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wheel on the " stoop," and ride to a Hard Shell church, with a
saddle of raw hide and stirrups of straw. Every family has its
package of quinine, and ''the Egyptian shakes" are a proverb.

If we ascend the various branches of the Mississippi, we find
tillage approaching the river if the population is dense, receding
from the river to the barer lands that furnish natural drainage
if it be sparse.

Descending the river we reach the vast levees that protect the
richest plantations of the continent and testify to the growth of
man's power to command the services of nature with the in-
crease of numbers. East of this southern valley lie the South
Atlantic States. In North Carolina the richest lands are still
undrained, while labor is expended upon others that yield from
three to five bushels of wheat to the acre. The Cotton States
contain millious of acres still inaccessible to agriculture through
lack of population, because a large outlay of intelligently di-
rected labor would be required to occupy them.

In Texas the first Spanish colony at Bexar and the first
American colony at Austin, high up on the Colorado, were both
settled by men, who passed by millions of acres of better land as
inaccessible, to reach an exceptional elevation.

§ 123. Mexico mostly exemplifies the first stage of the pro-
gress of settlement. In the rich lands along the Rio Grande,
we find only the recent city of Matamoras; in the higher dis-
trict, drained by its tributary the San Juan, Monterey is the
centre of quite a populous district. Passing westward, we cross


the densely-settled Saltillo and Potosi, the former a series of
sandy plains, — the latter a land without rivers, where the failure
of the periodical rains occasions severe famines. In this high
and dry central plateau the population' is chiefly concentrated,
while the richer lands between that and the coast, where vege-
tation is luxuriant and rivers abundant, lie still uncleared. The
valley of Mexico was once an exception, but under Spanish mis-
rule and exaction its forty cities disappeared and tillage has re-
treated to the higher lands, which now supply its single city
with food.

So rich Honduras contrasts with barren but populous Yuca-
tan, where water is a luxury; and the comparison might be ex-
tended to the whole region of Central and South America. The
rich valley of the Amazon, where vegetation grows with a luxu-
riance that recalls the geological ages of the past, is still in-
accessible to human agriculture through that very wealth, and
is left to the monkeys and a few degraded tribes of Indians.
Humboldt being struck with the beauty of a little vine that he
found there — a pretty graceful bit of green a few inches in
length, — marked its site by "blazing" a neighboring tree, as
he intended to take it with him on his way back a few months
later. When he returned, it had grown sixty feet into that
tree; he left it there.

§ 129. Looking at the entire area of the earth's surface, we
find (1) that no nation occupies a territory incapable of support-
ing its actual or even its probable population. Norway conies
nearest to forming an exception, but the Scandinavian peninsula
is manifestly designed for the home of one nationality. Sweden
raises more cereals than her people eat, and a very considerable
area of her arable lands are still covered with dense forests.
England is clearly no exception ; she is capable of producing on
her soil four times as much food as her people use; but her
agriculture lags far behind the general average of her skill in
the invention of better methods and in the application of scien-
tific principles.

(2) The pressure of population upon subsistence and upon


the land exists in sparsely-settled regions, and there only. It is
a providential agency to stir men to greater exertions and wiser
methods, and these exertions are always abundantly rewarded.

(3) The richest areas of the earth's surface lie still unoccu-
pied, and in many cases the richest districts, within national
boundaries whose population is dense enough to take possession
of them, are untilled and uudrained.

(4) The area of culture may be indefinitely extended in both
directions. It is now — we may say — the belt of land that lies
between districts that are too poor and districts that are too rich
to repay culture. The former as well as the latter may be mas-
tered, as the sciences advauce in their mastery of the secrets of
nature ; chalk downs and sandy deserts may be transformed into
fair garden fields and orchards at the touch of man, as great
natural forces and resources are brought into his service. The
wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad, and the desert
shall rejoice and blossom as the rose.

