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

following dilemma:

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

singular apothegm:

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

well-proved facts.

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

other labor.

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

of labor.

For, if prohibition had never existed, labor would have classed itself

in accordance with the laws of trade, and no displacement would have

taken place.

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.