Essay on the Nature of Commerce

Richard Cantillon

[Part 4 of 7]

Part Two

Chapter One

Of Barter

In Part I an attempt was made to prove that the real value of everything used by man is proportionate to the quantity of Land used for its production and for the upkeep of those who have fashioned it. In this second part, after summing up the different degrees of fertility of the land in several countires and the different kinds of produce itcan bring forth with greater abundance according to its intrinsic quality, and assuming the establishment of towns and their markets to facilitate the sale of these products,it will be shewn by comparing exchanges which may be made, wine for cloth, corn for shoes, hats, etc. and by the difficulty which the transport of these different products or merchandises would involve, that it was impossible to fix their respective intrinsic value, and there was absolute necessity for man to find a substance easily transportable, not perishable, and having by weight a proportion or value equal to the different products and merchandises, necessary or convenient. Thence arose the choice of gold and silver for large business and of copper for small traffic.

These metals are not only durable and easily transported but correspond to the employment of a large area of land for their production, which gives them the real value desirable in exchange.

Mr Locke who, like all the English writers on this subject, has looked only to market prices, lays down that the value of all things in proportionable to their abundance or scarcity, and the abundance or scarcity of the silver for which they are exchanged. It is generally known that the prices of produce and merchandise have been raised in Europe since so great a quantity of silver has been brought thither from the West Indies.

But I consider that we must not suppose as a general rule that the market prices of things should be proportionable to their quantity and to that of the silver actually circulating in one place, because the products and merchandise sent away to be sold elsewhere do not influence the price of those which remain. If, for example, in a market town where there is twice as much corn as is consumed there, we compared the whole quantity of corn to that of silver, the corn would be more abundant of corn to that of silver, the corn would be more abundant in proportion than the silver destined for its purchase; the market price, however, will be maintained just as if there were only half the quantity of corn, since the other half can be and even must be, sent into the city, and the cost of transport will be included in the city price which is always higher than that of the town. But apart from the case of hoping to sell in another market, I consider that Mr Locke's idea is correct in the sense of the following chapter, and not otherwise.

Chapter Two

Of Market Prices

Suppose the butchers on one side and the buyers on the other. The price of meat will be settled after some altercations, and a pound of beef will be in value to a piece of silver pretty nearly as the whole beef offered for sale in the market is to all the silver brought there to buy beef.

This proportion is come at by bargaining. ...It is clear that the quantity of produce or of merchandise offered for sale, in proportion to the demand or number of buyers, is the basis on which is fixed or always supposed to be fixed the actual market prices; and that in general these prices do not vary much from the intrinsic value. ...

It often happens that sellers who are too obstinate in keeping up their price in the market, miss the opportunity of selling their produce or merchandise to advantage and are losers thereby. It also happens that by sticking to their prices they may be able to sell more profitably another day.

Distant markets may always effect the prices of the market where one is: if corn is extremely dear in France it will go up in England and in other neighbouring countries.

Chapter Three

Of the Circulation of Money

It is the general opinion in England that a farmer must make three rents. (1) The principal and true rent which he pays to the proprietor, supposed equal in value to the produce of one third of his farm, a second rent for his maintenance and that of the men and horses he employs to cultivate the farm, and a third which ought to remain with him to make his undertaking profitable.

The same idea obtains generally in the other countries of Europe, though in some, like the Milanese state, the farmer gives the landlord half the produce instead of a third, and many landlords in all countries try to let their farms at the highest rent they can; but when this is above a third of the produce the farmers are generally very poor. I doubt not that the Chinese landowner extracts from his farmer more than three fourths of the produce.

However when a farmer has some capital to carry on the management of this farm the proprietor who lets him the farm for a third of the produce will be sure of payment and will be better off by such a bargain than if he let his land at a higher rate to a beggarly farmer at the risk of losing all his rent. The larger the farm the better off the farmer will be. This is seen in England where the farmers are generally more prosperous than in other countries where the farms are small.

The assumption I shall make in this enquiry as to the circulation of money is that farmers earn three rents and spend the third rent on living more comfortably instead of saving it. It is in fact the case with the greatest number of farmers in all countries.

