This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
Although wages rise and fall with the general rise and fall of commodities, they do not in equal proportion. The fact is one of common observation; but the reason of this difference permanently exist, depends on the necessary expenses of living; and these expenses, in turn, depend upon the condition of the laboring classes. Hence, other things equal, the more educated and morally and intellectually elevated any community of laborers may be, the higher will be their standard of wages.
Wages are not high in proportion to the wealth of a community, but rather to the disposition that exists amongst those possessing wealth to pay it out for labor; and this disposition will depend much upon the security and profitableness with which capital can be employed in production, and the enterprise and aspirations of the people.
We make the following divisions of our subject: —
There is often a considerable difference between the nominal and real wages, or between the wages of the employe when received in money or when realized in such commodities as his wants require. As this is a question of fact, we refer to pages 177, 178, of this work, as shown in Table V. In that table we find the prices of ten commodities, which the laborer would be likely to use in his ordinary consumption, such as sugar, coffee, molasses, pork, cheese, rice, salt, &c.
By taking the wages of the laborers at certain periods, and the prices at corresponding periods, we ascertain the desired results. We have added the year 1861 from the best unofficial sources at hand: —
Labor required . . 23½ days 203/4 days 144/5 days 346/10 days
* It is to be regretted that we have no carefully prepared tables of wages in the United States. Such are greatly needed. We have taken the rates mentioned according to our own observation, and believe them essentially correct.
Nominal wages fell from 1836 to 1840 by one-fifth, or twenty per cent; yet the real wages (as shown by the less number of days required to procure the same commodities) were higher in 1840 than 1836 by more than thirteen per cent. In 1843, when the nominal wages were but one dollar, real wages were about sixty per cent better than in 1836, when the nominal wages were twenty-five per cent higher. In 1864, when nominal wages were at one dollar and fifty cents, real wages were but little more than half what they were in 1843 at one dollar.
In this connection, it seems appropriate to mention the great difference to the laboring classes between a value and a credit currency. If the latter, as we have endeavored to show, raises prices and causes speculation, and if the price of labor does not rise in proportion to the rise of prices, then it must follow that wages were really less at all times of inflation than when the currency is in a natural condition. How great these fluctuations are we have seen in Table V., pages 177, 178, from which, as an illustration in point, we give the following triennial synopsis: —
Years . . .
Prices . . .
Every one acquainted with the rate of wages will realize at once that they have not corresponded to their fluctuations in prices, and that the laboring and salaried classes must have suffered great injustice in consequence.