Of The Natural Progress Of Opulence

The great commerce of every civilized society is that carried on between

the inhabitants of the town and those of the country. It consists in the

exchange of rude for manufactured produce, either immediately, or by the

intervention of money, or of some sort of paper which represents money.

The country supplies the town with the means of subsistence and the

materials of manufacture. The town repays this supply, by sending back a
part of the manufactured produce to the inhabitants of the country.

The town, in which there neither is nor can be any reproduction of

substances, may very properly be said to gain its whole wealth and

subsistence from the country. We must not, however, upon this account,

imagine that the gain of the town is the loss of the country. The gains

of both are mutual and reciprocal, and the division of labour is in

this, as in all other cases, advantageous to all the different persons

employed in the various occupations into which it is subdivided. The

inhabitants of the country purchase of the town a greater quantity of

manufactured goods with the produce of a much smaller quantity of their

own labour, than they must have employed had they attempted to prepare

them themselves. The town affords a market for the surplus produce

of the country, or what is over and above the maintenance of the

cultivators; and it is there that the inhabitants of the country

exchange it for something else which is in demand among them. The

greater the number and revenue of the inhabitants of the town, the more

extensive is the market which it affords to those of the country; and

the more extensive that market, it is always the more advantageous to

a great number. The corn which grows within a mile of the town, sells

there for the same price with that which comes from twenty miles

distance. But the price of the latter must, generally, not only pay the

expense of raising it and bringing it to market, but afford, too, the

ordinary profits of agriculture to the farmer. The proprietors and

cultivators of the country, therefore, which lies in the neighbourhood

of the town, over and above the ordinary profits of agriculture, gain,

in the price of what they sell, the whole value of the carriage of the

like produce that is brought from more distant parts; and they save,

besides, the whole value of this carriage in the price of what they

buy. Compare the cultivation of the lands in the neighbourhood of any

considerable town, with that of those which lie at some distance

from it, and you will easily satisfy yourself bow much the country is

benefited by the commerce of the town. Among all the absurd speculations

that have been propagated concerning the balance of trade, it has never

been pretended that either the country loses by its commerce with the

town, or the town by that with the country which maintains it.

As subsistence is, in the nature of things, prior to conveniency and

luxury, so the industry which procures the former, must necessarily

be prior to that which ministers to the latter. The cultivation and

improvement of the country, therefore, which affords subsistence, must,

necessarily, be prior to the increase of the town, which furnishes only

the means of conveniency and luxury. It is the surplus produce of

the country only, or what is over and above the maintenance of the

cultivators, that constitutes the subsistence of the town, which can

therefore increase only with the increase of the surplus produce. The

town, indeed, may not always derive its whole subsistence from the

country in its neighbourhood, or even from the territory to which it

belongs, but from very distant countries; and this, though it forms no

exception from the general rule, has occasioned considerable variations

in the progress of opulence in different ages and nations.

That order of things which necessity imposes, in general, though not in

every particular country, is in every particular country promoted by the

natural inclinations of man. If human institutions had never thwarted

those natural inclinations, the towns could nowhere have increased

beyond what the improvement and cultivation of the territory in which

they were situated could support; till such time, at least, as the whole

of that territory was completely cultivated and improved. Upon equal,

or nearly equal profits, most men will choose to employ their capitals,

rather in the improvement and cultivation of land, than either in

manufactures or in foreign trade. The man who employs his capital in

land, has it more under his view and command; and his fortune is

much less liable to accidents than that of the trader, who is obliged

frequently to commit it, not only to the winds and the waves, but to the

more uncertain elements of human folly and injustice, by giving great

credits, in distant countries, to men with whose character and situation

he can seldom be thoroughly acquainted. The capital of the landlord, on

the contrary, which is fixed in the improvement of his land, seems to be

as well secured as the nature of human affairs can admit of. The

beauty of the country, besides, the pleasure of a country life, the

tranquillity of mind which it promises, and, wherever the injustice

of human laws does not disturb it, the independency which it really

affords, have charms that, more or less, attract everybody; and as to

cultivate the ground was the original destination of man, so, in every

stage of his existence, he seems to retain a predilection for this

primitive employment.

