Friday, September 12, 2008

Adam Smith on Wages and Strikes

An anonymous Blogger, who describes himself as ‘a humble working man’, is scribing a project he calls the Harvard Classics Project (“In which the Daily Reading Guide from my great-grandfather's set of Harvard Classics takes me on a random trip around old, old school Western Culture”) HERE:

Adam Smith Breaks It Down For You’

Adam Smith complete lack of affect, his utter refusal to take sides, I also find devastating. Check this passage out, about wage-slave/boss disputes:

“It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily; and the law, besides, authorises, or at least does not prohibit their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen. We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work; but many against combining to raise it. In all such disputes the masters can hold out much longer....Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year without employment. In the long-run the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him; but the necessity is not so immediate

The Blogger reveals in his first Blog (December 2007) that he was ‘on strike’, though I doubt whether his circumstances as a striker were quite as bleak as those labourers in mid-18th-century Britain when strikes were illegal, when strike leaders could be flogged through the streets, and when labourers were desperately poor after a few days without their miserable wages.

He also notes that Adam Smith didn’t take sides in such events, though his sympathies were plain. Taking sides would have invited fairly serious discomforts for Adam Smith (there being no freedom of speech to anything like the degree that is prevalent today in modern Scotland).

You should follow the link for two other salient quotations from Wealth Of Nations, one on the necessary subsistence wages of “the lowest species of common labourers” in Britain, and the other on the better prospects for widows with children in the British colonies in North America.


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