Edmund J Burke.

Political economy, designed for use in Catholic colleges, high schools, and academies online

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increase, but while they will increase at first considerably, they
will gradually diminish relatively to the amount of labor and
capital. The same gradual relative diminution will be seen in
the total gain column. If the land were cultivated by individ-
uals, each one supplying the new addition of labor and capital
and receiving equal shares of the returns, it will be seen, by
consulting the individual gain column, that there will come about
a condition (E) where the gain will be the greatest and beyond
which it would not be profitable to add more labor and capital.

The law applies equally to mines. Here, as in the former case,
every increase of product is attained by an increase of outlay
in labor and capital, and there comes a moment when the smaller
increase of product will not warrant the greater increase of outlay,
and thus the profitable productiveness of the mine is arrested.

It will be noticed that the law of diminishing returns will



not bring about a total cessation of production, but there may
come a time when, through the working out of the law^ pro-
duction will be retarded relatively to the amount of labor and
capital employed in it, and a limit may be reached beyond which
the increase of profitable production will cease.

The law may apply to local production from land. It may
apply to the production of certain lines of commodities. But,
if there is question of the world's production from land and
mines, the limit is yet very distant, and it is rendered still more
distant by new inventions in machinery which reduce the
expenses of labor, and by the opening up of new lands for cul-
tivation and of new mines for exploiting. Still it is a difficulty
which will have to be met and settled by future generations.

III. Labor

Definition of Labor. — The second factor in the production
of wealth is labor.

Labor means the mental or physical acts of man applied to the
materials and forces offered by nature. Devas defines labor as
''human action of which the proper end or natural purpose is
some good external to itself."

This factor, like the former, is essential to all production.

There can be no production without it. Even those things which

are produced spontaneously by nature require, in order to become

■ wealth, that man shall make them his own by at least some mental

or physical act.

Requisites of Labor, (i) Movement. ^—'Laibor in its last
analysis is reduced to movement, a change of place, whether of
the entire object which is produced, or of the different parts
which compose it. Thus a husbandman plows the earth
and places in the furrow the seed, which is acted upon by the
forces of nature and from which is evolved by their agency the
perfect grain. The manufacturer places in position the several
parts of an object, and steam or electricity operating a machine
unites them and makes the completed object. The transporter


of goods brings the object from one place where it is of less value
to another where it is of greater value.

(2) Toil or Pain. — Productive labor always presupposes some
degree of toil or pain. Labor, to be labor, must have the motive
of necessity. The fisherman who catches fish for his own pleas-
ure, for the sport he finds therein, is not laboring, nor the boat-
man who rows five miles of a morning for exercise or recreation,
nor the driver of a vehicle who goes forth for his daily drive of
pleasure ; but the fisherman who fishes for his living, to make
money by his haul, and the boatman who rows passengers and
collects his ferriage, and the driver who drives for the fare he will
receive, are all laborers.

The motive and the end make the difference between these two
classes of men. In the latter, the end which acts as an impelling
motive is the necessity of living and the need of providing sus-
tenance for the present or provision for old age and sickness. In
the former, the end which inspires the actions is the intrinsic
pleasure of the efforts put forth.

(3) Time. — Labor requires a certain expenditure of time, and
in calculating the extent to which labor contributes to production,
one must calculate the amount of time that is or can be devoted
to labor.

The time out of a man's whole life which he can devote to
actual labor is comparatively short. In some occupations that
time is shorter than in others, because of the unhealthful nature
of the occupation. Thus, copper, lead, and earthenware manu-
factures show a very high mortality among the workingmen, and
lead and copper mining still higher.

Even in occupations that present no specially unhealthful
features, the time of a laborer's life devoted to actual labor is
very short.

Supposing the normal human life to be seventy years, if a
man begins to labor at the age of eighteen and retires at the age
of sixty, he will have labored but three fifths of his life. Calcu-
lating more closely, we find that a man of seventy, who labors
from his eighteenth year to his sixtieth year, estimating 300 days


in the year and 8 hours a day, has worked 100,800 hours out of
the 613,620 hours contained in his whole hfe, or less than one
sixth of his life.

A man does not work every day of the year. In some trades
it is impossible to work except in seasonable weather, as in agri-
culture, building, etc. Many days are to be deducted because
of Sundays and national or state holidays during which no labor
is done.

Nor does a man work all the hours of the day. A man's day
of labor consists of 12, 10, or 8 hours. In European countries,
the daily hours of labor are usually longer than in the United
States. It may not always follow that the amount of product
turned out is greater, when the daily hours of labor are longer,
for the energy and the efhciency of the laborer may be greatly
increased by the longer hours of freedom from toil and may
result in an increase of production.

Laboring Class. — The whole amount of labor is done by the
laboring class. Who constitute the laboring class ?