Without the assistance of some artificers, indeed, the cultivation of

land cannot be carried on, but with great inconveniency and continual

interruption. Smiths, carpenters, wheelwrights and ploughwrights, masons

and bricklayers, tanners, shoemakers, and tailors, are people whose

service the farmer has frequent occasion for. Such artificers, too,

stand occasionally in need of the assistance of one another; and as

their residence is not, like that of the farmer, necessarily tied down

to a precise spot, they naturally settle in the neighbourhood of one

another, and thus form a small town or village. The butcher, the brewer,

and the baker, soon join them, together with many other artificers and

retailers, necessary or useful for supplying their occasional wants, and

who contribute still further to augment the town. The inhabitants of

the town, and those of the country, are mutually the servants of

one another. The town is a continual fair or market, to which the

inhabitants of the country resort, in order to exchange their rude for

manufactured produce. It is this commerce which supplies the inhabitants

of the town, both with the materials of their work, and the means of

their subsistence. The quantity of the finished work which they sell to

the inhabitants of the country, necessarily regulates the quantity of

the materials and provisions which they buy. Neither their employment

nor subsistence, therefore, can augment, but in proportion to the

augmentation of the demand from the country for finished work; and this

demand can augment only in proportion to the extension of improvement

and cultivation. Had human institutions, therefore, never disturbed the

natural course of things, the progressive wealth and increase of the

towns would, in every political society, be consequential, and in

proportion to the improvement and cultivation of the territory of


In our North American colonies, where uncultivated land is still to be

had upon easy terms, no manufactures for distant sale have ever yet

been established in any of their towns. When an artificer has acquired a

little more stock than is necessary for carrying on his own business

in supplying the neighbouring country, he does not, in North America,

attempt to establish with it a manufacture for more distant sale, but

employs it in the purchase and improvement of uncultivated land. From

artificer he becomes planter; and neither the large wages nor the easy

subsistence which that country affords to artificers, can bribe him

rather to work for other people than for himself. He feels that an

artificer is the servant of his customers, from whom he derives his

subsistence; but that a planter who cultivates his own land, and derives

his necessary subsistence from the labour of his own family, is really a

master, and independent of all the world.

In countries, on the contrary, where there is either no uncultivated

land, or none that can be had upon easy terms, every artificer who has

acquired more stock than he can employ in the occasional jobs of the

neighbourhood, endeavours to prepare work for more distant sale. The

smith erects some sort of iron, the weaver some sort of linen or woollen

manufactory. Those different manufactures come, in process of time, to

be gradually subdivided, and thereby improved and refined in a great

variety of ways, which may easily be conceived, and which it is

therefore unnecessary to explain any farther.

In seeking for employment to a capital, manufactures are, upon equal or

nearly equal profits, naturally preferred to foreign commerce, for the

same reason that agriculture is naturally preferred to manufactures. As

the capital of the landlord or farmer is more secure than that of the

manufacturer, so the capital of the manufacturer, being at all times

more within his view and command, is more secure than that of the

foreign merchant. In every period, indeed, of every society, the surplus

part both of the rude and manufactured produce, or that for which there

is no demand at home, must be sent abroad, in order to be exchanged

for something for which there is some demand at home. But whether the

capital which carries this surplus produce abroad be a foreign or a

domestic one, is of very little importance. If the society has not

acquired sufficient capital, both to cultivate all its lands, and to

manufacture in the completest manner the whole of its rude produce,

there is even a considerable advantage that the rude produce should

be exported by a foreign capital, in order that the whole stock of the

society may be employed in more useful purposes. The wealth of ancient

Egypt, that of China and Indostan, sufficiently demonstrate that a

nation may attain a very high degree of opulence, though the greater

part of its exportation trade be carried on by foreigners. The progress

of our North American and West Indian colonies, would have been much

less rapid, had no capital but what belonged to themselves been employed

in exporting their surplus produce.

According to the natural course of things, therefore, the greater

part of the capital of every growing society is, first, directed to

agriculture, afterwards to manufactures, and, last of all, to foreign

commerce. This order of things is so very natural, that in every society

that had any territory, it has always, I believe, been in some degree

observed. Some of their lands must have been cultivated before any

considerable towns could be established, and some sort of coarse

industry of the manufacturing kind must have been carried on in those

towns, before they could well think of employing themselves in foreign


But though this natural order of things must have taken place in some

degree in every such society, it has, in all the modern states of

Europe, been in many respects entirely inverted. The foreign commerce

of some of their cities has introduced all their finer manufactures, or

such as were fit for distant sale; and manufactures and foreign commerce

together have given birth to the principal improvements of agriculture.

The manners and customs which the nature of their original government

introduced, and which remained after that government was greatly

altered, necessarily forced them into this unnatural and retrograde