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from 2s. 6d. to 5s. 8c?. a day. Bread, indeed, had risen equally,
but all other necessaries had fallen. The wages of an English
farm hand for various periods, if translated into wheat values at
current rates, gives this result: 1680-1700, 54 pints; 1701-
1726, 64 pints ; 1727-51, 78 pints; 1752-64, 80 pints; 1770,
79 pints ; 1780, 82 pints ; 1824, 89 pints ; 1832, 90 pints.

§ 139. In France this matter has been very carefully investi-
gated, and it appears that the rural population of France had
half as much food as they needed in the time of Louis XIV. ;
two-thirds uuder Louis XV. ; three-fourths under Louis XVI. ;
while from the time of the Empire the laborer's budget begins
to show a surplus instead of a deficit. D'Argenson writes in
1739 : " At the moment when I write, in the month of Febru-
ary, in the midst of peace, — with appearances promising a
harvest, if not abundant, at least passable, — men die around us
like flies and are reduced by poverty to eat grass." A fern loaf
was brought to the council table by the King's brother that his
majesty might " see what his subjects lived upon." With the
increase of wages, labor has risen to such efficiency that one
fourth of the soil formerly devoted to grain is now set free for
" industrial crops," and the food of a much larger population is
raised upon the other three-fourths. At the same time a much
larger proportion of the people is set free to engage in manu-
factures of all kinds.


§ 140. In the colony of New York in 1773, when cheap and
fertile lands were plenty, and every mechanic could turn farmer
if he pleased, day laborers were paid 45 cents a day ; ship
carpenters, three times as much; house carpenters, $1.10;
journeymen tailors, 56 cents. Adam Smith, who gives us
these data, says that the London rate was lower than this, but
that of the other colonies was not. Has the rate diminished
since the country became more densely settled ? In 1850 our
factories employed 731,137 men and 225,922 women, whose
daily wages was respectively $.88 6-10 and $.49 2-10, for each
person. In 1860 they employed 1,040,349 men and 270,900
women, at wages of $102 and $.59 respectively. In 1870 the
number was 1,615,598 men and 323,770 women, and 114,628
young persons, a total of 2,053,996 workers, at an average of
$1.18 per diem; a gain of 37 per cent, in ten years.

§ 141. What is true of different periods in the same country
is equally true of different countries at the same date : — Badly
paid labor is dearer as a rule than well paid. Two Englishmen
will mow as much hay as six Russians, and although their wages
are much higher, the hay costs the farmer only half as much.
Arthur Young saw that the Essex laborer was cheaper at half
a crown a day than the Tipperary laborer at 5 pence. This is
still true of Irish labor outside Ulster and the Dublin Pale ; capi-
talists pay less for it and yet find it at least no cheaper. The Edin-
burgh Review denies that labor is cheaper on the Continent than
in England in spite of the difference in wages, and Mr. J. S. Mill
says " the cost of labor is frequently at its highest when wages
are lowest." He says that labor is probably no dearer in the
United States than in England. When the Revolution of 1848
banished the English navvies who were working on the French
railroads, it was found that twice as many Frenchmen could not
do the work. But when these had been put for a while on the
beef diet of the English navvies, they came up to the English
standard, and two could do almost as much as five had done.

§ 142. It is not only through the growth of the laborer in
thrift and skill that his condition is bettered. All the accumula-


tions of capital in other men's hands cooperate to make his
work more efficient and to secure him a larger share of its re-
wards. All the work that has been done already adds to the
value of the work that he is now doing. Hence, in the course
of natural development, the power of labor over the accumula-
tions of the results of past labor, grows with the growth of those
accumulations. Past work never brings market price, because
its very existence makes present work more effective than it
was. "The share assigned to the laborer almost always bears a
much larger proportion to his labor than his employer's share
bears to the labor which his capital represents" (W. T. Thorn-

