The Wages Question: A Treatise on Wages and the Wages Class

Francis A. Walker
Walker, Francis A.
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First Pub. Date
London: Macmillan and Co.
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Part I, Chapter II


A DISTINCTION which needs to be apprehended with great clearness and held strongly in the mind, throughout all discussion of Wages, is that between Nominal and Real Wages.


Real Wages are the remuneration of the hired laborer as reduced to the necessaries, comforts, or luxuries of life. These are what the laborer works for; these are truly his wages. The money he receives under his contract with his employer is only a means to that end; sometimes, as it proves, a most delusive means. If, as is the case with the great majority of his class, he spends every week or every month his entire earnings, he can see for himself, no matter how little given to reflection, that his wages are not his money, but what his money brings. If, again, he is frugal and forehanded enough to save a portion of his wages, and hoard it up or put it out at interest, it is still true, though not perhaps so evident, that this portion of his wages also means, in some near or distant future, "food, clothing, lodging, and firing" to himself or to his family. The habitual miser, the person who loves money for its own sake, is one of the most exceptional of human beings, the victim, doubtless, of a distinct form of disease as truly as the subject of alcoholism.


But this reduction of Nominal to Real Wages is not an easy matter. "No one," says Mr. G. R. Porter in his Progress of the Nation, "unless he shall have made the attempt to obtain information of this kind, can be aware of the difficulties opposed to his success."


Real may differ from Nominal Wages by reason of:

1st. Variations in the purchase-power of money.
2d. Varieties in the form of payment.
3d. Opportunities for extra earnings.
4th. The greater or less regularity of employment.
5th. The longer or shorter duration of the laboring power.


I shall consider these causes*8 in the order in which they are here given.


I. The purchase-power of money may vary by reason of changes in the supply of, or in the demand for, money. First, of changes in the supply of money.


(a) Changes of Coinage.—If a given amount of gold or silver be rendered into a greater number of coins than formerly, it is evident that each coin will purchase fewer commodities. Now when it is stated that the English "pound" of to-day contains less than one third the standard silver it contained in 1300 A.D.—12 oz. of English silver coin metal being now rendered into 66 shillings, whereas a shilling*9 is nominally the twentieth part of a "pound"—and that the French livre of 1789 contained less than one sixty-sixth part of the silver implied in its name, the importance of this discrimination in historical comparisons of wages becomes manifest.


Even in comparison of contemporary wages, care has often to be taken lest coins of the same name but of differing value be confounded. Thus, in the United States, the York shilling (eight to a dollar) and the New-England shilling (six to a dollar) were until recently liable to be taken for each other in calculation of prices. In the same way the English penny differs from the penny in use in the island of Jersey, of which it takes thirteen to make a shilling.


(b) Changes in the amount of the precious metals in circulation.—The history of the production of gold and silver is a history of often intermitted and always highly spasmodic activity. Thus in the year 800 there is supposed to have been on hand gold and silver to the value, as expressed in American gold coin, of $1,790,000,000. Between that date and 1492, the date of the discovery of America, with its vast reserves of mined and resources of unmined treasure, the estimated product was $345,000,000. Between 1492 and 1803 the product is given as $5,820,700,000; between 1803 and 1848, as $2,484,000,000; between 1848 and 1868, as $3,571,000,000. The effect upon prices wrought by such wholesale changes in the volume of the precious metals has long been discussed, and with great fulness, by economical writers, as influencing the wages of labor, producing a wide divergence between real and nominal wages in comparison of different periods; but we owe to Prof. Cairnes*10 the demonstration that this cause is also influential in creating disturbances in contemporary wages, the effect upon prices being produced very irregularly as between countries, and as between different classes of commodities in the same country.


(c) Fluctuations in the paper substitutes for coin.—A paper currency purporting to be convertible into coin, but in fact issued, in reliance on the doctrine of chances, in considerable excess of the amount of gold and silver held for its redemption, will undergo far more sudden and violent changes than would be possible with a gold and silver currency, or a paper currency based, dollar for dollar, upon the precious metals. The reason is that, as the excess of circulation over the specie basis consists of credit, and not of value, it is governed, both in expansion and in contraction, by the condition of credit, and not by the laws of value, as a value currency would be. It costs twice as much labor to raise two thousand ounces of gold from the mine as to raise one thousand ounces. It costs no more to engrave, print, and sign a thousand two-dollar than a thousand one-dollar bills. Since, then, a paper circulation may be increased without labor, all such currencies have shown a strong tendency to increase under every speculative impulse in trade, the currency allowing prices to advance, and the advance of prices, in turn, quickening the speculative impulse, and thus creating new demands for additional currency. When, however, prices have been carried to their height, and the market begins to feel the effects of highly-stimulated foreign importations, while for the same reason the specie basis of an already dangerously inflated circulation begins to be drawn upon to pay for the goods thus brought in, the contraction of the currency will be even more sudden and extreme than was the expansion. Not a gold dollar can be taken away unless something is given for it; a bank-bill has cost nothing: it will cost nothing to replace it. It may therefore be destroyed without loss to the bank.


But while a wide divergence between Nominal and Real Wages may be created by the alternate expansions and contractions of a currency issued on the doctrine of chances in excess of its specie basis, the disturbances hereby introduced into wages are slight compared with those caused by the issue of inconvertible government paper. Thus we find Washington writing, during the Revolution, that it took a wagon-load of money to buy a wagon-load of provisions. The money of which he thus wrote was the famous "Continental currency." The depreciation of this currency had been rapid. March 1st, 1778, $1 in coin would purchase $1.75 in paper; Sept. 1st, 1778, $4; March 1st, 1779, $10; Sept. 1st, 1779, $18; March 18th, 1780, $40; Dec. 1st, 1780, $100; May 1st, 1781, $200-500.


