Popular Science Monthly/Volume 32/February 1888/The Economic Outlook: Present and Prospective I
By Hon. DAVID A. WELLS.
ECONOMIC DISTURBANCE SERIES, No. VIII.
THE predominant feeling induced by a review and consideration of the numerous and complex economic changes and disturbances that have occurred since 1873 (as has been detailed in the foregoing papers of this series), is undoubtedly, in the case of very many persons, discouraging and pessimistic. What many think but hesitate to say, finds forcible expression in the following extract from a letter addressed to the writer by a large-hearted, sympathetic man, who is at the same time one of the best known of American journalists and leaders of public opinion. After referring to his great interest in the general subject, he says:
But what a deplorable and quite awful picture you suggest of the future! The wheel of progress is to be run over the whole human race and smash us all, or nearly all, to a monstrous flatness. I get perfection of machinery—at that very time the number of women and children employed in factories rapidly increases; an unprecedented cheapness of all necessaries of life is coincident with an intensification of the bitter struggle for bread and shelter. It is a new form of slavery which, it seems to me, projects itself into view—universal slavery—not patriarchal, but mercantile. I get yearly more tired of what we call civilization. It seems to me a preposterous fraud. It does not give us leisure; it does not enable us to be clean except at a monstrous cost; it affects us with horrible diseases—like diphtheria and typhoid fever—poisoning our water and the air we breathe; it fosters the vicious classes—the politicians and the liquor-sellers—so that these grow continually more formidable, and it compels mankind to a strife for bread, which makes us all meaner than God intended us to be. Do you really think the "game pays for the candle"?from the reading of the articles scared, and more satisfied than ever before that the true and wise course of every man is to get somewhere a piece of land, raise and make what he can for himself, and try thus to get out of the crushing process. It seems to me that what we call civilization is to degrade and incapacitate the mass of men and women; and how strange and incongruous a state it is. At the same time these masses of men are thrown out of their accustomed employments by the introduction or
A review of the causes of the recent economic disturbances in which sympathetic sentiments are allowed to predominate, is not, however, what is needed for estimating their present and future influence; but rather a review which will array and consider the facts and the conclusions which can be fairly deduced from them, apart, if possible, from the slightest humanitarian predisposition. The surgeon's probe that trembles in sympathy with the quivering flesh into which it penetrates, is not the instrumentality best adapted for making a correct diagnosis.
In attempting such a review the first point worthy of attention is, that with the exception of a change unprecedented in modern times—in the relative values of the precious metals—all that has occurred differs from the world's past experience simply in degree and not in kind. We have, therefore, no absolutely unknown factors to deal with; and if the record of the past is not as perfect as could be desired—for it is only within a comparatively recent period that those exact statistics which constitute the foundations and absolute essentials of all correct economic reasoning have been gathered—it is, nevertheless, sufficiently so to insure against the commission of any serious errors in forecasting the future, of what in respect to industry and society is clearly a process of evolution. This evolution exists in virtue of a law of constant acceleration of knowledge among men of the forces of Nature, and in acquiring a capacity to use them for increasing or supplementing human effort, for the purpose of increasing and cheapening the work of production and distribution. There is, furthermore, no reason for doubting that this evolution is to continue, although no one at any one time can foretell what are to be the next phases of development, or even so much as imagine the ultimate goal to which such progress tends. The ignorance, prejudice, and selfishness of man may operate in the future, as in the past and at present, in obstructing this progress; but to entirely arrest it, or even effect a brief retrogression, would seem to be utterly impossible.
The questions which naturally next suggest themselves, and in fact are being continually asked, are: Is mankind being made happier or better by this progress? or, on the contrary, is not its tendency, as Dr. Siemens, of Berlin, has expressed it, "to the destruction of all of our ideals and to coarse sensualism; to aggravate injustice in the distribution of wealth; diminish to individual laborers the opportunities for independent work, and thereby bring them into a more dependent position; and, finally, is not the supremacy of birth and the sword about to be superseded by the still more oppressive reign of inherited or acquired property?"