The price of a thing being fixed by the cost of its repro-
duction, every improvement in the methods of production lowers
the price of what has been already produced. Suppose that any
European kingdom or American state were brought into the
market as a whole, it would bring the sum needed to bring it up
to its present state of improvement in the present condition of
labor. Such a sum would represent a mere fraction of the labor
that actually was required in its past history to do the same
work. Thus the worth of the fee simple of the real estate of
England (including roads and mines) is reckoned — or was a few
years ago — at £2,000,000,000. This represents much less than
the labor of five million men for ten years at present English
rates ; yet it would purchase the results of the labor of millions
spread over the thousand years through which the English
nation has lasted (§ 112), because it would now achieve as much
as those millions did. Value is not determined, therefore, by
the cost of production, but by the cost of reproduction, and
with every improvement in method, and even with every ac-
cumulation of results, the latter falls below the former.

With the growth in the productive power of labor, an in-
creased proportion of the increased product falls to the laborer.
The improved instruments with which he works are themselves
the products of more efficient labor; their value has fallen while
his has risen. The capitalist cannot demand as much for the


use of them as before ; the workman's ability to become himself
a capitalist has increased, and that ability is one of the points
to be considered in their contract. The capitalist's share in-
creases greatly in quantity, but is a less proportion of the whole
amount. For with the diminution of nature's resistance, the
whole dead stock employed in production declines in value while
man's value rises, as he is by all these changes the master of
larger utilities. The power of his labor to command the service
of capital rises ; that of capital to command his labor declines ;
the inequality of laborer and capitalist tends to disappear.

The Italian economist Ferrara in the introduction to the twelfth volume
of the dell' Economisti (Turin, 1852), says of this definition:
"Carey [in 1837], and after him Eastiat [in 1850], have introduced a
formula a posteriori, that I believe destined to be universally adopted;
and it is greatly to be regretted that the latter should have limited him-
self to occasional indications of it, instead of giving to it the import-
ance so justly given by the former. In estimating the equilibrium between
cost to one's self and the utility to others, a thousand circumstances may
intervene ; and it is desirable to know if there be not among men a law, a
principle of universal application. Supply and demand, rarity and
abundance, etc., are all insufficient and liable to perpetual exceptions.
Carey has remarked, and with great sagacity, that this law is the labor
saved, the cost of reproduction — an idea that is, as I think, most felicitous.
It appears to me that there cannot arise a case in which a man shall
determine to make an exchange, in which this law will not be found to
apply. I will not give a quantity of labor or pains, unless offered in ex-
change for a utility equivalent, and I will not regard it as an equivalent,
unless I see that it will come to me at less cost than would be necessary
for its reproduction. I regard this formula as most felicitous, because,
while on the one hand, it retains the idea of cost, which is constantly
referred to by the mind, on the other it avoids the absurdity to which we
are led by the theory, which pretends to see everywhere a value equivalent
to the cost of production ; and finally it shows more perfectly the essential
justice that governs all our exchanges."

§ 143. In regard to the quality and the rewards of labor,
therefore, the same law of progress holds as in regard to food
and land. As society advances in numbers and wealth, there is,
unless bad economy prevent, a constant progress from worse to
better. With the growth of wealth and of numbers, the power
of combination increases, with great increase in the productive-
ness of labor and the power of accumulation.


What are the chief forms of bad economy that prevent the
laborer from profiting fully by the growth of society ?

(1) When the steps in the progress of improvement are very
sudden and great, a considerable amount of suffering is often
inflicted ; but this is temporary and, to much greater extent
than is commonly supposed, can be avoided. The introduction
of labor-saviug machinery is an instance of what we mean ; a
much more striking one was the transition during the last
quarter of the eighteenth century from hand to steam power,
and from the workshop to the factory system.

