T. E. Cliffe (Thomas Edward Cliffe) Leslie.

Essays in political economy online

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and skill, have ceased to be poor and cheap, and have made
vast additions to their currencies. But many of the forei"-n
channels which railways and commerce have created for the
streams of new money are now full — some full to overflowing.
Many parts of the Continent, which not long ago were noted
for cheapness, are now as notorious for dearness ; * and although
a great part of Europe has yet to be opened up by railways,
it were rash to assume that the progress made in the next twenty
years will be equal to that of the last twenty. The west of
Europe is already reticulated with railways ; the east will
hardly in two decades overtake the west, and during their
construction new railways raise the prices of English iron and
coal, though when finished they find new outlets for money.
An eminent authority points, indeed, to possible absorbents for
much of the future gold in the resumption of pajnnents in
specie by France and the United States on the one hand, and
the gold coinage of Germany on the other. The fact, however,
which actually confronts us is, that France, the European
country which had hitherto absorbed most of the new gold, is
now diiving it from its currency ; and that Germany is exchang-
ing silver for gold — the silver will be liberated for circulation
elsewhere — but what we have to look to is, not the amount of
gold only in the world, but the amount of gold, silver, and
credit together, remembering that a great rise of prices in
England can be brought about with a small importation of

* See, as regards Germany, the Essay, entitled 'Prices in Germany,' in the
present volume [supra, pp. 332-355). It is greatly to be desired that the eminent
French economists who have discussed the effects of the new gold mines, M. Che-
valier, M. Levasseur, and more recently M. Victor Bonnet, would resume the
investigation in connexion with later changes of prices in France.

360 Prices in England in 1873.

specie. Suppose that English iron and coal, for example, sell
fifty per cent, dearer in the foreign market by reason of the
abundance of the precious metals abroad, they may sell as
much dearer in the home market, mainly by an expansion of
the credit circulation ; and other English productions will then
rise in price.

Other causes, besides the abundance of the precious metals,,
have raised the cost of living in England. The method of
averages assumes the new gold to be the sole cause of the rise in
prices arrived at, on the ground that * the average must, in all
reasonable probability, represent some single influence acting
on all the commodities.' But why not a plurality of influences ?
Mr. Jevons' own work on coal proves the existence of one
other cause besides the new gold. Mr. Tooke's ' History of
Prices ' supplies a still more decisive example. The high range
of prices from 1793 to 1815 was ascribed by many persons
exclusively to the over-issue of notes, and the consequent de-
preciation of the currency. Mr. Tooke demonstrated that the
main causes of the rise lay in conditions affecting commodities,
not money, and that the depreciation of the currency never
exceeded 30 per cent., while corn, to take one commodity,
stood at one time at 177s. the quarter. Mr. Newmarch has
done good service accordingly, by insisting from the first on
an investigation of the conditions of demand and supply affect-
ing commodities, before coming to any conclusion respecting
the influence on prices of the increase of gold. By means
of such an investigation only can we ascertain whether the
causes of the rise of prices are permanent or temporary, and.
what is more important, whether they are, as in the case of
coal and animal food, to some extent within our control, or,
like the fertility of the gold mines, altogether beyond it. It
should, however, always be borne in mind, in speaking of
demand and supply, that it is only in the shape of money-
demand that the new gold can ever come into circulation,
and that if there be independent conditions of supply and
demand sufficient to cause a rise of prices, a great addition to
the quantity of money in circulation must magnify the rise in

Prices in England in 1873. 361

proportion. But some reasoners go beyond this. They urge
that since the demand which raises prices can be no other than a
money-demand, to trace a rise of prices to an increase of demand
is simply to trace it to the new gold. A rise of some commodities,
it has been added, would, but for the new gold mines, have
been compensated by a fall of others, since the total amount of
money expended would otherwise not have increased. It is
not so, however. The total expenditure of money wiU naturally
advance with the increase of population, though no new sources
of money be discovered, and prices may rise without any dis-
covery of more fertile mines. Suppose the population of
England to grow from twenty to thirty millions, English
exports and money returns increasing nearly in the same
ratio, and the average money -income of the population con-
tinuing at, say, £10 per head. Though individual incomes
will not rise on this supposition, yet the total money- income of
the nation will increase with the population from £200,000,000
to £300,000,000. Suppose, then, that half the income of each
individual, on the average, is spent on house-rent, animal food,
leather, coal, and some of its products, not an acre of land will
have been added to the island, and house-rents may rise ; meat,
butter, milk, and some other pi-oducts of land may grow
considerably dearer ; coal may have to be fetched from greater
depths or poorer mines at high cost. There may thus be a
considerable rise in the cost of living, and a corresponding
fall in the purchasing-power of fixed incomes, as the conse-
quence merely of the growth of population. Let new gold
mines of extraordinary fertility come at the same time into
play — let money-incomes rise on the average from £10 to £15
per head, and the rise of prices may beggar the classes whose
incomes are stationary.

