service which they rendered a remuneration regulated by the general rate of earnings. Among them there arose one who discovered the means of multiplying copies of the same work rapidly. He invented printing.
In the first instance, one man was enriched, and many others were impoverished. At first sight, marvellous as the invention proves itself to be, we hesitate to decide whether it is hurtful or useful. It seems to introduce into the world, as I have said, an indefinite element of inequality. Guttemberg profits by his invention, and extends his invention with its profits indefinitely, until he has ruined all the copyists. As regards the public, in the capacity of consumer, it gains little; for Guttemberg takes care not to lower the price of his books, but just enough to undersell his rivals.
But the intelligence which has introduced harmony into the movements of the heavenly bodies, has implanted it also in the internal mechanism of society. We shall see the economic advantages of the invention when it has ceased to be individual property, and has become for ever the common patrimony of the masses.
At length the invention comes to be known. Guttemberg is no longer the only printer; others imitate him. Their profits at first are large. They are thus rewarded for having been the first to imitate the invention; and it is right that it should be so, for this higher remuneration was necessary to induce them to concur in the grand definite result which is approaching. They gain a great deal, but they gain less than the inventor, for competition now begins its work. The price of books goes on falling. The profit of imitators goes on diminishing in proportion as the invention becomes of older date; that is to say, in proportion as the imitation becomes less meritorious.… The new branch of industry at length reaches its normal state; in other words, the remuneration of printers ceases to be exceptionally high, and comes, like that of the copyist, to be regulated by the ordinary rate of earnings. Here we have production, as
- The author, here and elewhere, uses the French word profits; but it is clear from the context that he does not refer to the returns from capital, in which sense alone the English economists employ the term profits. We have therefore substituted the words earnings or wages.—Translator.