Chapter 19: A Prince should not engage himself in Commerce
Theophilus saw a vessel laden with merchandises for his wife Theodora and ordered it to be burnt.
- He said:
- “I am Emperor, and you make me the master of a galley
- How shall these poor men gain a livelihood, if we take their trade out of their hands?”
He might have added:
- Who shall regulate us, if we monopolize all to ourselves?
- Who shall oblige us to fulfil our engagements?
- Our courtiers will follow our example.
- They will be more greedy, and more unjust than us.
- The people have some confidence in our justice.
- They will have no confidence in our opulence.
- All these numerous duties, which are the cause of their wants, are certain proofs of ours.
When the Portuguese and Castilians bore sway in the East Indies, commerce had such opulent branches.
| Their princes did not fail to seize them.
| This ruined their settlements in those parts of the world.
The viceroy of Goa granted exclusive privileges to particular persons.
- The people had no confidence in these men.
- The commerce declined by the perpetual change of those to whom it was entrusted.
- Nobody took care to improve it, or to leave it entire to his successor.
- In short, the profit centered in a few hands, and was not sufficiently extended.
Chapter 21: The Commerce of the Nobility in a Monarchy
In a monarchy, it is contrary to the spirit of commerce for the nobility to be merchants.
- The Emperors Honorius and Theodosius said:
- “This would be pernicious to cities.
- It would remove the facility of buying and selling between the merchants and the plebeians.”
It is contrary to the spirit of monarchy, to admit the nobility into commerce.
- The custom of suffering the nobility of England to trade, is one of those things which has there mostly contributed to weaken the monarchical government.
Chapter 22: A singular Reflection
Persons, struck with the practice of some states, imagine, that in France they should make laws to engage the nobility to enter into commerce.
- But these laws would destroy the nobility, without being of any advantage to trade.
- The practice of this country is extremely wise;
- Merchants are not nobles, though they may become so.
- They hope to obtain a degree of nobility, without its actual inconveniencies.
- The surest way of being advanced above their profession is to manage it well, or with success.
- The consequence of which is generally an affluent fortune.
In despotic kingdoms no body can or should have emulation.
- Laws which oblige every one to continue in his profession, and to devolve it to his children is of no use in such a despotic kingdom
No one can say that every one will succeed better in his profession if he cannot change it for another.
- I say instead that a person will succeed best, when those who have excelled hope to arise to another.
The possibility of buying honour with gold, encourages many merchants to put themselves in circumstances by which they may attain it.
- I will not examine the justice of bartering the price of virtue for money.
- There are governments where this may be very useful.
In France, the dignity of the long robe, which places those who wear it between the great nobility and the people, and without having such shining honours as the former, has all their privileges;
- a dignity which, while this body, the depositary of the laws, is encircled with glory, It leaves the private members in a mediocrity of fortune; a dignity, in which there are no other means of distinction, but by a superior capacity and virtue, yet which still leaves in view one much more illustrious:
- The warlike nobility likewise think that whatever wealth they have, may still increase their fortunes; who are ashamed of augmenting, if they begin not with dissipating their estates;
- who always serve their prince with their whole capital stock, and, when that is sunk, make room for others who follow their example; who take the field that they may never be reproached with not having been there;
- who, when they can no longer hope for riches, live in expectation of honours, and, when they have not obtained the latter, enjoy the consolation of having acquired glory:
- all these things together have necessarily contributed to augment the grandeur of this kingdom; if for two or three centuries it has been incessantly increasing in power, this must be attributed not to fortune, who was never famed for constancy, but to the goodness of its laws.
Chapter 23: To what Nations Commerce is prejudicial
Riches consist either in lands, or in moveable effects.
- The soil of every country is commonly possessed by the natives.
- The laws of most states render foreigners unwilling to purchase their lands;
- Only the presence of the owner improves them:
- this kind of riches therefore belongs to every state in particular.
- But moveable effects, as money, notes, bills of exchange, stocks in companies, vessels, and all merchandises, belong to the whole world in general.
- In this respect it is composed of but one single state, of which all the societies upon earth are members.
- The people who possess more of these moveable effects than any other on the globe, are the most opulent.
- Some states have an immense quantity, acquired by:
- their commodities
- the labour of their mechanics
- their industry
- their discoveries, and
- even by chance.
- The avarice of nations makes them quarrel for the moveables of the whole universe.
- If we could find a state so unhappy, as to be deprived of the effects of other countries, and at the same time of almost all its own, the proprietors of the lands would be only planters to foreigners.
- This state, wanting all, could acquire nothing;
- therefore it would be much better for the inhabitants not to have the least commerce with any nation upon earth; for commerce, in these circumstances, must necessarily lead them to poverty.
A country that constantly exports fewer manufactures or commodities than it receives, will soon find the balance sinking.
- It will receive less and less, until, falling into extreme poverty, it will receive nothing at all.
In trading countries, the specie which suddenly vanishes quickly returns, because those nations that have received it are its debtors.
- But it never returns into those states of which we have just been speaking, because those who have received it owe them nothing.
Poland is an example.
- It only has its wheat as its moveable effects.
- Some of the lords possess entire provinces.
- They oppress the husbandmen, in order to have more wheat.
- They send the wheat to strangers to procure luxury.
- If Poland had no foreign trade, its inhabitants would be happier.
- The grandees would have only their wheat.
- They would give it to their peasants for subsistence.
- Their too extensive estates would become burdensome, so they would divide them amongst their peasants.
- Every one would find skins or wool in their herds or flocks, so that they would no longer be at an immense expence in providing clothes.
- The great would only be able to find luxury in their own country by encouraging the labour of the poor.
- I affirm that this nation would then become more flourishing, at least, if it did not become barbarous.
- They laws can easily prevent it from becoming barbarous.
Japan receives a vast quantity.
- This is the cause of the vast quantity of merchandises they send abroad.
- Things are thus in as nice an equilibrium, as if the importation and exportation were but small.
- Besides, this kind of exuberance in the state is productive of a thousand advantages:
- there is:
- more consumption
- more of those things on which the arts are exercised
- more men employed
- more numerous means of acquiring power.
- exigencies may also happen, that require a speedy assistance, which so opulent a state can better afford than any other.
- It is difficult for a country to avoid having superfluities:
- but it is the nature of commerce to render the superfluous useful, and the useful necessary.
- The state will be therefore able to afford necessaries to a much greater number of subjects.
It is not those nations who have need of nothing, that lose by trade.
- It is those who have need of every thing.
It is not such people as have a sufficiency within themselves, but those who are most in want, that will find an advantage in ending all commercial intercourse.
Next: Book 21, Chapter 1