Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/119

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

seeks to comprehend facts, and their relations to ethical truths.

The author of this work, profoundly impressed with the importance of the questions he discusses, has devoted himself to that consideration of his subject which includes a careful examination of existing conditions, with an inquiry into possible changes in the direction of a more complete justice between capitalists and laborers. It is a piece of good fortune that the task has been taken up in this case by a writer free from the eccentricities or narrownesses which too often beset those who discuss social questions. The literature on the subject of capital and labor is rapidly increasing, and much of it is open to a common criticism. The range of view is either too narrow, the formulæ of political economy being accepted as final and complete; or we find ourselves at the mercy of a being, utterly unscientific in his methods, who proposes to set things right by means little better than magic. Into neither mistake has Mr. Larned fallen; for, on the one hand, he has a correct appreciation of the limits to the laws which the economists have formulated, and, on the other hand, his faith rests on means of attaining ends which the most rigid scientific investigators of society must commend. As conditions change, economic science takes note and sets about the explanation of the new facts. The science is a growing one, and to take its statements to-day as an approval of existing forms of industrial life is to misconceive its nature. As Prof. Cairnes has clearly stated the point:

"It (economic science) belongs to the class of sciences whose work can never be completed, never, at least, so long as human beings continue to progress: for the most important portion of the data from which it reasons is human character and institutions, and everything consequently which affects that character or those institutions must create new problems for economic science."

The perception of this fact leads to an appreciation of our author's fundamental views. He disputes no generally-accepted economic conclusions, but gives due weight to factors, at present excluded, which, slowly gathering force, will raise new problems. He steps out into the broad field of social inquiry, and seeks to bring into clear view agencies which must in time affect human character, and modify the institutions of the present. In addition to this, the nature of those modifications is foreshadowed.

To show how clear and strong our author's position is in respect to social reforms, it is only necessary to glance for a moment at his conception of the evolution of justice in the department of human society with which he is concerned. After analyzing the function of capital, and defining it with rare precision as being "everything derived and accumulated from past labor which enables present labor to be employed in any such way that the beneficial results from it have to be waited for," two other facts of startling import are brought into juxtaposition. They are, first, that every kind of labor which does not immediately produce for the man who performs it the immediate satisfaction of an immediate want is absolutely dependent upon capital; and, second, that this complex social state which we call civilization has left no labor to be done by any man that is not of that dependent kind. Here is the dependence of labor upon capital brought home to us by a mere statement of facts. Pushing further the analysis of the conditions upon which capital and labor bargain together, and the reality of this dependence is intensified. We are invited to look at the man of capital and the man of work in the concrete, in order to realize the motives and necessities which to a large extent determine their relations to each other. The capitalist becomes an employer mainly to increase his means; the desire of gain is the most powerful motive shaping his conduct. As a bargainer, he therefore occupies a position of comparative independence. The empty-handed laborer is very differently situated. He must live; the physical wants of himself and family must be supplied; he bargains with inexorable needs at his back. Given these conditions, and human nature not apt to rise to high motives, and it is palpable that there is no limit to the possible oppression. No one claims that capital exercises to-day all the advantages of its superior position. The reasons that it does not are found in prevailing moral ideas which have