(5) The value of the land of a country is chiefly — or in
truth entirely — due to the labor that has been wisely expended
upon it, and is proportional to that. The price of a Belgian farm,
for instance, is twelve times as great as that of the same amount
of waste land in the same country, and the latter brings even
that nominal price only because (1) it furnishes a field for labor
to produce utilities possible but as yet non-existent; (2) because
the labor already expended on other adjacent pieces of land,
and the growth of numbers and of the power of association,
have made it possible to bring this one under tillage. Were the
same piece of land to be transferred to the Andes, its market
value would be nil.

In fine, if in any case a people, with the strength of numbers
and the strength of skill, should come to such a state that great
wealth should be found side by side with deep poverty and its
accompaniments, misery and sordid vice, the cause of such a
state of things, is not to be sought in " the pressure of popula-
tion upon land and food," but in bad national thrift. Somebody
is to blame I


The National Economy op Labor.

§ 130. The industrial age, in which national economy has
become a science, is also the democratic age, in which the govern-
ing class are no longer regarded as composing the state or possess-
ing an exclusive right to direct its policy to the promotion of
their own interests. It is no longer possible, therefore, to call a
nation wealthy and prosperous because large masses of capital
are in the hands of a few men, if the great body of the
people are ill-fed, ill-housed and ill-clothed, or struggling on the
brink of pauperism. The prosperity of "the most numerous
class, that is, the poorest," is coming ever more to the front as
the great problem of modern statesmanship.

In an industrial age this problem resolves itself into the
question of the rewards of labor. Modern governments can no
longer undertake to support great numbers of people in idleness
on the produce of the industry of other classes, as was done in
the Greek republics and the Roman Empire. Those others,
with the advance of political equality, claim equal rights and
care. The aim of national economy is therefore to secure " a
fair day's wages for a fair day's work," to all who are willing
and able to work.

In modern industry, the operations are so complex in method
and so extensive in scale that unassisted labor would be unable
to undertake them. Those who by their savings, or by the
inheritance of other men's savings, have come into the pos-
session of a large amount of the results of past labor, natur-
ally and necessarily take the work of organizing industry and
directing its forces. These men are capitalists, and their ac-
cumulations are called capital.

§ 131. Of the net product of the joint application of labor
and capital, what proportion should fall to labor and what to


capital ? Is there a natural and necessary rate of distribution,
or does it vary arbitrarily according to the contract made ?

The English economists generally accept the former alterna-
tive ; they believe that there is a natural and necessary rate of
wages ; that no efforts of the workman can permanently raise
wages above that rate, and no efforts of the capitalist can per-
manently depress them below it. For, say they, if wages be
raised above the natural rate, the rate of increase in the population
will be accelerated, and after a time the number of workmen will
be so great that they will underbid each other for work, and the
rate will be depressed again. If it be depressed below the natural
rate by this or any other cause, then the rate of increase of the
population will be diminished, and the labor market will be
scantily supplied, so that wages must rise. Between the two
extremes of this oscillation, there is a middle point of stability,
— the natural rate of wages, that which will neither accelerate the
growth of population till it surpasses the growth of capital, nor
the reverse. This natural rate is the amount necessary to sup-
ply to the unmarried workman the real necessaries of life, and
whatever other things his class regard as such.

The theory is commonly stated in another form, which also
accepts a natural rate of wages, and one which is reached far
more swiftly. All the money in a country that is available
for the payment of labor is taken in the mass and called the
wage fund. This fund is divided pretty equally among all the
laborers in the country. The apparent inequalities in the dis-
tribution are not real ; higher wages can always be traced to
payment for undergoing danger or doing work that is disagree-
able or discreditable, or work that involves special capacity or
preparation. The amount of the fund to be divided depends
upon the amount of capital in circulation. The rate of division
depends upon the number of claimants. The workinguien have
no power to increase the amount of the fund, but they can limit
the number of those among whom it is divided, and on their
doing so depeuds their welfare as a class.

