- Part I. Production and Population.
- Part I, Chapter I Wages a Question In the Distribution of Wealth.
- Part I, Chapter Ii Nominal and Real Wages.
- Part I, Chapter Iii Nominal and Real Cost of Labor.
- Part I, Chapter Iv the Degradation of Labor.
- Part I, Chapter V the Law of Diminishing Returns.
- Part I, Chapter Vi Malthusianism In Wages—the Law of Population.
- Part I, Chapter Vii Necessary Wages.
- Part I, Chapter Viii the Wages of the Laborer Are Paid Out of the Product of His Industry.27
- Part I, Chapter Ix There Is No Wage-fund Irrespective of the Number and Industrial Quality of Laborers.
- Part II. Distribution.
- Part Ii, Chapter X the Problem of Distribution: Competition: the Diffusion Theory: the Economical Harmonies.
- Part Ii, Chapter Xi the Mobility of Labor.
- Part Ii, Chapter Xii the Wages Class.
- Part Ii, Chapter Xiii the Capitalist Class: Returns of Capital: Rent and Interest.
- Part Ii, Chapter Xiv the Employing Class: the Entrepreneur Function: the Profits of Business.
- Part Ii, Chapter Xv CoÖperation: Getting Rid of the Employing Class.
- Part Ii, Chapter Xvi the True Wages Question.
- Part Ii, Chapter Xvii What May Place the Wages Class At a Disadvantage?
- Part Ii, Chapter Xviii What May Help the Wages Class In Its Competition For the Products of Industry.
- Part Ii, Chapter Xix May Any Advantage Be Acquired By the Wages Class Through Strikes Or Trades-unions?
- Concluding Remarks.
Part I, Chapter VII
THE phrase "necessary wages" makes a considerable figure in economical literature. By it is intended a mininum below which, it is assumed, wages can not fall without reducing the supply of labor and thus inducing an opposite tendency, namely, to a rise in wages.
It is not meant that the employer is bound, by either equitable or economical considerations, to pay the laborer, in the immediate instance, enough to support life in himself and family. The employer will, in general, pay only such wages as the anticipated value of the product will allow him to get back from the purchaser, with his own proper profits thereon. If, in a peculiar condition of industry, he consents for a time to give up his own profits, or even to produce at a sacrifice, it is with reference to his own interest in keeping his laboring force, or his customers, together, in the expectation that a turn in affairs will enable him to make himself good for the temporary loss. If he pays more than is consistent with this object, or if he pays any thing from any other view than his own interest, what he thus pays is not wages, but alms disguised as wages.
Such instances of temporary sacrifice are, however, exceptional. In the vast majority of cases the wages which employers pay their workmen are governed by the price at which they may fairly expect to sell the product; and this, whether the workmen and their families can live thereon or not. If now, in any country, at any time, laborers, from any cause, become in excess of the demand, necessary wages in that instance will not include a sufficiency of food and clothing for all these laborers, but only for those who are wanted.
Nor by necessary wages is it meant that workmen will not accept wages which are below the standard of subsistence. It is when men are receiving wages which give them a margin for the comforts of life, and perhaps something for luxury, that they say, sometimes in very wantonness, "If we can not have such and such wages, we will not work," and perchance refuse offers which are as liberal as their employers can make. But when wages approach the dread line where they cease to furnish a sufficiency of the coarsest food, laboring men do not talk so. In countries where there is no poor law, and where the claim to support is not admitted by the state, it is a thing unknown that a workman refuses wages because they will not keep himself and family alive. He takes them for what they are worth, applies them as far as they will go, and works on, perhaps with failing strength, eager to secure the perhaps failing employment. If it is in the city, and the sight of luxury maddens the crowd of laborers giddy with fasting, the dreadful cry of "Bread or blood" may be raised, and the last effort of strength be given to pillage and destruction. But the single laborer, acting out his own impulses, takes the wages that are offered him never so surely as when those wages are close down upon the famine line.
