Page images

ticeship before skill in them can be secured ; and there

; are other industrial operations which can be almost as well performed by a novice as by a practised hand. These differences produce a corresponding difference in the rates of wages. A shipwright or a glass-blower has to spend many years in acquiring the skill which his trade requires. During the first half of a long apprenticeship he earns nothing at all ; considerable expense is therefore incurred by him in learning his trade. For this expense, and for the difficulties which have to be overcome in acquiring the necessary skill, he will in afterlife be compensated by receiving a higher rate of wages than those workmen whose occupation entails neither difficulty nor expense. The trade of a crossing-sweeper, for instance, and that of a copying clerk are very easy and cheap to acquire. A broom is all that is required in the one case, and a knowledge of reading and writing in the other. Hence wages in such employments are much smaller than those earned by the skilled mechanic.

Difficulty of attainment is a most important element in determining wages in those employments where the requisite skill is acquired partly by long practice and is partly the result of natural endowments. The large remuneration received by first-class opera-singers, for example, is not due solely to the expense of acquiring their proficiency. An inferior singer may have taken quite as much pains to cultivate her voice, and may also have incurred as great an expense in obtaining her musical education. The reason why prime donne obtain such large sums is that they possess what may be described as a natural monopoly. There is a very general demand for the best kind of vocal music, which few beside themselves can give. The same remark applies to some of the highest kinds of manual labour, such, for instance, as are required in the more delicate operations of watch-making.

The constancy or inconstancy of an employment produces an influence on the rate of wages prevailing in it. No one would enter an employment in which on an average he would only be able to work nine months in the year, if he were not compensated by receiving during these nine months an exceptionally high rate of wages. Some trades, such as malting, cannot be carried on in hot weather ; others, such as building, are stopped by frost; dockyard labourers are liable to perpetual interruptions in their employment. Such workmen, therefore, as maltsters, bricklayers, and dockyard labourers, receive a higher rate of wages than they would be able to obtain if they were not liable to be frequently out of work.

The amount of trust which must be reposed in those engaged in a particular occupation exercises a very great influence upon the wages they receive. The more trustworthiness required the higher must be the wages given. It is essential that such persons as bankers, cashiers, jewellers' assistants, engine-drivers, railway guards, policemen, and postmen, should be men in whom a considerable amount of confidence can with safety be reposed. Men are not placed in these positions until they have shewn their employers that the uprightness and steadiness of their characters can be relied on. When they have proved themselves to be trustworthy they can justly claim a higher rate of wages as a compensation for the responsibility which their position entails.

In most trades the prospect of success is almost a certainty; an agricultural labourer or a journeyman tailor cannot have many doubts as to the probability of his succeeding in the trade he has chosen. Such considerations as these apply more to the professions than to trades; but there are some cases in which wages are influenced by the probability or improbability of success.

A man who is about to emigrate may well feel that there is considerable uncertainty whether he will succeed in the new life upon which he is about to enter. He may not know whether he will find work in the colony to which he proposes to go; but he is certain that if he does get work he will receive higher wages than he could ever hope to earn at home.

The fact that different rates of wages prevail in different employments does not in the least invalidate the principle previously laid down ; viz. that wages depend on the ratio between the wages-fund and the number of the labouring population. If a cake is going to be divided between a party of children, it is perfectly correct to say that the quantity of cake which each will receive depends on the ratio between the size of the cake and the number of the children. It does not follow that each child will receive an equal share ; but the average size of each share can be correctly ascertained by those who know the number of the children and the size of the cake. If there are 24 children and the cake weighs 1} lbs., the average weight of each child's share will be one ounce.

One child may receive more and another less, but while the number of the children and the size of the cake remain the same, the average size of the shares is unalterable. In the same way, while the wages-fund and the number of the labouring population remain the same, the average rate of wages cannot be affected ; if one set of labourers receives more, another must be receiving less.


1. What are wages ? Is custom or competition the main regulator of wages?

How is the average rate of wages determined?



3. In what manner alone, therefore, can the condition of the labouring classes be improved ?

4. By what means has the wages-fund, in such a country as this, been greatly increased ?

5. Why has not the condition of the labourer improved in proportion to this increase of the wages-fund ?

6. Describe the principal effect of the repeal of the corn laws upon the condition of the labourer.

7. What are the main features of Malthus' essay on population ?

8. Into what classes does he divide the checks upon population ?

9. As civilisation advances, which of these checks becomes the more powerful?

In what two ways does an increase of population deteriorate the condition of the labourer?

II. Why is emigration an insufficient remedy for overpopulation?

Describe the influence of the average rate of profit upon the wages-fund.

13. Are labourers ultimately benefited by an increase of

wages which reduces their employers' profits below the average rate?

14. How does the increased efficiency of labour affect the wages-fund?

15. Is the price of labour subject to fluctuations?

16. Do high prices produce high wages ? Give illustrations.

17. Describe the manner in which competition raises exceptionally low wages, and reduces exceptionally high wages.

18. Shew by an example that harm is done by inducing labourers to remain in a locality where trade is exceptionally depressed.

19. Why does competition act much more slowly



upon the wages of labour than upon the prices of commodities?

Indicate some of the limitations of competition as between different classes of labourers.

21. Among what class of labourers is competition almost inoperative ?

Enumerate Adam Smith's five causes which produce different rates of wages in different employments.

23. Give examples of the effect of these five causes upon wages.

24. Shew by an illustration that the fact of different rates of wages prevailing in different employments, does not affect the truth of the proposition that the average rate of wages depends upon the ratio between the wagesfund and the number of the labouring population.


1. An article on the Census in the Daily News in July, 1871, began thus :—“The preliminary report of the Registrar General on the population of England and Wales, as shown by the Census of this year, is a splendid monument of the growth and prosperity of the country. The population has increased beyond expectation. There were 2,637,884 persons living in England and Wales last April more than there were ten years before. This increase is the largest ever made in any ten years of English history.” Write a criticism on these sentences, bearing in mind that in London within the period referred to the cost of out-door pauperism increased 130 per cent. ; and that in England and Wales, between the years 1866 and 1869, in-door pauperism increased 17 per cent., and outdoor pauperism 10 per cent.

2. Will the labourers in a depressed trade be more benefited by receiving charity or by being assisted to migrate to other localities where their labour is required ?

3. In November, 1870, this paragraph appeared in a

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »