Зображення сторінки
PDF

ful vein. I believe that society and industry may unload rapidly, if in due order; that there is something in the very name of liberty to which the heart of man, in whatever condition, responds; and that men who- believe in freedom are the safest guides in directing the progress of a people toward perfect freedom. I do not say that progress should be made slowly; but that it should be made by steps, by due gradation—and with something of preparation for each successive stage of the advance.

What then is the problem of Distribution?

We have seen that so far as differences exist in respect to the ability and opportunities of the several classes of industrial society to resort swiftly and surely to the best market, such difference must put at an economical disadvantage the class suffering the greatest relative obstruction, and confer corresponding advantages at their expense, upon the class or classes more favorably situated and better endowed. We have seen, moreover, that such disadvantages, be they great or small, at the outset, are cumulative; that the word "to him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even the little that he seemeth to have," is a law of universal operation and a very unharmonizing tendency; that economical forces, thus, instead of bringing redress, tend to crowd further down the classes who enter the struggle weakest.

If, then, the political economist finds the obstructions besetting the resort to the best market, existing in the present condition of industrial society, to be, in fact, serious, is he not bound to abandon a rule of conduct based on the assumption of a competition so general that it may for practical purposes be deemed universal, and to study critically the condition of the several classes of persons making claims on the product of industry with a view to ascertain what help can be brought from the outside, in the absence of any reparative virtue in industrial causes, to supply the deficiencies of competition % Failing to find relief in economical forces, he will look away to moral forces to achieve the emancipation of the economically oppressed classes, not by taking them out from under the operation of economical laws, for that is impossible, but by providing the conditions (intelligence, frugality and sobriety, political franchises and social ambitions) which will secure that mobility, that easy, quick and sure resort to market, which alone is needed to give scope and sway to the beneficent agencies of competition. Fortunately he may look with confidence to see this amelioration coincide with a continued increase in the productive power of labor, due to fresh advances in the arts and sciences, which will facilitate the upward movement.

Meanwhile the question whether any specific legislation in protection of the working classes (say, a factory act), or any measure of regulation and restraint adopted by an industrial class for their own benefit (say, a trades union rule), is likely to promote the desired object, should be treated, I suggest, on the following principle. Remembering that the one thing to be secured for the right distribution of wealth, is perfect competition, it should be inquired, whether that act or measure will, all things considered, on the whole and in the long run, increase or diminish the substantial, not the nominal, freedom of movement. If the effect would be to quicken the resort to market, then, no matter how far restrictive in form, it must be approved. But in considering the probable tendencies of such acts or measures, we should bear in mind how great are the liabilities to error and corruption in legislation ; how certain is the administration of the law to fall short of its intent; how much better most results are reached through social than through legal pressure; how destitute of all positive virtue, all healing efficacy, is restraint, its only office being to prevent waste; how frequently, too, good acts become, bad precedents.*

Yet these considerations, strong as they are, do not suffice to create doubt in my mind of the justification, on purely economical grounds, of laws for the registration of real estate, for the limitation or prohibition of truck, or for the regulation of the labor of children, of women, or even of men, in accordance with the dictates of the most advanced sanitary science. In Chapter XVIII, questions will arise respecting the practical influence of legislation upon the substantial freedom of industrial movement. These will be discussed with single reference to the principle of judgment here set up. And when the question of trades unions and strikes comes before us, it will be treated on the same grounds. I shall not deem the question to be decided against these agencies b#y the fact that they take the form of inhibition and restriction; but shall hold myself bound to inquire whether they do, in their time and place, increase or diminish the freedom and the fulness of the laborer's resort to market, bearing in mind that his practical ability to accomplish that resort, is made up of a material element, the means of transportation and of provisional maintenance, and of intellectual and moral elements, quite as essential.

1 "It is one tiling to repudiate the scientific authority of laissez faire, freedom of contract, and so forth : it is a totally different thing to set up the opposite principle of state control, the doctrine of paternal government. For my part, I accept neither one doctrine nor the other, and, as a practical rule, I hold laissez faire to be incomparably the safer guide. Only let us remember that it is a practical rule, and not a doctrine of science ; a rule in the main sound, but, like most other sound practical rules, liable to numerous exceptions; above all, a rule which must never for a moment be allowed to stand in the way of the candid consideration of any promising proposal of social or industrial reform,"—J. E. Cairnes' Essays in Pol. Econ., p. 251.

CHAPTER XI

THE MOBILITY OF LABOR.

We have seen that, 'with perfect competition, the working classes have ample security that they will, at all times, receive the greatest amount of wages which is consistent with the existing conditions of industry. The object of the present chapter is to ascertain, if we may, how far the actual mobility of labqr corresponds to that theoretical mobility which is involved in perfect competition.

And first, we note that the theoretical mobility of labor rests on the assumption that laborers will, in all things and at all times, pursue their economic interests; that they perfectly comprehend those interests, and will suffer nothing to stand in the way of their attainment. Of course the men of whom this can be predicated are not real human men. They are a class of beings devised for the purposes of economical reasoning in accordance with tthe definition given by Mr. Mill in his "Essays on some Unsettled Questions in Political Economy," as follows: "Political Economy is concerned with man solely as a being who desires to possess wealth, and who is capable of judging of the comparative efficacy of means to that end. . . It makes entire abstraction of every other human passion or motive, except those which may be regarded as perpetually antagonizing principles to the desire of wealth, namely, aversion to labor and desire of the present enjoyment of costly indulgences. These it takes, to a certain extent, into its calculations, because these do not merely, like other desires, occasionally conflict with the pursuit of wealth, but accompany it always as a drag or impediment, and are therefore inseparably mixed up in the consideration of it. Political Economy considers mankind as occupied solely 1 in acquiring and consuming wealth."

But thus to frame a system of economics upon the assumption of the perfect, unintermitted, unimpeded action of one, and that not always the most potential, of many human motives, is it not, .as Dr. Whewell has said, 2 as if the physical geographer should construct his scheme in recognition of gravitation alone, disregarding the power of cohesion in preserving the original structure of the earth's surface, and should thus reach the conclusion that all the mountains must at once run down into the valleys and the face of nature become a plain? In much the same way the economist of the & priori school disregards the original structure of industrial society, the separation of classes and nations, the obstructions offered by differences of race, religion and speech,3 the effects of strangeness and appre

1 If Mr. Mill had said, " Political economy considers mankind solely as occupied in acquiring and consuming wealth," the statement would have been unexceptionable. But if " Political economy considers mankind as occupied solely in acquiring and consuming wealth," Political economy considers mankind most falsely; and the results in economical reasoning of that unwarranted assumption have been most mischievous. Political economy is not bound to consider mankind so far as they are occupied in anything else than in acquiring and consuming wealth ; but it is bound in simple honesty not to consider them as occupied in acquiring and consuming wealth when they are not, and to a degree they are not.

2 Introduction to R. Jones' Pol. Econ.

3 The effects of speech-differences in preventing the easy and rapid flow of labor are clearly to be seen in France and Scotland. The greater number of the Bas Bretons cannot speak or understand French, and are hence confined more closely to their native fields, than the people of any other section. [Report of H. B. M. Consul Clipperton, 1872, p. 160.]

The commissioners of the Scotch Census of 1871 found the influ

« НазадПродовжити »