"'And the people hearkened, and the thing was very good to them. Likewise seemed it not a hard thing. And with one voice they cried out, "So let it be as ye have said, for we will do it!"
"'And the capitalists heard the noise of the shouting and what the people said, and the soothsayers heard it also, and likewise the false priests and the mighty men of war, who were a defense unto the capitalists; and when they heard they trembled exceedingly, so that their knees smote together, and they said one to another, "It is the end of us!"
"'Howbeit, there were certain true priests of the living God who would not prophesy for the capitalists, but had compassion on the people; and when they heard the shouting of the people and what they said, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy, and gave thanks to God because of the deliverance.
"'And the people went and did all the things that were told them of the agitators to do. And it came to pass as the agitators had said, even according to all their words. And there was no more any thirst in that land, neither any that was ahungered, nor naked, nor cold, nor in any manner of want; and every man said unto his fellow, "My brother," and every woman said unto her companion, "My sister," for so were they with one another as brethren and sisters which do dwell together in unity. And the blessing of God rested upon that land forever.'"
I AM SHOWN ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE EARTH.
The boys and girls of the political-economy class rose to their feet at the teacher's word of dismissal, and in the twinkling of an eye the scene which had been absorbing my attention disappeared, and I found myself staring at Dr. Leete's smiling countenance and endeavoring to imagine how I had come to be where I was. During the greater part and all the latter part of the session of the class so absolute had been the illusion of being actually present in the schoolroom, and so absorbing the interest of the theme, that I had quite forgotten the extraordinary device by which I was enabled to see and hear the proceedings. Now, as I recalled it, my mind reverted with an impulse of boundless curiosity to the electroscope and the processes by which it performed its miracles.
Having given me some explanation of the mechanical operation of the apparatus and the way in which it served the purpose of a prolonged optic nerve, the doctor went on to exhibit its powers on a large scale. During the following hour, without leaving my chair, I made the tour of the earth, and learned by the testimony of my senses that the transformation which had come over Boston since my former life was but a sample of that which the whole world of men had undergone. I had but to name a great city or a famous locality in any country to be at once present there so far as sight and hearing were concerned. I looked down on modern New York, then upon Chicago, upon San Francisco, and upon New Orleans, finding each of these cities quite unrecognizable but for the natural features which constituted their setting. I visited London. I heard the Parisians talk French and the Berlinese talk German, and from St. Petersburg went to Cairo by way of Delhi. One city would be bathed in the noonday sun; over the next I visited, the moon, perhaps, was rising and the stars coming out; while over the third the silence of midnight brooded. In Paris, I remember, it was raining hard, and in London fog reigned supreme. In St. Petersburg there was a snow squall. Turning from the contemplation of the changing world of men to the changeless face of Nature, I renewed my old-time acquaintance with the natural wonders of the earth—the thundering cataracts, the stormy ocean shores, the lonely mountain tops, the great rivers, the glittering splendors of the polar regions, and the desolate places of the deserts.
Meanwhile the doctor explained to me that not only the telephone and electroscope were always connected with a great number of regular stations commanding all scenes of special interest, but that whenever in any part of the world there occurred a spectacle or accident of particular interest, special connections were instantly made, so that all mankind could at once see what the situation was for themselves without need of actual or alleged special artists on the spot.
With all my conceptions of time and space reduced to chaos, and well-nigh drunk with wonder, I exclaimed at last:
"I can stand no more of this just now! I am beginning to doubt seriously whether I am in or out of the body."
As a practical way of settling that question the doctor proposed a brisk walk, for we had not been out of the house that morning.
"Have we had enough of economics for the day?" he asked as we left the house, "or would you like to attend the afternoon session the teacher spoke of?"
I replied that I wished to attend it by all means.
"Very good," said the doctor; "it will doubtless be very short, and what do you say to attending it this time in person? We shall have plenty of time for our walk and can easily get to the school before the hour by taking a car from any point. Seeing this is the first time you have used the electroscope, and have no assurance except its testimony that any such school or pupils really exist, perhaps it would help to confirm any impressions you may have received to visit the spot in the body."
Presently, as we were crossing Boston Common, absorbed in conversation, a shadow fell athwart the way, and looking up, I saw towering above us a sculptured group of heroic size.
"Who are these?" I exclaimed.
"You ought to know if any one," said the doctor. "They are contemporaries of yours who were making a good deal of disturbance in your day."
But, indeed, it had only been as an involuntary expression of surprise that I had questioned what the figures stood for.
Let me tell you, readers of the twentieth century, what I saw up there on the pedestal, and you will recognize the world-famous group. Shoulder to shoulder, as if rallied to resist assault, were three figures of men in the garb of the laboring class of my time. They were bareheaded, and their coarse-textured shirts, rolled above the elbow and open at the breast, showed the sinewy arms and chest. Before them, on the ground, lay a pair of shovels and a pickaxe. The central figure, with the right hand extended, palm outward, was pointing to the discarded tools. The arms of the other two were folded on their breasts. The faces were coarse and hard in outline and bristled with unkempt beards. Their expression was one of dogged defiance, and their gaze was fixed with such scowling intensity upon the void space before them that I involuntarily glanced behind me to see what they were looking at. There were two women also in the group, as coarse of dress and features as the men. One was kneeling before the figure on the right, holding up to him with one arm an emaciated, half-clad infant, while with the other she indicated the implements at his feet with an imploring gesture. The second of the women was plucking by the sleeve the man on the left as if to draw him back, while with the other hand she covered her eyes. But the men heeded the women not at all, or seemed, in their bitter wrath, to know that they were there.
"Why," I exclaimed, "these are strikers!"
"Yes," said the doctor, "this is The Strikers, Huntington's masterpiece, considered the greatest group of statuary in the city and one of the greatest in the country."
"Those people are alive!" I said.
"That is expert testimony," replied the doctor. "It is a pity Huntington died too soon to hear it. He would have been pleased."
Now, I, in common with the wealthy and cultured class generally, of my day, had always held strikers in contempt and abhorrence, as blundering, dangerous marplots, as ignorant of their own best interests as they were reckless of other people's, and generally as pestilent fellows, whose demonstrations, so long as they were not violent, could not unfortunately be repressed by force, but ought always to be condemned, and promptly put down with an iron hand the moment there was an excuse for police interference. There was more or less tolerance among the well-to-do, for social reformers, who, by book or voice, advocated even very radical economic changes so long as they observed the conventionalities of speech, but for the striker there were few apologists. Of course, the capitalists emptied on him the vials of their wrath and contempt, and even people who thought they sympathized with the working class shook their heads at the mention of strikes, regarding them as calculated rather to hinder than help the emancipation of labor. Bred as I was in these prejudices, it may not seem strange that I was taken aback at finding such unpromising subjects selected for the highest place in the city.
"There is no doubt as to the excellence of the artist's work," I said, "but what was there about the strikers that has made you pick them out of our generation as objects of veneration?"
"We see in them," replied the doctor, "the pioneers in the revolt against private capitalism which brought in the present civilization. We honor them as those who, like Winkelried, 'made way for liberty, and died.' We revere in them the protomartyrs of co-operative industry and economic equality."
"But I can assure you, doctor, that these fellows, at least in my day, had not the slightest idea of revolting against private capitalism as a system. They were very ignorant and quite incapable of grasping so large a conception. They had no notion of getting along without capitalists. All they imagined as possible or desirable was a little better treatment by their employers, a few cents more an hour, a few minutes less working time a day, or maybe merely the discharge of an unpopular foreman. The most they aimed at was some petty improvement in their condition, to attain which they did not hesitate to throw the whole industrial machine into disorder."
