Unto this Last
“Friend, I do thee no wrong.
Didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
Take that thine is, and go thy way.
I will give unto this last even as unto thee.”
“If ye think good, give me my price;
And if not, forbear.
So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver.”
The four following essays were published eighteen months ago in the “Cornhill
Magazine”, and were reprobated in a violent manner, as far as I could hear,
by most of the readers they met with.
Not a whit the less, I believe them to be the best, that is to say, the
truest, the rightest-worded, and most serviceable things I have ever written;
and the last of them, having had especial pains spent on it, is probably
the best I shall ever write.
‘This,’ the reader may reply, ‘it might be, yet not therefore well written.’
Which, in no mock humility, admitting, I yet satisfied with the work, though
with nothing else that I have done; and purposing shortly to follow out
the subjects opened in these papers, as I may find leisure, I wish the
introductory statements to be within the reach of any one who may care
to refer to them. So I republish the essays as they appeared. One word
only is changed, correcting the estimate of a weight; and no word is added.
Although, however, I find nothing to modify in these papers, it is a matter
of regret to me that the most startling of all statements in them,— that
respecting the necessity of the organization of labor, with fixed wages,—
should have found its way into the first essay; it being quite one of the
least important, though by no means the least certain, of the positions
to be defended. The real gist of these papers, their central meaning and
aim, is to give, as I believe for the first time in plain English,— it
has often been incidentally given in good Greek by Plato and Xenophon,
and good Latin by Cicero and Horace,— a logical definition of WEALTH: such
definition being absolutely needed for a basis of economical science. The
most reputed essay on that subject which has appeared in modern times,
after opening with the statement that ‘writers on political economy profess
to teach, or to investigate,1 the nature of wealth,’ thus follows up the declaration of its thesis—‘Every
one has a notion, sufficiently correct for common purpose, of what is meant
by wealth.’ ... ‘It is no part of the design of this treatise to aim at
metaphysical nicety of definition.’
Metaphysical nicety, we assuredly do not need; but physical nicety, and
logical accuracy, with respect to a physical subject, we as assuredly do.
Suppose the subject of inquiry, instead of being House-law (Oikonomia), has been Star-law (Astronomia), and that, ignoring distinction between stars fixed and wandering, as
here between wealth radiant and wealth reflective, the writer had begun
thus: ‘Every one has a notion, sufficiently correct for common purpose,
of what is meant by stars. Metaphysical nicety in the definition of a star
is not the object of this treatise;’— the essay so opened might yet have
been far more true in its final statements, and a thousand fold more serviceable
to the navigator, than any treatise on wealth, which founds its conclusion
on the popular conception of wealth, can ever become to the economist.
It was, therefore, the first object of these following papers to give an
accurate and stable definition of wealth. Their second object was to show
that the acquisition of wealth was finally possible only under certain
moral conditions of society, of which quite the first was a belief in the
existence, and even, for practical purpose, in the attainability of honesty.
Without venturing to pronounce — since on such matter human judgement is
by no means conclusive — what is, or is not, the noblest of God’s works,
we may yet admit so much of Pope’s assertion as that an honest man is among
His best works presently visible, and, as things stand, a somewhat rare
one; but not an incredible or miraculous work; still less an abnormal one.
Honesty is not a disturbing force, which deranges the orbits of economy;
but a consistent and commanding force, by obedience to which — and by no
other obedience — those orbits can continue clear of chaos.
It is true, I have sometimes heard Pope condemned for the lowness, instead
of the height, of his standard:— ‘Honesty is indeed a respectable virtue;
but how much higher may men attain! Shall nothing more be asked of us than
that we be honest?’
For the present, good friends, nothing. It seems that in our aspirations to be more than that, we have to some extent lost sight of the propriety of being so much as that. What else we may have lost faith in, there shall be here no question; but assuredly we have lost faith in common honesty, and in the working power of it. And this faith, with the facts on which it may rest, it is quite our first business to recover and keep: not only believing, but even by experience assuring ourselves, that there are yet in the world men who can be restrained from fraud otherwise than by the fear of losing employment;2 nay, that it is even accurately in proportion to the number of such men
in any State, that the said State does or can prolong its existence.
To these two points, then, the following essays are mainly directed. The
subject of the organization of labor is only casually touched upon; because,
if we once can get sufficient quantity of honesty in our captains, the
organization of labor is easy, and will develop itself without quarrel
or difficulty; but if we cannot get honesty in our captains, the organization
of labor is for evermore impossible.
The several conditions of its possibility I purpose to examine at length
in the sequel. Yet, lest the reader should be alarmed by the hints thrown
out during the following investigation of first principles, as if they
were leading him into unexpectedly dangerous ground, I will, for his better
assurance, state at once the worst of the political creed at which I wish
him to arrive.
(1.) First,— that there should be training schools for youth established,
at Government cost,3 and under Government discipline, over the whole country; that every child
born in the country should, at the parent’s wish, be permitted (and, in
certain cases, be under penalty required) to pass through them; and that,
in these schools, the child should (with other minor pieces of knowledge
hereafter to be considered) imperatively be taught, with the best skill
of teaching that the country could produce, the following three things:—
(a) The laws of health, and the exercises enjoined by them;
(b) Habits of gentleness and justice; and
(c) The calling by which he is to live.
(2.) Secondly,— that, in connection with these training schools, there
should be established, also entirely under Government regulation, manufactories
and workshops for the production and sale of every necessary of life, and
for the exercise of every useful art. And that, interfering no whit with
private enterprise, nor setting any restraints or tax on private trade,
but leaving both to do their best, and beat the Government if they could,—
there should, at these Government manufactories and shops, be authoritatively
good and exemplary work done, and pure and true substance sold; so that
a man could be sure, if he chose to pay the Government price, that he got
for his money bread that was bread, ale that was ale, and work that was
(3.) Thirdly,— that any man, or woman, or boy, or girl, out of employment,
should be at once received at the nearest Government school, and set to
such work as it appeared, on trial, they were fit for, at a fixed rate
of wages determinable every year;— that, being found incapable of work
through ignorance, they should be taught, or being found incapable of work
through sickness, should be tended; but that being found objecting to work,
they should be set, under compulsion of the strictest nature, to the more
painful and degrading forms of necessary toil, especially to that in mines
and other places of danger (such danger being, however, diminished to the
utmost by careful regulation and discipline), and the due wages of such
work be retained, cost of compulsion first abstracted — to be at the workman’s
command, so soon as he has come to sounder mind respecting the laws of
(4.) Lastly,— that for the old and destitute, comfort and home should be provided; which provision, when misfortune had been by the working of such a system sifted from guilt, would be honorable instead of disgraceful to the receiver. For (I repeat this passage out of my “Political Economy of Art,” to which the reader is referred for farther detail) ‘a laborer serves his country with his spade, just as a man in the middle ranks of life serves it with sword, pen, or lancet. If the service be less, and, therefore, the wages during health less, then the reward when health is broken may be less, but not less honorable; and it ought to be quite as natural and straightforward a matter for a laborer to take his pension from his parish, because he has deserved well of his parish, as for a man in higher rank to take his pension from his country, because he has deserved well of his country.’
To which statement, I will only add, for conclusion, respecting the discipline and pay of life and death, that, for both high and low, Livy’s last words touching Valerius Publicola, ‘de publico est elatus,’4 ought not to be a dishonorable close of epitaph.
These things, then, I believe, and am about, as I find power, to explain
and illustrate in their various bearings; following out also what belongs
to them of collateral inquiry. Here I state them only in brief, to prevent
the reader casting about in alarm for my ultimate meaning; yet requesting
him, for the present, to remember, that in a science dealing with so subtle
elements as those of human nature, it is only possible to answer for the
final truth of principles, not for the direct success of plans: and that
in the best of these last, what can be immediately accomplished is always
questionable, and what can be finally accomplished, inconceivable.
Denmark Hill, 10th May, 1862.
1. Which? for where investigation is necessary, teaching is impossible.
2. ‘The effectual discipline which is exercised over a workman is not that
of his corporation, but of his customers. It is the fear of losing their
employment which restrains his frauds, and corrects his negligence.’ (Wealth
of Nations, Book I, chap. 10.)
Note to Second Edition. — The only addition I will make to the words of
this book shall be a very earnest request to any Christian reader to think
within himself what an entirely damned state of soul any human creature
must have got into, who could read with acceptance such a sentence as this;
much more, write it; and to oppose to it, the first commercial words of
Venice, discovered by me in her first church:
‘Around this temple, let the Merchant’s law be just, his weights true,
and his contracts guileless.’
If any of my present readers think that my language in this note is either
intemperate, or unbecoming, I will beg them to read with attention the
Eighteenth paragraph of “Sesame and Lilies;” and to be assured that I never,
myself, now use, in writing, any word which is not, in my deliberate judgement,
the fittest for the occasion.
Venice, Sunday, 18th March, 1877.
3. It will probably be inquired by near-sighted persons, out of what funds
such schools could be supported. The expedient modes of direct provision
for them I will examine hereafter; indirectly, they would be far more than
self-supporting. The economy in crime alone, (quite one of the most costly
articles of luxury in the modern European market,) which such schools would
induce, would suffice to support them ten times over. Their economy of
labor would be pure again, and that too large to be presently calculable.
4. P. Valerius, ‘omnium consensu princeps belli pacisque artibus, anno post moritur; gloriâ ingenti, copiis, familiaribus adeo exiguis, ut funeri sumtus deesset: de publico est elatus. Luxere matronae ut Brutum.’ - Lib. ii. c. xvi.
The Roots of Honor
Among the delusions which at different periods have possessed themselves
of the minds of large masses of the human race, perhaps the most curious
— certainly the least creditable — is the modern soi-disant science of political economy, based on the idea that an advantageous code
of social action may be determined irrespectively of the influence of social
Of course, as in the instances of alchemy, astrology, witchcraft, and other such popular creeds, political economy, has a plausible idea at the root of it. “The social affections,” says the economist, “are accidental and disturbing elements in human nature; but avarice and the desire of progress are constant elements. Let us eliminate the inconstants, and, considering the human being merely as a covetous machine, examine by what laws of labor, purchase, and sale, the greatest accumulative result in wealth is obtainable. Those laws once determined, it will be for each individual afterwards to introduce as much of the disturbing affectionate element as he chooses, and to determine for himself the result on the new conditions supposed.”
This would be a perfectly logical and successful method of analysis, if
the accidentals afterwards to be introduced were of the same nature as
the powers first examined. Supposing a body in motion to be influenced
by constant and inconstant forces, it is usually the simplest way of examining
its course to trace it first under the persistent conditions, and afterwards
introduce the causes of variation. But the disturbing elements in the social
problem are not of the same nature as the constant ones: they alter the
essence of the creature under examination the moment they are added; they
operate, not mathematically, but chemically, introducing conditions which
render all our previous knowledge unavailable. We made learned experiments
upon pure nitrogen, and have convinced ourselves that it is a very manageable
gas: but, behold! the thing which we have practically to deal with is its
chloride; and this, the moment we touch it on our established principles,
sends us and or apparatus through the ceiling.
Observe, I neither impugn nor doubt the conclusion of the science if its
terms are accepted. I am simply uninterested in them, as I should be in
those of a science of gymnastics which assumed that men had no skeletons.
It might be shown, on that supposition, that it would be advantageous to
roll the students up into pellets, flatten them into cakes, or stretch
them into cables; and that when these results were effected, the re-insertion
of the skeleton would be attended with various inconveniences to their
constitution. The reasoning might be admirable, the conclusions true, and
the science deficient only in applicability. Modern political economy stands
on a precisely similar basis. Assuming, not that the human being has no
skeleton, but that it is all skeleton, it founds an ossifiant theory of
progress on this negation of a soul; and having shown the utmost that may
be made of bones, and constructed a number of interesting geometrical figures
with death’s-head and humeri, successfully proves the inconvenience of
the reappearance of a soul among these corpuscular structures. I do not
deny the truth of this theory: I simply deny its applicability to the present
phase of the world.
This inapplicability has been curiously manifested during the embarrassment
caused by the late strikes of our workmen. Here occurs one of the simplest
cases, in a pertinent and positive form, of the first vital problem which
political economy has to deal with (the relation between employer and employed);
and, at a severe crisis, when lives in multitudes and wealth in masses
are at stake, the political economists are helpless — practically mute;
no demonstrable solution of the difficulty can be given by them, such as
may convince or calm the opposing parties. Obstinately the masters take
one view of the matter. obstinately the operatives another; and no political
science can set them at one.
It would be strange if it could, it being not by “science” of any kind
that men were ever intended to be set at one. Disputant after disputant
vainly strives to show that the interests of the masters are, or are not,
antagonistic to those of the men: none of the pleaders ever seeming to
remember that it does not absolutely or always follow that the persons
must be antagonistic because their interests are. If there is only a crust
of bread in the house, and mother and children are starving, their interests
are not the same. If the mother eats it, the children want it; if the children
eat it, the mother must go hungry to her work. Yet it does not necessarily
follow that there will be “antagonism” between them, that they will fight
for the crust, and that the mother, being strongest, will get it, and eat
it. Neither, in any other case, whatever the relations of the persons may
be, can it be assumed for certain that, because their interests are diverse,
they must necessarily regard each other with hostility, and use violence
or cunning to obtain the advantage.
Even if this were so, and it were as just as it is convenient to consider
men as actuated by no other moral influences than those which affect rats
or swine, the logical conditions of the question are still indeterminable.
It can never be shown generally either that the interests of master and
laborer are alike, or that they are opposed; for, according to circumstances,
they may be either. It is, indeed, always the interest of both that the
work should be rightly done, and a just price obtained for it; but, in
the division of profits, the gain of the one may or may not be the loss
of the other. It is not the master’s interest to pay wages so low as to
leave the men sickly and depressed, nor the workman’s interest to be paid
high wages if the smallness of the master’s profit hinders him from enlarging
his business, or conducting it in a safe and liberal way. A stoker ought
not to desire high pay if the company is too poor to keep the engine-wheels
And the varieties of circumstances which influence these reciprocal interests are so endless, that all endeavor to deduce rules of action from balance of expediency is in vain. And it is meant to be in vain. For no human actions ever were intended by the maker of men to be guided by balances of expediency, but by balances of justice. He has therefore rendered all endeavors to determine expediency futile for evermore. No man ever knew, or can know, what will be the ultimate result to himself, or to others, of any given line of conduct. But every man may know, and most of us do know, what is a just and unjust act. And all of us may know also, that the consequences of justice will be ultimately the best possible, both to others and ourselves, though we can neither say what is best, or how it is likely to come to pass.
I have said balances of justice, meaning, in the term justice, to include
affection,— such affection as one man owes to another. All right relations
between master and operative, and all their best interests, ultimately
depend on these.
We shall find the best and simplest illustration of the relations of master
and operative in the position of domestic servants.
We will suppose that the master of a household desires only to get as much work out of his servants as he can, at the rate of wages he gives. He never allows them to be idle; feeds them as poorly and lodges them as ill as they will endure, and in all things pushes his requirements to the exact point beyond which he cannot go without forcing the servant to leave him. In doing this, there is no violation on his part of what is commonly called “justice.” He agrees with the domestic for his whole time ad service, and takes them;— the limits of hardship in treatment being fixed by the practice of other masters in his neighborhood; that is to say, by the current rate of wages for domestic labor. If the servant can get a better place, he is free to take one, and the master can only tell what is the real market value of his labor, by requiring as much as he will give.
This is the politico-economical view of the case, according to the doctors
of that science; who assert that by this procedure the greatest average
of work will be obtained from the servant, and therefore the greatest benefit
to the community, and through the community, by reversion, to the servant
That, however, is not so. It would be so if the servant were an engine
of which the motive power was steam, magnetism, gravitation, or any other
agent of calculable force. But he being, on the contrary, an engine whose
motive power is a Soul, the force of this very peculiar agent, as an unknown
quantity, enters into all the political economist’s equations, without
his knowledge, and falsifies every one of their results. The largest quantity
of work will not be done by this curious engine for pay, or under pressure,
or by help of any kind of fuel which may be supplied by the chaldron. It
will be done only when the motive force, that is to say, the will or spirit
of the creature, is brought to its greatest strength by its own proper
fuel; namely, by the affections.
It may indeed happen, and does happen often, that if the master is a man
of sense and energy, a large quantity of material work may be done under
mechanical pressure, enforced by strong will and guided by wise method;
also it may happen, and does happen often, that if the master is indolent
and weak (however good-natured), a very small quantity of work, and that
bad, may be produced by the servant’s undirected strength, and contemptuous
gratitude. But the universal law of the matter is that, assuming any given
quantity of energy and sense in master and servant, the greatest material
result obtainable by them will be, not through antagonism to each other,
but through affection for each other; and that if the master, instead of
endeavoring to get as much work as possible from the servant, seeks rather
to render his appointed and necessary work beneficial to him, and to forward
his interests in all just and wholesome ways, the real amount of work ultimately
done, or of good rendered, by the person so cared for, will indeed be the
Observe, I say, “of good rendered,” for a servant’s work is not necessarily
or always the best thing he can give his master. But good of all kinds,
whether in material service, in protective watchfulness of his master’s
interest and credit, or in joyful readiness to seize unexpected and irregular
occasions of help.
Nor is this one whit less generally true because indulgence will be frequently
abused, and kindness met with ingratitude. For the servant who, gently
treated, is ungrateful, treated ungently, will be revengeful; and the man
who is dishonest to a liberal master, will be injurious to an unjust one.
In any case, and with any person, this unselfish treatment will produce the most effective return. Observe, I am here considering the affections wholly as a motive power; not at all as things in themselves desirable or noble, or in any other way abstractedly good. I look at them simply as an anomalous force, rendering every one of the ordinary political economist’s calculations nugatory; while, even if he desired to introduce this new element into his estimates, he has no power of dealing with it; for the affections only become a true motive power when they ignore every other motive and condition of political economy. Treat the servant kindly, with the idea of turning his gratitude to account, and you will get, as you deserve, no gratitude, nor any value for your kindness; but treat him kindly without any economical purpose, and all economical purposes will be answered; in this, as in all other matters, whosoever will save his life shall lose it, whoso loses it shall find it.1
The next clearest and simplest example of relation between master and operative
is that which exists between the commander of a regiment and his men.
