We are pleased to present, in installments, a very rare yet significant book written by former Congressman Henry George Jr. in 1905.
Earlier installments are available at the Progress Report Archive.
end of CHAPTER 8, DESPOILMENT OF THE MASSES
Victims of Privilege
Nor is this [impoverished] state of things confined to the agricultural regions of the country. If different in some of its forms, it is true in the great timber regions, where the lumber and wood-pulp paper combinations are forming closer and closer monopolies. It is true in the grazing districts, where for the old-time rate of wages a very much higher class of laborer is now to be had. (Conversing recently with a large cattle raiser in the "Panhandle" of Texas, I learned that the rate of wages was about "$25 and found," that this had been the rate of wages for some years, but that, whereas only Mexican "greasers" could years ago be had, now a lot of bright young Eastern men, some of them college-bred, were coming into the country and were glad to get the employment on those terms. My informant also testified to the fact that, notwithstanding this infusion of better laborers, there was no lowering of the rate of insanity that the solitary life generates among the sheep herders.) It is true in our mining fields. The wages of miners, taking the country as a whole, are today notoriously lower than they were a few generations ago. If there have been advances in wages and reductions in hours in some fields relatively to those existing ten or fifteen years ago, the betterment has been wrought by the strengthening of the trade unions, who, more nearly controlling the supply of labor there, have forced better terms in its sale.
But, on the whole, working conditions in America have hardened. If we are to take as conclusive the testimony of President John Mitchell of the coal miners' organization, the United Mine Workers of America, we must decide that the very great majority of workmen can, as social conditions exist, have no hope of rising above that condition of life. In the preface of his book, "Organized Labor," Mr. Mitchell says: "The average wage-earner has made up his mind that he must remain a wage-earner. He has given up a hope of a kingdom to come, where he himself will be a capitalist; and he asks that the reward for his work be given to him as a workingman."
Little wonder that Mr. Mitchell says this. Mr. Thomas G. Shearman sixteen years ago called public attention to the census showing that "more than four fifths of the working people of this country had incomes of less than $300 a year." He supported this with Ohio State Reports, showing that agricultural laborers in that State were paid wages that would average $250 a year if the men worked the whole year round, which they could not. (Speech on "The Menace of Plutocracy," Portland, Ore., June 17, 1889.)
Much more recently Professor Robert Erskine Ely of New York, analyzing the census returns, made the still more startling announcement that fifteen million wage-earners in this country -- men, women, boys and girls of ten or more engaged in manufacturing and mechanical industries -- obtain, on an average, $400 a year; and that since each of these is presumed to have an average of two dependants, the average income of the forty-five million persons is $133.33 a year. (Address on "The Savings of the Self-supporting Poor," before the League for Political Education, New York, February 4, 1902. Bulletin 55 of the United States Labor Bureau (dated November, 1904) reports that 48,225 employees of various kinds in the State of Indiana received in wages $8.77 a week; 8494 carriage workers, an average of $6.98 a week; 8056 furniture makers, an average of $6.88 a week. Similar investigations in Illinois indicate that 80,881 employees averaged in weekly wages $9.69; that in Missouri of 109,137 men and women investigated, the wages averaged was $8.81 ; that the operatives in the New Jersey woolen mills averaged $6.43 a week ; and in the cotton mills, $5.23; that factory "hands" in Pennsylvania got $9.28, and anthracite coal miners, meaning the expert workers, $9.53 a week, while the helpers and other workers got only $6.44, and the average of skilled and unskilled mine workers, $7.47.)
I do not pretend to rest the case of the condition of the masses of the people of the United States on figures, appreciating fully how figures are twisted to the defense of all manner of positions. I use these statistics merely because they express in concrete form what is to be easily observed by any who will look for himself. The share of the earnings of their labor received by the general population of the the country is really very small, and on the whole is diminishing not only relatively to the increasing production of wealth, but actually as compared with wages formerly paid in this country and the cost of living now and then. Rents have obviously increased. Taxes have enormously increased. (Dr. Charles B. Spahr, in "The Present Distribution of Wealth in the United States," after a lengthy examination, concludes (p.143) that "the wealthy class pay less than one tenth of the indirect taxes, the well-to-do class less than one quarter, and the relatively poorer classes more than two thirds." Mr. T. G. Shearman, in "Natural Taxation" (p.8), contends that the tendency of present taxation is to make the rich richer and the poor poorer.) The cost of the great number of commodities directly or indirectly controlled by monopolies has increased.
