Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/698

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tion to equality that the mathematical statement of a proportion does to that of a simple equation. We may say it would be absolute justice for all men to be rich and happy in proportion to their deserts, whatever that last word may mean; perhaps it would mean that they ought to be rich and happy in proportion to the pains of the work they do, perhaps in proportion to its results.

The former seems to me to be the true meaning. If there be such a thing as deserving, it seems to me that the woman who heroically wears herself out as a half-hand deserves more than the man by her side who does a hand's work with ease and pleasure—supposing, of course, that they have both previously made the same heroic efforts to acquire skill and efficiency. Absolute justice, if there were such a thing, would give her several times his wages. But could society afford thus to reward people in proportion to their incurable incompetency? If we say "No," then we decide that absolute justice is undesirable at the present stage of evolution. It can be desirable only under the condition of a perfect equality of gifts; and since this condition is most nearly approached by the lowest savages, we are almost forced to the conclusion that absolute justice is a thing to be avoided rather than courted—at any rate, for the present, and until the course of evolution (or progressive creation) is changed. Such seems to be the real view of everybody, whether he has thought little or much upon the subject; and yet everybody denies it, and claims to be in favor of absolute justice, or the nearest possible approach to it. Nay, and he is sincere in his claim. The difference between what people believe and what they think they believe is always important, but nowhere more so than in this study of political economy.

Any system of private property which bestows its blessings in proportion to efficiency in work and management, is unjust to the man who, with a heroic disposition to do his best, is held down, by circumstances over which he has no control, to a life of hard work and little pay. That those who get the least pay have the most irksome work is notoriously not the exception, but the rule. But this is an injustice which it would be fatal to the very life of society to mend, even if it could be done. We can never estimate relative irksomeness; and, if we could, it would be fatal to put a premium on the incapacity which makes the task irksome. Capacity to work and inclination to work are both important. Both must be developed. Nature's way of doing this was gradually to develop in the human mind the institution of property, as we have it to-day. She planted it there long before any of her creatures ever thought of asking why or how or with what probable result; and she planted it deep, and nurtured its roots to deeper and deeper growth. And she planted by its side a restless long-