The printing-press had nearly fulfilled the prediction of John Adams, in making "money as plenty, and of course as cheap, as oak-leaves."*11 Mr. Jefferson says*12 that the paper continued to circulate in the Southern States till it had fallen to $1000 for $1. We are familiar with the prices at which the necessaries of life were purchased in currency thus depreciated: "Bohea tea, forty-five dollars; salt—which used to be sold for a shilling a bushel—forty dollars a bushel, and, in some of the States, two hundred dollars at times; linens, forty dollars a yard; ironmongery of all sorts, one hundred and twenty for one."*13


I have before me the public records of the second precinct of the township of Brookfield, Massachusetts, for this period. On the 23d May, 1776, a "gospel minister" was called, the terms of settlement being as follows: "Voted and granted the sum of £70 the two first years each as salary, and the third year to rise to £80 per annum during his ministry." The succeeding votes show the effects of the currency inflation: Dec. 3d, 1778, "Voted and granted the sum of £220 to the Rev. Mr. Appleton, to be assessed on the polls and estates within this precinct, in addition to the former grant of £80 for the present year." Oct. 21st, 1779, "Voted and granted the sum of £720 to the Rev. Mr. Appleton, in addition to his stated salary of £80." April 3d, 1780, "Voted that the £220 granted Dec. 3d, 1778, shall go for the preceding year. Voted that the £720 granted Oct. 21st, 1779, be so far reconsidered as that the same shall be for the preceding instead of the ensuing year. Then voted and granted the sum of £2420 in addition to his stated salary, to be assessed on the polls and estates within this precinct, for the support of the Rev. Mr. Appleton from October, 1779, to October, 1780."


Second. The purchase-power of money may vary by reason of changes in the demand for money. The supply of money is the amount which is offered for all other commodities; the demand for money is the amount of all other commodities offered for it. Eggs in the Highlands were cheap in Dr. Johnson's day, "not because eggs were plenty, but because pence were few." Whether it be the plentifulness of eggs or the fewness of pence which determines the price, the historian of wages is bound to ascertain.


It is manifest that the annual production of commodities will increase with the efficiency of labor and capital, and that this increase is from age to age very great; also, that the longer this annual production is sustained the greater will be the accumulation of commodities, the results of past production.


Two practical remarks remain to be made, in the nature of warning, to those who undertake the difficult task of instituting such comparisons of wages as are referred to above.


The first relates to the effect of local prices. The commodities into which the laborer desires to render his money wages, bear prices differing greatly in localities not far removed from each other. The mere passage from city to country often produces a marked distinction in the prices of the first necessaries of life; while, where more considerable distances intervene, the differences in local prices are often sufficient to effect a substantial equality between nominal wages widely divergent, or to greatly exaggerate apparent differences. Thus a mechanic living in some portions of Vermont, away from a railroad, can buy food for his family at prices which would sound like a dream to a town mechanic. Indeed some of the most expensive luxuries of the city, to which professional men scarce aspire, sweet cream, fresh fruits, and new-laid eggs, are within easy reach of his means. The more substantial articles of diet, meats, grains, and vegetables, cost one half, or one third perhaps, what they do in a city market. Would he build a house? The main material costs little; the land less. Does he lease a cottage? His rent is not one fourth what his city cousin pays for perhaps squalid and unwholesome quarters.


But, it may be asked, is not the country mechanic at a disadvantage in respect to all the commodities, whether manufactured articles or the products of agriculture, which are brought from abroad; and does not this disadvantage go far to counterbalance the advantages enumerated? It can not be questioned that a loss is suffered on this account; but it is much less than the gain by reason of two causes: first, the greater share of his expenditures are for articles produced near by; second, those which are brought from abroad are, almost without exception, markedly inferior in bulk to those which are supplied by the domestic market, and hence their price is less enhanced by transportation. He saves upon his meats and grains and vegetables, his fuel, and the timber for his house, the freight of those articles to a market; he pays the freight from market upon groceries and spices; upon clothes and shoes; upon nails and putty and glass.


My second warning relates to the liability of error in comparison of wages due to the great diversity which exists in the articles consumed by the wages class in different places and at different times. Even in the lowest condition of life the laborer's expenditure is upon several articles which are necessary to his subsistence, while in countries where nature is more liberal or art has greatly diversified human industry, the laborer indulges in a considerable variety of expenditures. Now, not only is it true that some of these articles may rise in price while others remain stationary, or even decline—or if all rise, yet each rises in a degree peculiar to itself, and so an average becomes difficult to reach, particularly in the absence of ample and authentic statistics of retail trade, scarcely anywhere attainable—but those articles which make up the subsistence of workingmen are consumed by them in very various proportions, rendering it necessary, in estimating the comparative wages of two periods, to have regard not only to the advance or decline in price of each such article, but also to the amount thereof entering into consumption, in as much as a large advance upon some commodity which the laborer uses but rarely and in very limited amounts may affect his well-being far less than a moderate rise in another commodity of prime necessity.


This it is which makes it so difficult to compare wages at different periods in the United States. The habits of the people vary and have varied so greatly in respect to dress and diet, not to speak of other things, as to make it almost impossible to secure a statement which will be accepted by all candid parties to a controversy as to the quantities of each principal article of consumption, which shall represent the expenditure of the average workman's family; and unless a statement of quantities can be accepted as approximately correct, it can afford only a vague idea to secure even a precise statement of the prices of the several articles.


