Essay 6, Part 2

The Jealousy of Trade

January 12, 2020

It is very common for commercial states to:

  • be suspicious of the progress of their neighbours
  • consider all trading states as their rivals
  • suppose that it is impossible for any of them to flourish, but at their expence.

I oppose such a narrow and malignant thinking and assert that:

  • the encrease of riches and commerce in any one nation commonly promotes, not hurts, the riches and commerce of all its neighbours
  • a state cannot expand its trade and industry far if all the surrounding states are ignorant, slothful, and barbaric.

A nation’s domestic industry cannot be hurt by the greatest prosperity of their neighbours. This branch of commerce is undoubtedly the most important in any large kingdom. We are so far removed from all reason of jealousy.

If an open communication is preserved among nations, everyone’s domestic industry must surely encrease from the improvements of the others. Compare GREAT BRITAIN now with itself 200 years ago. All the arts both of agriculture and manufactures were then extremely rude and imperfect.

Every improvement, which we have since made, has arisen from our imitation of foreigners. We should be happy that they had previously made advances in arts and ingenuity.

But this gives us a great advantage:

  • our manufactures get an advanced state
  • we daily adopt the inventions and improvements of our neighbours.

The commodity is first imported from abroad, to our great discontent while we imagine that it drains us of our money.

Afterwards, the art itself is gradually imported, to our visible advantage.

Yet we continue still to repine, that our neighbours have art, industry, and invention. We forget that had they not first instructed us, we should have been at present barbarians. If they did not continue their instructions, the arts must fall into a state of languor and lose that emulation and novelty which contribute so much to their advancement.

The encrease of domestic industry lays the foundation of foreign commerce.

When many commodities are created and perfected for the home-market, there will always be some which can be exported with advantage.

But if our neighbours have no art or cultivation, they cannot buy our exports because they will have nothing to give in exchange. In this respect, states are in the same condition as individuals.

A single man can hardly be industrious if all his fellow-citizens are idle. The riches of the several members of a community contribute to encrease my riches, whatever profession I may follow.

They consume the produce of my industry, and afford me the produce of theirs in return.

No state needs to fear that their neighbours will improve so much in art and manufacture as to not need it anymore.

Nature gives a diversity of geniuses, climates, and soils, to different nations. She has secured their mutual intercourse and commerce, as long as they all remain industrious and civilized. Nay, the more the arts encrease in any state, the more will be its demands from its industrious neighbours.

The inhabitants, having become opulent and skillful, desire to have every commodity in the utmost perfection. They have plenty of commodities to give in exchange and so they make large importations from every foreign country.

The industry of the nations, from whom they import, receives encouragement. Their own is also encreased, by the sale of the commodities which they give in exchange.

But what if a nation has a staple commodity, such as the woollen manufacture is of ENGLAND? Must not the interfering of our neighbours in woollen manufacture be a loss to us?

I answer, that, when any commodity is the staple of a kingdom, it follows that that kingdom has some natural advantages for raising it. If despite these advantages, they lose such a manufacture, they should blame their own idleness, or bad government, not the industry of their neighbours.

The encrease of industry among the neighbouring nations also increases the consumption of every particular species of commodity. Though foreign manufactures interfere with them in the market, the demand for their product may still continue, or even encrease.

If it diminishes, would the consequence so fatal?

If the spirit of industry be preserved, it may easily be diverted from one branch to another. The manufacturers of wool, for instance, be employed in linen, silk, iron, or any other commodities, for which there appears to be a demand.

We should not fear:

  • that all the objects of industry will be exhausted, or
  • that our manufacturers, while they are on an equal footing with those of our neighbours, will be unemployed.

Diversification

The emulation among rival nations rather keeps industry alive in all of them. Any people is happier who possess a variety of manufactures, than if they enjoyed one single great manufacture in which they are all employed.

Their situation is less precarious. They will feel less sensibly those revolutions and uncertainties, to which every particular branch of commerce will always be exposed.

The only commercial states that should dread the improvements and industry of their neighbours are those like the DUTCH. They have a small country with few native commodities. They flourish only by their being the brokers, factors, and carriers of others.

Such a people might fear that their neighbours might know and pursue their interest and manage their own commerce by themselves. This will deprive their brokers of profit.

But this will take a long time before it happens. It can be warded off by art and industry for many generations, if not wholly eluded.

The advantage of superior stocks and correspondence is so great, that it is not easily overcome.

All the transactions encrease by the encrease of industry in the neighbouring states, even the Dutch whose commerce stands on this precarious basis, may at first reap a considerable profit from the flourishing condition of their neighbours.

The DUTCH have mortgaged all their revenues. They are not as important in European politics as before. But their commerce is surely equal to what it was in the middle of the last century, when they were among the great powers of EUROPE.

If our narrow and malignant politics were to become successful, we should reduce all our neighbouring nations to the same state of sloth and ignorance that prevails in MOROCCO and the coast of BARBARY.

But what would be the consequence?

They would not be able to sell us commodities nor buy from us. Our domestic commerce itself would languish for lack of emulation, example, and instruction.

We ourselves would soon fall into the same abject condition, to which we had reduced them.

As a BRITISH, I pray for the flourishing commerce of GERMANY, SPAIN, ITALY, and even FRANCE.

This would cause GREAT BRITAIN, and all those nations to flourish more if their sovereigns and ministers adopted such enlarged and benevolent sentiments towards each other.

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