appears to meet with the singular approbation of some political economists, that in dear years a workman, finding himself deprived of his usual enjoyments, is naturally excited to greater industry, and is desirous of working extra hours for the purpose of obtaining those comforts to which he has been accustomed; because “this disposition,” it is said, “must naturally increase the supply of labour in “the market.” But have these gentlemen considered the ultimate sacrifice by which this additional supply of labour is procured 2 That it is by forcing exertion precisely at that period when the human frame is least capable of affording it; when the mind and body are both lowered by personal distress and the penury of a dependant family. A witness before the Committee of the House of Lords, respecting grain and the corn laws, being asked concerning the relative prices of work done by the piece in Scotland, when grain has been dear, and when it has been cheap, answers, “In the year 1813, I contracted with a man to build some rods of masonry work, and the workman informed me that in consequence of the hardness of the times he executed that work at a lower rate than he would have executed it in years in which the prices of grain were lower.” Another witness states; 1st, “I have always considered that when grain and other provisions rose, both manufacturing and agricultural labour fell. On the contrary, when provisions and grain fell, manufacturing and agricultural labour rose: the reason is obvious. Supposing there are in any one parish 100 labourers, who are able to do the work of that parish; if provisions rise those la

bourers will do double work ; of course there being only a certain demand for labour, the labour falls.” Being further questioned he says; 2dly, “very often he does too much work and works beyond his strength when grain is very high ; at other times he is idle when grain is low.” The witness further stated; 3dly, “ that in a dear year his bailiff requested permission to have some particular work executed then rather than at any other time, because he could do it so much cheaper, a great many labourers being idle from having little work, in consequence of those who were employed doing double work. I desired him” says the witness “to go on with that labour likewise, and he actually contracted for very large ditches at sixpence an ell, which I do not think I could now do under from a shilling to eighteen pence, in consequence of the fall in provisions.” Now in the first of these answers we have the fact, that when the labourer is least capable of extra work, he is ground down by a forced exertion of double work. In the 2d we have one extremely matural consequence, that he “does too much work, and works beyond his strength, when grain is very high;” and 3dly, we have another consequence equally natural and almost equally humane and profitable to society, viz. That this double work and exhaustion of one portion of the labourers by excessive exertion tends to exhaust the other portion by actual starvation, in consequence of their having little work” to do, at a time when a very great deal of work is absolutely necessary even to provide a scanty supply of food for themselves and their families. I am aware that if the mortality naturally to be expected among the last mentioned portion of the people should actually take place, the price of labour would again rise very high, and upon the return of plenty would encourage a rapid reproduction of people. But, considering the intervening misery and the great fluctuation in the rate of wages necessarily attending the process, and the dreadful disparity of condition introduced between the lowest and all other ranks of society, I think that a reasonable doubt may be entertained both with respect to the humanity and the sound policy of the whole system. And a mode of remunerating labour will surely appear preferable which secures regular comfort to the labourer in return for the fair and average exertion of his industry, and a regular rate of payment to the employer, whereby he can calculate beforehand, with some degree of accuracy, the proportion which his means bear to the work which he must hire labourers to perform. It is with most unfeigned pleasure that I quote the following passage from a note in Mr. Malthus's “Inquiry into Rent” (p. 48), where he incidentally alludes to the evidence upon which I have just commented. “With regard to the unusual exertions made by the labouring classes in periods of dearness, which produce the fall of wages noted in the evidence, they are most meritorious in the individuals, and certainly favour the growth of capital. But no man of humanity could wish to see them constant and unremitted. They are most admirable as a temporary relief; but if they were constantly in action, effects of a similar kind would result from them as from the population of a country being pushed to the very extreme limits of its food. There would be no resources in a scarcity. I own I do not see with pleasure the great extension of the practice of task work: to work really hard during twelve or fourteen hours in the day for any length of time is too much for a human being. Some intervals of ease are necessary to health and happiness, and the occasional abuse of such intervals is no valid argument against their

[ocr errors]

uSe. Upon the whole then I conclude that the comfortable subsistence of the labourer by a competent rate of wages, is an indispensable constituent part of the price of raw produce in a free country; that, as society advances, and the expenses of cultivation increase, and the consumption of the labourer is changed from an exclusive subsistence on raw produce to one compounded of corn and other articles not materially affected by the price of corn, wages must absolutely undergo a real rise. And that a country has no alternative between providing some method by which this real rise can be paid without injuring its general industry; or entering upon a retrograde course in society by giving up all those employments and the cultivation of all those lands which have rendered the rise in wages necessary. In this view of the subject I apprehend the resource pointed at in the first chapter of this second book, which seems to be supplied by the spirit of the English poor-laws, may be found useful. Its consequences, as applicable to the case immediately before us, evidently are to prevent any great fluctuation in the rate of wages, to preserve a regular and constant rate of employment throughout the whole population, attended with a regular and fair remuneration, and this without precluding extra exertion T


for increased wages where an extraordinary effort is occasionally required by the manufacturer to complete a sudden order or answer a sudden demand. But there is no grinding down of the frame of the poor man, by extracting from him double work at the time when he is least capable of performing his average portion, but in return for his regular exertion of that portion a corresponding supply of his necessary wants is secured to him. It will of course be asserted in reply to this reasoning, that both the price and the supply of labour will be regulated by the demand for it. Now that the price of labour will for a time be regulated by the demand I am ready to admit; but I must be permitted to deny that the supply of labour will in the matural course of things follow the demand as in the case of ordinary commodities, and, therefore, that its price will ultimately be regulated by it. The supply of labour is of too slow a growth to follow the demand for an increased quantity, before the want of such increase has annihilated the causes which created the demand itself. And labour is composed of sensitive materials too much dependant upon regular wants and habits, to accommodate itself rapidly to the decreasing wants of a retrograde society, without effects very dismal to the labouring classes, and very detrimental to all the other classes of society. So that in neither case will the state of the supply readily accommodate itself to the state of the demand. For let us suppose that a high price of labour indicates an increasing demand for it, and encourages marriage and the production of children to supply that demand. It is evident that the new stock of

« ForrigeFortsett »