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Title: The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice
Author: Leacock, Stephen, 1869-1944
Language: English
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THE
UNSOLVED RIDDLE
OF
SOCIAL JUSTICE


BY STEPHEN LEACOCK

=B. A., Ph. D., Litt. D., F. R. S. C.=

_Professor of Political Economy at McGill University, Montreal_

Author of "Essays and Literary Studies," Etc.



 NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY
 LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD
 TORONTO: S. B. GUNDY: MCMXX



BY STEPHEN LEACOCK



  FRENZIED FICTION
  FURTHER FOOLISHNESS
  BEHIND THE BEYOND
  NONSENSE NOVELS
  LITERARY LAPSES
  SUNSHINE SKETCHES
  ARCADIAN ADVENTURES WITH THE IDLE RICH
  ESSAYS AND LITERARY STUDIES
  MOONBEAMS FROM THE LARGER LUNACY
  THE HOHENZOLLERNS IN AMERICA



Copyright, 1920,

By John Lane Company



_CONTENTS_



CHAPTER                                                PAGE
    I. The Troubled Outlook of the Present Hour           9
   II. Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness        33
  III. The Failures and Fallacies of Natural Liberty     48
   IV. Work and Wages                                    66
    V. The Land of Dreams: The Utopia of the Socialist   88
   VI. How Mr. Bellamy Looked Backward                  103
  VII. What Is Possible and What Is Not                 124



THE UNSOLVED RIDDLEOF SOCIAL JUSTICE



_I.--The Troubled Outlook of the Present Hour_


THESE are troubled times. As the echoes of the war die away the sound of
a new conflict rises on our ears. All the world is filled with
industrial unrest. Strike follows upon strike. A world that has known
five years of fighting has lost its taste for the honest drudgery of
work. Cincinnatus will not back to his plow, or, at the best, stands
sullenly between his plow-handles arguing for a higher wage.

The wheels of industry are threatening to stop. The laborer will not
work because the pay is too low and the hours are too long. The producer
cannot employ him because the wage is too high, and the hours are too
short. If the high wage is paid and the short hours are granted, then
the price of the thing made, so it seems, rises higher still. Even the
high wages will not buy it. The process apparently moves in a circle
with no cessation to it. The increased wages seem only to aggravate the
increasing prices. Wages and prices, rising together, call perpetually
for more money, or at least more tokens and symbols, more paper credit
in the form of checks and deposits, with a value that is no longer based
on the rock-bottom of redemption into hard coin, but that floats upon
the mere atmosphere of expectation.

But the sheer quantity of the inflated currency and false money forces
prices higher still. The familiar landmarks of wages, salaries and
prices are being obliterated. The "scrap of paper" with which the war
began stays with us as its legacy. It lies upon the industrial landscape
like snow, covering up, as best it may, the bare poverty of a world
desolated by war.

Under such circumstances national finance seems turned into a delirium.
Billions are voted where once a few poor millions were thought
extravagant. The war debts of the Allied Nations, not yet fully
computed, will run from twenty-five to forty billion dollars apiece. But
the debts of the governments appear on the other side of the ledger as
the assets of the citizens. What is the meaning of it? Is it wealth or
is it poverty? The world seems filled with money and short of goods,
while even in this very scarcity a new luxury has broken out. The
capitalist rides in his ten thousand dollar motor car. The
seven-dollar-a-day artisan plays merrily on his gramophone in the broad
daylight of his afternoon that is saved, like all else, by being
"borrowed" from the morning. He calls the capitalist a "profiteer." The
capitalist retorts with calling him a "Bolshevik."

Worse portents appear. Over the rim of the Russian horizon are seen the
fierce eyes and the unshorn face of the real and undoubted Bolshevik,
waving his red flag. Vast areas of what was a fertile populated world
are overwhelmed in chaos. Over Russia there lies a great darkness,
spreading ominously westward into Central Europe. The criminal sits
among his corpses. He feeds upon the wreck of a civilization that was.

The infection spreads. All over the world the just claims of organized
labor are intermingled with the underground conspiracy of social
revolution. The public mind is confused. Something approaching to a
social panic appears. To some minds the demand for law and order
overwhelms all other thoughts. To others the fierce desire for social
justice obliterates all fear of a general catastrophe. They push nearer
and nearer to the brink of the abyss. The warning cry of "back" is
challenged by the eager shout of "forward!" The older methods of social
progress are abandoned as too slow. The older weapons of social defense
are thrown aside as too blunt. Parliamentary discussion is powerless. It
limps in the wake of the popular movement. The "state", as we knew it,
threatens to dissolve into labor unions, conventions, boards of
conciliation, and conferences. Society shaken to its base, hurls itself
into the industrial suicide of the general strike, refusing to feed
itself, denying its own wants.

This is a time such as there never was before. It represents a vast
social transformation in which there is at stake, and may be lost, all
that has been gained in the slow centuries of material progress and in
which there may be achieved some part of all that has been dreamed in
the age-long passion for social justice.

For the time being, the constituted governments of the world survive as
best they may and accomplish such things as they can, planless, or
planning at best only for the day. Sufficient, and more than sufficient,
for the day is the evil thereof.

Never then was there a moment in which there was greater need for sane
and serious thought. It is necessary to consider from the ground up the
social organization in which we live and the means whereby it may be
altered and expanded to meet the needs of the time to come. We must do
this or perish. If we do not mend the machine, there are forces moving
in the world that will break it. The blind Samson of labor will seize
upon the pillars of society and bring them down in a common destruction.

       *       *       *       *       *

Few persons can attain to adult life without being profoundly impressed
by the appalling inequalities of our human lot. Riches and poverty
jostle one another upon our streets. The tattered outcast dozes on his
bench while the chariot of the wealthy is drawn by. The palace is the
neighbor of the slum. We are, in modern life, so used to this that we no
longer see it.

Inequality begins from the very cradle. Some are born into an easy and
sheltered affluence. Others are the children of mean and sordid want.
For some the long toil of life begins in the very bloom time of
childhood and ends only when the broken and exhausted body sinks into a
penurious old age. For others life is but a foolish leisure with mock
activities and mimic avocations to mask its uselessness. And as the
circumstances vary so too does the native endowment of the body and the
mind. Some born in poverty rise to wealth. An inborn energy and capacity
bid defiance to the ill-will of fate. Others sink. The careless hand
lets fall the cradle gift of wealth.

Thus all about us is the moving and shifting spectacle of riches and
poverty, side by side, inextricable.

The human mind, lost in a maze of inequalities that it cannot explain
and evils that it cannot, singly, remedy, must adapt itself as best it
can. An acquired indifference to the ills of others is the price at
which we live. A certain dole of sympathy, a casual mite of personal
relief is the mere drop that any one of us alone can cast into the vast
ocean of human misery. Beyond that we must harden ourselves lest we too
perish. We feed well while others starve. We make fast the doors of our
lighted houses against the indigent and the hungry. What else can we do?
If we shelter _one_ what is that? And if we try to shelter all, we are
ourselves shelterless.

But the contrast thus presented is one that has acquired a new meaning
in the age in which we live. The poverty of earlier days was the outcome
of the insufficiency of human labor to meet the primal needs of human
kind. It is not so now. We live in an age that is at best about a
century and a half old--the age of machinery and power. Our common
reading of history has obscured this fact. Its pages are filled with the
purple gowns of kings and the scarlet trappings of the warrior. Its
record is largely that of battles and sieges, of the brave adventure of
discovery and the vexed slaughter of the nations. It has long since
dismissed as too short and simple for its pages, the short and simple
annals of the poor. And the record is right enough. Of the poor what is
there to say? They were born; they lived; they died. They followed their
leaders, and their names are forgotten.

But written thus our history has obscured the greatest fact that ever
came into it--the colossal change that separates our little era of a
century and a half from all the preceding history of mankind--separates
it so completely that a great gulf lies between, across which comparison
can scarcely pass, and on the other side of which a new world begins.

It has been the custom of our history to use the phrase the "new world"
to mark the discoveries of Columbus and the treasure-hunt of a Cortes or
a Pizarro. But what of that? The America that they annexed to Europe was
merely a new domain added to a world already old. The "new world" was
really found in the wonder-years of the eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries. Mankind really entered upon it when the sudden progress of
liberated science bound the fierce energy of expanding stream and drew
the eager lightning from the cloud.

Here began indeed, in the drab surroundings of the workshop, in the
silent mystery of the laboratory, the magic of the new age.

But we do not commonly realize the vastness of the change. Much of our
life and much of our thought still belongs to the old world. Our
education is still largely framed on the old pattern. And our views of
poverty and social betterment, or what is possible and what is not, are
still largely conditioned by it.

In the old world, poverty seemed, and poverty was, the natural and
inevitable lot of the greater portion of mankind. It was difficult, with
the mean appliances of the time, to wring subsistence from the reluctant
earth. For the simplest necessaries and comforts of life all, or nearly
all, must work hard. Many must perish for want of them. Poverty was
inevitable and perpetual. The poor must look to the brightness of a
future world for the consolation that they were denied in this. Seen
thus poverty became rather a blessing than a curse, or at least a
dispensation prescribing the proper lot of man. Life itself was but a
preparation and a trial--a threshing floor where, under the
"tribulation" of want, the wheat was beaten from the straw. Of this
older view much still survives, and much that is ennobling. Nor is there
any need to say goodby to it. Even if poverty were gone, the flail
could still beat hard enough upon the grain and chaff of humanity.

But turn to consider the magnitude of the change that has come about
with the era of machinery and the indescribable increase which it has
brought to man's power over his environment. There is no need to recite
here in detail the marvelous record of mechanical progress that
constituted the "industrial revolution" of the eighteenth century. The
utilization of coal for the smelting of iron ore; the invention of
machinery that could spin and weave; the application of the undreamed
energy of steam as a motive force, the building of canals and the making
of stone roads--these proved but the beginnings. Each stage of invention
called for a further advance. The quickening of one part of the process
necessitated the "speeding up" of all the others. It placed a premium--a
reward already in sight--upon the next advance. Mechanical spinning
called forth the power loom. The increase in production called for new
means of transport. The improvement of transport still further swelled
the volume of production. The steamboat of 1809 and the steam locomotive
of 1830 were the direct result of what had gone before. Most important
of all, the movement had become a conscious one. Invention was no longer
the fortuitous result of a happy chance. Mechanical progress, the
continual increase of power and the continual surplus of product became
an essential part of the environment, and an unconscious element in the
thought and outlook of the civilized world.

No wonder that the first aspect of the age of machinery was one of
triumph. Man had vanquished nature. The elemental forces of wind and
fire, of rushing water and driving storm before which the savage had
cowered low for shelter, these had become his servants. The forest that
had blocked his path became his field. The desert blossomed as his
garden.

The aspect of industrial life altered. The domestic industry of the
cottage and the individual labor of the artisan gave place to the
factory with its regiment of workers and its steam-driven machinery.
The economic isolation of the single worker, of the village, even of the
district and the nation, was lost in the general cohesion in which the
whole industrial world merged into one.

The life of the individual changed accordingly. In the old world his
little sphere was allotted to him and there he stayed. His village was
his horizon. The son of the weaver wove and the smith reared his
children to his trade. Each did his duty, or was adjured to do it, in
the "state of life to which it had pleased God to call him." Migration
to distant occupations or to foreign lands was but for the adventurous
few. The ne'er-do-well blew, like seed before the wind, to distant
places, but mankind at large stayed at home. Here and there exceptional
industry or extraordinary capacity raised the artisan to wealth and
turned the "man" into the "master." But for the most part even industry
and endowment were powerless against the inertia of custom and the
dead-weight of environment. The universal ignorance of the working class
broke down the aspiring force of genius. Mute inglorious Miltons were
buried in country churchyards.

In the new world all this changed. The individual became but a shifting
atom in the vast complex, moving from place to place, from occupation to
occupation and from gradation to gradation of material fortune.

The process went further and further. The machine penetrated everywhere,
thrusting aside with its gigantic arm the feeble efforts of handicraft.
It laid its hold upon agriculture, sowing and reaping the grain and
transporting it to the ends of the earth. Then as the nineteenth century
drew towards its close, even the age of steam power was made commonplace
by achievements of the era of electricity.

All this is familiar enough. The record of the age of machinery is known
to all. But the strange mystery, the secret that lies concealed within
its organization, is realized by but few. It offers, to those who see it
aright, the most perplexing industrial paradox ever presented in the
history of mankind. With all our wealth, we are still poor. After a
century and a half of labor-saving machinery, we work about as hard as
ever. With a power over nature multiplied a hundred fold, nature still
conquers us. And more than this. There are many senses in which the
machine age seems to leave the great bulk of civilized humanity, the
working part of it, worse off instead of better. The nature of our work
has changed. No man now makes anything. He makes only a part of
something, feeding and tending a machine that moves with relentless
monotony in the routine of which both the machine and its tender are
only a fractional part.

For the great majority of the workers, the interest of work as such is
gone. It is a task done consciously for a wage, one eye upon the clock.
The brave independence of the keeper of the little shop contrasts
favorably with the mock dignity of a floor walker in an "establishment."
The varied craftsmanship of the artisan had in it something of the
creative element that was the parent motive of sustained industry. The
dull routine of the factory hand in a cotton mill has gone. The life of
a pioneer settler in America two hundred years ago, penurious and
dangerous as it was, stands out brightly beside the dull and meaningless
toil of his descendant.

The picture must not be drawn in colors too sinister. In the dullest
work and in the meanest lives in the new world to-day there are elements
that were lacking in the work of the old world. The universal spread of
elementary education, the universal access to the printed page, and the
universal hope of better things, if not for oneself, at least for one's
children, and even the universal restlessness that the industrialism of
to-day have brought are better things than the dull plodding passivity
of the older world. Only a false mediævalism can paint the past in
colors superior to the present. The haze of distance that dims the
mountains with purple, shifts also the crude colors of the past into the
soft glory of retrospect. Misled by these, the sentimentalist may often
sigh for an age that in a nearer view would be seen filled with cruelty
and suffering. But even when we have made every allowance for the all
too human tendency to soften down the past, it remains true that in many
senses the processes of industry for the worker have lost in
attractiveness and power of absorption of the mind during the very
period when they have gained so enormously in effectiveness and in power
of production.

