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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/600

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

dorf, the standard of living and of comfort among the masses is far higher than at any former period. Writing from Mayence under date of January, 1887, United States Commercial Agent J. H. Smith reports that, "although business is in an unsatisfactory state, it does not seem to affect the workingman greatly. Wages remain pretty much the same, and few discharges of hands take place. The stagnant state of the market only serves to make the necessaries of life cheaper, and to enhance the purchasing power of the laborer's money." United States Consul-General Raine, at Berlin, during the same month, also reported that "wages in Germany show a rising tendency"; that workingmen with permanent work, and wages unchanged, are deriving marked advantages from the low prices of provisions; and that, although the population of Germany has experienced an increase of three millions since 1879, "no lack of work was noticeable."

The readiness with which society comprehends the suffering contingent on the relentless displacement of labor by more economical and effective methods of production and distribution, and the overmastering feelings of sympathy for individual distress thereby occasioned, causes it to generally overlook another exceedingly interesting and important involved factor, and that is the relentless impartiality with which the destructive influences of material progress coincidently affect capital (property) as well as labor. It seems to be in the nature of a natural law that no advanced stage of civilization can be reached except at the expense of destroying in a greater or less degree the value of the instrumentalities by which all previous attainments have been effected. Society proffers its highest honors and rewards to its inventors and discoverers; but, as a matter of fact, what each inventor or discoverer is unconsciously trying to do is to destroy property, and his measure of success and reward is always proportioned to the degree to which he effects such destruction. If to-morrow it should be announced that some one had so improved the machinery of cotton manufacture that ten per cent more of fiber could be spun and woven in a given time with no greater, or a less expenditure of labor and capital than heretofore, all the existing machinery in all the cotton mills of the world, representing an investment of millions upon millions of dollars, would be worth little more than so much old iron, steel, and copper; and the man who should endeavor to resist that change would, in face of the fierce competition of the world, soon find himself bankrupt and without capital. In short, all material progress is effected by a displacement of capital equally with that of labor; and nothing marks the rate of such progress more clearly than the rapidity with which such displacements occur. There is, however, this difference between the two factors involved. Labor displaced, as a condition of progress, will be eventually absorbed in other occupations; but capital displaced, in the sense of substituting the new for what is old, is practically destroyed.