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

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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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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INVENTIONS include all contrivances which increase the power of man in production. Their economic effect is to take the place of the labor of man, and at the same time to multiply the results of this labor, either by utilizing the forces of nature, or by deriving a greater benefit form the men and the various kinds of capital, of which inventions are themselves one of the most important groups.


—The considerations which we are about to present apply, in all respects, to mechanical, chemical and physical discoveries and inventions of every kind, to all processes of whatever nature they may be, to all displacements of capital and the industries, to all advancement resulting from the application of an economic truth hitherto unknown or misunderstood, and having for its final result to produce in a better manner, more quickly and more cheaply; and to do this in agriculture, in manufactures, in transportation, exchanges, sciences, the arts—in a word, in all avocations. In the number of these improvements we may mention those which result from greater freedom of trade, which, bringing about the importation of products prohibited or too highly taxed, and opening the way to markets, may be compared to the employment of a series of new machines.


—It is at once evident how the subject enlarges; for it is impossible, so far as results are concerned, to make an economic separation between inventions or even simplifications in what is strictly a mechanism, and a method of cultivating the soil, the employment of a chemical apparatus, or any administrative or scientific work. In them all we have forces better combined, better employed, and which give a better result, that is to say, which produce more, more quickly and more cheaply.


—I. The Power of Inventions in Production. To produce more, more quickly and more cheaply, is an expression for all economic progress obtained by a better employment of the instruments of labor, which are the earth and other natural agents, the physical and intellectual forces of man, and capital. A well-ordered division of labor, and the employment of inventions, are, perhaps, the two most striking general examples of this progress that can be given. Let us cite a few facts which will show what an enormous difference modern industry, with its astonishing means of action, with the machines and inventions whose power it has been able to utilize, has made between society at the present day and communities before our time, which were considered as endowed with a brilliant civilization.


—Before the invention of water mills and wind mills, slaves, poor prisoners or unfortunate women turned the millstone; and ancient authors inform us how slow and laborious this operation was. According to Homer, twelve women were constantly occupied in the house of Penelope in grinding the grain needed for the household. On the other hand, the most simple water mill, a mill rented at about $600 a year, a mill which will in its turn become antiquated by the side of the improvements in mechanics, can grind in one day as much grain as one hundred and fifty men. If this mill is in operation three hundred days in a year, its cost is ten francs ($1.93) per day; on the other hand, the men would cost at least three hundred francs: so there is a saving of two hundred and ninety francs, which, apportioned on thirty-six hectolitres (about 100 bushels) constitutes half of the price of the grain itself.


—Homer did not say how many persons composed the household of Penelope; but Michel Chevalier,*31 considering that Ulysses was king of a poor kingdom, thinks he exceeds the truth in estimating them at 300 in number. The same writer, considering, on the other hand, the mill of St. Maur, found that in this remarkable establishment, forty millstones under the charge of only twenty workmen, ground to flour 720 hectolitres (1,980 bushels), which would furnish food for 72,000 persons. In the time of Ulysses, the labor of one person was then necessary to produce the flour needed for twenty-five others. In our day, that operation has been brought to such a degree of perfection that one person can supply the flour for a population of 3,600 persons.*32 or 144 times as much: consequently, now, 278 workmen, distributed in fourteen establishments like that of St. Maur, can grind for a million of the inhabitants of Paris. At Rome or in Greece, an army of 40,000 slaves were needed to produce the same result. Besides, there is no possible comparison between the condition of those who work in the improved mills of our day and the slaves turning the millstone; between the flour of a mechanical mill and that of Penelope's house. The most wretched of the Parisians eat bread a hundred times preferable to the black cakes of Ithaca's queen, and each of the workmen we just mentioned can procure for his home more comforts than the prudent Ulysses.


—In the Pyrenees, where the ancient mode of working iron is kept up, with some improvement, however, one still finds forges similar to those which must have been used centuries ago. The quantity of iron representing a day's work of a man with these furnaces, may be approximately estimated at about six kilograms (over thirteen pounds avoirdupois). Modern industry has constructed blast furnaces,*33 enormous structures, capable of running off from three to five thousand kilograms at a heat, if operated with charcoal, and from ten to eighteen thousand kilograms if operated with coke; and the average daily product of the labor of a man may be estimated at 150 kilograms of iron. In other terms, the labor of an iron worker is to-day twenty-five times more productive. Note also that the ores mined present more difficulties, and that the product obtained is better.