Thus, while the natural factor in production, land, has been made in effect scarce and is being made scarcer and scarcer by speculation, and while taxes are growing more burdensome and monopoly-controlled commodities higher in price, the ranks of the laboring masses are being sensibly increased by immigration. And these immigrants, instead of spreading out over the general country, are in the main swelling the city and town populations.
In generations past the abundance of unappropriated or very cheap accessible land welcomed the tide of immigration, which was largely agricultural. (Even in my father's time the song was still popular that bade immigrants "come along from every land and nation," since "Uncle Sam is rich enough to give you all a farm.") But of all the once wide public domains there is now not a free acre that is readily accessible, while the price of land generally has greatly advanced. The stream of poor immigrants is therefore diverted from its natural channel -- the rural districts -- and is sent into the centers of population.
The stream of immigrants enters into competition with the laborers already struggling hard for the employment that means a scant living.
This has aroused a militant opposition to the flow of immigrants that in the earlier years of the nation we were so glad to have. We now often hear it said, and our Government acts accordingly: "Penniless immigrants are undesirable. If they cannot come with some little means in their hands, they should be excluded."
The Fathers of the Republic did not say this. They asked nothing of riches. They wanted men. As has been seen (Chap. I), so far from requiring immigrants to have any means whatever, the Fathers were glad to encourage the practice of advancing passage money for such as would come. Nor was there any general disposition even to inquire into the antecedents of those who wished of themselves to come, or were, like many a felon, shipped to America by foreign Governments to be rid of their care and expense. The main essential that was thought to be necessary for the harmony and progress of the country was assimilability, and this quality the men and women coming appeared to have.
For a time Franklin had some fear of the ill effects of large numbers of Germans closely settling together, lest they should thereby "Germanize" a country given to English speech and American ideas and customs. ("Yet I am not for refusing to admit them entirely into our colonies. All that seems to be necessary is to distribute them more equally, mix them with the English, establish English schools where they are now too thickly settled, and take some care to prevelit the practice lately fallen into by some of the ship owners, of sweeping the German gaols to make up the number of their passengers. I say I am not against the admission of Germans in general, for they have their virtues. Their industry and frugality are exemplary. They are excellent husbandmen, and contribute greatly to the improvement of the country." Franklin's Works, Bigelow Edition, Vol.11, p.299.)
He feared, not the Germans, but non-assimilation. The institution of the public school system for the time allayed the danger. But the pouring of immigrants into the growing centers of population is raising it again. Not only have we Ghettos, German, French and Italian quarters in our large cities, but we have Oriental quarters, some parts of which must under even favorable circumstances be difficult of complete admixture with the blood of our body social and politic; and part of which, namely, the Chinese, does not seem to be assimilable under any circumstances, and will never be so long as the people of that nation, retaining their national and racial clannishness and refusing to adapt themselves to changed conditions, remain Chinamen, with scarcely a modification, whether they be in New York, London, Berlin, Melbourne or South Africa.
Immigration is bringing us each year between a half and three quarters of a million of people who are not being distributed over the country. While this deepens the misery of the poor in city and town, it leaves a considerable number of the immigrants unemancipated from their Old World ideas that all Governments are alike in that they oppress the masses of the people, and that the Government of the United States is different only in name and degree from that from which they fled across the ocean.
To what does this intensified hardship of the poor in the cities lead?
To putting the children to work: little boys in the mines, and little boys and girls in the mills, the factories and the stores. In all save four of the States -- Georgia, Delaware, Idaho and Nevada -- laws restrictive of the employment of child labor have been enacted; but so needed is the help of the children to the family support that these enactments are well-nigh dead letters. In the larger cities the very toddlers thread needles and pull bastings in the slums.
There was no such working of young children in the colonial period, nor yet in the earlier days of the Rcpublic. Adam Smith ("Wealth of Nations," Bk. I, Chap. VIII.), writing about the time of our Revolution, tells us that labor in North America was so well rewarded that a numerous family was a source of opulence and prosperity to the parents, the labor of each child being computed to be worth £100 (equal to far more than $500 to-day) clear gain to them; and a young widow with four or five young children was then frequently courted as having a sort of fortune. But this does not mean that the children were worked in infancy, but when they had grown to reasonable age. And even if it did, where is our advantage, despite the multiplied power in the production of wealth? What is the value of our century and more of progress if it does not add to the material prosperity of the masses of the people?
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