Front Page Titles (by Subject) LETTER X.: CHOICE OF TRADES SHOULD BE FREE. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4
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LETTER X.: CHOICE OF TRADES SHOULD BE FREE. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 4 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 4.
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CHOICE OF TRADES SHOULD BE FREE.
In my last I troubled you with my sentiments on the duration of the first contract, and the great article of publicity in the management, which was my motive for admitting of a duration so unlimited. But long before my contractor and I had come to any settlement about these points, he would have found various questions to propose to me. One thing he would not fail to say to me is—What trades may I put my men to when I have got them? My answer is soon given. Any whatever that you can persuade them to turn their hands to. Now, then, Sir, let us think for a moment, if you please, what trades it may be most for his advantage to put them to, and what it is therefore most likely he should be disposed to put them to.
That he may get the better view of them, I throw them into four classes. In the first, I place those who already are possessed of businesses capable of being carried on with advantage in the prison: in the second, those trained up to businesses which, though not capable in themselves of being carried on within such limits, yet by the similarity of operation have a tendency to render it more or less easy for a man to learn some of those other businesses which are: in the third rank, I would place such as had been trained up indeed to industry, but to branches which have no such tendency as I have just mentioned; such, for instance, as porters, coalheavers, gardeners, and husbandmen. In the last I would place men regularly brought up to the profession of thieving, and others who have never been brought up to any kind of industry. Some names for these different classes I may as well endeavour to find as not; for names they must have when they get into their house; and if I perform not that business myself, somebody else must do it for me. I will call them the good hands, the capable hands, the promising hands, and the drones. As to the capable hands, they will, of course, be the more valuable, the nearer the businesses they understand approach to those of the good ones; in other words, the less difficulty there would be in teaching the latter the business of the former. The same observation of course applies to the promising hands; in as far as the advantage which the one possess by habit the others may appear to possess by disposition. Lower down in the scale of detail I will not attempt to lead you.
You have a very pretty law in England for enriching the country, by keeping boys backward, and preventing men from following the trades they could get most by. If I were jealous of Russia’s growing too rich, and being able to buy too many of our goods, I would try to get such a law as that introduced among these stupid people here, who have never yet had the sense to think of any such thing. Having no such jealousy against any country, much less against my own Utopia, I would beg that law might be banished from within my walls. I fancy my contractor would be as well pleased with its room as its company; and as the same indulgence has been granted to other persons of whose industry no great jealousy seems to be entertained, such as soldiers and sailors, I have no great fear the indulgence would be denied me. Much I believe is not apprehended in that way from the red-coats and jack-tars; and still less, I believe, would be apprehended from my heroes.
This stumbling-block cleared away, the first thing I imagine my contractor would do, would be to set to work his good hands; to whom he would add as many of his capable hands as he could muster.
With his promising hands and his drones, he would set up a manufacture. What, then, shall this manufacture be? It may be this, and that, and t’other thing, says the hard-labour bill: it shall be anything or everything, say I.
As to the question, What sort of manufacture or manufacturer would be likely to answer best? it is a discussion I will not attempt to lead you into, for I do not propose at present to entertain you with a critical examination of the several actual and possible manufactures, established and establishable in Great Britain. The case, I imagine, would be, that some manufacturer or other would be the man I should have for my contractor—a man who, being engaged in some sort of business that was easy to learn, and doing pretty well with as many hands as he was able to get upon the ordinary terms, might hope to do better still with a greater number, whom he could get upon much better terms. Now, whether there are any such manufacturers, and how many, is what I cannot so well tell you, especially at this distance; but, if you think it worth while to ask Mr. Daily Advertiser, or Mr. St. James’ Chronicle, I fancy it will not be long before you get some answer.
In my View of the Hard-Labour Bill, I ventured to throw out a hint upon the subject of putting the good hands to their own trades. Whether any and what use was made of that hint, I cannot recollect; for neither the act which passed afterwards, nor any chapter of that history, has travelled with me to Crecheff; nor should I have had a single scrap of paper to refresh my memory on that subject, but for the copy of my own pamphlet which I found on my brother’s shelf. The general notion seemed to be, that as the people were to be made to work for their punishment, the works to be given to them should be somewhat which they would not like; and, in that respect, it looks as if the consideration of punishment, with its appendage of reformation, had kept the other of economy a little behind the curtain. But I neither see the great danger nor the great harm of a man’s liking his work too well; and how well soever he might have liked it elsewhere, I should still less apprehend his liking the thought of having it to do there. Supposing no sage regulations made by any body to nail them to this or that sort of work, the work they would naturally fall upon under the hands of a contractor would be that, whatever it might be, by which there was most money to be made; for the more the prisoner-workman got, the more the master could get out of him; so that upon that point I should have little fear of their not agreeing. Nor do I see why labour should be the less reforming for being profitable. On the contrary, among working men, especially among working men whom the discipline of the house would so effectually keep from all kinds of mischief, I must confess I know of no test of reformation so plain or so sure as the improved quantity and value of their work.
It looks, however, as if the authors of the above provision had not quite so much faith in such an arrangement as I must confess I have. For the choice of the trade was not to be left to the governor of the prison, much less to the prisoner-workman, but was given to superintending committees of justices of the peace. In choosing among the employments exemplified, and other similar ones (for if I mistake not this restriction of similarity was subjoined) it was indeed recommended to those magistrates to take “such employments as they should deem most conducive to profit.” But the profit here declared to be in view was, not the profit of the workman or his master the governor, but I know not what profit “of the district,” the “convenience” of which (though I know not what convenience there could be, distinct from profit) was another land-mark given them to steer by. If you cast an eye on the trades exemplified (as I believe I must beg you to do presently) you will find some difficulty, I believe, in conceiving that in the choice of them the article of profit could have been the uppermost consideration. Nor was this all; for besides the vesting of the choice of the employments in committees of justices in the first instance, the same magistrates are called upon to exercise their judgment and ingenuity in dividing the prisoners into classes; in such sort, that the longer a man had stayed in the house his labour should be less and less “severe,” exception made for delinquency, in which case a man might at any time be turned down from an upper class to a lower. But had the matter been left to a contractor and his prisoner-workmen, they would have been pretty sure to pitch upon, and to stick to, what would be most conducive to their profit, and by that means to the profit of the district; and that without any recommendation. Whether the effect of that recommendation would have been equally sure upon the above-mentioned magistrates, would have remained to be decided by experience. Understanding me to be speaking merely of a magistrate in the abstract, you will forgive my saying, that in this one point I have not quite so great a confidence in a set of gentlemen of that description, as I have in that sort of knave called a contractor. I see no sort of danger, that to the contractor there should be any one object upon earth dearer than the interest of the contractor; but I see some danger that there may be, now and then by accident, some other object rather dearer to the magistrate. Among these rival objects, if we do not always reckon the pleasure of plaguing the contractor, should he and the magistrate chance not to agree, we may however not unfrequently reckon the exercise of his (the magistrate’s) own power, and the display of his own wisdom; the former of which, he may naturally enough conceive, was not given to him for nothing, nor the latter confided in without cause. You must, I think, before now have met with examples of men, that had rather a plan of the public’s, or even of an individual’s for whom they had a more particular regard, should miscarry under their management, than prosper under a different one.
But if, without troubling yourself about general theories of human nature, you have a mind for a more palpable test of the propriety of this reasoning, you may cut the matter short enough, by making an experiment upon a contractor, and trying whether he will give you as good terms with these clogs about him, as he would without them. Sure I am, that, were I in his place, I should require no small abatement to be made to me, if, instead of choosing the employments for my own men, I was liable at every turn to have them taken out of my hands and put to different employments, by A, B, and C to-day, and by X, Y, and Z to-morrow.
Upon the whole, you will not wonder that I should have my doubts at present, whether the plan was rendered much better for these ingenious but complicated refinements. They seemed mighty fine to me at the time, for when I saw contrivance, I expected success proportionable.