Francis Bowen.

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fidence of a few as to be able to obtain sufficient bondsmen. The
contrivance of giving bonds thus opens the competition, and tends
to reduce salaries, but not to make them so low as they would be
if no bonds were required.

Fifthly, says Adam Smith, " the Wages of labor in different
employments vary according to the probability or improbability of
success in them. In the greater part of the mechanic trades suc-
cess is almost certain, but very uncertain in the liberal professions.
Put your son apprentice to a shoemaker, and there is little doubt
of his learning to make a pair of shoes ; but send him to study the
law, and it is at least twenty to one if he ever makes such profi-
ciency as will enable him to live by the business. In a perfectly
fair lottery, those who draw the prizes ought to gain all that is
lost by those who draw the blanks. In a profession where twenty
fail for one that succeeds, that one ought to gain all that should
have been gained by the unsuccessful twenty. The counsellor-at-
law, who, perhaps at forty years of age, begins to make something
by his profession, ought to receive the retribution, not only of his
own so tedious and expensive education, but of that of more than
twenty others who are never likely to make anything by it. Ho^
extravagant soever the fees of counsellors-at-law may sometimes
appear, their real retribution is never equal to this."

The average gains of practitioners at the bar are reduced by the
great number of those who enter the profession without depending
upon it for support, as they have independent means of livelihood,
and desire only a genteel excuse for doing nothing. Some, also,
have recourse to the law, because it is not only a highly reputable
business, but is an easy mode of making the transition to political
life. Many thus appear to be waiting for clients, who are really
on the lookout only for a chance of being elected to the legisla-


Cure or to Congress. Though these two classes of persons do not
enter actively into the competition for fees, their presence dimin-
ishes the chances of success for those who hope to rise in the pro-
fession ; some business occasionally falls into their hands, and they
increase the crowd in the midst of which merit and ability often
remain hidden from the world. Hence, as Adam Smith remarks,
while the ordinary income of shoemakers and blacksmiths exceeds
their ordinary expenditure, it will be found that the annual gains
of the lawyers, as a body, bear but a small proportion to their an-
nual expenses.

I do not mean that success is more doubtful at the bar than in
any other business. In this country, undoubtedl}^, trade is equally
uncertain ; for it is said that three fourths of those who engage in
it become insolvent in the course of the first five years ; and of
those who escape the gulf of bankruptcy, not one in ten succeeds
in amassing a fortune. But " uncertainty of success," as Mr.
Senior remarks, '^ cannot well affect the Wages of common labor,
?ince no man, unless he be to a certain extent a capitalist, unless
he have a fund for his intermediate support, can devote himself to
an employment in which the success is uncertain." He remarks,
moreover, "that there are two sorts of uncertainty. In some
cases, the hazard is essentially connected with the employment
itself, and recurs, in about an equal degree, at every operation.
Smuggling and the manufacture of gunpowder are instances.
Experience and skill may somewhat diminish the risk: but the
best smuggler and the best maker of gunpowder probablj^ each
suffers in average amount of loss. But there are employments in
which success, if once attained^ is permanent. Such is often the
case in mining. That mining is generally the road to ruin is
notorious in all mining countries ; but there are miners who have
never suffered a loss. The same may be said of the liberal pro-
fessions. Granting them to be as uncertain as Adam Smith be-
lieved them to be, the evil to which that uncertainty refers is
experienced only by those who fail. To those who succeed, they
afford a revenue emineiitly safe and regular. Their uncertainty
is personal. It arises from the error to which every man is sub-
ject when he compares his own qualifications with those of his
rivals. If he be found on the actual trial inferior, his failure is
irretrievable ; in the other alternative, his success is as permanent."


The inequalities thus far considered proceed from causes that
are inherent in the employments themselves. But there are
others which arise from the peculiar laws and customs of different
nations, and which operate by obstructing the competition that
would otherwise reduce Wages and Profits to a level. If other
things are equal, and if persons are left to their own choice, they
will flock into the occupations that are more lucrative, and will
desert those which are less productive, until the increased supply
of labor and capital in the former and the diminished supply in
the latter bring about equality between the two classes. But
people are not always left to themselves ; hindrances often exist,
sometimes created by the laws, sometimes only by the habits and
feelings of the people, which obstruct the free movement of labor
and capita] from one occupation to another.