If the least sum on which a man with a wife and five children can subsist, be seven shillings a week, and yet in hard times he is offered but six shillings for his labor, this does not mean that one victim is to be selected from the seven and set apart to starve, while the rest are fed. It means that all will try to live on the scantier supply. The famine line is not a line which it is easy to trace. Laboring men and women can live for single days on what they could not live upon during an entire week; they can live for a single week on what they could not live upon every week of the month; they can even live for months on what they could not live upon an entire year. They can live along for years on a half of what would be necessary to keep them in robust health and with strength to labor efficiently. With the aged and the young the capacity of enduring privation is almost indefinitely less. Yet even when each succumbs in his turn, the nursing child and the young man in his strength, the chances are that it is to some distinct form of disease, for which privation has prepared the way. Thus in Ireland, when the annual number of deaths rose from 77,754, the average of the three preceding years, to 122,889 in 1846, and 249,335 in 1847, it was from fever, and not from literal starvation, that the great mass of victims died. So in India, in the famine of 1873-4, the number of deaths from starvation reported from districts embracing millions of inhabitants was in some instances but three, five, or ten, while yet the population had been greatly reduced by an extraordinary mortality from the recognized forms of ordinary disease. Dr. Hunter, in his Famine Aspects of India, has strikingly drawn the lamentable picture of a people entering the famine state.
"At the outset of a famine the people fall back upon roots and various sorts of inferior green food. The children and the weaker members of the family die, and those who survive eke out a very insufficient quantity of rice by roots and wild plants. The wages which would not suffice to feed an average family of four are sufficient for the two or three members who survive. The rural population enters a famine as a frigate goes into battle, cleared of all useless gear and inefficient members."
We have seen that by "necessary wages" is not meant that masters will-not offer, or workmen receive, in the immediate instance, wages which are greatly and increasingly inadequate to the support of life. But more than this, it is not even meant that any wages at all are necessary unconditionally. The employing class may, from causes affecting the industry of a community or a country, itself slowly disappear. Many regions once most fair and flourishing have, as we know, been stricken with a paralysis of industry, leaving no small part of their inhabitants occupationless. In such a case not only can no particular scale of wages be said to be necessary, but no wages at all will be necessary; the population thus rendered surplus must remove if it can to new seats, or remaining, as is most likely, must pass rapidly away by the excess of deaths over births, induced by hardship and privation. Hence, if we will say that wages must be high enough to maintain the laboring class in condition to labor, and to keep their numbers good, we should bear in mind the condition on which this alone is true, namely, that the employing class is itself kept good.
The whole significance of the term necessary wages is that, in order to the supply of labor being maintained, wages must be paid which will not only enable the laboring class to subsist according to the standard of comfort and decency, or discomfort and indecency it may be, which they set up for themselves as that below which they will not go, but will also dispose them to propagate sufficiently to make up the inevitable, incessant loss of labor from death or disability. If the standard of living referred to above varies among several communities or countries, then the term "necessary wages" must be interpreted in each community or country according to the habitual standard there maintained.
It is, then, because something besides vice and misery do, in a degree, limit the increase of population, that the question of necessary wages becomes more than the question of the amount of the barest, baldest subsistence which will keep men alive and in condition for labor. And as, in fact, the standard of living varies with each community or country, the laboring population in no two making precisely the same requirements as the condition precedent to their keeping their numbers good, the term necessary wages must be understood in each country and separate community according to the habitual standard there maintained.
Necessary wages, as thus defined, may be very low. It is commonly said that the lowest point which can be reached is that at which enough food (taking that as the type of expenditure), of the coarsest and meanest kind, can be provided to sustain life and the ability to labor. But in truth necessary wages may be a great deal lower than that. It is found that, throughout countries comprising a large part of the human race, the wages given and taken not only provide subsistence so scanty and so little nourishing that the population become stunted and more or less deformed and ineffective in labor; but that even so, a large part of all who are born die in infancy and early childhood from the effects of privation. The horrible infant mortality of many districts is not accounted for solely by neglect of sanitary precautions, but is also largely due to the low diet of mothers and children.
