50 Years Ago: Scarce houses and high rents
The two things, shortage of houses and high rents, generally coincide. Given the first, the second follows. The capitalists who are interested in the production of any commodity always prefer to see the supply short of the demand, because it enables them to raise prices.
Supply and demand are responsible for fluctuations in rent, while cost of production is the main level between the two extremes. When rents fluctuate upwards, either the workers must have increased wages to enable them to pay, or they must go short of other necessaries.
The two alternatives before the wage worker are, therefore, to pay the landlord and go short of other necessaries, or struggle for a higher wage. But this is as much the concern of capitalists generally as it is of the workers. If capitalists require a certain standard of efficiency in their wage-slaves, the latter must be fed and clothed up to that standard. The whole question, consequently, resolves itself into a tug-of-war between one section of the capitalist class and all the rest, the workers’ standard of living taking the strain. At the moment the housing interests have the pull.
This explains somewhat the deep concern of writers in the capitalist Press about the shortage of houses and high rents. Until rents are reduced, capitalists generally cannot enforce the wage reductions they so earnestly desire without seriously impairing the efficiency of their wage-slaves.
The capitalist system never did and never can insure to the bulk of the workers decent and convenient houses in which to live without overcrowding.
(From an article “Rents and Houses” by Fred Foan in the SOCIALIST STANDARD, February 1923.)