That many of the features of the situation are, when considered by themselves, disagreeable and even appalling, can not be denied. When one recalls, for example, through what seemingly weird power of genius, machinery has been summoned into existence—machinery which does not sleep, does not need rest, is not the recipient of wages; is most profitable when most unremittingly employed—and how no one agency has so stimulated its invention and use as the opposition of those whose toil it has supplemented or lightened—the first remedial idea of every employer whose labor is discontented being to devise and use a tool in place of a man; and how in the place of being a bond-slave it seems to be passing beyond control and assuming the mastery; when one recalls all these incidents of progress, the following story of Eastern magic might be almost regarded in the light of a purposely obscured old-time prophecy. A certain man, having by great learning obtained knowledge of an incantation whereby he could compel inanimate objects to work for him, commanded a stick to bring him water. The stick at once obeyed. But when water sufficient for the man's necessities had been brought, and there was threatened danger of an oversupply, he desired the stick to stop working. Having, however, omitted to learn the words for revoking the incantation, the stick refused to obey. Thereupon, the magician in anger caught up an axe, and, with a view to diminish or destroy the power of the stick to perform work, chopped it into several pieces; whereupon, each piece immediately began to bring as much water as one had formerly done; and in the end not only the magician but the whole world was deluged and destroyed.
The proposition, that "all transitions in the life of society, even those to a better stage, are inevitably accompanied by human suffering," is undoubtedly correct. It is impossible, as an old-time writer (Sir James Stewart, 1767) has remarked, to even sweep a room without raising a dust and occasioning temporary discomfort. But those who are inclined to take discouraging and pessimistic views of recent economic movements, seem not only to forget this, but also to content themselves with looking mainly at the bad results of such movements, in place of the good and bad together. So it is not difficult to understand how a person like the Russian novelist Tolstoi, a man of genius, but whose life and writings show him to be eccentric almost to the verge of insanity, should, after familiarizing himself with peasant life in Russia, come to the conclusion "that the edifice of civil society, erected by the toil and energy of countless generations, is a crumbling ruin." But the trials and vicissitudes of life as Tolstoi finds them among the masses of Russia are the result of an original barbarism and savagery from which the composite races of that country have not yet been able to emancipate themselves; coupled with the existence of a typically despotic government, which throttles every movement for increased freedom in respect to both person and thought. But these are results for which the higher civilization of other countries is in nowise responsible and can not at present help, but the indirect influence of which will, without doubt, in time powerfully affect and even entirely change. No one, furthermore, can familiarize himself with life as it exists in the slums and tenement houses of all great cities in countries of the highest civilization; or in sterile Newfoundland, where all nature is harsh and niggardly; or in sunny Mexico and the islands of the West Indies, where she is all bountiful and attractive, without finding much to sicken him with the aspects under which average humanity presents itself. But even here the evidence is absolutely conclusive that matters are not worse, but almost immeasurably better than formerly; and that the possibilities for melioration, through what may be termed the general drift of affairs, is, beyond all comparison, greater than at any former period.
The first and signal result of the recent remarkable changes in the conditions of production and distribution, which in turn have been so conducive of industrial and societary disturbances, has been to greatly increase the abundance and reduce the price of most useful and desirable commodities. If some may say, "What of that, so long as distribution is impeded and has not been correspondingly perfected?" it may be answered, that production and distribution in virtue of a natural law are correlative or reciprocal. We produce to consume, and we consume to produce, and the one will not go on independently of the other; and although there may be, and actually is, and mainly through the influence of bad laws, more or less extensive mal-adjustment of these two great agencies, the tendency is, and by methods to be hereafter pointed out, for the two to come closer and closer into correspondence.
Next in order, it is important to recognize and keep clearly in view in reasoning upon this subject, what of good these same agencies, whose influence in respect to the future is now regarded by so many with alarm or suspicion, have already accomplished.
A hundred years ago the maintenance of the existing population of Great Britain, of the United States, and of all other highly-civilized countries, could not have been possible under the then imperfect and limited conditions of production and distribution. Malthus, who in 1798 was led by his investigations to the conclusion that the population of the world, and particularly of England, was rapidly pressing upon the limits of subsistence, and could not go on increasing because there would not be food for its support, was entirely right from his standpoint on the then existing economic conditions; and no society at the present time, no matter how favorable may be its environments in respect to fertility of land, geniality of climate, and sparseness of population, is making any progress except through methods that in Malthus's day were practically unknown. The Malthusian theory is, moreover, completely exemplifying itself to-day in India, which is densely populated, destitute in great degree of roads, and of the knowledge and use of machinery. For here the conditions of peace established under British rule are proving so effective in removing the many obstacles to the growth of population that formerly existed, that its increase from year to year is pressing so rapidly on the means of subsistence, that periodical famines, over large areas, and accompanied with great destruction of life, are regarded as so inevitable that the creation of a national famine fund by the Government has been deemed necessary.
