A Treatise on Political Economy

Jean-Baptiste Say
Say, Jean-Baptiste
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C. R. Prinsep, trans. and Clement C. Biddle., ed.
First Pub. Date
Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co.,
Pub. Date
6th edition. Based on the 4th-5th editions.
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Of the Profits of Industry in general.


The general motives, which stimulate the demand of products, have been above investigated.*38 When the demand for any product whatever, is very lively, the productive agency, through whose means alone it is obtainable, is likewise in brisk demand, which necessarily raises its ratio of value: this is true generally, of every kind of productive agency. Industry, capital, and land, all yield, ceteris paribus, the largest profits, when the general demand for products is most active, affluence most expanded, profits most widely diffused; and production most vigorous and prolific.


In the preceding chapter, we have seen that the demand for some products is always more steady and active than for others. Whence, we have inferred, that the agency directed to those particular products, receives the most ample remuneration.


Descending in our progress more and more into particular detail, we shall examine in this, and some following chapters, in what cases the profits of industry bear a greater or a less proportion to those of capital and of land, and vice versâ; together with the reasons why certain ways of employing industry, capital, or land, are more profitable than others.


To begin, then, with the comparison of the relative profits of industry, to those of capital and land, we shall find these bear the highest ratio, where abundance of capital creates a demand for a great mass of industrious agency; as it did in Holland before the revolution. Industrious agency was very dearly paid there; as it still is in countries like the United States of America, where population, and consequently, the human agents of production, spite of their rapid increase, bear no proportion to the demands of an unlimited extent of land, and of the daily accumulation of capital by the prevalence of frugal habits.


In countries thus circumstanced, the condition of man is generally the most comfortable; because those, who live in idleness upon the profits of their capital and land, are better able to live on moderate profits, than those who live upon the profits of their own industry only; the former, besides the resource of living on their capital, can, when they please, add the profits of industry to their other revenue; but the mere mechanic or labourer can not add at pleasure to the profits of his industry those of capital and land, of which he possesses none.


Proceeding next to compare the profits of different branches of industrious agency one with another, we shall find them greater or less in proportion, 1st, To the degree of danger, trouble, or fatigue, attending them, or to their being more or less agreeable; 2dly, To the regularity or irregularity of the occupation; 3dly, To the degree of skill or talent that may be requisite.


Every one of these causes tends to diminish the quantity of labour in circulation in each department, and consequently to vary its natural rate of profit. It is scarcely necessary to cite examples in support of propositions so very evident.


Among the agreeable or disagreeable circumstances attending an occupation, must be reckoned the consideration or contempt which it entails. Some professions are partly paid in honour. Of any given price, the more is paid in this coin, the less may be paid in any other, without deducing the ratio of price. Smith remarks, that the scholar, the poet, and the philosopher, are almost wholly paid in personal consideration.—Whether with reason or from prejudice, this is not entirely the case with the professions of a comic actor, a dancer, and innumerable others; they must, therefore, be paid in money what they are denied in estimation. "It seems absurd at first sight," says Smith, "that we should despise their persons, and yet reward their talents with the most profuse liberality. Whilst we do the one, however, we must of necessity do the other. Should the public opinion or prejudice ever alter with regard to such occupations, their pecuniary recompense would quickly diminish; More people would apply to them, and the competition would quickly reduce the price of their labour. Such talents, though far from being common, are by no means so rare as is imagined. Many people possess them in great perfection, who disdain to make this use of them; and many more are capable of acquiring them, if any thing could be honourably made by them."*39


In some countries, the functions of national administration are requited at the same time with high honour and large emolument; but it is only so, where, instead of being open to free competition, like other occupations and professions, they are in the disposal of royal favour. A nation, awake to its true interest, is careful not to lavish this double recompense upon official mediocrity; but to husband its pecuniary bounty, where it is prodigal of distinction and authority.


Every temporary occupation is dearly paid; for the labourer must be indemnified as well for the time he is employed, as for that during which he is waiting for employment. A job coachmaster must charge more for the days he is employed, than may appear sufficient for his trouble and capital embarked, because the busy days must pay for the idle ones; any thing else would be ruin to him. The hire of masquerade dresses is expensive for the same reason; the receipts of the carnival must pay for the whole year. Upon a cross road, an innkeeper must charge high for indifferent entertainment; for he may be some days before the arrival of another traveller.


However, the proneness of mankind to expect, that, if there be a single lucky chance, it will be sure to fall to their peculiar lot, attracts towards particular channels a portion of industry disproportionate to the profit they hold out. 'In a perfectly fair lottery,' says the author of the Wealth of Nations, 'those who draw prizes ought to gain all that is lost by those who draw 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.'*40 Now many occupations are far from being paid according to this rate. The same author states his belief, that, how extravagant soever the fees of counsellors at law of celebrity may appear, the annual gains of all the counsellors of a large town bear but a very small proportion to their annual expense; so that this profession, must, in great part, derive its subsistence from some other independent source of revenue.


It is hardly necessary to state, that these several causes of difference in the ratio of profit may act all in the same, or each in an opposite direction; or that, in the former case, the effect is more intense; whereas, in the latter, the opposite action of one controls and neutralizes the other. It would be a waste of time to prove, that the agreeable circumstances of a profession may balance the uncertainty of its product: or that a business that does not furnish constant occupation, and is moreover attended with danger, must be indemnified by a double increase of salary.


