On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 358 pages of information about On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures.

4.  In the year 1824 the law against workmen going abroad, as well as the laws preventing them from combining, were repealed, after the fullest enquiry by a Committee of the House of Commons.  In 1825 an attempt to re-enact some of the most objectionable was made, but it failed.

Chapter 34

On the Exportation of Machinery

437.  A few years only have elapsed, since our workmen were not merely prohibited by Act of Parliament from transporting themselves to countries in which their industry would produce for them higher wages, but were forbidden to export the greater part of the machinery which they were employed to manufacture at home.  The reason assigned for this prohibition was, the apprehension that foreigners might av ail themselves of our improved machinery, and thus compete with our manufacturers.  It was, in fact, a sacrifice of the interests of one class of persons, the makers of machinery, for the imagined benefit of another class, those who use it.  Now, independently of the impolicy of interfering, without necessity, between these two classes, it may be observed, that the first class, or the makers of machinery, are, as a body, far more intelligent than those who only use it; and though, at present, they are not nearly so numerous, yet, when the removal of the prohibition which cramps their ingenuity shall have had time to operate, there appears good reason to believe, that their number will be greatly increased, and may, in time, even surpass that of those who use machinery.

438.  The advocates of these prohibitions in England seem to rely greatly upon the possibility of preventing the knowledge of new contrivances from being conveyed to other countries; and they take much too limited a view of the possible, and even probable, improvements in mechanics.

439.  For the purpose of examining this question, let us consider the case of two manufacturers of the same article, one situated in a country in which labour is very cheap, the machinery bad, and the modes of transport slow and expensive; the other engaged in manufacturing in a country in which the price of labour is very high, the machinery excellent, and the means of transport expeditious and economical.  Let them both send their produce to the same market, and let each receive such a price as shall give to him the profit ordinarily produced by capital in his own country.  It is almost certain that in such circumstances the first improvement in machinery will occur in the country which is most advanced in civilization; because, even admitting that the ingenuity to contrive were the same in the two countries, the means of execution are very different.  The effect of improved machinery in the rich country will be perceived in the common market, by a small fall in the price of the manufactured article.  This will be the first intimation to the manufacturer of the poor country, who will endeavour

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