Illustrations confirmatory of the assertion that the food resources of half a century ago would be inadequate for the support of the existing population of the leading civilized countries are familiar, but the following are so striking as to warrant renewed presentation:
All the resources of the population of the United States, as they existed in 1880, would have been wholly inadequate to have sowed or harvested the present average annual corn or wheat crops of the country; and, even if these two results had been accomplished, the greater proportion of such a cereal product would have been of no value to the cultivator, and must have rotted on the ground for lack of any means of adequate distribution; the cost of the transportation of a ton of wheat, worth twenty-five dollars at a market, for a distance of a hundred and twenty miles over good roads, and with good teams and vehicles, entirely exhausting its initial value.
Forty years ago corn (maize) was shelled in the United States by scraping the ears against the sharp edge of a frying-pan or shovel, or
by using the cob of one ear to shell the corn from another. In this way about five bushels in ten hours could be shelled, and the laborer would have received about one fifth of the product. The six great corn States are Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Iowa, Ohio, and Kansas. They produce more than one half the corn raised in the country. These States, by the census of 1880, had 2,056,770 persons engaged in agriculture, and it would have been necessary for this entire community to have sat astride of shovels and frying-pans for one hundred and ten days out of three hundred and sixty-five to have shelled their corn crop for the year 1880 by the old processes.
In 1790, before the grain-"cradle" was invented, an able-bodied farm-laborer in Great Britain could with a sickle reap only about a quarter of an acre of wheat in a day; at the present time a man with two horses can cut, rake, and bind in a day the wheat-product of twenty acres.
Forty years ago a deficient harvest in any one of the countries of Europe entailed a vast amount of suffering and starvation on their population. To-day the deficiency of any local crop of wheat is comparatively of little consequence, for the prices of cereals in every country readily accessible by railroad and steamships is now regulated, not by any local conditions, but by the combined production and consumption of the world; and the day of famines for the people of all such countries has passed forever. The extent to which all local advantages in respect to the supply and prices of food have been equalized in recent years through the railway service of the United States, is demonstrated by the fact that a full year's supply of meat and bread for an adult person can now be moved from the points of their most abundant and cheapest production, a thousand miles, for a cost not in excess of the single day's wages of an average American mechanic or artisan.
The same conditions that one hundred, or even fifty, years ago limited the supply of food, and made it confessedly inadequate to meet the demands of a population increasing in a greatly disproportionate ratio, also limited the opportunities for employment to such increasing numbers apart from agriculture. Nearly and probably full one half of all those who now earn their living in industrial pursuits, do so in occupations that not only had no existence, but which had not even been conceived of a hundred years ago. The business of railroad construction, equipment, and operation, which now furnishes employment, directly or indirectly, to about one tenth of all the population of the United States engaged in gainful occupations, was wholly unknown in 1830. Apart from domestic or farm service little opportunity existed for women to earn a livelihood by labor at the commencement of the present century.
The existence of the present populations of Europe and the United States—nay, more, the continuance and progress of civilization itself—has therefore been made possible solely through the invention and use of the same labor-saving machinery, which not a few are inclined to regard as likely to work permanent injury to the masses in the future. It is still easy to avoid all trouble arising out of the use of labor-saving machinery by going to the numerous countries—many of which are rich in the bounties of Nature—which do not possess it. But these are the very countries to which no person of average intelligence desires to go.
