On The Effect Of Machinery In Reducing The Demand For Labour

404. One of the objections most frequently urged against

machinery is, that it has a tendency to supersede much of the

hand labour which was previously employed; and in fact unless a

machine diminished the labour necessary to make an article, it

could never come into use. But if it have that effect, its owner,

in order to extend the sale of his produce, will be obliged to

undersell his competitors; this will induce the
also to

introduce the new machine, and the effect of this competition

will soon cause the article to fall, until the profits on

capital, under the new system, shall be reduced to the same rate

as under the old. Although, therefore, the use of machinery has

at first a tendency to throw labour out of employment, yet the

increased demand consequent upon the reduced price, almost

immediately absorbs a considerable portion of that labour, and

perhaps, in some cases, the whole of what would otherwise have

been displaced.

That the effect of a new machine is to diminish the labour

required for the production of the same quantity of manufactured

commodities may beclearlyperceived, byimaginingasociety,

inwhichoccupation are not divided, each man himself manufacturing

all the articles he consumes. Supposing each individual to labour

during ten hours daily, one of which is devoted to making shoes,

it is evident that if any tool or machine be introduced, by the

use ofwhich his shoes can be made in halfthe usual time, then

each member ofthe community will enjoy the same comforts as

before by only nine and one-half hours' labour.

405. If, therefore, we wish to prove that the total quantity

oflabourisnot diminished by the introduction of machines, we must

have recourse to some other principle of our nature. But the same

motive which urges a man to activity will become additionally

powerful, when he finds his comforts procured with diminished

labour; and in such circumstances, it is probable, that many

would employ the time thus redeemed in contriving new tools for

other branches of their occupations. He who has habitually worked

ten hours a day, will employ the half hour saved by the new

machine in gratifying some other want; and as each new machine

adds to these gratifications, new luxuries will open to his view,

which continued enjoyment will as surely render necessary to his


406. In countries where occupations are divided, and where

the division of labour is practised, the ultimate consequence of

improvements in machinery is almost invariably to cause a greater

demand for labour. Frequently the new labour requires, at its

commencement, a higher degree of skill than the old; and,

unfortunately, the class of persons driven out of the old

employment are not always qualified for the new one; so that a

certain interval must elapse before the whole of their labour is

wanted. This, for a time, produces considerable suffering amongst

the working classes; and it is of great importance for their

happiness that they should be aware of these effects, and be

enabled to foresee them at an early period, in order to diminish,

as much as possible, the injury resulting from them.

407. One very important enquiry which this subject presents

is the question whether it is more for the interest of the

working classes, that improved machinery should be so perfect as

to defy the competition of hand labour; and that they should thus

be at once driven out of the trade by it; or be gradually forced

to quit it by the slow and successive advances of the machine?

The suffering which arises from a quick transition is undoubtedly

more intense; but it is also much less permanent than that which

results from the slower process: and if the competition is

perceived to be perfectly hopeless, the workman will at once set

himself to learn a new department of his art. On the other hand,

although new machinery causes an increased demand for skill in

those who make and repair it, and in those who first superintend

its use; yet there are other cases in which it enables children

and inferior workmen to execute work that previously required

greater skill. In such circumstances, even though the increased

demand for the article, produced by its diminished price, should

speedily give occupation to all who were before employed, yet the

very diminution of the skill required, would open a wider field

of competition amongst the working classes themselves.

That machines do not, even at their first introduction,

invariably throw human labour out of employment, must be

admitted; and it has been maintained, by persons very competent

to form an opinion on the subject, that they never produce that

effect. The solution of this question depends on facts, which,

unfortunately, have not yet been collected: and the circumstance

of our not possessing the data necessary for the full examination

of so important a subject, supplies an additional reason for

impressing, upon the minds of all who are interested in such

enquiries, the importance of procuring accurate registries, at

various times, of the number of persons employed in particular

branches of manufacture, of the number of machines used by them.

and of the wages they receive.

408. In relation to the enquiry just mentioned, I shall offer

some remarks upon the facts within my knowledge; and only regret

that those which I can support by numerical statement are so few.