"All which we moderns know quite well," replied the doctor. "Look at those faces. Has the sculptor idealized them? Are they the faces of philosophers? Do they not bear out your statement that the strikers, like the working-men generally, were, as a rule, ignorant, narrow-minded men, with no grasp of large questions, and incapable of so great an idea as the overthrow of an immemorial economic order? It is quite true that until some years after you fell asleep they did not realize that their quarrel was with private capitalism and not with individual capitalists. In this slowness of awakening to the full meaning of their revolt they were precisely on a par with the pioneers of all the great liberty revolutions. The minutemen at Concord and Lexington, in 1775, did not realize that they were pointing their guns at the monarchical idea. As little did the third estate of France, when it entered the Convention in 1789, realize that its road lay over the ruins of the throne. As little did the pioneers of English freedom, when they began to resist the will of Charles I, foresee that they would be compelled, before they got through, to take his head. In none of these instances, however, has posterity considered that the limited foresight of the pioneers as to the full consequences of their action lessened the world's debt to the crude initiative, without which the fuller triumph would never have come. The logic of the strike meant the overthrow of the irresponsible conduct of industry, whether the strikers knew it or not, and we can not rejoice in the consequences of that overthrow without honoring them in a way which very likely, as you intimate, would surprise them, could they know of it, as much as it does you. Let me try to give you the modern point of view as to the part played by their originals." We sat down upon one of the benches before the statue, and the doctor went on:
"My dear Julian, who was it, pray, that first roused the world of your day to the fact that there was an industrial question, and by their pathetic demonstrations of passive resistance to wrong for fifty years kept the public attention fixed on that question till it was settled? Was it your statesmen, perchance your economists, your scholars, or any other of your so-called wise men? No. It was just those despised, ridiculed, cursed, and hooted fellows up there on that pedestal who with their perpetual strikes would not let the world rest till their wrong, which was also the whole world's wrong, was righted. Once more had God chosen the foolish things of this world to confound the wise, the weak things to confound the mighty.
"In order to realize how powerfully these strikes operated to impress upon the people the intolerable wickedness and folly of private capitalism, you must remember that events are what teach men, that deeds have a far more potent educating influence than any amount of doctrine, and especially so in an age like yours, when the masses had almost no culture or ability to reason. There were not lacking in the revolutionary period many cultured men and women, who, with voice and pen, espoused the workers' cause, and showed them the way out; but their words might well have availed little but for the tremendous emphasis with which they were confirmed by the men up there, who starved to prove them true. Those rough-looking fellows, who probably could not have constructed a grammatical sentence, by their combined efforts, were demonstrating the necessity of a radically new industrial system by a more convincing argument than any rhetorician's skill could frame. When men take their lives in their hands to resist oppression, as those men did, other men are compelled to give heed to them. We have inscribed on the pedestal yonder, where you see the lettering, the words, which the action of the group above seems to voice:
"'We can bear no more. It is better to starve than live on the terms you give us. Our lives, the lives of our wives and of our children, we set against your gains. If you put your foot upon our neck, we will bite your heel!'
"This was the cry," pursued the doctor, "of men made desperate by oppression, to whom existence through suffering had become of no value. It was the same cry that in varied form but in one sense has been the watchword of every revolution that has marked an advance of the race—'Give us liberty, or give us death!' and never did it ring out with a cause so adequate, or wake the world to an issue so mighty, as in the mouths of these first rebels against the folly and the tyranny of private capital.
"In your age, I know, Julian," the doctor went on in a gentler tone, "it was customary to associate valor with the clang of arms and the pomp and circumstance of war. But the echo of the fife and drum comes very faintly up to us, and moves us not at all. The soldier has had his day, and passed away forever with the ideal of manhood which he illustrated. But that group yonder stands for a type of self-devotion that appeals to us profoundly. Those men risked their lives when they flung down the tools of their trade, as truly as any soldiers going into battle, and took odds as desperate, and not only for themselves, but for their families, which no grateful country would care for in case of casualty to them. The soldier went forth cheered with music, and supported by the enthusiasm of the country, but these others were covered with ignominy and public contempt, and their failures and defeats were hailed with general acclamation. And yet they sought not the lives of others, but only that they might barely live; and though they had first thought of the welfare of themselves, and those nearest them, yet not the less were they fighting the fight of humanity and posterity in striking in the only way they could, and while yet no one else dared strike at all, against the economic system that had the world by the throat, and would never relax its grip by dint of soft words, or anything less than disabling blows. The clergy, the economists and the pedagogues, having left these ignorant men to seek as they might the solution of the social problem, while they themselves sat at ease and denied that there was any problem, were very voluble in their criticisms of the mistakes of the workingmen, as if it were possible to make any mistake in seeking a way out of the social chaos, which could be so fatuous or so criminal as the mistake of not trying to seek any. No doubt, Julian, I have put finer words in the mouths of those men up there than their originals might have even understood, but if the meaning was not in their words it was in their deeds. And it is for what they did, not for what they said, that we honor them as protomartyrs of the industrial republic of to-day, and bring our children, that they may kiss in gratitude the rough-shod feet of those who made the way for us."
My experiences since I waked up in this year 2000 might be said to have consisted of a succession of instantaneous mental readjustments of a revolutionary character, in which what had formerly seemed evil to me had become good, and what had seemed wisdom had become foolishness. Had this conversation about the strikers taken place anywhere else, the entirely new impression I had received of the part played by them in the great social revolution of which I shared the benefit would simply have been one more of these readjustments, and the process entirely a mental one. But the presence of this wondrous group, the lifelikeness of the figures growing on my gaze as I listened to the doctor's words, imparted a peculiar personal quality—if I may use the term—to the revulsion of feeling that I experienced. Moved by an irresistible impulse, I rose to my feet, and, removing my hat, saluted the grim forms whose living originals I had joined my contemporaries in reviling.
The doctor smiled gravely.
"Do you know, my boy," he said, "it is not often that the whirligig of Time brings round his revenges in quite so dramatic a way as this?"
FOREIGN COMMERCE UNDER PROFITS; PROTECTION AND FREE TRADE, OR BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP SEA.
We arrived at the Arlington School some time before the beginning of the recitation which we were to attend, and the doctor took the opportunity to introduce me to the teacher. He was extremely interested to learn that I had attended the morning session, and very desirous to know something of my impressions. As to the forthcoming recitation, he suggested that if the members of the class were aware that they had so distinguished an auditor, it would be likely to embarrass them, and he should therefore say nothing about my presence until the close of the session, when he should crave the privilege of presenting his pupils to me personally. He hoped I would permit this, as it would be for them the event of a lifetime which their grandchildren would never tire of hearing them describe. The entrance of the class interrupted our conversation, and the doctor and myself, having taken our seats in a gallery, where we could hear and see without being seen, the session at once began.
"This morning," said the teacher, "we confined ourselves for the sake of clearness to the effects of the profit system upon a nation or community considered as if it were alone in the world and without relations to other communities. There is no way in which such outside relations operated to negative any of the laws of profit which were brought out this morning, but they did operate to extend the effect of those laws in many interesting ways, and without some reference to foreign commerce our review of the profit system would be incomplete.
"In the so-called political economies of our forefathers we read a vast deal about the advantages to a country of having an international trade. It was supposed to be one of the great secrets of national prosperity, and a chief study of the nineteenth-century statesmen seems to have been to establish and extend foreign commerce.—Now, Paul, will you tell us the economic theory as to the advantages of foreign commerce?"
"It is based on the fact," said the lad Paul, "that countries differ in climate, natural resources, and other conditions, so that in some it is wholly impossible or very difficult to produce certain needful things, while it is very easy to produce certain other things in greater abundance than is needed. In former times also there were marked differences in the grade of civilization and the condition of the arts in different countries, which still further modified their respective powers in the production of wealth. This being so, it might obviously be for the mutual advantage of countries to exchange with one another what they could produce against what they could not produce at all or only with difficulty, and not merely thus secure many things which otherwise they must go without, but also greatly increase the total effectiveness of their industry by applying it to the sorts of production best fitted to their conditions. In order, however, that the people of the respective countries should actually derive this advantage or any advantage from foreign exchange, it would be necessary that the exchanges should be carried on in the general interest for the purpose of giving the people at large the benefit of them, as is done at the present day, when foreign commerce, like other economic undertakings, is carried on by the governments of the several countries. But there was, of course, no national agency to carry on foreign commerce in that day. The foreign trade, just like the internal processes of production and distribution, was conducted by the capitalists on the profit system. The result was that all the benefits of this fair sounding theory of foreign commerce were either totally nullified or turned into curses, and the international trade relations of the countries constituted merely a larger field for illustrating the baneful effects of the profit system and its power to turn good to evil and 'shut the gates of mercy on mankind.'"
HOW PROFITS NULLIFIED THE BENEFIT OF COMMERCE.
"Illustrate, please, the operation of the profit system in international trade."
"Let us suppose," said the boy Paul, "that America could produce grain and other food stuffs with great cheapness and in greater quantities than the people needed. Suppose, on the contrary, that England could produce food stuffs only with difficulty and in small quantities. Suppose, however, that England, on account of various conditions, could produce clothing and hardware much more cheaply and abundantly than America. In such a case it would seem that both countries would be gainers if Americans exchanged the food stuffs which it was so easy for them to produce for the clothing and hardware which it was so easy for the English to produce. The result would appear to promise a clear and equal gain for both people. But this, of course, is on the supposition that the exchange should be negotiated by a public agency for the benefit of the respective populations at large. But when, as in those days, the exchange was negotiated wholly by private capitalists competing for private profits at the expense of the communities, the result was totally different.
