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CHAPTER VII: labour capitalisation - Wordsworth Donisthorpe, Individualism: A System of Politics 
Individualism: A System of Politics (London: Macmillan and Co., 1889).
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Finally, let us examine the system which may be called the Capitalisation of Labour.
In order to understand the foundations on which the system is based, it may be as well to examine the whole labour question from three distinct points of view: from the historical standpoint, the juridical standpoint, and the economic standpoint.
We may trace the history of industrialism briefly through its successive changes along with the progress of civilisation, and then, by discovering the general tendency, predict with tolerable certainty the direction which further changes are likely to take. In the earliest times of which we have any record we find the whole of the working population—that is, of those who toil with their hands, the agricultural labourers and artisans—in a state of abject slavery. Long before they emerged from that state their lot as slaves considerably improved, but still they remained slaves. We hear much of the liberty and democracy of the Greeks, but we know that at the time when Athenians were enjoying a high degree of civilisation the great majority of the people of Attica were slaves. For every freeman in Athens there must have been four or five others who were written off as mere chattels. While every citizen of full age had a voice in the affairs of the State, these poor toilers had none. So that universal suffrage in those days meant what it would mean now if the working classes were disfranchised. The slaves were of course bought and sold. Aristotle himself defines them as “animated machines.” The Malthusian restraints were rigidly applied, not by them but to them, because their masters found it cheaper to buy than to rear them. They were of two classes, the bondsmen in the fields, who more nearly resembled the serfs of Norman England, inasmuch as they could not be exported or separated from their families, and the town slaves, who were chiefly barbarians, that is, foreigners and captives in war; these more nearly resembled the slaves of the American plantations of last generation. They stood on a stone in the circle, and were knocked down by auction to the highest bidder at sums ranging from half a mina to twenty or thirty minas. But these high prices were paid chiefly for courtesans and cithara players. This class of slave could not acquire property like the serfs. The miners worked in chains, and frequently died from the effects of the bad air in the ill-ventilated mines. They were sometimes kept in gangs and let out for hire, when their owners seem to have realised something like a profit of 15 per cent. Slaves were not believed on oath, but when their evidence was required they were tortured. Still, even this was an advance upon the slavery of still earlier times, for we find that it was unlawful to hurt a slave without just cause, nor could a master kill his own slave without obtaining a legal sentence against him. Moreover, slaves had certain privileges of sanctuary, and sometimes, though rarely, they were manumitted, when they were compelled to respect their former master as a patron under penalty of being again sold into slavery.
Coming down to later times we find the position of the lioman slave still further ameliorated. One law makes it penal for a master to kill his own slave: later still such an act is made murder. Again, it was enacted that when slaves were sold, the family should not be broken up. Young children could no longer be separated from their parents, nor a husband from his wife. Manumission was of far more frequent occasion than among the Greeks. From being mere domestics, mechanics, and artisans, they rose to the position of commercial agents, and were allowed to acquire property, called peculium, and to enforce their claims in the Courts of Law. We find also doctors, literary men, actors, and courtesans fetching high prices. Although Christianity did not condemn the institution of slavery, it is said by some to have mitigated the harshness of owners; but the observed change may, with greater probability, be referred to the advance in morality accompanying a growing civilisation. The incursions of the northern barbarians upset the existing relations between masters and slaves, and when the clouds are again lifted we find the “Adscripti Glebæ ” in the place of all the heterogeneous classes and sub-classes of Eoman slaves. These “Adscripti Glebæ?” were the “serfs ” of the Middle Ages.
Serfdom or villeinage was at first a state in which the serf belonged to the lord of the soil like his stock or cattle. They were removable from the folk-land at the lord's pleasure. A tendency towards something like liberty is seen in the distinction between “pure villeinage ” and “privileged villeinage.” The first “was when a villein held land on terms of doing whatsoever was commanded of him, nor knew in the evening what was to be done in the morning.” His services were undefined. Privileged villeins, on the other hand, could not be removed from their holdings so long as they performed certain definite services. Rase and compulsory as these services were, it is worthy of remark that these villein-socmeu were commonly described as “free.” How these services came to be commuted one by one into a fixed rent in kind or in money, and finally in money only, is a long story.1 When the lot of the workman of to-day is unfavourably compared (as it frequently is by socialists) with the lot of the workers of four or five centuries ago, we must remember that the comparison is usually made between two different strata of society. The happy yeomen of those days (if they were so happy) are the farmers of to-day, not the wage-earning labourers. No doubt the small landholders of the period following upon the Black Death were in tolerably comfortable circumstances; but when we come to examine the position of those who had no strips to plough, the case is very different. But to proceed with our short historical survey. Trade, commerce, and town life bring many changes. The rise of the great middle class in Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; its conflicts with the ancient feudal aristocracy and eventual triumph, consummated (in this country) in the great Reform Act of 1832; the gradual development of two new parties, employers and employed, or so-called capitalists and manual labourers, are grand historical facts which bring us down to the present day.
The battle is now between employer and employed. Year by year the strife waxes hotter. We are now in the midst of it. Louder and louder roar the discontented hosts of wage earners. Inch by inch the baffled capitalists retire before the onward pressure of numbers. Masters quail; they offer terms; they buy off the enemy for a while; and then again the billows swell and roll forward as before. Whither does all this tend? See, the millions are organising: no longer a mob, they are an army. The battle cannot rage for ever with equal fortune. And which side shall win? That is the question which some answer with hope, others with despair. It is for us to project the converging rays of the past into the future, and with that light to predict the outcome.
The workman is free at last. After centuries of struggles, of successes, and of failures, serfdom in this country is dead. The last vestige of the system perished within the memory of living men, though it was practically extinct long before. The sale of a human being in England, even though he himself be the vendor, is void. A slave landed for one moment on English soil is by law free. Even a long lease of a man (if I may use the expression) is discountenanced, and apprentices are getting rarer year by year. The question whether a contract of service intended to last during the servant's lifetime was legal, was raised for the last time, I believe, just half a century ago.1
The binding of even young persons for so long a period as seven years is regarded as savouring of serfdom; and so, with all respect to the recommendations of Royal Commissioners, it is. I admit that the change brings evils in its train. Periods of transition from one régime to another invariably bristle with dangers and difficulties; but let us beware lest, in our efforts to escape from them, we magnify the good of the old order which is passing away, more than the greater good of the new order which is surely coming. “Faith is the evidence of things not seen.” And it is a rare virtue!
And now what have we in the place of that which is passed away? Instead of serfdom we have wagedom. The present system is one of labour hiring. At the bottom of the scale we find agricultural labourers standing out for a real wage, fair and square, without patronage or privilege: at the top we find the men in the large mills, the factories, the iron-works, and the mines, demanding something more than this. They are already in the happy position to which the agricultural labourers are aspiring, and yet they are discontent. No wonder. They have discovered by experience that they receive no more than is necessary to keep them in repair for the employers. The evidences of increased prosperity have been worked up and blown out by the '' exploiting” class; but the workers know perfectly well that the accounts of their growing wealth are not only untrue but demonstrably false àriori. A man will not listen to an argument showing that he himself feels very well, when he surely knows that he feels very ill. Nor will he patiently listen to those who tell him he is very happy, when he knows he is very wretched. Then what are these workers in the advance guard of the industrial army clamouring for? The truth is they cannot answer definitely themselves. They hardly know. They speak with inarticulate voice. But we can see from one or two indications whither their aspirations tend. And upon the indistinct goal of their endeavours we must keep our eye, in order that we may be able to predict the probable nature of the relations between employers and employed in the near or distant future. Why have some of them agitated for a sliding scale? Because they feel that they have a right to a share of the profits of the undertaking upon which they are engaged. Therefore, they say, we will have a sliding scale, because when the price of our product is high we shall receive a higher wage. This shows that whatever economic doctrine they may hold in theory, they feel in practice that they are after all worth something more than the wages they fetch in the open market. Again, the arbitrations between masters and men which have become such a prominent institution of late are clearly based on a dim recognition of the same doctrine: and yet again, the establishment of large co-operative societies for the purposes of production or distribution is due to a feeling that the workers have a right to a share, if not the whole of the profits of the undertaking they contribute to. All these signs show that the working classes themselves (and, to a certain extent, their employers also) dimly perceive that they have some rights (more than those of the horses and oxen who also help to create) to the resulting compound. It is hardly remarkable that, after being long deprived of any share of the produce, they should some of them swing round to the extreme view that their share is the whole of it.
The outcome of our historical survey is not definite or precise. It amounts to this: that there is a strong feeling among the workers (and others), not perhaps amounting to a reasoned conviction, that they have a right to a share of the wealth they help to create. Will a juridical analysis of the respective rights of the workers and masters furnish the exact quantitative relations?
I do not propose here to discuss the expediency of the institution of private property. 1 shall assume that it is the most economical means of equitable distribution attainable by man. Again, from time immemorial it has been admitted that the fruits of property (the so-called “unearned increment”), such as the apples that come on the owner's apple-tree, or the eggs that appear in his poultry-yard, rightly and expediently belong to the owner. Whether they ought not to belong to everybody, or to the State of which the owner is a member, or to the first finder or first taker, or to somebody else, is a question which need not be dealt with here. 1 shall take it for granted as an axiom that the fruits of wealth belong to the owner of that wealth. In the case of commixture or confusion of valuables belonging to different owners, where they cannot again be separated (as e.g. when different wines are poured into the same cask, or the wheat from two fields is stacked all together), the value of the whole so resulting is divided between the owners in proportion to the shares contributed by them respectively. In some cases one of them is regarded as the owner of the whole, and the other or others is or are said to have a lien upon it to the value of his or their shares. Such is the common-sense view of what is just in such cases. When the value of the whole is greater than the value of the several elements contributed, then the increment of value is also divided in proportion to the shares contributed by each; as, for example, when wheat has been sown by B on a field belonging to A (the harvest may be exceptionally good); A is taken to have contributed the annual rent of the field (what he could have let it for in the market for one year), and B is taken to have contributed the original value of' the seed and the value of his own services, ploughing, hoeing, reaping, etc., at the price such services would have cost in the market. The produce is then divided between A and B in proportion to the totals arrived at, or else (as in most civilised countries) the whole produce becomes the property of A, with the obligation attached of paying B the aforesaid proportion, B having a lien on the produce by way of security.
