Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/271

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THE SOCIAL PROBLEM

origin; the disproportion is due to inexorable natural law, for men are born unequal, mentally, morally and physically.

And thus it is that supply and demand determine the matter. The man in position of greatest responsibility, the vis a tergo, naturally receives the apparently disproportionate reward, because his group is so small that to replace him is difficult; he deserves the greater part of the gain, be it money or glory, because he alone makes the gain possible. He alone can determine the gradations of responsibility among his subordinates and he assigns rewards according to the relative importance of the services and the difficulty of replacing. The pay of the mere laborer is small because it is worth no more; the supply is in excess of the demand. If at any time demand be in excess of supply, inventive genius enters at once and makes fewer laborers needed, while the work is done better, more cheaply and more expeditiously. During the Civil War, agricultural laborers could not be obtained, but the land did not remain untilled. Gang ploughs, mowing, reaping and threshing machines did the work. When vast enterprises in railway and other construction were undertaken, there was insufficient supply of brainless muscle, living picks, shovels and hods, but the steam shovel, automatic cars, hod elevators and other contrivances quickly made the supply again more than equal to the demand. Experience shows that machinery is preferable to ordinary labor; it can be depended on; its strikes are brief and are overcome quickly.

Skilled mechanics recognize the conditions. Products of even the highest type of hand labor are rarely equal to those of machinery. The hand-made watch is not so good as the watch made by machine at very much less cost. Fifty years ago the man with a trade was a capitalist; but every decade has brought about a decrease in his importance. Machinery has reduced the carpenter to a mere fitter and nail driver; the cabinet maker is little more than a handler of the glue pot and screw driver. It is the same wherever one looks; the outcome is inevitable; mere manual labor will be replaced by machinery in such measure as to render even the better members of the third class barely essential. If this is to be the outcome, what about the great mass of men able or willing to work only as mere pawns in the hands of others?

This question can not be answered in a priori fashion. The elements of the problem are not hypothetical, they are cold facts and their interlocking makes the whole complex almost beyond comprehension. It is certain that at present no one student will see more than a little way toward the solution.

The problem is but one part of the greater problem, the elimination of poverty. It is true that incompetents are born in all stations, but it is especially true that poverty leads to their multiplication, while it is also true that their multiplication intensifies the curse of poverty