WHY SHOULD THE LABOURING POPULATION OF ENGLAND NOT HAVE CONSTANT
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SPECTATOR.
Edinburgh, 1st December 1843.
Sra—Why, I ask, should the people of this country not have constant em-
ployment ? It is not from the want of capital, for never was there a richer -community than ours; nor of trade, for our merchant marine traverse every sea; nor of the commodities requisite for labour, for we find not the slightest difficulty in supplying ourselves in abundance with the raw material of indus- try of every kind, from gold and silver and ivory down to flax and cotton. We have besides every advantage arising from our overflowing capital, to facili- tate and render profitable our labour : railroads, by which nearly every part of the island is brought within a short day's journey of the harbours on our coast, from which our manufactures are exported, and to which the produce of other lands is brought and spread over the length and breadth of Britain ; steam- engines and machinery, which enable one man to produce as much as ten could do by common means ; and above all, this country has the advantage of an in- dustrious and skilful population, who desire nothing more than to be enabled to earn their bread by their own labour. Yet, notwithstanding all this, our manu- facturing labourers are every few years plunged into compulsory idleness and misery. The nearly universally adopted opinion as to the cause of this is, that the workmen of this country suffer from overproduction, arising from overpopula- tion and the introduction of machinery and other means by which labour is economized. I propose in this letter, to examine into the reality of this alleged obstacle to the prtisperity of the people.
Why should*n increase of „the population render work more scarce ? An
increase of inhalgailts most'andoubtedly augments the number of workmen to be employed; bit it also incredses the customers for the employment of work- men. An extension of the inhlibitauts is an extension of the market for the sale of the produce of labour. In order to illustrate this, let us suppose a village of two hundred inhabit- ants, the workmen of which amount, we shall say, to one hundred; and let ne suppose that those workmen are divided into five distinct trades, viz. twenty tailors, twenty shoemakers, twenty builders, twenty agriculturists, and twenty weavers. I shall assume that these are the whole labourers of the village, and that they supply themselves, their wives, and families, by the interchange of their respective industry, with every thing they want according to their simple habits. Of course I am aware, in making this supposition, that I am not tak- ing an exact case of what is likely to occur, or making the exact allotment of those engaged in the different trades according to the real proportions that would be required to supply the wants of the little community. But I have taken this case in order to facilitate my calculations; and although it may not be a probable one, it will suffice to enable me to bring out the principle I wish -to make manifest.
Well, then, to follow out my illustration. If the population of the village were to increase from two hundred to four hundred, is it not certain that there would be required to supply the wants of the increased inhabitants a double
number of tailors, shoemakers, 8:e. ; and that this double number of tradesmen would have as much work and as great a demand for their labour as when the
population of the village was only half as large and the tradesmen only half as
numerous? The very same would be the result if the population were to in- crease to a million. It is evident, that, as the numbers of a community increase, the number of workmen required to administer to the wants of a community must also be increased; and that, provided there be nothing wrong, nothing artificial to interfere with the proper distribution of work, there never could be stagnation of trade from what is called overpopulation. For there is nothing more certain in political science than that one labourer is, by his produce and his wants, the means of employing and maintaining another labourer. Next, let us suppose—continuing my illustration of the village—that by some invention in machinery one tailor should be enabled to produce as many coats in
a given time as two tailors formerly did. The consequence of this would be,
that a coat ultimately (after the inventor of the machine had reaped his pro- fits) would be obtained for half the price formerly paid for it; for the compara- tive prices of different articles are always regulated by the amount of labour re- quired for the fabrication of each. Every man in the community would thus be enabled to wear twice as many coats as formerly. But as it is not likely
that the members of the community would he desirous to wear twice as many
coats while they had only the same quantity of shoes, &c., it is probable they would decline to lay out the whole saving effected by the cheapness of coats
upon those articles, and would prefer to spend a part of it upon something else.
This would occasion a slight alteration in the numbers of workmen allotted to each trade. The tailors might in this case be diminished from twenty to twelve,
and the shoemakers and other classes of tradesmen increased from twenty to twenty-two. Still, after the readjustment of the numbers in the different trades to suit the altered circumstances was effected, which would soon be done by the operation of the principle of demand and supply, there would be fully
as much employment as before ; and each of the inhabitants would, besides, have more comforts. The application of machinery, by which labour is eco-
nomized, must always in the first instance create a certain degree of hard- ship to individuals, by compelling a change of occupation ; but this hardship is only temporary and confined to a few, while the advantage is permanent and is reaped by the whole community.