—Another comparison will show us a prodigious growth, made not since the time of Homer or within centuries, but simply within the last three-fourths of a century. Spinning machinery, in fact, which has given rise, as if by enchantment, to so numerous and such fine manufactures, dates no farther back. It was only in 1769 that Arkwright took out his first patent; and only in 1774*34 that Watt, whose inventions made the steam engine common, took his. The cotton industry, as it exists to-day, is the work of these two men. Thanks to them, admirable spinning machines set in motion hundreds of spindles which are so disposed and combined, that it is calculating largely to estimate five workmen to take charge of two frames connected with 800 spindles, or one workman for 160 spindles. But a good spinning mill of India or Europe makes just as much thread as half a spindle; so that a cotton spinner to-day turns off 320 times more thread than in 1769; in other terms, within a little more than a century, the productive power of man has increased 320 times in that necessary industry. In the spinning of flax, which is of comparatively recent date, one person is sufficient to take care of 120 spindles, which produce as much thread as 240 spinners, and the thread produced is finer.


—It has been by combining the advantages of the division of labor with mechanical and steam power that printing has wrought those prodigies which defy all comparison. Workmen transform the copy of the writer into pages of type; but a machine impelled by steam, and aided only by two or three men, spreads the ink over this type, carries the sheets of white paper over it as fast as they are presented, prints them, and delivers them on the other side to the person whose business it is to collect them. There are machines which ordinarily print five or six thousand copies*35 an hour. How many copyists would be needed to do as quickly and as well?


—By the aid of a simple mechanism, called a slide, people succeeded in extracting from the depths of impenetrable forests, trees which were there valueless. Such a slide was that of Alpnach, in Switzerland, which for several years enabled the century-old trees lost on the heights and in the gorges of Mt. Pilatus to be utilized. By means of plane surfaces ingeniously supported by scaffoldings, passing over precipices, over and under numerous rocks, and following a well-managed gradient, these trees traveled over a space of twelve kilometres (about seven and a half English miles), in two minutes and a half. In six minutes a tree passed from the forest into Lake Lucerne; thence it descended the Reuss, and went by the way of the Aar and the Rhine to the sea.


—The progress attained in our day in ordinary transportation is not less phenomenal. When Fernando Cortez arrived in Mexico, everything was transported on the backs of men. This is still the case in many localities in America, Asia, Africa, and even in Europe. Wherever the improvement of the roads would allow transportation on the backs of quadrupeds, the progress has been as thirty kilograms (about sixty-six lbs.), the load of a man, to 200 kilograms (about 440 lbs.) the load of a good horse traveling at a walking pace. Wherever the roads have become passable for carriages the same motive power has been able to draw, on a two-wheeled cart, a weight at least five times greater. On a canal, and with a boat, the same horse draws from eighty to a hundred times more; that is to say, eighty to a hundred thousand kilograms. On railroads, traction is ten times more easy than on ordinary roads. On these, travelers ordinarily go ten (French) leagues or forty kilometres (about twenty-five English miles) an hour; merchandise, four to five leagues. Whole populations and masses of merchandise are transported at one trip, and that at prices extraordinarily reduced, being between twenty and five centimes per ton and per kilometre, according to the kind of merchandise. One makes in a few hours a journey which, not many years ago, required several days, and, a century ago, weeks and even months. In 1763 the public conveyance from Edinburgh to London took a fortnight; in 1835 the stages went this distance in forty-eight hours; to-day the trip may be made by railway in eight hours. Madame de Sévigné tells us that in 1672 it was necessary to sacrifice a month in order to go from Paris to Marseilles, a journey that is made in sixty hours by the ordinary roads, and that can be made in one-third this time by railway. "Time is money," say the English, money that may be saved. "It is the material of which life is made," said Franklin. The economy to the people of the new ways of communication is therefore considerable. Suppose a line of travel frequented by a half million travelers. The saving of an hour for each traveler produces for the whole the sum of 500,000 hours, or 50,000 days, representing a year's manual labor of 166 men who do not increase by one cent the general expense of food, and whose time has a value much superior to that of the average workman.


—We may add that in the time of Madame de Sévigné and even considerably later, such journeys involved perils sufficiently serious for it to be prudent to make one's will. In our day, and notwithstanding the extreme rapidity of steam travel, the chances have been singularly diminished. In England, only one victim (killed or injured) is estimated to 500,000 or 600,000 travelers.


—We have just called attention to the fact that the saving produced by inventions for transportation may be estimated in the days' work of men who do not increase the general supply of food. This observation is important, and we ought to extend it to the action of inventions. It was estimated that there were in France, in 1846, nearly 4,400 steam engines, equivalent to 1,100,000 men. These eminently laborious automats, coming to the aid of the human population, content themselves with coal for their only food, and in no way diminish the supply of provisions or make them dearer.