"The American grain merchant who exported grain to the English would be impelled, by the competition of other American grain merchants, to put his price to the English as low as possible, and to do that he would beat down to the lowest possible figure the American farmer who produced the grain. And not only must the American merchant sell as low as his American rivals, but he must also undersell the grain merchants of other grain-producing countries, such as Russia, Egypt, and India. And now let us see how much benefit the English people received from the cheap American grain. We will say that, owing to the foreign food supply, the cost of living declined one half or a third in England. Here would seem a great gain surely; but look at the other side of it. The English must pay for their grain by supplying the Americans with cloth and hardware. The English manufacturers of these things were rivals just as the American grain merchants were—each one desirous of capturing as large a part of the American market as he could. He must therefore, if possible, undersell his home rivals. Moreover, like the American grain merchant, the English manufacturer must contend with foreign rivals. Belgium and Germany made hardware and cloth very cheaply, and the Americans would exchange their grain for these commodities with the Belgians and the Germans unless the English sold cheaper. Now, the main element in the cost of making cloth and hardware was the wages paid for labor. A pressure was accordingly sure to be brought to bear by every English manufacturer upon his workmen to compel them to accept lower wages so that he might undersell his English rivals, and also cut under the German and Belgian manufacturers, who were trying to get the American trade. Now can the English workman live on less wages than before? Plainly he can, for his food supply has been greatly cheapened. Presently, therefore, he finds his wages forced down by as much as the cheaper food supply has cheapened his living, and so finds himself just where he was to start with before the American trade began. And now look again at the American farmer. He is now getting his imported clothing and tools much cheaper than before, and consequently the lowest living price at which he can afford to sell grain is considerably lower than before the English trade began—lower by so much, in fact, as he has saved on his tools and clothing. Of this, the grain merchant, of course, took prompt advantage, for unless he put his grain into the English market lower than other grain merchants, he would lose his trade, and Russia, Egypt, and India stood ready to flood England with grain if the Americans could not bid below them, and then farewell to cheap cloth and tools! So down presently went the price the American farmer received for his grain, until the reduction absorbed all that he had gained by the cheaper imported fabrics and hardware, and he, like his fellow-victim across the sea—the English iron worker or factory operative—was no better off than he was before English trade had been suggested.
"But was he as well off? Was either the American or the English worker as well off as before this interchange of products began, which, if rightly conducted, would have been so greatly beneficial to both? On the contrary, both alike were in important ways distinctly worse off. Each had indeed done badly enough before, but the industrial system on which they depended, being limited by the national borders, was comparatively simple and uncomplex, self-sustaining, and liable only to local and transient disturbances, the effect of which could be to some extent estimated, possibly remedied. Now, however, the English operatives and the American farmer had alike become dependent upon the delicate balance of a complex set of international adjustments liable at any moment to derangements that might take away their livelihood, without leaving them even the small satisfaction of understanding what hurt them. The prices of their labor or their produce were no longer dependent as before upon established local customs and national standards of living, but had become subject to determination by the pitiless necessities of a world-wide competition in which the American farmer and the English artisan were forced into rivalship with the Indian ryot, the Egyptian fellah, the half-starved Belgian miner, or the German weaver. In former ages, before international trade had become general, when one nation was down another was up, and there was always hope in looking over seas; but the prospect which the unlimited development of international commerce upon the profit system was opening to mankind the latter part of the nineteenth century was that of a world-wide standard of living fixed by the rate at which life could be supported by the worst-used races. International trade was already showing itself to be the instrumentality by which the world-wide plutocracy would soon have established its sway if the great Revolution had tarried."
"In the case of the supposed reciprocal trade between England and America, which you have used as an illustration," said the teacher, "you have assumed that the trade relation was an exchange of commodities on equal terms. In such a case it appears that the effect of the profit system was to leave the masses of both countries somewhat worse off than they would have been without foreign trade, the gain on both the American and English side inuring wholly to the manufacturing and trading capitalists. But in fact both countries in a trade relation were not usually on equal terms. The capitalists of one were often far more powerful than those of another, and had a stronger or older economic organization at their service. In that case what was the result?"
"The overwhelming competition of the capitalists of the stronger country crushed out the enterprises of the capitalists of the weaker country, the people of which consequently became wholly dependent upon the foreign capitalists for many productions which otherwise would have been produced at home to the profit of home capitalists, and in proportion as the capitalists of the dependent country were thus rendered economically incapable of resistance the capitalists of the stronger country regulated at their pleasure the terms of trade. The American colonies, in 1776, were driven to revolt against England by the oppression resulting from such a relation. The object of founding colonies, which was one of the main ends of seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century statesmanship, was to bring new communities into this relation of economic vassalage to the home capitalists, who, having beggared the home market by their profit, saw no prospect of making more except by fastening their suckers upon outside communities. Great Britain, whose capitalists were strongest of all, was naturally the leader in this policy, and the main end of her wars and her diplomacy for many centuries before the great Revolution was to obtain such colonies, and to secure from weaker nations trade concessions and openings—peaceably if possible, at the mouth of the cannon if necessary."
"How about the condition of the masses in a country thus reduced to commercial vassalage to the capitalists of another country? Was it necessarily worse than the condition of the masses of the superior country?"
"That did not follow at all. We must constantly keep in mind that the interests of the capitalists and of the people were not identical. The prosperity of the capitalists of a country by no means implied prosperity on the part of the population, nor the reverse. If the masses of the dependent country had not been exploited by foreign capitalists, they would have been by domestic capitalists. Both they and the working masses of the superior country were equally the tools and slaves of the capitalists, who did not treat workingmen any better on account of being their fellow countrymen than if they had been foreigners. It was the capitalists of the dependent country rather than the masses who suffered by the suppression of independent business enterprises."
BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP SEA.
"That will do, Paul.—We will now ask some information from you, Helen, as to a point which Paul's last words have suggested. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a bitter controversy raged among our ancestors between two parties in opinion and politics, calling themselves, respectively, the Protectionists and the Free Traders, the former of whom held that it was well to shut out the competition of foreign capitalists in the market of a country by a tariff upon imports, while the latter held that no impediment should be allowed to the entirely free course of trade. What have you to say as to the merits of this controversy?"
"Merely," replied the girl called Helen, "that the difference between the two policies, so far as it affected the people at large, reduced itself to the question whether they preferred being fleeced by home or foreign capitalists. Free trade was the cry of the capitalists who felt themselves able to crush those of rival nations if allowed the opportunity to compete with them. Protection was the cry of the capitalists who felt themselves weaker than those of other nations, and feared that their enterprises would be crushed and their profits taken away if free competition were allowed. The Free Traders were like a man who, seeing his antagonist is no match for him, boldly calls for a free fight and no favor, while the Protectionist was the man who, seeing himself overmatched, called for the police. The Free Trader held that the natural, God-given right of the capitalist to shear the people anywhere he found them was superior to considerations of race, nationality, or boundary lines. The Protectionist, on the contrary, maintained the patriotic right of the capitalist to the exclusive shearing of his own fellow-countrymen without interference of foreign capitalists. As to the mass of the people, the nation at large, it was, as Paul has just said, a matter of indifference whether they were fleeced by the capitalists of their own country under protection or the capitalists of foreign countries under free trade. The literature of the controversy between Protectionists and Free Traders makes this very clear. Whatever else the Protectionists failed to prove, they were able to demonstrate that the condition of the people in free-trade countries was quite as bad as anywhere else, and, on the other hand, the Free Traders were equally conclusive in the proofs they presented that the people in protected countries, other things being equal, were no better off than those in free-trade lands. The question of Protection or Free Trade interested the capitalists only. For the people, it was the choice between the devil and the deep sea."
"Let us have a concrete illustration." said the teacher. "Take the case of England. She was beyond comparison the country of all others in the nineteenth century which had most foreign trade and commanded most foreign markets. If a large volume of foreign trade under conditions practically dictated by its capitalists was under the profit system a source of national prosperity to a country, we should expect to see the mass of the British people at the end of the nineteenth century enjoying an altogether extraordinary felicity and general welfare as compared with that of other peoples or any former people, for never before did a nation develop so vast a foreign commerce. What were the facts?"