The actual situation of matters in England is, then, that
a number of causes, of which the new gold is only one,
have raised the cost of living, and that the cause which has
hitherto diverted from England the chief effects of the new
gold mines can hardly be counted on. One result with which
we may be threatened may be exemplified by the fact that the

362 Prices in England in 1873.

race of scholars in Grermany is said to be in danger of dying
out before the rise of prices and the diminished power of fixed
incomes. We cannot, however, control the production of gold,
we cannot hasten the development of foreign countries, and
thus provide for its absorption. The more need, therefore, to
do what lies in our power at home to check the increasing
cost of chief staples of expenditure, such as coal and the pro-
duce of land. Even Lord Derby tells us that the produce of
land is only half what it should be ; and the bearing of our
land system on the matter is sufficiently illustrated by the
statement in the last Agricultural Returns of Great Britain,
that a decrease of 3,592,600 sheep, or 12 per cent, in the
whole stock of sheep in Grreat Britain, took place between
1868 and 1871, chiefly, if not entirely, through the want of
irrigation and grass.

It is not in political economy to tell how the cost of ex-
tracting coal can be diminished, or how the enormous waste
of fuel may be lessened. But it might at least be expected of
economists not to foster extravagant prices by fictions and
fallacies. The equality of profits is a fiction under which
producers and dealers are enabled to hide inordinate gains :
at one time by keeping down wages, at another by charging
exorbitant prices. The assumption that an omniscient compe-
tition equalizes profits has done infinite mischief, both theoretical
and practical, by checking inquiry into the actual phenomena
of trade, and the real distribution of wealth. The new gold
itself is a novel condition from which an eminent economist
anticipates a disturbance of relative prices and profits for thirty
or forty years. What sort of equality is that which is liable
to disturbance for more than a generation by even one of the
numberless changes which industrial progress and discovery
(to say nothing of political events) are perpetually importing
into the conditions of trade ? In London alone seventy-four
new trades appear in this year's Directory, and it may be
affirmed that before they were added not a capitalist in London
knew so much as the names of the trades already existing.
How, then, can it be maintained that capitalists are so well

Prices in England in 1873. 363

acquainted witli the situation and prospects of every occupation
that their competition equalizes profits ? The truth is, we are
almost in total darkness respecting the profits of many long-
established businesses, and this darkness (which is often the
cover of exorbitant prices) is due in great measure to an in-
fluential school of economists who have taken away the key
of knowledge — the investigation of facts — which Adam Smith
and Mr. Mill had put into our hands.




The question presenting itself in the Eastern Counties is reallj
no mere local question or struggle, no mere trial of the right
or power of English agricultural labourers to raise wages by
combination, important and significant as is its assertion. It
is a particular phase of a movement, or series of movements,
general over Europe, arising everywhere mainly from similar
causes, and exhibiting everywhere some similar phenomena,
along with phenomena due to special causes in particular
countries and localities. Farmers in the Eastern Counties no
doubt imagine themselves in presence of an extraordinary
difficulty. But there have been no combinations or strikes of
agricultural labourers on the Continent, yet complaints of the
rise of agricultural wages have been heard for years ; it was
one of the chief causes of the late French Enquete Agricole ;
a serious alarm on account of it is now felt in most parts of
Germany (notwithstanding a recent general fall in the price
of labour), and in some parts of Belgium. A survey of the
principal facts in several representative countries may aid us to
estimate the nature and strength of the forces with which the
farmers in the Eastern Counties have to contend, and to judge
how far general and permanent, how far local and temporary,
causes are at work. The chief reason, however, for the present
investigation is, that it is not an agricultural labour question
only which is finding its issue at home and abroad, but one
connected with all the most important economic phenomena

* Fortnightly Mev'utc, June 1, 1874.

