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perior to those of corporations in the country. A resident housekeeper, for example, could not commence the business of a bookseller within the limits of the city's jurisdiction, unless he were free, first of one of the city companies, and secondly, of the general corporation of London, and if his admission in both corporate bodies were to buy, it would cost him nearly 1007. before he could exercise his business.
This example may suffice of the tendency of corporate immunities. I shall next speak of the obstruction to the freedom of industry, from trade-societies and regulations subsisting among workmen themselves, and which are unconnected with the laws and institutions of the country.
Combinations among workmen, intended solely to keep up the rate of wages, are of precisely the same nature as combinations among masters, to keep up the rate of profits. They are both confederacies against the public, liable to the same objections as monopolies, in which the interest of individuals is sought to be supported at the expense of the interests of the community. One is an interference with the freedom of industry, the other, with the free employment of capital. Competition is in both cases restrained; in one, the supply of labour, and in the other, the supply of capital is kept less then it would be in a state of freedom.
The nature and objects of Trade Unions I shall explain more particularly hereafter, in a chapter devoted to their consideration. My present purpose
has been to establish the equality of advantages in the several employments, pursuits, and professions of civil life; and, secondly, to show that this equilibrium of remuneration is never permanently disturbed, except either by the artificial institutions of society, or by rules and regulations subsisting among the industrious themselves.
WAGES OF LABOUR.
Reduction of Wages increases Supply of Labour-Effects of Speculation on Wages-Legitimate and Illusive Speculations -Agricultural Speculation during the War, and Mercantile Speculation of 1825-Rate of Wages determined by the Unemployed, not Employed Workman-Consequence of a trifling Excess of Labour-High Wages depend solely on the Conduct of the Working Classes-Futility of various popular Expedients exposed-Government impotent, as respects Condition of Labouring Classes-Cannot relieve an Overstocked Labour-Market-France in 1830-Taxation-Lavish Public Expenditure indefensible-Home Colonization.
WAGES are usually considered under the two heads of the market, or actual rate of wages, and the necessary rate, or that rate indispensable to the subsistence of the labourer, and without which he could not obtain a sufficiency of food to support and continue his race.
It is not easy to perceive the utility of this division; the necessary rate of wages is a quantity that cannot be assigned, the food that would be equal to the support of one man, might be a starvation allowance to another; it varies with the human constitution, and the habits of nations. The important consideration, therefore, is the actual rate of wages, and this is a subject more interesting than any in the whole science of political economy, since those who live by wages so greatly exceed in number those who live by profits, rents, and all other sources of revenue.
The price of labour, like the prices of commodities, is governed by the proportion between the supply and demand; and as this proportion will be equally influenced, either by vicissitudes in the supply or demand for labour, our subject may be appropriately considered under these two heads,— First, the circumstance tending to augment or diminish the supply of labour; and, Secondly, the circumstances tending to augment or diminish the funds, or capital, for the employment of labour. Variations in either of these sets of circumstances, will obviously produce similar results, and tend to advance or lower wages.
To begin with the first, I shall show the effect of a reduction of wages on the labour-market.
A reduction of wages compels a workman either to reduce his expenditure, or by increased exertion make up the diminution in his income. But as the reduction in the price of labour has probably arisen
from slackness in the demand for its products, it follows that lengthening the hours of work or similar expedient, only aggravates the evil of scarcity of employment, and thereby accelerates the downward tendency of wages. This must generally be the case where workmen have not any provision on which they can fall back during periods of stagnation of trade; by doing most work when it is least needed, they contend against their own interests.
For want of this resource, the natural effect of a rise in the price of provisions is also counteracted. When provisions rise, wages ought to rise too, to prevent the condition of the labourer being depreciated. Such, however, is not uniformly the case; instead of the prices of labour and provisions varying in the same way, it is often found that wages are lowest when the price of corn is highest.*
In dear years, an increased number of females, and of such poor children of both sexes as are fit to work, are obliged to quit their homes or to engage in some species of employment, while those labourers who work by the piece, endeavour, by increasing the quantity of their work, to obtain the means of purchasing their accustomed quantity of food. These causes will continue to operate to the disadvantage of the working classes, till increased mortality, occasioned by harder living or other circumstance, intervene to lessen competition for employment.
Mercantile speculation increases the demand for
* M'Culloch's Political Economy, 2d edit., p. 388.
labour, but whether this will be beneficial or injurious to the working classes depends on the legitimacy or illusiveness of the speculation. A legitimate speculation is mostly founded on the probable scarcity of an article of consumption; for instance, a deficient harvest, or failure in the crop of cotton, may be just ground for speculation in either corn or cotton. A merchant, under these circumstances, goes into the market and lays in a stock at a low price, in order to sell it hereafter at a high price. His motives are selfish; nevertheless his transactions tend to the benefit of the community. By purchasing largely, prices begin to rise; and people, finding corn or cotton dearer than heretofore, they are less wasteful in the consumption; the whole community being thus put on short allowance, like a ship's company, with a scanty supply of water, the deficient crop lasts till a more abundant season returns, and the evils of scarcity are mitigated.
Illusive speculations are nothing more than gambling, or fraudulent devices got up to entrap the unwary. They are not founded upon any calculation of future scarcity, but too often merely on public gullibility. They are mostly started and endeavoured to be passed off when the mind of the community has been excited by the success of the more wholesome and salutary enterprises of capitalists. One is the genuine, the other the counterfeit spirit of mercantile adventure. Speculations for opening new roads or canals for the convenience of traffic; for