"It was common," replied the girl, "for our ancestors in the vague and foggy way in which they used the terms 'nation' and 'national' to speak of Great Britain as rich. But it was only her capitalists, some scores of thousands of individuals among some forty million people, who were rich. These indeed had incredible accumulations, but the remainder of the forty millions—the whole people, in fact, save an infinitesimal fraction—were sunk in poverty. It is said that England had a larger and more hopeless pauper problem than any other civilized nation. The condition of her working masses was not only more wretched than that of many contemporary people, but was worse, as proved by the most careful economic comparisons, than it had been in the fifteenth century, before foreign trade was thought of. People do not emigrate from a land where they are well off, but the British people, driven out by want, had found the frozen Canadas and the torrid zone more hospitable than their native land. As an illustration of the fact that the welfare of the working masses was in no way improved when the capitalists of a country commanded foreign markets, it is interesting to note the fact that the British emigrant was able to make a better living in English colonies whose markets were wholly dominated by English capitalists than he had been at home as the employee of those capitalists. We shall remember also that Malthus, with his doctrine that it was the best thing that could happen to a workingman not to be born, was an Englishman, and based his conclusions very logically upon his observation of the conditions of life for the masses in that country which had been more successful than any other in any age in monopolizing the foreign markets of the world by its commerce.
"Or," the lad went on, "take Belgium, that old Flemish land of merchants, where foreign trade had been longer and more steadily used than in any other European country. In the latter part of the nineteenth century the mass of the Belgian people, the hardest-worked population in the world, was said to have been, as a rule, without adequate food—to be undergoing, in short, a process of slow starvation. They, like the people of England and the people of Germany, are proved, by statistical calculations upon the subject that have come down to us, to have been economically very much better off during the fifteenth and early part of the sixteenth century, when foreign trade was hardly known, than they were in the nineteenth. There was a possibility before foreign trade for profit began that a population might obtain some share of the richness of a bountiful land just from the lack of any outlet for it. But with the beginning of foreign commerce, under the profit system, that possibility vanished. Thenceforth everything good or desirable, above what might serve for the barest subsistence of labor, was systematically and exhaustively gathered up by the capitalists, to be exchanged in foreign lands for gold and gems, silks, velvets, and ostrich plumes for the rich. As Goldsmith had it:
"Around the world each needful product flies For all the luxuries the world supplies."
"To what has the struggle of the nations for foreign markets in the nineteenth century been aptly compared?"
"To a contest between galleys manned by slaves, whose owners were racing for a prize."
"In such a race, which crew was likely to fare worse, that of the winning or the losing galley?"
"That of the winning galley, by all means," replied the girl, "for the supposition is that, other conditions being equal, it was the more sorely scourged."
"Just so," said the teacher, "and on the same principle, when the capitalists of two countries contended for the supplying of a foreign market it was the workers subject to the successful group of capitalists who were most to be pitied, for, other conditions being equal, they were likely to be those whose wages had been cut lowest and whose general condition was most degraded."
"But tell us," said the teacher, "were there not instances of a general poverty in countries having no foreign trade as great as prevailed in the countries you have mentioned?"
"Dear me, yes!" replied the girl. "I have not meant to convey any impression that because the tender mercies of the foreign capitalists were cruel, those of the domestic capitalist were any less so. The comparison is merely between the operation of the profit system on a larger or smaller scale. So long as the profit system was retained, it would be all one in the end, whether you built a wall around a country and left the people to be exploited exclusively by home capitalists, or threw the wall down and let in the foreigners."
HOSTILITY OF A SYSTEM OF VESTED INTERESTS TO IMPROVEMENT.
"Now, Florence," said the teacher, "with your assistance we will take up the closing topic in our consideration of the economic system of our fathers—namely, its hostility to invention and improvement. It has been our painful duty to point out numerous respects in which our respected ancestors were strangely blind to the true character and effects of their economic institutions, but no instance perhaps is more striking than this. Far from seeing the necessary antagonism between private capitalism and the march of improvement which is so plain to us, they appear to have sincerely believed that their system was peculiarly favorable to the progress of invention, and that its advantage in this respect was so great as to be an important set-off to its admitted ethical defects. Here there is decidedly a broad difference in opinion, but fortunately the facts are so well authenticated that we shall have no difficulty in concluding which view is correct.
"The subject divides itself into two branches: First, the natural antagonism of the old system to economic changes; and, second, the effect of the profit principle to minimize if not wholly to nullify the benefit of such economic improvements as were able to overcome that antagonism so far as to get themselves introduced.—Now, Florence, tell us what there was about the old economic system, the system of private capitalism, which made it constitutionally opposed to changes in methods."
"It was," replied the girl, "the fact that it consisted of independent vested interests without any principle of coordination or combination, the result being that the economic welfare of every individual or group was wholly dependent upon his or its particular vested interest without regard to others or to the welfare of the whole body."
"Please bring out your meaning by comparing our modern system in the respect you speak of with private capitalism."
"Our system is a strictly integrated one—that is to say, no one has any economic interest in any part or function of the economic organization which is distinct from his interest in every other part and function. His only interest is in the greatest possible output of the whole. We have our several occupations, but only that we may work the more efficiently for the common fund. We may become very enthusiastic about our special pursuit, but as a matter of sentiment only, for our economic interests are no more dependent upon our special occupation than upon any other. We share equally in the total product, whatever it is."
"How does the integrated character of the economic system affect our attitude toward improvements or inventions of any sort in economic processes?"
"We welcome them with eagerness. Why should we not? Any improvement of this sort must necessarily redound to the advantage of every one in the nation and to every one's advantage equally. If the occupation affected by the invention happens to be our particular employment we lose nothing, though it should make that occupation wholly superfluous. We might in that case feel a little sentimental regret over the passing away of old habits, but that is all. No one's substantial interests are in any way more identified with one pursuit than another. All are in the service of the nation, and it is the business and interest of the nation to see that every one is provided with other work as soon as his former occupation becomes unnecessary to the general weal, and under no circumstances is his rate of maintenance affected. From its first production every improvement in economic processes is therefore an unalloyed blessing to all. The inventor comes bringing a gift of greater wealth or leisure in his hand for every one on earth, and it is no wonder that the people's gratitude makes his reward the most enviable to be won by a public benefactor."
"Now, Florence, tell us in what way the multitude of distinct vested interests which made up private capitalism operated to produce an antagonism toward economic inventions and improvements."
HOW PROGRESS ANTAGONIZED VESTED INTERESTS.
"As I have said," replied the girl, "everybody's interest was wholly confined to and bound up with the particular occupation he was engaged in. If he was a capitalist, his capital was embarked in it; if he was an artisan, his capital was the knowledge of some particular craft or part of a craft, and he depended for his livelihood on the demand for the sort of work he had learned how to do. Neither as capitalist or artisan, as employer or employee, had he any economic interest or dependence outside of or larger than his special business. Now, the effect of any new idea, invention, or discovery for economic application is to dispense more or less completely with the process formerly used in that department, and so far to destroy the economic basis of the occupations connected with that business. Under our system, as I have said, that means no loss to anybody, but simply a shifting of workers, with a net gain in wealth or leisure to all; but then it meant ruin to those involved in the change. The capitalist lost his capital, his plant, his investments more or less totally, and the workingmen lost their means of livelihood and were thrown on what you well called the cold charity of the world—a charity usually well below zero; and this loss without any rebate or compensation whatever from the public at large on account of any general benefit that might be received from the invention. It was complete. Consequently, the most beneficent of inventions was cruel as death to those who had been dependent for living or for profit on the particular occupations it affected. The capitalists grew gray from fear of discoveries which in a day might turn their costly plants to old iron fit only for the junkshop, and the nightmare of the artisan was some machine which should take bread from his children's mouths by enabling his employer to dispense with his services.
"Owing to this division of the economic field into a set of vested personal and group interests wholly without coherency or integrating idea, each standing or falling by and for itself, every step in the advance of the arts and sciences was gained only at the cost of an amount of loss and ruin to particular portions of the community such as would be wrought by a blight or pestilence. The march of invention was white with the bleaching bones of innumerable hecatombs of victims. The spinning jenny replaced the spinning wheel, and famine stalked through English villages. The railroad supplanted the stagecoach, and a thousand hill towns died while as many sprang up in the valleys, and the farmers of the East were pauperized by the new agriculture of the West. Petroleum succeeded whale-oil, and a hundred seaports withered. Coal and iron were found in the South, and the grass grew in the streets of the Northern centers of iron-making. Electricity succeeded steam, and billions of railroad property were wiped out. But what is the use of lengthening a list which might be made interminable? The rule was always the same: every important invention brought uncompensated disaster to some portion of the people. Armies of bankrupts, hosts of workers forced into vagabondage, a sea of suffering of every sort, made up the price which our ancestors paid for every step of progress.
