This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
Occupations which manifestly involve a great amount of personal danger command higher wages than those regarded as perfectly safe. The risk of life must be taken into account. The man who works at powder-making gets a higher price than the man who works upon a farm; the man employed in blasting rocks, than the man who shovels gravel. So it ought to be, and so to some extent it is, in regard to mining and other dangerous employments; though, from the smallness of the difference, it is often quite manifest that human life is placed at a low valuation.
Any occupation which public opinion brands as odious and revolting will usually be found to pay a large compensation, for the reason that honorable or conscientious men will not engage in it.
* The very low rate of "corn wages" received by the English laborer in times past may be seen from the statement of Mr. Matthews (Pol. Econ., p. 228, Lond. ed. 1836), that wages had advanced, and wheat fallen, so much "that, from 1720 to 1750, a whole peck of wheat could be had for a day's labor."
Those occupations which, although not immediately dangerous, are nevertheless unhealthy and abridge human life, ought to command more than ordinary wages.
If a man is liable to be made sick, and consequently exposed to loss of time and expense for medical attendance, he should be compensated for that liability. If he shortens life in a particular employment, that should be a matter of consideration in determining the rate of wages.
It is not for us to inquire here whether a man may rightfully engage in that which he knows will abridge life; but that multitudes do so is beyond a doubt.
Regarded in a merely economical point of view, it is obvious, that, on this account, some laborers should receive much higher compensation than they do at present. To determine what that increased pay ought to be, we should be obliged to ascertain the value or expectation of life in the different occupations.
The expectation of life should be a matter of consideration with every one choosing his business, and should have importance in determining the rate of wages. That this is not adequately the case now is quite evident, because wages paid for labor in unwholesome employments do not correspond with the consequent abridgment of human life; so that the laborer not only loses a good part of his life, but also a share of the wages he ought to receive while he does live.
Agriculture is evidently the normal employment of man, that in which he lives longest and enjoys the greatest health. Every other calling is unwholesome to the exact extent in which it departs in its condition from the agricultural; and the rate of wages should be adjusted to a scale constructed on this principle.