Front Page Titles (by Subject) 67.: THE TRUCK SYSTEM  EXAMINER, 19 DEC., 1830, P. 803 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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67.: THE TRUCK SYSTEM  EXAMINER, 19 DEC., 1830, P. 803 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE TRUCK SYSTEM 
This article comments on the debate in the House of Commons on the Truck System (14 Dec., 1830; PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 1, cols. 1133-82) occasioned by the request for leave to introduce “A Bill to Consolidate and Amend the Laws Prohibiting the Payment of Wages in Goods,” 1 William IV (16 Dec., 1830), PP, 1830-31, II, 559-71. It was brought in by Edward John Littleton (1791-1863), 1st Baron Hatherton, reforming M.P. from 1812 until he entered the Lords in 1835. His bill was enacted as 1 & 2 William IV, c. 37 (1831). For further discussion, see No. 70. This leading article, in the “Political Examiner,” headed as title, is described in Mill’s bibliography as “An article headed ‘Truck System’ in the Examiner of 19th December 1830”
(MacMinn, p. 13).
all mankind have long known what an English Parliament is capable of when it means ill. If the debate of Tuesday last is to be regarded as a specimen of what it can accomplish when it means well, we know not what prayer remains for us to put up, unless for a speedy deliverance from it.
It is melancholy to see the immense subject of the condition of the working classes paltered with by miserable trifling. Would not any one suppose, from the speeches in the House of Commons on Tuesday, that what makes the labouring population miserable is, not low wages, but the medium in which wages are paid. Parliament is so wise as to believe, that the labourer will receive a larger remuneration, if prevented from receiving it in the shape in which it is most convenient to the master to give it. Mr. Hume (certainly no enemy to the working people) pointed out the absurdity of this;1 but nobody, not one man, had sufficient foresight to perceive that Mr. Littleton’s bill will infallibly lower wages, instead of raising them.
The object of the bill is to compel the payment of wages in money. Now, money is a portion of the national wealth, which costs much, but produces nothing. It administers to no man’s wants. No labourer can subsist upon it, or use it as tools or materials for production. Whatever, therefore, enables the business of the country to be done with less money, increases its productive resources. By being enabled to dispense with the use of money, the employers of labour are enabled to render the whole of their capital available for production—to hire productive labourers to the full amount of their means. But if this bill passes, they will be obliged to withdraw a part of their capital from productive employment; to turn off part of their labourers; and what would have been paid to those labourers, if allowed to be paid in the form of goods, they will be obliged to export, for the purpose of merely procuring a circulating medium, wherewith to pay the wages of the remainder of their labourers.
Thus there will be less real means of employment for labourers than before; and the existing poverty of the working people will be aggravated.
Lord Althorp, from whom we expected better things, said, that he would be against interference between employer and workman, if the contract were a free one on the labourer’s side; but that it is not so, for the employer can dictate terms to the labourer.2 But why can the employer dictate terms to the labourer? Only because there is another labourer standing by unemployed, who will accept the terms if his fellow-labourer refuses them. This is what gives the employer undue power; and undue power he will have, so long as there is a greater number of labourers than can find employment. So long as this is the case, the labourer must accept any terms which are preferable to the parish allowance; and is it really supposed that the matter will be mended, by declaring that his hard lot shall only be dealt out to him in one particular way? If the laws of Parliament could get the better of the laws of nature, why not fix a minimum of wages; that would, at least, be facing the difficulty boldly. But our legislation resembles a cottage-window in Ireland, with three of the four panes of glass entirely out, and a rag carefully stuffed in to close a trifling breach in the only remaining one.
Then it is asserted that the labourer is dependant by being in his employer’s debt; and it is consequently proposed, for the labourer’s good, to deprive the employer of any legal means of recovering wages paid in advance. This amounts to neither more nor less than enacting a law, that if a working man is in temporary distress, he shall either go upon the parish or starve. Such is the upshot of all this humanity and philanthropy.
The Globe had, on Thursday, an excellent article on this question, which we gladly recommend to universal attention.3 This is one of a class of subjects which the Editor of that paper has always understood better than any other of our journalists. The speeches of Mr. Hume and of Mr. Hyde Villiers are worth reading.4
[1 ]PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 1, cols. 1139-52, esp. 1140.
[2 ]Ibid., col. 1165. John Charles Spencer (1782-1845), Viscount Althorp, M.P. from 1804 until he went to the Lords in 1834 as 3rd Earl Spencer. In November 1830 he had become Chancellor of the Exchequer and leader of the House of Commons in Earl Grey’s ministry.
[3 ]Leading article, Globe and Traveller, 16 Dec., 1830, p. 2.
[4 ]Thomas Hyde Villiers (1801-32), a member of the London Debating Society of which Mill had been the moving spirit, was an M.P. from 1826 until his death (see No. 189). For his speech on the truck system, see PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 1, cols. 1159-63.