The essential contrast lies between the vastly increased power of
production and its apparent inability to satisfy for all humanity the
most elementary human wants; between the immeasurable saving of labor
effected by machinery and the brute fact of the continuance of
hard-driven, unceasing toil.

Of the extent of this increased power of production we can only speak in
general terms. No one, as far as I am aware, has yet essayed to measure
it. Nor have we any form of calculus or computation that can easily be
applied. If we wish to compare the gross total of production effected
to-day with that accomplished a hundred and fifty years ago, the means,
the basis of calculation, is lacking. Vast numbers of the things
produced now were not then in existence. A great part of our production
of to-day culminates not in productive goods, but in services, as in
forms of motion, or in ability to talk across a distance.

It is true that statistics that deal with the world's production of
cotton, or of oil, or of iron and steel present stupendous results. But
even these do not go far enough. For the basic raw materials are worked
into finer and finer forms to supply new "wants" as they are called, and
to represent a vast quantity of "satisfactions" not existing before.

Nor is the money calculus of any avail. Comparison by prices breaks down
entirely. A bushel of wheat stands about where it stood before and could
be calculated. But the computation, let us say, in price-values of the
Sunday newspapers produced in one week in New York or the annual output
of photographic apparatus, would defy comparison. Of the enormous
increase in the gross total of human goods there is no doubt. We have
only to look about us to see it. The endless miles of railways, the
vast apparatus of the factories, the soaring structures of the cities
bear easy witness to it. Yet it would be difficult indeed to compute by
what factor the effectiveness of human labor working with machinery has
been increased.

But suppose we say, since one figure is as good as another, that it has
been increased a hundred times. This calculation must be well within the
facts and can be used as merely a more concrete way of saying that the
power of production has been vastly increased. During the period of this
increase, the numbers of mankind in the industrial countries have
perhaps been multiplied by three to one. This again is inexact, since
there are no precise figures of population that cover the period. But
all that is meant is that the increase in one case is, quite obviously,
colossal, and in the other case is evidently not very much.

Here then is the paradox.

If the ability to produce goods to meet human wants has multiplied so
that each man accomplishes almost thirty or forty times what he did
before, then the world at large ought to be about thirty or fifty times
better off. But it is not. Or else, as the other possible alternative,
the working hours of the world should have been cut down to about one in
thirty of what they were before. But they are not. How, then, are we to
explain this extraordinary discrepancy between human power and resulting
human happiness?

The more we look at our mechanism of production the more perplexing it
seems. Suppose an observer were to look down from the cold distance of
the moon upon the seething ant-hill of human labor presented on the
surface of our globe; and suppose that such an observer knew nothing of
our system of individual property, of money payments and wages and
contracts, but viewed our labor as merely that of a mass of animated
beings trying to supply their wants. The spectacle to his eyes would be
strange indeed. Mankind viewed in the mass would be seen to produce a
certain amount of absolutely necessary things, such as food, and then to
stop. In spite of the fact that there was not food enough to go round,
and that large numbers must die of starvation or perish slowly from
under-nutrition, the production of food would stop at some point a good
deal short of universal satisfaction. So, too, with the production of
clothing, shelter and other necessary things; never enough would seem to
be produced, and this apparently not by accident or miscalculation, but
as if some peculiar social law were at work adjusting production to the
point where there is just not enough, and leaving it there. The
countless millions of workers would be seen to turn their untired
energies and their all-powerful machinery away from the production of
necessary things to the making of mere comforts; and from these, again,
while still stopping short of a general satisfaction, to the making of
luxuries and superfluities. The wheels would never stop. The activity
would never tire. Mankind, mad with the energy of activity, would be
seen to pursue the fleeing phantom of insatiable desire. Thus among the
huge mass of accumulated commodities the simplest wants would go
unsatisfied. Half-fed men would dig for diamonds, and men sheltered by
a crazy roof erect the marble walls of palaces. The observer might well
remain perplexed at the pathetic discord between human work and human
wants. Something, he would feel assured, must be at fault either with
the social instincts of man or with the social order under which he
lives.

And herein lies the supreme problem that faces us in this opening
century. The period of five years of war has shown it to us in a clearer
light than fifty years of peace. War is destruction--the annihilation of
human life, the destruction of things made with generations of labor,
the misdirection of productive power from making what is useful to
making what is useless. In the great war just over, some seven million
lives were sacrificed; eight million tons of shipping were sunk beneath
the sea; some fifty million adult males were drawn from productive labor
to the lines of battle; behind them uncounted millions labored day and
night at making the weapons of destruction. One might well have thought
that such a gigantic misdirection of human energy would have brought
the industrial world to a standstill within a year. So people did think.
So thought a great number, perhaps the greater number, of the financiers
and economists and industrial leaders trained in the world in which we
used to live. The expectation was unfounded. Great as is the destruction
of war, not even five years of it have broken the productive machine.
And the reason is now plain enough. Peace, also--or peace under the old
conditions of industry--is infinitely wasteful of human energy. Not more
than one adult worker in ten--so at least it might with confidence be
estimated--is employed on necessary things. The other nine perform
superfluous services. War turns them from making the glittering
superfluities of peace to making its grim engines of destruction. But
while the tenth man still labors, the machine, though creaking with its
dislocation, can still go on. The economics of war, therefore, has
thrown its lurid light upon the economics of peace.

These I propose in the succeeding chapters to examine. But it might be
well before doing so to lay stress upon the fact that while admitting
all the shortcomings and the injustices of the régime under which we
have lived, I am not one of those who are able to see a short and single
remedy. Many people when presented with the argument above, would settle
it at once with the word "socialism." Here, they say, is the immediate
and natural remedy. I confess at the outset, and shall develop later,
that I cannot view it so. Socialism is a mere beautiful dream, possible
only for the angels. The attempt to establish it would hurl us over the
abyss. Our present lot is sad, but the frying pan is at least better
than the fire.



_II.--Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness_


"ALL men," wrote Thomas Jefferson in framing the Declaration of
Independence, "have an inalienable right to life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness." The words are more than a felicitous phrase. They
express even more than the creed of a nation. They embody in themselves
the uppermost thought of the era that was dawning when they were
written. They stand for the same view of society which, in that very
year of 1776, Adam Smith put before the world in his immortal "Wealth of
Nations" as the "System of Natural Liberty." In this system mankind
placed its hopes for over half a century and under it the industrial
civilization of the age of machinery rose to the plenitude of its
power.

In the preceding chapter an examination has been made of the purely
mechanical side of the era of machine production. It has been shown that
the age of machinery has been in a certain sense one of triumph, of the
triumphant conquest of nature, but in another sense one of perplexing
failure. The new forces controlled by mankind have been powerless as yet
to remove want and destitution, hard work and social discontent. In the
midst of accumulated wealth social justice seems as far away as ever.

It remains now to discuss the intellectual development of the modern age
of machinery and the way in which it has moulded the thoughts and the
outlook of mankind.

Few men think for themselves. The thoughts of most of us are little more
than imitations and adaptations of the ideas of stronger minds. The
influence of environment conditions, if it does not control, the mind of
man. So it comes about that every age or generation has its dominant and
uppermost thoughts, its peculiar way of looking at things and its
peculiar basis of opinion on which its collective action and its social
regulations rest. All this is largely unconscious. The average citizen
of three generations ago was probably not aware that he was an extreme
individualist. The average citizen of to-day is not conscious of the
fact that he has ceased to be one. The man of three generations ago had
certain ideas which he held to be axiomatic, such as that his house was
his castle, and that property was property and that what was his was
his. But these were to him things so obvious that he could not conceive
any reasonable person doubting them. So, too, with the man of to-day. He
has come to believe in such things as old age pensions and national
insurance. He submits to bachelor taxes and he pays for the education of
other people's children; he speculates much on the limits of
inheritance, and he even meditates profound alterations in the right of
property in land. His house is no longer his castle. He has taken down
its fences, and "boulevarded" its grounds till it merges into those of
his neighbors. Indeed he probably does not live in a house at all, but
in a mere "apartment" or subdivision of a house which he shares with a
multiplicity of people. Nor does he any longer draw water from his own
well or go to bed by the light of his own candle: for such services as
these his life is so mixed up with "franchises" and "public utilities"
and other things unheard of by his own great-grandfather, that it is
hopelessly intertangled with that of his fellow citizens. In fine, there
is little left but his own conscience into which he can withdraw.

Such a man is well aware that times have changed since his
great-grandfather's day. But he is not aware of the profound extent to
which his own opinions have been affected by the changing times. He is
no longer an individualist. He has become by brute force of
circumstances a sort of collectivist, puzzled only as to how much of a
collectivist to be.

Individualism of the extreme type is, therefore, long since out of date.
To attack it is merely to kick a dead dog. But the essential problem of
to-day is to know how far we are to depart from its principles. There
are those who tell us--and they number many millions--that we must
abandon them entirely. Industrial society, they say, must be reorganized
from top to bottom; private industry must cease. All must work for the
state; only in a socialist commonwealth can social justice be found.
There are others, of whom the present writer is one, who see in such a
programme nothing but disaster: yet who consider that the individualist
principle of "every man for himself" while it makes for national wealth
and accumulated power, favors overmuch the few at the expense of the
many, puts an over-great premium upon capacity, assigns too harsh a
punishment for easy indolence, and, what is worse, exposes the
individual human being too cruelly to the mere accidents of birth and
fortune. Under such a system, in short, to those who have is given and
from those who have not is taken away even that which they have. There
are others again who still view individualism just as the vast majority
of our great-grandfathers viewed it, as a system hard but just: as
awarding to every man the fruit of his own labor and the punishment of
his own idleness, and as visiting, in accordance with the stern but
necessary ordination of our existence, the sins of the father upon the
child.

The proper starting point, then, for all discussion of the social
problem is the consideration of the individualist theory of industrial
society. This grew up, as all the world knows, along with the era of
machinery itself. It had its counterpart on the political side in the
rise of representative democratic government. Machinery, industrial
liberty, political democracy--these three things represent the basis of
the progress of the nineteenth century.

The chief exposition of the system is found in the work of the classical
economists--Adam Smith and his followers of half a century--who created
the modern science of political economy. Beginning as controversialists
anxious to overset a particular system of trade regulation, they ended
by becoming the exponents of a new social order. Modified and amended as
their system is in its practical application, it still largely
conditions our outlook to-day. It is to this system that we must turn.

The general outline of the classical theory of political economy is so
clear and so simple that it can be presented within the briefest
compass. It began with certain postulates, or assumptions, to a great
extent unconscious, of the conditions to which it applied. It assumed
the existence of the state and of contract. It took for granted the
existence of individual property, in consumption goods, in capital
goods, and, with a certain hesitation, in land. The last assumption was
not perhaps without misgivings: Adam Smith was disposed to look askance
at landlords as men who gathered where they had not sown. John Stuart
Mill, as is well known, was more and more inclined, with advancing
reflection, to question the sanctity of landed property as the basis of
social institutions. But for the most part property, contract and the
coercive state were fundamental assumptions with the classicists.

With this there went, on the psychological side, the further assumption
of a general selfishness or self-seeking as the principal motive of the
individual in the economic sphere. Oddly enough this assumption--the
most warrantable of the lot--was the earliest to fall under disrepute.
The plain assertion that every man looks out for himself (or at best for
himself and his immediate family) touches the tender conscience of
humanity. It is an unpalatable truth. None the less it is the most
nearly true of all the broad generalizations that can be attempted in
regard to mankind.

The essential problem then of the classicists was to ask what would
happen if an industrial community, possessed of the modern control over
machinery and power, were allowed to follow the promptings of
"enlightened selfishness" in an environment based upon free contract and
the right of property in land and goods. The answer was of the most
cheering description. The result would be a progressive amelioration of
society, increasing in proportion to the completeness with which the
fundamental principles involved were allowed to act, and tending
ultimately towards something like a social millennium or perfection of
human society. One easily recalls the almost reverent attitude of Adam
Smith towards this system of industrial liberty which he exalted into a
kind of natural theology: and the way in which Mill, a deist but not a
Christian, was able to fit the whole apparatus of individual liberty
into its place in an ordered universe. The world "runs of itself," said
the economist. We have only to leave it alone. And the maxim of _laissez
faire_ became the last word of social wisdom.

The argument of the classicists ran thus. If there is everywhere
complete economic freedom, then there will ensue in consequence a régime
of social justice. If every man is allowed to buy and sell goods, labor
and property, just as suits his own interest, then the prices and wages
that result are either in the exact measure of social justice or, at
least, are perpetually moving towards it. The price of any commodity at
any moment is, it is true, a "market price," the resultant of the demand
and the supply; but behind this operates continually the inexorable law
of the cost of production. Sooner or later every price must represent
the actual cost of producing the commodity concerned, or, at least, must
oscillate now above and now below that point which it is always
endeavoring to meet. For if temporary circumstances force the price well
above the cost of producing the article in question, then the large
profits to be made induce a greater and greater production. The
increased volume of the supply thus produced inevitably forces down the
price till it sinks to the point of cost. If circumstances (such, for
example, as miscalculation and an over-great supply) depress the price
below the point of cost, then the discouragement of further production
presently shortens the supply and brings the price up again. Price is
thus like an oscillating pendulum seeking its point of rest, or like the
waves of the sea rising and falling about its level. By this same
mechanism the quantity and direction of production, argued the
economists, respond automatically to the needs of humanity, or, at
least, to the "effective demand," which the classicist mistook for the
same thing. Just as much wheat or bricks or diamonds would be produced
as the world called for; to produce too much of any one thing was to
violate a natural law; the falling price and the resulting temporary
loss sternly rebuked the producer.

In the same way the technical form and mechanism of production were
presumed to respond to an automatic stimulus. Inventions and improved
processes met their own reward. Labor, so it was argued, was perpetually
being saved by the constant introduction of new uses of machinery.

By a parity of reasoning, the shares received by all the participants
and claimants in the general process of production were seen to be
regulated in accordance with natural law. Interest on capital was
treated merely as a particular case under the general theory of price.
It was the purchase price needed to call forth the "saving" (a form, so
to speak, of production) which brought the capital into the market. The
"profits" of the employer represented the necessary price paid by
society for his services, just enough and not more than enough to keep
him and his fellows in operative activity, and always tending under the
happy operation of competition to fall to the minimum consistent with
social progress.

