Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/692

This page has been validated.
674
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

stimulant to labor. I admit, with John Stuart Mill, that it may be well to give new wants to still savage people, so that their energy and ingenuity may be stimulated and they be lifted out of a condition of indolence by the exertion necessary to satisfy those wants; but the taste for consuming is not the one that needs to be stimulated among European peoples. The greater number of men, even in a country as rich as France, have not such homes, or furniture, or clothing, or food as hygiene requires, nor such as they all certainly would desire to have. Is not this want of necessaries sufficient to urge them to labor? It is the only incentive of those who labor with their hands; and it is only those who are at ease that seek for the superfluous. "But what," says M. Baudrillart, "will you do with those thousands of artists, those hundreds of thousands of workmen, who are working in metals, in cloths, ivory, woods, gems, with infinite taste?" The eminent economist himself answers the question a few pages further on, in replying to those who say that France "produces too much." "What does this fortunate France produce too much of? It is not of the things useful or agreeable in life when there are so many poor. Let some one point out what it is that is produced in superabundance. Is it wool, when so many are cold? Is it grain, when so many are in want of bread?" Let the men who are working at ivory and gems produce the wool and the grain which you say are lacking, and the question will be answered.

M. Baudrillart regards a small number of wants as a sign of inferiority, and supposes that the development of material wants corresponds with that of the moral faculties. This is true in the earlier stages of civilization, but ceases to be so in the later stages, when the development of wants is so little a sign of progress that they have been most multiplied and refined in times of laxity, corruption, and decadence. This is exemplified and proved in the case of the Roman Empire, where the impossible was pursued, and extravagance sought the height of enjoyment in the indulgence of perverted fancies.

Economists are accustomed to measure the degree of civilization of a country by its productive power. In a certain country the rich lay the world under contribution for the adornment of their mansions and the supply of their tables, while a million poor people may be living on public charity, a third of the population may be illiterate, another third may be without necessaries, and the prisons may have to be enlarged and martial law proclaimed. No matter; that country is called the most civilized in the world. In another country, we find brawny rustics, owning their houses and lands, procuring by their labor all that is indispensable to them. No one among them falls short of a certain degree of ease and education, but no luxury can be seen anywhere. That country is considered very backward. Such are the habitual judgments of the day. I believe them to be superficial and false.