Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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FREEDOM OF LABOR. If we ask the author of an able work entitled, "Freedom of Labor," (M. Dunoyer, Member of the Institute, vol. i., p. 24), what freedom is, he tells us: "What I call freedom, is the ability which man acquires of employing his powers more easily in proportion as he becomes free from the obstacles which originally interfered with their exercise. I say that he is the more free, the more he is delivered from the causes which prevented him from making use of them, the more he has removed these causes, the more he has extended the sphere of his action and cleared it from obstructions."


—Endeavoring to ascertain, on the other hand, from past experience, by the aid of history, by what laws and under the influence of what causes men succeed in employing more effectually the natural forces whose operation constitutes industry or human labor, the same economist has found that it is by having greater freedom in the use of these forces, so that freedom is at the same time the cause and the result of itself, the cause and the result of power, and that these two terms, freedom and power, are correlative.


—M. Dunoyer does not then consider freedom as a dogma, but he shows it in its causes, and he presents it as a result. He does not make it an attribute of man, or the result of a special form of government, but a product of the combined elements of civilization. He shows that it is primarily dependent on race, that is to say, on the nature itself of men, and the more or less favorable organization of their physical, intellectual and moral faculties: secondly, on the places on the globe where they are located, and the advantages afforded for agriculture, manufactures and commerce in the part of the earth they occupy; finally, on the greater or less advantage they have succeeded in gaining from their powers or their position.


—We will not treat here of the great and numerous questions which arise as soon as one attempts to define this formidable word, freedom, but only glance at them, before returning to the kind of freedom which is the subject of this article.


—Whoever speaks of labor, is, in many respects, speaking of the whole of society; so that if the phrase "freedom of labor" is not an expression for all freedom, it assuredly is for a very large part, and there are few kinds of freedom that are not embraced by it. But in economic language, a more restricted signification, though one still very broad, is given to this phrase, "freedom of labor," which expresses an opportunity given to every citizen to pursue whatever calling he wishes, be it one or several; to regulate the prices of his products and of his services according to his understanding of their value; to exchange the results of his labor at home or abroad, as may seem for his best interests: whence it appears that freedom of labor includes competition and free exchange or free trade. (See these two articles.)


—Under the word COMPETITION we have shown the social benefits, and, so to speak, the regulating and providential part that competition takes in the general economy of society: the nature of the inconveniences it may accidentally present in consequence of the unfavorable circumstances in the midst of which certain countries, and, we may say, certain industries, are placed; and the blind presumption of those who have sought ways to suppress competition, to class avocations, and to distribute the public offices—in short, to organize labor, to use their own expression, or, in other terms, according to the language of economists, completely to suppress the initiative of the citizens and freedom of labor. We need not then recur to that here. We will likewise omit all considerations, which, while entering into the general subject, relate more particularly to commercial freedom.


—Among persons unacquainted with economic studies, many imagine that freedom of labor exists in all branches of human activity. To be convinced of their error these have only to take into account the conditions to which most avocations are subject. In France, for example, they will find that a great number of those called liberal can not be entered without the degrees of bachelor, licentiate, doctor, etc., which are simply that compulsory apprenticeship of which Colbert spoke in his advice to Louis XIV., an apprenticeship very long and very costly. Several liberal professions in France are, moreover, positively organized into guilds, with limitations as to number and the conditions of admission: they are those of notary, stock broker, banker, merchandise broker, vendue master, etc. Several are a little less trammeled, and are not restricted by being limited as to number, though they are as to conditions of admission: they are those of barrister, physician, druggist, veterinary surgeon, teacher, etc. Others are made public functions, as that of professor and engineer. Among the industries we find, in France, butchering and baking constituted as veritable guilds in many towns; and printing, bookselling, registry offices, theatrical enterprises, public conveyances, etc., subject to a system of certificates granted by public authority. But these direct impediments are not perhaps those whose action is most effective against the principle of freedom. There are indirect ones which exercise their influence upon all branches of labor; such as the loaning of capital, the lever of commerce and the industries, encounters in the laws upon usury which fix a maximum rate of interest, those which prohibit loaning upon pledge, and those which oppose the free formation of institutions of credit. Such are the restrictions which the commercial code and the entire legislation present to the formation of the industrial and commercial associations found in three types which no longer satisfy the demands of industrial development; such are the numerous prohibitions and hundreds of lengthy laws which hinder the supply in a great number of industries, and the sale of products in very many others; such are the octrois, whose action is, in many respects, analogous; such are the systems to which the merchant marine and the colonies are subject; such are the restrictions of every nature, imposed by special laws, upon the working of mines, the duration of labor combinations, and prison and other labor, it may be by local usages, by police regulations, or by thousands of decrees and ordinances called their rules of public administration, the nomenclature of which would occupy many pages of our columns—measures, decrees and ordinances which are far from having been all inspired by sound notions of administration, prudence and justice.


