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Of The Wages Of Labour








The produce of labour constitutes the natural recompence or wages of
labour.

In that original state of things which precedes both the appropriation
of land and the accumulation of stock, the whole produce of labour
belongs to the labourer. He has neither landlord nor master to share
with him.

Had this state continued, the wages of labour would have augmented with
all those improvements in its productive powers, to which the division
of labour gives occasion. All things would gradually have become
cheaper. They would have been produced by a smaller quantity of labour;
and as the commodities produced by equal quantities of labour would
naturally in this state of things be exchanged for one another, they
would have been purchased likewise with the produce of a smaller
quantity.

But though all things would have become cheaper in reality, in
appearance many things might have become dearer, than before, or have
been exchanged for a greater quantity of other goods. Let us suppose,
for example, that in the greater part of employments the productive
powers of labour had been improved to tenfold, or that a day's
labour could produce ten times the quantity of work which it had done
originally; but that in a particular employment they had been improved
only to double, or that a day's labour could produce only twice the
quantity of work which it had done before. In exchanging the produce of
a day's labour in the greater part of employments for that of a day's
labour in this particular one, ten times the original quantity of work
in them would purchase only twice the original quantity in it. Any
particular quantity in it, therefore, a pound weight, for example, would
appear to be five times dearer than before. In reality, however, it
would be twice as cheap. Though it required five times the quantity of
other goods to purchase it, it would require only half the quantity of
labour either to purchase or to produce it. The acquisition, therefore,
would be twice as easy as before.

But this original state of things, in which the labourer enjoyed
the whole produce of his own labour, could not last beyond the first
introduction of the appropriation of land and the accumulation of
stock. It was at an end, therefore, long before the most considerable
improvements were made in the productive powers of labour; and it would
be to no purpose to trace further what might have been its effects upon
the recompence or wages of labour.

As soon as land becomes private property, the landlord demands a share
of almost all the produce which the labourer can either raise or collect
from it. His rent makes the first deduction from the produce of the
labour which is employed upon land.

It seldom happens that the person who tills the ground has wherewithal
to maintain himself till he reaps the harvest. His maintenance is
generally advanced to him from the stock of a master, the farmer who
employs him, and who would have no interest to employ him, unless he
was to share in the produce of his labour, or unless his stock was to be
replaced to him with a profit. This profit makes a second deduction from
the produce of the labour which is employed upon land.

The produce of almost all other labour is liable to the like deduction
of profit. In all arts and manufactures, the greater part of the workmen
stand in need of a master, to advance them the materials of their work,
and their wages and maintenance, till it be completed. He shares in the
produce of their labour, or in the value which it adds to the materials
upon which it is bestowed; and in this share consists his profit.

It sometimes happens, indeed, that a single independent workman has
stock sufficient both to purchase the materials of his work, and to
maintain himself till it be completed. He is both master and workman,
and enjoys the whole produce of his own labour, or the whole value which
it adds to the materials upon which it is bestowed. It includes what are
usually two distinct revenues, belonging to two distinct persons, the
profits of stock, and the wages of labour.

Such cases, however, are not very frequent; and in every part of Europe
twenty workmen serve under a master for one that is independent, and the
wages of labour are everywhere understood to be, what they usually
are, when the labourer is one person, and the owner of the stock which
employs him another.

What are the common wages of labour, depends everywhere upon the
contract usually made between those two parties, whose interests are
by no means the same. The workmen desire to get as much, the masters to
give as little, as possible. The former are disposed to combine in order
to raise, the latter in order to lower, the wages of labour.

It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must,
upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and
force the other into a compliance with their terms. The masters, being
fewer in number, can combine much more easily: and the law, besides,
authorises, or at least does not prohibit, their combinations, while it
prohibits those of the workmen. We have no acts of parliament against
combining to lower the price of work, but many against combining to
raise it. In all such disputes, the masters can hold out much longer. A
landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer, or merchant, though they did
not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the
stocks, which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist
a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year, without
employment. In the long run, the workman may be as necessary to his
master as his master is to him; but the necessity is not so immediate.

We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though
frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account,
that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the
subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but
constant and uniform, combination, not to raise the wages of labour
above their actual rate. To violate this combination is everywhere a
most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his
neighbours and equals. We seldom, indeed, hear of this combination,
because it is the usual, and, one may say, the natural state of
things, which nobody ever hears of. Masters, too, sometimes enter into
particular combinations to sink the wages of labour even below this
rate. These are always conducted with the utmost silence and secrecy
till the moment of execution; and when the workmen yield, as they
sometimes do without resistance, though severely felt by them, they
are never heard of by other people. Such combinations, however, are
frequently resisted by a contrary defensive combination of the workmen,
who sometimes, too, without any provocation of this kind, combine,
of their own accord, to raise the price of their labour. Their usual
pretences are, sometimes the high price of provisions, sometimes the
great profit which their masters make by their work. But whether their
combinations be offensive or defensive, they are always abundantly heard
of. In order to bring the point to a speedy decision, they have always
recourse to the loudest clamour, and sometimes to the most shocking
violence and outrage. They are desperate, and act with the folly and
extravagance of desperate men, who must either starve, or frighten their
masters into an immediate compliance with their demands. The masters,
upon these occasions, are just as clamorous upon the other side, and
never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate,
and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with
so much severity against the combination of servants, labourers, and
journeymen. The workmen, accordingly, very seldom derive any advantage
from the violence of those tumultuous combinations, which, partly from
the interposition of the civil magistrate, partly from the superior
steadiness of the masters, partly from the necessity which the greater
part of the workmen are under of submitting for the sake of present
subsistence, generally end in nothing but the punishment or ruin of the
ringleaders.

