The Slave Trade
Henry Charles Carey

Chapter VII.
How Labour Acquires Value and Man Becomes Free.



The proximity of the market enables the farmer not only to enrich his land and to obtain from it far more than he could otherwise do, but it also produces a demand for many things that would otherwise be wasted.  In the West, men set no value upon straw, and in almost every part of this country the waste arising out of the absence of a market for any commodities but those which can be carried to a distance, must strike every traveller.  Close to the town or city, almost every thing has some value.  So too with labour, the value of which, like that of land, tends to increase with every increase in the facility of exchanging its products.

The solitary settler has to occupy the spots that, with his rude machinery, he can cultivate.  Having neither horse nor cart, he carries home his crop upon his shoulders, as is now done in many parts of India.  He carries a hide to the place of exchange, distant, perhaps, fifty miles, to obtain for it leather, or shoes.  Population increases, and roads are made.  The fertile soils are cultivated.  The store and the mill come nearer to him, and he obtains shoes and flour with the use of less machinery of exchange.  He has more leisure for the improvement of his land, and the returns to labour increase.  More people now obtain food from the same surface, and new places of exchange appear.  The wool is, on the spot, converted into cloth, and he exchanges directly with the clothier.  The saw-mill is at hand, and he exchanges with the sawyer.  The tanner gives him leather for his hides, and the papermaker gives him paper for his rags.  With each of these changes he has more and more of both time and manure to devote to the preparation of the great food-making machine, and with each year the returns are larger.  His power to command the use of the machinery of exchange increases, but his necessity therefor diminishes, for with each there is an increasing tendency toward having the consumer placed side by side with the producer, and with each he can devote more and more of his time and mind to the business of fashioning the great machine to which he is indebted for food and clothing;  and thus the increase of a consuming population is essential to the progress of production.

Diversification of employments, resulting from combination of action, thus enables men to economize labour and to increase production.  Increased production, on the other hand, makes a demand for labour.  The more wheat raised and the more cloth made, the more there will be to give in exchange for labour, the greater will be the number of persons seeking for labourers, and the greater will be the power of men to determine for themselves the mode in which they will employ their time or their talents.  If, therefore, we desire to see men advance in freedom, we must endeavour to increase the productive power;  and that, as we see, grows with the growth of the power to improve the land, while it diminishes with every diminution in the power to return to the land the manure yielded by its products.  In purely agricultural countries there is little demand for labour, and it always tends to diminish, as may be proved by any reader of this volume who may chance to occupy a purely agricultural neighbourhood.  Let him look around him, and he will, without difficulty, find hundreds of men, and hundreds of women and children, wasting more time than would, if properly employed, purchase twice the clothing and twice the machinery of production they are now enabled to obtain.  Why, however, he will probably ask, is it that they do so waste it?  Because there is no demand for it, except in agriculture;  and when that is the case, there must necessarily be great waste of time.  At one season of the year the farm requires much labour, while at another it needs but little;  and if its neighbours are all farmers, they are all in the same situation.  If the weather is fit for ploughing, they and their horses and men are all employed.  If it is not, they are all idle.  In winter they have all of them little to do;  in harvest-time they are all overrun with work;  and crops frequently perish on the ground for want of the aid required for making them.  Now, it would seem to be quite clear that if there existed some other mode of employment that would find a demand for the surplus labour of the neighbourhood, all would be benefited.  The man who had a day's labour to sell could sell it, and, with the proceeds of the labour of a very few days, now wasted, could purchase clothing for his children, if, indeed, the labour of those children, now also wasted, did not more than pay for all the clothing, not only of themselves, but of his wife and himself.

