Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

his price, until the increased pay affords an adequate compensation for the inconstancy of the employment.

In most cases, employers take all the risk; that is, they insure regular wages to their hands, whether the work be constant or irregular, lucrative or insufficient to pay the expenses. Thus, the driver of a stage-coach receives the same pay, whether the vehicle be full or empty; and the clerk in a store must have his regular salary, though business is sometimes dull, and he has little to do. So, also, a ship must be manned by sailors enough to take care of her even in a storm; and the consequence is, that in ordinary, pleasant weather, the crew may be idle more than half of the time. Sometimes, however, the person employed takes the risk, and his wages when he is at work, must be high enough to compensate him for occasional necessary idleness. Thus, the driver of a hackney-coach is paid only a certain proportion of what he can earn during the day; and the crews of our American whaling-vessels generally "go upon shares," as it is termed; that is, they have no monthly wages, but receive the value of a fixed portion of the oil that they take. As ships sometimes come home "clean," or without any oil, so that they obtain nothing for one or two years' labor, their share of a full cargo ought to exceed, and actually does considerably exceed, the ordinary amount of seamen's wages for a voyage of the same length.

The fourth cause assigned by Adam Smith for variation in the rate of wages, is the small or great trust that must be reposed in the person employed. Thus, goldsmiths and jewellers are paid more liberally than workers in brass or iron, not on account merely of their greater skill, and in spite of their labor being more agreeable and less fatiguing, but because of the greater value of the materials with which they are intrusted. "We trust our health to the physician, our fortune, and sometimes our life and reputation, to the lawyer and attorney. Such confidence could not safely be reposed in people of a very mean or low condition. Their reward must be such, therefore, as may give them that rank in the society which so important a trust requires. The long time and the great expense which must be laid out in their education, when combined with this circumstance, necessarily enhance still further the price of their labor."

On the same principle, also, those who are intrusted with the handling of much money, such as the cashiers and tellers of banks, the treasurers and managers of manufacturing and railroad corporations, must receive high salaries. It may be thought, perhaps, that there is some degradation in being rewarded for common honesty, as men ought to be honest without being paid for it. So they ought; but what they are paid for is, not honesty, but the reputation for honesty, — that security which is found in their well-known previous lives and character, and in the general circumstances of their situation, that they will be faithful to their trust. Not all, not even many persons, are lucky enough to be well known to the community at large, as deserving full confidence in any office, however much exposed to temptation. The competition for such offices being thus restricted to a few, they are enabled to raise the price of their services. Sometimes security is taken, the persons employed being required to give bonds to a heavy amount for their fidelity to their engagements. In this case, there is no need of their integrity being well known to the public at large; it is enough that they have so far earned the confidence of a few as to be able to obtain sufficient bondsmen. The contrivance of giving bonds thus opens the competition, and tends to reduce salaries, but not to make them so low as they would be if no bonds were required.

Fifthly, says Adam Smith, "the wages of labor in different employments vary according to the probability or improbability of success in them. In the greater part of the mechanic trades, success is almost certain, but very uncertain in the liberal professions. Put your son apprentice to a shoemaker, and there is little doubt of his learning to make a pair of shoes; but send him to study the law, and it is at least twenty to one if he ever makes such proficiency as will enable him to live by the business. In a perfectly fair lottery, those who draw the prizes ought to gain all that is lost by those who draw the blanks. In a profession where twenty fail for one that succeeds, that one ought to gain all that should have been gained by the unsuccessful twenty. The counsellor at law, who perhaps, at forty years of age, begins to make something by his profession, ought to receive the retribution, not only of his own so tedious and expensive education, but of that of more than twenty others, who are never likely to make anything by it. How extravagant soever the fees of counsellors at law may sometimes appear, their real retribution is never equal to this." The average gains of practitioners at the bar are reduced by the great number of those who enter the profession without depending upon it for support, as they have independent means of livelihood, and desire only a genteel excuse for doing nothing. Some, also, have recourse to the law, because it is not only a highly reputable business, but is an easy mode of making the transition to political life. Many thus appear to be waiting for clients, who are really on the look-out only for a chance of being elected to the legislature or to Congress. Though these two classes of persons do not enter actively into the competition for fees, their presence diminishes the chances of success for those who hope to rise in the profession; some business occasionally falls into their hands, and they increase the crowd in the midst of which merit and ability often remain hidden from the world. Hence, as Adam Smith remarks, while the ordinary income of shoemakers and blacksmiths exceeds their ordinary expenditure, it will be found that the annual gains of the lawyers, as a body, bear but a small proportion to their annual expenses. The profession is but a lottery at the best, even for those who diligently qualify themselves for it, and found upon it their only hopes of success; the splendor of a few prizes in it is apt to dazzle the judgment of many, who, by a cool calculation of the chances, would be induced to try a different occupation.