Let us now assume, that, by some improvement in the arts of production, the whole tradesmen of the village, without exception, were enabled to fabricate to ice as much in their respective departments of industry as they formerly did, and let us see if this would in any way interfere with their employment. The effect of such improvement in the economy of labour would enable the mem-
bers of the community to have double the number of comforts they formerly
possessed—twice as many coats, shoes, &c.; and if they could dispense with some of those articles, they could employ part of the workmen disengaged from
the old occupations in other branches of industry, which would add to the
comforts and enjoyments of the whole. For instance, they could add to the former list of tradesmen, paper-makers and printers ; and which the members of the old trades could afford to pay, by means of the additional power of produc- tion they had obtained by the improvements in the economy of labour. If the power of production was to go on steadily advancing, the labouring population
would be enabled to add comfort after comfort and enjoyment after enjoyment
to those they formerly possessed. For improvement in the economy of labour is just so much wealth bestowed upon all those who are within the sphere of its
influence. It is evident there could be no limit to the means of employment
from improvements in the power of production, until the whole people bad the means of enjoying every comfort and luxury, of satisfying every possible want and caprice : for there is no limit to the creation of new occupations, and to the division and subdivision of those occupations, with the view of administer- ing to the wants and desires of a well-governed and prosperous population. All that would be required for the constant employment of the people, is that the numbers of those engaged in the different departments of industry should be rightly proportioned; so that one set of labourers should be the means of giving to and receiving employment from another act of labourers ; so that neither the tailors, the shoemakers, the weavers, nor any other class of trades- men, should be either too numerous or too few for the manufacture of what was necessary to supply the wants of the whole community. And this right dis- tribution of labour would be always brought about by the unerring adjustment of demand and supply, provided things were left to themselves and nothing artificial was allowed to interfere.
As long as this right adjustment of labour was maintained, and which I shall call the balance y labour, there never could be overproduction, either from the effect of increase of population or the introduction of machinery. How- ever numerous a community may become, still, if this equilibrium of labour be maintained, there would be no difficulty in employment being provided for the whole. One workman by his labour will be the means of calling into activity another workman; and it will make no difference whether the community con- sist of a hundred or a hundred millions.
But if the balance of labour were upset, it is easy to see how every thing would be thrown into confusion. In the case of the village I bare already pointed out, if the number of inhabitants were doubled, there would be employment for double the number of labourers formerly engaged in the differ- ent departments of industry. But if, instead of being merely doubled, the work- men of any one particular trade—say the shoemakers—should be increased ten- fold, and should continue for some time to work, and to fill warehouse after warehouse with shoes and boots—contriving at the same time, by some kind of legerdemain, to get credit from the other tradesmen, by which they were enabled, without making any return, to supply themselves with the produce of their labour—it is easy to see bow such a state of things would soon bring about a total derangement of the industrial system of the village. A false system of credit like this could not go on for any length of time. A crash would take place. The shoemakers would be thrown out of employment. Their shoes and boots would be brought out of the warehouses and thrown into the market a mere drug, and would not probably sell for half the money which the fabrica- tion of them cost. There would be no work for shoemakers for some time, and a complete stagnation in this branch of industry would take place ; and which would react on every other branch of industry. The shoemakers would rush into the other trades, and thus bring on a ruinous competition with the old workmen ; and superficial people, not accustomed to look beneath the surface or things, would then exclaim that this was the inevitable result arising from overpopulation and overproduction. Things would remain in this state until the stock of shoes and boots had been exhausted, and until the rectifying principle of demand and supply had brought matters back to their proper chan- nel; reducing the number of shoemakers to what was necessary to the wants of the community, and causing the extraneous number to be absorbed back into the other departments of industry from which they were improperly diverted by the artificial stimulus to which I have alluded. Although, as I have de- monstrated, there can be no overproduction in the aggregate as long as the balance of labour is maintained, and our industrial system is left to follow its natural course and to be regulated by the natural principle of demand and supply, yet there is no doubt that overproduction can exist in particular departments of labour; and that overproduction does always take place in par- ticular departments, on those occasions when the people are thrown out of em- ployment by stagnations. I shall afterwards endeavour to point out the circum- stances which upset the balance of labour, by creating the partial overproduc- tion in particular departments to which I have just referred; but in the mean time, my object is only to show that this artificial state of things is not a ne- cessary i or a natural state of things, arising from overpopulation or improve- ments n the power of production, but is brought about by those artificial causes to which I shall afterwards direct your attention.
I shall now extend my illustration of the village to this great empire ; in order to prove that the case equally applies to the more complicated state of this great community ; and that an augmentation of the inhabitants of Great Britain would not affect the welfare of our labouring classes any more than an increase of the inhabitants would prove injurious to a community consisting of two hundred members.
