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it is in most places more profitable than the greater part of common trades. The most detestable of all employments, that of public executioner, is, in proportion to the quantity of work done, better paid than any common trade whatever."
One of the causes which make hand-loom weavers cling to their occupation in spite of the scanty remuneration which it now yields, is said to be a peculiar attractiveness, arising from the freedom of action which it allows to the workman. “He can play or idle,” says a recent authority,* “as feeling or inclination lead him; rise early or late, apply himself assiduously or carelessly, as he pleases, and work up at any time, by increased exertion, hours previously sacrificed to indulgence or recreation. There is scarcely another condition of any portion of our working population thus free from external control. The factory operative is not only mulcted his wages for absence, but, if of frequent occurrence, discharged altogether from his employment. The bricklayer, the carpenter, the painter, the joiner, the stonemason, the outdoor laborer, have each their appointed daily hours of labor, a disregard of which would lead to the same result.” Accordingly, “the weaver will stand by his loom while it will enable him to exist, however miserably; and many, induced temporarily to quit it, have returned to it again, when work was to be had.”
There is no difficulty in understanding the operative principle in all these cases. If, with complete freedom of competition, labor of different degrees of desirableness were paid alike, competitors would crowd into the more attractive employments, and desert the less eligible, thus lowering wages in the first, and raising them in the second, until there would be such a difference of reward as to balance in common estimation the difference of eligibility. Under the
* Mr. Muggeridge's Report to the Hand-Loom Weavers’ Inquiry Commission. VOL. 1.
unobstructed influence of competition, wages tend to adjust themselves in such a manner, that the situation and prospects of the laborers in all employments shall be, in the general estimation, as nearly as possible on a par.
“Employment is much more constant," continues Adam Smith, “in some trades than in others. In the greater part of manufactories, a journeyman may be pretty sure of employment almost every day in the year that he is able to work,” (the interruptions of business arising from overstocked markets, or from a suspension of demand, or from a commercial crisis, must be excepted.) “A mason or bricklayer, on the contrary, can work neither in hard frost nor in foul weather, and his employment at all other times
depends upon the occasional calls of his customers. He is - liable, in consequence, to be frequently without any. What he earns, therefore, while he is employed, must not only maintain him while he is idle, but make him some compensation for those anxious and desponding moments which the thought of so precarious a situation must sometimes occasion. When the computed earnings of the greater part of manufacturers, accordingly, are nearly upon a level with the day wages of common laborers, those of masons and bricklayers are generally from one half more to double those wages. No species of skilled labor, however, seems more easy to learn than that of masons and bricklayers.
The high wages of those workmen, therefore, are not so much the recompense of their skill, as the compensation for the inconstancy of their employment.
“When the inconstancy of the employment is combined with the hardship, disagreeableness, and dirtiness of the work, it sometimes raises the wages of the most common labor above those of the most skilful artificers. A collier working by the piece is supposed at Newcastle to earn commonly about double, and in many parts of Scotland about three times, the wages of common labor. His high wages arise altogether from the hardship, disagreeableness, and dirtiness of his work. His employment may, upon most occasions, be as constant as he pleases. The coal-heavers in London exercise a trade in which hardship, dirtiness, and disagreeableness, almost equal that of colliers; and from the unavoidable irregularity in the arrivals of coal ships, the employment of the greater part of them is necessarily very inconstant. If colliers, therefore, commonly can earn double and triple the wages of common labor, it ought not to seem unreasonable that coal-heavers should sometimes earn four or five times those wages. In the inquiry made into their condition a few years ago, it was found that at the rate at which they were then paid, they could earn about four times the wages of common labor in London. How extravagant soever these earnings may appear, if they were more than sufficient to compensate all the disagreeable circumstances of the business, there would soon be so great a number of competitors as, in a trade which has no exclusive privilege, would quickly reduce them to a lower state."
One of the points best illustrated by Adam Smith, is the influence exercised on the remuneration of an employment by the uncertainty of success in it. If the chances are great of total failure, the reward in case of success must be sufficient to make up, in the general estimation, for those adverse chances. But, owing to another principle of human nature, if the reward comes in the shape of a few great prizes, it usually attracts competitors in such numbers, that the average remuneration may be reduced not only to zero, but even to a negative quantity. The success of lotteries proves that this is possible ; since the aggregate body of adventurers in lotteries necessarily lose, otherwise the undertakers could not gain. The case of certain professions is considered by Adam Smith to be similar. “ The probability that any particular person shall ever be qualified
for the employment to which he is educated, is very different in different occupations. In the greater part of mechanic trades, success is almost certain, but very uncertain in the liberal professions. Put your son apprentice to a shoemaker, there is little doubt of his learning to make a pair of shoes; but send him to study the law, 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 near 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. Compute in any particular place what is likely to be annually gained, and what is likely to be annually spent, by all the different workmen in any common trade, such as that of shoemakers or weavers, and you will find that the former sum will generally exceed the latter. But make the same computation with regard to all the counsellors and students of law, in all the different inns of court, and you will find that their annual gains bear but a small proportion to their annual expense, even though you rate the former as high, and the latter as low, as can well be done.”
Whether this is true in our own day, when the gains of the few are incomparably greater than in the time of Adam Smith, but also the unsuccessful aspirants much more numerous, those who have the appropriate information must decide. It does not, however, seem to be sufficiently considered by Adam Smith, that the prizes which he speaks
of, comprise not the fees of counsel only, but the places of emolument and honor to which their profession gives access, together with the coveted distinction of a conspicuous position in the public eye.
Even where there are no great prizes, the mere love of excitement is sometimes enough to cause an adventurous employment to be overstocked. This is apparent “in the readiness of the common people to enlist as soldiers or to go to sea. . ... The dangers and hair-breadth escapes of a life of adventures, instead of disheartening young people, seem frequently to recommend a trade to them. A tender mother, among the inferior ranks of people, is often afraid to send her son to school at a sea-port town, lest the sight of the ships and the conversation and adventures of the sailors should entice him to go to sea. The distant prospect of hazards, from which we can hope to extricate ourselves by courage and address, is not disagreeable to us, and does not raise the wages of labor in any employment. It is otherwise with those in which courage and address can be of no avail. In trades which are known to be very unwholesome, the wages of labor are always remarkably high. Unwholesomeness is a species of disagreeableness, and its effects upon the wages of labor are to be ranked under that general head.”
$ 2. All these are cases in which inequality of remuneration is necessary to produce equality of attractiveness, and are examples of the equalizing effect of free competition. The following are cases of real inequality, and arise from a different principle. " The wages of labor vary according to the small or great trust which must be reposed in the workmen. The wages of goldsmiths and jewellers are everywhere superior to those of many other workmen, not only of equal but of much superior ingenuity; on account of the precious materials with which they are