But though, in disputes with their workmen, masters must generally have
the advantage, there is, however, a certain rate, below which it seems
impossible to reduce, for any considerable time, the ordinary wages even
of the lowest species of labour.

A man must always live by his work, and his wages must at least be
sufficient to maintain him. They must even upon most occasions be
somewhat more, otherwise it would be impossible for him to bring up a
family, and the race of such workmen could not last beyond the first
generation. Mr Cantillon seems, upon this account, to suppose that the
lowest species of common labourers must everywhere earn at least double
their own maintenance, in order that, one with another, they may be
enabled to bring up two children; the labour of the wife, on account of
her necessary attendance on the children, being supposed no more than
sufficient to provide for herself: But one half the children born, it
is computed, die before the age of manhood. The poorest labourers,
therefore, according to this account, must, one with another, attempt to
rear at least four children, in order that two may have an equal chance
of living to that age. But the necessary maintenance of four children,
it is supposed, may be nearly equal to that of one man. The labour of an
able-bodied slave, the same author adds, is computed to be worth double
his maintenance; and that of the meanest labourer, he thinks, cannot be
worth less than that of an able-bodied slave. Thus far at least seems
certain, that, in order to bring up a family, the labour of the husband
and wife together must, even in the lowest species of common labour, be
able to earn something more than what is precisely necessary for
their own maintenance; but in what proportion, whether in that
above-mentioned, or many other, I shall not take upon me to determine.

There are certain circumstances, however, which sometimes give
the labourers an advantage, and enable them to raise their wages
considerably above this rate, evidently the lowest which is consistent
with common humanity.

When in any country the demand for those who live by wages, labourers,
journeymen, servants of every kind, is continually increasing; when
every year furnishes employment for a greater number than had been
employed the year before, the workmen have no occasion to combine
in order to raise their wages. The scarcity of hands occasions a
competition among masters, who bid against one another in order to get
workmen, and thus voluntarily break through the natural combination of
masters not to raise wages. The demand for those who live by wages, it
is evident, cannot increase but in proportion to the increase of the
funds which are destined to the payment of wages. These funds are of two
kinds, first, the revenue which is over and above what is necessary for
the maintenance; and, secondly, the stock which is over and above what
is necessary for the employment of their masters.

When the landlord, annuitant, or monied man, has a greater revenue than
what he judges sufficient to maintain his own family, he employs either
the whole or a part of the surplus in maintaining one or more menial
servants. Increase this surplus, and he will naturally increase the
number of those servants.

When an independent workman, such as a weaver or shoemaker, has got more
stock than what is sufficient to purchase the materials of his own work,
and to maintain himself till he can dispose of it, he naturally employs
one or more journeymen with the surplus, in order to make a profit by
their work. Increase this surplus, and he will naturally increase the
number of his journeymen.

The demand for those who live by wages, therefore, necessarily increases
with the increase of the revenue and stock of every country, and cannot
possibly increase without it. The increase of revenue and stock is the
increase of national wealth. The demand for those who live by wages,
therefore, naturally increases with the increase of national wealth, and
cannot possibly increase without it.

It is not the actual greatness of national wealth, but its continual
increase, which occasions a rise in the wages of labour. It is not,
accordingly, in the richest countries, but in the most thriving, or in
those which are growing rich the fastest, that the wages of labour
are highest. England is certainly, in the present times, a much richer
country than any part of North America. The wages of labour, however,
are much higher in North America than in any part of England. In the
province of New York, common labourers earned in 1773, before the
commencement of the late disturbances, three shillings and sixpence
currency, equal to two shillings sterling, a-day; ship-carpenters, ten
shillings and sixpence currency, with a pint of rum, worth sixpence
sterling, equal in all to six shillings and sixpence sterling;
house-carpenters and bricklayers, eight shillings currency, equal to
four shillings and sixpence sterling; journeymen tailors, five shillings
currency, equal to about two shillings and tenpence sterling. These
prices are all above the London price; and wages are said to be as
high in the other colonies as in New York. The price of provisions is
everywhere in North America much lower than in England. A dearth has
never been known there. In the worst seasons they have always had a
sufficiency for themselves, though less for exportation. If the money
price of labour, therefore, be higher than it is anywhere in the
mother-country, its real price, the real command of the necessaries and
conveniencies of life which it conveys to the labourer, must be higher
in a still greater proportion.