Supposing the officer only desires to apply the rules of discipline so
as, with least trouble to himself, to make the regiment most effective,
he will not be able, by any rules or administration of rules, on this selfish
principle, to develop the full strength of his subordinates. If a man of
sense and firmness, he may, as in the former instance, produce a better
result than would be obtained by the irregular kindness of a weak officer;
but let the sense and firmness be the same in both cases, and assuredly
the officer who has the most direct personal relations with his men, the
most care for their interests, and the most value for their lives, will
develop their effective strength, through their affection for his own person,
and trust in his character, to a degree wholly unattainable by other means.
This law applies still more stringently as the numbers concerned are larger:
a charge may often be successful, though the men dislike their officers;
a battle has rarely been won, unless they loved their general.
Passing from these simple examples to the more complicated relations existing
between a manufacturer and his workmen, we are met first by certain curious
difficulties, resulting, apparently, from a harder and colder state of
moral elements. It is easy to imagine an enthusiastic affection existing
among soldiers for the colonel. Not so easy to imagine an enthusiastic
affection among cotton-spinners for the proprietor of the mill. A body
of men associated for purposes of robbery (as a Highland clan in ancient
times) shall be animated by perfect affection, and every member of it be
ready to lay down his life for the life of his chief. But a band of men
associated for purposes of legal production and accumulation is usually
animated, it appears, by no such emotions, and none of them are in any
wise willing to give his life for the life of his chief. Not only are we
met by this apparent anomaly, in moral matters, but by others connected
with it, in administration of system. For a servant or a soldier is engaged
at a definite rate of wages, for a definite period; but a workman at a
rate of wages variable according to the demand for labor, and with the
risk of being at any time thrown out of his situation by chances of trade.
Now, as under these contingencies, no action of the affections can take
place, but only an explosive action of disaffections, two points offer themselves for consideration in the matter.
The first — How far the rate of wages may be so regulated as not to vary with the demand for labor.
The second — How far it is possible that bodies of workmen may be engaged and maintained at such fixed rate of wages (whatever the state of trade may be), without enlarging or diminishing their number, so as to give them permanent interest in the establishment with which they are connected, like that of the domestic servants in an old family, or an esprit de corps, like that of the soldiers in a crack regiment.
The first question is, I say, how far it may be possible to fix the rate
of wages, irrespectively of the demand for labor.
Perhaps one of the most curious facts in the history of human error is
the denial by the common political economist of the possibility of thus
regulating wages; while, for all the important, and much of the unimportant,
labor, on the earth, wages are already so regulated.
We do not sell our prime-ministership by Dutch auction; nor, on the decease
of a bishop, whatever may be the general advantages of simony, do we (yet)
offer his diocese to the clergyman who will take the episcopacy at the
lowest contract. We (with exquisite sagacity of political economy!) do
indeed sell commissions; but not openly, generalships: sick, we do not
inquire for a physician who takes less than a guinea; litigious, we never
think of reducing six-and-eight-pence to four-and-sixpence; caught in a
shower, we do not canvass the cabmen, to find one who values his driving
at less than sixpence a mile.
It is true that in all these cases there is, and in every conceivable case
there must be, ultimate reference to the presumed difficulty of the work,
or number of candidates for the office. If it were thought that the labor
necessary to make a good physician would be gone through by a sufficient
number of students with the prospect of only half-guinea fees, public consent
would soon withdraw the unnecessary half-guinea. In this ultimate sense,
the price of labor is indeed always regulated by the demand for it; but,
so far as the practical and immediate administration of the matter is regarded,
the best labor always has been, and is, as all labor ought to be, paid by an invariable standard.
“What!” the reader perhaps answers amazedly: “pay good and bad workmen
Certainly. The difference between one prelate’s sermons and his successor’s
— or between one physician’s opinion and another’s — is far greater, as
respects the qualities of mind involved, and far more important in result
to you personally, than the difference between good and bad laying of bricks
(though that is greater than most people suppose). Yet you pay with equal
fee, contentedly, the good and bad workmen upon your soul, and the good
and bad workmen upon your body; much more may you pay, contentedly, with
equal fees, the good and bad workmen upon your house.
“Nay, but I choose my physician and (?) my clergyman, thus indicating my
sense of the quality of their work.” By all means, also, choose your bricklayer;
that is the proper reward of the good workman, to be “chosen.” The natural
and right system respecting all labor is, that it should be paid at a fixed
rate, but the good workman employed, and the bad workman unemployed. The
false, unnatural, and destructive system is when the bad workman is allowed
to offer his work at half-price, and either take the place of the good,
or force him by his competition to work for an inadequate sum.
This equality of wages, then, being the first object toward which we have
to discover the directest available road; the second is, as above stated,
that of maintaining constant numbers of workmen in employment, whatever
may be the accidental demand for the article they produce.
I believe the sudden and extensive inequalities of demand, which necessarily
arise in the mercantile operations of an active nation, constitute the
only essential difficulty which has to be overcome in a just organization
of labor. The subject opens into too many branches to admit of being investigated
in a paper of this kind; but the following general facts bearing on it
may be noted.
The wages which enable any workman to live are necessarily higher, if his
work is liable to intermission, than if it is assured and continuous; and
however severe the struggle for work may become, the general law will always
hold, that men must get more daily pay if, on the average, they can only
calculate on work three days a week, than they would require if they were
sure of work six days a week. Supposing that a man cannot live on less
than a shilling a day, his seven shillings he must get, either for three
days’ violent work, or six days’ deliberate work. The tendency of all modern
mercantile operations is to throw both wages and trade into the form of
a lottery, and to make the workman’s pay depend on intermittent exertion,
and the principal’s profit on dexterously used chance.
In what partial degree, I repeat, this may be necessary in consequence
of the activities of modern trade, I do not here investigate; contenting
myself with the fact, that in its fatalest aspects it is assuredly unnecessary,
and results merely from love of gambling on the part of the masters, and
from ignorance and sensuality in the men. The masters cannot bear to let
any opportunity of gain escape them, and frantically rush at every gap
and breach in the walls of Fortune, raging to be rich, and affronting,
with impatient covetousness, every risk of ruin, while the men prefer three
days of violent labor, and three days of drunkenness, to six days of moderate
work and wise rest. There is no way in which a principal, who really desires
to help his workmen, may do it more effectually than by checking these
disorderly habits both in himself and them; keeping his own business operations
on a scale which will enable him to pursue them securely, not yielding
to temptations of precarious gain; and, at the same time, leading his workmen
into regular habits of labor and life, either by inducing them rather to
take low wages in the form of a fixed salary, than high wages, subject
to the chance of their being thrown out of work; or, if this be impossible,
by discouraging the system of violent exertion for nominally high day wages,
and leading the men to take lower pay for more regular labor.
In effecting any radical changes of this kind, doubtless there would be
great inconvenience and loss incurred by all the originators of movement.
That which can be done with perfect convenience and without loss, is not
always the thing that most needs to be done, or which we are most imperatively
required to do.
I have already alluded to the difference hitherto existing between regiments
of men associated for purposes of violence, and for purposes of manufacture;
in that the former appear capable of self-sacrifice — the latter, not;
which singular fact is the real reason of the general lowness of estimate
in which the profession of commerce is held, as compared with that of arms.
Philosophically, it does not, at first sight, appear reasonable (many writers
have endeavored to prove it unreasonable) that a peaceable and rational
person, whose trade is buying and selling, should be held in less honor
than an unpeaceable and often irrational person, whose trade is slaying.
Nevertheless, the consent of mankind has always, in spite of the philosophers,
given precedence to the soldier.
And this is right.
For the soldier’s trade, verily and essentially, is not slaying, but being slain. This, without well knowing its own meaning, the world honors it for. A bravo’s trade is slaying; but the world has never respected bravos more than merchants: the reason it honors the soldier is, because he holds his life at the service of the State. Reckless he may be — fond of pleasure or of adventure — all kinds of by-motives and mean impulses may have determined the choice of his profession, and may affect (to all appearance exclusively) his daily conduct in it; but our estimate of him is based on this ultimate fact — of which we are well assured — that, put him in a fortress breach, with all the pleasures of the world behind him, and only death and his duty in front of him, he will keep his face to the front; and he knows that this choice may be put to him at any moment, and has beforehand taken his part — virtually takes such part continually — does, in reality, die daily.
Not less is the respect we pay to the lawyer and physician, founded ultimately
on their self-sacrifice. Whatever the learning or acuteness of a great
lawyer, our chief respect for him depends on our belief that, set in a
judge’s seat, he will strive to judge justly, come of it what may. Could
we suppose that he would take bribes, and use his acuteness and legal knowledge
to give plausibility to iniquitous decisions, no degree of intellect would
win for him our respect. Nothing will win it, short of our tacit conviction,
that in all important acts of his life justice is first with him; his own
In the case of a physician, the ground of the honor we render him is clearer
still. Whatever his science, we would shrink from him in horror if we found
him regard his patients merely as subjects to experiment upon; much more,
if we found that, receiving bribes from persons interested in their deaths,
he was using his best skill to give poison in the mask of medicine.
Finally, the principle holds with utmost clearness as it respects clergymen.
No goodness of disposition will excuse want of science in a physician or
of shrewdness in an advocate; but a clergyman, even though his power of
intellect be small, is respected on the presumed ground of his unselfishness
Now, there can be no question but that the tact, foresight, decision, and
other mental powers, required for the successful management of a large
mercantile concern, if not such as could be compared with those of a great
lawyer, general, or divine, would at least match the general conditions
of mind required in the subordinate officers of a ship, or of a regiment,
or in the curate of a country parish. If, therefore, all the efficient
members of the so-called liberal professions are still, somehow, in public
estimate of honor, preferred before the head of a commercial firm, the
reason must lie deeper than in the measurement of their several powers
And the essential reason for such preference will be found to lie in the fact that the merchant is presumed to act always selfishly. His work may be very necessary to the community; but the motive of it is understood to be wholly personal. The merchant’s first object in all his dealings must be (the public believe) to get as much for himself, and leave as little to his neighbor (or customer) as possible. Enforcing this upon him, by political statute, as the necessary principle of his action; recommending it to him on all occasions, and themselves reciprocally adopting it, proclaiming vociferously, for law of the universe, that a buyer’s function is to cheapen, and a seller’s to cheat,— the public, nevertheless, involuntarily condemn the man of commerce for his compliance with their own statement, and stamp him for ever as belonging to an inferior grade of human personality.
This they will find, eventually, they must give up doing. They must not cease to condemn selfishness; but they will have to discover a kind of commerce which is not exclusively selfish. Or, rather, they will have to discover that there never was, or can be, any other kind of commerce; that this which they have called commerce was not commerce at all, but cozening; and that a true merchant differs as much from a merchant according to laws of modern political economy, as the hero of the Excursion from Autolycus. They will find that commerce is an occupation which gentlemen
will every day see more need to engage in, rather than in the businesses
of talking to men, or slaying them; that, in true commerce, as in true
preaching, or true fighting, it is necessary to admit the idea of occasional
voluntary loss;— that sixpences have to be lost, as well as lives, under
a sense of duty; that the market may have its martyrdoms as well as the
pulpit; and trade its heroisms, as well as war.
May have — in the final issue, must have — and only has not had yet, because
men of heroic temper have always been misguided in their youth into other
fields; not recognizing what is in our days, perhaps, the most important
of all fields; so that, while many a zealous person loses his life in trying
to teach the form of a gospel, very few will lose a hundred pounds in showing
the practice of one.
The fact is, that people never have had clearly explained to them the true
functions of a merchant with respect to other people. I should like the
reader to be very clear about this.
Five great intellectual professions, relating to daily necessities of life,
have hitherto existed — three exist necessarily, in every civilized nation:—
The Soldier’s profession is to defend it.
The Pastor’s, to teach it.
The Physician’s, to keep it in health.
The Lawyer’s, to enforce justice in it.
The Merchant’s, to provide for it.
And the duty of all these men is, on due occasion, to die for it.
“On due occasion,” namely:—
The Soldier, rather than leave his post in battle.
The Physician, rather than leave his post in plague.
The Pastor, rather than teach Falsehood.
The Lawyer, rather than countenance Injustice.
The Merchant — what is his “due occasion” of death?
It is the main question for the merchant, as for all of us. For, truly,
the man who does not know when to die, does not know how to live.
Observe, the merchant’s function (or manufacturer’s, for in the broad sense in which it is here used the word must be understood to include both) is to provide for the nation. It is no more his function to get profit for himself out of that provision than it is a clergyman’s function to get his stipend. This stipend is a due and necessary adjunct, but not the object of his life, if he be a true clergyman, any more than his fee (or honorarium) is the object of life to a true physician. Neither is his fee the object
of life to a true merchant. All three, if true men, have a work to be done
irrespective of fee — to be done even at any cost, or for quite the contrary
of fee; the pastor’s function being to teach, the physician’s to heal,
and the merchant’s, as I have said, to provide. That is to say, he has
to understand to their very root the qualities of the thing he deals in,
and the means of obtaining or producing it; and he has to apply all his
sagacity and energy to the producing or obtaining it in perfect state,
and distributing it at the cheapest possible price where it is most needed.
And because the production or obtaining of any commodity involves necessarily
the agency of many lives and hands, the merchant becomes in the course
of his business the master and governor of large masses of men in a more
direct, though less confessed way, than a military officer or pastor; so
that on him falls, in great part, the responsibility for the kind of life
they lead: and it becomes his duty, not only to be always considering how
to produce what he sells, in the purest and cheapest forms, but how to
make the various employments involved in the production, or transference
of it, most beneficial to the men employed.
And as into these two functions, requiring for their right exercise the highest intelligence, as well as patience, kindness, and tact, the merchant is bound to put all his energy, so for their just discharge he is bound, as soldier or physician is bound, to give up, if need be, his life, in such way as it may be demanded of him. Two main points he has in his providing function to maintain: first, his engagements (faithfulness to engagements being the real root of all possibilities in commerce); and, secondly, the perfectness and purity of the thing provided; so that, rather than fail in any engagement, or consent to any deterioration, adulteration, or unjust and exorbitant price of that which he provides, he is bound to meet fearlessly any form of distress, poverty, or labor, which may, through maintenance of these points, come upon him.
Again: in his office as governor of the men employed by him, the merchant
or manufacturer is invested with a distinctly paternal authority and responsibility.
In most cases, a youth entering a commercial establishment is withdrawn
altogether from home influence; his master must become his father, else
he has, for practical and constant help, no father at hand; in all cases
the master’s authority, together with the general tone and atmosphere of
his business, and the character of the men with whom the youth is compelled
in the course of it to associate, have more immediate and pressing weight
than the home influence, and will usually neutralize it either for good
or evil; so that the only means which the master has of doing justice to
the men employed by him is to ask himself sternly whether he is dealing
with such subordinate as he would with his own son, if compelled by circumstances
to take such a position.
Supposing the captain of a frigate saw it right, or were by any chance
obliged, to place his own son in the position of a common sailor: as he
would then treat his son, he is bound always to treat every one of the
men under him. So, also, supposing the master of a manufactory saw it right,
or were by any chance obliged, to place his own son in the position of
an ordinary workman; as he would then treat his son, he is bound always
to treat every one of his men. This is the only effective, true, or practical
Rule which can be given on this point of political economy.
And as the captain of a ship is bound to be the last man to leave his ship
in case of wreck, and to share his last crust with the sailors in case
of famine, so the manufacturer, in any commercial crisis or distress, is
bound to take the suffering of it with his men, and even to take more of
it for himself than he allows his men to feel; as a father would in a famine,
shipwreck, or battle, sacrifice himself for his son.
All which sounds very strange; the only real strangeness in the matter being, nevertheless, that it should so sound. For all this is true, and that not partially nor theoretically, but everlastingly and practically; all other doctrine than this respecting matters political being false in premises, absurd in deduction, and impossible in practice, consistently with any progressive state of national life; all the life which we now possess as a nation showing itself in the resolute denial and scorn, by a few strong minds and faithful hearts, of the economic principles taught to our multitudes, which principles, so far as accepted, lead straight to national destruction. Respecting the modes and forms of destruction to which they lead, and, on the other hand, respecting the farther practical working of true polity, I hope to reason further in a following paper.
1. The difference between the two modes of treatment, and between their effective material results, may be seen very accurately by a comparison of the relations of Esther and Charlie in Bleak House, with those of Miss Brass and the Marchioness in Master Humphrey’s Clock.
The essential value and truth of Dickens’s writings have been unwisely
lost sight of by many thoughtful persons, merely because he presents his
truth with some color of caricature. Unwisely, because Dickens’s caricature,
though often gross, is never mistaken. Allowing for his manner of telling
them, the things he tells us are always true. I wish that he could think
it right to limit his brilliant exaggeration to works written only for
public amusement; and when he takes up a subject of high national importance,
such as that which he handled in Hard Times, that he would use severer and more accurate analysis. The usefulness of that work (to my mind, in several respects, the greatest he has written) is with many persons seriously diminished because Mr. Bounderby is a dramatic monster, instead of a characteristic example of a worldly master; and Stephen Blackpool a dramatic perfection, instead of a characteristic example of an honest workman. But let us not lose the use of Dickens’s wit and insight, because he chooses to speak in a circle of stage fire. He is entirely right in his main drift and purpose in every book he has written; and all of them, but especially Hard Times, should be studied with close and earnest care by persons interested in social questions. They will find much that is partial, and, because partial, apparently unjust; but if they examine all the evidence on the other side, which Dickens seems to overlook, it will appear, after all their trouble, that his view was the finally right one, grossly and sharply told.
