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Here is another mechanic, less skillful, whose average earnings do not exceed fifteen dollars a week. On this sum he supports a family, and at the age of fifty has three thousand dollars to show for thirty years of industry and economy. He is clearly on the upper side of the wedge; but less of the world's wealth has been distributed to him than to the first man. Still he has got more than a “bare living," and the other only a “ bare living,” according to Mr. George's theory, and this only while his capacity to earn high wages was unimpaired. Cases like these show the fallacy of the “bare living" theory. It shows that it may mean one thing or another, as circumstances may determine ; and its main significance is seen in the fact that the human element of man's volition is the chief factor in the various problems that arise in that branch of inquiry which we call political economy.
The chief mistake of Mr. George is in supposing that there is any such enigma as he has set himself to solve. He assumes that the poverty of the lower classes is increasing, when exactly the opposite is true. He assumes that pauperism is gaining with advancing wealth, when facts and figures clearly demonstrate the contrary. Let us look at a few of the facts. In 1815 the number of paupers maintained out of the poor rates in London, was 106,000. In 1875, the number was about the same, with a population three fold greater. But this is not the chief gain. The cost of maintaining these 100,000 paupers was five times as great in 1875 as the cost of a similar number in 1815 ; a fact showing that this unfortunate class shared an increase of the comforts of life in common with other classes of society ; or, in other words, that even these dependents upon charity have a larger share of the wealth annually created, and are so l'ar listed above the extreme destitution that was the lot of the English pauper sixty years before. High authority assures is that in 1870 but five-eighths of the amount of labor was required in Great Britain to purchase a bushel of wlieat, that was necessary in 1840 to buy the same quantity. These facts are but a type of what is occurring all over the civilized world, and they completely overthrow the
assumption that the benefits of increasing wealth do not reach all grades of society.
The writer of “ Progress and Poverty" seems to be shriveled by a pessimistic philosophy which ignores the most obtrusive facts of social science. These facts are, that the poorer classes, from the lowest among them through all their grades, beginning with the most abject beggar in the streets, and including every class of unfortunates, the vicious, the criminal, the idiotic, and the children of misfortune wherever found, have all felt the uplifting influence of those mighty industrial forces of modern times, which, in augmenting the wealth of the world, have put a lever into the hand of every agency that has for its purpose the amelioration of human suffering.
This is not to be settled by a few statistics gathered here and there, though an abundance of this kind of evidence is found in the archives of every government, and in the records of numerous societies. The evidence is monumental in its character, and forms an essential part of modern history. It is found in every book of travel that contrasts the present condition of the poorer classes with their condition fifty years ago. It is to be read in the sanitary reports of our cities, and in the records of the home missionary. It is brought to light in the testimony of merchants whose business is in the purlieus of the centres of trade and population. It is seen in the dwellings of the poor, whose habitations, humble though they be, show signs of comfort and cleanliness which the grandfathers of the present generation never knew. It is seen in the building up ol great industries whose products find a market chiefly among the working inen and women of every land — products unknown or but rarely seen fifty, or even thirty, years ago. And yet in the face of all this, Mr. George torments his fancy with this doleful picturc :
“ This association of poverty with progress is the great enigma of our times. It is the central fact from which spring industrial, social and political difficulties that perplex the world, and with which statesmanship and philanthropy and education grapple in vain. From it come the clouds that overhang the future of the most progressive and self-reliant na
tions. It is the riddle which the Sphinx of Fate puts to our civilization, and which not to answer is to be destroyed. So long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings goes but to build great lortunes, to increase luxury and make sharper the contrasts between the House of Have and the House of Want, progress is not real and cannot be permanent. The reaction must come. The tower leans on its foundations, and every new story but lastens the final catastrophe.”
