Woman's Industrial Subjection.—No. 4.—In Exchanges of Labor and its Product

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J. K. Ingalls, "Woman's Industrial Subjection.—No. 4.—In Exchanges of Labor and its Product," The Woman's Tribune, May 18, 1889, p. 174.

Woman's Industrial Subjection—No.4.

In Exchanges of Labor and its Product.

The relation between the early industrial pair was one thoroughly communistic. Individual possession was but feebly distinguished. What belonged to one belonged to the other also, particularly when the other exercised a dominating power. But, as we have seen, a rude allotment and division of labor was soon developed, even under the most barbaric rule. And this involved, however obscurely, a certain degree of reciprocity on exchange of labor and what it produced, quite within the limits of the primitive home. The hunter brought game and fish, captured by him, to the family store. The woman gathered wild fruits, and ultimately had the care of domestic fowls and animals, and cultivated the ground. She cooked the food, made the clothing, and furnished and kept the cabin or wigwam. Of course the division of the labor and ownership of the products continued for long periods, indefinite, but in the simple fact of such division and sharing were the rudiments of an economic process of co-operation, and interchange of services and products. From such simple beginnings the entire economic and industrial forces of society have been developed.

It does not affect the importance of this statement, to say that the question of property in the mutual produce has been hereto fore largely ignored. Ignorance or disregard for a law does not abrogate it; for in some way it will vindicate itself. And although our popular political economy ignores the services of the wife and mother, and treats the home and its comforts as non-wealth, because in its purblind sense unproductive, yielding neither rent, interest nor profit, it is truly woman's home service and economy which enables the ordinary tradesman or man of business, or even the day-laborer, to meet the requirements of his calling and earn the wages or income his efforts yield. And it is to the disregard of this potent fact, that we owe the present dependence of the toiling woman as distinct from that of the toiling man. Yet what it denied to her in despite of equity is yielded unwittingly from necessity, for the labor of the most abject slave, at last reduces the profits of his labor to the cost of his support. While such dependence inflicts great wrong upon the subjected class, it does not, in the end, advance the true interests even of the dominant class. It does however, generate in the subject a sense of injustice or abject dependence, wholly incompatible with the development of social qualities or of individual growth.

Woman is the equal producer and equitably the true partner with man in the world's wealth. Her present relation to industry and exchange can only be appreciated by clear understanding of the matter of value, which is simply "an estimate of the mind," placed upon any service of another relative to some service of one's t own, or of the products of such labor or service.

If this definition of value is retained in the mind it will enable us to escape much vague confusion of thought. Exactly, it is a Ratio, by which two parties agree to exchange services or commodities with each other. Money value, in the terms of which most exchanges are now made is merely the price in current funds of any commodity transferred, and is supposed to equal the money price of so much of another commodity as is desired by the seller. It is never money with which a thing is bought or sold but the ultimate satisfaction which the money is supposed to command at the pleasure of the holder. Such satisfaction is always in the Ratio.

First—Of the relative utility of the thing.

Second—Of the degree and quality of the energy exerted in their respective production at time and place of transfer multiplied by the time through which such energy is exerted.

Now however varied may be the estimates of men as to the usefulness of any product the ratio is capable of exact scientific determination, and need not be left to the idle guesses of indolent ignorance. In respect to the time, that is measured by mechanical instruments of the utmost accuracy. The average amount of work accomplished in a given time, by man or woman, is also quite well understood in every trade and calling. It is therefore matter capable of quite exact determination and not as some suppose "a mysterious uncertainty " as to what is the "labor cost" of the commodities or services exchanged and this as Adam Smith says is "the original price paid for all things " In trade the money price is greatly varied by imperfect valuation. Economically it is supposed to he determined only by what is termed "the law of supply and demand," which has an inevitable tendency, when allowed full sway, to bring all commodities, from whatever cause affected in their money value, back to an equilibrium, which is the labor cost at which they can be reproduced

The legislation of the world has hitherto mainly been employed to thwart and defeat this "natural law of commerce." And hence government monopolies, business privileges tariffs, subsidies, patent rights, etc., and innumerable devices and special statutes to prolong to favorites the "rise" or "flood," which "leads onto fortune," to bar and prevent the "fall" or ebb, which economic law pursues every inflation, or disproportioned estimate of things produced by human industry. The main monopoly, which inverts all labor values in behalf of privilege, is "the private dominion of the land." Potentially, this destroys labor's ownership of its own products, since land is indispensable to the employment of labor, or the production of an y wealth whatever How "labor cost" will fare in a contest of this kind is seen in practice, compelling the toiler to yield up one half of the earnings of his toil, and the woman to toil without accounting to her at all. It is difficult to understand haw any equitable exchange can take place between parties so diversely situated as the landlord and tenant. The slave and serf have no place as persons in "the political economy" to which chattel slavery and feudalism have given birth; and thus woman except as wage-worker or an occasional operator has still no place in its estimations. While it lauds competition and offers demand and supply as a satisfactory explanation of every inequality and injustice caused by laws which prevent their operation, it pivots the whole science upon "profits to capital" produced wholly through organized measures for evading the working of the great economic law, through governmental interferences with commerce and by the legalized monopoly of one of the prime factors in production.