The Veins of Wealth
The answer which would be made by any ordinary political economist to the
statements contained in the preceding paper, is in few words as follows:—
“It is indeed true that certain advantages of a general nature may be obtained
by the development of social affections. But political economists never
professed, nor profess, to take advantages of a general nature into consideration.
Our science is simply the science of getting rich. So far from being a
fallacious or visionary one, it is found by experience to be practically
effective. Persons who follow its precepts do actually become rich, and
persons who disobey them become poor. Every capitalist of Europe has acquired
his fortune by following the known laws of our science, and increases his
capital daily by an adherence to them. It is vain to bring forward tricks
of logic, against the force of accomplished facts. Every man of business
knows by experience how money is made, and how it is lost.”
Pardon me. Men of business do indeed know how they themselves made their
money, or how, on occasion, they lost it. Playing a long-practiced game,
they are familiar with the chances of its cards, and can rightly explain
their losses and gains. But they neither know who keeps the bank of the
gambling-house, nor what other games may be played with the same cards,
nor what other losses and gains, far away among the dark streets, are essentially,
though invisibly, dependent on theirs in the lighted rooms. They have learned
a few, and only a few, of the laws of mercantile economy; but not one of
those of political economy.
Primarily, which is very notable and curious, I observe that men of business
rarely know the meaning of the word “rich.” At least, if they know, they
do not in their reasonings allow for the fact, that it is a relative word,
implying its opposite “poor” as positively as the word “north” implies
its opposite “south.” Men nearly always speak and write as if riches were
absolute, and it were possible, by following certain scientific precepts,
for everybody to be rich. Whereas riches are a power like that of electricity,
acting only through inequalities or negations of itself. The force of the
guinea you have in your pocket depends wholly on the default of a guinea
in your neighbor’s pocket. If he did not want it, it would be of no use
to you; the degree of power it possesses depends accurately upon the need
or desire he has for it,— and the art of making yourself rich, in the ordinary
mercantile economist’s sense, is therefore equally and necessarily the
art of keeping your neighbor poor.
I would not contend in this matter (and rarely in any matter) for the acceptance
of terms. But I wish the reader clearly and deeply to understand the difference
between the two economies, to which the terms “Political” and “Mercantile”
might not unadvisedly be attached.
Political economy (the economy of a State, or of citizens) consists simply
in the production, preservation, and distribution, at fittest time and
place, of useful or pleasurable things. The farmer who cuts his hay at
the right time; the shipwright who drives his bolts well home in sound
wood; the builder who lays good bricks in well-tempered mortar; the housewife
who takes care of her furniture in the parlor, and guards against all waste
in her kitchen; and the singer who rightly disciplines, and never overstrains
her voice, are all political economists in the true and final sense; adding
continually to the riches and well-being of the nation to which they belong.
But mercantile economy, the economy of “merces” or of “pay,” signifies the accumulation, in the hands of individuals, of legal or moral claim upon, or power over, the labor of others; every such claim implying precisely as much poverty or debt on one side, as it implies riches or right on the other.
It does not, therefore, necessarily involve an addition to the actual property,
or well-being, of the State in which it exists. But since this commercial
wealth, or power over labor, is nearly always convertible at once into
real property, while real property is not always convertible at once into
power over labor, the idea of riches among active men in civilized nations
generally refers to commercial wealth; and in estimating their possessions,
they rather calculate the value of their horses and fields by the number
of guineas they could get for them, than the value of their guineas by
the number of horses and fields they could buy with them.
There is, however, another reason for this habit of mind; namely, that
an accumulation of real property is of little use to its owner, unless,
together with it, he has commercial power over labor. Thus, suppose any
person to be put in possession of a large estate of fruitful land, with
rich beds of gold in its gravel, countless herds of cattle in its pastures;
houses, and gardens, and storehouses full of useful stores; but suppose,
after all, that he could get no servants? In order that he may be able
to have servants, some one in his neighborhood must be poor, and in want
of his gold — or his corn. Assume that no one is in want of either, and
that no servants are to be had. He must, therefore, bake his own bread,
make his own clothes, plough his own ground, and shepherd his own flocks.
His gold will be as useful to him as any other yellow pebbles on his estate.
His stores must rot, for he cannot consume them. He can eat no more than
another man could eat, and wear no more than another man could wear. He
must lead a life of severe and common labor to procure even ordinary comforts;
he will be ultimately unable to keep either houses in repair, or fields
in cultivation; and forced to content himself with a poor man’s portion
of cottage and garden, in the midst of a desert of waste land, trampled
by wild cattle, and encumbered by ruins of palaces, which he will hardly
mock at himself by calling “his own.”
The most covetous of mankind would, with small exultation, I presume, accept
riches of this kind on these terms. What is really desired, under the name
of riches, is essentially, power over men; in its simplest sense, the power
of obtaining for our own advantage the labor of servant, tradesman, and
artist; in wider sense, authority of directing large masses of the nation
to various ends (good, trivial or hurtful, according to the mind of the
rich person). And this power of wealth of course is greater or less in
direct proportion to the poverty of the men over whom it is exercised,
and in inverse proportion to the number of persons who are as rich as ourselves,
and who are ready to give the same price for an article of which the supply
is limited. If the musician is poor, he will sing for small pay, as long
as there is only one person who can pay him; but if there be two or three,
he will sing for the one who offers him most. And thus the power of the
riches of the patron (always imperfect and doubtful, as we shall see presently,
even when most authoritative) depends first on the poverty of the artist,
and then on the limitation of the number of equally wealthy persons, who
also want seats at the concert. So that, as above stated, the art of becoming
“rich,” in the common sense, is not absolutely nor finally the art of accumulating
much money for ourselves, but also of contriving that our neighbors shall
have less. In accurate terms, it is “the art of establishing the maximum
inequality in our own favor.”
Now the establishment of such inequality cannot be shown in the abstract to be either advantageous or disadvantageous to the body of the nation. The rash and absurd assumption that such inequalities are necessarily advantageous, lies at the root of most of the popular fallacies on the subject of political economy. For the eternal and inevitable law in this matter is, that the beneficialness of the inequality depends, first, on the methods by which it was accomplished; and, secondly, on the purposes to which it is applied. Inequalities of wealth, unjustly established, have assuredly injured the nation in which they exist during their establishment; and, unjustly directed, injure it yet more during their existence. But inequalities of wealth, justly established, benefit the nation in the course of their establishment; and, nobly used, aid it yet more by their existence. That is to say, among every active and well-governed people, the various strength of individuals, tested by full exertion and specially applied to various needs, issues in unequal, but harmonious results, receiving reward or authority according to its class and service;2 while, in the inactive or ill-governed nation, the gradations of decay
and the victories of treason work out also their own rugged system of subjection
and success; and substitute, for the melodious inequalities of concurrent
power, the iniquitous dominances and depressions of guilt and misfortune.
Thus the circulation of wealth in a nation resembles that of the blood
in the natural body. There is one quickness of the current which comes
of cheerful emotion or wholesome exercise; and another which comes of shame
or of fever. There is a flush of the body which is full of warmth and life;
and another which will pass into putrefaction.
The analogy will hold down even to minute particulars. For as diseased
local determination of the blood involves depression of the general health
of the system, all morbid local action of riches will be found ultimately
to involve a weakening of the resources of the body politic.
The mode in which this is produced may be at once understood by examining
one or two instances of the development of wealth in the simplest possible
Suppose two sailors cast away on an uninhabited coast, and obliged to maintain themselves there by their own labor for a series of years.
If they both kept their health, and worked steadily and in amity with each
other, they might build themselves a convenient house, and in time come
to possess a certain quantity of cultivated land, together with various
stores laid up for future use. All these things would be real riches or
property; and, supposing the men both to have worked equally hard, they
would each have right to equal share or use of it. Their political economy
would consist merely in careful preservation and just division of these
possessions. Perhaps, however, after some time one or other might be dissatisfied
with the results of their common farming; and they might in consequence
agree to divide the land they had brought under the spade into equal shares,
so that each might thenceforward work in his own field, and live by it.
Suppose that after this arrangement had been made, one of them were to
fall ill, and be unable to work on his land at a critical time — say of
sowing or harvest.
He would naturally ask the other to sow or reap for him.
Then his companion might say, with perfect justice, “I will do this additional
work for you; but if I do it, you must promise to do as much for me at
another time. I will count how many hours I spend on your ground, and you
shall give me a written promise to work for the same number of hours on
mine, whenever I need your help, and you are able to give it.”
Suppose the disabled man’s sickness to continue, and that under various
circumstances, for several years, requiring the help of the other, he on
each occasion gave a written pledge to work, as soon as he was able, at
his companion’s orders, for the same number of hours which the other had
given up to him. What will the positions of the two men be when the invalid
is able to resume work?
Considered as a “Polis,” or state, they will be poorer than they would
have been otherwise: poorer by the withdrawal of what the sick man’s labor
would have produced in the interval. His friend may perhaps have toiled
with an energy quickened by the enlarged need, but in the end his own land
and property must have suffered by the withdrawal of so much of his time
and thought from them; and the united property of the two men will be certainly
less than it would have been if both had remained in health and activity.
But the relations in which they stand to each other are also widely altered. The sick man has not only pledged his labor for some years, but will probably have exhausted his own share of the accumulated stores, and will be in consequence for some time dependent on the other for food, which he can only “pay” or reward him for by yet more deeply pledging his own labor.
Supposing the written promises to be held entirely valid (among civilized
nations their validity is secured by legal measures3), the person who had hitherto worked for both might now, if he chose,
rest altogether, and pass his time in idleness, not only forcing his companion
to redeem all the engagements he had already entered into, but exacting
from him pledges for further labor, to an arbitrary amount, for what food
he had to advance to him.
There might not, from first to last, be the least illegality (in the ordinary
sense of the word) in the arrangement; but if a stranger arrived on the
coast at this advanced epoch of their political economy, he would find
one man commercially Rich; the other commercially Poor. He would see, perhaps,
with no small surprise, one passing his days in idleness; the other laboring
for both, and living sparely, in the hope of recovering his independence
at some distant period.
This is, of course, an example of one only out of many ways in which inequality
of possession may be established between different persons, giving rise
to the Mercantile forms of Riches and Poverty. In the instance before us,
one of the men might from the first have deliberately chosen to be idle,
and to put his life in pawn for present ease; or he might have mismanaged
his land, and been compelled to have recourse to his neighbor for food
and help, pledging his future labor for it. But what I want the reader
to note especially is the fact, common to a large number of typical cases
of this kind, that the establishment of the mercantile wealth which consists
in a claim upon labor, signifies a political diminution of the real wealth
which consists in substantial possessions.
Take another example, more consistent with the ordinary course of affairs
of trade. Suppose that three men, instead of two, formed the little isolated
republic, and found themselves obliged to separate, in order to farm different
pieces of land at some distance from each other along the coast: each estate
furnishing a distinct kind of produce, and each more or less in need of
the material raised on the other. Suppose that the third man, in order
to save the time of all three, undertakes simply to superintend the transference
of commodities from one farm to the other; on condition of receiving some
sufficiently remunerative share of every parcel of goods conveyed, or of
some other parcel received in exchange for it.
If this carrier or messenger always brings to each estate, from the other, what is chiefly wanted, at the right time, the operations of the two farmers will go on prosperously, and the largest possible result in produce, or wealth, will be attained by the little community. But suppose no intercourse between the landowners is possible, except through the travelling agent; and that, after a time, this agent, watching the course of each man’s agriculture, keeps back the articles with which he has been entrusted until there comes a period of extreme necessity for them, on one side or other, and then exacts in exchange for them all that the distressed farmer can spare of other kinds of produce: it is easy to see that by ingeniously watching his opportunities, he might possess himself regularly of the greater part of the superfluous produce of the two estates, and at last, in some year of severest trial or scarcity, purchase both for himself and maintain the former proprietors thenceforward as his laborers or servants.
This would be a case of commercial wealth acquired on the exactest principles
of modern political economy. But more distinctly even than in the former
instance, it is manifest in this that the wealth of the State, or of the
three men considered as a society, is collectively less than it would have
been had the merchant been content with juster profit. The operations of
the two agriculturists have been cramped to the utmost; and the continual
limitations of the supply of things they wanted at critical times, together
with the failure of courage consequent on the prolongation of a struggle
for mere existence, without any sense of permanent gain, must have seriously
diminished the effective results of their labor; and the stores finally
accumulated in the merchant’s hands will not in any wise be of equivalent
value to those which, had his dealings been honest, would have filled at
once the granaries of the farmers and his own.
The whole question, therefore, respecting not only the advantage, but even
the quantity, of national wealth, resolves itself finally into one of abstract
justice. It is impossible to conclude, of any given mass of acquired wealth,
merely by the fact of its existence, whether it signifies good or evil
to the nation in the midst of which it exists. Its real value depends on
the moral sign attached to it, just as sternly as that of a mathematical
quantity depends on the algebraical sign attached to it. Any given accumulation
of commercial wealth may be indicative, on the one hand, of faithful industries,
progressive energies, and productive ingenuities: or, on the other, it
may be indicative of mortal luxury, merciless tyranny, ruinous chicane.
Some treasures are heavy with human tears, as an ill-stored harvest with
untimely rain; and some gold is brighter in sunshine than it is in substance.
And these are not, observe, merely moral or pathetic attributes of riches,
which the seeker of riches may, if he chooses, despise; they are, literally
and sternly, material attributes of riches, depreciating or exalting, incalculably,
the monetary signification of the sum in question. One mass of money is
the outcome of action which has created, another, of action which has annihilated,—
ten times as much in the gathering of it; such and such strong hands have
been paralyzed, as if they had been numbed by nightshade: so many strong
men’s courage broken, so many productive operations hindered; this and
the other false direction given to labor, and lying image of prosperity
set up, on Dura plains dug into seven-times-heated furnaces. That which
seems to be wealth may in verity be only the gilded index of far-reaching
ruin: a wrecker’s handful of coin gleaned from the beach to which he has
beguiled an argosy; a camp-follower’s bundle of rags unwrapped from the
breasts of goodly soldiers dead; the purchase-pieces of potter’s fields,
wherein shall be buried together the citizen and the stranger.
And therefore, the idea that directions can be given for the gaining of
wealth, irrespectively of the consideration of its moral sources, or that
any general and technical law of purchase and gain can be set down for
national practice, is perhaps the most insolently futile of all that ever
beguiled men through their vices. So far as I know, there is not in history
record of anything so disgraceful to the human intellect as the modern
idea that the commercial text, “Buy in the cheapest market and sell in
the dearest,” represents, or under any circumstances could represent, an
available principle of national economy. Buy in the cheapest market? yes;
but what made your market cheap? Charcoal may be cheap among your roof
timbers after a fire, and bricks may be cheap in your streets after an
earthquake; but fire and earthquake may not therefore be national benefits.
Sell in the dearest?— Yes, truly; but what made your market dear? You sold
your bread well to-day; was it to a dying man who gave his last coin for
it, and will never need bread more; or to a rich man who to-morrow will
buy your farm over your head; or to a soldier on his way to pillage the
bank in which you have put your fortune?
None of these things you can know. One thing only you can know, namely,
whether this dealing of yours is a just and faithful one, which is all
you need concern yourself about respecting it; sure thus to have done your
own part in bringing about ultimately in the world a state of things which
will not issue in pillage or in death. And thus every question concerning
these things merges itself ultimately in the great question of justice,
which, the ground being thus far cleared for it, I will enter upon in the
next paper, leaving only, in this, three final points for the reader’s
It has been shown that the chief value and virtue of money consists in
its having power over human beings; that, without this power, large material
possessions are useless, and to any person possessing such power, comparatively
unnecessary. But power over human beings is attainable by other means than
by money. As I said a few pages back, the money power is always imperfect
and doubtful; there are many things which cannot be reached with it, others
which cannot be retained by it. Many joys may be given to men which cannot
be bought for gold, and many fidelities found in them which cannot be rewarded
Trite enough,— the reader thinks. Yes: but it is not so trite,— I wish
it were,— that in this moral power, quite inscrutable and immeasurable
though it be, there is a monetary value just as real as that represented
by more ponderous currencies. A man’s hand may be full of invisible gold,
and the wave of it, or the grasp, shall do more than another’s with a shower
of bullion. This invisible gold, also, does not necessarily diminish in
spending. Political economists will do well some day to take heed of it,
though they cannot take measure.
But farther. Since the essence of wealth consists in its authority over
men, if the apparent or nominal wealth fail in this power, it fails in
essence; in fact, ceases to be wealth at all. It does not appear lately
in England, that our authority over men is absolute. The servants show
some disposition to rush riotously upstairs, under an impression that their
wages are not regularly paid. We should augur ill of any gentleman’s property
to whom this happened every other day in his drawing-room.
So, also, the power of our wealth seems limited as respects the comfort
of the servants, no less than their quietude. The persons in the kitchen
appear to be ill-dressed, squalid, half-starved. One cannot help imagining
that the riches of the establishment must be of a very theoretical and
Finally. Since the essence of wealth consists in power over men, will it not follow that the nobler and the more in number the persons are over whom it has power, the greater the wealth? Perhaps it may even appear, after some consideration, that the persons themselves are the wealth — that these pieces of gold with which we are in the habit
of guiding them, are, in fact, nothing more than a kind of Byzantine harness
or trappings, very glittering and beautiful in barbaric sight, wherewith
we bridle the creatures; but that if these same living creatures could
be guided without the fretting and jingling of the Byzants in their mouths
and ears, they might themselves be more valuable than their bridles. In
fact, it may be discovered that the true veins of wealth are purple — and
not in Rock, but in Flesh — perhaps even that the final outcome and consummation
of all wealth is in the producing as many as possible full-breathed, bright-eyed,
and happy-hearted human creatures. Our modern wealth, I think, has rather
a tendency the other way;— most political economists appearing to consider
multitudes of human creatures not conducive to wealth, or at best conducive
to it only by remaining in a dim-eyed and narrow-chested state of being.