But necessary wages may not only be so low as to require the death, under four years of age, of one half the persons born into the community: they may be so low as to require the phrase "to sustain life" to be very much qualified in respect to those who survive the period of childhood and attain the capacity to labor. In most countries, if we take civilized and semi-civilized together, no scale of wages is so necessary but that population will, in spite of an infant mortality aggravated almost to the proportions of a general massacre, increase to the point of docking one quarter, one third, or one half from the natural term of the industrial force, for all those who come to man's estate. By this I mean that, if adequate and wholesome food, with simply decent and healthful conditions of life, would, with no regeneration of society or perfection of individual manhood, or even so much as the sanitary reformation of cities and dwellings, allow to persons attaining the age of 20 years a further term, upon the average, of 40 years, population is still capable of increasing, in spite of the principle of necessary wages, until food, clothing, and firing are so reduced, and dwellings become so crowded, that, instead of 40 years, an average term no longer than 30, or even 20 years, is allowed to those who attain manhood. Surely the phrase to "sustain life" needs to be qualified in such cases, where life is, in fact, from want of food and ordinary comforts, sustained through but a fraction of its otherwise natural term.
We have thus reduced the scope of the principle of necessary wages by showing, first, that no wages at all are necessary unless some one sees it for his own interest to employ labor, and, secondly, that when wages are paid, it is not necessary that they should be sufficient to support more than two thirds or one half of the persons born into the world, or, in the case of those actually surviving to the age of labor, to "sustain life" through more than one half or three fourths of the natural term of labor.
But there is nevertheless a truth in the doctrine of necessary wages. There is a point below which if, in any community, wages go, the supply of labor will not be kept up; and hence if employers will have labor, they must pay for it up to this point.
But it is not in every community, it is not in most communities, perhaps it is not in any community, so long as employment is offered at all, that the minimum of wages is fixed by the barest physical conditions of keeping up the supply of labor. Powerful as is the sexual passion, it has not unresisted sway. Somewhere above the point we have indicated—it may be far above, it may be but a little way above this—men will cease bringing children into the world. They may—in many countries they do—increase to such an extent as to involve the frightful infant mortality we have noticed, and to reduce the term of adult life to very narrow limits. But they will not sink to prove the last possibilities of the case; they stop short of the bald, brutal demonstration of the inability to keep up the supply of labor upon scantier food, fire, and raiment; and stopping here, they do in fact give themselves some little margin of living. The Chinaman buys his precious drug; the East Indian gives months of every year to the service of his goggle-eyed divinity.
In Persia, Turkey, and other States of the East imperative custom requires the most lavish outlay in the period immediately before marriage, for which preparation or reparation has to be made during preceding or succeeding years of labor. "A man," writes Mr. Consul Taylor from Koordistan, "one would not suppose to possess a penny, not unfrequently spends £30, raised on loan from his employer, that is dissipated during the seven days of riotous living preceding the ceremony."
Here, then, we have the actual as distinguished from the theoretical minimum; in other words, the "necessary wages," the wages that must be paid to keep the supply of labor good, if, indeed, it is to be kept good; for that, we have seen, is not a necessity. All the way up from this low plane, through the scale of nations, we find points established which mark the minimum of wages for one community or another, those wages, namely, on which that community will consent to keep its numbers good. Such wages thus become the necessary wages for that community, necessary only in the sense that the habits of living among the people will not permit reproduction sufficient to repair the natural waste of labor, on any lower terms, with any thing less of the "necessaries, comforts, and luxuries" of life.