This certainly seems to be based on justice and convenience, and whether it is actually sound or unsound (in spite of socialistic arguments) it is the principle upon which all suchlike questions are as a fact, and for centuries have been, solved. In Roman law if a man bought a mare in foal, the foal belonged to the purchaser. It is true that if he bought a female slave who was enceinte, without any special stipulation, the child belonged to the former master and not to the purchaser; but that was for a particular reason, based on the relations between masters and slaves, and which need not be gone into here. As a general rule it may be affirmed that to whomsoever a thing belongs, to him belong the fruits thereof, and where things owned by different owners bear fruits in common, such fruits belong to such owners in proportion to the shares contributed by them respectively. Such was the law of Rome. Such is the law of England. For example, in the case of a riparian landowner, if the river gradually deposits another half-acre of land on to his estate (provided it cannot be shown to have been bodily detached from the estate of another person) it is counted as part of the fruits of his land, and belongs to him accordingly, although it has cost him nothing.
Let us use these facts to throw light on the problem of labour payment. Who is properly the owner of wealth which has been made more valuable by the expenditure upon it of labour? A cloth merchant or draper puts a quantity of cloth into the hands of a tailor with instructions to convert it into clothing. The work is done. To whom should the wearing apparel belong when it is finished? Few except lawyers could say at once to whom it actually does belong by law. In one sense (the technical and precise sense of the term ownership) it belongs to the draper. In another and looser sense, part of its value belongs to the draper and another part of its value to the tailor. And what is the just ratio of the two parts? Of course if a distinct bargain had been made beforehand, that would settle the matter. If the draper had said, “The cloth is worth £10; when it is ready for the market in the shape of clothing you must pay me £10 out of the proceeds of the sale,” then the draper would have a lien (I am not using the word in its usual technical sense) upon it to the value of £10. But he might as well have sold the cloth to the tailor at once, indeed better, for his payment is deferred without interest. Or he might have taken the interest into account and said, “You must pay me ten guineas out of the proceeds,” in calculating which he ought to have formed some estimate of the risk he was running; for, conceivably, the apparel might sell for less than the value of the cloth, just as most manuscript sermons sell for less than the original value of the unspoilt paper before the expenditure of the clerical labour upon it. Again, the draper might have said, “Never mind the value of the cloth. The value of your services is £18. I will take and sell the finished article, and you shall have a lieu upon it for £18.” In this case the tailor would be in a similar position to that of the draper under the first arrangement—a very foolish position. Alas! but it is the position of the working man of the present day. Suppose the clothes, instead of selling for £28—the cost of the elements—sold for £42, owing to a keen demand, who would pocket the 50 per cent profit? Under the last-named arrangement, of course, the draper would, and quite right too. Fools are made to be bled. But now suppose no previous bargain had been made, what would be the equitable way of distributing the proceeds of the sale according to the principle underlying the law of all civilised countries? The case is one of commixture. The increment of surplus value is £14, or 50 per cent. The value of the whole product is £42. Clearly, the draper would take £15 and the tailor would take £27, instead of which, at the present day, under the system of wagedom, if the tailor is a journeyman or wage-earning tailor, he gets £18 and the draper gets £24. In other words, the draper or employer pockets £9 that ought to belong to the tailor. Of course, if workers insist on making bad bargains, that is their own look-out.
The political economists themselves admit and even contend that unto whomsoever the capital belongs, to him belong the profits. But they are pleased to put their own definition or definitions on the term “capital,” and out of the dozen or so of current definitions, though they all bear a strong family likeness to a sieve they have this one trait in common—they all carefully exclude the right of the manual workers to a share of the profits. Their united testimony is valuable only as showing the influence upon ordinary minds of the fundamental juridical principle as to the ownership of the fruits of wealth. The question is, Who contributes the labour in the ordinary processes of industrialism? Banish all “orthodox ” dogmas about “wage funds ” and “the three agents of production ” and the rest. Clearly, if the workers are slaves, the owner contributes the labour, and if we grant his right to his slaves we must admit his right to the fruits of their labour. He runs all the risk. If there is a loss he incurs it. He cannot afford to starve his slaves any more than his horses because their labour is unproductive in a particular venture. If their labour is continually unremunerative, if they cost more than they bring in, he must get rid of them. He has made a bad purchase, just as though he had bought a lame horse. Similarly, if he takes an apprentice for seven years who turns out an incorrigible dolt, he is in the position of one who has bought a house which he cannot let for the interest on the purchase money. He must make the best of a bad job. Lastly, if he hires a man by the week, or the day, or the hour, to work for him at a pre-arranged wage, he practical)' supplies the labour himself, he runs all the risk, and the temporary slave has no claim whatever on the profits.
This brings us face to face with the question whether the wage bargain is a good one for the worker, for the capitalist, or for the community. Historically and juridically the evidence seenis to be strongly in the direction of a different bargain. The tendency seems to be very marked towards a system of capitalisation of labour as a substitute for the present system of labour-hiring or wagedom.
Before we can speak positively on this point we must try to ascertain what would be the numerous economic effects of so great and revolutionary a change. The capitalisation system proceeds on the assumption that labourers1
are themselves a form of capital, because their value depends on the demand for them as an element in production. It follows that if we knew the market value of the labourers (their capital value as slaves), and also the market value of the capital contributed by the capitalist, we should know in what proportion the net profits on the combination ought justly to be divided. At present I have grounds for believing that the employer pockets more them half the workmen's just share! To begin with, he pockets the whole of the interest on labourers. If we estimate this at the very low figure of 2-½ per cent on the present depreciated value, it amounts to about £375,000,000 per annum, which gives an average of about £12 a year, man, woman, and child, all over the British Isles. But figures cannot well be depended on in the absence of accurate information. Perhaps, however, even the most sceptical denouncer of civilisation will admit that, take them all round, British workmen are worth at least as much as niggers were thirty years ago in the Southern States of America. I ask for no higher estimate. And yet what is the worth of a civilised man, if he would but claim his liberty and work as only a free man can? —not too long, not too monotonously, but intelligently and economically, with an interest in his work, and a love for his art or his craft? And what then would be the workman's share of production? That he has a right to the whole profits of his labour is the contention of the capitalisationist. He does not recommend the employer to “give” him a share by way of bonus-he holds that the profits on labour belong to the labourer by right and not by favour. He believes that the time will come when the hiring of a man will be as uncommon a transaction as the purchase of a slave is now.
But at present the bargain entered into between employer and employed is a contract of hiring—locatio opcrarum. Practically the transaction amounts to this: The workman says to the capitalist, “Here I am; you see me for yourself; 1 can do such or such kind of work. You want that kind of work done. You think that by the process of combining the capital you have with my labour you will gain a profit. I don't know, and I don't care; at the same time, I don't mean to run any risk. I reckon myself worth ninepence an hour; give me that, and you have me and my labour1 and skill for what they are worth; put me at profitable work, put me at unprofitable work; I don't care a straw which. If you stop paying, 1 stop work; and if I stop work you can stop payment. The quantity and quality of my work will not be below the average, but of course 1 am not fool enough to do more than that for the sake of enriching you. 1 shan't scamp any more than 1 think safe, because if you find me out scamping more than the average I shall get the sack.” To which the capitalist replies, “All right; ninepence an hour: and twenty-four hours a day, or as much of it as you can manage without food, drink, rest or recreation. 1 shall hire you by the hour, and when my process is completed you will leave if it does not pay me to repeat it. I see my way to earn 20 per cent, and, if so, I shall hire you again; if not, you can go and hang yourself.” And so the bargain is struck.
Now the worker knows, or ought to know, that on the average the industrial process is profitable; the average profit on capital is about 3 per cent. This is the reward of abstinence, and it is called interest. It is not the reward of risk. If security were absolute in the strictest sense of the word, even then money could not be borrowed on it for 1 per cent. Owners would rather consume than invest at less than a certain minimum. And yet the workman voluntarily foregoes his interest rather than invest his labour at a risk. He would otherwise incur the trouble of looking into the venture; he might actually incur a loss; on the whole, he prefers the happy security of the cab-horse to the responsibility of a capitalist. Whether his caution is rightly called prudence will be seen on examination. At all events, the employer hires the labourer, invests his labour, takes all risk, and pockets all profits (including interest). And quite right too, if—if he first offered the workman the choice of putting his labour into the concern at a venture as a capitalist.
It seems to have escaped the notice of most writers on social subjects that the ordinary employer of labour performs no less than three distinct functions:—
1st. He is a capitalist pure and simple; that is, one whose business is to examine every kind of investment with a view to estimating the risk thereof, and to invest his own (and in some cases his clients') capital accordingly. This process requires study, long and careful training, and vast experience. It is seen in its purest form on the Stock Exchange. It also constitutes the chief function of bankers.
2d. He is what may be called a superintending worker or manager, a position which calls for an intimate knowledge of every branch of the business in which he is engaged. Attention must be paid to the minutest economies in each department, and to the co-ordination of all-a function which is altogether apart from that of speculation, and which is in itself sufficient to absorb the energies of a lifetime.
3d. Lastly, the employer stands in a remarkable position with respect to some of those who contribute towards the process over which he presides. He actually undertakes to guarantee the labourers a certain average remuneration for their services. He is in the unenviable position of a company which should be formed for the purpose of granting an annuity to professional men in exchange for their fluctuating incomes. Would a doctor get up at all hours of the night if he had compounded with such a company to hand over all his fees for £500 a year? The work of the company would be precisely analogous to the third function of the present employer of labour. He has to guarantee the wages of workmen who have no reason to care whether the work is done or not, whether the process is profitable or not, so long as they can keep their places, or get others equally good. The employer undertakes these three distinct rôles—speculator, organiser, wage insurer. And when a man undertakes to do two or three different things at a time, he is pretty sure to do all badly. When a carpenter sets up as doctor and horse-dealer, he is likely to lose at all three undertakings, and to cheat and humbug his customers besides. The employer tries to combine the distinct operations of evaluating risk in trade, of organising and superintending work, and of ensuring the success of other people's investments—other people, forsooth, who have little or no interest in the success of the investments! Is it surprising, then, that his ventures are often hastily and foolishly calculated, that his works are often superintended badly, and at great expense, and that those with whom he compounds for their labour turn out year by year less and less worth the composition?