All the produce of the country comes directly or indirectly from the hands of the farmers as well as all the materials from which commodities are made. It is the land which produces everything but fish, and even then the fishermen who catch the fish must be maintained on the produce of the land.

The three rents of the farmer must therefore be considered as the principal sources or so to speak the mainspring of circulation in the state. The first rent must be paid to the landowner in ready money: for the second and third rents ready money is needed for the iron, tin, copper, salt, sugar, cloth and generally all the merchandise of the city consumed in the country; but all that hardly exceeds the sixth part of the total or three rents. As for the food and drink of the country folk ready money is not necessary to obtain it. ...

The only cash needed in the country is that for the principal rent of the landlord and for the manufactures which the country necessarily draws from the city, such as knives, scissors, pins, needles, cloths for some farmers or other well-to-do people, the kitchen utensils, plates, and generally all that is got from the city. I have already observed that it is reckoned that half the inhabitants of a state live in the cities, and consequently the citizens spend more than half the produce of the land. Cash is therefore necessary, not only for the rent of the landlord, corresponding to one third of the produce, but also for the city merchandise consumed in the country, which may amount to something more than one sixth of the produce of the soil. But one third and one sixth amount to half the produce. The cash circulating in the country must therefore be equal to at least one half the produce of the land, by which means the other half or somewhat less may be consumed in the country without need of cash.

The circulation of this money takes place when the landlords spend in detail in the city the rents which the farmers have paid them in lump sums, and when the undertakers of the cities, butchers, bakers, brewers, etc. collect little by little this same money to buy from the farmers in lump sums cattle, wheat, barley, etc. In this way all the large sums of money are distributed in small amounts, and all the small amounts are then collected to make payments in large amounts, directly or indirectly, to the farmers, and this money large or small always passes in return for services.

When I stated that for the country circulation there is needed a quantity of money often equal in value to half the produce of the land, this is the minimum; and in order that the country circulation should be easily conducted I will suppose that the ready cash which conducts the circulation of the three rents, is equal in value to two of these rents, or two thirds of the produce of the land. It will be seen later that this supposition is not far from the truth. ...

It will be seen from this that the proportion of the amount of money needed for circulation in a state is not incomprehensible, and that this amount may be greater or less in a state according to the mode of living and the rapidity of payments. But it is very difficult to lay down anything definite as regards this quantity in general, as the proportion may differ in different countries, and it is only conjectural when I say that "the real cash or money necessary to carry on the circulation and exchange in a state is about equal in value to one third of all the annual rents of the proprietors of the said state."

Supposing the money in circulation equal to the third of all the rents of the landowners and these rents equal to the third of the annual produce of the land, it follows that "the money circulating in a state is equal in value to the ninth part of all the annual produce of the soil."

Sir William Petty, in a manuscript of 1685, supposes frequently that the money in circulation is equal to one tenth of the produce of the soil. He gives no reason. I suppose it is an opinion which he formed from experience and from his practical knowledge both of the money circulating in Ireland (a great part of the land of which country he had measured as a surveyor) and of the produce which he estimated roughly from observation. I am not far removed from his conclusion to the landlords' rents which are ordinarily paid in money and easily ascertainable by a uniform land tax, rather than to the products of the soil, the prices of which vary daily in the markets, and a large part of which is consumed without entering into the market. In the next chapter I shall give several reasons, supported by examples, to confirm my conclusion. I think it useful, even if not mathematically exact in each country. It is enough if it is near the truth and if it prevents the governors of states from forming extravagant ideas of the amount of money in circulation. There is no branch of knowledge in which one is more subject to error than statistics when they are left to imagination, and none more demonstrable when they are based upon detailed facts. ...

As to the cash needed to carry on foreign trade it seems that no more is required than what is in circulation in the state when the balance of foreign trade is equal, that is when the products and merchandise sent abroad are equal in value to those imported. ...

It may even occur that when the balance with the foreigner is equal to the trade with him may retard the circulation of ready money and therefore require a greater quantity of money by reason of this commerce. ...