Let us suppose the population of England to be augmented by a million of workmen. There is no doubt that if the whole of this number were to rush at once into a particular department of industry—the cotton-manufactures, for instance—there would be at first an overproduction of cotton goods, and a fall in the rate of wages of the workmen in that department ; but there is no doubt that this would be soon rectified if things were left to themselves : and let it be recollected, that an increase of our population does not start up all at once, but takes place gradually, so that the different individuals fall naturally into the different departments of industry according to the demand and supply.
But let us resume the hypothesis of the workmen of England being increased to the extent of s million. It is easy to show how that million would be ab- sorbed into the working population without in any degree injuring it. Of course, in the first place, there would be required an additional supply of food for the additional number of inhabitants. All that would be necessary for this purpose would be, that a sufficient number of the million (suppose a hundred thousand) should engage in the manufacture of those articles exported abroad in exchange for corn. This would not in any degree interfere with the old hands formerly employed in those branches of manufacture as there would be an increased quantity of those articles required to pay for the additional supply of corn brought from abroad for the subsistence of the additional million. If there were restrictions on the importation of corn, then it might be necessary to raise the food within the island by the cultivation of new land not hitherto tilled. This would require the employment of a greater number of the million than would be requisite to obtain food by the exchange of manufactures sup- posing the trade to be free; and by raising the price of corn, this would to a certain degree prove injurious to the consumers. But, as I have shown in my first letter, this would not oppose any barrier to the employment of the people. I shall, however, suppose that a hundred thousand alone is required for the additional supply of corn, and that it is obtained from abroad.
We have thus disposed of one hundred thousand of the million ; but then there are nine hundred thousand remaining, and how, it may asked, are they to be employed ? Another hundred thousand would be required to manu- facture for tea, sugar, &c. for the whole million. And after all the articles from foreign states requisite for the consumption of the million had been sup- plied by a part of the number, then the remainder of the million would engage themselves in those home trades necessary for each other. They would become tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, masons, &c. They would furnish with the home articles required those engaged in manufacturing for the foreign market, for the supply of corn, tee, sugar, &c.; and they would at the same time work for each other. The tailor would make coats for the shoemaker, the shoemaker shoes for the tailor, the carpenter would work for the mason, and the mason for the carpenter. I think I have thus shown how the additional million of workmen would easily obtain employment, without in any degree interfering with the employ- ment of the old workmen. Under a proper system, the home trade, as also the foreign trade and a demand for commodities, will always increase in proportion with an increase of the population ; for there is nothing more certain, I repeat, than that one labourer is, by his produce and his wants, the market and the means of employment for another labourer. The addition of a million to our population ought to operate precisely as if we were to have an accession to our foreign trade of a new country containing a million of inhabitants, who, in- stead of attempting to Thal us, would set themselves to produce and manu- facture only what we wanted, and take from us in exchange the surplus of our manufactures, and who would give us the preference over every other na- tion. There is nothing which tends so much to render labour profitable as density of population. When a country is thickly inhabited, there is great economy in transport ; there is a great advantage given to the principle of the division of labour, on which in a great measure depend both the amount of work done by each workman and the perfection of that work. Instead, there- fore, of fearing an increase of the population, we ought to hail that increase as a means of adding to the comforts of the people and the prosperity of the country.
In short, Sir, it is evident, I submit, that the employment of the labouring population depends principally upon what I have styled the balance of labour— upon production and manufactures being adjusted according to the wants of the community, so that one workman shall give employment to another work- man. As long as this equilibrium of labour is maintained, profits may be small, wages may be low, taxes may be high, restrictions may be severe, and the necessaries of life may be dear ; but still the workman will have employment. The amount of his remuneration is a different question, into which I do not at present enter. When I say this, I do not wish it to be inferred as my opinion that the inhabitants of every country can be kept in constant employment. For this there must be a certain,. amount of capital in the country, accompanied by security to person and property. But, with our immense capital, and the perfect security to life and property which exists in England, nothing more, I repeat, is required to keep our labounng population in constant work than their right distribution in the different departments of industry. I think I have also proved that the balance of labour would be always main- tained by the operation of the principle of demand and supply, were it not for the intervention of artificial causes, into which it was my intention to inquire in this letter. But I find I have already trespassed too far on your indulgence ; and I must reservg this, with your permission,for a future occasion. This will require a letter by itself, and will conclude the subject I have undertaken to discuss in the Spectator. But, previous to entering into this last division of any subject, I should wish to be allowed the insertion of one other letter, in order to enter into an investigation into the effects of foreign trade and the factory system as a means of affording employment to the labouring population. This, conceive, will enable sue fully to exhaust the subject.