Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI: FOOD IN FRANCE, ACCORDING TO THE LABOUR BUREAU - The Comedy of Protection
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
CHAPTER VI: FOOD IN FRANCE, ACCORDING TO THE LABOUR BUREAU - Yves Guyot, The Comedy of Protection 
The Comedy of Protection, trans. M.A. Hamilton (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1906).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
FOOD IN FRANCE, ACCORDING TO THE LABOUR BUREAU
I. Wages returns; cost of food and housing for bachelors and families; relation to wages—II. Wages, food, and rent; penury and relief—III. Effect of Protection; effect of Customs duties on wages in inverse proportion to their amount; difference between prices in London and Paris.
Wages and the Cost of Food.
I am now going to check these results by the information supplied in a Blue Book published in 1902 by the Labour Bureau on Wages Returns, containing the results of an inquiry made among instructed experts as to the monthly board paid by unmarried workmen and the cost of living of families of four.
The following tables give the cost of board and lodging, per month, paid by single workmen:—
It averages, then, in industrial towns, from £2 16s. to £3 11s. Taking wages, in Paris, as 3s. 111/2d. a day for 25 days—rather a high figure (£5 per month)—this cost represents 65 to 70 per cent. of the wages; for the skilled workman, who earns 5s. 101/2d. a day (35s. 3d. per week), it is 50 to 55 per cent. In the provinces it is more nearly 80 per cent.
Turning to the cost of maintenance of a family, the type selected is that commonest in France, the family of four. It has been shown that for a family of this class necessary foodstuffs are represented, per month, in the following quantities:—
In addition, drink consists, according to the district, of 10 gallons of wine, 19 of beer, or 22 of cider.
Dividing these figures by three, to give the consumption per head, and multiplying by twelve, to find the annual figure, the amount of bread is 440 lbs., instead of the standard ration of 790 lbs., that of meat 122 lbs., instead of the standard of 360 lbs.
Now to discover the cost of this food relatively to wages. Taking the quantities given above as fixed and the current local prices, a table of results can be given for four groups:—
Of course there are variations between towns, but the average variation, for the smallest boroughs and the largest towns is not more than 15 per cent. In the figures neither sugar, coffee, grocery, nor vegetables (except potatoes) are included.
Taking now the Labour Bureau average for manual labour, fr. 2·75 a day (2s. 21/2d.): multiply it by 300—though this is an exaggerated estimate, for it makes no allowance for unemployment, stoppage, seasonal disturbance, or illness; and take as the average cost of food per month 55 fr. (44s.). Then:—
Adding for the cost of drink £6 16s. a year, the total is:—
Therefore the wages of a labourer, even if he were never out of work, would be inadequate for the insufficient budget returned by the inquiry.
The results for skilled labour are as follows:—
Wages: Cost of Food and Rent.
According to the Wages Inquiry, the ordinary rent of a workman’s family is £4 per annum all over France and £14 5s. in Paris.
The results, then, are:—
The net results, then, are: Taking the provinces as a whole, the wages of labour are not adequate even to supply the normal budget of the Labour Bureau; and they do not supply it: numbers of families in France never taste beef. Even in the case of skilled labour 84 per cent. of wages must go in food, and there is not enough left over for rent.
Even taking the low figures given, only in Paris is it possible for the workman to live on his wages; even there the cost of living takes 87 per cent. of the wages of manual labour.
The condition of things indicated by these results cannot be normal; there follows one of the following alternatives, which are often found in one and the same household—namely, that the wife and children are also wage-earners, and poverty entails distress and charitable relief. The family taken by the Labour Bureau consists of a man, his wife, and two children. This is a very small family. But even where the husband is a skilled workman, unless the wife and children are also bread-winners, the condition of the family is one of extreme discomfort.
Effect of Protection.
Leaving drink out of account, though it is also affected by the Customs, let us now examine the effects of Protection on food.
Then deducting the Customs duties from the price of food:—
The effect of the duties on wages is in inverse ratio to the amount of wages: for the labourer with low wages privation is inevitable.
Of course the duty does not always produce its full effect; but even so it involves a more than equivalent rise in the price of other articles.1 M. des Essars made a list of prices of 46 articles from the catalogues of two great grocery stores in London and Paris. Supposing the buyer to have purchased a unit in each case, he would have spent 109 fr. 95 in Paris and 84 fr. ·09 in London—i.e., exactly 30·78 per cent. more in Paris than in London. In the French prices 11 fr. 34 must be allowed for Customs duties, only 1 fr. 57 in the English. The net difference between the prices is, then, 19 per cent. to the disadvantage of Paris.
Of course in the 30·78 per cent. of difference between London and Paris prices there is more than the 11·66 per cent. of duty to allow for; but the effect of Protection is, by hampering commerce and forcing goods from the protected into the free markets, to compel dealers to advance the duty, on which they take their profit, as they do on the price of the goods themselves.
A comparison of the prices of bread and meat in France and other countries shows the extent of the burden imposed by our fiscal system.
Journal of the Statistical Society of Paris, 1901.