After all, the principle rent of the landowner must be considered to be the most necessary and considerable branch of the money in regard to circulation. If he lives in the city and the farmer sells in the same city all his produce and buys there all the merchandise necessary for country use, the ready money may always remain in the city. The farmer will sell there produce exceeding half the output of his farm; he will pay his landlord in the same city the money value of one third of his produce and the rest to merchants or undertakers for merchandise to be consumed in the country. Even here, however, as the farmer sells his produce for lump sums, which are subsequently distributed in retail purchases, and are again collected to serve for lump payments to the farmers, the circulation has always the same effect (subject to its rapidity) as if the farmer took to the country the money received for his produce and sent it back again to the city.

The circulation consists always of this, that the large sums which the farmer receives on the sale of his produce are split up in detail and then brought together again to make large payments. Whether this money go partly out of the city or remain there entirely it may be regarded as the circulating medium between city and country. All the circulation takes place between the inhabitants of the state, and they are all fed and maintained in every way from the produce of the soil and raw materials of the country.

It is true that the wool, for example, which is brought from the country, when made up into cloth in the city is worth four times its former value. But this increase of value, which is the price of the labour of the workmen and manufactures in the city, is exchanged for the country produce which serves for their maintenance.

Chapter Four

Further Reflection on the Rapidity or Slowness of the Circulation of Money in Exchange

...[I]t rarely happens that the landlords spend their rents in a fixed and regular proportion. In London as soon as a landlord receives his rent he puts most of it into the hands of a goldsmith or banker, who lends it at interest, so that this part is in circulation. Or else the landlord spends a good part of it upon various things needful for his household, and before he gets his next quarter's rent he will perhaps borrow money. ...

The goldsmiths and public bankers, whose notes pass current in payment like ready money, contribute also to the speed of circulation, which would be retarded if money were needed in all the payments for which these notes suffice: and although these goldsmiths and bankers always keep in hand a good part of the actual money they have received for their notes, they also put into circulation a considerable amount of this actual money as I shall explain later in dealing with public banks.

All these reflections seem to prove that the circulation of a state could be conducted with much less actual money than I have supposed necessary; but the following inductions appear to counterbalance them and to contribute to the slowing down of the circulation.

I will first observe that all country produce is furnished by labour which may possibly, as already often suggested, be carried on with little or no actual money. But all merchandise is made in cities or market towns by the labour of men who must be paid in actual money. ...

The consumption of the inhabitants of a state is, in a sense, entirely for food. Lodging, clothing, furniture, etc. correspond to the food of the men who have worked upon them; and in the cities all drink and food are of necessity paid for in hard cash. In the families of landowners in the city food is paid for every day or every week: wine in their families is paid for every week or every month; hats, stockings, shoes, etc. are ordinarily paid for in actual money, at least the payments correspond to cash for the men who have worked upon them. All the sums which serve to pay large amounts are divided, distributed, and spread in small payments corresponding to the maintenance of the workmen, manservants, etc. and all these sums are necessarily collected and reunited by the undertakers and retailers who are employed on the subsistence of the inhabitants to make large payments when they buy the products of the farmers. ...One cannot imagine anything is bought for ready money in a state, like furniture, merchandise, etc. the value of which does not correspond to the maintenance of those who have worked upon it.

Circulation in the cities is carried out by undertakers and always corresponds directly or indirectly to the subsistence of the menservants, workmen, etc. It is not conceivable that it can be effected in small detail without cash. Notes may serve as counters in large payments for a certain time; but when the large sums come to be distributed and spread into small transactions, as is always the case sooner or later in the course of circulation in a city, notes cannot serve the purpose and cash is needed.

All this being presupposed, all the classes in a state who practice some economy, save and keep out of circulation small amounts of cash till they have enough to invest at interest or profit. Many miserly and timid people bury and hoard cash for considerable periods.

Many landowners, undertakers and others, always keep some cash in their pockets or safes against unforeseen emergencies and not to be run out of money. ...One does not like to spend up to the last sou, one is glad not be completely denuded, and to receive a new instalment before paying even a debt with the money one has.

The capital of minors and of suitors is often deposited in cash and kept out of circulation.

