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proposition which meets us in the field of political economy oftener than this—that there cannot be two prices in the same market. Such, undoubtedly, is the natural effect of unimpeded competition ; yet every one knows that there are, very often, two prices in the same market. Not only are there in every large town, and in almost every trade, cheap shops and dear shops, but the same shop often sells the same article at different prices to different customers; and, as a general rule, each retailer adapts his scale of prices to the class of customers whom he expects. The wholesale trade, in the great articles of commerce, is really under the dominion of competition. There, the buyers as well as sellers are traders or manufacturers, and their purchases are not influenced by indolence or vulgar finery, but are business transactions. In the wholesale markets, therefore, it is true as a general proposition, that there are not two prices at one time for the same thing; there is at each time and place a market price, which can be quoted in a price current. But retail price, the price paid by the actual consumer, seems to feel very slowly and imperfectly the effect of competition ; and when competition does exist, it often, instead of lowering prices, merely divides the gains of the high price among a greater number of dealers. Hence it is that, of the price paid by the consumer, so large a proportion is absorbed by the gains of retailers; and any one who inquires into the amount which reaches the hands of those who made the things he buys, will often be astonished at its smallness. When indeed the market, being that of a great city, holds out a sufficient inducement to large capitalists to engage in retail operations, it is generally found a better speculation to attract a large business by underselling others, than merely to divide the field of employment with them. This influence of competition is making itself felt more and more through the principal branches of retail trade in the large towns; and the rapidity and cheapness of transport, by
making consumers less dependent on the dealers in their immediate neighborhood, are tending to assimilate more and more the whole country to a large town; but hitherto it is only in the great centres of business that retail transactions have been chiefly, or even much, determined, by competition. Elsewhere it rather acts, when it acts at all, as an occasional disturbing influence; the habitual regulator is custom, modified from time to time by notions existing in the minds of purchasers and sellers, of some kind of equity or justice.
In many trades the terms on which business is done are a matter of positive arrangement among the trade, who use the means they always possess of making the situation of any member of the body who departs from its fixed customs, inconvenient or disagreeable. It is well known that the bookselling trade is one of these, and that notwithstanding the active spirit of rivalry in the trade, competition does not produce its natural effect in breaking down rhe trade rules. All professional remuneration is regulated by custom. The fees of physicians, surgeons, and barristers, the charges of attorneys, are nearly invariable. Not certainly for want of abundant competition in those professions, but because the competition operates by diminishing each competitor's chance of fees, not by lowering the fees themselves.
Since custom stands its ground against competition to so considerable an extent, even where from the multitude of competitors and the general energy in the pursuit of gain, the spirit of competition is strongest, we may be sure that this is much more the case where people are content with smaller gains, and estimate their pecuniary interest at a lower rate when balanced against their ease or their pleasure. I believe it will often be found, in Continental Europe, that prices and charges, of some or of all sorts, are much higher in some places than in others not far distant, without its being possible to assign any other cause than that it has
always been so; the customers are used to it, and acquiesce in it. An enterprising competitor, with sufficient capital, might force down the charges, and make his fortune during the process; but there are no enterprising competitors; those who have capital prefer to leave it where it is, or to make less profit by it in a more quiet way.
These observations must be received as a general correction, to be applied whenever relevant, whether expressly mentioned or not, to the conclusions contained in the subsequent portions of this treatise. Our reasonings must, in general, proceed as if the known and natural effects of competition were actually produced by it, in all cases in which it is not restrained by some positive obstacle. Where competition, though free to exist, does not exist, or where it exists, but has its natural consequences overruled by any other agency, the conclusions will fail more or less of being applicable. To escape error, we ought, in applying the conclusions of political economy to the actual affairs of life, to consider not only what will happen supposing the maximum of competition, but how far the result will be effected if competition falls short of the maximum.
The states of economical relation which stand first in order, to be discussed and appreciated, are those in which competition has no part, the arbiter of transactions being either brute force or established usage. These will be the subject of the next four chapters. VOL. I.
s 1. Among the forms which society assumes under the influence of the institution of property, there are, as I have already remarked, two, otherwise of a widely dissimilar character, but resembling in this, that the ownership of the land, the labor, and the capital, is in the same hands. One of these cases is that of slavery, the other is that of peasant proprietors. In the one, the land-owner owns the labor, in the other the laborer owns the land. We begin with the first.
In this system all the produce belongs to the landlord. The food and other necessaries of his laborers are part of his expenses. The laborers possess nothing but what he thinks fit to give them, and until he thinks fit to take it back; and they work as hard as he chooses, or is able to compel them. Their wretchedness is only limited by his humanity, or his “enlightened self-interest." With the first consideration, we have on the present occasion nothing to do. What the second in so detestable a constitution of society may dictate, depends on the facilities for importing fresh slaves. If full-grown able-bodied slaves can be procured in sufficient numbers, and imported at a moderate expense, enlightened self-interest will recommend working the slaves to death, and replacing them by importation, in preference to the slow and expensive process of breeding them. Nor are the slave-owners generally backward in learning this lesson. It is notorious that such was the practice in our own slave colonies, while the slave trade was legal ; and it is said to be so still in Cuba, and in those
States of the American Union which receive a regular supply of negroes from other States.
When, as among the ancients, the slave market could only be supplied by captives either taken in war, or kidnapped from thinly-scattered tribes on the remote confines of the known world, it was generally more profitable to keep up the number by breeding, which necessitates a far better treatment of them; and for this reason, joined with several others, the condition of slaves, notwithstanding occasional enormities, was probably much less bad in the ancient world, than in the colonies of modern nations. The Helots are usually cited as the type of the most hideous form of personal slavery, but with how little truth, appears from the fact, that they were regularly armed (though not with the panoply of the hoplite) and formed an integral part of the military strength of the state. They were doubtless an inferior and degraded caste ; but their slavery seems to have been one of the least onerous varieties of serfdom. Slavery appears in far more frightful colors among the Romans, during the period in which the Roman aristocracy was gorging itself with the plunder of a newlyconquered world. The Romans were a cruel people, and the worthless nobles sported with the lives of their myriads of slaves with the same reckless prodigality with which they squandered any other part of their ill-acquired possessions. Yet, slavery is divested of one of its worst features when it is compatible with hope; enfranchisement was easy and common; enfranchised slaves obtained at once the full rights of citizens, and instances were frequent of their acquiring not only riches, but latterly even honors. By the progress of milder legislation under the emperors, much of the protection of law was thrown round the slave, he became capable of possessing property, and the evil altogether assumed a considerably gentler aspect.
Until, however, slavery assumes the mitigated form of