—II. Economic and Moral Effects of Inventions. It is superfluous to dwell here on the manner in which inventions, the first effect of which is an abundance of products and a lowering of prices, finally result in the possibility of a continually increasing number of the population procuring for themselves these products; and how inventions thus diminish their sufferings, increase their material well-being, and obtain for them the means of participating in the share of intellectual and moral enjoyments of which civilization permits the attainment. (See CONSUMPTION.) The high price of products is the principal obstacle to the progress of society. There is a tendency in society (constantly progressive, but hitherto incapable of attaining its object) toward a condition which may be expressed as being an accumulation of alimentary substances, of those which serve for clothing and for dwellings as well as of objects of science and the arts, so that every man may always be able to procure for himself and his family larger and larger quantities of these objects. This is a result desired alike by the philanthropist, the philosopher, the economist and the statesman; and it is every day approaching realization, through the fecundity of human genius, expressing itself in improvements and inventions of every kind. Formerly the English cotton factories scarcely met the demands for internal consumption, which averaged a decimetre of cloth for each person. To-day they give from sixteen to eighteen metres, and they export considerable quantities. Prices grow lower every day. "Consequently this soft, convenient and useful cloth, formerly so dear and so rare, is to-day within the means of every one. This is almost a revolution in manners. A change has been wrought in domestic life; a love for neatness and a habit of it, have become general; and "cleanliness," as the English preacher, Wesley, said, "is more than a quality: it is a virtue which elevates the soul, because it gives man a sense of his dignity." (Michel Chevalier, Cours d' Economie Politique, p. 91.)


—In the reign of Henry II. no one had a handkerchief; most of the great lords were themselves obliged to wipe their noses on their elbows. Through the progress in agriculture, navigation, spinning and weaving, most of the French to-day can be provided with some of these aids to neatness. The same is true of shirts, and of all the necessaries of life. In former times, the purchase of a Bible required a small capital; to-day an infinite number of works are sold at only a few sous, and in England and the United States the humblest family can take at least one weekly journal. Only a short time ago traveling was a great luxury; by the improvement of the avenues of communication, it is now within the reach of every one.


—The facts which we have given, and others still more numerous which we might recall, prove how mechanical, physical and chemical inventions unite powerfully to realize conditions of liberty and equality, to redeem man from slavery, properly so called, as well as from that other slavery of privation and brutalizing labor, and to elevate him in his own eyes and in those of his fellow creatures. Religion and philosophy have in turn proclaimed these great principles of liberty and equality; but, as M. Aug de Gasparin observes, (Considérations sur les machines, Lyons, 1834), they would have remained powerless to give them value without progress in the industries. Slavery, we must not forget, existed among the ancients side by side with philosophy; in modern times it was imported into the colonies and maintained there by Christians, both Catholic and Protestant. Religion and philosophy would alone be incapable of accomplishing the temporal redemption of humanity. Mills have come and freed a host of slaves, who, among the ancients, were engaged in pounding grain in mortars or turning grinding stones by hand; and those whom the lot of war condemned to be simple machines, have been replaced by millers to whom free labor always secures a modest competency, and sometimes wealth and consideration. The sail effected the deliverance of the unfortunate ones who were compelled to ply the oar, a labor so severe that slaves among the ancients, and malefactors, in more recent times, were, under the name of galley-slaves, put to this work. To the sail, steam is added; and henceforth the sufferings of the sailorboys and the sailors are alleviated; the privations they endure are less severe; their manners become more gentle. Intelligence has come to take the place of force, or better, to direct it, guide it, and make it productive.


—What we say of the severe and fatiguing labors, is still more true of the labors of a repulsive and dangerous nature, which scientific processes modify or transform, or of which inventions wholly relieve men. Such, for example, is the new method of gilding and silvering, which dispenses with the intervention of mercury, so destructive of human life; such is the new way of cleaning ditches, which saves laborers from the morbid effects of sulphureted hydrogen, and their tools from its corrosive power.


—Let us also observe that, by favoring the division of labor, mechanical and other improvements bring women back more and more to the care of the family and of housekeeping, and make it possible for all the faculties of man to be cultivated and made productive in the general interest of humanity. It has been noticed that in England and the United States, where mechanical appliances have been largely developed, women labor very little in the fields, and are not seen bending under the weight of a harvest burden or a basket of manure. This sad spectacle, on the contrary, meets us in many parts of continental Europe, and even in several localities in France. In Paris, itself, in the heart of civilization, it is not rare to see women harnessed to vehicles, or bending under the weight of heavy burdens. It is also in countries where improvements in agriculture have been the greatest, that it most fully employs the resources of mechanics, the power of animals and the teachings of science; in countries where transportation is the easiest, that the means of subsistence are produced with the fewest hands, and consequently that a greater number of minds can turn to other branches of human activity, such as the industries, commerce, the arts and philosophic and scientific researches, the influence of which then makes itself felt on laboring men and indeed on all humanity.