The last, and perhaps the principal cause of inequality in the profits of industry in general is, the degree of skill it may require.


When the skill requisite to any calling, whether of a superior or subordinate character, is attainable only by long and expensive training, that training must every year have involved a certain expense, and the total outlay forms an accumulated capital. In such case, its remuneration includes, over and above the wages of labour, an interest upon the capital advanced in the training, and an interest higher than the ordinary rate; for the capital advanced has been actually sunk, and exists no longer than the life of the individual. It should, therefore, be calculated as an annuity.*41


It is for this reason, that all employments of time and talents, which require a liberal education, are better paid than those, which require less education. Education is capital which ought to yield interest, independent of the ordinary profits of industry.


There are facts, it is true, that militate against this principle; but they are capable of explanation. The priesthood is sometimes very ill paid;*42 yet a religion, founded upon very complicated doctrines, and obscure historical facts, requires in its ministers a long course of study and probation, and such study and probation necessarily call for an advance of capital; it would seem requisite, therefore, for the continued existence of the clerical profession, that the salary of the minister should pay the interest on the capital expended, as well as the wages of his personal trouble, which the profits of the inferior clergy rarely exceed, particularly in Catholic countries. It must, however, be ascertained, whether the public have not themselves advanced this capital in the maintenance and education of clerical students at the public charge; in which case, the public advancing the capital, may find people enough to execute the duties for the mere wages of their labour, or a bare subsistence, especially where there is no family to be provided for.


When, besides expensive training, peculiar natural talent is required for a particular branch of industry, the supply is still more limited in proportion to the demand, and must consequently be better paid. A great nation will probably contain but two or three artists capable of painting a superior picture, or modelling a beautiful statue; if such objects, then, be much in demand, those few can charge almost what they please; and, though much of the profit is but the return with interest of capital advanced in the acquisition of their art, yet the profit it brings leaves a very large surplus.*43 A celebrated painter, advocate, or physician, will have spent, of his own or relations' money, six or eight thousand dollars at most, in acquiring the ability from which his gains are derived; the interest of this sum calculated as an annuity, is but 800 dollars; so that, if he make 6000 dollars by his art, there remains an annual sum of 3000 dollars, which is wholly the salary of his skill and industry. If every thing affording revenue is to be set down as property, his fortune at ten years' purchase may be reckoned 50,000 dollars, even supposing him not to have inherited a sol.

Of the Profits of the Man of Science.


The philosopher, the man who makes it his study to direct the laws of nature to the greatest possible benefit of mankind, receives a very small proportion of the products of that industry, which derives such prodigious advantage from the knowledge, whereof he is at the same time the depository and the promoter. The cause of his disproportionate payment seems to be, that, to speak technically, he throws into circulation, in a moment, an immense stock of his product, which is one that suffers very little by wear; so that it is long before operative industry is obliged to resort to him for a fresh supply.


The scientific acquirements, without which abundance of manufacturing processes could never have been executed, are probably the result of long study, intense reflection, and a course of experiments equally ingenious and delicate, that are the joint occupation of the highest degree of chemical, medical, and mathematical skill. But the knowledge, acquired with so much difficulty, is probably transmissible in a few pages; and, through the channel of public lectures, or of the press, is circulated in much greater abundance, than is required for consumption; or, rather, it spreads of itself, and, being imperishable, there is never any necessity to recur to those, from whom it originally emanated.


Thus, according to the natural laws, whereby the price of things is determined, this superior class of knowledge will be very ill paid; that is to say, it will receive a very inadequate portion of the value of the product, to which it has contributed. It is from a sense of this injustice, that every nation, sufficiently enlightened to conceive the immense benefit of scientific pursuits, has endeavoured, by special favours and flattering distinctions, to indemnify the man of science, for the very trifling profit derivable from his professional occupations, and from the exertion of his natural or acquired faculties.


Sometimes a manufacturer discovers a process, calculated either to introduce a new product, to increase the beauty of an old one, or to produce with greater economy; and, by observance of strict secrecy, may make for many years, for his whole life perhaps, or even bequeath to his children, profits exceeding the ordinary ratio of his calling. In this particular case the manufacturer combines two different operations of industry: that of the man of science, whose profit he engrosses himself, and that of the adventurer too. But few such discoveries can long remain secret; which is a fortunate circumstance for the public, because this secrecy keeps the price of the particular product it applies to above, and the number of consumers enabled to enjoy it below, the natural level.*44


It is obvious, that I am speaking only of the revenue a man of science derives from his calling. There is nothing to prevent his being at the same time a landed proprietor, capitalist or adventurer and possessed of other revenue in these different capacities.

Of the Profits of the Master-agent, or Adventurer, in Industry.


We shall, in this section, consider only that portion of the profits of the master-agent, or adventurer, which may be considered as the recompense of that peculiar character. If a master-manufacturer have a share in the capital embarked in his concern, he must be ranked pro tanto in the class of capitalists, and the benefits thence derived be set down as part of the profits of the capital so embarked.*45


It very seldom happens, that the party engaged in the management of any undertaking, is not at the same time in the receipt of interest upon some capital of his own. The manager of a concern rarely borrows from strangers the whole of the capital employed. If he have but purchased some of the implements with his own capital, or made advances from his own funds, he will then be entitled to one portion of his revenue in quality of manager, and another in that of capitalist. Mankind are so little inclined to sacrifice any particle of their self-interest, that even those, who have never analyzed these respective rights, know well enough how to enforce them to their full extent in practice.


