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THOUGHTS AND DETAILS

ON

SCARCITY.

ORIGINALLY PRESENTED

TO THE RIGHT HON. WILLIAM PITT,

IN THE MONTH OF NOVEMBER.

THOUGHTS AND DETAILS

ON

SCARCITY.

n r all things, an indiscreet tampering with the

trade of provisions is the most dangerous, and it is always worst in the time when men are most disposed to it, — that is, in the time of scarcity ; because there is nothing on which the passions of men are so violent, and their judgment so weak, and on which there exists such a multitude of ill-founded popular prejudices.

The great use of government is as a restraint; and there is no restraint which it ought to put upon others, and upon itself too, rather than that which is imposed on the fury of speculating under circumstances of irritation. The number of idle tales spread about by the industry of faction and by the zeal of foolish good-intention, and greedily devoured by the malignant credulity of mankind, tends infinitely to aggravate prejudices which in themselves are more than sufficiently strong. In that state of affairs, and of the public with relation to them, the first thing that government owes to us, the people, is information; the next is timely coercion : the one to guide our judgment; the other to regulate our tempers.

To provide for us in our necessities is not in the power of government. It would be a vain presumption in statesmen to think they can do it. The people maintain them, and not they the people. It is in the power of government to prevent much evil; it can do very little positive good in this, or perhaps in anything else. It is not only so of the state and statesman, but of all the classes and descriptions of the rich : they are the pensioners of the poor, and are maintained by their superfluity. They are under an absolute, hereditary, and indefeasible dependence on those who labor and are miscalled the poor.

The laboring people are only poor because they are numerous. Numbers in their nature imply poverty. In a fair distribution among a vast multitude none can have much. That class of dependent pensioners called the rich is so extremely small, that, if all their throats were cut, and a distribution made of all they consume in a year, it would not give a bit of bread and cheese for one night's supper to those who labor, and who in reality feed both the pensioners and themselves.

But the throats of the rich ought not to be cut, nor their magazines plundered; because, in their persons, they are trustees for those who labor, and their hoards are the banking-houses of these latter. Whether they mean it or not, they do, in effect, execute their trust, — some with more, some with less fidelity and judgment. But, on the whole, the duty is performed, and everything returns, deducting some very trifling commission and discount, to the place from whence it arose. When the poor rise to destroy the rich, they act as wisely for their own purposes as when they burn mills and throw corn into the river to make bread cheap.

When I say that we of the people ought to be in

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