After the War Prices on Water Works Materials
The paper of which the following are excerpts was delivered by R. E. McDonnell at the annual convention of the Southwestern Water Works Association, at Tulsa, Okla., and provoked so much discussion that an entire afternoon was devoted to discussion of the ideas presented by the author:
After the war prices on water works materials has greatly concerned superintendents of both municipal and privately owned water plants, but now that the war is on its fourth year and no end in sight, the public is gradually adjusting itself and becoming reconciled to war rices. The water works officials who ave withheld improvements and postponed purchases now find themselves in a sorry plight by facing a prospect of still higher prices after the war. Had the war been of short duration, things would have been different. The war has already lasted long enough to establish new economic conditions that will not be abandoned when the war is over.
The Labor Question.
The price and availability of labor, both skilled and unskilled, is one of the chief determining factors of prices. Mechanics and skilled workers in pump factories, valve and hydrant factories, meter factories and pipe foundries, are now receiving about twice to three times their former wages, and the labor having once accustomed themselves to short hours and high wages, new habits of living are formed. Imagine in your own case if after enjoying for several years two hundred dollars per month, you were required to readjust your affairs to a salary of one hundred and fifty dollars? You probably would not accept it, but engage in something else of a similar nature. Labor of unskilled kind would not be content with reductions, and the labor that has gone to war will, upon coming back, be of an entirely different character from what it was when it left the water trenches for the fighting trenches. A few years fighting for his country, seeing new lands, new cities and mingling with intense activity will completely transform the man to one of higher ideals and aspirations. He will no longer be content with the menial tasks. He will learn that he is capable of doing bigger things. The contractor, the farmer, the foundryman and the manufacturer who are looking for their labor back again after the war will look in vain, for their mental, moral and physical changes will be so great that the men who return will have other things in view. Labor cannot help being the scarcest commodity in America for at least several years after the war. A wonderful equalizing effect will also result. The restoration of ruined cities in Europe will attract American engineers, contractors and material dealers. The immense merchant marine now used for war purposes will convey labor and materials readily to every part of the world. France, South Africa or Egypt will be almost as accessible as remote parts of America.
Foreign Demand for Our Goods.
Foreign countries will not have the barriers that formerly existed. Our machinery, pumps, pipe, meters, filters and supplies of every description have, since the war started, been tried out and were so well liked that American factories are now busily engaged in shipping water works supplies to China, South Africa, Palestine and all South American republics; in fact, all over the world. Our mechanical filter plants have so pleased the South American countries that they will not be satisfied with any other. One of our assistant engineers now in Uruguay, supervising the installation of a water works, lighting and sewerage system, writes that the Uruguain officials are so well pleased that American engineers, contractors and materials will have the preference. These markets opened up since the war are not going to close after the war. A demand has been created that will continue, and demand is one-half the cause of price making. If the labor to produce the supply is going to be scarce, we then have a scarcity of supply and an increase in demand,—two functions that tend to maintain high prices. Many cities have waited and continue to wait, expecting lower prices. Cities requiring water purification plants have continued to use polluted supplies, thereby endangering the health of their citizens, all because of a mistaken idea that prices would be lower. Fire protection equipment, both in pumps, larger mains and fire apparatus, has been postponed, awaiting lower prices after the war, until now we have inadequate fire protection in many cities. The holding off of these improvements until after the war would increase the normal demand to the point of producing an increase in prices following the war. Cities, therefore, holding back lighting improvements or electrifying their pumping plants in anticipation of lower prices, are going to meet with disappointment. The war demand for water works materials has been no greater than similar demands for all classes of commodities. The use of American materials in the war has served to demonstrate their adaptability, which, in itself, will create new markets. One of the remarkable achievements of the war accomplished through American water works materials, was the capture of Palestine from the Turks. The capture of Palestine in the past was attempted many times in the last fourteen hundred years, and the British attributed the failures to the lack of water supply. With the use of American made pipe, pumps and valves and equipment, a ten-inch pipe line was laid one hundred and fifty miles across the desert, supplying drinking water for the troops, camels and munition trains. The pipe ‘being carried in by use of camels, water was made available for use as the pipe laying progressed.
High Price Precedents in Other Wars.
Facts taken from history give excellent precedent as to what we may expect in the future prices. In the period covered by the French Revolution, America was also engaged in war with England, so that at that period the whole civilized world was at war. While business was small then, yet prices went through the same performances they are repeating today. Prices after the war rose and remained at the maximum during the war for a period of about five years after the close of the war. In 1864, the increase was about fifty per cent, above the normal of 1851. The decrease toward normal was only about twenty per cent., covering several years, with a sharp increase again at the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, and the prices did not return to normal until 1880, ten years after the close of the Franco-Prussian War. Prices in time will undoubtedly seek their normal level, but cities, like individuals, need water for their growth. Can we afford to stunt the growth of a community by waiting for lower prices? This question has been carefully studied by those best competent to know. Recently a report was made by the New York Board of Water Supply to the Mayor of New York, which states “that there are no convincing evidences that labor and materials will be less expenses now than for several years to come,” and further makes the suggestion that “many well-informed persons are of the opinion that the tendency will be higher and still higher prices for water works commodities.” The report closes with the recommendation that the city’s interests will be best served by the continuous and speedy prosecution of the water works improvements to their final completion. Water is fundamental to the growth and prosperity of every community. An abundant supply of good pure water is a city’s most valuable asset. Its industries cannot be secured or maintained if the water supply is inadequate. The Capital Issues Committee ofWashington, D. C., in giving approval to water works bonds, has gone on record as to water supplies and their improvements as being an essential improvement, and all worthy projects are meeting prompt approval. The essential feature in the whole problem to consider is the responsibility of the water works profession toward the health of the community. Nothing has such a great bearing upon the health of the community as the quality of the water. Can the Water Boards, Mayors, Superintendents and Engineers afford to defer improvements when that postponement may mean an epidemic of typhoid or other water borne diseases? The loss of lives cannot be justified by the saving in dollars.