II. Nominal and Real Wages may differ, secondly, by reason of varieties in the form of payment.


Wages are, to a very large extent, though reckoned in money, not paid in money.*14 In agriculture, the world over, full payment in money is highly exceptional where it is not wholly unknown. In England the money wages in general far exceed the estimated value of all the other forms of payment, and rarely constitute less than one half the nominal wages. In Scotland, except in the neighborhood of large towns, payment in kind is very general, while "in some parts of the highlands little money passes at all between employer and employed."*15 In Germany*16 the report of the recent commission of the Agricultural Congress proves the custom of payments in kind to prevail in every province from East Prussia to Alsace. In France*17 this custom prevails to a greater or less extent in nearly all departments. In the United States board to the unmarried laborer is perhaps the rule; while in the South, at least, the payment in kind generally includes the subsistence of the laborer and his family, and, to a considerable extent, other necessaries of life.


In the various branches of mechanical labor money payment is more usual, though Mr. Seymour Tremenheere, in his visits to the United States prior to 1850, found the practice of paying wages partly in commodities quite general;*18 and in England money payments have only been secured by vigorous legislation and great vigilance in administration. Mr. Herries reports*19 that in the sulphur-mining districts of Italy "stores exist, under the direction of the administration, where the persons employed are provided with oil, wine, and bread, and other necessaries, under the 'tally' or 'truck' system."


Payment of the wages of mechanical labor otherwise than in the coin of the realm is forbidden in Germany by the Industrial Code of 1869. In France the artisan classes have always resented payment in commodities with a peculiar jealousy.


The multitudinous forms of payment other than in money may be rudely grouped for our present some-what casual purpose as (1) rent, where cottages or tenements are provided for the laborer and his family by the employer, whether in agricultural or in mechanical industry; (2) board, mainly confined to unmarried laborers; (3) allowances, such as definite quantities of various kinds of food, drink, or fuel; (4) what we may call, in distinction from No. 5, perquisites, such as the hauling of the laborer's coal or peat by the employer's teams, the keep of a cow, the opportunity to take flour at miller's prices;*20 (5) privileges, like the gleaning of fields or the keeping a pig.


Thus Mr. T. Scott, of Roxburghshire, allows his workmen a free house and garden; food (say 4 weeks) in harvest; carriage of coal; permission to keep a pig, and the keep of a cow; 100 stones of oatmeal, 21 bushels of barley, 6 bushels of peas, 1600 yards of potatoes, 6 tons of coal at pit prices, £5 in money, in addition to extra earnings at harvest.*21 Another farmer gives his two ploughmen £27 and £26 severally per annum, free cottages and gardens, 6½ bolls of meal, 3 bolls of potatoes, and "drives" their coal. Another in the highland part of Lanarkshire gives £18 annually, the keep of a cow, liberty to keep a pig, 65 stones of oatmeal, and 16 cwt. of potatoes. He places the total value of money wages, allowances, etc., at from £35 to £40.*22 From the above it will readily be seen how difficult and how nearly impossible it is to reduce such various conditions to the uniform expression necessary for comparison. The "board" furnished may vary from the generous living characteristic of Cumberland and Westmoreland*23 in England, and of the United States generally, to the barest and coarsest subsistence allowed in less favored regions. The cottages thus given rent free may be "model cottages" or they may be of the character*24 described in so many English official reports, early and recent, with reference to which the Earl of Shaftesbury said, "Dirt and disrepair such as ordinary folks can form no notion of, darkness that may be felt, odors that may be handled, faintness that can hardly be resisted, hold despotic rule in these dens of despair."*25 In respect to the other allowances, perquisites, and privileges, as we have classed them, which go so largely to make up the wages of the laborer in agriculture in all countries, there is perhaps not quite so great range as in the board or cottage rent furnished; yet differences in the quality of the articles allowed, or in their adaptation to the wants of the laborer, or in the generosity with which traditional or stipulated privileges are interpreted, may still go far to contract or expand the apparent wages. Thus Mr. Heath in his work, "The English Peasantry," charges that the hauling of turf for the laborer's fuel is often a delusion and a snare, the turf when cut and piled up on the moors frequently being spoiled by the rain before the farmer finds it convenient to lend the horse and cart;*26 also that the oft-cited "grist-corn" perquisite is of little or of no value to the laborer, the corn for this purpose being frequently taken from the "rakings" of the field.*27 It is upon the cider allowance, however, that Mr. Heath expends the main force of his indignation, and he quotes with effect the testimony of Mr. Austin, one of the Assistant Poor-Law Commissioners of 1843, as to the very inferior quality of the article supplied by the farmers of the western counties "under the ironical name of cider."*28


The "cow" and the "pig" as elements of wages deserve a brief mention. It will be noted that we have placed them under different heads in our classification. The entire "keep" of the cow is furnished by the employer over whose land she grazes; the food of the pig, on the other hand, is supposed to be furnished by the laborer himself, though a natural doubt on that point leads many employers to refuse this highly valued privilege.*29 "Formerly," said Mr. Inglis, writing of the peasants' rent in Ireland in 1834, "the pig was sufficient for this; but the market has so fallen that something is wanted besides the pig to make up the rent."*30 In England Mr. Heath assigns the pig a somewhat different function. It is at once "to the farm laborer a kind of savings-bank, in which he puts the few scraps he can save out of his scanty fare,"*31 and also "a kind of surety with the petty village tradesman. Poor Hodge could get no credit if he had not some such security as a pig affords."*32


The keep of a cow is of course a much larger concession from the employer, and is proportionally rare. Sir Baldwyn Leighton declares it to be not less than "the solution of the whole question of the agricultural laborer."*33 The net weekly profit Sir Baldwyn estimates at 5 or 6 shillings, the entire labor being performed by the wife and younger children. It will, of course, be urged that such a concession would amount simply to a proportionate reduction of money wages. This is a question which we shall perhaps be in a better position to discuss hereafter. The concession of "cow-land" is only mentioned here as one of the many ways in which, even in wealthy communities, laborers in agriculture are still paid, rendering it a work of extreme difficulty to reduce the wages prevailing in different sections to any thing like equal terms.