But though North America is not yet so rich as England, it is much
more thriving, and advancing with much greater rapidity to the further
acquisition of riches. The most decisive mark of the prosperity of
any country is the increase of the number of its inhabitants. In Great
Britain, and most other European countries, they are not supposed to
double in less than five hundred years. In the British colonies in North
America, it has been found that they double in twenty or five-and-twenty
years. Nor in the present times is this increase principally owing
to the continual importation of new inhabitants, but to the great
multiplication of the species. Those who live to old age, it is said,
frequently see there from fifty to a hundred, and sometimes many more,
descendants from their own body. Labour is there so well rewarded, that
a numerous family of children, instead of being a burden, is a source of
opulence and prosperity to the parents. The labour of each child, before
it can leave their house, is computed to be worth a hundred pounds clear
gain to them. A young widow with four or five young children, who, among
the middling or inferior ranks of people in Europe, would have so little
chance for a second husband, is there frequently courted as a sort of
fortune. The value of children is the greatest of all encouragements to
marriage. We cannot, therefore, wonder that the people in North America
should generally marry very young. Notwithstanding the great increase
occasioned by such early marriages, there is a continual complaint of
the scarcity of hands in North America. The demand for labourers, the
funds destined for maintaining them increase, it seems, still faster
than they can find labourers to employ.

Though the wealth of a country should be very great, yet if it has been
long stationary, we must not expect to find the wages of labour very
high in it. The funds destined for the payment of wages, the revenue
and stock of its inhabitants, may be of the greatest extent; but if they
have continued for several centuries of the same, or very nearly of the
same extent, the number of labourers employed every year could easily
supply, and even more than supply, the number wanted the following year.
There could seldom be any scarcity of hands, nor could the masters be
obliged to bid against one another in order to get them. The hands,
on the contrary, would, in this case, naturally multiply beyond their
employment. There would be a constant scarcity of employment, and the
labourers would be obliged to bid against one another in order to get
it. If in such a country the wages off labour had ever been more than
sufficient to maintain the labourer, and to enable him to bring up a
family, the competition of the labourers and the interest of the masters
would soon reduce them to the lowest rate which is consistent with
common humanity. China has been long one of the richest, that is, one of
the most fertile, best cultivated, most industrious, and most populous,
countries in the world. It seems, however, to have been long stationary.
Marco Polo, who visited it more than five hundred years ago, describes
its cultivation, industry, and populousness, almost in the same terms
in which they are described by travellers in the present times. It had,
perhaps, even long before his time, acquired that full complement of
riches which the nature of its laws and institutions permits it to
acquire. The accounts of all travellers, inconsistent in many other
respects, agree in the low wages of labour, and in the difficulty which
a labourer finds in bringing up a family in China. If by digging the
ground a whole day he can get what will purchase a small quantity of
rice in the evening, he is contented. The condition of artificers is,
if possible, still worse. Instead of waiting indolently in their
work-houses for the calls of their customers, as in Europe, they are
continually running about the streets with the tools of their respective
trades, offering their services, and, as it were, begging employment.
The poverty of the lower ranks of people in China far surpasses that
of the most beggarly nations in Europe. In the neighbourhood of Canton,
many hundred, it is commonly said, many thousand families have no
habitation on the land, but live constantly in little fishing-boats
upon the rivers and canals. The subsistence which they find there is
so scanty, that they are eager to fish up the nastiest garbage thrown
overboard from any European ship. Any carrion, the carcase of a dead dog
or cat, for example, though half putrid and stinking, is as welcome
to them as the most wholesome food to the people of other countries.
Marriage is encouraged in China, not by the profitableness of children,
but by the liberty of destroying them. In all great towns, several are
every night exposed in the street, or drowned like puppies in the water.
The performance of this horrid office is even said to be the avowed
business by which some people earn their subsistence.

China, however, though it may, perhaps, stand still, does not seem to
go backwards. Its towns are nowhere deserted by their inhabitants. The
lands which had once been cultivated, are nowhere neglected. The same,
or very nearly the same, annual labour, must, therefore, continue to
be performed, and the funds destined for maintaining it must not,
consequently, be sensibly diminished. The lowest class of labourers,
therefore, notwithstanding their scanty subsistence, must some way or
another make shift to continue their race so far as to keep up their
usual numbers.

But it would be otherwise in a country where the funds destined for the
maintenance of labour were sensibly decaying. Every year the demand
for servants and labourers would, in all the different classes of
employments, be less than it had been the year before. Many who had been
bred in the superior classes, not being able to find employment in their
own business, would be glad to seek it in the lowest. The lowest
class being not only overstocked with its own workmen, but with the
overflowings of all the other classes, the competition for employment
would be so great in it, as to reduce the wages of labour to the most
miserable and scanty subsistence of the labourer. Many would not be able
to find employment even upon these hard terms, but would either starve,
or be driven to seek a subsistence, either by begging, or by the
perpetration perhaps, of the greatest enormities. Want, famine, and
mortality, would immediately prevail in that class, and from thence
extend themselves to all the superior classes, till the number
of inhabitants in the country was reduced to what could easily be
maintained by the revenue and stock which remained in it, and which had
escaped either the tyranny or calamity which had destroyed the rest.
This, perhaps, is nearly the present state of Bengal, and of some other
of the English settlements in the East Indies. In a fertile country,
which had before been much depopulated, where subsistence, consequently,
should not be very difficult, and where, notwithstanding, three or four
hundred thousand people die of hunger in one year, we maybe assured that
the funds destined for the maintenance of the labouring poor are fast
decaying. The difference between the genius of the British constitution,
which protects and governs North America, and that of the mercantile
company which oppresses and domineers in the East Indies, cannot,
perhaps, be better illustrated than by the different state of those
countries.

