Thursday, May 17, 2007

E. C. to Josiah Warren - on equal exchange of labor

E. C. [communication], The Free Enquirer, 2, 42 (August 14, 1830), 332.

For the Free Enquirer.

Messrs. Editors

Your correspondent J. W. has touched upon a subject which has often occupied my thought within the last six months, namely, the exchange of labor for labor on the principle of equal rights. I am thoroughly satisfied, that if the direct exchange of labor for labor were generally put into practice, the means of obtaining the necessaries and even the luxuries of life, would be made so easy that few or none would resort to dishonest measures. want, or the fear of want, to ourselves or our children often tempts, and sometimes impels, men to resort to immoral means of obtaining riches.

A society was forming last spring, in this city, for beneficial purposes. I endeavored to draw the attention of their committee to this subject, and attempted to give an outline of the advantages they might derive from it, but it was objected to by them, on these grounds; one said, "I keep a boot and shoe store; in order to fit every foot, and suit every notion of the members, it would be necessary to supply their store with as large an assortment as I keep in my own, which would be inconvenient as to capital, and the goods would damage by lying on the shelves." Another said, he could not work at his business over eight months in the year, consequently he should not be willing to exchange time for equal time with another who could work twelve. Another objected; his tools cost some $200 or $300, and therefore he could not think of exchanging labor for labor with the tailor whose tools cost only $5. Such were the objections made; and as the subject was new to me (having read nothing, nor conversed with any one acquainted with it) I had to attempt to "feel a path through the surrounding darkness," as I might; my ideas therefore being very crude, I failed to make the thing interesting to them, from the want of sufficient clearness in my explanation; still, I was satisfied that if the exchange of labor for labor could be put into operation, it would be found exceedingly beneficial, not only to the producing classes, but also, in the event, to those who are now the distributing classes.

If any thing had been wanting to convince me of the benefits to be derived from a direct exchange of labor, the following answers to two questions put by myself to a farmer a few days since, were sufficient to produce that conviction. “What do you get for butter? Answer: “10 cents a pound. What do you give for soap?” Answer: “12 cents.” The farmer then asked; “what do you get for soap?" Answer: “5 cents; what do you give for butter? Answer: “15 cents.”

Is it not evident that in this small exchange of a pound of soap for a pound of butter and vice versa, they lost 12 cents, and the go-between made the sum of twelve cents. The manufacturer gets for his labor, on the pound of soap at five cents only half a cent, while the farmer pays an addition to the cot of the raw material of which the soap is made 9 1-2 cents and the other gets only one fifteenth of it: consequently he loses fourteen fifteenths of his labor. The butter cost the farmer in expenses, say fine cents, in this case he loses four fifths of his labor. The difference on other goods may be less, or more; whether more or less, it ought to be sufficient to rouse the producing classes from their lethargy into enquiry. When their thoughts shall have been directed to this subject, they will soon begin to enquire “what shall we do to be saved” from this loss of labor?

If your correspondent will go into details of the practice of the friends of reform in Cincinnati, or otherwise answer the above objections, he will render a benefit to society, and also much oblige

E. C.

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