Popular Political Economy: Four Lectures Delivered at the London Mechanics' Institution

Hodgskin, Thomas
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First Pub. Date
London: Charles Tait
Pub. Date
11 of 15

Chapter VI

Limit to division of labour from the nature of different employments.—Is continually extended by inventions and discoveries.—Limit to division of labour in agriculture depends on territorial division of labour.—Territorial division of labour explained and illustrated.—Originates in natural circumstances.—Exchange necessary to its completeness.—Has no connexion with the political divisions of the earth.—Effects on agriculture of restrictions on territorial division of labour.—Division of labour not the cause of the labourer's poverty and degradation.—Influence of social regulations on division of labour.


THE other limit to division of labour to which I now proceed, is the nature of different employments. It would seem, for example, that there cannot be any farther division of labour in turning, than that it should be the exclusive occupation of one man to guide a file or a chisel, as the block to be shaped or polished revolves rapidly before the instrument. As knowledge advances, however, new inventions cause in many arts this apparent limit perpetually to remove farther off. Machines are made which both guide the file or chisel, and cause the block to revolve; and the whole business of the turner consists in regulating his machine. Such inventions complicate business, as it were, in the first instance; or at least enable one man to perform those several parts of a productive operation which before required two or three; but in the progress of society these separate parts again fall, each of them, to be the exclusive business of some one individual. The application of steam-engines to working power-looms, enables one man to perform the operations of several; or to weave as much cloth as three or four persons can weave by the hand-loom. This is a complication of employments. But if things are allowed to take their natural course, this complication will be again separated, and it will become in a short time the business of several hands to perform what one now performs. The different parts of power-looms and of steam-engines, which are at present perhaps all made by one or a few persons, will each, as the demand for them increases, be made by a different person, and the making of these different parts will become separate and distinct trades. The application of the power to the weaving instrument will be another business, and the actual business of weaving will all be comprised in looking after the working of a machine, which is made and set in motion by almost numberless distinct tradesmen. In many arts, therefore, we find, in consequence of new inventions, a perpetual complication and subsequent simplification of the productive processes performed by individuals; or a perpetual renewal of occasions for the farther division of labour.


This beneficial effect, it should perhaps be noticed, is the necessary consequence of the invention and employment of machines. By their use, food and clothing are obtained with less labour; and the whole quantity of labour not being diminished, more food and clothing may be produced. If there be more food and clothing there will also be more people, increased demand, or extended markets, and farther division of labour.


This limit to the division of labour from the nature of employments, indefinite and progressively removing as it appears, has caused some theorists either to misunderstand, or has tempted them wilfully to misrepresent, the phenomena of our social existence. It is said to be sooner reached in agriculture than in other arts, which is assigned as a reason by those who are pleased to detract from that excellence they do not comprehend, why the means of subsistence cannot be made to keep pace with the increase of the people. "While the Romans were quite ignorant of most of our arts, their agriculture," it is said, "was equal to ours." "Corn can be grown as cheap, or cheaper," it is added, "in unimproved as in improved countries.*44 Agriculture may well be called the master-art of life, it being that art by which we obtain the chief part of our food, and the raw materials of most manufacturers; and refraining at present from calling in question the alleged cheapness of cultivation in unimproved countries, I shall direct the attention of the reader to some other circumstances, which seem to me to have had fully as much or more influence in checking the progress of agriculture as the natural limit to the division of labour in this important art. As a preliminary step, I must bring under his notice what Political Economists have called,


