This section is from the "Economics In Two Volumes: Volume I. Economic Principles" book, by Frank A. Fetter. Also available from Amazon: Economic
§ 4. Value of labor to the isolated laborer. Let us now consider the problem of labor-valuation as it might present itself to an isolated laborer, such as Robinson Crusoe on his island. He would have at his disposal a limited fund of material resources, tools, weapons, metal, etc., and a limited fund (let us call it) of labor-services, viz., his own. If he had much more wealth (canoes, house, stock of food, etc.) and were able to work many times harder, he would from the outset be able to gratify his desires much more abundantly. As it is, he is under the necessity of choosing the particular way in which his efforts should be expended. A day's labor spent in one direction may give a much more valuable result than if spent in another. Crusoe's first task was to secure the valuable supplies on the wrecked vessel. (See Chapter 2.) Until this was done it would have been folly to begin to build a hut or to till the soil. In this work of salvage the various tasks were performed in a certain order determined by this principle: each hour's labor is to be applied where its result promises to have the most value. Next he turns his efforts toward his garden, or his domestic animals, or toward building a house or a canoe. At a certain season of the year a day's labor would be worth far more in the garden than at carpentry.
We perceive thus that, even in the case of the isolated laborer, his labor has no predetermined value which can be transferred to, or put into, its material products; rather the various products have an anticipated, expected value, which serves as a guide in apportioning the labor. Labor has value attributed to it according to the value of its products, now higher and again lower than usual. An hour's labor even of the same man does not of necessity have the same value in different tasks at the same moment, or in the same task at different times and under different conditions. Much less should we expect the labor of different men to be of equal value when numbers of men meet and trade in a market.
Moreover, labor is applied according to expectation-valuations (a present valuation of the future desirability), and these expectations may be mistaken, being either too large or too small. Some undertakings turn out well, some ill. The weather may be more or less favorable, the insect pest be especially troublesome, while many other turns of good luck or bad luck may give results far out of line with the expectation-valuations which guided the application of labor. Therefore, the products have value not because a certain quantity of labor has been put into them, but rather a certain kind and duration of labor has been put into them because of the expectation that the products will have a certain value.
The play-element and the pleasure-in-work-element likewise enter into the valuation of material products, by increasing the supply of some as compared with others. If Crusoe liked caring for animals better than he liked to dig and plant, he would spend more time with his flocks and less time in his garden than if he liked both kinds of work equally well. He would more or less unconsciously choose his work differently than if he were merely weighing meat against vegetables as kinds of food. He is choosing psychic income rather than mere physical objects, and therefore the value of the objects is still further out of line with the time-amounts of labor put upon the material goods.
In view of these facts it is clear that the values of products of equal periods of one's own labor (i.e., the part attributable to labor) have very unequal values to the isolated laborer.
§ 5. Rewards and sacrifices incident to occupations. Even those men who are equally fitted for several occupations have many motives besides the material result to choose one calling rather than another. Many of these motives result from differences in purely personal qualities of temperament and habit (we are not considering now differences in ability). One man enjoys being out-of-doors or likes physical exercise, another prefers a sedentary occupation, one delights in esthetic surroundings, another prefers to work with machinery more than do most other men. (See above, section 4, on Crusoe's choice of the work he liked.) But besides these differences from man to man there are differences inherent in the occupations, which make them more or less attractive to most men apart from the evident labor income that they yield. The material products obtained from labor (or the wages received, see next chapter) are far from representing the net total of desirability of that occupation as a whole.
If now there are two or more occupations that are equally open to men of a certain grade of ability, but that are unequal in attractiveness, the more attractive will be chosen by more men. Therefore in that occupation the supply of labor will be greater, the services more abundant, and the value attributable to the labor must be less than in the other occupation. Thus it often happens that material labor-incomes evidently are unequal in two or more trades calling for the same natural ability; or again two laborers of very unequal ability are getting equal material labor-incomes—indeed the higher income may even go to the less capable man.
A little study of actual conditions usually suffices to clear away our first impression of irrationality in such cases. "Man does not live by bread alone," neither does one choose his work in life with regard solely to material rewards. The total attractiveness of occupations (as judged by the laborer) depends in part on certain elements of psychic income, plus or minus, on certain costs or deductions which must be taken into account in one trade more than another, and on certain long-time or ultimate advantages or disadvantages attached to the pursuit of particular occupations.
§ 6. Psychic factors in labor-incomes. (a) Occupations differ in strenuousness, or degree of exertion required, some calling for the output of muscular energy to the point of exhaustion, or requiring long hours (mills with twelve-hour shifts), or night work. For the same reward most men would prefer day work, short hours, and only moderate exertion.
(b) Occupations differ in agreeableness. Cleanliness of store, office, or shop, permitting the wearing of clean clothes is valued highly by some men and still more by young women, who therefore (among other reasons) are ready to work at clerical occupations for much lower wages than they could get in mechanical trades or in domestic service. Noise, dust, foul smells, darkness, and lack of ventilation are all things that are avoided by most workers so far as there is any opportunity to choose between these and other conditions without too great a sacrifice of other advantages. Good physical surroundings of rural life make many salaried men content with much smaller incomes than they could get in the city, whereas some laborers cannot be tempted to the country by high wages away from what they deem the greater charms of crowded city streets, the movies, and an occasional glimpse of Coney Island. Congenial companionship is to many natures the greatest need, which outweighs almost any material advantage. The moral conditions in the place of work must accord with one's standards if the work is not to be distasteful. Likewise the suffering imposed by sickness and accidents reduces the agreeableness of an occupation.
(c) Occupations differ in degree of social esteem or dises-teem attached to them, and this is to most men an important element of psychic income (positive or negative) in weighing the net rewards of various callings. The measure of social esteem attached to any occupation is no doubt the result of popular judgment as to the quality of persons who usually follow that occupation. If the ministry, some kinds of teaching, the learned professions generally, social service, banking, music, and art rank high in social esteem, it is because in the long run and on the average the public admires the kind of persons (morally and intellectually) who succeed in such work. But the judgment of an occupation becomes somewhat conventionalized, and often those who are lacking in the full measure of the qualities hope by entering the occupation to shine by reflected glory. In turn, it is in the power of any individual in our democratic society to change appreciably the estimate of an occupation in a community by his standard of achievement and of character.
The average pecuniary or material rewards of an occupation are likely to be less in proportion as it enjoys high social esteem (as compared with occupations requiring the same grade of ability). On the contrary, if the public sentiment against an occupation is strong, those who follow it are often able to get a much larger reward than they could in another calling, as for example, gamblers, a certain type of criminal lawyers, and, in some neighborhoods, saloon keepers and bartenders.