Chapter 4c

Dynasties and the Development of Europe

by Adam Smith Icon

16 Very old families are very rare in commercial countries. Such are families which have possessed some large estate from father to son for many generations.

In countries which have little commerce, such as Wales or the Scottish highlands on the contrary, they are very common.

The Arabian histories seem to be all full of genealogies.

There is a history written by a Mongol Khan which contains nothing else. It is a proof that ancient families are very common in those nations.

In countries where a rich man can only spend his revenue in maintaining many people, his expence will not be too high. His benevolence is seldom so great as to maintain more people than he can afford.

But where he can spend the greatest revenue on his own person, his expence frequently has no bounds, because his own vanity frequently has no bounds. In commercial countries, riches very seldom remain long in the same family, in spite of the most violent laws to prevent their dissipation. Among simple nations, on the contrary, they frequently remain long without any laws. Among nations of shepherds, such as the Mongols and Arabs, the consumable nature of their property renders all such regulations impossible.

17 The greatest revolution to the public happiness was brought about in this way by two orders of people who did not intend to serve the public.

Gratifying the most childish vanity was the sole motive of the great proprietors.

The merchants and craftsmen were much less ridiculous.

  • They acted merely from a view to their own interest.
  • They pursued their own peddler principle of turning a penny wherever a penny was to be got.

Neither of them had knowledge nor foresight of that great revolution which the folly of the one, and the industry of the other, were gradually bringing about.*

*Superphysics note: Selfish people usually cite such a phenomenon where self-interest leads to justice. However, such reasoning negates the fact that such justice only came after a very long and painful process full of chaos and death. The phenomenon of commerce-driven good governance destroys the current wrong belief that long-term economic sanctions on erring countries such as North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Myanmar, and Venezuela will lead to better governments. The proper sanctions policy is discussed in Book 4, Chapter 2

The Economic Development of Europe

18 It is thus that through most of Europe, the commerce and manufactures of cities, have been the cause of the improvement and cultivation of the countryside, instead of being its effect.

19 This order was contrary to the natural course of things.

It is slow and uncertain.

Compare the slow progress of those European countries with the rapid advances of our North American colonies.

The wealth of European countries depends very much on their commerce and manufactures. The wealth our North American colonies is founded in agriculture. Through most of Europe, the population is not supposed to double in less than 500 years. In our North American colonies, it is found to double in 20 or 25 years.

In Europe, the law of primogeniture and perpetuities prevent the division of great estates.

They hinder the multiplication of small proprietors. A small proprietor is generally the most industrious, intelligent, and successful of all improvers if he= knows every part of his little territory, views it all with the affection that small property naturally inspires, and takes pleasure in cultivating and adorning it. The same regulations keep so much land out of the market that there are always more capitals to buy than there is land to sell. This makes land always sell at monopoly price. The rent never pays the interest of the purchase-money. The land is burdened with repairs and other charges, to which the interest is not liable. Everywhere in Europe, purchasing land is a most unprofitable employment of a small capital. For the sake of superior security, a retired businessman of moderate circumstances, will sometimes spend his little capital in land. A professional man, who derives his revenue from another source, often secures his savings in this way. But a young man must forever bid farewell to fame and fortune if he employs his capital of £3,000 to buy and cultivate a small piece of land, instead of using it for business or some profession, where he has the chance of acquiring fortune. He might live very happily and very independently with his small land. But he cannot aspire to be a proprietor. He will often disdain to be a farmer. The small quantity of land brought to market at a high price prevents capitals from being employed in its cultivation and improvement.

In North America, £60 is often a sufficient stock for starting a plantation.

The purchase and improvement of uncultivated land there is the most profitable employment of both the smallest and the biggest capitals. It is the most direct road to all the fame and fortune which can be acquired in that country. In North America, such land can be had for almost nothing or at a price much below the value of the natural produce. This price is impossible in Europe or in any country where all lands have long been private property. If estates were divided equally among all the children after the death of any proprietor who had a large family, the estate would generally be sold. So much land would come to market that it could no longer sell at a monopoly price. The free rent of the land would go nearer to pay the interest of the purchase-money. A small capital might be used in land as profitably as in any other way.

20 England is as fit as any large European country to be the seat of foreign commerce, refined manufactures, and all its improvements, because of=

the natural fertility of the soil, the great extent of its coastline, and its many navigable rivers which allow water transportation to its most inland parts.