Our present concern is, to distinguish the portion of revenue, which the adventurer receives as adventurer. We shall see by and-by, what he, or somebody else, derives in the character of capitalist.


It may be remembered, that the occupation of adventurer is comprised in the second class of operations specified as necessary for the setting in motion of every class of industry whatever; that is to say, the application of acquired knowledge to the creation of a product for human consumption.*46 It will likewise be recollected, that such application is equally necessary in agricultural, manufacturing, and commercial industry; that the labour of the farmer or cultivator on his own account, of the master-manufacturer and of the merchant, all come under this description; they are the adventurers in each department of industry respectively. The nature of the profits of these three classes of men, is what we are now about to consider.


The price of their labour is regulated, like that of all other objects, by the ratio of the supply, or quantity of that labour thrown into circulation, to the demand or desire for it. There are two principal causes operating to limit the supply, which, consequently, maintain at a high rate the price of this superior kind of labour.


It is commonly requisite for the adventurer himself to provide the necessary funds. Not that he must be already rich; for he may work upon borrowed capital; but he must at least be solvent, and have the reputation of intelligence, prudence, probity, and regularity; and must be able, by the nature of his connexions, to procure the loan of capital he may happen himself not to possess. These requisites shut out a great many competitors.


In the second place, this kind of labour requires a combination of moral qualities, that are not often found together. Judgment, perseverance, and a knowledge of the world, as well as of business. He is called upon to estimate, with tolerable accuracy, the importance of the specific product, the probable amount of the demand, and the means of its production: at one time he must employ a great number of hands; at another, buy or order the raw material, collect labourers, find consumers, and give at all times a rigid attention to order and economy; in a word, he must possess the art of superintendence and administration. He must have a ready knack of calculation, to compare the charges of production with the probable value of the product when completed and brought to market. In the course of such complex operations, there are abundance of obstacles to be surmounted, of anxieties to be repressed, of misfortunes to be repaired, and of expedients to be devised. Those who are not possessed of a combination of these necessary qualities, are unsuccessful in their undertakings; their concerns soon fall to the ground, and their labour is quickly withdrawn from the stock in circulation; leaving such only, as is successfully, that is to say, skillfully directed. Thus, the requisite capacity and talent limit the number of competitors for the business of adventurers. Nor is this all: there is always a degree of risk attending such undertakings; however well they may be conducted, there is a chance of failure; the adventurer may, without any fault of his own, sink his fortune, and in some measure his character; which is another check to the number of competitors, that also tends to make their agency so much the dearer.


All branches of industry do not require an equal degree of capacity and knowledge. A farmer who adventures in tillage, is not expected to have such extensive knowledge as a merchant, who adventures in trade with distant countries. The farmer may do well enough with a knowledge of the ordinary routine of two or three kinds of cultivation. But the science necessary for conducting a commerce with long returns is of a much higher order. It is necessary to be well versed, not only in the nature and quality of the merchandise in which the adventure is made, but likewise to have some notion of the extent of demand, and of the markets whither it is consigned for sale. For this purpose, the trader must be constantly informed of the price-current of every commodity in different parts of the world. To form a correct estimate of these prices, he must be acquainted with the different national currencies, and their relative value, or, as it is termed, the rate of exchange. He must know the means of transport, its risk and expense, the custom and laws of the people he corresponds with; in addition to all which, he must possess sufficient knowledge of mankind to preserve him from the dangers of misplaced confidence in his agents, correspondents, and connexions. If the science requisite to make a good farmer is more common than that which can make a good merchant, it is not surprising, that the labour of the former is but poorly paid, in comparison with that of the latter.


It is not meant by this to be understood, that commercial industry in every branch, requires a combination of rarer qualifications than agricultural. The retail dealers for the most part pursue the routine of their business quite as mechanically as the generality of farmers, and, in some kinds of cultivation, very uncommon care and sagacity are requisite. It is for the reader to make the application: the business of the teacher is, firmly to establish general principles; whence it will be easy to draw a multitude of inferences, varied and modified by circumstances, which are themselves the consequences of other principles laid down in other parts of the subject. Thus, in astronomy, when we are told, that all the planets describe equal areas in the same space of time, there is an implied reservation of such derangements, as arise from the proximity of other planets, whose attractive powers depend on another law of natural philosophy; and this must be attended to in the examination of the phenomena of each in particular. It is for him, who would apply general laws to particular and isolated cases, to make allowance for the influence of each of those laws or principles, whose existence is already recognised.


In reviewing presently the profit of mere manual labour, we shall see the peculiar advantage, which his character of master gives to the adventurer over the labourer; but it may be useful to observe by the way the other advantages within reach of an intelligent superior. He is the link of communication, as well between the various classes of producers, one with another, as between the producer and the consumer. He directs the business of production, and is the centre of many bearings and relations; he profits by the knowledge and by the ignorance of other people, and by every accidental advantage of production.


Thus, it is this class of producers, which accumulates the largest fortunes, whenever productive exertion is crowned by unusual success.

Of the Profits of the Operative Labourer.*47


Simple, or rude labour may be executed by any man possessed of life and health; wherefore, bare existence is all that is requisite to insure a supply of this description of industry. Consequently, its wages seldom rise in any country much above what is absolutely necessary to subsistence; and the quantum of supply always remains on a level with the demand; nay, often goes beyond it; for the difficulty lies not in acquiring existence, but in supporting it. Whenever the mere circumstance of existence is sufficient for the execution of any kind of work, and that work affords the means of supporting existence, the vacuum is speedily filled up.