Rent, the share of the land-owner, offered to the classicist a rather
peculiar case. There was here a physical basis of surplus over cost.
But, granted the operation of the factors and forces concerned, rent
emerged as a differential payment to the fortunate owner of the soil. It
did not in any way affect prices or wages, which were rendered neither
greater nor less thereby. The full implication of the rent doctrine and
its relation to social justice remained obscured to the eye of the
classical economist; the fixed conviction that what a man owns is his
own created a mist through which the light could not pass.

Wages, finally, were but a further case of value. There was a demand for
labor, represented by the capital waiting to remunerate it, and a supply
of labor represented by the existing and increasing working class.
Hence wages, like all other shares and factors, corresponded, so it was
argued, to social justice. Whether wages were high or low, whether hours
were long or short, at least the laborer like everybody else "got what
was coming to him." All possibility of a general increase of wages
depended on the relation of available capital to the numbers of the
working men.

Thus the system as applied to society at large could be summed up in the
consoling doctrine that every man got what he was worth, and was worth
what he got; that industry and energy brought their own reward; that
national wealth and individual welfare were one and the same; that all
that was needed for social progress was hard work, more machinery, more
saving of labor and a prudent limitation of the numbers of the
population.

The application of such a system to legislation and public policy was
obvious. It carried with it the principle of _laissez-faire_. The
doctrine of international free trade, albeit the most conspicuous of its
applications, was but one case under the general law. It taught that
the mere organization of labor was powerless to raise wages; that
strikes were of no avail, or could at best put a shilling into the
pocket of one artisan by taking it out of that of another; that wages
and prices could not be regulated by law; that poverty was to a large
extent a biological phenomenon representing the fierce struggle of
germinating life against the environment that throttles part of it. The
poor were like the fringe of grass that fades or dies where it meets the
sand of the desert. There could be no social remedy for poverty except
the almost impossible remedy of the limitation of life itself. Failing
this the economist could wash his hands of the poor.

These are the days of relative judgments and the classical economy, like
all else, must be viewed in the light of time and circumstance. With all
its fallacies, or rather its shortcomings, it served a magnificent
purpose. It opened a road never before trodden from social slavery
towards social freedom, from the mediæval autocratic régime of fixed
caste and hereditary status towards a régime of equal social justice.
In this sense the classical economy was but the fruition, or rather
represented the final consciousness of a process that had been going on
for centuries, since the breakdown of feudalism and the emancipation of
the serf. True, the goal has not been reached. The vision of the
universal happiness seen by the economists has proved a mirage. The end
of the road is not in sight. But it cannot be doubted that in the long
pilgrimage of mankind towards social betterment the economists guided us
in the right turning. If we turn again in a new direction, it will at
any rate not be in the direction of a return to autocratic mediævalism.

But when all is said in favor of its historic usefulness, the failures
and the fallacies of natural liberty have now become so manifest that
the system is destined in the coming era to be revised from top to
bottom. It is to these failures and fallacies that attention will be
drawn in the next chapter.



_III.--The Failures and Fallacies of Natural Liberty_


THE rewards and punishments of the economic world are singularly
unequal. One man earns as much in a week or even in a day as another
does in a year. This man by hard, manual labor makes only enough to pay
for humble shelter and plain food. This other by what seems a congenial
activity, fascinating as a game of chess, acquires uncounted millions. A
third stands idle in the market place asking in vain for work. A fourth
lives upon rent, dozing in his chair, and neither toils nor spins. A
fifth by the sheer hazard of a lucky "deal" acquires a fortune without
work at all. A sixth, scorning to work, earns nothing and gets nothing;
in him survives a primitive dislike of labor not yet fully "evoluted
out;" he slips through the meshes of civilization to become a "tramp,"
cadges his food where he can, suns his tattered rags when it is warm and
shivers when it is cold, migrating with the birds and reappearing with
the flowers of spring.

Yet all are free. This is the distinguishing mark of them as children of
our era. They may work or stop. There is no compulsion from without. No
man is a slave. Each has his "natural liberty," and each in his degree,
great or small, receives his allotted reward.

But is the allotment correct and the reward proportioned by his efforts?
Is it fair or unfair, and does it stand for the true measure of social
justice?

This is the profound problem of the twentieth century.

The economists and the leading thinkers of the nineteenth century were
in no doubt about this question. It was their firm conviction that the
system under which we live was, in its broad outline, a system of even
justice. They held it true that every man under free competition and
individual liberty is awarded just what he is worth and is worth
exactly what he gets: that the reason why a plain laborer is paid only
two or three dollars a day is because he only "produces" two or three
dollars a day: and that why a skilled engineer is paid ten times as much
is because he "produces" ten times as much. His work is "worth" ten
times that of the plain laborer. By the same reasoning the salary of a
corporation president who receives fifty thousand dollars a year merely
reflects the fact that the man produces--earns--brings in to the
corporation that amount or even more. The big salary corresponds to the
big efficiency.

And there is much in the common experience of life and the common
conduct of business that seems to support this view. It is undoubtedly
true if we look at any little portion of business activity taken as a
fragment by itself. On the most purely selfish grounds I may find that
it "pays" to hire an expert at a hundred dollars a day, and might find
that it spelled ruin to attempt to raise the wages of my workingmen
beyond four dollars a day. Everybody knows that in any particular
business at any particular place and time with prices at any particular
point, there is a wage that can be paid and a wage that can not. And
everybody, or nearly everybody, bases on these obvious facts a series of
entirely erroneous conclusions. Because we cannot change the part we are
apt to think we cannot change the whole. Because one brick in the wall
is immovable, we forget that the wall itself might be rebuilt.

The single employer rightly knows that there is a wage higher than he
can pay and hours shorter than he can grant. But are the limits that
frame him in, real and necessary limits, resulting from the very nature
of things, or are they mere products of particular circumstances? This,
as a piece of pure economics, does not interest the individual employer
a particle. It belongs in the same category as the question of the
immortality of the soul and other profundities that have nothing to do
with business. But to society at large the question is of an infinite
importance.

Now the older economists taught, and the educated world for about a
century believed, that these limitations which hedged the particular
employer about were fixed and assigned by natural economic law. They
represented, as has been explained, the operation of the system of
natural liberty by which every man got what he is worth. And it is quite
true that the particular employer can no more break away from these
limits than he can jump out of his own skin. He can only violate them at
the expense of ceasing to be an economic being at all and degenerating
into a philanthropist.

But consider for a moment the peculiar nature of the limitations
themselves. Every man's limit of what he can pay and what he can take,
of how much he can offer and how much he will receive, is based on the
similar limitations of other people. They are reciprocal to one another.
Why should one factory owner not pay ten dollars a day to his hands?
Because the others don't. But suppose they all do? Then the output could
not be sold at the present price. But why not sell the produce at a
higher price? Because at a higher price the consumer can't afford to buy
it. But suppose that the consumer, for the things which he himself
makes and sells, or for the work which he performs, receives more? What
then? The whole thing begins to have a jigsaw look, like a child's toy
rack with wooden soldiers on it, expanding and contracting. One searches
in vain for the basis on which the relationship rests. And at the end of
the analysis one finds nothing but a mere anarchical play of forces,
nothing but a give-and-take resting on relative bargaining strength.
Every man gets what he can and gives what he has to.

Observe that this is not in the slightest the conclusion of the orthodox
economists. Every man, they said, gets what he actually makes, or, by
exchange, those things which exactly correspond to it as regards the
cost of making them--which have, to use the key-word of the theory, the
same value. Let us take a very simple example. If I go fishing with a
net which I have myself constructed out of fibers and sticks, and if I
catch a fish and if I then roast the fish over a fire which I have made
without so much as the intervention of a lucifer match, then it is I
and I alone who have "produced" the roast fish. That is plain enough.
But what if I catch the fish by using a hired boat and a hired net, or
by buying worms as bait from some one who has dug them? Or what if I do
not fish at all, but get my roast fish by paying for it a part of the
wages I receive for working in a saw mill? Here are a new set of
relationships. How much of the fish is "produced" by each of the people
concerned? And what part of my wages ought I to pay in return for the
part of the fish that I buy?

Here opens up, very evidently, a perfect labyrinth of complexity. But it
was the labyrinth for which the earlier economist held, so he thought,
the thread. No matter how dark the passage, he still clung tight to it.
And his thread was his "fundamental equation of value" whereby each
thing and everything is sold (or tends to be sold) under free
competition for exactly its cost of production. There it was; as simple
as A. B. C.; making the cost of everything proportional to the cost of
everything else, and in itself natural and just; explaining and
justifying the variations of wages and salaries on what seems a stern
basis of fact. Here is your selling price as a starting point. Given
that, you can see at once the reason for the wages paid and the full
measure of the payment. To pay more is impossible. To pay less is to
invite a competition that will force the payment of more. Or take, if
you like, the wages as the starting point: there you are
again,--simplicity itself: the selling price will exactly and nicely
correspond to cost. True, a part of the cost concerned will be
represented not by wages, but by cost of materials; but these, on
analysis, dissolve into past wages. Hence the whole process and its
explanation revolves around this simple fundamental equation that
selling value equals the cost of production.

This was the central part of the economic structure. It was the keystone
of the arch. If it holds, all holds. Knock it out and the whole edifice
falls into fragments.

A technical student of the schools would digress here, to the great
confusion of the reader, into a discussion of the controversy in the
economic cloister between the rival schools of economists as to whether
cost governs value or value governs cost. The point needs no discussion
here, but just such fleeting passing mention as may indicate that the
writer is well and wearily conversant with it.

The fundamental equation of the economist, then, is that the value of
everything is proportionate to its cost. It requires no little hardihood
to say that this proposition is a fallacy. It lays one open at once,
most illogically, to the charge of being a socialist. In sober truth it
might as well lay one open to the charge of being an ornithologist. I
will not, therefore, say that the proposition that the value of
everything equals the cost of production is false. I will say that it is
_true_; in fact, that is just as true as that two and two make four:
exactly as true as that, but let it be noted most profoundly, _only as
true as that_. In other words, it is a truism, mere equation in terms,
telling nothing whatever. When I say that two and two make four I find,
after deep thought, that I have really said _nothing_, or nothing that
was not already said at the moment I defined two and defined four. The
new statement that two and two make four adds nothing. So with the
majestic equation of the cost of production. It means, as far as social
application goes, as far as any moral significance or bearing on social
reform and the social outlook goes, _absolutely nothing_. It is not in
itself fallacious; how could it be? But all the social inferences drawn
from it are absolute, complete and malicious fallacies.

Any socialist who says this, is quite right. Where he goes wrong is when
he tries to build up as truth a set of inferences more fallacious and
more malicious still.

But the central economic doctrine of cost can not be shaken by mere
denunciation. Let us examine it and see what is the matter with it. We
restate the equation.

_Under perfectly free competition the value or selling price of
everything equals, or is perpetually tending to equal, the cost of its
production._ This is the proposition itself, and the inferences derived
from it are that there is a "natural price" of everything, and that all
"natural prices" are proportionate to cost and to one another; that all
wages, apart from temporary fluctuations, are derived from, and limited
by, the natural prices paid for the things made: that all payments for
the use of capital (interest) are similarly derived and similarly
limited; and that consequently the whole economic arrangement, by giving
to each person exactly and precisely the fruit of his own labor,
conforms exactly to social justice.

Now the trouble with the main proposition just quoted is that each side
of the equation is used as the measure of the other. In order to show
what natural price is, we add up all the wages that have been paid, and
declare that to be the cost and then say that the cost governs the
price. Then if we are asked why are wages what they are, we turn the
argument backward and say that since the selling price is so and so the
wages that can be paid out of it only amount to such and such. This
explains nothing. It is a mere argument in a circle. It is as if one
tried to explain why one blade of a pair of scissors is four inches long
by saying that it has to be the same length as the other. This is quite
true of either blade if one takes the length of the other for granted,
but as applied to the explanation of the length of the scissors it is
worse than meaningless.

This reasoning may seem to many persons mere casuistry, mere sophistical
juggling with words. After all, they say, there is such a thing as
relative cost, relative difficulty of making things, a difference which
rests upon a physical basis. To make one thing requires a lot of labor
and trouble and much skill: to make another thing requires very little
labor and no skill out of the common. Here then is your basis of value,
obvious and beyond argument. A primitive savage makes a bow and arrow in
a day: it takes him a fortnight to make a bark canoe. On that fact rests
the exchange value between the two. The relative quantity of labor
embodied in each object is the basis of its value.

This line of reasoning has a very convincing sound. It appears in
nearly every book on economic theory from Adam Smith and Ricardo till
to-day. "Labor alone," wrote Smith, "never varying in its own value is
above the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all
commodities can at all times and places be estimated and compared."

But the idea that _quantity of labor governs_ value will not stand
examination for a moment. What is _quantity_ of labor and how is it
measured? As long as we draw our illustrations from primitive life where
one man's work is much the same as another's and where all operations
are simple, we seem easily able to measure and compare. One day is the
same as another and one man about as capable as his fellow. But in the
complexity of modern industrial life such a calculation no longer
applies: the differences of skill, of native ingenuity, and technical
preparation become enormous. The hour's work of a common laborer is not
the same thing as the hour's work of a watchmaker mending a watch, or of
an engineer directing the building of a bridge, or of an architect
drawing a plan. There is no way of reducing these hours to a common
basis. We may think, if we like, that the quantity of labor _ought_ to
be the basis of value and exchange. Such is always the dream of the
socialist. But on a closer view it is shattered like any other dream.
For we have, alas, no means of finding out what the quantity of labor is
and how it can be measured. We cannot measure it in terms of time. We
have no calculus for comparing relative amounts of skill and energy. We
can not measure it by the amount of its contribution to the product, for
that is the very matter that we want to discover.

What the economist does is to slip out of the difficulty altogether by
begging the whole question. He deliberately measures the quantity of
labor _by what is paid for it_. Skilled labor is worth, let us say,
three times as much as common labor; and brain work, speaking broadly,
is worth several times as much again. Hence by adding up all the wages
and salaries paid we get something that seems to indicate the total
quantity of labor, measured not simply in time, but with an allowance
for skill and technical competency. By describing this allowance as a
coefficient we can give our statement a false air of mathematical
certainty and so muddle up the essential question that the truth is lost
from sight like a pea under a thimble. Now you see it and now you don't.
The thing is, in fact, a mere piece of intellectual conjuring. The
conjurer has slipped the phrase, "quantity of labor," up his sleeve, and
when it reappears it has turned into "the expense of hiring labor." This
is a quite different thing. But as both conceptions are related somehow
to the idea of cost, the substitution is never discovered.