The liberal reward of labour, therefore, as it is the necessary effect,
so it is the natural symptom of increasing national wealth. The scanty
maintenance of the labouring poor, on the other hand, is the natural
symptom that things are at a stand, and their starving condition, that
they are going fast backwards.

In Great Britain, the wages of labour seem, in the present times, to be
evidently more than what is precisely necessary to enable the labourer
to bring up a family. In order to satisfy ourselves upon this point, it
will not be necessary to enter into any tedious or doubtful calculation
of what may be the lowest sum upon winch it is possible to do this.
There are many plain symptoms, that the wages of labour are nowhere in
this country regulated by this lowest rate, which is consistent with
common humanity.

First, in almost every part of Great Britain there is a distinction,
even in the lowest species of labour, between summer and winter wages.
Summer wages are always highest. But, on account of the extraordinary
expense of fuel, the maintenance of a family is most expensive in
winter. Wages, therefore, being highest when this expense is lowest, it
seems evident that they are not regulated by what is necessary for this
expense, but by the quantity and supposed value of the work. A labourer,
it may be said, indeed, ought to save part of his summer wages, in order
to defray his winter expense; and that, through the whole year, they do
not exceed what is necessary to maintain his family through the whole
year. A slave, however, or one absolutely dependent on us for immediate
subsistence, would not be treated in this manner. His daily subsistence
would be proportioned to his daily necessities.

Secondly, the wages of labour do not, in Great Britain, fluctuate
with the price of provisions. These vary everywhere from year to year,
frequently from month to month. But in many places, the money price
of labour remains uniformly the same, sometimes for half a century
together. If, in these places, therefore, the labouring poor can
maintain their families in dear years, they must be at their ease in
times of moderate plenty, and in affluence in those of extraordinary
cheapness. The high price of provisions during these ten years past, has
not, in many parts of the kingdom, been accompanied with any sensible
rise in the money price of labour. It has, indeed, in some; owing,
probably, more to the increase of the demand for labour, than to that of
the price of provisions.

Thirdly, as the price of provisions varies more from year to year than
the wages of labour, so, on the other hand, the wages of labour vary
more from place to place than the price of provisions. The prices of
bread and butchers' meat are generally the same, or very nearly the
same, through the greater part of the united kingdom. These, and most
other things which are sold by retail, the way in which the labouring
poor buy all things, are generally fully as cheap, or cheaper, in great
towns than in the remoter parts of the country, for reasons which I
shall have occasion to explain hereafter. But the wages of labour in
a great town and its neighbourhood, are frequently a fourth or a fifth
part, twenty or five-and--twenty per cent. higher than at a few miles
distance. Eighteen pence a day may be reckoned the common price of
labour in London and its neighbourhood. At a few miles distance, it
falls to fourteen and fifteen pence. Tenpence may be reckoned its price
in Edinburgh and its neighbourhood. At a few miles distance, it falls to
eightpence, the usual price of common labour through the greater part
of the low country of Scotland, where it varies a good deal less than
in England. Such a difference of prices, which, it seems, is not
always sufficient to transport a man from one parish to another,
would necessarily occasion so great a transportation of the most bulky
commodities, not only from one parish to another, but from one end of
the kingdom, almost from one end of the world to the other, as would
soon reduce them more nearly to a level. After all that has been said
of the levity and inconstancy of human nature, it appears evidently from
experience, that man is, of all sorts of luggage, the most difficult
to be transported. If the labouring poor, therefore, can maintain their
families in those parts of the kingdom where the price of labour is
lowest, they must be in affluence where it is highest.

Fourthly, the variations in the price of labour not only do not
correspond, either in place or time, with those in the price of
provisions, but they are frequently quite opposite.

Grain, the food of the common people, is dearer in Scotland than in
England, whence Scotland receives almost every year very large supplies.
But English corn must be sold dearer in Scotland, the country to which
it is brought, than in England, the country from which it comes; and in
proportion to its quality it cannot be sold dearer in Scotland than the
Scotch corn that comes to the same market in competition with it. The
quality of grain depends chiefly upon the quantity of flour or meal
which it yields at the mill; and, in this respect, English grain is so
much superior to the Scotch, that though often dearer in appearance,
or in proportion to the measure of its bulk, it is generally cheaper in
reality, or in proportion to its quality, or even to the measure of its
weight. The price of labour, on the contrary, is dearer in England
than in Scotland. If the labouring poor, therefore, can maintain
their families in the one part of the united kingdom, they must be in
affluence in the other. Oatmeal, indeed, supplies the common people in
Scotland with the greatest and the best part of their food, which is, in
general, much inferior to that of their neighbours of the same rank in
England. This difference, however, in the mode of their subsistence, is
not the cause, but the effect, of the difference in their wages; though,
by a strange misapprehension, I have frequently heard it represented as
the cause. It is not because one man keeps a coach, while his neighbour
walks a-foot, that the one is rich, and the other poor; but because the
one is rich, he keeps a coach, and because the other is poor, he walks
a-foot.

