Front Page Titles (by Subject) Part I, Chapter II NOMINAL AND REAL WAGES. - The Wages Question: A Treatise on Wages and the Wages Class
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Part I, Chapter II NOMINAL AND REAL WAGES. - Francis Amasa Walker, The Wages Question: A Treatise on Wages and the Wages Class 
The Wages Question: A Treatise on Wages and the Wages Class (London: Macmillan, 1888).
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Part I, Chapter II
|AGE.||LIGHT LABOR.||HEAVY LABOR.|
|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.|
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 superstition40 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 wages45 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 table48 shows the number of years spent under 20 for every 100 persons attaining that age:
|COUNTRY.||Years spent under 20.||Per cent of loss.|
Again, the Life Tables of the several States show the average number of years lived after the age of 20 to be as follows:
|United States (Males)||37.46||Ireland||28.88|
"Thus the productive efficiency fell short of its fulness49 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. Hirt50 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 manufacture58 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, 2.5059 ; 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
[8.]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.
[9.]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.
[10.]Essays on the Gold Question, 1858-60.
[11.]Works, ix. 463.
[12.]Works, ix. 249.
[13.]Works of J. Adams, vii. 199.
[14.]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).
[15.]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.
[16.]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."
[17.]"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.
[18.]Report on the Payment of Wages Bill (1854), pp. 103-5.
[19.]Report on the Condition of the Industrial Classes of Italy, 1871, p. 231.
[20.]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.
[21.]Fourth Report (1870) Commission on the Employment of Women and Children in Agriculture, p. 58.
[22.]Ibid., p. 110.
[23.]See Mr. Tremenheere's Report for 1869.
[24.]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.
[25.]Address as President Br. Soc. Sc. Association, 1866. Transactions, p. 9.
[27.]P.95, cf. 140, 141.
[28.]Pp. 55, 56, 86, 87.
[29.]"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.
[30.]A Journey throughout Ireland (4th ed.), p. 371.
[31.]English Peasantry, p. 113.
[32.]Ibid., p. 115.
[33.]Soc. Sc. Transactions, 1872, pp. 395-8.
[34.]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.
[35.]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.
[36.]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.
[37.]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:|
[38.]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.
[39.]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).
[40.]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."
[41.]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. 4½d. 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.
[42.]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.
[44.]Pp. 41, 42.
[45.]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.
[46.]"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.
[48.]Report Mass. State Board of Health, 1874, pp. 341, 342.
[49.]50 years, i.e. from 20 to 70 years of age.
[50.]Krankheiten der Arbeiter.
[51.]Returns to the order of the House of Commons, 13th May, 1872.
[52.]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.
[53.]Report of Mr. J. E. White, Asst. Commr. Employment of Women and Children, 1865.
[54.]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.
[55.]Dr. Angus Smith, Soc. Sc. Transactions, 1865, p. 241.
[56.]Report of the Poor-Law Commissioners of 1842, p. 200.
[57.]Journal of the Institute of Actuaries, July, 1872, p. 98.
[58.]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.
[59.]"The diseases engendered by lead-mining may be stated as asthma and chronic bronchitis."—Ibid., p. 103.
[60.]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."
[61.]Letter of Canon Girdlestone to Mr. Heath, "Peasantry of England," p. 100.
[62.]National Income, pp. 41, 43.
[63.]Transactions, 1869, p. 18.