Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/475

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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bring them into a more dependent position; and, finally, is not the supremacy of birth and the sword about to be superseded by the still more oppressive reign of inherited or acquired property?"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;[1] 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

  1. The following is one-striking illustration in proof of this statement: After the reaping-machine had been perfected to a high degree, and had come into general use in the great wheat-growing States of the Northwest, the farmer found himself for ten or fifteen days during the harvest period at the mercy of a set of men who made his necessity for binding the wheat concurrently with its reaping, their opportunity. They began their work in the southern section of the wheat-producing States, and moved northward with the progress of the harvesting; demanding and obtaining $2, $3, and even $4 and upward, per day, besides their board and lodging, for binding; making themselves, moreover, at times very disagreeable in the farmers' families, and materially reducing through their extravagant wages the profits of the crop. An urgent demand was thus created for a machine that would bind as well as reap; and after a time it came, and now wheat is bound as it is harvested, without the intervention of any manual labor. When the sheafs were first mechanically bound, iron wire was used as the binding material; but when a monopoly manufacturer, protected by patents and tariffs, charged what was regarded an undue price for wire, cheap and coarse twine was substituted; and latterly a machine has been invented and introduced, which binds with a wisp of the same straw that is being harvested.