Restless and progressive humanity generally believes also, that the continued betterment of the race is largely conditioned on the extension of free government based on popular representation and constitutional safeguards; and also on the successful continuation of the experiment under such conditions which was entered upon by the people of the United States just a hundred years ago. But the Government of the United States, under its existing Constitution, has been made possible only through the progress which man has made in recent years in his knowledge and control of the forces of Nature. Without the perfected railroad and telegraph systems the war for the maintenance of the Federal Union under the existing Constitution could not probably have been prosecuted to a successful conclusion; and even if no domestic strife had intervened, it is more than doubtful whether a federation of numerous States, sovereign in many particulars floating down the stream of time like an elongated series of separate rafts, linked together—could have been indefinitely perpetuated, when the time necessary to overcome the distance between its extremities for the mere transmission of intelligence amounted to from twenty to thirty days.
In every highly-civilized country, where accurate investigations have been instituted, the consumption of all the substantial articles of food has, within recent years, been largely and progressively increasing; and as the consumption of rich and well-to-do people in such countries remains almost stationary, inasmuch as they have always been able to have all they desired of such articles, it is reasonable to infer that this result has been mainly due to the annually increasing ability of the masses to consume. In Great Britain, where this matter has been more thoroughly investigated than in any other country, the facts revealed (as will be presently shown) are most extraordinary. In the case of the population of Paris, M. Leroy-Beaulieu also reports a wonderful increase in the consumption of food-products since 1866, and states that, if the ravages of the phylloxera (vine pest) could be checked, and the price of wine reduced, the cost of living for the whole of France would be less than it has ever been during the last half-century.
Furthermore, not only has the supply of food increased, but the variety of food available to the masses has become greater. Nearly all tropical fruits that will bear transportation have become as cheap in non-tropical countries as the domestic fruits of the latter, and even cheaper; and the increased consumption thus induced has built up new and extensive branches of business, and brought prosperity to the people of many localities that heretofore have had no markets for any products of their industry.
An acre of the sea, cultivated by comparatively recently-discovered methods, is said to be capable of yielding as much food as any acre of fertile dry land; but thirty or forty years ago, fish in its most acceptable form—namely, fresh—was only available to consumers living in close proximity to the ocean. Now, fish caught on the waters of the North Pacific, and transported more than 2,000 miles, are daily supplied fresh to the markets of the Atlantic slope of the United States, and sea-products of the coast of the latter, transported 2,000 miles, are regularly furnished in a fresh condition to British markets.
One point of immense and novel importance in helping to a conclusion as to whether the race under the conditions of high civilization is tending toward increased comfort and prosperity, or toward greater poverty and degradation, is to be found in the fact which recent investigators have determined, namely: that in the United States the daily wages paid, or the daily earning capacity of a healthy adult worker, in even the most poorly remunerated employments, is more than sufficient, if properly expended, to far remove the individual recipient from anything like absolute want, suffering, or starvation. Thus, in the case of fifty-nine adult female operatives in a well-managed cotton mill in Maryland, the per-capita cost of subsistence, with a bill of fare embracing meats, all ordinary groceries and vegetables, milk, eggs, butter, fish, and fruit, has been found to be not in excess of twenty cents per day, including the cost of the preparation of the food and its serving. In Massachusetts, where the results were derived from the six months' boarding of seventeen men and eight women (three servants), the men being engaged in arduous mechanical employments, and consuming comparatively large quantities of meat, the daily cost of the subsistance of each individual was twenty-eight cents per day. In the jails of Massachusetts the average daily cost of the food of the prisoners and of the employés of the prisons for the year 1883—bread of the best quality, good meats, vegetables, tea, rye-coffee, sugar, etc., being furnished liberally—was a trifle over fifteen cents per day for each person.
In one of the best conducted almshouses of Connecticut, the condition of which has been carefully investigated by the writer, the sum of $7,000 per annum, exclusive of interest on the plant and extraordinary repairs, is believed to be amply sufficient to maintain an average of sixty-five inmates, mainly adults, in a building of modem construction, scrupulously clean, thoroughly warmed and ventilated, with an abundance of good and varied food, clothing and medical attendance, or at an average daily expenditure of about thirty cents per capita.
