Sir William Petty

Political Arithmetick

Or a Discourse Concerning,
The Extent and Value of Lands, People, Buildings: Husbandry, Manufacture, Commerce, Fishery, Artizans, Seamen, Soldiers; Publick Revenues, Interest, Taxes, Superlucration, Registries, Banks,
Valuation of Men, Increasing of Seamen, of Militia's, Harbours, Situation, Shipping, Power at Sea, &c.
As the same relates to every Country in general, but more particularly to the Territories of His Majesty of Great Britain, and his Neighbours of Holland, Zealand, and France .
By Sir WILLIAM PETTY, Late Fellow of the Royal Society. London, Printed for Robert Clavel at the Peacock, and Hen. Mortlock at the Phoenix in St. Paul's Church-yard. 1690.
william petty

Written: 3rd Edition, 1690
Source: This e-text was prepared by Rod Hay and posted at the Archive for the History of Economic Thought, McMaster University, Canada, April 1, 1998. Premission is granted to re-post so long as this credit remains in place.Rod Hay's
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LET this Book Called Political Arithmetick, which was long since Writ by Sir William Petty deceased, be Printed. Given at the court at Whitehall the 7th Day of Novemb. 1690. Nottingham. TO THE KING'S Most Excellent MAJESTY.

SIR, Whilest every one meditates some fit Offering for Your Majesty, such as may best agree with your happy Exaltation to this Throne; I presume to offer, what my Father long since writ, to shew the weight and importance of the English Crown. It was by him stiled Political Arithmetick, in as much as things of Government, and of no less concern and extent, than the Glory of the Prince, and the happiness and greatness of the People, are by the Ordinary Rules of Arithmetick, brought into a sort of Demonstration. He was allowed by all, to be the Inventor of this Method of Instruction; where the perplexed and intricate ways of the World, are explain'd by a very mean peice of Science; and had not the Doctrins of this Essay offended France, they had long since seen the light, and had found Followers, as well as improvements before this time, to the advantage perhaps of Mankind. But this has been reserved to the felicity of Your Majesty's Reign, and to the expectation which the Learned have therein; and if while in this, I do some honor to the Memory of a good Father, I can also pay Service, and some Testimony of my Zeal and Reverence to so great a King, it will be the utmost Ambition of SIR, Your Majesty's Most Dutiful and Most Obedient Subject, Shelborne.


Forasmuch as Men, who are in a decaying condition, or who have but an ill opinion of their own Concernments, instead of being (as some think) the more industrious to resist the Evils they apprehend, do contrariwise become the more languid and ineffectual in all their Endeavours, neither caring to attempt or prosecute even the probable means of their relief Upon this Consideration, as a Member of the Common-Wealth, next to knowing the precise Truth in what condition the common Interest stands, I would in all doubtful Cases think the best, and consequently not despair, without strong and manifest Reasons, carefully examining whatever tends to lessen my hopes of the publick Welfare.

I have therefore thought fit to examin the following Perswasions, which I find too currant in the World, and too much to have affected the Minds of some, to the prejudice of all, viz.

That the Rents of Lands are generally fall'n; that therefore, and for many other Reasons, the whole Kingdom grows every day poorer and poorer; that formerly it abounded with Gold, but now there is a great scarcity both of Gold and Silver; that there is no Trade nor Employment for the People, and yet that the Land is under-peopled; that Taxes have been many and great; that Ireland and the Plantations in America and other Additions to the Crown, are a Burthen to England; that Scotland is of no Advantage; that Trade in general doth lamentably decay; that the Hollanders are at our heels, in the race of Naval Power; the French grow too fast upon both, and appear so rich and potent, that it is but their Clemency that they do not devour their Neighbors; and finally, that the Church and State of England, are in the same danger with the Trade of England; with many other dismal Suggestions, which I had rather stifle than repeat.