The laboring class, broadly considered, embraces all those who
produce, whether directly or indirectly. It embraces, therefore,
as contributing directly to the product, the unskilled laborer,
the skilled mechanic, the man in the ofhce who designs the objects
upon which the laborer works, lays out the plans of great under-
takings, determines the machinery employed, the methods pur-
sued. It embraces, as contributing indirectly, the teacher who
informs the minds of the laborers present or future, the clergy-
man who instills into them principles of morality, and the police
and the army who preserve peace and protect each one in his

Efficiency of Labor. — Naturally, the more efficient labor is, the
more it will contribute to production and the greater and the
better will be the product. Now there are certain things
which conduce to the greater efficiency of labor, some affecting
the physical being of the laborer, some his mental being, and
some his moral being.

(i) Physical Helps. — The labor of a country will be more


efficient the greater the amount of physical strength inherited
by the laborers. The healthier the preceding race of laborers, the
healthier will be the succeeding race. Anything which may
cause a preceding race to deteriorate will work for harm in the
succeeding one, and in so far reduce the efficiency of labor, and,
by curtailing production, lessen the wealth of the state.

The amount and quality of food consumed by the laborer will
affect the efficiency of labor. There is perhaps no class of labor-
ers so well fed as the American. A large slice of common sour
bread makes up the breakfast of many a French factory em-
ployee. Meat is scarcely tasted by the working classes of
Holland. Potatoes, bread, and chicory constitute the entire
sustenance of certain classes of laborers in Belgium. In the
west of England meat is eaten but once a week. Such condi-
tions, under which the laborer is reduced to the lowest possible
amount of food, scarcely sufficient to keep life in the body, must
evidently work against the efficiency of labor.

Again, the more perfect the sanitary conditions which sur-
round the dwelling places and the workshops of the laborer, the
more will his physical condition be bettered and the greater will
be the results of his labor. Here also the American laborer is
more fortunate than the European.

(2) Mental Helps. — The efficiency of a man's labor will be
in proportion to his mental development. " Clearness of mind,
quickness of apprehension, strength of memory, and the power
of consecutive thought " will make one laborer better than an-
other, and when possessed in a great degree by a whole nation
or by. the generality of laborers in a state, will increase the
efficiency of its labor above that of a nation not so endowed.

An intelligent laborer can learn his trade in much less time
than is required by another, needs little or no superintendence, is
less wasteful of materials, learns quickly the use and the handling
of the most delicate and the most intricate machinery.

(3) Moral Helps. — Self-respect, prudence, self-control, hon-
esty, cheerfulness, and hopefulness are evidently factors making
for the betterment of laborers as such. The driven slave, who


finds no cheer or hope in his life and who cannot improve his
condition, will work as little as he can and is in sad contrast to
the free laborer, who recognizes the responsibility reposed in
him. The free laborer has a standard of honesty to which he
conforms, and works cheerfully towards the betterment of his
condition in the hope of more restful days to come.

Hierarchy of Labor. — Economists have made out w^hat is
called the Hierarchy of labor. It is a classification of the differ-
ent forms of labor according to the economic utility of each, i.e.
according to the measure in which each contributes to produc-
tion. It is as follows : —



Labor of transportation.


Official employments.

The following tables will show how at different times the labor-
ing class in the United States has been divided among the several
occupations : —

1880 — x\griculture 7,670,493

Manufacture and mechanical mining 3,837,112

Trade and transportation 1,810,256

Professional and personal service 4,074,238

All occupations 17,392,099

1890 — Agriculture, fisheries, mining ... 9,013,201

Manufacture and mechanical industries 5,091,669

Trade and transportation 3,325,962

Services : Professional 944,323

Domestic and personal 4,360,506

All occupations 22,735,661

1900 — Agricultural pursuits 10,381,765

Manufacturing and mechanical pursuits ..... 7,085,309

Trade and transportation 4,766,964

Services: Professional 1,258,538

Domestic and personal 5,580,657

All occupations 29,073,233

(Stat. Abstr. U.S. 191 2.)

POL. ECON. — 6


It is gratifying to note that in the United States so large a
number of persons belonging to the laboring class are em-
ployed in agricultural pursuits. There is little doubt that agri-
culture in all its various forms is the main source of the wealth
of this country. It is agriculture that supplies the main food
products and furnishes most of the raw material that enters into
manufactures. It is a wise policy, therefore, to encourage agri-
culture by every possible means.

Such in fact has been the policy of many of our prominent
statesmen. While it is almost impossible to induce those already
engaged in other occupations and already located in the great
cities to enter into agricultural pursuits, the United States gov-
ernment has sought to divert the tide of immigration towards
rural districts. It has instituted at Washington a special
Division of the Bureau of Immigration. This office fur-
nishes information to immigrants which may direct them away
from the seaboard centers, now overcrowded, to those sec-
tions of the country which offer special facilities for agri-
cultural labor. (Cf. 1907 Report Dep't Com. and Lab.,

PP- 9, I39-)

Law of Population — Doctrine of Malthus. — Labor is a

factor of production. It would be reasonable, therefore, to sup-
pose that the more the laboring class increased, the greater
would be the production and consequently the greater would be
the wealth.