The evidence, therefore, is conclusive, "that an ample and varied supply of attractive and nutritious food can be furnished in the eastern portions of the United States—and probably in Great Britain also—at a cost not exceeding twenty cents per day, and for a less sum in the western sections of the country, provided that it is judiciously purchased and economically served"; and the legitimate inference from these results is, that the problem of greatest importance to be solved in the United States and in Great Britain, in the work of ameliorating the condition of the honest and industrious poor is (as Mr. Atkinson has expressed it), to find out how to furnish them with ample and excellent food as cheaply as it is supplied to the inmates of our prisons and almshouses,
The facts in regard to the general increase in the deposits of savings-banks, and the decrease in pauperism are also entitled to the highest consideration in this discussion. In the United States the aggregate savings-bank deposits increased from 1849,581,000 in 1873, to $3,152,932,000 in 1886, an increase of over 150 per cent in thirteen years, while the increase in the population of the country during that same time was probably not in excess of 30 per cent. The increase in the deposits of the savings-banks of all other countries, for which data are accessible, show the same law of rapid increase, though not in so large a progressive ratio as in the United States. Thus, in Great Britain the increase between 1875 and 1885 as regards deposits was 40 per cent, and in the number of depositors over 50 per cent, while the increase in population during the same period was about 10 per cent. Switzerland and Sweden and Norway lead all the nations of Europe in the ratio of savings-deposits to the population—the increase, comparing 1860 with 1881, having been from the ratio of 4·2 to 35·5 in the former, and in the case of the latter, from 6·8 to 18·1. In Prussia, where the savings-banks are used almost exclusively by the poorer classes, the deposits for 1886 showed an increase of 876,000,000 marks over the year 1878. The percentage increase in deposits and depositors in France and Italy in recent years has also been large, and far in excess of any percentage increase in their population. The aggregate savings-deposits in various institutions and societies for the Continent of Europe, in 1885, was estimated at £338,000,000; or, including Great Britain, £538,000,000 ($2,690,000,000).
There are no statistics of national pauperism in the United States, and general conclusions are based mainly on the returns made in the eight States of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Michigan. A report made by the standing
committee of the various State boards of charities to the National Conference of Charities in 1887 was, that "except for the insane, who are everywhere constantly accumulating beyond their due ratio to the whole population, there has never been for a period of five years any increase in the proportion of paupers to the population; while for longer periods there has generally been a decrease in the number of the poor as compared with the whole population"; and this, too, notwithstanding the very great obstacles which stand in the way of all public and private effort for the checking of pauperism in a country like the United States, "which annually receives such armies of poor from European countries, and at home permits intemperance to breed so much of pauperism, especially in cities."
In England, where the population, between 1875 and 1885, increased in a larger proportion than in any previous decade, there was no increase, but a very steady decrease of pauperism; or, from an annual average number of 952,000, or 4·2 per cent of the whole population in 1870-77, to 787,000, or 3 per cent of the population for 1880-'84. For Scotland, the corresponding figures are much the same; although the Scotch administration of the poor is totally independent of that of the English. In short, there is no evidence that pauperism is increasing in England and Scotland with their recent marked increase in population, or that the people are less fully employed than formerly; but the evidence is all to the contrary. In Ireland, the experience has been different. "Here, there has been an increase in pauperism, accompanied by a decline in population," the number of paupers in receipt of relief, on the 1st of January, 1887, being returned as 113,241, as compared with 106,717 in 1883. Comparing 1880 with 1850 the decline of pauperism in the United Kingdom was about 40 per cent.
Prussia, with a marked increase in population, returned a decrease in the number of paupers receiving relief from cities and towns from 3·87 per cent of the whole number in 1884, to 3·65 per cent in 1885.
Crime in Great Britain is diminishing. The same is reported of Italy. In the United States, while crime has diminished in a few States, for the whole country it has, within recent years, greatly increased. This is to be attributed, in the Northern States, mainly to the great foreign immigration, and, in the Southern, to the emancipation of the negroes.
Finally, an absolute demonstration that the progress of mankind, in countries where the new economic conditions have been most influential in producing those disturbances and transitions in industry and society which to many seem fraught with disaster, has been for the better and not for the worse, is to be found in the marked prolongation of human life, or decline in the average death-rate, which has occurred within comparatively recent years in these same countries. Thus, the average annual death rate in England and Wales, during the period from 1838 to 1875, was 22-3 per thousand. From 1876 to 1880, it was 20-8. But, for the six years from 1880 to 1887, the average has not exceeded 19*3; which means that about 500,000 persons in England and Wales were alive at the close of the year 1886 who would have been dead if the rate of mortality which prevailed between 1838 and 1875 had been maintained. The average death-rate for the whole United States, for the census-year 1880, was between 17 and 18 per 1,000; which is believed to be a less mean rate than that of any European country except Sweden.
