INQUIRIES INTO POLITICAL ECONOMY.
The first attention of society must be given to the securing of its material interests, of its subsistence; and we wish to endeavour to discover what path must be followed in order that the material wealth which labour creates may procure and mainrain the greatest well-being for all: it is this, which, according to the etymology of the word, we call political economy, for it is the law or the rule of the house or of the city.
Let us not be reproached with lawering man to the level of the brutes by proposing, as the first object of his efforts, the direction of that labour which secures his subsistence, in calling the attention of society, before everything else, to advantages simply material: it will soon be seen that, more than any of our forerunners, we consider political economy in its relations with the soul, and with the intellect. But subsistence is necessary to life, and with life, to all the moral developments, all the intellectual developments, of which the human race is susceptible. Society, as well as individuals, must consider bodily health before any thing else, must provide in the first place for its wants and its development; for without the vigour which this health supplies, without the leisure, which only begins when these wants are satisfied, the health of the mind is impossible. Facts present themselves on every side to convince us that the manner in which society provides for its subsistence, decides at the same time on the wretchedness or comfort of the greatest number; on the health, the beauty, the vigur of the race, or its degeneracy; on the feelings of sympathy or jealousy with which fellow men look upon one another as brothers eager to assist one another, or as rivals furious to destroy one another; on that activity of mind, lastly, which is developed by a happy mixture of leisure, and which puts all on the way of progress in intelligence, imagination, and taste; or that enervating languor which luxury produces in some, and the brutishness which results to others from the abuse of physical strength and from fatigue.
That product of human labour, which, with subsistence, represents all the material good which man can enjoy, and almost all the intellectual good to which he can only attain by the help of the first, has been called wealth. Wealth, or the theory of the increase of wealth, has been regarded as the special object of political economy, an object better designated, since the time of Aristotle, by the name of chresmat'stique (chresmatistic). Ideas are not made clearer by disputes upon words, and we should not bring this forward, if it did not serve to define precisely the course of the false direction which has been followed, in our time, in one branch of social science. This science has always had, and must always have for its object, men gathered together in society; economy, according to the proper sense of the word, is the regulation of the house; political economy is the regulation of the house applied to the city: these are the two great human associations, the primitive associations which are the object of the science; all proceeds from man, all must relate to man, and to man united by a common must wealth is an attribute, shall we say, of man, or of things? Wealth is a term of comparison which has no sense, if it is not distinctly expressed at the same time to what it relates. Wealth, which is an appreciation of material things, is at the same time an abstraction, and chresmatistics, or the scienc; of the increase of wealth, having considered it abstractedly and not with relation to man and to society, has raised its edifie on a basis which is dissipated into air.
Wealth, we have said, is the product of human labour, which procures for man all the material good which he wishes to enjoy; it is the representation of all physical enjoyments, and also of all tile moral enjoyments which proceed from them. Very well; but for whom? This question should never be lost sight of, whilst, on the contrary, it never presents itself to theorists. For whom? According to the answer which is given to this question, man himself belongs to wealth, or wealth belongs to man.
The Shall of Persia esteems himself rich, because he reckons as his wealth all the inhabitants of his vast empire, who are his slaves, and all their goods, which he can take from them whenever he chooses. St. Domingo was formerly called a rich colony, because only the forty thousand whites who inhabited it were considered, and the four hundred thousand slaves who laboured for them were reckoned as their property. The cotton trade in England is called a rich business, for it brings colossal fortunes to the merchant who imports it, to the manufacturer who fabricates it in immense factories, to the seller who sends it all over the world; but no account is taken of the cultivator, who, whilst producing cotton, remains himself in slavery or indigence; of the weaver, who scarcely satisfies his hunger whilst he works, or dies of hunger when work is interrupted. In our eyes, we do not hesitate to say so, national wealth is the participation of all in the advantages of life. It is in various proportions, without doubt, that the members of the community are called upon to divide the product of social labour, but we shall never call wealth the share which one member takes from another.
At the first view of the question, every one thinks he comprehends clearly what wetdth is, and the effects of wealth on society; every one thinks he comprehends how it modifies the condition of the poorest and of the richest; but the more closely it is looked at, the more do contradictory phenomena, which to a certain point balance one another, embarrass the judgment. It is because wealth is not an essence, but an attribute, and its nature changes with the persons and the things to which it is attributed. As satisfying our wants, as the source of our physical enjoyments, the idea which we form of it is sufficiently precise, but then it admits of very few degrees. To form a conception of the increase of wealth when our wants are satisfied, we must go out of ourselves and consider the value of things, either by the distinction they confer by marking rank in society, or by the labour which has been devoted to obtaining them; and as these two appreciations are not even commensurable, as our minds continually vibrate from one to the other, we often end by asking ourselves what there is in wealth which is real, and whether, after having enriched ourselves, we do not remain poorer than we were before.