In order that the reader may see clearly how this state of things affects all labourers, even those who are employed, we must now ask him to examine with us the manner in which the prices of all commodities are affected by excess of supply over demand, or of demand over supply.  It is well known to every farmer, that when the crop of peaches, or of potatoes, is, in even a very small degree, in excess of the regular demand, the existence of that small surplus so far diminishes the price that the larger crop will not yield as much as a much smaller one would have done.  It is also known to them that when the crop is a little less than is required to supply the demand, the advance in price is large, and the farmer then grows rich.  In this latter case the purchasers are looking for the sellers, whereas in the former one the sellers have to seek the buyers.  Now, labour is a commodity that some desire to sell, and that others desire to buy, precisely as is the case with potatoes;  but it has this disadvantage when compared with any other commodity, that it is less easily transferred from the place where it exists to that at which it is needed, and that the loss resulting from the absence of demand on the spot is greater than in reference to any other commodity whatsoever.  The man who raises a hundred bushels of peaches, of which only seventy are needed at home, can send the remainder to a distance of a hundred or a thousand miles, and the loss he sustains is only that which results from the fact that the price of the whole is determined by what he can obtain for the surplus bushels, burdened as they are with heavy cost of transportation, that he must lose;  for the man that must go to a distant market must always pay the expense of getting there.  This is a heavy loss certainly, but it is trivial when compared with that sustained by him who has labour to sell, because that, like other very perishable commodities, cannot be carried to another market, and must be wasted.  If he has two spare hours a day to sell, he finds that they waste themselves in the very act of seeking a distant market, and his children may go in rags, or even suffer from hunger, because of his inability to find a purchaser for the only commodity he has to sell.  So, too, with the man who has days, weeks, or months of labour for which he desires to find a purchaser.  Unwilling to leave his wife and his children, to go to a distance, he remains to be a constant weight upon the labour market, and must continue so to remain until there shall arise increased competition for the purchase of labour.  It is within the knowledge of every one who reads this, whether he be shoemaker, hatter, tailor, printer, brickmaker, stonemason, or labourer, that a very few unemployed men in his own pursuit keep down the wages of all shoemakers, all hatters, all tailors, or printers;  whereas, wages rise when there is a demand for a few more than are at hand.  The reason for this is to be found in the difficulty of transferring labour from the place at which it exists to that at which it is needed; and it is to that we have to attribute the fact that the tendency to depression in the wages of all labour is so very great when there is even a very small excess of supply, and the tendency to elevation so great when there is even a very small excess of demand.  Men starve in Ireland for want of employment, and yet the distance between them and the people who here earn a dollar a day, is one that could be overcome at the expense of fifteen or twenty dollars.  Wages may be high in one part of the Union and low in another, and yet thousands must remain to work at low ones, because of the difficulty of transporting themselves, their wives, and their families, to the places at which their services are needed.  Every such man tends to keep down the wages, of all other men who have labour to sell, and therefore every man is interested in having all other men fully employed, and to have the demand grow faster than the supply.  This is the best state of things for all, capitalists and labourers;  whereas, to have the supply in excess of the demand is injurious to all, employers and employed.  All profit by increase in the competition for the purchase of labour, and all suffer from increased competition for the sale of it.

We had occasion, but a little while since, to visit a factory in which were employed two hundred females of various ages, from fourteen to twenty, who were earning, on an average, three dollars per week, making a total of six hundred dollars per week, or thirty thousand dollars a year; or as much as would, buy five hundred thousand yards of cotton cloth.  Now supposing these two hundred females to represent one hundred families, it would follow that their labour produced five thousand yards of cloth per family, being probably three times as much in value as the total consumption of clothing by all its members, from, the parent down to the infant child.

Let us now suppose this factory closed;  what then would be the value of the labour of these girls, few of whom have strength for field-work even if our habits of thought permitted that it should be so employed?  It would be almost nothing, for they could do little except house-work, and the only effect of sending them home would be that, whereas one person, fully employed, performs now the labour of the house, it would henceforth be divided between two or three, all of whom would gradually lose the habit of industry they have been acquiring.  The direct effect of this would be a diminution in the demand for female labour, and a diminution of its reward.  While the factory continues in operation there is competition for the purchase of such labour.  The parent desires to retain at least one child.  A neighbour desires to hire another, and the factory also desires one.  To supply these demands requires all the females of the neighbourhood capable of working and not provided with families of their own, and thus those who are willing to work have the choice of employers and employment;  while the competition for the purchase of their services tends to raise the rate of wages.  If, now, in the existing state of things, another factory were established in, the same neighbourhood, requiring a hundred or a hundred and fifty more females, the effect would be to establish increased competition for the purchase of labour, attended by increased power of choice on the part of the labourer, and increased reward of labour — and it is in this increased power of choice that freedom consists.  If, on the contrary, the factories were closed, the reverse effect would be produced, the competition for the purchase of labour being diminished, with corresponding diminution of the power of choice on the part of the labourer, diminution in his compensation, and diminution of freedom.