The results of the most recent and elaborate investigations on this subject, communicated, with data, by M. Vachee, to the "Bulletin de l'Institute International de Statistique," Rome, 1887, are, that the mortality of Europe has diminished from 25 to 33 per cent, and that the mean duration of life has increased from seven to twelve years, since the beginning of this century. This estimate of the rate of improvement for all Europe is higher than the English data would alone warrant, but may be correct. At the same time it is well recognized, that through the absence of reliable data it is impossible to speak with certainty as to the decrease in mortality, or as to the expectation of life in any country, except in respect to the last forty or fifty years.
Now, while improved sanitary knowledge and regulations have contributed to this result, it has been mainly due to the increase in the abundance and cheapness of food products; which in turn are almost wholly attributable to recent improvements in the methods of production and distribution. But whatever may have been the causes of these changes, they could not have occurred without an increase of vitality among the masses.
Again, if civilization is responsible for many new diseases, civilization should be credited with having stamped out, or greatly mitigated not a few that a century ago were extremely formidable. Plague and leprosy have practically long disappeared from countries of high civilization. For the five years from 1795 to 1800 the average annual number of deaths from small-pox in the city of London was 10,180; but for the five years from 1875 to 1880 it was only 1,408. Typhus and typhoid fevers are now known to be capable of prevention, and cholera and yellow fever of complete territorial restriction. Typhus fever, once the scourge of London, and especially of its prisons, is said to have now entirely disappeared from that city. No living physician has seen malignant syphilis as described in 1786 by the eminent English surgeon, John Hunter. Anæsthetics have removed the pain attendant upon surgical operations; and the use of antiseptics has reduced the mortality contingent upon the same in the larger hospitals; or, taking the experience of Germany as the basis of comparison, from 41·6 in 1868, to 4·35 per cent in 1880.
Dealers in ready-made clothing in the United States assert that they have been obliged to adopt a larger scale of sizes, in width as well as in length, to meet the demands of the average American man, than were required ten years ago; and that in the case of clothing manufactured for the special supply of the whole population of the southern sections of the country, this increase in size since the war, attributable almost entirely to the increased physical activity of the average individual, has been fully one inch around the chest and waist. Varieties of coarse clothing, as the brogan shoe and cotton drills, which before the war were sold in immense quantities in this same section of the country, have now almost passed out of demand, and been superseded by better and more expensive products. The American is, therefore, apparently gaining in size and weight, which could not have happened had there been anything like retrogression, or progress toward poverty on the part of the masses.
But the contribution of greatest value that could be made to the discussion of this subject, would be to spread before us an exhibit of the exact results of the experience of a country and a people, where under average, or not too favorable conditions, the recent changes in industrial and social life, consequent upon the new methods of production and distribution, have operated most influentially. Such an exact exhibit can not be made; but the experience of Great Britain, where economic data have been gathered and recorded during the last fifty years with an exactness and completeness not approached in any other country, furnishes a most gratifying and instructive approximation. To the record of this experience, attention is next requested.
During the last twenty-five or thirty years, the aggregate wealth of Great Britain, as also that of the United States and France, has increased in an extraordinary degree. In Great Britain the increase from 1843 to 1885 in the amount of property assessable to the income tax is believed to have been 140 per cent, and from 1855 to 1885 about 100 per cent. The estimate of the total income of the country for 1886 was £1,270,000,000; and of its aggregate wealth, about £9,000,000,000, or $45,000,000,000. Have now the working-classes of Great Britain gained in proportion with others in this enormous development of material wealth? Thanks to the labors of such men as the late Dudley Baxter, Leon Levi, David Chadwick, and Robert Giffen, this question can be answered (comparatively speaking for the first time) with undoubted accuracy.
