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

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
Pub. Date
Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
579 of 1105

INDUSTRY, Progress of.


INDUSTRY, Progress of. In political economy this expression ought to be understood as the improvement of all the conditions on which the power and productiveness of labor depend. To appreciate correctly the magnitude of the results which we owe to industrial progress, as well as to distinguish with certainty the general characteristics which mark it, thought must go back to man's primitive condition, and the attention be given for a little to the principal industrial achievements which, in the course of centuries, have gradually brought about the present condition of things.


—The immense multitude of different kinds of matter and force, of organized and living creatures which compose the terrestrial creation, was not, from the beginning, more particularly appropriate to our existence than to that of most other animate beings, but we received, more than they, the faculty of altering extensively, of completing in some sort to suit our own needs, the primitive creation, and thus only is it that this world has really become man's domain.


—It is to the successive developments of this faculty, too little thought of, that we owe all the means of existence and of well-being accumulated by our race—means which have permitted it to multiply to a thousand times greater extent than it could have done had it been compelled to subsist on the spontaneous productions of nature. To this faculty do we owe our success in changing completely, to our own advantage, the original proportions of the different species of living creatures; in substituting for the forests and plants which covered a great part of the earth irrespective of their suitability to our wants, those that might prove most useful to us; in arresting the increase of numerous species of noxious creatures; and in subduing and then multiplying at will all such as were of a nature to be useful to us. It is also by the more and more extensive employment of this powerful faculty that we have succeeded in fertilizing large tracts of desert, in drying up large tracts of marshy land, and in making the watercourses nourish our crops, move our machines, and transport us and our products; that we are enabled to extract from the bosom of the earth the shapeless metals destined to become the instruments of our labor and of our exchanges, the coal which we use in our homes and our manufactories, and from which we distill the inflammable gas which gives light to us in the night; that we can quarry from the mountain side and the crag those myriad buildings, palaces, temples, cities, roads, canals, etc., which are the boast of civilization; that we have discovered in compressed steam one of our most powerful natural helpers; that we have made of the seas and winds one of the great means of communication between the peoples distributed over the earth; that we have found in magnetism the guide to show us the way across the vast expanse of the ocean; and lastly, that we have made of that other mysterious force which we name electricity, the marvelous messenger which instantaneously transmits our thoughts to distances of thousands of miles. The faculty which has already been successful in obtaining such admirable results from the wonderful world which it has to explore, and which is possibly destined to obtain others still more astonishing, is that known to political economy as industry. We must then admit as industrial progress everything which tends to increase the power and productiveness of this faculty, all that contributes to swell the mass or the importance of the utilities of every sort which are the ultimate end of its action, the satisfaction of our wants and the necessary basis of the amelioration and diffusion of human life. Hence it follows that industrial progress can be shown in all useful works, without exception; in those of the savant, the statesman, the magistrate, the clergyman, the artist or the author, as well as in those of the agriculturist, the manufacturer or the merchant. The first named labor, or at least may labor, to develop and improve our intellectual and moral faculties, which are so closely bound up with our industrial faculties that the latter are necessarily elevated or debased with the former. Thus the labors of the savant, by extending our acquaintance with nature and with the properties of the objects submitted to our action, manifestly increase the real power of industry, and it is commonly labor of this sort which paves the way to the greatest industrial advances; the labor of the statesman or the magistrate has as its legitimate object to fit us for social life, to protect our life, liberty and property against violence or any attack that might be made on them, thus giving to all the security, lacking which, industry would soon cease to be productive; the labor of the clergyman or the moralist may, if it be well directed, tend to the same result by adding to the force of authority used by the legislator or the magistrate, the force of persuasion; they may, in addition, impart to life consolation and hope, which are utilities of no mean order, and they may also influence our passions and our habits by enlightening us as to their consequences in the manner most favorable to the productive power of our industrial faculties; finally, the labor of the artist and the author may also tend to the same result by cultivating and purifying our imaginations, our affectional faculties, by inspiring us with a taste for the beautiful and the good. True it is that the different kinds of labor have not always the tendency we have just attributed to them, and that instead of contributing to the amelioration of our intellectual and moral faculties they have often for effect, if it be not their aim, to deteriorate and degrade them; but if such be the case they are no longer useful works, and, far from assisting industrial advance, they are powerful obstacles to it.


