Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 68.djvu/287

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Our economic system rests on the free exchange of services. A state of society may some day be reached in which each will aim to give as much as he can and to take as little, but at present it appeals to our sense of fairness that each should ask for his services what someone else is willing to pay. In the increasing complexity of our society this method is working two serious injustices. One of these is the formation of monopolies. Thanks chiefly to the applications of science, many services can now be supplied at a cost less than people would be willing to pay. When free competition is excluded, either by the conditions of the case or by ingenious combination, people may be made to pay more than a fair return for certain services. The problems of monopoly are being discussed on all sides and remedies are being sought in all directions; but the injustice, which in a way is the converse of monopoly, has scarcely been noticed. This is the case in which an individual gives services without an adequate return, owing to the fact that they are not rendered to a single individual or group who will pay for them, but to society as a whole. A surgeon may ask for an operation for appendicitis as large a fee as his patient is willing to pay, but should he after years of research discover a method of preventing appendicitis altogether, he would receive no payment at all, but would, on the contrary, give up all future fees for the operation. The surgeons who by risking and sacrificing their lives discovered how to suppress yellow fever have received no return for their great services.

This state of affairs not only does injustice to the unrewarded individual, but works immeasurable harm to society—a greater injury probably than all existing monopolies. There are more than a hundred thousand physicians in the United States who are practising on their patients for fees, while there are scarcely five hundred who are studying seriously the causes of disease and the methods of preventing it. The conditions are similar in law and in all professions and trades. The scientific investigator is usually an amateur. He has wealth or earns his living by some profession, and incidentally does what he can to advance science for love of the work. This has its good side in producing a small group of men who are not subject to purely commercial standards. But this is after all a minor factor, and the scientific man is likely to look for fame, which is scarcely more ideal than money and can be supplied to but few. Satisfaction in the work itself is the best reward for work; but no one can know that his work is of value except by the reflected appreciation of others, and in the existing social order the simplest and probably the most adequate expression of this appreciation is direct payment for the service rendered. The methods that society has devised to meet this situation, apart from the conferring of honors and fame, are recent and inadequate. Copyrights and patents are the most direct acknowledgment of property in ideas. They have accomplished a good deal, and their scope should be extended. At present only a small part of discovery is covered by the patent office, and this perhaps not the part requiring the greatest genius. It is, however, leading, especially in Germany, to the development of discovery