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labourers are paid a hundred or even a thousand times as much for a day's work as others, and it may seem very unfair that there should be such great differences. We must learn to see that this is the necessary result of the various characters and abilities of persons, partly arising from the actual strength of mind and body with which they were born, partly from the opportunities of education and experience which they have happened to enjoy. We are often told that all men are born free and equal; however this may be in a legal point of view, it is not true in other ways. One child is often strong and stout from its earliest years; another weakly and unfit for the same exertion. In mind there are still more remarkable differences.
The rates of wages in different employments are governed by the laws of supply and demand which we shall afterwards consider. Just as goods rise in price when there is little in the market and much is wanted, so the price of men's labour rises when much of any particular kind is wanted and little is to be had. It does not matter much whether we speak of demand for goods or demand for the labour, which is necessary to make the goods. If more things of a certain sort are wanted, then more men able to make them must be found. If I buy an aneroid barometer, I use up the labour of a man able to make such a barometer; if many people take a fancy to have aneroid barometers, and only a few workmen have the necessary skill to make them, they can ask a high price for their labour. It is true that people buying barometers do not usually pay the workmen for making them; a man with capital gets the barometers made beforehand and puts them in shops ready for sale. The capitalist advances the wages of the workmen, but this is only for a few weeks or months, and according as the demand for barometers is brisk or slow, he employs more or fewer workmen. Thus, demand for commodities comes to nearly, though not quite, the same thing as demand for labour. There is the profit of the capitalist to be considered as well; but, with this exception, rates of wages are governed by the same laws of supply and demand as the prices of goods.
Anything, then, which affects the numbers of men able and willing to do a particular kind of work, affects the wages of such men. Thus the principal circumstance governing wages is the comparative numbers of persons brought up with various degrees of strength, both of body and mind. The greater number of ordinary men, while in good health, have sufficient strength of arms and legs to do common work; the supply of such men is consequently very large, and, unless they can acquire some peculiar knowledge or skill, they cannot expect high wages. Dwarfs and giants are always much less common than men of average size ; if there happened to be any work of inportance which could only be done by dwarfs or giants, they could demand high wages. Dwarfs, however, are of no special use except to exhibit as curiosities ; very large strong men, too, are not generally speaking of any particular use, because most heavy work is now done by machinery. They can, however, still get very high wages in hewing coal, or puddling iron, because this is work, requiring great strength and endurance, which is not yet commonly done by machinery. Iron puddlers sometimes earn as much as £250 a year.
It is great skill and knowledge which generally enable a man to earn large wages. Rich people like to get the best of everything, and thus the few people who can do things in the best possible way can ask very high prices. Almost any one can sing badly; but hardly any one can sing as well as Mr. Sims Reeves : thus he can get perhaps £20 or £30 for every song which he sings. It is the same with the best artists, actors, barristers, engineers. An artist is usually his own capitalist, for he maintains himself during many months, or even years, while he is painting a great picture ; if he succeeds in doing it excellently well, he can sell the picture for thousands of pounds, because there are many rich people who wish to possess good pictures.
45. Adam Smith on Wages. There are, however, various circumstances which cause wages in any particular employment to be higher or lower than in other employments, and we had better attend to what Adam Smith has said on this subject. He mentioned five principal circumstances which make up for small wages in some occupations, and balance great wages in other ones, as follows:
(1.) The Agreeableness or Disagreeableness of the Employments themselves. If an employment is in itself comparatively pleasant, it attracts many who would not otherwise go into it at the current wages. Thus, officers of the army and navy are not on the average highly paid ; but there is never any difficulty in finding men willing to be officers, because the work is thought to be easy, and there is honour and power attaching to it. On the other hand, a good butcher makes high wages, because his business is a greasy one, besides being thought to be cruel, and a clever man must be attracted to it by good earnings.
(2.) The Easiness and Cheapness, or the Difficulty and Expense of learning the Occupation. This circumstance always has much importance, because the greater number of the people are poor, and are consequently unable to give their children a long good education. Thus, the larger part of the young men who grow up are only fit for common manual employments, and therefore get low wages. To learn a profession, like that of an architect or engineer, it is requisite to pay a high premium, and become a pupil in a good office, and then there are many years to be spent in practising and waiting before profit begins to be made. Hence the comparatively few who succeed in the difficult professions gain very high wages.
(3.) The Constancy or Inconstancy of Employment. When a man is sure of being employed and paid regularly all the year round, he is usually willing on that account to accept a less rate of wages. Thus, there is little difficulty in finding men to be policemen at about 25 shillings a week; for though they have to go on duty at night, and their work is often tedious and disagreeable, yet policemen are nearly sure to have employment as long as they behave well. A carpenter or bricklayer, on the contrary, is sometimes thrown out of work, and becomes anxious as to the means of keeping his family. Masons and bricklayers, who cannot work during frosty weather, ought of course to have higher wages during the rest of the year, so as to make up a good average. Dock-labourers, who are simply strong men without any particular skill, earn large wages when trade is brisk and many ships come into the docks; at other times, when trade is slack, or when contrary winds keep ships out of port, they often fall into destitution through want of employment.
(4.) The Small or Great Trust which must be reposed in those who exercise the Employments. This circumstance considerably affects the supply of people suitable for certain occupations. A man cannot expect to get employment in a bank, or in a jeweller's shop, unless he has a good character. Nothing is more difficult than for a person convicted of dishonesty to find desirable employment. Thus, a good character is often worth a great deal of money. Honesty, indeed, is so far common that it does not alone command high wages ; but it is one requisite. The cleverest man would never be made the manager of a large business, if there was reason to think that he had committed fraud.
(5.) Lastly, The Probability or Improbability of Success in Employments greatly affects
the Wages of those who succeed.
In some cases, a man can hardly avoid succeeding; if he once enlists, he is made into a soldier whether he likes it or not. Almost all, too, who become clerks in banks, counting-houses, or public offices, can succeed in doing some of the work required in such offices. Accordingly clerks are seldom highly paid. But of those who become barristers, only a few have the peculiar knowledge, tact, and skill required to make them successful; these few make very large gains, and the unsuccessful men have to seek for other employments.
Some occupations are very badly paid, because they can be taken up by men who fail in other work. Frequently a person who has learnt a trade or profession finds that he is unfit for it; in other cases, there is a failure in the demand for a commodity, which obliges its manufacturers to seek other work. Such people are usually too old and too poor to begin again from the beginning, and learn a new difficult trade. Thus they have to take to the first work they can do. Educated men who have not been successful become secretaries, house-agents, insurance-agents, small wine merchants, and the like. Uneducated men have to drive cabs, or go into the army, or break stones; poor women become seamstresses, or go out charing. Here again we see the need of leaving everybody at perfect liberty to enter any trade which he can manage to carry on; it is not only injurious to the public, but it is most unfair to people in misfortune, if they are shut out of employments by the artificial restrictions of those who already carry on those employments.
46. What is a Fair Day's Wages ? It is a favourite saying that a man should have a fair day's wages for a fair day's work; but this is a fallacious saying. Nothing, at first sight, can seem more reasonable and just; but when you examine its meaning, you soon find that there is no real meaning at all. It amounts merely to saying, that