this I could bring forward curious and convincing proofs. I do not then give serious consideration to the name "optimistic school," and content myself with a passing mention, which is all that the term deserves. It is then with the classical or liberal school that we have to do, and if we wish to show the progress of economic ideas in France we must, in the first place, understand what is meant by the "classical school," and what are the peculiarities that distinguish it from other schools. I am convinced that this definition has not yet been given, unless perhaps vaguely, and by the opponents of the school. Science demands clearness and precision; it must know how to distinguish that which is essential from that which is accidental, that which is general or objective from that which is individual or subjective. This, then, is the definition : The "classical school" bases economic science on the study of man living in society, striving to satisfy his material and immaterial wants. Political economy is therefore a science of observation. Naturally it studies the man of to-day. One can observe only what one can see; but the records of history which we possess show us the same man ; he has not changed since the earliest times, and until the contrary is proven, we may reason on the basis that human nature will always be as it has always been.* So it is with the laws which govern the visible world, the solar system, the mineral, vegetable and animal kingdoms, physics and

* I refer to human nature and not to its manners and customs, nor to the organization of States and governments. Thus, every man provides food for himself; it is nature's law: what he eats and how he eats depends on the manners and customs of the time.

chemistry. We can and should consider these laws as eternal.

These two premises are sufficient to authorize us to declare the permanence of great economic laws, since these laws have to do with the means which man employs to draw from nature that which is necessary for the satisfaction of his wants; for nature does not, of herself, place these necessities at his disposition. If men could live on the spontaneous products of nature, there would be no political economy.

The material wants, the rational satisfaction of which maintains man in life and health, consist principally in food, clothing and lodging. The immaterial wants are varied; they are more numerous in the case of the civilized man than in that of the savage. It is a want, at once material and immaterial to avoid pain and to seek pleasure. The ensemble of these different wants constitutes human nature, and it is from their reactions, the one upon the other, that economic laws proceed.

The first of these laws is this: man tends to obtain the greatest possible result with the least effort. Effort, work, is more or less laborious for it is necessary to overcome the force of inertia which is natural to all bodies whatsoever. This law is eternal. It applies to the ape which is called man's ancestor and to the oyster, which is believed to be the progenitor of the ape.

The second law is, that man will make no effort to obtain that which will give him no material or moral satisfaction, that which is useless or disagreeable, or which he cannot exchange for some useful object or for a service rendered. It is by deduction from this law which in its development becomes the law of "final degree of utility" of Jevons or the "marginal utility" of Carl Menger,* that one is able to explain why what is rare is dear, and why that which is abundant is cheap. Is not this also, an eternal law?

* "Grenznutzen," a term which I have rendered in French by "la moindre jouissance," in my work "Le Progés de la science économique." Paris, Guillaumin et Cie.

The third is that all production is facilitated by means of appropriate instruments; and in almost all cases is possible only by the aid of these instruments. You wish to fell a tree: you must have an axe. You wish to weave a piece of cloth: you must have a thread and a loom. You wish to cross the sea: you must have a boat. Instruments, raw materials, provisions and all means useful in production have been grouped under the name of capital. This law that capital facilitates production or renders it possible, is eternal.*

In a society where men hire themselves out as laborers, the great majority, perhaps all-as daily experience teaches us-prefer a remuneration which shall be fixed, regular, certain, even though it be moderate, to one which is larger, perhaps much larger, yet contingent.

This, then, is a result of experience, which confirms what we know of human nature, i. e. (1) Man, having a body, in order to work must struggle against the inertia inherent in all bodies. (2) It is the intellectual and moral power, the soul, with which man is endowed which obliges the body to work; but who will incite the intelligence which is so often sluggish? Now the study of human nature teaches us that a fixed salary favors repose of mind; a contingent return makes it uneasy; uncertainty is trouble and man flees from trouble.

For man then, as we observe him, a fixed salary will be almost always the form of remuneration preferred. If there are exceptions they seem to prove the rule.

There are other eternal laws, but this is not the time to inquire regarding them, for we are not making an exposition of the science, we are defining it simply.

*The attempt has been made to make of capital a "category of history," a transient thing, since although there are cases where he who works possesses also capital: here are others where one furnishes the capital and the other the work, and the two individuals must be associated to secure the product. But this objection is pure sophistry. Capital remains capital whoever posesses it. It is especially Karl Marx who has distorted the meaning of the word, and has tried to give it another signification than that which science has recognized. According to Karl Marx, the hammer, the plow, the machine, etc., are instruments if the owner himself makes use of them; they become capital only when the owner places them in the hands of his workmen.

Some one will ask, does the classical school also admit historic laws, i. e., temporary laws? Undoubtedly. Production by means of slaves has its laws, but these laws operate only during the existence of slavery. It may also be said that the law-the relation of cause and effect-is eternal, yet it is in operation only so long as there are slaves. It is the same with machines, with the telegraph and with all things which can have an economic influence.

One must not confound the law with the forms which it may assume or the applications which may be made. Societies are modified, they take on different aspects; but the question is always of men living in a society, with the relations which result therefrom; and the nature of these men has not changed, so long as we have known them, i. e., in the years covered by history.

Should we infer from the fact that the classical school admits economic laws which are eternal, that it is opposed to progress? That would be a gross error. In the first place, it does not claim that these laws are good; it simply says, it is thus that the nature of man is presented to our intelligence, since there have been men and wherever there have been men. That which is not general and eternal is not a law. In natural laws we are not able to effect a change. Gravity, attraction, affinity, the need which living creatures have of food, etc., are facts which man must accept as the basis of his reasoning and of his actions. for all that remains-and what remains is immense, infinite the play of human thought and act, of tendencies, of aspirations, of effort, is free, and this play is so much the more active in proportion, as man has climbed the ladder of progress. In fact, climbing the ladder of progress means gaining a better knowledge of natural laws and the power to make greater use of them. Economists have always been very earnest for progress, and he who makes a contrary statement calumniates them.

A recent author seems to reproach the classical school for not having often made use of the term so much in fashion,

« AnteriorContinuar »