During the course of the last century, taking one year with another,
grain was dearer in both parts of the united kingdom than during that
of the present. This is a matter of fact which cannot now admit of
any reasonable doubt; and the proof of it is, if possible, still more
decisive with regard to Scotland than with regard to England. It is
in Scotland supported by the evidence of the public fiars, annual
valuations made upon oath, according to the actual state of the markets,
of all the different sorts of grain in every different county of
Scotland. If such direct proof could require any collateral evidence
to confirm it, I would observe, that this has likewise been the case
in France, and probably in most other parts of Europe. With regard to
France, there is the clearest proof. But though it is certain, that in
both parts of the united kingdom grain was somewhat dearer in the last
century than in the present, it is equally certain that labour was much
cheaper. If the labouring poor, therefore, could bring up their families
then, they must be much more at their ease now. In the last century,
the most usual day-wages of common labour through the greater part
of Scotland were sixpence in summer, and fivepence in winter. Three
shillings a-week, the same price, very nearly still continues to be paid
in some parts of the Highlands and Western islands. Through the greater
part of the Low country, the most usual wages of common labour are now
eight pence a-day; tenpence, sometimes a shilling, about Edinburgh,
in the counties which border upon England, probably on account of that
neighbourhood, and in a few other places where there has lately been
a considerable rise in the demand for labour, about Glasgow,
Carron, Ayrshire, etc. In England, the improvements of agriculture,
manufactures, and commerce, began much earlier than in Scotland. The
demand for labour, and consequently its price, must necessarily have
increased with those improvements. In the last century, accordingly, as
well as in the present, the wages of labour were higher in England than
in Scotland. They have risen, too, considerably since that time, though,
on account of the greater variety of wages paid there in different
places, it is more difficult to ascertain how much. In 1614, the pay of
a foot soldier was the same as in the present times, eightpence a-day.
When it was first established, it would naturally be regulated by the
usual wages of common labourers, the rank of people from which foot
soldiers are commonly drawn. Lord-chief-justice Hales, who wrote in
the time of Charles II. computes the necessary expense of a labourer's
family, consisting of six persons, the father and mother, two children
able to do something, and two not able, at ten shillings a-week, or
twenty-six pounds a-year. If they cannot earn this by their labour, they
must make it up, he supposes, either by begging or stealing. He appears
to have enquired very carefully into this subject {See his scheme for
the maintenance of the poor, in Burn's History of the Poor Laws.}. In
1688, Mr Gregory King, whose skill in political arithmetic is so much
extolled by Dr Davenant, computed the ordinary income of labourers and
out-servants to be fifteen pounds a-year to a family, which he
supposed to consist, one with another, of three and a half persons. His
calculation, therefore, though different in appearance, corresponds
very nearly at bottom with that of Judge Hales. Both suppose the weekly
expense of such families to be about twenty-pence a-head. Both
the pecuniary income and expense of such families have increased
considerably since that time through the greater part of the kingdom,
in some places more, and in some less, though perhaps scarce anywhere
so much as some exaggerated accounts of the present wages of labour have
lately represented them to the public. The price of labour, it must
be observed, cannot be ascertained very accurately anywhere, different
prices being often paid at the same place and for the same sort of
labour, not only according to the different abilities of the workman,
but according to the easiness or hardness of the masters. Where wages
are not regulated by law, all that we can pretend to determine is, what
are the most usual; and experience seems to shew that law can never
regulate them properly, though it has often pretended to do so.

The real recompence of labour, the real quantity of the necessaries and
conveniencies of life which it can procure to the labourer, has, during
the course of the present century, increased perhaps in a still greater
proportion than its money price. Not only grain has become somewhat
cheaper, but many other things, from which the industrious poor derive
an agreeable and wholesome variety of food, have become a great deal
cheaper. Potatoes, for example, do not at present, through the greater
part of the kingdom, cost half the price which they used to do thirty
or forty years ago. The same thing may be said of turnips, carrots,
cabbages; things which were formerly never raised but by the spade, but
which are now commonly raised by the plough. All sort of garden stuff,
too, has become cheaper. The greater part of the apples, and even of the
onions, consumed in Great Britain, were, in the last century, imported
from Flanders. The great improvements in the coarser manufactories of
both linen and woollen cloth furnish the labourers with cheaper and
better clothing; and those in the manufactories of the coarser metals,
with cheaper and better instruments of trade, as well as with many
agreeable and convenient pieces of household furniture. Soap, salt,
candles, leather, and fermented liquors, have, indeed, become a good
deal dearer, chiefly from the taxes which have been laid upon them.
The quantity of these, however, which the labouring poor an under any
necessity of consuming, is so very small, that the increase in their
price does not compensate the diminution in that of so many other
things. The common complaint, that luxury extends itself even to the
lowest ranks of the people, and that the labouring poor will not now
be contented with the same food, clothing, and lodging, which satisfied
them in former times, may convince us that it is not the money price of
labour only, but its real recompence, which has augmented.

Is this improvement in the circumstances of the lower ranks of the
people to be regarded as an advantage, or as an inconveniency, to
the society? The answer seems at first abundantly plain. Servants,
labourers, and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part
of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances
of the greater part, can never be regarded as any inconveniency to the
whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far
greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity,
besides, that they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the
people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as
to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged.