TERRITORIAL DIVISION OF LABOUR. Independent of the different aptitudes and capacities in those who work, giving rise to the species of division of labour already considered, there are, if I may so express myself, different aptitudes and capacities in the natural instruments they work with. Diversities of soil, climate, and situation, and peculiarities in the spontaneous productions of the earth, and of the minerals contained in its bowels, adapt certain spots to certain arts. In one place an ever-bright sun brings to perfection grapes, oranges, pomegranates, pine-apples, and other delicious fruits; in another, continual moisture makes grass grow in rich abundance, and gives great facilities for rearing and fattening cattle, and for making butter and cheese. In fertile plains corn is a luxuriant crop; and on mountains, where corn will not grow, pasturage is excellent. Placed on the banks of a river, or on the sea-shore, a man becomes a fisher-man; while he becomes a hunter if his native land be wild, mountainous, and woody. Such a diversity of occupations, dictated by peculiaries of situation, takes place in the infancy of society, and is continued at every period of its progress. At the present day, as in remote antiquity, we find the inhabitants of Holland and all the coast of the North Sea, are skilful fishermen and sailors, while the Swiss and Tyrolese still continue, as at the first dawn of their history, to be enterprising sportsmen and hunters. Hemp or flax must have been a spontaneous production where linen was first made; and sheep must have been plentiful before woollen-cloth could have been manufactured. That country must have been rich in ores, where working in metals was first discovered, and they must be plentiful, whenever a nation contains, like Great Britain, a vast number of miners, founders, cutlers, and smiths. In consequence of these natural differences, certain arts cannot be practiced in some places, while in others nature forces them, as it were, on the attention of her pupil, man. The different arts and different species of cultivation, which grow up in different climates and situations from their natural peculiarities, are called territorial division of labour.


To follow the dictates of nature, in this respect, the mutual exchange of the products of different districts, or of the different arts which are favoured by these natural peculiarities, is as indispensable as barter is to division of labour among individuals. Territorial division of labour must exist, however, whether this exchange take place or not. Certain arts can flourish only in certain situations, and some products can only be obtained under certain peculiarities of soil and climate. If the inhabitants of districts favoured by peculiar circumstances, will not mutually exchange their respective products, the enjoyments of each will be limited to what their own skill, under their peculiar circumstances, can call into existence. In order, therefore, that both may have increased enjoyments—they must make this mutual exchange. Territorial division of labour grows up naturally and necessarily from a perception of its advantages, like division of labour among individuals; and mutually to exchange the different products resulting from this natural principle is beneficial to all.


This species of division of labour is not confined or limited, or in any way connected with the political separation of mankind into different nations. Thus the great wine district of Europe, extending from the latitude of 47°ree;, to the southern extremity of this continent, embraces within its limits, part of Germany, most part of France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy, excluding England, Sweden, and Denmark, and all the states to the north of this latitude. On the other hand, in each of these political divisions of the earth, we find districts, like the banks of the Rhine, and the golden vale of Thuringia in Germany; and like the banks of the Rhone, and of the Garonne, and the plains of Normandy and Picardy in France; which are peculiarly adapted, the former to the cultivation of the vine, the latter to the cultivation of wheat: and it may be doubted if the inhabitants of these districts could obtain both wine and bread, were they not each to limit their exertions to cultivating those products, mutually exchanging them, to which their respective countries are peculiarly adapted. It is, however, quite certain, that by doing this, which they in fact do voluntarily and freely, they both obtain a great deal more bread and wine by means of less labour, than they would do if the inhabitants of each district were to endeavour to grow both.


Our country—the politically organized state of Great Britain—offers numberless examples of territorial division of labour. The districts which abound in coal, for example, are the seats of our most important and valuable manufactures; while the cultivation of corn is carried on with great success in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire. The growth of hops is confined nearly to Kent, Sussex, and some parts of Hereford and Worcester shires. The rich plains of Cheshire, and Gloucestershire, supply us with cheese, which is never made in Kent and Sussex; and the inhabitants of these different districts find it mutually for their advantage to cultivate or manufacture only these particular products, and buy what they do not produce from the inhabitants of different soils and climates.


Of the influence of such natural advantages as I have mentioned over the seat of the arts, I can, perhaps, give no better proof than what has occurred with respect to the iron manufacture in this country, almost within the last century. In the memory of persons still living, Kent and Sussex, abounding in timber, the species of fuel formerly most used, and supposed to be best adapted to manufacturing purposes, had very considerable manufactures, both of iron and woollens, but at present, in those parts, there is no such manufacture in existence. The iron railings about St. Paul's Cathedral were made, it is said, in the weald of Kent, where there is not at present the vestige of a foundery or a furnace.*45 Since coal has come so much into use, all these manufactures have forsaken the wooded for the coal districts; without leaving in the former a hope of ever recovering them. Coals afford so many advantages, that the parts of England in which they abound, or to which they are easily transported, are now the chief seats of all our manufactures. They have increased, comparatively, much more rapidly in population and wealth, than the other parts of the empire, and particularly than those exclusively devoted to agriculture. It is a curious illustration of the principle, that labour, not land, creates wealth, to see the black minerals of the interior of the globe, the utility of which, a few centuries ago, was unknown, even if the minerals themselves were then discovered, thus converted by the hand of man into a source of wealth and happiness, more fruitful than the most fertile soils.