"Afterward, when the victims had been buried or put out of the way, it was customary with our fathers to celebrate these industrial triumphs, and on such occasions a common quotation in the mouths of the orators was a line of verse to the effect that—
"Peace hath her victories not less renowned than those of war.
The orators were not wont to dwell on the fact that these victories of what they so oddly called peace were usually purchased at a cost in human life and suffering quite as great as—yes, often greater than—those of so-called war. We have all read of Tamerlane's pyramid at Damascus made of seventy thousand skulls of his victims. It may be said that if the victims of the various inventions connected with the introduction of steam had consented to contribute their skulls to a monument in honor of Stevenson or Arkwright it would dwarf Tamerlane's into insignificance. Tamerlane was a beast, and Arkwright was a genius sent to help men, yet the hideous juggle of the old-time economic system made the benefactor the cause of as much human suffering as the brutal conqueror. It was bad enough when men stoned and crucified those who came to help them, but private capitalism did them a worse outrage still in turning the gifts they brought into curses."
"And did the workers and the capitalists whose interests were threatened by the progress of invention take practical means of resisting that progress and suppressing the inventions and the inventors?"
"They did all they could in that way. If the working-men had been strong enough they would have put an absolute veto on inventions of any sort tending to diminish the demand for crude hand labor in their respective crafts. As it was, they did all it was possible for them to accomplish in that direction by trades-union dictation and mob violence; nor can any one blame the poor fellows for resisting to the utmost improvements which improved them out of the means of livelihood. A machine gun would have been scarcely more deadly if turned upon the workingmen of that day than a labor-saving machine. In those bitter times a man thrown out of the employment he had fitted himself for might about as well have been shot, and if he were not able to get any other work, as so many were not, he would have been altogether better off had he been killed in battle with the drum and fife to cheer him and the hope of a pension for his family. Only, of course, it was the system of private capitalism and not the labor-saving machine which the workingmen should have attacked, for with a rational economic system the machine would have been wholly beneficent."
"How did the capitalists resist inventions?"
"Chiefly by negative means, though much more effective ones than the mob violence which the workingmen used. The initiative in everything belonged to the capitalists. No inventor could introduce an invention, however excellent, unless he could get capitalists to take it up, and this usually they would not do unless the inventor relinquished to them most of his hopes of profit from the discovery. A much more important hindrance to the introduction of inventions resulted from the fact that those who would be interested in taking them up were those already carrying on the business the invention applied to, and their interest was in most cases to suppress an innovation which threatened to make obsolete the machinery and methods in which their capital was invested. The capitalist had to be fully assured not only that the invention was a good one in itself, but that it would be so profitable to himself personally as to make up for all the damage to his existing capital before he would touch it. When inventions wholly did away with processes which had been the basis of profit-charging it was often suicidal for the capitalist to adopt them. If they could not suppress such inventions in any other way, it was their custom to buy them up and pigeonhole them. After the Revolution there were found enough of these patents which had been bought up and pigeonholed in self-protection by the capitalists to have kept the world in novelties for ten years if nothing more had been discovered. One of the most tragical chapters in the history of the old order is made up of the difficulties, rebuffs, and lifelong disappointments which inventors had to contend with before they could get their discoveries introduced, and the frauds by which in most cases they were swindled out of the profits of them by the capitalists through whom their introduction was obtained. These stories seem, indeed, well-nigh incredible nowadays, when the nation is alert and eager to foster and encourage every stirring of the inventive spirit, and every one with any sort of new idea can command the offices of the administration without cost to safeguard his claim to priority and to furnish him all possible facilities of information, material, and appliances to perfect his conception."
"Considering," said the teacher, "that these facts as to the resistance offered by vested interests to the march of improvement must have been even more obvious to our ancestors than to us, how do you account for the belief they seem to have sincerely held that private capitalism as a system was favorable to invention?"
"Doubtless," replied the girl, "it was because they saw that whenever an invention was introduced it was under the patronage of capitalists. This was, of course, necessarily so because all economic initiative was confined to the capitalists. Our forefathers, observing that inventions when introduced at all were introduced through the machinery of private capitalism, overlooked the fact that usually it was only after exhausting its power as an obstruction to invention that capital lent itself to its advancement. They were in this respect like children who, seeing the water pouring over the edge of a dam and coming over nowhere else, should conclude that the dam was an agency for aiding the flow of the river instead of being an obstruction which let it over only when it could be kept back no longer."
* * * * *
"Our lesson," said the teacher, "relates in strictness only to the economic results of the old order, but at times the theme suggests aspects of former social conditions too important to pass without mention. We have seen how obstructive was the system of vested interests which underlaid private capitalism to the introduction of improvements and inventions in the economic field. But there was another field in which the same influence was exerted with effects really far more important and disastrous.—Tell us, Florence, something of the manner in which the vested interest system tended to resist the advance of new ideas in the field of thought, of morals, science, and religion."
"Previous to the great Revolution," the girl replied, "the highest education not being universal as with us, but limited to a small body, the members of this body, known as the learned and professional classes, necessarily became the moral and intellectual teachers and leaders of the nation. They molded the thoughts of the people, set them their standards, and through the control of their minds dominated their material interests and determined the course of civilization. No such power is now monopolized by any class, because the high level of general education would make it impossible for any class of mere men to lead the people blindly. Seeing, however, that such a power was exercised in that day and limited to so small a class, it was a most vital point that this class should be qualified to discharge so responsible a duty in a spirit of devotion to the general weal unbiased by distracting motives. But under the system of private capitalism, which made every person and group economically dependent upon and exclusively concerned in the prosperity of the occupation followed by himself and his group, this ideal was impossible of attainment. The learned class, the teachers, the preachers, writers, and professional men were only tradesmen after all, just like the shoemakers and the carpenters, and their welfare was absolutely bound up with the demand for the particular sets of ideas and doctrines they represented and the particular sorts of professional services they got their living by rendering. Each man's line of teaching or preaching was his vested interest—the means of his livelihood. That being so, the members of the learned and professional class were bound to be affected by innovations in their departments precisely as shoemakers or carpenters by inventions affecting their trades. It necessarily followed that when any new idea was suggested in religion, in medicine, in science, in economics, in sociology, and indeed in almost any field of thought, the first question which the learned body having charge of that field and making a living out of it would ask itself was not whether the idea was good and true and would tend to the general welfare, but how it would immediately and directly affect the set of doctrines, traditions, and institutions, with the prestige of which their own personal interests were identified. If it was a new religious conception that had been suggested, the clergyman considered, first of all, how it would affect his sect and his personal standing in it. If it were a new medical idea, the doctor asked first how it would affect the practice of the school he was identified with. If it was a new economic or social theory, then all those whose professional capital was their reputation as teachers in that branch questioned first how the new idea agreed with the doctrines and traditions constituting their stock in trade. Now, as any new idea, almost as a matter of course, must operate to discredit previous ideas in the same field, it followed that the economic self-interest of the learned classes would instinctively and almost invariably be opposed to reform or advance of thought in their fields.
"Being human, they were scarcely more to be blamed for involuntarily regarding new ideas in their specialties with aversion than the weaver or the brickmaker for resisting the introduction of inventions calculated to take the bread out of his mouth. And yet consider what a tremendous, almost insurmountable, obstacle to human progress was presented by the fact that the intellectual leaders of the nations and the molders of the people's thoughts, by their economic dependence upon vested interests in established ideas, were biased against progress by the strongest motives of self-interest. When we give due thought to the significance of this fact, we shall find ourselves wondering no longer at the slow rate of human advance in the past, but rather that there should have been any advance at all."
HOW THE PROFIT SYSTEM NULLIFIED THE BENEFIT OF INVENTIONS.
"The general subject of the hostility of private capitalism to progress," pursued the teacher, "divides itself, as I said, into two branches. First, the constitutional antagonism between a system of distinct and separate vested interests and all unsettling changes which, whatever their ultimate effect, must be directly damaging to those interests. We will now ask you, Harold, to take up the second branch of the subject—namely, the effect of the profit principle to minimize, if not wholly to nullify, the benefit to the community of such inventions and improvements as were able to overcome the antagonism of vested interests so far as to get themselves introduced. The nineteenth century, including the last quarter of the eighteenth, was marked by an astonishing and absolutely unprecedented number of great inventions in economic processes. To what was this outburst of inventive genius due?"
