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“All such incorporations,” says Adam Smith, “were anciently called Universities, which indeed is the proper Latin name for any incorporation whatever. The University of Smiths, the University of Tailors, &c., are expressions which we commonly meet with in the old charters of ancient towns. When those particular incorporations which are now peculiarly called Universities were first established, the term of years which it was necessary to study, in order to obtain the degree of Master of Arts, appears evidently to have been copied from the term of apprenticeship in common trades, of which the incorporations were much more ancient. As to have wrought seven years under a master properly qualified was necessary in order to entitle any person to become a master, and to have himself apprentices in a common trade, so to have studied seven years under a master properly qualified was necessary to become a Master, Teacher, or Doctor (words anciently synonymous) in the liberal arts, and to have scholars or apprentices (words likewise originally synonymous) to study under him.”
The ostensible purpose of the incorporated trades was like that of our modern inspection laws, to insure the good or merchantable quality of the commodities offered for sale; this end it was proposed to effect, by ordaining that the articles should be manufactured only by practised and skilful workmen, who had served a full apprenticeship to the craft. But as Adam Smith remarks, “the institution of long apprenticeships can give no security that insufficient workmanship shall not frequently be exposed to public sale. When this is done, it is usually the effect of fraud, and not of inability; and the longest apprenticeship can give no security against fraud.” The inspection-mark upon a barrel of flour, or salted meat, or pickled fish, or the name of the manufacturer printed upon a bale of cloth, is a much better guaranty of the quality of the article. Besides, long apprenticeships are not needed, as the mystery of any handicraft can be learned in less than a year, so that the operative can work, not as speedily indeed, but as well, that is, he can turn out as perfect an article, as any veteran in the business. At any rate, he will be the quickest to learn, who has the prospect of being fully paid just as soon as he can complete the article in a workmanlike manner, and who is furthermore required to pay for the tools and materials that he spoils. The real purpose of the guild was to maintain a monopoly of the trade, under the cover of which, purchasers were obliged to take what they offered for sale, at such prices as they chose to affix, or do without the commodity altogether. Individual members of the company, it is true, might compete with each other; but their competition was always subject to the by-laws enacted by the council of the guild. Old expedients come up for renewed trial, after the lapse of centuries, with only a change of name. The modern Trades’ Unions, strikes, and associations of operatives, are but the ancient guilds revived, their avowed object being to raise wages and prices by diminishing the number of competitors. Even here in America, where the utmost freedom of competition has been the life of trade, and there are fewer restrictions upon industry, either legal or consuetudinary, than in any country upon earth, at a recent strike of the journeyman printers, the Union required that only a certain number of apprentices should be employed in each office, in proportion to the number of journeymen in it, and that women or girls should not be employed to set types, though it is an occupation in which they are nearly as well fitted to excel as in the use of the needle. Mr. Laing, the distinguished traveller and political economist, seriously argues in favor of such measures, on the ground that “labor itself is a property, entitled to legal protection as much as land, or goods, or any kind of property that labor produces”; and that “the supply of the public with all the articles of handicraft, or labor of skill, [should be] confined to those who had acquired a property in that labor.” Here appears to be a confusion of thought; labor is rightly considered as property, and is most effectually protected as such, when it can be applied to any purpose, or in any occupation, which the laborer prefers. To create any impediment to the transition of labor from one employment to another, is not to protect, but to violate, the essential rights of industry. To give to any individual, or any association, the monopoly of any article or any employment, is to create in the favored class a right of property in other men's labor, − that is, a right to prevent all other persons from selecting their own occupations, and making the best use that they can of their physical and mental powers; it is also to tax the whole community for the benefit of the favored class, by compelling the former to pay such a price for the commodity, or such wages for the labor, as the latter may require. Prices are equitably adjusted, when the seller says to the purchaser, “Pay me what I ask, or manufacture the article for yourself.” The ancient incorporated companies and the modern Trades' Unions say, ‘Pay me what I ask, or do without the article altogether; you shall not have the option of manufacturing the article for yourself.” How does Mr. Laing suppose, that the operatives in any craft, whether they have served a long apprenticeship to it or not, can have “acquired a property in that labor”? Unquestionably they are entitled to prosecute it themselves; but they have no right, either natural or acquired, to keep other persons out of the same employment. Adam Smith takes a more correct view of the subject when he says: “The property which every man has in his own labor, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. The patrimony of a poor man lies in the strength and dexterity of his hands; and to hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper, without injury to his neighbor, is a plain violation of this most sacred property. It is a manifest encroachment upon the just liberty both of the workman and of those who might be disposed