OUR ATTITUDE TOWARD LABOR LEGISLATION

Ely, Professor Richard T.

Our Attitude Toward Labor Legislation One Hundred Years Ago and Now By PROFESSOR RICHARD T. ELY THE economists of the latter half of the 18th century who founded modern political economy as a...

...Our Attitude Toward Labor Legislation One Hundred Years Ago and Now By PROFESSOR RICHARD T. ELY THE economists of the latter half of the 18th century who founded modern political economy as a distinct and separate branch of knowledge, Quesnay and his associates, Adam Smith and his associates, were opposed to what is called legislative interference in the realm of the economic life...
...In fact, these men were such warmhearted humanitarians, that they would perhaps scarcely rank among the "hard-headed" economists...
...But in addition to this general view, we have as an explanation of their position the multitude of restrictions, and old-established monopolies and special privileges which oppressed the manual toiler and to the removal of which they directed their attention...
...They favored, as we all know, a passive policy of government and used as a maxim laissez-faire...
...And they opposed, generally speaking, labor legislation...
...It is noteworthy that Turgot, notwithstanding his general negative economic philosophy, favored a system of public education which France did not achieve for a hundred years, and which a modern economist has said reminds one of socialist demands, while Adam Smith, in denouncing labor laws, said if a labor law chanced to be in the interest of labor it was sure to be a just law...
...One has only to read their lives and to follow closely their writings to become entirely convinced that they had, in high degree even, what is now called "the enthusiasm of humanity," and were animated with a passionate desjire for improvement in human affairs and particularly for the uplift of the lower orders...
...The eighteenth century economic philosophy was, however, as we all know, based on a now discredited and discarded belief in a beneficent code of nature, ruling the economic life as all other social life spheres and which, if not interfered with, would bring to all classes and especially the workers, the maximum amount of economic well-being...
...But how often does the same phrase, term, or watchword mean one thing in one stage of evolution and quite the opposite in a later...
...How different is the position of a man, who, in denouncing labor laws, has in mind laws oppressive to labor, from the position of a man a century later who, in denouncing labor legislation, has in mind laws passed in the interest of labor! From "Economic Theory and Labor Legislation," an address delivered before the American Association for Labor Legislation...
...We must not at once, then, jump to the conclusion that we have to do in the case of these men' with any antagonism to the interests of labor...

Vol. 2 • March 1910 • No. 11


 
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