« НазадПродовжити »
in which a merchant or a manufacturer, without being precisely an inventor, has undeniable claims to the management of an undertaking, from the possession of qualities peculiarly calculated to promote its success. So great, indeed,” continues M. Coquelin, “is the necessity, in many cases, for the limited partnership, that it is difficult to conceive how we could dispense with or replace it: ” and in reference to his own country he is probably in the right. Where there is so great a readiness as in England, on the part of the public, to form joint-stock associations, even without the encouragement of a limitation of responsibility; commandite partnership, though its prohibition is in principle quite indefensible, cannot be deemed to be, in a merely economical point of view, of the imperative necessity which M. Coquelin ascribes to it. Yet the inconveniences are not small, which arise indirectly from those provisions of the law by which every one who shares in the profits of a concern is subject to the full liabilities of an unlimited partnership. It is impossible to say how many or what useful modes of combination are rendered impracticable by this state of the law. It is sufficient for its condemnation that, unless in some way relaxed, it is inconsistent with the payment of wages in part by a percentage on profits; in other words, the association of the operatives as virtual partners with the capitalist. It is, above all, with reference to the improvement and elevation of the working classes that complete freedom in the conditions of partnership is indispensable. Combinations such as the associations of workpeople, described in a former chapter, are the most powerful means of effecting the social emancipation of the labourers through their own moral qualities. Nor is the liberty of association important solely for its examples of success, but fully as much so for the sake of attempts which would not succeed; but by their failure would give instruction more impressive than can be afforded by anything short of actual experience. Every theory of social improvement, the worth of which is capable of being brought to an experimental test, should be permitted, and even encouraged, to submit itself to that test. From such experiments the active portion of the working classes would derive lessons which they would be slow to learn from the teaching of persons supposed to have interests and prejudices adverse to their good; would obtain the means of correcting at no cost to society, what is now erroneous in their notions of the means of establishing their independence; and of discovering the conditions, moral, intellectual, and industrial, which are indispensably necessary for effecting without injustice, or for effecting at all, the social regeneration they aspire to.” The French law of partnership is superior to the English in permitting commandite; and superior, in having no such unmanageable instrument as the Court of Chancery, all cases arising from commercial transactions being adjudicated in a comparatively cheap and expeditious manner by a tribunal of merchants. In other respects the French system is far worse than the English. A joint-stock company with limited responsibility cannot be formed without the express authorization of the department of government calléd the Conseil d’Etat, a body of administrators, generally entire strangers to industrial transactions, who have no interest in promoting enterprises, and are apt to think that the purpose of their institution is to restrain them; whose consent cannot in any case be obtained without an amount of time and labour which is a very serious hindrance to the commencement of an enterprise, while the extreme uncertainty of obtaining that consent at all is a great discouragement to capitalists who would be willing to subscribe. In regard to joint-stock companies without limitation of responsibility, which in England exist in such numbers and are formed with such facility, these associations cannot, in France, exist at all ; for, in cases of unlimited partnership, the French law does not permit the division of the capital into transferable shares. The best existing laws of partnership appear to be those of the New England States. According to Mr. Carey,” “nowhere is association so little trammelled by regulations as in New England; the consequence of which is, that it is carried to a greater extent there, and particularly in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, than in any other part of the world. In these states, the soil is covered with compagnies anonymes—chartered companies—for almost every conceivable purpose. Every town is a corporation for the management of its roads, bridges, and schools; which are, therefore, under the direct control of those who pay for them, and are consequently well managed. Academies and churches, lyceums and libraries, saving-fund societies, and trust companies, exist in numbers proportioned to the wants of the people, and all are corporations. Every district has its local bank, of a size to suit its wants, the stock of which is owned by the small capitalists of the neighborhood, and managed by themselves; the consequence of which is, that in no part of the world is the system of banking so perfect —so little liable to vibration in the amount of loans—the necessary effect of which is, that in none is the value of property so little affected by changes in the amount or value of the currency resulting from the movements of their own banking institutions. In the two states to which we have particularly referred, they are almost two hundred in number. Massachusetts, alone, offers to our view fifty-three insurance offices, of various forms, scattered through the state, and all incorporated. Factories are incorporated, and are owned in shares; and every one that has any part in the management of their concerns, from the purchase of the raw material to the sale of the manufactured article, is a part owner; while every one employed in them has a prospect of becoming one, by the use of prudence, exertion, and economy. Charitable associations exist in large numbers, and all are incorporated. Fishing vessels are owned in shares by those who navigate them ; and the sailors of a whaling ship depend in a great degree, if not altogether, upon the success of the voyage for their compensation. Every master of a vessel trading in the Southern Ocean is a part owner, and the interest he possesses is a strong inducement to exertion and economy, by aid of which the people of New England are rapidly driving out the competition of other nations for the trade of that part of the world. Wherever settled, they exhibit the same tendency to combination of action. In New York they are the chief owners of the lines of packet ships, which are divided into shares, owned by the shipbuilders, the merchants, the master, and the mates; which last generally acquire the means of becoming themselves masters, and to this is due their great success. The system is the most perfectly democratic of any in the world. It affords to every labourer, every sailor, every operative, male or female, the prospect of advance. ment; and its results are precisely such as we should have reason to expect. In no part of the world are talent, industry, and prudence, so certain to be largely rewarded.”
* By an act of the year 1852, called the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, for which the nation is indebted to the public-spirited exertions of Mr. Slaney, industrial associations of working people are admitted to the statutory privileges of Friendly Societies. This not only exempts them from the formalities applicable to joint-stock companies, but provides for the settlement of disputes among the partners without recourse to the Court of Chancery. There are still some defects in the provisions of this Act, which hamper the proceedings of the Societies in several respects; as is pointed out in the Almanack of the Roch. dale Equitable Pioneers for 1861.
The cases of insolvency and fraud on the part of chartered companies in America, which have caused so much loss and so much scandal in Europe, did not occur in the part of the Union to which this extract refers, but in the other States, in which the right of association is much more fettered by legal restrictions, and in which, accordingly, joint-stock associations are not comparable in number or variety to those of New England. Mr. Carey adds, “A careful examination of the systems of the several states, can scarcely, we think, fail to convince the reader of the advan.
tage resulting from permitting men to determine among themselves the terms upon which they will associate, and allowing the associations that may be formed to contract with the public as to the terms upon which they will trade together, whether of the limited or unlimited liability of the partners;” and I concur in thinking that to this conclusion, science and legislation must come.
§ 8. I proceed to the subject of Insolvency Laws.
Good laws on this subject are important, first and principally, on the score of public morals; which are on no point more under the influence of the law, for good and evil, than in a matter belonging so pre-eminently to the province of law as the preservation of pecuniary integrity. But the subject is also, in a merely economical point of view, of great importance. First, because the economical wellbeing of a people, and of mankind, depends in an especial manner upon their being able to trust each other's engagements. Secondly, because one of the risks, or expenses, of industrial operations is the risk or expense of what are commonly called bad debts, and every saving which can be effected in this liability is a diminution of cost of production; by dispensing with an item of outlay which in no way conduces to the desired end, and which must be paid for either by the consumer of the commodity, or from the general profits of capital, according as the burden is peculiar or general.
The laws and practice of nations on this subject have almost always been in extremes. The ancient laws of most countries were all severity to the debtor. They invested the creditor with a power of coercion, more or less tyrannical, which he might use against his insolvent debtor, either to extort the surrender of hidden property, or to obtain satisfaction of a vindictive character, which might console him for the non-payment of the debt. This arbitrary power has extended, in some countries, to making the insolvent debtor serve the creditor as his slave : in which plan there were at