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the workman's present labour but the labour he has spent in gaining his skill, and we have to allow for inconstant employment and any risks the employment has to face ; we might, after all allowances,' discover that the average was not higher for the whole working life than it is for unskilled labour. Nor is it a fatal objection that the author seems to consider only manual labour ; the principle may equally apply to intellectual; the strain of it is the same now as it was 300 years ago; the alteration in the human body and brain has, at least in comparison with the alteration in the materials and processes of industry, been inappreciable.
But a more serious objection is that “ value" is not really used by Adam Smith in the same sense throughout his reasoning on this subject. When he says that • Equal quantities of labour at all times and places may be said to be of equal value to the labourer ; in his ordinary state of health, strength, and spirits, in the ordinary degree of his skill and dexterity, he must always lay down the same portion of his ease, his liberty, and his happiness,"
"2_it is clearly not value in exchange that is meant, but value in use ; and, according to Adam Smith's own account, the two kinds of value have no fixed relation to each other; and the one can be no measure of the other. There was therefore every need for his own admission that most people will employ as their measure of value some “other commodity” than labour, such a measure as money or corn being a “palpable object,” while labour is really in this connection abstract notion, which, though it can be made sufficiently intelligible, is not altogether so natural and obvious." 3
Adam Smith, in fact, had put himself in the position of working men, and had pronounced that wealth changed and on the whole man did not, and that in toil, as in pleasure,“ human beings were more nearly equal than was usually supposed. He then descended into the market and found that labour was a "commodity" like others. Once upon a time “in the original state of things," the “natural wages” of labour were simply the produce of labour ; but the appropriation of land and the accumulation of capital have made the labourer dependent on landlords and capitalists; and, though it is “the annual labour" of the society that supplies it with its consumable wealth, many share in the latter who have not laboured for it. Working men have as a rule no considerable property, and are “under the necessity of submitting for the sake of present subsistence" to the terms offered them by the employers. These terms are favourable or not, according as their numbers are small or great in comparison with the “funds destined for the payment of wages.”“The demand for men, like that for any other commodity, necessarily regulates the production of men.”? He does not however say that it does so in the same degree or same way; and the chapter from which these extracts are taken is largely devoted to a proof that wages are above bare necessaries, and have been rising with national prosperity. It is clear, therefore, that he does not consider the production of men to be in all points similar to the production of material goods. There is an analogy on certain points, as there must always be where we are dealing with quantities in relation to each other. For the purpose in hand the labourers are similar units in relation to similar material goods. But our author does not forget that they are human beings, members of a society of men, and therefore an end in themselves as well as means to one another. “Servants, labourers, and workmen of different kinds make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.” He here contradicts his
1 See W. of N., I. x. ; cf. VI. 22. 2 W. of N., I. v. 15, 1.
4 See above, p. 153. 5 Amongst his followers, Edmund Burke expressed this view with startling frankness. See Thoughts and Details on Scarcity (1795).
3 Ibid., 14.
own statement (about the general diffusion of happiness ) in order to make it plain that he does not, like Mandeville, conceive general poverty to be the condition of commercial prosperity.
For the most part, however, he gives us a colourless statement of things as they are, without suggestion of any radical reforms. He describes industrial society, after the manner of Turgot and the Physiocrats, as divided into three classes—Labourers, Landlords, Capitalists. He considers the revenue of each, and then how far the interest of each is or is not in harmony with the interest of Society as a whole.
whole. The interest of the landlords, when they know their own interest, is, he says, always identical with that of the public ; their rents can be kept up only by the prosperity of the country. The interest of the labourers is so too, but they are incapable, from their circumstances, of understanding the public interest and its connection with their own. But the interest of employers, such as dealers and manufacturers, is often different from that of the other two classes, as well as from that of the public.?
We need not examine the truth of these statements from an economical point of view. But it will be noted that “the Public" are treated as distinct from the three classes, although the three classes are treated as an exhaustive division of the public itself. In the same way, the Consumer figures not only in Adam Smith, but in later economists as a distinct entity. The meaning in both cases is that the “great body of the people” are regarded from one particular point of view, abstraction being made from the fact that they necessarily belong to one or other of the three classes. As consumers, the Public may be regarded as one ; as producers or drawers of income, they are many.
