This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
4th, The division of labor lessens the number of those who do business on their own account. This is a natural consequence of what has been shown. We have said that capital has a tendency toward concentration; and, if it be aggregated, labor must also be. The result of this, in agriculture, is to absorb the yeomanry into the class of those who labor by the day or month, with no interest in the land. The result in manufacturing is to subordinate hundreds of operatives to the control of a single will. This has a threefold relation: a. To the formation of character. Something of independence and self-respect is unquestionably lost, so far as these depend on external conditions. Position and responsibility do foster and strengthen manliness and self-mastery. By the division of labor, the independence of each is sacrificed to the good of all. It will not be doubted, that, on the whole, it is desirable that it should be so ; nor can it be denied that there are partial drawbacks, even in this plain tendency of civilization. It is the sacrifice man has to make in society, in industry, in government. b. To the fairness of remuneration. A very few now participate in the profits. The great bulk of workmen receive only wages, and that on temporary engagements. This disproportion may be excessive, and is likely to bo where laws or institutions check enterprise, and discourage individual effort. In such cases, laborers are practically a herd of cattle, driven about from place to place, receiving bare subsistence, and unable to mend their condition. This is a lamentable state of things; an abuse of a good principle. No one can deny, however, that the worst-treated operatives of the civilized world receive infinitely more than if the efforts of men were all individual and independent, and each was left to satisfy his wants from the primitive resources of Nature. But, even if we come forward from the barbarous state to that in which the work of man has divided itself into numerous trades, each of these, however, yet remaining distinct, and compare this with the present state, in which trades have been repeatedly subdivided, — capital aggregate and labor subordinate,— we shall yet find that the share of the poorest laborer in the mighty product of our industry of to-day is greater than ever before. Augustus, says Arbuthnot, had neither glass to his windows nor a shirt to his back.
Thus much could be urged of the wretchedest operatives on the earth; but, when we regard the condition of labor as it exists in nearly all the countries of the world, we shall quickly confess, that, though the laborer has given up his share of profits, he receives back, as wages, far more objects of desire than he could have obtained in the old way. c. To the steadiness of employment. By the attraction of labor to great centres, the fate of many laborers is made dependent on that of a few capitalists. This is a great fact, scientifically and historically. It must continue. It has issued, in the past, in the form of great industrial distresses, of a general suspension of mechanical labor from causes affecting only the mercantile credit of the employers, of frantic appeals for support, of laws in which government assumes the duty of providing work for its whole population, of riots and revolution. So far as this will occur in spite of prudence and careful management, it is the condition on which we have the advantages of division of labor. Men cannot cross the great ocean alone. They must go together, have help of each other,. and embark their fortunes on a common bottom. More of them would perhaps be safe if each was on a ship of his own; but that cannot well be.
Even in regard to steadiness of employment, the aggregation of capital and consequent division of labor assist the workman up to a certain point. That point is the great catastrophe which no structure can withstand. Then, the greater the structure, the more completely it crushes the laborer.
Where capital is concentrated, it is stronger, protects itself better; and, of course, the workman shares in this power and immunity. Where the industry of thousands is controlled by the mind of one, it will be more intelligently and harmoniously administered, and with a larger view of the business. By such superiority of union in production (for that is synonymous with division of labor), the industry of a country is lifted clean over obstacles which individual enterprise could not pass,—is preserved amid storms that would shatter the feeble fabric of single hands. Industry in masses, when it receives a shock, can hold on to the accumulations of the past and to the credit of the future, and so stands firm.
But when the blow becomes so heavy as to shatter even the great workshops of modern industry, and they come down, then truly the fall is great. The ruin is more complete than if the storm had prostrated a village of huts. The reservoir of gathered power has burst; the springs have long since been broken down; the wells been filled up; and there is no supply for immediate wants. Such a loss is repaired slowly. The trampled grass raises itself, and looks up again; but the oak lies as it falls. Independent has been discouraged by collective industry; the shop has been abandoned for the mill; each workman has learned only the fraction of a trade; no one can buy, make, and sell; no one dares to undertake any business, foreseeing that the corporation must rise again. For a while, all is distress. It is only when the stately fabric of associated industry is reared again, that plenty is known in the land.
We have discussed, somewhat at length, the relations which division of labor holds to the condition of the laborer, by depriving him of the opportunity to do business on his own account. Until recently, it has been supposed that the advantages of the principle could not practically be obtained without this defect; that capital could not be concentrated, and the trades perfected, without diminishing the independence and self-reliance of labor. But recent developments seem to be anticipating the objection. It is now a matter of common practice to admit the laborer to an interest in business, — a share in profits. This is done by merchants to their salesmen, by master mechanics to their workmen, by ship-owners to their hands. All stock-companies, of whatever character, admit of this principle. Mutual industrial associations for trade, mining, and insurance, furnish its most significant and hopeful applications. There is no reason why these should not be extended much further by a gradual growth, as they are found convenient and profitable. Just so far as a sufficient spring of self-interest can be maintained in the effort, both of the employer, or manager, and of the operative, so far may mutuality of profits be applied to all departments with the most beneficial results.