Friday, December 09, 2005

Depression, anxiety, and uneasiness

Preliminary number and prospectus From The Economist Aug 5th 1843
It is one of the most melancholy reflections of the present day, that while wealth and capital have been rapidly increasing, while science and art have been working the most surprising miracles in aid of the human family, and while morality, intelligence, and civilization have been rapidly extending on all hands;—that at this time, the great material interests of the higher and middle classes, and the physical condition of the labouring and industrial classes, are more and more marked by characters of uncertainty and insecurity.
In vain has the hand of ART (led on and guided by a complete glare of SCIENCE, aided by INDUSTRY of unsurpassed intelligence and perseverance, nurtured and fertilized by CAPITAL almost without limit) developed the resources of the human mind and the material creation in a manner which has at once astonished and exalted the world;—in vain have all parts of the earth been brought nearer and nearer to us;—our Indian territory within forty days’ journey, the great American continent within ten days’ sail, our continental neighbours and every part of our own country separated only by a brief space of a few hours;—in vain the producers and consumers of the whole world, the administrators of mutual wants, the encouragers of mutual industries, have been brought in easy and close collision and contact, and thus facilitated the supply of every want, and the demand for every exertion of human skill and industry;—in vain do we acknowledge all these unequalled and undoubted elements of national prosperity: for at this moment the whole country—every interest without exception,—the owner and occupier of the soil, the explorer of our great mineral world, the manufacturer who gives form, shape, and utility to the produce of nature, the artisan, the labourer of every description, the merchant and shipowner (the great links of exchange), and the capitalist who facilitates the operations of all,—every one of these interests stand at this moment CONFESSEDLY in a condition of the most unprecedented depression, anxiety, and uneasiness. And what rather adds to this anomaly than in any way accounts for it, is, that our population has been rapidly increasing, not only in numbers, but also in great skill and productive ability.

But while Art, Science, Intelligence and Enterprise have been thus engaged the last half century in behalf of our country and the human race, in what manner has legislation been occupied? Let cool and calm deliberation determine this question. In the early part of that period the little time which could be spared by the legislature from the excitement of political strife, the struggle for political power and place, was occupied with the stirring events attendant on the long and continued wars in which we were engaged, and the principles of commercial and industrial legislation attracted little of its attention. Under such circumstances it was not difficult for those interests who possessed great political influence to obtain enactments which they supposed would be beneficial to themselves. Unfortunately, however, both governments, and classes, and individuals have been too apt to conclude that their benefit could be secured by a policy injurious to others; and too often the benefit proposed has even been measured by the injury to be inflicted: hence all the laws which were framed under this influence had a tendency to raise up barriers to intercourse, jealousies, animosities, and heartburnings between individuals and classes in this country, and again between this country and all others; and thus, under the plea of protecting individuals or classes against each other, and the whole against other countries, was the system of COMMERCIAL RESTRICTION completed by the enactment of the corn and provision laws, passed in 1815; amid the utter forgetfulness on the part of the legislature, that it had no power or privilege which could enable it to confer a favour or wealth on any part of the community, without abstracting as much from others; in fact, that it possessed no inherent source of productiveness which could enable it to be generous.
The policy of England, always, but especially at this particular time, looked up to by all the world as the highway to greatness, was eagerly followed in her commercial regulations by other countries; navigation laws, hostile tariffs, prohibition of English manufactures, were resorted to by other governments, each in a way according to the notions they had of their own interests, in imitation of, or opposition to, the policy of England, each country inflicting on itself as much mischief and injury as England had done by similar policy.
It was thus while Art, Science, Capital, Commercial Enterprise, and Labour were eagerly demanding a greater arena to multiply and extend their benefits to ALL, that legislation, ignorance, and prejudice associated with short-sighted selfishness, were actively engaged in frustrating all these nobler efforts and designs. And so far had they succeeded in creating a war among the material interests of the world, that in 1819 the collision occasioned thereby threatened the most serious consequences to our Social and Commercial existence. This crisis caused reflecting men to turn their attention to the hitherto neglected science of Political and Commercial Economy.
The philosophy of Adam Smith found a clear and able enunciator in Ricardo. The political and legislative application of these great principles, so eloquently put forth to a wondering but ignorant audience by Burke, found an ardent, warm and able echo in Huskisson. The philosopher wrote, and was not refuted. The legislator debated, and by his earnestness, industry, and eloquence, aided no doubt by the pressing exigencies of the time, gained a partial triumph over the ignorance and prejudice which ruled; and shadowed out for the first time the principles of Political Economy into the embodyment of FREE TRADE as their practical result. He saw that our interests and commerce had far out-grown the narrow limits which ignorant legislation had assigned them: that all the up-heavings and convulsions in the country were but the external symptoms of the fierce struggle which was going forward between our rapidly-advancing productive power, earnestly demanding a larger field of exchange, and the principles of restriction and monopoly, blindly and vainly attempting to confine them to their ancient and narrow limit: that it was a severe contest between intelligence, which pressed forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.

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