III. Nominal and Real Wages may further differ by reason of opportunities for extra earnings in some occupations and in some localities.


It has been said that the true measure of wages is to be found not in the money received, but in the amount of the necessaries, comforts, and luxuries of life which that money will purchase. But it often happens that the amount of money received by the laborer as wages does not express the sum of his own earnings, while, again, the resources of the family—which, rather than the individual, ought to be the unit of income as it is of expenditure—may be, in many cases, largely augmented by the earnings of other members. Such opportunities vary greatly as among localities and as among occupations, and hence we may find a substantial equality of family income where a great difference in wages apparently exists; or, in other cases, the apparent difference may be much enhanced through the operation of the same cause.


An example of the first means of adding to real wages is found in the Allotment system, which already prevails to a considerable extent in England and has been highly approved by economists of reputation;*34 though there are not wanting those who argue that this is merely another means of reducing money wages. By the Allotment system the laborer is enabled to rent a piece of ground large enough to employ him for but a portion of his time, with a view to its being carefully worked by spade culture as a garden.


An example of the second means of adding to real wages is given by Prof. Senior when he says, "The earnings of the wife and children*35 of many a Manchester weaver or spinner exceed or equal those of himself. Those of the wife and children of an agricultural laborer, or of a carpenter or a coal-heaver, are generally unimportant—while the husband in each case receives 15 shillings a week, the weekly income of the one family may be 30 shillings, and that of the other only 17 or 18 shillings."*36 The income of the family, it is evident, therefore, should be taken as the unit in estimating wages.


IV. No consideration is more needful to be observed in the reduction of Nominal to Real Wages than that of the greater or less regularity of employment; yet none is more neglected, not only in comparison of the remuneration of labor in different occupations and localities, but also in a still more important use of the statistics of wages, namely, the comparison of different periods to ascertain whether strikes and trades unions have been really successful in advancing the condition of the working classes. It is not unusual to see the fact of an increase of wages in certain occupations following a threatened or accomplished strike, put forward as proof positive of the efficiency of this instrumentality, without the question being raised whether the certainty and continuity of work may not have been affected injuriously in consequence. Yet it is clear that a nominal increase of wages may be offset by irregularity of employment so as not only to render the advance nugatory, but, through the influence on the laborer's habits of industry, temperance, and frugality, to make the change highly pernicious. The neglect to make account of the regularity of employment is probably due not to want of candor in argument, but to the lack of a popular recognition of the vital importance of this consideration. Yet it ought to be evident to the earliest writer on comparative wages that the true time-unit is not less than the entire year. The hourly, daily, or weekly rate of payment is but one factor of wages; the number of hours, days, and weeks throughout the year for which that rate of wages can be obtained is the other.


Varying regularity of employment is due to (1) the nature of the individual occupation, (2) the force of the seasons, (3) social causes, (4) industrial causes of a general character.


In agriculture, for example, we find the first two causes operating to produce great variations in the monthly rate of wages. It is not alone the difference of seasons which makes agricultural wages so irregular;*37 it is in part the nature of the operations involved. After the seed has been planted, time must be given it to grow, and this would be so even if there were no winter. So in the fisheries it is not stress of weather alone which obliges the laborer to lie idle portions of the year, but in part the reproductive necessities of the fish. In other instances it is the force of the seasons alone which makes employment irregular, as for example in the brickmaking,*38 quarrying, carpentering, house-painting, and sundry other out-door trades.


The loss of time from sickness, as shown by the statistics of friendly societies and by other evidence, varies greatly in different localities and occupations: an element that can not properly be excluded from the discussion of comparative wages, as such sickness involves not only loss of labor, but also, generally, a positive expense for attendance and medicine.


The following table from Mr. Alex. Glen Finlaison's report (1853) on sickness and mortality in friendly societies, shows the experience of certain large groups of occupations in this respect:

Without exposure to the weather.With exposure to the weather.Without exposure to the weather.With exposure to the weather.

Days lost.Days lost.Days lost.Days lost.
20 6.48 6.00 6.71 7.16
25 6.00 5.78 6.82 7.45
30 6.01 5.85 7.06 7.69
35 6.20 5.84 7.45 8.04
40 7.13 7.29 8.03 9.40
45 8.03 7.48 9.87 10.78
50 10.48 10.02 12.15 12.58
55 13.65 10.66 16.08 14.33
60 17.18 11.23 20.36 21.78
65 26.22 18.15 26.99 31.55


What we call social causes in restriction of employment include the habits of a community respecting festivities and religious observances.*39 Vauban estimated the loss of labor in France from fête days and Sundays at 90 days in the year. In some Catholic countries the holidays more or less scrupulously observed exceed, including Sunday, one hundred. Among the Hindoos they are said to consume nearly half the year. It is doubtless true that poverty sometimes joins with superstition*40 in imposing excessive fasts, and the want of work may account for the readiness with which a population surrenders itself to celebrating the virtues of a saint; yet there can be no doubt that a force not industrial operates in some countries in reduction of the number of days of labor. A very common multiplier taken in England and the United States in reckoning annual earnings is 300; yet there can be little doubt that this is an exaggeration.