Now, since among most-peoples food is the main object upon which wages are expended, economists have been very much in the way of grading the "necessary wages" of nations according to their habits respecting food, the principal article in the diet of each being taken as indicating the wages which must there be paid to keep the supply of labor good. Thus it is said the Chinese will breed up to the point where a sufficiency of food of the meanest kind, even including much of what we call vermin, can be obtained to rear a constantly-increasing number of laborers of small stature and low vitality. The East Indians, again, are satisfied with rice; and population in that country, accordingly, will increase on that diet, even in the face of the certainty of a famine on an average once in four or five years. The Irish, again, are satisfied with a potato diet, and will increase up to the limits of subsistence on that food, though at the constantly-imminent risk of a scarcity from the failure of that most uncertain crop. The Scotch, again, pitch their minimum of wages at an oaten diet; the Germans, at a diet of black bread; while the English insist, at the very lowest, upon wheaten bread, though unfortunately not so rigidly and persistently but that a considerable unnecessary mortality at the extremes of life, and a lowering of the vital force among large portions of the actual workers, take place.
It will be seen that, according to this doctrine, the necessary wages of every country are fixed by the habits of living among the people, and that at any given time there is a point below which wages can not go without diminishing the supply of labor. This point may change from one period to another. A people broken down by industrial misfortune or crowded by too rapid propagation may temporarily be driven to a lower and meaner diet; and instead of resenting this by withholding their increase, and thereby opening the way, or at least holding the way open, to a return to better times and circumstances, may accept the degradation to which they are thus violently brought; may lay aside that self-respect and self-control which had hitherto kept them from sinking in the social scale, and consent to bring children into the world to share their own miserable lot. Thus, in a single generation, a new scale of wages may be determined, and population adjust itself accordingly. Instances of such lowering of the necessary wages of a people are unfortunately not uncommon.
On the other hand, a people accustomed to a low and mean diet, and to circumstances of filth and squalor, may, under impulses moral or economical, which it is not necessary to recite, raise themselves to a new standard of living, involving a new scale of wages, which thereafter become necessary to them, and which determine population accordingly.
Such a change, involving the substitution of the best wheaten bread for that of an inferior quality, passed upon the masses of the English people between 1715 and 1765. Food wages rose, yet, as population did not increase correspondingly in consequence, there was a "decided elevation in the standard of their comforts and conveniences." Such a change has, by the testimony of observers who can not be doubted, been passing over Ireland since 1850; and the temporary relief from excessive population afforded by famine and forced emigration has, under the impulse of that terrific suffering, been taken advantage of to reach a somewhat higher standard of living. A similar change, for which an easy opportunity is offered in the rapid increase of production, through the discovery of new resources in nature, and new arts and appliances in industry, is, I am fain to believe, passing upon not a few of the people of Europe who are taking advantage of the liberality of art and nature, not to increase their numbers to the limit of their former modes of life, but to snatch something, at least, as a store for the future, and something for greater decency and comfort in the present.
It is in this view of the relation of food to the increase of population, that economists have very generally been agreed in pronouncing cheap food a source of much evil to any people that adopts it. This doctrine can not be better stated than in the language of Prof. Rogers:
"A community which subsists habitually on dear food is in a position of peculiar advantage when compared with another which lives on cheap food; one, for instance, which lives on wheat as contrasted with another which lives on rice or potatoes; and this quite apart from the prudence or incautiousness of the people. Two instances will illustrate this rule. The Irish famine of 1846 was due to the sudden disease which affected the potato. It was equally severe in the northern parts of Scotland, and particularly in the Western Highlands; its effects, as we all know, were terrible; but the same disease affected the same plant in England. That, however, which was distress to the English was death to the Irish and the Highlanders; they had nothing else to resort to, they subsisted on the cheapest food. Now, were such a calamity as the potato-disease to attack wheat in England, formidable as the consequences would be, they would not be destructive."
Now, I dare say Prof. Rogers would be very slow to approve the theory of the British Legislature in seeking, as late as 1774, to discourage the use of cotton goods, and to restrict the people to the costlier fabrics of linen, silk, and wool. Yet why should not dear clothing be desired as an element in high necessary wages, as much as dear food? If necessary wages, called 100, be made up of dear food, 90, and cheap clothing, 10, is it not the same, in the result, as if the constituents were cheap food, 80, and dear clothing, 20? And, if famine comes, does not the possibility of going down from dear clothing to cheap clothing, from woollen, say, to cotton, or from flax to cotton, afford a margin, just as truly as the substitution of cheap for dear food? If so, how does this laudation of dear food for the people consist with the laudation of the machinery which cheapens the clothing of the people? Yet economists who will not admit the wholesale supersedure of human labor by cotton and woollen machinery in the early part of this century, and the consequent throwing out of employment of vast numbers of men and women to sink into pauperism and squalor, to be even a qualification of the advantages of introducing machinery to cheapen clothing, are unhesitating in their denunciation of cheap food.