Nevertheless, it is open, I repeat, to serious question, which I leave
to the reader’s pondering, whether, among national manufactures, that of
Souls of a good quality may not at last turn out a quite leadingly lucrative
one? Nay, in some far-away and yet undreamt-of hour, I can even imagine
that England may cast all thoughts of possessive wealth back to the barbaric
nations among whom they first arose; and that, while the sands of the Indus
and adamant of Golconda may yet stiffen the housings of the charger, and
flash from the turban of the slave, she, as a Christian mother, may at
last attain to the virtues and the treasures of a Heathen one, and be able
to lead forth her Sons, saying,—
“These are MY Jewels.”
2. I have been naturally asked several times, with respect to the sentence
in the first of these papers, “the bad workmen unemployed,” “But what are
you to do with your bad unemployed workmen?” Well, it seems to me the question
might have occurred to you before. Your housemaid’s place is vacant — you
give twenty pounds a year — two girls come for it, one neatly dressed,
the other dirtily; one with good recommendations, the other with none.
You do not, under these circumstances, usually ask the dirty one if she
will come for fifteen pounds, or twelve; and, on her consenting, take her
instead of the well-recommended one. Still less do you try to beat both
down by making them bid against each other, till you can hire both, one
at twelve pounds a year, and the other at eight. You simply take the one
fittest for the place, and send away the other, not perhaps concerning
yourself quite as much as you should with the question which you now impatiently
put to me, “What is to become of her?” For all that I advise you to do,
is to deal with workmen as with servants; and verily the question is of
weight: “Your bad workman, idler, and rogue — what are you to do with him?”
We will consider of this presently: remember that the administration of
a complete system of national commerce and industry cannot be explained
in full detail within the space of twelve pages. Meantime, consider whether,
there being confessedly some difficulty in dealing with rogues and idlers,
it may not be advisable to produce as few of them as possible. If you examine
into the history of rogues, you will find they are as truly manufactured
articles as anything else, and it is just because our present system of
political economy gives so large a stimulus to that manufacture that you
may know it to be a false one. We had better seek for a system which will
develop honest men, than for one which will deal cunningly with vagabonds.
Let us reform our schools, and we shall find little reform needed in our
3. The disputes which exist respecting the real nature of money arise more
from the disputants examining its functions on different sides, than from
any real dissent in their opinions. All money, properly so called, is an
acknowledgment of debt; but as such, it may either be considered to represent
the labor and property of the creditor, or the idleness and penury of the
debtor. The intricacy of the question has been much increased by the (hitherto
necessary) use of marketable commodities, such as gold, silver, salt, shells,
etc., to give intrinsic value or security to currency; but the final and
best definition of money is that it is a documentary promise ratified and
guaranteed by the nation to give or find a certain quantity of labor on
demand. A man’s labor for a day is a better standard of value than a measure
of any produce, because no produce ever maintains a consistent rate of
Qui Judicatis Terram
Some centuries before the Christian era, a Jew merchant largely
engaged in business on the Gold Coast, and reported to have made one of
the largest fortunes of his time, (held also in repute for much practical
sagacity,) left among his ledgers some general maxims concerning wealth,
which have been preserved, strangely enough, even to our own days. They
were held in considerable respect by the most active traders of the middle
ages, especially by the Venetians, who even went so far in their admiration
as to place a statue of the old Jew on the angle of one of their principal
public buildings. Of late years these writings have fallen into disrepute,
being opposed in every particular to the spirit of modern commerce. Nevertheless
I shall reproduce a passage or two from them here, partly because they
may interest the reader by their novelty; and chiefly because they will
show him that it is possible for a very practical and acquisitive tradesman
to hold, through a not unsuccessful career, that principle of distinction
between well-gotten and ill-gotten wealth, which, partially insisted on
in my last paper, it must be our work more completely to examine in this.
He says, for instance, in one place: “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death:” adding in another, with the same meaning (he has a curious way of doubling his sayings): “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but justice delivers from death.” [Proverbs x. 2.] Both these passages are notable for their assertion of death as the only real issue and sum of attainment by any unjust scheme of wealth. If we read, instead of “lying tongue,” “lying label, title, pretense, or advertisement,” we shall more clearly perceive the bearing of the words on modern business. The seeking of death is a grand expression of the true course of men’s toil in such business. We usually speak as if death pursued us, and we fled from him; but that is only so in rare instances. Ordinarily he masks himself — makes himself beautiful — all-glorious; not like the King’s daughter, all-glorious within, but outwardly: his clothing of wrought gold. We pursue him frantically all our days, he flying or hiding from us. Our crowning success at three-score and ten is utterly and perfectly to seize, and hold him in his eternal integrity — robes, ashes, and sting. [1 Corinthians xv. 56.]
Again: the merchant says, “He that oppresseth the poor to increase his
riches, shall surely come to want.” And again, more strongly: “Rob not
the poor because he is poor; neither oppress the afflicted in the place
of business. For God shall spoil the soul of those that spoiled them.”
[Proverbs xxii. 16.]
This “robbing the poor because he is poor,” is especially the mercantile
form of theft, consisting in talking advantage of a man’s necessities in
order to obtain his labor or property at a reduced price. The ordinary
highwayman’s opposite form of robbery — of the rich, because he is rich
— does not appear to occur so often to the old merchant’s mind; probably
because, being less profitable and more dangerous than the robbery of the
poor, it is rarely practiced by persons of discretion.
But the two most remarkable passages in their deep general significance
are the following:—
“The rich and the poor have met. God is their maker.”[Proverbs xxii. 2.]
“The rich and the poor have met. God is their light.” [Proverbs xxix. 13.]
They “have met:” more literally, have stood in each other’s way (obviaverunt). That is to say, as long as the world lasts, the action and counteraction
of wealth and poverty, the meeting, face to face, of rich and poor, is
just as appointed and necessary a law of that world as the flow of stream
to sea, or the interchange of power among the electric clouds:— “God is
their maker.” But, also, this action may be either gentle and just, or
convulsive and destructive it may be by rage of devouring flood, or by
lapse of serviceable wave;— in blackness of thunderstroke, or continual
force of vital fire, soft, and shapeable into love-syllables from far away.
And which of these it shall be depends on both rich and poor knowing that
God is their light; that in the mystery of human life, there is no other
light than this by which they can see each other’s faces, and live;— light,
which is called in another of the books among which the merchant’s maxims
have been preserved, the “sun of justice,”4 of which it is promised that it shall rise at last with “healing” (health-giving or helping, making whole or setting at one) in its wings. For truly this healing is only possible by means of justice; no love, no faith, no hope will do it; men will be unwisely fond — vainly faithful, unless primarily they are just; and the mistake of the best men through generation after generation, has been that great one of thinking to help the poor by almsgiving, and by preaching of patience or of hope, and by every other means, emollient or consolatory, except the one thing which God orders for them, justice. But this justice, with its accompanying holiness or helpfulness, being even by the best men denied in its trial time, is by the mass of men hated wherever it appears: so that, when the choice was one day fairly put to them, they denied the Helpful One and the Just;5 and desired a murderer, sedition-raiser, and robber, to be granted to them;— the murderer instead of the Lord of Life, the sedition-raiser instead of the Prince of Peace, and the robber instead of the Just Judge of all the world. [Luke xxiii. 18, 19.]
I have just spoken of the flowing of streams to the sea as a partial image
of the action of wealth. In one respect it is not a partial, but a perfect
image. The popular economist thinks himself wise in having discovered that
wealth, or the forms of property in general, must go where they are required;
that where demand is, supply must follow. He further declares that this
course of demand and supply cannot be forbidden by human laws. Precisely
in the same sense, and with the same certainty, the waters of the world
go where they are required. Where the land falls, the water flows. The
course neither of clouds nor rivers can be forbidden by human will. But
the disposition and administration of them can be altered by human forethought.
Whether the stream shall be a curse or a blessing, depends upon man’s labor,
and administrating intelligence. For centuries after centuries, great districts
of the world, rich in soil, and favored in climate, have lain desert under
the rage of their own rivers; nor only desert, but plague-struck. The stream
which, rightly directed, would have flowed in soft irrigation from field
to field — would have purified the air, given food to man and beast, and
carried their burdens for them on its bosom — now overwhelms the plain,
and poisons the wind; its breath pestilence, and its work famine. In like
manner this wealth “goes where it is required.” No human laws can withstand
its flow. They can only guide it: but this, the leading trench and limiting
mound can do so thoroughly, that it shall become water of life — the riches
of the hand of wisdom;6 or, on the contrary, by leaving it to its own lawless flow, they may make
it, what it has been too often, the last and deadliest of national plagues:
water of Marah — the water which feeds the roots of all evil.
The necessity of these laws of distribution or restraint is curiously over-looked
in the ordinary political economist’s definition of his own “science.”
He calls it, shortly, the “science of getting rich.” But there are many
sciences, as well as many arts, of getting rich. Poisoning people of large
estates, was one employed largely in the middle ages; adulteration of food
of people of small estates, is one employed largely now. The ancient and
honorable Highland method of blackmail; the more modern and less honorable
system of obtaining goods on credit, and the other variously improved methods
of appropriation — which, in major and minor scales of industry, down to
the most artistic pocket-picking, we owe to recent genius,— all come under
the general head of sciences, or arts, of getting rich.
So that it is clear the popular economist, in calling his science the science par excellence of getting rich, must attach some peculiar ideas of limitation to its character. I hope I do not misrepresent him, by assuming that he means his science to be the science of “getting rich by legal or just means.” In
this definition, is the word “just,” or “legal,” finally to stand? For
it is possible among certain nations, or under certain rulers, or by help
of certain advocates, that proceedings may be legal which are by no means
just. If, therefore, we leave at last only the word “just” in that place
of our definition, the insertion of this solitary and small word will make
a notable difference in the grammar of our science. For then it will follow
that, in order to grow rich scientifically, we must grow rich justly; and,
therefore, know what is just; so that our economy will no longer depend
merely on prudence, but on jurisprudence — and that of divine, not human
law. Which prudence is indeed of no mean order, holding itself, as it were,
high in the air of heaven, and gazing for ever on the light of the sun
of justice; hence the souls which have excelled in it are represented by
Dante as stars forming in heaven for ever the figure of the eye of an eagle:
they having been in life the discerners of light from darkness; or to the
whole human race, as the light of the body, which is the eye; while those
souls which form the wings of the bird (giving power and dominion to justice,
“healing in its wings”) trace also in light the inscription in heaven:
“DILIGITE JUSTITIAM QUI JUDICATIS TERRAM.” “Ye who judge the earth, give”
(not, observe, merely love, but) “diligent love to justice:” the love which
seeks diligently, that is to say, choosingly, and by preference to all
things else. Which judging or doing judgment in the earth is, according
to their capacity and position, required not of judges only, nor of rulers
only, but of all men:7 a truth sorrowfully lost sight of even by those who are ready enough to apply to themselves passages in which Christian men are spoken of as called to be “saints” (i.e., to helpful or healing functions); and “chosen to be kings” (i.e., to knowing or directing functions); the true meaning of these titles
having been long lost through the pretenses of unhelpful and unable persons
to saintly and kingly character; also through the once popular idea that
both the sanctity and royalty are to consist in wearing long robes and
high crowns, instead of in mercy and judgment; whereas all true sanctity
is saving power, as all true royalty is ruling power; and injustice is
part and parcel of the denial of such power, which “makes men as the creeping
things, as the fishes of the sea, that have no ruler over them.”8
Absolute justice is indeed no more attainable than absolute truth; but
the righteous man is distinguished from the unrighteous by his desire and
hope of justice, as the true man from the false by his desire and hope
of truth. And though absolute justice be unattainable, as much justice
as we need for all practical use is attainable by all those who make it
We have to examine, then, in the subject before us, what are the laws of justice respecting payment of labor — no small part, these, of the foundations of all jurisprudence.
I reduced, in my last paper, the idea of money payment to its simplest
or radical terms. In those terms its nature, and the conditions of justice
respecting it, can be best ascertained.
Money payment, as there stated, consists radically in a promise to some
person working for us, that for the time and labor he spends in our service
to-day we will give or procure equivalent time and labor in his service
at any future time when he may demand it.9
If we promise to give him less labor than he has given us, we underpay
him. If we promise to give him more labor than he has given us, we overpay
him. In practice, according to the laws of demand and supply, when two
men are ready to do the work, and only one man wants to have it done, the
two men underbid each other for it; and the one who gets it to do, is underpaid.
But when two men want the work done, and there is only one man ready to
do it, the two men who want it done overbid each other, and the workman
I will examine these two points of injustice in succession; but first I
wish the reader to clearly understand the central principle, lying between
the two, of right or just payment.
When we ask a service of any man, he may either give it us freely, or demand payment for it. Respecting free gift of service, there is no question at present, that being a matter of affection — not of traffic. But if he demand payment for it, and we wish to treat him with absolute equity, it is evident that this equity can only consist in giving time for time, strength for strength, and skill for skill. If a man works an hour for us, and we only promise to work half-an-hour for him in return, we obtain an unjust advantage. If, on the contrary, we promise to work an hour and a half for him in return, he has an unjust advantage. The justice consists in absolute exchange; or, if there be any respect to the stations of the parties, it will not be in favor of the employer; there is certainly no equitable reason in a man’s being poor, that if he give me a pound of bread to-day, I should return him less than a pound of bread to-morrow; or any equitable reason in a man’s being uneducated, that if he uses a certain quantity of skill and knowledge in my service, I should use a less quantity of skill and knowledge in his. Perhaps, ultimately, it may appear desirable, or, to say the least, gracious, that I should give in return somewhat more than I received. But at present, we are concerned on the law of justice only, which is that of perfect and accurate exchange;— one circumstance only interfering with the simplicity of this radical idea of just payment — that inasmuch as labor (rightly directed) is fruitful just as seed is, the fruit (or “interest,” as it is called) of the labor first given, or “advanced,” ought to be taken into account, and balanced by an additional quantity of labor in the subsequent repayment. Supposing the repayment to take place at the end of a year, or of any other given time, this calculation could be approximately made; but as money (that is to say, cash) payment involves no reference to time (it being optional with the person paid to spend what he receives at once or after any number of years), we can only assume, generally, that some slight advantage must in equity be allowed to the person who advances the labor, so that the typical form of bargain will be: If you give me an hour to-day, I will give you an hour and five minutes on demand. If you give me a pound of bread to day, I will give you seventeen ounces on demand, and so on. All that it is necessary for the reader to note is, that the amount returned is at least in equity not to be less than the amount given.
The abstract idea, then, of just or due wages, as respects the laborer,
is that they will consist in a sum of money which will at any time procure
for him at least as much labor as he has given, rather more than less.
And this equity or justice of payment is, observe, wholly independent of
any reference to the number of men who are willing to do the work. I want
a horseshoe for my horse. Twenty smiths, or twenty thousand smiths, may
be ready to forge it; their number does not in one atom’s weight affect
the question of the equitable payment of the one who does forge it. It costs him a quarter of an hour of his life, and so much skill
and strength of arm to make that horseshoe for me. Then at some future
time I am bound in equity to give a quarter of an hour, and some minutes
more, of my life (or of some other person’s at my disposal), and also as
much strength of arm and skill, and a little more, in making or doing what
the smith may have need of.
Such being the abstract theory of just remunerative payment, its application
is practically modified by the fact that the order for labor, given in
payment, is general, while labor received is special. The current coin
or document is practically an order on the nation for so much work of any
kind; and this universal applicability to immediate need renders it so
much more valuable than special labor can be, that an order for a less
quantity of this general toil will always be accepted as a just equivalent
for a greater quantity of special toil. Any given craftsman will always
be willing to give an hour of his own work in order to receive command
over half-an-hour, or even much less, of national work. This source of
uncertainty, together. with the difficulty of determining the monetary
value of skill,10 renders the ascertainment (even approximate) of the proper wages of any given labor in terms of a currency matter of considerable complexity. But they do not affect the principle of exchange. The worth of the work may not be easily known; but it has a worth, just as fixed and real as the specific gravity of a substance, though such specific gravity may not be easily ascertainable when the substance is united with many others. Nor is there so much difficulty or chance in determining it as in determining the ordinary maxima and minima of vulgar political economy. There are few bargains in which the buyer can ascertain with anything like precision that the seller would have taken no less;— or the seller acquire more than a comfortable faith that the purchaser would have given no more. This impossibility of precise knowledge prevents neither from striving to attain the desired point of greatest vexation and injury to the other, nor from accepting it for a scientific principle that he is to buy for the least and sell for the most possible, though what the real least or most may be he cannot tell. In like manner, a just person lays it down for a scientific principle that he is to pay a just price, and, without being able precisely to ascertain the limits of such a price, will nevertheless strive to attain the closest possible approximation to them. A practically serviceable approximation he can obtain. It is easier to determine scientifically what a man ought to have
for his work, than what his necessities will compel him to take for it.
His necessities can only be ascertained by empirical, but his due by analytical,
investigation. In the one case, you try your answer to the sum like a puzzled
schoolboy — till you find one that fits; in the other, you bring out your
result within certain limits, by process of calculation.
Supposing, then, the just wages of any quantity of given labor to have
been ascertained, let us examine the first results of just and unjust payment,
when in favor of the purchaser or employer; i.e., when two men are ready to do the work, and only one wants to have it
The unjust purchaser forces the two to bid against each other till he has
reduced their demand to its lowest terms. Let us assume that the lowest
bidder offers to do the work at half its just price.
The purchaser employs him, and does not employ the other. The first or apparent result is, therefore, that one of the two men is left out of employ, or to starvation, just as definitely as by the just procedure of giving fair price to the best workman. The various writers who endeavored to invalidate the positions of my first paper never saw this, and assumed that the unjust hirer employed both. He employs both no more than the just hirer. The only difference (in
the outset) is that the just man pays sufficiently, the unjust man insufficiently,
for the labor of the single person employed.
