To what Nations Commerce is prejudicialby Montesquieu
Chapter 23: To what Nations Commerce is prejudicial
Riches consist either in lands, or in moveable effects.
The soil of every country is commonly possessed by the natives. The laws of most states render foreigners unwilling to purchase their lands; Only the presence of the owner improves them: this kind of riches therefore belongs to every state in particular. But moveable effects, as money, notes, bills of exchange, stocks in companies, vessels, and all merchandises, belong to the whole world in general. In this respect it is composed of but one single state, of which all the societies upon earth are members. The people who possess more of these moveable effects than any other on the globe, are the most opulent.
Some states have an immense quantity, acquired by:
- their commodities
- the labour of their mechanics
- their industry
- their discoveries, and
- even by chance.
The avarice of nations makes them quarrel for the moveables of the whole universe. If we could find a state so unhappy, as to be deprived of the effects of other countries, and at the same time of almost all its own, the proprietors of the lands would be only planters to foreigners. This state, wanting all, could acquire nothing; therefore it would be much better for the inhabitants not to have the least commerce with any nation upon earth; for commerce, in these circumstances, must necessarily lead them to poverty.
A country that constantly exports fewer manufactures or commodities than it receives, will soon find the balance sinking. It will receive less and less, until, falling into extreme poverty, it will receive nothing at all.
In trading countries, the specie which suddenly vanishes quickly returns, because those nations that have received it are its debtors.
But it never returns into those states of which we have just been speaking, because those who have received it owe them nothing.
Poland is an example. It only has its wheat as its moveable effects.
Some of their lords possess entire provinces.
- They oppress the husbandmen, in order to have more wheat.
- They send the wheat to strangers to procure luxury.
If Poland had no foreign trade, its inhabitants would be happier.
- The grandees would have only their wheat and would give it to their peasants for subsistence.
- Their too-extensive estates would become burdensome, so they would divide them amongst their peasants.
- Everyone would find skins or wool in their herds or flocks, so that they would no longer be at an immense expence in providing clothes.
- The great would only be able to find luxury in their own country by encouraging the labour of the poor.
Poland would then become more flourishing if it did not become barbarous. The laws can easily prevent it from becoming barbarous.
Japan receives a vast quantity. This is the cause of the vast quantity of merchandises they send abroad.
Things are thus in as nice an equilibrium, as if the importation and exportation were but small.
Besides, this kind of exuberance in the state is productive of a thousand advantages:
- There is:
- more consumption
- more of those things on which the arts are exercised
- more men employed
- more numerous means of acquiring power.
- Such an opulent state can better afford to quickly assist in exigencies.
It is difficult for a country to avoid having superfluities:
but it is the nature of commerce to render the superfluous useful, and the useful necessary.
The state will be therefore able to afford necessaries for more of its people.
The losers in trade are:
- the countries which need everything, not those which need nothing.
- the people who are most in want, not those who have a sufficiency within themselves
Such countries and people will find an advantage in ending all commercial trade.