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Different Rates of Wages in Different Employments-Circumstances on which these Differences depend.
In the previous chapters of this Treatise, we have endeavoured to investigate the circumstances which determine wages in general. But every one is aware, that while their ordinary rate in some employments does not perhaps exceed 2s., 3s., or 4s. a-day, it may at the same time amount to 3s., 4s., 5s., or upwards in others. The consideration of the circumstances which occasion this inequality, will form the subject of this chapter.
Were all employments equally agreeable and healthy, the labour to be performed in each of the same intensity, and did they all require the same degree of dexterity and skill on the part of the labourer, it is evident, supposing industry to be quite free, that there would be no permanent or considerable difference in the wages paid to those engaged in them. For if, on the one hand, the work-people engaged in a particular business earned more than their neighbours, the latter would gradually leave their employments to engage in it, until their influx had reduced wages to their common level; and if, on the other hand, those employed in a particular business earned less than their neighbours, there would be an efflux of hands from it, until, by their diminution, the wages of those who remained had been raised to the common level. In point of fact, however, the intensity of the labour in different employments, the degree of skill and training required to carry them on, their healthiness, and the estimation in which they are held, differ exceedingly; and these varying circumstances necessarily occasion proportional differences in the wages of those engaged in them. Wages are a compensation paid to the labourer for the exertion of his physical powers, skill, and ingenuity. They, therefore, vary according to the severity of the labour to be performed, and to the skill and ingenuity
required. A jeweller or engraver, for example, must be paid higher wages than a common farm servant or day labourer. A long course of training is necessary to instruct a man in the business of a jeweller or engraver; and if the cost of this training were not made up to him by a higher rate of wages, instead of learning so difficult an art, he would addict himself, in preference, to such employments as hardly require any instruction. Hence the discrepancies that actually obtain in the rate of wages are confined within certain limits-increasing or diminishing it only in so far as may be necessary fully to equalize the unfavourable or favourable circumstances attending any employment.
The following have been stated by Smith as the principal circumstances which occasion the rate of wages in some employments, to fall below, and in others to rise above, the average rate of wages:
1st. The agreeableness or disagreeableness of the employments.
2nd. The easiness or cheapness, or the difficulty and expense, of learning them.
3rd. The constancy or inconstancy of the employments. 4th. The small or great trust that must be reposed in those who carry them on.
5th. The probability or improbability of succeeding in them.
First. The agreeableness of an employment may arise either from physical or moral causes- -from the lightness of the labour, its healthiness or cleanliness, the degree of estimation in which it is held, &c.; and its disagreeableness arises from the opposite circumstances-from the severity of the labour, its unhealthiness or dirtiness, the degree of odium attached to it, &c. The rate of wages must obviously vary with the variation of circumstances exerting so powerful an influence over labourers. It is not to be supposed that any individual should be so blind to his own interest as to engage or continue in an occupation considered as mean and disreputable, or where the labour is severe, if he obtain only the same rate of
wages that may be obtained by engaging in employments in higher estimation, or where the labour is comparatively light. The labour of a ploughman is not unhealthy, nor is it either irksome or disagreeable; but being more severe than that of the shepherd, it is uniformly better rewarded. This principle holds universally. Gilders, type-founders, smiths, distillers, and all who carry on unhealthy, disagreeable, and dangerous businesses, invariably obtain a higher rate of wages than those artificers who, having equal skill, are engaged in more desirable occupations. The unfavourable opinion entertained respecting some businesses, has a similar effect on wages as if the labour to be performed in them were unusually unhealthy or severe. The trade of a butcher, for example, is generally looked upon as low and discreditable, and this feeling causes such a disinclination on the part of young men to enter it, as can only be overcome by the high wages which butchers are said to earn, notwithstanding the lightness of their labour. This also is the reason why the keeper of a small inn or tavern, who is never master of his own house, and who is exposed to the brutality of every drunkard, exercises one of the most profitable of the common trades. The contrary circumstances have contrary effects. Hunting and fishing are, in an advanced stage of society, among the most agreeable amusements of the rich. But from their being held in this degree of estimation, and from the lightness of their labour, those who practise them as a trade generally receive very small wages, and are proverbially poor. The agreeableness and healthiness of their employments, rather than the lightness of their labour, or the little skill which they require, seem to be the principal cause of the redundant numbers, and consequent low wages, of the workmen employed in ordinary field labour.
