FAILURE OF OUR INDUSTRIAL SYSTEM.
OUR supremacy in manufactures and in the industrial arts is boldly challenged. "Amicus" assures us that the Exhibition of Paris re- futes our fondly cherished assumption that we are supreme. " I found my own country," he says in a letter to the Tunes, "behind-hand in many branches of industry where she has here- tofore boasted her superiority, and where those engaged in those particular pursuits are persuaded at the present moment, I firmly believe, that they have no rivals."
He first takes the subject of iron manufactures, and states that "in the department of manufactured or rolled iron to particular forms and purposes we are lamentably behind both the French and Prussians." Hence we continue to build the floors of our houses with the most combustible materials; and when we use fire-proof buildings, we waste material in the floors as well as in the girders themselves, by an old and cumbrous form. Here France beats us both in safety and economy. Now, though there is much truth in this accusation, we doubt the degree of blind presumption which the writer ascribes to the English in general. It is twenty years since we have been accus- tomed to hear from the mouth of manufacturers that Prussia beats us in iron, and it has recently been admitted that France was making decided progress. Amicus tells us that we beat the French in tools and machinery, while they beat us in scientific instru- ments; that the French have made great progress since 1851, our own makers none. The charge, we believe, might be extended to other manufactures. It is an old reproach that our artists are be- hind the Continental in designs for ornamental patterns in textile fabrics; and we have yet to learn that our Government Schools have infused a new genius into this branch of business. For years past the increasing export of half-manufactured articles—as cotton yarn—has been remarked; and the cause that tends to check the extension in cotton manufacture in America and other countries is not of a nature that we can count upon. It was the complaint of the Protectionists, that the development of our manufacturing system renders us dependent upon foreign consumers, as in Russia; and the dependence may become alarming if we find that we may be beaten in foreign markets by foreign producers. Where would then be the boast of our becoming "the workshop of the world" ? Nay, it has been argued on behalf of our manufacturers, that it is only by filling the market to repletion with goods at excessively low rates that we can keep foreign producers out of the market. It is almost represented on their behalf that they must export articles under cost in order to retain their footing; a plea which is as gross a violation of sound economical and commercial principles as we remember to have encountered,—that we can only keep the market by ruining ourselves, and incurring a loss exactly in pro- portion to the energy of our production! If, indeed, we could keep the market by temporary sacrifices, we might still to a certain ex- tent command our prices in the long run; but recent symptoms in the manufacturing districts only tend to confirm warnings we have had from America and Germany, while they give a formidable cor- roboration to the challenge of Amicus.
Looking to discover causes, he ascribes the backwardness of our manufacturers to the fact that "we had been getting rich too fast —were indifferent, indolent, and careless in our trades, and in fact had got too much into what was called, by a shrewd observer of men, the easy chair and port-wine' state of existence."—It is strange that a writer in part so precise should be so general in endeavouring to define the cause. Perhaps we should not find one cause but many causes; and they could not be summarily enu- merated. We may make a shrewd guess, however, that some of them have been little suspected. The extreme division of labour tends to separate the working classes from the general survey of any one trade. Now it is amongst the working classes that there is a very considerable number of inventive ideas : but such inven- tions are mostly applied to parts of a manufacture ; and they are often suppressed by their inventors, for a twofold reason,—in the first place, because the state of the patent-law prevents a workman from getting any advantage out of his invention, or only a very slight advantage; in the second, because the workman feels a great reluctance to increase the riches of the master, who already has so much, while the working hands have so small a share. If the workman looks to his own selfish advantage, the master has taught him to do so. The patent-law itself proceeds upon the ground of giving to selfish rights their due. This places trade and artisan work on a footing intellectually below science. It is "unprofessional" in any scientific employment to keep back a se- cret in order to a personal advantage ; but the whole organization of our manufacturing system proceeds upon the ground of letting each man get his own advantage, he caring for nobody and nobody caring for him. Ambition is thus stunted to its lowest propor- tions; the human mind as well as hand is degraded to the office of a machine ; and while we can extend our production by the appli- cation of machinery, we find that progress is allayed by this me- chanical character.
It is rather remarkable, but most consolatory, that a decided progress is to be observed in our agricultural appliances. This progress is the more notable in our own country, since, notwith- standing the necessity we have for mechanical aids in the use of a limited surface, the antiquated principles which still prevail in the tenure of land present formidable and sometimes insuperable ob- structions to the use of improvements. It is, however, in the proportionate development of our agriculture that we are likely to find the great corrective for an unhealthily concentrated mechani- cal system, and for the undue reliance upon external trade. From the nature of things in agriculture, the patent principle is less po- tent than in manufactures ; while science is only eager to be ac- cepted by the practical agriculturists. How much might have been done in manufactures, if, instead of leaving the inventor to the poor protection of the patent-law, the generous manufacturer had given him an openhanded honorarium ! Individuals might have reaped less selfish advantage, but our collective progress would have been greater as compared with other countries, and our position would have been safer.
Meanwhile, we are far from presuming that the Great Exposi- tions, of which we have only had the second in Paris after the first in London, will be useless. We have had some foretaste of the result in the effect of agricultural shows. They have greatly stimulated the ambition as well as the self-interest of our agri- culturists. They have shown us that the leading improvers keep far ahead of practical agriculturists. It was in a species of hono- rary competition that fatness was cultivated to its huge perfection, and that the nutritive qualities of particular kinds of feeding were brought to light. The pingnitude was overdone, and then a more discriminating science corrected the mistake. The Mechis, the Huxtables, and the Westerns, will always keep ahead of the farmers ; but the great body of farmers do follow, although at a distance. Manufacturing shows are likely to have the same effect, and to aid with other causes in opening the more generous impulses without which science flags and commerce is stationary.