Poverty, though it no doubt discourages, does not always prevent,
marriage. It seems even to be favourable to generation. A half-starved
Highland woman frequently bears more than twenty children, while a
pampered fine lady is often incapable of bearing any, and is generally
exhausted by two or three. Barrenness, so frequent among women of
fashion, is very rare among those of inferior station. Luxury, in the
fair sex, while it inflames, perhaps, the passion for enjoyment, seems
always to weaken, and frequently to destroy altogether, the powers of
generation.

But poverty, though it does not prevent the generation, is extremely
unfavourable to the rearing of children. The tender plant is produced;
but in so cold a soil, and so severe a climate, soon withers and dies.
It is not uncommon, I have been frequently told, in the Highlands of
Scotland, for a mother who has born twenty children not to have two
alive. Several officers of great experience have assured me, that, so
far from recruiting their regiment, they have never been able to supply
it with drums and fifes, from all the soldiers' children that were
born in it. A greater number of fine children, however, is seldom seen
anywhere than about a barrack of soldiers. Very few of them, it seems,
arrive at the age of thirteen or fourteen. In some places, one half the
children die before they are four years of age, in many places before
they are seven, and in almost all places before they are nine or ten.
This great mortality, however will everywhere be found chiefly among the
children of the common people, who cannot afford to tend them with
the same care as those of better station. Though their marriages are
generally more fruitful than those of people of fashion, a smaller
proportion of their children arrive at maturity. In foundling hospitals,
and among the children brought up by parish charities, the mortality is
still greater than among those of the common people.

Every species of animals naturally multiplies in proportion to the means
of their subsistence, and no species can ever multiply be yond it. But
in civilized society, it is only among the inferior ranks of people
that the scantiness of subsistence can set limits to the further
multiplication of the human species; and it can do so in no other way
than by destroying a great part of the children which their fruitful
marriages produce.

The liberal reward of labour, by enabling them to provide better for
their children, and consequently to bring up a greater number, naturally
tends to widen and extend those limits. It deserves to be remarked, too,
that it necessarily does this as nearly as possible in the proportion
which the demand for labour requires. If this demand is continually
increasing, the reward of labour must necessarily encourage in such a
manner the marriage and multiplication of labourers, as may enable them
to supply that continually increasing demand by a continually increasing
population. If the reward should at any time be less than what was
requisite for this purpose, the deficiency of hands would soon raise
it; and if it should at any time be more, their excessive multiplication
would soon lower it to this necessary rate. The market would be so much
understocked with labour in the one case, and so much overstocked in the
other, as would soon force back its price to that proper rate which the
circumstances of the society required. It is in this manner that the
demand for men, like that for any other commodity, necessarily regulates
the production of men, quickens it when it goes on too slowly, and stops
it when it advances too fast. It is this demand which regulates and
determines the state of propagation in all the different countries of
the world; in North America, in Europe, and in China; which renders it
rapidly progressive in the first, slow and gradual in the second, and
altogether stationary in the last.

The wear and tear of a slave, it has been said, is at the expense of his
master; but that of a free servant is at his own expense. The wear and
tear of the latter, however, is, in reality, as much at the expense
of his master as that of the former. The wages paid to journeymen and
servants of every kind must be such as may enable them, one with another
to continue the race of journeymen and servants, according as the
increasing, diminishing, or stationary demand of the society, may happen
to require. But though the wear and tear of a free servant be equally at
the expense of his master, it generally costs him much less than that of
a slave. The fund destined for replacing or repairing, if I may say
so, the wear and tear of the slave, is commonly managed by a negligent
master or careless overseer. That destined for performing the same
office with regard to the freeman is managed by the freeman himself. The
disorders which generally prevail in the economy of the rich, naturally
introduce themselves into the management of the former; the strict
frugality and parsimonious attention of the poor as naturally establish
themselves in that of the latter. Under such different management, the
same purpose must require very different degrees of expense to execute
it. It appears, accordingly, from the experience of all ages and
nations, I believe, that the work done by freemen comes cheaper in the
end than that performed by slaves. It is found to do so even at Boston,
New-York, and Philadelphia, where the wages of common labour are so very
high.

The liberal reward of labour, therefore, as it is the effect of
increasing wealth, so it is the cause of increasing population. To
complain of it, is to lament over the necessary cause and effect of the
greatest public prosperity.

It deserves to be remarked, perhaps, that it is in the progressive
state, while the society is advancing to the further acquisition,
rather than when it has acquired its full complement of riches, that the
condition of the labouring poor, of the great body of the people,
seems to be the happiest and the most comfortable. It is hard in the
stationary, and miserable in the declining state. The progressive state
is, in reality, the cheerful and the hearty state to all the different
orders of the society; the stationary is dull; the declining melancholy.