The grinding of knives, razors, and other cutting instruments, is a very deleterious trade. The minute particles of steel thrown off from the metal in the process of grinding float in the atmosphere, and being taken into the lungs, occa sion consumptions and other diseases of the respiratory system. Various contrivances have been suggested to obviate
this result, but hitherto with no very marked success; and the mortality in this class of work-people continues to be very high. Their wages are in consequence considerably above the common level. But they are not so high as might have been anticipated from the extreme risk attending the business. And it is a curious fact, attested, we believe, by universal experience, that great danger leads rather to recklessness than to any systematic efforts to lessen or obviate the risk. Dissipation and excess of all kinds are never so prevalent as in cities subject to the plague. And the grinders are said to be, notwithstanding their high wages, the most depressed, dissipated, and reckless of the Sheffield workmen.1 These, however, though they be the common, are not the universal characteristics of the class; and those workmen who are sober, and who use the necessary precautions, are comparatively comfortable and long-lived.
Mining, though it cannot be called an unhealthy employment, is extremely disagreeable, dirty, and dangerous. And it is really surprising that individuals should be found, who are ready, without stipulating for any very extraordinary wages, to pass their time in working in coal and other mines; generally in a crouching posture; and sometimes, when the beds are narrow, lying on their sides, exposed all the while to the imminent risk of being blown to pieces. The recklessness of most miners, or their insensibility to danger, is indeed quite astonishing. Many of them object to use the Davy lamp, because, though it lessens danger, it at the same time lessens light. And as they will not themselves take the necessary precautions, it might perhaps be expedient to interest their masters in their observance, by making them liable for the support of the widows and orphan children of the miners who lose their lives by explosions.
The quicksilver mines of Almaden, in Spain, some of the processes in which are extremely unhealthy, were formerly wrought by convicts; but this plan has been abandoned, and they are now wrought by labourers hired for the purpose.
1 Letter on Sheffield, Morning Chronicle, 15th February, 1850.
The latter, however, do not continue in the mines during the entire year. They leave them for some months in the summer and autumn, when they are most unhealthy; and, by means of this precaution, their health is comparatively well preserved.
The severe discipline, the various hardships to which com. mon soldiers are exposed, and the little chance they have of arriving at a higher station, are unfavourable circumstances, which, it might be supposed, would require a high rate of wages to counterbalance. There are really, however, but few common trades in which labourers can be procured for such low wages as those for which recruits are willing to enlist in the army. And it is not difficult to discover the causes of this apparent anomaly. Except when actually engaged in warlike operations, a soldier is comparatively idle; while his free, dissipated, and generally adventurous life, the splendour of his uniform, the imposing spectacle of military parades and evolutions, and the martial music with which they are accompanied, exert a most seductive influence over the young and inconsiderate. The dangers and privations of campaigns are undervalued, while the chances of advancement are exaggerated in their sanguine and heated imaginations. "Without regarding the danger," says Smith, "soldiers are never obtained so easily as at the beginning of a new war; and though they have scarce any chance of preferment, they figure to themselves, in their youthful fancies, a thousand occasions of acquiring honour and distinction which never occur. These romantic hopes make the whole price of their blood. Their pay is less than that of common labourers, and in actual service their fatigues are much greater."
It is observed by Smith, that the chances of succeeding in the sea service are greater than in the army. "The son of a creditable labourer or artificer may frequently go to sea with his father's consent: but if he enlists as a soldier, it is always without it. Other people see some chance of his making something by the one trade: nobody but himself sees any of his making anything by the other." But the allure