"To the same cause," replied the boy, "which accounts for the rise of the democratic movement and the idea of human equality during the same period—that is to say, the diffusion of intelligence among the masses, which, for the first time becoming somewhat general, multiplied ten-thousandfold the thinking force of mankind, and, in the political aspect of the matter, changed the purpose of that thinking from the interest of the few to that of the many."
"Our ancestors," said the teacher, "seeing that this outburst of invention took place under private capitalism, assumed that there must be something in that system peculiarly favorable to the genius of invention. Have you anything to say on that point beyond what has been said?"
"Nothing," replied the boy, "except that by the same rule we ought to give credit to the institutions of royalty, nobility, and plutocracy for the democratic idea which under their fostering influence during the same period grew to flowering in the great Revolution."
"I think that will do on that point," answered the teacher. "We will now ask you to tell us something more particularly of this great period of invention which began in the latter part of the eighteenth century."
HAROLD STATES THE FACTS.
"From the times of antiquity up to the last quarter of the eighteenth century," said the lad, "there had been almost no progress in the mechanical sciences save as to shipbuilding and arms. From 1780, or thereabouts, dates the beginning of a series of discoveries of sources of power, and their application by machinery to economic purposes, which, during the century following, completely revolutionized the conditions of industry and commerce. Steam and coal meant a multiplication of human energy in the production of wealth which was almost incalculable. For industrial purposes it is not too much to say that they transformed man from a pygmy to a Titan. These were, of course, only the greatest factors in a countless variety of discoveries by which prodigious economies of labor were effected in every detail of the arts by which human life is maintained and ministered to. In agriculture, where Nature, which can not be too much hurried, is a large partner, and wherein, therefore, man's part is less controlling than in other industries, it might be expected that the increase of productive energy through human invention would be least. Yet here it was estimated that agricultural machinery, as most perfectly developed in America, had multiplied some fifteenfold the product of the individual worker. In most sorts of production less directly dependent upon Nature, invention during this period had multiplied the efficiency of labor in a much greater degree, ranging from fifty and a hundred-fold to several thousand-fold, one man being able to accomplish as much as a small army in all previous ages."
"That is to say," said the teacher, "it would seem that while the needs of the human race had not increased, its power to supply those needs had been indefinitely multiplied. This prodigious increase in the potency of labor was a clear net economic gain for the world, such as the previous history of the race furnished nothing comparable to. It was as if God had given to man his power of attorney in full, to command all the forces of the universe to serve him. Now, Harold, suppose you had merely been told as much as you have told us concerning the hundredfold multiplication of the wealth-producing power of the race which took place at this period, and were left, without further information, to infer for yourself how great a change for the better in the condition of mankind would naturally follow, what would it seem reasonable to suppose?"
"It would seem safe to take for granted at the least," replied the boy, "that every form of human unhappiness or imperfection resulting directly or indirectly from economic want would be absolutely banished from the earth. That the very meaning of the word poverty would have been forgotten would seem to be a matter-of-course assumption to begin with. Beyond that we might go on and fancy almost anything in the way of universal diffusion of luxury that we pleased. The facts given as the basis of the speculation would justify the wildest day-dreams of universal happiness, so far as material abundance could directly or indirectly minister to it."
"Very good, Harold. We know now what to expect when you shall go on to tell us what the historical facts are as to the degree of improvement in the economic condition of the mass of the race, which actually did result from the great inventions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Take the condition of the mass of the people in the advanced countries at the close of the nineteenth century, after they had been enjoying the benefits of coal and steam, and the most of the other great inventions for a century, more or less, and comparing it with their condition, say, in 1780, give us some idea of the change for the better which had taken place in their economic welfare. Doubtless it was something marvelous."
"It was a subject of much nice debate and close figuring," replied the boy, "whether in the most advanced countries there had been, taking one class with another, and disregarding mere changes in fashions, any real improvement at all in the economic basis of the great majority of the people."
"Is it possible that the improvement had been so small that there could be a question raised whether there had been any at all?"
"Precisely so. As to the English people in the nineteenth century, Florence has given us the facts in speaking of the effects of foreign commerce. The English had not only a greater foreign commerce than any other nation, but had also made earlier and fuller use of the great inventions than any other. She has told us that the sociologists of the time had no difficulty in proving that the economic condition of the English people was more wretched in the latter part of the nineteenth century than it had been centuries previous, before steam had been thought of, and that this was equally true of the peoples of the Low Countries, and the masses of Germany. As to the working masses of Italy and Spain, they had been in much better economic condition during periods of the Roman Empire than they were in the nineteenth century. If the French were a little better off in the nineteenth than in the eighteenth century, it was owing wholly to the distribution of land effected by the French Revolution, and in no way to the great inventions."
"How was it in the United States?"
"If America," replied the lad, "had shown a notable improvement in the condition of the people, it would not be necessary to ascribe it to the progress of invention, for the wonderful economic opportunities of a new country had given them a vast though necessarily temporary advantage over other nations. It does not appear, however, that there was any more agreement of testimony as to whether the condition of the masses had on the whole improved in America than in the Old World. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, with a view to allaying the discontent of the wage-earners and the farmers, which was then beginning to swell to revolutionary volume, agents of the United States Government published elaborate comparisons of wages and prices, in which they argued out a small percentage of gain on the whole in the economic condition of the American artisans during the century. At this distance we can not, of course, criticise these calculations in detail, but we may base a reasonable doubt of the conclusion that the condition of the masses had very greatly improved upon the existence of the popular discontent which they were published in the vain hope of moderating. It seems safe to assume that the people were better acquainted with their own condition than the sociologists, and it is certain that it was the growing conviction of the American masses during the closing decades of the nineteenth century that they were losing ground economically and in danger of sinking into the degraded condition of the proletariat and peasantry of the ancient and contemporary European world. Against the laborious tabulations of the apologists of capitalism we may adduce, as far superior and more convincing evidence of the economic tendency of the American people during the latter part of the nineteenth century, such signs of the times as the growth of beggary and vagabondage to Old World proportions, the embittered revolts of the wage-earners which kept up a constant industrial war, and finally the condition of bankruptcy into which the farming population was sinking."
"That will do as to that point," said the teacher. "In such a comparison as this small margins and nice points of difference are impertinent. It is enough that if the indefinite multiplication of man's wealth-producing power by inventive progress had been developed and distributed with any degree of intelligence for the general interest, poverty would have disappeared and comfort if not luxury have become the universal condition. This being a fact as plain and large as the sun, it is needless to consider the hairsplitting debates of the economists as to whether the condition of this or that class of the masses in this or that country was a grain better or two grains worse than it had been. It is enough for the purpose of the argument that nobody anywhere in any country pretended that there had been an improvement noticeable enough to make even a beginning toward that complete transformation in the human condition for the better, of which the great inventions by universal admission had contained the full and immediate promise and potency.
"And now tell us, Harold, what our ancestors had to say as to this astonishing fact—a fact more marvelous than the great inventions themselves, namely, their failure to prove of any considerable benefit to mankind. Surely a phenomenon at once so amazing in itself and involving so prodigious a defeat to the hopes of human happiness must have set a world of rational beings to speculating in a very impassioned way as to what the explanation might be. One would suppose that the facts of this failure with which our ancestors were confronted would have been enough to convince them that there must be something radically and horribly wrong about any economic system which was responsible for it or had permitted it, and that no further argument would have been wanted to induce them to make a radical change in it."
"One would think so, certainly," said the boy, "but it did not seem to occur to our great-grandfathers to hold their economic system to any responsibility for the result. As we have seen, they recognized, however they might dispute as to percentages, that the great inventions had failed to make any notable improvement in the human condition, but they never seemed to get so far as to inquire seriously why this was so. In the voluminous works of the economists of the period we find no discussions, much less any attempt to explain, a fact which to our view absolutely overshadows all the other features of the economic situation before the Revolution. And the strangest thing about it all is that their failure to derive any benefit worth speaking of from the progress of invention in no way seemed to dampen the enthusiasm of our ancestors about the inventions. They seemed fairly intoxicated with the pride of their achievements, barren of benefit as they had been, and their day dreams were of further discoveries that to a yet more amazing degree should put the forces of the universe at their disposal. None of them apparently paused to reflect that though God might empty his treasure house for their benefit of its every secret of use and of power, the race would not be a whit the better off for it unless they devised some economic machinery by which these discoveries might be made to serve the general welfare more effectually than they had done before. They do not seem to have realized that so long as poverty remained, every new invention which multiplied the power of wealth production was but one more charge in the indictment against their economic system as guilty of an imbecility as great as its iniquity. They appear to have wholly overlooked the fact that until their mighty engines should be devoted to increasing human welfare they were and would continue mere curious scientific toys of no more real worth or utility to the race than so many particularly ingenious jumping-jacks. This craze for more and more and ever greater and wider inventions for economic purposes, coupled with apparent complete indifference as to whether mankind derived any ultimate benefit from them or not, can only be understood by regarding it as one of those strange epidemics of insane excitement which have been known to affect whole populations at certain periods, especially of the middle ages. Rational explanation it has none."