There is, however, one thing to be observed. Man does not come into the world with the size and strength sufficient to perform labour even of the rudest kind. He acquires this capability not till the age of fifteen or twenty, more or less, and may be regarded as an item of capital, formed of the growing annual accumulation of the sums spent in rearing him.*48 By whom, then, is this accumulation effected? In general by the parents of the labourer, by persons of his own calling, or of one akin to it. In this class of life, therefore, the wages are somewhat more than is necessary for bare personal existence; they must be sufficient to maintain the children of the labourer also.


If the wages of the lowest class of labour were insufficient to maintain a family, and bring up children, its supply would never be kept up to the complement; the demand would exceed the supply in circulation; and its wages would increase, until that class were again enabled to bring up children enough to supply the deficiency.


This would happen, if marriage were discouraged amongst the labouring class. A man without wife or children may afford his labour at a much cheaper rate, than one who is a husband and a father. If celibacy were to gain ground amongst the labouring class, that class would not only contribute nothing to recruit its own members, but would prevent others from supplying the deficiency. A temporary fall in the price of manual labour, arising from the cheaper rate, at which single men can afford to work, would soon be followed by a disproportionate rise; because the number of workmen would fall off. Thus, even were it not more to the interest of masters to employ married men, on account of their steadiness, they should do so, though at a greater charge, to avoid the higher price of labour, that must eventually recoil on them.


Every particular line or profession does not, indeed, recruit its own numbers with children nursed among its own members. The new generation is transferred from one class of life to another, and particularly from rural occupations to occupations of a similar cast in the towns; for this reason, that children are cheaper trained in the country: all I mean to say is, that the rudest and lowest class of labour necessarily derives from its product a portion sufficient, not merely for its present maintenance, but likewise for the recruiting of its numerical strength.*49


When a country is on the decline, and contains less of the means of production and less of knowledge, activity, and capital, the demand for raw or simple labour diminishes by degrees; wages fall, gradually below the rate necessary for recruiting the labouring class its numbers consequently decrease, and the offspring of the other classes, whose employment diminishes in the same proportion, is degraded to the step immediately below. On the contrary, when prosperity is advancing, the inferior classes not only fill up their own complement with ease, but furnish a surplus and addition to the classes immediately above them: and some, by great good fortune or brilliancy of talent, arrive at a still loftier eminence, and reach even the highest stations in society.


The labour of persons not entirely dependent for subsistence on the fruits of labour can be afforded cheaper, than that of such as are labourers by occupation. Being fed from other sources, their wages are not settled by the price of subsistence. The female spinners in country villages probably do not earn the half of their necessary expenses, small as they are: one is perhaps the mother, another the daughter, sister, aunt, or mother-in-law of a labourer, who would probably support her, if she earned nothing for herself. Were she dependent for subsistence on her own earnings only, she must evidently double her prices, or die of want; in other words, her industry must be paid doubly, or would cease to exist.


The same may be said of most kinds of work performed by females. They are in general but poorly paid, because a large proportion of them are supported by other resources than those of their own industry, and can, therefore, supply the work they are capable of at a cheaper rate, than even the bare satisfaction of their wants. The work of the monastic order is similarly circumstanced. It is fortunate for the actual labourers in those countries where monarchism abounds, that it manufactures little else but trumpery; for, if its industry were applied to works of current utility, the necessitous labourers in the same department, having families to support, would be unable to work at so low a rate, and must absolutely perish by want and starvation. The wages of manufacturing, are often higher than those of agricultural labour; but they are liable to the most calamitous oscillation. War or legislative prohibition will sometimes suddenly extinguish the demand for a particular product, and reduce the industry employed upon it to a state of utter destitution. The mere caprice of fashion is often fatal to whole classes. The substitution of shoe ribands for buckles was a severe temporary blow to the population of Sheffield and Birmingham.*50


The smallest variations in the price of rude or simple labour have ever been justly considered as serious calamities. In classes of somewhat superior wealth and talents, which are, in fact, a species of personal wealth, a diminution in the rate of profits entails only a reduction of expense, or, at most, but trenches, in some measure, upon the capital those classes generally have at their disposal. But to those, whose whole income is a bare subsistence, a fall of wages is an absolute death-warrant, if not to the labourer himself, to part of his family at least.


Wherefore, all governments, pretending to the smallest paternal solicitude for their subjects' welfare, have evinced a readiness to aid the indigent class, whenever any unexpected event has accidentally reduced the wages of common labour below the level of the labourer's subsistence. Yet the benevolent intentions of the government have too often failed in their efficacy, for want of judgment in the choice of a remedy. To render it effective, it is necessary first to explore the cause of depression in the price of labour. If that depression be of a permanent nature, pecuniary and temporary aid is of no possible avail, and merely defers the pressure of the mischief. Of this nature are the discovery of new processes, the introduction of new articles of import, or the emigration of a considerable number of consumers.*51 In such emergencies, a remedy must be sought in the discovery of some new and permanent occupation for the hands thrown out of employ, in the encouragement of new channels of industry, in the setting on foot of distant enterprises, the planting of colonies, &c.