But there are also industrial causes of a general nature which of late years are operating more and more to interrupt the continuity of production and render employment precarious. These causes, though general in their origin, do yet affect localities and occupations very diversely, introducing thus a new element of great difficulty into the problem of wages. Thus there is no reason from the nature of the operations involved, why cotton-spinning should not proceed equably through all the months of the year, but in fact the demands of modern trade require that periods of heavy production shall alternate with periods of dulness and depression.*41 In the same way the aggregation of vast numbers of workmen into factories for the manufacture of boots and shoes has introduced an irregularity into that branch of manufacture which did not exist when it was confined to the small shop where the master worked with an apprentice and perhaps a journeyman, and made goods for a well-defined and permanent body of customers.


Among the industrial causes which introduce this disturbance into the employment of labor must of course be included strikes and lock-outs. Dr. John Watts has furnished some very instructive computations as to the first cost of strikes. Thus, assuming five per cent addition to existing wages to be the matter in dispute between the employer and the laborer, he shows that if the strike succeeds its results will be, roughly speaking, as follows:*42

Years of work at the extra rate.
The loss of 1 lunar month's wages will require to make it up, 1 3/5
The loss of 2 lunar month's wages will require to make it up, 3 1/5
The loss of 6 lunar month's wages will require to make it up, 9 3/5
The loss of 12½ lunar month's wages will require to make it up, 20


"The strike of the London builders in 1859 was for 10 per cent of time or its equivalent, 10 per cent of wages; and as it lasted 26 weeks, would, if successful, have required 10 2/5 years of continuous work at the extra rate to make up the loss of wages sacrificed. The amount in dispute between the weavers of Colne and their employers did not average more than 3½ per cent, and had the strike been successful, would have required more than 28 years continuous employment at the advance to make up the amount of wages lost, by which time the lost wages would, at 5 per cent (interest), have quadrupled." This Colne strike lasted 50 weeks; the great Preston strike, 38 weeks; the Padiham strike, 29 weeks.


Computations like these do not of themselves show that strikes can not advantage the working classes, but they do show the necessity of taking such elements into account in reducing nominal to real wages.


The joint effect of all the causes enumerated as affecting the regularity of employment is very considerable. Prof. Leone Levi, in his treatise on Wages,*43 estimates the lost time of all the persons returned as pursuing gainful occupations in England to be 4 weeks in the year, and deems this loss covered by the exclusion of all persons over 60 years of age, leaving those below employed full time. To this Mr. Dudley Baxter, in his admirable work on "National Income,"*44 rejoins that if this were so, there would be no able-bodied paupers in England. Mr. Baxter goes forward to show the inadequacy of Prof. Levi's estimate in terms which I shall do well to quote:

"I will take a good average instance (and a very large one) of the way in which wages are earned in the building trades. These trades form a whole; and include carpenters, bricklayers, masons, plasterers, painters, and plumbers, and number in England and Wales about 387,000 men above twenty years of age. It is only the best men, working with the best masters, that are always sure of full time. These trades work on the hour system, introduced at the instance of the men themselves, but a system of great precariousness of employment. The large masters give regular wages to their good workmen, but the smaller masters, especially at the east end of London, engage a large proportion of their hands only for the job, and then at once pay them off. All masters when work grows slack immediately discharge the inferior hands and the unsteady men—of whom there are but too many among clever workmen—and do not take them on again until work revives. In bad times there are always a large number out of employment. In prosperity much time is lost by keeping Saint Monday and by occasional strikes. Let us turn to another great branch of industry, the agricultural laborers, whose numbers are: men, 650,000; boys, 190,000; women, 126,000; and girls, 36,000. Continuous employment has largely increased since the new Poor Law of 1834, and good farmers now employ their men regularly. But in many places such is not the custom. Near Broadstairs, in Kent, I was told that, on an average, laborers were only employed 40 weeks in the year. Mr. Purdy's figures of the influence of the seasons on agricultural employment show that the wages paid in the second quarter of the year, on a large estate in Notts, were 20 per cent more than in the first quarter. In the harvest quarter they were more than double. He also mentions the significant fact that the pauperism of the five most agrarian divisions of England is greater in February than in August by 425,000 against 370,000, or 55,000 persons. These 55,000 represent a great prevalence of the custom of turning off laborers at the slack season. So that even so far as the men are concerned, there must evidently be a large deduction for time out of work. But when we come to boys and women, the case is still stronger. I found in Kent and other places that boys' and women's employment is very irregular, and that they are not at work more than half their time; in fact, they are only employed as supernumeraries to the men, and only taken on at busy times."


V. Still further, Nominal and Real Wages may be made to differ through the longer or shorter duration of the power to labor.


We have seen that it is not what the laborer obtains for a single day of the week or a single month of the year which fixes his real remuneration, but that regularity of employment from month to month and quarter to quarter is a most important element in the wages problem. But neither is it what the workman receives in a single year or in a term of years which alone can determine the question of high or low wages. We need, besides, to know the total duration of his laboring power, that we may be able to compare the term of his productive with that of his unproductive life.


It is evident, supposing two persons begin to labor productively at fifteen years of age, and continue actively at work, with the same rate of nominal wages, until death, that the one receives a higher real remuneration who lives the longer, since the cost of his maintenance during the first 15 years of helpless life must, in any philosophical view of the subject, be charged upon his wages*45 during his period of labor. It is true that the expense was, in fact, borne by his parents, while he will himself bear the cost of the maintenance, in childhood, of his own offspring; but no one will, I believe, question that, in the economical sense, the support of each generation of laborers should be charged against its own wages,*46 just as truly as that a farmer, in solving the question whether a cow dying at a certain age had paid for herself, would set against the proceeds of the sales of her milk or butter the expense of rearing her.


If this principle of estimating the wages of a lifetime be accepted as just, its great practical importance will not be denied.


And first in comparison of nations.


