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thrown over every human being, will bring ample compensation.
Other proposals exhibit a totally different character. To demand that work shall be found by the State for all, that national workshops shall be established, and that profits shall be limited in amount by law, is to ask for pure confiscation.
Abandoning, then, the ground of abstract inalienable right, and taking our stand on the basis of facts, we find that history shows that nations have always consisted of rich and poor. Their relative numbers incessantly vary ; but at all times there has ever been a richer and a poorer class. In the early days of national existence property has included a larger portion of the people ; but population was small, the arts very backward, the products of industry simple in kind, comforts and enjoyments few and of inferior quality. There are communities now existing which exhibit this type. Often they live on the extreme margin of subsistence. When harvests fail, destitution and death ensue. Europe presents a different spectacle under the action of powerful causes, especially in these more modern times. It long ago emerged from the purely agricultural and pastoral state. Manufacturing industry sprang up, and its results were felt, and have told powerfully upon human desires. As comforts increased, that “progressive desire" which is the characteristic of men, as compared with animals, prompted greater efforts to obtain more. Capital was accumulated by saving ; the means of setting more men to work were provided. Inventive genius applied itself to improve the processes of production, and to multiply and cheapen its results. Thus in the end an enormously large population was enabled to exist with an immeasurably raised standard of living. No feature was more striking in this amazing progress than the wonderful power of machinery. This greatest of industrial forces, the gift of mind to mankind, may be said with truth to be the foundation of modern civilisation. Conceive steam suddenly to lose its power, and who can think of the consequences without shuddering? The extinction of steam would send millions of human beings out of existence—and yet the steam engine is an invention but of yesterday. Such has been the march of modern development. It has built up the colossal establishments and the dense populations of Manchester and Lyons, Liverpool and New York, Paris and London; but it has also showered down refined comforts over the dwellings of all classes of the people.
But the progress has brought out a tendency amongst industrial nations of the most marked character, and of the highest moment. The proportion which the labourers, who live by wages, bear to the rest of the population, is ever on the increase. Moreover, they are congregated together in denser masses. They are not dispersed in small groups like agricultural peasants. Hence they are becoming a more combined and united class, in closer sympathy with each other, entertaining the same ideas and governed by the same feelings. They tend to adopt common action, and thereby they acquire social and political power towards their employers and towards the State. These facts impart incalculable importance to the question of wages. Economists have to deal with a body of doc
trine on labour, systematic in theory and generating action of great importance to society.
In the production of wealth, two classes stand face to face towards each other, the employer and the labourersthe men who possess property called capital, and the men who derive their subsistence from working for others. Both stand in need of each other, both acquire wealth by the aid which each gives to the other. Without the services of these two classes, society would speedily relapse into barbarism. The employer gathers profit for his abstinence in accumulating capital, and his skill in applying it; the labourer receives wages as the reward of the efforts he has placed at the disposal of his employers. What wages are, Mr Danson has happily explained :—“When one man labours for another, under the direction of that other, the resulting payment is wages.” The true practical position of the man who derives his subsistence from working for another, is that of a seller—he gives something in exchange for wages. He sells his labour, he sells the use of his hands and of his skill to another. He does not sell himself, but his service ; he is hired to do a service, to perform work for another. The employer is a man who is in want of that particular article, that service, and buys it. No difference of nature, I conceive, can be assigned between the buying and selling of labour, and the buying and selling of any other commodity or service; the process is always the same in kind, though each article has its own particular incidents. The labourers are in a market; they offer their commodity, work—the use of their muscles and skill—for hire. Equally are the employers in a market ; they seek that commodity, or which is the same thing, that service, which the labourers offer to supply. In an ordinary purchase, the value of the article is called its price, in the case of labour it is called wages : but these are, at bottom, distinctions of name only. The essence of the position is that of exchange or sale, and the principle that governs it is the universal law of exchange, that of demand and supply. All the relations between the two classes of men are founded on this principle.
But this principle, that labour is a commodity offered for sale in a market, is subject to an essential condition -freedom of labour. Every consideration which calls for perfect freedom of trade can be urged with still greater force, when man and his command over his own action is the subject of exchanging. If goods are to be free-if their production and their sale are now acknowledged to have a natural claim and economical right to be exempt from all interference of external authority, how much stronger is this right in the case of every man's power to dispose of his own toil according to his own pleasure. History records a long series of unjust, impolitic, and often cruel, interferences with freedom of labour. Slavery, serfdom, feudal burdens, corvées, guilds with their restrictions, restraints of trade invented by law, attest the obstinacy with which arbitrary power has struggled to prevent men from being masters of their own persons. No plea can be advanced in behalf of such limitations on free sale, free liberty to work and earn, which is not a violation of justice.
The workman then has labour to sell—the use, that is, of his bodily and mental faculties—for what does he exchange it? what does he receive? A portion of the goods made. They are sold for him by his employer and he obtains their value in money, and with that money he buys other articles in the shops. These are his real wages, the money are his nominal ones. The substantial reward for his efforts is the goods he buys with his wages ; it was to procure these goods that he sold his labour. It is a vital matter to grasp firmly that the worth of wages is not money, but what the wages can buy. If the articles for sale in the shops are cheap, the labourer's real wages are large; if, on the contrary, they are dear, then with the same money, his wages will be low. In all the manifold questions surging about wages, it is of supreme importance to remember that wages are the goods purchased by the labourers, by means of the sale of some of those articles which he has produced.
And now arises a question, which has excited the keenest interest amongst writers on Political Economy: what is the extent of the fund which a nation can dispose of in the purchase of labour—that is, in wages ? A vast amount of literature has been expended on the attempt to answer this question. Its history singularly illustrates the mistaken but persevering passion to reduce Political Economy to a strict science—to discover in it fixed laws, to obtain accurate and scientific formulas for prophesying the rate of wages. We shall on the contrary find here as elsewhere in Political Economy, not scientific forces, but tendencies, a multitude of divers causes influencing variable results. It is highly desirable to explore these causes, and their range. Practical rules will then be