Among the delusions which at different periods have afflicted mankind, perhaps the greatest—certainly the least creditable—is modern economics based on the idea that an advantageous code of action may be determined irrespectively of the influence of social affection.
Of course, as in the case
of other delusions, 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 for progress are constant
elements. Let us eliminate the inconstants, and considering man merely as a
money-making machine, examine by what laws of labour, purchase and sale, the
greatest amount of wealth can be accumulated. Those laws once determined, it
will be for each individual afterwards to introduce as much of the disturbing
affectionate element as he chooses.'
This would be a logical
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 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
ail our previous knowledge unavailable.
I do not doubt the
conclusions 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
reinsertion 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. It imagines that man has a body but no soul to be
taken into account and frames its laws accordingly. How can such laws possibly
apply to man in whom the soul is the predominant element?
Political economy is no
science at all. We see how helpless it is when labourers go on a strike. The
masters take one view of the matter, the operatives another; and no
political economy can set them at one. Disputant after disputant vainly strives
to show that the interests of the masters are not antagonistic to those of the
men. In fact it does not 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 follow that there is antagonism between
them, that they will fight for the crust, and the mother, being strongest, will
get it and eat it. Similarly it cannot be assumed that because their interests
are diverse, persons must regard one another with hostility and use violence or
cunning to obtain the advantage.
we consider men as actuated by no other moral influences than those which affect
rats or swine, it can never be shown generally either that the interest of
master and labourer are alike or that they are opposed; for according to
circumstances they may be either. It is indeed 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 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 in repair.
All endeavour, therefore,
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 endeavours to determine expediency futile •for evermore. No man can
know what will be the ultimate result to himself or others of any given line of
conduct. But every man may know and most of us do know what is a just and an
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 about.
I have meant in the term
justice to include affection—such affection as one man owes to another.
All right relations between master and operative ultimately depend on this.
As an illustration let us
consider the position of domestic servants.
We will suppose that the
master of a household tries 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. 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 and service and takes them, the limits of hardship
in treatment being fixed by the practice of other masters in the neighbourhood.
If the servant can get a better place, he is free to take one.
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, to the servant himself.
That however is not so. It
would be so if the servant were an engine of which the motive power was steam,
magnetism or some such agent of calculable force. But on the contrary he is an
engine whose motive power is the Soul. Soul force enters into all the
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. It will be done 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 does happen often that
if the master is a man of sense and energy, much material work may be done under
pressure; also it does happen often that if the master is indolent and weak, a
small quantity of work, and that bad, may be produced by his servant. 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
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
urgently, will be revengeful; and the man who is dishonest to a liberal master
will be injurious to an unjust man.
In any case and with any
person, this unselfish treatment will produce the most effective return. I am
here considering the affections wholly as a motive power; not at all as things
in themselves desirable or noble. I look at them simply as an anomalous force,
rendering every one of the ordinary economist's calculations nugatory. The
affections only become a true motive power when they ignore every other motive
and condition of economics. 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; here as elsewhere whoever will
save his life shall lose it, whoso loses it shall find it.
The next 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, on this
selfish principle, to develop the full strength of his subordinates. But if he
has the most direct personal relations with his men, the most care for their
interests, and the most value for their lives, he 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 applies 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
A body of men associated
for the 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 is usually animated by no such emotions, and none of them is
willing to give his life for the life of his chief. 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 labour, and with the risk of
being at any time thrown out of employment by chances of trade. Now as under
these conditions no action of the affections can take place, but only an
explosive action of disaffections, two points offer themselves for
consideration in the matter:
1.How far the rate of wages may be so regulated as not to vary with the demand for labour;
2.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
1. A curious fact in the history of human error is the denial by the economist of the possibility of so
regulating wages as not to vary with the demand for labour.
We do not sell our
prime-minister by Dutch auction. 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.
The best labour always has
been, and is, as all labour ought to be, paid by an invariable standard.
'What !' the reader
perhaps answers amazedly: 'to pay good and bad workmen alike?'
Certainly. You pay with
equal fee, contentedly, the good and bad preachers (workmen upon your soul) and
the good and bad physicians (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, thus indicating my sense of the quality of their work.' By all means
choose your bricklayer; that is the proper reward of the good workman, to be
'chosen'. The right system respecting all labour is, that it should be paid at a
fixed rate, but the good workman employed, and the bad workman unemployed. The
false system is when the bad workman is allowed to offer his work at half-price,
and either take the place of the good or to force him by his competition to work
for an inadequate sum.
2. This equality of wages,
then, being the first object towards which we have to discover the road, the
second is that of maintaining constant numbers of workmen in employment,
whatever may be the accidental demand for the article they produce.
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. In the latter case he will take low wages
in the form of a fixed salary. The provision of regular labour for the workman
is good for him as well as for his master in the long run, although he cannot
then make large profits or take big risks or indulge in gambling.
The soldier is ready to
lay down his life for his chief and therefore he is held in greater honour than
an ordinary workman. Really speaking, the soldier's trade is not slaying, but
being slain in the defence of others. The reason the world honours the soldier
is, because he holds his life at the service of the State.
Not less is the respect we
pay to the lawyer, physician and clergyman, founded ultimately on their
self-sacrifice. Set in a judge's seat, the lawyer will strive to judge justly,
come of it what may. The physician will treat his patients with care, no matter
under what difficulties. The clergyman will similarly instruct his congregation
and direct it to the right path.
All the efficient members
of these so-called learned professions are in public estimate of honour
preferred before the head of a commercial firm, as 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 customer as possible. Enforcing this upon him, by
political statute, as the necessary principle of his action; recommending it to
him, and themselves reciprocally adopting it, proclaiming 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 must give up
doing. They will have to discover a kind of commerce which is not exclusively
selfish. Or rather they must discover that there never was or can be any other
kind of commerce; and that this which they have called commerce was not commerce
at all but cozening. 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 heroism as well as war.
Five great intellectual professions exist 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. For truly the man who does not know
when to die does not know how to live.
Observe, the merchant's function 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 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 to provide.
That is to say, he has to apply all his sagacity and energy to the producing the
thing he deals in in perfect state and distributing it at the cheapest possible
price where it is most needed.
And because the production
of any commodity involves 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 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 produce goods in the purest and cheapest forms, but
also to make the various employments involved in the production 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 to
maintain: first his engagements; and secondly the perfectness and purity of the
thing provided by him; so that rather than fail in any engagement or consent to
any deterioration, adulteration, or unjust or exorbitant price of that which he
provides, he is bound to meet fearlessly any form of distress, poverty or labour
which may through maintenance of these points come upon him.
Again in his office as
governor of the 'men employed by him, the merchant is invested with a 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. 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 were 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 factory were 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 economics.
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, 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 this sounds very
strange; the only real strangeness in the matter being, nevertheless, that it
should so sound. For all this is true everlastingly and practically; all other
doctrine than this being 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 denial by a few strong minds and faithful hearts of
the economic principle 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 I hope to reason farther in a following paper.