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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/346

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

holding of land, political economists have perhaps paved the way for a more radical discussion of the rights of property than they ever anticipated.

No landlords have ever been more oppressive to a community, or levied more odious exactions, than the merchants and speculators who in the United States corner coal or pork, or the manufacturers who, secure in a close, protected market, combine to extort from consumers an exorbitant price for oil and chemicals. Canadian cotton-mills, which before the rise in the tariff, effected in 1878, were paying about eight per cent in dividends annually, since then have earned double and treble such profits at the public expense. The broad question of property, not the narrow one of land, is up for discussion, and it can not be dismissed with inadequate treatment. At the dawn of the present manufacturing era, in the days of Watt and Arkwright, about a century ago, there was a hope widely prevalent that the conquered forces of nature, acting through the ingenious machinery and processes so rapidly brought forth at that time, would greatly improve the lot of the poor. That hope, so creditable to the hearts of the men who entertained it, remains unfulfilled. The poor, it may be admitted, have been improved in condition, but have they proportionately shared in the enormous aggregate increase of national wealth? The development of the past century's manufacturing and trading industry in the existing moral and social circumstances has been attended by the constantly growing contrast between colossal fortunes on the one hand and the earning of a mere livelihood on the other. The masses toil as hard as ever, for all the steam-engines, the railways, and complicated machinery applied to every form of industry. The chief result, and certainly an unsatisfactory one, is that the luxury of a few increases. Within recent years palace-building has begun in America, and sums have been lavished upon the homes of railroad and mining kings to an extent equal to the making cheerful and wholesome whole quarters of cities occupied by the squalid tenements of toilers. With industry highly specialized, and becoming more and more so year by year; with the web of a credit competition continually increasing in complexity and liability, leading to panics more severe with every recurrence, there is manifest danger to property—danger, because these stresses of business entail suffering beyond description among the working-classes, and, under some sharp distress, they may make a savage and ill-considered attack on capital. Let Pittsburg and Baltimore justify the assertion.

Popular discontent has in all ages been a dangerous thing, but how much more so than ever now, when a numerical majority—that is, the poor—control legislation, elect the executive, and levy taxes! In the last analysis the rights of property depend upon the popular will, and the people can readily modify existing rights in what they may take to be the general good. Fourier and Saint-Simon did not speak to