To the Editor of the Times,
Mr. Aytoun's letter in your column of to-day is entirely based on the exploded fallacy that the amount of work to be done is a fixed quantity, unaffected by the wages paid or the number of labourers employed in producing it.
Mr. Aytoun commences is letter by stating that if labourers were to work nine hours, instead of ten, this would be equivalent to emigration of one-tenth of the labourers, while consumers would remain the same. The statement is self-contradictory and requires no reply.
Mr. Aytoun proceeds to say that on the same hypothesis there would arise a demand for more produce and additional labourers. The very reverse would be the case.
At first money wags would remain the same, but real wages would be reduced by one-tenth, the labourer would find that the money with which he formerly bought 10lb. of bread, meat, &c., would only buy 9 lb. But foreign buyers would not pay the advanced prices for commodities which would only sell in their markets at the former prices. The exchanges would fall, and would not again rise to par till one-tenth of our circulating medium had been drained away (see Mill's Political Economy, Book 3, chap. 18); prices would fall to their old level, and money wages would be reduced by one-tenth as I have shown real wages would have been from the first. The standard of living remaining the same, population would gradually be reduced, till the wages for nine hours' labour became the same as are now paid for ten hours. The effective desire of accumulation remaining the same, and profits being reduced (for labour cannot receive ten hours' wages for nine hours' work without a reduction of profit). capital would be withdrawn from productive consumption till profits rose to their old level.
The ultimate result would be that, instead, as Mr. Aytoun supposes, of "the larger part of the unproductive labourers (he means paupers) being brought into employment, we should have a smaller capital and a reduced population receiving the same wages for nine hours' work as are now paid for ten.
Whether this is a consummation to be desired, considering the suffering which would be inflicted on the labourer during the period of transition, is a question on which there may be different opinions. Few, I should think, could contemplate without horror the suffering implied in the diminution of capital and labour which must arise before Mr. Aytoun's supposition that the labourer might receive ten hours wages for six hours' work could be realized, I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
Reform Club, Sept. 19. J.C.
P.S. Mr. Mill does not adopt the doctrine that production has a tendency to increase beyond the demand; on the contrary, he agrees with Mr. Aytoun that the doctrine is absurd. (See Mill's Political Economy, book 1, chap. 5, sec. 3, and book 3, chap. 14.)
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Friday, March 25, 2011
The Times of London, Tuesday, Sep 21, 1871; pg.12; col C: The Engineers' Strike
Posted by Sandwichman at 5:41 PM