It appears to me that cheap food, just like cheap clothing, ought to be, and but for the folly and wickedness of men would be, a blessing to the race; that, to any free, industrious, and self-respecting people, to-day, every cheapening of food is, without any qualification, an advantage; that the use of oat and corn meal, and even of the dreaded and despised potato, has been a help, a most important help, to many struggling communities, and may be, in the same degree, to-day to any community where the land is not locked up in feudal tenures, where industry is unconstrained, where class legislation has not put labor at disadvantage, and the native desires and aspirations of man are allowed fair play. Did the substitution of "rye and Indian" for the dearer wheat tend to degrade the people of New-England? The question is grotesque in its absurdity. It left the more wealth and labor to be applied to higher uses than filling the belly. It allowed just so much the more to be done in the way of making decent and comfortable homes; of erecting churches and schoolhouses, and supporting the offices of religious and secular instruction; of clearing the ground, opening roads, and building bridges; of making ample provision for old age, for the endowment of dependent members of the family, and for the equipment of the young for their struggle, in their turn, with nature and with men. It allowed the child to go to school, not grudging the wages he might earn by starving his mind. It allowed the wife and the daughter to keep the house, making possible that sterling sense of decency which has been the savor of New-England life. That is what the substitution of cheaper food did for early New-England, and what it might do and would do among any people taught to fear God and not man, accustomed to decent belongings, and cherishing generous aspirations.
Has the use of the potato by the Irish in America, so far as it has been used—and it has been used very freely—been in any sense or in any degree an injury to them? Far otherwise: it has enabled them to acquire their little home-steads the more rapidly; it has enabled them to put tea, coffee, and sugar on their table; to clothe their wives decently on week days and handsomely on the Sabbath; to give their children their time at school, and send them there with shoes and stockings on their feet that they may not be ashamed before the American children. Such has been the influence of the potato on the fortunes of the Irish in the United States; and there is no reason, aside from the oppression, spoliation, and proscription practised for many generations by the English in Ireland, why the same cause should not have produced the same effect there. Justice and equal rights have made the Irish industrious and provident; and in such a condition any lowering of the cost of subsistence is a distinct, unqualified advantage. In America the Irish, no matter how newly arrived, have shown a passionate eagerness to acquire homesteads, for which they will labor and for which they will deny themselves. Cheap food here has helped them to accomplish this object more easily and quickly. Cheap food in Ireland did not tend in the same direction, but the rather allowed and excited a dangerous increase of population: and this for reasons which the public conscience of England has long recognized.
All this potato-philosophy is based upon the assumption that, excepting small expenditures for clothing and shelter, nothing can be made indispensable or "necessary" to the workingman except his food; and that his food will consist practically of a single staple article, the cost of which will govern his whole expenditure; and hence, if that staple article be cheapened, the consequences predicted by Prof. Rogers will, in the persistence of the sexual instincts, inevitably ensue. But we in the United States know very well, first, that a cheap staple article of food may be compatible with a lavish expenditure on garnishes, fruits, condiments, relishes, and drinks; and, secondly, that a great many things may be made indispensable to the working classes beyond their food; that, moreover, the higher the industrial desires rise, the more tenacious and persistent they are; that tastes, when once inspired, are not only more costly than appetites, but are far stronger; that the industrial desires are constantly multiplying and intensifying among a people where political freedom and social ambition exist, such desires extending themselves rapidly even among new comers or persons just released from thraldom; that decent and comfortable homes, with yards and gardens, schoolhouses and churches, may become just as "necessary" in such a community as food and drink; that parents in such a community will gladly deny themselves the wages their children might earn, in order to send them to school, and the husband gladly deny himself the wages his wife might earn, in order that she may "keep the house." When such desires and aspirations are once enkindled, any cheapening of the food of the people merely releases just so much wealth to be bestowed on other and higher objects.
