Of The Wages Of Labour

The produce of labour constitutes the natural recompence or wages of


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 impro
ements 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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.