In a paper on the Political Economy of Health, Dr. Edward Jarvis has given some most instructive tables which can not be better introduced than in the language of the British Poor-Law Commissioners of 1842:*47 "The strength of a people does not depend on the absolute number of its population, but on the relative number of those who are of the age and strength to labor."


The following table*48 shows the number of years spent under 20 for every 100 persons attaining that age:

COUNTRY.Years spent under 20.Per cent of loss.

Norway 2142 7.1
Sweden 2182 9.1
England 2192 9.6
United States 2251 12.55
France 2327 16.35
Ireland 2514 25.70


Again, the Life Tables of the several States show the average number of years lived after the age of 20 to be as follows:


Norway 39.61 England 35.55
Sweden 38.10 France 32.84
United States (Males) 37.46 Ireland 28.88
Hanover 35.81  


"Thus the productive efficiency fell short of its fulness*49 20.78 per cent in Norway; 23.7 per cent in Sweden; 25.08 per cent in the United States; 28.38 per cent in Germany; 28.9 per cent in England; 34.3 per cent in France, and 42.24 per cent in Ireland."


Again Dr. Jarvis says, "Having the number that are lost in the maturing period and the number of years they have lived, and also the number that die in the effective stage and the duration of their labors, it is easy to draw a comparison between them and show the cost, in years, of creating and maturing human power, and the return it makes in labor in compensation. By this double measurement of life in its incompleteness and in its fulness it is found that for every 1000 years expended in the developing period upon all that are born, both those who die and those who survive the period from birth to 20, the consequent laboring and productive years are: In Norway, 1881 years; in Sweden, 1749 years; in England, 1688 years; in the United States, 1664 years; in France, 1398 years; and in Ireland, 1148 years."


But it is not only between the populations of distinct countries that such differences in the duration of the economic force appear. Important differences in this respect are shown by mortuary statistics to exist between occupations. Thus the excessive mortality of the "dusty trades" has long been the subject of scientific and official inquiry. The highly injurious effects upon the lungs of the dust of cotton and flax mingled with "China clay" and other poisonous ingredients, producing a haze in the atmosphere of some factories, and rising in a palpable cloud in others, have been thoroughly investigated and exposed by Drs. Hirt*50 and Buchanan.*51 In the "dry-grinding" of the metals, the deadly influences are even more positive.*52 The following description of the steel-dust in a needle-factory will suffice for our present purpose of illustration. "I smelt the dust from one such manufactory before I was within 70 or 80 yards of it, and though in an open field; and I could see the dust floating away like a cloud. It not only covers the roof and windows on which it settles with a brown rusty coat, till in time the glass becomes obscured almost as if it were painted, but so corrodes them as to make the slates and even the glass crumble away. The dust collects in the flues which carry it from the stove in large black stalactite-like lumps. Two such were given me, weighing over two pounds each."*53


Mining may be given as an instance of an occupation where nominal wages must be heavily discounted by reason of its destructive effects on human life. When it is remembered that in addition to the great liability to fatal accident,*54 the amount of carbonic acid gas, which in nature is 300-350 in 1,000,000, and does not ordinarily exceed 3000 in the stifling atmosphere of factories and workshops, often goes up to 20,000 in the air of mines,*55 the excessive mortality within this occupation will not be a matter of wonder. Dr. Scott Allison found the average age of the living male heads of families of the collier population at Tranent, so far as the same could be ascertained, to be 34 years, while the average age of the living male heads of the agricultural families was nearly 52 years. Dr. Allison expressed the belief that these proportions would serve as fair indications of the relative conditions of the different populations.*56


"So considerable," says Dr. Neison, in a recent paper,*57 "is the influence of occupation that the mortality in one avocation exceeds that of another by as much as 239 per cent."


Thus taking the period of life 25 to 65, Dr. Neison finds the mean mortality in the clerical profession to be 1.12 per cent; in the legal, 1.57; in the medical, 1.81. In domestic service the mortality among gardeners was but .93; among grooms, 1.26; among servants, 1.67; among coachmen, 1.84. The effect of out-door exposure in all kinds of weather is here shown alike in the case of the physician and the coachman. Of several branches of manufacture, the paper manufacture showed a mean mortality of 1.45; the tin manufacture, of 1.61; the iron manufacture, of 1.75; the glass manufacture, of 1.83; the copper manufacture, of 2.16; the lead manufacture, of 2.24; the earthenware manufacture*58 of 2.57. Among the different kinds of mining industry the range is even greater. Thus the mean mortality of iron-miners is 1.80; of coal-miners, 1.82; of tin-miners, 1.99; of lead-miners, 2.50*59; of copper-miners, 3.17.*60


But it is not alone by death that the laboring power is prematurely destroyed. The agricultural laborer of England, for example, who is long lived, often becomes crippled early by rheumatism due to exposure and privation. "Then he has to work for 4 shillings or 5 shillings per week, supplemented scantily from the rates, and at last to come, for the rest of his life, on the rates altogether. Such is, I will not call it the life, but the existence or vegetation, of the Devon peasant. He hardly can keep soul and body together."*61


In the same country, Mr. Dudley Baxter states, there are 40,000 men out of less than 400,000 in the building trades who between 55 and 65 are considered as past hard work. In other trades, he says, a man is disabled at 55 or 50. A coal-backer is considered past work at 40.*62


I can not better close this protracted chapter than with the following words taken from the address of Sir Stafford Northcote, as President of the British Social Science Association: "A man who earns a pound a week is not necessarily twice as well off as a man who earns 10 shillings. You must take into account the amount of work which they respectively have to do for their money, the number of hours they are employed, the amount of strain upon the body and on the brain, the chance of accident, the general effect upon the health and upon the duration of life."*63