In support of groundless assumptions like these, Mr. George employs a wealth of illustration and the glitter of a delusive rhetoric. To the careful reader who cares more for the sense of a passage than for figures of specchi or brilliant aphorisms, the indiscriminating use of some of these illustrations, and the irrelevant conclusions they are made to reach, will appear to be the most extraordinary features of this book. To illustrate this point, the writer wants to show in particular that as population increases wages decrease, and more generally that this is owing to land monopoly. To show this he says:
“ From the river banks and bars the glittering deposits of thousands of years could be taken by the most primitive appliances, in amounts which made an ounce a day ($16) only ordinary wages."
An old Californian would smile at the sum here named as “ordinary wages,” and would be likely to remark that one. eighth that amount would more nearly express the true fig. ure; and if he understood the rudiments of monetary science, he would ask, what does it prove, even if true, unless we know the value of the dollar in purchasing commodities? If everything the miner used was four times the average price (as was approximately the fact), as a necessary consequence of the situation, are not his wages $4 per day, rather than $16 ? and if this “ ounce a day" averaged but three ounces a week, would not his real wages be two dollars a day rather than four ? It is hardly necessary to say that the nominal rate of wages settles nothing except this; that whenever that rate is high the price of commodities is correspondingly high, for the simple reason that these commodities are produced by the
same high priced labor, or come within the reach of influences such as scarcity, or excessive cost of transportation, that make the price of labor high. When Mr. George tells us that it was the discovery of the placer mines in unappropriated lands, that raised the wages of cooks in San Francisco in 1849, to $500 a month, we have a specimen of economic philosophy that makes his book one of the most remarkable that has lately appeared. Had he said that this was merely a mining craze, a lottery in which there were nine blanks to one prize, he would have written upon this point to some purpose. Had he further said that this fever point of the craze lasted but a few months, and was no more a criterion of the average wages of the miner, even during the first few years of the gold excitement, than the prizes in a lottery indicate the average gains of the ticket-holders, he would have told us what every California miner now living and many others know. And still further, as he persists in calling these lucky “finds” the miner's “ wages,” he would have done some real service in dispelling a popular delusion, had he gathered the facts as far as possible showing what the average wages of the miners were during the first five or ten years following the gold discovery.
If it should be found that the uncertainties of the business were such that miners, as a class, did not earn even ordinary wages, what becomes of Mr. George's theory that the miners' access to “ unappropriated lands” was the explanation of their high wages?
The writer of this paper has seen a statement, published some twenty years ago, which went to show that the earnings of the gold diggers during the first years of the gold discovery in California did not average a dollar a day; and ex-Senator Stewart has recently put it at a lower figure. That this is a very probable estimate is corroborated by the opinion of some of the most intelligent of old miners in answer to the writer's inquiries on this point. One of the grounds on which they reached these conclusions was, that so inuch time was spent in prospecting for new diggings that promised better returns than the old, that but little was left for actual labor. One
question to a lady whose husband spent some three or four years in the diggings, brought the answer that the highest wages earned by him in any one day was twelve dollars, worth about twenty-five cents each. If Mr. George should extend his investigations in this direction, he would find that the somewhat current notion that wages are higher in new countries, and especially in mining regions, is one of the popular errors that confound nominal wages with real wages, and take no account of the abnormal state of society in which the cost of living bears a necessary approximation to the earnings of labor; and he would also find, should he get the testimony of “forty-niners,” that all the dwellers on “unappropriated lands” are not exempt from the miseries of want and the danger of starvation unless relieved by charity. They would tell him that the numbers straggling from camp to camp "dead broke," would bear a greater proportion to the whole population of the region, than do the multitudes of the wretched poor in our great cities.
The evils of poverty are great and abiding; and nothing is gained either by exaggerating their importance or ignoring their existence. But one who is neither an optimist nor a pessiinist can hardly fail to see that the combined sweep of the various forces of society, industrial and moral, including in this last term both educational and religious influences is carrying the world up to a higher plane; and that these forces must work concretely upon the whole mass of humanity, and not invidiously aginst any class. One who has watched the unfolding of social phenomena, has seen how indivisible are human interests, and how the threads of a common purpose run through all the inovements men make to advance their own or others' interests, and unite to weave a bond that mutually secures and protects the common good.
David N. Johnson.