This theory in both its shapes grows out of the supposed


11 law of population," and must stand or fall with that. Like
that, its motive is to show that the misery of the working classes
is not to be attributed to any mismanagement on the part of the
ruling class, but to the operation of natural and unavoidable
laws. Its verdict is, " Nobody to blame," when the growth of a
nation in wealth and numbers, and the distribution of wealth
among those numbers, do not go on together.

The first form of the theory is fully refuted by the ascer-
tained fact that the poorest classes are the most thriftless,
and the least likely to take thought for the future. The second,
by the proofs that workingmen actually have, by combination,
raised the rate of wages, without any such increase of circula-
ting capital, or the resulting " wage fund," as is here demanded
as a preliminary to that increase.

The facts arc abundantly given by Mr. W. T. Thornton (On Labor,
1870), and by Mr. Cliffe Leslie (Systems of Land Tenure, 1S68).

§ 132. If the English theory as to the relations of labor and
capital is true, then there is no hope for the essential improve-
ment of the workingman's condition so long as the existing order
of society holds its ground. What labor gains on one side it
for ever loses on the other, and as often as it rolls the Sisyphean
rock — the rate of wages — up the hill, it rolls down again to
crush and destroy the workman. All the old pictures of foiled
effort, with which the Greeks peopled their Hades, become but
pictures of the efforts of the working classes to raise their con-
dition above the wretched standard called " natural wages."

Those who are striving to rouse the working classes to over-
throw the frame-work of modern society and its economic basis,
the right of property, are not slow to discern this. Thus the
leader of the German socialists, Lasalle, based his fierce denun-
ciations of modern civilization and its proprietary rights upon
the recognised doctrines of the English school, claiming to be
"equipped with all the knowledge of the age" on this subject.
His chief opponent, his successful rival in the love and allegiance
of the working classes of Germany, is Schulze-Delitzsch, who
has devoted his life to showing the working classes that they


can improve their condition simply by removing unnatural
obstacles to improvement, by availing themselves of the great
drift of society towards an equality of condition, and without
for an instant lifting their hands against the accumulations and
the vested rights of the rich. In doing so, he ranged himself
on the side of the German- American school of economists
founded by List and represented by H. C. Carey, telling Herr
Lasallc that if he had taken the pains to go over the whole field
he would have found better teachers and better principles than
those of Malthus and Ricardo.

" If any one object," he says, "that the economical principles of the
writer are devoid of authority, it will suffice to answer that these princi-
ples have been established by the work of one of the most philosophic
minds of our epoch, the celebrated American economist, Carey. That
work is entitled Principles of Social Science. It was finished in ISfiO ;
some years later gave us a German translation of it (Miinehen, 1863-4,
published by E. A. Fleischmann). We commend it to the public as one
of the most eminent publications that have appeared in this branch of
human knowledge.

" All that is false and damnable in the economic theories of the modern
English school, especially those of Ricardo and Malthus, — theories
which furnish the starting-point for the thesis defended by Lasalle, — there
meets with a triumphant refutation ; and it is truly astonishing that our
opponent, ' armed with all the knowledge of the age,' had not even known
of the aforementioned labors of the eminent man, who, during the last
twenty years, has discovered a great number of truths that are now ac-
cepted as axioms in political economy."

John Stuart Mill, in his Autobiography, shows us that the gloomy out-
look for the future of the majority of mankind, presented to his mind
when he studied the world through the spectacles made for his eyes by
Malthus and Ricardo, led him to at least approximate to the theory of
the St. Simonian socialists. They proposed to abolish all rights of in-
heritance ; to reconstruct the government out of the ablest men in each
of the professions ; to make the state everybody's heir, and to redis-
tribute all property as fast as its present possessors died. In Mr.
Mill's Principles fii, xiii, $ 2) he speaks of "the industrial system pre-
vailing in this country and regarded by many writers as the ne plus ultra
of civilization," as "irrevocably condemned," unless it prove itself com-
petent to solve the population question by bringing sufficient motives to
self restraint to bear upon the classes " dependent on the wages of hired

