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THE PROBLEM OF DISTRIBUTION: COMPETITION: THE DIFFU
SION THEORY: THE ECONOMICAL HARMONIES.
HAVING discussed much at length certain principles in the production of wealth, in that connection showing the falsity of the current doctrine of a wages-fund, we come now to the problem of distribution, wherein we may look to find the true philosophy of wages.
But is there a problem of distribution? Can there be a philosophy of wages ? Certainly if we exclude the ques tion of rent, the orthodox? economists have scarcely reoognized a problem of distribution, and were it not for the space taken for refuting the opinions of heretical writers, what the text books have to say on the subject of wages would be very little. How, indeed, can there be a philosophy of wages, when the doctrine of a wages-fund prevails? If the question of wages is simply a question in long-division, what need to take much space to illustrate the operations of “one of the four fundamental rules of arithmetic.” 2 Population being given, there is no philosophy of wages. The whole question of the well-being of the laboring-class is, then, reduced to a question of population. Here philosophy becomes possible; but the question of population does not belong in the department of distribution at all.
1 "L'économie politique que j'appellerais volontiers orthodoxe. . . semblait être définitivement constituée, comme l'église de Rome, elle avait son Credo."-E. de Laveleye, Revue des Deux Mondes, July 16 1875.
• See p. 143.
But even the wage-fund doctrine aside, the economists of the Manchester School have not been disposed to regard the problem of distribution, the question of rent excepted, as one of much urgency or difficulty. They have been of the opinion expressed by Chevalier, thirty-five years ago, that this department of political economy is inferior in interest and importance to that of production. This has not been from a disposition to disregard the effects on human happiness, and the strength and stability of the state, wrought by a good or an ill distribution of the products of industry; but from a belief in the absolute sufticiency of economical forces, in a state of industrial freedom, to diffuse all burdens and all benefits alike, to the highest advantage of the industrial community. Laissez faire: let these principles work unhindered, has hence come to contain pretty much the whole theory of distribution as held by the writers of this school. To such it can only be a matter of curious interest, so far as they are concerned as political economists, what are the facts of the distribution of wealth at any given time, or what the moral and social condition of any single class of the community. If things are wrong, they need only to be let to work themselves right, under the impulsion of purely economical forces; and snch forces are constantly operating for the redress of grievances, and the repair of inequalities. If aught is wrong at present, it is simply because the free play of economic forces has been hindered by arbitrary enactment, or illegal violence in the past: the one thing required to bring about industrial relief is industrial freedom. So completely satisfied are the writers of this school
I "Certes, le partage des produits du travail est digne de toute la sollicitude de quiconque a de l'intelligence et du cour. Cependant, elle est moins urgente à discuter, et pratiquement elle sera bien moins embarrassante que celle de l'accroisement harmonique et régulier do la production.”—Troisième discours d'Ouverture du cours de l'année, 1841-2.
with the sufficiency of the force they invoke to secure a right distribution, that they refuse to make political freedom a condition, necessary or even important, for the guccessful operation of that force. The question of wages is no different in the United States from what it is in Russia, by reason of differences in the political institutions of those countries. It differs nothing in Austria from what it is in Prussia, by reason of the wide difference in popular intelligence existing between those countries. The ballot can do nothing to enhance wages: social opportunities can do nothing, except as they operate in restraint of population; sympathy and respect for labor can do nothing. The economical force is all-sufficient, granted only a state of industrial freedom.
COMPETITION. Competition it is, and competition alone, to which the economist looks to accomplish the distribution of the products of industry. Competition expresses the desire and the effort of the buyer to buy as cheaply, and of the seller to sell as dearly; of the one to give as little, and of the other to get as much, as he can; and inasmuch as every man is at once 2 buyer and seller, we say he gives as little and gets as much as the existing conditions of industry allow. Competition involves, therefore, we see, a free, easy and
• Let me not seem, by omission, to do injustice. Many of the writers of this school have recognized, in the fullest manner, not only the moral and social, but also the industrial, advantages of education and political freedom, in increasing the productive power of the work. man; but for the distribution of wealth, they hold strictly economical forces to be sufficient.
• No man can buy anything, unless at the same time, he sells something ; else he does not buy the thing he gets; it is given to him. When a man buys a pound of meat he sells a shilling, niore or less. The butcher may say, I will send home the meat now, and you may hand in the shilling at the end of the week, or of the month; but the credit given does not alter the substantial relations of the parties to the transaction.