Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/33

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23
THE ECONOMIC OUTLOOK.

also pertinent to this subject: That wages everywhere have not fallen but advanced, as a sequence to the introduction and use of cheaper and better machinery and processes, proves that labor, through various causes—probably by reason mainly of increased consumption—has not yet been supplanted or economized by such changes to a sufficient extent to reduce wages through any competition of the unemployed. The multiplicity and continuance of strikes, and the difficulty experienced in filling the places of strikers with a desirable quality of labor, are also evidence that the supply of skilled labor in almost every department of industry is rather scarce than abundant. Again, it is a matter of general experience that when, in recent years, wages, by reason of a depression of prices, have been reduced in any specialty of production, such reductions have been mainly temporary, and are rarely, if ever, equal to the fall in the prices of the articles produced; which in turn signifies that the loss contingent on such reductions has been mainly borne by capital in the shape of diminished profits. Notwithstanding this, it must be admitted that the immense changes in recent years in the conditions of production and distribution have considerably augmented—especially from the ranks of unskilled labor and from agricultural occupations—the number of those who have a rightful claim on the world's help and sympathy. That this increase is temporary in its nature, and not permanent, and that relief will ultimately come, and mainly through an adjustment of affairs to the new conditions, by a process of industrial evolution, there is much reason to believe. But, pending the interval or necessary period for adjustment, the problem of what to do to prevent a mass of adults, whose previous education has not qualified them for taking advantages of the new opportunities which material progress offers to them, from sinking into wretchedness and perhaps permanent poverty, is a serious one, and one not easy to answer.

A comprehensive review of the relations of machinery to wages, by those who by reason of special investigations are competent to judge, has led to the following conclusions: When machinery is first introduced it is imperfect, and requires a high grade of workmen to successfully operate it; and these for a time earn exceptionally high wages. As time goes on, and the machinery is made more perfect and automatic, the previous skill called for goes up to better work and even better pay. Then those who could not at the outset have operated the machinery at all, are now called in; and at higher wages than they had earned before (although less than was paid to their predecessors), they do the work. Capital in developing and applying machinery may, therefore, be fairly regarded as in the nature of