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Finance and Commerce

Foreign Competition. An article which appeared in a recent issue of the "Morning Post" contained some striking figures, presented in the form of a chart, comparing current wages in various industries, after making allowance for the increased cost of living, with those received by the workers in 1914. The object of the article in question was to demonstrate the necessity of securing for national industry a policy which should "level up" wages "by a reasonable measure of shelter against indiscriminate world competition." With this end in view it was shown that the real value of wages had increased during the past ten years in those branches of industry which are immune from overseas competition, or have been protected by a tariff, while in trade which compete with similar trades in foreign countries the real income of the workpeople has diminished. Apart altogether of the success or otherwise of this demonstration in favour of artificial protection by tariffs, the figures given by the "Morning Post" certainly showed that wages are comparatively high in industries which are naturally sheltered by the fact that the goods produced or the services rendered are disposed of internally, while in those industries which are engaged largely in manufacturing for export, or are otherwise particulsrly subject to foreign Competition, the real income of the worker is decidedly lower than before the war. Examples of the former class are railway men, bus-drivers and bakers, whose real wages are shown to have increased by 30 per cent., 12 per cent. and 18 per cent. respectively, while among workers in the "unsheltered" industries, shipwrights receive 30 per cent. less than their pre-war wage, tinplate and steel, workers 20 per cent. less, and cotton workers 7 per cent. less. These figures show the economic advantages of the workers in the naturally sheltered industries, and an examination of the dividends paid by industrial companies shows that the capitalist in some of the sheltered industries is in an equally good position. Three companies owning large West End stores, which may be taken as an example of undertakings whose business is entirely free from foreign competition, paid an average dividend on their ordinary shares of 22 per cent. for the last completed year, compared with 19 2/3 per cent. in the last pre-war year. On the other hand, four large iron, shipbuilding and engineering companies, taken at random as representatives of the unsheltered industries, paid an average of 12 2/3 per cent. on their ordinary capital before the war, and only 4 2/3 for the past year. The case of this latter group is, perhaps, exceptional, as the engineering and kindred industries have suffered more than many others from the necessity of adjusting their works from war to peace activity; but other trades, such as shipping and some branches of the textile industry, into which foreign competition enters, have also been seriously affected. These facts are now recorded, not as an