These three functions, if undertaken at 'all, should be divided among three distinct classes of persons. In some cases this specialisation has taken place already with regard to speculation. The professional investor (say banker) who borrows money at interest from clients who care not to run risk, and invests it in a hundred more or less doubtful speculations, is a useful and even necessary member of modern society. Manufacturers who speculate least, and rely for profits on the economic working of their own arrangements, are, as a rule, the most successful. But as to the third function, no company has ever yet been started with the simple object of guaranteeing either manual workers or any other class of workers a uniform return for their work, for the obvious reason that it could not pay to do it except at an exorbitant rate. What the premium is which the employer requires for undertaking the insurance of his workpeople's earnings it is impossible to say, mixed up as it is with his profit and loss account; but we may safely affirm that, taken by itself, this part of his business is folly so far as he himself is concerned, and ruinous to his clients.
And what is the observed effect of the system of wagedom or labour-hiring on the working classes themselves? It is obvious that in many respects the interests of masters and men, so far from being identical, actually conflict.
“The minimum wage is that on which the worker can exist, however hardly. For less than this he will not work. Every shilling above this is fought over, and the wage rises and falls by competition. At every stage of their relationship there is a contest between employer and employed. If the wage is paid for a fixed day's work-as in nearly every trade-the employer tries to lengthen the day, the employed try to shorten it: the longer the day the greater the production of 'surplus value,' i.e. of the difference between the wage paid and the value produced. The employer tries to increase surplus value by pressing the workers to exertion; they lessen exertion in order not to hasten the time of their discharge. The employer tries still to increase surplus value by supplanting male labour with female and child labour at lower wages. The men resist such introduction, knowing that the ultimate result is to increase the amount taken by capital and to lessen that obtained by labour."1
This is a perfectly truthful statement of the position, showing that the present system necessarily tends to bring employers and employed into collision.
The rate of profits in all trades varies from age to age, from year to year, and from day to day. The diurnal variations are commonly minute, and so far unimportant: and the variations during long periods, corresponding with the rise of some trades and the decline of some others in the country or district, have their effects obscured by lapse of time; labour is diverted into new channels before low profits have time to pinch the labourer. But what may be called the annual variations are neither too small nor too gradual to be felt, and it is with these that labourers are concerned. The sea has its tides, its waves, and its ripples, but it is the waves, and the waves only, that make us so sea-sick.
When employers are making their 20 per cent is it reasonable to expect the workman, whose toil has mainly contributed to the high profit, to sit down content with his minimum wage as he did when profits were at 5 or 6 per cent? Clearly, wages must be raised or the men strike; and what is more, are frequently backed up by public opinion and favoured by opportunity. Masters do not care to be idle in prosperous times, and the men know it, and sooner or later their demand is granted or a favourable compromise effected. Then follows a period of good fortune and tranquillity of some duration.
Meanwhile, with little or no experience of vicissitudes, our working man has married on the strength of the rise, or perhaps his children have increased in number, or he pays a higher rent for a better cottage, or his family has accustomed itself to additional comforts. And now comes the decline. The prosperity of the trade has attracted new capital, or the demand has contracted to its old limits, and profits sink again to the original level or below it. It is now the master's turn to grumble and ask for change: he very naturally determines to reduce wages. The workman as naturally resists. His scale of living has been modified to suit improved circumstances; he has become accustomed to the new rate of wages, and now he cannot well go back or retrench. Another conflict ensues, and one or other of the combatants goes to the wall. No one believes that this state of strain, this incessant struggle, is desirable; every strike entails untold misery and waste, no matter what the result may be: and yet under the present system of wagedom there does not appear to be any loophole out of the difficulty. An eternal see-saw! Pull baker, pull devil! Such is the cheerless prospect.
Trade unionism is the outcome of an organised effort to apply a remedy from the workman's point of view. It is based on the principle of the bundle of sticks—“ union is strength.” But men are not sticks, and the weak point in trade organisation is mutual distrust. If the men knew their strength, and could trust one another, the end aimed at would long ago have been attained. But what an end! Everlasting wagedom; forced reduction of the fruit of labour because it now passes into the wrong hands; restricted total production, as though overproduction were possible while there are hungry mouths to fill; and, above all, a gradual tendency in the direction of deteriorated labour; the exercise of superior strength, skill, genius, all prohibited; and the quantity and quality of work brought down to the standard of the inferior workman; in short, a levelling down of the industrial classes. Such is the end unconsciously aimed at by the trade unions.
It is clear that the solidarity of the wage earners with the object of doing as little real work as possible in a given time, and of obtaining a statutory limitation of working hours, is advocated by those who do not realise the ultimate effect of their endeavour. Of course if the effectual demand for the commodities they help to produce continued the same whether the supply was large or small, costly or cheap, their aim would be a highly meritorious one. The effect of their efforts, if successful, would be to increase the proportionate share of the worker in the total produce for distribution; that is to say, while he would individually receive no less, the wage-earning population would increase in order to fill up the deficiency in labour caused by the restricted out-put of each individual worker. In itself an increased population, without any increased pressure on the means of subsistence, is a good rather than an evil (that is, supposing that “life is worth living ”).
But the actual chain of the effects of unionism, as now directed, would be this: first, there is a falling off in the supply of labour (measured by time and energy), a conscious and intentional falling off; next, the demand for the things the labourers help to produce remaining constant at present prices, the demand for labourers is stimulated; wages rise; population increases till wages are again reduced to subsistence level; and the position is the same except that there are more labourers at work supplying the old quantity of commodities at the old wage. But, since the cost of the capital remains the same, and the cost of labourers has been increased (just in proportion to the increase of workers), the price of the total production of the country must be raised to cover the extra cost, all of which extra sum goes to maintain the new population. Capital receives no more than before, but the rise in cost, and consequent rise in prices, necessarily checks the demand, i.e. the effectual demand. In the place of a hundred coats, or tables, or carriages, or pianos, that were asked for before, only eighty are asked for now. Some people seem to imagine that the effect of this shrinkage in the demand would be to at once lower prices again permanently. Nothing of the sort. Prices would fall at once, but not permanently. The expected reduction would not come out of profits, because profits cannot permanently fall below a certain normal percentage on capital. The effect of a fall is to drive capital out of circulation and into the absolute securities. And the reduction cannot come out of wages, because they are already at a minimum. Hence a permanent reduction in price cannot be made at all. The alternative is a restricted production. Capital flows out, and the demand for labourers correspondingly diminishes, and population must again dwindle. How? we all know. Wages cannot permanently fall below the minimum. Temporarily, no doubt, the fall does take place, and then the weakness of unionism shows itself. The strain is too much for it: a dozen men are famishing on a raft; a promise to stand by one another and to live or starve together might be binding on some few, but a terrible strain would be put on the morals of most by the instinct of self-preservation. This is an extreme example, but there is only a difference of degree between the case of these starving men and that of the general body of wage earners when depression in trade causes a necessary reduction in wages. All may try to live and work at something less than is needful for health, or even sometimes life, or some may break the contract and accept twice the wage for three times the amount of work. Whoever first does this sets the ball rolling. The merest rumour that out of six conspirators in prison one is going to turn informer causes a general rush. To be behindhand is to be lost. So —with wage earners; a general distrust sets in, and the union is but a name.
Meantime, what is the effect of this policy on the quality of the workers themselves? There is no inducement to excel. Anything like superiority is ruthlessly crushed out. The labourer becomes less and less productive in proportion to the capital with which he has to co-operate, and the fruits of labour become smaller compared with the amount of labour contributed to production. Further, the increased cost of the labourer (of labour hire) in proportion to its productiveness stimulates the inventor to devise substitutes, and this again is rendered easier by the mechanical character of the work to be done. If men begin by reducing themselves to the level of unskilled labourers, they will end by being mere machines, and when that happens it is often easy to invent an iron machine to do the work as well or better and at a less cost. No one has yet invented a machine for doing work fit for a free man. Perhaps, if no other argument could be urged against wagedom, the mere fact that the whole of the gain from labour-saving machinery has fallen into the hands of the employer, instead of into the hands of the class to whose members it is almost entirely due, would suffice to condemn it.
Now it is clear that if instead of accepting wages—letting themselves out for hire by the week or the hour—the workers entered into the venture as capitalists and free men, receiving, instead of a fixed wage, a certain pre-arranged percentage of the gross produce (a percentage at first based on a calculation of the amount paid in wages over a number of years), the receipts of the hands would vary like the profits of other capitalists with the success of the venture and the state of trade. When trade was good the men would be receiving considerably more than usual, and no strike would be necessary in order to give them a fair share of the general prosperity. When trade became depressed their share would decrease proportionately with that of the other capitalists, and neither strike nor lock-out would result from a diminution in their income. The masters would have no reason to demand an arbitrary reduction in the scale of labour remuneration, as they have now. Thus the cause of strikes would be eradicated.
It has almost invariably been observed that, as matter of history, the successful strikes have been those which were based on justice or common-sense fairness and attended with public sympathy, while those strikes which have been made in response to a fair claim on the part of the “masters ” to a reasonable reduction of wages have usually been unsuccessful. If, therefore, the workpeople under the supposed new conditions should clamour to extort alms (for it would be nothing less) from their employers, in flagrant violation of contract, and in face of every reason to the contrary, a few inevitable failures would soon teach them wisdom. Public opinion could never side against employers who, in a period of depressed trade and low profits, were being called upon to raise their workpeople's share of the receipts, and that in spite of contract; nor is it likely that such a demand would be made. Thus it appears, whatever the advantages or disadvantages of the capitalisation of labour, one thing is certain, and that is that strikes would completely disappear.
