Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY No. XIV. - The Principles of Free Trade
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ESSAY No. XIV. - Condy Raguet, The Principles of Free Trade 
The Principles of Free Trade illustrated in a series of short and familiar Essays originally published in the Banner of the Constitution, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, 1840).
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ESSAY No. XIV.
february 13, 1830.
On the influence upon public and private prosperity of labour-saving machinery. Absurdity of the prevailing opinion that labour-saving machines are injurious to the interests of the working classes.
I saw some time ago in one of the papers, an account of a newly-invented cart, by which one man, a boy and three horses, can remove and embank as much dirt in one day, as twenty men can with three common carts. Now, as I belong to the American System party, I look upon this invention as pregnant with the most disastrous consequences. It will inevitably throw out of employment thousands of the industrious poor, who now obtain their living by working on our numerous rail roads and canals, and who will not in any imaginable mode be able to obtain the means of subsistence for themselves and families. Would it not be a thousand times more beneficial to the public, that the old fashioned process of digging and carting should be adhered to, rather than that this new-fangled contrivance should be introduced into general use? Only reflect for a moment, Mr. Editor, upon the immense amount of American Industry that would be thrown out of employment. The statement says, that the work can be done, by the new method, at one-sixth of the expense of the old; in other words, that one man will be able to do what it used to take six men to perform. The very thoughts of this are appalling, and, to the philanthropic mind, are of the most grief-inspiring character. Instead of seeing our industrious labouring population having full employment, one of the very motives for which internal improvements have been so widely introduced, five-sixths of them will be discharged, and thus will an immense capital of labour be sunk to the community, which could have been profitably employed in real American Industry.
I have not addressed you, since the time when I gave you some hints for the Free Trade Advocate, upon the advantages of snow storms, in affording employment to the poor.
Yours, truly, A Friend to American Industry.
These American System reasoners are the most incorrigible logicians in the world. The doctrine here advanced is the old story about manufactures giving employment to the poor, which has been so often refuted, that one would suppose it hardly possible that a vestige of it should remain. The fact, however, is otherwise. It is not long since we had a conversation with a respectable English gentleman, in which he expressed his opinion, that the chief cause of the great distress which has lately existed in Great Britain, was the extensive introduction of labour-saving machinery. He said he considered labour-saving machinery as a positive evil, and by way of illustrating how it was so, he expressed himself as follows: “I recollect, when I was a boy, in England, I have often gone to a farm house, where I have seen the family all industriously occupied. One would be spinning, and another weaving. At the present day such employments are entirely banished from many houses, owing to the cheapness with which cotton and woollen cloths are to be had.” We asked him if he thought that an invention which would enable two persons of the family to do what it formerly took three to perform, was an evil? He replied in the affirmative, and finding him to be a disciple of Bell’s Weekly Messenger, we gave up his conversion as hopeless.
That labour-saving machines, when first introduced, do operate, for a time, to the prejudice of the individuals whose pursuits have been disturbed by them, is undeniably true; but that the community, considered as one family, having a common interest, sustains any injury, is not true. This can be demonstrated by supposing the case of a family, which is but an epitome of a larger society. If it consist of ten in number, who, by their joint labour, raise all the food they eat, and manufacture all the clothes they wear, it is very manifest, that, if any labour-saving invention should be introduced amongst them, which would be equal to the labour of one individual, the effect of it would be, either that the whole ten would have a tenth part of their time to devote to study or recreation, or to some other pursuit, or that the labour of one individual of the ten might be applied to the production of some additional article of necessity, or comfort, which the family did not before possess. If, however, there was no such article that could be thought of at the moment, time would soon point out one, for human wants and desires have no limits, and, in the mean time, it is very evident, that the ability of the family to maintain the whole ten, even admitting one to be idle, would be just as great as it was before.
The structure of society differs somewhat from that of a private family, though not so much as might at first sight appear. In society, each individual maintains himself, and does not call upon the other members for assistance, unless he is reduced to absolute want. An individual, therefore, may suffer very materially by the introduction of labour-saving machinery, until he can have time to find out some new employment, or until, what very often happens, the increased demand for the article, in the production of which he used to be employed, arising from its cheapness, shall have restored the demand for his labour. In the mean time, however, it must be observed, that the society is just as able to maintain the labourer in question, in his state of idleness, as it was whilst he was employed, because the products of the industry of the whole society would be as great as they were before. The evil, however, could be but temporary. Labour-saving machinery is only gradually introduced, and the increased demand for commodities, so speedily follows the reduction of price, always accompanying the superior facility of fabrication, that only a limited number of individuals are, at any one time, in danger of being thrown out of employment.
In regard to the labour-saving machine which forms the subject of the foregoing communication, the effect of its general introduction would be, that the work to which it is applied would be done in one-sixth part of the time originally contemplated, if the same number of hands should be kept at work, and, at the expiration of that time, the employers would be in possession of a capital sufficient to employ the same labourers upon five other canals or rail roads, or, if they were not wanted, upon some other species of work requiring manual labour. But to make this plain, suppose a canal to be projected, to cost six millions of dollars, and to occupy six thousand men for six years. All at once a machine, for excavating, loading, transporting, and embanking the earth, is invented, which will enable each man to perform the work which before required six. Now, as the proprietor of the canal has every inducement to finish his work with all possible despatch, in order to save the interest on his capital expended, and to hasten the period at which he should collect his tolls, he will naturally keep the whole of his six thousand men employed for one year, which will be all the time that is requisite for the completion of his work. No men therefore would be discharged during that term, and as the proprietor would have at his disposal at the end of the year, five millions of dollars, he could, if he found it to be his interest, undertake new canals, or, at all events, some other species of work, requiring the labour of six thousand men; and the very saving of that capital, brought about by the labour-saving invention, may be looked upon as a fund absolutely set apart for the support of the same six thousand men, or another equal number of labourers for five years. Indeed, as capital saved is always an addition to the stock, from which all labourers must be supported, it is impossible to imagine any diminution in the expenses of producing a commodity, or even a canal, without, at the same time, forming the idea of a fresh fund, which will as certainly be devoted to the support of industry of some kind or other, as that it exists.
What is true of this case, is equally true of almost all other occupations into which labour-saving inventions can be introduced, and there is scarcely one, where the increased demand for the commodities, lowered in price by the adoption of machinery, has not kept up the demand for an equal number of labourers. This has clearly been the case in reference to the cotton manufacture—more people being now employed on it, than before the invention of the modern power-looms and spindles.