Mark Twain Economics

August 28, 2015 at 6:32 pm Leave a comment

This is just an excerpt of Mark Twain’s explanation of wages and prices. Liberals have a hard time understanding that high wages do not necessarily mean you are better off than with a lower wage, but this explanation is as correct today as when he wrote it more than a hundred years ago – and there are still people who refuse to get it.:

"In your country, brother, what is the wage of a master bailiff,
master hind, carter, shepherd, swineherd?"

"Twenty-five milrays a day; that is to say, a quarter of a cent."

The smith's face beamed with joy.  He said:

"With us they are allowed the double of it!  And what may a mechanic
get--carpenter, dauber, mason, painter, blacksmith, wheelwright,
and the like?"

"On the average, fifty milrays; half a cent a day."

"Ho-ho!  With us they are allowed a hundred!  With us any good
mechanic is allowed a cent a day!  I count out the tailor, but
not the others--they are all allowed a cent a day, and in driving
times they get more--yes, up to a hundred and ten and even fifteen
milrays a day.  I've paid a hundred and fifteen myself, within
the week.  'Rah for protection--to Sheol with free-trade!"

And his face shone upon the company like a sunburst.  But I didn't
scare at all.  I rigged up my pile-driver, and allowed myself
fifteen minutes to drive him into the earth--drive him _all_ in
--drive him in till not even the curve of his skull should show
above ground.  Here is the way I started in on him.  I asked:

"What do you pay a pound for salt?"

"A hundred milrays."

"We pay forty.  What do you pay for beef and mutton--when you
buy it?"  That was a neat hit; it made the color come.

"It varieth somewhat, but not much; one may say seventy-five milrays
the pound."

"_We_ pay thirty-three.  What do you pay for eggs?"

"Fifty milrays the dozen."

"We pay twenty.  What do you pay for beer?"

"It costeth us eight and one-half milrays the pint."

"We get it for four; twenty-five bottles for a cent.
What do you pay for wheat?"

"At the rate of nine hundred milrays the bushel."

"We pay four hundred.  What do you pay for a man's tow-linen suit?"

"Thirteen cents."

"We pay six.  What do you pay for a stuff gown for the wife of the
laborer or the mechanic?"

"We pay eight cents, four mills."

"Well, observe the difference: you pay eight cents and four mills,
we pay only four cents."  I prepared now to sock it to him.  I said:
"Look here, dear friend, _what's become of your high wages you
were bragging so about a few minutes ago?_"--and I looked around
on the company with placid satisfaction, for I had slipped up
on him gradually and tied him hand and foot, you see, without his
ever noticing that he was being tied at all.  "What's become of
those noble high wages of yours?--I seem to have knocked the
stuffing all out of them, it appears to me."

But if you will believe me, he merely looked surprised, that
is all! he didn't grasp the situation at all, didn't know he had
walked into a trap, didn't discover that he was _in_ a trap.  I could
have shot him, from sheer vexation.  With cloudy eye and a struggling
intellect he fetched this out:

"Marry, I seem not to understand.  It is _proved_ that our wages
be double thine; how then may it be that thou'st knocked therefrom
the stuffing?--an miscall not the wonderly word, this being the
first time under grace and providence of God it hath been granted
me to hear it."

Well, I was stunned; partly with this unlooked-for stupidity on
his part, and partly because his fellows so manifestly sided with
him and were of his mind--if you might call it mind.  My position
was simple enough, plain enough; how could it ever be simplified
more?  However, I must try:

"Why, look here, brother Dowley, don't you see?  Your wages are
merely higher than ours in _name_, not in _fact_."

"Hear him!  They are the _double_--ye have confessed it yourself."

"Yes-yes, I don't deny that at all.  But that's got nothing to do
with it; the _amount_ of the wages in mere coins, with meaningless
names attached to them to know them by, has got nothing to do
with it.  The thing is, how much can you _buy_ with your wages?
--that's the idea.  While it is true that with you a good mechanic
is allowed about three dollars and a half a year, and with us only
about a dollar and seventy-five--"

"There--ye're confessing it again, ye're confessing it again!"

"Confound it, I've never denied it, I tell you!  What I say is
this.  With us _half_ a dollar buys more than a _dollar_ buys
with you--and THEREFORE it stands to reason and the commonest
kind of common-sense, that our wages are _higher_ than yours."

He looked dazed, and said, despairingly:

"Verily, I cannot make it out.  Ye've just said ours are the
higher, and with the same breath ye take it back."

"Oh, great Scott, isn't it possible to get such a simple thing
through your head?  Now look here--let me illustrate.  We pay
four cents for a woman's stuff gown, you pay 8.4.0, which is
four mills more than _double_.  What do you allow a laboring
woman who works on a farm?"

"Two mills a day."

"Very good; we allow but half as much; we pay her only a tenth
of a cent a day; and--"

"Again ye're conf--"

"Wait!  Now, you see, the thing is very simple; this time you'll
understand it.  For instance, it takes your woman 42 days to earn
her gown, at 2 mills a day--7 weeks' work; but ours earns hers
in forty days--two days _short_ of 7 weeks.  Your woman has a gown,
and her whole seven weeks wages are gone; ours has a gown, and
two days' wages left, to buy something else with.  There--_now_
you understand it!"

He looked--well, he merely looked dubious, it's the most I can say;
so did the others.  I waited--to let the thing work.  Dowley spoke
at last--and betrayed the fact that he actually hadn't gotten away
from his rooted and grounded superstitions yet.  He said, with
a trifle of hesitancy:

"But--but--ye cannot fail to grant that two mills a day is better
than one."

Shucks!  Well, of course, I hated to give it up.  So I chanced
another flyer:

"Let us suppose a case.  Suppose one of your journeymen goes out
and buys the following articles:

  "1 pound of salt;
   1 dozen eggs;
   1 dozen pints of beer;
   1 bushel of wheat;
   1 tow-linen suit;
   5 pounds of beef;
   5 pounds of mutton.

"The lot will cost him 32 cents.  It takes him 32 working days
to earn the money--5 weeks and 2 days.  Let him come to us and
work 32 days at _half_ the wages; he can buy all those things for
a shade under 14 1/2 cents; they will cost him a shade under 29
days' work, and he will have about half a week's wages over.  Carry
it through the year; he would save nearly a week's wages every
two months, _your_ man nothing; thus saving five or six weeks' wages
in a year, your man not a cent.  _Now_ I reckon you understand that
'high wages' and 'low wages' are phrases that don't mean anything
in the world until you find out which of them will _buy_ the most!"

It was a crusher.

But, alas! it didn't crush.  No, I had to give it up.  What those
people valued was _high wages_; it didn't seem to be a matter of
any consequence to them whether the high wages would buy anything
or not.  They stood for "protection," and swore by it, which was
reasonable enough, because interested parties had gulled them into
the notion that it was protection which had created their high
wages.  I proved to them that in a quarter of a century their wages
had advanced but 30 per cent., while the cost of living had gone
up 100; and that with us, in a shorter time, wages had advanced
40 per cent. while the cost of living had gone steadily down.  But
it didn't do any good.  Nothing could unseat their strange beliefs.
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