A Treatise on Political Economy, Or, the Production, Distribution, and Consumption of Wealth

By Jean-Baptiste Say; Clement C. Biddle et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VI.
OF WHAT BRANCHES OF PRODUCTION YIELD THE MOST LIBERAL RECOMPENSE TO PRODUCTIVE AGENCY.

THE aggregate value of a product, in the way just described, refunds to its different concurring producers the amount of their advances, with the addition in most cases, of a profit, that constitutes their revenue. But the profits of productive agency are not of equal amount in all its branches; some yielding but a very scanty revenue for the land, capital, or industry, embarked in them; while others give an exorbitant return.

True it is, that productive agents always endeavour to direct their agency to those employments, in which the profits are the greatest, and thus, by their competition have as much tendency to lower price, as demand has to raise it; but the effects of competition can not always so nicely proportion the supply to the demand, as in every case to ensure an equal remuneration. Some kinds of labour are scantily supplied, in countries where people are not accustomed to them; and capital is often so sunk in a particular channel of production, that it can never be transferred to any other from that wherein it was originally embarked. Besides, the land may stubbornly resist that kind of cultivation, whose products are in the greatest demand.

One can not trace the fluctuation of profit on each particular occasion. A wonderful change may be effected by a new invention, a hostile invasion, or a seige. Such partial circumstances may influence or derange the operation of general causes, but can not destroy their general tendency. No dissertation, however voluminous, could be made to embrace every individual circumstance, that, by possibility may influence the relative value of objects; but one may specify general causes, and such as have an uniform activity; thereby enabling every one, when the particular occasion may present itself, to estimate the effect produced by the operation of partial and transient circumstances.

It may appear extraordinary at first sight, but will on inquiry be found generally true, that the largest profit is made, not on the dearest commodities or upon those which are least indispensable, but rather on those, which are the most common and least to be dispensed with. In fact, the demand for these latter is necessarily permanent; for it is stimulated by actual want, and grows with every increase of the means of production; inasmuch as nothing tends to increase population more, than providing the means of its subsistence. The demand for superfluities, on the

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