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great sagacity invents a sewing machine, a telegraph, or a telephone, and he thus confers the greatest possible advantage upon other men for centuries after.
It is obviously to the advantage of everybody that those who are capable of benefiting society should be encouraged to do so by giving them all the reward possible, by patents, copyright, and the laws of property generally. To prevent or discourage a clever man in doing the best work he can, is certainly no benefit to other men. It tends to level all down to a low standard, and to retard progress altogether. Every man, on the contrary, who is incited to work, and study, and invent to the utmost of his powers, not only earns welfare for himself, but confers welfare upon other people. He shows how wealth may be created abundantly, and how toil may be lessened. What is true of great ability and great inventions is true, also, of the smallest differences of power or the slightest improvements. If one bricklayer's labourer can carry up more bricks than another, why should he be prevented from doing it? The ability is his property, and it is for the benefit of all that he should be allowed to use it. If he finds a better way of carrying bricks, of course it should be adopted in preference to worse ways. The purpose of carrying bricks is to get them carried and benefit those who want houses. Everything which makes it difficult and expensive to build houses, causes people to be lodged worse than they otherwise would be. We can only get things made well and cheaply if every man does his best, and is incited to do so by gaining the reward of his excellence.
Every man then should not only be allowed, but should be encouraged to do and to earn all that he can; we must then allow the greatest inequalities of wealth ; for a man who has once begun to grow rich, acquires capital, and experience, and means which enable him to earn more and more. Moreover, it is altogether false to suppose that, as a general rule, he does this by taking wealth from other people. On the contrary, by accumulating capital, by building mills, warehouses, railways, docks, and by skilfully organising trades, he often enables thousands of men to produce wealth, and to earn wages to an extent before impossible. The profits of a capitalist are usually but a small fraction of what he pays in wages, , and he cannot become rich without assisting many workmen to increase the value of their labour and to earn a comfortable subsistence.
CO-OPERATION, &c. 58. Arbitration. We have now considered at some length the evils arising from the present separation of interests between the employed and their employers. The next thing is to discuss the various attempts which have been made to remedy these evils, and to bring labour and capital into harmony with each other. In the first place, many people think that when any dispute takes place, arbitrators or judges should be appointed to hear all that can be said on both sides of the question, and then decide what the rate of wages is to be for some time to come.
No doubt a good deal may be said in favour of such a course, but it is nevertheless inconsistent with the principles of free labour and free trade. If the judges are to be real arbitrators, they must have power to compel obedience to their decision, so that they will destroy the liberty of the workman to work or not as he likes, and of the capitalist to deal freely with his own capital, and sell goods at whatever price suits the state of the market. If wages are to be arbitrarily settled in this way, there is no reason why the same thing should not be done with the prices of corn, iron, cotton, and other goods. But legislators have long since discovered the absurdity of attempting to fix prices by law. These prices depend entirely upon supply and demand, and no one is really able to decide with certainty what will be the conditions of supply and demand a month or two hence. Government might almost as wisely legislate about the weather we are to have next summer as about the state of trade, which much depends upon the weather, or upon wars and accidents of various kinds, which no one can foresee. It is impossible, then, to fix prices and wages beforehand by any kind of law or compulsory decision. The matter is one of bargain, of buying and selling, and the employer must be at liberty to buy the labour required at the lowest price at which he can get it, and the labourers to sell their labour at the highest price they can get, both subject of course to the legal notice of a week or fortnight.
59. Conciliation. Though the compulsory fixing of wages is evidently objectionable, much good may be done by conciliators, who are men chosen to conduct a friendly discussion of the matters in dispute. The business is arranged in various ways; sometimes three or more delegates of the workmen meet an equal number of delegates from the masters, who place before the meeting such information as they think proper to give, and then endeavour to come to terms. In other cases the delegates lay their respective views before a man of sound and impartial judgment, who then endeavours to suggest terms to which both sides can accede. If the two parties previously engage that they will accept the decision of this conciliator or umpire, the arrangement differs little from arbitration, except that there is no legal power to compel compliance with the decision. Discredit has been thrown upon this form of conciliation by the fact that the workmen have in several instances refused to abide by the award of the umpire when given against them, and of course it cannot be expected that masters will accept adverse decisions as binding under such circumstances. Thus I am led to think that the conciliator should not attempt to be a judge; he should be merely an impartial friend of both sides, trying to remove misapprehension and hostile feelings, enlightening each party as to the views and reasons and demands of the other-acting, in short, as a gobetween, and smoothing down the business as oil eases the movement of a machine. The final settlement must take the form of a voluntary bargain directly between the employers and employed, which will only have compulsory effect during the week or fortnight for which workmen usually enter into a legal agreement. Conciliation may in this way do much good, but it cannot remove the causes of differenceit cannot make the men feel that their interest is one with the interest of their employers.
60. Co-operation. Among the measures proposed for improving the position of workmen, the best is co-operation, if we understand by this name the uniting together of capital and labour. The name co-operation is used indeed with various meanings, and some of the arrangements called by it have really nothing to do with what we are now considering. To co-operate means to work together (Latin, con, together, and operor, to work). About thirty-five years ago some workmen of Rochdale, noticing the great profits made by shopkeepers in retail trade, resolved to work together by buying their own supplies wholesale, and distributing them amongst the members of the society which they established. They called this a co-operative society, and a great number of so-called co-operative stores have since been established. Most of these are nothing but shops belonging to a society of purchasers, who agree to buy at the store and divide the profits. They have on the whole done a great deal of good by leading many men to save money and to take an interest in the management of affairs. The stores are also useful, because they compete with shopkeepers, and induce them to lower their prices and to treat their customers better. We
frequently hear now of shops selling goods at cooperative prices.
But such co-operative societies have little or nothing to do with the subject of capital and labour. Commonly these stores are conducted less upon the true co-operative principle than ordinary shops. A shop
A is usually managed by the owner or by a man who has a large interest in its success, and has the best reasons for taking trouble. Co-operative stores, on the contrary, are often managed by men who are paid by salary or wages only, and have nothing to do with the profits and the capital of the concern.
Real co-operation consists in making all those who work share in the profits. At present a workman sells his labour for the best price he can get, and has nothing further to do with the results. If he does his work well, his master gets the benefit, and if he works badly his master is injured. It is true that he must not be very lazy or negligent for fear of being discharged; but if he takes care to be moderately careful and active, it is all that he need do for his own interests. No doubt it would be a good thing to reward the more active workmen with higher wages, and a wise employer endeavours to do this when he can, and to put the best workmen into the best places. But the trades-unions usually prevent it as far as they can, by insisting that men doing the same kind of work in the same place shall be paid alike. Moreover, as we have seen, many men are under the mistaken belief that if they work hard they decrease the demand for employment, and tend to take away the bread from their fellow-men. Thus it is not uncommon for workmen to study how not to do the work too quickly, instead of striving to make the most goods in the least time with the least trouble. Workmen do not see that what they produce forms in the long run their wages, so that if all workmen could be incited to activity and carefulness, wages would rise in all trades.