On this false basis a vast structure is erected. All prices, provided
that competition is free, are made to appear as the necessary result of
natural forces. They are "natural" or "normal" prices. All wages are
explained, and low wages are exonerated, on what seems to be an
undeniable ground of fact. They are what they are. You may wish them
otherwise, but they are not. As a philanthropist, you may feel sorry
that a humble laborer should work through a long day to receive two
dollars, but as an economist you console yourself with the reflection
that that is all he produces. You may at times, as a sentimentalist,
wonder whether the vast sums drawn as interest on capital are consistent
with social fairness; but if it is shown that interest is simply the
"natural price" of capital representing the actual "productive power" of
the capital, there is nothing further to say. You may have similar
qualms over rent and the rightness and wrongness of it. The enormous
"unearned increment" that accrues for the fortunate owner of land who
toils not neither spins to obtain it, may seem difficult of
justification. But after all, land is only one particular case of
ownership under the one and the same system. The rent for which the
owner can lease it, emerges simply as a consequence of the existing
state of wages and prices. High rent, says the economist, does not make
big prices: it merely follows as a consequence or result of them. Dear
bread is not caused by the high rents paid by tenant farmers for the
land: the train of cause and effect runs in the contrary direction. And
the selling price of land is merely a consequence of its rental value, a
simple case of capitalization of annual return into a present sum. City
land, though it looks different from farm land, is seen in the light of
this same analysis, to earn its rent in just the same way. The high rent
of a Broadway store, says the economist, does not add a single cent to
the price of the things sold in it. It is because prices are what they
are that the rent is and can be paid. Hence on examination the same
canon of social justice that covers and explains prices, wages, and
interest applies with perfect propriety to rent.

Or finally, to take the strongest case of all, one may, as a citizen,
feel apprehension at times at the colossal fortune of a Carnegie or a
Rockefeller. For it does seem passing strange that one human being
should control as property the mass of coin, goods, houses, factories,
land and mines, represented by a billion dollars; stranger still that at
his death he should write upon a piece of paper his commands as to what
his surviving fellow creatures are to do with it. But if it can be
shown to be true that Mr. Rockefeller "made" his fortune in the same
sense that a man makes a log house by felling trees and putting them one
upon another, then the fortune belongs to Mr. Rockefeller in the same
way as the log house belongs to the pioneer. And if the social
inferences that are drawn from the theory of natural liberty and natural
value are correct, the millionaire and the landlord, the plutocrat and
the pioneer, the wage earner and the capitalist, have each all the right
to do what he will with his own. For every man in this just world gets
what is coming to him. He gets what he is worth, and he is worth what he
gets.

But if one knocks out the keystone of the arch in the form of a
proposition that natural value conforms to the cost of production, then
the whole edifice collapses and must be set up again, upon another plan
and on another foundation, stone by stone.



_IV.--Work and Wages_


WAGES and prices, then, if the argument recited in the preceding chapter
of this series holds good, do not under free competition tend towards
social justice. It is not true that every man gets what he produces. It
is not true that enormous salaries represent enormous productive
services and that humble wages correspond to a humble contribution to
the welfare of society. Prices, wages, salaries, interest, rent and
profits do not, if left to themselves, follow the simple law of natural
justice. To think so is an idle dream, the dream of the quietist who may
slumber too long and be roused to a rude awakening or perish, perhaps,
in his sleep. His dream is not so dangerous as the contrasted dream of
the socialist, now threatening to walk abroad in his sleep, but both in
their degree are dreams and nothing more.

The real truth is that prices and wages and all the various payments
from hand to hand in industrial society, are the outcome of a complex of
competing forces that are not based upon justice but upon "economic
strength." To elucidate this it is necessary to plunge into the jungle
of pure economic theory. The way is arduous. There are no flowers upon
the path. And out of this thicket, alas, no two people ever emerge hand
in hand in concord. Yet it is a path that must be traversed. Let us
take, then, as a beginning the very simplest case of the making of a
price. It is the one which is sometimes called in books on economics the
case of an unique monopoly. Suppose that I offer for sale the manuscript
of the Pickwick Papers, or Shakespere's skull, or, for the matter of
that, the skull of John Smith, what is the sum that I shall receive for
it? It is the utmost that any one is willing to give for it. That is all
one can say about it. There is no question here of cost or what I paid
for the article or of anything else except the amount of the
willingness to pay on the part of the highest bidder. It would be
possible, indeed, for a bidder to take the article from me by force. But
this we presume to be prevented by the law, and for this reason we
referred above not to the physical strength, but to the "economic
strength" of the parties to a bargain. By this is meant the relation
that arises out of the condition of the supply and the demand, the
willingness or eagerness, or the sheer necessity, of the buyers and the
sellers. People may offer much because the thing to be acquired is an
absolute necessity without which they perish; a drowning man would sell
all that he had for a life belt. Or they may offer much through the
sheer abundance of their other possessions. A millionaire might offer
more for a life belt as a souvenir than a drowning man could pay for it
to save his life.

Yet out of any particular conjunction between desires on the one hand
and goods or services on the other arises a particular equation of
demand and supply, represented by a particular price. All of this, of
course, is A. B. C., and I am not aware that anybody doubts it.

Now let us make the example a little more elaborate. Suppose that one
single person owned all the food supply of a community isolated from the
outside world. The price which he could exact would be the full measure
of all the possessions of his neighbors up to the point at least where
they would commit suicide rather than pay. True, in such a case as this,
"economic strength" would probably be broken down by the intrusion of
physical violence. But in so far as it held good the price of food would
be based upon it.

Prices such as are indicated here were dismissed by the earlier
economist as mere economic curiosities. John Stuart Mill has something
to say about the price of a "music box in the wilds of Lake Superior,"
which, as he perceived, would not be connected with the expense of
producing it, but might be vastly more or perhaps decidedly less. But
Mill might have said the same thing about the price of a music box,
provided it was properly patented, anywhere at all. For the music box
and Shakespere's skull and the corner in wheat are all merely different
kinds of examples of the things called a monopoly sale.

Now let us change the example a little further. Suppose that the
monopolist has for sale not simply a fixed and definite quantity of a
certain article, but something which he can produce in larger quantities
as desired. At what price will he now sell? If he offers the article at
a very high price only a few people will take it: if he lowers the price
there will be more and more purchasers. His interest seems divided. He
will want to put the price as high as possible so that the profit on
each single article (over what it costs him to produce it) will be as
great as possible. But he will also want to make as many sales as he
possibly can, which will induce him to set the price low enough to bring
in new buyers. But, of course, if he puts the price so low that it only
covers the cost of making the goods his profit is all gone and the mere
multiplicity of sales is no good to him. He must try therefore to find
a point of maximum profit where, having in view both the number of sales
and the profit over cost on each sale the net profit is at its greatest.
This gives us the fundamental law of monopoly price. It is to be noted
that under modern conditions of production the cost of manufacture per
article decreases to a great extent in proportion as a larger and larger
number is produced and thus the widening of the sale lowers the
proportionate cost. In any particular case, therefore, it may turn out
that the price that suits the monopolist's own interest is quite a low
price, one such as to allow for an enormous quantity of sales and a very
low cost of manufacture. This, we say, _may_ be the case. But it is not
so of necessity. In and of itself the monopoly price corresponds to the
monopolist's profit and not to cheapness of sale. The price _may_ be set
far above the cost.

And now notice the peculiar relation that is set up between the
monopolist's production and the satisfaction of human wants. In
proportion as the quantity produced is increased the lower must the
price be set in order to sell the whole output. If the monopolist
insisted on turning out more and more of his goods, the price that
people would give would fall until it barely covered the cost, then till
it was less than cost, then to a mere fraction of the cost and finally
to nothing at all. In other words, if one produces a large enough
quantity of anything it becomes worthless. It loses all its value just
as soon as there is enough of it to satisfy, and over-satisfy the wants
of humanity. Thus if the world produces three and a half billion bushels
of wheat it can be sold, let us say, at two dollars a bushel; but if it
produced twice as much it might well be found that it would only sell
for fifty cents a bushel. The value of the bigger supply as a total
would actually be less than that of the smaller. And if the supply were
big enough it would be worth, in the economic sense, just nothing at
all. This peculiarity is spoken of in economic theory as the paradox of
value. It is referred to in the older books either as an economic
curiosity or as a mere illustration in extreme terms of the relation of
supply to price. Thus in many books the story is related of how the East
India Companies used at times deliberately to destroy a large quantity
of tea in order that by selling a lesser amount they might reap a larger
profit than by selling a greater.

But in reality this paradox of value is the most fundamental proposition
in economic science. Precisely here is found the key to the operation of
the economic society in which we live. The world's production is aimed
at producing "values," not in producing plenty. If by some mad access of
misdirected industry we produced enough and too much of everything, our
whole machinery of buying and selling would break down. This indeed does
happen constantly on a small scale in the familiar phenomenon of
over-production. But in the organization in which we live
over-production tends to check itself at once. If the world's machinery
threatens to produce a too great plenty of any particular thing, then it
turns itself towards producing something else of which there is not yet
enough. This is done quite unconsciously without any philanthropic
intent on the part of the individual producer and without any general
direction in the way of a social command. The machine does it of itself.
When there is _enough_ the wheels slacken and stop. This sounds at first
hearing most admirable. But let it be noted that the "_enough_" here in
question does not mean enough to satisfy human wants. In fact it means
precisely the converse. It means enough _not_ to satisfy them, and to
leave the selling price of the things made at the point of profit.

Let it be observed also that we have hitherto been speaking as if all
things were produced under a monopoly. The objection might at once be
raised that with competitive producers the price will also keep falling
down towards cost and will not be based upon the point of maximum
profit. We shall turn to this objection in a moment. But one or two
other points must be considered before doing so.

In the first place in following out such an argument as the present in
regard to the peculiar shortcomings of the system under which we live,
it is necessary again and again to warn the reader against a hasty
conclusion to the possibilities of altering and amending it. The
socialist reads such criticism as the above with impatient approval.
"Very well," he says, "the whole organization is wrong and works badly.
Now let us abolish it altogether and make a better one." But in doing so
he begs the whole question at issue. The point is, _can_ we make a
better one or must we be content with patching up the old one? Take an
illustration. Scientists tell us that from the point of view of optics
the human eye is a clumsy instrument poorly contrived for its work. A
certain great authority once said that if he had made it he would have
been ashamed of it. This may be true. But the eye unfortunately is all
we have to see by. If we destroy our eyes in the hope of making better
ones we may go blind. The best that we can do is to improve our sight by
adding a pair of spectacles. So it is with the organization of society.
Faulty though it is, it does the work after a certain fashion. We may
apply to it with advantage the spectacles of social reform, but what the
socialist offers us is total blindness. But of this presently.

To return to the argument. Let us consider next what wages the
monopolist in the cases described above will have to pay. We take for
granted that he will only pay as much as he has to. How much will this
be? Clearly enough it will depend altogether on the number of available
working men capable of doing the work in question and the situation in
which they find themselves. It is again a case of relative "economic
strength." The situation may be altogether in favor of the employer or
altogether in favor of the men, or may occupy a middle ground. If the
men are so numerous that there are more of them than are needed for the
work, and if there is no other occupation for them they must accept a
starvation wage. If they are so few in number that they can _all_ be
employed, and if they are so well organized as to act together, they can
in their turn exact any wage up to the point that leaves no profit for
the employer himself at all. Indeed for a short time wages might even
pass this point, the monopolist employer being willing (for various
reasons, all quite obvious) actually to pay more as wages than he gets
as return and to carry on business at a loss for the sake of carrying it
on at all. Clearly, then, wages, as Adam Smith said, "are the result of
a dispute" in which either party must be pushed to the wall. The
employer may have to pay so much that there is nothing or practically
nothing left for himself, or so little that his workmen can just exist
and no more. These are the upward and downward limits of the wages in
the cases described.

It is therefore obvious that if all the industries in the world were
carried on as a series of separate monopolies, there would be exactly
the kind of rivalry or competition of forces represented by the consumer
insisting on paying as little as possible, the producer charging the
most profitable price and paying the lowest wage that he could, and the
wage earner demanding the highest wage that he could get. The
equilibrium would be an unstable one. It would be constantly displaced
and shifted by the movement of all sorts of social forces--by changes of
fashion, by abundance or scarcity of crops, by alterations in the
technique of industry and by the cohesion or the slackening of the
organization of any group of workers. But the balanced forces once
displaced would be seen constantly to come to an equilibrium at a new
point.

All this has been said of industry under monopoly. But it will be seen
to apply in its essentials to what we call competitive industry. Here
indeed certain new features come in. Not one employer but many produce
each kind of article. And, as far as each employer can see by looking at
his own horizon, what he does is merely to produce as much as he can
sell at a price that pays him. Since all the other employers are doing
this, there will be, under competition, a constant tendency to cut the
prices down to the lowest that is consistent with what the employer has
to pay as wages and interest. This point, which was called by the
orthodox economists the "cost," is not in any true and fundamental sense
of the words the "cost" at all. It is merely a limit represented by what
the other parties to the bargain are able to exact. The whole situation
is in a condition of unstable equilibrium in which the conflicting
forces represented by the interests of the various parties pull in
different directions. The employers in any one line of industry and all
their wage earners and salaried assistants have one and the same
interest as against the consumer. They want the selling price to be as
high as possible. But the employers are against one another as wanting,
each of them, to make as many sales as possible, and each and all the
employers are against the wage earners in wanting to pay as low wages as
possible. If all the employers unite, the situation turns to a monopoly,
and the price paid by the consumer is settled on the monopoly basis
already described. The employers can then dispute it out with their
working men as to how much wages shall be. If the employers are not
united, then at each and every moment they are in conflict both with
the consumer and with their wage earners. Thus the whole scene of
industry represents a vast and unending conflict, a fermentation in
which the moving bubbles crowd for space, expanding and breaking one
against the other. There is no point of rest. There is no real fixed
"cost" acting as a basis. Anything that any one person or group of
persons--worker or master, landlord or capitalist--is able to exact
owing to the existing conditions of demand or supply, becomes a "cost"
from the point of view of all the others. There is nothing in this
"cost" which proportions to it the quantity of labor, or of time, or of
skill or of any other measure physical or psychological of the effort
involved. And there is nothing whatever in it which proportions to it
social justice. It is the war of each against all. Its only mitigation
is that it is carried on under the set of rules represented by the state
and the law.