In fact, all artificial productions are valued more cheaply in a rich nation than in a poor nation: thus, whilst we call ourselves richer than our forefathers, all our manufactured commodities cost us much less. Is it true, then, that we have become richer by accumulating more? How shall we compare, for example, the different kinds of stuffs which have succeeded one another in our dress? How shall we decide, by what we spend on them, whether we are richer or poorer? So far as they satisfy real wants, their utility is nearly the same, but since they have been obtained with less labour, they are of less value; since they can be exchanged for less of the means of subsistence, they are also of less value; and under that point of view in which they principally flatter the passions of the rich as a distinction of rank, they are of still less value, for the price of the most magnificent dress is more within reach of the inferior conditions of society than it was at any preceding period. It is asserted, however, that the introduction of a new manufacture enriches the country; that when, with the same labour, ten times, a hundred times more yards of stuff have been produced, ten times, a hundred times more wealth has been created; but what becomes of this wealth in its application to the wants of society? what becomes of it if we endeavour to draw up a balance sheet of the affairs of the nation? Does it really diminish in proportion as its exchangeable value diminishes? and then what is the real utility of all those modern inventions of art, of which we are so proud?
In fact, we lose ourselves whenever we attempt to consider wealth abstractedly. Wealth is a modification of the state of man: it is only by referring it to man that we can form a clear idea of it. Wealth is the abundance of things which the labour of man produces, and which the wants of man consume. A truly rich nation would be one in which this abundance would produce the most material enjoyment, to the poor on one side, to the rich on the other.
Let us endeavour to form a rather more precise idea of these wants, of these desires, of these enjoyments of the human race, to which is attached the happiness of communities. The enjoyments of the poor are composed of the abundance, of the variety, end of the wholesomeness of their nourishment, of the sufficiency of clothes relative to the climate, and of their cleanliness; of the convenience and of the salubrity of their lodging, also as regards the climate and the quantity of fuel which it requires; lastly, of the certainty that the future will not be inferior to the present, and that a poor man can by the same labour obtain at least the same enjoyment. No nation can be considered as prosperous, if the condition of the poor, who form a part of it, is not secure under the four relations which we have just enumerated. Subsistence in this degree is the common right of man, and should be secured to all those who do what they can to forward common labour; and the nation is so much the more prosperous, the more every individual is assured of having a share in these comforts of the poor.
The enjoyments of the rich are composed, in the first place, of these same three wants being satisfied in regard to food, clothing, and lodging, and by the same security ibr the future continuance-of this well-being; but they comprehend a new element, leisure: the subsistence of the rich must be independent of their labour. In satisfying these wants, there is no doubt a sufficiently large latitude. Food, clothing, and lodging may be infinitely better for some than for others. We must not, however, be under an illusion with regard to the enjoyment which is attached to the satisfying of the wants even of the richest. Some are purely sensual, and the philosopher who wishes to appreciate the advantages of wealth to a nation, will not attach too much importance to these, without, however, denying their existence. Others exist only as distinctions, as giving to him who is in possession of them a feeling of superiority over his fellow-creatures. We do not deny this distinction, nor that the respect with which opulence inspires the vulgar, when it is seen displayed on a sumptuous table, in magnificent dresses and equipages, in vast and solid buildings, may not have some political utility; but in appreciating the happiness of a nation, the happiness which wealth gives to the rich, the philosopher will not make more account of the enjoyments of vanity than of those of the senses. He will perhaps make still less account of the third prerogative of wealth in regard to tho wants of the human race, that of satisfying its love of change.
But wealth secures to the rich two prerogatives, the advantages of which are reflected throughout the whole of society; one is the employment of their leisure in the development of their intellectual faculties; the other, the employment of their superfluity in the relief of all kinds of wretchedness. It is from these two prerogatives that rich men are necessary to the progress of every nation; whilst a nation which had no rich men, that is to say, no men who can dispose of their leisure and of their superfluity, would rapidly fall into ignorance, barbarism, and selfishness. Let us not be deluded as to the neceesarily stupifying consequences of bodily labour and fatigue. Were all the individuals of the nation called upon to exert their muscular force, it would soon be deprived not only of all progress in science and in the fine arts, but in intelligence, taste, mind, and grace. The human cattle might without doubt continually get fatter in their stables, but they would always approach nearer the brutes, they would continually get farther from celestial intelligences. Intellectual progress, however, gives rise to new wants among the rich, and opens a new employment for wealth. Intelligence, imagination, sensibility, require to be satisfied as well as the body, and the search of æesthetic beauty, of moral beauty, of intellectual beauty, attracts towards them a superfluity of human activity, as well as of the wealth which man has produced, and which would otherwise have been unemployed. Charity is another prerogative of wealth, still more important to society than to the poor themselves. It is charity which must repair the accidental dis. orders which disturb the regular distribution of wealth; but it is charity which, much more, must connect different ranks, substitute affection and gratitude for the contention of interests, spread knowledge with benefits, render all individuals equally participators in the moral superiority acquired by some; lastly, give to the nation that stability which she can only preserve by love among fellow citizens.