Returning now to the division of labour in agriculture, it must be obvious, that it depends on the agriculturist using the different natural capabilities of the soil in the most advantageous manner. That it may be carried as far as possible, the produce of different climates and soils, must be freely and unrestrictedly exchanged for each other. If, for example, the barely of Norfolk could not be given for the hops of Kent, the farmers in both counties must grow both hops and barley, or neither could have any beer: and to prohibit the exchange, would cause a complication of labour in both cases. But since man subjected his destiny to the control of one or a few men, the legislator looking only at political distinctions, has at all times and places laid restrictions on the intercourse which might and which would, but for him, have taken place between the inhabitants of different districts and climates; and never has it been possible for the agriculturist, owing to these restrictions, to push division of labour in his art, as far as would be generally beneficial. This view is confirmed by the different degrees of progress made in agriculture in the different countries of Europe.


Up to the period of the French revolution, when numerous restrictions on the interior commerce of that kingdom were abolished, when all the provinces were first taxed in one uniform manner, there was no part of Europe, of equal extent with Great Britain, and containing an equal number of people, and there is not at present any part, except France, whether forming the same political state or not, all the inhabitants of which enjoy a free and unrestricted commercial communication with each other. Dr. Smith attributes on the one hand the great comparative prosperity of England to the freedom of our interior commerce; and he attributes the ruin both of the manufactures and the agriculture of Spain, to the restrictions laid on its interior commerce.*46 In this country the different species of cultivation, adapted to different soils, owing to our free internal communication, is better understood and practised than in any other country of Europe. In Spain and in Germany, the produce of different provinces or states cannot be freely exchanged;—in both, therefore, the people must produce most of what they require, and cannot possibly devote themselves exclusively to that species of cultivation which is most profitable. The slow progress of division of labour in agriculture, and of the imperfection of the art, have been partly caused therefore by those political regulations which have impeded the intercourse between the inhabitants of different climates, soils, and districts.


If to this we add the manner in which land is appropriated and entailed throughout Europe, locking up in a few hands this great instrument, and thus necessarily preventing the division of labour, we shall see another cause for the slow progress of the art. The effects of this appropriation have been so ably described by Dr. Smith, that there is no occasion for me to do any thing farther than recommend his remarks to the readers attention. With that appropriation, however, was connected the slavery of the agricultural labourer; who has ever been in a worse condition, politically speaking, throughout Europe, than the manufacturing and commercial labourer. We have seen, that division of labour is extended by men following their natural tastes and propensities, and it cannot be extended if men are not in a state of freedom. M. Storch, who resided long in Russia, and was an eye witness to the effects of personal slavery in that country, says it is one of the most deplorable consequences of servitude, that it prevents the division of labour. In the political condition of the agricultural labourer, we have, I think, a more efficient cause for the slow progress of improvement in this art than even in the restrictions which government have laid on traffic. Slavery, indeed, would lose half its hateful qualities, if it were not as injurious to national wealth and national power, by checking the division of labour and the progress of knowledge, as it is afflicting to humanity and ruinous to social happiness.


The great importance of relieving every natural principle from any imputation cast on it; in order to know correctly what are the causes of social misery, makes me advert to another case in which division of labour has been made the scape-goat for theorists and statesmen, and has borne the blame for the evils caused by their institutions. It is a common complaint, to adopt the language of M. Storch, among both these classes, "That it is a miserable condition to be only employed in making the eighteenth part of a pin. The workman who carries a whole trade in his single arm, may go where he pleases to exercise his industry, and find the means of existence; the maker of the eighteenth part of a pin, is only an accessory, who, separated from his comrades, has neither capacity nor independence, and is obliged to receive the law which may be dictated to him. This evil is more particularly felt in England, primarily because the regulations on this subject are there of a vexatious nature; and secondarily, because the division of labour is carried farther in that country than in any other."*47


