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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 51

Chapter VI. — Division of Labour

Chapter VI.

Division of Labour.

Among the many advantages conferred on mankind by free foreign trade—that is, by the unrestricted interchange of commodities between man and man throughout the globe—one of the most signal is that, in the highest degree and to page 22 its widest extent, it promotes division of labour. There is surely no need to expatiate on the important part which division of labour plays in multiplying and perfecting the products of human industry. Through its instrumentality the productive forces of the human race are employed in such a way as to lead to the most efficient and remunerative results. The larger the community or the aggregation of communities, the more effectually the division of labour can be carried out. In a country village, or in an incipient colony, a shop is a miscellaneous store, a dealer devotes his attention to a number of incongruous articles, and an artisan is a jack-of-all-trades. In a populous district labour is more divided, and to each individual is allotted some special work to do, which constant practice enables him to perform with greatly-increased efficiency. In large countries each province settles down more specially to certain forms of industry, according to a variety of influences, such as geographical position, soil, climate, natural productions, hereditary tendencies, early education of the people, sometimes chance immigration, and other causes more or less accidental. By means of this division of labour each province produces more abundantly, more cheaply, and in greater perfection, the special articles to which it devotes itself, and all work harmoniously together for the common good. The benefits conferred by division of labour would be lost if these provinces were to split among themselves, and each determine on combining within itself all the various trades and industries which before formed the speciality, some of one province, some of another. All of them would be losers; because, whereas before, in each of them capital and labour were concentrated on certain employments to which they were the most competent, they are now diverted from these and directed to a variety of others to which they are the least competent. If the pottery district in Staffordshire were to decide on diverting a portion of its capital and of its skilled labour to the creation of woollen and linen manufactures, in order to become independent of Leeds and Belfast, it is plain that the operation would be a losing one, chiefly because the immense advantages derived from division page 23 of labour and industrial organisation would be wantonly thrown away.

So, in the world at large, had it not been for the pernicious interference of governments with the natural course of things, each country would have settled down more specially to certain forms of industry, and, were trade left free, would, through this natural division of labour, each produce cheaply and abundantly those special articles to which it had devoted its attention, and contribute, to the full extent of its productive power, to the wealth of the world. It would, moreover, follow that as each country would devote its energies to the production of those commodities which it was more specially fitted to raise, with a view of exchanging the surplus for such commodities as other nations were more specially fitted to produce, the amount of international traffic would be enormous, and foreign trade would be developed to an extent at present undreamt of.

It is in the performance of this function of interchanging the commodities of one country with those of another, that foreign trade is instrumental in promoting division of labour all the world over; and whatever tends to impede the former must impair the latter. Now, protection, by checking imports checks exports, and in that proportion curtails foreign trade. It is, therefore, clear that the protective system interferes detrimentally with the division of labour. Indeed, if that system were carried out to its full extent by not only isolating, as it now does, nation from nation, but also province from province, community from community, and family from family, division of labour with its attendant benefits would be altogether suppressed.

Fortunately Nature herself interposes a limit to the isolating tendency of protection, by the diversity of the products yielded by different parts of the earth. The most thorough protectionist will admit that there are many foreign commodities which each country must either import or entirely deprive itself of. The utmost he can accomplish is to abridge foreign trade, he cannot altogether annihilate it. Thus, under the operation of a natural law, no nation can, without an intolerable degree of privation and suffering, be page 24 completely self-dependent, and man is, in order to interchange the special products of one zone with those of another, compelled, apparently against his will, to exercise, at all events to a certain extent, the humanising influence of international commerce.