By Nassau Senior, 1830
Critique by Punkerslut
Nassau Senior was an economist, who primarily wrote in the early 1800's. In this work, he attempts to develop a method for improving the condition of the laboring class. His simple desire to improve society, though, was not enough to cause him to become either a Socialist or a Communist. Here, his ideas on improving the condition of the worker are somewhat illogical. Besides that, he offers the argument that machinery has not reduced the wages of workers. I will attempt to show how both of his ideas are unfounded.
Improving the Condition of the Worker
Nassau Senior argues that, the fund for which the laborers are supported, must be increased, before the laborers are increased. To increase this fund, is to add to the luxury of the workers, thus, it becomes a moral imperative. On the method of increasing this fund, Senior proposes that workers become more industrious. I can only regard his reasoning as largely infantile, his evidence mostly unfounded, and his claims to be destructive towards a true study of political economy. His idea, of increasing the fund which supports the worker as a means of achieving economic prosperity, is opposed to all reason and experience. And, to quote Thomas Malthus, "What can we reason, but from what we know?" ["An Essay on the Principle of Population, 1798, chapter 9.] In regards to this fund, which is used for paying the wages of the workers, this fund is not increased or decreased with the rate of production. The workers are not paid according to a strict fund set by the Capitalist. Rather, those workers without any skill or ability receive a subsistence wage. Those of higher ability, skill, and education, tend to be paid more. These are the methods by which wages are determined: the ability of the worker to produce wealth. If a Capitalist builds machinery into his factory, and doubles the work of his workers, the wages do not increase. It has been 200 years of innovation, technology, and progress, from the creation of the steam engine to our most latest discoveries -- and yet, minimum wage today is not enough to meet the poverty level. [I did some research on this in the First Edition of the book Class War.] Wages are not determined by the productivity of the workers, but rather, by their ability compared to other workers.
This can be but the most obvious truth of political economy, aside from that wisdom that wealth is created by labor. When man made the transition from primitive hunter gatherers to an industrial society, when the division of labor commenced, the productivity of every person increased. The natives labored but several hours per week. The worker labored close to 14 or 16 hours per day, and these workers included children whom became permanently deformed due to such excessive work. But they had machinery, which increased their work. If a hammer can aid a man in putting nails in wood, then imagine what something so complex and powerful as a steam engine could do. The laborers already had a production rate that was close to 100 fold the normal rate of production. Today, this number may even be closer to 1,000 fold the normal rate. Yet, they are paid but a subsistence wage. Since the productivity is one hundred times what it would be without machinery, why should anyone believe that increasing productivity even more, would alter wages with an increase? Only a fool uneducated in political economy.
The idea that machinery increases wages is absurd. Though machinery does increase how much production occurs with labor, it comes with the painful effect making class distinctions immeasurably more distinct and the conditions of the worker remarkably miserable. For instance, as Senior pointed out, the power loom made it much more quick and effective at producing clothing, but those who worked in the industry suffered unemployment. The competition between these workers was great. They were all willing to offer wages as low as subsistence to acquire their employment. And so the subsistence wage was born. Did the price of clothing go down with machinery? Some report that, while production increase by 10,000%, prices were reduced by only 10%. In Political Economy by Jean-Charles-Leonard Simonde de Sismondi, he reports that a group of individuals decided to produce clothing without this machinery. In one hundred days, they would make what a machine could produce, in one day. Yet, they still turned a profit, which was close to 1/4th of their expenditure, doing things without machinery or proper capital. This is simply an example of the exploitation of the Capitalist system. It turns technology into the enemy of the people. However, I digress... Technology lowers wages in that it makes competition ridiculously stronger among the working class. Senior argues that perhaps wages may decrease there, but increase in other fields. Quite the opposite is true. Those who were laid off in the mills will seek employment in other factories, offering their services for lower than those already employed. Consequently, the workers of every industry feels the inflow of these employees. Those workers who are striking will have a greater possibility of these newly unemployed workers becoming scabs and stealing their jobs. Now, if the cost of clothing were to genuinely decrease, then perhaps it would be true that wages would remain unaltered. Since the price decreased, the factory workers would work perhaps four hours less per day, this amount of time being filled by those who lost employment in mills.... However, that is not the case, as has been demonstrated in only a brief understanding of political economy.
I am not, however, opposed to using technology as a method for decreasing the amount of labor employed in creating our needs. When we use tools, our rate of production increases. When we work together, divide our labor, our rate of production increases further. When we employ technology, the innovation of the human genius to our disposal, then our productivity is increased remarkably. I believe in harnessing this productivity, so that it may work on behalf of the workers and not on behalf of the Capitalists. The only method of harnessing this productivity is through Communism. If a new invention comes about, which aids in production, wages will not be increased or decreased, but a new field of industry will arise, where those of the old field are relocated. These new fields of industry will cater to the interests of the Capitalist class only. In a way, the Capitalists keep the poor laboring hard to sustain themselves in poverty and to sustain the Capitalists in wealth, while the poor labor and the rich remain idle.