Problems of Poverty eBook

John A. Hobson
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 234 pages of information about Problems of Poverty.

Chapter XI.

The Industrial Outlook of Low-Skilled Labour.

Sec. 1.  The Concentration of Capital.—­It must be remembered that we have been concerned with what is only a portion of the great industrial movement of to-day.  Perhaps it may serve to make the industrial position of the poor low-skilled workers more distinct if we attempt to set this portion in its true relation to the larger Labour Problem, by giving a brief outline of the size and relation of the main industrial forces of the day.

If we look at the two great industrial factors, Capital and Labour, we see a corresponding change taking place in each.  This change signifies a constant endeavour to escape the rigour of competition by a co-operation which grows ever closer towards fusion of interests previously separate.

Look first at Capital.  We saw how the application of machinery and mechanical power to productive industries replaced the independent citizen, or small capitalist, who worked with a handful of assistants, by the mill and factory owner with his numerous “hands.”  The economic use of machinery led to production on a larger scale.  But new, complex, and expensive machinery is continually being invented, which, for those who can afford to purchase and use it, represents a fresh economy in production, and enables them both to produce larger quantities of goods more rapidly, and to get rid of them by underselling those of their trade competitors who are working with old-fashioned and less effective machinery.  As this process is continually going on, it signifies a constant advantage which the owner of a large business capital has over the owner of a smaller capital.  In earlier times, when trade was more localized, and the small manufacturer or merchant had his steady customers, and stood on a slowly and carefully acquired reputation, it was not so easy for a new competitor to take his trade by the offer of some small additional advantage.  But the opening up of wider communication by cheap postage, the newspaper, the railway, the telegraph, the general and rapid knowledge of prices, the enormous growth of touting and advertising, have broken up the local and personal character of commerce, and tend to make the whole world one complete and even arena of competition.  Thus the fortunate possessor of some commercial advantage, however trifling, which enables him to produce more cheaply or sell more effectively than his fellows, can rapidly acquire their trade, unless they are able to avail themselves of the new machinery, or special skill, or other economy which he possesses.  This consideration enables the large capitalist in all businesses where large capital contains these advantages, or the owner of some large natural monopoly, who can most cheaply extract large quantities of raw material, to crush in free competition the smaller businesses.  In proportion as business is becoming wider and more cosmopolitan, these natural

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Problems of Poverty from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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