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

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of butter was then 4 to 5 Silbergroschen, whereas at present
it is 10 to 13 Silbergroschen ; the price of beef, which was then
^J to 3 Silbergroschen, is now 6 Silbergroschen.' But al-
though the rise in the prices of commodities, as well as in
money wages, at home and abroad, and in both country and
town, proves that one general agency is the increase and \X\q
greater activity of money and its representatives, the explanation
thus afforded is by no means adequate to account for the move-
ments of agricultural wages. The highest German authorities,
scientific and practical. Professors Nasse and Von der Groltz,
Mr. Mulvany, and Mr. Consul White, are agreed that the rise
in money wages in Germany exceeds the rise in the price of
the articles of the labourer's consumption.* The changes in
wages, again, from year to year, and from decade to decade, do
not correspond with the changes in prices. Not only has the
price of rye, for example, which is the chief food of the German
farm labourer, not risen in proportion to wages, but in the
decade 1861-71 rye and all other cereals were cheaper than in
1851-61 ; yet money wages continually rose. Nor do the local
variations of wages in Germany, or any other country, follow
or correspond with the variations in the prices of commodities.
Food and clothing are not dearer in the coal basin of the Meuse
than in Flanders, yet agricultural labour is twice as well paid ;
and food is rather cheaper in the Ardenne than in Flanders,
yet the farm labourer is paid about 75 per cent, more for
inferior work. It is, in fact, impossible to get to the root of
the rise in wages, without entering into the causes of the other
striking phenomenon — their great local diversities.

* Professor Nasse says : ' That the economic condition of the agricultural
labourer has improved here, and that the rise of wages has surpassed the rise
of prices of the necessaries of Ufe, admit of no doubt. The condition of the
labourers who, as here is often the case, have a little property in land, has
especially improved.' From another part of the Ehine Province Mr. W.
Wynne writes : ' The rise is to a considerable extent a real one, as the labourer
now lives better, and clothes himself better, takes more holidays, gets oftener
drunk, &c.'

2 B 2

372 The Movements of Agricultural Wages in Europe.

The causes of this second phenomenon are both general and
local ; some common to all countries in Europe, some peculiar
to particular countries, some to particular regions or districts.
The most general causes are, first, the unequal natural advan-
tages of different regions and localities for manufacture or trade;
secondly, their unequal development, especially by means of
locomotion, and, above all, railways. Capital, money and its
representatives, and the demand for labour, have increased most
where the means of production and the means of communication
with the best markets have improved most, where coal, iron, and
mechanical power have multiplied the produce of the human
hand, and where railways and other modes of communication
have made most rapid progress. Broad exemplifications of the
influence of these two sets of conditions (which are closely
related, for superior natural advantages attract the means of
development) are to be seen on every side at home and abroad.
Many years ago, Mr. Caird pointed out that a line ' following
the line of coal' divided England into two regions of high and
low agricultural wages, and his recent statistics show that the
same line of division still exists : —

' Average weekly wages in England : 1850. 1873.

Northern counties .... lis. 6^. 18s. 0(/.

Southern counties .... 8s. 5d. 12s. Qd.'*

In Belgium a similar line divides a region without mineral
wealth, including Flanders and the Campine, from one rich in
coal, iron, and manufactures, where wages range from 100 to
800 per cent, above the rates in the former region. In Germany,
the country above all others in which the study of the subject
abounds in interest and instruction, the line between high and
low agricultural wages drawn by Von der Goltz is one between
northern and southern Germany ;t the former being the region

* Letter of Mr. Caird, Times, Jan. 3, 1874.

t In North Germany Von der Goltz includes the provinces of Prussia, Pome-
rania, Posen, Silesia, Brandenburg, MecMenbm-g, Sleswig-Holstein, Brunswick,
Oldenburg, Hanover, together with the northernmost parts of the Ehine Province
and of Westphalia ; the remainder of the present German empii'e forming South
Germany, according to this division.

