Practically every one engaged in economic activities may be said to be a worker, and as such to receive wages in some form. Employees are not the only ones who earn wages. A portion of the income which goes to enterprisers of all sorts - farmers, merchants, independent mechanics, and professional men - is wages. These workers may be divided into rather distinct groups, and each group in turn divided into an indeterminate number of subgroups. At the top are captains of industry, manufacturers, merchants, professional men, clerks, and public officials. This group is distinguished from the other group by its relatively high income level. Among economists it bears various titles, such as "soft-handed," "kid-glove," and "white-collar." This group may be divided, according to income, into two subgroups: captains of industry and a few highly paid professional men comprise one; in the other subgroup are found the rank and file of professional men, clerks, and all others whose labor is not characterized by hard manual work. The second group, the "hard-handers," enjoys less income as a group, though in this respect, its higher paid members stand ahead of the lower members in the first group; that is, the two groups overlap in the matter of income. In this lower group may be distinguished three subgroups: (1) highly paid manual laborers, such as railroad engineers, expert machinists, and glass blowers; (2) the rank and file of skilled laborers; (3) unskilled laborers. The first of these three subgroups comprises the aristocracy of the manual laborers. Its members enjoy a much higher income level than do millions of professional men, farmers, merchants, clerks, and public officials. In fact, those in subgroup number two, and even some in the third, rank higher in the matter of income than the poorest paid workers among the soft-handed group.
The question may properly be asked why workers do not promptly overcrowd the higher-paid positions, thereby tending to equalize the incomes of all, irrespective of the nature of their employment. An adequate answer involves many considerations. First, only those of superior ability can possibly reach the higher levels among the "soft-handers." Second, a majority of workers are unable or unwilling to undergo the long preparation necessary to attain the positions held by the professional groups. Third, many persons are not physically fit to perform the labor required of such workers as engineers. Fourth, the opportunity of advancement is greater in the "soft-handed" group. Fifth, many persons prefer minor "positions" which do not bring them into contact with the dirt and grime of industry to a higher-paid "job" which, in their minds, is dirty and degrading.
We say that these groups are noncompeting because the members of one group do not compete against the members of another group. The members of each group, however, compete among themselves. This they do both directly and indirectly. Ordinarily, the purchasing power which the typical consumer has to distribute among the members of any one of these groups is fixed within rough limits. What goes to one member must be withheld from another. Money spent for dental work might have been used to pay an architect for drawing a house plan. Indirect competition is also important. Physicians, to be sure, cannot step into the law courts as attorneys, but their children can easily become lawyers. Likewise, the children of lawyers may take up the practice of medicine. In either case the tendency is, if not to stay in the same profession, to remain in the same noncompeting group, which, in the long run has the same effect.