All quiet along the Potomac to-night,
No sound save the rush of the river;
But the dew falls unseen on the face of the dead—
The picket’s off duty forever.
Ethel L. Beers.
Wages are a compensation given to the laborer for the exertion of his physical powers, or of his skill and ingenuity. They must, therefore, vary according to the severity of the labor to be performed, or to the degree of skill and ingenuity required. A jeweller or engraver, for example, must be paid a higher rate of wages than a servant or laborer. A long course of training is necessary to instruct a man in the business of jewelling or engraving, and if the cost of his training were not made up to him in a higher rate of wages, he would, instead of learning so difficult an art, betake himself to such employments as require hardly any instruction.
A skilled mason, who has served a long apprenticeship to his trade, will always obtain higher wages than a common laborer, who has simply to use his mere bodily strength. Were it not so, there would be nothing to induce the mason to spend many years in learning a trade at which he could earn no higher wages than the man who was simply qualified to carry lime in a hod, or to roll a wheelbarrow.
The wages of labor in different employments vary with the constancy and inconstancy of employment. Employment is much more constant in some trades than in others. Many trades can be carried on only in particular states of weather, and seasons of the year; and if the workmen who are employed in these cannot easily find employment in others during the time they are thrown out of work, their wages must be proportionally raised. A journeyman weaver, shoemaker, or tailor may reckon, unless trade is dull, upon obtaining constant employment; but masons, bricklayers, pavers, and in general all those workmen who carry on their business in the open air, are liable to constant interruptions. Their wages, accordingly, must be sufficient to maintain them while they are employed, and also when they are necessarily idle.
From the preceding observations it is evident that those who receive the highest wages are not, when the cost of their education, and the chances of their success, are taken into account, really better paid than those who receive the lowest. The wages earned by the different classes of workmen are equal, not when each individual earns the same number of dollars in a given space of time, but when each is paid in proportion to the severity of the labor he has to perform, and to the degree of previous education and skill it requires. So long as each individual is allowed to employ himself as he pleases, we may be assured that the rate of wages in different employments will be comparatively equal.