The Movements of Agricultural Wages in EnrojK. 373

of low, and the latter of high agricultural wages. The rates of
wages certainly justify this division, but they vary greatly from
east to west in the north — from l.s. 8(/. a-day in Mecklenburg
to did. a-day in parts of Silesia and Posen — and a much more
marked and characteristic division lies between north-eastern
and south-western Germany. From Dresden westward wages
range higher than eastward, but the main region of high farm-
wages is from the neighbourhood of Frankfort-on-the-Maine to
the Ruhr Basin, thence to Diisseldorf and Aachen, and south-
ward through Rhineland to Baden.* In this region of high
wages itself there are immense inequalities, but some of them
form no exception to the principle of the division, others fall
under another principle, likewise connected with natural advan-
tages, which will be presently indicated. Speaking generally,
"the south-western region, whose boundary has just been roughly
marked out, is the main region of German industrial and com-
mercial enterprise, communication by steam, general activity,
intelligence, and wealth. Vicinity to the chief countries and
markets of western Europe, numerous lines of railway, a river
crowded with steamers, coal, iron, and their products, cause a
greater abundance and more rapid circulation of currency, a
greater demand and competition for labour of all kinds, and
a generally higher price for agricultural as well as town or
mechanical labour, than is to be found in the north-east of the
empire, which lies remote from the traffic, civilization, and pro-
gress of the western world, is much less completely provided
with railways, and is in a more primitive condition as regards
customs, ideas, and industrial life.f Take as an example of the

*Mr. Consul White, who has an extraorJinary knowledge of the industrial
economy of Germany, remarks on this view, as to which I lately consulted him :
' What you say of the south-west is, I think, on reflection the correct represen-
tation, and I quite agree in your delimitation. An English employer of labour,
who has travelled over those parts quite lately, told me that at Niirnberg he found
wages a tride higher than at Dantzig, but from thence he found them highest at
Frankfort-on-the-Maine, the Ruhr Basin, and Cologne. This tallies also with
your views in the essay on "Prices in Germany" in the Fortnightly Review,
November, 1872.'

t Low railway freights for raw material have heen one cause of the industrial

374 The Movements of Agricultural Wages in Europe.

influence of this diversity in the economic conditions of the two
regions, the rates of agricultural wages in the districts of Diissel-
dorf on the Rhine, on the one hand, and Gumbinnen, in the
province of Prussia, on the other hand, where the soil is good,
but no manufactures or trade on a large scale exist : —



s. d. s. d.

s. d. s. d.

Summer wages, per diem, Men, .

2 6 to 4

1 to 1 ^

,, ,, ,, Women,

1 6 ,, 2

6 „ 9|

Winter „ ,, Men, .

1 6 „ 2


,, ,, ,, Women,

1 ,, 1 6

4J „ 6

The same principle shows itself in local inequalities within each
of the two great regions. The price of farm labour is much
higher close to Berlin than throughout the greater part of
Brandenburg, and considerably higher about Dantzig than in
most rural districts of the province of Prussia. It is, in like
manner, 75 per cent, higher in the Buhr Basin, and near towns
like Cologne, than in purely agricultural districts of Westphalia
and the Rhine Province. One remarkable exception to the
general principle (which, however, seems less real than apparent)
is, that Silesia, the eastern province in which there is most
manufacture and trade, and which possesses considerable
mines, is also the province in which the price of farm labour
is lowest. Mr. Consul White, remarking that ' it has always
astonished him that Silesia, an industrial centre, has the lowest
agricultural wages of all Germany,' adds, that he is told the cause
lies in the cheap and thrifty modes of living of the peasantry,,
and suggests that the proximity of Poland and of Austria may
also partly account for it in Upper Silesia. Von der Goltz
also refers the low scale of Silesian wages partly to the low
standard of expenditure of the inhabitants, partly to the rela-
tively dense population. If, in addition to these conditions, we

progress, wealth, and high wages of western Germany. Should the attempt to.
raise them which is now heing made be carried out, it is the opinion of high
authorities that a serious decline in the rate of industrial progress will ensue.