The liberal reward of labour, as it encourages the propagation, so it
increases the industry of the common people. The wages of labour are
the encouragement of industry, which, like every other human quality,
improves in proportion to the encouragement it receives. A plentiful
subsistence increases the bodily strength of the labourer, and the
comfortable hope of bettering his condition, and of ending his days,
perhaps, in ease and plenty, animates him to exert that strength to
the utmost. Where wages are high, accordingly, we shall always find the
workmen more active, diligent, and expeditious, than where they are low;
in England, for example, than in Scotland; in the neighbourhood of great
towns, than in remote country places. Some workmen, indeed, when they
can earn in four days what will maintain them through the week, will be
idle the other three. This, however, is by no means the case with the
greater part. Workmen, on the contrary, when they are liberally paid by
the piece, are very apt to overwork themselves, and to ruin their health
and constitution in a few years. A carpenter in London, and in some
other places, is not supposed to last in his utmost vigour above eight
years. Something of the same kind happens in many other trades, in
which the workmen are paid by the piece; as they generally are in
manufactures, and even in country labour, wherever wages are higher than
ordinary. Almost every class of artificers is subject to some peculiar
infirmity occasioned by excessive application to their peculiar
species of work. Ramuzzini, an eminent Italian physician, has written a
particular book concerning such diseases. We do not reckon our soldiers
the most industrious set of people among us; yet when soldiers have been
employed in some particular sorts of work, and liberally paid by the
piece, their officers have frequently been obliged to stipulate with the
undertaker, that they should not be allowed to earn above a certain
sum every day, according to the rate at which they were paid. Till this
stipulation was made, mutual emulation, and the desire of greater gain,
frequently prompted them to overwork themselves, and to hurt their
health by excessive labour. Excessive application, during four days
of the week, is frequently the real cause of the idleness of the other
three, so much and so loudly complained of. Great labour, either of mind
or body, continued for several days together is, in most men, naturally
followed by a great desire of relaxation, which, if not restrained by
force, or by some strong necessity, is almost irresistible. It is
the call of nature, which requires to be relieved by some indulgence,
sometimes of ease only, but sometimes too of dissipation and diversion.
If it is not complied with, the consequences are often dangerous and
sometimes fatal, and such as almost always, sooner or later, bring on
the peculiar infirmity of the trade. If masters would always listen
to the dictates of reason and humanity, they have frequently occasion
rather to moderate, than to animate the application of many of their
workmen. It will be found, I believe, in every sort of trade, that the
man who works so moderately, as to be able to work constantly, not
only preserves his health the longest, but, in the course of the year,
executes the greatest quantity of work.

In cheap years it is pretended, workmen are generally more idle, and
in dear times more industrious than ordinary. A plentiful subsistence,
therefore, it has been concluded, relaxes, and a scanty one quickens
their industry. That a little more plenty than ordinary may render
some workmen idle, cannot be well doubted; but that it should have this
effect upon the greater part, or that men in general should work better
when they are ill fed, than when they are well fed, when they are
disheartened than when they are in good spirits, when they are
frequently sick than when they are generally in good health, seems not
very probable. Years of dearth, it is to be observed, are generally
among the common people years of sickness and mortality, which cannot
fail to diminish the produce of their industry.

In years of plenty, servants frequently leave their masters, and trust
their subsistence to what they can make by their own industry. But the
same cheapness of provisions, by increasing the fund which is destined
for the maintenance of servants, encourages masters, farmers especially,
to employ a greater number. Farmers, upon such occasions, expect more
profit from their corn by maintaining a few more labouring servants,
than by selling it at a low price in the market. The demand for servants
increases, while the number of those who offer to supply that demand
diminishes. The price of labour, therefore, frequently rises in cheap
years.

In years of scarcity, the difficulty and uncertainty of subsistence
make all such people eager to return to service. But the high price of
provisions, by diminishing the funds destined for the maintenance of
servants, disposes masters rather to diminish than to increase the
number of those they have. In dear years, too, poor independent workmen
frequently consume the little stock with which they had used to supply
themselves with the materials of their work, and are obliged to become
journeymen for subsistence. More people want employment than easily get
it; many are willing to take it upon lower terms than ordinary; and the
wages of both servants and journeymen frequently sink in dear years.

Masters of all sorts, therefore, frequently make better bargains with
their servants in dear than in cheap years, and find them more humble
and dependent in the former than in the latter. They naturally,
therefore, commend the former as more favourable to industry. Landlords
and farmers, besides, two of the largest classes of masters, have
another reason for being pleased with dear years. The rents of the
one, and the profits of the other, depend very much upon the price of
provisions. Nothing can be more absurd, however, than to imagine that
men in general should work less when they work for themselves, than when
they work for other people. A poor independent workman will generally be
more industrious than even a journeyman who works by the piece. The one
enjoys the whole produce of his own industry, the other shares it with
his master. The one, in his separate independent state, is less liable
to the temptations of bad company, which, in large manufactories,
so frequently ruin the morals of the other. The superiority of the
independent workman over those servants who are hired by the month or by
the year, and whose wages and maintenance are the same, whether they do
much or do little, is likely to be still greater. Cheap years tend
to increase the proportion of independent workmen to journeymen and
servants of all kinds, and dear years to diminish it.