to employ him. As it hinders the one from working at what he thinks proper, so it hinders the others from employing whom they think proper. To judge whether he is fit to be employed, may surely be trusted to the discretion of the employers whose interest it so much concerns.” These principles, however, are not of universal application; an exception should be made in the case of the restraints that are imposed by the laws of most countries upon admission into the learned professions. Usually, the purchaser is the best judge of the quality of the goods that he buys, and the character of the person that he deals with ; a regard for his own interest will protect him against fraud more effectually than any regulations which the government can devise. But it is not so, when he buys the services of a physician. Health or sickmess, life or death, then depends upon the competent information and skill of the person employed by him ; and of these qualities he is a very poor judge, as sickness may have been a rare occurrence in his family, as the consequences of an error may be fatal, and as the event indicates but very imperfectly the beneficial or injurious consequences of the medical treatment pursued. A plausible charlatan may easily impose upon the credulity of the public, and many valuable lives may be lost before his ignorance and presumption can be fully exposed. Most governments attempt to protect the community against such injury, by multiplying restrictions upon irregular practitioners, and extending the full privileges of the profession only to those who have completed a prescribed course of education, and have obtained a diploma, or certificate of competency, from a board of duly qualified examiners. A similar policy is usually pursued with respect to lawyers and clergymen, though the reasons in its favor are not so conclusive as in the case of physicians. Ignorance and deception at the bar or in the pulpit are more easily detected than in the sickTOOIsl. I have already intimated that competition for employment is sometimes restricted, not only by law, but by the customs of the country, or by the habits and feelings of the people. In the United States, mobility of fortune, station, and employment is the most striking feature of society; no impediment is created by law or fashion to the most frequent and sudden changes of position and business. Thus an equalizing process is constantly going on with respect both to wages and profits; no one profession or employment can enjoy even a momentary advantage, without sharing it among a crowd of competitors. In England, it is far otherwise; a well-established and clearly defined gradation of ranks has existed so long, and has so moulded the habits and expectations of the people, that comparatively few think of stepping out of the station or the business to which they were born. The larger emoluments and superior advantages of a different position hardly attract their notice, and certainly excite no emulation or regret.
called corporations, instituted for manufacturing, banking, turnpike, or railroad purposes, here in America; though the similarity of name and origin has directed much unfounded political odium against the latter. The old guilds of trade were proper monopolies, no other persons being permitted to exercise the craft which was their special vocation. But our modern corporations have no exclusive privileges; any individual, or another incorporated company, may begin competition with them in the same town or village. Sometimes, indeed, when the object is one of great public utility, as to open a new avenue of transit and communication, a clause is inserted in the charter, that no rival company shall be permitted to build a similar road or bridge, parallel to theirs, and within a small distance from it, for a given number of years. Some such boon from the legislature may be needed to induce capitalists to run the risk of first constructing such a work for the public benefit and their own possible emolument. But such privileges are now not often granted, and are not always respected, even when the public faith is pledged for them. The charter is usually granted only to enable persons of small property to club their means, and thus to effect by combination what no individual is rich enough to do singly. Hence, as already explained, they are true democratic institutions, on the
limited partnership principle, which has very recently been legalized and applied with much success both in England and America.
Mr. J. S. Mill has given a lively picture of this condition of things, and its consequences. “So complete,” he says, “has hitherto been the separation, so strongly marked the line of demarcation, between the different grades of laborers, as to be almost equivalent to a hereditary distinction of caste; each employment being chiefly recruited from the children of those already employed in it, or in employments of the same rank with it in social estimation, or from the children of persons who, if originally of a lower rank, have succeeded in raising themselves by their exertions. The liberal professions are mostly supplied by the sons of either the professional or the idle classes; the more highly skilled manual employments are filled up from the sons of skilled artisans, or of the class of tradesmen who rank with them; the lower classes of skilled employments are in a similar case; and unskilled laborers, with occasional exceptions, remain from father to son in their pristine condition. Consequently, the wages of each class have hitherto been regulated by the increase of its own population, rather than of the general population of the country. If the professions are overstocked, it is because the class of society from which they have always mainly been supplied has greatly increased in number, and because most of that class have numerous families, and bring up some, at least, of their sons to professions.” It would be more correct to say, that the learned professions are overstocked because they are recruited from every rank in society above that of the artisans; the sons of merchants being ambitious of admission to them, and the younger sons of the landed gentry and the nobility, as