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LOGIC OF POLITICAL ECONOMY.
THAT the reader may not seek in this little work anything other or more than was designed, I will briefly state its primary object. Political Economy does not advance. Since the revolution effected in that science by Ricardo (1817), upon the whole it has been stationary. But why? It has always been my own conviction that the reason lies, not in any material defect of facts (except as to the single question of money), but in the laxity of some amongst the distinctions which are elementary to the science. For example, that one desperate enormity of vicious logic, which takes place in the ordinary application to price of the relation between supply and demand, has ruined more arguments dispersed through speeches, books, journals, than a long life could fully expose. Let us judge by analogy drawn from mathematics. If it were possible that but three elementary definitions, or axioms, or postulates, in geometry, should be liable to controversy and to a precarious use (a use dependent upon petition and momentary consent), what would follow ? Simply this, — that the whole vast aerial synthesis of that science, at present towering upwards towards infinity, would exhibit an edifice eternally, perhaps, renewing itself by parts, but eternally tottering in some parts, and in other parts mouldering eternally into ruins. That science,
which now holds “acquaintance with the stars” by means of its inevitable and imperishable truth, would become as treacherous as Shakespeare's “ stairs of sand”: or, like the fantastic architecture which the winds are everlastingly pursuing in the Arabian desert, would exhibit phantom arrays of fleeting columns and fluctuating edifices, which, under the very breath that had created them, would be for ever collapsing into dust. Such, even to this moment, as regards its practical applications, is the science of Political Economy. Nothing can be postulated, - nothing can be demonstrated; for anarchy, even as to the earliest principles, is predominant. Under this conviction, about twenty-two years ago, I sketched a fragment of this science, entitled “ The Templar's Dialogues.” The purpose of this fragment was, to draw into much stronger relief than Ricardo himself had done that one radical doctrine as to value, by which he had given a new birth to Political Economy. My little sketch had the merit of drawing from an author, to this day anonymous, the “ Critical Dissertation upon Value.” Naturally, it is gratifying to have called forth, whether in alliance or in opposition, so much of ingenuity and of logical acuteness. But, with all his ability, that writer failed to shake any of my opinions. I continue to hold my original ideas on the various aspects of this embarrassing doctrine; and I continue to believe that a much severer investigation of this doctrine is indispensable at the outset. In prosecution of that belief, I now go on, without again travelling over the ground which possibly I had won in “ The Templar's Dialogues,” to investigate some further perplexities in the general doctrine of value, and particularly such as these which I now specify, in the view of intercepting any misdirected expectations as to the nature of the book.
1. With respect to what is called value in use, I endeavor to expose the total misapprehension, by Adam Smith, of the word 6 use," as though any opposition were here indicated between the useful and the ornamental or pleasurable. Not what is useful, but what is used, here forms the nodus of the antithesis, and regulates conformably the mode of appreciation.
2. With respect to the same term, value in use, I endeavor to establish another distinction as against another perplexity much
more important. We sit on a summer day by the side of a brook, and, being thirsty, drink from its waters. Now, this beverage has confessedly a value in use; but, in England, it is so far from bearing a value in exchange, that such a case expresses the very abnegation and antithesis of exchange value. On the other hand, there is by possibility a very different value in use; there is such a value (that is, a value determined altogether and simply on the scale of uses or teleologic aptitudes) arising under circumstances which will not range it against exchange value as its polar antithesis, but will range it under exchange value as one of its two modes. In the first acceptation, value in use is made co-ordinate with exchange value, — ranges over against it, as its adequate contradiction; in the second acceptation, value in use is made subordinate to exchange value, as one of its two modifications. Here lies a source of confusion which never has been exposed, and which, at the very vestibule, has hitherto defeated all attempt at a systematic theory of value.
3. I endeavor to expose the confusion between “market value" as a fact, and “market value” as a law. The term “ market value,” in popular use, expresses only a barren fact,the value of an article, for instance, in Liverpool as opposed to Glasgow; to-day as opposed to yesterday. It means no more than existing value as opposed to value past or future; actual value as opposed to possible value. But, in the technical use, “ market value” points to no idle matter of fact, (idle, I mean, because uninfluential on the price,) but it points to a law modifying the price, and derived from the market. In this use the term “ market” does not indicate the mere ubi or the quando of the sale; but is a short-hand expression for the relation between the quantity offered for sale and the quantity demanded. That is certainly a distinction old enough to be clearly apprehended; and often it is clearly apprehended. Yet also, in the practical use, too often it is utterly misapplied. Even by those who parade the distinction in their theoretical statements, even by him who introduced this distinction, — lastly, even by that Ricardo who favors us with a separate chapter on this distinction, practically the two senses contemplated by the distinction
are confounded, inferences being derived from one sense which apply only to the other.
4. I endeavor to expose the metaphysical confusion involved in "market value," when it is supposed by possibility to constitute an original value. This is an error which has led to worse consequences than any of the others here noticed. People fancy that the relation of Supply to Demand could by possibility — and that in fact it often does – determine separately per se the selling price of an article. Within a few months, this monstrous idea has been assumed for true by Colonel Torrens, in an express work on Economic Politics ; by Lord Brougham, in relation to the foreign corn-trade; and by almost every journal in the land that has fallen under my own eye. But it is a metaphysical impossibility that Supply and Demand, the relation of which is briefly expressed by the term “market value," could ever affect price except by a secondary force. Always there must be a modificabile (i. e. an antecedent price, arising from some other cause) before any modification from Supply against Demand can take effect. Consequently, whilst "natural price" (the contradiction of market price") is always a mononomial, price, founded on the relation of Supply to Demand, must always be a binomial.
The latter chapters, as a sort of praxis on the law of value applied to the leading doctrines of Ricardo, were added for the sake of the student in Political Economy. They are not absolutely required; but they may have a use in tracing the descent of a pure theory — into consequences connected on the one side with theory, and on the other side with practice.
February 8, 1844.