Economic Development in Denmark Before and During the World War/General Results of Social Legislation

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General Results of Social Legislation

Many changes have taken place in little Denmark during the past generation in the relation of the state to the individual, as well as in the relations between certain classes of society. So far we have been considering industry; we will now turn our attention to agriculture. But first we may ask whether and to what degree the measures described have benefited all parties; whether the increase of wages and the improved circumstances of the workmen have put a heavier burden on the employers than they can well bear. But this is a question which it is impossible to answer categorically. So extraordinarily many elements are involved in it that the value of each one cannot be justly estimated. In all countries the conditions of the working class have improved pari passu with certain measures adopted by their respective governments; but whether this or that system is the better, it is impossible to say. All that can be said is that the measures adopted in Denmark are in harmony with the whole trend of Danish thought, and this is the best guaranty we have that they have benefited both the employer and employee. It is a matter of fact that wages have steadily increased since the beginning of what we call social legislation. Statistics for Copenhagen show that the daily wage of journeymen increased 50 per cent. between 1882 and 1909; that of unskilled workmen, 67 per cent.; and that of women, 58 per cent. These are, indeed, nominal wages only. The main question is whether in Denmark, as in Western Europe, the price level has risen or declined. The answer is that it has fluctuated. In 1870 prices were high. In 1895 the price level reached its lowest point, after which it rose steadily from year to year until the World War broke out and caused an enormous advance in prices. In the first half of 1914 prices were at the same level as in 1876; in 1909 they were a little lower than in 1882. Thus it may be said with absolute certainty that the real income for the workman was greater in 1909 than twenty-seven years before, even though it may be asserted that the movement in the index numbers will not exactly correspond to the rise in the expenses of the workmen. Indeed, the rise in prices may for a time have counterbalanced the catalogued rise in wages, as was the case in the period between 1898 and 1904. But in the long run there has been some real gain; and to this gain may be added the sums which have come to the workmen through social insurance. To what extent this may have benefited the working class as a whole cannot be decided for particular trades or industries, but we may be sure that it has been to its general advantage.