The tendencies involved may be best illustrated by taking one or two
extreme or exaggerated examples, not meant as facts but only to make
clear the nature of social and industrial forces among which we live.

What, for example, will be the absolute maximum to which wages in
general could be forced? Conceivably and in the purest and thinnest of
theory, they could include the whole product of the labor of society
with just such a small fraction left over for the employers, the owners
of capital and the owners of land to induce them to continue acting as
part of the machine. That is to say, if all the laborers all over the
world, to the last one, were united under a single control they could
force the other economic classes of society to something approaching a
starvation living. In practice this is nonsense. In theory it is an
excellent starting point for thought.

And how short could the hours of the universal united workers be made?
As short as ever they liked: An hour a day: ten minutes, anything they
like; but of course with the proviso that the shorter the hours the less
the total of things produced to be divided. It is true that up to a
certain point shortening the hours of labor actually increases the
total product. A ten-hour day, speaking in general terms and leaving out
individual exceptions, is probably more productive than a day of twelve.
It may very well be that an eight-hour day will prove, presently if not
immediately, to be more productive than one of ten. But somewhere the
limit is reached and gross production falls. The supply of things in
general gets shorter. But note that this itself would not matter much,
if somehow and in some way not yet found, the shortening of the
production of goods cut out the luxuries and superfluities first.
Mankind at large might well trade leisure for luxuries. The shortening
of hours with the corresponding changes in the direction of production
is really the central problem in social reform. I propose to return to
it in the concluding chapter of these papers, but for the present it is
only noted in connection with the general scheme of industrial
relations.

Now let us ask to what extent any particular section or part of
industrial society can succeed in forcing up wages or prices as against
the others. In pure theory they may do this almost to any extent,
provided that the thing concerned is a necessity and is without a
substitute and provided that their organization is complete and
unbreakable. If all the people concerned in producing coal, masters and
men, owners of mines and operators of machinery, could stand out for
their price, there is no limit, short of putting all the rest of the
world on starvation rations, to what they might get. In practice and in
reality a thousand things intervene--the impossibility of such complete
unity, the organization of the other parties, the existing of national
divisions among industrial society, sentiment, decency, fear. The
proposition is only "pure theory." But its use as such is to dispose of
any such idea as that there is a natural price of coal or of anything
else.

The above is true of any article of necessity. It is true though in a
less degree of things of luxury. If all the makers of instruments of
music, masters and men, capitalists and workers, were banded together in
a tight and unbreakable union, then the other economic classes must
either face the horrors of a world without pianolas and trombones, or
hand over the price demanded. And what is true of coal and music is true
all through the whole mechanism of industry.

Or take the supreme case of the owners of land. If all of them acted
together, with their legal rights added into one, they could order the
rest of the world either to get off it or to work at starvation wages.

Industrial society is therefore mobile, elastic, standing at any moment
in a temporary and unstable equilibrium. But at any particular moment
the possibility of a huge and catastrophic shift such as those described
is out of the question except at the price of a general collapse. Even a
minor dislocation breaks down a certain part of the machinery of
society. Particular groups of workers are thrown out of place. There is
no other place where they can fit in, or at any rate not immediately.
The machine labors heavily. Ominous mutterings are heard. The legal
framework of the State and of obedience to the law in which industrial
society is set threatens to break asunder. The attempt at social change
threatens a social revolution in which the whole elaborate mechanism
would burst into fragments.

In any social movement, then, change and alteration in a new direction
must be balanced against the demands of social stability. Some things
are possible and some are not; some are impossible to-day, and possible
or easy to-morrow. Others are forever out of the question.

But this much at least ought to appear clear if the line of argument
indicated above is accepted, namely, that there is no great hope for
universal betterment of society by the mere advance of technical
industrial progress and by the unaided play of the motive of every man
for himself.

The enormous increase in the productivity of industrial effort would
never of itself have elevated by one inch the lot of the working class.
The rise of wages in the nineteenth century and the shortening of hours
that went with it was due neither to the advance in mechanical power
nor to the advance in diligence and industriousness, nor to the advance,
if there was any, in general kindliness. It was due to the organization
of labor. Mechanical progress makes higher wages possible. It does not,
of itself, advance them by a single farthing. Labor saving machinery
does not of itself save the working world a single hour of toil: it only
shifts it from one task to another.

Against a system of unrestrained individualism, energy, industriousness
and honesty might shatter itself in vain. The thing is merely a race in
which only one can be first no matter how great the speed of all; a
struggle in which one, and not all, can stand upon the shoulders of the
others. It is the restriction of individualism by the force of
organization and by legislation that has brought to the world whatever
social advance has been achieved by the great mass of the people.

The present moment is in a sense the wrong time to say this. We no
longer live in an age when down-trodden laborers meet by candlelight
with the ban of the law upon their meeting. These are the days when
"labor" is triumphant, and when it ever threatens in the overweening
strength of its own power to break industrial society in pieces in the
fierce attempt to do in a day what can only be done in a generation. But
truth is truth. And any one who writes of the history of the progress of
industrial society owes it to the truth to acknowledge the vast social
achievement of organized labor in the past.

And what of the future?

By what means and in what stages can social progress be further
accelerated? This I propose to treat in the succeeding chapters, dealing
first with the proposals of the socialists and the revolutionaries, and
finally with the prospect for a sane, orderly and continuous social
reform.



_V.--The Land of Dreams: The Utopia of the Socialist_


WHO is there that has not turned at times from the fever and fret of the
world we live in, from the spectacle of its wasted energy, its wild
frenzy of work and its bitter inequality, to the land of dreams, to the
pictured vision of the world as it might be?

Such a vision has haunted in all ages the brooding mind of mankind; and
every age has fashioned for itself the image of a "somewhere" or
"nowhere"--a Utopia in which there should be equality and justice for
all. The vision itself is an outcome of that divine discontent which
raises man above his environment.

Every age has had its socialism, its communism, its dream of bread and
work for all. But the dream has varied always in the likeness of the
thought of the time. In earlier days the dream was not one of social
wealth. It was rather a vision of the abnegation of riches, of humble
possessions shared in common after the manner of the unrealized ideal of
the Christian faith. It remained for the age of machinery and power to
bring forth another and a vastly more potent socialism. This was no
longer a plan whereby all might be poor together, but a proposal that
all should be rich together. The collectivist state advocated by the
socialist of to-day has scarcely anything in common with the communism
of the middle ages.

Modern socialism is the direct outcome of the age of machine production.
It takes its first inspiration from glaring contrasts between riches and
poverty presented by the modern era, from the strange paradox that has
been described above between human power and its failure to satisfy
human want. The nineteenth century brought with it the factory and the
factory slavery of the Lancashire children, the modern city and city
slum, the plutocracy and the proletariat, and all the strange
discrepancy between wealth and want that has disfigured the material
progress of the last hundred years. The rising splendor of capitalism
concealed from the dazzled eye the melancholy spectacle of the new
industrial poverty that lay in the shadow behind it.

The years that followed the close of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 were in
many senses years of unexampled misery. The accumulated burden of the
war lay heavy upon Europe. The rise of the new machine power had
dislocated the older system. A multitude of landless men clamored for
bread and work. Pauperism spread like a plague. Each new invention threw
thousands of hand-workers out of employment. The law still branded as
conspiracy any united attempt of workingmen to raise wages or to shorten
the hours of work. At the very moment when the coming of steam power and
the use of modern machinery were piling up industrial fortunes undreamed
of before, destitution, pauperism and unemployment seemed more
widespread and more ominous than ever. In this rank atmosphere
germinated modern socialism. The writings of Marx and Engels and Louis
Blanc were inspired by what they saw about them.

From its very cradle socialism showed the double aspect which has
distinguished it ever since. To the minds of some it was the faith of
the insurrectionist, something to be achieved by force; "bourgeois"
society must be overthrown by force of arms; if open and fair fighting
was not possible against such great odds, it must be blown skyhigh with
gunpowder. Dynamite, by the good fortune of invention, came to the
revolutionary at the very moment when it was most wanted. To the men of
violence, socialism was the twin brother of anarchism, born at the same
time, advocating the same means and differing only as to the final end.

But to others, socialism was from the beginning, as it is to-day, a
creed of peace. It advocated the betterment of society not by violence
but by persuasion, by peaceful argument and the recognized rule of the
majority. It is true that the earlier socialists almost to a man
included, in the first passion of their denunciation, things not
necessarily within the compass of purely economic reform. As children of
misery they cried out against all human institutions. The bond of
marriage seemed an accursed thing, the mere slavery of women. The
family--the one institution in which the better side of human nature
shines with an undimmed light--was to them but an engine of class
oppression; the Christian churches merely the parasitic servants of the
tyrannous power of a plutocratic state. The whole history of human
civilization was denounced as an unredeemed record of the spoliation of
the weak by the strong. Even the domain of the philosopher was
needlessly invaded and all forms of speculative belief were rudely
thrown aside in favor of a wooden materialism as dogmatic as any of the
creeds or theories which it proposed to replace.

Thus seen, socialism appeared as the very antithesis of law and order,
of love and chastity, and of religion itself. It was a tainted creed.
There was blood upon its hands and bloody menace in its thoughts. It was
a thing to be stamped out, to be torn up by the roots. The very soil in
which it grew must be burned out with the flame of avenging justice.

Such it still appears to many people to-day. The unspeakable savagery of
bolshevism has made good the wildest threats of the partisans of
violence and fulfilled the sternest warnings of the conservative. To-day
more than ever socialism is in danger of becoming a prescribed creed,
its very name under the ban of the law, its literature burned by the
hangman and a gag placed upon its mouth.

But this is neither right nor wise. Socialism, like every other
impassioned human effort, will flourish best under martyrdom. It will
languish and perish in the dry sunlight of open discussion.

For it must always be remembered in fairness that the creed of violence
has no necessary connection with socialism. In its essential nature
socialism is nothing but a proposal for certain kinds of economic
reform. A man has just as much right to declare himself a socialist as
he has to call himself a Seventh Day Adventist or a Prohibitionist, or a
Perpetual Motionist. It is, or should be, open to him to convert others
to his way of thinking. It is only time to restrain him when he proposes
to convert others by means of a shotgun or by dynamite, and by forcible
interference with their own rights. When he does this he ceases to be a
socialist pure and simple and becomes a criminal as well. The law can
deal with him as such.

But with socialism itself the law, in a free country, should have no
kind of quarrel. For in the whole program of peaceful socialism there is
nothing wrong at all except one thing. Apart from this it is a high and
ennobling ideal truly fitted for a community of saints. And the one
thing that is wrong with socialism is that it won't work. That is all.
It is, as it were, a beautiful machine of which the wheels, dependent
upon some unknown and uninvented motive power, refuse to turn. The
unknown motive force in this case means a power of altruism, of
unselfishness, of willingness to labor for the good of others, such as
the human race has never known, nor is ever likely to know. But the
worst public policy to pursue in reference to such a machine is to lock
it up, to prohibit all examination of it and to allow it to become a
hidden mystery, the whispered hope of its martyred advocates. Better far
to stand it out into the open daylight, to let all who will inspect it,
and to prove even to the simplest that such a contrivance once and for
all and for ever cannot be made to run.

Let us turn to examine the machine.

We may omit here all discussion of the historical progress of socialism
and the stages whereby it changed from the creed of a few theorists and
revolutionists to being the accepted platform of great political
parties, counting its adherents by the million. All of this belongs
elsewhere. It suffices here to note that in the process of its rise it
has chafed away much of the superfluous growth that clung to it and has
become a purely economic doctrine. There is no longer any need to
discuss in connection with it the justification of marriage and the
family, and the rightness or wrongness of Christianity: no need to
decide whether the materialistic theory of history is true or false,
since nine socialists out of ten to-day have forgotten, or have never
heard, what the materialistic theory of history is: no need to examine
whether human history is, or is not, a mere record of class
exploitation, since the controversy has long shifted to other grounds.
The essential thing to-day is not the past, but the future. The question
is, what does the socialist have to say about the conditions under which
we live and the means that he advocates for the betterment of them?

His case stands thus. He begins his discussion with an indictment of the
manifold weaknesses and the obvious injustices of the system under which
we live. And in this the socialist is very largely right. He shows that
under free individual competition there is a perpetual waste of energy.
Competing rivals cover the same field. Even the simplest services are
performed with an almost ludicrous waste of energy. In every modern
city the milk supply is distributed by erratic milkmen who skip from
door to door and from street to street, covering the same ground, each
leaving his cans of milk here and there in a sporadic fashion as
haphazard as a bee among the flowers. Contrast, says the socialist, the
wasted labors of the milkman with the orderly and systematic performance
of the postman, himself a little fragment of socialism. And the milkman,
they tell us, is typical of modern industrial society. Competing
railways run trains on parallel tracks, with empty cars that might be
filled and with vast executive organizations which do ten times over the
work that might be done by one. Competing stores needlessly occupy the
time of hundreds of thousands of employees in a mixture of idleness and
industry. An inconceivable quantity of human effort is spent on
advertising, mere shouting and display, as unproductive in the social
sense as the beating of a drum. Competition breaks into a dozen
inefficient parts the process that might conceivably be carried out,
with an infinite saving of effort, by a single guiding hand.

The socialist looking thus at the world we live in sees in it nothing
but waste and selfishness and inefficiency. He looks so long that a mist
comes before his eyes. He loses sight of the supreme fact that after
all, in its own poor, clumsy fashion, the machine does work. He loses
sight of the possibility of our falling into social chaos. He sees no
longer the brink of the abyss beside which the path of progress picks
its painful way. He leaps with a shout of exultation over the cliff.

And he lands, at least in imagination, in his ideal state, his Utopia.
Here the noise and clamor of competitive industry is stilled. We look
about us at a peaceful landscape where men and women brightly clothed
and abundantly fed and warmed, sing at their easy task. There is enough
for all and more than enough. Poverty has vanished. Want is unknown. The
children play among the flowers. The youths and maidens are at school.
There are no figures here bent with premature toil, no faces dulled and
furrowed with a life of hardship. The light of education and culture has
shone full on every face and illuminated it into all that it might be.
The cheerful hours of easy labor vary but do not destroy the pursuit of
pleasure and of recreation. Youth in such a Utopia is a very springtime
of hope: adult life a busy and cheery activity: and age itself, watching
from its shady bench beneath a spreading tree the labors of its
children, is but a gentle retrospect from which material care has passed
away.

It is a picture beautiful as the opalescent colors of a soap bubble. It
is the vision of a garden of Eden from which the demon has been
banished. And the Demon in question is the Private Ownership of the
Means of Production. His name is less romantic than those of the wonted
demons of legend and folklore. But it is at least suitable for the
matter-of-fact age of machinery which he is supposed to haunt and on
which he casts his evil spell. Let him be once exorcised and the ills of
humanity are gone. And the exorcism, it appears, is of the simplest.
Let this demon once feel the contact of state ownership of the means of
production and his baneful influence will vanish into thin air as his
mediæval predecessors did at the touch of a thimbleful of holy water.

This, then, is the socialist's program. Let "the state" take over all
the means of production--all the farms, the mines, the factories, the
workshops, the ships, the railroads. Let it direct the workers towards
their task in accordance with the needs of society. Let each labor for
all in the measure of his strength and talent. Let each receive from all
in the measure of his proper needs. No work is to be wasted: nothing is
to be done twice that need only be done once. All must work and none
must be idle: but the amount of work needed under these conditions will
be so small, the hours so short, and the effort so slight, that work
itself will no longer be the grinding monotonous toil that we know
to-day, but a congenial activity pleasant in itself.

A thousand times this picture has been presented. The visionary with
uplifted eyes, his gaze bent on the bright colors of the floating
bubble, has voiced it from a thousand platforms. The earnest youth
grinding at the academic mill has dreamed it in the pauses of his
studious labor. The impassioned pedant has written it in heavy prose
smothering its brightness in the dull web of his own thought. The
brilliant imaginative mind has woven it into romance, making its colors
brighter still with the sunlight of inspired phantasy.

But never, I think, has the picture of socialism at work been so ably
and so dexterously presented as in a book that begins to be forgotten
now, but which some thirty years ago took the continent by storm. This
was the volume in which Mr. Edward Bellamy "looked backward" from his
supposed point of vantage in the year 2000 A. D. and saw us as we are
and as we shall be. No two plans of a socialist state are ever quite
alike. But the scheme of society outlined in "Looking Backward" may be
examined as the most attractive and the most consistent outline of a
socialist state that has, within the knowledge of the present writer,
ever been put forward. It is worth while, in the succeeding chapter to
examine it in detail. No better starting point for the criticism of
collectivist theories can be found than in a view of the basis on which
is supposed to rest the halcyon life of Mr. Bellamy's charming
commonwealth.



_VI.--How Mr. Bellamy Looked Backward_


THE reading public is as wayward and as fickle as a bee among the
flowers. It will not long pause anywhere, and it easily leaves each
blossom for a better. But like the bee, while impelled by an instinct
that makes it search for sugar, it sucks in therewith its solid
sustenance.

I am not quite certain that the bee does exactly do this; but it is just
the kind of thing that the bee is likely to do. And in any case it is
precisely the thing which the reading public does. It will not read
unless it is tempted by the sugary sweetness of the romantic interest.
It must have its hero and its heroine and its course of love that never
will run smooth. For information the reader cares nothing. If he absorbs
it, it must be by accident, and unawares. He passes over the heavy tomes
filled with valuable fact, and settles like the random bee upon the
bright flowers of contemporary romance.

Hence if the reader is to be ensnared into absorbing something useful,
it must be hidden somehow among the flowers. A treatise on religion must
be disguised as a love story in which a young clergyman, sworn into holy
orders, falls in love with an actress. The facts of history are imparted
by a love story centering around the adventures of a hitherto unknown
son of Louis the Fourteenth. And a discussion of the relations of labor
and capital takes the form of a romance in which the daughter of a
multi-millionaire steps voluntarily out of her Fifth Avenue home to work
in a steam laundry.

Such is the recognized method by which the great unthinking public is
taught to think. Slavery was not fully known till Mrs. Stowe wrote
"Uncle Tom's Cabin," and the slow tyranny of the law's delay was taught
to the world for ever in the pages of "Bleak House."

So it has been with socialism. No single influence ever brought its
ideas and its propaganda so forcibly and clearly before the public mind
as Mr. Edward Bellamy's brilliant novel, "Looking Backward," published
some thirty years ago. The task was arduous. Social and economic theory
is heavy to the verge of being indigestible. There is no such thing as a
gay book on political economy for reading in a hammock. Yet Mr. Bellamy
succeeded. His book is in cold reality nothing but a series of
conversations explaining how a socialist commonwealth is supposed to
work. Yet he contrives to bring into it a hero and a heroine, and
somehow the warm beating of their hearts and the stolen glances in their
eyes breathe into the dry dust of economic argument the breath of life.
Nor was ever a better presentation made of the essential program of
socialism.

It is worth while then, as was said in the preceding chapter, to
consider Mr. Bellamy's commonwealth as the most typical and the most
carefully constructed of all the ready-made socialisms that have been
put forward.

The mere machinery of the story can be lightly passed over. It is
intended simply as the sugar that lures the random bee. The hero, living
in Boston in 1887, is supposed to fall asleep in a deep, underground
chamber which he has made for himself as a remedy against a harassing
insomnia. Unknown to the sleeper the house above his retreat is burned
down. He remains in a trance for a hundred and thirteen years and awakes
to find himself in the Boston of the year 2000 A. D. Kind hands remove
him from his sepulcher. He is revived. He finds himself under the care
of a certain learned and genial Dr. Leete, whose house stands on the
very site where once the sleeper lived. The beautiful daughter of Dr.
Leete looks upon the newcomer from the lost world with eyes in which, to
the mind of the sagacious reader, love is seen at once to dawn. In
reality she is the great-granddaughter of the fiancée whom the sleeper
was to have married in his former life; thus a faint suggestion of the
transmigration of souls illuminates their intercourse. Beyond that there
is no story and at the end of the book the sleeper, in another dream,
is conveniently transported back to 1887 which he can now contrast, in
horror, with the ideal world of 2000 A. D.

And what was this world? The sleeper's first vision of it was given him
by Dr. Leete, who took him to the house top and let him see the Boston
of the future. Wide avenues replace the crowded, noisy streets. There
are no shops but only here and there among the trees great marble
buildings, the emporiums from which the goods are delivered to the
purple public.

And the goods are delivered indeed! Dr. Leete explains it all with
intervals of grateful cigar smoking and of music and promenades with the
beautiful Edith, and meals in wonderful communistic restaurants with
romantic waiters, who feel themselves, _mirabile dictu_, quite
independent.

And this is how the commonwealth operates. Everybody works or at least
works until the age of forty, so that it may be truly said in these
halcyon days everybody works but father. But the work of life does not
begin till education ends at the age of twenty-one. After that all the
young men and women pass for three years into the general "Industrial
Army," much as the young men used to pass into the ranks of
conscription. Afterwards each person may select any trade that he likes.
But the hours are made longer or shorter according to whether too many
or too few young people apply to come in. A gardener works for more
hours than a scavenger. Yet all occupations are equally honorable. The
wages of all the people are equal; or rather there are no wages at all,
as the workers merely receive cards, which entitle them to goods of such
and such a quantity at any of the emporiums. The cards are punched out
as the goods are used. The goods are all valued according to the amount
of time used in their making and each citizen draws out the same total
amount. But he may take it out in installments just as he likes, drawing
many things one month and few the next. He may even get goods in advance
if he has any special need. He may, within a certain time limit, save up
his cards, but it must be remembered that the one thing which no card
can buy and which no citizens can own is the "means of production."
These belong collectively to all. Land, mines, machinery, factories and
the whole mechanism of transport, these things are public property
managed by the State. Its workers in their use of them are all directed
by public authority as to what they shall make and when they shall make
it, and how much shall be made. On these terms all share alike; the
cripple receives as much as the giant; the worker of exceptional
dexterity and energy the same as his slower and less gifted fellow.

All the management, the control--and let this be noted, for there is no
escape from it either by Mr. Bellamy or by anybody else--is exercised by
boards of officials elected by the people. All the complex organization
by which production goes on by which the workers are supervised and
shifted from trade to trade, by which their requests for a change of
work or an extension of credit are heard and judged--all of this is done
by the elected "bosses." One lays stress on this not because it is Mr.
Bellamy's plan, but because it is, and it _has to be_, the plan of
anybody who constructs a socialist commonwealth.

Mr. Bellamy has many ingenious arrangements to meet the needs of people
who want to be singers or actors or writers,--in other words, who do not
want to work. They may sing or act as much as they like, provided that
enough other people will hand over enough of their food cards to keep
them going. But if no one wants to hear them sing or see them act they
may starve,--just as they do now. Here the author harks back
unconsciously to his nineteenth century individualism; he need not have
done so; other socialist writers would have it that one of the
everlasting boards would "sit on" every aspiring actor or author before
he was allowed to begin. But we may take it either way. It is not the
major point. There is no need to discuss the question of how to deal
with the artist under socialism. If the rest of it were all right, no
one need worry about the artist. Perhaps he would do better without
being remunerated at all. It is doubtful whether the huge commercial
premium that greets success to-day does good or harm. But let it pass.
It is immaterial to the present matter.

One comes back to the essential question of the structure of the
commonwealth. Can such a thing, or anything conceived in its likeness,
possibly work? The answer is, and must be, absolutely and emphatically
no.

Let anyone conversant with modern democracy as it is,--not as its
founders dreamed of it,--picture to himself the operation of a system
whereby anything and everything is controlled by elected officials, from
whom there is no escape, outside of whom is no livelihood and to whom
all men must bow! Democracy, let us grant it, is the best system of
government as yet operative in this world of sin. Beside autocratic
kingship it shines with a white light; it is obviously the portal of the
future. But we know it now too well to idealize its merits.

A century and a half ago when the world was painfully struggling out of
the tyranny of autocratic kingship, when English liberalism was in its
cradle, when Thomas Jefferson was composing the immortal phrases of the
Declaration of Independence and unknown patriots dreamed of freedom in
France,--at such an epoch it was but natural that the principle of
popular election should be idealized as the sovereign remedy for the
political evils of mankind. It was natural and salutary that it should
be so. The force of such idealization helped to carry forward the human
race to a new milestone on the path of progress.

But when it is proposed to entrust to the method of elective control not
a part but the whole of the fortunes of humanity, to commit to it not
merely the form of government and the necessary maintenance of law,
order and public safety, but the whole operation of the production and
distribution of the world's goods, the case is altered. The time is ripe
then for retrospect over the experience of the nineteenth century and
for a realization of what has proved in that experience the peculiar
defects of elective democracy.

Mr. Bellamy pictures his elected managers,--as every socialist has to
do,--as a sagacious and paternal group, free from the interest of self
and the play of the baser passions and animated only by the thought of
the public good. Gravely they deliberate; wisely and justly they decide.
Their gray heads--for Bellamy prefers them old--are bowed in quiet
confabulation over the nice adjustment of the national production, over
the petition of this or that citizen. The public care sits heavily on
their breast. Their own peculiar fortune they have lightly passed by.
They do not favor their relations or their friends. They do not count
their hours of toil. They do not enumerate their gain. They work, in
short, as work the angels.

Now let me ask in the name of sanity where are such officials to be
found? Here and there, perhaps, one sees in the world of to-day in the
stern virtue of an honorable public servant some approximation to such a
civic ideal. But how much, too, has been seen of the rule of "cliques"
and "interests" and "bosses;" of the election of genial incompetents
popular as spendthrifts; of crooked partisans warm to their friends and
bitter to their enemies; of administration by a party for a party; and
of the insidious poison of commercial greed defiling the wells of public
honesty. The unending conflict between business and politics, between
the private gain and the public good, has been for two generations the
despair of modern democracy. It turns this way and that in its vain
effort to escape corruption. It puts its faith now in representative
legislatures, and now in appointed boards and commissions; it appeals to
the vote of the whole people or it places an almost autocratic power and
a supreme responsibility in the hands of a single man. And nowhere has
the escape been found. The melancholy lesson is being learned that the
path of human progress is arduous and its forward movement slow and that
no mere form of government can aid unless it is inspired by a higher
public spirit of the individual citizen than we have yet managed to
achieve.

And of the world of to-day, be it remembered, elective democratic
control covers only a part of the field. Under socialism it covers it
all. To-day in our haphazard world a man is his own master; often indeed
the mastership is but a pitiful thing, little more than being master of
his own failure and starvation; often indeed the dead weight of
circumstance, the accident of birth, the want of education, may so press
him down that his freedom is only a mockery. Let us grant all that. But
under socialism freedom is gone. There is nothing but the rule of the
elected boss. The worker is commanded to his task and obey he must. If
he will not, there is, there can only be, the prison and the scourge, or
to be cast out in the wilderness to starve.

Consider what it would mean to be under a socialist state. Here for
example is a worker who is, who says he is, too ill to work. He begs
that he may be set free. The grave official, as Mr. Bellamy sees him,
looks at the worker's tongue. "My poor fellow," says he, "you are indeed
ill. Go and rest yourself under a shady tree while the others are busy
with the harvest." So speaks the ideal official dealing with the ideal
citizen in the dream life among the angels. But suppose that the worker,
being not an angel but a human being, is but a mere hulking, lazy brute
who prefers to sham sick rather than endure the tedium of toil. Or
suppose that the grave official is not an angel, but a man of hateful
heart or one with a personal spite to vent upon his victim. What then?
How could one face a régime in which the everlasting taskmaster held
control? There is nothing like it among us at the present day except
within the melancholy precincts of the penitentiary. There and there
only, the socialist system is in operation.

Who can deny that under such a system the man with the glib tongue and
the persuasive manner, the babbling talker and the scheming organizer,
would secure all the places of power and profit, while patient merit
went to the wall?

