Digression, Part 3, Digression of the Simplified Wealth of Nations

Digression: The effect of improvement on real value of rude produce Icon

January 18, 2020

193 Rude produce may be divided into three:

  1. The ones that human industry cannot multiply at all Its real price may rise to any degree.

  2. The ones that human industry can multiply in proportion to the demand. Its real price may rise to a certain boundary.

  3. The ones that human industry can multiply in a limited or uncertain way. Its real price may rise, stay the same, or even fall in the progress of improvement, according to the efforts of human industry.

First Sort – The produce that cannot be multiplied

194 The first kind is the rude produce which human industry cannot multiply at all.

Examples are:

  • most rare birds and fishes,
  • different sorts of game, and
  • almost all wild-fowl and all birds of passage, etc.

Nature produces them only in certain quantities.

  • They are very perishable.
  • It is impossible to accumulate together such produce of different seasons.
  • Their demand increases with the increase in wealth and luxury.
  • Their supply cannot increase beyond this increase of the demand.

The quantity of such commodities remain the same while the competition to purchase them is continually increasing Their price may rise to any unlimited height.

If the demand for woodcocks rose and its price increased to 20 guineas each, their supply cannot be increased.

The Romans paid a high price for rare birds and fishes.

These prices were the effect of the high value of such rarities and not the effects of the low value of silver. The real value of silver was higher at Rome then than at present.

Three sestertii, equal to 6 pence, was the price for the modius or peck of the tithe wheat of Sicily. This price was probably below the average market price. The obligation to deliver wheat at this price was considered as a tax on the Sicilian farmers. When the Romans ordered more wheat than the tithe of wheat amounted to, they were bound to pay for the surplus at the rate of 4 sestertii, or 8-pence sterling the peck.

This was probably the average contract price of those times. It is equal to 252 pence the quarter. 336 pence the quarter was the ordinary contract price of English wheat. English wheat has inferior quality to Sicilian wheat. It sells for a lower price in Europe. The value of silver in those ancient times was 3= 4 of today.

Three ounces of silver then bought the same amount of labour and commodities which four ounces do presently. According to Pliny, Seius bought a white nightingale for the empress Agrippina at 6,000 sestertii or nominal 12,000 pence today. Asinius Celer bought a surmullet at 8,000 sestertii, equal to nominal 16,000 pence today. The extravagance of those prices is about 1/3 less than it really was.

Their real price was around 1/3 more than their nominal price relative to today.

Seius gave for the nightingale the command of an amount of labour and subsistence equal to what 16,000 pence would buy today. [12,000 + (12,000/3)] Asinius Celer paid 21,333.33 pence, real value, for the surmullet. [16,000 + (16,000/3)] Those high prices were due to the abundance of labour and subsistence that the Romans had beyond what was necessary for their own use. They had less silver then than today.