Зображення сторінки
PDF

lution, that it took a wagon-load of money to buy a wagonload 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."1 Mr. Jefferson says2 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."3

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: "Yoted 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: Deo. 3d, 1778, "Yoted 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, "Yoted and granted the sum of £720 to the Eev. Mr. Appleton, in addition to his stated salary of £80." April 3d, 1780, "Yoted that the £220 granted Dec. 3d, 1778, shall go for the preceding year. Yoted that the £.720 granted Oct. 21st, 1779, be so far reconsidered as that the

1 Works, ix. 463. 2 Works, ix. 249. 3 Works of J. Adams, vii. 199. 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 cf 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 wmich 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 Yermont, away from a railroad, can buy food for his family at prices which w^ould 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 wTithin 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 w^hat 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 transporta. tion. 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, inasmuch 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.1 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."1 In Germany2 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 France3 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.

1 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).

1 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.

2 Die Lage der landlichen 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 T

3" In the departments Bouches du Rhone, 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.

« НазадПродовжити »