Or turn from the gray officials to the purple citizens of the soap
bubble commonwealth of socialism. All work, we are told, and all receive
their remuneration. We must not think of it as money-wages, but, all
said and done, an allotted share of goods, marked out upon a card,
comes pretty much to the same thing. The wages that the citizens receive
must either be equal or not equal. That at least is plain logic. Either
everybody gets exactly the same wages irrespective of capability and
diligence, or else the wages or salaries or whatever one calls them, are
graded, so that one receives much and the other little.

Now either of these alternatives spells disaster. If the wages are
graded according to capacity, then the grading is done by the
everlasting elective officials. They can, and they will, vote themselves
and their friends or adherents into the good jobs and the high places.
The advancement of a bright and capable young man will depend, not upon
what he does, but upon what the elected bosses are pleased to do with
him; not upon the strength of his own hands, but upon the strength of
the "pull" that he has with the bosses who run the part of the industry
that he is in. Unequal wages under socialism would mean a fierce and
corrupt scramble for power, office and emolument, beside which the
utmost aberrations of Tammany Hall would seem as innocuous as a Sunday
School picnic.

"But," objects Mr. Bellamy or any other socialist, "you forget. Please
remember that under socialism the scramble for wealth is limited; no man
can own capital, but only consumption goods. The most that any man may
acquire is merely the articles that he wants to consume, not the engines
and machinery of production itself. Hence even avarice dwindles and
dies, when its wonted food of 'capitalism' is withdrawn."

But surely this point of view is the very converse of the teachings of
common sense. "Consumption goods" are the very things that we _do_ want.
All else is but a means to them. One admits, as per exception, the queer
acquisitiveness of the miser-millionaire, playing the game for his own
sake. Undoubtedly he exists. Undoubtedly his existence is a product of
the system, a pathological product, a kind of elephantiasis of
individualism. But speaking broadly, consumption goods, present or
future, are the end in sight of the industrial struggle. Give me the
houses and the gardens, the yachts, the motor cars and the champagne and
I do not care who owns the gravel crusher and the steam plow. And if
under a socialist commonwealth a man can vote to himself or gain by the
votes of his adherents, a vast income of consumption goods and leave to
his unhappy fellow a narrow minimum of subsistence, then the resulting
evil of inequality is worse, far worse than it could even be to-day.

Or try, if one will, the other horn of the dilemma. That, too, one will
find as ill a resting place as an upright thistle. Let the wages,--as
with Mr. Bellamy,--all be equal. The managers then cannot vote
themselves large emoluments if they try. But what about the purple
citizens? Will they work, or will they lie round in their purple
garments and loaf? Work? Why should they work, their pay is there "fresh
and fresh"? Why should they turn up on time for their task? Why should
they not dawdle at their labor sitting upon the fence in endless
colloquy while the harvest rots upon the stalk? If among them is one
who cares to work with a fever of industry that even socialism cannot
calm, let him do it. We, his fellows, will take our time. Our pay is
there as certain and as sound as his. Not for us the eager industry and
the fond plans for the future,--for the home and competence--that
spurred on the strenuous youth of old days,--not for us the earnest
planning of the husband and wife thoughtful and anxious for the future
of their little ones. Not for us the honest penny saved for a rainy day.
Here in the dreamland of socialism there are no rainy days. It is
sunshine all the time in this lotus land of the loafer. And for the
future, let the "State" provide; for the children's welfare let the
"State" take thought; while we live it shall feed us, when we fall ill
it shall tend us and when we die it shall bury us. Meantime let us eat,
drink and be merry and work as little as we may. Let us sit among the
flowers. It is too hot to labor. Let us warm ourselves beside the public
stove. It is too cold to work.

But what? Such conduct, you say, will not be allowed in the
commonwealth. Idleness and slovenly, careless work will be forbidden?
Ah! then you must mean that beside the worker will be the overseer with
the whip; the time-clock will mark his energy upon its dial; the machine
will register his effort; and if he will not work there is lurking for
him in the background the shadowed door of the prison. Exactly and
logically so. Socialism, in other words, is slavery.

But here the socialist and his school interpose at once with an
objection. Under the socialist commonwealth, they say, the people will
want to work; they will have acquired a new civic spirit; they will work
eagerly and cheerfully for the sake of the public good and from their
love of the system under which they live. The loafer will be extinct.
The sponge and the parasite will have perished. Even crime itself, so
the socialist tells us, will diminish to the vanishing point, till there
is nothing of it except here and there a sort of pathological survival,
an atavism, or a "throwing back" to the forgotten sins of the
grandfathers. Here and there, some poor fellow afflicted with this
disease may break into my socialistic house and steal my pictures and my
wine. Poor chap! Deal with him very gently. He is not wicked. He is ill.

This last argument, in a word, begs the whole question. With perfect
citizens any government is good. In a population of angels a socialistic
commonwealth would work to perfection. But until we have the angels we
must keep the commonwealth waiting.

Nor is it necessary here to discuss the hundred and one modifications of
the socialistic plan. Each and all fail for one and the same reason. The
municipal socialist, despairing of the huge collective state, dreams of
his little town as an organic unit in which all share alike; the
syndicalist in his fancy sees his trade united into a co-operative body
in which all are equal; the gradualist, in whose mind lingers the leaven
of doubt, frames for himself a hazy vision of a prolonged preparation
for the future, of socialism achieved little by little, the citizens
being trained as it goes on till they are to reach somehow or somewhere
in cloud land the nirvana of the elimination of self; like indeed, they
are, to the horse in the ancient fable that was being trained to live
without food but died, alas, just as the experiment was succeeding.

There is no way out. Socialism is but a dream, a bubble floating in the
air. In the light of its opalescent colors we may see many visions of
what we might be if we were better than we are, we may learn much that
is useful as to what we can be even as we are; but if we mistake the
floating bubble for the marble palaces of the city of desire, it will
lead us forward in our pursuit till we fall over the edge of the abyss
beyond which is chaos.



_VII.--What Is Possible and What Is Not_


SOCIALISM, then, will not work, and neither will individualism, or at
least the older individualism that we have hitherto made the basis of
the social order. Here, therefore, stands humanity, in the middle of its
narrow path in sheer perplexity, not knowing which way to turn. On
either side is the brink of an abyss. On one hand is the yawning gulf of
social catastrophe represented by socialism. On the other, the slower,
but no less inevitable disaster that would attend the continuation in
its present form of the system under which we have lived. Either way
lies destruction; the one swift and immediate as a fall from a great
height; the other gradual, but equally dreadful, as the slow
strangulation in a morass. Somewhere between the two lies such narrow
safety as may be found.

The Ancients were fond of the metaphor, taken from the vexed Sicilian
Seas, of Scylla and Charybdis. The twin whirlpools threatened the
affrightened mariner on either side. To avoid one he too hastily cast
the ship to destruction in the other. Such is precisely the position
that has been reached at the present crisis in the course of human
progress. When we view the shortcomings of the present individualism,
its waste of energy, its fretful overwork, its cruel inequality and the
bitter lot that it brings to the uncounted millions of the submerged, we
are inclined to cry out against it, and to listen with a ready ear to
the easy promises of the idealist. But when we turn to the contrasted
fallacies of socialism, its obvious impracticality and the dark gulf of
social chaos that yawns behind it, we are driven back shuddering to
cherish rather the ills we have than fly to others we know not of.

Yet out of the whole discussion of the matter some few things begin to
merge into the clearness of certain day. It is clear enough on the one
hand that we can expect no sudden and complete transformation of the
world in which we live. Such a process is impossible. The industrial
system is too complex, its roots are too deeply struck and its whole
organism of too delicate a growth to permit us to tear it from the soil.
Nor is humanity itself fitted for the kind of transformation which fills
the dreams of the perfectionist. The principle of selfishness that has
been the survival instinct of existence since life first crawled from
the slime of a world in evolution, is as yet but little mitigated. In
the long process of time some higher cosmic sense may take its place. It
has not done so yet. If the kingdom of socialism were opened to-morrow,
there are but few fitted to enter.

But on the other hand it is equally clear that the doctrine of "every
man for himself," as it used to be applied, is done with forever. The
time has gone by when a man shall starve asking in vain for work; when
the listless outcast shall draw his rags shivering about him unheeded of
his fellows; when children shall be born in hunger and bred in want and
broken in toil with never a chance in life. If nothing else will end
these things, fear will do it. The hardest capitalist that ever gripped
his property with the iron clasp of legal right relaxes his grasp a
little when he thinks of the possibilities of a social conflagration. In
this respect five years of war have taught us more than a century of
peace. It has set in a clear light new forms of social obligation. The
war brought with it conscription--not as we used to see it, as the last
horror of military tyranny, but as the crowning pride of democracy. An
inconceivable revolution in the thought of the English speaking peoples
has taken place in respect to it. The obligation of every man, according
to his age and circumstance, to take up arms for his country and, if
need be, to die for it, is henceforth the recognized basis of
progressive democracy.

But conscription has its other side. The obligation to die must carry
with it the right to live. If every citizen owes it to society that he
must fight for it in case of need, then society owes to every citizen
the opportunity of a livelihood. "Unemployment," in the case of the
willing and able becomes henceforth a social crime. Every democratic
Government must henceforth take as the starting point of its industrial
policy, that there shall be no such thing as able bodied men and women
"out of work," looking for occupation and unable to find it. Work must
either be found or must be provided by the State itself.

Yet it is clear that a policy of state work and state pay for all who
are otherwise unable to find occupation involves appalling difficulties.
The opportunity will loom large for the prodigal waste of money, for the
undertaking of public works of no real utility and for the subsidizing
of an army of loafers. But the difficulties, great though they are, are
not insuperable. The payment for state labor of this kind can be kept
low enough to make it the last resort rather than the ultimate ambition
of the worker. Nor need the work be useless. In new countries,
especially such as Canada and the United States and Australia, the
development of latent natural assets could absorb the labor of
generations. There are still unredeemed empires in the west. Clearly
enough a certain modicum of public honesty and integrity is essential
for such a task; more, undoubtedly, than we have hitherto been able to
enlist in the service of the commonwealth. But without it we perish.
Social betterment must depend at every stage on the force of public
spirit and public morality that inspires it.

So much for the case of those who are able and willing to work. There
remain still the uncounted thousands who by accident or illness, age or
infirmity, are unable to maintain themselves. For these people, under
the older dispensation, there was nothing but the poorhouse, the jail or
starvation by the roadside. The narrow individualism of the nineteenth
century refused to recognize the social duty of supporting somebody
else's grandmother. Such charity began, and ended, at home. But even
with the passing of the nineteenth century an awakened sense of the
collective responsibility of society towards its weaker members began to
impress itself upon public policy. Old age pension laws and national
insurance against illness and accident were already being built into the
legislative codes of the democratic countries. The experience of the war
has enormously increased this sense of social solidarity. It is clear
now that our fortunes are not in our individual keeping. We stand or
fall as a nation. And the nation which neglects the aged and infirm, or
which leaves a family to be shipwrecked as the result of a single
accident to a breadwinner, cannot survive as against a nation in which
the welfare of each is regarded as contributory to the safety of all.
Even the purest selfishness would dictate a policy of social insurance.

There is no need to discuss the particular way in which this policy can
best be carried out. It will vary with the circumstances of each
community. The action of the municipality, or of the state or province,
or of the central government itself may be called into play. But in one
form or another, the economic loss involved in illness and infirmity
must be shifted from the shoulders of the individual to those of
society at large. There was but little realization of this obligation in
the nineteenth century. Only in the sensational moments of famine, flood
or pestilence was a general social effort called forth. But in the
clearer view of the social bond which the war has given us we can see
that famine and pestilence are merely exaggerated forms of what is
happening every day in our midst.

We spoke much during the war of "man power." We suddenly realized that
after all the greatness and strength of a nation is made up of the men
and women who compose it. Its money, in the narrow sense, is nothing; a
set of meaningless chips and counters piled upon a banker's table ready
to fall at a touch. Even before the war we had begun to talk eagerly and
anxiously of the conservation of national resources, of the need of
safeguarding the forests and fisheries and the mines. These are
important things. But the war has shown that the most important thing of
all is the conservation of men and women.

The attitude of the nineteenth century upon this point was little short
of insane. The melancholy doctrine of Malthus had perverted the public
mind. Because it was difficult for a poor man to bring up a family, the
hasty conclusion was reached that a family ought not to be brought up.
But the war has entirely inverted and corrected this point of view. The
father and mother who were able to send six sturdy, native-born sons to
the conflict were regarded as benefactors of the nation. But these six
sturdy sons had been, some twenty years before, six "puling infants,"
viewed with gloomy disapproval by the Malthusian bachelor. If the
strength of the nation lies in its men and women there is only one way
to increase it. Before the war it was thought that a simpler and easier
method of increase could be found in the wholesale import of Austrians,
Bulgarians and Czecho-Slovaks. The newer nations boasted proudly of
their immigration tables. The fallacy is apparent now. Those who really
count in a nation and those who govern its destinies for good or ill are
those who are born in it.

It is difficult to over-estimate the harm that has been done to public
policy by this same Malthusian theory. It has opposed to every proposal
of social reform an obstacle that seemed insuperable,--the danger of a
rapid overincrease of population that would pauperize the community.
Population, it was said, tends always to press upon the heels of
subsistence. If the poor are pampered, they will breed fast: the time
will come when there will not be food for all and we shall perish in a
common destruction. Seen in this light, infant mortality and the cruel
wastage of disease were viewed with complacence. It was "Nature's" own
process at work. The "unfit," so called, were being winnowed out that
only the best might survive. The biological doctrine of evolution was
misinterpreted and misapplied to social policy.

But in the organic world there is no such thing as the "fit" or the
"unfit," in any higher or moral sense. The most hideous forms of life
may "survive" and thrust aside the most beautiful. It is only by a
confusion of thought that the processes of organic nature which render
every foot of fertile ground the scene of unending conflict can be used
to explain away the death of children of the slums. The whole theory of
survival is only a statement of what is, not of what ought to be. The
moment that we introduce the operation of human volition and activity,
that, too, becomes one of the factors of "survival." The dog, the cat,
and the cow live by man's will, where the wolf and the hyena have
perished.