I say, “in the outset;” for this first or apparent difference is not the
actual difference. By the unjust procedure, half the proper price of the
work is left in the hands of the employer. This enables him to hire another
man at the same unjust rate, on some other kind of work; and the final
result is that he has two men working for him at half price, and two are
out of employ.
By the just procedure, the whole price of the first piece of work goes in the hands of the man who does it. No surplus being left in the employer’s hands, he cannot hire another man for another piece of labor. But by precisely so
much as his power is diminished, the hired workman’s power is increased;
that is to say, by the additional half of the price he has received; which
additional half he has the power of using to employ another man in his service. I will suppose, for the moment, the least favorable, though quite probable, case — that, though justly treated himself, he yet will act unjustly to his subordinate; and hire at half-price, if he can. The final result will then be, that one man works for the employer, at just price; one for the workman, at half-price; and two, as in the first case, are still out of employ. These two, as I said before, are out of employ in both cases. The difference between the just and unjust procedure does not lie in the number of men hired, but in the price paid to them, and the persons by whom it is paid. The essential difference, that which I want the reader to
see clearly, is, that in the unjust case, two men work for one, the first
hirer. In the just case, one man works for the first hirer, one for the
person hired, and so on, down or up through the various grades of service;
the influence being carried forward by justice, and arrested by injustice.
The universal and constant action of justice in this matter is therefore
to diminish the power of wealth, in the hands of one individual, over masses
of men, and to distribute it through a chain of men. The actual power exerted
by the wealth is the same in both cases; but by injustice it is put all
into one man’s hands, so that he directs at once and with equal force the
labor of a circle of men about him; by the just procedure, he is permitted
to touch the nearest only, through whom, with diminished force, modified
by new minds, the energy of the wealth passes on to others, and so till
it exhausts itself.
The immediate operation of justice in this respect is therefore to diminish the power of wealth, first in acquisition of luxury, and, secondly, in exercise of moral influence. The employer cannot concentrate so multitudinous labor on his own interests, nor can he subdue so multitudinous mind to his own will. But the secondary operation of justice is not less important. The insufficient payment of the group of men working for one, places each under a maximum of difficulty in rising above his position. The tendency of the system is to check advancement. But the sufficient or just payment, distributed through a descending series of offices or grades or labor,11 gives each subordinated person fair and sufficient means of rising in
the social scale, if he chooses to use them; and thus not only diminishes
the immediate power of wealth, but removes the worst disabilities of poverty.
It is on this vital problem that the entire destiny of the laborer is ultimately
dependent. Many minor interests may sometimes appear to interfere with
it, but all branch from it. For instance, considerable agitation is often
caused in the minds of the lower classes when they discover the share which
they nominally, and to all appearance, actually, pay out of their wages
in taxation (I believe thirty-five or forty per cent). This sounds very
grievous; but in reality the laborer does not pay it, but his employer.
If the workman had not to pay it, his wages would be less by just that
sum: competition would still reduce them to the lowest rate at which life
was possible. Similarly the lower orders agitated for the repeal of the
corn laws,12 thinking they would be better off if bread were cheaper; never perceiving
that as soon as bread was permanently cheaper, wages would permanently
fall in precisely that proportion. The corn laws were rightly repealed;
not, however, because they directly oppressed the poor, but because they
indirectly oppressed them in causing a large quantity of their labor to
be consumed unproductively. So also unnecessary taxation oppresses them,
through destruction of capital, but the destiny of the poor depends primarily
always on this one question of dueness of wages. Their distress (irrespectively
of that caused by sloth, minor error, or crime) arises on the grand scale
from the two reacting forces of competition and oppression. There is not
yet, nor will yet for ages be, any real over-population in the world; but
a local over-population, or, more accurately, a degree of population locally
unmanageable under existing circumstances for want of forethought and sufficient
machinery, necessarily shows itself by pressure of competition; and the
taking advantage of this competition by the purchaser to obtain their labor
unjustly cheap, consummates at once their suffering and his own; for in
this (as I believe in every other kind of slavery) the oppressor suffers
at last more than the oppressed, and those magnificent lines of Pope, even
in all their force, fall short of the truth—
“Yet, to be just to these poor men of pelf,
Each does but HATE HIS NEIGHBOR AS HIMSELF:
Damned to the mines, an equal fate betides
The slave that digs it, and the slave that hides.”
The collateral and reversionary operations of justice in this matter I shall examine hereafter (it being needful first to define the nature of value); proceeding then to consider within what practical terms a juster system may be established; and ultimately the vexed question of the destinies of the unemployed workmen.13 Lest, however, the reader should be alarmed at some of the issues to which
our investigations seem to be tending, as if in their bearing against the
power of wealth they had something in common with those of socialism, I
wish him to know in accurate terms, one or two of the main points which
I have in view.
Whether socialism has made more progress among the army and navy (where payment is made on my principles), or among the manufacturing operatives (who are paid on my opponents’ principles), I leave it to those opponents to ascertain and declare. Whatever their conclusion may be, I think it necessary to answer for myself only this: that if there be any one point insisted on throughout my works more frequently than another, that one point is the impossibility of Equality. My continual aim has been to show the eternal superiority of some men to others, sometimes even of one man to all others; and to show also the advisability of appointing such persons or person to guide, to lead, or on occasion even to compel and subdue, their inferiors, according to their own better knowledge and wiser will. My principles of Political Economy were all involved in a single phrase spoken three years ago at Manchester. “Soldiers of the Ploughshare as well as soldiers of the Sword:” and they were all summed in a single sentence in the last volume of Modern Painters — “Government and co-operation are in all things the Laws of Life; Anarchy
and competition the Laws of Death.”
And with respect to the mode in which these general principles affect the
secure possession of property, so far am I from invalidating such security,
that the whole gist of these papers will be found ultimately to aim at
an extension in its range; and whereas it has long been known and declared
that the poor have no right to the property of the rich, I wish it also
to be known and declared that the rich have no right to the property of
But that the working of the system which I have undertaken to develop would in many ways shorten the apparent and direct, though not the unseen and collateral, power, both of wealth, as the Lady of Pleasure, and of capital as the Lord of Toil, I do not deny: on the contrary, I affirm it in all joyfulness; knowing that the attraction of riches is already too strong, as their authority is already too weighty, for the reason of mankind. I said in my last paper that nothing in history had ever been so disgraceful to human intellect as the acceptance among us of the common doctrines of political economy as a science. I have many grounds for saying this, but one of the chief may be given in few words. I know no previous instance in history of a nation’s establishing a systematic disobedience to the first principles of its professed religion. The writings which we (verbally) esteem as divine, not only denounce the love of money as the source of all evil, and as an idolatry abhorred of the Deity, but declare mammon service to be the accurate and irreconcilable opposite of God’s service: and, whenever they speak of riches absolute, and poverty absolute, declare woe to the rich, and blessing to the poor. Whereupon we forthwith investigate a science of becoming rich as the shortest road to national prosperity.
“Tai Cristian dannera l’Etiope,
Quando si partiranno i due collegi,
L’UNO IN ETERNO RICCO, E L’ALTRO INOPE.”
(Thus the Christian will condemn the Ethiopian,
when the two colleagues shall separate,
the one eternally rich, the other forever poor.)
4. More accurately, Sun of Justness; but, instead of the harsh word “Justness,”
the old English “Righteousness” being commonly employed, has, by getting
confused with “godliness,” or attracting about it various vague and broken
meanings. prevented most persons from receiving the force of the passages
in which it occurs. The word “righteousness” properly refers to the justice
of rule, or right, as distinguished from “equity,” which refers to the
justice of balance. More broadly, Righteousness is King’s justice; and
Equity, Judge’s justice; the King guiding or ruling all, the Judge dividing
or discerning between opposites (therefore the double question, “Man, who
made me a ruler — δικαστης
— or a divider — μεριστης — over
you?”) Thus, with respect to the Justice of Choice (selection, the feebler
and passive justice), we have from lego, — lex, legal, loi, and loyal;
and with respect to the Justice of Rule (direction, the stronger and active
justice), we have from rego, — rex, regal, roi, and royal.
5. In another place written with the same meaning, “Just, and having salvation.”
6. “Length of days in her right hand; in her left, riches and honor.”
7. I hear that several of our lawyers have been greatly amused by the statement in the first of these papers that a lawyer’s function was to do justice. I do not intend it for a jest; nevertheless it will be seen that in the above passage neither the determination nor doing of justice are contemplated as functions wholly peculiar to the lawyer. Possibly, the more our standing armies, whether of soldiers, pastors, or legislators (the generic term “pastor” including all teachers, and the generic term “lawyer” including makers as well as interpreters of law), can be superseded by the force of national heroism, wisdom, and honesty, the better it may be for the nation.
8. It being the privilege of the fishes, as it is of rats and wolves, to
live by the laws of demand and supply; but the distinction of humanity,
to live by those of right.
9. It might appear at first that the market price of labor expressed such
an exchange: but this is a fallacy, for the market price is the momentary
price of the kind of labor required, but the just price is its equivalent
of the productive labor of mankind. This difference will be analyzed in
its place. It must be noted, also, that I speak here only of the exchangeable
value of labor, not of that of commodities. The exchangeable value of a
commodity is that of the labor required to produce it, multiplied into
the force of the demand for it. If the value of the labor = x and the force of demand = y, the exchangeable value of the commodity is x y, in which if either x = 0, or y = 0, xy = 0.
10. Under the term “skill” I mean to include the united force of experience,
intellect, and passion in their operation on manual labor; and under the
term “passion,” to include the entire range and agency of the moral feelings;
from the simple patience and gentleness of mind which will give continuity
and fineness to the touch, or enable one person to work without fatigue,
and with good effect, twice as long as another, up to the qualities of
character which renders science possible — (the retardation of science
by envy is one of the most tremendous losses in the economy of the present
century) — and to the incommunicable emotion and imagination which are
the first and mightiest sources of all value in art.
It is highly singular that political economists should not yet have perceived, if not the moral, at least the passionate element, to be an inextricable quantity in every calculation. I cannot conceive, for instance, how it was possible that Mr. Mill should have followed the true clue so far as to write,— “No limit can be set to the importance — even in a purely productive and material point of view — of mere thought,” without seeing that it was logically necessary to add also, “and of mere feeling.” And this the more, because in his first definition of labor he includes in the idea of it “all feelings of a disagreeable kind connected with the employment of one’s thoughts in a particular occupation.” True; but why not also, “feelings of an agreeable kind?” It can hardly be supposed that the feelings which retard labor are more essentially a part of the labor than those which accelerate it. The first are paid for as pain, the second as power. The workman is merely indemnified for the first; but the second both produce a part of the exchangeable value of the work, and materially increase its actual quantity.
“Fritz is with us. He is worth fifty thousand men.” Truly, a large addition to the material force;— consisting, however, be it observed, not more in operations carried on in Fritz’s head, than in operations carried on in his armies’ heart. “No limit can be set to the importance of mere thought.” Perhaps not! Nay, suppose some day it should turn out that “mere”
thought was in itself a recommendable object of production, and that all
Material production was only a step towards this more precious Immaterial
11. I am sorry to lose time by answering, however curtly, the equivocations of the writers who sought to obscure the instances given of regulated labor in the first of these papers, by confusing kinds, ranks, and quantities of labor with its qualities. I never said that a colonel should have the same pay as a private, nor a bishop the same pay as a curate. Neither did I say that more work ought to be paid as less work (so that the curate of a parish of two thousand souls should have no more than the curate of a parish of five hundred). But I said that, so far as you employ it at all, bad work should be paid no less than good work; as a bad clergyman yet takes his tithes, a bad physician takes his fee, and a bad lawyer his costs. And this, as will be farther shown in the conclusion, I said, and say, partly because the best work never was, nor ever will be, done for money at all; but chiefly because, the moment people know they have to pay the bad and good alike, they will try to discern the one from the other, and not use the bad. A sagacious writer in the Scotsman asks me if I should like any common scribbler to be paid by Messrs. Smith, Elder & Co. as their good authors are. I should, if they employed him — but would seriously recommend them, for the scribbler’s sake, as well as their own, not to employ him. The quantity of its money which the country at present
invests in scribbling is not, in the outcome of it, economically spent;
and even the highly ingenious person to whom this question occurred, might
perhaps have been more beneficially employed than in printing it.
12. I have to acknowledge an interesting communication on the subject of free trade from Paisley (for a short letter from “A Well-wisher” at —, my thanks are yet more due). But the Scottish writer will, I fear, be disagreeably surprised to hear, that I am, and always have been, an utterly fearless and unscrupulous free-trader. Seven years ago, speaking of the various signs of infancy in the European mind (Stones of Venice, vol. iii. p. 168), I wrote: “The first principles of commerce were acknowledged by the English parliament only a few months ago, in its free-trade measures, and are still so little understood by the million, that no nation dares to abolish its custom-houses.”
It will be observed that I do not admit even the idea of reciprocity. Let
other nations, if they like, keep their ports shut; every wise nation will
throw its own open. It is not the opening them, but a sudden, inconsiderate,
and blunderingly experimental manner of opening them, which does the harm.
If you have been protecting a manufacture for long series of years, you
must not take the protection off in a moment, so as to throw every one
of its operatives at once out of employ, any more than you must take all
its wrappings off a feeble child at once in cold weather, though the cumber
of them may have been radically injuring its health. Little by little,
you must restore it to freedom and to air.
Most people’s minds are in curious confusion on the subject of free trade,
because they suppose it to imply enlarged competition. On the contrary,
free trade puts an end to all competition. “Protection” (among various
other mischievous functions,) endeavors to enable one country to compete
with any other in the production of an article at a disadvantage. When
trade is entirely free, no country can be competed with in the articles
for the production of which it is naturally calculated; nor can it compete
with any other, in the production of articles for which it is not naturally
calculated. Tuscany, for instance, cannot compete with England in steel,
nor England with Tuscany in oil. They must exchange their steel and oil.
Which exchange should be as frank and free as honesty and the sea-winds
can make it. Competition, indeed, arises at first, and sharply, in order
to prove which is strongest in any given manufacture possible to both;
this point once ascertained, competition is at an end.
13. I should be glad if the reader would first clear the ground for himself so far as to determine whether the difficulty lies in getting the work or getting the pay for it. Does he consider occupation itself to be an expensive luxury, difficult of attainment, of which too little is to be found in the world? or is it rather that, while in the enjoyment even of the most athletic delight, men must nevertheless be maintained, and this maintenance is not always forthcoming? We must be clear on this head before going farther, as most people are loosely in the habit of talking of the difficulty of “finding employment.” Is it employment that we want to find, or support during employment? Is it idleness we wish to put an end to, or hunger? We have to take up both questions in succession, only not both at the same time. No doubt that work is a luxury, and a very great one. It is, indeed, at once a luxury and a
necessity; no man can retain either health of mind or body without it.
So profoundly do I feel this, that, as will be seen in the sequel, one
of the principal objects I would recommend to benevolent and practical
persons, is to induce rich people to seek for a larger quantity of this
luxury than they at present possess. Nevertheless, it appears by experience
that even this healthiest of pleasures may be indulged in to excess, and
that human beings are just as liable to surfeit of labor as to surfeit
of meat; so that, as on the one hand, it may be charitable to provide,
for some people, lighter dinner, and more work, for others, it may be equally
expedient to provide lighter work, and more dinner.
We saw that just payment of labor consisted in a sum of money which would
approximately obtain equivalent labor at a future time: we have now to
examine the means of obtaining such equivalence. Which question involves
the definition of Value, Wealth, Price, and Produce.
None of these terms are yet defined so as to be understood by the public.
But the last, Produce, which one might have thought the clearest of all,
is, in use, the most ambiguous; and the examination of the kind of ambiguity
attendant on its present employment will best open the way to our work.
In his chapter on Capital,14 Mr. J.S. Mill instances, as a capitalist, a hardware manufacturer, who,
having intended to spend a certain portion of the proceeds of his business
in buying plate and jewels, changes his mind, and, “pays it as wages to
additional workpeople.” The effect is stated by Mr. Mill to be, that “more
food is appropriated to the consumption of productive laborers.”
Now I do not ask, though, had I written this paragraph, it would surely have been asked of me, What is to become of the silversmiths? If they are truly unproductive persons, we will acquiesce in their extinction. And though in another part of the same passage, the hardware merchant is supposed also to dispense with a number of servants, whose “food is thus set free for productive purposes,” I do not inquire what will be the effect, painful or otherwise, upon the servants, of this emancipation of their food. But I very seriously inquire why ironware is produce, and silverware is not? That the merchant consumes the one, and sells the other, certainly does not constitute the difference, unless it can be shown (which, indeed, I perceive it to be becoming daily more and more the aim of tradesmen to show) that commodities are made to be sold, and not to be consumed. The merchant is an agent of conveyance to the consumer in one case, and is himself the consumer in the other:15 but the laborers are in either case equally productive, since they have produced goods to the same value, if the hardware and the plate are both goods.
And what distinction separates them? It is indeed possible that in the
“comparative estimate of the moralist,” with which Mr. Mill says political
economy has nothing to do (III. i. 2), a steel fork might appear a more
substantial production than a silver one: we may grant also that knives,
no less than forks, are good produce; and scythes and ploughshares serviceable
articles. But, how of bayonets? Supposing the hardware merchant to effect
large sales of these, by help of the “setting free” of the food of his
servants and his silversmith,— is he still employing productive laborers,
or, in Mr. Mill’s words, laborers who increase “the stock of permanent
means of enjoyment” (I. iii. 4)? Or if, instead of bayonets, he supply
bombs, will not the absolute and final “enjoyment” of even these energetically
productive articles (each of which costs ten pounds16) be dependent on a proper choice of time and place for their enfantement;
choice, that is to say, depending on those philosophical considerations
with which political economy has nothing to do?17
I should have regretted the need of pointing out inconsistency in any portion
of Mr. Mill’s work, had not the value of his work proceeded from its inconsistencies.