Another important effect of the system will be the equilibration of supply and demand in the labour market during times of expansion and depression. It is well known that in periods of great commercial distress large manufacturers are in the habit of keeping their works going, and paying full wages, even though they may be working at a dead loss, in order to keep the hands together to be ready with the full complement in case of revival; and also in many cases for another reason, namely, as a blind to their creditors, to whom a sudden contraction of business would be a revelation. And then, when the depression has continued too long for endurance, batch after batch of workmen and women are indiscriminately dismissed; not those who are best qualified to obtain a livelihood in other occupations, but, if anything, rather the reverse. Under the new system, when trade is bad and profits low, the hands will suffer equally with the masters; those of them who know other crafts will prefer to change their work rather than go on at very low pay; and having thus ceased to drag at the “wage fund,” will leave behind them those least qualified to change their occupation. Those who go will gain, and those who remain will gain.
Thus the action of the new system will resemble the action of the governor balls in a steam-engine; that is to say, it will substitute automatic equilibration for intermittent readjustment. A more perfect analogy cannot be found. A smooth continuous readjustment by infinitesimal adaptations is, all will admit, vastly better than artificial readjustments at comparatively long intervals and by rule of thumb. In the engine an accelerated pace causes the governor balls to fly out at a tangent, and by rising to shut off" steam and so to slacken the pace; which slackening of the pace causes the balls to fall, and thereby to put on steam and so accelerate the pace. So that in fact the acceleration of the pace is the cause of its slackening, and vice versâ. This is true equilibrium. And so in trade a falling off in profits would at once bring about a diminution in the number of the recipients of those profits, and thereby raise the average profits received by the remaining recipients. The rate of labour payment will no longer limp and hobble up and down after the rate of profits, dragged by fits and starts, as it were by an elastic chain, but will accompany it, while at the same time the number of those who divide the labour share will dwindle pari passu with the dwindling of the profits.
An incidental result of this self-reduction in the number of hands in response to a falling off iii profits will be the consequent temporary limitation of production, an effect greatly to be desired; an effect, too, obtained without imposing enforced idleness upon the working classes at a time when they are least anxious to be idle. This beautiful self-adjustment of the industrial machine is one of the most convincing proofs of the soundness of the system.
Again, the gradually growing perception of the manual worker that he is himself a capitalist will fairly give the death-blow to the suicidal policy of trying to injure the employer by permanently limiting production, keeping down stock, or shortening the hours of labour and the quantity of work to be done per hour. The last-named object will be brought about in another way, and with a very different effect, as will presently be shown. Finding by experience that they themselves are actually capitalists—that their own and their employers' interests are identical (which at present they are not, whatever may be said to the contrary); that masters and workmen are all in the same boat—they will all pull together, and do their best for the common weal; and so will be brought to an end the great internecine war between “capital and labour.” The moral effect of this change on all classes and on the stability of the State cannot be over-rated.
True morality is the result not of being preached at but of practical experience. We hear a great deal on all sides of the “improvidence of the working classes ”; but, even if true, is it very remarkable? Under the system of wagedom the workman receives weekly a fixed sum, which he very naturally regards as practically an income to be relied on. True, a depression in trade may bring about a reduction, but not without a long notice and probably a fierce fight; or he may possibly be among those who are dismissed altogether; but this is a remote and improbable contingency, to set off against which there is the chance of a rise in wages and the possibility of promotion. On the whole then it is only reasonable that he should regard his present wage as a fixed income, up to which he may live, but which must not be exceeded. That this is the view taken by most working men is well known, and the consequences are equally well known. The day of decline comes; the inevitable reduction is at hand; retrenchment must be made. It is true that the labourer ought to have laid up provision against probable or possible mishap, but having jogged along for years at a fixed wage, how, in the name of reason, is providence to be learnt? Bearing in mind that trade cycles are about ten years in length or thereabouts, it follows that a young man starting work at fifteen may never know what it is to have his income set back until he is twenty-five, with a wife and children and an accustomed standard of comfort. Is it in the nature of most men, having earned thirty-one shillings, to walk down on a Saturday to the penny-bank in order to deposit the odd shilling over and above the thirty shillings required at home, in case it may be wanted five or six years hence ? Of course it goes after the rest, just to give an extra fillip to existence—in beer, gin, tobacco, or any other article that serves to justify a little chat at the public-house. Hence it follows that a reduction of wages is sometimes tantamount to the ruin, or at least disgrace, of the workman.
Now what will be the effect of the capitalisation system? The employer ceases to insure his workpeople; they will have to insure themselves. One week they will receive their thirty shillings, and the next their twenty, instead of a uniform twenty-five. That is to say, they will each week (or it may be each quarter) receive the real value of their work, instead of the average value reckoned over a very long period. Thus they will learn providence by experience, daily experience, as their masters have done, for they will be compelled to put by the surplus on good weeks to make up for inevitable deficiences on bad weeks. No preaching will inculcate providence. Experience alone can teach it, and yet this very experience is denied to our working classes. Whether they like it or no, their average earnings are insured for them, and they are in the position of a manufacturer who should accept a fixed annuity for the profits of his business.
But further, the new system will conduce to mitigate the notorious improvidence of our labouring population in yet another way. Any recipient of a fluctuating income knows very well that he considers himself justified in living up to the minimum and not the average annual receipt. That is his standard, and all above that is regarded as so much “to the good.” So that an artisan whose earnings fluctuate between twenty and thirty shillings will spend not the average twenty-five, but the minimum twenty shillings, and the balance will be put by.
“Why are we always preaching “thrift” to the poor? What is thrift as distinguished from economy? It is the taking care of inconsiderable margins—minute balances of income over necessary expenditure. And what is the main cause of, and chief inducement to, thrift among the well-to-do classes? I have no hesitation in saying that it is the fluctuation in their incomes. Let me explain. When a professional man whose annual expenses, according to his scale of living, are £300 a year, finds his income one year amount to £320, and another year to £280, he is compelled to save the surplus in the one year to make good the loss in the other year. He cannot tell exactly what the next year's income may be, and therefore instead of saving part of his extra savings only, he saves the whole. But if he found that his income was always exactly £305 a year, he would be sorely tempted to throw the odd £5 away in the purchase of little luxuries. This is actually the case with those annuitants who have no one to provide for but themselves. So if the workman whose household expenses are thirty shillings a week, and whose wages are thirty-one shillings, flings away the odd shilling upon any little luxuries that come in his way, he is by no means an unnatural specimen of his kind. It would take a couple of years' saving to cover a month's extra wage, and two years is a long time. Besides, there is very little inducement to put it by at all. But now suppose his income to fluctuate; he will then find it very easy, when he must put by four shillings, to put by the odd fifth shilling along with it; the shilling which now, through its very insignificance, is virtually thrown away or worse. A distinct effort of volition will be required in order to hold it back. A deliberate intention of spending so much a week in luxuries will have to take the place of a careless habit. Has any one ever attempted to estimate the enormous gain to the country which this aggregate thrift would bring about? Out of the twenty-five millions a year and more which the revenue derives from the taxes on beer, wine, and spirits, how much is due to the odd shillings and sixpences that are spent at the public by the respectable and steady workman, merely because it is in his pocket, it is not particularly needed at home, and he has nothing better to do with it?
Money put by in a bank means a demand for capital as opposed to a demand for articles of direct consumption. It is no exaggeration to estimate the annual increase of capital in the country on the establishment of a proper system of labour payment at many millions a year.
We know enough of the effect of a joint interest in undertakings and in property to be able to predict with absolute certainty several other important effects which a just system of labour remuneration would have upon production.
To begin with, inasmuch as the workers will feel themselves to be practically partners in the concern, as in effect they will be (the legal aspect will be considered presently), each workman, finding himself a member of a great partnership, will be properly and justly jealous of the rest, and the idler will be shunned and got rid of. Dick will not work ten hours in order that Tom may work eight, both receiving the same pay; nor will he work hard in order that Tom may loiter. It does not matter to Dick nowadays, it does not affect his own wages what Tom gets nor how Tom works; but it will be a different matter when Tom's laziness diminishes the total of which Dick takes a share. Nor will Dick make things equal by loitering too. Not a bit of it. The tendency will be not, as now, to level down, but to level up. The lazy and unskilled must become industrious and skilful, or go to the wall. The men will be jointly and severally their own overlookers; and, little by little, an immense, cumbrous, and costly organisation of overlookers will be dispensed with. This is item one in diminished cost of production.
At present the workman very naturally regards his employer as a rival or an enemy—so he is; and unless he be more than ordinarily high-principled, he scamps his work, or at least gets as much pay as he can for as little effort as possible. And who shall say that he is not justified in so doing? It is the world-wide practice. And yet how much do these few words signify: “As much pay for as little work as possible”! Why, they mean that British industry (and that of other countries) is the result of slave-driving, of grudged labour, of exacted work; and this means that the work done is less than a half of what it would be under a régime of justice and common sense—and of incalculably inferior quality. Hence the need for efficient overlooking. The salaries of overlookers is an important factor in the cost of production. And yet what can an overlooker do? You may lead your ox to the water, but you cannot make him drink. He may enforce the appearance of work, but not the true article. He cannot infuse into his toiling subjects the spirit of the old builders, whose work was a labour of love, whose soul was in their art, and whose reward was the toil itself. Such is the work of the independent and self-interested worker. It is not the work of the slave, who sweats for another. Mercenaries are not the soldiers for a forlorn hope, nor have the grandest works of art been made to order at so much a day. Overlookers are indeed quite necessary under the present system; but abolish them altogether, make the men their own overlookers, overlookers of greater efficiency and ubiquitous withal, and what a saving in cost of production we have here, to say nothing of the moral effect of the change!
