Factory Production in Nineteenth-Century Britain

By Elaine Freedgood | Go to book overview

TWO
MACHINES AND MANAGEMENT

The texts in this section imagine, in their various ways, how best to organize industrialized labor. The section begins with a selection from Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (1776), which although obviously not a nineteenth-century text, influenced nineteenth-century thinking immeasurably. Smith's account of the pin factory forms the locus classicus of arguments for the benefits derived, for both producers and consumers, from increasingly fine divisions of labor. Specialization, Smith argues, leads not only to more productivity because each worker has one task that he can become more and more skilled at performing, but also because it leads to mechanical invention. Robert Owen, writing some forty years later, is concerned with the relationship between labor and larger patterns of social life: His factory at New Lanark is surrounded by a company-owned village so that both the working and domestic lives of “his” laborers are overseen by him. Owen imagines that he can contribute to a better “formation” of the characters of the working class to make for the greatest “general happiness of society.” For both Smith and Owen, workers and owners—whether or not they realize it—are in a symbiotic relation of shared interests.

When it came to machinery and unemployment, the Luddites, the writer for the Chartist Circular and Francis Place, are all essentially in agreement with one another, and oddly enough, with the most influential economist of the first half of the nineteenth century, David Ricardo: All concurred that the introduction of machinery caused unemployment and therefore hurt the working class. Their solutions differed: The Luddites broke machinery at every opportunity; the Chartists protested the unemployment caused by machines; Ricardo argued that although machinery did cause unemployment, it had to

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