If the depression be not of a permanent nature, if it be the mere result of good or bad crops, the temporary assistance should be limited to the unfortunate sufferers by the oscillation.


Governments or individuals, who attempt indiscriminate beneficence, will have the frequent mortification of finding their bounty unavailing. This may be more convincingly demonstrated by example than by argument.


Suppose in a vine district the quantity of casks to be so abundant, as to make it impossible to use them all. A war, or a statute levelled against the production of wine, may, perhaps, have caused many proprietors of vineyards to adopt a different cultivation of their lands; this is a permanent cause of surplus cooperage in the market. In ignorance of this cause, a general effort is made to assist the labouring coopers, either by purchasing their casks without wanting them, or by making up, in the shape of alms, the loss they have sustained in the diminution of their profits. Useless purchases, or eleemosynary aid, however, can not last forever; and, the moment they cease, the poor coopers will find themselves precisely in the same distressful situation, from which it was attempted to extricate them. All the sacrifices and expense will have been incurred with no advantage, other than that of a little delay in the date of their hopeless sufferings and privations.


Suppose on the contrary, the cause of the superabundance of casks to be but temporary; to be nothing more than the failure of the annual crop. If, instead of affording temporary relief to the working coopers, they be encouraged to remove to other districts, or to enter upon some other branch of industry, it will follow, that the next year, when wine may be abundant, there will be a scarcity of casks to receive it; the price will become exorbitant, and be settled at the suggestion of avarice and speculation; which being unable themselves to manufacture casks, after the means of producing them have been thus destroyed, part of the wine will probably be spoiled for want of casks to hold it. It will require a second shock and derangement of the rate of wages, before the manufacture of the article can be brought again to a level with the demand.


Whence it is evident, that the remedy must be adapted to the particular cause of the mischief; consequently, the cause must be ascertained, before the remedy is devised.


Necessary subsistence, then, may be taken to be the standard of the wages of common raw labour; but this standard is itself extremely fluctuating; for habit has great influence upon the extent of human wants. It is by no means certain, that the labourers of some cantons of France could exist under a total privation of wine. In London, beer is considered indispensable; that beverage is there so much an article of necessity, that beggars ask for money to buy a pot of beer, as commonly as in France for the purchase of a morsel of bread; and this latter object of solicitation, which appears to us so very natural, may seem impertinent to foreigners just arrived from a country, where the poor subsist on potatoes, manioc, or other still coarser diet.


What is necessary subsistence, depends, therefore, partly on the habits of the nation, to which the labourer may happen to belong. In proportion as the value he consumes is small, his ordinary wages may be low, and the product of his labour cheap. If his condition be improved, and his wages raised, either his product becomes dearer to the consumer, or the share of his fellow producers is diminished.


The disadvantages of their position are an effectual barrier against any great extension of the consumption of the labouring classes. Humanity, indeed, would rejoice to see them and their families dressed in clothing suitable to the climate and season; houses in roomy, warm, airy, and healthy habitations, and fed with wholesome and plentiful diet, with perhaps occasional delicacy and variety; but there are very few countries, where wants, apparently so moderate, are not considered far beyond the limits of strict necessity, and therefore not to be gratified by the customary wages of the mere labouring class.


The limit of strict necessity varies, not only according to the more or less comfortable condition of the labourer, and his family, but likewise according to the several items of expense reputed unavoidable in the country he inhabits. Among these is the one we have just adverted to; namely, the rearing of children; there are others less urgent and imperative in their nature, though equally enforced by feeling and natural sentiments; such as the care of the aged, to which unhappily the labouring class are far too inattentive. Nature could entrust the perpetuation of the human species to no impulse less strong, than the vehemence of appetite and desire, and the anxiety of paternal love; but has abandoned the aged, whom she no longer wants, to the slow workings of filial gratitude, or, what is even less to be depended upon, to the providence of their younger years. Did the habitual practice of society imperatively subject every family to the obligation of laying by some provision for age, as it commonly does for infancy, our ideas of necessity would be somewhat enlarged, and the minimum of wages somewhat raised.


It must appear shocking to the eye of philanthropy, that such is not always the case. It is lamentable to think of the little providence of the labouring classes against the season of casual misfortune, infirmity, and sickness, as well as against the certain helplessness of old age. Such considerations afford most powerful reasons for forwarding and encouraging provident associations of the labouring class, for the daily deposit of a trifling saving, as a fund in reserve for that period, when age, or unexpected calamity, shall cut off the resource of their industry.*52 But such institutions can not be expected to succeed, unless the labourer be taught to consider these means of precaution as a matter of duty and necessity, and hold to the obligation to carry his savings to such places of deposit, as equally indispensable with the payment of his rent or taxes: this new duty would doubtless tend in a slight degree to raise the scale of wages, so as to allow of such frugality, but for that very reason it is desirable. How can such establishments thrive in countries where habit and the interested views of the government conspire to make the labourer spend in the public-house not only what he might lay by, but frequently the very subsistence of his family, in which all his comforts and pleasures should be centred. The vain and costly amusements of the rich are not always justifiable in the eye of reason; but how much more disastrous is the senseless dissipation of the poor! The mirth of the indigent is invariably seasoned with tears; and the orgies of the populace are days of mourning to the philosopher.


Besides the reasons advanced in this and the preceding sections, to explain why the wages of the adventurer, even if he derive no profit as a capitalist, are generally higher than those of the mere labourer, there are others, not so solid or well founded indeed, but such as nevertheless must not be overlooked.


