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Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 445 Volume 18, New Series, July 10, 1852   By:

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No. 445. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, JULY 10, 1852. PRICE 1 1/2 d.


We had lately occasion to proceed by an omnibus from a country town to a station on a railway, by which we were to return to the city where we have our customary abode. On arriving at the station, we learned that we should have to wait an hour for an up train, the omnibus being timed in relation to a down one, which was about to pass. Had this arrangement been the only one readily practicable, in the case, we should have felt it necessary to submit uncomplainingly to the loss of our hour; but it really was not so. We had come in one of three omnibuses, none of which had more than two or three passengers. Why should not one have come at this hour with down passengers, and another come an hour later with up ones, thus by the same trouble giving more accommodation? We found that the three omnibuses are run by so many hotels, and that an arrangement for general convenience was impossible, as it might have interfered with the hotel business. On the continent, the government would have ordered matters otherwise: with us, the genius of laissez faire permits them to be as we describe.

It is in the same part of the country that a system exists amongst bakers, which we described many years ago in these pages. There are three towns, triangularly arranged, about ten miles from each other. One or more bakers in each has a van, in which he sends bread every day to the other two. As there is no witchcraft in the making of bread, it might be as well for the inhabitants of each town to be supplied by the bakers of their own place exclusively, and then the expense of the carriage would be saved. Such, however, is the keenness of competition in the case, that each baker strives to get supporters in the neighbouring towns, and willingly pays for van, horse, and driver in order to retain their custom. We presume each van goes thirty miles a day, and that there is not much less than 2000 miles of this unprofitable travelling weekly in connection with the three towns.

Any one who has a sincere respect for the principle of untrammelled industry, must lament to see these its abuses or drawbacks. But our commercial world is full of such anomalies. The cause is readily traced in the excessive number of persons engaged in the various trades. Not many years ago, the number of bakers in a town known to us, of the same size as one of those above referred to, was fourteen, while everybody acknowledged that four might have sufficed. In such circumstances, it is not wonderful that expedients like that of the van are resorted to, notwithstanding that it can only diminish the aggregate of profit derived by an already starving trade.

Few persons who walk along a street of nicely decorated and apparently well stocked shops, have the slightest conception of the hollowness of many of the appearances. The reality has been tested in part by the income tax inquisition, which shews a surprising number of respectable looking shops not reaching that degree of profit which brings the owner within the scope of the exaction. It may be that some men who are liable, contrive to make themselves appear as not so; but this cannot be to such an extent as greatly to affect the general fact. In the assessing of the tax, no result comes out oftener than one of this kind: Receipts for the year, L.2200; estimated profit at 15 per cent., L.330; deductions for rent of shop, taxes, shopmen's wages, and bad debts, L.193; leaving, as net profit, L.137. The commissioners are left to wonder how the trader can support his family in a decent manner upon so small a return, till they reflect that possibly a son brings in a little as a shopman, or a daughter as a day governess; or that possibly an old female relative lives with the family, and throws her little income into the general stock... Continue reading book >>

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