Essay on the Nature of Commerce in General


The Increase and Decrease of the Number of People in a State chiefly depend on the taste, the fashions, and the modes of living of the proprietors of land Experience shows that trees, plants and other vegetables can be increased to any quantity which the extent of ground laid out for them can support.

The same experience shows that all kinds of the animal creation are to be multiplied to any quantity which the land allotted to them can support. Horses, cattle, sheep can easily be multiplied up to the number that the land will support. The fields which serve for this support may be improved by irrigation as in Milan. Hay may be saved and cattle fed in sheds and raised in larger numbers than if they were left in the fields. Sheep may be fed on turnips, as in England, by which means an acre of land will go further for their nourishment than if it were pasture. In a word, we can multiply all sorts of animals in such numbers as we wish to maintain even to infinity if we could find lands to infinity to to nourish them; and the multiplication of animals has no other bounds than the greater or less means allotted for their subsistence. It is not to be doubted that if all land were devoted to the simple sustenance of man the race would increase up to the number that the land would support in the manner to be explained.

There is no country where population is carried to a greater height than in China. The common people are supported by rice and rice water; they work almost naked and in the southern provinces they have three plentiful harvests of rice yearly, thanks to their great attention to agriculture. The land is never fallow and yields a hundredfold every year. Those who are clothed have generally clothing of cotton, which needs so little land for its production that an acre of land, it seems, is capable of producing a quantity full sufficient for the clothing of five hundred grown up persons. The Chinese by the principles of their religion are obliged to marry, and bring up as many children as their means of subsistence will afford. They look upon it as a crime to lay land out in pleasure gardens or parks, defrauding the public of maintenance. They carry travellers in sedan chairs, and save the work of horses upon all tasks which can be performed by men. Their number is incredible if the relation of voyages is to be depended upon, yet they are forced to destroy many of their children in the cradle when they apprehend themselves not to be able to bring them up, keeping only the number they are able to support. By hard and indefatigable labour they draw from the rivers an extraordinary quantity of fish and from the land all that is possible.

Nevertheless when bad years come they starve in thousands in spite of the care of the emperor who stores rice for such contingencies. Numerous then as the people of China are, they are necessarily proportioned to their means of living and do not exceed the number the country can support according to their standard of life; and on this footing a single acre of land will support many of them.

On the other hand there is no country where the increase of population is more limited than among the savages in the interior parts of America. They neglect agriculture, live in woods, and on the wild beasts they find there. As their forests destroy the sweetness and substance of the earth there is little pasture for animals, and since an Indian eats several animals in a year, 50 or 100 acres supply only enough food for a single Indian.

A small tribe of these Indians will have 40 square leagues for its hunting ground. The wage regular and bitter wars over these boundaries, and always proportion their numbers to their means of support from the chase.

The European cultivate the land and draw corn from it for their subsistence. The wool and draw corn from it for their subsistence. The wool of their sheep provides them with clothing.

Wheat is the grain on which most of them are fed, but some peasants make their bread of rye, and in the north of barley and oats. The food of the peasants and the people is not the same in all countries of Europe, and land is often different in quality and fertility.

Most of the land in Flanders and part of that in Lombardy yields 18 to 20 fold without lying idle; the Campagna of Naples yields still more. There are a few properties in France, Spain, England and Germany which yield the same amount. Cicero tells us that the land of Sicily in his time yielded tenfold, and the elder Pliny says that the Leontine lands in Sicily yielded a hundred fold, those of Babylon a hundred and fifty, and some African lands a good deal more.

Today land in Europe yields on the average six times what is sown, so that five times the seed remains for the consumption of the people. Land usually rests one year in three, producing wheat the first year and barley the second.

In the supplement will be found estimates of the amount of land required for the support of a man according to the different assumptions of his manner of living.

It will be seen that a man who lives on bread, garlic and roots, wears only hempen garments, coarse linen, wooden shoes, and drinks only water, like many peasants in the south of France, can live on the produce of an acre and a half of land of medium goodness, yielding a sixfold harvest and resting once in 3 years.

On the other hand a grown-up man who wears leather shoes, stockings, woollen cloth, who lives in a house and has a change of linen, a bed, chairs, table, and other necessaries, drinks moderately of beer or wine, eats every day meat, butter, cheese, bread, vegetables, etc. sufficiently and yet moderately needs for all that the produce of 4 to 5 acres of land of medium quality.

It is true that in these estimates nothing is allowed for the food of horses except for the plough and carriage of produce for ten miles.