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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 53.djvu/770

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

THE EVOLUTION OF HIGH WAGES FROM LOW COST OF LABOR.[1]
By EDWARD ATKINSON.

IN dealing with this subject I shall not submit many statistics. For data sustaining this thesis reference may be made to my own published works notably to the Distribution of Products: yet more to the Senate Report on Prices and Wages for Fifty-two Years, compiled by Commissioner Wright. The figures give conclusive proof that in every branch of industry, especially in all the arts which have been most fully developed by the application of science and invention, there has been a progressive advance in the rate of wages or in the earnings of all who are occupied on the farm, on the railway, in the factory, or in the workshop. This advance has been subject to temporary reductions during periods of commercial crises, usually very moderate. In such periods there is apt to be unemployment for a portion of the working force rather than any considerable reduction in established rates of wages. These periods are usually of short duration and from each small decline wages have taken a speedy upward trend. This advance in all rates of wages has been coupled with a general decline in the prices of nearly all products. In some branches of industry the advance in the rate of wages has been less than in others. When each of these cases is dealt with, usually one of two causes will be found. In many arts the progress of invention has lessened the demand for individual skill and aptitude in the workman. For instance in the making of a steel plow a few years since nearly all the workmen were of necessity skilled mechanics, earning relatively very high wages, yet such has been the application of machinery to the production of the plow that laborers may be called in from the adjacent fields who, if possessed of ordinary intelligence, may in three months or less become expert attendants upon the machines on which the separate parts that constitute the plow are made. Their wages are now as high as those of the skilled mechanics of a former generation, While the men of the present generation who correspond to the skilled plow makers of a former day have gone up into employments requiring even a higher type of individuality at higher relative rates of wages.

The same rule may be observed in the textile factory. It has often been remarked that there seemed to be a deterioration in the quality of the factory operatives at the present time as compared to


  1. Read before Section I of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Tuesday, August 23, 1898.