Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/539
EXPENDITURE OF THE WORKING CLASSES. 529
times and to all economists the condition of the people is of chief in- terest, and the consumption of wealth is so closely connected with it that it might seem superfluous to plead for its study. Yet some such plea is necessary. The arts of production improve apace. The vic- tories of science are rapidly utilized by manufacturers anxious to make a fortune. Even here the descriptive study of the subject is hampered by the trade secrets involved in many processes, and by a feeling that production may safely be left to the unresting intelligence of captains of industry, so that the onlooker is chiefly concerned in this branch of the subject with solicitude for the health and safety of the workmen employed. The departments of distribution and exchange appeal es- pecially to the pride of intellect. The delicate theorems of value in all their branches — wages, rent, interest, profits, the problems of taxa- tion, the alluring study of currency, the mechanism of banking and exchange — have attracted the greatest share of the economist's atten- tion. On the practical side of distribution the growth of trade unions, the spread of education, the improved standard of living, have in- creased the bargaining power of the working classes and combined with other causes to effect a gratifying improvement in the distribution of wealth, so that they receive a growing share of the growing national dividend. The practical and the speculative aspects alike of the con- sumption of wealth have received less consideration. Nobody sees his way to a fortune through the spread of more knowledge of domestic economy in workmen's homes; and the scientific observer has curbed his curiosity before what might seem an inquisitorial investigation into the question, what becomes of wages? Economists long ago discovered the necessity of distinguishing between money wages and real wages. It is now necessary for us to distinguish between real wages and utili- ties — not to stop at the fact that so many shillings a week might pro- cure such and such necessaries, comforts, or luxuries, but to ascertain how they are expended. From the first we can deduce what the economic condition of the people might be; from the second we shall know what it is. And when we know what it is we shall see more clearly what with more wisdom it might become. Wealth, after all, is a means to an end. It is not enough to maximize wealth; we must strive to maximize utilities. And we can no more judge of the con- dition of a people from its receipts alone, than we can judge of the financial condition of a nation from a mere statement of its revenues.
The condition of the people has, of course, improved, and is im- proving. Public hygiene has made great progress, and houses are better and more sanitary, though for this and other reasons rents have risen. Wages are higher. Commodities are cheaper. Cooperation and the better organization of retail business, giving no credit, have saved some of the profits of middlemen for the benefit of the consumer,
VOL. LVII.— 34