The Movements of Agricultural Wages in Europe, 375

reflect that this imniense province is for the most part untraversed
by railways, is contiguous to a vast region backward in that as
in other respects, lies remote both from maritime ports and
from western markets, we may fairly consider the exception
only a partial one ; though it proves that there are economic
conditions which no single generalization will cover, and the
roots of which may reach far down in past history. ' Every
province,' says the illustrious rural economist, M. de Lavergne,
of his own country, ' has its history, which has powerfully
acted on its economic development ;'* and the observation is yet
truer of Germany than of France.

But another potent cause of inequalities in agricultural wages
alike in Germany and in many other countries, lies in local
diversities of climate and soil — a cause which the more merits
attention that its operation is diametrically contrary to an old
economic doctrine. It is where the work of cultivation has least
variety and interest, where life has few charms, where winter is
longest and coldest, where the wage-earning days are fewest,
where the labourer finds it hardest to supplement his earnings
by the produce of a little farm of his own, that the price of
agricultural labour jier diem is lowest in Germany, and Von der
Goltz is certainly right in treating the climate as one cause of
the low rate of wages in the north-east ; though the chief cause
seems, as certainly, the one previously pointed out, on which he
does not dwell. In the south-western region itself we find this
second class of natural causes in active operation, wages being
usually much lower in barren mountainous districts than in those
warm, fruitful valleys and plains which enable both the farmer
and the labourer with a plot of ground of his own to rear close
to excellent markets a variety of rich plants, tobacco, chicory,
garden vegetables, hemp, which will not grow in less generous
zones. After citing a number of local rates of agricultural
wages in Wiirtemberg, Von der Goltz adds : — ' From these data
it follows that the rates in Wiirtemberg vary materially. In
the least favourably situated districts they average from 47 to

Economie Burale de la France, 4'"' ed., p. 60.

376 The Movements of Agricultural Wages in Europe.

49 kreuzers a-day ; in those most favourably situated they rise to
78-80 kreuzers. This fact meets one in all parts of middle and
south Germany, in which climate and cultivation exhibit such
diversities.' It is a fact to which an analogy may be found in
these islands, in which wages and profit, as well as rent, cceteris
paribus, usually are higher on exceptionally good land, all
three, and not rent only, falling on barren and mountainous
soils, whatever economic theories may suppose.* The great
inequalities of wages hence arising in Grermany are, no doubt,
partially compensated by the descent of the mountain labourer
into the plains and valleys at harvest and other seasons, when
there is an unusual supply of work ; but throughout the rest of
the year his earnings are smaller, while his wants are greater, on
account of the cold, than those of the inhabitants of the lower
districts. Baron Von der Goltz — almost the only economic
defect of whose book is its tendency to sweep averages, the
besetting sin of both statisticians and economists — seems much
to overrate the compensatory influence of this periodical mi-
gration. The Irish labourer used, in like manner, to migrate
to England for the harvest, but that did not raise his earnings
to the English level ; it only enabled him to exist for the rest
of the year on Irish wages. Assuredly in Germany money
wages have by no means followed the equitable principles of
which economists, in their thirst after generalization rather than
truth, and under the influence of eighteenth century notions of
natural laws of equality and uniformity, have dreamt. It is
where the skies are brightest, the air most genial, the work of
husbandry pleasantest, life in every way most agreeable, that
the price of farm labour is highest. It is here, too, that the
labourer finds it easiest to get a property of his own, and that
its produce is richest. * The farther,' says Von der Goltz, ' we
proceed from north and east to south and west, the more
numerous is the class of landowning agricultural labourers, and
the better is the condition of those who are so.' The fluctuations
in the price of labour are no doubt greater in the industrial

* In the United Kingdom itself wages, profit, and rent are all three commonly
highest, ceteris paribus, where the land is best.


The Movements of Agricultural Wages in Euro^^e. 377

■districts of the south-west than in north-east Germany, partly
for a reason not referred to by Yon der Goltz, but mentioned to
me by Professor Nasse, that where small farming predominates,
there is a less regular supply of labour in the market ; and
partly, I am disposed to think, because both demand and supply
are here affected by the fluctuations in manufacture and trade.
But it is beyond all question that the permanent influence of
the causes which produce these variations has been favourable
to the agricultural labourer, and that, notwithstanding them, his
condition has been a continuously improving one. The remark
which Consul "White makes with respect to the farm labourer
throughout Grermany, is especially applicable to him in Rhine-
land and the Ruhr Basin : ' Improved civilization has produced
greater demands and requirements in this class ; all authorities
agree that they live, on the whole, better than they used to, and
insist on getting better paid.'

