Chapter 9e

Greek and Roman Policy Icon

March 17, 2020

47 The policy of the ancient Greek and Roman republics honoured agriculture more than manufactures or foreign trade.

They discouraged manufactures or foreign trade more than encouraging agriculture directly or intentionally.

In several ancient Greek states, foreign trade was banned. In several others, the employments of artificers and manufacturers were considered hurtful to the human body’s strength and agility. It rendered the body incapable of habits which their military and gymnastic exercises tried to form. Such employments disqualified the body from the fatigues and dangers of war. Manufacturing and trade were considered fit only for slaves.

It was banned for the free citizens. Most people of Rome and Athens were effectively excluded from all trades even if trade and manufactures were not banned. Trades are now exercised by the lower sort of people of towns. Such trades were all occupied by the slaves of the rich. They exercised trades for their masters’ benefit. It was almost impossible for a poor freeman to compete with the work of those slaves because of their masters’ wealth, power, and protection. Slaves are very seldom inventive.

All the most important improvements were the discoveries of freemen= machinery, the arrangement and distribution of work which facilitate and abridge labour. If a slave proposes any similar improvement, his master would consider it as the suggestion of laziness. The master would think that the slave desired to save his own labour at the master’s expence. The poor slave would probably receive much abuse or some punishment instead of reward. In the slave manufactures, more labour must have been employed to execute the same amount of work as those done by free men. The work of slaves must generally have been dearer than the work of free men.

Montesquieu remarked that the Hungarian mines always operated with less cost and more profit than the Turkish mines in their neighbourhood.

The Hungarian mines are not richer than the Turkish mines, but they were wrought by free men. Those men employ a lot of machinery which facilitate and abridge their own labour. The Turkish mines are wrought by slaves. The arms of those slaves are the only machines the Turks employed. Very little is known about the price of manufactures in the Greek and Roman times.

It appears that the finer manufactures were excessively dear. Silk was sold for its weight in gold. In those times, it was all brought from the East Indies, and not made in Europe. The transportation costs may account for its high price. The price which a lady paid for very fine linen seems equally extravagant. Linen was always a European or an Egyptian manufacture. Its high labour costs account for its high price. Those labour costs again was due to the awkwardness of the machinery which it used. The price of fine woollens was not so extravagant. It was much above the current price. According to Pliny, some cloths dyed in a particular way cost 100 denarii or 800 pence per pound weight. Others dyed in another manner cost 1,000 denarii or 8,000 pence per pound weight. This high price was principally due to the dye. The Roman pound contained only 12 of our avoirdupois ounces. But had the cloths not been so dear, expensive dyes would probably not have been used on them. The disproportion between the value of the accessory and the value of the principal would have been too great. The Triclinaria were a sort of woollen pillows on couches.

Pliny mentions their price with some costing more than £30,000, and others more than £300,000. This high price was not due to the dye. Dr. Arbuthnot observes that there was much less variety in the dress of fashionable people in ancient than in modern times.

The little variety in the dress of ancient statues confirms his observation. He infers that their dress must have been cheaper than ours. His conclusion does not seem to follow. When the expence of fashionable dress is very great, the variety must be very small.

But when the expence of any dress becomes very moderate, the variety will naturally be very great. This lower expence is from the improvements in manufacturing productivity. The rich will not be able to distinguish themselves by the price of any dress. They will naturally distinguish themselves by the multitude and variety of their dresses.

48 The greatest and most important commerce of every nation is the commerce between the town and the countryside.

The townspeople draw raw materials and subsistence from the countryside. They pay for these by processing some of these raw materials and sending them back as manufactured goods to the countryside, ready for use. The trade between these two consists ultimately in rude produce exchanged for manufactured produce. The dearer the manufactured produce, the cheaper the rude produce. Whatever raises the price of manufactured produce in any country, lowers the price of the rude produce and discourages agriculture.

The fewer manufactured produce which rude produce can buy, the less will be the exchangeable value of that rude produce. The landlord will have less encouragement to increase this rude produce by land improvements. The farmer will have less encouragement to increase this rude produce through cultivation. Whatever reduces the number of artificers and manufacturers reduces the home market and consequently discourages agriculture, because the home market is the most important market for rude produce.

49 Those systems which prefer agriculture impose restraints on manufactures and foreign trade.

They act contrary to the very end which they propose. They indirectly discourage the agriculture which they mean to promote. They are more inconsistent than even the mercantile system. The mercantile system encourages manufactures and foreign trade more than agriculture.

It turns the capital of society from supporting a more advantageous, to support a less advantageous industry. But it really and ultimately encourages the industry which it means to promote. Those agricultural systems, on the contrary, really and ultimately discourage their own favourite industry.

50 Thus, economic systems can subvert the great purpose they mean to promote if they=

draw, by extraordinary encouragements, more of society’s capital towards a particular industry, than what would naturally go to it, and force, by extraordinary restraints, from a particular industry some of the capital which would otherwise be employed in it. Such systems retard the progress of society towards real wealth and greatness instead of accelerating it.

They reduce the real value of the national annual produce, instead of increasing it.

51 When preference or restraint is completely removed from all systems, the obvious and simple system of natural liberty establishes itself of its own accord.

Every man is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way as long as he does not violate the laws of justice. Every man is free to bring his industry and capital into competition with others. The sovereign is completely discharged from a duty which would always expose him to innumerable delusions. No human wisdom or knowledge could ever be sufficient to properly perform this duty of= superintending the industry of private people, directing private industry towards employments most suitable to the interest of society. According to the system of natural liberty, the sovereign has only three important duties which are plain and intelligible to common understandings=

The duty of protecting society from violence and invasion of other independent societies The duty of establishing an exact administration of justice The duty of protecting every member of society from the injustice or oppression of its other members. The duty of building and maintaining public works and institutions No single person might have an interest to build and maintain such works because the profit could never repay its cost to any individual, although it might frequently repay itself when done by a large society.

52 The proper performance of those duties necessarily incurs a certain cost.

This cost necessarily requires a certain revenue to support it.

In Book 5, I shall explain in three chapters=

  • what are the sovereign’s necessary expences,
  • which of those expences should be defrayed by the contribution of=
  • the whole society, and
  • a particular part or members of society only.
  • the ways how society may be made to contribute towards defraying the expences incumbent on the whole.

The principal advantages and inconveniences of each of those methods. The reasons and causes which have induced modern governments to contract debts or mortgage part of this revenue. What were the effects of those debts on the society’s real wealth.


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