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Of bounties on the exportation of corn.

undoubtedly be able to produce food beyond the demands of the actual population, can ever be

part of any nation, and the consequently increasing demands for the products of pasture, more land were daily laid down to grass, and more corn imported from other countries, the unavoidable consequence seems to be, that the increasing prosperity of these countries, which their exportations of corn would contribute to accelerate, must • ultimately diminish the population and power of the countries which had fostered them. The ancients always attributed this natural weakness and old age of states to luxury. But the moderns who have generally considered luxury as a principal encouragement to commerce and manufactures, and consequently a powerful instrument of prosperity, have, with great appearance of reason, been unwilling to consider it as a cause of decline. But allowing, with the moderns, all the advantages of luxury, and when it falls short of actual vice, they are certainly great, there seems to be a point beyond which it must necessarily become prejudicial to a state, and bring with it the seeds of weakness and decay. This point is, when it is pushed so far as to trench on the funds necessary for its support, and to become an impediment instead of an encouragement to agriculture.

I should be much misunderstood, if, from any thing that I have said in the four last chapters, I should be considered as not suficiently aware of the advantages derived from commerce and manufactures. I look upon them as the most distinguishing characteristics of civilization, the most obvious and striking marks of the improvement of society, and calculated to enlarge our enjoyments, and add to the sum of human happiness. Ne

Of bounties on the exportation of corn.

made to keep pace with an unchecked population. The errors that have arisen from the constant ap. pearance of a full supply, produced by the agri .

great surplus produce of agriculture could exist without them, and if it did exist, it would be comparatively of very little value. But still they are rather the ornaments and embellishments of the political structure than its foundations. While these foundations are perfectly secure, we cannot be too solicitous to make all the apartments convenient and elegant; but if there be the slighest reason to fear that the foundations themselves may give way, it seems to be folly to continue directing our principal attention to the less essential parts. There has never yet been an instance in history, of a large nation continuing with undimished vigor, to support four or tive millions of its people on imported corn; nor do I believe that there ever will be such an instance in future. England is, una doubtedly, from her insular situation, and commanding navy, the most likely to form an exception to this rule; but in spite even of the peculiar advantages of England, it appears to me clear that if she continue yearly to increase her importations of corn, she cannot ultimately escape that decline which seems to be the natural and necessary consequence of excessive commercial wealth. I am not now speaking of the next twenty or thirty years, but of the next two or three hundred. And though we are little in the habit of looking so far forwards, yet it may be questioned, whether we are not bound in duty to make some exertions to avoid a system which must necessarily terminate in the weakness and decline of our posterity. But whether we make any practical application of such a discussion or not, it is curious to contemplate the causes vol. ii.

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Of bounties on the exportation of corn.

cultural system, and the source of some other prejudices on the subject of population, will be noticed' in the following chapter.

of those reverses in the fates of empires, which so frequently changed the face of the world in past times, and may be expected to produce similar, though perhaps not such violent changes in future. War was undoubtedly in ancient times, the principal cause of these changes; but it frequently only finished a work which excess of luxury and the neglect of agriculture had begun. Foreign invasions, or internal convulsions, produce but a temporary and comparatively slight effect on such countries as Lombardy, Tuscany, and Flanders, but are fatal to such states as Holland and Hamburgh; and though the commerce and manufactures of England will probably always be supported in a great degree by her agriculture, yet that part which is not so supported will still remain subject to the reverses of dependent states.

We should recollect, that it is only within the last twenty or thirty years that we have become an importing nation. In so short a period, it could hardly be expected that the evils of the system should be perceptible. We have however already felt some of its inconveniences; and if we persevere in it, its evil consequences may by no means be a matter of remote speculation.

CHAPTER XI.

On the prevailing Errors respecting Population and

Plenty.

IT has been observed, that many countries at the period of their greatest degree of populousness have lived in the greatest plenty, and have been able to export corn; but at other periods, when their population was very low, have lived in contínual poverty and want, and have been obliged to import corn. Egypt, Palestine, Rome, Sicily, and Spain, are cited as particular exemplifications of this fact; and it has been inferred, that an increase of population in any state, not cultivated to the utmost, will tend rather to augment than diminish the relative plenty of the whole society; and that, as Lord Kaimes observes, a country cannot easily become too populous for agriculture ; because agriculture has the signal property of

producing food in proportion to the number of consumers.'

1 Sketches of the History of Man, b. i. sketch i. p. 106, 107. 8vo. 1788,

On the prevailing errors

The general facts from which these inferences are drawn, there is no reason to doubt; but the inferences by no means follow from the premises. It is the nature of agriculture, particularly when well conducted, to produce support for a considerable number above that which it employs; and consequently if these members of the society, or as Sir James Steuart calls them, the free hands, do not increase, so as to reach the limit of the number which can be supported by the surplus produce, , the whole population of the country may continue for ages increasing with the improving state of agriculture, and yet always be able to export corn. But this increase after a certain period, will be very different from the natural and unrestricted increase of population ; it will merely follow the slow augmentation of produce from the gradual improvement of agriculture, and population will still be checked by the difficulty of procuring subsistence. It is very justly observed by Sir James Stewart, that the population of England in the middle of the last century when the exports of corn were considerable, was still checked for want of food. The precise measure of the population in

i Polit. Econ. vol. i. b. i. c. xv. p. 100.

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