The Movements of Agricultural Wages in Europe. 3G5

and problems of the age, with the course of industrial and
commercial development in Europe, the amount and distribution
of money and its representatives, the changes in prices, the
movements of population, the new ideas and powers of the
working classes, and the operation of land laws and systems of
rural economy ; though some of these great subjects can only
be glanced at in the following pages.

Two not unrelated phenomena in all the chief countries of
Europe, are a remarkable rise in the money wages of agricultural
labour in recent years, and prodigious diversities in the rates
paid in different parts of each country.

In Belgium, where farm wages had been rising for twenty
years, they have lately sprung in some districts from 2fr. 50c.
to 3fr. 50 c. and upwards. In France, M. de Lavergne estimated
the general rise in the decade 1855-1865 at 20 per cent., but
it was much greater in many places, and continued down to the
war. Dr. Baur and Baron Yon der Goltz put it at 60 per
cent, in the north of France in the last twenty-six years ; and
one cannot doubt that the rise throughout the country would
have been greater, and would be still going on, but for the late
war, the drain of money which has followed it, and the uncertain
state of political affairs. In Germany there are four different
■classes of agricultural labourers {Dienstleute, Gesinde, Einlieger,
and Jffauskr), and a calculation of the rise in wages is much
embarrassed by differences in the modes of joayment, and
payments in kind. For the present purpose we need concern
ourselves only with the earnings measured in money of the two
classes (called EinUeger and Hailsler, the latter having cottages
of their own, and the former being lodgers) who share tlie
designations of Tagelo/iner and freie Arheifcr, day-labourers
and free labourers. Baron Von der Groltz, Professor of Rural
Economy in the University of Konigsberg, a writer of great
practical experience, in the new edition of his work on the
Grerman agricultural labourer's question, measures in money the
rise of the wages of the classes of labourers referred to at 100
per cent, in the Rhine Province, and from 50 to 60 per cent, in
the eastern province of Pi-ussia, in the last ten to twenty

366 The Jfovements of Agricultural Wages in Europe.

years.* A table of agricultural wages in the last number of
the Journal of the Agricultural Society for Rhenish Prussia
puts the rise in one district at from 75 to 100 per cent, in the
last four years, in another district at 200 per cent, in the last
twenty years, and in a third at 200 per cent, in the last ten
years.f At Tiibingen in "Wiirtemberg, Dr. Gustav Cohn tells
me the rate was Is. 2d. a-day in 1850-1855 ; l.s. 4(/. in 1860-
1865; Is. 8Jf/. in 1866-1870; and is 2s. 0|^. in 1874. At
Wissen, in the Rhine Province, on the border of Westphalia,
Mr. Wynne, a resident English engineer, states : 'Ten years ago
agricultural wages were Is. '2\d. a-day, measured in money ;
about that time railway works commenced, and they rose very
quickly. At present they are about 2s. a-day — a fall after the
exaggerated rates of last year.' Mr. White, British Consul at
Dantzig, one of the best informed and most intelligent English-
men in Germany, although remarking (April 27) that ' the
price of labour in Germany has quite lately entered into a
retrogressive stage,' measures the general rise in the price of
agricultural labour at from 50 to 100 per cent, in the last
twenty years, and speaks of great alarm on the part of farmers
with respect to the future. The foregoing estimates are in
accordance both with facts ascertained by myself in several
visits to Germany, and with recent information from authorities m
so high as Professor Nasse of Bonn, member of the Prussian
Parliament, Mr. W. T. Mulvany of Diisseldorf, J and Herr
Bueck, formerly secretary to an East Prussian Agricultural
Society, and now to an important society in Rhenish Prussia.
It may be concluded from these authentic data that the rise of
farm wages in some parts of Germany much exceeds the rise,
according to Mr. Caird's estimate, in England.

A second European phenomenon is prodigious inequality
in the prices of agricultural labour in different parts of each

* Die Idndliche Arbeiterfrage. Zweite Auflage, 1874, p. 125.

t Zeitschrift des landtvirthschaftlichen Vereins ftir Rheinpreussen. Mai, 1874,
p. 158.