To appreciate the influence of the enjoyments of the rich on national happiness, we must take an account not only of their intensity, but of the number of those who participate in them. If we suppose that, after having provided for the necessities of all, the superfluity of the nation is reserved to endow the rich, and if it be then asked in what proportion it is desirable to see them rise above the rest, it is easy to answer, in the first place, that it is better to make many happy than only one; that he who unites ten shares sufficient to secure ease and leisure to ten families, will not himself be as happy as these ten families would have been; but it will soon be acknowledged also, that for the nation, for the social object of their pre-eminence, many moderately rich are worth more than one rich man in opulence. If the vocation of the rich man is especially to develop his intelligence for the good of all, it must not be forgotten that though labour brutifies, it is true, yet that luxury enervates, so that the beneficial influence of the rich on society diminishes not only with the diminution of their number, but with the increase of their wealth, when it goes beyond a certain point. If the second prerogative of wealth is to bind society together by charity, it will be equally felt that the more the number of rich men scattered over the country is diminished, the more distant their residences are by their patrimonies being increased, the more also will they be strangers to the poor whom they ought to assist; the more will the bonds of sympathy be broken by distance of place or of rank; so that even should we suppose that the charities of a millionaire would equal those of the ten or the hundred rich men whose patrimonies were united in one, still their moral effect, their social effect, would not be the same
After having thus endeavoured to appreciate at their just value the advantages of wealth, both as regards the poor and the rich, we shall a little better understand, perhaps, what is the distribution of wealth most desirable for happiness and for moral progress, but we shall scarcely have advanced so far as to be able to form a judgment on what enriches or impoverishes a nation, or to discover what effect that which at first appears a progress in wealth must have on general prosperity.
The phenomena which we see before our eyes, far from enlightening our doubts, seem as if they must increase them. In our times, man has made a gigantic progress in industry. With the assistance of the sciences which he cultivates, he has learned to employ as a master the powers of nature; and seconded by the wealth which he has previously accumulated, or by his capital, he produces every year a great mass of things destined for the enjoyment of the human race. The works of man multiply, and change the face of the earth; warehouses are filled; in workshops we admire the power which man has borrowed from the wind, from water, from fire, from steam, to accomplish his own work; the genius with which he has subdued nature, and the rapidity with which he executes industrial labours which formerly would have required ages. Each city, each nation, overflows with wealth, each one wishes to send to its neighbours those commodities which are superabundant, and new discoveries in science allow of their being transported, in spite of the immensity of their weight and of their bulk, with a rapidity truly confounding. It is the triumph of chresmatistics; never has the art of producing and accumulating wealth been pushed so far.
But is it equally the triumph of political economy? Has this rule of the house and of the city provided for the happiness of both one and the other? Man, for whom this wealth is destined, human society, whose material enjoyments it ought to increase, have these gained in ease, have they gained in security, in proportion to this immense development? At the first aspect of this question, it seems so certain that the more things there are destined for the enjoyments of man, the greater share will each one be able to obtain, that we do not give ourselves the trouble to weigh our answer. Nevertheless, if we look at men, and not at things, if we detail human conditions and the advantages which each one of them can reap from wealth, doubt may perhaps enter our minds. Is each man, in his own sphere, we shall ask, more secure of his subsistence, than he was before this great development of industry? Has he more repose at present, more security for the future? Does he enjoy more independence? Is he not only better lodged, better clothed, better fed, but has he gained by the development of the irrational powers more leisure and more aptitude for intellectual developments? Has the proportion between different conditions changed to the advantage or disadvantage of the greater number? Are those who occupy the lowest steps of the scale more or less numerous than formerly? Are there more steps than formerly between the rich and the poor, or are there fewer; and is it more or less easy for the first successively to pass over them? For example, in the country, is it the number of day-labourers, or of that of métayers of small farmers, of small proprietors, which has proportionably increased? In towns, is it the number of those who work by the day, or of masters and journeymen, of small heads of workshops, of retail and wholesale dealers, of intermediates between the producer and the consumer, which has in the same way increased? Let us feel well the importance of all these questions, when it is the sum of social happiness at two different periods that we wish to compare. Wealth is realized in enjoyment; but to estimate the mass of national enjoyment, it is almost always at the number of those who participate in it that we must stop, for the enjoyment of the rich man does not increase with his wealth.
We have infinite difficulty in conceiving a social organisation different from our own, and in seeing a past in which we did not live. However, the monuments alone of a country sometimes speak a language to which we cannot refuse to listen. Those which surround us in the place where we are writing this, revivify, the past with a power which presents it entire to the imagination. In Italy, from the most opulent city to the lowest village, there is scarcely a house which does not appear superior to the condition of those who inhabit it at this day; not a house which is not superior to what would be required now, even in the most prosperous countries, for men in the condition of those who have built it. Superb Genoa, the city of palaces, was raised by commerce, but let the palaces of Paris and London, which have been raised by modem commerce, be counted, let those in all the provinces of England and France be added to them, there will not be found so large a number as decorate this one city; there will not be found one that has the same imposing character of grandeur and magnificence. The opulence of the commercial men of our days has neither past nor future; thus it does not raise monuments. A single state amongst the republics of Italy seems to have reckoned more rich merchants than the two empires which, at this day, hold the sceptre of commerce. But the palaces of the merchants of Venice, of Florence, of Bologna, of Sienna, rivalled in magnificence those of Genoa; whilst the palaces of the military nobility ornamented Milan, Turin, Naples, Placentia, Modena, and Ferrara, more than Paris or London are now ornamented.
Let us descend to a lower condition; let us enter the smallest towns. Even that near which we are living at this moment, Pescia, enjoys, by a rare exception, all the prosperity of industry; we have seen raised there, in our own time, one of the greatest industrial fortunes of Italy; but what strikes us in Pescia, more than the opulence of those newly become rich, are the palaces of the nobility of the towns: such was their denomination. Pescia is a town containing four thousand inhabitants, and there may be counted there forty of these palaces, which, for the dignity of the architecture, the size of the halls, the noble form of the staircases, the vast extent of the apartments, can only be compared to the hotels which the highest aristocracy of France occupy in Paris. It is true that the interior no longer answers to the magnificence of the first design. On the contrary, the owners of the greater number of them can scarcely keep them standing; the furniture has disappeared, the frescoes are spoiled, and the family have retired to the least imposing part of these vast apartments; but does not their first construction speak sufficiently loud? Does it not say that there was a time when men of moderate but independent fortunes were much more numerous than they are now, and that these men had more taste for grandeur and beauty than they have now in the most prosperous countries of Europe?
