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powerfully influenced by, and indeed in great measure depend on, themselves. A knowledge of their nature and operation is, therefore, of all things that which is most indispensable to their well-being, and to that of the communities of which they form so large a portion. Till it be acquired and acted upon they cannot help forming unreasonable and unfounded conclusions in regard to many important points in the conduct of life; sometimes doing that from which they ought most carefully to abstain, and at other times leaving undone that which they ought resolutely to set about; neglecting the good that is dependent on themselves, and within their command, for what is dependent on others, contingent, and generally unattainable: suffering themselves to be deceived and misled by impostors pretending to be their friends; and ascribing those unfavourable results to defective laws and institutions, and the proceedings of hostile parties, for which they are themselves solely and certainly responsible.
Like everything else which is bought and sold, the labour or service of man may vary in its price. Those who at one time exchange the labour of a day, a week, a month, or other period, for a given sum of money, or a given quantity of necessaries and conveniences, may, at another time, exchange it for a different sum or quantity. Our first object will therefore be, to appreciate the circumstances on which these fluctuations depend, and the limits within which they are confined.
Wages depend on the Magnitude of the Capital or Fund appropri ated to their payment, compared with the number of Labourers.
THE different articles or products belonging to a country that either are or may be employed to support its inhabitants, or to facilitate production, have been termed its capital. It conse
quently comprises, in advanced countries like England, an alk but infinite variety of articles, including buildings, ships and machinery of all sorts, the lower animals in a state of domestication, with food, clothes, &c. But it is unnecessary, in an inquiry of this sort, to refer to capital in general; for we have only to deal with that portion of it which embraces the various articles intended for "the use and accommodation of the labouring class." This portion forms the fund out of which their wages are wholly paid. We should err if we supposed that the capacity of a country to feed and employ labourers, is to be measured by the advantageousness of its situation, the richness of its soil, or the extent of its territory. These, undoubtedly, are circumstances of very great importance, and have a powerful influence in determining the rate at which a people advance, or may advance, in numbers and civilization. But it is obviously not by them, but by the amount of the capital applicable to the payment of wages belonging to a country, that its power of supporting and employing labourers is to be measured. Holland is less fertile than Poland or Hungary, and Lancashire is less fertile than Kent; but, owing to their greater command of capital, the population of the former is comparatively dense. A fertile soil may be made a means of rapidly increasing capital; but that is all. Before it can be cultivated capital must be provided for the support of the labourers employed upon it, in like manner as it must be provided for the support of those engaged in manufactures, or other branches of industry.
It is a necessary consequence of what is now stated, that the average amount of subsistence falling to each labourer, or the rate of wages, wholly depends on the proportion between capital and population. On the one hand is a quantity of necessaries and conveniences, and, on the other, the work-people among whom they are to be divided. If, therefore, the amount of the former be increased, without an equal increase taking place in the number of the latter, the share of each, or his wages, will be increased; while, if the number of work-people be increased more than the mass of necessaries and conveniences
to be distributed amongst them, each will get a smaller share, or a reduced rate of wages.
This principle is so very plain as hardly to require or admit of illustration. Suppose, however, that a country with two millions of labourers, has a capital of £30,000,000 sterling, annually appropriated to the payment of wages, it is evident that the wages of each, reducing them all to the same common standard, will be £15; and it is further evident that no addition can be made to this rate unless capital be increased in a greater degree than the number of labourers, or the number of labourers be diminished in a greater degree than the amount of capital. Now this case is not peculiar to this or that country, but is of universal application. Labourers are everywhere the divisor, capital the dividend. And hence the fundamental principle that there are no means by which wages can be raised, other than by accelerating the increase of capital as compared with population, or by retarding the increase of population as compared with capital. And every scheme for raising wages, which is not bottomed on this principle, or which has not an increase of the ratio of capital to population for its object, must be completely nugatory and ineffectual.
Wages being most commonly paid and estimated in money, it may perhaps be thought that their amount will, in consequence, depend more on the supply of money in circulation, than on the magnitude of capital. But a little reflection will serve to show that the amount of money paid to the labourers is immaterial. They always receive such a sum as is equivalent to the portion of the national capital falling to their share. Men do not live on coin or paper. Work people carry the money paid to them direct to the retail dealers, and expend it on necessaries and conveniences. And it is by the amount of these which comes into their possession that their wages are really to be measured. Were the money in Great Britain suddenly doubled, wages in no long time would also be doubled. But if no corresponding change took place
in the supplies of food, clothes, and such like articles, their price would equally rise, and the condition of the labourers be precisely the same as before. They would carry twice the number of sovereigns and shillings to market that they did previously to the increase in the quantity of money; but these would obtain for them only the same quantity of commodities.
Whatever, therefore, may be the state of money wageswhether they are 2s., 3s., or 5s. a-day-if the capital applicable to the payment of wages and the population continue the same, or increase or diminish in the same proportion, no real variation will take place in the rate of wages. Wages do not really rise, except when the proportion of capital to population is enlarged; and they do not really fall, except when that proportion is diminished.
But, though the principle now stated admit of no dispute, several unfounded inferences have been deduced from it. And, to prevent misconception, it may be right to state at the outset, that the condition or well-being of the labouring classes cannot in any case be correctly measured by, or inferred from, the wages they receive. It depends to a great extent on their conduct and habits, more especially on the description and cost of the articles used by them, and on their frugality and forethought. The same amount of wages that would suffice to maintain a workman who lived principally on corn and butcher's-meat, would probably maintain two or more if they lived principally on potatoes. And, whatever may be the articles of subsistence used by a people, they will, it is obvious, be powerfully affected by variations in their supply and price, by the skill with which they are applied to their respective purposes, and the economy with which they are used or saved for future occasions. The expenditure even of the poorest individuals is spread, in a country like this, over a great variety of articles, some of which conduce but little,
A rise in their price being in most cases nearly equivalent to a corresponding fall of wages, and a fall in their price to a corresponding rise of wages.
while others are not unfrequently adverse, to their comfort and respectability. And, therefore, though the rate of wages, whether estimated in money or in commodities, depends on the proportion between capital and labour, the condition of the labourers is not determined by that rate only, bnt partly by it, and partly also, and perhaps principally, by the mode in which they expend their wages, that is, by their peculiar tastes and habits in regard to necessaries, conveniences, and amusements. Every one, indeed, is aware that work-people with 18s., 20s., and 24s. a-week, are frequently much better off than others with 28s., 30s., and 36s., per do., though the families of the former be quite as large as those of the latter.
The wages and the habits of the labouring classes are intimately connected with, and powerfully influence, each other. Generally speaking, a rise of wages, however occasioned, tends, as will be afterwards shown, to improve the habits of the population; and improved habits tend equally to raise wages; whereas a fall of wages and the deterioration of habits which it occasions, have precisely opposite effects.
Without further insisting at present on considerations which will hereafter be resumed, it is obvious that the rate of wages in all countries and at all periods, depends on the ratio between the portion of their capital appropriated to the payment of wages, and the number of their labourers. The next object, in the natural order of inquiry, is to discover whether capital and population usually increase or diminish in the same or in different proportions. This is obviously a very important inquiry. If capital have a tendency to advance faster than population, then it is plain that wages will have an equal tendency to increase, and the condition of the labouring classes will, speaking generally, become more and more prosperous. But, on the other hand, if population have a tendency to increase faster than capital, it is equally plain, unless this tendency be checked by the prudence and forethought of the labourers, that wages will have a constant