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Professor Nicholson's suggestion that the “ £400 of labour" subsists after the change, or, as I interpret, that the labourers who before earned £400 will now earn the same money's worth, or that the
average wage" will be kept up. If (for the sake of illustration) we suppose prices on the international market to be unaffected by the change in the condition of a single nation, then the consequence of the change might be a lowering of the average money wage in that country, and a loss to the wage-earners in so far as they are purchasers of commodities on the international market.
But I hesitate to attribute to Professor Nicholson the assumption upon which his objection appears to rest, since no one has better stated than he, in the chapter following the one under consideration, "the possible loss to labour through foreign trade," a loss which, as it should seem from the context, is possible even on the hypothesis of mobility. I am glad to have an opportunity of expressing admiration for Professor Nicholson's clear and candid statement of the “possible disadvantages of foreign trade to a particular country." The correctives applied by Professor Nicholson to what we may call, with Mill, the “human too much” of received arguments are peculiarly potent. They supplement and fortify the teaching of the most distinguished economists—the celebrated dictum of Mill on the protection of infant industries, and the less familiar dictum of Macculloch, pointed out by Professor Nicholson, Professor Sidgwick's chapter on Protection, and Professor Marshall's Address to the British Association, and what Professor Lexis has taught with authority in Schönberg's Handbuch.
According to the popular view," says Professor Nicholson, “any loss to any particular class of workers owing to the want of employment can only be tem. porary and as soon as they are absorbed by other industries (as, it is assumed, they must be) there will on the whole be an increase in real wages or in the consuming power of the people."
It is only upon this popular view, I think, that the theorem of Mill, which I am upholding, can be controverted.
“That such may sometimes and even generally be the result,” continues Professor Nicholson, “ I do not deny; all that I contend for is that theoretical exceptions are possible.”
That is just my position with respect to the theorem in question : " all that I contend for is that theoretical exceptions are possible."
F. Y. EDGEWORTH.
1 Loc. cit., p. 318. “ The manufacturers . . . will be driven into agriculture.” 2 Nicholson, p. 317.
POLITICAL ECONOMY IN BELGIUM.
In Belgium, whenever the subject of Political Economy is raised, it is the movements of Parliamentary parties and of the Government that form the attractive topics, and not the latest scientific productions. No eagerness is shown to discuss pure theory. The social question, under one aspect or another, is almost the only problem that can draw our economists.
It is easy to understand why. Possibly there is nowhere else in the whole world so pressing a need for the practical solution of social problems as in Belgium.
One recent measure, which has given rise to much interesting debate, is the Trade Unions (Unions professionnelles) Act of March 31, 1898.
. The first bill on this subject was laid before the Chambers in 1890, and, I need hardly say, has, during these eight years of incubation, undergone a number of modifications. But, strange to say, the original conception of trade unions has at the same time got so dislocated, that many intelligent persons consider the scheme in its first form to have been clearer and more coherent than the Act that has now been passed. The Act has, however, been heralded with much flourish of trumpets, as one of the great reforms of the Ministry; it was debated during four months; the printed debates in the Chamber and the Senate ran to a thousand pages. Nevertheless there is reason to doubt whether it will really prove fruitful of much result.
Unlike the French Act of 1884, this Act is not intended to allow the formation of trade unions among employers and men. The Constitution itself gives them this right, namely freedom of association, absolutely. But the unions have had no independent, legal existence. It is the aim of the new Act to endow them with the privileges of a legal status,-that is to say, with the right of possessing goods within certain limits, and of suing and being sued. This, if I am not mistaken, is precisely the object of the English Trade Union Act of 1871.
The battle between the Conservative Government and the Opposition, consisting of the Left and part of the Right, centred around a question, the nature of which Englishmen may be surprised to learn. It was as to whether trade unions should have the right to conduct business or carry on a trade. The Christian Democrats voted that they should, so as to facilitate the development of the associations, at once political and economic, which they had founded in country districts, especially those in Flanders called boerenbonden. These associations carry on genuine commercial dealings, on the pattern of the French agricultural syndicates. Supported by the Socialists, though rather for tactical reasons than from real sympathy, they have attained to a very curious conception of trade-association, a mixture, namely, of co-operative society and trade union, having as its goal the definite emancipation of VOL. IX.-No. 33
the wage-earner from the slavery of capitalism. Government and its majority took fright at this prospect, and saw in the scheme a danger to society. Hence the prohibition enacted by the law against all business enterprise by a legalised trade union.
Such a union may, it is true, engage in certain specified kinds of business transactions, but only on behalf of the members of the union, and on the condition of reaping no emolument. This principle has. been applied in a very far-reaching degree: for instance, by the Act, unions are forbidden to open workshops for apprentices and for the unemployed, on the ground that such institutions must be permanent to exist at all. Moreover, unions may not devote funds to the purchase of shares in joint-stock companies, or even in co-operative societies, because this would afford a roundabout means of carrying on business!
Among other prohibitions imposed on unions, mention must be made of that against forming superannuation funds and sick benefit funds. Continental Conservatives have always regarded the amalgamation of funds (“confusion des caisses "') in English trade unions as one of the causes of their discretion, their moderation, and the prudence they show in the matter of strikes. In England itself it is just this moderation in the old unions that forms the ground of complaint on the part of the Democrats of New Unionism, who accuse the former of having transformed themselves into mere friendly societies. In Belgium we have seen the Collectivist member of Parliament, H. Denis, claiming on behalf of the Unions the right to amalgamate their funds, while a. Conservative Government has reduced the functions of unions to organising funds for purposes of strikes and relief of the unemployed.