Let us descend to a still lower condition. By placing ourselves in an elevated situation, near this same city of Pescia, the eye embraces, at one glance, in a radius of eight or ten miles, ten or fifteen of those small towns (bourgadea), inclosed in walls, which the Italians call castelli. This word answers to that of castle (chdteau) in so far as it indicates a fortified place, and is associated with the ideas of resistance and independence. But it differs from it, as the security of civil life was different in the middle ages, in France and Italy. The château in France was the residence of the only man who formerly was free in the country; of the gentleman who, behind his moats and his walls, secured himself from oppression. The castello, in Italy, was the residence of the free men of the country, who associated together to defnd themselves, of freemen who had surrounded their abode with a common inclosure, and who had sworn to hasten at the sound of the same bell, to repulse the same enemies. Let us enter these castles; they are mostly in ruins, and contain scarcely more than twenty or thirty houses. But the solid and strong walls of these houses of three or four stories high, have resisted war during five centuries, as well as the injuries of time. In general only one story is inhabited; those who there hide their humble household seem embarrassed with all that space in which they are lost. These houses had been built for men of a very superior condition to those who now inhahit them. They represent an order of men which no longer exists in the community; which is not found in England, in France, in Holland, in countries where workshops seem overflowing with wealth, any more than now in Italy. These men of a straitened but independent condition worked with their own hands, in gathering the fruits of their fields, and of their vines; but they did not divide them with any one; they reckoned on their own influence to direct the councils of their commune, and on their own swords, when necessary, to defend them; they felt such an assurance of the stability of their own fortunes, and of those of their children, that they wished to build houses that might last for ever. The The Val de Nievole, where these castelli arise round Pescia, their little capital, is not larger than the domain of more than one British peer, on which is seen only the magnificent residence of the lord, twenty large farms, and some hundred cottages of the day-labourers .
In no other country, without doubt, can be found the traces of such great former prosperity: so in none of those which now flourish can be found so great a diffusion of happiness. Nowhere are to be seen in proportion to their extent, and to their population, so many moderate but independent fortunes, along with so many colossal fortunes in the hands of those who have proved, not only that they had the power of wealth, but also that love of the beautiful which ennobles the use of it. This fact is very important; for the Italians who were so rich, did not employ those powers of nature which science has giveqa us; they did not produce, they did not create wealth, with that rapidity which strikes us in our workshops.
The monuments of architecture may give us some idea of the wealth of towns in former times, or of all that class of men who had leisure and superfluity. But what would be most importent to good political economy would be, to know the condition of the poor, to assure us, that provided he laboured, the community would guarantee his finding abundance and security. In general, the dwellings of the people do not resist for ages the injuries of time; their clothes, their food have much less durability. Scarcely any old author has given himself the trouble to make us acquainted with these vulgar things of his age, which excited so little interest. Besides, the politieal condition of each country continually complicated purely chresmatistic results; oppression, anarchy, war, continually struck the inferior ranks of society; and their effects must not be confounded with that produced by the creation of wealth.
It is not, however, perhaps impossible to gather among the historians of the middle ages some traits which have escaped them by chance, and which without completely painting to us the inferior ranks of society, will suffice to make us comprehend how much their state differed from what it is at present.
After the cessation of true feudalism, when the lord no longer wanted the peasant to enable him to defend himself in private wars, the most numerous and most oppressed class in the nation was that of villeins, who alone performed all the labours of agriculture. Their condition was not everywhere the same; in France and in Germany the number of serfs of the glebe was small-: the rest owed tithes to their clergy; to their lords, taxes, rates, and bodily service; to the king, the taille and corvee which took from them the greatest part of the revenue of their lands; but these lands were supposed to belong to them. The taille, which was an arbitrary imposition, was regulated according to their apparent wealth, their teams, their instruments of agriculture. Thus it induced the peasants to appear more indigent than they really were; and if they were not content with tile rudest and coarsest lodging, clothing, and food, at least carefully to hide all that might indicate some ease. The house which they inhabited, the land which they cultivated, remained to them and to their children; in this respect, the foundation of their fortune was not without security, but they had none for their income; the lord and the tax-gatherers in turns took from them the fruits of the ground which had been produced by hard labour, and reduced them to the most frightful distress. This was not all, the troops of the king were placed among them on free quarters, or often threw themselves upon them against the orders of the government. Then, not only did the soldier eat the peasant's broth, but obliged him to kill for him the labouring ox. Often he despoiled him after he beat him, to force a ransom from him, and it may be seen in the archives of the states of Languedoe, during the reigns of Henry the Third and Fourth, that these outrages caused the death of a great number of the families of peasants, and that the number of hearths rapidly diminished in the province.