Beside the large payments which pass through the hands of the farmers in the quarterly terms of the year there are many others from one undertaker to another in the same terms, and others at different times from borrowers to lenders of money. All these sums are collected in retail trade, are spread abroad anew and come back sooner or later to the farmer: but they seem to require a more considerable amount of cash for circulation than if these large payments were made in different times from those when the farmers are paid for their produce.

In fine there is so great a variety in the different orders of the inhabitants of the state and in the corresponding circulation of actual money, that it seems impossible to lay down anything precise or exact as to the proportion of money sufficient for the circulation. I have adduced so many examples and inductions only to make it clear that I am not far out of the truth in my conclusion "that the actual money necessary for the circulation of the state corresponds nearly to the value of the third of all the annual rents of the landlords." When the landlords have a rent which amounts to half the produce or more than a third, a greater quantity of actual money is needed for circulation, other things being equal. When there is great confidence in the banks and in book credits less money will suffice, as also when the rapidity of circulation is accelerated in any other way. But I shall show later that public banks do not afford so many advantages as is usually supposed.

Chapter Five

Of the Inequality of the circulation of hard money in a state

The city always supplies various merchandises to the country, and the landowners who reside in the city should always receive there about a third of the produce of their land. The country thus owes to the city more than half the produce of the land. This debt would always exceed one half if all landowners lived in the city, but as several of the least important live in the country I suppose that the balance or debt which continually returns from the country to the city is equal to half the produce of the land and is paid in the city by half the products of the country transported to it and sold to pay this debt.

But all the countryside of a state or kingdom owes a constant balance to the capital, as well for the rents of the more considerable landowners who reside there as for the taxes of the state or crown, most of which are spent in the capital. ...

It may therefore be said that all the countryside and all the cities of a state owe regularly and annually a balance or debt to the capital. But as it is all paid in money it is evident that the provinces always owe considerable sums to the capital; for the products and commodities which the provinces send to the capital are sold there for money, and with this money the debt or balance in question is paid. ...

It would be easy to make an infinite number of inductions of the same kind to justify by experience the necessity of an inequality in the circulation of money in the different provinces of a great state or kingdom, and to show that this inequality is always relative to the balance or debt which belongs to the capital.

If we suppose that the balance due to the capital amounts to one fourth of the produce of the land of all the provinces of the state the best use that can be made of the land would be to employ the country bordering on the capital to produce the kinds of produce which could not be drawn from distant provinces without much expense or deterioration. This is in fact what always takes place. The market prices of the capital serving as a standard for the farmers to employ the land for such or such a purpose they use the nearest, when suitable, for market gardens, pasture, etc. ...

...[W]hen a distant province has no manufactory and produces only ordinary raw materials without water communication with the capital or the ocean, it is astonishing how scarce money is there compared with that which circulates in the capital and how little the best lands produce to the prince and to the proprietors who reside in the capital. ...

At present if a state or kingdom which supplies all foreign countries with work of its own manufacture does so much of this commerce that it draws every year a constant balance of money from abroad, the circulation will become more considerable there than in foreign countries, money will be more plentiful there, and consequently land and labour will gradually become dearer there. It will follow that in all the branches of commerce the state in question will exchange a smaller amount of land and labour with the foreigner for a larger amount, so long as these circumstances continue.

But if some foreigner reside in the state in question he will be in about the same situation and circumstances as the proprietor at Paris who has his land in distant provinces. ...The inequality of the circulation of money in the different states constitutes the inequality of their respective power, other things being equal; and this inequality of circulation is always respective to the balance of foreign trade.

It is easy to judge from what has been said in this chapter that the assessment by taxes of the royal tithe, made by Mr de Vauban, would be neither advantageous nor practicable. If the taxes on land were levied in money proportionable to the rents of the proprietors, it would be fairer. But I must not wander from my subject to show the inconvenience and impossibility of Mr de Vauban's proposal.

Chapter Six

Of the increase and decrease in the quantity of hard money in a State

If mines of gold or silver be found in a state and considerable quantities of minerals drawn from them, the proprietors of these mines, the undertaker, and all those who work there, will not fail to increase their expenses in proportion to the wealth and profit they make: they will also lend at interest the sums of money which they have over and above what they need to spend.