§ 133. The English theory that the power of competition


fixed all the status of industries, and that all things found their
level, led to the inference — adduced above — that the wages of
labor are essentially the same in all departments, and that any
difference in payment could be traced to an implied payment for
facing some danger, or something disagreeable or disgraceful in
the work. Closer investigation shows us that custom is as large
an element as competition in determining the rate of wages,
although the latter is gaining upon the former steadily in modern
society. The great change going on all around us is from cus-
tomary status, that fixes the rate and price of all things by
tradition, to one in which they are fixed by free contract. But
the change is anything but complete in any department of life,
and as to wages it is simply impossible to say why some classes
of work are paid so high and others so low. To give a reason
for the difference would be to trace to reason what had not its
origin in reason ; or if it ever had, it was in a past so distant
that we cannot reconstruct it.

§ 134. Capitalists are, of course, more ready than working-
men to listen to the English arguments in favor of the necessity
and naturalness of a low rate of wages. But the effort to keep
the workingman down to such a rate ignores the very nature of
the instrument that is to be used. It is to adopt as a maxim of
economy the fundamental falsehood of slavery, — that a man may
be treated as a thing. The law of parsimony is a wise one in
dealing with the material, but not with the workman. Every
needless pound of iron on the locomotive, every needless pound
of coal in the fire-place, is so much waste of the moving force.
Every unnecessary ton of iron on the girders of the bridge
merely adds to the weight to be sustained, without proportionally
increasing the strength that sustains it. So in regard to cost of
material ; what is needless is waste.

But when we come to apply the law of parsimony to the com-
plex being called man, we discover by experience that there are
very decided limits to its application. Here at least " there is
that scattereth and yet increaseth, and there is that withholdeth
more than is meet, and it tendeth to poverty." The lowest


wages that you can get a man to live on, will not get the best
work out of him. Put a whole people on such wages, and keep
them there — if you can — for two or three generations, and you
will have crushed the energy, the spirit, the heart out of that
people, and made them a very inferior and unprofitable class of
workmen. You will have taken away from the great mass of
them the means of advancing in intelligence ; their physical
character will have deteriorated greatly ; their social morality —
their good-will, and public spirit, and ready helpfulness, and
brotherly feeling — will have been pretty thoroughly eliminated.
Factories will be full of the inflammable human stuff, to which
demagogues furnish the spark. The stability of the social edifice,
aud consequently the security of property, will be endangered.
Instead of cheerful, pains-taking, thrifty work, eye-service alone
will be rendered, and profits will suffer from waste more than
they would from high wages.

On the other hand, wages that put heart and hope into a man,
that make him feel that his personal efforts and his best work
are needed to keep them at present rates, that offer him the
prospect of becoming his own master by frugality, that enable
him to educate his children to fill a place like his own intelli-
gently, or perhaps to rise to a higher place, — such wages are in
the long ruu the best of investments. It cannot be said that cap-
italists any more than workmen, have always been alive to this
substantial harmony of their interests. When the higher rate
of wages has been adopted, it has too commonly been after a
conflict between the two classes, through which much of its
good effect upon the workmen has been destroyed.

§ 135. Men are morally responsible for the terms on which
they purchase labor. When the workman makes his contract
singly, the capitalist has a power to dictate its terms, which
does not exist in ordinary transactions. In case of disagreement
as to terms, it remains to be seen which of the two can hold
out longest. Labor cannot: the laborer would starve. Capital
can live on its accumulations. If I refuse to buy the baker's
loaf, because I think it too dear, he loses but little in waiting


till noon for another customer. I have therefore no means of
dictating to him. But " labor is the most perishable of com-
modities." He who cannot sell his morning's labor before noon,
can never sell it; it is gone. The producer of other commo-
dities can at least stop producing, and lose only the interest, on
his capital, when the prices are unsatisfactory. But he who has
labor to sell cannot stop producing, cannot cease to offer his
single commodity for such price as he can get.