We cannot think of such oppression without shuddering. So much insecurity, so much violence, so much suffering, must have spread through the whole population the seeds of that hatred which burst out at the revolution. The peasant who produced the means of life for the nation, felt that even the right to Live was not secured to him; the community acknowledged that he had a property, but did not guarantee it to him; to the feeling of indigence was continually added that of injustice; for it was by violence, by arbitrary conduct, that what he thought belonged to him was every moment taken away from him. But we must not, in respect to the condition of the peasant under the old rêgime, confound political oppression with chresmatistic oppression. As a citizen, the peasant had no guarantee, as a labourer he would not have been ill off. After having paid the rates, the tithes, and the regular taxes, there would have remained sufficient to maintain him in abundance, and in fact it was generally because he had a superfluity that he was exposed to extraordinary extortions. Troops on free quarters could not be sent among the negroes in the colonies, among the Irish cultivators, among the English cottagers, among the day-labourers of any country, among the lowest order. These last are they tbr whom it is calculated exactly how much is required to keep a man alive, and to enable him to work. Every day his daily pittance is meted out to him: by any extraordinary extortion his life indeed might be taken from him; there is nothing else of which the soldier quartered upon him could rob him.
In despotic states, rights are respected only so far as they are supported by force; now the inhabitants of cities, even the poorest, were not unprovided with a certain force. Even their title of burghers, in its German etymology, means confederates, one answering for another. They were, in effect, united to defend themselves, to obtain justice; they knew that the nobility detested them, despised them, but that nevertheless they feared them; the city had privileges, and burgher magistrates who administered justice, and its great association was divided into a number of small associations, bodies of trades, corporations, which watched over the interests of their members, and who, in a time of need, knew how to defend them sword in hand. The more general anarchy was, the more powerful were these corporations, and the better did they know how to make themselves respected. They yielded, it is true, sometimes,-then woe to the vanquished; for the conqueror joined to the cupidity and the ferocity of the robber the jealousy and the resentment of the gentleman. The cities of Flanders, and those of the bishopric of Liege, experienced this under the dominion of the house of Burgundy. It was then that the liberty and the security of the burghers were at an end; the government became more regular, but less just; the tradesman, the workman was deceived, humiliated, jeered at, by the gentleman who made him work and did not pay him; the burgherships, the corporations were powers, and the king would leave no power standing but his own; they were continually falling away till the revolution which suppressed them.
The spirit of bodies of men is always jealous and exclusive. The burghers and the corporations of trades wished for justice, liberty, equality for themselves, but they did not extend their attention to the whole nation. Jealous of their privileges, they were unwilling to communicate them. They closed the entrance into their community as much as possible; they drove back the inhabitant of the country who wished to become a citizen; they made the conditions of apprenticeship heavy; they granted the privilege of becoming a master tradesman with difficulty; but on the other hand, they wished that all burghers, all masters of trades, should be equal; they did not allow one master to have n great number of workmen under him; in many trades they limited him to one apprentice and one journeyman, and thus they succeeded in maintaining great inferiority in the industry of towns as to the number of hands employed, but great superiority as to the remuneration received from it, compared to the industry of the country.
The burghers had thus reserved for themselves as many monopolies as the trades which they exercised; and they gained from their fellow citizens the benefit of these monopolies: that is to say, they kept the market always imperfectly furnished, they sold dear and with great advantages, they had little zeal to improve what they produced, for they were secure of always finding a sale. They did not compete one with another, they did not undersell, they never lowered wages by competition; and as they had no poor, except the small number which had been made incapable of work by an accident, they supported them themselves; each trade had its purse, and had rarely recourse to the hospitals. These, founded by charitable men, provided for the necessities of the population; the number of beds which were found to be in proportion to rite indigence of one generation, were also in proportion to those of the following generation. It was never perceived till the revolution, that charitable relief created poverty.
This system considered in relation to things, in relation to the creàtion of wealth, and according to chresmatistic rules, was, without doubt, bad. It was at the same time an obstacle to abundant, to improvement, and to cheapness; but with regard to persons, have all the effects of destroying it been well calculated? It powerfully restrained the country people, always eager to flow into the towns, even should they lose there their health, their independence, and their happiness. It raised an almost insurmountable obstacle to the unlimited increase of the industrial population, for the number of masters was limited, and no workman married before he became a master. It maintained equality among the masters, securing to each one independence and mediocrity, instead of permitting a single one, collecting in his workshop a hundred workmen, to swallow up the industry of all others. It assured whoever entered the industrial career of sufficient subsistence as soon as he began to work, of a regular though slow progress towards ease, of a secure condition for himself and his family when he had arrived at mature age.
In fact, historic proof is not wanting to establish the truth that all industrial business in the middle ages, and till the fall of the ancient régime, was always amply remunerated. Great well-being prevailed among artisans. Historians, so prolix on war, so brief, so ignorant as regards all the other phenomena of the life of nations, never bring the citizens on the stage, except during public calamities. It is the tumult of the Ciompi which brings before us the poorest artizans of Florence; the domination of the two Arteveldes, and the quarrel of the Whitehoods, which make us acquainted with those of Flanders; the civil wars of the Burgundians and the Armagnacs, and especially of the League, which initiate us into the different orders of burghers in France. It is after reading the memoirs of these stormy periods that we remain convinced of the consideration which good burghers obtained in the community—masters of trades which are now less honourable; of the hereditary easy circumstances which was preserved in their families, of the richness of their dress, which “it was necessary to restrain by sumptuary laws,—in short, of the liberal wages which labour always commanded, and of the certainty which workmen felt that they should be well received and well paid in another town, when a violent revolution drove them from their own.