But if we restrict our view of production to that form of it
which applies to the produce of land, the produce which serves
for the sustenance of the human race, we shall find that theoreti-
cally there is danger that the increase of population may in
time become so great that there will not be sufficient production
to sustain it.

This fact was brought emphatically before the public mind by
T. R. Malthus, an Englishman, in his work entitled An Essay
on the Principle of Population, published in 1798.

His doctrine is contained in the formula : " Population tends
to increase in a geometrical progression, whilst the means of


subsistence can only increase in an arithmetical progression."

Progression of Population : i, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, etc.
Progression of Production : i, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, etc.

A family of two has four children ; in the next generation,
there will be eight, and so on, in each generation there will be a
geometrical increase, until at the end of 200 years, the ratio
between population and production would be 256 to 9; at the
end of 300 years, 4096 to 13 ; and at the end of 2000 years, the
difference in the ratio would have assumed enormous propor-

To quote Mai thus himself (Essay, Bk. I, ch. i) : ''It may
safely be pronounced, that population when unchecked goes on
doubling itself every twenty-five years, or increases in a geomet-
rical ratio.

'' The rate according to which the productions of the earth
may be supposed to increase, it will not be so easy to determine.
Of this, however, we may be safely certain, that the ratio of their
increase must be totally of a different nature from the ratio of
the increase of population. A thousand millions are just as
easily doubled every twenty-five years by the power of popula-
tion as a thousand. But the food to support the increase from
the greater number will by no means be obtained with the same
facility. Man is necessarily confined in room. When acre has
been added to acre, till all the fertile land is occupied, the yearly
increase of food must depend upon the melioration of the land
already in possession. This is a stream which, from the nature
of all soils, instead of increasing, must be gradually diminishing.
But population, could it be supplied with food, would go on with
unexhausted vigor ; and the increase of one period would furnish
the power of a greater increase the next, and this, without any

The doctrine is applied to the whole world usually, but it may
be applied to a country or a state, and hence it may be that the
population of a country or a state will increase beyond the


means of sustenance. The consequence of the increase of popu-
lation over production and the upsetting of the equiUbrium that
should exist between population and production, will be destitu-
tion, misery, and want among the people, especially among the
poorer classes, who have not the means to pay the increased
prices of the necessaries of life. The increased prices will be
brought about by the greater demand owing to the increased
population, and the comparatively decreased supply due to the
relatively smaller amount of production.

To quote again (Malthus, Essay, Bk. I, ch. 2) : " These
effects, in the present state of society, seem to be produced in
the following manner. We mil suppose the means of subsistence
in any country just equal to the easy support of its inhabitants.
The constant effort towards population, which is found to act
even in the most vicious societies, increases the number of people
before the means of subsistence are increased. The food there-
fore which before supported eleven millions, must now be divided
among eleven millions and a half. The poor consequently
must live much worse, and many of them be reduced to severe
distress. The number of laborers also being above the propor-
tion of work in the market, the price of labor must tend to fall ;
while the price of provisions would at the same time tend to rise.
The laborer, therefore, must do more work to earn the same as
he did before. During this season of distress the discourage-
ments to marriage, and the difficulty of rearing a family, are so
great, that population is nearly at a stand. In the meantime
the cheapness of labor, the plenty of laborers, and the necessity
of an increased industry among them, encourage cultivators to
employ more labor upon their land, to turn up fresh soil, and to
manure and improve more completely what is already in tillage ;
till ultimately the means of subsistence may become in the same
proportion to the population as at the period at which we set out.
The situation of the laborer being then again tolerably comfort-
able, the restraints to population are in some degree loosened ;
and, after a short period, the same retrograde and progressive
movements, with respect to happiness, are repeated."


There are, however, certain checks on population which tend
to prevent it from reaching the Umit where subsistence could no
longer be obtained and thus retard the working out of the law.
Some of these checks are positive : war, pestilence, disasters,
disease, to which all the human race is subject, and which together
with the condition of starvation and want due to the over-in-
crease of population, will tend to reduce the population. When
there is question of a single country, emigration is another posi-
tive means of checking the overgrowth of population, and this
usually takes place in a country where living conditions are

These positive checks tend to prevent the over-increase of
population and to bring about an equilibrium between popula-
tion and production, so that the well-being of the race may not
be disturbed.

But the positive checks are not sufficient to arrest the action
of the law. Another, a negative check, is recommended by
Malthus; namely, self-restraint with regard to marriage and
the procreation of children. People are advised not to add to
the increase of population. One who foresees that he cannot
provide for a family should not enter into the marriage state,
and, if already married, he should not have more children than
he can well provide for.

