Review (1893) of Gustave de Molinari’s
Labour-Exchanges (1893)

by Langford Lovell Price (1862-1950)

Les Bourses du Travail. Par G. DE MOLINARI. (Paris: Guillaumin et Cie. 1893.)

GM-LE.1 M. DE MOLINARI attempts in this book to propound a remedy for what he considers to be one of the most prominent evils of the times. He starts from the position that the upper and middle classes, deriving their income from capital – real or personal, fixed or floating – have been growing rich at a faster rate than the class which lives almost wholly by the product of labour. There are three possible causes to which this phenomenon may be ascribed. The first supposes that the working class has not received its just share of the results of production; the second that it has employed its income less wisely; and the third that public burdens have pressed with unequal weight upon its shoulders. The second of these causes has, M. de Molinari urges, been comparatively unnoticed, but the other two – and especially the first – have attracted no little attention. The abolition of the wages-system has in consequence been given a foremost place in the programme of Socialists of every school – whether their socialism be of a revolutionary type, or of that which looks to the interference of existing States as a remedial agency for economic ills. M. de Molinari himself, as readers of his previous writings will be well aware, has no love for a socialistic remedy of either description, although he frankly acknowledges the existence of the malady which has prompted its application. He is thoroughly convinced of the necessity and advantage of the wages-system. He holds, however, that the two parties to the wages bargain are not equally situated as regards their disposal of time and space; that the employer enjoys an advantage in these respects; that the ancient systems of slavery and of serfdom and the regulations – now obsolete – of the mediæval corporations acted in a sense as a counteracting balance; that, with the disappearance of the old order, new forms of counteraction have been discovered in trades unions and their characteristic weapon of attack and defense – the strike – but that this has meant the introduction and continuance of war, and that the crying need of the day is to substitute some organised means of preserving peace. He then proceeds to urge that the enlargement of markets has been attended by beneficial consequences in the case of commodities, and that similarly advantageous results will follow from the enlargement of the market for labour. This is no new idea with M. de Molinari, and he develops it with enthusiasm in the volume before us. He traces the history of the experience already acquired of Bourses du Travail. He indicates their present defects and their future possibilities. He points out the difficulties which have to be encountered and the manner in which they may be successfully met. Those who are interested – and they are now no inconsiderable portion of the community – in the study of the remedies propounded in different quarters for removing or mitigating social evils will find a fresh interest awakened by M. de Molinari’s presentation of his proposal; and, if they are disposed to question the philosophical creed on which it is based, or to doubt its adequacy to the necessities of the problem, they will at least allow that he is no blind optimistic upholder of the existing order of affairs.

Economic Journal 3, no. 12 (December 1893), pp. 664-5.

[See also David Kinley’s review and H. C. Emery’s review]

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