Let me not be understood as objecting to the proposition that the use of the potato by any people as the sole article of food is injurious and dangerous, but only as taking exception to the reason assigned therefor. It is because this crop is a most precarious one, and because the potato, while forming an admirable element in a diversified diet, is not fitted physiologically to be the sole nutriment of human beings, that its exclusive use is undesirable. So far as it is to be used, its cheapness is a recommendation; and if all other articles of food used with it could be cheapened to its level, it would be so much the better in any community where laws are free and education general. Given these, the native desires and aspirations of men will find objects enough on which to expend the labor which is released from the slavery of ministering to the merely animal necessities of the body. I say "slavery," for that labor is only truly free which is exercised as the result of a choice. So far as a man is driven by brutal hunger to work he differs not much from a slave; when he works because he chooses exertion rather than privation of things agreeable and honorable, his labor is that of the free man.
|ITEMS OF EXPENDITURE.||PERCENTAGE OF THE EXPENDITURE OF THE FAMILY OF|
|1. A working man, with income of $225 to $300 a year.||2. A man of the intermediate class, with income of $450 to $600 a year.||3. A person in easy circumstances, with income of $750 to $1125 a year.|
| ||Per cent.||Per cent.||Per cent.|
|1. Food...|| 62|| 55|| 50|
|2. Clothing...|| 16|| 18|| 18|
|3. Lodging...|| 12|| 12|| 12|
|4. Firing and Lighting...|| 5|| 5|| 5|
| || 95|| 90|| 85|
|5. Education, Worship, etc...|| 2|| 3.5|| 5.5|
|6. Legal protection...|| 1|| 2|| 3|
|7. Care of health...|| 1|| 2|| 3|
|8. Comfort and Recreation...|| 1|| 1.5|| 3.5|
From this table Dr. Engel deduces the following proposition: While the proportion of the total outlay upon food increases as the family becomes poorer, the percentage of outlay for clothing is approximately, and that for lodging is invariably, the same in the three classes taken for consideration. Dr. Engel seems disposed to regard this very much as a law of expenditure. I am disposed to believe, however, that the apparent conformity has been reached by merging urban and rural communities which if considered separately would show very wide differences of expenditure on the several objects indicated; and, secondly, that the extension of the inquiry to other latitudes and other social conditions would develop great diversity in these respects. The Baron Riesbeck in his Travels in Germany (Pinkerton, vi. 147, 173), in 1780, notes the very marked differences existing between Southern and Northern Germany as to the scale of expenditure on dress. The lower orders among the Turks probably expend more of their earnings relatively upon dress than the higher classes. The same may probably be assumed respecting the ordinary Danish workman, who insists on passing himself off as a gentleman on Sundays. Again, the scale of expenditure on lodging varies greatly according to social conditions. In England, Mr. Clifford says, "the agricultural laborer seldom pays, even for a good cottage, more than 1/10 of his income, and more commonly 1/12. The town laborer receiving 18 or 20 shillings weekly will certainly not pay less than 1/3; the artisan receiving 30, 35 shillings or £2 will pay 1/6 and, including rates and taxes, probably 1/5.—Agricultural Lock-out of 1874, p. 246.
In France, Lord Brabazon reports: "Whilst at about the same period town workmen were earning wages 53.32 per cent higher than agricultural laborers, these latter were paying 40.45 per cent less rent."—Report on the Condition of the Industrial Classes, 1872, p. 49.
The well-known passion of the Netherlander for having a whole house, however small, to himself, must, I think, result in a larger proportional expenditure in this direction by common laborers than by the higher classes. I note also that Dr. Engel's computations do not agree very well with those given by Mr. Scott respecting the expenditures of families in Würtemburg. (Report on the Condition of the Industrial Classes, 1872, pp. 196, 197, 205.)