I do not mean that success is more doubtful at the bar than in any other business. In this country, undoubtedly, trade is equally uncertain, for it is said that three fourths of those who engage in it become insolvent in the course of the first five years; and of those who escape the gulf of bankruptcy, not one in ten succeeds in amassing a fortune. But "uncertainty of success," as Mr. Senior remarks, "cannot well affect the wages of common labor, since no man, unless he be to a certain extent a capitalist, unless he have a fund for his intermediate support, can devote himself to an employment in which the success is uncertain." He remarks, moreover, "that there are two sorts of uncertainty. In some cases, the hazard is essentially connected with the employment itself, and recurs, in about an equal degree, at every operation. Smuggling and the manufacture of gunpowder are instances. Experience and skill may somewhat diminish the risk; but the best smuggler and the best maker of gunpowder probably each suffers an average amount of loss. But there are employments in which success, if once attained, is permanent. Such is often the case in mining. That mining is generally the road to ruin is notorious in all mining countries; but there are miners who have never suffered a loss. The same may be said of the liberal professions. Granting them to be as uncertain as Adam Smith believed them to be, the evil to which that uncertainty refers is experienced only by those who fail. To those who succeed, they afford a revenue eminently safe and regular. Their uncertainty is personal. It arises from the error to which every man is subject, when he compares his own qualifications with those of his rivals. If he be found on the actual trial inferior, his failure is irretrievable; in the other alternative, his success is as permanent."

The inequalities thus far considered proceed from causes that are inherent in the employments themselves. But there are others, as Adam Smith remarks, which arise from the peculiar laws and customs of different nations, and which operate by obstructing the competition that would otherwise reduce wages and profits to a level. If other things are equal, and if persons are left to their own choice, they will flock into the occupations that are more lucrative, and will desert those which are less productive, until the increased supply of labor and capital in the former, and the diminished supply in the latter, bring about equality between the two classes. But people are not always left to themselves; hinderances often exist, sometimes created by the laws, sometimes only by the habits and feelings of the people, which obstruct the free movement of labor and capital from one occupation to another.

The most remarkable of the hinderances existing by force of law are the exclusive privileges that were granted to the corporations, or guilds of trade, which formerly existed in almost every city in Europe, but which are now rapidly dying out. All the persons practising any one art or trade in a particular city, such as the tailors, the brewers, the tanners, the goldsmiths, &c, were united into a company, which received from the government by charter the exclusive right to practise their vocation. The competition in this art or trade was thus restricted to those who had been made free of the company; and no person could become free of the trade, till he had served an apprenticeship to it, usually for seven years, and had complied with other regulations, which were often intentionally made numerous and vexatious, in order to prevent too many persons from entering the business and diminishing its profits. Thus, the number of apprentices which each master might have was often determined by law, and sometimes a heavy fee or fine was exacted, before the apprentice who had completed his term could become free of the craft. "In their greatest prosperity, these fraternities, more especially in the metropolis, became important bodies, in which the whole community was enrolled; each had its distinct common hall, made by-laws for the regulation of its particular trade, and had its common property." Membership became the principal avenue of admission to the general franchise of the municipality; and as the impediments to becoming freemen were multiplied, the management of civic affairs gradually fell into the hands of a little oligarchy. Sometimes, the royal charters expressly vested the local government, and even the immediate election of members of Parliament, in small councils, originally nominated by the crown, and ever after self-elected. But of late years, the laws requiring apprenticeship have been repealed or essentially amended, and in England, the Reform Bill, together with the Municipal Reform Act, has swept away nearly all the exclusive privileges of these incorporated trades; but many of the companies, especially in London, still exist, having the ownership and management of large funds, and some local dignities and rights, which cause membership of them to be highly prized. There are, in all, eighty-one of these incorporated trades in London, twelve of them being called the Great Companies, and from one of these the Lord Mayor must be chosen. They have become charitable, rather than political or trading institutions, and they expend their revenues partly in festivities, but principally in pensions to widows and decayed brethren, the support of schools, &c*

* These incorporated trades must not be confounded with what are commonly

« НазадПродовжити »