Human Labor National Labor
Destruction of machinery--prohibition of foreign goods. These are two
acts proceeding from the same doctrine.
We do meet with men who, while they rejoice over the revelation of any
great invention, favor nevertheless the protective policy; but such men
are very inconsistent.
What is the objection they adduce against free trade? That it causes us
to seek from foreign and more easy production,
what would otherwise be
the result of home production. In a word, that it injures domestic
On the same principle, can it not be objected to machinery, that it
accomplishes through natural agents what would otherwise be the result
of manual labor, and that it is thus injurious to human labor?
The foreign laborer, enjoying greater facilities of production than the
French laborer, is, with regard to the latter, a veritable economical
machine, which crushes him by competition. Thus, a piece of machinery
capable of executing any work at a less price than could be done by any
given number of hands, is, as regards these hands, in the position of a
foreign competitor, who paralyzes them by his rivalry.
If then it be judicious to protect home labor against the competition
of foreign labor, it cannot be less so to protect human labor
against mechanical labor.
Whoever adheres to the protective system, ought not, if his brain be
possessed of any logical powers, to stop at the prohibition of foreign
produce, but should extend this prohibition to the produce of the loom
and of the plough.
I approve therefore of the logic of those who, whilst they cry out
against the inundation of foreign merchandise, have the courage to
declaim equally against the excessive production resulting from the
inventive power of mind.
Of this number is Mr. de Saint Chamans. One of the strongest arguments,
(says he) which can be adduced against free trade, and the too extensive
employment of machines, is, that many workmen are deprived of work,
either by foreign competition, which depresses manufactures, or by
machinery, which takes the place of men in workshops.
Mr. de St. Chamans saw clearly the analogy, or rather the identity which
exists between importation and machinery, and was, therefore, in
favor of proscribing both. There is some pleasure in having to do with
intrepid arguers, who, even in error, thus carry through a chain of
But let us look at the difficulty into which they are here led.
If it be true, a priori, that the domain of invention, and that of
labor, can be extended only to the injury of one another, it would
follow that the fewest workmen would be employed in countries
(Lancashire, for instance) where there is the most machinery. And if
it be, on the contrary, proved, that machinery and manual labor coexist
to a greater extent among rich nations than among savages, it must
necessarily follow, that these two powers do not interfere with one
I cannot understand how a thinking being can rest satisfied with the
Either the inventions of man do not injure labor; and this, from general
facts, would appear to be the case, for there exists more of both among
the English and the French, than among the Sioux and the Cherokees. If
such be the fact, I have gone upon a wrong track, although unconscious
at what point. I have wandered from my road, and I would commit high
treason against humanity, were I to introduce such an error into the
legislation of my country.
Or else the results of the inventions of mind limit manual labor, as
would appear to be proved from limited facts; for every day we see some
machine rendering unnecessary the labor of twenty, or perhaps a hundred
workmen. If this be the case, I am forced to acknowledge, as a fact,
the existence of a flagrant, eternal, and incurable antagonism between
the intellectual and the physical power of man; between his improvement
and his welfare. I cannot avoid feeling that the Creator should have
bestowed upon man either reason or bodily strength; moral force, or
brutal force; and that it has been a bitter mockery to confer upon him
faculties which must inevitably counteract and destroy one another.
This is an important difficulty, and how is it put aside? By this
In political economy there are no absolute principles.
There are no principles! Why, what does this mean, but that there are no
facts? Principles are only formulas, which recapitulate a whole class of
Machinery and Importation must certainly have effects. These effects
must be either good or bad. Here there may be a difference of opinion as
to which is the correct conclusion, but whichever is adopted, it must be
capable of being submitted to the formula of one or other of these
principles, viz.: Machinery is a good, or, Machinery is an evil.
Importations are beneficial, or, Importations are injurious. Bat to say
there are no principles, is certainly the last degree of debasement to
which the human mind can lower itself, and I confess that I blush for my
country, when I hear so monstrous an absurdity uttered before, and
approved by, the French Chambers, the elite of the nation, who thus
justify themselves for imposing upon the country laws, of the merits or
demerits of which they are perfectly ignorant.
But, it may be said to me, finish, then, by destroying the Sophism.
Prove to us that machines are not injurious to human labor, nor
importations to national labor.
In a work of this nature, such demonstrations cannot be very complete.
My aim is rather to point out than to explain difficulties, and to
excite reflection rather than to satisfy it. The mind never attains to a
firm conviction which is not wrought out by its own labor. I will,
however, make an effort to put it upon the right track.
The adversaries of importations and of machinery are misled by allowing
themselves to form too hasty a judgment from immediate and transitory
effects, instead of following these up to their general and final
The immediate effect of an ingenious piece of machinery, is, that it
renders superfluous, in the production of any given result, a certain
quantity of manual labor. But its action does not stop here. This result
being obtained at less labor, is given to the public at a less price.
The amount thus saved to the buyers, enables them to procure other
comforts, and thus to encourage general labor, precisely in proportion
to the saving they have made upon the one article which the machine has
given to them at an easier price. Thus the standard of labor is not
lowered, though that of comfort is raised.
Let me endeavor to render this double fact more striking by an example.
I suppose that ten million of hats, at fifteen francs each, are yearly
consumed in France. This would give to those employed in this
manufacture one hundred and fifty millions. A machine is invented which
enables the manufacturer to furnish hats at ten francs. The sum given to
the maintenance of this branch of industry, is thus reduced (if we
suppose the consumption not to be increased) to one hundred millions.
But the other fifty millions are not, therefore, withdrawn from the
maintenance of human labor. The buyers of hats are, from the surplus
saved upon the price of that article, enabled to satisfy other wants,
and thus, in the same proportion, to encourage general industry. John
buys a pair of shoes; James, a book; Jerome, an article of furniture,
etc. Human labor, as a whole, still receives the encouragement of the
whole one hundred and fifty millions, while the consumers, with the same
supply of hats as before, receive also the increased number of comforts
accruing from the fifty millions, which the use of the machine has been
the means of saving to them. These comforts are the net gain which
France has received from the invention. It is a gratuitous gift; a
tribute exacted from nature by the genius of man. We grant that, during
this process, a certain sum of labor will have been displaced, forced
to change its direction; but we cannot allow that it has been destroyed
or even diminished.
The case is the same with regard to importations. I will resume my
France, according to our supposition, manufactured ten millions of hats
at fifteen francs each. Let us now suppose that a foreign producer
brings them into our market at ten francs. I maintain that national
labor is thus in no wise diminished. It will be obliged to produce the
equivalent of the hundred millions which go to pay for the ten millions
of hats at ten francs, and then there remains to each buyer five francs,
saved on the purchase of his hat, or, in total, fifty millions, which
serve for the acquisition of other comforts, and the encouragement of
The mass of labor remains, then, what it was, and the additional
comforts accruing from the fifty millions saved in the purchase of hats,
are the net profit of importation or free trade.
It is no argument to try and alarm us by a picture of the sufferings
which, in this hypothesis, would result from the displacement or change
For, if prohibition had never existed, labor would have classed itself
in accordance with the laws of trade, and no displacement would have
If prohibition has led to an artificial and unproductive classification
of labor, then it is prohibition, and not free trade, which is
responsible for the inevitable displacement which must result in the
transition from evil to good.
It is a rather singular argument to maintain that, because an abuse
which has been permitted a temporary existence, cannot be corrected
without wounding the interests of those who have profited by it, it
ought, therefore, to claim perpetual duration.