When the crushing mill, used in Cornwall and other mining

countries, superseded the labour of a great number of young

women, who worked very hard in breaking ores with flat hammers,

no distress followed. The reason of this appears to have been,

that the proprietors of the mines, having one portion of their

capital released by the superior cheapness of the process

executed by the mills, found it their interest to apply more

labour to other operations. The women, disengaged from mere

drudgery, were thus profitably employed in dressing the ores, a

work which required skill and judgement in the selection.

409. The increased production arising from alterations in the

machinery, or from improved modes of using it, appears from the

following table. A machine called in the cotton manufacture a

'stretcher', worked by one man, produced as follows:

Year; Pounds of cotton spun; Roving wages per score; Rate of

earning per week

s. d. s. d.

1810 400 1 31/2 25 10(1*)

1811 600 0 10 25 0

1813 850 0 9 31 101/2

1823 1000 0 71/2 31 3

The same man working at another stretcher, the roving a little

finer, produced,

1823 900 0 71/2 28 11/2

1825 1000 0 7 27 6

1827 1200 0 6 30 0

1832 1200 0 6 30 0

In this instance, production has gradually increased until, at

the end of twenty-two years, three times as much work is done as

at the commencement, although the manual labour employed remains

the same. The weekly earnings of the workmen have not fluctuated

very much, and appear, on the whole, to have advanced: but it

would be imprudent to push too far reasonings founded upon a

single instance.

410. The produce of 480 spindles of 'mule yarn spinning', at

different periods, was as follows:

Year; Hanks about 40 to the pound; Wages per thousand (s. d.)

1806; 6668; 9 2

1823; 8000; 6 3

1832; 10,000; 3 8

411. The subjoined view of the state of weaving by hand- and

by power-looms, at Stockport, in the years 1822 and 1832, is

taken from an enumeration of the machines contained in 65

factories, and was collected for the purpose of being given in

evidence before a Committee of the House of Commons.

In 1822 In 1832

Hand-loom weavers 2800 800 2000 decrease

Persons using power-looms 657 3059 2402 increase

Persons to dress the warp 98 388 290 increase

Total persons employed 3555 4247 692 increase

Power-looms 1970 9177 8207 increase

During this period, the number of hand-looms in employment has

diminished to less than one-third, whilst that of power-looms has

increased to more than five times its former amount. The total

number of workmen has increased about one-third; but the amount

of manufactured goods (supposing each power-loom to do only the

work of three hand-looms) is three and a half times as large as

it was before.

412. In considering this increase of employment, it must be

admitted, that the two thousand persons thrown out of work are

not exactly of the same class as those called into employment by

the power-looms. A hand-weaver must possess bodily strength,

which is not essential for a person attending a power-loom;

consequently, women and young persons of both sexes, from fifteen

to seventeen years of age, find employment in power-loom

factories. This, however, would be a very limited view of the

employment arising from the introduction of power-looms: the

skill called into action in building the new factories, in

constructing the new machinery, in making the steam-engines to

drive it, and in devising improvements in the structure of the

looms, as well as in regulating the economy of the establishment,

is of a much higher order than that which it had assisted in

superseding; and if we possessed any means of measuring this, it

would probably be found larger in amount. Nor, in this view of

the subject, must we omit the fact, that although hand-looms

would have increased in number if those moved by steam had not

been invented, yet it is the cheapness of the article

manufactured by power-looms which has caused this great extension

of their employment, and that by diminishing the price of one

article of commerce, we always call into additional activity the

energy of those who produce others. It appears that the number of

hand-looms in use in England and Scotland in 1830, was about

240,000; nearly the same number existed in the year 1820: whereas

the number of power-looms which, in 1830, was 55,000, had, in

1820, been 14,000. When it is considered that each of these

powerlooms did as much work as three worked by hand, the

increased producing power was equal to that of 123,000

hand-looms. During the whole of this period the wages and

employment of hand-loom weavers have been very precarious.

413. Increased intelligence amongst the working classes, may

enable them to foresee some of those improvements which are

likely for a time to affect the value of their labour; and the

assistance of savings banks and friendly societies, (the

advantages of which can never be too frequently, or too strongly,

pressed upon their attention), may be of some avail in remedying

the evil: but it may be useful also to suggest to them, that a

diversity of employments amongst the members of one family will

tend, in some measure, to mitigate the privations which arise

from fluctuation in the value of labour.


1. In 1810, the workman's wages were guaranteed not to be less

than 26s.