Sunday, February 10, 2013

"Aristocracy May Be Engendered By Manufactures"

I quoted Smith earlier today, on the three orders:

The whole annual produce of the land and labour of every country, or what comes to the same thing, the whole price of that annual produce, naturally divides itself, it has already been observed, into three parts; the rent of land, the wages of labour, and the profits of stock; and constitutes a revenue to three different orders of people; to those who live by rent, to those who live by wages, and to those who live by profit. These are the three great, original and constituent orders of every civilized society, from whose revenue that of every other order is ultimately derived.

The first order there, those who live by rent: In Smith's time that was the aristocracy.

A while back also, I quoted Smith:

As any particular commodity comes to be more manufactured, that part of the price which resolves itself into wages and profit comes to be greater in proportion to that which resolves itself into rent.

I suggested then that he was describing economic forces that would result in the demise of aristocracy.

I also quoted Will and Ariel Durant a while back, referencing "Plato's reduction of political evolution to a sequence of monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, and dictatorship". At the time, I added: We are well past Aristocracy, near the end of Democracy. Be careful what you wish for.

The title of this post comes from Alexis de Tocqueville, from Democracy in America, from the title of Chapter 20 of Book Two. It's a short chapter. Tocqueville opens by saying "I have shown that democracy is favorable to the growth of manufactures". He ends the chapter thus:

I am of opinion, upon the whole, that the manufacturing aristocracy which is growing up under our eyes is one of the harshest which ever existed in the world; but at the same time it is one of the most confined and least dangerous. Nevertheless the friends of democracy should keep their eyes anxiously fixed in this direction; for if ever a permanent inequality of conditions and aristocracy again penetrate into the world, it may be predicted that this is the channel by which they will enter.

Tocqueville's "manufacturing aristocracy" is the same as Smith's "those who live by profit". In Tocqueville's time, and Smith's, it was "most confined and least dangerous". But Tocqueville warned us to keep our eyes "anxiously fixed", lest those who live by profit should become a new aristocracy. Fair warning.

By the way: Wikipedia describes Tocqueville as "An eminent representative of the classical liberal political tradition".

In any event, these excerpts and these concepts capture a transfer of wealth and power from one segment of society to another -- a turning of the Cycle of Civilization.

No comments: