When economists say "wage rigidity," they almost always mean downward wage rigidity. Nominal wages almost never come down. Yet in W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage, set in late 19th-century England, upward wage rigidity plays an interesting role in the plot. Maugham's twist on behavioral labor econ:
He told Philip that he should demand higher wages, for notwithstanding the
difficult work he was now engaged in, he received no more than the six
shillings a week with which he started. But it was a ticklish matter to
ask for a rise. The manager had a sardonic way of dealing with such
"Think you're worth more, do you? How much d'you think you're worth, eh?"
The assistant, with his heart in his mouth, would suggest that he thought
he ought to have another two shillings a week.
"Oh, very well, if you think you're worth it. You can 'ave it." Then he
paused and sometimes, with a steely eye, added: "And you can 'ave your
It was no use then to withdraw your request, you had to go. The manager's
idea was that assistants who were dissatisfied did not work properly, and
if they were not worth a rise it was better to sack them at once. The
result was that they never asked for one unless they were prepared to
Has anyone experienced this sort of upward wage rigidity first-hand?