Anonymous. Untitled. Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette (2 Nov 1867), p.1126
(Article printed in the issue of Nov 2)
This is a report of the only paper by Matthew that was accepted for the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Dundee in September 1867. Entitled “Employer and Employed; Capital and Labour”, it was submitted to the “Economic Science and Statistics” section, and argues in favour of free trade and competition, and against fixed wages. Co-operatives such as those operating on whalers are also favoured.
Natural selection is once again referred to: “Competition is the great and universal law of Nature, which retains every organism in the realms of wild Nature in the highest perfection of being that it has reached; and were competition removed from man he would soon sink back to the savage state, or lower, or disappear from the earth”.
The term “wages-combination” refers to wage-fixing, either by employers (to keep wages artificially low) or by employees (e.g. by trade unions, to keep them artificially high). Matthew is against both, arguing that under a competititive free-market system “wages will rise higher, far higher, than combination can, for any length of time, obtain”. Matthew may have drawn inspiration from “Wages and Combination” (1834) by the Irish economist Robert Torrens. Like Matthew, Torrens was against the Corn Laws and was a strong supporter of emigration to relieve population pressure in the United Kingdom.
Matthew submitted other papers to the BAAS meeting, including one on natural selection, but these were rejected – see Newspaper Articles > 1867 BAAS meeting. Furthermore, Matthew’s economics paper was side-lined and not actually presented at the meeting. This report is therefore presumably an abstracted version of the written paper.
The report in the Gardeners’ Chronicle is reproduced in full below:
At the late meeting of the British Association in Dundee, a paper on the war between capital and labour, by our correspondent, Mr. Patrick Matthew, of Gourdie Hill, which was accepted for the section of Economics and Statistics, while admitting that combination among working men is necessary to regulate the number of hours of labour, to see that workshops and factories are in a high degree wholesome, clean, well-ventilated, and for any other sanitary requirement, argued that it is the interest of working men that wages-combination should cease both among employers and employed. Entire freedom in trade, in the price of the products of labour, and in labour itself, as necessary concomitants, are universally advantageous. Competition is the great and universal law of Nature, which retains every organism in the realms of wild Nature in the highest perfection of being that it has reached; and were competition removed from man he would soon sink back to the savage state, or lower, or disappear from the earth. A uniform wage, taking away all desire to improve or excel, would soon bring British working men to fall behind those of other countries, and British manufactures would disappear. The more that capitalists prosper, the more competition there will be for labour, and wages will rise higher, far higher, than combination can, for any length of time, obtain. Nevertheless, it appears that there are better means of regulating labour than by the system of employer and employed. Co-operation in manufactures by working men of small capital is succeeding. The system of our whalers — of all the working men having a small share of the profits — is perhaps the best possible system; a marriage between capital and management on the one side with workers on the other.