All this money, whether lent or spent, will enter into circulation and will not fail to raise the price of products and merchandise in all the channels of circulation which it enters. Increased money will bring about increased expenditure and this will cause an increase of market prices in the highest years of exchange and gradually in the lowest.

Everybody agrees that the abundance of money or its increase in exchange, raises the price of everything. The quantity of money brought from American to Europe for the last two centuries justifies this truth by experience.

Mr Locke lays it down as a fundamental maxim that the quantity of produce and merchandise in proportion to the quantity of money serves as the regulator of market price. I have tried to elucidate his idea in the preceding chapters: he has clearly seen that the abundance of money makes everything dear, but he has not considered how it does so. The great difficulty of this question consists in knowing in what way and in what proportion the increase of money raises prices.
I have already remarked that an acceleration or greater rapidity in circulation of money in exchange, is equivalent to an increase of actual money up to a point. I have also observed that the increase or decrease of prices in a distant market, home or foreign, influences the actual market prices. On the other hand money flows in detail through so many channels that it seems impossible not to lose sight of it seeing that having been amassed to make large sums it is distributed in little rills of exchange, and then gradually accumulated again to make large payments. For these operations it is constantly necessary to change coins of gold, silver and copper according to the activity of exchange. It is also usually the case that the increase or decrease of actual money in a state is not perceived because it flow abroad, or is brought into the state, by such imperceptible means and proportions that it is impossible to know exactly the quantity which enters or leaves the state.

However all these operations pass under our eyes and everybody takes part in them. I may therefore venture to offer a few observations on the subject, even though I may not be able to give an account which is exact and precise.

I consider in general that an increase of actual money causes in a state a corresponding increase of consumption which gradually brings about increased prices.

If the increase of actual money comes from mines of gold or silver in the state the owner of these mines, the adventurers, the smelters, refiners, and all the other workers will increase their expenses in proportion to their gains. They will consume in their households more meat, wine, or beer than before, will accustom themselves to wear better cloths, finer linen, to have better furnished houses and other choicer commodities. They will consequently give employment to several mechanics who had not so much to do before and who for the same reason will increase their expenses: all this increase of expense in meat, wine, wool, etc. diminishes of necessity the share of the other inhabitants of the state who do not participate at first in the wealth of the mines in question. The altercations of the market, or the demand for meat, wine, wool, etc. being more intense than usual, will not fail to raise their prices. These high prices will determine the farmers to employ more land to produce them in another year: these same farmers will profit by this rise of prices and will increase the expenditure of their families like the others. Those then who will suffer from this dearness and increased consumption will be first of all the landowners, during the term of their leases, then their domestic servants and all the workmen or fixed wage-earners who support their families on their wages. All these must diminish their expenditure in proportion to the new consumption, which will compel a large number of them to emigrate to seek a living elsewhere. The landowners will dismiss many of them, and the rest will demand an increase of wages to enable them to live as before. It is thus, approximately, that a considerable increase of money from the mines increases consumption, and by diminishing the number of inhabitants entails a greater expense among those who remain.
If more money continues to be drawn from the mines all prices will owing to this abundance rise to such a point that not only will the landowners raise their rents considerably when the leases expire and resume their old style of living, increasing proportionably the wages their servants, but the mechanics and workmen will raise the prices of their articles so high that there will be a considerable profit in buying them from the foreigner who makes them much more cheaply. This will naturally induce several people to import many articles made in foreign countries, where found very cheap: this will gradually ruin the mechanics and manufacturers of the state who will not be maintain themselves there by working at such low owing to the dearness of living.

When the excessive has diminished the inhabitants of a state, those who remain to a too large expenditure, raised produce of the land and the labour of workmen to excessive prices, ruined the manufactures of the state by use of foreign productions on the part of landlords and mine workers, the money produced by the mines will necessarily go abroad to pay for the imports: this will gradually impoverish the state and render it in some sort dependent on the Foreigner to whom it is obliged to send money every year as it is drawn from the mines. The great circulation of money, which was general at the beginning, ceases: poverty and misery follow and the labour of the mines appears to be only to the advantage of those employed upon them and the Foreigners who profit thereby. ...

