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Sunday, September 26, 2004

Prof Bug Away For A 5-Day Trip

The buggy prof will be out of town starting Monday, September 27th, and won't be back until October 1st. Some time over the coming weekend, he'll write out the article promised a long time ago on the absence of socialist influences in American life . . . and for that matter, the reasons for a much narrower ideological spectrum in American politics compared to other industrial countries, even Britain.

Wage Gaps and The Impact of Immigration

Among other things, there's been some good work recently by a handful of economists on relative wages in America and Europe in the 19th and early 20th century . . . not an easy set of data to come up with, compared with relative per capita incomes. The latter can be quickly gauged from GDP stats and population, with a fair amount of accuracy for those periods. Wages are another matter.

What the recent work shows is that, in the 1850s, though US per capita income was lower than in Britain, the pioneer industrial country, American wages were almost double that of those in Britain: 98% higher to be exact. By 1870, with the US now industrializing rapidly, the overall US wage level was even higher than that compared to all of Europe. These figures underscores how much scarcer labor was in the US compared to Britain and the rest of Europe, but also how much narrower the distribution of income was in the US compared to Europe and its feudal traditions and massively lopsided property distribution.

From 1870 on, the US lead shrank somewhat. The main reason? Over the next 45 years, tens of millions of poor people emigrated from Europe to the New World, mainly the US, but also Canada, Australia, and eventually Argentina. As the labor supply in the US swelled, it grew less fast in industrializing Europe than it otherwise would have; and by 1914 --- on the eve of WWI --- the gap between US and British wages had narrowed. Even so, the average US wage was still 54% higher than its counterpart in Britain, still the richest country in Europe. Compared to the rest of Europe, the average American worker was about 70% richer.

But note. Even as the labor supply in the US swelled in numbers thanks to immigration, the gap between US and European wages on the eve of WWI in 1914 was still huge . . . a good 54% higher than its counterpart in Britain, still the richest country in Europe.

Property Ownership

Property ownership as you'll see was also far greater in the US. One startling stat: Swedish immigration to the US numbered about 1 million people by 1920 vs. 5.2 million Swedes still in Europe. And yet those 1 million Swedes owned the equivalent of 2/3 of all the arable land in Sweden itself, with land ownership heavily concentrated in that country . . . as it was in Britain and the rest of Europe save in France.

Voting Rights and Mass Democracy

Anyway, property ownership and wage levels and a higher standard of living for Americans aren't the only reasons for the absence of a strong socialist tradition in American life, Marxist or otherwise. Those reasons, along with more data on strictly economic matters, will be set out here next week-end. In the 1850s, for instance --- the period of Jacksonian democracy that extended the vote to almost all white males who were citizens and older than 21 --- 61% of American men were voting for the presidency. In Britain, the most advanced democratic country in Europe at the time, the equivalent figure was 3.5% and in Canada 7.7%. The British working class wouldn't itself be eligible to vote in parliamentary elections until two electoral reforms in 1867 and then again in the mid-1880s. What's more, even after the 1867 reform gave about 50% of the British working class the vote, a minimum level of property ownership prevailed in Britain until the second Reform Act of the 1880s.

In the US, it's important to add, freed African slaves in the South after 1865 --- about 8% of the US population on an average over the next several decades --- were subject to literacy and other requirements, not to forget outright intimidation, that were severely restricted their right to vote until after WWII. And nowhere in the democratic countries were women given a right to vote until after WWI. In some democratic countries, hard as it is to believe --- Switzerland for instance --- women didn't get that right until the 1971. France didn't implement that right until 1944, a good quarter of a century after the US and Canada had recognized women's voting rights.

In the meantime, the buggy prof hopes all his readers except the poison-pen haters are enjoying life.