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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/422

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Editor Popular Science Monthly:

I BELIEVE it will be the verdict of the readers of Hon. David A. Wells's papers recently concluded in the "Monthly" that they have given the most luminous sketch of the complex courses of modern industrial life that has yet appeared. Probably no writer has fortified his ideas by such a broad acquaintance with the living facts of industry; none has reached his conclusions by so wide an induction. And the absence of partisanship in ideas, the "philosophic calm" attained by so few even among philosophers, have been shown by Mr. Wells in a remarkable degree.

Instead of vague and incoherent talk about stock-watering, the Standard Oil Company, Jay Gould, speculation, and other all-sufficient "causes," we have had clear statements of the actual facts observed in the various departments of trade. Mr. Wells has shown us how one change in business led to others, and how these others disturbed still others; how nearly every walk of life has been greatly changed by the introduction of new processes, dependent, primarily, upon the application of steam and electricity to industry. From this review we see how little individuals have controlled the course of events, and how inevitable has been the revolution through which we have passed; and how Legislatures and States have been little more potent than individuals. In fine (if I may venture to state comprehensively the net result of Mr. Wells's papers), we have been shown that—

The industrial disturbances lately felt throughout civilization have consisted in the economic waste, the displacement of occupations, capital, skill, and social habit, due to the rapid and unceasing change in the methods of production and distribution; which change was itself due principally to the great mechanical inventions; that, among business classes, panics have been the result of the continual overthrow of established forms of business by new forms, and the unequal and disorderly rush of capital into these new forms, alternating oversupply with scarcity; and that among the laboring-classes there have been a corresponding displacement, insecurity, and suffering.

That part of Mr. Wells's essay which deals with the remarkable increase of social discontent attributed to our time seems to me the least satisfactory part of his performance. The result of his observations on this point seems to be that there is no valid reason for this discontent, and that the "laboring" and all other classes are better off than ever before. He indeed shows that much suffering has arisen from the "displacement of labor through more economical methods of production and distribution"; as where the hand-loom weavers were thrown out of employment by the introduction of the power-loom. But he also shows that these displacements have been only temporary, that the demand for labor soon becomes all the greater because of the new methods, which must lead us to infer the insufficiency of the cause assigned to account for the phenomenon, especially as sudden displacements have taken place only in a small proportion of industries. Two other causes are assigned: changes in the nature of employments, which tend to degrade the operatives of factories, and a general increase of intelligence. But no very serious effort seems to be made to support these hypothetical causes. Indeed, they may perhaps be said to exclude each other. Man is certainly a very unfortunate creature if he grows unhappy both when circumstances lower his "grade" and lessen his intelligence, and also when his intelligence is increased. For such a state of things there would seem to be small hope of remedy, since we can scarcely hope to maintain a dead level. The reader is left somewhat in the dark on the matter.

Content and discontent are doubtless largely dependent upon the quantity and quality of the food we have, the money we lay by, and the houses we live in; upon all of which Mr. Wells throws so much light. But it is superfluous to argue that happiness is dependent on conditions much more complex than these. The greater part—I think by far the greater part—of the unhappiness in the world comes from other things than insufficient food, clothing, and shelter. "All happiness in life," says Goethe, "is founded upon the regular return of external things." This remark of the great philosopher and poet, for which the equivalent could doubtless be found in Spencer's writings, seems to me to furnish the key to the problem. Our race has been accustomed for numberless generations to harder work and infinitely greater risk and privation than it endures at present; but it also had a character inured, through hundreds of years to its occupations and had habits and desires approximately conforming to its necessities. But the violent transition through which we have lately passed has probably changed to a very large extent the occupations of ninety-five per cent of the population within a single generation. The old, happy-go-lucky, sit-around-and-whittle-a-stick generation has been ruthlessly exterminated. Even the good old philosophy