Fifty years ago, one third of the working masses of the United Kingdom were agricultural laborers; at present less than one eighth of the whole number are so employed. Fifty years ago the artisans represented about one third of the whole population; to-day they represent three fourths. This change in the composition of the masses of itself implies improvement, even if there had been no increase in the wages of the different classes. But, during this same period, the "money" wages of all classes of labor in Great Britain have advanced about 100 per cent, while the purchasing power of the wages in respect to most commodities, especially in recent years, has been also very great. Among the few things that have not declined, house-rent is the most notable, a fact noticed equally in Great Britain and France, although in both countries the increase in the number of inhabited houses is very large; the increase in the item of houses in the income-tax assessments of the United Kingdom between 1875 and 1885 having been about 36 per cent. But high rents, in the face of considerable building, are in themselves proof that other things are cheap, and that the competition for comfortable dwellings is great.
The Government of Great Britain keeps and publishes an annual record of the quantities of the principal articles imported, or subject to an excise (internal revenue) tax, which are retained for home consumption per head, by the total population of the kingdom. From these records the following table has been compiled. From a humanitarian point of view, it is one of the most wonderful things in the history of the latter half of the nineteenth century:
Per-capita consumption of different commodities (imported or subject to excise taxes) by the population of Great Britain.
During all the period of years covered by the statistics of this table, the purchasing power of the British people in respect to the necessities and luxuries of life has therefore been progressively in-creasing, and has been especially rapid since 1873-'76. Converting this increase in the purchasing power of wages into terms of money, the British workman can now purchase an amount of the necessaries of life for 28s. 5d., which in 1839 would have cost him 34s. 01/2d. But this statement falls very far short of the advantages that have accrued to him; for wages in Great Britain, as before stated, are fully 100 per cent higher at the present time than they were in 1839.
The impression probably prevails very generally in all countries that the capitalist classes are continually getting richer and richer, while the masses remain poor, or become poorer. But in Great, where alone of all countries the material (i. e., through long-continued and systematized returns of incomes and estates [probate] for taxation) exists for scientific inquiry, the results of investigation demonstrate that this is not the case.
In the case of estates, the number subjected to legacy and succession duties within the last fifty years has increased in a ratio double that of population, but the average amount of property per estate has not sensibly augmented. If, therefore, wealth among the capitalist classes has greatly increased, as it has, there are more owners of it than ever before; or, in other words, wealth, to a certain extent, is more diffused than it was. Of the whole number of estates that were assessed for probate duty in Great Britain in 1836, 77*5 per cent were for estates representing property under £1,000 ($5,000).
In the matter of national income, a study of its increase and apportionment among the different classes in Great Britain has led to the following conclusions: Since 1843, when the income-tax figures begin, the increase in taxable income is believed to have been £755,000,000. Of this amount, the income from the capitalist classes increased about 100 per cent, or from £190,000,000 to £400,000,000. But, at the same time, the number of the capitalist classes increased so largely that the average amount of capital possessed among them per head increased only 15 per cent, although the increase in capital itself was in excess of 150 per cent. In the case of the "upper" and "middle" classes, the income from their "working" increased from £154,000,000 to £320,000,000, or about 100 per cent; while, in the case of the masses (i. e., the manual-labor classes), which have increased in population only 30 per cent since 1843, the increase of their incomes has gone up from £171,000,000 to £550,000,000, or over 200 per cent. Between 1877 and 1886 the number of assessments in Great Britain for incomes between £150 ($750) and £1,000 ($5,000) increased 19·26 per cent, while the number of assessments for incomes of £1,000 and upward decreased 2·4 per cent. What has happened to all that large class whose annual income does not reach the taxable limit (£150) is sufficiently indicated by the fact that while population increases pauperism diminishes.
Thus, in the United Kingdom, during the last fifty years, the general result of all industrial and societary movement, according to Mr. Giffen, has been that "the rich have become more numerous, but not richer individually; the 'poor' are, to some smaller extent, fewer; and those who remain 'poor' are, individually, twice as well off on the average as they were fifty years ago. The poor have thus had almost all the benefit of the great material advance of the last fifty years."
The following further citations from the record of the recent economic experiences of Great Britain are also strongly confirmatory of the above conclusions:
The amount of life insurance in the United Kingdom exceeds that of any other country; and the record here is a very rapid increase in the number of policies issued, but a large decrease in the average amount of the policies; the meaning of which clearly is that a larger number of people are not only continually becoming provident, but able to insure themselves for small amounts.