What is true with regard to the females of this neighbourhood is equally true with regard to the men, women, and children of the world.  Wherever there exists competition for the purchase of labour, there the labourer has his choice among employers, and the latter are not only required to pay higher wages, but they are also required to treat their workmen and workwomen with the consideration that is due to fellow-beings equal in rights with themselves:  but wherever there is not competition for the purchase of labour, the labourer is compelled to work for any who are willing to employ him, and to receive at the hands of his employer low wages and the treatment of a slave, for slave he is. Here is a plain and simple proposition, the proof of which every reader can test for himself.  If he lives in a neighbourhood in which there exists competition for the purchase of labour, he knows that he can act as becomes a freeman in determining for whom he will work, and the price he is willing to receive for his services;  but if he lives in one in which there is competition for the sale of labour, he knows well that it does not rest with him to determine either where he will work or what shall be his wages.

Where all are farmers, there can be no competition for the purchase of labour, except for a few days in harvest;  but there must be competition for the sale of labour during all the rest of the year.  Of course, where all are farmers or planters, the man who has labour to sell is at the mercy of the few who desire to buy it, as is seen in our Southern States, where the labourer is a slave;  and in Ireland, where his condition is far worse than that of the slaves of the South;  and in India, where men sell themselves for long terms of years to labour in the West Indies;  and in Portugal, where competition for the purchase of labour has no existence.  Where, on the contrary, there is a diversification of employments, there is a steady improvement in the condition of men, as they more and more acquire the power to determine for themselves for whom they will work and what shall be their reward, as is seen in the rapid improvement in the condition of the people of France, Belgium, and Germany, and especially of those of Russia, where competition for the purchase of labour is increasing with wonderful rapidity.  Diversification of employment is absolutely necessary to produce competition for the purchase of labour.  The shoemaker does not need to purchase shoes, nor does the miner need to buy coal, any more than the farmer needs to buy wheat or potatoes.  Bring them together, and combine with them the hatter, the tanner, the cotton-spinner, the maker of woollen cloth, and the smelter and roller of iron, and each of them becomes a competitor for the purchase of the labour, or the products of the labour, of all the others, and the wages of all rise with the increase of competition.

In order that labour may be productive, it must be aided by machinery.  The farmer could do little with his hands, but when aided by the plough and the harrow he may raise much wheat and corn.  He could carry little on his shoulders, but he may transport much when aided by a horse and wagon, and still more when aided by a locomotive engine or a ship.  He could convert little grain into flour when provided only with a pestle and mortar, but he may do much when provided with a mill.  His wife could convert little cotton into cloth when provided only with a spinning-wheel and hand-loom, but her labour becomes highly productive when aided by the spinning-jenny and the power-loom.  The more her labours and those of her husband are thus aided the larger will be the quantity of grain produced, the more speedily will it be converted into flour, the more readily will it be carried to market, the larger will be the quantity of cloth for which it will exchange, the greater will be the quantity of food and clothing to be divided among the labourers, and the greater will be the facility on the part of the labourer to acquire machinery of his own, and to become his own employer, and thus to increase that diversification in the employment of labour which tends to increase the competition for its purchase.

