Friday, December 30, 2016

Mark Twain Understood That It Is The Purchasing Power Of Wages That Matters

This is the third recent post about how Twain discusses economics in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. What he says in the passage below might seem like common sense but it is interesting that he puts it in there because it does not seem relevant to what is going on at the time. This is from chapter 31.
"A man who hasn't had much experience, and doesn't think, is apt to measure a nation's prosperity or lack of prosperity by the mere size of the prevailing wages; if the wages be high, the nation is prosperous; if low, it isn't. Which is an error. It isn't what sum you get, it's how much you can buy with it, that's the important thing; and it's that that tells whether your wages are high in fact or only high in name. I could remember how it was in the time of our great civil war in the nineteenth century. In the North a carpenter got three dollars a day, gold valuation; in the South he got fifty--payable in Confederate shinplasters worth a dollar a bushel. In the North a suit of overalls cost three dollars--a day's wages; in the South it cost seventy-five --which was two days' wages. Other things were in proportion. Consequently, wages were twice as high in the North as they were in the South, because the one wage had that much more purchasing power than the other had."

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