As proposed by Malthus, the negative check is not immoral.
When he counsels self-restraint with regard to marriage, he means
that persons should not enter into marriage unless they have an
assured means of providing for their offspring. When he coun-
sels self-restraint among married people with regard to the pro-
creation of children, he means that this should be taken in the
strictly moral sense.

In his Essay, Bk. I, ch. 2, he says: ''Of the preventive
checks, the restraint from marriage which is not followed by
irregular gratifications may properly be termed moral restraint."
A note hereto is appended : "It will be observed, that I here
use the term ' moral ' in its most confined sense. By moral
restraint I would be understood to mean a restraint from mar-


riage, from prudential motives, with a conduct strictly moral
during the period of this restraint ; and I have never intention-
ally deviated from this sense. ..."

Such is the doctrine called the doctrine of Malthus. It has
been defended by economists of great repute, and it has been re-
jected by others equally renowned. It has gradually permeated
society, and has had a most pernicious effect, giving rise to many
of the crimes against humanity so numerous in entire nations

The Malthusians, so-called followers of Malthus, seem to have
cut adrift from all moral principle, and have taught that for the
betterment of the human race its increase must be curtailed by
every means however vicious and immoral. Hence the preva-
lence in many countries and in many parts of the United States
of crimes against nature, of infanticide and abortion, and all
the evil effects, individual and social, resulting from such a state
of things.

Doctrine of Malthus Rejected. — (i) From the Moral Standi
point. — The preventive check, even if understood as a moral and
prudential abstinence from marriage and the natural results of
marriage, and even if advocated along strictly moral lines, is
based on a too optimistic view of human nature, which supposes
such self-restraint possible among the great generality of men,
and especially among the too frequently ill-educated poorer

It supposes an impossible degree of virtue among people who,
by circumstances, surroundings, and lack of education and self-
discipline, would naturally be least capable of possessing it.
Hence the adoption of such a principle of action, if adopted at
all, will undoubtedly be followed by all kinds of evil and vicious

There is, however, a possibility that the principle will not be
adopted at all by certain classes of people. Thus, there exists
among the poorer classes a motive that would induce them to
have as large a progeny as possible. This motive is the hope of
the parents of increasing their own income through the work of


their children. The children are put to work at an early age
and the wages of the children add to the family revenue. The
grown-up sons and daughters, moreover, are relied on to support
the parents in their old age. Indeed, the effects of the doctrine
are seen not so much among the very poor, though they are
gradually increasing even there, as among the wealthier and more
educated classes, who are not wanting in the means to support
and educate a numerous offspring.

The doctrine of Malthus is rejected by many on account of its
pernicious tendency to the promotion of immoral practices. It
is attacked by others from an economic point of view.

(2) From the Economic Standpoint. — It is denied that pro-
duction has not kept pace with population. Whatever may
have been the condition of things during the life of Malthus,
since his time there has been an immense improvement in pro-
ductive methods and an immense increase in the resulting prod-
uct. The introduction of machinery, the large-scale methods
of production only now in their beginning, the opening up of new
lands, the intensive cultivation of old lands, the acquisition of
new countries with all their untold wealth, have in the past
century given production a great gain in advance of the grow-
ing population.

Nor is there any well-grounded fear for the future, for it is
impossible to conceive that productive forces have reached their
limit of efficiency or inventiveness. When new demands are
made, new means of satisfying the demands will be created.
The doctrine of Malthus has indeed ceased to be the bugbear it
formerly was.

Yet it is given prominence to-day by many who would seek
an easy way of explaining the misery and want that exist among
the poorer classes, and who would divert attention from the
real causes of present conditions.

These causes are not overpopulation and insufficient pro-
duction, but are to be sought for rather in the improper methods
of the distribution of wealth, in human injustice and selfishness,
in the spirit of greed that closes the hearts of men to the dictates


of charity and fairness. The remedy lies in the awakening of a
sense of justice and Christian charity in men, in the realization
by mankind of a higher purpose than the accumulation of dollars
for the gratification of ambition or sensual appetite, in the restric-
tion, by wise legislation and governmental measures, of injustice
and oppression. There are many to whom such a remedy does
not appeal, and hence they ignore the real causes of the condition
of the classes, and would set up another cause, the remedy for
which would lie within the power of the classes themselves.

Hindrances to Production. — It must be said that, while pop-
ulation is ever increasing, the production of the necessaries of
life, though at no time inadequate to supply the needs of man-
kind, may be hampered by several things, such as : —

1. The absorption by private individuals of large areas of

Online LibraryEdmund J BurkePolitical economy, designed for use in Catholic colleges, high schools, and academies → online text (page 8 of 41)