The old school-books used to tell us that " it takes ten men to
make a pin." But since that day an inventive mechanic has
put together a machine that only needs to be fed with wire,
well oiled and supplied with steam-power, to turn out complete
pins, sort them, and even thrust them into the papers in the
right numbers and in straight rows. What is to become of the
ten pin-makers ? In any community in which industrial progress
is constaut, there will be openings for their work. Even Mr.
Mill, who believes that such inventions have not "lightened the
toil of any human being," admits that "they have enabled a greater
number to live the same life of drudgery and imprisonment."
Why is this the result? Because pins made by the new process
are so much cheaper than before, that the demand for them is
greatly enhanced, and when this demand has reached its natural
height the whole number of persons employed in the manu-
facture (including miners, machine-makers, engineers, &c.) is
greater than it was before. As the money then needed to buy pins
for a family is much less than it was, there is something left
to buy other things, and to pay the men who produce them.

Furthermore, machinery supersedes muscle but not brains,
force but not intelligence. It drives men from low-priced,
mechanical work, to employments that demand a higher capacity
and command higher pay. Increasing the productiveness of
labor, it increases also the workman's share of its results. And
this share is not to be conceived as lying idle in the hands of those
that earn it. It is again expended in employing other workmen
by purchasing necessaries and comforts.


The change in methods of work (by its demand for adaptive-
ness), and the quality of the new kind of work, both demand a
large measure of intelligence in the workman. The amount of
suffering and privation involved in such a change, is exactly
proportional to the ignorance and general backwardness of the
working classes. For this society is directly responsible.

§ 144. The transition from industry organized on a small scale
to the larger industry of the factory system was begun in Lan-
cashire in 1790 by Richard Arkwright, and has been one of the
greatest of industrial revolutions. It grew naturally out of the
invention of the steam-engine, aud the application of a power that
moves a hundred looms or spinning jennies as easily as a score.
It has introduced the precision and effectiveness of military dis-
cipline into industry, divided labor more thoroughly, assigned to
every workman his position, and reduced the loss of time and
of material to a minimum. It thus rendered the labor of the
workman far more productive than when he wrought in isolation,
flinging the shuttle and tramping down the treadles by the force
of his own muscles. It consequently increased the wages of
his industry, while it diminished the value of all manufactured
goods. The transition to the industry of the factory did not
begin in the United States till the second decade of the present
century, but since that date the wages of workmen have been
doubled, and that of workwomen trebled, while the purchasing
power of both has advanced at a still swifter rate.

It may be questioned, however, whether the change was not
more sweeping than it need have been if the working classes
had been fully alive to their own interests, — and therefore more
injurious, temporarily, to their interests. Large intelligence
and large capital went together in effecting the change. It
was assumed on all hands that the steam-engine can only be
employed with economy as the motive power of a large estab-
lishment, which experience shows to be untrue. Small em-
ployers shared in the prejudice of their workmen and the
uneducated generally against the new invention. Instead of
accommodating themselves to the logic of facts, they resisted


the change, and were swept into the large factories by the force
of circumstances, before they knew. The restoration of petty
industry in a new form, with all the advantages of discipline,
intelligence and machinery, is one of the most desirable of
changes in the future.

§145. (2) A French workman has well said that "when
two workmen run after one master, wages fall ; they rise when
two masters run after one workman." Had he said " two sorts
of masters," it would have been even truer. " There is rarely
competition for labor ivithin a trade in a particular place, unless
there be competition for it from without" (Leslie). The more
openings there are for the laborer to invest his capital (which ia
his labor), and for the capitalist to invest his (which is the accu-
mulation of past labor), the better each will be remunerated.
Hence the connection between varied industry and fair wages, as
well as fair profits. In any country (or even district) in which
that is wanting, labor will be but poorly paid, and especially so, if
agriculture is the only pursuit open to the great body of the
people. Furthermore, that form of industry, as a rule, furnishes
employments that are suited only to able-bodied men, and con-
sequently, if there be not a fair admixture of manufactures,
those who are not equal to hard, out-door work, are left
dependent upon those who are. With the rise of a varied in-
dustry, the number of workers rises to a maximum, that of idlers
sinks to a minimum. A field sown with various sorts of grass
seed yields a larger crop than if one kind only be used, because
each finds special nourishment in some single element of the soil;
and so is it with the employment of all the elements of in-
dustrial power.