Bastiat, in admiration of the hypothesis that competition tends to reduce price everywhere to labor cost or actual service rendered exultingly exclaims Services only are exchanged;" but then to reconcile this theory with the glaring inequalities of industrial life, under human cods, contends that the services rendered by ancestors not only descend unimpaired to descendants, but that they increase in quantity and quality by lapse of time in a duplicate geometrical ratio. Economists do not explain, if generally they do not justify this devouring absorptive power of statute-made increase, which goes on doubling artificial values every decade or two, which no human production can ever equal and which can have no possible equation with useful service.

Now it is to such an entertainment that the labor of the world has constant invitation, by those who control the making of our laws. It is invited to a market where it is compelled to sell itself for that which "costs the buyer nothing." Woman is hardly invited at all, and is not treated as an equal even of him "who has nothing but his labor to sell." In the slave market they often brought more than the price of a man; but in our stock and produce markets no quotations of her services are given. There the wife and mother have no valuation.

To many it seems vastly important that woman who is now anticipating the franchise should study to know the nature of our constitutions, and the methods of conducting government and of law-making. Else how will she know what beneficent institutions we enjoy, or how grateful she should be to live under a system of law where more than one half of labor's production goes to the proprietors, stockholders, landholders and mortgagees!

I would suggest that that she begin at the rudimental problem. Enquire what labor, what her labor produces; where its product goes, and if possible ascertain why she has to labor unrecognized, without partnership in the mutual earnings, and why life-long toil gives her no voice in the control of its product and in determining what is law, to be obeyed by her and her brother alike, the law of reciprocation and of equal justice!

As a consequence of the failure to apply the principles of economy to mutual efforts in the family relation, several gross theoretical errors have been adopted exerting a most pernicious influence in estimating the forces employed in the production of wealth. The planter with ten thousand dollars in lands, as much more in slaves, puts in also his own services as manager. At the end of the year he figures up the result, and credits his twenty thousand dollars with the entire net increase. But this increase has come from the land, and from the labor including his own, and from his skill as a manager, and perhaps from the services also of a careful and judicious wife. It is plain that this increase is not from the accumulated capital at all (but that the land and human effort are the source of the increase; and the only real capital.) The money or previously accumulated stock has at best been only preserved undiminished and would not have increased, but deteriorated, but for faithful care and honest service.

The farmer does the same with himself and such members of his family as work, without being accounted with. And even the day laborer thinks his weeks' wages are due to himself alone. The wife and home-helpers are not taken into account. From the error here indicated, we have that fatal mistake now controlling debt and credit, that money or accumulated wealth, is of itself productive

Several very important inquiries are here suggested The franchise once accorded to woman, will she use it to rectify such legislation as now protects riches and privilege by the sacrifice of toil? Or will she employ the vote to build up the privilege and power of the lordly and scheming plotters, who now run our politics through the party machine and the unscrupulous use of the very means which have been added to their hoards by interested or bought-up legislators! Ignorant of economic law, she is almost certain to follow the example of her earlier enfranchised brother, and be won by appeals to prejudice and ignorance—not to emancipate herself, but to suppress liberty and oppress both women and men. This is not given as a reason why she should not have the ballot, even if she do no more with it than her hoodlum brother who sells it for a few dollars or a good deal of bad whiskey; there is no equity in withholding it from her, while he is empowered to vote, and she must submit to his will. Whether the ballot is sought to prevent the evil her brother's brother does or may do for her, or simply as a power to subject somebody to a collective, despotic rule, we need not enquire. In the nature of things, questions of indubitable right and equity cannot be voted up or down. Majorities do not tell in determining facts or principles, and justice and the Golden Rule can never be safely set aside by a show of hands. Knowledge is the only protective power. The ballot, at best, is but an instrument, and used without knowledge is mainly dangerous to him who wields it. The history of all times show that slavery is impossible where intelligence abounds, and that liberty is impossible with the ignorance and cowardice of any people or class. If it is to some extent true that "no people are better than their laws," it is still more true that statutes can never lift the people above their own estimate of the value of freedom and of equal justice.

The great law of unity most be understood and acted from. The fiat of law-makers cannot reach the true springs of human action. Fear of pain or love of gain is the only motive they can appeal to. What is good, what promotes progress and civilization, is the appreciation by mankind of the truth that reciprocity is the law of the social life, and that the good of one is the good of all. Human laws cannot make this more true. All attempts to establish principles by force over the person, leaving the minds uninformed, can only result in despotic rule, and unreasoning subjection, however general may be the franchise, or ponderous the Majority. All despotism have ever rested or the concurrence of an ignorant and imbruted multitude. Napoleon the Third re-established the empire and a despotic personal government though the plebicite, universal as far at lest as the male population were concerned.

Was there a political party aiming at the prospective withdrawal of powers from our law-makers woman might safely join her cause with theirs. There is no such party and can never be until men and women abate a little their reverence for manufactured law and turn to the study of those invariable laws which govern the movements and growth of society with frock as inexorable as that which determines the revolutions of the heavenly bodies, and the return of the sexes. The laws which lumber the statute books of all nations have no other human use or service than to intimate to us the degree of progress nations and communities have made in apprehending or misapprehending the laws which govern human conduct, and promote human well-being. If however woman wants to "see the folly of it too" we may hope she will learn by experience what man has not, that self-government alone can give security to the people

—J. K. Ingalls.

  • Joshua King Ingalls, “Woman’s Industrial Subjection.—No. 4.—In Exchanges of Labor and its Product,” The Woman’s Tribune ??, no. ?? (May 18, 1889): 174.