`Tis true, the Expence of foreign Commodities hath of late been too great; much of our Plate, had it remain'd Money, would have better served Trade; too many Matters have been regulated by Laws, which Nature, long Custom, and general Consent, ought only to have governed; the Slaughter and Destruction of Men by the late Civil Wars and Plague have been great; the Fire at London, and Disaster at Chatham, have begotten Opinions in the Vulgus of the World to our Prejudice; the Nonconformists increases; the People of Ireland think long of their Settlement; the English there apprehend themselves to be Aliens, and are forced to seek a Trade with Foreigners, which they might as well maintain with their own Relations in England. But notwithstanding all this (the like whereof was always in all Places), the Buildings of London grow great and glorious; the American Plantations employ four Hundred Sail of Ships; Actions in the East-India Company are near double the principal Money; those who can give good Security, may have Money under the Statute-Interest; Materials for building (even Oaken-Timber) are little the dearer, some cheaper for' the rebuilding of London; the Exchange seems as full of Merchants as formerly; no more Beggars in the Streets, nor executed for Thieves, than heretofore; the Number of Coaches, and Splendor of Equipage exceeding former Times; the publique Theatres very magnificent; the King has a greater Navy, and stronger Guards than before our Calamities; the Clergy rich, and the Cathedrals in repair; much Land has been improved, and the Price of Food so reasonable, as that Men refuse to have it cheaper, by admitting of Irish Cattle; And in brief, no Man needs to want that will take moderate pains. That some are poorer than others, ever was and ever will be: And that many are naturally querulous and envious, is an Evil as old as the World.

These general Observations, and that Men eat, and drink, and laugh as they use to do, have encouraged me to try if I could also comfort others, being satisfied my self, that the Interest and Affairs of England are in no deplorable Condition.

The Method I take to do this, is not yet very usual; for instead of using only comparative and superlative Words, and intellectual Arguments, I have taken the course (as a Specimen of the Political Arithmetick I have long aimed at) to express my self in Terms of Number, Weight, or Measure; to use only Arguments of Sense, and to consider only such Causes, as have visible Foundations in Nature; leaving those that depend upon the mutable Minds, Opinions, Appetites, and Passions of particular Men, to the Consider- ation of others: Really professing my self as unable to speak satisfactorily upon those Grounds (if they may be call'd Grounds), as to foretel the cast of a Dye; to play well at Tennis, Billiards, or Bowles, (without long pradice,) by virtue of the most elaborate Conceptions that ever have been written De Projectilibus & Missilibus, or of the Angles of Incidence and Reflection.

Now the Observations or Positions expressed by Number, Weight, and Measure, upon which I bottom the ensuing Discourses, are either true, or not apparently false, and which if they are not already true, certain, and evident, yet may be made so by the Sovereign Power, Nam id certum est quod >certum reddi potest, and if they are false, not so false as to destroy the Argument they are brought for; but at worst are sufficient as Suppositions to shew the way to that Knowledge I aim at. And I have withal for the present confined my self to the Ten principal Conclusions hereafter particularly handled, which if they shall be judged material, and worthy of a better Discussion, I hope all ingenious and candid Persons will rectifie the Errors, Defects, and Imperfections, which probably may be found in any of the Positions, upon which these Ratiocinations were grounded. Nor would it misbecome Authority it self, to clear the Truth of those Matters which private Endeavours cannot reach to.

THE Principal Conclusions of this treatise are:

CHAP. I. That a small Country, and few People, may by their Situation, Trade, and Policy, be equivalent in Wealth and Strength, to afar greater People, and Territory. And particularly, How conveniences for Shipping, and Water Carriage, do most Eminently, and Fundamentally, conduce thereunto.

Chap. II. That some kind of Taxes, and Publick Levies, may rather increase than diminish the Common-Wealth.

Chap. III. That France cannot by reason of Natural and Perpetual Impediments, be more powerful at Sea, than the English, or Hollanders.

Chap. IV. That the People, and Territories of the King of England, are Naturally near as considerable, for Wealth, and Strength, as those of France.

Chap. V. That the Impediments of Englands Greatness, are but contingent and removeable.

Chap. VI. That the Power and Wealth of England, hath increased above this forty years.

Chap. VII. That one tenth part, of the whole Expence, of the King of England's Subjects; is sufficient to maintain one hundred thousand Foot, thirty thousand Horse, and forty thousand Men at Sea, and to defray all other Charges, of the Government: both Ordinary and Extraordinary, if the same were regularly Taxed and Raised.

Chap. VIII. That there are spare Hands enough among the King of England's Subjects, to earn two Millions per annum, more than they now do, and there are Employments, ready, proper, and sufficient, for that purpose.

Chap. IX. That there is Mony sufficient to drive the Trade of the Nation.

Chap. X. That the King of England's Subjects, have Stock, competent, and convenient to drive the Trade of the whole Commercial World.