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We have seen that cost of production is composed of all the compensations given for services rendered to consumers, that is for providing materials and with them making the commodities which they require and purchase. Amongst these elements of cost, wages and profits occupy prominent places. We are thus brought to inquiring into the nature of production and the instruments by which it is accomplished.
Producing or making is achieved by the use of man's faculties, bodily and mental; that is by labour. To make or, more broadly, to perform a service, is to labour; and this is an act of exertion of human powers. In every case there must be an effort of body. The thought of the captain who directs the movements of the man at the wheel cannot be communicated without moving his lips or his hands. The inventor who multiplies wealth by his genius must speak or write. But mind is seldom if, indeed, it is ever absent, even in the performance of mechanical motions; and it plays an enormous part in the productiveness of the labourer. Man both possesses in himself, and is surrounded by a physical world full of endless capabilities of yielding useful results, that is, results which gratify desire. The intelligence which guides labour, from the knowledge how to make and handle a spade to science over all its vast range, is the mighty power bestowed on man for the creation of the innumerable products which are summed up in the word civilisation. Thought is the commanding force in transforming the physical elements of the world into things fitted to satisfy human desire. One conclusion follows from this truth. As thought takes a share in all labour, to think in producing is to labour. Even when no movement of the body is employed, the thought of the engineer, the chemist, the designer of forms, the inventor of machines, even before word is spoken or written, is labour. Common use has appropriated the term labourers to those who are known as workmen, and this usage must be respected by a Political Economy whose sphere is the every-day life of men. But it is essential to recognise that those who contribute thought to labour are as real labourers as those who contribute bodily strength and action. The thought which produced the steam engine, the compass, and the electric telegraph is amongst the greatest of forces that ever laboured to create wealth and satisfactions for mankind.
Labour, it is obvious, varies prodigiously in severity and productiveness. The hodman who climbs ladders with bricks upon his head performs very hard work, yet the transfer of bricks from the ground to the scaffolding is, though indispensable, in itself a very small service. The great chemist who carries on experiments in his laboratory may not be heavily taxed with bodily effort, yet he may make a discovery laden with infinite utility. Economists have pushed the distinctions between labourers still further; they have raised
the direct production of those things called wealth into a standard, and have divided labourers into productive and unproductive, according as they belong to this standard or not. Mr Fawcett, following Mr Mill, writes: "It will be found, as observed by Mr Mill, that labour creates utilities fixed and embodied in material objects." In Mr Mill's own words: "Labour is creative of utilities as productive labour is labour productive of wealth." Now wealth is nothing else but an instrument, a tool to effect something, a mere machine. Bread is wealth, but it is only an instrument for producing an effect on the body, for sustaining life. So a beautiful garden, a splendid building, or a fine hunter; they are machines or contrivances for creating effects on the eye or the feelings. They are instruments, not the final results aimed at; they are, in the strictest sense, utilities, On the other hand, pleasures, gratifications which only exist whilst being enjoyed, and services which give satisfaction only whilst being performed, are not wealth; they are the ends, the objects, which the wealth was procured to obtain. Mr Mill, therefore, limits the expression productive to a labourer who makes an instrument, a machine which can impart a pleasure or satisfy a desire. It must be material and susceptible of accumulation. The labour which uses the instrument, and accomplishes the end designed,—the pleasure or the satisfaction of a want—is for him unproductive.
But he is willing to regard labourers who impart qualities to human beings which render them capable of performing services to others or to themselves as productive. The schoolmaster, the physician, the teachers of bodily exercises, the trainers who develope skill in others, he is willing to regard as productive. The persons whom they instruct are considered to be wealth; they are tools or instruments possessing utility by virtue of the qualities developed and embodied in them by the teachers. The teachers create tools, those tools being men: the skilled men are reckoned as wealth. But those who render directly the service for which the wealth was made, Mr Mill classes as unproductive. The judge, the policeman, the army and navy, the civil and governmental service, except so far as they improve the national mind, and so create an improved instrument for producing wealth, are consequently unproductive.
This classification, it must be said, is arbitrary, artificial, and useless. Why the maker of a flute should be called a productive labourer, but the man who plays upon it unproductive, is inconceivable upon any sound principle. They both equally work for the same common purpose—to give a pleasure to the ears. They may both labour equally hard, the result is common to both; and why the use of the lips and fingers in playing may not be regarded as instrumental as the making of the flute it is quite impossible to imagine. But why should an instrument, a substance of material wealth, be taken into account at all? Why is not the beautiful singer as truly a productive labourer as the flutemaker? What has the use or non-use of a piece of wealth called an instrument to do with the matter? The effect of the sound on the ear is the one and the same end aimed at by both processes. To this Mr Mill replies, that the distinction is important only as classification; and that it is desirable to distinguish as a separate group those who make material and accumulated wealth, in the common sense of the word, and those who reach the object aimed at directly, but make nothing.
He supports this assertion by appealing to the popular understanding that producers are makers of wealth. But such a reason furnishes no solid motive for attaching any value to such a classification of labourers and non-labourers. The common world has no need of Political Economists to point out that some people manufacture wealth and. others do not; that a footman in a great house is something very different from a carpenter or a blacksmith. On the other hand such a classification strongly contradicts public feeling in describing a judge who maintains order, an army which enables workmen to labour in peace, a Cabinet Minister who directs the national policy of his country, as unproductive labourers. Mr Mill may protest, but the world will impute a stigma to such an epithet, and it is in the highest degree important to teach mankind the great truth that the hard-working judge, the oftensleepless Minister, the enlisted but idle, and always most efficient when idle, soldier and sailor, are toiling and labouring in conferring inestimable benefits on society. The true view is that of Mr M'Culloch, M. Say, and others: — whoever works in conferring a service on others is a productive labourer. He reaches the end of all wealth and all action directly—the imparting of a satisfaction or an enjoyment. Whether he does this with or without an instrument called wealth is utterly immaterial. He produces the very object intended: he is a producer and is a productive labourer.
Mr Mill himself is obliged to admit that "the unpro