What then is the end of human society? Is it to dazzle the eyes by the immense production of useful and elegant things; to astonish the understanding by the empire which man exercises over nature, and by the precision and rapidity with which inanimate machines execute human work? Is it to cover the sea with vessels, and the land with railways, distributing in every way the productions of an ever-increasing industrial activity? Is it to give to two or three individuals in a hundred thousand the power of disposing of an opulence which would give comfort to all these hundred thousand? In this case we have, without doubt, made immense progress, in comparison with our ancestors; we are rich in invention, rich in activity, rich in scientific power, rich especially in merchandizc; for every nation has not only enough for itself, but for all its neighbours. But if the end which society ought to propose to itself, in favouring labour, and securing its fruits, should rather be to secure the developemsnt of man, and of all men; to spread with a beneficent hand through the whole community, though in different proportions, the fruits of the labour of man, those fruits which we call wealth; if these fruits, which comprise moral and intellectual as wen as material benefits, ought to be a means of improvement as well as of enjoyment, is it sure that we have approached nearer the object? Is it sure that in searching after wealth we have not forgotten the order and regulation of the house, and of the city, Political Economy?
In all the military monarchies of Europe, property, as well as all the other rights of the citizens, was ill protected, those of the weak not at all. The possessions of poor peasants, of poor artisans, were subjected to vexations and exactions, now only known in the despotic monarchies of the East: it is not by this state of violence, the fruit of a detestable political organization, that we must judge of the reward formerly secured to labour. We have seen. that the lowest rank among the inhabitants of the country, the cultivators, were in general proprietors loaded with dues, it is true, but with dues which would have left them a superfluity, if the rapaciousness of the powerful had not often snatched it from them: the lowest rank among the inhabitants of towns, the apprentices and journeymen, were in general well clothed, well fed, well lodged in the house of the master with whom they worked; and they were sure, by assiduity, of becoming masters in their turn, and being then for the rest of their lives sheltered from want.
The order which we have substituted for this, and which the chresmatistic school considers as its triumph, is founded on quite other principles. This school, pursuing as it wers abstractedly the increase of wealth, without asking in whose favour this wealth ought to be accumulated, has proposed as the object of nations the production of the greatest posdble quantity of work at the cheapest rate. Wealth, it says, is so much of the useful product of labour as is not consumed, which accumulates on the earth: this wealth accumulates in two ways, by more being produced, and less spent. Each member of the community wishes to enrich himself, each one therefore endeavours to increase what he produces, or to diminish the expense of it; each one, individually, thus tends to the common object of human society. Give to all these individual actions their free spring. Far from restraining men either in what they produce or in what they save; let them on the contrary be excited by universal rivalry and competition; let these reign equally amongst all conditions, and all men of every condition: wealth will then be seen to increase, either by the augmentation of production, or the diminution of expense, with an activity which former ages have never known. From hence, in fact, the chresmatistics, or all those who in our time have become celebrated as political economists, have held out to all industrials, to all the undertakers of work of every kind, discourses in favour of the indefinite liberty of industry and trade, in favour of the most animated competition, which may be thus translated:—“Seek your own interest before every thing else; you will find it in being preferred to your rivals, whether as relates to selling or to working; you will find it in malrlng the most lucrative conditions you can with those who wish to serve you; whether they relate to purchasing from them, or to malting them work for you. Perhaps you will thus reduce them to indigence, perhaps you will ruin them, perhaps you will destroy their health or their lives. That is not your business: you represent the interest of the consumers; now each one is a consumer in his turn; therefore you represent the interest of all, the national interest. Thus listen to no consideration, let no pity stop you, for perhaps you will be called on to say to your rivals, your death is our life.”
This language will appear harsh, no doubt, but it is not more so than the conduct of those rivals, who throughout the whole of Europe have been called on by this new doctrine to supplant one another, to destroy one another. Two modes of acting, equally encouraged by chresmatistism, have begun, wherever free scope has been granted to individual interests. On one hand the object was to create more wealth, more of those things which labour makes, and which man desires to consume. Now, as things only become wealth when they find the consumer who is willing to purchase them in order to use them, and as wants do not increase with production, each industrial wished to occupy the place of his rival, and to take away his customers. Nations rival one another in production, and glory in it. If a Frenchman can dispose of his merchandize in a foreign market, till then reserved to the English, or if the Englishman can exclude the Frenchman, each praises himself, and demands the applause of his countrymen, not merely as having made a good speculation, but as having performed a patriotic action. The same rivalship exists between towns of the same empire, between workshop and workshop o£ the same town. Everywhere it is equally war to the death: its consequences are the ruin of the heads, the mortality of the subalterns; it overthrows as many fortunes as it raises, and the branch of commerce which flourishes the most, is probably that in which, taken altogether, there have been the most failures, for new fortunes have only risen from the overthrow of older ones. In fact, before the introduction of universal competition, the celebrity of manufactures belonged to their age; the name of the great fabricators was like a title of nobility which they transmitted with pride to their descendants: now antiquity is a title to distrust, and a prognostic of ruin; it is only beginners who are enterprizing, industrious, and who know how to undersell their rivals.