The most remarkable of the hindrances existing by force of law
are the exclusive privileges that were granted to the corporations,
or guilds of trade, which formerly existed in almost every city in
Europe, but which are now rapidly dying out. All the persons
practising any one art or trade in a particular city — such as the
tailors, the brewers, the tanners, the goldsmiths, etc. — were united
into a company, which received from the government by charter
the exclusive right to practise their vocation. The competition in
this art or trade was thus restricted to those who had been made
free of the company; and no person could become free of the
trade till he had served an apprenticeship to it, usually for seven
years, and had complied with other regulations, which were often
intentionally made numerous and vexatious, in order to prevent
too many persons from entering the business and diminishing its
profits. Thus, the number of apprentices which each master
might have was often determined by law, and sometimes a heavy
fee or fine was exacted before the apprentice who had completed
his term could become free of the craft. " In their greatest pros-
perity, these fraternities, more especially in the metropolis, became
important bodies, in which the whole community was enrolled ;
each had its distinct common hall, made by-laws for the regu-
lation of its particular trade, and had its common property."
Membership became the principal avenue of admission to the
general franchise of the municipality ; and as the impediments to
becoming freemen were multiplied, the management of civic affairs


gradually fell into the hands of a little oligarchy. Sometimes the
royal charters expressly vested the local government, and even the
immediate election of members of Parliament, in small councils,
originally nominated by the Crown, and ever after self-elected.*

"All such incorporations," says Adam Smith, "were anciently
called Universities, which indeed is the proper Latin name for any
incorporation whatever. The University of Smiths, the University
of Tailors, etc., are expressions which we commonly meet with in
the old charters of ancient towns. When those particular incor-
porations which are now peculiarly called Univei^sities were first
established, the term of years which it was necessary to study in
order to obtain the degree of Master of Arts appears evidently to
have been copied from the term of apprenticeship in common
trades, of which the incorporations were much more ancient. As
to have wrought seven years under a master properly qualified was
necessary in order to entitle any person to become a master, and
to have himself apprentices in a common trade, so to have studied
seven years under a master properly qualified was necessary to
become a Master, Teacher, or Doctor (words anciently synon-
ymous) in the liberal arts, and to have scholars or apprentices
(words likewise originally synonymous) to study under him."

The ostensible purpose of the incorporated trades was, like that
of our modern inspection laws, to insure the good or merchantable
quality of the commodities offered for sale ; this end it was pro-
posed to effect by ordaining that the articles should be manufac-
tured only by practised and skilful workmen, who had served a
full apprenticeship to the craft. But, as Adam Smith remarks,
" the institution of long apprenticeships can give no security that
insufficient workmanship shall not frequently be exposed to public
sale. "\Mien this is done, it is usually the effect of fraud, and not
of inability ; and the longest apprenticeship can give no security
against fraud." The inspection-mark upon a barrel of flour, or
salted meat, or pickled fish, or the name of the manufacturer

* These incorporated trades must not be confounded with what are commonly
called corporations, instituted for manufacturing, banking, turnpike, or railroad ptir-
poses, here in America; though the similarity of name and origin has directed much
unfounded political odium against the latter. The old guilds of trade were proper
vionopoUes, no other persons being permitted to exercise the craft which was their
special vocation. But our modern corporations have no exclusive privileges: any
individual, or another incorporated company, mav begin competition with them in
the same town or village.


printed upon a bale of cloth, is a much better guaranty of the
quality of the article. Besides, long apprenticeships are not
needed, as the mystery of any handicraft can be learned in less
than a year, so that the operative can work, not as speedily indeed,
but as well — that is, he can turn out as perfect an article — as
any veteran in the business. At any rate, he will be the quickest
to learn, who has the prospect of being fully paid just as soon as
he can comj^lete the article in a workmanlike manner, and who is
furthermore required to pay for the tools and materials that he
spoils. The real purpose of the guild was to maintain a monopoly
of the trade, under the cover of which purchasers w^ere obliged to
take what they offered for sale at such prices as they chose to
affix, or to do without the commodity altogether. Individual
members of the company, it is true, might compete with each
other; but their competition was always subject to the by-laws
enacted by the council of the guild.

Old expedients come up for renewed trial, after the lapse of
centuries, with only a change of name. The modern Trade-
Unions, strikes, and associations of operatives, are but the ancient
guilds revived, their avowed object being to raise Wages and
prices by diminishing the number of competitors. Even here in
America, where the utmost freedom of competition has been the
life of trade, and there are fewer restrictions upon industry, either
legal or consuetudinary, than in any country upon earth, at a
certain strike of the journeyman printers, the Union required that
only a fixed number of apprentices should be employed in each
office, in proportion to the number of journeymen in it j and that
women or girls should not be employed to set types, though it is
an occupation in which they are nearly as well fitted to excel as in
the use of the needle. Mr. Laing seriously argues in favor of such
measures, on the ground that " labor itself is a property, entitled
to legal protection as much as land, or goods, or any kind of prop-
erty that labor produces " ; and that " the supply of the public
with all the articles of handicraft, or labor of skill, [should be]
confined to those who had acquired a property in that labor."

