Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/349

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337
PROBLEMS OF PROPERTY.

soil, and not scores of independent families with their personal interests and all the healthy influences of an independent, self-reliant struggle. In manufacturing and trading, as well as in farming, the strong large companies and houses are absorbing the weaker, and the fortunate ones who head the movement tend to become proportionately fewer as the process goes on. Every child now born into the world's theatre finds most of the best seats taken, and a good many of the second best. In all this I think there is danger, for which it is becoming necessary that preventives were thoughtfully sought.

Without deliberately facing the problem of have and want, there has been for ages a lurking, unconscious impression abroad that the differences in human fortunes are apt to injuriously widen—that the very poor have a moral claim upon the rich; that somehow, if human affairs were once to be placed on a basis of right, there would be none very poor, and so roundabout justice has for long been calling itself charity. The English poor-laws, dating from Elizabeth, which guarantee the natives of a parish support by the parish, is the most noteworthy example of this. Perhaps the next most striking example is our modern state education, which goes beyond the enforcing on a parent of bis child's education—as it enforces its provision of food, clothes, and shelter—and, as it seems that these latter expenses are all the parent can usually bear, the child of the poor man is sent to school chiefly at the charge of the rich and well-to-do. The attempt at rectifying, however crudely, somewhat of the current social injustice, reconciles many to the measure who would otherwise oppose it on the high grounds of liberty and the inviolable responsibility which should remain with a parent—for why should bread not be given to the children by the state as well as books?

Besides public-school education, there have been many commendable attempts within recent years at reducing the glaring inequalities of fortune so common and so undesirable. Public parks, libraries, museums, picture-galleries, and hospitals have been established with public funds for the popular good; and wealthy men have given large gifts to them, recognizing the responsibility of riches and doing something for the toilers who have brought their accumulations together. Yet if we are to expect more of justice in the institution of property as time goes on, we may expect to see the circle of charity recede as opportunities for its exercise diminish.

Having briefly and very imperfectly stated some of the evils which attend {he present methods of distributing and accumulating property, let us proceed to glance at the principal remedies suggested for their correction. The formal proposals for the righting of the wrongs of property have begun usually with land. In Great Britain not only reformers and philosophers, but parliamentary commissioners have again and again pronounced against the laws and customs of primogeniture and entail. These laws and customs are held to lead to unduly large