Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/34

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24
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

a force, unintentionally, but of necessity, continually operating to raise all industrial effort to higher and better conditions: and herein we have an explanation of the economic phenomenon that, while the introduction of improved machinery economizes and supplements labor, it rarely or never reduces wages.

One of the most curious features of the existing economic situation is the advocacy of the idea, and the degree of popular favor which has been extended to it, that a reduction of the hours of labor, enforced, if needs be, by statute, is a "natural means for increasing wages and promoting progress."[1] This movement in favor of a shorter day of work is not, however, of recent origin, inasmuch as it has greatly commended itself to public sentiment in Great Britain and in the United States for many years, and more recently in a lesser degree in the states of continental Europe. But it is desirable to recognize that the early agitation in furtherance of this object, and the success which has attended it, was based on reasons very different from those which underlie the arguments of to-day. Thus, in England and on the Continent, the various factory acts by which the day's labor has been shortened, were secured by appealing to the moral sense of the community to check the overworking of women and children; or, in other words, most of such legislation has thus far been influenced by moral considerations, and has so commended itself by its results that there is probably no difference of opinion in civilized countries as to its desirability. But the form which this movement has of late assumed is entirely different. It is now economic, and not moral, and its final analysis is based on the assumption that the laborer can obtain more of wealth or comfort by working less.

It would seem to need no elaborate argument to demonstrate the absurdity of this position. Production must precede consumption and enjoyment, and the only way in which the ability of everybody to consume and enjoy can be increased, is by increasing, so to speak, the output of the whole human family. If production be increased, the worker will necessarily receive a larger return; if diminished, he will necessarily get a smaller return. And it makes no difference whether the diminution be effected by reduction in the hours of work, or by less effective work, or by disuse of labor-saving machinery, or by other obstructive agencies. The result will inevitably be the same: there will be less to divide among the producers after the constantly diminishing returns of capital have been withdrawn.

It will doubtless be urged that man's knowledge and control of the forces of Nature have increased to such an extent in recent years that almost any given industrial result can now be

  1. "Wealth and Progress," by George Gunton. D. Appleton & Co., New York.