Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/720

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



THE events of the last few months in this country have certainly been enough to rouse the most indifferent citizen to serious reflection. In an already depressed condition of industry and commerce we have had thousands of men condemned by arbitrary action to wholly unnecessary idleness, trade in certain sections of the country all but paralyzed by the interruption of communication, and property to the value of millions of dollars destroyed. As an accompaniment to all this there has been considerable loss of life through violence; and the heated passions of men have not stopped short even of the most hideous and diabolical crime of train-wrecking. What further developments the future may have in store for us it is impossible to say; but it is hard to feel hopeful over the prospect unless the public can be got to look a little more deeply into the causes of these troubles than hitherto they have been accustomed to do.

It seems to us that the prevalent habit of regarding such disturbances as arising entirely out of a strained relation between capital and labor is an unfortunate one. Still more unfortunate is it, and still wider of the mark, when emotional people attribute all such troubles to the tyranny of capital. If capital were at all times to give way to the demands of labor, capital would cease to exist, and, population having meanwhile increased in a more than ordinary ratio, general social penury would be the result. Capital may be said, without much abuse of metaphor, to have the same instinct of self-preservation that organic beings have: it will fight for its life. To many people the sight of a capitalist withstanding the demands of his workmen suggests nothing but inordinate selfishness and greed; but this is not the capitalist's view of it; what he feels—we are now supposing a typical case—is that he can not meet those demands without unduly weakening himself and putting his men in the position of getting more than the market value for their labor. We do not say, and are very far from thinking, that capitalists never do selfish things. Still less do we say, or think, that they rise, as a rule, to the level of their social responsibilities; but we wish to affirm our opinion that capital is perfectly justified in acting on that instinct of self-preservation already referred to, seeing that it is a strictly limited quantity and can not without risk of extinction take upon itself the burden of satisfying the ever-expanding desires of mankind. Human desires are like a gas whose volume varies inversely with the pressure to which it is subjected, or, to state it otherwise, which expands just as the pressure acting on it is reduced; and to suppose that one set of men should be able by successive concessions to keep another much more numerous set of men continually satisfied is to suppose what in the very nature of the case is absurd.

Instead of perpetually canvassing the supposed rival claims of capital and labor it would be better if our social reformers would apply themselves to the underlying question how it comes that there is so much competition among the so-called laboring classes for the kind of employment which capitalists supply. The capitalists themselves do not create the competition. If they yielded to all the demands made upon them in the matter of wages and hours, they might be said to do, because then they would be creating conditions which would have a tendency to cause men to rush