He deserves honor among economists by inadvertently disclaiming the principles
which he states, and tacitly introducing the moral considerations with
which he declares his science has no connection. Many of his chapters are,
therefore, true and valuable; and the only conclusions of his which I have
to dispute are those which follow from his premises.
Thus, the idea which lies at the root of the passage we have just been examining, namely, that labor applied to produce luxuries will not support so many persons as labor applied to produce useful articles, is entirely true; but the instance given fails — and in four directions of failure at once — because Mr. Mill has not defined the real meaning of usefulness. The definition which he has given — “capacity to satisfy a desire, or serve a purpose” (III. i. 2) — applies equally to the iron and silver. while the true definition which he has not given, but which nevertheless underlies the false verbal definition in his mind, and comes out once or twice by accident (as in the words “any support to life or strength” in I. iii. 5) — applies to some articles of iron, but not to others, and to some articles of silver, but not to others. It applies to ploughs, but not to bayonets; and to forks, but not to filigree.18
The eliciting of the true definitions will give us the reply to our first
question, “What is value?” respecting which, however, we must first hear
the popular statements.
“The word ‘value,’ when used without adjunct, always means, in political
economy, value in exchange” (Mill, III. i. 2). So that, if two ships cannot
exchange their rudders, their rudders are, in politico-economic language,
of no value to either.
But “the subject of political economy is wealth.”— (Preliminary remarks,
And wealth “consists of all useful and agreeable objects which possess
exchangeable value.”— (Preliminary remarks, page 10.)
It appears, then, according to Mr. Mill, that usefulness and agreeableness
underlie the exchange value, and must be ascertained to exist in the thing,
before we can esteem it an object of wealth.
Now, the economical usefulness of a thing depends not merely on its own
nature, but on the number of people who can and will use it. A horse is
useless, and therefore unsaleable, if no one can ride,— a sword, if no
one can strike, and meat, if no one can eat. Thus every material utility
depends on its relative human capacity.
Similarly: The agreeableness of a thing depends not merely on its own likeableness, but on the number of people who can be got to like it. The relative agreeableness, and therefore saleableness, of “a pot of the smallest ale,” and of “Adonis painted by a running brook,” depends virtually on the opinion of Demos, in the shape of Christopher Sly. That is to say, the agreeableness of a thing depends on its relatively human disposition.19 Therefore, political economy, being a science of wealth, must be a science
respecting human capacities and dispositions. But moral considerations
have nothing to do with political economy (III. i. 2). Therefore, moral
considerations have nothing to do with human capacities and dispositions.
I do not wholly like the look of this conclusion from Mr. Mill’s statements:—
let us try Mr. Ricardo’s.
“Utility is not the measure of exchangeable value, though it is absolutely
essential to it.”— (Chap. I. sect. i) essential in what degree, Mr. Ricardo?
There may be greater and less degrees of utility. Meat, for instance, may
be so good as to be fit for any one to eat, or so bad as to be fit for
no one to eat. What is the exact degree of goodness which is “essential”
to its exchangeable value, but not “the measure” of it? How good must the
meat be, in order to possess any exchangeable value; and how bad must it
be — (I wish this were a settled question in London markets) — in order
to possess none?
There appears to be some hitch, I think, in the working even of Mr. Ricardo’s
principles; but let him take his own example. “Suppose that in the early
stages of society the bows and arrows of the hunter were of equal value
with the implements of the fisherman. Under such circumstances the value
of the deer, the produce of the hunter’s day’s labor, would be exactly
equal to the value of the fish, the product of the fisherman’s day’s labor,
The comparative value of the fish and game would be entirely regulated
by the quantity of labor realized in each.” (Ricardo, chap. iii. On Value).
Indeed! Therefore, if the fisherman catches one sprat, and the huntsman
one deer, one sprat will be equal in value to one deer; but if the fisherman
catches no sprat, and the huntsman two deer, no sprat will be equal in
value to two deer?
Nay but — Mr. Ricardo’s supporters may say — he means, on an average, —
if the average product of a day’s work of fisher and hunter be one fish
and one deer, the one fish will always be equal in value to the one deer.
Might I inquire the species of fish? Whale? or white-bait?20
It would be waste of time to purpose these fallacies farther; we will seek
for a true definition.
Much store has been set for centuries upon the use of our English classical education. It were to be wished that our well-educated merchants recalled to mind always this much of their Latin schooling,— that the nominative of valorem (a word already sufficiently familiar to them) is valor; a word which, therefore, ought to be familiar to them. Valor, from valere, to be well or strong;— strong, life (if a man), or valiant; strong, for
life (if a thing), or valuable. To be “valuable,” therefore, is to “avail
towards life.” A truly valuable or availing thing is that which leads to
life with its whole strength. In proportion as it does not lead to life,
or as its strength is broken, it is less valuable; in proportion as it
leads away from life, it is unvaluable or malignant.
The value of a thing, therefore, is independent of opinion, and of quantity.
Think what you will of it, gain how much you may of it, the value of the
thing itself is neither greater nor less. For ever it avails, or avails
not; no estimate can raise, no disdain repress, the power which it holds
from the Maker of things and of men.
The real science of political economy, which has yet to be distinguished
from the bastard science, as medicine from witchcraft, and astronomy from
astrology, is that which teaches nations to desire and labor for the things
that lead to life: and which teaches them to scorn and destroy the things
that lead to destruction. And if, in a state of infancy, they supposed
indifferent things, such as excrescences of shell-fish, and pieces of blue
and red stone, to be valuable, and spent large measures of the labor which
ought to be employed for the extension and ennobling of life, in diving
or digging for them, and cutting them into various shapes, or if, in the
same state of infancy, they imagine precious and beneficent things, such
as air, light, and cleanliness, to be valueless,— or if, finally, they
imagine the conditions of their own existence, by which alone they can
truly possess or use anything, such, for instance, as peace, trust, and
love, to be prudently exchangeable, when the markets offer, for gold, iron,
or excrescences of shells — the great and only science of Political Economy
teaches them, in all these cases, what is vanity, and what substance; and
how the service of Death, the lord of Waste, and of eternal emptiness,
differs from the service of Wisdom, the lady of Saving, and of eternal
fullness; she who has said, “I will cause those that love me to inherit
SUBSTANCE; and I will FILL their treasures.” [Proverbs viii. 21.]
The “Lady of Saving,” in a profounder sense than that of the savings bank,
though that is a good one: Madonna della Salute,— Lady of Health,— which,
though commonly spoken of as if separate from wealth, is indeed a part
of wealth. This word, “wealth,” it will be remembered, is the next we have
“To be wealthy” says Mr. Mill, “is to have a large stock of useful articles.”
I accept this definition. Only let us perfectly understand it. My opponents
often lament my not giving them enough logic: I fear I must at present
use a little more than they will like: but this business of Political Economy
is no light one, and we must allow no loose terms in it.
We have, therefore, to ascertain in the above definition, first, what is
the meaning of “having,” or the nature of Possession. Then what is the
meaning of “useful,” or the nature of Utility.
And first of possession. At the crossing of the transepts of Milan Cathedral
has lain, for three hundred years, the embalmed body of St. Carlo Borromeo.
It holds a golden crosier, and has a cross of emeralds on its breast. Admitting
the crosier and emeralds to be useful articles, is the body to be considered
as “having” them? Do they, in the politico-economical sense of property,
belong to it? If not, and if we may, therefore, conclude generally that
a dead body cannot possess property, what degree and period of animation
in the body will render possession possible?
As thus: lately in a wreck of a Californian ship, one of the passengers
fastened a belt about him with two hundred pounds of gold in it, with which
he was found afterwards at the bottom. Now, as he was sinking — had he
the gold? or had the gold him?21
And if, instead of sinking him in the sea by its weight, the gold had struck
him on the forehead, and thereby caused incurable disease — suppose palsy
or insanity,— would the gold in that case have been more a “possession”
than in the first? Without pressing the inquiry up through instances of
gradually increasing vital power over the gold (which I will, however,
give, if they are asked for), I presume the reader will see that possession,
or “having,” is not an absolute, but a gradated, power; and consists not
only in the quantity or nature of the thing possessed, but also (and in
a greater degree) in its suitableness to the person possessing it and in
his vital power to use it.
And our definition of Wealth, expanded, becomes: “The possession of useful articles, which we can use.” This is a very serious change. For wealth, instead of depending merely on a “have,” is thus seen to depend on a “can.” Gladiator’s death, on a “habet;” but soldier’s victory, and State’s salvation, on a “quo plurimum posset.” (Liv. VII. 6.) And what we reasoned of only as accumulation of material,
is seen to demand also accumulation of capacity.
So much for our verb. Next for our adjective. What is the meaning of “useful”?
The inquiry is closely connected with the last. For what is capable of
use in the hands of some persons, is capable, in the hands of others, of
the opposite of use, called commonly “from-use,” or “ab-use.” And it depends
on the person, much more than on the article, whether its usefulness or
ab-usefulness will be the quality developed in it. Thus, wine, which the
Greeks, in their Bacchus, made rightly the type of all passion, and which,
when used, “cheereth god and man” (that is to say, strengthens both the
divine life, or reasoning power, and the earthy, or carnal power, of man);
yet, when abused, becomes “Dionysos,” hurtful especially to the divine
part of man, or reason. And again, the body itself, being equally liable
to use and to abuse, and, when rightly disciplined, serviceable to the
State, both for war and labor,— but when not disciplined, or abused, valueless
to the State, and capable only of continuing the private or single existence
of the individual (and that but feebly) — the Greeks called such a body
an “idiotic” or “private” body, from their word signifying a person employed
in no way directly useful to the State; whence finally, our “idiot,” meaning
a person entirely occupied with his own concerns.
Hence, it follows that if a thing is to be useful, it must be not only
of an availing nature, but in availing hands. Or, in accurate terms, usefulness
is value in the hands of the valiant; so that this science of wealth being,
as we have just seen, when regarded as the science of Accumulation, accumulative
of capacity as well as of material,— when regarded as the Science of Distribution,
is distribution not absolute, but discriminate; not of every thing to every
man, but of the right thing to the right man. A difficult science, dependent
on more than arithmetic.
Wealth, therefore, is “THE POSSESSION OF THE VALUABLE BY THE VALIANT;”
and in considering it as a power existing in a nation, the two elements,
the value of the thing, and the valor of its possessor, must be estimated
together. Whence it appears that many of the persons commonly considered
wealthy, are in reality no more wealthy than the locks of their own strong
boxes are, they being inherently and eternally incapable of wealth; and
operating for the nation, in an economical point of view, either as pools
of dead water, and eddies in a stream (which, so long as the stream flows,
are useless, or serve only to drown people, but may become of importance
in a state of stagnation should the stream dry); or else, as dams in a
river, of which the ultimate service depends not on the dam, but the miller;
or else, as mere accidental stays and impediments, acting not as wealth,
but (for we ought to have a correspondent term) as “illth,” causing various
devastation and trouble around them in all directions; or lastly, act not
at all, but are merely animated conditions of delay, (no use being possible
of anything they have until they are dead,) in which last condition they
are nevertheless often useful as delays, and “impedimenta,” if a nation
is apt to move too fast.
This being so, the difficulty of the true science of Political Economy
lies not merely in the need of developing manly character to deal with
material value, but in the fact, that while the manly character and material
value only form wealth by their conjunction, they have nevertheless a mutually
destructive operation on each other. For the manly character is apt to
ignore, or even cast away, the material value:— whence that of Pope:—
“Sure, of qualities demanding praise,
More go to ruin fortunes, than to raise.”
And on the other hand, the material value is apt to undermine the manly
character; so that it must be our work, in the issue, to examine what evidence
there is of the effect of wealth on the minds of its possessors; also,
what kind of person it is who usually sets himself to obtain wealth, and
succeeds in doing so; and whether the world owes more gratitude to rich
or to poor men, either for their moral influence upon it, or for chief
goods, discoveries, and practical advancements. I may, however, anticipate
future conclusions, so far as to state that in a community regulated only
by laws of demand and supply, but protected from open violence, the persons
who become rich are, generally speaking, industrious, resolute, proud,
covetous, prompt, methodical, sensible, unimaginative, insensitive, and
ignorant. The persons who remain poor are the entirely foolish, the entirely
wise,22 the idle, the reckless, the humble, the thoughtful, the dull, the imaginative,
the sensitive, the well-informed, the improvident, the irregularly and
impulsively wicked, the clumsy knave, the open thief, and the entirely
merciful, just, and godly person.
Thus far, then, of wealth. Next, we have to ascertain the nature of PRICE;
that is to say, of exchange value, and its expression by currencies.
Note first, of exchange, there can be no profit in it. It is only in labor there can be profit — that is to say, a “making in advance,” or “making in favor of” (from proficio). In exchange, there is only advantage, i.e., a bringing of vantage or power to the exchanging persons. Thus, one man,
by sowing and reaping, turns one measure of corn into two measures. That
is Profit. Another, by digging and forging, turns one spade into two spades.
That is Profit. But the man who has two measures of corn wants sometimes
to dig; and the man who has two spades wants sometimes to eat: They exchange
the gained grain for the gained tool; and both are the better for the exchange;
but though there is much advantage in the transaction, there is no profit.
Nothing is constructed or produced. Only that which had been before constructed
is given to the person by whom it can be used. If labor is necessary to
effect the exchange, that labor is in reality involved in the production,
and, like all other labor, bears profit. Whatever number of men are concerned
in the manufacture, or in the conveyance, have share in the profit; but
neither the manufacture nor the conveyance are the exchange, and in the
exchange itself there is no profit.
There may, however, be acquisition, which is a very different thing. If,
in the exchange, one man is able to give what cost him little labor for
what has cost the other much, he “acquires” a certain quantity of the produce
of the other’s labor. And precisely what he acquires, the other loses.
In mercantile language, the person who thus acquires is commonly said to
have “made a profit;” and I believe that many of our merchants are seriously
under the impression that it is possible for everybody, somehow, to make
a profit in this manner. Whereas, by the unfortunate constitution of the
world we live in, the laws both of matter and motion have quite rigorously
forbidden universal acquisition of this kind. Profit, or material gain,
is attainable only by construction or by discovery; not by exchange. Whenever
material gain follows exchange, for every plus there is a precisely equal
Unhappily for the progress of the science of Political Economy, the plus
quantities, or,— if I may be allowed to coin an awkward plural — the pluses,
make a very positive and venerable appearance in the world, so that every
one is eager to learn the science which produces results so magnificent;
whereas the minuses have, on the other hand, a tendency to retire into
back streets, and other places of shade,— or even to get themselves wholly
and finally put out of sight in graves: which renders the algebra of this
science peculiar, and difficultly legible; a large number of its negative
signs being written by the account-keeper in a kind of red ink, which starvation
thins, and makes strangely pale, or even quite invisible ink, for the present.
The Science of Exchange, or, as I hear it has been proposed to call it, of “Catallactics,” considered as one of gain, is, therefore, simply nugatory; but considered as one of acquisition, it is a very curious science, differing in its data and basis from every other science known. Thus:— if I can exchange a needle with a savage for a diamond, my power of doing so depends either on the savage’s ignorance of social arrangements in Europe, or on his want of power to take advantage of them, by selling the diamond to any one else for more needles. If, farther, I make the bargain as completely advantageous to myself as possible, by giving to the savage a needle with no eye in it (reaching, thus a sufficiently satisfactory type of the perfect operation of catallactic science), the advantage to me in the entire transaction depends wholly upon the ignorance, powerlessness, or heedlessness of the person dealt with. Do away with these, and catallactic advantage becomes impossible. So far, therefore, as the science of exchange relates to the advantage of one of the exchanging persons only, it is founded on the ignorance or incapacity of the opposite person. Where these vanish, it also vanishes. It is therefore a science founded on nescience, and an art founded on artlessness. But all other sciences and arts, except this, have for their object the doing away with their opposite nescience and artlessness. This science, alone of sciences, must, by all available means, promulgate and prolong its opposite nescience; otherwise the science itself is impossible. It is, therefore, peculiarly and alone the science of darkness; probably a bastard science — not by any means a divina scientia, but one begotten of another father, that father who, advising his children
to turn stones into bread, is himself employed in turning bread into stones,
and who, if you ask a fish of him (fish not being producible on his estate),
can but give you a serpent.
The general law, then, respecting just or economical exchange, is simply
this:— There must be advantage on both sides (or if only advantage on one,
at least no disadvantage on the other) to the persons exchanging; and just
payment for his time, intelligence, and labor, to any intermediate person
effecting the transaction (commonly called a merchant); and whatever advantage
there is on either side, and whatever pay is given to the intermediate
person, should be thoroughly known to all concerned. All attempt at concealment
implies some practice of the opposite, or undivine science, founded on
nescience. Whence another saying of the Jew merchant’s — “As a nail between
the stone joints, so doth sin stick fast between buying and selling.” Which
peculiar riveting of stone and timber, in men’s dealings with each other,
is again set forth in the house which was to be destroyed — timber and
stones together — when Zechariah’s roll (more probably “curved sword”)
flew over it: “the curse that goeth forth over all the earth upon every
one that stealeth and holdeth himself guiltless,” instantly followed by
the vision of the Great Measure;— the measure “of the injustice of them
in all the earth” (αυτη η αδικια
αυτων εν παση
τη γη ), with the weight of lead for its lid, and the
woman, the spirit of wickedness, within it;— that is to say, Wickedness
hidden by Dullness, and formalized, outwardly, into ponderously established
cruelty. “It shall be set upon its own base in the land of Babel.”23
I have hitherto carefully restricted myself, in speaking of exchange, to the use of the term “advantage;” but that term includes two ideas; the advantage, namely, of getting what we need, and that of getting what we wish for. Three-fourths of the demands existing in the world are romantic; founded on visions, idealisms, hopes, and affections; and the regulation of the purse is, in its essence, regulation of the imagination and the heart. Hence, the right discussion of the nature of price is a very high metaphysical and psychical problem; sometimes to be solved only in a passionate manner, as by David in his counting the price of the water of the well by the gate of Bethlehem; but its first conditions are the following:— The price of anything is the quantity of labor given by the person desiring it, in order to obtain possession of it. This price depends on four variable quantities. A. The quantity of wish the purchaser has for the thing; opposed to a, the quantity of wish the seller has to keep it. B. The quantity of labor the purchaser can afford, to obtain the thing opposed
to b, the quantity of labor the seller can afford, to keep it. These quantities are operative only in excess; i.e., the quantity of wish (A) means the quantity of wish for this thing, above
wish for other things; and the quantity of work (B) means the quantity
which can be spared to get this thing from the quantity needed to get other
Phenomena of price, therefore, are intensely complex, curious, and interesting
— too complex, however, to be examined yet; every one of them, when traced
far enough, showing itself at last as a part of the bargain of the Poor
of the Flock (or “flock of slaughter”), “If ye think good, give ME my price,
and if not, forbear” Zech. xi. 12; but as the price of everything is to
be calculated finally in labor, it is necessary to define the nature of
Labor is the contest of the life of man with an opposite;— the term “life”
including his intellect, soul, and physical power, contending with question,
difficulty, trial, or material force.