X Formerly Poor Law Commissioner in Ireland, but for many years past the
chief of great mining and other industrial enterprises in the Euhr Basin and the
Khine Province.

TJie Movements of Agricultural Wages in Europe. 3G7

country. In England they varied at the end of 1873, according
to Mr. Caird, from an average of 12s, a-week in the southern
to 18.S. a-week in the northern counties : these averages, how-
ever, covering much greater local diversities. In 1870 they
varied from 7s. a-week in Dorsetshire to 22s. in Yorkshire
and Northumberland, and they still vary from lis. to 25s. In
Belgium the actual diversities are thus described in a letter
from M. Emile de Laveleye : ' In the Campine the rate of agri-
cultural wages is 1 fr. 25 c. a-day in summer, and 1 fr. in
winter, without food or other addition. This rate extends to the
environs of Ilasselt and St. Trond, four leagues from Liege.
In Flanders the rate is 1 fr. 50 c. ; in the Ardenne it is 2 fr. 50 c.
In the coal and metallurgic basins of Liege, Charleroi, Mons,
it is from 3 fr. to 3 fr. 50 c. ; and in a commune near Liege it is
actually at this moment (May 1, 1874), 3 fr. a-day, and the
labourer's food into the bargain.' With respect to Holland, I
possess no more recent statistics than those given in tlie docu-
ments relating to foreign countries in the Report of the late
French Enquete Agricok, where it is stated that the rate of
wages varies from 1 fr. in some provinces to 2 fr. in others.
"With regard to France, statistics exist in abundance. Dividing
the country into six regions, M. de Lavergne, in 1865, estimated
the earnings of the French agricultural labourer at 600 fr.
a-year in the north-west and south-east, at 360 fr. in the north-
east, and only at 300 fr. in the west, south-west, and centre.
These figures, being averages struck over many departments,,
included much wider variations. According to the Enqnete
Lecennale, published in 1868, wages were 3 fr. 14 c. a-day, with
4 fr. 35 c. in harvest, in the Department of the Seine ; 1 fr. 14 c,
with 1 fr. 68 c. in harvest, in the Cotes du Nord. In 1869 Mr.
J. S. Mill informed me that the rate about Avignon, where he
resided, was 3 fr. a-day throughout the year. In the same
year I found it as low as 1 fr. a-day in more than one place in
Brittany ; and Lord Brabazon's Report to the Foreign Office iu
1872* gives an average rate of 2 fr. 50 c. in the Seine, 1 fr. 13 c.

* Further Reports, (S;c., respecting the Condition of the Industrial Classes and the
Turchase-poacr of Muneij in loreiyn Countries. 187li, pp- 43, 44.

t368 The Movements of Agricultural Wages in Europe.

in the Cotes du Nord, and 1 fr. 15 c. in the Morbihan. At
present the tendency to a rise throughout France, which other-
wise might show itself, is arrested by political uncertainty ; but
at four or five leagues from Paris, as the eminent economist, M.
Victor Bonnet, informs me, the rate is 3 fr. 60 c. a-day ; at from
twenty to fifty leagues from Paris it varies from 2 fr. 50 c. to
2 fr. ; and in some remote parts of the country without a railway
it may perhaps be as low still as from 1 fr. 25 c. to 1 fr.

In Germany the lowest rates of agricultural wages are
found in the eastern provinces of Silesia and Posen. In one
district of Silesia they averaged, in 1873, only d>\d. a-day in
summer, and 7d. a-day in winter; while in a district of the
Rhine Province they were from 2s. Qd. to 4s. Qd. a-day in
summer, and from 2^. 2^d. to 3s. in winter, and by task- work
the labourer in this district earned from 2s. M. to 6.s. a-day,
according to the work and the season. In the Rhine Province
itself prodigious diversities are found, for examples of which
see the table of wages already referred to in the ^ Zeitschrift
des landivhihschqftUchen Vereins fur H/ieinpreussen' for May,
1874. Even these instances fail to show the full extent of the
inequality of the money earnings of an agricultural labourer's
family in different parts of Germany. German women take
an active part in farm work, and their wages vary from place
to place, like the wages of their husbands and fathers. Tlie
number of working and earning days, again, is considerably
greater in most parts of west Germany than in the north-east
of the empire, although the length and severity of the winter
in the latter region demands a larger expenditure in fuel and
clothing. It is, too, much easier for the farm labourer in south-
western than in north-eastern Germany to acquire a plot of land
of his own, and the milder climate and better markets of the
former enable him to make a larger addition to his wages by its
produce than he could in the latter.

