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AUGMENTATION OF WAGES,
WHICH WILL BE OCCASIONED IN EUROPE BY THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.
I know not whether these Reflections have ever before appeared in an English dress. They are here presented in a translation from the French, as published in Castera's edition of the author's writings. Castcra says, that a copy was found among Franklin's papers, and inserted in the Journal d'Economie Publique, (du 10 Ventose an V.); but, not being able to procure that journal, he translated it from the German version contained in the Minerva, edited by Archenholz. The following is a translation from Castcra's version; and, after having thus passed through two languages, the style and other characteristics of the original must of course be essentially changed, and not for the better. But the sentiments and train of reasoning are perhaps retained with sufficient accuracy, and, even in this imperfect form, it may be deemed worthy of the author. Whether his views are not more ingenious than sound, and whether they have been confirmed by experience, are at least questionable points. The paper was probably written in France, during the American Revolution, or immediately after the peace. — Editor.
The independence and prosperity of the United States of America will raise the price of wages in Europe, an advantage of which I believe no one has yet spoken.
The low rate of wages is one of the greatest defects in the political associations of Europe, or rather of the old world.
If the term wages be taken in its widest signification, it will be found that almost all the citizens of a large state receive and pay wages. I shall confine my remarks, however, to one description of wages, the only one with which government should intermeddle, or which requires its care. I mean the wages of the lowest class, those men without property, without capital, who live solely by the labor of their hands. This is always the most numerous class in a state; and, consequently, that community cannot be pronounced happy, in which, from the lowness and insufficiency of wages, the laboring class procure so scanty a subsistence, that, barely able to provide for their own necessities, they have not the means of marrying and rearing a family, and are reduced to beggary, whenever employment fails them, or age and sickness oblige them to give up work.
Further, the wages under consideration ought not to be estimated by their amount in money, but by the quantity of provisions, clothing, and other commodities, which the laborer can procure for the money which he receives.
Unhappily, in all the political states of the old world, a numerous class of citizens have nothing to live upon but their wages, and these are inadequate to their support. This is the real cause of the misery of so many day-laborers, who work in the fields, or in manufactories in towns; of pauperism, an evil which is spreading every day, more and more, because governments attempt to check it by feeble remedies only; of depravity of morals; and of almost every crime. The policy of tyranny and of commerce has overlooked and disguised these truths. The horrible maxim, that the people must be poor, in order that they may remain in subjection, is still held by many persons of hard hearts and perverted understanding, with whom it were useless to contend. Others, again, think that the people should be poor, from a regard for the supposed interests of commerce. They believe that to increase the rate of wages would raise the price of the productions of the soil, and especially of industry, which are sold to foreign nations, and thus that exportation and the profits arising from it would be diminished. But this motive is at once cruel and ill-founded.'
It is cruel; for, whatever may be the advantages of foreign commerce, if, in order to possess them, half the nation must languish in misery, we cannot without crime endeavour to obtain them, and it becomes the duty of a government to relinquish them. To desire to keep down the rate of wages, with the view of favoring the exportation of merchandise, is to seek to render the citizens of a state miserable, in order that foreigners may purchase its productions at a cheaper rate; it is, at most, attempting to enrich a few merchants by impoverishing the body of the nation; it is taking the part of the stronger in that contest, already so unequal, between the man who can pay wages, and him who is under the necessity of receiving them; it is, in one word, to forget, that the object of every political society ought to be the happiness of the largest number.
This motive is, moreover, ill-founded; for, in order to secure to a nation a profitable export for the products of its agriculture and manufactures, it is not necessary that the rate of wages should be reduced so extremely low, as we find it in almost all the countries of Europe. It is not the wages of the workman, but the price of the merchandise, that should be lowered, in order that this merchandise may be sold to foreign nations. But men have always neglected to make this distinction. The wages of the laborer are the price of his day's work. The price of merchandise is the sum it costs to gather the produce of the soil, or prepare any product
of industry. The price of this production may be very moderate, while the laborer may receive good wages, that is, the means of procuring a comfortable subsistence. The labor necessary to gather or prepare the article to be sold may be cheap, and the wages of the workman good. Although the workmen of Manchester and Norwich, and those of Amiens and Abbeville, are employed in the same kind of labor, the former receive considerably higher wages than the latter; and yet the woollen fabrics of Manchester and Norwich, of the same quality, are not so dear as those of Amiens and Abbeville.
It would occupy too much time fully to develope this principle. I will only observe here, that it results in a great measure from the fact, that the price of labor in the arts, and even in agriculture, is wonderfully diminished by the perfection of the machinery employed in them, by the intelligence and activity of the workmen, and by the judicious division of labor. Now these methods of reducing the price of manufactured articles have nothing to do with the low wages of the workman. In a large manufactory, where animals are employed instead of men, and machinery instead of animal power, and where that judicious division of labor is made, which doubles, nay, increases tenfold, both power and time, the article can be manufactured and sold at a much lower rate, than in those establishments, which do not enjoy the same advantages; and yet the workmen in the former may receive twice as much as in the latter.
It is, undoubtedly, an advantage for a manufactory to obtain workmen at a moderate price; and excessively high wages are an obstacle to the foundation of large manufacturing establishments. This high price of wages, as I shall presently explain, is one reason for the opinion which is entertained, that it will be many years before the manufactures of the United States of America can rival those of Europe. But we must not conclude from this, that manufactures cannot prosper, unless the wages of the workmen are reduced as low as we find them in Europe. And, moreover, the insufficiency of wages occasions the decline of a manufactory, as its prosperity is promoted by a high rate of wages.
High wages attract the most skilful and most industrious workmen. Thus the article is better made; it sells better; and, in this way, the employer makes a greater profit, than he could do by diminishing the pay of the workmen. A good workman spoils fewer tools, wastes less material, and works faster, than one of inferior skill; and thus the profits of the manufacturer are increased still more.
The perfection of machinery in all the arts is owing, in a great degree, to the workmen. There is no important manufacture, in which they have not invented some useful process, which saves time and materials, or improves the workmanship. If common articles of manufacture, the only ones worthy to interest the statesman, if woollen, cotton, and even silk stuffs, articles made of iron, steel, copper, skins, leather, and various other things, are generally of better quality, at the same price, in England than in other countries, it is because workmen are there better paid.
The low rate of wages, then, is not the real cause of the advantages of commerce between one nation and another; but it is one of the greatest evils of political communities.
Let us now inquire what is the situation of the United States in this respect. The condition of the daylaborer, in these states, is infinitely better than in the wealthiest countries in the old world, and particularly England, where, however, wages are higher than i n any