Here appears to be a confusion of thought ; labor is rightly
considered as property, and is most effectually protected as such,
when it can be applied to any purpose, or in any occupation,
which the laborer prefers. To create any impediment to the


transition of labor from one employment to another is not to
protect, but to violate, the essential rights of industry. To give
to any individual, or any association, the monopoly of any article
or any employment, is to create in the favored class a right of
property in other men^s labor, — that is, a right to prevent all
other persons from selecting their own occupations, and making
the best use that they can of their physical and mental powers.
It is also to tax the whole community for the benefit of the
favored class, by compelling the former to pay such a price for
the commodity, or such Wages for the labor, as the latter may
require. Prices are equitably adjusted, when the seller says to
the purchaser, " Pay me what I ask, or manufacture the article
for yourself" The ancient incorporated companies and the mod-
ern Trade-Unions say, " Pay me what I ask, or do without the
article altogether ; you shall not have the option of manufacturing
thb article for yourself" How does Mr. Laing suppose that the
operatives in any craft, whether they have served a long appren-
ticeship to it or not, can have " acquired a property in that
labor " ] Unquestionably they are entitled to prosecute it them-
selves ; but they have no right, either natural or acquired, to keep
other persons out of the same employment.

Adam Smith takes a more correct view of the subject when he
says : *' The property which every man has in his own labor, as it
is thtj original foundation of all other property, so it is the most
sacrea and inviolable. The patrimony of a poor man lies in the
strength and dexterity of his hands ; and to hinder him fi'om
employing this streng-th and dexterity in what manner he thinks
proper, without injury to his neighbor, is a plain violation of this
most sacred property. It is a manifest encroachment ui^on the
just liberty both of the w^orkman and of those who might be
disposed to employ him. As it hinders the one from working at
what he thinks proper, so it hinders the others from employing
whom they think proper. To judge whether he is fit to be em-
ployed, may surely be trusted to the discretion of the employers
whose interest it so much concerns."

These principles, however, are not of universal application ; an
exception should be made in the case of the restraints that are
imposed hy the laws of most countries upon admission into the
learned professions. Usually, the purchaser is the best judge of


the quality of the goods that he buys, and the character of t'^ft
person that he deals with ; a regard for his own interest wiL
protect him against fraud more effectually than any regulations
which the government can devise. But it is not so when he buys
the services of a physician. Health or sickness, life or death, then
depends upon the competent information and skill of the person
employed by him ; and of these qualities he is a very poor judge,
as sickness may have been a rare occurrence in his family. But
the consequences of an error may be fatal, and the event indicates
but very imperfectly the beneficial or injurious consequences of
the medical treatment pursued. A plausible charlatan may easily
impose upon the credulity of the public, and many valuable lives
may be lost before his ignorance and presumption can be fully
exposed. Most governments attempt to protect the community
against such injury by multiplying restrictions upon in-egular
practitioners, and extending the full privileges of the profession
only to those who have completed a prescribed course of edu-
cation, and have obtained a diploma, or certificate of competency,
from a board of duly qualified examiners.

I have already intimated that competition for employment is
sometimes restricted, not only by law, but by the customs of the
country, or by the habits and feelings of the people. In the
United States, mobility of fortune, station, and employment is the
most striking feature of society ; no impediment is created by law
or fashion to the most frequent and sudden changes of position
and business. Thus an equalizing process is constantly going on
with respect both to Wages and Profits; no one profession or
employment can enjoy even a momentary advantage without
sharing it among a crowd of competitors. In England, it is far
otherwise ; a well-established and clearly defined gradation of
ranks has existed so long, and has so moulded the habits and
expectations of the people, that comparatively few think of step-
ping out of the station or the business to which they were bom.
The larger emoluments and superior advantages of a different
position hardly attract their notice, and certainly excite no emu-
lation or regret.

In England, and, to a small extent, in some of the States of
this country, an obstacle to the free circulation of labor is created
by the poor-laws. A town or parish is bound to support those


paupers only who were bom in it, or who, in various ways speci-
fied b}' the laws, have obtained a " settlement " within its limits.
Sometimes, forty days' undistm-bed residence were made sufficient
for obtaining a settlement ; more stringent regulations required
that the person should have been assessed to parish rates and
paid them, or should have served an apprenticeship there, or have
been hired into service there and remained in such service for a
full year. Those w^ho have not complied with these requisites
may be warned off, or sent home to the parish where they belong.
Through such regulations, it is evident that there may be a super-
fluity of labor in one place, and considerable deficiency of it in
another, and that industry may be very unequally compensated
in different districts. Frequent litigation arises under the law of
settlement, as the facts in each case are often imperfectly known
or difficult to be proved ; and cases of extreme hardship sometimes
happen, as when a family reduced by poverty and sickness are
forcibly removed to a distance from the place which thi. "^ have
chosen for their home, or are sent travelling over the whole coun-
try in search of the parish to which they rightfully belong. But,
as already intimated, the evil is not one of much moment here
in America, where the Wages of labor are high, and where there
is but little pauperism among the native-born, and that little
can be supported at insignificant expense. No great pains, there-
fore, are taken to prevent a person from obtaining a settlement
wherever he likes.

