Monday, March 7, 2016

Tucker's Infallible Maxim

Whether Sir Josiah Child did not call it a Vulgar Error to say, We have more Hands than we can employ? Whether he was a Judge of Trade? And Whether it is not an infallible Maxim, That one Man's Labour creates Employment for another? -- Josiah Tucker
Whether it was in the preface of his 1690 Discourse about Trade, that Child called it a vulgar error -- so commonly held as to have become "almost proverbial" -- to suppose that "We have people enough, and more than we can employ"? And whether Child did not also observe there that "the profit of the merchant, and the gain of the kingdom, are so far from being always parallels, that frequently they run counter one to the other..."?

Whether it was Child who said that "one man's labour creates employment for another"? Or was what he actually said, "Every English man in Barbadoes or Jamaica creates employment for four men at home"? And what, then, was the context for that remark?:
...where Liberty and Property is better preserved, and Interest of Money restrained to a low rate, the consequence is, that every person sent abroad with the Negroes and Utensils, he is constrained to employ, or that are employed with him; it being customary in most of our Islands in America, upon every Plantation, to employ eight or ten Blacks for one White Servant; I say, in this case we may reckon, that for Provisions, Clothes and Household-Goods, Sea-men, and all others employed about Materials for building, fitting and victualling of Ships, Every English man in Barbadoes or Jamaica creates employment for four men at home. [italics in original]
Whether Paul Lambert did not conclude his 1952 article "The law of markets prior to J.-B. Say and the Say-Malthus Debate" with the following assessment of Tucker's "infallible maxim"?:
The wording is loose; Tucker did not trouble to elaborate a consistent theory; he was looking for arguments in support of proposed naturalization legislation, and this coloured his approach. He did, however, enunciate the concept which in a more fully developed form was to become known as "the Law of Markets".
Whether Abba Lerner, in his review of the collection of International Economic Papers in which it was contained, called Lambert's article, "an oppressively learned examination of the origins of Say's Law"? Whether Lerner wrote that the article  "shows very clearly how the proposition that production creates its own demand developed as an illegitimate extension of the innocent proposition that money is a medium of exchange by which goods and services are exchanged for goods and services"? And whether he wrote that it "concludes with a fascinating account of how Malthus forced Say to re-define "products" to exclude products that could not be sold at a price that covered costs, so that his Law would properly read 'production creates its own demand except when it doesn't'"?

Whether backdating the origins of the law of markets from Tucker to Child casts doubt on the innocence of the proposition? Whether it would be frivolous to concede the compatibility of slavery with liberty? Whether liberty is compatible not only with slavery but with the proud assumption of "an infallible maxim"?

Whether John Stuart Mill wrote in On Liberty, "To refuse a hearing to an opinion because they [those who desire to suppress it] are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty"? Whether Mill maintained that "All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility"? Whether any assumption of infallibility, in Mill's view, would be legitimate?

Whether Mill's view gives rise to a paradox similar to the liar's paradox? Whether this is what a correspondent to The English Churchman implied by stating, "If all principles be uncertain, upon what grounds can this principle be made the exception? Is this the one great infallible maxim, the one self-evident axiom?" Whether the criticism in The Churchman misses its mark? Whether instead of proposing an infallible maxim about infallible maxims, Mill was distinguishing between subjective certainty and absolute certainty and maintaining that one cannot ascertain the latter on the basis of the former?

Whether the claim of infallibility is rendered even more dubious by disputes over what the law of markets asserts and who should be recognized as its author? And whether some credit John Stuart Mill's father, James, as the author?

Whether one cannot refute the hydra-headed maxim unless one refutes all its myriad themes and variations, which, of course, regenerate from their bloody stumps as one proceeds from version to version? Whether there is any alternative to wrestling with Say's Mill's Tucker's Child's polycephalous serpent?

Whether Mill wrote also, "He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that"? Whether the other side in this case is the one labeled "vulgar error" by Tucker and Child: "We have more hands than we can employ; we have people enough, and more than we can employ"?  Whether the word "can" in those passages refers to anything substantive? Whether we can employ all, provided those in power implement policies that they would never agree to? What kind of a possibility would that be?

Whether the "vulgar error" may be restated as "a certain proportion of work to be done" or "a certain quantity of labour to be performed"? Whether in his Natural and Political Observations upon the Bills of Mortality, John Graunt (1662) assumed a "certain proportion of work" in arguing against employing beggars in the woolen industry?:
That if there be but a certain proportion of work to be done; and that the same be already done by the not-Beggars; then to employ the Beggars about it, will but transfer the want from one hand to another...
Whether Dorning Rasbotham (1780) disputed the "certain quantity of labour" in his defense of the use of machinery in the manufacturing of cotton?:
There is, say they, a certain quantity of labour to be performed. This used to be performed by hands, without machines, or with very little help from them. But if now machines perform a larger share than before, suppose one fourth part, so many hands as are necessary to work that fourth part, will be thrown out of work, or suffer in their wages. The principle itself is false. There is not a precise limited quantity of labour, beyond which there is no demand. Trade is not hemmed in by great walls, beyond which it cannot go.
Whether the latter argument glides between a given and a hypothetical possibility? Whether either Graunt's pessimistic assumption or Rasbotham's sanguine projection is infallible? Whether Rasbotham's refrain, became "almost proverbial" in the course of the 19th century industrialization of Great Britain?

Whether Josiah Child's warning about the frequent conflict between private profit and public gain is chronically ignored? And whether his speculations about the domestic employment generating prospects of colonial plantations was discretely expunged of its unsavory association with chattel slavery?

No comments: