Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/June 1887/Social Sustenance II

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1013992Popular Science Monthly Volume 31 June 1887 — Social Sustenance II1887Henry J. Philpott




PERHAPS we may now enter on a more detailed examination of the nature and methods of the help that human beings in the social state render one another in making a living. The best way to do this will be to begin with the simple and proceed to the complex. It is all done by the combination of our efforts—not their aggregation simply, but their combination. We must carefully note the difference. Aggregation is a mere pooling of products or results. At any rate, let us so use the word. It may be illustrated by two fishermen fishing on the river-bank with hook and line, and dividing the catch at night. No more fish will be caught than if each fished separately and carried home his own catch.

But suppose they take a seine, they may catch ten times as many as they could working separately. They have now combined their efforts, which before were merely added together. The combination has brought forth a new and enlarged result. It has increased the result geometrically. By uniting and helping each other, they have gained a better living than they could possibly have got by working separately.

This way of uniting human effort let us call combination. But we need not enter into any quibble as to the precise place to draw the line between aggregation and combination. If anybody chooses to confuse the two, no economic argument will be affected one way or the other. If the distinction does not beget clearness of thought, it will have served no purpose whatever, and may be ignored; for, henceforth, we shall mostly be thinking about combination, and very seldom of mere pooling or aggregation of effort.

1. The simplest form of combination is where two or more men carry a burden too heavy for either alone, but which can not be divided. Pall-bearers, or the bearers of a sedan-chair, or track-layers on a railroad, or the builders of a log-house, illustrate this extremely simple and direct form of the combination of human effort to bring about a result unattainable by separate effort. Even in this simple form of mutual helpfulness it is plainly seen that two and two do not make four—they make five, or ten, or a hundred.

2. The next most simple form of combination is where two or more persons are working at the same undertaking in the same place, or under the same management, but attending to different parts of it. Every factory, mill, shop, store, or jobbing-house, illustrates this form. There are division and diversity of work, but the product is one. So it is with the players in a play. Their parts are diverse, but the play is a unit, and they all work together. Here it is plainer than ever that ten or fifteen human beings, by combining their efforts, can do for us in three hours what one person could not do in a lifetime.

3. One step more in the direction of complexity, and we reach a form of combination wherein all still contribute to the production of a single article or result, but work in different places, different factories, different countries, perhaps, and especially under different management or conditions. A striking example of this is the cotton-grower, whose immediate product is of extremely little use until it has been transported many miles and been worked upon by another set of human beings, generally of a different race and color. But this is only one example, though perhaps the most striking, of the third form of combination of human effort, in which persons widely separated by space as well as by diversity of gifts and employments, jointly contribute to a single and strictly unified product or result.

It is often a business question with the leader of an enterprise whether he shall adopt the second or third form of combination; and still oftener how far he shall follow one and how far the other. In some industries the tendency is one way, and in some the other. In still others it is merely a question of how much of the work each contributor shall do. Shall the iron-master buy his iron in the bar, in the pig, or in the ore? Shall the woolen manufacturer buy his wool in the crude web, in the yarn, or in the fleece? Fifty years ago it was quite common for the same family to rear and shear the sheep, wash the fleece, card it, spin it, weave it, color it, and make it into clothing—though different members of the family attended to different parts of the work. That was a combination of the second form. At present wool-growing and woolen-manufacturing are separated. Sometimes the spinning and weaving are separated. As a rule, the weaving and making are separated.

It is into this third form of combination that what is called exchange enters. Exchange is so important a phenomenon that political economy is often called the science of exchanges. This definition, as we now see, narrows its field. The real subject-matter of political economy is the mutual helpfulness of human beings in making a living. Exchange is only one of the ways of making this helpfulness effective. None the less, persons between whom exchange is hindered or prohibited are to that extent kept from helping one another to make a living. The wool-grower and the sheep-shearer are just as truly engaged in the production of cloth as the weaver. If the wool-grower is prohibited from furnishing wool to the weaver, it is plain that both are hindered in their joint work.

4. In the fourth form of combination, also, exchange prevails as a prominent feature. But here we take leave of one feature which has thus far characterized all forms of combination. It is unity of product. Each party now completes his product, ready to enter into the living of a fellow-being. One hunts and the other fishes, and the hunter trades game for fish. Each then has for his supper a variety consisting of game and fish. Rarely, indeed, is the exchange so simple as this. In civilized societies it is highly complex, and its problems baffle the best of brains. If we sit down to a meal, we find that one set of men have furnished us the table, another set the table-cloth, another the dishes, another the silver, another the bread, another the butter, another the pepper, another the salt, another the sugar, another the coffee, another this, and another that, until a score of groups and thousands of persons might be counted, all of whom have helped us to get our dinner—to make our living.

5. There is a fifth form of combination, more simple than the third or fourth, and yet in one sense more complex. In this the service rendered on one side is direct, and on the other indirect. There is no exchange of products, and, in fact, generally no product. The physician, the minister, the lawyer, the teacher, and the housemaid, all help us in making a living. They do not help us by making some material thing and sending it to us. They help us personally and directly. We in return help them by giving them the money we have got for helping somebody else, and with it they buy the products or services of still other people.

The doctor helps the lawyer to get well. The lawyer helps the doctor to get something to eat and wear, by giving him some of the money he has got for helping other people to get their rights in the courts.

The mutual help of man and wife is usually in this form. Only in this case there is no stipulated return service for what the wife does, and she gets part of her reward in money and part in goods. She is to have her living—this the law provides. If the case comes into court, the amplitude of her living may be fixed, or rather the amplitude of her means of living. Otherwise, she may render a large service for a poor living, or get a good living for no service at all. But whatever service she does render is rendered directly, and it also, like the finished product in the fourth combination, enters immediately into the living of the other party to the mutual helpfulness.

6. There is a sixth combination of human effort, and a very important one. It is the combination of past with successive present efforts. In one form of it the material product of the past effort is called capital. In other forms it is non-material, and is called skill, education, training, reputation, prestige, or good-will. If a fisherman spends a week making a boat, we say he has spent a week accumulating capital. But if he spends five days learning how, and makes the boat in a day, we say he has spent a day in the production of capital. If he spends another week in learning to row it, he has still spent but one day in the accumulation of capital. But, none the less, he has done two weeks' work which will never bear fruit until it is combined with future work, and then it will (presumably) fertilize that future work and increase its fruitage.

So the past work of the dead father is combined with the present work of the living son. This, not only as embodied in the estate which he left him, but as manifested in his education, moral, mental, and manual. This combination links us to the whole past and the whole future. It needs to be very carefully studied.

For instance, the hasty critic may say that it is identical with the third combination, since in that the past labor of the cotton-planter is combined with the present labor of the weaver. But this criticism misses the point. In the third combination we combine the past efforts of others with our own present efforts in a single combination, resulting in a single product or service. In the sixth combination we combine identical past efforts, which may be our own, with a succession of our own present efforts, to produce a succession of similar or different products or services. Any individual fiber of cotton, once woven into cloth, and worn, is extinct; but the boat of the fisherman may be used over and over again for fishing, for hunting, for necessary journeys, or for pleasure.

So skill, once acquired, is combined with all future efforts in the same line, or even in slightly different lines.

Care must be taken not to confound our sixth combination with the ideas conveyed by the word "capital." Cotton produced, and not yet woven or worn, is called capital. It is not necessary for us to quarrel with that use of the term. We may use it in the same way without detriment to the clearness of our ideas, or the force of logic. For that matter, we may call anything capital which has been produced and not yet consumed. We shall have only incidental use for the term, and in most cases the ordinary business sense of it will do.

These six forms of the combination of human efforts for the purpose of securing an increase of results more than commensurate with the increase of effort are, like the simple elements in chemistry or the three forms of the lever in mechanics, generally found united or co-working, and in an infinite variety of ways. Thus, as between themselves, the actors in a play exemplify the second combination; as between them and the audience, the combination is of the fifth form. So, in the production of cotton cloth, there is combination in the second form as between the different classes of operatives in the factory, and combination in the third form as between all the factory operatives and all the employés in the cotton-field.

But we plainly see that the sustenance of civilized human beings is the work of a mutual-aid society of stupendous proportions and well-nigh inscrutable complexity. To a rapidly growing extent it takes in the whole world. But the greater the civilization the greater the complexity, and the greater the proportion of mutual helpfulness to immediate self-helpfulness. Hence the greater difficulty, but at the same time the greater necessity, of a thorough study of the methods of this mutual helpfulness, and of the terms on which it is rendered.

To this study I hope to contribute something, and I shall not be disappointed if it is something very far short of a revolution. It may be nothing but the discovery, or selection, or utilization of a new point of view. But even this may enable some fellow-student of taller stature to catch a glimpse of some landmark, or alignment of land-marks, which will prove a key to the whole situation. Political economy has been termed the science of wealth; in order to widen the field, "wealth" has been called "weal"; again, it has been called the science of exchanges, and again the word "exchanges" has been widened to admit of an evidently needed expansion of treatment. I propose to let these words shrink back to their every-day meaning, and adopt a treatment and a definition of the science which will take in every effect of social relations on individual sustenance of every degree of amplitude. For want of a better term to express this broad view, I have translated "political economy" into "social sustenance." The new term is intended to interpret, and not to supersede, the old one.

I have with extreme brevity outlined the hindrances as well as the helps that socially organized human beings offer us in our sustenance. The latter I have classified into six forms of combination (not always exchange) of effort, as follows:

1. Unity of completed service, immediate union of contributors, homeogeneity of functions.
2. Unity of completed service, immediate union of contributors, specialization of functions.
3. Unity of completed service, specialization of functions, separation of contributors.
4. Diversity of completed service, specialization of functions, separation of contributors, service embodied in material commodities.
5. Diversity of completed services, embodied in commodities on one side only, or neither, specialization of functions, contributors sometimes united (as man and wife) in the final purpose of making a living.
6. Combination of past with successive present efforts, all by the same or by different contributors, completed services personal or embodied in commodities.

Whether the list might be extended, or ought to be condensed, is for others to say. In its present form it can hardly be more than suggestive, for its whole line of study is entirely novel, so far as I know. A rigid adherence to it, however, is not essential to my general view of the science, nor to any part of a minute discussion in accordance with that view. At the same time I am inclined to think that some such classification might be made not only highly instructive, but quite convenient for reference.