In France, as in Germany, the chief causes of high agricul-
tural wages are proximity to great industrial centres or easy
communication with great markets, but we find also local causes
of diversity, such as differences of climate or soil. The high
Tvages about Avignon, for example, are attributable partly to
the high prices produced by markets, such as Lyons and
Marseilles, partly to the rich returns which the climate affords
to cultivation, and partly to the skill of the cultivators. Writing
in 1869 respecting the rise of wages there, above the rate ten
years before, Mr. Mill said : — 'All prices have risen at Avignon
(which was already ten years ago a remarkably dear place),
owing to the causes which made it then dear. There is a rapid
sale for all agricultural produce in Paris, Lyons, and Marseilles ;
consequently all the prices in the market are high. . . . The
cultivation round Avignon is carried to a high degree of
perfection, and seems to have been so for centuries. The
system of irrigation is elaborate, ploughing deep, the clearing
of the land from weeds very perfect, fallows unknown except
in the poor mountain soil, and the whole country is covered
with trees of some sort, under which there is cultivation. I have
been told that, owing to the peculiar advantages of irrigation,

378 The Movements of Agricultural Wages in Europe.

climate, and position between large towns, with easy railway
and river communication, there is a constantly increasing ten-
dency towards the cultivation of early fruit and vegetables.
Already the exportation of these is very considerable, and it seems
as though this cultivation must be favourable to small properties.'
In Normandy the rate of wages is as two to one compared
with the rate throughout a great part of Brittany ; and there
are several reasons for the difference. Normandy is much
nearer to the market of Paris ; it has great manufacturing
towns, and Brittany none ; its soil is much more fertile, and the
Norman population does not multiply like the Breton. Agri-
cultural wages have greatly risen throughout France in the last
twenty years, through the increase of French production and
trade, the increased quantity and activity of money, railways,
the demand for labour in the chief towns, the consequent
migration of the rural population to the towns, their disincli-
nation for large families, and the absorption of the peasantry
(several millions of whom own small properties) in the cultivation
of land of their own. But the local force of each of these-
causes varies, and the prices of agricultural labour are con-
sequently very unequal.

In Belgium, again, although the principal cause (as in
every progressive country in Europe) of diversity in the local
rates of agricultural wages is the presence or absence of mines,
manufactures, or commerce on a great scale, other causes are
at work. Thus the low rate in Flanders and the Campine is
due partly to the natural poverty of the soil ; and the chief
cause of the relatively high rate in the Ardenne, where the
farm labourer earns twice as much as in Flanders (although his-
work is inferior, and the region has no manufactures or foreign
commerce), is that there are 270 Flemings and only 100
Ardennois to the same number of hectares.

Thus there are various causes in each country for great
local diversities of agricultural wages, but the most powerful
and the most general cause is the unequal distribution of
advantages for manufactures and commerce, and of good
markets ; and we can easily trace a close connexion between

The Movements of Agricultural Wages in Europe. 379

the great general rise in the price of agricultural labour in
Europe in recent years, especially in part of west Germany and
Belgium, and the great local inequalities in its price in each
country. The currency of all Europe has been vastly augmented
by new mines and instruments of credit ; the rapidity also of
the circulation of money has multiplied, and the prices of all
things, labour included, which have not increased in proportion,
have by consequence risen. Secondly, money has increased
most, and the price of labour has risen most, in the districts
"whose money-getting powers have increased most througli in-
dustrial development and rapid communication with the best
markets. Thirdly, our continental neighbours have acquired in
recent years those new arms of industry and commerce — iron,
coal, the steam-engine, steam locomotion — which England
possessed a generation earlier ; prices consequently have risen
in many parts of the Continent to the English scale from a
much lower level ; the demand and competition for labour, and
the sums offered for its assistance, have increased abroad in
proportion, and the French, German, and Belgian agricultural
labourer has shared with the town workman in the new streams
of money. An economist of merited parliamentary fame, lately
spoke of machinery as one cause which has prevented a rise of
wages in recent years in some trades in England;* and
doubtless it sometimes has that effect, by superseding labour.
Nevertheless the main cause of the comparatively high rate of
wages throughout western Europe, and the main cause of higli.
local rates of agricultural wages in each of its countries, is, in one
word, machinery, or the steam-engine, creating new industries
and immense accumulations of capital, finding swift sale for their
produce in markets where gold and its representatives abound,
and augmenting the price of all kinds of labour in the vicinity.
The real movements of agricultural wages throughout Europe
will be seen to be in striking contradiction to generalizations,
such as the tendency of wages to equality, which have passed
with a certain school of English economists for economic laws :

