« ZurückWeiter »
2. The Shopkeeper.
The shopkeepers and shopmen stand to each other in much the same position as the wine and tea merchant to the seamen, dock-labourers, and warehousemen. In most instances the shopkeeper sits in a small office, or backroom of his shop, like the spider in the recess hole of its net, and in this observatory he is generally sheltered against cold, dust, and intrusion of insolent customers.
The shopmen and women have often a great deal of work to do, which, were it not for the continued standing position, would be mere child's play when compared with the labour of the carpenter, mason, or smith. In the daily occupation of the shopman there is no danger of getting drowned by shipwreck, suffocated by fire-damp, scalded by steam, mutilated by machinery, or weather-beaten by storm, rain, or wind. Nevertheless, the just complaints of this ill-paid body of men and women merit the serious attention both of the philanthropist and social reformer, whose duty it is to devise means for an equal distribution of labour amongst all the members of the community.
The proposed social reforms will certainly remove from the occupation of shopmen and all those who are engaged in the distribution of produce, the monotonous character of their work, and the little opportunity it offers for the display of ingenuity and skill. What can there be more wearisome than the continuous making up of little parcels of sugar, coffee, and tea, and the monotonous repetition of the same tedious work from week to week and year to year? Most of the young men and women thus employed are endowed with a superior activity of mind, and possessed of great bodily strength. They yearn for a more vigorous activity both for the exercise of body and mind; but alas! civilization sacrifices them as victims to cupidity and holocausts to the stupidity of the system under which the present irrational and wasteful distribution of produce is carried on.
WASTE OF LABOUR.
HE waste of labour which takes place in the present state of society may be principally ascribed to the following causes luxury and idleness, isolated homes and workshops, faulty distribution of produce, and limited application of laboursaving machinery.
ALTHOUGH all moralists, from Solon* to Benjamin Franklin,
have passed severe condemnation on luxury, modern civilized society looks upon it as one of its great achievements, and maintains that it is one of the great means of creating labour, of stimulating commerce and industry, and of introducing artistic taste into the manufacture of many commodities. It must be granted, on the whole, that articles of luxury cannot be produced without labour; and it must also be admitted that most of them are the produce of hand-labour, such as articles of fashionable wearing apparel, fancy furniture, ornamented china-ware, etc.; and in all these and similar cases luxury directly increases labour. But instances may, however, be stated, such as the conversion of a cultivated field into a park, or the formation of a deer-forest from extended tracts of arable
* When Croesus had displayed to Solon all the finery and costly material of a rich store of wearing apparel, he asked the latter if he had ever seen anything more magnificent, whereupon Solon answered: "Yes, peacocks, pheasants, and cocks; for the beauty of these animals is natural, yours only borrowed."
land, or the production of jewellery by machinery, where luxury directly lessens the amount of labour, and reduces, in many a trade, the skill of the artizan to mere machineattendance.
Modern society boasts in this apparent utility of luxury, and declares legitimate and even useful and charitable the free use of all articles of luxury, on the ground that thereby the fertility of the sources of labour is increased, and employment given to a great number of workers who would otherwise have to
The social reformer is, however, little elated by the cheerful view modern civilization takes of the utilitarian character of luxury and its fertility as a source of labour, but deeply regrets, on the contrary, the wanton waste of labour and material on articles of produce that administer unto luxury, but are of little or no use to the producers themselves. The exquisite and costly jewellery upon which the skilled workman has spent so much labour and ingenuity, will scarcely ever be worn by him; the elaborately carved and fine polished articles of furniture he has made will not adorn his room; the silks he has woven are not intended for him, but for the garments of those whose riches provide the means of purchasing them.
There is a great wrong in this unequal distribution of the results of labour obtained from the production of articles of luxury, but it is not the chief reason why luxury is condemned by the social reformer. He is ready to grant that even the working classes themselves do, to a certain degree, participate in the enjoyment of luxury, but meets its apparent claim to a legitimate recognition of usefulness by advancing the opinion that it is highly improbable that the working classes would spend any surplus labour for the production of articles of luxury if they had to make them entirely for their own use. If a working man had, for instance, to make a chair for himself, he would most probably dispense with all elaborate carving of the back and legs, with costly silk covering, and with tawdry gilt, but would rather bestow more work in the solidity and durability of the article, in order to save future labour.
