Davenant, Charles, LL.D. (1656-1714), economists and politician, son of Sir William Davenant, the poet, was born in London. He was educated at Cheam Grammar School, Surrey, and in 1671 matriculated at Balliol College, Oxford, but did not then proceed to a degree. After composing, at the age of nineteen, a tragedy under the title of "Circe," which had some slight success, he turned his attention to the law, and appears to have taken the degree of LL.D., but at what university is uncertain. He held the office of commissioner of excise from 1683 to 1689, and represented St. Ives, Cornwall, in the first parliament of James II. His first work of economic interest, Ways and Means of supplying the War, was published in 1695. In it he strongly objected to meeting war expenses by borrowing money, and advocated an excise as the best and fairest tax. He sat again in parliament, this time for Great Bedwin, in 1698, continuing to write on economic and political subjects. Under William III, he did not hold office, and criticised the financial policy of the government with some bitterness; but, on the accession of Queen Anne, he returned to official life as secretary to the commission appointed to treat for the union with Scotland. In 1705 he was appointed inspector-general of exports and imports, which office he held until his death.
As an economist, Davenant must on the whole be classed as an adherent of the mercantile theory. In opposition to the bullionists he points out that an energetic people with good seaports and a soil fertile in variety of commodities, can easily exchange its products for as much gold and silver as it may require. "Money," he says, "is the servant of trade -- at bottom no more than the counters with which men in their dealings have been accustomed to reckon." He seems to have considered, however, that the possessors of money in specie were in a position of advantage compared with the possessors, and would be sellers of commodities. "Those who stand possessed of the ready money have, in all times and all countries, given the law." Especially is this the case with persishable commodities, and articles of luxury, which should not be bought by any nation to large amount, except for the purposes of being re-sold. On the last ground he strongly supported the East India Company in the controversies which raged about 1697 on the subject of the importation of East India goods, and opposed the act which was passed in the supposed the act which was passed in the supposed interest of English manufacturers, forbidding the wearing or use of Indian silks and muslins. Such a measure would only benefit the French silk trade and encourage smuggling. "The natural way of promoting the woollen manufacture is not to force its consumption at home, but by wholesome laws to contrive that it may be wrought cheaply in England, which will enable us to command the markets abroad." Europe was foolish enough to be ready to pay for luxuries from India; much wealth could be gained by the nation which would act as the go-between; and for England to refuse to reap the harvest would be merely to leave it to the Dutch.
In his earlier economic period Davenant shows distinct tendencies towards what might almost be called a free-trade position. "Trade is in its nature free, finds its own channel, and best directeth its own course, and all laws to give it rules and directions, and to limit and circumscribe it, may serve the particular ends of private men, but are seldom advantageous to the public... The various products of different soils and countries is an indication that Providence intended they should be helpful to each other." In the works, however, which he published after his return to official employment, he did not venture to disturb current economic ideas, devoting himself to carrying on the statistical work of Sir William Petty and Mr Gregory King, and attempting by an elaborate investigation to ascertain the precise position of England in regard to the balance of trade. His views on taxation have been already alluded to. He thought that the incidence of taxation should be proportional to the tax-payer's ability to pay, and that taxes should bear chiefly on consumers of luxuries. He thought that "all taxes whatsoever were, in their last resort, a charge upon land." Trade with uncivilised countries such as Africa was, he thought, best carried on by a monopolistic corporation. As regards the labour question, he strongly advocated the compulsory employment of the able-bodied poor in manufactures, as a means to cheap production and the consequent command of foreign markets. Davenant's chief works were --
An Essay on the Ways and Means of Supplying the War, London, 1695. -- An Essay on the East India Trade, London, 1697. -- Two Discourses on the Public Revenues and Trade of England, London, 1695. -- An Essay on the probable means of making the people gainers in the balance of Trade, London, 1699. -- A Discourse on Grants and Resumptions. -- Essays on the Balance of Power, London, 1701. -- A Picture of a modern Whig, London, 1701. -- Essays on Peace at Home and War Abroad, London, 1704. -- Reflections on the Constitution and Management of the Trade to Africa, London, 1769. -- Two Reports to the Commissioners for taking the Public Accounts, London, 1712 and 1715. A collected edition of his works, edited by Sir C. Whitworth, was published at London in 1771.
Davenant is perhaps best know to most readers by his employment of the estimate made by Gregory King of the effect of deficiency in supply on augmentation of price. The passage in which this is mentioned is as follows:
"It is observed that but one-tenth the defect in the harvest may raise the price three-tenths, and when we have but half our crop of wheat, which now and then happens, the remainder is spun out by thrift and good management, and eked out by the use of other grain; but this will not do for above one year, and would be a small help in the succession of two or three unseasonable very destructive, in which many of the poorest sort perish, either for want of sufficient food or by unwholesome diet.
"We take it that a defect in the harvest may raise the price of corn in the following proportions: --
Defect Above the common rate
1 tenth raises the price 3 tenths
2 tenths 8 tenths
3 tenths 1.6 tenths
4 tenths 2.8 tenths
5 tenths 4.5 tenths
So that when corn rises to treble the common rate, it may be presumed that we want above one-third of the common produce; and if we should want five-tenths or half the common produce, the price would rise to near five times the common rate." (D'Avenant, vol. ii, pp. 224, 225).
[Stephen's Dictionary of National Biography, London, 1888. -- Conrad, Hanw]