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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/70

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58
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

shirkers, of whom there are always a certain number even in the best-regulated establishments.

It is a favorite observation with writers on social and political economy that the world is continually passing through periods of "social evolution"; one of the latest and most popular of these authors (Benjamin Kidd) calls the present time "the most remarkable epoch in the history of human thought." Portents of impending changes in the established order of things, affecting the very foundations of society and the welfare of mankind, are frequently revealed to the innate perceptions of such writers; and it would seem from some of these—more especially the German authors—that the industrial world is now upon the verge of a social cataclysm, out of which a new civilization, the resultant of many opposing forces, would be evolved. Such prophecies (like Benner's) have hitherto apparently obeyed the "law of averages" with respect to the proportion of hits and misses; yet new forecasters of future social conditions, who believe that they perceive shadows of "coming events" cast before, continue to decipher these signs according to their introspective vision rather than through the light of past experience.

The fundamental principle of the Malthusian theory, that population tends to increase in geometrical progression and that the supply of food and other necessaries of life can only be increased in arithmetical progression, tersely expressed the social problem of Malthus's generation; but the subsequent wresting from Nature of virgin soil of vast extent in India, Russia, America, and other parts of the globe, affording feeding ground for countless flocks and herds, together with facilities for plowing, sowing, and reaping unlimited crops through the aid of modern agricultural machinery, and the modern methods of rapid distribution, changed all the former conditions, rendering the law inoperative during the century which has elapsed since its promulgation. Some of the more recent prophecies have proved equally abortive, and others are likely to share the same fate in the near future.

The growth of socialism in Europe during the past quarter of a century is one of the "signs of the times" which is just now affording a fruitful field for such speculations. If we permit ourselves to view the present state of civilization through the spectacles of some of these theorists, or if we countenance the foreign socialistic propaganda, we must, it seems to me, close our eyes to countless evidences of truly wonderful progress which has been made by the wage-earning class in America during this period in mental, moral, and material welfare. The operative of to-day is not only the peer but the superior of his predecessor in all the qualifications that form the mental gauge by which we