But this elimination is by no means the greatest reduction in cost of production; for when industry is rendered coincident with self-interest, every man will naturally and cheerfully work as hard and as well as he can—at least it will be his interest to do so, and not, as now, to shirk and scamp. Wherever anything approaching to this system has been tried, as in “butty-gangs,” or in piece-work, or in other modifications, as in the slate-quarries in Wales, it has always been found to succeed; and even when a share of net profits has been allotted as a bonus to overlookers, the result has been satisfactory, and this in spite of the blind attempts of the Legislature to regulate the joint efforts with a view to gain of more than a very few persons. The object of the men, as of the masters, will be to make as much as possible of that quality of article which pays best in the market—a quality which, though not always necessarily superfine, is what it appears to be, and good of its sort. Cheap goods are as much in demand, or more, than dear ones, though the quality is known to be inferior. One does not expect honeydew when one asks for shag, or velvet when one asks for velveteen. Fifteen carat gold is as honest as eighteen carat, and probably drives a better trade. But the inferior quality which is to be deprecated is the sham. Even masters are not fully awake to the difference between a cheap article and a sham one, between butterine sold as such, and butterine sold as butter. The scamping of workmen has much to answer for, but it is doubtful whether manufacturers are not the more culpable of the two. Be this as it may, the existing tendency to scamp work will, under the new system, diminish pari passu with the increased experience of the workman; and the imposing suite of chairs and tables from which the castors drop off, and the veneer begins to peel on an hour's exposure to the fire, will be a thing of the past. In other words, the manufacturers will cease to be deceived in the quality of the goods they manufacture, and to this extent at least the public will benefit. The perfidity of manufacturers has of late received a considerable and well-merited punishment, which may prove a valuable lesson for the future, so that an improvement in the quality of goods all round may be anticipated when the hands become partners.
The more immediate effect of the change would, however, be on the quantity of work done. This has already been observed under parallel circumstances, and it is probably no exaggeration to say that, were all the labourers vitally interested in getting through as much work as possible, instead of as little as possible, the same number of hours would produce at least twice the present quantity. Any one who has watched bricklayers at work on ordinary occasions may have been struck with the remarkable, almost studied sluggishness of their movements; and if he has also observed the same men at work under the stimulus of a prize on condition of completing a promised wall within a given time, he will have been amazed at the contrast. It is confidently reiterated that the new system would more than double the amount of goods produced in this country.
Another important source of economy would be the proper apportionment of time to the quality of effort; for the labourers will admittedly be the best judges of their own hours of labour. They will wish to work as much as possible, but not as long as possible. Dr. Whewell, speaking of the value of time for the purposes of study, used to say: “Four and two make six; six and two make four:” meaning that the man who read eight hours a day did no better than the man who read four. Six hours, he thought, is the largest amount of time which can economically be spent in intellectual study. So it is with other branches of work. Some kinds of labour may be economically continued for ten or even twelve hours a day, whilst others cannot be wisely prolonged beyond four or five. Such differences in the nature of work do exist as all men well know except members of Parliament who persistently legislate on the assumption that no such variations exist. When, therefore, the aim of any body of working men is to get through as much work as possible, they will find out by experience what is the best length of time to work per day, taking the nature of the work into the calculation, and being guided in their decision by a proper regard to the economy of their forces. That is to say, if by working hard seven hours a day they find they can accomplish as much as by working at a necessarily reduced expenditure of force for eight hours, they will prefer seven to eight hours.
Another saving in the cost of production deserves mention. It is obvious à priori that men who are handling tools and machinery and materials which belong to others, and in which they have no personal interest, cannot be expected to treat them with the same care and regard for economy which they exercise over their own property. It is not in human nature to do it. Both Roman and English law make a distinction based on this observed fact in man's nature. But where all these things are the subject of the labourer's own concern, even though not his own property, it is clear à priori and observed as a fact that much waste and some mischief are in consequence avoided.
We have seen that the immediate and direct results of adopting the just system of capitalisation would be many and great. There would be an immensely-augmented ratio of gross produce to cost. Average profits would at first be greatly increased in proportion to outlay, and in addition to that the total outlay would be correspondingly stimulated. This would be effected in several ways. The total quantity of work done would be much greater; the value of each portion of the produce would be greater by reason of its superior quality; the cost of over-looking would be indefinitely diminished; the natural expenditure of human force in proportion not to time but to economy would result in an enormous gain. Other kinds of capital, both of those whose consumption is essential to production and of those whose consumption is merely accidental (though inevitable), would be more carefully treated, and waste and extravagance checked. The friction in trade due to class antagonism, and resulting in strikes and checks to industry of one sort and another, would be got rid of, and power now wasted would be saved by natural equilibration.
But the greatest economy of all would be made in the investment of labour. And the result would be that, although profits on other forms of capital would greatly increase, the profits on labour would increase in still greater proportion; so that not only would there be a larger total to divide, but the manual-workers' share of that larger total would also be greatly increased. And, above all, it would be permanent, and not liable to be swallowed up by increased population.
But the workman's fear lest the reward of labour should in bad times fall below its present low level is groundless. It could never even reach it in the worst periods of depression. Apart from the total amount of produce to be distributed, the greater proportionate share of the manual worker under the new system will effectually preclude such an occurrence. And then again the habits of thrift (reasonable, economic thrift) and providence will render the danger less serious, even in the worst of times. Add to which the fact that the increase of population will have no tendency to reduce labour reward to the level of means of subsistence any more than it now has to reduce the reward of professional men and investors of accumulated wealth to that level. The true cost of increasingly-skilled workers in every craft will regulate the pay of labour, and not the mere cost of the labourer's maintenance during the process. This is, of course, the key to the true solution of the labour question.
Of course I am prepared for the objection of the “orthodox ”: “You forget that the workers must have their wages advanced, and that this is why the capitalist pockets the interest on labour.” No, I do not forget it, but 1 do nor believe it. It is a convenient fiction; and, moreover, it is dishonest, for if it were true it would not justify the exaction. The moment a labourer has turned a handle, or stuck a spade in the ground, he has earned at least the value of his services for that second of time. To talk of giving him an advance is common chicanery.1 Workmen convert timber into a half-finished boat, which the capitalist can at any moment sell for ten or twelve times the original value of his timber, and yet he has the impudence to tell them that they have no claim upon him till the boat is completed, and that any payment they may require during the process is of the nature of an advance, for which he must charge as for a loan.
Let us examine this contention. Clearly, if the workman comes to one who has put capital into the same venture and asks for a loan to enable him to subsist till the process is complete, the position is precisely similar to what it would be if the worker applied to an outsider, to one who had not put capital into the venture. The lender would of course have a just claim to interest on the loan, but to pretend that the payment of labourers pari passu with the progress of their work in a transaction of this kind is trifling with common sense. The worker has already earned his pay. He has a just lien on the half-finished product, which he has a right to sell whenever he thinks fit. The orthodox contention is tantamount to saying that the workman is worth nothing at all-that he is a useful natural agent like the wind or the waves or the sunlight, without any value whatever; that the cost of hiring labour is, and should be, the cost of his subsistence during the process. In the words of the arch-economist himself—John Stuart Mill—“whatever things are destined to supply productive labour with the shelter, protection, tools and materials which the work requires, and to feed and otherwise maintain the labourers during the process, are capital.” If this fallacy is not exposed by reasoning, the labourers will be justified in exposing it by an argument of another and convincing kind.
This objection being disposed of there can be no reason why the men's share should not be handed over to them at any time, weekly if necessary. The manner of making this payment will be explained presently.
Lest this should appear to some to be too sanguine a forecast, and the whole system of capitalisation merely another Utopia, let me hasten to point out, before proceeding to consider its remoter effects, certain facts which should not be lost sight of in treating of any great social change. Sound revolutions are usually slow. Rome was not built in a day, but it was burnt while Nero fiddled.1
To begin with, the system cannot he introduced all along the line. Only certain classes of workers are as yet sufficiently advanced for the reform. It would probably be useless as yet to attempt to apply it to agriculture, where the labourers are only now casting off the last fetters of serfdom. Nor would it succeed at present in small concerns conducted on hand-to-mouth principles. It must have its beginning in the large coal and iron and textile fabric industries, in the cotton-mills, the foundries, and the collieries. There it is already known, or easily ascertainable, exactly what proportion of the gross receipts of the business has been paid away in wages any year these ten years. An average can be struck at once on the basis of the last year, or three years, or seven years, as may seem good to both parties, and a bargain struck. Whatever the proportion may be, let that proportion of the total receipts be paid to the hands in future, at such intervals as may suit both parties, either weekly or (as will eventually be the case) at stocktaking.
Once set on foot, the advantages to both parties would ensure its rapid spread in all directions and with increasing velocity. And the time is perhaps not far distant when the old system of wagedom will be regarded as an interesting survival, in holes and corners, of a practice once nearly universal.
I would, however, add that any attempt on the part of the Legislature to force the system upon the country would be worse than useless. Among peoples unprepared for it by long habits of self-help such a course would be positively mischievous, and it is probable that, with the exception of Great Britain and the United States of America, and the Anglo-Saxon Colonies, few nations are even yet ripe for its introduction.
A beginning is easily made. The working classes in the large industries must themselves take the lead. The masters ought not to be slow to follow, and the completion of the task may be left to time without much anxiety as to its eventual success; for, apart from the favour or disfavour with which it may be regarded in commercial circles, the capitalisation of labour is based on principles from which there is no appeal. Approved or disapproved by masters or by men, or both, it must assuredly come into force sooner or later. Then, and not till then, shall we be in a position to say that the labour question has been practically solved.
The more remote effects of the new system now come into view. One change follows on the heels of another. When once it becomes every man's interest to work as hard as he can, and, what is more, to see that his fellows do the same, it will soon become evident that the best mode of obtaining new hands is by letting the old ones elect them. It will clearly be their interest to elect the best workers, and at the same time to elect those who will come for a reasonable share. For it is obvious that where the labourers as a body receive such or such a share of the gross returns, each individual's share must needs vary inversely as the sum of the shares of the others. Hence every workman will be interested in keeping down the share of his fellows to its fair limit. This mode of election of new hands will bring into existence something like regular meetings of the men and the election of officers and a president: and it will soon appear natural and expedient to the employer to pay over the whole of the labourer's share in a lump to the workmen's president, to be distributed amongst them in their own way, and as they, in council assembled, shall from time to time assess and decree. Not only the differences in the values of labour in the several branches and departments in every manufacture, but also the differences in the values of the workmanship of individual members of the body, are difficult to appreciate, and they never are accurately appreciated at all by employers, who indeed ignore the latter inequalities altogether. Quite otherwise will this be when the matter is left in the hands of the men themselves, who will evaluate with the finest distinctions and utmost care the work upon which they will have to adjudicate. It will be each man's care to see that he himself is not underpaid, nor his fellow-workers overpaid, and the conflict of opinion and free discussion will result in a fair valuation.
