Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 34.djvu/71

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
61
ALTRUISM ECONOMICALLY CONSIDERED.

I. Relief of the Poor.—This class does not include the sick, the dependent children, nor the insane, but simply those who are more or less of the time idle, who receive but small wages when they work, and who ask, or do not ask but seem to need, financial assistance.

So many have been willing to lend to the Lord (i. e., give to the poor), believing that it was a safe and dividend-paying investment, that for eighteen hundred years this has been the usual mode of relief.

Everybody knows that this has not diminished the number. It was very unfortunately said, eighteen hundred years ago, "The poor we have always with us," because the saying of it has helped to make it true. Assuming that we are to have the poor always with us, we shall do little to lessen their number. Had it been said upon the same authority, "Under the beneficent sway of wisdom the poor shall cease to exist among you," as it was said, "The wolf and the lamb shall lie down together," by this time we should have been far nearer the realization.

Early Athens—pagan Athens, if you choose—could boast of having no citizen in want, "nor," says the Grecian historian, "did any disgrace the nation by begging." This should have been our motto. With all the resources of this nation, its realization would have been easy had the proper course been pursued. In such a country as ours it is not necessary, but it is a shame and disgrace, to have the poor always with us—that is, poverty which needs relief. In the presence of millionaires, men owning but a single cottage are poor by comparison. We ought always to have such poor among us, but these are self-respecting and happy men. They must never be confounded with those who through defective character sometimes require food, coal, or shelter to be provided for them. The latter are intended when allusion is made to the poor.

Now, if anything of social and economic value has been demonstrated in this century it is that giving food, coal, and money to the poor from public funds or even by private charities pauperizes and degrades them. Henry George says that "the poor are growing poorer." If so, to nothing is it more attributable than to the multiplication of charities. "A city of charities and a city of paupers" is the designation of one of our Eastern municipalities.

How charity becomes the cause of pauperism may easily be understood. The problem has been well worked out, especially in England. Henry Fawcett, Professor of Political Economy in the University of Cambridge, in "Pauperism: its Causes and Remedies," published in 1871, says: "Those get the largest share of charity—not who suffer most, but—who can excite the greatest sympathy. Hence securing charity becomes an art; begging, a