The wages of the labourer are a matter of adjustment and compact between the conflicting interests of master and workman; the latter endeavouring to get as much, the former to give as little, as he possibly can; but in a contest of this kind, there is on the side of the master an advantage, over and above what is given him by the nature of his occupation. The master and the workman are no doubt equally necessary to each other; for one gains nothing but with the other's assistance; the wants of the master are, however, of the two, less urgent and less immediate. There are few masters but what could exist several months or even years, without employing a single labourer; and few labourers that can remain out of work for many weeks, without being reduced to the extremity of distress. And this circumstance must have its weight in striking the bargain for wages between them.


Sismondi, in a late work*53 published since the appearance of my third edition, has suggested some legislative provisions, for the avowed purpose of bettering the condition of the labouring classes. He sets out with the position, that the low rate of their wages accrues to the benefit of the adventurers and masters who employ them; and thence infers, that in the moment of calamity, their claim for relief is upon the masters, and not upon society at large. Wherefore, he proposes to make it obligatory upon the proprietors and farmers of land at all times to feed the agricultural, and upon the manufacturers to provide subsistence for the manufacturing labourer. On the other hand, to prevent the probable excess of population, consequent upon the certain prospect of subsistence to themselves and their families, he would give to their respective masters the right of preventing or permitting marriage amongst their people.


This scheme, however entitled to favourable consideration by the motive of humanity in which it originated, seems to me altogether impracticable. It would be a gross violation of the right of property, to saddle one class of society with the compulsory maintenance of another; and it would be a violation still more gross, to give one set of men a personal control over another; for the freedom of personal action is the most sacred of all the objects of property. The arbitrary prohibition of marriage to one class is a premium to the procreation of all the rest. Besides, there is no truth in the position, that the low rate of wages redounds exclusively to the profit of the master. Their reduction, followed up by the constant action of competition, is sure to bring about a fall of the price of products; so that it is the class of consumers, in other words, the whole community, that derives the profit. And if it be so great as to throw the subsistence of the labourers upon the public at large, the public is in a great measure indemnified by the reduced prices of the objects of its consumption.


There are some evils incident to the imperfection of the human species, and to the constitution of nature; and of this description is the excess of population above the means of subsistence. On the whole, this evil is quite as severely felt in a horde of savages, as in a civilized community. It would be unjust to suppose it a creature of social institutions, and a mere fallacy to hold out the prospect of a complete remedy; and, however it may merit the thanks of mankind to study the means of palliation, we must be cautious not to give a ready ear to expedients that can have no good effect, and must prove worse than the disease itself. A government ought doubtless to protect the interests of the labouring classes, as far as it can do so without deranging the course of human affairs, or cramping the freedom of individual dealings; for those classes are less advantageously placed than the masters, in the common course of things; but a wise ruler will studiously avoid all interference between individuals, lest it superadd the evils of administration to those of natural position. Thus, he will equally protect the master and the labourer from the effects of combination. The masters have the advantage of smaller numbers and easier communication; whereas, the labourers can scarcely combine, without assuming the air of revolt and disaffection, which the police is ever on the watch to repress. Nay, the partisans of the exporting system have gone so far as to consider the combinations of the journeymen as injurious to national prosperity, because they tend to raise the price of the commodities destined for export, and thereby to injure their preference in the foreign market, which they look upon as so desirable. But what must be the character of that policy, which aims at national prosperity through the impoverishment of a large proportion of the home producers, with a view to supply foreigners at a cheaper rate, and give them all the benefit of the national privation and self-denial?


One sometimes meets with masters, who, in their anxiety to justify their avaricious practices by argument, assert roundly, that the labourer would perform less work, if better paid, and that he must be stimulated by the impulse of want. Smith, a writer of no small experience and singular penetration, is of a very different opinion. Let us take his own words. "The liberal reward of labour, as it encourages the propagation, so it increases the industry of the common people. The wages of labour are the encouragement of industry, which, like every other human quality, improves in proportion to the encouragement it receives. A plentiful subsistence increases the bodily strength of the labourer, and the comfortable hope of bettering his condition, and of ending his days perhaps in ease and plenty, animates him to exert that strength to the utmost. Where wages are high, accordingly, we shall always find the workmen more active, diligent, and expeditious, than where they are low; in England, for example, than Scotland; in the neighbourhood of great towns, than in remote country places. Some workmen, indeed, when they can earn in four days what will maintain them through the week, will be idle the other three. This, however, is by no means the case with the greater part. Workmen, on the contrary, when they are liberally paid by the piece, are very apt to overwork themselves, and to ruin their health and constitution in a few years."*54

Of the Independence accruing to the Moderns from the Advancement of Industry.


The maxims of political economy are immutable; ere yet observed or discovered, they were operating in the way above described; the same cause regularly producing the same effect; the wealth of Tyre and of Amsterdam originated in a common source. It is society that has been subject to change, in the progressive advancement of industry.