Notes for this chapter

To the considerations enumerated must be added, as Mr. Ward has shown, still another, in the case of laborers working by the piece. "When piece-work is done, you have to consider not only the price per piece paid, but also the conditions, as of machinery, etc. Thus the Hyde spinners in 1824 struck because they were getting less per piece than others, though all the time they were, by reason of improved machinery, actually earning more per day."—Workmen and Wages, p. 23.
The shilling in America suffered a still harder fate—twenty "York shillings" having the value of but $2.50, and 20 New-England shillings the value of $3.33. In Pennsylvania the "dollar" was, at different dates, worth 4s. 6d.; 5s.; 5s 6d.; 6s.; 6s. 6d.; 7s.; 7s. 6d.—Colwell's Ways and Means of Payment, p. 99.
Essays on the Gold Question, 1858-60.
Works, ix. 463.
Works, ix. 249.
Works of J. Adams, vii. 199.
Even when wages are paid in money, there are two methods by which their real value to the laborer may be reduced in addition to all the causes mentioned under the preceding head. These are, first, the practice of "long-pays," by which the workman is held a long time out of his wages, and obliged to purchase goods meanwhile on credit, on ruinous terms. This is sometimes necessary in new countries; but in old countries it is often resorted to needlessly, and forms one of the standing grievances of the laboring class. The second is the practice of "truck," by which the workman, though perhaps for form's sake paid in money, is compelled, under fear of discharge, to purchase goods at the employer's store. The effects of the latter practice on the welfare of the laboring classes will be discussed fully at a later stage (pp. 324-42).
Fourth Report, Commission on the Employment of Women and Children in Agriculture, p. 110. " Part payment in food still prevails extensively in Wales."—Frederick Purdy, Statistical Journal, xxiv. 329.
Die Lage der ländlichen Arbeiter.

"The married farm-servants," says Mr. Petre in his Report of 1870 on the Condition of the Industrial Classes of Prussia (p. 50), " are called 'Deputaten,' or persons receiving an allowance in kind, to distinguish them from other farm-servants who all take their meals together at the farm. The 'Deputaten' receive in addition to their wages a certain allowance of corn, potatoes, etc. This primitive practice is, however, gradually giving way to the system of paying full wages in money."

"In the departments Bouches du Rhône, Gard, and Gironde it is not customary to pay in kind. In some, this description of payment does not amount to more than 10 francs (a year). In some, it surpasses in value the amount of money payment."—Lord Brabazon's Report on the Condition of the Industrial Classes of France, 1872, p. 42.
Report on the Payment of Wages Bill (1854), pp. 103-5.
Report on the Condition of the Industrial Classes of Italy, 1871, p. 231.
In Devonshire and elsewhere a "grist-corn" perquisite is recognized, by which the laborer is allowed to have grain at a fixed price per bushel, whatever the market rate. The amount so allowed to be taken ranges from two or three pecks to a bushel every fortnight.—Heath's English Peasantry, pp. 95, 96, 140, 141.

"In some counties, as Dorset, the farmer pays part of his men's wages in corn at 1 shilling per bushel below the market price."—Mr. Purdy, Stat. Journal, xxiv. 329.

Fourth Report (1870) Commission on the Employment of Women and Children in Agriculture, p. 58.
Ibid., p. 110.
See Mr. Tremenheere's Report for 1869.
The Hon. Edward Stanhope, Assistant Commissioner, says of the cottages in Shropshire: "The point especially deserving of attention in this county is the infamous character of the cottages. In the majority of the parishes I visited they may be described as tumble-down and ruinous, not water-tight, very deficient in bedroom accommodations and in decent sanitary arrangements."—Report on the Employment of Women and Children in Agriculture, 1868-9, p. xxxiv.
Address as President Br. Soc. Sc. Association, 1866. Transactions, p. 9.
P. 94.
P.95, cf. 140, 141.
Pp. 55, 56, 86, 87.
"In Dumfriesshire even the keeping of a pig is often prohibited on the ground that it affords inducements to little acts of peculation." Fourth Report (1870) on the Employment of Women and Children in Agriculture, p. 85.
A Journey throughout Ireland (4th ed.), p. 371.
English Peasantry, p. 113.
Ibid., p. 115.
Soc. Sc. Transactions, 1872, pp. 395-8.
H. Fawcett, Pol. Econ., pp. 254, 255. W. T. Thornton on Over Population, chap. viii.

The Commissioners of 1843 reported strongly in favor of the Allotment system; they declared that it did not tend to reduce wages, but that all the proceeds of the land thus cultivated constituted "a clear addition to wages."

On the other side, Mr. Mill, in his Principles of Pol. Econ., wrote, "The scheme, as it seems to me, must be either nugatory or mischievous."—I. 441, 442.

The industrial disadvantages of the employment of married women in factories will be spoken of hereafter. To their full extent, whatever that may be, the superiority claimed by Prof. Senior for the spinner or weaver must be discounted. Again, so far as the employment of the female head of the family in outside labor, or of very young children in any sort of labor, tends to reduce health and strength or to shorten life, this must be set off against the advantage of increased present earnings, in accordance with the principles to be noted in the paragraphs which immediately follow.
Lectures on Wages, pp. 8-9.

It is not only true that the opportunities for extra earnings vary greatly as between different occupations, as shown by Prof. Senior's illustration, but such opportunities vary greatly within the same occupation in different localities. Thus Mr. Purdy's tables of Irish agricultural wages show that the "harvest wages" for men range from 2 shillings 6d. a week above ordinary wages, all the way up to 11 shillings.—Statistical Journal, xxv. 448-50.