But if each one labours to increase production, each one labours also to produce cheaper, and one of these is the necessary consequence, the completion of the other. Now wealth, we have said, is the fruit of labour: economy in the expense of production can be nothing but economy in the quantity of labour employed to produce, or economy in the payment of this labour. In fact, from one extremity to the other of the countries in which free competition is admitted, the governing idea which is excited, in whoever undertakes productive labour, or whoever pays for it, is to make more things with the same quantity of human labour, or as many things with a less quantity of human labour, or to obtain human labour at a lower price. Now whenever these two first conditions are obtained, the third necessarily follows, for all superabundant hands are thrown on the market, and are obliged to offer themselves at a cheaper rate. Let whatever is called progress in the arts, in manufactures, in agriculture, be examined, and it will be found that every discovery, every improvement, may be reduced to doing as much with less labour, or more with the same labour; all progress tends also to reduce the value and reward of labour, or the ease of those who live only to labour.
The fundamental change which has taken place in society, amidst the universal struggle created by competition, is the introduction of the proletary among human conditions, the name of whom, borrowed from the Romans, is ancient, but whose existence is quite new. The proletaries were in the Roman republic men who had nothing, who paid no taxes, and who belonged to the country only by the proles, by the offspring which they produced for it; for the Romans, as well as ourselves, had observed that they have the most numerous families, who having nothing, take no care to rear them. For the rest, the Roman proletary did not labour; for in a community which admits slavery, labour is dishonourable to free men; he lived almost entirely at the expense of the community, on the distribution of provisions made by the republic It may almost be said, that in modem times the community lives at the expense of the proletary, on that share of the remuneration of his labour which it deducts from him. The proletary, in fact, according to the order which chresmatistism tends to establish, ought alone to be loaded with all the labour of the community, and ought to be a stranger to all property, and live only on wages. The community, according to the chresmatistic school, is divided, as regards that labour which produces wealth, into three classes of persons: landed proprietors, capitalists, and day-labourers or proletaries. The first give land, the second employment, and the third hand-labour; in return, the first receive rent, the second profit, and the third wages; each endeavours to retain as much as he can of the total product, and their reciprocal struggle fixes the proportion between rent, profit, and wages.
The abolition of corporations and of their privileges created the first proletaries, men working by the day, in towns; every one can enter into any trade, and quit it when he pleases to choose another; every one can offer his strength and skill to whoever will employ him; every one, without apprenticeship, without admission into any body, without a workshop or a retail shop, can labour on the capital of another, in the undertaking of another, without having accumulated anything; and he thinks he has gained liberty by losing security. At first the workmen, the proletaries, were a small number, in a situation which was a kind of exception to the trades; but they soon multiplied, whilst the old masters, journeymen, and apprentices almost entirely disappeared, and now the proletaries execute the greatest part of the work of towns.
The revolution produced in field-labour or agriculture was not so sudden. The cultivators, instead of losing any part of their property, on the contrary saw it ameliorated, by the suppression of feudal rights; those who were proprietors, feudatories, and metayers, have continued to unite to their interest as labourers a right in the property which neutralizes it; only the farmers in countries which had adopted cultivation on a large scale, began to find it more convenient to direct labour than to labour themselves, to place themselves on a level with the undertakers of manufactures, and to cause the work which they required, to be executed by the proletaries of agriculture, whom they engaged or dismissed as it suited their convenience. The economical revolution, which has replaced the old peasantry by the proletaries of agriculture, is only fully accomplished in England, but it has already begun everywhere. Everywhere are seen some day-labourers; their number increases, whilst that of the peasants diminishes. The peasant is the cultivator who holds from the country, who has his hereditary right, his share of the country; the day-labourer holds by nothing but the day: he is a cultivator without any interest in the country. The first aspires to perpetuity, the last has neither past nor future.
In the pursuit of, or endeavouring after cheapness in manufacturing, the chresmatistic school has acknowledged as a principle, that there is always loss in the division of a given power; that capitals which represent power in the creation of wealth are so much the more usefully employed the more they are united; that twenty thousand pounds can accomplish more work in one single undertaking, than ten times two thousand pounds in ten different undertakings; that there is a saving in the construction of great machines in their durability, in their friction, in responsibility (comptabilité), in inspection; in short, the more wealth is accumulated in one single hand, the cheaper can it execute the work it has undertaken. At the same time that this principle has been theoretically acknowledged, it has been vigorously followed up through personal interest, aud it is its application, which, rendering all medium situations untenable, has forced all those who were driven from them into the ranks of the proletaries, so as daily to increase their number. This principle, in fact, which creates an abyss between extreme opulence and extreme poverty, applies equally to all industrial labour, and it gradually drives everywhere out of the field that happy independence, that happy mediocrity, which was long the object of the wishes of the wise. According to the English economists, there is much more profit, and much more economy in practising agriculture on large than on small farms. The inspection of different kinds of labour is easier; less time is lost in going from one to another; the farmer, master of a considerable capital, has received an education suitable to his fortune; he also employs more intelligence and more knowledge; all his tools, his beasts, his buildings, are better and more lasting; he is not forced to sell so soon, so that his bargains are more advantageous. In fact, wherever great farmers have competed with small ones, they have ruined them.