A French author of great knowledge and ingenuity, Mr Messance, receiver
of the taillies in the election of St Etienne, endeavours to shew that
the poor do more work in cheap than in dear years, by comparing the
quantity and value of the goods made upon those different occasions
in three different manufactures; one of coarse woollens, carried on at
Elbeuf; one of linen, and another of silk, both which extend through the
whole generality of Rouen. It appears from his account, which is copied
from the registers of the public offices, that the quantity and value
of the goods made in all those three manufactories has generally been
greater in cheap than in dear years, and that it has always been;
greatest in the cheapest, and least in the dearest years. All the three
seem to be stationary manufactures, or which, though their produce may
vary somewhat from year to year, are, upon the whole, neither going
backwards nor forwards.

The manufacture of linen in Scotland, and that of coarse woollens in the
West Riding of Yorkshire, are growing manufactures, of which the produce
is generally, though with some variations, increasing both in quantity
and value. Upon examining, however, the accounts which have been
published of their annual produce, I have not been able to observe that
its variations have had any sensible connection with the dearness
or cheapness of the seasons. In 1740, a year of great scarcity, both
manufactures, indeed, appear to have declined very considerably. But in
1756, another year or great scarcity, the Scotch manufactures made more
than ordinary advances. The Yorkshire manufacture, indeed, declined, and
its produce did not rise to what it had been in 1755, till 1766, after
the repeal of the American stamp act. In that and the following year, it
greatly exceeded what it had ever been before, and it has continued to
advance ever since.

The produce of all great manufactures for distant sale must necessarily
depend, not so much upon the dearness or cheapness of the seasons in
the countries where they are carried on, as upon the circumstances which
affect the demand in the countries where they are consumed; upon peace
or war, upon the prosperity or declension of other rival manufactures
and upon the good or bad humour of their principal customers. A great
part of the extraordinary work, besides, which is probably done in
cheap years, never enters the public registers of manufactures. The
men-servants, who leave their masters, become independent labourers.
The women return to their parents, and commonly spin, in order to make
clothes for themselves and their families. Even the independent workmen
do not always, work for public sale, but are employed by some of their
neighbours in manufactures for family use. The produce of their labour,
therefore, frequently makes no figure in those public registers, of
which the records are sometimes published with so much parade, and from
which our merchants and manufacturers would often vainly pretend to
announce the prosperity or declension of the greatest empires.

Through the variations in the price of labour not only do not always
correspond with those in the price of provisions, but are frequently
quite opposite, we must not, upon this account, imagine that the price
of provisions has no influence upon that of labour. The money price of
labour is necessarily regulated by two circumstances; the demand for
labour, and the price of the necessaries and conveniencies of life. The
demand for labour, according as it happens to be increasing, stationary,
or declining, or to require an increasing, stationary, or declining
population, determines the quantities of the necessaries and
conveniencies of life which must be given to the labourer; and the money
price of labour is determined by what is requisite for purchasing this
quantity. Though the money price of labour, therefore, is sometimes
high where the price of provisions is low, it would be still higher, the
demand continuing the same, if the price of provisions was high.

It is because the demand for labour increases in years of sudden
and extraordinary plenty, and diminishes in those of sudden and
extraordinary scarcity, that the money price of labour sometimes rises
in the one, and sinks in the other.

In a year of sudden and extraordinary plenty, there are funds in the
hands of many of the employers of industry, sufficient to maintain and
employ a greater number of industrious people than had been employed the
year before; and this extraordinary number cannot always be had. Those
masters, therefore, who want more workmen, bid against one another, in
order to get them, which sometimes raises both the real and the money
price of their labour.

The contrary of this happens in a year of sudden and extraordinary
scarcity. The funds destined for employing industry are less than they
had been the year before. A considerable number of people are thrown out
of employment, who bid one against another, in order to get it, which
sometimes lowers both the real and the money price of labour. In 1740,
a year of extraordinary scarcity, many people were willing to work
for bare subsistence. In the succeeding years of plenty, it was more
difficult to get labourers and servants. The scarcity of a dear year, by
diminishing the demand for labour, tends to lower its price, as the high
price of provisions tends to raise it. The plenty of a cheap year, on
the contrary, by increasing the demand, tends to raise the price
of labour, as the cheapness of provisions tends to lower it. In the
ordinary variations of the prices of provisions, those two opposite
causes seem to counterbalance one another, which is probably, in part,
the reason why the wages of labour are everywhere so much more steady
and permanent than the price of provisions.

The increase in the wages of labour necessarily increases the price of
many commodities, by increasing that part of it which resolves itself
into wages, and so far tends to diminish their consumption, both at home
and abroad. The same cause, however, which raises the wages of labour,
the increase of stock, tends to increase its productive powers, and to
make a smaller quantity of labour produce a greater quantity of work.
The owner of the stock which employs a great number of labourers
necessarily endeavours, for his own advantage, to make such a proper
division and distribution of employment, that they may be enabled to
produce the greatest quantity of work possible. For the same reason,
he endeavours to supply them with the best machinery which either he or
they can think of. What takes place among the labourers in a particular
workhouse, takes place, for the same reason, among those of a great
society. The greater their number, the more they naturally divide
themselves into different classes and subdivisions of employments. More
heads are occupied in inventing the most proper machinery for executing
the work of each, and it is, therefore, more likely to be invented.
There me many commodities, therefore, which, in consequence of these
improvements, come to be produced by so much less labour than before,
that the increase of its price is more than compensated by the
diminution of its quantity.





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