Does Protection Raise The Rate Of Wages?
Workmen, your situation is singular! you are robbed, as I will presently
prove to you.... But no; I retract the word; we must avoid an
expression which is violent; perhaps indeed incorrect; inasmuch as this
spoliation, wrapped in the sophisms which disguise it, is practiced, we
must believe, without the intention of the spoiler, and with the consent
of the spoiled. But it is nevertheless true that you are deprived of the
just compensation of your labor, while no one thinks of causing
justice to be rendered to you. If you could be consoled by noisy
appeals to philanthropy, to powerless charity, to degrading alms-giving,
or if high-sounding words would relieve you, these indeed you can have
in abundance. But justice, simple justice--nobody thinks of
rendering you this. For would it not be just that after a long day's
labor, when you have received your little wages, you should be permitted
to exchange them for the largest possible sum of comforts that you can
obtain voluntarily from any man whatsoever upon the face of the earth?
Let us examine if injustice is not done to you, by the legislative
limitation of the persons from whom you are allowed to buy those things
which you need; as bread, meat, cotton and woolen cloths, etc.; thus
fixing (so to express myself) the artificial price which these articles
Is it true that protection, which avowedly raises prices, and thus
injures you, raises proportionably the rate of wages?
On what does the rate of wages depend?
One of your own class has energetically said: When two workmen run
after a master, wages fall; when two masters run after a workman, wages
Allow me, in more laconic phrase, to employ a more scientific, though
perhaps a less striking expression: The rate of wages depends upon the
proportion which the supply of labor bears to the demand.
On what depends the demand for labor?
On the quantity of disposable national capital. And the law which says,
such or such an article shall be limited to home production and no
longer imported from foreign countries, can it in any degree increase
this capital? Not in the least. This law may withdraw it from one
course, and transfer it to another; but cannot increase it one penny.
Then it cannot increase the demand for labor.
While we point with pride to some prosperous manufacture, can we answer,
from whence comes the capital with which it is founded and maintained?
Has it fallen from the moon? or rather is it not drawn either from
agriculture, or navigation, or other industry? We here see why, since
the reign of protective tariffs, if we see more workmen in our mines and
our manufacturing towns, we find also fewer sailors in our ports, and
fewer laborers and vine-growers in our fields and upon our hillsides.
I could speak at great length upon this subject, but prefer illustrating
my thought by an example.
A countryman had twenty acres of land, with a capital of 10,000 francs.
He divided his land into four parts, and adopted for it the following
changes of crops: 1st, maize; 2d, wheat; 3d, clover; and 4th, rye. As he
needed for himself and family but a small portion of the grain, meat,
and dairy-produce of the farm, he sold the surplus and bought oil, flax,
wine, etc. The whole of his capital was yearly distributed in wages and
payments of accounts to the workmen of the neighborhood. This capital
was, from his sales, again returned to him, and even increased from year
to year. Our countryman, being fully convinced that idle capital
produces nothing, caused to circulate among the working classes this
annual increase, which he devoted to the inclosing and clearing of
lands, or to improvements in his farming utensils and his buildings. He
deposited some sums in reserve in the hands of a neighboring banker, who
on his part did not leave these idle in his strong box, but lent them to
various tradesmen, so that the whole came to be usefully employed in the
payment of wages.
The countryman died, and his son, become master of the inheritance, said
to himself: It must be confessed that my father has, all his life,
allowed himself to be duped. He bought oil, and thus paid tribute to
Province, while our own land could, by an effort, be made to produce
olives. He bought wine, flax, and oranges, thus paying tribute to
Brittany, Medoc, and the Hiera islands very unnecessarily, for wine,
flax and oranges may be forced to grow upon our own lands. He paid
tribute to the miller and the weaver; our own servants could very well
weave our linen, and crush our wheat between two stones. He did all he
could to ruin himself, and gave to strangers what ought to have been
kept for the benefit of his own household.
Full of this reasoning, our headstrong fellow determined to change the
routine of his crops. He divided his farm into twenty parts. On one he
cultivated the olive; on another the mulberry; on a third flax; he
devoted the fourth to vines, the fifth to wheat, etc., etc. Thus he
succeeded in rendering himself independent, and furnished all his
family supplies from his own farm. He no longer received any thing from
the general circulation; neither, it is true, did he cast any thing into
it. Was he the richer for this course? No, for his land did not suit the
cultivation of the vine; nor was the climate favorable to the olive. In
short, the family supply of all these articles was very inferior to what
it had been during the time when the father had obtained them all by
exchange of produce.
With regard to the demand for labor, it certainly was no greater than
formerly. There were, to be sure, five times as many fields to
cultivate, but they were five times smaller. If oil was raised, there
was less wheat; and because there was no more flax bought, neither was
there any more rye sold. Besides, the farmer could not spend in wages
more than his capital, and his capital, instead of increasing, was now
constantly diminishing. A great part of it was necessarily devoted to
numerous buildings and utensils, indispensable to a person who
determines to undertake every thing. In short, the supply of labor
continued the same, but the means of paying becoming less, there was,
necessarily, a reduction of wages.
The result is precisely similar, when a nation isolates itself by the
prohibitive system. Its number of industrial pursuits is certainly
multiplied, but their importance is diminished. In proportion to their
number, they become less productive, for the same capital and the same
skill are obliged to meet a greater number of difficulties. The fixed
capital absorbs a greater part of the circulating capital; that is to
say, a greater part of the funds destined to the payment of wages. What
remains, ramifies itself in vain, the quantity cannot be augmented. It
is like the water of a pond, which, distributed in a multitude of
reservoirs, appears to be more abundant, because it covers a greater
quantity of soil, and presents a larger surface to the sun, while we
hardly perceive that, precisely on this account, it absorbs, evaporates,
and loses itself the quicker.
Capital and labor being given, the result is, a sum of production,
always the less great, in proportion as obstacles are numerous. There
can be no doubt that protective tariffs, by forcing capital and labor to
struggle against greater difficulties of soil and climate, must cause
the general production to be less, or, in other words, diminish the
portion of comforts which would thence result to mankind. If, then,
there be a general diminution of comforts, how, workmen, can it be
possible that your portion should be increased? Under such a
supposition, it would be necessary to believe that the rich, those who
made the law, have so arranged matters, that not only they subject
themselves to their own proportion of the general loss, but taking the
whole of it upon themselves, that they submit also to a further loss, in
order to increase your gains. Is this credible? Is this possible? It is,
indeed, a most suspicious act of generosity, and if you act wisely, you
will reject it.