Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/36

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
26
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

tion of product the share at present apportioned to the workers, or, what is the same thing, the existing rates of wages could be maintained, seems utterly preposterous. It is not even too much to say that the very existence of multitudes would be endangered if the present energy of production were diminished twenty per cent. And in this connection how full of meaning is the following deduction which Mr, Atkinson finds warranted by investigation, namely: "That over a thousand millions' worth of product must be added every year and prices be maintained where they now are, in order that each person in the United States may have five cents more than he now does, or in order that each person engaged in any kind of gainful occupation may be able to obtain an increase in the rate of wages of fifteen cents a day. Great and undoubted, therefore, as have been the benefits accruing from machinery and labor-saving inventions, the margin that would needs be traversed in order to completely neutralize them by rendering human labor less efficient, is obviously a very narrow one," To which may be added that there is probably no country at the present time where the entire accumulated property would sell for enough to subsist its population in a frugal manner for a longer space than three years,

The greatest of the gains that have accrued to the masses through recent material progress has been in the saving of their time; not so much in the sense of diminishing their hours of labor, as in affording them a greater opportunity for individual self-advancement than has ever before been possible. To clearly comprehend this proposition, it is necessary to keep in view the fact that all men, with the exception of the comparatively few who inherit a competence, are born, as it were, into a condition of natural bondage or servitude. Bondage and servitude to what? To the necessity of earning their living by hard and continuous toil. "In the sweat of thy brow shalt thou eat bread," has been recorded as a divine injunction, and experience shows that a great majority of mankind, as the result of long years of toil, have never hitherto been able to command much more than a bare subsistence. In countries of even the highest civilization, where the accumulation of wealth is greatest and most equably divided, investigation has also led to the conclusion that ninety per cent at least of the population are never possessed of sufficient property at the time of their demise to require the services of an administrator.

Now if, in the course of events, it has become possible, through a greater knowledge and control of the forces of Nature, to gain an average subsistence with much less of physical effort than ever before, what is the prospect thereby held out to the multitude,