—There is one last remark we wish to make. Certainly, every one is of the opinion that industrial improvements, machinery and other applications of science, give nations a greater desire to have security maintained, and that, by binding people more closely together through the growing exchange of products, of ideas, of sentiments and of esteem, their influence has already made war, conquest and domination unpopular; and every day this same cause renders more difficult the return of that folly of princes and peoples, an impious recourse to arms. But on this point there is a still more direct influence of inventions and the genius of invention, which we must here take into account. In becoming perfected, instruments of destruction, by one of those admirable apparent contradictions of which Providence holds the secret, become in fact less to be dreaded. There has been less destruction of human life since the invention of cannon. Battles where guns are used are relatively less fierce than those with swords; a few projectiles intelligently thrown can take the place of those impetuous assaults after which the conquered were put to the sword, and the conquerors, mad with victory, marked their pathway with blood. It is because the certainty of destruction has been increased by the improvements in firearms; and it is in the nature of the most courageous even, to shun such a certainty.


—We have, as we think, sufficiently analyzed the power of inventions, and their industrial and social effects. We have, however, said nothing of the services rendered humanity by printing, nothing of the influence of the improvements in the means of communication, both by land and by sea, nothing of postal communication, of the mariner's compass, or of the electric telegraph! III. Objections made to Inventions; Inventions always useful to Society and to Labor in general. The case of inventions has been won in political economy; but the prejudice which condemns them has still too many echoes in society for us to here pass over in silence the arguments which perpetuate it. Let us proceed with them in due order. Here is the fundamental objection, which goes to the heart of the problem, and which is the root of the thicket of sophisms formed by all the others. People can not and do not deny the prodigious effects of the employment of machines and the resulting economy of productive force; but they say (and this was the very objection of Montesquieu*36), that this economy for some is compensated by the loss of others, and that finally society grows poorer by the amount of labor saved by the invention and lost to those of its members whom it deprives of work.


—We will not dwell on the question of justice which meets us here. John produces an article under certain conditions, and makes me pay a certain price for it; Paul exercises his ingenuity, and finds a way to do better and to offer me the article at a lower price. By what right does John keep the monopoly of doing worse? In virtue of what justice is Paul not to be permitted to do better, and I compelled to buy of one rather than the other? But we will not dwell on this. It is not correct to say that society loses, and on this point we will give the words of Bastiat: "Jack had two francs with which he was employing two workmen. But he conceives an arrangement of ropes and weights which shortens the labor by half. He therefore obtains the same result, saves a franc and discharges a workman. He discharges a workman: this is what people see. * * But behind the half of the phenomenon which people see, there is another half which they do not see. They do not see the franc saved by Jack and the necessary results of that saving. Since, in consequence of his invention. Jack spends but one franc for manual labor, in the pursuit of a particular advantage, he has a franc remaining. If then there is in the world a workman with unemployed hands, there is also a capitalist who offers this unemployed franc. These two elements meet and combine, and it is as clear as daylight that between the demand and supply of labor, and the demand and supply of wages, the relation is in no respect changed. The invention and the one workman paid with the first franc now perform the work which was formerly accomplished by two workmen. The second workman, paid with the second franc, produces a new piece of work. What then has been changed in the world? There is one more object in the country that can satisfy human desire, in other terms, the invention is a gratuitous conquest, a gratuitous profit to humanity. * * * Its final result is an increase of satisfaction for the same amount of labor. Who gains this additional satisfaction? First, the inventor, the capitalist, the first one who employs the invention successfully, and this is the reward of his genius and of the risk he has taken. In this case, as we have just seen, he realizes a saving in the expense of production, which, in whatever way it may be spent (as it always is), employs just as many hands as the invention has caused to be discharged. But soon competition forces him to lower his selling price in proportion to the saving in expense. And then it is no longer the inventor who gets the profit from the invention, but it is the buyer of the product, the consumer, the public, including the workman—in a word, mankind. And what people do not see, is that the saving thus effected by all consumers creates a fund from which wages get a supply, which makes up for that which the invention had stopped. Thus, to recur to the above-mentioned example: Jack obtains a product by expending two francs in wages. Thanks to his invention, the manual labor costs him only one franc. So long as he sells the product at the same price, there is one less workman occupied in making this especial product this, people see; but there is one workman more employed by means of the franc which Jack has saved: this, they do not see. When, in the natural course of things, Jack is compelled to lower the price of his product a franc, he no longer realizes a saving by the invention: then he will no more have an extra franc at his disposal, with which to command, of the labor in the nation, another product. But, in this respect, the purchaser is put in his place, and this purchaser is mankind. Whoever buys his product pays for it a franc less, saves a franc, and necessarily holds this saving, at the service of the wages fund: this, again, people do not see'*37


—Applying this demonstration to the example of the water mill, which we gave at the beginning, we find that instead of paying at least 290 francs per day to those who turn the grinding stone, the consumers of flour, which is made in mills, turn over these 290 francs into the common fund of wages, from which those who turned the stones and who will now employ their time at some other occupation to produce something else useful to society, will derive the benefit. It is, therefore, not true that society loses by the employment of a new invention which saves money to the buyer. For this saving is simply changed in direction: as the industries are conjoined in their interests, what is economized in one, goes to another. They form, as Bastiat has also said, a vast whole of which all the parts communicate by hidden channels: and consequently economy does not occur at the expense of labor and wages.


