On the Effect of Machinery in Reducing the Demand for Labourby@charlesbabbage

On the Effect of Machinery in Reducing the Demand for Labour

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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 them 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 be clearly perceived, by imagining a society, in which occupations 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 of which his shoes can be made in half the usual time, then each member of the 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 of labour is not 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 happiness.
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Charles Babbage

English Polymath—mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, father of computers.


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by Charles Babbage @charlesbabbage.English Polymath—mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, father of computers.
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