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ART. I-LABOR SAVING MACHINERY.
We often hear the opinion advanced that the laboring classes have gained nothing by the inventions and improvements of the age; and it being assumed that the profits of labor saving machinery are monopolized by the capitalists, we are told that the condition of the operatives, and, indeed, of laborers in every department of industry, is daily becoming more dependent. To well informed minds it may appear unnecessary to waste time in exposing the errors of such opinions; but it must be borne in mind that a large portion of the community form their opinions upon a very imperfect knowledge of facts, while many adopt the opinions of others without pretending to enquire into either the facts or arguments on which they are based. In an economical point of view, it may not be very important whether the true state of this subject be fully comprehended by every individual or not; but it must afford high degree of satisfaction to every one to know, that the social condition, at least in our own country, has been greatly improved within the present century; and, to comprehend the important truth that every discovery or improvement calculated to increase the volume of useful commodities, or to lessen the labor required for their production, is so much gained to the stock of human comforts. But apprehensions are entertained that the capitalists will get more than their just dividends. This is an idle fear; for such a result can never be realised in our country, except perhaps in extreme cases, so long as the principles of our political and civil institutions shall be sustained. By prohibiting the entailment of real estate, we have compelled the capitalists to become merchants and manufacturers. In the first of these pursuits they are eminently useful in facilitating the exchange of commodities between different countries; and, in the last, they furnish the
machinery which enables an individual to produce as much in one day, as he could have done in ten perhaps without it. It may be true that the operation pays the proprietor a large profit; but this is no disadvantage to the operative, nor, to the community at large, so long as he keeps his means employed. In this country there is a mutual dependence of the proprietor and operative on each other; but in our opinion the latter holds the advantage in his own hands; for if not sufficiently rewarded for his labor, he can seek and find employment in other pursuits - but if labor cannot be obtained at fair prices, the machinery must stop; and if not lost entirely, the investment ceases to be profitable during the time of its suspension.
In England, owing to the peculiar institutions and social condition of the people, labor is in the power of capital; and must so remain until important changes shall have been effected in the institutions of that country. There, the difficulty of changing from one employment to another, enables the proprietor to reduce wages to the lowest standard that will sustain the operative in a working condition; and consequently, all the benefits accruing from the discoveries and improvements of the age accrue to the capitalists; and hence, it is infered by many, that a similar relation between the proprietor and operative, must necessarily take place in this country. But, were there no other cause, the cheapness of land and the demand for agricultural labor, would afford protection to our 'operatives against the power of the capitalists for a long time to come.
But men say that, notwithstanding the invention of labor saving machinery, the use of steam as a motive power, and the thousand other discoveries and improvements of the age, they are still compelled to work. This is very true: and were it otherwise, we should regard these improvements as a curse rather than a blessing. But have not their means of comfort been enlarged? are they not better clothed, and, have not many items been added to their bills of fare? are not their children better educated, and their wives and daughters relieved from much drudgery? Let us see how the account stands: at the present time an individual receives about the same price in money for the labor of a day, or a week, as he did from thirty to forty years ago. The average prices of bread and meat, owing chiefly to improvements in agriculture, are lower now than they were then, by perhaps twenty per cent. and owing to the introduction of steam as a motive power; the construction of railroads and canals, and, other improvements in commercial economy-sugar, coffee, and other articles of comfort, are obtained at less than one-half the prices which they cost the consumer, from the year 1810 to 1820. And owing to the improvement in machinery, cotton goods do not cost the consumer more than about one-fourth the price that