We are moving our site to https://superphysics.org. Please update your bookmarks accordingly. Thanks!
Book 1 Chapter 8d of The Wealth of Nations Simplified

Wages in Great Britain Icon

January 16, 2020

Poverty and the Importance of High Wages in Increasing the Industry of the Poor

35 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.

36 Poverty discourages marriage but does not always prevent it. 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.

37 Poverty, however, is extremely unfavourable to the rearing of children.

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.

Experienced military officers have never been able to recruit the needed drums and fifes from all the poor soldiers’ children. Very few of them 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 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. No species can ever multiply beyond it.

It is only among poor people that the scantiness of subsistence can limit population growth by destroying their children.

39 High wages enable the poor to provide better for their children and extend this limit.

High wages naturally increases the population according to the demand for labour. If this demand continually increases, high wages encourage marriages and the multiplication of labourers for them to supply such demand with a continually increasing population.

If wages are less than what is needed to increase the population size, the market would be understocked with labour.

This deficiency would then increase wages.

If wages are more than what is needed, the excessive multiplication of labourers would overstock the market.

The oversupply would soon lower it to the rate required by society.

In this way, the demand for men, like that for any other commodity, regulates the production of men.

The demand:

  • quickens the supply when it goes on too slowly, and stops it when it advances too fast,
  • regulates the population growth in all countries=

It makes the population growth:

  • rapidly progressive in North America,
  • slow and gradual in Europe, and
  • stationary in China.

40 It is said that:

  • The cost of maintaining a slave belongs to his master
  • The cost of maintaining a free servant belongs to the free servant.

In reality, the cost of maintaining a free servant also belongs to his master.

The wages paid to journeymen and servants must enable them to continue their numbers according to the increasing, decreasing, or stationary demand of the society.

The maintenance of a free servant is equally at the master’s expence. But it generally costs him much less than the maintenance 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.

  • In the end, the work of freemen is cheaper than the work of slaves
  • This is found even at Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, where the wages of common labour are very high.

41 High wages, therefore, are the effect of increasing wealth and the cause of an increasing population.

To complain of it, is to lament the cause and effect of the greatest public prosperity.

42 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.

Maximum Wages Should Be Established for Long-term Productivity

43 High wages encourage the common people’s:

  • propagation
  • increase in industry.
    • Industry improves in proportion to the encouragement it receives.

A plentiful subsistence:

  • increases the labourer’s strength
  • increases the hope of bettering his condition
  • animates him to exert that strength

In England and large towns where wages are high, we always find more active, diligent, and expeditious workers, than in Scotland and remote country places where wages are low.

In a few cases only, some workers lie idle for three days when they can earn in four days what will maintain them through the week.

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 craftsmen 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.

No to Four-day Workweek

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.