—Another demonstration may be given that inventions do not injure society. It is that which J. B. Say (Nouveaux Principles d'Economie Politique, vol. i. chap. vi.) addresses particularly to Sismondi, taking up the objection of Montesquieu and starting with the premise that the wants of nations are a fixed quantity, that, in consequence, every time that consumption exceeds the means of production, every new discovery is a benefit to society, and that when production suffices fully for consumption, every similar discovery is a calamity. At the outset we should remark, that Sismondi grants the utility of inventions in a case which, taking everything into consideration, is the general case, and J. B. Say, in fact, to reply to him has only to deny that the wants of society are a fixed and assignable quantity; because population increases, because every day we make use of products unknown to those who came before us, because, as the invention reduces the expense of production, the lowering of the price of the product incites to an increase of consumption, which necessitates an increase of production, and, in the end, the employment of as many men, or even more, after the invention as before it (we shall revert to this point): because, finally, the products created by a producer furnish him the means of buying the products created by another, and in consequence of this production both are better supplied. And here J. B. Say calls to his and the theory of markets, on which he has thrown so much light. He also cites the development of two great parent industries, very modest in their beginnings, but which the genius of invention has developed so enormously and so rapidly that they have become trunks with almost innumerable branches, employing a thousand times as many laborers as formerly*38 These two industries are printing and spinning cotton. We might mention many others, and prove by statistics, that at the end of a certain time the new industry engages, either directly or indirectly, a larger working population. This demonstration corroborates the preceding. Alone, it would be insufficient; for it would leave one to conclude that in the case (very rare, it is true) where the special consumption of the product in question remains stationary or nearly so, the invention is an injury to labor, which is incorrect; for not only does it not harm society, but it is of advantage to it by putting it in the way of increasing its gratifications without increased effort, and by giving it an opportunity to accumulate an increase of capital, with which it can pay for more labor.


—Other minor objections have been made to inventions. It has been said that they impose upon man oppressive toil. But this conclusion has been drawn from a few particular cases which have not been clearly brought under the general rule. To any one who has a little acquaintance with industrial occupations as a whole, this assertion has no foundation. If inventions have one evident, incontestable effect, it is to simplify and lighten labor. It has been said that they render industrial labor irregular, by promoting alternations of activity and complete stagnation, and consequently exhausting the workman by over-work and condemning him afterward to poverty. This objection is likewise the expression of imperfect observations. The employment of inventions supposes establishments on a large scale, whose proprietors have invested a large amount of capital. Now, it is only at the last extremity that those who carry on such establishments stop their business, because they do not wish to lose interest on their capital and general expenses; and experience proves that before suspending work, these business men sacrifice their own interests and even knowingly incur losses in hope of better days. These efforts to continue production are less in establishments which do not employ inventions, and which, in the alternative of suspending labors or continuing them at a loss, hesitate less to discharge their workmen. Inventions have also been accused of promoting division of labor, over-stimulating the increase of the manufacturing population, leading to excessive production and industrial crises, and bringing on a decline in wages and too severe labor. These are all objections which, were they well founded (which we are not willing to admit), would be wrongly attributed to inventions. The latter are sometimes the effect and sometimes the cause of a greater division of labor; but this division is one of the greatest means of progress, and the charges brought against it will hardly bear examination. (See DIVISION OF LABOR.) It is not to inventions that we should impute the incitement to self-multiplication among the working population, but to the system of protection and prohibition. Inventions have more properly the reverse effect, by lightening the occupations of man and thereby improving his morals. Excess of production and crises also arise from causes entirely different. (See CRISES, PRODUCTION.) As to decline in wages and the excessive length of a day's labor, these result from an excess of working population, a subject which will be presented and developed under the word POPULATION. We can, however, say here that the condition of the working classes in our day, compared with that of times more remote, when inventions were not common, and that the condition of the working classes of manufacturing and agricultural countries where the employment of inventions is considerable, compared with that of the same classes where inventions are rarely used, proves that the facts observed are at variance with the objections just stated. Sixty years ago the great mass of the English and French people were not nearly so well provided with necessary articles. Nor must we look to Egypt or any other country still destitute of inventions, for comfort, morality and intelligence.


