Adam Smith's Simplified Wealth of Nations, Book 1, Chapter 8d: Poverty and Minimum & Maximum wages
Chapter 8d: Poverty and minimum and maximum wages
The Importance Of The Working Poor
Is this improvement in the working poor good or bad for society?
- The answer is obvious.
- The working poor makes up the majority of every great society.
- What improves the majority can never be an inconvenience to the whole.
- No society can surely be flourishing and happy if the majority were poor and miserable.
- It is but equity that those who feed, clothe and lodge the the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.
The Irish Poor
Poverty discourages marriage but does not always prevent it.
37 Poverty, however, is extremely unfavourable to the rearing of children.
- Poverty is even favourable to generation.
- A half-starved Highland woman frequently bears more than 20 children.
- A pampered fine lady is often incapable of bearing any, and is exhausted by two or three children.
- Barrenness, common among rich women, is very rare among the poor.
- Although luxuries allow women to enjoy more, they seem to always weaken and destroy the powers of generation.
- The tender plant that is produced in a cold soil and severe climate soon withers and dies.
- It is common in the Highlands of Scotland for a mother who has borne 20 children not to have two alive.
- Several experienced officers have never been able to recruit the needed musicians ["drums and fifes"] from all the soldiers' children.
- Most fine children are seldom seen anywhere than about a barrack of soldiers.
- Very few reach the age of 13 or 14.
- In some places, half of the children die before they are four years old.
- In many places, half they die before they are seven
- In almost all places, half die before they are nine or ten.
- This great mortality happens chiefly among the children of the common people who cannot afford to care for them.
- Though their marriages are generally more fruitful than rich people, fewer of their children survive to maturity.
- In foundling hospitals and parish charities, the mortality is still greater than among those of the common people.
38 "Every species of animals naturally multiplies in proportion to the means of their subsistence, and no species can ever multiply beyond it."
- It is only among poor people that the scantiness of subsistence can limit the multiplication of the human species by destroying their children.
High wages enables the poor to bring up more children and provide better for them.
- High wages naturally extends the population limits according to the demand for their labour.
- If this demand continually increases, wages must necessarily encourage the marriage and multiplication of labourers for them to supply the demand of a continually increasing population.
- If wages are too low, the deficiency of labour would soon raise it
- If wages are too high, their excessive multiplication would soon lower wages to this necessary rate.
- Either way, the market would be under-stocked or over-stocked with labour.
- Prices would soon be force back to that proper rate required by society
- The demand for men, like that for any other commodity, necessarily regulates the production of men.
- The demand quickens the supply when it goes on too slowly, and stops it when it advances too fast.
- This demand regulates the state of propagation in all countries and which renders it rapidly progressive as in North America, slow and gradual as in Europe, and stationary as in China.
It is said that:
In reality, the cost of maintaining a free servant also belongs to his master.
- The cost of maintaining a slave belongs to his master
- The cost of maintaining a free servant belongs to the free servant.
- The wages paid to journeymen and servants must enable them to continue their numbers according to the increasing, diminishing, or stationary demand of the society.
- But though the maintenance of a free servant be equally at the master's expence, it generally costs him much less than that of a slave.
- The fund for maintaining the slave, is commonly managed by a negligent master.
- But the fund for the free man is managed by the free man himself.
- The disorders in the economy of the rich is carried over in the management of slaves.
- The frugality and parsimony of the poor is carried over in the management of free men.
- The different management of slaves and free men translates to very different costs.
- The work of freemen is cheaper in the end than that of slaves
- This is found even at Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, where the wages of common labour are very high.
41The liberal reward of labour, therefore, is the effect of increasing wealth and the cause of increasing population.
- To complain of it, is to lament the cause and effect of the greatest public prosperity.
It is in the progressive state, while the society is advancing to riches, rather than when it has acquired its riches, that most of the labouring poor is happiest and most comfortable.
- Their life is hard and dull in the stationary state and miserable and sad in the declining state.
- The progressive state is the cheerful and hearty state for the whole society.
The liberal reward of labour encourages the propagation and the increase in the industry of the common people.
- Wages are the encouragement of industry.
- Industry improves in proportion to the encouragement it receives.
- A plentiful subsistence:
- increases the strength of the labourer
- increases the hope of bettering his condition and ending his days in ease and plenty
- animates him to exert that strength to the utmost
- In England and great towns where wages are high, we always find more active, diligent, and expeditious workmen, than in Scotland and remote country places where wages are low.
- In a few cases only, some workmen lie idle for three days when they can earn in four days what will maintain them through the week.
Maximum Wage Rates
- Workers generally overwork themselves when liberally paid by the piece and ruin their health in a few years.
- A carpenter in London is not supposed to last in his utmost vigour for more than eight years.
- The same thing happens in other trades where the workers are paid by the piece wherever wages are higher than ordinary.
- Almost all artificers suffer from some infirmity by overwork.
- Ramazzini, an eminent Italian physician, has written a book about such diseases
- Our soldiers are not the most industrious people.
- Yet when they are liberally paid by the piece, their officers were frequently obliged to stipulate that they should not be allowed to earn above a certain rate every day.
- Before this stipulation, soldiers frequently overworked and hurt their health by mutual emulation and the desire of greater gain.
- Excessive work during four days of the week, is frequently the real cause of the idleness of the other three, so much complained of.
- Continual great labour of mind or body for several days, is naturally followed by a great and irresistible desire of relaxation.
- It natural to desire to be relieved by some indulgence, ease, or dissipation and diversion.
- If not addressed, health problems will come sooner or later
- Employers with reason and humanity will rather moderate, than to animate their workers.
- The man who works so moderately, as to be able to work constantly, preserves his health the longest and executes the most work in a year.
Next: Chapter 8e: Seasonal and sticky Wages