The inquiry follows. What are the causes of the two pheno-
mena described — which might be easily shown to present them-
selves also in several other countries — the immense rise in the
price of agricultural labour, and its prodigious local diversities ?

The Movements of Agricultural Wages in Europe. 369

The rise is supposed by many persons to be sufficiently
accounted for by emigration and migration to towns— two
agencies of great importance, but by no means adequate to
account for the phenomenon. Emigration, in the first place,
cannot haye caused the rise in France or in Belgium, from
neither of which has there been any emigration to speak of.
From Germany the total emigration has been considerable, but
the natural increase of population has more than replaced it ;
it has taken place chiefly in the parts of the empire where
wages have risen least, and there has been but little emigration,
if any, in recent years from the localities where wages are
highest, and where they have risen most; in these localities
immigration, in fact, not emigration, is the conspicuous move-
ment. It is worthy of notice, moreover, that the chief emigra-
tion has been from provinces and districts where the population
is thinnest, where large estates prevail, where little farms are
fewest, and where the labourer despairs of getting a plot of
land of his own.* In England, again, emigration has not
hitherto much diminished the number of agricultural labourers,
probably not at all in the districts where agricultural wages are
highest ; and though indirectly emigration from Ireland has had
an appreciable effect on English wages by diminishing Irish im-
migration, the great recent rise in money wages in the southern
counties certainly cannot be referred chiefly to that cause.

The migration of agricultural labourers to towns and mining
and manufacturing districts is a more jpotent agent, the economic
and social significance of which in several aspects can hardly
be exaggerated. But it is demonstrable that it affords only a
partial explanation of the rise in the price of agricultural
labour. There has been no considerable migration from
Flanders, yet agricultural wages have risen. In Grermany,
the migration of the rural population to Berlin and the chief
industrial towns and districts in the west has been very great.
But were that the sole cause of the rise in agricultural wages,
bow are we to account for the still greater rise of wages in

* Von der Goltz, Die lundliche Arheiterfrage, pp. 114-121.
2 B

370 The Movements of Agricultural Wages in Europe.

those very towns and manufacturing districts ? In France,
likewise, a great rise of town wages preceded, and, indeed,
caused the migration of the rural population which continued
down to the war. And in England, town, mining, and manu-
facturing wages have, although the movement is very unequal,
on the whole risen greatly along with the price of agricultural
labour, instead of sustaining a fall, as the migration theory,
taken alone, would import. How is it, moreover, that farmers
have been enabled to pay so much higher prices for labour in
all the countries referred to ? Whence has come the additional
money to pay them, and to raise at the same time the prices of
commodities all over Europe ? The general rise in the money
wages of agricultural labour must be connected with this general
rise in the prices of commodities, and with the chief cause of the
latter phenomenon, the immense augmentation and the more
rapid circulation of money and its representatives since the
new gold mines were discovered, and since railways and other
inventions began to spread over Europe. To exemplify the
rise in the prices of articles coming more or less within the
consumption of the Grerman labourer, Mr. "W. Wynne has
furnished me with the following table of prices, in Silbergro-
schen, at Wissen in the Ehiue Province (5 Silbergroschen =
6^.) :—





Butter, per lb..

H sgr.

^ sgr.

13—14 sgr.

Eggs, per dozen,

2 „

3 „

9—10 „

Beef, per lb., .

3 „

H „


Veal, „

lt-2 „

Kot stated.

4— 5 ,,

Potatoes, per cwt.

10 ,,

25 „

Linen, per ell, .

n „

H „

Cloth, „ .

30—35 „

60—70 „

Coffee, per lb.,

5—6 „

10—12 ,,

As an instance of the rise of prices in north-east Germany,
Herr Bueck states with respect to the district of Grumbinnen,

The Movements of Agricultural Wages hi Europe. 371

in the province of Prussia,— 'the Regierungsbezirk Grumbinnen
obtained its first railway in 1860, and the price of one pound

Online LibraryT. E. Cliffe (Thomas Edward Cliffe) LeslieEssays in political economy → online text (page 34 of 41)