Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/23

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13
THE ECONOMIC OUTLOOK.

reported as three and a half cubic yards, at a compensation of from $1.50 to $2 per day.

Any review of the recent experiences, in respect to wages and hours of labor, would be imperfect that failed to call attention to the fact that the benefits from advances in the one case, and reductions in the other, have accrued mainly to operatives in factories and to artisans and skilled mechanics, and have been enjoyed in the least degree, and largely not at all, by employes, clerks, book-keepers, copyists, etc., engaged in mercantile and commercial operations and establishments. The reason of this is manifestly that the supply of this latter class of labor has been disproportionately greater than that of the former, and continually tends to be in excess of demand; and, under such circumstances, although the amount of discontent may be, and undoubtedly is, very great and well warranted, the organized and aggressive expression of it finds little sympathy on the part of the public.

The question has been asked. Why is it that wages of manual labor have been constantly rising in recent years, while all other prices have been concurrently falling? or, to put it differently, why is it that overproduction, while cheapening the product, should not also cheapen the work that produces it? The answer is, that the price of the products of labor is not governed by the price of labor, or wages, but that wages, or earnings, are results of production, and not conditions precedent. Wages, as a rule, are paid out of product. If production is small, no employer can afford to pay high wages; but if, on the contrary, it is large, and measured in terms of labor is of low cost—which conditions are eminently characteristic of the modern methods of production—the employer is not only enabled to pay high wages, but will, in fact, be obliged to do so, in order to obtain what is really the cheapest (in the sense of the most efficient) labor. The world has not yet come to recognize it, but it is nevertheless an economic axiom, that the invariable concomitant of high wages and the skilled use of machinery is a low cost of production and a large consumption. In the first of the results is to be found the explanation for the continually increasing tendency of wages to advance; in the second, an explanation why the supplanting of labor by machinery has not been generally more disastrous. If, however, it be rejoined that "the comparative poverty of cotton- and woolen-mill operatives, and of women who run sewing-machines," and the like, does not sustain the above explanations, the question is pertinent, Comparative with what? For, low and insufficient as may be the wages of all this class of operatives, they were never, in comparison with other times, so high as at present.