By following up this pretended improvement, an economy of human lives has been obtained in agriculture which the chresmatistics find admirable. Not only have all small farmers descended to the condition of day-labourers, but still more, a great number of day-labourers have been forced to give up field-labour; for we are assured that there was in the system of small farms much labour lost, which is not lost now. But can industrial labour employ the families which arc now sent out of the fields into towns? can it give them bread? Has the proportion which must necessarily exist between the productions of the earth, and those of the arts, been considered? And when we see in one country which stands alone, artisans as numerous as labourers, is it not acknowledged that these artisans are so numerous only because they supply the whole world with the things which they make?
In fact, the industry of towns has adopted the principle of the union of power, the union of capital, with still more vigour than that of the country. In England it is only by the immensity of capitals that manufactures prosper. It is only where a manufacturer has much credit at his disposal, that there is economy in the power of machines, in their durability, in the inspection of the work people, in scientific works, in responsibility, in facilities of sale. Great workshops, competing with small ones, have in every market an advantage in proportion to their size.
Whenever great capitals are united, and a great workshop rises up, and different sorts of work are accelerated and concentrated under the same management, so that from the same edifice, the same factory, may be given out cloth made of what was, four and twenty hours before, a fleece on the back of a living sheep, the chresmatistic school utters cheering cries of admiration, it extols to the clouds the prosperity of a country where one man can every day load a vessel with cloths, or hardware, or earthenware, sufficient for many thousands of his fellow men; but what a strange forgetfulness of human kind never to inquire what becomes of the man which the great factory has displaced! For, in short, all the consumers which it furnishes were not before without clothes, nor without tools, nor without earthenware; but they provided themselves from those hundreds of little tradesmen who formerly lived happy in independence, and who have disappeared to make room for one millionaire in the mercantile world.
As by the power of great capital all independent trades have been attacked, and the man who was formerly a master in a trade has been forced to descend to the rank of a man who works by the day, of a proletary, so also have been attacked the domestic labours of the inferior members of the family; and the chresmatistic school has, by its arguments, seconded the power of money, and the seduction of cheapness. Why, it says, should the housewife spin, weave, and prepare all the linen of the family? All this work would be done infinitely cheaper at the manufactory; with much less money the housewife would have more stuffs, and of a finer quality. Why should she knead the bread? she cannot make it so light, she cannot bake it to such an exact point, she cannot make it so cheaply as the baker. Why should she make the pot boil? An establishment on a great scale, with supplies made beforehand, a considerable capital and a common inspection, would procure her better food with great saving of time and fuel. Omnibus kitchens might even every day bring her soup to her door. Why? Why, because reciprocal cares and duties form and strengthen domestic ties; because the wife endears herself to the family of the poor man by the solicitude with which she provides for its first necessities; because love is often in a labouring man only a brutal and transient passion; but his affection for her who every day prepares for him the only enjoyment which he can obtain in the day, thus increases also every day. It is the wife who foresees, and who remembers, in the midst of that life passed so rapidly in labour, and physical wants; it is she who knows how to combine economy, neatness, and order, with abundance. It is in the happiness she gives that she finds strength to resist, if it is necessary, the imperious demands of drunkenness and gluttony. When the wife has nothing to do in the house but to produce children, can it be supposed that the sacred bond of marriage is not more broken, than by the lessons and the example of the most reprehensible immorality?
Manufactures have, however, in those nations which are called the most prosperous, gained the advantage over domestic labours, as well as over independent trades. Their success has been announced as a prodigious conquest of industry, and publicists as well as the heads of the chresmatistic school, rivalled one another in felicitations on the rapid increase of public wealth. But a frightful reality suddenly appeared, disturbing all minds, and shaking all the principles which had been announced in so dogmatic a tone: it was the appearance of Pauperism, its rapid and threatening increase, and the confession of the oracles of the science that they felt themselves powerless to remedy it. Pauperism is a calamity which began by making itself felt in England, and which has at present no other name but what the English have given it, though it begins to visit also other industrial countries. Pauperism is the state to which proletaries are necessarily reduced when work fails. It is the condition of men who must live by their labour, who can only work when capitalists employ them, and who, when they are idle, must become a burden on the community. This community, which gives all its support to the rich, does- not allow the proletary to labour on the land, unless the proprietor or his tenant wants him for this purpose. It does not allow him to work at trades, if the manufacturer or his foreman does not want him. Justice and humanity equally proclaim the necessity of legal charity, or of a provision made by social authority in favour of the poor, whose distress would he no less alarming than grievous. No community has believed that it could refuse this legal charity, but it is only very recently that experience and calculation have equally demonstrated that the community has not the power to support such a burden. The Poor Law increases the wretchedness of the poor, their dependence, and their vices, at the same time that it is capable of raising them from indigence only in proportion as it absorbs the clear nett income of the richest nation.
What then is become of this opulence so long cried up? Where is this progress towards prosperity which we are called on to admire? Since nations became richer, are they more in a state to feed themselves? By forgetting men for things, by unceasingly multiplying material wealth, has only poverty then been created? By exciting each one to seek only his own advantage at the expense of all those with whom he has any transactions, have we gained, instead of the equilibrium of all individual powers, only the combined action of each one, for his own advantage no doubt, but to the disadvantage of all. We have long said so, it is true, but writing makes little impression when it attacks a dominant system. Facts are more obstinate and more rebellious. They do not manifest themselves less from its being supposed that they can be refuted without being heard, as if they were only writings; they often increase from having been neglected, and then they fall with their whole weight on the most skilfully constructed theory, crushing and overthrowing it at the very moment when its author was congratulating himself on having victoriously refuted all his adversaries.