From the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign in 1558, the legislature has been peculiarly attentive to the interests of commerce and manufactures.

No other European country has laws more favourable to commerce and manufactures. Commerce and manufactures have been continually and rapidly advancing during this period. The countryside’s cultivation and improvement has been gradually advancing too. But it seems to have followed more slowly and at a distance. English law favours agriculture= indirectly through the protection of commerce, and directly through encouragements. Wheat exportation is free and encouraged by a bounty, except in times of scarcity. In times of moderate plenty, foreign wheat importation is loaded with duties that equals a prohibition. The importation of live cattle was prohibited at all times. Its importation from Ireland was only recently permitted. Those who cultivate the land have a monopoly against their countrymen for bread and meat. Bread and meat are the two greatest and most important produce of land. These encouragements demonstrate the good intention of the legislature to favour agriculture. These encouragements, however, are at the bottom and perhaps illusory, as I shall show hereafter. More importantly, they make the yeomanry of England as secure, independent, and respectable as possible under the law. Because of these encouragements, England’s cultivation is better than any other country which also= has the right of primogeniture, pays tithes, and admits perpetuities which are contrary to the spirit of the law. What could have been England’s state of cultivation if its law did not directly encourage agriculture and left the yeomanry in the same condition as in most European countries? It is now more than 200 years since those encouragements were established by Elizabeth’s reign. 200 years a long enough time for prosperity to endure.

20 France had a big share of foreign commerce a century before England became a distinguished commercial country.

The marine of France was considerable before the expedition of Charles 8th to Naples in 1495. France’s cultivation and improvement is inferior to that of England. French laws have never given the same direct encouragement to agriculture.

22 The foreign commerce of Spain and Portugal to the other parts of Europe, carried on in foreign ships, is very great.

Their commerce to their colonies is carried on in their own ships and is much greater. But Spain and Portugal never introduced any manufactures for distant sale in their own countries. Most lands in both still remains uncultivated. Portugal’s foreign commerce of is older than any great European country, except Italy.

23 Italy is the only great European country which has been cultivated and improved through foreign commerce and manufactures.

According to Guicciardin, ​before the invasion of Charles 8th in 1494, Italy was as cultivated in its mountainous and barren parts, as it was cultivated in its plains and most fertile parts. Italy’s general cultivation was probably due to= its advantageous situation, and the many independent states in it. It is possible too, that Italy was at that time not better cultivated than England is at present.

Infrastructure and Cultivation as Economic Security

24 The capital acquired by commerce and manufactures, however, is very precarious and uncertain until it is secured in the cultivation and improvement of its lands.

A merchant is not a citizen of any particular country.

  • He does not care where he carries on his trade.
  • He will remove his capital and all the industry it supports, from one country to another with very little disgust.
    • His capital does not belong to any country, until it has been spread in that country as buildings or improvement of lands.

No vestige remains of the great wealth of the Hans towns except in the obscure histories of the 13th and 14th centuries. It is even uncertain where some of them were situated or to what European towns their Latin names belong.

The misfortunes of Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries greatly reduced the commerce and manufactures of Lombardy and Tuscany. Those countries, however, still continue to be among the most populous and best cultivated in Europe. The civil wars of Belgium and the Spanish government which succeeded them, chased away Belgium’s great commerce. Belgium still continues to be one of the richest, best cultivated, and most populous provinces of Europe. The ordinary revolutions of war and government easily dry up the sources of commercial wealth. The wealth from agricultural improvements is much more durable. It can only be destroyed by more violent convulsions of hostile nations for one or two centuries, such as those before and after the fall of the Western Roman empire.


No comments yet. Post a comment in the form at the bottom.

Latest Articles

How to Fix Ukraine
How to Fix Ukraine
The Age of the Universe
The Age of the Universe
Material Superphysics
The End of Capitalism (and Marxism)
The End of Capitalism (and Marxism)
The Elastic Theory of Gravity
The Elastic Theory of Gravity
Material Superphysics

Latest Simplifications

Nova Organum by Francis Bacon
Nova Organum by Francis Bacon
The Analects by Confucius
The Analects by Confucius
The Quran by The Prophet Mohammad
The Quran by The Prophet Mohammad

All Superphysics principles in our books

The Simplified Series

Developing a new science and the systems that use that science isn't easy. Please help Superphysics develop its theories and systems faster by donating via GCash