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

nion or prejudice ever alter with regard to such occupations, their pecuniary recompense would quickly diminish. More people would apply to them, and the competition would quickly reduce the price of their labour. Such talents, though far from being common, are by no means so rare as is imagined. Many people possess them in great perfection, who disdain to make this use of them; and many more are capable of acquiring them, if any thing could be honourably made by them.'*

In some countries, the functions of national administration are requited at the same time with high honour and large emolument; but it is only so, where, instead of being open to free competition, like other occupations and professions, they are in the disposal of royal favour. A nation, awake to its true interest, is careful not to lavish this double recompense upon official mediocrity; but to husband its pecuniary bounty, where it is prodigal of distinction and authority.

Every temporary occupation is dearly paid; for the labourer must be indemnified as well for the time he is employed, as for that during which he is waiting for employment. A job coachmaster must charge more for the days he is employed, than may appear sufficient for his trouble and capital embarked, because the busy days must pay for the idle ones; any thing less would be ruin to him. The hire of masquerade dresses is expensive for the same reason; the receipts of the carnival must pay for the whole year. Upon a cross road, an inn-keeper must charge high for indifferent entertainment; for he may be some days before the arrival of another traveller.

However, the proneness of mankind to expect, that, if there be a single lucky chance, it will be sore to fall to their peculiar lot, attracts towards particular channels a portion of industry disproportionate to the profit they hold out. 'In a perfectl yfair lottery,' says the author of the Wealth of Nations, 'those who draw prizes ought to gain all that is lost by those who draw blanks. In a profession, where twenty fail for one that succeeds, that one ought to gain all that should have been gained by the unsuccessful twenty.' Now many occupations are far from being paid according to this rate. The same author states his belief, that, how extravagant soever the fees of counsellors at law of celebrity may appear, the annual gains of all the counsellors of a large town bear but a very small proportion to their annual expense; so that this profession must, in great part, derive its subsistence from some other independent source of revenue.

It is hardly necessary to state, that these several causes of difference in the ratio of profit may act all in the same, or each in an opposite direction; or that, in the former case, the effect is more

____________________
*
Wealth of Nations, book i. c. 10.
Wealth of Nations, book i. c. 10.

-280-

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