The Principles of Political Economy

Henry Sidgwick

Book 3

The Art of Political Economy

Chapter 2

The System of Natural Liberty Considered in Relation to Production

§5. So far we have considered combination as a possible source of economic loss to the community. But in some cases combined action or abstinence on the part of a whole class of producers is required to realise a certain utility, either at all or in the most economical way---as (e.g.) where land below the sea-level has to be protected against floods, or useful animals and plants against infectious diseases. In a perfectly ideal community of economic men all the persons concerned would doubtless voluntarily agree to take the measures required to ward off such common dangers: but in any community of human beings that we can hope to see, the most that we can reasonably expect is that the great majority of any industrial class will be adequately enlightened, vigilant, and careful in protecting their own interests; and where the efforts and sacrifices of a great majority are liable to be rendered almost useless by the neglect of one or two individuals, it will always be dangerous to trust to voluntary association. And the ground for compulsion becomes still stronger when the very fact of a combination among the great majority of any industrial class to attain a certain result materially increases the inducement for individuals to stand aloof from the combination. Take, for instance, the case of certain fisheries, where it is clearly for the general interest that the fish should not be caught at certain times, or in certain places, or with certain instruments; because the increase of actual supply obtained by such captures is much overbalanced by the detriment it causes to prospective supply. Here,---however clear the common interest might be---it would be palpably rash to trust to voluntary association for the observance of the required rules of abstinence; since the larger the number that thus voluntarily abstain, the stronger becomes the inducement offered to those who remain outside the association to pursue their fishing in the objectionable times, places, and ways, so long as they are not prevented by legal coercion.

[Back to:] [Forward to:] [Up to:]