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himself by his business; and then the expense of his education would be lost: for it is not the expensive education of a surgeon that causes him to be paid more for setting a man's leg, than a carpenter is for mending the leg of a table; but the expensive education causes fewer people to become surgeons; it causes the supply of surgeons to be more limitedthat is, confined to a few; and it is this limitation that is the cause of their being better paid.
So that you see the value of each kind of labour is higher or lower, like that of all other things, according as the supply is limited.
Natural genius will often have the same effect as the expensiveness of education, in causing one man to be better paid than another. For instance, one who has a natural genius for painting may become a very fine painter, though his education may not have cost more than that of an ordinary painter; and he will then earn, perhaps, ten times as much, without working any harder at his pictures than the other. But the cause why a man of natural genius is higher paid for his work than another is still the same. Men of genius are scarce; and their work, therefore, is of the more value, from being more limited in supply.
Some kinds of labour, again, are higher paid, from the supply of them being limited by other causes, and not by the cost of learning them, or the natural genius they require. Any occupation that is unhealthy, or dangerous, or disagreeable, is paid the higher on that account; because people would not otherwise engage in it. There is this kind of limitation in the supply of house-painters, miners, gunpowder-makers, and several others.
SOME people fancy that it is unjust that one man should not earn as much as another who works no harder than himself. And there certainly would be a hardship, if one man could force another to work for him at whatever wages he chose to give. This is the case with those slaves who are forced to work, and are only supplied by their masters with food and other necessaries, like horses. So, also, it would be a hardship, if I were to force any one to sell me anything, whether his labour, or his cloth, or cattle, or corn, at any price I might choose to fix. But there is no hardship in leaving all buyers and sellers freethe one to ask whatever price he may think fit; the other to offer what he thinks the article worth. A labourer is a seller of labour-his employer is a buyer of labour; and both ought to be left free.
If a man choose to ask ever so high a price for his potatoes or his cows, he is free to do so; but then it would be very hard that he should be allowed to force others to buy them at that price, whether they would or no. In the same manner, an ordinary labourer may ask as high wages as he likes; but it would be very hard to oblige others to employ him at that rate, whether they would or no. And so the labourer himself would think, if the same rule were applied to him; that is, if a tailor, and a carpenter, and a shoemaker, could oblige him to employ them, whether he wanted their articles or not, at whatever price they chose to fix.
In former times, laws used to be often made to fix the wages of labour. It was forbidden under a penalty, that higher or lower wages should be asked or offered for each kind of labour, than what the law fixed. But laws of this kind were found never to do any good; for when the rate fixed by law for farmlabourers, for instance, happened to be higher than it was worth a farmer's while to give for ordinary labourers, he turned off all his workmen, except a few of the best hands, and employed those on the best land only; so that less corn was raised, and many persons were out of work who would have been glad to have had it at a lower rate, rather than earning nothing. Then, again, when the fixed rate was so low that a farmer could afford to give more to the best workmen, some farmers would naturally try to get these into their service, by paying them privately at a higher rate. And this they could easily do, so as to escape the law, by agreeing to supply them with corn at a reduced price, or in some such way; and then the other farmers were driven to do the same thing, that they might not lose all their best workmen : so that laws of this kind come to nothing.
The best way is to leave all labourers and employers, as well as all other sellers and buyers, free to ask and to offer what they think fit; and to make their own bargain together, if they can agree, or to break it off, if they cannot.
But labourers often suffer great hardships, from which they might save themselves by looking forward beyond the present day. They are apt to complain of others, when they ought rather to blame their own imprudence. If, when a man is earning good wages,
he spends all as fast as he gets it in thoughtless intemperance, instead of laying by something against hard times, he may afterwards have to suffer great want when he is out of work, or when wages are lower but then he must not blame others for this, but his own improvidence. So thought the bees in the following fable:
"A grasshopper, half-starved with cold and hunger at the approach of winter, came to a well-stored beehive, and humbly begged the bees to relieve his wants with a few drops of honey. One of the bees asked him how he had spent his time all the summer, and why he had not laid up a store of food like them? 'Truly,' said he, 'I spent my time very merrily, in drinking, dancing, and singing, and never once thought of winter.' 'Our plan is very different,' said the bee; we work hard in the summer, to lay by a store of food against the season when we foresee we shall want it; but those who do nothing but drink, and dance, and sing in the summer, must expect to starve in the winter.""
NEXT to these ladies, but in nought allied,
At no man's question Isaac look'd dismay'd:
Yet while the serious thought his soul approved,
(Bane of the poor! it wounds their weaker mind
He had no party's rage, no sect'ry's whim;
* Stoics were philosophers who pretended never to feel pain.