—Nor have we yet enumerated all. Many industries are disturbed because governments have thought they should reserve to themselves the right of carrying on certain branches of business and establishing for them national workshops. Thus it is with the hot mineral springs, the establishments for breeding fine horses, cows and sheep, the Indret establishment for articles necessary in the navy, the manufactories of fire arms, the production of Sèvres china, of Gobelin dyes and tapestry, the government printing office, the Mont de Piété (loan bank, where articles are pawned); and others besides: tobacco and snuff, saltpetre, powder and gaming cards, the production of which is in France made a monopoly for the collection of the taxes. To those who are surprised that we put these government enterprises and the administration of these taxes in the number of hindrances to the industries, it would be easy to show how a subsidized establishment, the government printing office, for example, produces in a way that is a burden to the public treasury, and discourages private industries by engrossing certain kinds of labor, and lowering the price of many products obtained.


—If any one would make out for all countries such an abstract as we have just given for France, he would find analogous restrictions in each of them: much fewer, however, in England, and above all, in the United States, and very probably more in many other countries, and in proportion to their degree of civilization, for the degree of freedom is a pretty good measure of the progress realized. There are still many vestiges of the guilds in Germany and in the northern countries, although these traces are indeed disappearing every day. It was not until 1847 that the Swedish government succeeded in suppressing the masterships, wardenships and trade corporations; the class of the bourgeoisie being at length united with the three others, and having ceased to appeal to its privileges with the same tenacity. Hitherto there had been a compulsory apprenticeship, of seven years in some trades, of eleven years in others. It was not until July 1st of that year that domestic labor was completely emancipated, and that each one could, in his home, devote himself to making any articles he chose, and that every licensed dealer could sell all his products. But to start a manufactory it is still necessary to be provided with a certificate of capacity, issued by men officially selected for the purpose. The spirit which produces regulations and special privileges has not been willing to yield everything at once; it has clung to the diploma.


—In North America, which may be taken as the opposite type, a citizen engaged in any industry enjoys, in the employment of his faculties and the pursuit of wealth, a freedom relatively very considerable.


—We should have much to do, were we to take up, one by one, all the avocations in which freedom of labor is not entire, and to show how it would be both possible and profitable to introduce freedom into them, at once in some, by degrees in the others. We wish only to prove that the march of civilization is regulating socialism, which is slavery, by freedom, and that freedom is the polar star upon which statesmen must ever have an open eye, if they are ambitious to show themselves intelligent and skillful pilots.


—M. Dunoyer, in responding in 1845 to the socialistic schools which charged freedom of labor with bringing about the gradual elevation of the opulent classes and an accelerated degradation of the laboring classes, was then right in saying: "I beg to consider how strange it must seem to see the misfortune of the laboring classes attributed to greatly increased competition, in the notorious state of imperfection in which freedom of labor and that of transactions still are. People talk of universal, unlimited competition! Where does any such really exist? In fact, there is no such thing as any truly universal competition. Do people forget that there is no civilized country where the entire mass of producers does not defend itself by double and triple lines of custom houses against the competition of foreign producers? Do they not know how far from being complete is competition, even in the interior of each country, and by how many causes it is everywhere more or less limited? In France, for example, where it is more developed than in some other places, it still encounters a multitude of obstacles; there are, we know, outside of services really public, a certain number of kinds of business, the carrying on of which the public authorities have thought should be reserved exclusively to the government; there is a still more considerable number the monopoly of which legislation has given to a limited number of individuals. Those which have been abandoned to competition are subjected to formalities, to restrictions, and to numberless trammels which prevent many persons from engaging in them; and consequently in these even, competition is far from being unlimited. Finally, there is scarcely one which is not subject to various taxes, necessary, without doubt, but sufficiently onerous for many people to be unable to pay them, and hence these kinds of business are virtually prohibited to such persons: whence it follows that competition, already limited for so many causes, is still so to a high degree by taxes. I do not state these facts here to blame any one: but in the face of such a condition of things, is it not singular to hear any one speak of universal, unlimited competition, and to witness the more or less real evils which the lower classes of society suffer attributed to excess of freedom and of competition?"


—It is not possible to treat thoroughly this great question in a single article; for freedom of labor is the corollary of all the propositions which science demonstrates; and this subject is one of those whose development might well take an entire course. Indeed, M. Dunoyer was led to make almost a complete course of study on the economy of society in attempting to fathom the vast questions connected with it. We will then stop here, and conclude by quoting two passages which express our thoughts better than we could do it: "Political economy holds most strongly to the idea of freedom of labor: for freedom is the essence of human industry. What, in fact, is industry? It is not simply a muscular effort and a material operation. Industry is, above all, the action of the human mind on the physical world. Now the mind is essentially free: the mind in all its operations needs freedom, exactly as there is need of air under the wings of a bird, that it may be sustained and advance in its course." (M. Michel Chevalier, Discours au Collége de France; Journal des Economistes, Jan., 1848.)—"The natural order of human society consists in enthroning in it the law which is in correspondence with the nature of the beings of which that society is formed. These beings being free, their most natural law is the maintenance of their freedom: this is what we call justice. There are in the heart of man, and these can therefore and ought to enter into the alliance, other laws still, but none which are contrary to that. Before all else, the state is organized justice; and its first function, its most stern duty, is to insure freedom; and what freedom is there in society where labor is not free?"

E. J. L., Tr.

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