In later English history, the manufactures have become con-
centrated in London and in the midland and northern shires.
Between 1770 and 1850, wages rose 66 per cent, in the twelve
northern shires and 100 per cent, in Lancashire and the West
Riding of Yorkshire : in eighteen southern agricultural shires,
only 14 per cent., although food and cottage-hire were far
dearer, [n the former two sorts of masters run after one work-


man ; in the latter the growth of population has no outlet save
in farming ; local capital, of which labor is the most perishable
form, has no other investment, and two workmen run after one
master. In Ireland the principle is seen still more clearly. The
south is now not over populated, but under populated ; whole
districts are desolate and idle ; yet nowhere are wages above
eight shillings a week, though food is nearly as dear as in
England, to which everything is now carried. In the north,
the eastern three counties have a very different rate of wages.
" In that vast system of manufactures, which now stretches over
several counties, it is around towns in which population has
doubled in half a generation, that agricultural wages are high-
est" (Leslie). The north, from the first days of the Ulster
plantation, has had two sorts of employers running after every

§ 146. (3) Laws made in the interest of the upper classes
very greatly interfere with the well-being of the working classes,
especially the farm-hands. Till very recently the right of the
workingmen peaceably to combine to secure higher wages was
denied and its exercise punished on both sides of the Atlantic,
although no law forbade the employers to combine in depressing
washes. Till very recently the treasurer of a Trade's Union in
England might rob it with impunity; the law would not punish
him. The Unions were outlawed, though their members since
1824 were not.

Laws not made for any such purpose have often been perverted
in their application to the great injury of the working classes.
Thus under the old English poor law, the farmers in many dis-
tricts by combined action beat down their workmen's wages to
such a point, that the latter were forced to " come upon the
parish," by asking relief as out-door paupers. The guardians
were required by the law to find them work, which they did by
supplementing their wages up to the point required for their
subsistence. Thus able-bodied men, who fairly earned a living,
were degraded to the rank of paupers in order that the whole
community might be forced to contribute to the farmer's profits.


" He was virtually able to put his hand into the pockets of the
neighboring rate-payers to make up the deficiency to those whom
he employed" (Fawcett). The consequences were most disas-
trous • the spirit of the people was broken, and pauperism
increased so vastly that it absorbed in some parishes more than
half the rent of the land. In some cases the land was actually
offered to the paupers to till for themselves and refused ; they
preferred to live on alms. Could there be a worse economy of
the wealth-producing forces of a nation than the destruction of
the thrift, the self-respect and the hopefulness of the common
people ?

§ 147. The new poor law (1834) contained an especial provi-
sion to put an end to the supplementing of wages out of the rates,
which, with some other good regulations, at once reduced the
number of paupers. But the injury inflicted on the rural work-
man and the poorer classes in the greater cities, in the lowering
of the tone of social morality and the spirit of independence,
cannot be healed in a day. Vast numbers avail themselves of
every pretence to ask this public alms. The tax that pauperism
imposes upon the whole population of England is six shillings
a head, and falls with especial severity upon the poorer districts,
as every district must provide for its own. Those who are man-
fully struggling to support themselves, are continually dragged
down by the poor-rates into the number of those for whose benefit
it is assessed. The army of paupers numbers 1871) one in
twenty of the English people, one in twenty-three of the Scotch,
only one in seventy-four of that Irish people, whose recklessness
and thriftlessness always furnish excuses for the failures and
blunders of a bad national economy.