Mr. Senior justly remarks, that " the difficulty with which labor
is transferred from one occupation to another is the principal
evil of a high state of civilization. It exists in proportion to the
Division of Labor. In a savage state, almost every man is equally
fit to exercise, and in fact does exercise, almost every employment.
But in the progress of improvement, two circumstances combine
to render narrower and narrower the field within which a given
individual can be profitably employed. In the first place, the
operations in which he is engaged become fewer and fewer ; in
a large manufactory, the man who is engaged in one of these
operations has little experience in any of the others. And in the
second place, the skill which the Division of Labor gives to each
distinct class of artificers generally prevents whatever peculiar
dexterity an individual may have from being of any value in a


business to which he has not been brought up. A workman
whose specific labor has ceased to be in demand finds every other
long-established employment filled by persons whose time has
been devoted to it from the age at which their organs were still
pliable and their attention fresh."

This subject is excellently illustrated by Mr. Laing, with refer-
ence to the qualifications of emigrants to perform the novel tasks
imposed upon them by their change of residence. " Two hundred
years ago," he says, " when the peopling of the old American
colonies was going on, the great mass of the population of the
mother country was essentially agricultural; but every working
man could turn his hand to various kinds of work, as well as to
the plough. He was partly a smith, carpenter, wheelwright, stone-
mason, shoemaker. The useful arts were not, as now, entirely in
the hands of artisans bred to no other labor but their own trade
or art ; very expert, skilful, and cheap producers in that, but not
used to, or acquainted with, any other kind of work. This infe-
rior stage of civilization, in which men were not co-operative to the
same extent as now, but every man did a little at everything, and
jnade a shift with his own unaided workmanship and production,
was a condition of society very favorable to emigration-enterprise
and to colonization. It continues still in the United States, and
is the main reason why their settlers in the backwoods are more
handy, shift better for themselves, and thrive better, than the
man from this country, who has been all his life engaged in one
branch of industry, and in that has had the co-operation of many
trades preparing his tools and the materials for his work.

"Another advantage for emigration in that state of society
which we in Great Britain have entirely outgrown, was, that the
female half of the population contributed almost as much as the
male half to the subsistence of a family, especially an emigrant
family. In the days of King James, and of Charles I. and
Charles II., and down even to the end of the last centmy, the
emigrant could reckon upon the household work of the females
of his family as more or less profitable, and at least saving, by
the production of all clothing material. In genteel families at
home, all the family linen and cloth for common wear, and often
some for sale in the country towns, was produced by household
work. The progress of society to a higher state of material refine-


ment has entirely superseded such family production. Co-opera-
tive labor in factories supplies the public with much better and
finer goods ; and the public taste is so much refined by the contin-
ual enjoyment of finer articles, that the old mode and quality of
production would not satisfy it now; but that former state was
more favorable to emigi'ation than our present more advanced
social condition. There seems to be a stage in the progress of
nations at which they can throw off swarms with most success.
A nation, like an individual, may become too refined for coloniz-
ing ; its social state too co-operative ; men too dependent on other
men for the gi'atification of acquired tastes and habits, which
have become part of their nature, and interwoven with the daily
life even of the poorer classes."

The case of household or home manufactures, here alluded to
by Mr. Laing, is an interesting one, as it shows that, under
certain circumstances, persons may be willing to work, and may
find it profitable to work, for much less than the ordinary compen-
sation of labor in their neighborhood. An agricultiu-al family has
considerable leisure time in the course of the year, the winter
being a period of almost entire suspension of their customary
tasks. This leisure they may profitably devote to any species of
manufacture which can be pursued at home, at intervals, and
without the aid of costly tools ; for however poorly such labor
may be compensated, its proceeds are all clear gain. The time
would be entirely lost, if it were not thus employed. Thus, spin-
ning and knitting may continue to be carried on by hand in
many a humble family, long after the most perfect machinery
for performing these processes has been invented, and the prices
of the articles spim or knit have consequently been reduced to a
very low rate. The family would not be enabled to subsist by
devoting themselves entirely to these employments ; but their
subsistence being already secured by agriculture or some other
adequately compensated labor, their leisure may be economized by
such supplementary tasks, and a small addition be thus obtained
to their slender income. The Swiss, a frugal and industrious peo-
ple, are noted for having carried these home manufactures, espe-
cially of watches and toys, to a great extent, and for maintaining
them against the formidable competition of British fuel, capital,
and machinery.

Online LibraryFrancis BowenAmerican political economy → online text (page 21 of 51)