Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/31

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
21
THE ECONOMIC OUTLOOK.

chinery epoch," there is no evidence that the aggregate of poverty in the world is increasing, bnt much that proves to the contrary. The marked prolongation of human life, or the decline in the average death-rate in all countries of high civilization; the recognized large increase in such countries in the per capita consumption of all food-products; and the further fact that fluctuations in trade and industry, calamitous as they still are, are less in recent times than they used to be, and less disastrous on the whole in their effects on the masses, are absolutely conclusive on this point. Great as has been the depression of business since 1873, there is no evidence that it has yet made any impression on the "stored wealth" of the people of the great commercial countries; and that, slow as is the accumulation of capital, a year probably now never passes in which some addition is not made to the previous sum of the world's material resources. The recognized tendency of the poor to crowd more and more into the great centers of population—drawn thither, undoubtedly, in no small part by the charities which are there especially to be found, and also by the fact that town labor is better paid than country labor—and the contrasts of social conditions, which exhibit themselves more strikingly at such centers than elsewhere, naturally cause popular observation of poverty to continually center, as it were, at its focus of greatest intensity, and creates impressions and induces conclusions that broader and more systematized inspections often fail to substantiate.[1] Indeed, one thing which the public needs to recognize more fully than it does is, that in most of the leading nations, systematic and rigid investigations, in respect to most economic subjects and questions, have now been prosecuted for a considerable period by governments and individuals; that the broad general conclusions deducible therefrom in respect to mortality, health, wages, prices, pauperism, population, and the like,

  1. A chapter from the recent experience of the city of Brooklyn; New York, in respect to pauperism, affords a very striking illustration of this statement. In the five years from 1874 to 1878 inclusive, the number of persons who asked and received outside poor relief from the city authorities increased more than 50 per cent, while the increase in the population of the city during the same period was less than 14 per cent. The evidence would, therefore, almost seem conclusive that the masses of this city were rapidly becoming poorer and poorer. In the latter year, however, the system of giving outside poor relief was wholly discontinued. It was feared by many that this action would lead to great distress and suffering, and many charitable persons made preparations to meet the demands they expected would be made upon them. Nothing of the kind occurred. Not only was the whole number (46,093) drawing aid from the county wholly stopped, but it was also accompanied by a decreased demand on the public institutions and private relief societies of the city, and a reduction in the number of inmates in the almshouse. The teaching of this experience, which has since been elsewhere substantiated, is, therefore, to the effect that what seem to be unmistakable proofs of increasing poverty were merely methods to supplement wages on the gains from mendicancy.