Chapter 10c, Part 1= Profit and wage inequality in different Occupations and Businesses


January 1, 2020


20 Wages vary according to the trust reposed in the workers.

21 The wages of goldsmiths and jewellers are superior to other workmen because they are entrusted with precious materials.

22 We trust our health to the physician and we trust our fortune, life, and reputation to the lawyer.

Such confidence could not safely be entrusted to mean or low people.

  • Their reward must give them that rank which so important a trust requires.
  • Their long and expensive education, combined with the trust needed, enhances their wages.

23 When a person employs his own stock, there is no trust. The credit from other people, depends, not upon the nature of his trade, but upon their opinion of his fortune, probity, and prudence.

The different profit rates, therefore, cannot arise from the different degrees of trust reposed in the traders.


24 Wages vary according to the probability or improbability of success.

25 The probability that any person will be employed in the occupation he was educated for is very different in different occupations.

  • In the mechanic trades, success is almost certain.
  • In the liberal professions it is very uncertain.

If you put your son as a shoemaker’s apprentice, he will no doubt learn to shoes. Send him to study law and there is a 5% chance that he will be able to enter the law profession.

In a perfectly fair lottery, those who draw the prizes should gain all that is lost by those who draw the blanks. In a profession where 20 fail for one that succeeds, that one should gain all that should have been gained by the unsuccessful 20.

The 40-year old successful law counsellor should receive the retribution of the more than 20 others who failed, on top of the recompense for his education.

The extravagant fees of law counsellors are never equal to their real retribution The income of all workers in common trades will generally exceed their expense. The income of all counsellors and law students in all courts, bears but a very small proportion to their expense, even though their income is high and their expenses are low. The lottery of the law is very far from being a perfectly fair lottery. They are under-recompensed like many other liberal and honourable professions.

26 Despite these discouragements, the most generous and liberal people are eager to crowd into them because of= The reputation attached to the superior excellence in them The natural confidence which people have in their own abilities and good fortune.

27 To excel in any profession is the most decisive mark of genius or superior talents. Public admiration always makes a part of their reward. It makes a big part of that reward of the physician It makes a bigger part in the reward of law. It makes almost the whole reward in poetry and philosophy.

28 There are some beautiful talents which commands admiration but when used for private gain is considered as a sort of public prostitution.

The monetary compensation of those who use talents for private gain, must be sufficient to pay for= The time, labour, and expence of acquiring the talents The discredit it brings as the means of subsistence. The basis for the exorbitant rewards of players, opera-singers, opera-dancers, etc. is= The rarity and beauty of their talents The discredit of employing them this way At first sight, it seems absurd that we should despise them yet highly reward their talents. While we despise them, we must reward them. Should the public opinion about them alter, their recompence would quickly diminish. More people would apply to them, and the competition would quickly reduce their recompense. Such talents, though uncommon, are not so rare. Many possess them in great perfection but do not use them Many more are capable of acquiring them if there were any honourable use.

29 The over-weening conceit which most people have of their own abilities, is an ancient evil remarked by philosophers and moralists of all ages.

Their absurd presumption in their own good fortune, has been less noticed, but is more universal. Everyone has some share of it. Everyone overvalues the chance of gain and undervalues the chance of loss. No one values the chance of loss more than it is worth.

30 The universal success of lotteries proves that the chance of gain is naturally over-valued.

The world never saw a perfectly fair lottery where the whole gain compensated the whole loss. The undertaker could not profit from it.

In state lotteries, the tickets are really not worth the price paid by the original subscribers. Yet they sell for 20-40% advance. “The vain hope of gaining some of the great prizes is the sole cause of this demand.” The soberest people do not think it wrong to pay a small sum for the chance of gaining £10,000-20,000. Although they know that even that small sum is perhaps 20% or 30% more than the chance is worth. In a lottery where no prize exceeded £20, there would not be the same demand for tickets. To have a better chance, some purchase several tickets while others purchase small shares in a still greater number. This is the most certain proposition in mathematics= that the more tickets you buy the more likely you are to be a loser. Buy all the tickets in the lottery and you lose for certain. The more tickets you buy, the more you are certain to lose.

Insurance Risk

31 The chance of loss is frequently under-valued and rarely valued more than it is worth.

  • This is proven by the very moderate profit of insurers.

To be successful in insurance, the common premium must= be sufficient to compensate the common losses pay the expence of management afford a profit equal or bigger than other businesses using the same capital. Paying this premium pays the real value of the risk or the lowest price of insurance. Although many people make a little money by insurance, very few have made a great fortune. Profits are not more advantageous in the insurance trade, than in other common trades. Many people despise risk so much that they pay for insurance. In Great Britain on the average, 99 homes in 100, are not insured from fire. Sea risk is more alarming to people so more ships are insured compared to homes. Although many sail even in wartime prudently without any insurance. When a great company or merchant, has 20-30 ships at sea, they may insure one another. The premium saved on them all, may more than compensate potential losses. The neglect of shipping and home insurance in most cases is due to thoughtless rashness and contempt of the risk.

