Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/667

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THE WAGE-CONTRACT AND PERSONAL LIBERTY.

all stand upon an equality with respect to the cost of labor. This will increase the cost of production; but, as the increase applies alike to all my rivals as well as to myself, I can make myself whole by raising the price of the finished product, as they will do the same."

The doctrine of the freedom of contract will never place the honest and generous employer upon an equal footing with the dishonest and avaricious employer in the cost of labor. Under it the latter will always obtain an advantage over the former. This doctrine, therefore, puts a premium upon the possession of these undesirable qualities. Moreover, under the law of competition in commodities, the honest and generous employer is forced to conform substantially to the rate of wages set by the dishonest and avaricious. This tendency is inherent in the wage system, and must increase, unless some remedy be found; for evil and grasping men can not be kept out of the ranks of employers, and only a few of them are required to depress wages below their fair value. This operates not only to the detriment of their employe's, but also to the detriment of all other employe's. Is it right that a few evil characters should commit this injustice upon labor, and control the vast majority of both classes? Should the State, or society in its organized form, permit them to do this wrong? It is submitted that it should not, and that some State agency should be devised to prevent or to remedy it.

About a year ago the writer published a pamphlet entitled State Regulation of Wages, in which he outlined a plan to remedy this difficulty. Its essential feature was the establishment of State Boards of Labor or Arbitration for the settlement of disputes between employers and employed, with power to fix the minimum wage and the maximum hours of work, upon the request of a certain proportion or number of either side. In determining the minimum wage, the board should not be controlled by the rate of wages now prevailing under the "iron law of wages" of supply and demand, but by what may be called the golden rule of wages, by which labor is entitled to receive a fair and just proportion of the wealth which it creates, irrespective of supply and demand. The minimum annual wage should be that required to support the average workman and his family in frugal comfort. The adoption of this plan would place all employers upon an equality in the cost of labor and relieve the generous employer from the competition of the avaricious one upon this large item in the cost of production. It is true that its adoption by a single State would not protect the employers of that State from the competition of their rivals in other States or foreign countries; but if the plan were found to work well in one State it would be speedily followed in other States; and, as to foreign competition, the tariff laws, if