The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd

Labour Exchange

  • S. Olivier
  • J. Bonar
  • J. D Rogers
Reference work entry


This term is sometimes used loosely as the equivalent of labour registry. Accurately and historically it applies to a class of institutions which found much theoretical favour amongst early cooperators and the associates of Robert Owen’s propaganda. Numerous labour exchanges, marts, and banks flourished in England in 1832, 1833, and 1834 for the direct exchange of the products of labour according to the amount of labour expended in making them, without the intervention of money or the expenses of the ordinary machinery of distribution. Their fundamental principle was the doctrine that labour is the source of all wealth, and labour-cost the true measure of value: the operation of this principle was considered to be interfered with distorted by the intervention of money, a monopolized and limited commodity, as a medium and essential of exchange. The exchanges met a popular requirement, and, had the constant efforts of the more clear headed among their directors been successful in maintaining a strict commercial system of valuation, might have been long-lived. But the labour-value theory, and the conventional rating of all labour at sixpence an hour for purposes of valuation in exchange, or for labour notes, defeated these efforts. The valuation of the price of materials was also a constant difficulty. Sharp tradesmen took labour-notes in their shops, and picked out the goods in the exchanges that were saleable at a profit on their ‘labour value’. This process accelerated the accumulation of stocks so that no one cared to take at the price of sixpence per hour for the time of their makers: the ‘labour-note’ became depreciated pari passu with this depreciation of the security on which it rested; its depreciation enabled traders who took it to skim the deposits still closer, until the goods in stock, and the labour-note, had fallen to a commercial value below that which the workman of average skill could earn in the ordinary labour market in the time represented by their price, and the exchanges one by one collapsed, after furnishing a very interesting illustration to the history of theories of value.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. Olivier
    • 1
  • J. Bonar
    • 1
  • J. D Rogers
    • 1
  1. 1.