—IV. Inventions may displace Workmen; numerous circumstances which counterbalance this disadvantage. If we consider only the workmen whose place the invention takes, we see at once men deprived of their work, their means of living, and obliged to seek other occupations, to put themselves to a new apprenticeship, and to suffer the privations of a stoppage; hence, anxiety and suffering "Here," says Rossi, (Cours d'Economie Politique, 2d vol., 10th lesson). "we have a grave fact, a fact which the defenders of inventions would be wrong to question. * * When it was claimed that this fact merited little consideration; when it was asserted that laborers passed readily at once from one kind of work to another; that the increase of products and the decline in prices, and the increasing general consumption, caused the same producer soon to demand again, not withstanding the inventions, the same number of workmen as before, I do not hesitate to say, the question was evaded, and, to a certain point, the true results of the operation were concealed." We will add, that it would be interpreting Rossi erroneously, to adjudge him hostile to inventions. If he does not defend them, it is, as he says, because they defend themselves. They mark industrial progress, and "industrial progress nothing can arrest."*39 We agree with Rossi that it is well, in political economy, not to evade difficulties; but, happily, we have a statement to insert here, of several circumstances which can, and which in fact do, diminish the inconveniences which may temporarily result to the working class from the introduction of inventions which accelerate production. 1. New inventions are generally expensive, and a large amount of capital is needed to put them in operation. If this difficulty does not prevent their final adoption, it at least delays it. Convincing proof of this can be found in the history of most industries. 2. The routine spirit, the dread of innovations, and the fear of losing capital, delay the application of new inventions, render the transition gradual, and sometimes prevent the appearance of any inconveniences. 3. In proportion as the arts become more nearly perfect, the invention of machines becomes more difficult. There is a degree of art in which blind force is made to execute all that is possible to it, and where man fulfills only a purely intellectual function.


—But in the century which has just elapsed, and which is so remarkable for the progress of the sciences and the industries, certain classes of workmen have been most cruelly affected. In our times we may mention those of Belgian Flanders, whom the introduction of flax-spinning, added to other causes, reduced to poverty. (See Etudes d'Economie Politique et Statistique, by M. Wolowski; Guillaumin, Paris, 1848.) Because of these facts, writers have thought they must make out a case against new inventions, industrial innovations, and the general displacement of labor and capital. In whatever has been said, no one has thus far been able to refute the body of considerations which we have presented. We should add, many of the opponents of inventions and of industrial improvements used this theme to exaggerate the defects of present society, which they proposed to reconstruct from the foundation, and that it was to them a literary or scientific instrument, far more than an economic or scientific discussion.


—To recapitulate: those who have rejected inventions have seen that they were obliged to oppose the increase of useful things, oppose economy in production, the attainment of a result with diminished effort; in short, to maintain the theory of poverty; and more than one has used faulty logic. But let us revert to the displacement of workmen. Means have been sought to remedy this evil, which, happily, is temporary and transient. Barbarians thought they could proscribe machines. The reader will hardly permit us to stop to consider this opinion. To reject machines is to reject every invention, every improvement, every innovation, every step forward. And, as every man thinks, invents and perfects more or less in his especial business, it would be necessary to decree immobility of intellect, the death of humanity. It is absurd: that is all. As for the rest, we join in Ricardo's remark (p. 241, M'Culloch's edition of Ricardo's works): "The employment of machinery could never safely be discouraged in a state, for if capital is not allowed to get the greatest net revenue that the use of machinery will afford here, it will be carried abroad, and this must be a much more serious discouragement to the demand for labor than the most extensive employment of machinery; for while a capital is employed in this country it must create a demand for some labor; machinery can not be worked without the assistance of men; it can not be made but with the contribution of their labor. By investing part of a capital in improved machinery, there will be a diminution in the progressive demand for labor; by exporting it to another country, the demand will be wholly annihilated." There are people who dare not go so far, and who propose to prevent or prohibit only certain inventions, perhaps the most complicated, or those which take the most work from the workman, or the newest. But if one should ask the authors of these propositions to themselves classify the inventions to be preserved or destroyed, to be allowed or proscribed, they would really not know how to reply. If steam is to be rejected, why not the power of wind or water? Why mills to grind the grain? Why stones? And would the plowshare, which does the work of ten men working with a spade, find favor? We are indeed, we repeat, still wholly absurd, and we must make haste to rid ourselves of our absurdity. But, do you ask what we must do? Let us first tell what has been proposed.


—M. de Sismondi, the most serious opponent of machines, draws no definite conclusion. Only one may say that the logic of his criticism, inspired by honest feeling, but based on imperfect observation, leads to the abandonment of the division of labor, of machines, and of manufactures, and to a return to a patriarchal state of society, which M. Proudhon has defined as "the system of every one at his own abode, every one for himself, in the most literal acceptation of the phrase." M. Proudhon adds: "It is to go backward; it is impossible" J. B. Say had already said so to M. de Sismondi; but it is well to have it repeated to him by the harsh criticism of the Malthusians (Contradictions Economiques, 1st vol., iv., § iii.)