Now if the increase of money in the state proceeds from a balance of foreign trade (i.e. from sending abroad articles and manufactures in greater value and quantity than is imported and consequently receiving the surplus in money) this annual increase of money will enrich a great number of merchants and Undertakers in the state, and will give employment to numerous mechanics and workmen who furnish the commodities sent to the foreigner from whom the money is drawn. This will increase gradually the consumption of these industrial inhabitants and will raise the price of land and labour. But the industrious who are eager to acquire property will not at first increase their expense: they will wait till they have accumulated a good sum from which they can draw an assured interest, independently of their trade. When a large number of the inhabitants have acquired considerable fortunes from this money, which enters the state regularly and annually, they will, without fail, increase their consumption and raise the price of everything. Though this dearness involves them in a greater expense than they at first contemplated they will for the most part continue so long as their capital lasts; for nothing is easier or more agreeable than to increase the family expenses, nothing more difficult or disagreeable than to retrench them.

If an annual and continuous balance has brought about in a state a considerable increase of money it will not fail to increase consumption, to raise the price of evening and even to diminish the number of inhabitants unless additional produce is drawn from abroad proportionable to the increased consumption. Moreover it is usual in states which have acquired a considerable abundance of money to draw many things from neighbouring countries where money is rare and consequently everything is cheap: but as money must be sent for this the balance of trade will become smaller. The cheapness of land and labour in the foreign countries where money is rare will naturally cause the erection of manufactories and works similar to those of the state, but which will not at first be so perfect nor so highly valued.

In this situation the state may subsist in abundance of money, consume all its own produce and also much foreign produce and over and above all this maintain a small balance of trade against the foreigner or at least keep the balance level for many years, that is import in exchange for its work and manufactures as much money from these foreign countries as it has to send them for the commodities or products of the land it takes from them. If the state is a maritime state the facility and cheapness of its shipping for the transport of its work and manufactures into foreign countries may compensate in some sort the high price of labour caused by the too great abundance of money; so that the work and manufactures of this state, dear though they be, will sell in foreign countries cheaper sometimes than the manufactures of another state where labour is less highly paid.

The cost of transport increases a good deal the prices of things sent to distant countries; but these costs are very moderate in maritime states, where there is regular shipping to all foreign ports so that Ships are nearly always found there ready to sail which take on board all cargoes confided to them at a very reasonable freight.

It is not so in states where navigation does not Nourish. There it is necessary to build ships expressly for the carrying trade and this sometimes absorbs all the profit; and navigation there is always very expensive, which entirely discourages trade. ...

The increased quantity of money in circulation in a state may also be caused, without balance of trade, by subsidies paid to this state by foreign powers, by the expenses of several ambassadors, or of travellers whom political reasons or curiosity or pleasure may induce to reside there for some time, by the transfer of the property and fortune of some Families who from motives of religious liberty or other causes quit their own country to settle down in this state. In all these cases the sums which come into the state always cause an increased expense and consumption there and consequently raise the prices of all things in the channels of exchange into which money enters. ...

When the consumption of meat increases the farmers add to their pastures to get more meat, and this diminishes the arable land and consequently the amount of corn. But what generally causes meat to become dearer in proportion than Bread is that ordinarily the free import of foreign corn is permitted while the import of Cattle is absolutely forbidden, as in England, or heavy import duties are imposed as in other states. This is the reason why the rents of meadows and pastures go up in England, in the abundance of money, to three times more than the rents of arable land.

There is no doubt that Ambassadors, Travellers, and Families who come to settle in the state, increase consumption there and that prices rise in all the channels of exchange where money is introduced.

As to subsidies which the state has received from foreign powers, either they are hoarded for state necessities or are put into circulation. If we suppose them hoarded they do not concern my argument for I am considering only money in circulation. Hoarded money, plate, Church treasures, etc. are wealth which the state turns to service in extremity, but are of no present utility. If the state puts into circulation the subsidies in question it can only be by spending them and this ill very certainly increase consumption and send up all prices. Whoever receives this money will set it in motion in the principal affair of life, which is the food, either of himself or of some other, since to this everything corresponds directly or indirectly.

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