"You may well say so," exclaimed the teacher. "Of what use indeed was it that coal had been discovered, when there were still as many fireless homes as ever? Of what use was the machinery by which one man could weave as much cloth as a thousand a century before when there were as many ragged, shivering human beings as ever? Of what use was the machinery by which the American farmer could produce a dozen times as much food as his grandfather when there were more cases of starvation and a larger proportion of half-fed and badly fed people in the country than ever before, and hordes of homeless, desperate vagabonds traversed the land, begging for bread at every door? They had invented steamships, these ancestors of ours, that were miracles, but their main business was transporting paupers from lands where they had been beggared in spite of labor-saving machinery to newer lands where, after a short space, they would inevitably be beggared again. About the middle of the nineteenth century the world went wild over the invention of the sewing-machine and the burden it was to lift from the shoulders of the race. Yet, fifty years after, the business of garment-making, which it had been expected to revolutionize for the better, had become a slavery both in America and Europe which, under the name of the 'sweating system,' scandalized even that tough generation. They had lucifer matches instead of flint and steel, kerosene and electricity instead of candles and whale-oil, but the spectacles of squalor, misery, and degradation upon which the improved light shone were the same and only looked the worse for it. What few beggars there had been in America in the first quarter of the nineteenth century went afoot, while in the last quarter they stole their transportation on trains drawn by steam engines, but there were fifty times as many beggars. The world traveled sixty miles an hour instead of five or ten at the beginning of the century, but it had not gained an inch on poverty, which clung to it as the shadow to the racer."
HELEN GIVES THE EXPLANATION OF THE FACTS.
"Now, Helen," pursued the teacher, "we want you to explain the facts that Harold has so clearly brought out. We want you to tell us why it was that the economic condition of humanity derived but a barely perceptible advantage at most, if indeed any at all, from an inventive progress which by its indefinite multiplication of productive energy should by every rule of reason have completely transformed for the better the economic condition of the race and wholly banished want from earth. What was there about the old system of private capitalism to account for a fiasco so tremendous?"
"It was the operation of the profit principle," replied the girl Helen.
"Please proceed with the explanation."
"The great economic inventions which Harold has been talking about," said the girl, "were of the class of what were called labor-saving machines and devices—that is to say, they enabled one man to produce more than before with the same labor, or to produce the same as before with less labor. Under a collective administration of industry in the equal general interest like ours, the effect of any such invention would be to increase the total output to be shared equally among all, or, if the people preferred and so voted, the output would remain what it was, and the saving of labor be appropriated as a dividend of leisure to be equally enjoyed by all. But under the old system there was, of course, no collective administration. Capitalists were the administrators, being the only persons who were able to carry on extensive operations or take the initiative in economic enterprises, and in what they did or did not do they had no regard to the public interest or the general gain, but to their own profit only. The only motive which could induce a capitalist to adopt an invention was the idea of increasing his profits either by getting a larger product at the same labor cost, or else getting the same product at a reduced labor cost. We will take the first case. Suppose a capitalist in adopting labor-saving machinery calculated to keep all his former employees and make his profit by getting a larger product with the same labor cost. Now, when a capitalist proposed to increase his output without the aid of a machine he had to hire more workers, who must be paid wages to be afterward expended in purchasing products in the market. In this case, for every increase of product there was some increase, although not at all an equal one, in the buying power of the community. But when the capitalist increased his output by the aid of machinery, with no increase in the number of workers employed, there was no corresponding increase of purchasing power on the part of the community to set off against the increased product. A certain amount of purchasing power went, indeed, in wages to the mechanics who constructed the labor-saving machines, but it was small in comparison with the increase in the output which the capitalist expected to make by means of the machinery, otherwise it would have been no object to him to buy the machine. The increased product would therefore tend directly to glut yet more the always glutted market; and if any considerable number of capitalists should introduce machinery in the same way, the glut would become intensified into a crisis and general stoppage of production.
"In order to avert or minimize such a disaster, the capitalists could take one or two courses. They could, if they chose, reduce the price of their increased machine product so that the purchasing power of the community, which had remained stationary, could take it up at least as nearly as it had taken up the lesser quantity of higher-priced product before the machinery was introduced. But if the capitalists did this, they would derive no additional profit whatever from the adoption of the machinery, the whole benefit going to the community. It is scarcely necessary to say that this was not what the capitalists were in business for. The other course before them was to keep their product where it was before introducing the machine, and to realize their profit by discharging the workers, thus saving on the labor cost of the output. This was the course most commonly taken, because the glut of goods was generally so threatening that, except when inventions opened up wholly new fields, capitalists were careful not greatly to increase outputs. For example, if the machine enabled one man to do two men's work, the capitalist would discharge half of his force, put the saving in labor cost in his pocket, and still produce as many goods as ever. Moreover, there was another advantage about this plan. The discharged workers swelled the numbers of the unemployed, who were underbidding one another for the opportunity to work. The increased desperation of this competition made it possible presently for the capitalist to reduce the wages of the half of his former force which he still retained. That was the usual result of the introduction of labor-saving machinery: First, the discharge of workers, then, after more or less time, reduced wages for those who were retained."
"If I understand you, then," said the teacher, "the effect of labor-saving inventions was either to increase the product without any corresponding increase in the purchasing power of the community, thereby aggravating the glut of goods, or else to positively decrease the purchasing power of the community, through discharges and wage reductions, while the product remained the same as before. That is to say, the net result of labor-saving machinery was to increase the difference between the production and consumption of the community which remained in the hands of the capitalists as profit."
"Precisely so. The only motive of the capitalist in introducing labor-saving machinery was to retain as profit a larger share of the product than before by cutting down the share of labor—that is to say, labor-saving machinery which should have banished poverty from the world became the means under the profit system of impoverishing the masses more rapidly than ever."
"But did not the competition among the capitalists compel them to sacrifice a part of these increased profits in reductions of prices in order to get rid of their goods?"
"Undoubtedly; but such reductions in price would not increase the consuming power of the people except when taken out of profits, and, as John explained to us this morning, when capitalists were forced by competition to reduce their prices they saved their profits as long as possible by making up for the reductions in price by debasing the quality of the goods or cutting down wages until the public and the wage-earners could be cheated and squeezed no longer. Then only did they begin to sacrifice profits, and it was then too late for the impoverished consumers to respond by increasing consumption. It was always, as John told us, in the countries where the people were poorest that the prices were lowest, but without benefit to the people."
THE AMERICAN FARMER AND MACHINERY.
"And now," said the teacher, "I want to ask you something about the effect of labor-saving inventions upon a class of so-called capitalists who made up the greater half of the American people—I mean the farmers. In so far as they owned their farms and tools, however encumbered by debts and mortgages, they were technically capitalists, although themselves quite as pitiable victims of the capitalists as were the proletarian artisans. The agricultural labor-saving inventions of the nineteenth century in America were something simply marvelous, enabling, as we have been told, one man to do the work of fifteen a century before. Nevertheless, the American farmer was going straight to the dogs all the while these inventions were being introduced. Now, how do you account for that? Why did not the farmer, as a sort of capitalist, pile up his profits on labor-saving machinery like the other capitalists?"