—The communists and socialists reasoned thus: "Since the object of inventions is to render man as rich as possible with the least labor, since the natural agents must do everything for all, inventions ought to belong to the community." Then follow, as remedies for the evils attributed to inventions, the various new systems of social organization. It is not for us here to discuss these illusions. (See SOCIALISM.)


—Another opinion arises from this, without being as logical: it is that of those who have proposed an association of the inventors, proprietors and workmen. This is another utopia, which it would take too much time to discuss here; we confine ourselves to its mere mention.


—It has been proposed that the workmen should be indemnified by the inventors, or by the capitalists and manufacturers who make use of the new inventions. Here arises at once a question of justice, property and rights. But, the question of justice aside, who does not know the uncertainties of new enterprises, the perplexities and mortifications of inventors and those who first apply the inventions! Should not these also have a right to indemnification? And then who, pray, would not have a right to complain of the wrong done him by any innovation, any improvement whatever? Has any one dreamed of the indemnities which would have been due for the application of steam, for the introduction of stages, canals or locomotives?


—People can not insist on this order of ideas, and so they propose that the state be the chief indemnifier. But if one only means philanthropy and alms, we will remark, at the outset, that the state has no other pockets than those of its citizens, and that the most numerous class of citizens are the poorest. We admit, however, that there may be a case in which humanity and prudence would recommend either the creation of public works to give temporary relief to the displaced workmen, or some other kind of assistance. These are precarious means; but there are no others; and the final conclusion of this matter is, that the bad effects of an invention being always exceeded by the social advantages it secures, will be so much the less felt by the workmen it displaces, as the industry prospers the more, and the unclassed laborers the more readily find again a remunerative occupation and are able, from previous savings, to provide for their necessities during stoppages.


—In the number of means for contending with the disadvantages of inventions should then be found a general diffusion of the first principles of political economy, in the schools, by the aid of which the children, who will some day be workmen, would begin to comprehend the true nature of things, and would be fortified in advance against the prejudices which incite them later to hate and oppose inventions, or to depend upon chimerical means for subsistence.


—V. Conclusion. To recapitulate: the question of inventions is one of the most clearly resolved in political economy.


—The right to invent, to improve, and to apply, is unassailable in itself. Moreover, its prohibition is impossible.


—In the second place, society derives from every rational, mechanical, scientific, administrative or other change, more satisfactions for less effort, satisfactions which can be measured by the effective power of modern industries.


—In the third place, the improvements made in the industries are not long in curing the individual evils, which sometimes, but not always, result from the displacement of labor and capital. These evils can not be compared with the advantages which counterbalance them, and they are so much the less as the industry is the more prosperous.


—Finally, we can do no better than close with one of the observations with which we began, and we borrow the words of Bastiat: "There is a natural inclination in men to go, unless forcibly prevented, to a good market, that is to say, to that which, with equal satisfaction, saves them labor, whether this good market comes from a skillful foreign producer or from a skillful mechanical producer. The theoretical objection made to this inclination is the same in both cases. In both cases it is accused of paralyzing labor. Now labor rendered not inert, but disposable, is precisely what determines this inclination; and this is why, in both cases, it is opposed by the same practical obstacle, viz., force. The legislator prohibits foreign competition and interdicts mechanical competition: for what other means exist of arresting an inclination natural to all men, except to take away their liberty? In many countries, it is true, the legislator strikes at only one of these two kinds of competition, and contents himself with lamenting the other: this proves only one thing, which is that, in this country, the legislator is inconsistent. This need not surprise us: on a wrong road, people are always inconsistent; if it were not so mankind would be destroyed. Never have we seen and never shall we see a false principle carried out to the extreme. I have elsewhere said: Inconsistency is the limit of absurdity. I might have added: it is at the same time the evidence of it." (Bastiat, Ce qu'on voit et ce qu'on ne coil pas; Paris, Guillaumin, 1850, brochure in 16mo, p. 49.) Nothing can be more just than these words of our illustrious co-worker and friend.


—The question of inventions did not engage the attention of Adam Smith; yet a part of his celebrated chapter on division of labor relates to this subject. J. B. Say contributed much to its elucidation, first in his Treatise, afterward in his Course, 1st part, chaps, xviii. and xix. See also the Course, by Florez Estrada. chap. ix.; the first lessons, by M. Michel Chevalier; the Elements, by M. Joseph Garnier, etc. See also the pamphlet by M. A. Gasparin, often quoted above. Mal thus and Rossi have said little on this subject. Ricardo has developed some particular points in his Principles, chap. xxxi. (See above.) Sismondi has only spoken of it in one very short chapter, devoted likewise to the effects of division of labor, which circumstance produces a certain confusion in his objections. Socialistic schools and political pamphleteers have, in turn, exaggerated the advantages or disadvantages of inventions M. Proudhon has, in Contradictions Economiques, given considerable attention to inventions. He is favorable to this species of improvement; he analyzes and combats the various means proposed to neutralize directly the displacement of workmen which a new invention may occasion. (See CAPITAL, DIVISION OF LABOR, FREE TRADE, INDUSTRY, MACHINES.)


