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THE WAGES CLASS.
It has been said that, by most systematic writers on political economy, the wages class is taken as coincident with the labor class. In the opening chapter I briefly indicated five important classes thus brought together under a single title. In the present chapter it is proposed to show that of the five, but two can with any propriety be said to receive wages; and of these two, it is proposed, though not with the same degree of assurance, to exclude one, leaving but a single class as really the recipient of wages. It is hoped that, by strictly defining the wages class, and setting the other classes thus distinguished in their true relations to it, something may be added to the understanding of the law of wages.
To begin: The wages class includes only the employed. It is not necessary to spend time in proving that by etymology, at once, and popular usage, the word is restricted to the remuneration paid by one p'erson to another. Those who give the word a wider significance in political economy are bound to justify themselves in doing so, b}7 showing that something is gained, in clearness, thereby. But my reason for desiring to confine the word as has been proposed, in a treatise on wages, is better than a linguistic one. It is that the very object of the inquiry is to ascertain the laws which govern the condition of those persons who, having no command of the agencies and instrumentalities of production, are obliged to seek employmerit and the means of subsistence at the hands of others. It is the condition of this class that the philanthropist is especially interested in, because this is preeminently the dependent class. The economist should be equally interested because just here comes the real strain in the distribution of the products of industry. How, for example, if we group employer and employed in one great " wages5' class, can we properly reach the subjects of strikes and trades unions? Are we not, most unnecessarily and in most undeserved contempt of popular speech, slurring over and obliterating the natural and obvious distinction which points us the way to the right discussion of some of- the most important questions of distribution, wrhen we speak of the wages of a cotton manufacturer; wages stipulated by no one, due from no one, and, if paid at all, paid by the accidental consumer of the product?
If employers do not belong in the wages class, no more do those who are neither employers nor employed; who having command of the agencies and instrumentalities of production sufficient for their owrn labor, take a most important part, indeed, in the production of wealth ; but, owning the entire product, have no concern whatever with the distribution of wealth, and hence nothing to do with wages.
We thus exclude the whole body of peasant proprietors, wTho in many countries constitute the bulk of the population, and are, taking the whole world together, undoubtedly more numerous than any other single class which we shall have occasion to characterize. These persons, cultivating their own land with their own labor only, or perhaps with that of their wives and minor children (having no separate rights or interests recognized by the law of the land, and hence capable of making no demand, as laborers, for any portion of the product), create in the aggregate a vast amount of wealth, but it is wealth not distributed. Each such peasant proprietor owns the entire product of his land (subject only to the claims of the government for contribution, which claims, being legal and not economica in their nature, cannot be recognized in an economical treatise), to be consumed for the subsistence of himself and family and the increase of his own stock, or to be exchanged at his pleasure for the products of others. Such wealth, therefore, is not subject to distribution, and hence we clearly must exclude this body of laborers from the wages class.
In England the peasant proprietor does not exist. Forty years ago Prof. Jones1 wrote "In parts of England and Wales, though the race is fast vanishing, there may be seen specimens of our first division of laborers, unhired by any one, occupiers of the soil, tilling it with their own hands." 2
The "specimens" have by this time all disappeared except possibly from Westmoreland and Cumberland, counties characterized by comparatively small estates. But while the condition of large landed properties, cultivated by hired agricultural laborers, is almost universal in England and Scotland, one cannot cross the narrow seas in any direction without coming upon a condition very different.3 To the west, Ireland furnishes an example of which we shall speak in connection with another class of producers; while, before one reaches the coast of France, he finds in the "Channel Islands," a part of the British empire but retaining their own laws regulating the descent of landed property, a body of peasant proprietors who have furnished the advocates of that system of cultivation with some of their most valued illustrations. In France the principle of "partible succession," introduced by the Revolution, has created a vast number of small properties, estimated at between four and five and a half millions.
i « Whose Essay on the distribution of Wealth (or rather Rent) is a copious repertory of valuable facts on the landed tenure of different countries/'—J. S. Mill, Pol. Econ., I. 297.
2 Pol. Econ., p. 15.
3 u You have no other peasantry like that of England. You have no other country in which it is entirely divorced from the land. There is no other country in the world where you will not find men turning up the furrow in their own freehold."—Cobden, Speeches, II, 116.
"In Germany a revolution of the same nature, though not of the same magnitude, has been effected in a more regular manner. The benefits of landed property have been imparted progressively to a numerous and prosperous class of cultivators by the abolition of feudal superiorities, by the restriction of entails and special destination of property, by the deliberate division of estates between the landlord and the occupier, on a basis, if not always equitable to the former, at least patriotic in its motives and happy in its results, and by the operation of rules of succession reproducing in some instances and in others adopting with various modifications, the maxims of the French Code.4"
In Italy, under the principle of partible succession, somewhat modified, and through sale of church lands and the dismemberment of feudal estates subject to communal rights; and in Russia, through the emancipation of the serfs and their investiture with portions of the estates to which they formerly belonged, we have a large and increasing portion of the soil cultivated by its owners, working for themselves and by themselves, receiving the whole produce of the soil, subject only to deduction through taxation.
But it is not only the peasant proprietor of Europe, the "farmer" of America, who must be excluded from the wages class on the ground that he is not dependent on another for employment. In the same class economically, so far as the principles of distribution are concerned, are large bodies of mechanical laborers, artisans, wTho having possession of the agencies and instrumentalities of pro
4 Address of Lord Napier and Ettrick. Soc. Sc. Transactions, 1872. duction, are enabled to produce wealth by their own labor, without the consent of any person, the product being all their own and hence not subject to distribution, though presumably in great part exchanged for the products, especially the agricultural products, of others. These persons, again, receive no wages, are not hired. They are no more the employed than they are the employers; indeed they are neither. Distribution has nothing to do with them.
Adam Smith recognized this class. "It sometimes happens," he says, "that a single independent workman has stock enough both to purchase the materials of his work and to maintain himself till it be completed. He is both master and workman, and enjoys the whole produce of his labor.1
I do not, for the present, say that the condition of this class is better or worse than that of the wages class, but only that the two classes stand in different economical relations, and should be treated separately. The self-employed laborer has still to seek his market, and if the market fail him he may suffer or starve like the wage laborer; but it is a market for his product that he seeks, not for his labor; and in the pregnant fact that he has possession of the agencies and instrumentalities of production, and may work in his place without the leave or help of any, is found an abundant reason for preserving the distinction expressed above.
Closely allied to the peasant proprietor in many respect economically, though differing widely in others, and not the less distinctly to be excluded from the wages class, are those tenants, whether known as ryots in Asia or metayers in Europe, who have, whether by law or by imperative custom, a recognized right to the cultivation of soil which they do not own, upon the payment of a fixed share
1 Wealth of Nations, I. 69.