It has already been remarked that some men can, as a matter of mere strength, work longer than others, and that, with a true regard to economy, such inequalities should be taken into consideration. There are other limits besides that of simple endurance which may well deserve attention. Under the present system of fixed hours the labourer is unable to choose his own holidays, to shorten his time in case of indisposition, to attend to other passing duties, or, in short, to dispose of his own time like a free man. Beyond giving notice, or running the risk of getting the sack, his liberty is of the scantiest. It is undeniable that at certain times, such as the gardening or haymaking season, it would suit some artisans to quit their daily toil and to change their employment. It would pay them better, and it would do them good in body and mind. So again, those whose wives keep lodging-houses sometimes might well dispose of their time in helping at home; but such a thing is out of the question under the present rigorous system. When the hands are the guardians of the work-time, when each sees that his fellows are paid according to the work they do, not according to the time they spend, nor even according to the efforts they put forth, it will be easy and practicable to allow of a freer and more independent arrangement as to hours of work than is possible at present. Each man would mark down on the board, in the presence of his comrades, or their appointed delegate, the time of his entrance and the time of his departure, and his aptitude being well known and recognised, his due pay would be reckoned at once.
Thus we have a glimpse of flourishing companies of workpeople, all partners from the highest to the lowest, from the employer who supplies the capital to the smallest boy that sweeps the floor. Each is working for his own direct benefit, and not merely to increase his employer's profits, and each works as hard as he can and keeps an eye on the industry of his comrades. Paid in a lump they save the employer the trouble and expense of distributing their wages. What overlookers or managers of departments are needed for organising purposes they elect from their own number, so that efficiency and popularity will be secured at once, and at a reasonable and fair share by way of remuneration.
In time even the head manager will come to be similarly elected, for the men will not tolerate the frittering away of their profits by an incompetent management.
Even the capitalist employer, unless himself risen from the ranks, or otherwise well qualified to manage, will perceive the expediency of leaving the management of the concern in the hands of his workpeople, who will elect the most competent head in his place; for he may rest assured that his capital is safe in the keeping of those whose whole livelihood depends upon its preservation and increase. Here, with all the advantages—such as they are—of co-operative companies of working men, or rather with all the supposed, or anticipated, or theoretical advantages of such companies, we have an ample supply of all kinds of capital: of land, buildings, machinery, fuel, raw material, and hard money. Though not their own property—the scraping together of their own small earnings— as in existing co-operative manufactories, yet they exercise the fullest control over it, harassed by no meddlesome or speculating employer.
The great flaw in existing systems of co-operative production is, as I have pointed out, the hopeless attempt to divorce labour from other forms of capital ready to hand. It seems to be part of the creed of “co-operators ” that capitalists have not in reality any claim to profits, and yet they inconsistently aim at making those who co-operate into capitalists themselves. Past failures of these attempts may nearly always be ascribed to the fact that the “hives ” have been capital starved. Even recent promoters of those institutions, who accept the help of rich capitalists, do so rather grudgingly, and as though forced to implore help, rather than on terms of businesslike equality. This is to swing to the opposite extreme. Capitalists have as much right to the whole fruits of their capital as manual workers have to the whole fruits of their labour. The two rights rest on the same principle.
Mr. Morris has drawn some fascinating pictures of the factory as it ought to be. If he would devote some of the same ability to a picture of the factory as it will be when we have emerged from this transitional period of wagedom into that of industrial freedom, the work would certainly be not less valuable. Fact is often not only stranger but infinitely more beautiful than fiction.
I have said that the workers of England, or at least a large section of them, are ready to embark on the system of the future. If not, let them consider their present position. They have had ample and bitter experience of “business principles.” Do they really believe that the workman gets the whole fruits of his labour under existing arrangements? Do they really suppose that their salaries or wages can be guaranteed without something like a heavy discount being charged by the guarantor? Do they actually believe that he runs all their risk for nothing? Is he in other respects so generous and self-denying? Let it then be reiterated that it is the fault of the labourers themselves if they allow this sort of patronage to be accorded them. Are they incapable of taking care of their own pounds, shillings, and pence, that their fair incomes must be doled out by the week, and taken care of by a guardian? Let them assume the toga, virilis. It is high time to sever the apron-strings and to proclaim the freedom of the working classes. But it will not be done for them; it must be done by them. Let them cease to agitate for State regulation of work hours, for bank holidays, for high minimum of wages, for State emigration, for this, that, and the other restriction on their liberty. Let them throw off the shackles of wagedom, and the rest will follow to the full! And so farewell to the much-harassed employer of labour. The elected manager, raised from the ranks, will take his place as superintendent; and in nine cases out of ten will occupy it far more competently. The workpeople will take care of their own earnings, and the capitalist of non-human capital will be relegated to his right province, and become the recipient of profits varying with the risk of his investments.
The effect produced by the new system in the course of time upon the social standing of those who work with their hands will be of the nature of a revolution. Being one of the more indirect consequences, it is perhaps somewhat difficult of explanation.
Time was when bankers were goldsmiths, and goldsmiths were common folk to be cuffed and kicked by gentlemen, to cringe and flatter and be useful. Between the days of Shylock and the days of the Rothschilds much has happened. Again, the civil engineer of to-day was in old times a kind of master navy. He helped to dig, to wheel, and to carry. Engineering now ranks with the learned professions, so that bankers and engineers, as such, are socially held to be in no way inferior, setting aside the separate question of titles of distinction, to any in the land. A master carpenter still continues to work with his hands along with his workpeople. A master builder seems at present to stand in an intermediate position; showing that there are graduated stages in the social standing of the trades and professions from that of a sweep to that of a Lord Chief-Justice. Amongst actual manual workers this is at first sight less obvious. Yet when we compare a working watchmaker or a compositor with a navy or chimney-sweep we see that there are well-marked degrees of social elevation among them.
A working man under the present rségime is said to have raised himself when he has accumulated enough to retire from his handiwork, to become a master or an idler. One can hardly picture a gentleman going down daily to his forge and his anvil and hammering away all day at the glowing iron. Even a poor gentleman must do work of the scribbling order. The pen, and not the hammer or the spade, must be his tool, even though the pay be less, the atmosphere unwholesome, the work distasteful, and the hours longer. How many poor curates, needy tutors, pallid clerks, and sub-editors have been heard to envy the lot of the rubicund Hodge, whose outdoor work, with pay almost equal to their own, seems like a continuous holiday. But it cannot be; there is a rigidity in custom which cannot be overcome. The question now presents itself, Why cannot true gentlemen become blacksmiths, carpenters, glass-blowers, potters, house-decorators, etc. etc.? and why cannot, or why should not, the blacksmiths and carpenters become gentlemen? Why should the son of a barrister, who has made a fortune at the bar, follow in his father's shoes, and this, too, with pride, while the son of a man who has made money as a labourer, or even in most trades, is ashamed of his origin, and does his best to succeed at some more dignified occupation?
The reason usually alleged is that it always has been, and still is, regarded as servile to work with the hands; that in the olden times the dominant classes were of the military order, and the tilling of the soil and manufacture of goods were performed exclusively by the despised classes. But granting the survival of the sentiment, though in point of fact it is almost extinct, it yet fails to account for certain exceptional cases which throw much light on the subject. The first is the case of painters and sculptors and other workers in fine art, whose labour is manual; and the second is the case of engineers and bankers above alluded to, whose occupations have soared above the region of contempt. The explanation is simple. It is not the accident of its being manual that renders work undignified. Artists have always been held in esteem. Nor is it the historical associations; for banking was surpassed by no other branch of industry in meanness of origin and the abject circumstances of its early history. At the bottom of the whole matter lies the ineradicable admiration for intellectual power which is inherent in human nature, whether that power be manifested in military genius, in forensic skill, in inventive talent, in philosophic insight, or in artistic subtlety. Any one with a hale body can dig and wheel, but only a Lesseps can carry out a canal across the Suez isthmus. Any one with eyesight can paint a housefront or a deal box, but only a Millais the portrait of Gladstone in the Academy Exhibition of 1879. Any Hebrew usurer can lend money at sixty per cent to needy gentlemen with expectations, but only the man of a rare combination of talents can borrow at a low rate of interest, invest discreetly, and found a bank of stability and repute. The very poorest quality of human nature can be moulded pretty quickly into a mason capable of chipping stone evenly and in an average manner, but it is not every mason who has it in him to be a William of Wykeham or a Pugin. Ordinary mortals are fit to do the correspondence of a mercantile firm, but those who can write a Hamlet or a Lockslcy Hall take their seats among the gods.
Now therefore if this is the true rendering, it is asked, is there no room in wrought-iron workmanship for a blacksmith to exercise his imagination and his powers of artistic manipulation? What of those beautiful gates in the Kensington Museum? Does ancient pottery support the belief that there is no room for the exercise of the higher powers in the manufacture of earthenware? How is it we never find any evidence of the labour of love among the carvings over our gateways, among our tables and chairs, among our carpets, our books (their bindings, that is to say), our garden railings or walls, our cups and saucers—anywhere?
The answer is summed up in a single word, wagedom. The builders of our old abbeys were not wage receivers. Upon each minutest portion of the work there is the impress of an individual mind. The carvings, the frescoes, the stained-glass designs, the mosaics, everything down to the little conceits in oak-work as seen in Ely Cathedral, recall an age when art was not sold by the yard. In these degenerate days (and it is no falsification of history to style them degenerate in this respect) all our decoration is worked out at the least expenditure of force by the soulless and indifferent worker. Nor is there any expression of individuality; there is a regulation pattern and all the designs are as if run in the same mould. This has been pointed out so frequently before, and with such force and ability by John Ruskin and others, that it is only necessary to mention it in order to call to mind the cause to which it is usually attributed. “We are told that it is the introduction of machinery which has thus swept all the poetry out of our surroundings; that a machine having no soul can infuse no true art into its productions. But this is fallacious and sophistical. As well say that a painter must paint without a brush; for behind every machine there is a thinking mind. Besides, what do we find where there is no machine? Precisely the same monotonous heartlessness. In the industrial arts there is a certain dead level of dulness and apathy. The art is all in the design and none in the execution. The artisan lavishes no last loving touches on his handiwork ere it leaves his affectionate care, as the workers in fine art do. The explanation is wagedom”.