Notes for this chapter

Cours d' Economie Politique, 1st vol., 2d lesson. From this work we borrow such of these facts as relate to the mill of St. Maur, to iron and to spinning, which are presented there more in detail.
The present rate of production (July, 1881) in the flouring mills of Washburn, Crosby & Co, Minneapolis, Minn., is such that the average product of a man's labor is the flour required for 3,983 persons, allowing three-fourths of a pound daily per individual, and considering that consumption continues one day more per week than product on. These mills employ 281 men (who work twelve hours per day—a part from noon to midnight and a part from midnight to noon, exclusive of workmen not connected directly with milling, such as carpenters, millwrights, machinists and laborers. The total daily production with this force is 5,000 barrels of flour per day of twenty-four hours.—E. J. L.
A blast furnace now in operation in Kentucky has run off forty tons of iron per day for several successive days. By the aid of recent improvements, a better quality of metal is obtained from very refractory ores than was formerly obtained from ore more easily worked.—E. J. L.
Watt took out a patent for his invention in 1769, and in 1775 obtained from parliament a prolongation of his patent for twenty-five years. (See Chambers' Encyc., Art. Watt.)—E. J. L.
The Walter machine, on which the London "Times" and the New York "Times" are printed, gives 11,000 perfected sheets an hour. The Victory press will print, cut, fold, and paste at the back a twenty-four page sheet at the rate of 7,000 an hour. The Hoe perfecting press will give 12,000 or more perfected sheets in an hour. (See Appleton's Cyclopædia, 1880.)
Montesquieu said: "Those machines which aim to shorten the process are not always useful. If an article sells at a middling price one equally advantageous for the buyer and the workman who made it, any machines which should simplify the process of manufacture, that is to say, which should diminish the number of workmen, would be injurious; and it mills propelled by water power were not established everywhere, I should not believe them as advantageous as people say they are, because they have deprived a great number of people of an opportunity to work cut off the use of the water from many fields, and have made many others lose their fruitfulness.' (Esprit des Lois, book xviii., chap. xv.) We reproduce here the whole substance of Montesquieu on this subject. We should remark that the illustrious publicist knew nothing of the marvels of modern industry, and that he wrote before Adam Smith and his successors had thrown upon economic questions the light to which his superior reason would not have been insensible.
Ce qu'on voit et ce qu'on ne voit pas. (What people see, and what they do not see), brochure in 16mo, p. 50. (This pamphlet is one of Bastiat's essays on Political Economy, and included in the published American translation of the same.)—E. J. L.
In England, before the invention of machines, there were estimated to be only 5,200 spinners at small wheels, and 2,700 weavers; in all, 7,900 workmen, while in 1787, ten years after the number of spinners, according to the report of an investigating committee, was estimated at 105,000, and of weavers, 217,000; in all, 352,000 workmen. Since then, machinery has changed, the same work is performed with much fewer workmen, and steam has taken the place of men in many kinds of labor, and yet the number of workmen has increased. Mr. Barnes, in his "History of the Cotton Manufacture,' (London, 1835), has shown that in 1883 there were 237,000 workmen spinning or weaving at machines, and 230 000 weaving by hand, in all, 487,000 persons. By grouping the workmen in the side industries, such as cloth printing, tulles, cap making, etc., Mr. Barnes reaches 800,000 or 1,500,000, if the old men, women and children are counted; and 2,000,000. if he includes the joiners and masons who build the factories, and the locksmiths who make the machines, without counting the women and the old men.
Ricardo (chap. xxxi. of his "Principles" added to the 4th edition, translated into French in the Collection des Principaux Economistes,) examines the exceptional and theoretical case of sudden invention and application. He shows, likewise, that, in certain given cases, the invention or the industrial improvement may augment the net product while diminishing the raw product, and may displace workmen. But Ricardo is not on that account hostile to inventions. He says (p. 240, M'Culloch's edition): "The statements which I have made will not, I hope, lead to the inference that machinery should not be encouraged. To elucidate the principle, I have been supposing that improved machinery is suddenly discovered, and extensively used; but the truth is, that these discoveries are gradual, and rather operate in determining the employment of the capital which is saved and accumulated, than in diverting capital from its actual employment." (See, farther on, another quotation from the same author.)

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