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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

Senior likened the running of a large factory with its complex organization of labor and material to an army regiment or a ship. Having government inspectors interfering with this organization, as allowed under the new Factory Acts of 1833, meant that mill-owners and entrepreneurs could not create the most efficient factories they could which in turn meant higher costs for consumers of the factories’ products.

19 May, 2008

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Nassau Senior objected to any government regulation of factories which meant that a horde of inspectors would interfere with the organization of production (1837)

Read the full quote in context here.

The English economist Nassau Senior (1790-1864) complained in Letters on the Facory Act that one consequence of the new Act of 1833 would be to allow government inspectors to interfere with the smooth running of cotton factories:

The “personel” of a large factory is a machine as complicated as its “materiel,” and is, I think, on the whole, the great triumph of Sir R. Arkwright’s genius. In such an establishment from 700 to 1400 persons, of all ages and both sexes, almost all working by the piece, and earning wages of every amount between two shillings and forty shillings a-week, are engaged in producing one ultimate effect, which is dependent on their combined exertions. Any stoppage, even any irregularity in one department, deranges the whole. A strict and almost superstitious discipline is necessary to keep this vast instrument going for a single day. Now how, ask the mill-owners, could this discipline be kept up, if the sub-inspectors were at liberty to walk over our establishments at all hours; listen to the complaints and jealousies of all our servants, and at their instigation summon us as criminals before the magistrates?

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

2d. The free admission of the sub-inspectors would, however, be still more opposed. The “personel” of a large factory is a machine as complicated as its “materiel,” and is, I think, on the whole, the great triumph of Sir R. Arkwright’s genius. In such an establishment from 700 to 1400 persons, of all ages and both sexes, almost all working by the piece, and earning wages of every amount between two shillings and forty shillings a-week, are engaged in producing one ultimate effect, which is dependent on their combined exertions. Any stoppage, even any irregularity in one department, deranges the whole. A strict and almost superstitious discipline is necessary to keep this vast instrument going for a single day. Now how, ask the mill-owners, could this discipline be kept up, if the sub-inspectors were at liberty to walk over our establishments at all hours; listen to the complaints and jealousies of all our servants, and at their instigation summon us as criminals before the magistrates? Could the discipline, they ask, of a regiment or of a ship be carried on, if we had sub-inspectors of regiments, with power to ask all the privates for grievances, and summon their officers for penalties?

[More works by Nassau William Senior (1790 – 1864)]