Here are sufficient.threads to supply the main fab ric of a theory of wages. The Iron Law of Wages has supplied a subsistence basis; Walker has con tributed the idea of efficiency and productivity, and the concept of the marginal man at work under the least satisfactory circumstances adds another element of much consequence in the modern interpretation of economic problems.
3. Lintitations of teages.—It was seen that in the determination of price there are maximum and minimum limits between which the price may be fixed by the various controlling forces at work in the market. So with wages, there is a maximum point' beyond which they cannot go, as well as a minimum point below which they cannot fall. The maximum point is determined by the net value of the work to the employer. Even this may vary, but when the em ployer is unable to meet the maximum point he must either close his shop or lose money.
On the other hand, the minimum point is deter- ! mined by the least the employe can accept while still maintaining his standard of living. In new coun tries, where land is open to the use of the worker, or where tramp life is sufficiently attractive to appeal to his imagination, the minimum of wages advances because of the possibilities from which the laborer can choose. One of the causes for high wages in America has undoubtedly been the remarkable op portunities for the laborer to work on his own ac count, and the fact that the employer has been called upon to meet the competition of free land.
The minimum point of wage payment in America has remained comparatively high and will continue high as long as land is open to cultivation by the man who is discontented with his wages. But while there are still millions of acres available for homestead ers, the amount of land steadily decreases each year. Only an increasing productivity of labor, with a grad ual raising of living standards, can advance the mini mum wa4e beyond the point where it now stands.
The great fundamental factor in the payment of wages is the productivity of the worker. In a slavery economy, the owner takes the entire product and sup ports the slaves. Under a competitive regime the em ployer must compete for the services of the laborer, and the laborer seeks employment in competition with his fellow-workers, while he maintains himself. The
long period of racial development between the periods represented by these two systems includes the gradual emergence of a people from serfdom into a competi tive regime in which capitalists compete with capital ists to secure the best workers, and laborers compete with laborers to secure the most desirable positions. This competition, however, is modified by several influences such as, the amount of industrial capital, the activity of production, the modes of consumption, and the cost of living—the last acting as a check upon the growth of population.
In times of plenty marriages multiply, the annalist tells us, and he refers to prices of wheat and the books of recording clerks to substantiate his statement. Undoubtedly the number of children born does vary • with conditions. In 1914 the world witnessed the be ginning of a great struggle and a consequent loss of wealth thru the destructive forces of war. This de cline of capital was offset by the reduction in the num ber of men that were lost to industry by death in bat tle. Again, the obsession of fashion, resulting in a marked consumption in any one direction, modifies the use of wealth and, in turn, affects saving, capital accumulation and the employment of labor.
4. Variation in trages.—The variation in wages paid to individuals is to be seen in every field of occu pation. Presidents of great railway systems receive enormous salaries that reach beyond the $100,000 niark. These men have superior capacity, and great ability for planning and administering affairs.
There are, in more humble lines, mechanics of su perior skill whose earnings are greater than those of men who work side by side with them. The Stein way Piano Company employs finishers whose skill is almost uncanny; the company in consequence pays them a high wage. It appears that there are grades of ability ranging from that of the high-priced and able executives in the industrial field and the great artists and professional mien, down to that of the men lacking even in some of the mental or physical quali ties necessary to' the performance of continuous labor.