—The first want of all animate beings is food. As long as men look to hunting, fishing, or the few vegetable foods which the earth produces spontaneously, for their livelihood, their existence is a wretched one and little above that of the beasts; their wants, like their industries, are limited, and yet to live thus even in the sorriest way each individual must occupy a square league or more of fruitful soil. The first step in advance is taken when, abandoning the pursuit of their prey in the forest or the waters, men learn to assure themselves of their daily food by capturing the creatures most easily tamed and forming them into flocks which they feed, wandering with them from pasturage to pasturage which the untilled soil affords. But this means of providing food demands also the occupation of immense tracts of country by a small population, and in that case wants and industry continue extremely limited. The most important step in industrial progress is taken when populations, recognizing that they can by cultivation substitute alimentary vegetation for that which has not that quality, determine to exchange a savage or a pastoral existence for an agricultural one.


—When it reaches this last degree of development, industry is in possession of the most powerful means which have been given it for the improvement and spread of human life; agriculture soon succeeds in producing a quantity of substances far in excess of that needed for the sustenance of the cultivators of the soil, population increases, and some are able to turn their attention to other labor; henceforward wants increase progressively, and food, shelter, furniture, clothing, fuel, the want of utensils and machines of all sorts, of communication, of transport, etc., put to work whole masses of laborers, divided into series corresponding to each particular class of wants, then subdivided into a multitude of different professions, which form the special occupation of those who practice them. Since this specialization of labor rapidly increases the force of industry, wealth accumulates, and as its sum increases, populations find it easier to create new wealth; it is then that numerous classes can be exempted from material labor and may apply their energies to the cultivation and perfecting of human faculties. This last named variety of labor is no less necessary than any of the others to the continuation of industrial progress, for the obstacles to this progress appear as much in the imperfection of our moral faculties, in the evil bent of our passions, in the wrongs we are too prone to do each other, as in the things on which we act.


—In the present state of civilized communities the main conditions most necessary or most favorable to industrial progress seem to consist: 1st, In security, which includes the maintenance of peace and the guarantee, as complete as possible, of property; 2d, In specialization of employments; 3d, In abundance of capital; and 4th, In freedom of labor and contract.


—It will be needless to dwell at length on the intimate relations between industrial progress and security. In times of agitation, of trouble or of war, multitudes of men who might contribute to this progress, are occupied, on the contrary, only with what injures and arrests it, and those who are not directly engaged in hurtful acts, weakened in general by anxiety and by the uncertainty of the future, lose much of their energy. The experience of all ages proves that the most fruitful periods in industrial progress have always been those in which security and peace seemed best assured. It has only been through chance or by the efforts of men of genius that important discoveries destined to increase greatly the power of industry, have been made in a time of violence or disorder, but it is evident that it was not this condition of affairs which gave birth to them, and it was only after the restoration of peace and security that all the benefits derivable from them were obtained.


—The security of property is the indispensable condition of industrial progress; for this progress is generally the result of a succession of efforts which no one would make unless certain of reaping the fruit of them. Without this guarantee, industry, far from making progress, would rapidly slip back to its original starting point. Where property is not secure, men must necessarily look upon one another as enemies rather than as friends. The idle and improvident constantly seek to take possession of what has been earned by steady and industrious men; and if the strong arm of the law did not hinder their aggressions they would become, by destroying all security, an obstacle to industry and to all idea of accumulation, and would thus drag down all classes of society to the level of hopeless destitution to which they have themselves fallen. (See M'Culloch's "Principles.") It is certain then that, all else being equal, industrial progress will be most rapid and most extensive where property is best guaranteed, not only against illegal attacks, but against those made on it in the name of the law itself or of public authority.