Labor is of a higher or lower order, as it includes more or fewer of the
elements of life: and labor of good quality, in any kind, includes always
as much intellect and feeling as will fully and harmoniously regulate the
In speaking of the value and price of labor, it is necessary always to understand labor of a given rank and quality, as we should speak of gold or silver of a given standard. Bad (that is, heartless, inexperienced, or senseless) labor cannot be valued; it is like gold of uncertain alloy, or flawed iron.24
The quality and kind of labor being given, its value, like that of all
other valuable things, is invariable. But the quantity of it which must
be given for other things is variable: and in estimating this variation,
the price of other things must always be counted by the quantity of labor;
not the price of labor by the quantity of other things.
Thus, if we want to plant an apple sapling in rocky ground, it may take
two hours’ work; in soft ground, perhaps only half an hour. Grant the soil
equally good for the tree in each case. Then the value of the sapling planted
by two hours’ work is nowise greater than that of the sapling planted in
half an hour. One will bear no more fruit than the other. Also, one half-hour
of work is as valuable as another half-hour; nevertheless the one sapling
has cost four such pieces of work, the other only one. Now the proper statement
of this fact is, not that the labor on the hard ground is cheaper than
on the soft; but that the tree is dearer. The exchange value may, or may
not, afterwards depend on this fact. If other people have plenty of soft
ground to plant in, they will take no cognizance of our two hours’ labor,
in the price they will offer for the plant on the rock. And if, through
want of sufficient botanical science, we have planted an upas tree instead
of an apple, the exchange-value will be a negative quantity; still less
proportionate to the labor expended.
What is commonly called cheapness of labor, signifies, therefore, in reality,
that many obstacles have to be overcome by it; so that much labor is required
to produce a small result. But this should never be spoken of as cheapness
of labor, but as dearness of the object wrought for. It would be just as
rational to say that walking was cheap, because we had ten miles to walk
home to our dinner, as that labor was cheap, because we had to work ten
hours to earn it.
The last word which we have to define is “Production.”
I have hitherto spoken of all labor as profitable; because it is impossible to consider under one head the quality or value of labor, and its aim. But labor of the best quality may be various in aim. It may be either constructive (“gathering” from con and struo), as agriculture; nugatory, as jewel-cutting; or destructive (“scattering,” from de and struo), as war. It is not, however, always easy to prove labor, apparently nugatory, to be actually so;25 generally, the formula holds good: “he that gathereth not, scattereth;” thus, the jeweller’s art is probably very harmful in its ministering to a clumsy and inelegant pride. So that, finally, I believe nearly all labor may be shortly divided into positive and negative labor: positive, that which produces life; negative, that which produces death; the most directly negative labor being murder, and the most directly positive, the bearing and rearing of children; so that in the precise degree in which murder is hateful, on the negative side of idleness, in the exact degree child-rearing is admirable, on the positive side of idleness. For which reason, and because of the honor that there is in rearing children,26 while the wife is said to be as the vine (for cheering), the children
are as the olive branch, for praise: nor for praise only, but for peace
(because large families can only be reared in times of peace): though since,
in their spreading and voyaging in various directions, they distribute
strength, they are, to the home strength, as arrives in the hand of the
giant — striking here, and there far away.
Labor being thus various in its result, the prosperity of any nation is in exact proportion to the quantity of labor which it spends in obtaining and employing means of life. Observe,— I say, obtaining and employing; that is to say, not merely wisely producing, but wisely distributing and consuming. Economists usually speak as if there were no good in consumption absolute.27 So far from this being so, consumption absolute is the end, crown, and
perfection of production; and wise consumption is a far more difficult
art than wise production. Twenty people can gain money for one who can
use it; and the vital question, for individual and for nation, is, never
“how much do they make?” but “to what purpose do they spend?”
The reader may, perhaps, have been surprised at the slight reference I
have hitherto made to “capital,” and its functions. It is here the place
to define them.
Capital signifies “head, or source, or root material” — it is material by which some derivative or secondary good is produced. It is only capital proper (caput vivum, not caput mortuum) when it is thus producing something different from itself. It is a root,
which does not enter into vital function till it produces something else
than a root: namely, fruit. That fruit will in time again produce roots;
and so all living capital issues in reproduction of capital; but capital
which produces nothing but capital is only root producing root; bulb issuing
in bulb, never in tulip; seed issuing in seed, never in bread. The Political
Economy of Europe has hitherto devoted itself wholly to the multiplication,
or (less even) the aggregation, of bulbs. It never saw, nor conceived,
such a thing as a tulip. Nay, boiled bulbs they might have been — glass
bulbs — Prince Rupert’s drops, consummated in powder (well, if it were
glass-powder and not gunpowder), for any end or meaning the economists
had in defining the laws of aggregation. We will try and get a clearer
notion of them.
The best and simplest general type of capital is a well-made ploughshare. Now, if that ploughshare did nothing but beget other ploughshares, in a polypous manner,— however the great cluster of polypous plough might glitter in the sun, it would have lost its function of capital. It becomes true capital only by another kind of splendor,— when it is seen “splendescere sulco,” to grow bright in the furrow; rather with diminution of its substance,
than addition, by the noble friction. And the true home question, to every
capitalist and to every nation, is not, “how many ploughs have you?” but,
“where are your furrows?” not — “how quickly will this capital reproduce
itself?”— but, “what will it do during reproduction?” What substance will
it furnish, good for life? what work construct, protective of life? if
none, its own reproduction is useless — if worse than none, (for capital
may destroy life as well as support it), its own reproduction is worse
than useless; it is merely an advance from Tisiphone, on mortgage — not
a profit by any means.
Not a profit, as the ancients truly saw, and showed in the type of Ixion;— for capital is the head, or fountain head of wealth — the “well-head” of wealth, as the clouds are the well-heads of rain; but when clouds are without water, and only beget clouds, they issue in wrath at last, instead of rain, and in lightning instead of harvest; whence Ixion is said first to have invited his guests to a banquet, and then made them fall into a pit, (as also Demas’ silver mine); after which, to show the rage of riches passing from lust of pleasure to lust of power, yet power not truly understood, Ixion is said to have desired Juno, and instead, embracing a cloud (or phantasm), to have begotten the Centaurs; the power of mere wealth being, in itself, as the embrace of a shadow,— comfortless, (so also “Ephraim feedeth on wind and followeth after the east wind;” or “that which is not”— Prov. xxiii. 5; and again Dante’s Geryon, the type of avaricious fraud, as he flies, gathers the air up with retractile claws,— “l’aer a se raccolse”28) but in its offspring, a mingling of the brutal with the human nature;
human in sagacity — using both intellect and arrow; but brutal in its body
and hoof, for consuming, and trampling down. For which sin Ixion is at
last bound upon a wheel — fiery and toothed, and rolling perpetually in
the air:— the type of human labor when selfish and fruitless (kept far
into the Middle Ages in their wheels of fortune); the wheel which has in
it no breath or spirit, but is whirled by chance only; whereas of all true
work the Ezekiel vision is true, that the Spirit of the living creature
is in the wheels, and where the angels go, the wheels go by them; but move
This being the real nature of capital, it follows that there are two kinds
of true production, always going on in an active State: one of seed, and
one of food; or production for the Ground, and for the Mouth; both of which
are by covetous persons thought to be production only for the granary;
whereas the function of the granary is but intermediate and conservative,
fulfilled in distribution; else it ends in nothing but mildew, and nourishment
of rats and worms. And since production for the Ground is only useful with
future hope of harvest, all essential production is for the Mouth; and
is finally measured by the mouth; hence, as I said above, consumption is
the crown of production; and the wealth of a nation is only to be estimated
by what it consumes.
The want of any clear sight of this fact is the capital error, issuing
in rich interest and revenue of error among the political economists. Their
minds are continually set on money-gain, not on mouth-gain; and they fall
into every sort of net and snare, dazzled by the coin-glitter as birds
by the fowler’s glass; or rather (for there is not much else like birds
in them) they are like children trying to jump on the heads of their own
shadows; the money-gain being only the shadow of the true gain, which is
The final object of political economy, therefore, is to get good method of consumption, and great quantity of consumption: in other words, to use everything, and to use it nobly, whether it be substance, service, or service perfecting substance. The most curious error in Mr. Mill’s entire work, (provided for him originally by Ricardo,) is his endeavor to distinguish between direct and indirect service, and consequent assertion that a demand for commodities is not demand for labor (I. v. 9, et seq.). He distinguishes between laborers employed to lay out pleasure grounds, and to manufacture velvet; declaring that it makes material difference to the laboring classes in which of these two ways a capitalist spends his money; because the employment of the gardeners is a demand for labor, but the purchase of velvet is not.29 Error colossal, as well as strange. It will, indeed, make a difference to the laborer whether we bid him swing his scythe in the spring winds, or drive the loom in pestilential air; but, so far as his pocket is concerned, it makes, to him absolutely no difference whether we order him to make green velvet, with seed and a scythe, or red velvet, with silk and scissors. Neither does it anywise concern him whether, when the velvet is made, we consume it by walking on it, or wearing it, so long as our consumption of it is wholly selfish. But if our consumption is to be in anywise unselfish, not only our mode of consuming the articles we require interests him, but also the kind of article we require with a view to consumption. As thus (returning for a moment to Mr. Mill’s great hardware theory30): it matters, so far as the laborer’s immediate profit is concerned, not
an iron filing whether I employ him in growing a peach, or forging a bombshell;
but my probable mode of consumption of those articles matters seriously.
Admit that it is to be in both cases “unselfish,” and the difference, to
him, is final, whether when his child is ill, I walk into his cottage and
give it the peach, or drop the shell down his chimney, and blow his roof
The worst of it, for the peasant, is, that the capitalist’s consumption of the peach is apt to be selfish, and of the shell, distributive;31 but, in all cases, this is the broad and general fact, that on due catallactic
commercial principles, somebody’s roof must go off in fulfillment of the
bomb’s destiny. You may grow for your neighbor, at your liking, grapes
or grape-shot; he will also, catallactically, grow grapes or grape-shot
for you, and you will each reap what you have sown.
It is, therefore, the manner and issue of consumption which are the real
tests of production. Production does not consist in things laboriously
made, but in things serviceably consumable; and the question for the nation
is not how much labor it employs, but how much life it produces. For as
consumption is the end and aim of production, so life is the end and aim
I left this question to the reader’s thought two months ago, choosing rather
that he should work it out for himself than have it sharply stated to him.
But now, the ground being sufficiently broken (and the details into which
the several questions, here opened, must lead us, being too complex for
discussion in the pages of a periodical, so that I must pursue them elsewhere),
I desire, in closing the series of introductory papers, to leave this one
great fact clearly stated. THERE IS NO WEALTH BUT LIFE. Life, including
all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the
richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings;
that man is richest who, having perfected the functions of his own life
to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and
by means of his possessions, over the lives of others.
A strange political economy; the only one, nevertheless, that ever was or can be: all political economy founded on self-interest32 being but the fulfillment of that which once brought schism into the Policy of angels, and ruin into the Economy of Heaven.
“The greatest number of human beings noble and happy.” But is the nobleness
consistent with the number? Yes, not only consistent with it, but essential
to it. The maximum of life can only be reached by the maximum of virtue.
In this respect the law of human population differs wholly from that of
animal life. The multiplication of animals is checked only by want of food,
and by the hostility of races; the population of the gnat is restrained
by the hunger of the swallow, and that of the swallow by the scarcity of
gnats. Man, considered as an animal, is indeed limited by the same laws:
hunger, or plague, or war, are the necessary and only restraints upon his
increase,— effectual restraints hitherto,— his principal study having been
how most swiftly to destroy himself, or ravage his dwelling-places, and
his highest skill directed to give range to the famine, seed to the plague,
and sway to the sword. But, considered as other than an animal, his increase
is not limited by these laws. It is limited only by the limits of his courage
and his love. Both of these have their bounds; and ought to have; his race
has its bounds also; but these have not yet been reached, nor will be reached
In all the ranges of human thought I know none so melancholy as the speculations of political economists on the population question. It is proposed to better the condition of the laborer by giving him higher wages. “Nay,” says the economist,— “if you raise his wages, he will either people down to the same point of misery at which you found him, or drink your wages away.” He will. I know it. Who gave him this will? Suppose it were your own son of whom you spoke, declaring to me that you dared not take him into your firm, nor even give him his just laborer’s wages, because if you did he would die of drunkenness, and leave half a score of children to the parish. “Who gave your son these dispositions?”— I should enquire. Has he them by inheritance or by education? By one or other they must come; and as in him, so also in the poor. Either these poor are of a race essentially different from ours, and unredeemable (which, however, often implied, I have heard none yet openly say), or else by such care as we have ourselves received, we may make them continent and sober as ourselves — wise and dispassionate as we are models arduous of imitation. “But,” it is answered, “they cannot receive education.” Why not? That is precisely the point at issue. Charitable persons suppose the worst fault of the rich is to refuse the people meat; and the people cry for their meat, kept back by fraud, to the Lord of Multitudes.33 Alas! it is not meat of which the refusal is cruelest, or to which the
claim is validest. The life is more than the meat. The rich not only refuse
food to the poor; they refuse wisdom; they refuse virtue; they refuse salvation.
Ye sheep without shepherd, it is not the pasture that has been shut from
you, but the Presence. Meat! perhaps your right to that may be pleadable;
but other rights have to be pleaded first. Claim your crumbs from the table,
if you will; but claim them as children, not as dogs; claim your right
to be fed, but claim more loudly your right to be holy, perfect, and pure.
Strange words to be used of working people: “What! holy; without any long
robes nor anointing oils; these rough-jacketed, rough-worded persons; set
to nameless and dishonored service? Perfect!— these, with dim eyes and
cramped limbs, and slowly wakening minds? Pure — these, with sensual desire
and grovelling thought; foul of body, and coarse of soul?” It may be so;
nevertheless, such as they are, they are the holiest, perfectest, purest
persons the earth can at present show. They may be what you have said;
but if so, they yet are holier than we, who have left them thus.
But what can be done for them? Who can clothe — who teach — who restrain
their multitudes? What end can there he for them at last, but to consume
I hope for another end, though not, indeed, from any of the three remedies
for over-population commonly suggested by economists.
These three are, in brief — Colonization; Bringing in of waste lands; or
Discouragement of Marriage.
The first and second of these expedients merely evade or delay the question.
It will, indeed, be long before the world has been all colonized, and its
deserts all brought under cultivation. But the radical question is not
how much habitable land is in the world, but how many human beings ought
to be maintained on a given space of habitable land.
Observe, I say, ought to be, not how many can be. Ricardo, with his usual inaccuracy, defines what he calls the “natural rate of wages” as “that which will maintain the laborer.” Maintain him! yes; but how?— the question was instantly thus asked of me by a working girl, to whom I read the passage. I will amplify her question for her. “Maintain him, how?” As, first, to what length of life? Out of a given number of fed persons how many are to be old — how many young; that is to say, will you arrange their maintenance so as to kill them early — say at thirty or thirty-five on the average, including deaths of weakly or ill-fed children?— or so as to enable them to live out a natural life? You will feed a greater number, in the first case,34 by rapidity of succession; probably a happier number in the second: which
does Mr. Ricardo mean to be their natural state, and to which state belongs
the natural rate of wages?
Again: A piece of land which will only support ten idle, ignorant, and
improvident persons, will support thirty or forty intelligent and industrious
ones. Which of these is their natural state, and to which of them belongs
the natural rate of wages?
Again: If a piece of land support forty persons in industrious ignorance;
and if, tired of this ignorance, they set apart ten of their number to
study the properties of cones, and the sizes of stars; the labor of these
ten, being withdrawn from the ground, must either tend to the increase
of food in some transitional manner, or the persons set apart for sidereal
and conic purposes must starve, or some one else starve instead of them.
What is, therefore, the natural rate of wages of the scientific persons,
and how does this rate relate to, or measure, their reverted or transitional
Again: If the ground maintains, at first, forty laborers in a peaceable
and pious state of mind, but they become in a few years so quarrelsome
and impious that they have to set apart five, to meditate upon and settle
their disputes;— ten, armed to the teeth with costly instruments, to enforce
the decisions; and five to remind everybody in an eloquent manner of the
existence of a God; what will be the result upon the general power of production,
and what is the “natural rate of wages” of the meditative, muscular, and
Leaving these questions to be discussed, or waived, at their pleasure,
by Mr. Ricardo’s followers, I proceed to state the main facts bearing on
that probable future of the laboring classes which has been partially glanced
at by Mr. Mill. That chapter and the preceding one differ from the common
writing of political economists in admitting some value in the aspect of
nature, and expressing regret at the probability of the destruction of
natural scenery. But we may spare our anxieties, on this head. Men can
neither drink steam, nor eat stone. The maximum of population on a given
space of land implies also the relative maximum of edible vegetable, whether
for men or cattle; it implies a maximum of pure air; and of pure water.
