The Cost of Living

“The Rise in Prices and The Cost of Living : An Enquiry into its Extent and Causes.” Prof. Ashley. London : ” Evening News.” 1d.

In this pamphlet Professor Ashley has tabulated some of the statistics bearing on the question of the cost of living. He estimated the rise in prices between 1896 and 1911 to be no less than 24 per cent., of which over 16 per cent., or two thirds, is due to the depreciation of gold.

Owing to greater facilities and more economical processes :and machinery, the world’s production of gold has increased steadily from 24.6 million pounds in 1890 to 93.6 million in 1910.

With regard to the future, Professor Ashley anticipates a slackening of this rate of increase. He says:—

“The annual output may go on increasing ; though it is observable that the pace was distinctly slackened in 1910. According to some figures in the “Times” of Jan. 2, 1912, from an apparently well-informed correspondent in the Transvaal, the yield of gold per ton milled on the Rand fell steadily from 35.8 shillings in 1905 to 27.9 shillings in the first nine months of 1911. Working costs were also reduced, and for a few years in even greater proportion, so that working profit rose ; but since 1908 it haa been found impossible to reduce costs any further, and working profits have fallen from 13.9 shillings to 9.66 shillings per ton.”

He adds, however :—

“Even if the output of gold from the present sources becomes stationary or dwindles, it is, of course, always possible that new deposits may be found, or cheaper processes discovered of extraction.”

The question of the depreciation of the measure of value has a very important bearing on working-class psychology. When the value of gold rises and prices are consequently falling, it requires much less struggling on the part of worker to maintain his standard of comfort. But when gold falls in value and prices steadily rise, the reverse condition obtains. To simply hold on is then to be gradually crushed. It becomes absolutely necessary to struggle for a rise in money wages. The workers are awakened from their torpor, and the habit of struggle is engendered ; at the same time that the imperative necessity of it is felt. Thus the depreciation of gold quickens the influence of general economic development in fostering revolt and spreading the revolutionary spirit.

In the pamphlet, statistics of unemployment are given, which show a general decline since 1899, side by side with the rise in prices. No statistics of wages in this country are given by Professor Ashley, which is at once unfortunate and significant. He says :—

“How far wages may have failed, if at all, during the last 15 years, to keep pace with the increased cost of living, would be a subject for a separate investigation.”

Indeed, a competent enquiry into this matter would be a veritable eye-opener to those pretentious journalists and politicians who are floundering in their efforts to invent a plausibly learned explanation of the essentially simple phenomena of “labour unrest.”

A comparison of the movement of statistics, such as those contained in this pamphlet, and the political features of the corresponding periods, provokes interesting, if inconclusive, reflection. Amongst other things, is it mere coincidence that the period of falling prices was Conservative in politics, while the rise in prices finds “social reform” to the fore? ? It would suggest an explanation of Liberal ascendancy. Fraudulent though Liberalism is, and futile though the effort of the worker be to get “something now” by such means, yet very many uneducated, unclass-conscious toilers have been duped, and impelled to a desperate attempt to arrest advancing misery, they have supported their worst enemies for lack of understanding that there is a better way.

In this misdirection of the workers, the Labour Party, as the decoy ducks of Liberalism, have much to answer for.

But every year sees a growing working-class disgust with the Dead Sea fruit of Liberal-cum-
Labourism, and a wider spread of sound Socialist knowledge among the mass. Nourished by the normal development of capitalism, the tree of working-class knowledge will in due time come to fruition. Unlike the illogical mystery-man of the Gospels, we do not curse the tree because it bears not fruit to-day, “for the season of the figs is not yet.” But the promise is great, and we have the confidence that is born of knowledge in the fulness of time.

To return to the pamphlet under review, however, it may be said that on the whole it contains useful information, and supplies the Socialist with further indisputable facts which demonstrate the soundness and adequacy of his theory, and show once more that he alone holds the key to what is called the “Social Problem.”


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