1960s >> 1962 >> no-692-april-1962

50 Years Ago: The Cost of Living

In this pamphlet (The Rise in Prices and The Cost of Living) 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 January 2, 1912, from an apparently well informed correspondent in the Transvaal, the yield of gold per ton milled in 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 has been found impossible to reduce costs any further, and working profits have fallen from 13.9 shillings to 9.66 shillings per ton’. . .”


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 the 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 the imperative necessity of it is felt.


(From the 
Socialist Standard, April 1912)