The changes in the relations of crime and of educational facilities during the last fifty years of the history of the British people, which have occurred and are still in progress, are in the highest degree encouraging. In 1839 the number of criminal offenders committed for trial was 54,000; in England, alone, 24,000. Now the corresponding figures (1886) were. United Kingdom, 19,446; England, 13,974. In 1840 one person for every 500 of the population of the British Islands was a convict; in 1885 the proportion was as one to every 4,100.
As late as 1842 there was no national school system in England, and there were towns with populations in excess of 100,000 in which there was not a single public day-school and not a single medical charity. In 1886 the number of attendants upon schools in the United Kingdom was reported at 5,250,000. In the same year the number in attendance upon schools, for the support of which grants of money are made by Parliament (and which correspond to the public schools of the United States) was 3,915,315, an increase over the preceding year of 85,335. The amount of such Parliamentary grants for 1886 was £3,945,576 ($19,728,830).
The change which has taken place in the relations of the Government of Great Britain to the national life of its people is also very remarkable. Thus at the commencement of the present century the British Government annually appropriated and spent about one third
of the national income; now it expends annually about one twelfth. But for this greatly diminished expenditure the masses of the people now receive an immensely greater return than ever before; in the shape of increased postal and educational facilities, safer navigation, greater expenditures for the maintenance of the public health and public security, greater effort for preventing abuses of labor, etc.
The general conclusion from all these facts, as Mr. Giffen has expressed it, is that what "has happened to the working-classes in Great Britain during the last fifty years, is not so much what may properly be called an improvement, as a revolution of the most remarkable description." And this progress for the better has not been restricted to Great Britain, but has been simultaneously participated in to a greater or less extent by most, if not all, other countries claiming to be civilized. So far as similar investigations have been instituted in the United States, the results are even more favorable than in Great Britain. If they have not been equally favorable in other than these two countries, we have a right to infer that it has been, because the people of the former have not only started in their career of progress from a lower level of civilization and race basis than the latter, but have had more of disadvantages—natural and artificial—than the people of either Great Britain or the United States. The average earnings per head of the people of countries founded by the Anglo-Saxon race are confessedly larger than those of all other countries.
But some may say; this is all very interesting and not to be disputed. But how does it help us to understand better and solve the industrial and social problems of to-day, when the cry of discontent on the part of the masses is certainly louder, and the inequality of condition, want, and suffering is claimed to be greater than ever before? In this way.
The record of progress in Great Britain above described is indisputably a record that has been made under circumstances that, if not wholly discouraging, were certainly unfavorable. It is the record of a country densely populated and of limited area, with the ownership, or free use of land, restricted to the comparatively few; with (until recent years) the largest national debt known in history; with a heavy burden of taxation apportioned on consumption rather than on accumulated property, and the reduction of which, a participation in constant wars and enormous military and naval expenditures has always obstructed or prevented; with a burden of pauperism at the outset, and, indeed, for the first half of the period under consideration, which almost threatened the whole fabric of society; and, finally, with a long-continued indisposition on the part of the governing classes to make any concessions looking to the betterment of the masses, except under the pressure of influences which they had little or no share in creating. And yet, without any "violent specifics," or radical societary changes, and apart from any force of statute law, except so far as statute law has been an instrumentality for making previously-existing changes in public sentiment effective; but rather through the steady working of economic laws under continually increasing industrial and commercial freedom, the working masses of Great Britain, "in place of being a dependent class, without future and without hope, have come into a position from which they may reasonably expect to advance to any degree of comfort and civilization."
Now, with humanity occupying a higher vantage ground in every respect than ever before; with a remarkable increase in recent years in its knowledge and control of the forces of Nature—the direct and constant outcome of which is to increase the abundance of all useful and desirable commodities in a greater degree than the world has ever before experienced, and to mitigate the asperities and diminish the hours of toil—is it reasonable to expect that further progress in this direction is to be arrested? Is the present generation to be less successful in solving the difficult social problems that confront it than were a former generation in solving like problems which for their time were more difficult and embarrassing? If the answer is in the negative, then there is certainly small basis for pessimistic views respecting the effect of the recent industrial and social transitions in the future.
But, in view of these conclusions, what are the reasons for the almost universal discontent of labor?