"As I have said," replied the girl, "the profits made by labor-saving machinery resulted from the increased productiveness of the labor employed, thus enabling the capitalist either to turn out a greater product with the same labor cost or an equal product with a less labor cost, the workers supplanted by the machine being discharged. The amount of profits made was therefore dependent on the scale of the business carried on—that is, the number of workers employed and the consequent figure which labor cost made in the business. When farming was carried on upon a very large scale, as were the so-called bonanza farms in the United States of that period, consisting of twenty to thirty thousand acres of land, the capitalists conducting them did for a time make great profits, which were directly owing to the labor-saving agricultural machines, and would have been impossible without them. These machines enabled them to put a greatly increased product on the market with small increase of labor cost or else the same product at a great decrease of labor cost. But the mass of the American farmers operated on a small scale only and employed very little labor, doing largely their own work. They could therefore make little profit, if any, out of labor-saving machinery by discharging employees. The only way they could utilize it was not by cutting down the expense of their output but by increasing the amount of the output through the increased efficiency of their own labor. But seeing that there had been no increase meanwhile in the purchasing power of the community at large, there was no more money demand for their products than before, and consequently if the general body of farmers through labor-saving machinery increased their output, they could dispose of the greater aggregate only at a reduced price, so that in the end they would get no more for the greater output than for the less. Indeed, they would not get so much, for the effect of even a small surplus when held by weak capitalists who could not keep it back, but must press for sale, had an effect to reduce the market price quite out of proportion to the amount of the surplus. In the United States the mass of these small farmers was so great and their pressure to sell so desperate that in the latter part of the century they destroyed the market not only for themselves but finally even for the great capitalists who conducted the great farms."
"The conclusion is, then, Helen," said the teacher, "that the net effect of labor-saving machinery upon the mass of small farmers in the United States was ruinous."
"Undoubtedly," replied the girl. "This is a case in which the historical facts absolutely confirm the rational theory. Thanks to the profit system, inventions which multiplied the productive power of the farmer fifteenfold made a bankrupt of him, and so long as the profit system was retained there was no help for him."
"Were farmers the only class of small capitalists who were injured rather than helped by labor-saving machinery?"
"The rule was the same for all small capitalists whatever business they were engaged in. Its basis, as I have said, was the fact that the advantage to be gained by the capitalists from introducing labor-saving machinery was in proportion to the amount of labor which the machinery enabled them to dispense with—that is to say, was dependent upon the scale of their business. If the scale of the capitalist's operations was so small that he could not make a large saving in reduced labor cost by introducing machinery, then the introduction of such machinery put him at a crushing disadvantage as compared with larger capitalists. Labor-saving machinery was in this way one of the most potent of the influences which toward the close of the nineteenth century made it impossible for the small capitalists in any field to compete with the great ones, and helped to concentrate the economic dominion of the world in few and ever fewer hands."
"Suppose, Helen, that the Revolution had not come, that labor-saving machinery had continued to be invented as fast as ever, and that the consolidation of the great capitalists' interests, already foreshadowed, had been completed, so that the waste of profits in competition among themselves had ceased, what would have been the result?"
"In that case," replied the girl, "all the wealth that had been wasted in commercial rivalry would have been expended in luxury in addition to what had been formerly so expended. The new machinery year by year would have gone on making it possible for a smaller and ever smaller fraction of the population to produce all the necessaries for the support of mankind, and the rest of the world, including the great mass of the workers, would have found employment in unproductive labor to provide the materials of luxury for the rich or in personal services to them. The world would thus come to be divided into three classes: a master caste, very limited in numbers; a vast body of unproductive workers employed in ministering to the luxury and pomp of the master caste; and a small body of strictly productive workers, which, owing to the perfection of machinery, would be able to provide for the needs of all. It is needless to say that all save the masters would be at the minimum point as to means of subsistence. Decaying empires in ancient times have often presented such spectacles of imperial and aristocratic splendor, to the supply and maintenance of which the labor of starving nations was devoted. But no such spectacle ever presented in the past would have been comparable to that which the twentieth century would have witnessed if the great Revolution had permitted private capitalism to complete its evolution. In former ages the great mass of the population has been necessarily employed in productive labor to supply the needs of the world, so that the portion of the working force available for the service of the pomp and pleasures of the masters as unproductive laborers has always been relatively small. But in the plutocratic empire we are imagining, the genius of invention, through labor-saving machinery, would have enabled the masters to devote a greater proportion of the subject population to the direct service of their state and luxury than had been possible under any of the historic despotisms. The abhorrent spectacles of men enthroned as gods above abject and worshiping masses, which Assyria, Egypt, Persia, and Rome exhibited in their day, would have been eclipsed."
"That will do, Helen," said the teacher. "With your testimony we will wind up our review of the economic system of private capitalism which the great Revolution abolished forever. There are of course a multitude of other aspects and branches of the subject which we might take up, but the study would be as unprofitable as depressing. We have, I think, covered the essential points. If you understand why and how profits, rent, and interest operated to limit the consuming power of most of the community to a fractional part of its productive power, thereby in turn correspondingly crippling the latter, you have the open secret of the poverty of the world before the Revolution, and of the impossibility of any important or lasting improvement from any source whatever in the economic circumstances of mankind, until and unless private capitalism, of which the profit system with rent and interest were necessary and inseparable parts, should be put an end to."
I RECEIVE AN OVATION.
"And now," the teacher went on, glancing at the gallery where the doctor and I had been sitting unseen, "I have a great surprise for you. Among those who have listened to your recitation to-day, both in the forenoon and afternoon, has been a certain personage whose identity you ought to be able to infer when I say that, of all persons now on earth, he is absolutely the one best able, and the only one fully able, to judge how accurate your portrayal of nineteenth-century conditions has been. Lest the knowledge should disturb your equanimity, I have refrained from telling you, until the present moment, that we have present with us this afternoon a no less distinguished visitor than Julian West, and that with great kindness he has consented to permit me to present you to him."
I had assented, rather reluctantly, to the teacher's request, not being desirous of exposing myself unnecessarily to curious staring. But I had yet to make the acquaintance of twentieth-century boys and girls. When they came around me it was easy to see in the wistful eyes of the girls and the moved faces of the boys how deeply their imaginations were stirred by the suggestions of my presence among them, and how far their sentiment was from one of common or frivolous curiosity. The interest they showed in me was so wholly and delicately sympathetic that it could not have offended the most sensitive temperament.
This had indeed been the attitude of all the persons of mature years whom I had met, but I had scarcely expected the same considerateness from school children. I had not, it seemed, sufficiently allowed for the influence upon manners of the atmosphere of refinement which surrounds the child of to-day from the cradle. These young people had never seen coarseness, rudeness, or brusqueness on the part of any one. Their confidence had never been abused, their sympathy wounded, or their suspicion excited. Having never imagined such a thing as a person socially superior or inferior to themselves, they had never learned but one sort of manners. Having never had any occasion to create a false or deceitful impression or to accomplish anything by indirection, it was natural that they should not know what affectation was.
Truly, it is these secondary consequences, these moral and social reactions of economic equality to create a noble atmosphere of human intercourse, that, after all, have been the greatest contribution which the principle has made to human happiness.
At once I found myself talking and jesting with the young people as easily as if I had always known them, and what with their interest in what I told them of the old-time schools, and my delight in their naive comments, an hour slipped away unnoticed. Youth is always inspiring, and the atmosphere of these fresh, beautiful, ingenuous lives was like a wine bath.
Florence! Esther! Helen! Marion! Margaret! George! Robert! Harold! Paul!—Never shall I forget that group of star-eyed girls and splendid lads, in whom I first made acquaintance with the boys and girls of the twentieth century. Can it be that God sends sweeter souls to earth now that the world is so much fitter for them?
WHAT UNIVERSAL CULTURE MEANS.
It was one of those Indian summer afternoons when it seems sinful waste of opportunity to spend a needless hour within. Being in no sort of hurry, the doctor and I chartered a motor-carriage for two at the next station, and set forth in the general direction of home, indulging ourselves in as many deviations from the route as pleased our fancy. Presently, as we rolled noiselessly over the smooth streets, leaf-strewn from the bordering colonnades of trees, I began to exclaim about the precocity of school children who at the age of thirteen or fourteen were able to handle themes usually reserved in my day for the college and university. This, however, the doctor made light of.
"Political economy," he said, "from the time the world adopted the plan of equal sharing of labor and its results, became a science so simple that any child who knows the proper way to divide an apple with his little brothers has mastered the secret of it. Of course, to point out the fallacies of a false political economy is a very simple matter also, when one has only to compare it with the true one.
"As to intellectual precocity in general," pursued the doctor, "I do not think it is particularly noticeable in our children as compared with those of your day. We certainly make no effort to develop it. A bright school child of twelve in the nineteenth century would probably not compare badly as to acquirements with the average twelve-year-old in our schools. It would be as you compared them ten years later that the difference in the educational systems would show its effect. At twenty-one or twenty-two the average youth would probably in your day have been little more advanced in education than at fourteen, having probably left school for the factory or farm at about that age or a couple of years later unless perhaps he happened to be one of the children of the rich minority. The corresponding child under our system would have continued his or her education without break, and at twenty-one have acquired what you used to call a college education."