The abstraction is not wholly justifiable, for all consumption is dependent on an antecedent revenue; it may be allowed however that the consumers of any one particular article must always outnumber the producers of it, and in the case of necessaries they will be actually co-extensive with the “great body of the people.” To press the claims of the Consumers, therefore, is to press the claims of the majority; and Adam Smith in doing this is as democratic as Rousseau.
1 For the passage implies that below a certain point the want of wealth produces a want of happiness. 2 W. of N., I. XI. 115, 156.
It is remarkable then that our author, who gives no complete theory of consumption, makes the Consumer (see esp. IV. VIII. 298) almost the central figure of his book. In this he is at one with the Physiocrats; but without their reservations in favour of agricultural producers. To him all labour is productive if it realizes itself in a “fixed and vendible commodity.” The category of productive labour is thus widened. His successors have challenged even this limitation. Why not include all services useful to society, if division of labour is to have its perfect work, and if it allows some to devote themselves to the “production" of services merely, and some to that of the crasser “vendible commodities"? No doubt Adam Smith has brought this question on himself by including capacities and skill under the wealth of a nation. But to “produce” evidently struck him as, in ordinary language, inapplicable to services. He does not doubt the usefulness of the labour, e.g., of public servants or doctors, but simply indicates that it does not produce a commodity in the ordinary sense of the terms.“ To produce” is to present society with more or less permanent wealth as distinguished from a momentary or intangible satisfaction ; in Mill's language, it is to furnish a “permanent possibility of satisfaction.” The distinction of productive and unproductive labour leads into a troublesome dialectic, if it is supposed to mean anything other than this. To separate useful from useless labour is as hard as to separate the tares from the wheat or good from evil. But it is an intelligible practical distinction to say that expenditure is more or less certainly a benefit, according as it is expenditure on what will last long or what will perish at once. A “fixed and vendible commodity" like the houses and even the furniture of the rich, may pass into the hands of the poor ;the luxurious food of the rich will not be so widely shared. If we describe all as wealth which satisfies desire, we may still with clearness distinguish that which does so often and for many, from that which does so once and for one. The productive labour of which Adam Smith spoke was in this sense more of a public benefit than the unproductive. Its benefits extended to a greater number ; and it is the benefit of the greater number, “the whole body of the people," which he is always considering. The long discussions of the 4th book of the Wealth of Nations are a vindication of freedom of trade on behalf of "the great body of the people.” As against the Mercantile system, and even as against the Physiocratic,” all preferences and restraint are to be taken away, and then the “simple system of natural liberty” will establish itself of its own accord.3
1 From this point of view it is not fair to argue that, if all labour were like that of domestic servants or doctors, there would be no wealth for anybody. (Cf. W. of N., IV. v. 224.)
Private interest (he considers) is most likely to coincide with the public interest when private action is left most free. This is the baldest statement of the doctrine of natural liberty ; but, as the doctrine has been of great influence, and is sometimes regarded as the very essence of Adam Smith's teachings, we must inquire more closely into its meaning.
In the Moral Sentiments (ed. 1759, p. 18i) we are told that “every man is by nature first and principally recommended to his own care," being much fitter to take care of himself than of any other person. “Every man, therefore, is much more deeply interested in whatever immediately concerns himself than in what concerns any other man." In the same way Nature (unlike the Stoic philosophy) has made it not man's chief business but only his occasional consolation, to consider the affairs of the Universe. His chief business is to govern the affairs of his own daily life ; 4 and in them, fortunately, while intending simply his own gain, he is “led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention,” 5 and which he could not have promoted so well if he had deliberately aimed at the
1 IV. of N., II. 111. 154.
? IV. IX. 311, 1.
3 IV. ix. 311, 1. 4 Moral Sent., 6th ed., ii. 263.