This irregularity may be greater or less according to climate or the character of the crops. Some crops require far more days of labor in the year than others. Some countries are locked in frost half the year; in others the ground opens early and freezes late. "In the countries on the Danube, these operations are spread over seven months; in the countries on the north of the Volga they must be concluded in four months."—Hearn's Plutology, pp. 74, 75. An English farmer is ploughing while a New-England farmer is hauling wood on the ice and snow. Mr. Purdy's valuable tables (Statistical Journal, xxiv. 352, 353) show that February is the worst month for employment in agriculture in England; August, the best.

Mr. Purdy gives a table which he deems fairly representative, exhibiting the divisions of agricultural wages between the seasons as follows:

Paid for Labor:
First quarter 18.9
Second " 22.1
Third " 38.6
Fourth " 20.4

In brickmaking, in England, it is estimated that men can be employed but 45 weeks in the year, in consequence of rain and frost. In the Northern States of America the failure of employment is for a much longer period.
Mr. Lecky remarks of holidays in Catholic countries: "The number that are compulsory has been grossly exaggerated."—History of Rationalism, ii. 323.

Diplomatic and consular reports to the British Government give perhaps the most recent and exact information on the subject of holidays in the Greek Church.

Consul Calvert reports from Montastir that, reckoning Sundays, there are more than one hundred days in the year when the Christians voluntarily cease work (1870, p. 244). Consul Stuart states the number of days besides Sundays which the Eastern Church attempts to withdraw from labor at 48. Formerly, he says, the number was greater; but the opposition of the working classes to the loss of so much time has caused a reduction in this respect, which will doubtless proceed further (1871, p. 780). Mr. Gould gives the number of working days in Greece as 265 (1870, p. 500). Consul Sandwith gives the number of fête days in Crete as 30 (1872, p. 382). Consul Egerton states that in Russia "besides Sundays there are about 24 holidays in the year, when no work is allowed. Some are saints' days; others, state holidays" (1873, p. 111).

Gibbon, chap. xlvii., of the Jacobites, whose five annual Lents the historian is disposed to regard as an instance of "making a virtue of necessity."
Mr. Dudley Baxter, speaking of the operatives in this branch of industry, wrote: "We all know their periodical distresses. It may be said that these were accidents. They are not mere accidents, but incidents—natural incidents of our manufacturing economy. They are sure to recur under different forms, either from gluts, or strikes, or war, and they must be allowed for in computations of earnings."—National Income, p. 45.

"In 1829 the weavers of Lancashire and Cheshire were earning, at best, from 4s.d. to 6s. per week when at work. The most favored had to wait a week or two between one piece of work and the next; and about a fourth of the whole number were out of employ altogether."—Martineau, History of England, iii. 167.

Statistical Journal, xxiv. 501. I have sought to show elsewhere (p.391, n.) that all the time occupied by a strike is not necessarily lost.
P. 5.
Pp. 41, 42.
The cost, at contract prices, of raising an orphan child to the age of 11, is computed by Mr. Chadwick (Statistical Journal, xxv. 505) at £130, or the value of a team of four first-class farm-horses.

The same eminent authority estimates the average loss of working ability, by premature deaths from preventible causes, to be at least 10 years (Stat. Journal, xxviii. 26).

"In the production of dead machinery," says Dr. Edward Jarvis, "the cost of all that are broken in the making is charged to the cost of all which are completed.... So, in estimating the cost of raising children to manhood, it is necessary to include the number of years that have been lived by those that fell by the way with the years of those that pass successfully through the period of development."—Report Massachusetts Board of Health, 1874, p. 340.

"Le salaire d'un ouvrier doit comprendre... l'amortissement du capital employé par ses parents, avec lequel il peut alimenter son enfant qui le remplacera un jour dans la société."—Jos. Garnier, Traité d'Économie Politique, p. 462.
P. 184.
Report Mass. State Board of Health, 1874, pp. 341, 342.
50 years, i.e. from 20 to 70 years of age.
Krankheiten der Arbeiter.
Returns to the order of the House of Commons, 13th May, 1872.
See the evidence collected by Mr. Jellinger Symons under the English Commission of 1841; also, Dr. Greenhow's report in 1860, in the Third Report of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council.
Report of Mr. J. E. White, Asst. Commr. Employment of Women and Children, 1865.
Sir Thomas Bazley's report for 1870 states the number of deaths from accidents in collieries and ironstone mines at 991. In the same year 373 persons were killed in works under the Factory acts; 1378 were so injured that amputation was required, while the lesser injuries footed up 16,828.

"En France, ces accidents sont beaucoup plus rares, et l'exploitation des mines n'a jamais été mise au nombre des industries qui créent une position insupportable aux ouvriers."—Théodore Fix, Les Classes Ouvrières, p. 146.

Dr. Angus Smith, Soc. Sc. Transactions, 1865, p. 241.
Report of the Poor-Law Commissioners of 1842, p. 200.
Journal of the Institute of Actuaries, July, 1872, p. 98.
The mortality among the "china-scourers" is something frightful. "In all the process the operatives are exposed to the inhaling of the fine dust with which the air of the different workshops is charged, and which dust the finer it is the longer it floats in the atmosphere and the more dangerous it becomes."—Ibid., p. 109.
"The diseases engendered by lead-mining may be stated as asthma and chronic bronchitis."—Ibid., p. 103.
The heat in copper-mines was found by Dr. Greenhow to be very much greater than in tin-mines. In one mine which he visited the temperature was 125°. "Steam was coming out of the shaft in volumes at the time of inspection."
Letter of Canon Girdlestone to Mr. Heath, "Peasantry of England," p. 100.
National Income, pp. 41, 43.
Transactions, 1869, p. 18.

Part I, Chapter III

End of Notes

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