But this idea of dependence arising from one man's performing only one part of a productive operation, or being an accessory to others, is common to any and every species of industry in the present state of society, as well as making pins. The phrase of "carrying a whole trade in a single arm" is very pretty, but in the sense here employed, it is not true. It must be admitted, that a man who has learnt any one established trade, may be said to carry it in his single arm; but no one tradesman completes of himself any one commodity. A carpenter does not grow wood, nor fell timber, nor saw it into planks, nor bring it to the spot where he uses it, nor does he make his own tools or nails. A shoemaker, neither tans skins, nor curries leather, neither grows flax, nor makes threads, nor lasts, nor awls. For their tools and materials these workmen are dependent on other men, and both are only accessories in building houses or making shoes. Each labourer, let his task be what it may, only performs a part in the great work of civilized social production, and separated from his comrades, from other productive labourers, he has little or no wealth-creating power. If there be any man who completes a commodity of himself, it is the agricultural labourer, who is just as poor, wretched, and dependent, as the pin-maker,—if there be any labourer who does not complete of himself the work of production, it is a merchant trading with foreign countries. He requires the assistance in two countries, of, at least, those two classes of labourers who make the articles he exports and imports, and he requires the assistance of all those labourers who make and prepare his vehicles, and of the seamen or carriers who actually transport the goods he orders. Without the assistance of every one of these workmen, amounting, perhaps, to many hundreds, he could not possibly carry on his business. As far as division of labour is concerned, therefore, he is more dependent on other men for his revenue or support, than the man who only does the smallest and meanest part of pin-making. He performs much less, in truth, than the eighteenth part of that productive operation by which he subsists; but he never has any sentiment of painful dependence, nor is he ever the object of pity and commiseration. In the same manner the landlord or the capitalist, who perhaps derives all his revenue from the labours of the pitied and despised pin-maker, is never regarded as dependent, and never feels that he is miserable and degraded. The dependence complained of and mourned over, therefore, is the dependence of poverty and slavery, and not the mutual dependence occasioned by division of labour.


This practice is one great means of adding to the productive power of the labourer, and, of course, to the sum of wealth he is capable of producing, and actually produces. It is therefore a manifest contradiction to attribute the poverty and wretchedness of the pin-maker to his labouring in conjunction with other men. Whatever it may be which makes the reward of the pin-maker so small, and his toil so excessive, it is not division of labour, for that makes his task easy, and his produce great. We are thus compelled to fix our attention on the other cause mentioned by M. Storch, and to affirm, that not a part, but the whole of the poverty which he and others have attributed to division of labour, is caused by "vexatious regulations." As far as I see my way in this complicated question, I should say that division of labour is an admirable means by which each person may know all things; while to enable him to subsist, he is required to perform only one small part of social production.


To complete the subject of division of labour, I ought now, were I treating the science fully, to proceed to the examination of the effects of social regulations in impeding or promoting this beneficial natural practice; and I ought to examine if governments can by any possibility promote it; that they can retard it needs, unfortunately, no proof; but I have expressly excluded this part of the science from my work; and had I not, the examination would be almost an endless task. On looking closely at the matter, it will be found that there is hardly one social regulation,—from that fundamental law which establishes a right of property, nay, even from that original frame of political society, which sets apart a body of men, or one man, to make laws for the whole,—to the statute of apprenticeship, or the most trifling mercantile or administrative regulation, which does not influence the division of labour. I shall content myself, therefore, with warning the reader of the incompleteness of my book as a scientific whole. Unfortunately he will find, that in works of much greater pretensions this subject is equally neglected. Very few writers appear to have formed correct notions either of the principles which give rise to division of labour, or of its natural limits; and few, therefore, have been competent, or have attempted, to explain the effects on it of social regulations.

Notes for this chapter

For these statements the reader may see the writings of Dr. Smith, Mr. Storch, and of those economists who have contentedly repeated the doctrines of their great master.
At a village called Horsemonden, now only celebrated for hops and fine scenery, there is a large piece of water, which bears to this day the name of the Furnace Pond, and in the neighbourhood of it, the iron railings mentioned in the text were made. Beyond a common smith, there is not at present, either at Horsemonden, or any of the adjacent villages, a single worker in iron to be met with.
Wealth of Nations, Book 5. Chap. II.
Cours d'Economie Politique, vol. 1

Part I, Chapter VII

End of Notes

11 of 15

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