§ 136. The history of labor shows the wisdom of generous
dealing with the laborer. In the earliest ages, he was generally
a slave; but it was found that slave labor was dear at any price.
Homer says : —

" The day
That makes a man a slave, takes half his worth away."

Pliny tells us Coli rura ah ergastulis pessi'nmm est, et quicquid
agitur a desperantibus (It is the worst possible tillage that is
carried ou by slaves, nor are they more fit for any other sort of
work, because they are devoid of hope). A southern slave-
holder told Frederick Law Olmstead : " In working niggers we
must always calculate that they will not labor at all except to
avoid punishment, and they will never do more than just enough
to save themselves from being punished, and no amount of pun-
ishment will prevent their working carelessly and indifferently."
Why should it ? " Fear," says Bentham, " leads the laborer to
hide his powers, rather than to show them ; to remain below,
rather than to surpass himself. ... By displaying superior ca-
pacity, the slave would only raise the measure of his ordinary
duties ; by a work of supererogation he would only prepare
punishment for himself. His ambition is the reverse of that
of the freeman ; he seeks to descend in the scale of industry,
rather than to ascend." And just the same must be the effects
of a system in which the workman's wages are fixed by his
necessities and not by his work.

See Prof. Cairnes's The Slave Poicer (1862) ; Chapter II. " The Eco-
nomic Basis of Slavery."


§ 137. The history of European serfdom in the middle ages
tells the same story. The great mass of the population of
Europe was in a state of villeinage, which varied in its forms,
but was commonly little short of slavery. They were worth so
little as workmen that it took all but a small percentage of the
population to raise food for the whole, and vast numbers were
employed in herding swine and cattle. In the worst cases, which
were very numerous, the villein had no right to the produce of
his labor ; the landlord took the whole, and gave the serf what
he pleased, — generally the refuse. Hence, as Gurth the swine-
herd (in Ivanhoe) says, the cattle bore Saxon names (ox, pig,
calf, sheep), while they lived and needed care, but Norman
names (beef, pork, veal, mutton), when killed and turned to

Afterwards these villeins began in great numbers to buy their
time, and then their freedom, — a fact which shows at once the
greater worth of free labor. Those feudal masters were too
poor to give anything for nothing; they sold their slaves to the
slaves themselves, because the latter could afford to pay more
than any other purchasers ; and because the purchase-money
earned in half freedom was the full price of the slave's work.
What we see in our own century in Prussia went on in England :
the emancipated serfs bought land of their lords, creating a new
market for it. The Prussian masters complained of the Stein
legislation (§ 90) as an invasion of vested rights, but that great
statesman told them that a generous policy would benefit all
parties. They now admit the fact; what their serfs gained they
did not lose. Between 1829 and 1843 land rose 75 per cent, in
Westphalia, while there has been an incalculable improvement
in the condition of the peasantry — some of whom still remember
the time when they were called sclaven.

§ 138. We begin to hear of free laborers in England in the
fourteenth century, and from this time laws are passed on the
one hand to protect them and increase their number, on the
other to keep their wages down to a minimum rate. These
laws tell us themselves that such short-sighted policy could not


reach its end. " The price of labor continually rose ; the price
of food constantly fell " (Thorold Rogers). This must have
been the consequence of a great increase in productive power of
labor acting in harmony with capital. The logic of facts drove
wages up, and every successive change was to the advantage of
all classes. The workman rose in freedom, self-respect and effi-

Between the Restoration and the Revolution the week's wages
of a farm hand was four shillings. In 1680 an M. P. com-
plained that the English mechanic was demanding a shilling a
day, though he would still work for less. In the century end-
ing 1830, the wages of a carpenter at Greenwich Hospital rose

Online LibraryRobert Ellis ThompsonSocial science and national economy → online text (page 12 of 38)