Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 15.djvu/212

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200
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ARE EXPLOSIONS IN COAL MINES PREVENTABLE?
By FRANCIS R. CONDER, C. E.

THE heaviest tax that can be imposed upon a nation is one that is paid in human lives. From whatever point of view the subject may be regarded, this conclusion is irresistible. If we look at it according to purely economical considerations, we may obtain very remarkable results. It has been estimated that an actual money cost of £300 is incurred in raising a boy, cradled among the poorest classes, from birth to manhood. It does not require us to ascend very high in the social scale before we find that this estimate must be trebled. If we take what we may call the cost price of the human unit at any definite time, say at £500 on arriving at maturity, the producing power of the unit in question will bear some relation to that sum; the more costly and careful education producing, as a rule, the more valuable result, as to productive power. If the laborer who earns 14s. or 15s. a week adds £50 per annum to the wealth of the country, the physician, the scientific military or naval officer, the barrister, or the engineer, may look forward to the time when his yearly labor will be worth more than a hundred times that amount, even if appraised only by the price he is actually paid for his time. Taking any producing individual, whether valued at £50 or at £5,000 per annum, at any period of his career, no income tax to which he can be subjected can approach in its pressure the extravagant tax of death, For the payment of that tax at once annihilates the total earning power of which there was, until that moment, a fair mathematical expectation.

The tax upon human life which is caused by war is one as to which philosophers and philanthropists have long written, and as to which generation after generation has complacently declared its own advance on its barbarous ancestors; although generation after generation has too often seen increasing holocausts offered on the altar of battle, with continually less and less excuse—the word justification it is too often but a mockery to use. We have seen, not so very long ago, that peace has its death tax as well as war. And we wish to call attention to a tax of this nature which, as far back as statistics have been collected, appears to be paid in this country with a grim and appalling regularity.

Regularity, that is to say, when viewed in the light of statistical returns. From any other point of view the deaths of which we speak occur with the most frightful and unexpected caprice. There may be a period of months during which none of the calamities which quietly occur are brought under public notice. Then there may be a terrific telegram, and an announcement in the largest letters used by the daily press, "Frightful calamity at a coal mine—sixty lives lost!" Again,