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surgeon's, lawyer's, and physician's labour, is owing to the difficulty of performing it. Some people think that a doctor's labour, instead of being difficult, is very easy to perform; they say he just asks the sick person a few questions, looks at his tongue, feels his pulse, writes down in a few words what medicine he is to take, and gets a guinea for it, which they think is very easy to do. So it generally is easy for the physician to do now; but he could not do it if he had not first
to great trouble and expense; and the people who only look at what he does, forget what he has done to be able to do that. They do not think of the many years of hard study,and the hundreds of pounds it has cost him, to be able to tell what will cure sick people.
It is upon the difficulty of performing it that the value of nearly every kind of labour depends. We have seen how it depends on this among head workers, and we may see that it is so among hand workers as well. Among mere bodily labourers, who require nothing but strength to perform their work, who get the highest wages ? Those who do the most difficult, that is, the hardest kind of work. If the men who do such work were not better paid for their labour than those who do the lighter, easier work, they would not do it. The difficulty of performing any kind of labour is what most persons are guided by in putting a price on it.
The chief reason why some men are paid so much more for their labour than others are is, because their labour is more difficult to perform. For this reason, a surgeon is better paid than a carpenter; a lawyer, than a policeman; a watchmaker, than a smith; an engine driver, than a stoker; a mason, than his labourer; a shopman, than a porter; and a good workman of any trade, than a bad workman. Most kinds of labour that are more difficult to perform than others, are so because of their requiring more knowledge and skill. In every kind of labour that requires strength only, that is the most difficult to do which requires most strength.
But some work-people are well paid, whose labour is not difficult to perform. Men who work at gunpowder making get good wages, though their
work requires but little strength, knowledge, or skill. These men are well paid because their work is dangerous to their lives; a slight accident may fire the gunpowder, as it sometimes does, and kill them in an instant. They know this, and can be got to run the risk only by the offer of high wages. Needle grinders also are well paid for an easy kind of labour, only because it is dangerous to their health. They point the needles on dry grindstones, and the dust from these, and the fine bits of steel from the needles, that are breathed in by the grinders, soon ruin their health and shorten their lives. Fork grinders are well paid for the same reason; and so are some kinds of painters, japanners, gilders, and colour makers.
Some earn money very easily, whose work is neither difficult to perform, nor dangerous either to health or life. This is the case with cabmen, street porters, messengers, and others, whose earnings are very uncertain. All these have to be idle for a long time each day, and sometimes for a whole day together. Now, if they could not earn enough when they are at work to pay for the time they are idle, they would not follow that employment. Say a porter carries a heavy box for half an hour, and gets a shilling for it; without thinking, some would say, “Well, a shilling for half an hour's work is good pay, for at ten hours a day it is six pounds a week." But a porter is not employed all day; perhaps he gets but two or three such jobs in a day, and sometimes none; so that, after all, he is no better off than he would be if he were always at work, at the rate of fourpence or sixpence an hour.
So far, we have seen that the price of labour depends
The difficulty of performing it,
We may put this into fewer words, by saying, The price of labour depends on its nature; that is, its difficulty, danger, or uncertainty.
LESSON 68.-WAGES—THE PRICE OF
LABOUR. Part 2. LABOUR, like every other commodity, changes in value, sometimes selling for a high, and sometimes for a low price. All the changes that take place in the price of labour, are caused in the same way as the changes in the prices of other things; that is, they are caused by the variations in the supply and demand.
When trade of any kind is bad, and the demand for labour is less than the supply, wages are low; but when trade is very good, and the demand for labour is greater than the supply, wages are high. To show why this is, let us suppose that in a town there are five thousand workpeople of the same kind, and that when trade is good, they are all employed at a pound a week each. If trade should be so bad in that town, that the masters could not employ more than four thousand of the hands, there would be one thousand out of work. The masters knowing this, and knowing that the unemployed hands would work for less than a pound a week, rather than earn nothing, would tell their men they must work for less. The men in work know that many are out of work, who would be glad to take their places for the wage offered by the masters, so they will take what the masters offer them, because it would be better to work for low wages, than to be out of work entirely. If they would not do so, the masters would dismiss a thousand of them, and fill up their places with the thousand unemployed, who would be only too glad to get something to do. The men thus thrown out of work, would soon be as willing as the others, to take the reduced wage, which would enable the masters to
dismiss another thousand hands, if they were not willing to take it. In this way, the wages of all the hands would gradually be reduced.
If the masters were not to do this,-to make an offer to reduce the wage,-it would be done by the workpeople; for the thousand hands who would be earning nothing, would be sure to do all they could to get work, to persuade the masters to employ them,—to buy their labour. The only thing they could do, to get the masters to do this, would be to offer to work for less than the employed; say to offer their labour for nineteen shillings a week, while the employed were getting twenty. This they would be obliged to do, if trade were to continue bad; for, as the workpeople would say, “It is better to earn nineteen shillings a week, than to starve;" or, “Half a loaf is better than none.'
If the thousand unemployed hands were to make this offer, the masters would take them on, and to make room for them, would have to discharge a thousand of the employed. This they would have as perfect a right to do, as any man would have to buy a coat for nineteen shillings when he could do so, instead of giving twenty for it. The thousand discharged hands, finding they could get no employment at twenty shillings a week, would in their turn, offer to work for nineteen. They would be taken on in the place of others, and thus the wages of the whole would gradually be reduced, by the competition of the workpeople to sell their labour. The case would be just this, there would be a supply of five thousand's labour, and a demand for the labour of four thousand only. The workpeople, who are sellers of labour, finding that one thousand's labour must go unsold, and all being anxious to sell theirs, would undersell each other; there would be competition among them, and, as we have already seen, competition among sellers, always reduces prices.
But if six thousand work-people were wanted, and only five thousand to be had, some would have to go without them altogether, or all would have to go
short of their number. None of the masters would like to do either, and then to get their full number of workpeople, they would be obliged to outbid each other for the men's labour, and wages would rise. There would then be competition among the buyers of labour, and as we have seen, competition among buyers, always raisės prices.
Wages are always low, when the supply of any kind of labour is greater than the demand for it, that is, when there are more workpeople than are wanted; and wages are always high, when the supply is less than the demand, that is, when there are fewer people to be had than are wanted.
For this reason, masons, carpenters, bricklayers, farm labourers, and many other workpeople, get less in winter than in summer, because the demand for their labour is less at that time, the supply being the same throughout the year.
Whenever the demand for any kind of labour falls off, the supply remaining the same, as it nearly always does, the value of that labour decreases; the performers get lower wages. Yet at all times, the good workman gets a higher wage than the bad workman.
Having seen that variations in the supply and demand of labour, cause variations in its price, we must add something to what we have already said, and say, The price of labour depends on its nature, and on the supply and demand. As the value of other commodities depends chiefly on the cost of production, so the value of labour depends chiefly on the difficulty of performing it; the variations of supply and demand, altering the price of labour, just as they alter the price of every thing else.
It should always be remembered that when workpeople suffer through want of employment, and low wages, they are not only losers, for their masters make much smaller profits at such times, and therefore lose