The ancients were not nearly so far behind the moderns in agriculture, as in the mechanical arts. Wherefore, since agricultural products are alone*55 essential to the multiplication of mankind, the unoccupied surplus of human labour was larger than in modern days. Those, who happened to have little or no land, unable to subsist upon the product of their own industry, unprovided with capital, and too proud to engage in those subordinate employments, which were commonly filled by slaves, had no resource but to borrow, without a prospect of the ability to repay, and were continually demanding that equal division of property, which was utterly impracticable. With a view to stifle their discontents, the leading men of the state were obliged to engage them in warlike enterprises, and, in the intervals of peace, to subsist them on the spoils of the enemy, or on their own private means. This was the grand source of the civil disorder and discord, which continually distracted the states of antiquity; of the frequency of their wars, of the corruption of their suffrages, and of the connexion of patron and client, which backed the ambition of a Marius and a Sylla, a Pompey and a Cæsar, an Antony and an Octavius, and which finally reduced the whole Roman people to the condition of servile attendants upon the court of a Caligula, a Heliogabalus, or some monster of equal enormity, whose grand condition of empire was the subsistence of the objects of his atrocious tyranny.


The industrious cities of Tyre, Corinth, and Carthage, were somewhat differently circumstanced; but they could not permanently resist the hostility of poorer and more warlike nations, impelled by the prospect of plunder. Industry and civilization were the continual prey of barbarism and penury; and Rome herself at length yielded to the attack of Gothic and Vandalic conquerors.


Thus re-plunged into a state of barbarism, the condition of Europe, during the middle ages, was but a revival of the earliest scenes of Grecian and Italian history, in an aggravated form. Each baron or great landholder, was surrounded by a circle of vassals or clients on his domain, ready to follow him in civil broils or foreign warfare.


I should trench upon the province of the historian, were I to attempt the delineation of the various causes that have aided the progress of industry since that period; but I may be allowed merely to note, by the way, the great change that has been effected, and the consequence of that change. Industry has become a means of subsistence to the bulk of the population, independent of the caprice of the large proprietors, and without being to them a constant source of alarm: it is nursed and supported by the capital accumulated by its own exertions. The relation of client and vassal has ceased to exist; and the poorest individual is his own master, and dependent upon his personal faculties alone. Nations can support themselves upon their internal resources; and governments derive from their subjects those supplies, which they were wont to dispense as a matter of favour.


The increasing prosperity of manufacture and commerce has raised them in the scale of estimation. The object of war is changed, from the spoliation and destruction of the sources of wealth, to their quiet and exclusive possession. For the last two centuries, where war has not been made to gratify the childish vanity of a nation or a monarch, the bone of contention has always been, either colonial sovereignty, or commercial monopoly. Instead of a contest of hungry barbarians against their wealthy and industrious neighbours, it has been one between civilized nations on either side; wherein the victor has shown the greatest anxiety to preserve the resources of the conquered territory. The invasion of Greece by the Turks, in the fifteenth century, appears to have been the final effort of pure barbarism arrayed against civilization. The present preponderance of industry and civilized habits amongst the general mass of mankind seems to exclude all probability of a recurrence of such calamitous events. Indeed, the improvement of military science takes away all fear of the result of such a conflict.


There is yet one step more to be made; and that can only be rendered practicable by the wider diffusion of the principles of political economy. They will some day have taught mankind that the sacrifice of their lives, in a contest for the acquisition or retention of colonial dominion or commercial monopoly, is a vain pursuit of a costly and delusive good; that external products, even those of the colonial dependencies of a nation, are only procurable with the products of domestic growth: that internal production is, therefore, the proper object of solicitude, and is best to be promoted by political tranquility, moderate and equal laws, and facility of intercourse. The fate of nations will thenceforth hang no longer upon the precarious tenure of political pre-eminence, but upon the relative degree of information and intelligence. Public functionaries will grow more and more dependent upon the productive classes, to whom they must look for supplies; the people, retaining the right of taxation in their own hands, will always be well governed; and the struggles of power against the current of improvement will end in its own subversion; for it will vainly strive against the dispensations of nature.