But it is time that the Malthusian doctrine,--the fear of
over-population as a hindrance to social reform,--was dismissed from
consideration. It is at best but a worn-out scarecrow shaking its vain
rags in the wind. Population, it is true, increases in a geometrical
ratio. The human race, if favored by environment, can easily double
itself every twenty-five years. If it did this, the time must come,
through sheer power of multiplication, when there would not be standing
room for it on the globe. All of this is undeniable, but it is quite
wide of the mark. It is time enough to cross a bridge when we come to
it. The "standing room" problem is still removed from us by such
uncounted generations that we need give no thought to it. The physical
resources of the globe are as yet only tapped, and not exhausted. We
have done little more than scratch the surface. Because we are crowded
here and there in the ant-hills of our cities, we dream that the world
is full. Because, under our present system, we do not raise enough food
for all, we fear that the food supply is running short. All this is pure
fancy. Let any one consider in his mind's eye the enormous untouched
assets still remaining for mankind in the vast spaces filled with the
tangled forests of South America, or the exuberant fertility of
equatorial Africa or the huge plains of Canada, Australia, Southern
Siberia and the United States, as yet only thinly dotted with human
settlement. There is no need to draw up an anxious balance sheet of our
assets. There is still an uncounted plenty. And every human being born
upon the world represents a power of work that, rightly directed, more
than supplies his wants. The fact that as an infant he does not maintain
himself has nothing to do with the case. This was true even in the
Garden of Eden.

The fundamental error of the Malthusian theory of population and poverty
is to confound the difficulties of human organization with the question
of physical production. Our existing poverty is purely a problem in the
direction and distribution of human effort. It has no connection as yet
with the question of the total available means of subsistence. Some day,
in a remote future, in which under an improved social system the numbers
of mankind might increase to the full power of the natural capacity of
multiplication, such a question might conceivably disturb the equanimity
of mankind. But it need not now. It is only one of many disasters that
must sooner or later overtake mankind. The sun, so the astronomer tells
us, is cooling down; the night is coming; an all-pervading cold will
some day chill into rigid death the last vestige of organic life. Our
poor planet will be but a silent ghost whirling on its dark path in the
starlight. This ultimate disaster is, as far as our vision goes,
inevitable. Yet no one concerns himself with it. So should it be with
the danger of the ultimate overcrowding of the globe.

I lay stress upon this problem of the increase of population because, to
my thinking, it is in this connection that the main work and the best
hope of social reform can be found. The children of the race should be
the very blossom of its fondest hopes. Under the present order and with
the present gloomy preconceptions they have been the least of its
collective cares. Yet here--and here more than anywhere--is the point
towards which social effort and social legislation may be directed
immediately and successfully. The moment that we get away from the idea
that the child is a mere appendage of the parent, bound to share good
fortune and ill, wealth and starvation, according to the parent's lot,
the moment we regard the child as itself a member of society--clothed in
social rights--a burden for the moment but an asset for the future--we
turn over a new leaf in the book of human development, we pass a new
milestone on the upward path of progress.

It should be recognized in the coming order of society, that every child
of the nation has the right to be clothed and fed and trained
irrespective of its parents' lot. Our feeble beginnings in the direction
of housing, sanitation, child welfare and education, should be expanded
at whatever cost into something truly national and all embracing. The
ancient grudging selfishness that would not feed other people's children
should be cast out. In the war time the wealthy bachelor and the
spinster of advancing years took it for granted that other people's
children should fight for them. The obligation must apply both ways.

No society is properly organized until every child that is born into it
shall have an opportunity in life. Success in life and capacity to live
we cannot give. But opportunity we can. We can at least see that the
gifts that are laid in the child's cradle by nature are not obliterated
by the cruel fortune of the accident of birth: that its brain and body
are not stunted by lack of food and air and by the heavy burden of
premature toil. The playtime of childhood should be held sacred by the
nation.

This, as I see it, should be the first and the greatest effort of social
reform. For the adult generation of to-day many things are no longer
possible. The time has passed. We are, as viewed with a comprehensive
eye, a damaged race. Few of us in mind or body are what we might be; and
millions of us, the vast majority of industrial mankind known as the
working class, are distorted beyond repair from what they might have
been. In older societies this was taken for granted: the poor and the
humble and the lowly reproduced from generation to generation, as they
grew to adult life, the starved brains and stunted outlook of their
forbears,--starved and stunted only by lack of opportunity. For nature
knows of no such differences in original capacity between the children
of the fortunate and the unfortunate. Yet on this inequality, made by
circumstance, was based the whole system of caste, the stratification
of the gentle and the simple on which society rested. In the past it may
have been necessary. It is not so now. If, with all our vast apparatus
of machinery and power, we cannot so arrange society that each child has
an opportunity in life, it would be better to break the machinery in
pieces and return to the woods from which we came.

Put into the plainest of prose, then, we are saying that the government
of every country ought to supply work and pay for the unemployed,
maintenance for the infirm and aged, and education and opportunity for
the children. These are vast tasks. And they involve, of course, a
financial burden not dreamed of before the war. But here again the war
has taught us many things. It would have seemed inconceivable before,
that a man of great wealth should give one-half of his income to the
state. The financial burden of the war, as the full measure of it dawned
upon our minds, seemed to betoken a universal bankruptcy. But the sequel
is going to show that the finance of the war will prove to be a lesson
in the finance of peace. The new burden has come to stay. No modern
state can hope to survive unless it meets the kind of social claims on
the part of the unemployed, the destitute and the children that have
been described above. And it cannot do this unless it continues to use
the terrific engine of taxation already fashioned in the war.
Undoubtedly the progressive income tax and the tax on profits and
taxation of inheritance must be maintained to an extent never dreamed of
before.

But the peace finance and the war finance will differ in one most
important respect. The war finance was purely destructive. From it came
national security and the triumph of right over wrong. No one would
belittle the worth of the sacrifice. But in the narrower sense of
production, of bread winning, there came nothing; or nothing except a
new power of organization, a new technical skill and a new aspiration
towards better things. But the burden of peace finance directed towards
social efforts will bring a direct return. Every cent that is spent upon
the betterment of the population will come back, sooner or later, as
two.

But all of this deals as yet only with the field of industry and conduct
in which the state rules supreme. Governmental care of the unemployed,
the infant and the infirm, sounds like a chapter in socialism. If the
same régime were extended over the whole area of production, we should
have socialism itself and a mere soap-bubble bursting into fragments.
There is no need, however, to extend the régime of compulsion over the
whole field. The vast mass of human industrial effort must still lie
outside of the immediate control of the government. Every man will still
earn his own living and that of his family as best he can, relying first
and foremost upon his own efforts.

One naturally asks, then, To what extent can social reform penetrate
into the ordinary operation of industry itself? Granted that it is
impossible for the state to take over the whole industry of the nation,
does that mean that the present inequalities must continue? The
framework in which our industrial life is set cannot be readily broken
asunder. But we can to a great extent ease the rigidity of its outlines.
A legislative code that starts from sounder principles than those which
have obtained hitherto can do a great deal towards progressive
betterment. Each decade can be an improvement upon the last. Hitherto we
have been hampered at every turn by the supposed obstacle of immutable
economic laws. The theory of "natural" wages and prices of a supposed
economic order that could not be disturbed, set up a sort of legislative
paralysis. The first thing needed is to get away entirely from all such
preconceptions, to recognize that the "natural" order of society, based
on the "natural" liberty, does not correspond with real justice and real
liberty at all, but works injustice at every turn. And at every turn
intrusive social legislation must seek to prevent such injustice.

It is no part of the present essay to attempt to detail the particulars
of a code of social legislation. That must depend in every case upon the
particular circumstances of the community concerned. But some
indication may be given here of the kind of legislation that may serve
to render the conditions of industry more in conformity with social
justice. Let us take, as a conspicuous example, the case of the Minimum
wage law. Here is a thing sternly condemned in the older thought as an
economic impossibility. It was claimed, as we have seen, that under free
contract a man was paid what he earned and no law could make it more.
But the older theory was wrong. The minimum wage law ought to form, in
one fashion or another, a part of the code of every community. It may be
applied by specific legislation from a central power, or it may be
applied by the discretionary authority of district boards, or it may be
regulated,--as it has been in some of the beginnings already
made,--within the compass of each industry or trade. But the principle
involved is sound. The wage as paid becomes a part of the conditions of
industry. Interest, profits and, later, the direction of consumption and
then of production, conform themselves to it.

True it is, that in this as in all cases of social legislation, no
application of the law can be made so sweeping and so immediate as to
dislocate the machine and bring industry to a stop. It is probable that
at any particular time and place the legislative minimum wage cannot be
very much in advance of the ordinary or average wage of the people in
employment. But its virtue lies in its progression. The modest increase
of to-day leads to the fuller increase of to-morrow. Properly applied,
the capitalist and the employer of labor need have nothing to fear from
it. Its ultimate effect will not fall upon them, but will serve merely
to alter the direction of human effort.

Precisely the same reasoning holds good of the shortening of the hours
of labor both by legislative enactment and by collective organization.
Here again the first thing necessary is a clear vision of the goal
towards which we are to strive. The hours of labor are too long. The
world has been caught in the wheels of its own machinery which will not
stop. With each advance in invention and mechanical power it works
harder still. New and feverish desires for luxuries replace each older
want as satisfied. The nerves of our industrial civilization are worn
thin with the rattle of its own machinery. The industrial world is
restless, over-strained and quarrelsome. It seethes with furious
discontent, and looks about it eagerly for a fight. It needs a rest. It
should be sent, as nerve patients are, to the seaside or the quiet of
the hills. Failing this, it should at least slacken the pace of its work
and shorten its working day.

And for this the thing needed is an altered public opinion on the
subject of work in relation to human character and development. The
nineteenth century glorified work. The poet, sitting beneath a shady
tree, sang of its glories. The working man was incited to contemplate
the beauty of the night's rest that followed on the exhaustion of the
day. It was proved to him that if his day was dull at least his sleep
was sound. The ideal of society was the cheery artisan and the honest
blacksmith, awake and singing with the lark and busy all day long at
the loom and the anvil, till the grateful night soothed them into
well-earned slumber. This, they were told, was better than the
distracted sleep of princes.

The educated world repeated to itself these grotesque fallacies till it
lost sight of plain and simple truths. Seven o'clock in the morning is
too early for any rational human being to be herded into a factory at
the call of a steam whistle. Ten hours a day of mechanical task is too
long: nine hours is too long: eight hours is too long. I am not raising
here the question as to how and to what extent the eight hours can be
shortened, but only urging the primary need of recognizing that a
working day of eight hours is too long for the full and proper
development of human capacity and for the rational enjoyment of life.
There is no need to quote here to the contrary the long and sustained
toil of the pioneer, the eager labor of the student, unmindful of the
silent hours, or the fierce acquisitive activity of the money-maker that
knows no pause. Activities such as these differ with a whole sky from
the wage-work of the modern industrial worker. The task in one case is
done for its own sake. It is life itself. The other is done only for the
sake of the wage it brings. It is, or should be, a mere preliminary to
living.

Let it be granted, of course, that a certain amount of work is an
absolute necessity for human character. There is no more pathetic
spectacle on our human stage than the figure of poor puppy in his beach
suit and his tuxedo jacket seeking in vain to amuse himself for ever. A
leisure class no sooner arises than the melancholy monotony of amusement
forces it into mimic work and make-believe activities. It dare not face
the empty day.

But when all is said about the horror of idleness the broad fact remains
that the hours of work are too long. If we could in imagination
disregard for a moment all question of how the hours of work are to be
shortened and how production is to be maintained and ask only what would
be the ideal number of the daily hours of compulsory work, for
character's sake, few of us would put them at more than four or five.
Many of us, as applied to ourselves, at least, would take a chance on
character at two.

The shortening of the general hours of work, then, should be among the
primary aims of social reform. There need be no fear that with shortened
hours of labor the sum total of production would fall short of human
needs. This, as has been shown from beginning to end of this essay, is
out of the question. Human _desires_ would eat up the result of ten
times the work we now accomplish. Human _needs_ would be satisfied with
a fraction of it. But the real difficulty in the shortening of hours
lies elsewhere. Here, as in the parallel case of the minimum wage, the
danger is that the attempt to alter things too rapidly may dislocate the
industrial machine. We ought to attempt such a shortening as will strain
the machine to a breaking point, but never break it. This can be done,
as with the minimum wage, partly by positive legislation and partly
collective action. Not much can be done at once. But the process can be
continuous. The short hours achieved with acclamation to-day will later
be denounced as the long hours of to-morrow. The essential point to
grasp, however, is that society at large has nothing to lose by the
process. The shortened hours become a part of the framework of
production. It adapts itself to it. Hitherto we have been caught in the
running of our own machine: it is time that we altered the gearing of
it.

The two cases selected,--the minimum wage and the legislative shortening
of hours,--have been chosen merely as illustrations and are not
exhaustive of the things that can be done in the field of possible and
practical reform. It is plain enough that in many other directions the
same principles may be applied. The rectification of the ownership of
land so as to eliminate the haphazard gains of the speculator and the
unearned increment of wealth created by the efforts of others, is an
obvious case in point. The "single taxer" sees in this a cure-all for
the ills of society. But his vision is distorted. The private ownership
of land is one of the greatest incentives to human effort that the
world has ever known. It would be folly to abolish it, even if we could.
But here as elsewhere we can seek to re-define and regulate the
conditions of ownership so as to bring them more into keeping with a
common sense view of social justice.

But the inordinate and fortuitous gains from land are really only one
example from a general class. The war discovered the "profiteer." The
law-makers of the world are busy now with smoking him out from his lair.
But he was there all the time. Inordinate and fortuitous gain, resting
on such things as monopoly, or trickery, or the mere hazards of
abundance and scarcity, complying with the letter of the law but
violating its spirit, are fit objects for appropriate taxation. The ways
and means are difficult, but the social principle involved is clear.

We may thus form some sort of vision of the social future into which we
are passing. The details are indistinct. But the outline at least in
which it is framed is clear enough. The safety of the future lies in a
progressive movement of social control alleviating the misery which it
cannot obliterate and based upon the broad general principle of equality
of opportunity. The chief immediate direction of social effort should be
towards the attempt to give to every human being in childhood adequate
food, clothing, education and an opportunity in life. This will prove to
be the beginning of many things.


THE END

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Note: Page 67, "are" changed to "and" (wages and all)





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