InventionMarch 12, 2022
The invention of the stocking frame allowed 1 man to do as much work as 100 men before.
New counties adopted the customs of Europe. This kind of dress, formerly reserved for the rich, has now descended to the poorest classes.
But if, at the present day, some new discovery should enable us, by a single stocking-frame, to do the work which ten years ago was done by 100, this discovery would be a national misfortune; for the number of consumers can scarcely increase, and it would then be the number of producers which would be diminished.
This example shows the general rule= Whenever a discovery, economizing labour, brings within the reach of a poorer class what was previously confined to the rich, it extends the market. It benefits the undertakers and poor consumers, and it does no harm to workers.
But when the invention cannot increase the number of consumers but merely lowers prices, the discovery becomes a human calamity. This is because:
- it is advantageous only to the manufacturer at the expense of his brethren
- it benefits a single nation at the expense of others
This national benefit, if purchased at the expense of wretchedness and famine to foreign artisans, would not in itself be much worth coveting.
Whoever introduces a saving in any article of his consumption, preserving still the same revenue, will consume what he saves from the fall of price in such and such an article, by a new expenditure, for which he will put in requisition a new labour. But there never will be any proportion between this new demand and the labour suspended on account of it.
On one hand, the quality of the goods become higher for the same price. But this is not really an advantage because he has to use such goods which become the new standard.
On the other hand, the price of goods is not always established in direct proportion to the labour they require, but in a very complicated proportion subsisting between this annual labour, the circulating capital, and a primary, unrenewed labour, consumed in building the manufactory, constructing the machinery with expensive and often foreign materials.
Hence, even when 100 workers are dismissed, that the work may be done with one man using machinery. But the goods are not reduced by 99% of their price.
The stocking-frame economizes work nearly in this proportion. Yet it scarcely produces stockings 10% cheaper than those made with the needle. The saving does not exceed 10% despite the invention of large mills for spinning wool, silk, and cotton.
This is also true for all improved manufactures. They have never diminished the price of their produce, except in arithmetical progression, while they have suspended workmanship in geometrical progression.
Let us compare this saving in workmanship with the saving in price. 100,000 women who knit with the needle each a hundred pair of stockings annually, produce 10 million pairs. At 5s. a-piece, would sell at 2,500,000 l.
The raw material is worth 1/5 of this. There remains 2,000,000 to distribute among 100,000 workmen, or 20 l. a-head.
The same work is done at present on the frame by 1000 workmen. It comes in 10% cheaper, at 4s. 6d. a pair, or, 2,250,000 l.
In all the nation therefore saves 250,000 l. If employed solely in workmanship, this sum would be sufficient to maintain 12,500 of the workers who have been dismissed.
But this is not what happens.
The consumer, accustomed to buy stockings at 5s. a pair, still pays the same price. But, because of progress, he merely wears them a little finer. This progress in his luxury gives subsistence to 10% more stocking manufactures, that is to a hundred more; to these add still farther 100 workmen employed in repairing the machines, or constructing new ones.
You have in all 1,200 workmen living on the sum which supported 100,000.
The same calculation is applicable to all improved manufactures; for the manufacturer, in adopting a new machine, and dismissing his workmen, never troubles himself with inquiring whether he shall make a profit equal to the diminution of workmanship, but merely whether he shall be enabled to sell a little cheaper than his rivals. All the workmen of England would be turned to the street, if the manufacturers could employ steam engines in their place, with a saving of five per cent.
Besides, the improvement of machinery, and the economy of human labour, contribute immediately to diminish the number of national consumers because all the ruined workmen were consumers.
In the countryside, the introduction of the large farming system has banished from Great Britain the class of peasant farmers, who laboured themselves and yet enjoyed an honest plenty.
The population has been considerably diminished. But its consumption is reduced still farther than its number.
- perform all sorts of field labour
- are limited to the scantiest necessaries
- give not nearly so much encouragement to the industry of towns as the rich peasants gave before.
A similar change has taken place in the population of towns. Discoveries in the mechanical arts have always eventually concentrated industry in the hands of a fewer richer merchants.
They discover the economy which exists in management on a great scale, the division of operation, the employment common to a great number of men at once, of light, fuel, and all the powers of nature.
Thus, small merchants and small manufacturers disappear.
Our great undertaker supplies the place of hundreds who, all together, were not as rich as he. All together were, however, better consumers than he. His expensive luxury gives far less encouragement to industry than the honest plenty of a hundred households, of which his household supplies the place.
New demands made manufactures prosper. Despite the machines, the number of labourers increases likewise. They left the countryside to move to manufacturing towns, causing a population increase in the latter.
But after the entire market has been provided for, the number of workmen are reduced. Distress reaches its height. <!– and one might begin to regret the progress of this civilization, which, by collecting a greater number of individuals in the same space of ground, has but multiplied their wretchedness, whilst in deserts it could at least but reach a small number of victims.
One might also regret that governments have studied too late, and neglected too constantly the precepts of a science, which, teaching the origin of national prosperity, points out beforehand its danger, and the causes of its destruction. –>