The "Scamping Carpenter," to whom we owe the interesting account of Etymonia and its inhabitants, makes the following reflections :—--“ I do not hold that it is quite fair that I should
work upon a rough piece of wood, worth some four or five pounds of our English money, and, after the fashion of my trade, convert it into a highly-finished cabinet, and then receive —well, let us say some fifteen or twenty pounds in the form of wages, when I have but to slip round the corner and look into my master's shopwindow to find it boldly ticketed up one hundred guineas. To my judgment, all such labour was at the best misdirected and a waste. I will not take upon myself to determine how far such labour may be positively injurious by fostering a vain and ostentatious display, resulting in some instances in a suicidal rivalry. What, however, I do feel justified in saying is, that I do not, on the whole, exactly see how the political economy of the empirics affects me, otherwise than as the producer of unnecessary wares. At the same time, I have a most distinct perception of the trade economy comprised in selling for a hundred guineas an article that cost twenty-five pounds at most."
The fact that luxury is neither promoted nor supported, but avoided by the working man, will at once condemn all labour spent in its production, not only as an idle waste, but as a needless and pernicious addition to the burden that oppresses him.
Articles of luxury may be classed into two kinds; the first including those that have been produced from a cheap and common material by the elaborate workmanship bestowed upon it; the second comprising those objects where little or no additional labour was applied to a costly and rare material. A profusely carved wooden chair and a diamond jewel would be fit representatives of the two classes of articles of luxury. Of those, the first of the two is objectionable, because of the waste of labour thrown away in useless ornature; and the second is more so, because it can, by reason of its rarity and costliness, only become the object of enjoyment to a wealthy
The plea that all luxury is likewise accessible and procurable to the working man receives a contradiction by the fact that some jewels, especially those of diamonds and pearls, are of an enormously high price, frequently amounting to many thousand pounds for only one tiny object, so that it is utterly impossible that they can ever be purchased by a working man;
for the accumulated labour of his whole lifetime, were it calculated at £1 per week, would in sixty years but amount to £3,000, which would scarcely be an equivalent sum to the value of many a costly jewel.
Concerning the first kind of luxury entailing superfluous labour upon cheap material, the author is inclined to think that in a better organised state of society the labour thus wasted will be reduced to a minimum by the simple expedient that all those who like to use such articles of luxury will themselves be obliged to produce them; and as to the enjoyment of the second kind, including the use of all articles of rarity, the wearing of costly jewels, of precious stones, the consumption of choice fruit, etc., it can be made accessible to all by an alternate use amongst all the members of the community.
The author is also confident that in a well-organized state of society, in which all the members of the community perform labour by equal allotment, no one would be willing to do any work the result of which should become a means to administer to the satisfaction of the bad and vicious habits of others, such as drunkenness, gluttony, tobacco-smoking, and opium eating; moreover, if drinkers and smokers, for instance, were obliged to produce the objects of their vicious consumption by their own manual labour; if the beer drinker had to till the barley field, to make the malt, to brew the beer, to make the barrel where to keep it in; and if the smoker had to cultivate a field for the tobacco plant, to gather the leaves in, to dry them, to manufacture them into tobacco or cigars, and if he had also to mould the clay or cut the meerschaum for the tobaccopipe he wishes to use,- both the drinkers and smokers would very soon find that the final enjoyment obtained was not worth the labour it required to put it within their reach. Although these considerations will offer a powerful obstacle against the indulgence in vicious habits in the future social state, they are, however, of no influence in the present state of society, where money is the easy medium of the exchange of labour, and where it always represents labour performed some time past, which renders people forgetful of past hardships and troubles, and they thus spend money easily and freely, even if it is the product of hard work, in order to