* Mr. Fawcett, M.P., in an article in the Fortnightly Review; also in hi*

Manual of Political Economy (5"" ed.), pp. 137-9.

380 The Movements of Agricultural Wages in Europe,

generalizations not witliout a measure of truth as indicating one
of several forces, but mistaken by that school for the actual
resultant of all the forces : generalizations, one may add, which
were once useful and meritorious as first attempts to discover
causes and sequence among economic phenomena, but which
have long ceased to afford either light or fruit, and become part
of the solemn humbug of ' economic orthodoxy.' During the
last two generations, while some distinguished economists were
asserting, not merely a tendency towards it, but an actual
equalization of wages, the real tendency in all countries making
progress was towards inequality — a tendency which, in fact,
already showed itself in a marked manner a century ago,
w^ith the advance of commerce and manufactures, in both Great
Britain and France, as statistics collected by Adam Smith and
Arthur Young prove. The 'law' which economists ought to
have laid down for the age from those two great writers' days
to our own, was the law of great inequality in the local demand
for labour, by reason of great inequalities in the advantages,
development, and money-making powers of different localities.
But the consequent inequahties in the prices of agricultural
labour in England, it is important to notice, were formerly
compensated for in a good measure by corresponding inequalities
in the prices of commodities : food was cheap where wages were
low, food dear where wages were high. Prices rose around the
great centres of mining, manufacture, and trade to a scale
greatly above that prevailing in purely agricultural districts,
just as they have risen in the industrial districts of West
Germany above the scale in Pomerania, Silesia, and Posen. A
new inequality in agricultural wages in England took place with
the equalization of the prices of food by railways and roads.
In not a few parishes in the southern counties money wages
remained almost stationary, at 7s. to 8s., from 1770 to 1870,
while meat rose in the interval from 2d., and in some places
actually only a l\d. a pound, to nearly the same price, say 10(/.,
•as in Yorkshire and Northumberland, and milk and butter in
proportion. When Mr. M'Culloch was laying down in succes-
sive editions of Adam Smith's treatise, that canals, roads, rail-


The Movements of Agricultural Wages in Europe. 381

ways, &c., had 'brouglit the prices of all sorts of produce and
the wages of labour in different districts much nearer to a
common level than at the period of the publication of the
" Wealth of Nations," ' he was right enough about the prices of
produce, but so wrong about wages that they varied in England,
at the time of his last edition, from 9s. to 22s., not unfrequently
with a cottage and garden in the latter case, and without either
in the former. Moreover, on the rise in the prices of food in the
southern counties, brought about by their equalization through
the kingdom, supervened a succession of further rises caused by
the general increase of population, the increased wages and
consumption in the manufacturing districts, and the increase of
both the metallic and the credit circulation of the country. The
recent rise of money wages in the southern counties had in fact
been preceded by a fourfold fall in real wages measured in the
price of animal food, and a great fall measured in cottage rents.
The rise, therefore, dui'ing the last three or four years in the
wages of the southern farm labourer — though in some cases
from 7s. and 8s. to 12s. and 13s. — is, compared with his real
wages a century ago, almost a nominal one only.

Another inequality which the application of steam to manu-

Online LibraryT. E. Cliffe (Thomas Edward Cliffe) LeslieEssays in political economy → online text (page 35 of 41)