Therefore: a maximum of wood, to transmute the air, and of sloping ground,
protected by herbage from the extreme heat of the sun, to feed the streams.
All England may, if it so chooses, become one manufacturing town; and Englishmen,
sacrificing themselves to the good of general humanity, may live diminished
lives in the midst of noise, of darkness, and of deadly exhalation. But
the world cannot become a factory, nor a mine. No amount of ingenuity will
ever make iron digestible by the million, nor substitute hydrogen for wine.
Neither the avarice nor the rage of men will ever feed them, and however
the apple of Sodom and the grape of Gomorrah may spread their table for
a time with dainties of ashes, and nectar of asps,— so long as men live
by bread, the far away valleys must laugh as they are covered with the
gold of God, and the shouts of His happy multitudes ring round the wine-press
and the well.
Nor need our more sentimental economists fear the too wide spread of the
formalities of a mechanical agriculture. The presence of a wise population
implies the search for felicity as well as for food; nor can any population
reach its maximum but through that wisdom which “rejoices” in the habitable
parts of the earth. The desert has its appointed place and work; the eternal
engine, whose beam is the earth’s axle, whose beat is its year, and whose
breath is its ocean, will still divide imperiously to their desert kingdoms,
bound with unfurrowable rock, and swept by unarrested sand, their powers
of frost and fire: but the zones and lands between, habitable, will be
loveliest in habitation. The desire of the heart is also the light of the
eyes. No scene is continually and untiringly loved, but one rich by joyful
human labor; smooth in field; fair in garden; full in orchard; trim, sweet,
and frequent in homestead; ringing with voices of vivid existence. No air
is sweet that is silent; it is only sweet when full of low currents of
under sound — triplets of birds, and murmur and chirp of insects, and deep-toned
words of men, and wayward trebles of childhood. As the art of life is learned,
it will be found at last that all lovely things are also necessary:— the
wild flower by the wayside, as well as the tended corn; and the wild birds
and creatures of the by every wondrous word and unknowable work of God.
Happy, in that he knew them not, nor did his fathers know; and that round
about him reaches yet into the infinite, the amazement of his existence.
Note, finally, that all effectual advancement towards this true felicity
of the human race must be by individual, not public effort. Certain general
measures may aid, certain revised laws guide, such advancement; but the
measure and law which have first to be determined are those of each man’s
home. We continually hear it recommended by sagacious people to complaining
neighbors (usually less well placed in the world than themselves), that
they should “remain content in the station in which Providence has placed
them.” There are perhaps some circumstances of life in which Providence
has no intention that people should be content. Nevertheless, the maxim
is on the whole a good one; but it is peculiarly for home use. That your
neighbor should, or should not, remain content with his position, is not
your business; but it is very much your business to remain content with
your own. What is chiefly needed in England at the present day is to show
the quantity of pleasure that may be obtained by a consistent, well-administered
competence, modest, confessed, and laborious. We need examples of people
who, leaving Heaven to decide whether they are to rise in the world, decide
for themselves that they will be happy in it, and have resolved to seek
— not greater wealth, but simpler pleasure; not higher fortune, but deeper
felicity; making the first of possessions, self-possession; and honoring
themselves in the harmless pride and calm pursuits of peace.
Of which lowly peace it is written that “justice and peace have kissed
each other;” and that the fruit of justice is “sown in peace of them that
make peace;” not “peace-makers” in the common understanding — reconcilers
of quarrels; (though that function also follows on the greater one); but
peace-Creators; Givers of Calm. Which you cannot give, unless you first
gain; nor is this gain one which will follow assuredly on any course of
business, commonly so called. No form of gain is less probable, business
being (as is shown in the language of all nations — polein from pelo, prasis from perao, venire, vendre, and venal, from venio, etc.) essentially restless — and probably contentious; — having a raven-like
mind to the motion to and fro, as to the carrion food; whereas the olive-feeding
and bearing birds look for rest for their feet: thus it is said of Wisdom
that she “hath builded her house, and hewn out her seven pillars;” and
even when, though apt to wait long at the door-posts, she has to leave
her house and go abroad, her paths are peace also.
For us, at all events, her work must begin at the entry of the doors: all true economy is “Law of the house.” Strive to make that law strict, simple, generous: waste nothing, and grudge nothing. Care in nowise to make more of money, but care to make much of it; remembering always the great, palpable, inevitable fact — the rule and root of all economy — that what one person has, another cannot have; and that every atom of substance, of whatever kind, used or consumed, is so much human life spent; which, if it issue in the saving present life, or gaining more, is well spent, but if not, is either so much life prevented, or so much slain. In all buying, consider, first, what condition of existence you cause in the producers of what you buy; secondly, whether the sum you have paid is just to the producer, and in due proportion, lodged in his hands;35 thirdly, to how much clear use, for food, knowledge, or joy, this that you have bought can be put; and fourthly, to whom and in what way it can be most speedily and serviceably distributed: in all dealings whatsoever insisting on entire openness and stern fulfillment; and in all doings, on perfection and loveliness of accomplishment; especially on fineness and purity of all marketable commodity: watching at the same time for all ways of gaining, or teaching, powers of simple pleasure, and of showing oson en asphodelps geg oneiar — the sum of enjoyment depending not on the quantity of things tasted,
but on the vivacity and patience of taste.
And if, on due and honest thought over these things, it seems that the
kind of existence to which men are now summoned by every plea of pity and
claim of right, may, for some time at least, not be a luxurious one;— consider
whether, even supposing it guiltless, luxury would be desired by any of
us, if we saw clearly at our sides the suffering which accompanies it in
the world. Luxury is indeed possible in the future — innocent and exquisite;
luxury for all, and by the help of all; but luxury at present can only
be enjoyed by the ignorant; the cruelest man living could not sit at his
feast, unless he sat blindfold. Raise the veil boldly; face the light;
and if, as yet, the light of the eye can only be through tears, and the
light of the body through sackcloth, go thou forth weeping, bearing precious
seed, until the time come, and the kingdom, when Christ’s gift of bread,
and bequest of peace, shall be “Unto this last as unto thee;” and when,
for earth’s severed multitudes of the wicked and the weary, there shall
be holier reconciliation than that of the narrow home, and calm economy,
where the Wicked cease — not from trouble, but from troubling — and the
Weary are at rest.
14. Book I. chap. iv. s. 1. To save space, my future references to Mr.
Mill’s work will be by numerals only, as in this instance, I. iv. I. Ed.
in 2 vols. 8vo. Parker, 1848.
15. If Mr. Mill had wished to show the difference in result between consumption
and sale, he should have represented the hardware merchant as consuming
his own goods instead of selling them; similarly, the silver merchant as
consuming his own goods instead of selling them. Had he done this, he would
have made his position clearer, though less tenable; and perhaps this was
the position he really intended to take, tacitly involving his theory,
elsewhere stated, and shown in the sequel of this paper to be false, that
demand for commodities is not demand for labor. But by the most diligent
scrutiny of the paragraph now under examination, I cannot determine whether
it is a fallacy pure and simple, or the half of one fallacy supported by
the whole of a greater one; so that I treat it here on the kinder assumption
that it is one fallacy only.
16. I take Mr. Helps’ estimate in his essay on War.
17. Also when the wrought silver vases of Spain were dashed to fragments
by our custom-house officers, because bullion might be imported free of
duty, but not brains, was the axe that broke them productive?— the artist
who wrought them unproductive? Or again. If the woodman’s axe is productive,
is the executioner’s? as also, if the hemp of a cable be productive, does
not the productiveness of hemp in a halter depend on its moral more than
on its material application?
18. Filigree: that is to say, generally, ornament dependent on complexity, not on art.
19. These statements sound crude in their brevity; but will be found of
the utmost importance when they are developed. Thus, in the above instance,
economists have never perceived that disposition to buy is a wholly moral
element in demand: that is to say, when you give a man half-a-crown, it
depends on his disposition whether he is rich or poor with it — whether
he will buy disease, ruin, and hatred, or buy health, advancement, and
domestic love. And thus the agreeableness or exchange value of every offered
commodity depends on production, not merely of the commodity, but of buyers
of it; therefore on the education of buyers, and on all the moral elements
by which their disposition to buy this, or that, is formed. I will illustrate
and expand into final consequences every one of these definitions in its
place: at present they can only be given with extremest brevity; for in
order to put the subject at once in a connected form before the reader,
I have thrown into one, the opening definitions of four chapters; namely,
of that on Value (“Ad Valorem”); on Price (“Thirty Pieces”); on Production
(“Demeter”); and on Economy (“The Law of the House”).
20. Perhaps it may be said, in farther support of Mr. Ricardo, that he meant, “when the utility is constant or given, the price varies as the quantity of labor.” If he meant this, he should have said it; but, had he meant it, he could have hardly missed the necessary result, that utility would be one measure of price (which he expressly denies it to be); and that, to prove saleableness, he had to prove a given quantity of utility, as well as a given quantity of labor: to wit, in his own instance, that the deer and fish would each feed the same number of men, for the same number of days, with equal pleasure to their palates. The fact is, he did not know what he meant himself. The general idea which he had derived from commercial experience, without being able to analyze it, was, that when the demand is constant, the price varies as the quantity of labor required for production; or, — using the formula I gave in last paper — when y is constant, x y varies as x. But demand never is, nor can be, ultimately constant, if x varies distinctly; for, as price rises, consumers fall away; and as soon as there is a monopoly (and all scarcity is a form of monopoly; so that every commodity is affected occasionally by some color of monopoly), y becomes the most influential condition of the price. Thus the price of
a painting depends less on its merits than on the interest taken in it
by the public; the price of singing less on the labor of the singer than
the number of persons who desire to hear him; and the price of gold less
on the scarcity which affects it in common with cerium or iridium, than
on the sunlight color and unalterable purity by which it attracts the admiration
and answers the trust of mankind.
It must be kept in mind, however, that I use the word “demand” in a somewhat
different sense from economists usually. They mean by it “the quantity
of a thing sold.” I mean by it “the force of the buyer’s capable intention
to buy.” In good English, a person’s “demand” signifies, not what he gets,
but what he asks for.
Economists also do not notice that objects are not valued by absolute bulk or weight, but by such bulk and weight as is necessary to bring them into use. They say, for instance, that water bears no price in the market. It is true that a cupful does not, but a lake does; just as a handful of dust does not, but an acre does. And were it possible to make even the possession of the cupful or handful permanent, (i.e., to find a place for them,) the earth and sea would be bought up for handfuls and cupfuls.
21. Compare George Herbert, The Church Porch, Stanza 28.
22. “O Zeus dipou penetai” — Arist. Plut. 582. It would but weaken the Greek words to lean on the
preceding ones:— “Oti tou Platon parecho Beltionas, andpas, kai tin gnomen, kai ten idean.”
23. Zech. v. ii.
24. Labor which is entirely good of its kind, that is to say, effective,
or efficient, the Greeks called “weighable,” or axios, translated usually “worthy,” and because thus substantial and true, they called its price time, the “honorable estimate” of it (honorarium): this word being founded on their conception of true labor as a divine
thing, to be honored with the kind of honor given to the gods; whereas
the price of false labor, or of that which led away from life, was to be,
not honor, but vengeance; for which they reserved another word, attributing
the exaction of such price to a peculiar goddess, called Tisiphone, the
“requiter (or quittance-taker) of death”; a person versed in the highest
branches of arithmetic, and punctual in her habits; with whom accounts
current have been opened also in modern days.
25. The most accurately nugatory labor is, perhaps, that of which not enough
is given to answer a purpose effectually, and which, therefore, has all
to be done over again. Also, labor which fails of effect through non-co-operation.
The cure of a little village near Bellinzona, to whom I had expressed wonder
that the peasants allowed the Ticino to flood their fields, told me that
they would not join to build an effectual embankment high up the valley,
because everybody said “that would help his neighbors as much as himself.”
So every proprietor built a bit of low embankment about his own field;
and the Ticino, as soon as it had a mind, swept away and swallowed all
26. Observe, I say, “rearing,” not “begetting.” The praise is in the seventh season, not in sporitos, nor in phutalia, but in opora. It is strange that men always praise enthusiastically any person who,
by a momentary exertion, saves a life; but praise very hesitatingly a person
who, by exertion and self-denial prolonged through years, creates one.
We give the crown “ob civem servatum;”— why not “ob civem natum?” Born, I mean, to the full, in soul as well as body. England has oak
enough, I think, for both chaplets.
27. When Mr. Mill speaks of productive consumption, he only means consumption which results in increase of capital, or material wealth. See I. iii. 4, and I. iii. 5.
28. So also in the vision of the women bearing the ephah, before quoted, “the wind was in their wings,” not wings “of a stork,” as in our version; but “miivi,” of a kite, in the Vulgate, or perhaps more accurately still in the Septuagint, “hoopoe,” a bird connected typically with the power of riches by many traditions, of which that of its petition for a crest of gold is perhaps the most interesting. The “Birds” of Aristophanes, in which its part is principal, are full of them; note
especially the “fortification of the air with baked bricks, like Babylon,”
I. 550; and, again, compare the Plutus of Dante, who (to show the influence
of riches in destroying the reason) is the only one of the powers of the
Inferno who cannot speak intelligibly and also the cowardliest; he is not
merely quelled or restrained, but literally “collapses” at a word; the
sudden and helpless operation of mercantile panic being all told in the
brief metaphor, “as the sails, swollen with the wind, fall, when the mast
29. The value of raw material, which has, indeed, to be deducted from the
price of the labor, is not contemplated in the passages referred to, Mr.
Mill having fallen into the mistake solely by pursuing the collateral results
of the payment of wages to middlemen. He says “The consumer does not, with
his own funds, pay the weaver for his day’s work.” Pardon me; the consumer
of the velvet pays the weaver with his own funds as much as he pays the
gardener. He pays, probably, an intermediate ship-owner, velvet merchant,
and shopman; pays carriage money, shop rent, damage money, time money,
and care money; all these are above and beside the velvet price, (just
as the wages of a head gardener would be above the grass price). but the
velvet is as much produced by the consumer’s capital, though he does not
pay for it till six months after production, as the grass is produced by
his capital, though he does not pay the man who mowed and rolled it on
Monday, till Saturday afternoon. I do not know if Mr. Mill’s conclusion,—
“the capital cannot be dispensed with, the purchasers can ” (p. 98), has
yet been reduced to practice in the City on any large scale.
30. Which, observe, is the precise opposite of the one under examination.
The hardware theory required us to discharge our gardeners and engage manufacturers;
the velvet theory requires us to discharge our manufacturers and engage
31. It is one very awful form of the operation of wealth in Europe that
it is entirely capitalists’ wealth which supports unjust wars. Just wars
do not need so much money to support them; for most of the men who wage
such, wage them gratis; but for an unjust war, men’s bodies and souls have
both to be bought; and the best tools of war for them besides; which makes
such war costly to the maximum; not to speak of the cost of base fear,
and angry suspicion, between nations which have not grace nor honesty enough
in all their multitudes to buy an hour’s peace of mind with: as, at present,
France and England, purchasing of each other ten millions sterling worth
of consternation annually, (a remarkably light crop, half thorns and half
aspen leaves,— sown, reaped, and granaried by the “science” of the modern
political economist, teaching covetousness instead of truth.) And all unjust
war being supportable, if not by pillage of the enemy, only by loans from
capitalists, these loans are repaid by subsequent taxation of the people,
who appear to have no will in the matter, the capitalists’ will being the
primary root of the war; but its real root is the covetousness of the whole
nation, rendering it incapable of faith, frankness, or justice, and bringing
about, therefore, in due time, his own separate loss and punishment to
32. “In all reasoning about prices, the proviso must be understood, ‘supposing
all parties to take care of their own interest.’” — Mill, III. i. 5.
33. James v. 4. Observe, in these statements I am not talking up, nor countenancing
one whit, the common socialist idea of division of property; division of
property is its destruction; and with it the destruction of all hope, all
industry, and all justice: it is simply chaos — a chaos towards which the
believers in modern political economy are fast tending, and from which
I am striving to save them. The rich man does not keep back meat from the
poor by retaining his riches; but by basely using them. Riches are a form
of strength; and a strong man does not injure others by keeping his strength,
but by using it injuriously. The socialist, seeing a strong man oppress
a weak one, cries out.— “Break the strong man’s arms.” but I say, “Teach
him to use them to better purpose.” The fortitude and intelligence which
acquire riches are intended, by the Giver of both, not to scatter, nor
to give away, but to employ those riches in the service of mankind; in
other words, in the redemption of the erring and aid of the weak — that
is to say, there is first to be the work to gain money; then the Sabbath
of use for it — the Sabbath, whose law is, not to lose life, but to save.
It is continually the fault or the folly of the poor that they are poor,
as it is usually a child’s fault if it falls into a pond, and a cripple’s
weakness that slips at a crossing; nevertheless, most passers-by would
pull the child out, or help up the cripple. Put it at the worst, that all
the poor of the world are but disobedient children, or careless cripples,
and that all rich people are wise and strong, and you will see at once
that neither is the socialist right in desiring to make everybody poor,
powerless, and foolish as he is himself, nor the rich man right in leaving
the children in the mire.
34. The quantity of life is the same in both cases; but it is differently
35. The proper offices of middle-men, namely, overseers (or authoritative
workmen), conveyancers (merchants, sailors, retail dealers, etc.), and
order-takers (persons employed to receive directions from the consumer),
must, of course, be examined before I can enter farther into the question
of just payment of the first producer. But I have not spoken of them in
these introductory papers, because the evils attendant on the abuse of
such intermediate functions result not from any alleged principle of modern
political economy, but from private carelessness or iniquity.