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tempt 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:
5th. The longer or shorter duration of the laboring power.
I shall consider these causes1 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 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
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. ; 58. ; 58 6d. ; 68.; 6s. 6d. ; 78. ; 78. 6d.-Col. well's Ways and Means of Payment, p. 99.
this discrimination in historical comparisons of wages be. comes 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 shil
(6) 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. Cairnesi 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.
(©) Fluctuations in the paper substitutes for coin.-A paper currency purporting to be convertible into coin, but in
1 Essays on the Gold Question, 1858-60.
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 highlystimulated 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 Revo
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."i Mr. Jefferson says’ 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."
I have before me the public records of the second precinct of the township of Brookfield, Massachusetts, for this period. On the 230 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
I Works, ix. 463.
Works, ix. 249.
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 inoney. 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 coun try 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