Unions are still forbidden to mix themselves up in politics (faire de la politique), by which phrase is understood direct and deliberate connexion with any political party. But all unions founded by the Labour party are thus connected! They are for that party. a propagandist instrument for attaching union committees to itself, and members of the unions are required to adhere to its programme. But it was stated in the Chamber that it was not faire de la politique to require a candidate to engage himself to defend at every juncture religion, the family, and property, as is done in the unions founded by the Catholic party. As a result of this provision the Socialists have declared that the new Act would bring no advantage to them. The common law was good enough for the essentials of living, and left them greater freedom than the Act of 1898. Probably, then, it is only the Conservative unions who will be in favour of it.
The present Parliamentary session may be expected to give occasion for debates on economic subjects of no less importance. Two noteworthy bills are to be brought forward, the one on labour contracts, the other on employers' liability in case of accidents.
The former has been drawn up first by a special extra-parliamentary commission, then by the Conseil Supérieur du Travail, who devoted to it their third session (1895-6). The question is that of adding to the Code Napoléon a chapter that is lacking. In the civil code there are but two articles relating to the hire of domestics and of labourers, and one of them is repealed.
The chief aim of the bill is to establish a clear and exact definition of the rights and obligations of employer and employed. In essentials it is restricted to the sanctioning of usages which have become pretty general in practice, and to setting up presumptions, from which for that matter the parties concerned may derogate if they like. The bill has already been examined by the " central section" of the Chamber, and in their name a bulky Report has been laid on the table. Many modifications have been suggested, but for the most part they are merely formal, and hence it may be inferred that there will be no great difference of opinion in the Chamber itself. To give an idea of the bill, I submit the following brief notes :-It purports at the outset to be concerned only with contracts between a “chef d'entreprise" and “ouvriers,” in the narrow sense of the word ; that is to say, it is not concerned with domestic servants, apprentices, or clerks. It sets out the obligations of the contracting parties. Among those of the worker are the following :--To have regard to decorum and good manners during his engagement, and to abstain from everything which could injure his own safety and that of his associates, or of a third party. Among those of the employer are :-To see to it, with the assiduity of a good père de famille, and in spite of any agreement to the contrary, that the work contracted for is accomplished under suitable conditions of safety and salubrity; also to watch over the observance of good manners and decorum during the progress of the work. The bill assigns with much care the conditions under which the labour contract is to terminate. Among these the obligation to give notice of leaving when the contract has been entered into for an indefinite period is insisted upon. The normal term of notice is fixed at seven days, where there is no custom to the contrary. And there is an important provision, to the effect that this term and the obligation to give notice are valid for both employer and worker, in spite of any clause whatever to the contrary. In many industries this will be an innovation. For a serious cause (cause grave) the worker may be dismissed on the spot, and the master left at once. These serious causes are specified. On the part of the worker they consist, among others, in his being guilty of acts of dishonesty, or of violence, or of flagrant abuse against his chief employer or his staff; in his being guilty of immoral conduct during the progress of the work; in his betraying secrets respecting manufacture; in his jeopardising the security attending the work, or in gross offences against discipline. In the master's case the serious causes are of a corresponding nature. When one of the parties violates the contract without a just pretext, he becomes liable to the other party either for damages equal to the detriment caused, or for an indemnity not exceeding the half of the average wages corresponding to the number of working days still required.
Bankruptcy on the part of the employer is not regarded as an “act of God " dissolving the contract. Herein a privilege is secured for the worker which is in accordance with the jurisprudence of the day.
Finally, the bill extends very considerably the rights of the married woman and the minor in connexion with entering into a labour contract and with the enjoyment of the fruits of their labour.
There is no provision in the bill for compensation for accidents incurred during work, such as should logically have been included. The reason is that the Government, anticipating very great difficulties over this branch of the subject, determined to separate the questions, and is bringing forward a special bill on “compensation for damages arising from accidents of labour."
It would take too long to give the history of the bills relating to this matter which have been brought forward during the last several years in Belgium. According to present Belgian law, which is the Code Napoléon,—that is to say, according to common civil law,—the worker who becomes the victim of an accident while engaged in work, has only right to an indemnity if the accident is due to a fault of the master. He has to prove this fault. In default of proof, however just his claim may be, there is no compensation for him. Nor is there any if the accident is due to a cause other than the master's fault.
Through the influence of an eminent lawyer and ex-minister, M. Sainctelette, the legal opinion has for some years been gaining ground, that it should not be left to the worker to prove the master culpable, but that it is for the latter to demonstrate, before he is declared exempt, that the worker has himself been to blame. The legal profession, however, has not been won over to this view. Nevertheless, all the improvement that has been made in recent years has consisted in the ever-growing rigour shown to the masters by magistrates.
It had long come to be understood, even in the industrial world, that this state of things could not last. Public opinion was attracted by the German and Austrian systems of insurance. At one time it seemed to have been won over by them entirely. That is no longer the case at present. The famous International Congress of Labour Accidents and Social Insurance has served to mark, at each of its meetings, an ever-growing recoil, and its most recent sittings at Brussels have not exactly been such as to warrant Belgium launching on compulsory insurance. Many an economist, who once championed this reform, was there heard to put forward doubts and raise objections. And insurance companies have moved heaven and earth to wreck the plan of State insurance. Finally, recent legislation in England, Italy, and France has had the effect of diverting the inclinations of the Government from German methods.
The bill it has actually committed itself to is very different from that which the Upper Labour Council had prepared in 1895-6, and