Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/21

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

ing. The census estimate of the increase in the cost of living in the United States during the thirty years ending in 1880 was 20·17 per cent, while during the same period the cost of articles of common use has fallen about twenty-four per cent. Obviously, the effect of this would be to put the English wage-worker in a constantly better position to demand better wages; while the American, with his cost of living tending more and more to consume his whole income, is in a constantly worse position to demand an increase. It need not be remarked how potent a factor this is, nor need the responsibility of the high tariff for the high prices prevailing be carefully demonstrated. There is not a thing eaten or a cloth worn which does not pay a tariff tax. The wheat is sown after a plow taxed twenty-five per cent in actual extra cost; and is transported on railroads, ground up in mills, put in bags, and sold in stores, all heavily taxed in their construction and maintenance by the tariff on iron. And on many articles, such as clothing, the amount of the tax is scandalously oppressive.

This may or may not explain the failure of American wages to rise to the same extent as English in the non-protected occupations, and, at any rate, there are other causes acting, such as the waste of capital caused by the war, and the heavy immigration of wage-workers. But we need a special explanation for the singular fact that wages in the protected occupations continually fall, even while the general trend is upward. In General Lieb's recent book on the tariff he has a comparative table of wages in twelve unprotected and in twelve protected occupations. In the first, wages rose in the six years following 1880 from ten to thirty-five per cent, while wages in the protected occupations fell from five to thirty-five per cent at the same time. These facts are well authenticated and even "notorious," as remarked in the letter before mentioned to Secretary Manning; but we seldom if ever are shown the reason. I think this can be directly traced to the high tariff. Take, for example, the iron-manufacturing business. In general the American prices are much below the foreign price plus the duty, and importation is impracticable. When the operators have this margin to work on they frequently accumulate a considerable supply beyond the immediate demands of the market. Then, asserting that the market is dull, they reduce wages. The men strike, of course, and the mills close. As production ceases, the price of iron goes up; and, as the foreign iron can not come in, the masters are fairly coining money out of the necessities of the public and the suffering of their own employés. In the course of a few months the latter accept the situation and go back to work at reduced wages. If foreign iron could come in the moment production ceased in this country, the masters would not be so quick to shut down as they are when they make money