32 The contempt of risk and the presumptuous hope of success, are most active at the age when young people choose their professions. The little fear of misfortune is then capable of balancing the hope of good luck. This is more evident in those enlisting as soldiers or those going to sea, than in those entering the liberal professions.

33 Young volunteers enlist most readily at the start of a new war. They fancy acquiring honour and distinction which never occur. “These romantic hopes make the whole price of their blood.” Their pay is less than that of common labourers though their actual service and fatigues are much greater.

34 The lottery of the sea is not so disadvantageous as that of the army. A son of a creditable labourer or artificier might join the navy with his father’s consent. But his father will never allow him to enlist as a soldier. Only the son sees anything to be made by being a soldier. The public has less admiration for a great admiral than a great general. The greatest naval success promises lesser fortune and reputation than equal success in the land. The same difference runs through all the inferior ranks in both. A naval captain has the same rank as an army colonel. But the captain does not rank with the colonel in the common estimation. As the great prizes in the lottery are less, the smaller ones must be more numerous. Common sailors, therefore, more frequently get fortune and promotion than common soldiers. The hope of those prizes principally recommends the trade. The skill, dexterity, hardship, of sailors are much superior to that of artificers. However, their only additional recompence is the pleasure of exercising their skill and surmounting their hardships. Their wages are not greater than those of common labourers at their home port. Their monthly pay is more the same with other workers in those ports their ships sails. London is the port from where the most ships sail. It regulates the wages of all other ports. At London, the wages of workmen are double those at Edinburgh. But sailors sailing from London seldom earn 3 or 4 shillings a month more than those sailing from Leith, a small difference. In peacetime, the London price is from a guinea to about 27 shillings monthly. A common labourer in London, at 9 or 10 shillings a week, may earn 40-45 shillings in a month. The sailor is supplied with goods over and above his pay. Their value, however, may not always exceed the difference between his pay and that of the common labourer; Any excess will not be clear gain to the sailor, because he cannot share it with his family, whom he must maintain with his wages at home.

35 The dangers of adventures seem to encourage instead of discourage people. A poor tender mother is often afraid to send her son to school at a sea-port town. The sight of the ships and the adventures of the sailors might entice him to go to sea. The prospect of hazards is not disagreeable to us. It does not raise wages in any employment. It is otherwise in employments where courage is useless. In very unwholesome trades, wages are always high. Unwholesomeness is a kind of disagreeableness. It affects wages.

36 In all employments, the ordinary profit rate varies with the certainty or uncertainty of the returns. Generally, the inland trade is more certain than foreign trade. Some foreign trade is more certain than other foreign trade. The trade to North America is more certain than the trade to Jamaica. The ordinary profit rate always rises with the risk. It does not seem to rise with it to be able to compensate it completely. Bankruptcies are most frequent in the most hazardous trades. Smuggling is the most hazardous trade. It infallibly leads to bankruptcy. The presumptuous hope of success entices so many adventurers into those hazardous trades. Their competition reduces the profit below what is sufficient to compensate the risk. To compensate it completely, the common returns should= Make up for all occasional losses Afford a surplus profit, the same as the profit of insurers. If the common returns were sufficient for all this, bankruptcies in smuggling would just be as frequent as in other trades. 37 Only two of the five circumstances affect profits= The agreeableness or disagreeableness of the business Its risk or security There is little difference in most employments of stock in terms of agreeableness or disagreeableness. There is much difference in the employment of labour. Ordinary profits rises with risk but not proportionally. Ordinary profit rates in different businesses should be and are more on a level than the wages of different occupations. The difference between the earnings of a common labourer and a lawyer or physician is much greater than between the ordinary profits of two different businesses. The difference in the profits of different businesses is generally a deception. It arises from not always distinguishing wages from profits.

Wages in the Pharmaceutical Industry [Apothecaries]

38 ‘Pharmaceutical profit’ denotes something uncommonly extravagant. This great apparent profit, however, is frequently no more than reasonable wages. The skill of an pharmacist is a much nicer and more delicate than that of any artificer. The trust reposed in him is of much more importance. He is the physician of the poor in all cases. He is the physician of the rich when the distress is not very great. His reward should be suitable to his skill and trust. His reward is in the price of his drugs. All the drugs the best pharmacy will sell in a large town may not perhaps cost above 30-40 pounds a year. If he sells them for 300-400 pounds, or at 1,000% profit, this may be the reasonable wages for his labour charged on the price of his drugs. Most of his profit is actually wages.


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