—Adam Smith, in his endeavor to determine how it is that division or rather specialization of labor develops greatly the power of industry, assigns three principal reasons as its cause. The first, is the increase in aptness and dexterity which workmen gain by the constant repetition of one operation; the second, is the saving of the time which is unavoidably lost, in labor not sufficiently specialized, by passing from one operation to another; the third, is the facility given by specialization of labor, to the discovery of machines or of natural motors which may save human labor. It is especially by the last named of the three causes that division of labor contributes powerfully to industrial progress; by concentrating the attention of each worker on operations reduced to their simplest elements, it has paved the way for a multitude of inventions and discoveries. It would be an error to suppose, as has often been done, that division of labor does not sharpen and improve the inventive faculties, among workmen and artisans. As society advances, the study of the different branches of science and of philosophy becomes the principal or the exclusive occupation of the most intelligent men, and each of them, by concentrating his research and his thought on one special branch of knowledge, arrives at a degree of perfection or experience never, or at most very rarely, attained by those who busy themselves with all the sciences. (M'Culloch's "Principles.")


—The possibility of specializing labor depends evidently on the power of exchange; without this power each one of us would be obliged to produce by himself all the objects of his different wants; it may therefore be affirmed that all which serves to extend the power of exchange, permits the increased specialization of labor, and in consequence contributes to the industrial progress which depends on that specialization.


—It is easy to understand how this progress is furthered by abundance of capital; without tools or machines, without materials, without supplies resulting from previous labor, the most highly perfected industry could effect but little; it was only by the continued accumulation of capital that industry became powerful; and its power necessarily increases as capital increases. Suppose, for example, that it be desired to bring under cultivation a distant and uninhabited land; if those who undertook such a scheme began it with their hands only to help them, it would not be long before they would perish of want, however industrious they might be; but if they arrived at the place well supplied with all the implements needed for cultivation, for clearing land and for transport; with provisions, cattle, seeds, etc., their enterprise might succeed, and their success would be the more assured the greater the capital they could devote to it, the better they were in a position to renew at need their supplies, until the newly broken land could furnish them itself. That a people may establish canals, railways, steam engines, electric telegraphs, etc., they must previously possess a multitude of workshops and of instruments necessary to the preparation of all the materials used in producing these things, unless they receive them ready made from some other people, in which case they must give in exchange other capital of the same value; they must also be provided with provisions of every description in sufficient quantity to support the workmen, while they are being established. Without those conditions, and as long as they can not fulfill them, they must resign themselves to remain deprived of these powerful means of progress and civilization.


—We have enumerated, among the main conditions needful in industrial progress, freedom of labor and of contract. By this freedom all men are occupied with the career in which it is likely that they will contribute most to the production of wealth, because each man has been able to choose for himself the career which seemed to him best suited to his position and to his peculiar talents; on the other hand, each is urged by all the force of personal interest to multiply and improve the services which he can render others in the career which he has chosen, for with entire freedom in transactions, the rewards which he can obtain will necessarily be proportioned to the quantity or the value of his services, a value determined by the free judgment of the interested parties. Hence, it follows that the more extensive this liberty of the individual is, the more universal, persevering and fruitful will be the efforts which urge men to industrial progress. Experience also amply bears this out, for the history of industrial development shows that it is more powerful in proportion as each person is free to choose his own profession, to practice it as he understands it, (under the sole condition of respecting the liberty and property of others), and to dispose at will of the products he obtains. In our times the industrial power of any nation may be judged of by the extent of the liberty assured to its labor. The most progressive are those which have best known how to guarantee to every man the free disposition of his useful faculties and of what they produce; the least so, those where that freedom is most restricted, where work and commerce are most subject to regulation by the state.


—We have already alluded to the fact that the division of labor is closely allied to the exchange of wealth, and that in restricting the latter, obstacles are thrown in the way of the industrial progress depending on the former. We may here remark, that on the day industrial populations shall have done away with or greatly diminished the legislative obstacles in the way of international trade, they will have opened the way to immense industrial progress; for these obstacles oblige each nation to devote part of its energy to those kinds of labor which with it are less favored by natural circumstances than they are elsewhere, and oblige it to restrain within the limit of what it can consume the exploitation of the special advantages of the country it occupies, which is simply squandering the gifts of Providence.


—Industrial progress is rarely made without entailing some partial suffering, for it almost always consists in a new and more perfect mode of satisfying certain classes of wants which were formerly met by other means. The industrial faculties engaged in the abandoned processes can not always be turned immediately to other occupations; there is, therefore, more or less intense and more or less extended suffering undergone by all those whose special industry is thus rendered, at least temporarily, useless, and who are consequently obliged to change their calling. This is unfortunately an inevitable in convenience connected with the gradual progress of industry.


579 of 1105

Return to top