Notes for this chapter

Book I. c. 15.
Wealth of Nations, book i. c. 10.
Nay, even more than annuity interest on the sums spent in the education of the person who receives the salary; strictly speaking, it should be annuity interest upon the total sum devoted to the same class of study, whether it have or have not been made productive in its kind. Thus the aggregate of the fees of a physician ought to replace not only what has been spent in their studies, but, in addition, all the sums expended in the instruction of the students, who may have died during their education, or whose success may not have repaid the care bestowed upon them; for the stock of medical industry in actual existence could never have been reared, without the loss of some part of the outlay devoted to medical instruction. However, there is little use in too minute attention to accuracy in the estimates of political economy, which are frequently found at variance with fact, on account of the influence of moral considerations in the matter of national wealth, an influence that does not admit of mathematical estimation. The forms of algebra are therefore inapplicable to this science, and serve only to introduce unnecessary perplexity. Smith has not once had recourse to them.
I do not mean to include the superior orders of the clergy, whose benefices are extremely rich and well paid, though upon principles of state policy.
From which, however, is to be deducted the average loss on the general balance of less successful competitors in the same line. It does not appear, that, in England at least, any allowance is to be made for personal consideration, which is seldom attached in a high ratio even to the greatest excellence in the department of pure art. There is no instance of a sculptor or a painter arriving at the honours of the peerage, which have been placed within the reach of successful commercial enterprise. Translator.
Such of my readers as may imagine, that the sum of the production of a country is greater, when the scale of price is unnaturally high, are requested to refer to what has been said on the subject, suprà, Chap. 3, of this Book.
Smith is greatly embarrassed by his neglect of the distinction between the profits of superintendency, and those of capital. He confounds them under the general head of profits of stock; and all his sagacity and acuteness have scarcely been sufficient to expound the causes, which influence their fluctuations. Wealth of Nations, book i. c. 8. And no wonder he found himself thus perplexed; their value is regulated upon entirely different principles. The profits of labour depend upon the degree of skill, activity, judgment, &c. exerted; those of capital, on the abundance or scarcity of capital, the security of the investment, &c.
Vide suprà, Book I. chap. 6.
By the term labourer, I mean, the person who works on account of a master-agent, or adventurer, in industry; for such as are masters of their own labour, like the cobbler in his stall, or the itinerant knife-grinder, unite the two characters of adventurer and labourer; their profits being in part governed by the circumstances detailed in the preceding section, and partly by those developed in this. It is necessary also to premise, that the labour spoken of in the present section is that, which requires little or no study or training; the acquisition of any talent or personal skill entitles the possessor to a further profit, regulated upon the principles explained, suprà, sect. 1. of this chapter.
A full-grown man is an accumulated capital; the sum spent in rearing him is indeed consumed, but consumed in a reproductive way, calculated to yield the product man.
The evidence examined before a committee of the House of Commons of England, in 1815, leads to the conclusion, that the high price of food, at that period, had the effect of depressing, rather than elevating the scale of wages. I have myself remarked the similar effect of the scarcities in France, of the years 1811 and 1817. The difficulty of procuring subsistence either forced more labourers into the market, or exacted more exertion from those already engaged; thus occasioning a temporary glut of labour. But the necessary sufferings of the labouring class at the time must inevitably have thinned its ranks.
Malthus, Essay on Popul. ed. 5. b. iii. c. 13.
The second and last of these circumstances are neither of them necessarily, universally, or permanently, followed by the depression of the rate of wages. When a new object of import does not supersede one of either home or foreign production, it must tend to raise the rate of wages, as it can only be procured by enlarged home production. The emigration of consumers, continuing to draw subsistence from the country they desert, leaves in activity an equal mass of human labour, though possibly with some variation of employment. Besides it may be temporary only, as that of the English to the continent, and of the Irish both to England and to the continent; who possibly might be brought back by an improvement of domestic finances or of domestic security and comfort. Translator.
Saving-banks have succeeded in several districts of England, Holland, and Germany; particularly where the government has been wise enough to withhold its interference. The Insurance Company of Paris has set one on foot, upon the most liberal principles and with the most substantial guarantee. It is to be hoped, that the labouring classes in general will see the wisdom of placing their little savings in such an establishment, in preference to the hazardous investments they have often been decoyed into. There is besides a further national advantage in such a practice, namely, that of augmenting the general mass of productive capital, and consequently extending the demand for human agency.*

    * [In the principal cities of the United States, Saving-banks have also been established, and have been attended with so much benefit, that they are now spreading through every part of the Union. To the Friendly or Beneficial Societies there are strong objections, to which the Saving-banks are not liable. The Friendly Societies have, undoubtedly, done some good; but attended with a certain portion of evil. The following extract from a report of the Committee of the Highland Society, places these latter societies in a very proper light.

    "During the last century, a number of Friendly Societies have been established by the labourers in different parts of Great Britain, to enable them to make provision against want. The principle of these societies usually is, that the members pay a certain stated sum periodically, from which an allowance is made to them upon sickness or old age, and to their families upon their death. These societies have done much good; but they are attended with some disadvantages. In particular, the frequent meetings of the members occasion the loss of much time, and frequently of a good deal of money spent in entertainments. The stated payments must be regularly made; otherwise, after a certain time, the member (necessarily from its being in fact an insurance) loses the benefit of all that he has formerly paid. Nothing more than the stated payments can be made, however easily the member might be able at the moment to add a little to his store. Frequently the value of the chances on which the societies are formed, is ill calculated; in which case either the contributors do not receive an equivalent for their payments, or too large an allowance is given at first, which brings on the bankruptcy of the institution. Frequently the sums are embezzled by artful men, who, by imposing on the inexperience of the members, get themselves elected into offices of trust. The benefit is distant and contingent; each member not having benefit from his contributions in every case, but only in the case of his falling into the situations of distress provided for by the society. And the whole concern is so complicated, that many have hesitation in embarking in it their hard-earned savings."] American Editor.

Nouveaux Prin. d'Econ. Pol. liv. vii. c. 9.
Wealth of Nations, book i. c. 8.
The "multiplication of mankind" is not, as is here asserted by our author, alone dependent upon "agricultural products;" but, likewise, upon every other description of commodities essential to human maintenance and support. Food, or subsistence, is unquestionably indispensable to the existence of man; but not more necessary to his prolonged being and health, than raiment, shelter, and fire. The position of Mr. Malthus, which limits population to subsistence only, and which is here taken for granted and adopted by our author, is not accurate or just; and by the more recent political economical inquirers has, therefore, either been modified or abandoned. Professor Senior, in his "Two Lectures on Population, delivered before the University of Oxford in Easter Term, 1828," in considering the general principles, adopts the following proposition, as what appears to him an outline of the laws of population: "That the population of a given district is limited only by moral or physical evil, or by the apprehension of a deficiency in the means of obtaining those articles of wealth; or, in other words, those necessaries, decencies and luxuries, which the habits of the individuals of each class of the inhabitants of that district lead them to require." American Editor.

Book II, Chapter VIII

End of Notes

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