It will next, we think, be quite clear to the reader that the nearer the grist-mill is to the farm, the less will be the labour required for converting the wheat into flour, the more will be the labour that may be given to the improvement of the farm, and the greater will be the power of the farmer to purchase shoes, hats, coats, ploughs, or harrows, and thus to create a demand for labour.  Equally clear will it be that the nearer he can bring the hatter, the shoemaker, and the tailor, the maker of ploughs and harrows, the less will be the loss of labour in exchanging his wheat for their commodities, and the greater will be his power to purchase books and newspapers, to educate his children, and thus to introduce new varieties in the demand for labour;  and each such new variety in the demand for that commodity tends to raise the wages of those engaged in all other pursuits.  If there be none but farmers, all are seeking employment on a farm.  Open a carpenter's or a blacksmith's shop, and the men employed therein will cease to be competitors for farm labour, and wages will tend to rise.  Open a mine, or quarry stone and build a mill, and here will be a new competition for labour that will tend to produce a rise in the wages of all labourers.  Build a dozen mills, and men will be required to get out timber and stone, and to make spindles, looms, and steam-engines;  and when the mills are completed, the demand for labour will withdraw hundreds of men that would be otherwise competitors for employment in the ploughing of fields, the making of shoes or coats, and hundreds of women that would otherwise be seeking to employ themselves in binding shoes or making shirts.  Competition for the purchase of labour grows, therefore, with every increase in the diversification of employment, with constant tendency to increase in the reward of labour.  It declines with every diminution in the modes of employing labour, with steady tendency to decline in wages.

If the reader will now trace the course of man toward freedom, in the various nations of the world, he will see that his progress has been in the ratio of the growth of towns at which he and his neighbours could exchange the products of their labour, and that it has declined as the near towns have given way to the distant cities.  The people of Attica did not need to go abroad to effect their exchanges, and therefore they became rich and free;  whereas the Spartans, who tolerated nothing but agriculture, remained poor and surrounded by hosts of slaves.  The towns and cities of Italy gave value to the land by which they were surrounded, and freedom to the people by whom that land was cultivated.  So was it in Holland, and in Belgium, and so again in England.  In each and all of these land increased in value with every increase in the facility of exchanging its products for clothing and machinery, and with each step in this direction men were enabled more readily to maintain and to increase the power of the land, and to permit larger numbers to obtain increased supplies from the same surfaces.  Association thus increased the power of accumulating wealth, and wealth thus diminished in its power over labour, while with augmented numbers the people everywhere found an increase in their power to assert and to defend their rights.  Having reflected on the facts presented to him in the pages of history, and having satisfied himself that they are in perfect accordance with the views here presented, the reader will perhaps find himself disposed to admit, the correctness of the following propositions:—

I.  That the nearer the market the less must be the cost to the farmer for transporting his products to market and for bringing back the manure to maintain and improve his land.

II.  That the nearer the market the less must be the loss of labour in going to market, and the greater the quantity that can be given to the improvement of the land.

III.  That the more the labour and manure that can be given to land, the larger will be the product and the greater its value.

IV.  That the larger the quantity of commodities produced the greater will be the demand for labour to be employed in converting them into forms that fit them for consumption, and the larger the quantity to be divided among the labourers.

V.  That the greater the competition for the purchase of labour the greater must be the tendency toward the freedom of the labourer.

VI.  That the freedom of man in thought, speech, action, and trade, tends thus to keep pace with increase in the habit of association among men, and increase in the value of land; — and

VII.  That the interests of the labourer and land-owner are thus in perfect harmony with each other, the one becoming free as the other becomes rich.

Equally correct will be found the following propositions:—

I.  That the more distant the market the greater must be the cost to the farmer for transporting his products to market, the greater must be the difficulty of obtaining manure, and the more must his land be impoverished.

II.  That the more distant the market the greater must be the loss of labour on the road, and the less the quantity that can be given to the improvement of the land.

III.  That the less the labour and manure applied to the land the less must be the product, and the less its value.

IV.  That the longer this process is continued the poorer must become the land, until at length it ceases to have value, and must be abandoned.

V.  That the smaller the quantity of commodities produced the less must be the demand for labour to be employed in their conversion, and the less the quantity to be divided among the labourers.

VI.  That the less the competition for the purchase of labour the less must be the power of the labourer to determine for whom he will work, or what must be his reward, and the greater the tendency toward his becoming enslaved.

VII.  That the tendency toward slavery tends thus to keep pace with the decline in the habit of association among men, and the loss of value in land; — and

VIII.  That thus the labourer and land-owner suffer together, the one becoming enslaved as the other becomes impoverished.

If evidence be desired of the correctness of these propositions, it may found in the history of Egypt, Greece, Rome, Mexico, and of every other country that has declined in wealth and population.