Let us now take a glimpse into the future: Here is a firm of iron-workers. The hands are self-elected and autonomous. The company has made a name, and the returns are high and increasing. A place in the factory is a vested interest. The original 20 per cent paid to the workpeople's president still remains 20 per cent, but the returns have quadrupled, and with them the 20 per cent. It is difficult to be elected a workman in such a concern. When a vacancy occurs, mindful of the reputation of the firm for fine workmanship, merit is the qualification for election—artistic talent in iron-work design or skill in execution (as the case may be) combined with a good character. The mere fact of working in this foundry is amongst metal-workers equivalent to the much-coveted membership of the Royal Academy in the present English world of fine art. So with the other industrial arts. Let the quality of workmanship once rise above the dead level of wage work, and competition will soon accomplish the rest.
And, as has been already observed, the true key to the respect and homage of our fellow-men is power. It is not the horny hand that degrades the labourer, it is the absence of any need for intellectual power in his calling; it is the fact that his profession is open to all, too difficult for none. It is merely a matter of drudgery. Efficiency is a question not of ability, of genius, but of time and industry.
An artist has the status of a gentleman. He is sought after and honoured, be he rough or smooth in his manners. A house-painter may or may not be a gentleman, probably not: but most certainly he has not the status of one, by reason of his class. When house-painters shall be true artists, they will be gentlemen. In the distant future the élite of the land (strange as it may seem) will include blacksmiths and carpenters; not the masters and employers of many hands, but the bona-fide hammerman himself. There is nothing in all this of the morbid fraternité of the Frenchman. It is only a following up of the lines of history in order to “dip into the future far as human eye can see,” and form a juster estimate of the workman's destiny than can be arrived at by any other route.
But the whole question of the indirect effects of the new system on art and on society is too wide for present treatment. Perhaps it would have been more prudent to have passed over in silence these indirect effects of the introduction of a logical system of labour payment, as tending to derogate from the practical character of the proposal advocated. But to those who do not care to peer too far down the vistas of the future, it is quite competent to confine their attention entirely to the more immediate and direct effects, treating the remoter consequences as too problematical for practical consideration. Those who anticipate great social changes must, however, guard themselves against misunderstanding. It is not to be expected that all branches of handicraft will simultaneously rise in status: that gentlefolk will flock into all the now-despised occupations. The duke and his younger brother the chimney-sweep will never walk arm-in-arm in Pall Mall. It will be with labour as it has been with trade. Some branches will outstrip the rest. Some will come to the front as handicrafts of honour, just as engineering and banking have done in trade. Those departments which have in them the most room for intellectual or artistic cultivation will leave the rest behind; and those which have least will never rise into a higher social stratum at all. Blacksmith and butcher will not visit.
Serfdom, Wagedom, Freedom—these are the three stages in the evolution of Industrialism. To-day we are still mostly in the second stage. At one end of the labour ladder we have the agricultural labourer striving to throw off the last vestiges of serfdom, demanding higher fixed wages in lieu of a low wage, increased by gratuities and perquisites. At the other end we have workers in the coal and iron trades demanding wages varying with employer's profits. The first represents the transition (now nearly completed in this country) from serfdom to wagedom; the second, the transition from wagedom to freedom. Thus we find that the same progress is not made all along the line, for we have one wing ready to advance into the third stage of development before the other wing is well out of the first. We must keep our eye on the advanced guard if we would learn the direction the campaign is likely to take.
We are frequently met with the objection that the present system is perfect because it is based on free contract; that employer and employed freely bargain together as to the work to be done and the wage to be paid; and that if a workman does not like the terms offered, he is under no compulsion to accept them. But what is the history of contract? Do not contracts themselves tend to become modified in course of time? I think nomological analysis will show us that they tend to be modified in three distinct ways. They tend to become: first, more and more free; second, more and more definite; third, more and more simplex.
Without going into the vexed question as to where direct compulsion ends and indirect compulsion begins—whether, for instance, the traveller who voluntarily hands over his purse to the highwayman in exchange for his life does it in pursuance of free contract with the robber-it will be admitted that the relations subsisting between master and wage earner are freer than those subsisting between lord and serf. The change from serfdom to wagedom was a change in the direction of freedom of contract. I will not demand an answer to the question whether a labourer who has the choice between subsistence wages and starvation is altogether a free agent, because this again raises a deeper question, into which we need not go here. But it will hardly be denied that the man who agrees to receive the full value of the work he actually does, instead of so much an hour for the time he stands over his work on the tacit understanding that he will apply himself with average diligence, has at all events entered into a more definite contract.
But it is in respect of the third tendency of contracts—to become more and more simplex or separate—that the system of capitalisation will show itself especially conformable. Instead of containing a bundle of distinguishable engagements, contracts tend to become fewer and fewer, and eventually the fewest possible. In this respect we may compare the fasciculus of heterogeneous duties undertaken by domestic servants, most of them rather tacitly understood than expressed, with the comparatively simplex duties of a factory operative. The contract entered into by the free worker will be even less complex. He will agree with his fellow-workers to put labour into the crucible and to take out a share of the proceeds in proportion to what he put in. The capitalist, again, who contributes non-human capital, will cease to insure a fixed return to his labouring partners. He also will take out of the crucible a share proportionate to the value of what he put into it. In fine, the history of industrialism illustrates the threefold tendency of contracts towards increasing freedom, definiteness, and simplicity.
It may have occurred to some that all the advantages of the new system would be more than neutralised by the great and manifold inconveniences arising out of the partnership questions which would be eternally springing up between masters and their partners, the men. Many forms of robbery would cease to be felonious in the eye of the law, and, moreover, men and masters would be mutually liable for one another's debts in connection with the business. Besides, it may be said that a partnership of more than some twenty persons must by law be registered as a joint-stock company, which would necessitate the application of the Joint-Stock Companies Acts to every large manufactory.
It is not proposed in this place to enter into a criticism of the existing law of partnership in this or other countries. Suffice it to observe that the law is not slow to adapt itself to new institutions and customs, though it is not likely to take the initiative. Moreover, a careful analysis of the juridical idea of partnership reveals a definition of the term which is not the definition received in authorised legal treatises, or even in the law courts. To state the matter briefly and dogmatically, the essence of partnership is not the sharing of profit and loss, or either or both, whether alone or in conjunction with other conditions; it is simply guaranty. That persons who trade in common, sharing profits and losses, do as a rule guarantee each other so far as the debts of the firm are concerned, even though that rule may have no exception, is no reason for confounding essentials and accidentals, but it is a very simple explanation of the existing confusion. Even now, the tendency in the courts is in the direction of recognising only those partnerships which have been openly admitted by the parties, instead of arguing from community of profit and loss. And no doubt when working men have established their undoubted claim to such community of profit and loss, some way will be discovered of escaping from all the difficulties and inconveniences inseparable from the present muddled notions of mutual liabilities. The only question is, whether the present disgraceful state of the law with respect to joint-stock companies will not bring the old definition of partnership into contempt, before the correct interpretation has been forced upon the Legislature by the independent action of the labouring classes. Meantime, there is no cause for misgiving on account of the effect of the law of partnership on the working of the system.
I suppose that no measures of legislative interference have been so mischievous and so costly to the country (not even excepting the Factory Acts) as the Acts relating to joint-stock companies. It would be impossible to estimate in hundreds of millions the enormous quantity of wealth which has been diverted from productive channels by these contemptible Acts alone. Designed, doubtless, as safeguards for the innocent and simple, they have served as snares and traps, of which the cunning and unscrupulous have taken ample advantage. Perfect freedom, untrammelled private enterprise, would long ere this have rendered joint-stock adventure as safe on the average as the 3 per cents, instead of which capital has been scared off and found an outlet in foreign loans, Egyptian, Peruvian, Turkish,. Spanish, and the like.
If the return to the lines of individualism in trade, which the capitalisation of labour will render necessary, were to be the only result of the introduction of that system, the country would even then be amply rewarded. Not only will a vastly larger proportion of wealth be devoted to production, bringing in larger incomes to those who invest in trade instead of Government and foreign stocks, but, owing to increased security, investors will be content with smaller profits on the turnover, made up for by quicker returns; so that although the gross outcome of industry will be larger, and although the total receipts of the contributors of non-human capital will also be larger, yet the average reward of risk will be less, and consequently the ratio of risk reward to labour reward will be a constantly diminishing one. The working classes will receive a larger share of a larger whole. While all will benefit, they will gain the most. And what is quite as important, the inequalities in the distribution of wealth (though inequalities must always exist, corresponding to the inequalities in human nature) will be less glaring and more evenly graduated from top to bottom. The income curve, which is a sure test of social stability, will, in mathematical language, tend to approach more and more nearly to a right line.
A few words as to the morality of wagedom. The term fraud is extremely difficult to define. For our present purpose it may serve to distinguish between two classes of bargain, in both of which the knowledge of the facts possessed by one of the contracting parties is deficient: but in the one case, owing to false representations knowingly made by one party, and in the other case, owing to any other cause. The first may be called a fraudulent bargain, but not the second.
Consider the following illustration of the second case: You make the acquaintance of your groom's nephew, a poor lad living in an obscure part of the town. You, having a good knowledge of drawing and painting, find his chalk sketches on the stable walls full of merit and genius, while they are unappreciated by the grooms and stable-boys. Estimating their marketable value, you engage to buy all the lad's productions on paper at a price which, though remunerative to him, is altogether disproportionate to their true worth, and you pocket the difference. Your advantage is gained without the use of brute force, without the use of stealth, without the use of fraud. Thus in every sense of the phrase it is a voluntary contract. Yet from a moral point of view, higher than that from which modern society expects us to regard these matters, is there not an element of unfairness in the arrangement? Do we not feel that the lad ought to have all the proceeds of the sale of his drawings?