§ 148. (4) The disproportionate outlay of the workingman's
savings upon objects of luxury, instead of a wise saving, is
justly alleged as a cause of misery to the class. Thus the ex-
penditure upon spirituous liquors is a heavier tax upon the
earnings of the laborer than all others put together. But the
remedy and therefore the responsibility of this state of things
is partly with society at large. It is in the improvement of the


homes of the poor, and in furnishing them with mental resources
and proper places of resort. So long as the gin-shop and the bar-
room are to the modern workman what the church was to the
peasant of the Middle Ages, viz. : the only clean, warm and
well-lighted room that he is welcome to visit in his hours of
leisure, — so long will he go to them. "The main exciting
cause of drunkenness is, I believe, bad air and bad lodging"
(Chas. Kingsley). Alcohol is sought as the only accessible
relief from the physical prostration and mental depression that
bad habits of living produce. Drunkenness was once universal
in the highest classes of society; "drunk as a lord" was an
English proverb. It has decreased, no doubt with the growth
of habits of personal cleanliness, and with a larger intelligence
as to the conditions on which good health may be enjoyed.

In some parts of Sweden they have effected a thorough reform of the
tavern, without attempting to abolish it. The right to sell liquor in a
district is put up at auction by the government, and bought in by an
association of the friends of temperance. They open the number of
houses that the law prescribes and at the legal hours only. They sell
other drinks and food as well as pure liquors, and allow of no solicita-
tion to purchase the latter. No person who has had "enough" can get
any more. The association furnish pleasant rooms to which the work-
ingman can invite his family, and provide books and periodicals. The
proceeds, after paying all expenses, go to local charities.

The diffusion of education will both directly and indirectly
work to the same end. When this has multiplied the number
and elevated the character of his enjoyments, the workman will
no longer seek happiness in sordid physical gratifications. Per-
haps he will then come to learn — as no class has yet learned
— the vast importance of the way in which a people dis-
poses of the small surplus left it, after the necessaries of life
have been provided. Everything that impoverishes mind and
purse tends to increase the outlay upon articles of false luxury
which are rather hurtful than helpful.

§ 149. (5) Grave injuries have been inflicted on the laboring
classes by the conflict between labor and capital. In the absence
of any knowledge of the essential harmony of their iuterests,

trades' unions and their strikes. 147

or at best from the notion that the interests of the workmen
were consulted by keeping down wages to the natural level,
English employers, with the approval and support of English
economists, have striven to get their work done at a minimum
rate of wages. The workmen, finding individual resistance use-
less, organized for combined effort, and fixed rates of wages for
their respective trades. Their right to associate and to refuse
to work for less than this seems plain enough, but the governing
classes denied the right, and treated these Unions as unlawful
conspiracies. Being thus put out of the pale of the law, the
Unions unhappily, but not unnaturally, fell into lawless methods
of securing their ends. They had the right to use all persuasive
methods to induce those who did not belong to the Union and
comply with its rules, to become members, and failing in that
to refuse to work in the same shop with them. But they went
beyond all lawful limits to force outsiders into membership, and
to force them from work during " strikes," as they called the
temporary suspension of work intended to force masters to raise
wages. "Ratteners," as these outsiders were called, had their
tools destroyed, their persons assaulted, their houses attacked,
sometimes by explosive substances ; and in a number of cases
their lives were taken.

It is a question whether the Trades' Unions have accomplished
the ends of their organization. The figures presented by Mr.
Thornton in his work on Labor seem to show conclusively that
they have ; that the hours of labor have been reduced, and that
rates of wages that would never have been attained without com-
bined action, have been thus secured, and that the end of the
process is not reached. This indeed is contrary to the teachings
of English economists that* there is a limited wage fund subject
to the demands of labor, and that the average share of each
workman can only be increased by reducing the number of
claimants or increasing the fund. " Workmen are solemnly ad-
jured, in the name of political economy, not to try to get their
wages raised, because success in the attempt must be followed
by a fall of profits, and bring wages down again. They are en-


treated not to better themselves, because any temporary better-

Online LibraryRobert Ellis ThompsonSocial science and national economy → online text (page 13 of 38)