Surely this sentiment may be examined as a sign of a future restriction (no matter how sanctioned) upon the use of superior knowledge. Why should not this higher form of intellectual superiority follow the lower forms which have already been disallowed? Why should it not follow fraud as fraud followed stealth, and as stealth followed brute force? When this shall happen, if ever, the profits of an undertaking will be distributed exactly according to the value of the original contribution of each contributor, whether it consist of inorganic or organic material, of hand labour, of superintendence, of foresight, or of any other ingredient. That is to say, profits will be divided in proportion to the new increment of value imparted by each contributor. At present there are two sources of gain in business. The one consists in increasing the value of purchased commodities while in possession of them, and afterwards selling them at that increased value. The other consists in buying an article at less than its real value, or in selling it at more than its real value, or in both, without in any way adding to its value. Is it not conceivable that the manufacturers and traders of the future will discard the second mode of gain?
This mode of obtaining advantage over those ignorant of the facts is most clearly exemplified in the case of bargains made between the employer and employed, that is to say, between the wage-paying and wage-receiving classes. In the absence of open books it is clearly impossible for the workpeople to ascertain how much of the profit obtained in the business is due to their exertions and how much to the capital in conjunction with which they labour. Taking advantage of their ignorance, the master is in a position to contract with them so as to compound for their services at a valuation which is necessarily below their true value.
When the manual labourer is deprived by force of the fair portion of profit due to his labour, we have a system of slavery or serfdom. Compulsion is necessary in order to make the workman toil. When he is deprived of his fair rights by concealment of fact, whether by fraud or by mere suppression of the truth, or in any way by which be is kept in ignorance of his real worth, his labour may be said to be compounded for, and we have a system of wagedom. When, again, the ascertained value of his contribution in the form of work is the measure of his remuneration, he may be said to labour freely and openly in the full light of knowledge, and we have a system of freedom.
There may be nothing illegal in bargaining with an individual, or with whole classes of the population, to pay any sum which he or they will accept for their work: but illegal or not, it is surely immoral. It would be immoral to demand a large sum of money from a drowning man as a condition of helping him into your boat. It would be a voluntary bargain. He would gain by promising any sum whatever, but surely it would be an unfair bargain. So it is with a hungry population a most unfair and immoral practice to' pay them one penny less than the true value of their labour.
There is no intention in this place of confounding morals with law. How far a man may be legally justified in palming off upon another an article for more than it is actually worth; how far, that is to say, the law should deal with such transactions at all, is a juridical question which in no way affects the ethical one. Careat emptor may be an excellent legal maxim without in any way conferring a moral justification on such dealings. It is all very well to say that every man must look after himself, that superior knowledge ought to have its reward, and so forth: but, notwithstanding, there remains the feeling (it may be mere sentiment) that there is something mean, something morally wrong in such transactions, that a stigma attaches to them. But then it ceases to be immoral so far as employers are concerned when the workers are awake to the true position and continue to insist upon the arrangement.
The question may be asked. How can we expect employers to enter into a fair contract with their workpeople? Is there no balance to redress ? Is not the employer compelled to guarantee the workman against accidents, by the Employers' Liability Act ? to educate his children, by the Education Acts ? to provide for his unfortunate relations, by the Poor Law ' to carry him by rail at under cost price, by the Cheap Trains Act? to supply him with water at less than cost of delivery? to provide him with books, baths, wash-houses, parks, picture galleries, etc. etc.? and finally to lodge him at a dead loss? All this may be very good and humane. Perhaps not to do it would be cruelty. Besides, it would not pay to let the “proletariat'” starve! But why will the workers of England persist in claiming to be treated like first - class slaves? Even if they obtained all they asked (which is impossible), what would it profit them without freedom?
Again, whether we blame the employer or not, we must admit that if the wage earner does not realise his position it is mostly his own fault. Might not the employer argue thus? — “If I were to sell myself to a sugar-planter for a thousand dollars, to invest the money for the benefit of my children, and then to pass into perpetual bondage, all of my own free will, would you call the planter a tyrant and a villain, or would you call me a fool, and add—serve you right? Well, that is exactly what the wage-receiving classes of this country are doing to-day, and if they do not like the arrangement they have no one to blame for it but themselves, and this insensate howl against capitalists is an unmanly attempt to lay the blame on to the shoulders of any but those who are really responsible for the situation. A man cannot in this country sell himself out and out, but he can let himself out for hire like an ox or an ass, at so much a day or a week, and this is just what he does. To let one's self out for hire is the same thing as to sell one's services for a limited period out and out. To turn round and complain after this transaction that the employer pockets the whole of the net profits of the work is childish and contemptible. You might as well sell a man your pig and then complain that he sold it again for a profit without offering you a share. I say it is an unworthy wail.”
There is something in this plea. Just so long as population goes on increasing at a greater rate than the means of subsistence, and men and women go on letting themselves out for hire instead of working for their own hand, so long will the rate of wages equal on the average, the cost of keeping the human machine in fair working order, and no more.
There is no doubt the working classes have one excellent reason for preferring to remain under the system of wagedom rather than to enter upon a régime of freedom. Under the present system they have no care or trouble for the future: they are guaranteed so much by the employer. Come sun, come storm, it is all the same to them. It is the capitalist's look-out; why need they bother themselves? This is the happy-go-lucky irresponsible, life which some of them truly prefer. They would not for the world alter it if they could. On the contrary, even the wage system is a little too responsible: the golden age for the labourer, we are told, was in the glorious days of serfdom when, come what might, the serf was well cared for by his lord. There is a pleasing English ring about this: to be well cared for, fattened up, and kept in good condition like an ox is a truly noble ambition, and yet Mr. Hyndman and his friends tell us to look back to the fourteenth century for a picture of a happy and prosperous people, for what we ought, if possible, to bring back. “O! the happy days of serfdom, the freedom from care, the jolly irresponsibility.” A lofty refrain truly. But were these serfs so happy and comfortable after all? The merry England of the good old times is mostly immortalised, I imagine, in the traditions of knights and barons, while the opinions of the villeins and the cottiers of those days were not much noticed or committed to writing. Here is one genuine working man's view of his position, many centuries old, and now preserved in the British Museum:—
'"What sayest thou, Plowman? How dost thou thy work?'—'Oh. my lord, hard do I work. I go out at daybreak driving the oxen to field, and I yoke them to the plough. Nor is it ever so hard winter that I dare loiter at home for fear of my lord; but, the oxen yoked and the ploughshare and coulter fastened to the plough, every day must I plough a full acre or more.'—' Hast thou any fellow? '—' I have a boy driving the oxen with an iron goad, who also is hoarse with cold and shouting. Verily, then, I do more. I must fill the bin of the oxen with hay, and water them, and carry out the dung. Ah me! hard work it is, hard work it is, because I am not free.'"1
I suppose this sentiment is hardly intelligible to some modern ears. Their ambition is not to be free, it is to be fat: we have had enough freedom. It is even the fashion nowadays to run it down. It is quite a common thing to hear men denouncing what they contemptuously call your vaunted freedom of contract. Doubtless bitter experience of such freedom as wagedom brings is calculated to lower very considerably the fervour with which an appeal to the love of liberty is received. That is but natural. And yet the immorality of wagedom is probably exemplified, more than in anything else, in the waning self-respect of our working classes, as witnessed by their slavish appeals for aid and alms from the very classes whom they persistently abuse, and in their lack of enterprise and self-reliance. And the ranks of those who decry freedom and applaud those who would confer the same favours on the deserving and the undeserving—who would apportion satisfaction not according to efforts but according to needs—are swelled by those whose real aim is not equal opportunities of work, but equal opportunities of gain, of support and luxury at the expense of their more industrious and capable fellow-citizens. But be it clearly understood that capitalisation has nothing to offer to the lazy, the dissolute, the criminal, and the vagabond classes. Under such a system (there is no use blinking matters) these classes will go to the wall, and the sooner the better. For them there is nothing but pity and good advice. Socialism has many good things to offer to these classes, and I for one have no hesitation in advising them to embrace that fascinating doctrine with all speed. There are but these alternatives for them: either work and individualism, or socialism and idleness.
But whatever conclusion we arrive at as to the morality of the existing system of labour payment, with respect to employers or employed, there can be little room for doubt that a nation which tolerates a distribution of wealth so glaringly disproportionate to intelligent individual effort as the present system entails is guilty of a national sin. On this one point at least socialists and individualists can agree. Something must be done, and done quickly, to rectify the anomaly, and the question of the day is, What? Socialism says, Smash up the existing social fabric and start a new one. Individualism says, No; first try the effect of liberty-more liberty.
See Seebohm's English Village Communities: also Six Centuries of work; and Wages, by J. E. Thorold Rogers, N. P.
Wallis v. Day, 2 M. and W. 1837.
Those who prefer it can speak of labour force, but we do not speak of engine force and horse force as articles of commerce. If one requires a portion of horse labour, he is not said to buy a couple of hours of horse force, but to hire the horse for a couple of hours. Such parlance is both more in accordance with usage and also more accurate. Metaphysical expressions like labour force are always best avoided. Therefore, let us rather describe a workman as letting himself out for hire by the hour than as selling so much of his labour force; more especially as we have no means of accurately measuring that force except by time. One might as well measure the force of two different-sized locomotives in terms of working hours.
Westminster Review, July 1886.
Those who would see this fallacy clearly exposed may refer to a work with which I am not in accord, viz. Mr. Henry George's Progress and Poverty, where they will find the trick properly shown up.
I do not guarantee the historical accuracy of this statement, and my reason for making this disclaimer is the fear that some hostile critic will pulverise my arguments in favour of capitalisation by pointing out either that he fire broke out before Nero began to fiddle, or that Nero stopped fiddling before the fire was extinguished. Perhaps so.
Quoted from Seebohm's English Village Communities, a work which should be read twice by those who wish to understand the land question, and once by those who do not.