The Menace of Privilege Chapter Nine first part
|January 9, 2007||Posted by Staff under Progress Report, The Progress Report|
The Menace of Privilege, by Henry George Jr.
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.
start of CHAPTER 9, PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND MORAL DETERIORATION
Privilege Causes Poverty
Who that has looked at a Japanese dwarfed tree in a porcelain pot has not wondered how it lived and developed in its dirninutive, gnarled form? The secret is simple. It was starved and tied. The earth in the pot was impoverished and the branches were held in unnatural positions by heavy wires. Hence the tree’s growth was slow and twisted.
So Privilege stunts and twists the masses of men physically, mentally and morally. While overnourishing a few, it starves and distorts the many. As privilege grows, its evil influence extends, and the people as a whole deteriorate.
The much-discussed British Blue Book containing the report of the Inter-Departmental Commission on Physical Deterioration, while not conceding the fact, as from some quarters persistently charged, that the British people are physically deteriorating, points out a variety of causes operating to produce such a result. All the causes may be brought under a single head — poverty. Poverty crowds people together in great cities. Poverty subjects them increasingly to excessive tobacco, alcoholic, morphine and kindred habits. Poverty keeps up infant mortality, despite the generally lessened death-rate.
And what causes poverty? Privilege. The privileges of a few are subjecting the mass to a poverty that manifests itself in these ways.
Does not this British Commission report give us here in new America, with our institutions that are seemingly so beneficial to the healthy growth of a people, warrant for serious introspection?
Mr. Robert Hunter estimates that there are in the United States in fairly prosperous years no less than 10,000,000 persons in poverty. This is something more than an eighth of our total population. He means people underfed underdothed and poorly housed. (See “Poverty,” p.337. Mr. Hunter points to the fact that, aside from the huge army of public paupers, there are over 2,000,000 workingmen employed only from four to six months of the year; about 500,000 male immigrants arriving yearly and seeking work in the very districts where unemployment is greatest; nearly half the families of the country propertyless; over 1,700,000 little children forced to become wage-earners when they should still be in school; about 5,000,000 women forced to work, of which 2,000,000 are employed mostly in factories and mills.)
Those given to fine distinctions may say that the word “poverty” is loose and indefinite. Yet there can be no room for doubt that in face of our obviously multiplied power to produce wealth there is an increasing per capita public, semi-public and private expenditure for charity. Nor is there room for doubt that there is not a lessening, but an increasing, number of insane; not a lessening, but an increasing, number of suicides; not a lessening, but an increasing number of criminal cases of all kinds, and a rapid development of the brutal side of human nature.
From what does all this proceed? Not from a sufficiency of the satisfactions needed to meet the wants and common human desires, but an insuffiency. That is, poverty. It means privation, want, suffering, loss of personal independence, insanity, suicide, crime.
How can these be avoided when human beings are packed so closely together in our cities? There are approximately 8o,ooo tenement houses in Greater New York. They shelter about two thirds of the city’s population. In one square mile in the lower East Side of Manhattan Borough 6oo,ooo human beings are jammed. (In the block on the lower East Side bounded by Second and Third streets and Avenues B and C, the Federal census of 1900 found 4105 persons. This is as large a population as any town in the State of Delaware contains, save one – the capital city, Wilmington. In a block on the middle West Side, bounded by Amsterdam and West End avenues, Sixty-first and Sixty-second streets, the Federation of Churches and Christian Organizations by careful canvass in the summer of 1904 found 1029 families in actual residence and 83 vacant apartments. The total population was 3797 souls.)
Here the people are stowed away as if all the country-side had been driven in by an army of envelopment.
Rev. Dr. Behrends, describing the block bounded by Canal, Hester, Eldridge, and Forsyth streets (lower East Side) says: “In a room 12 by 8 and 5 1/2 feet high, it was found that nine persons slept and prepared their food; …in another room, located in a dark cellar, without screens or partitions, were together two men with their wives and a girl of fourteen, two single men and a boy of seventeen, two women and four boys — nine, ten, eleven and fifteen years old — fourteen persons in all.”
Can virtue withstand the temptations and weaknesses of such conditions? Would it be anything short of a miracle if “red-light” dives and less miserable brothels did not flourish in such surroundings? What Miss Frances A. Kellor has to say in an account of her investigations in employment agencies brings a flood of testimony. When in a certain instance it was hinted that the supposed situation was not in every way desirable for a young girl, the woman proprietor shrugged her shoulders and said: “I don’t care for what purpose you want her. I give you a girl for a waitress — you do what you please with her when you get her there.” Says Miss Kellor: “Only too often did we find old, gray-haired women and young wives and mothers sending into such places, without hesitation, their own countrywomen, who, but for them, were friendless in a new country, and when they knew they would come back physical and moral wrecks and utterly unfitted for any honest work. . . . Figures can only be approximate, but it is no exaggeration to say that in New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, about seventy-five per cent. are not averse to sending women as employees to questionable places, and from forty to sixty per cent. send them as inmates, obtaining their consent where possible.” (“Out of Work.”)
When it comes to trying to live by making children’s dresses at the rate of 35 cents a dozen or children’s aprons with ruffles and sashes for 45 cents a dozen, vice holds out new allurements. Women are compelled to enter bread-winning fields hitherto given up solely to men (“American women never manage the outward concerns of the family or conduct a business. . . . No families are so poor as to form an exception to this rule.” De Tocqueville, in “Democracy in America,” Vol.11, p.259). And positions are too often accepted where, if the regular pay is low, it is understood important extras may be earned “in other ways.”
The public of New York has recently been aghast to find that it had in its “red-light” dens, with their “cadets” or procurers, their thin young girls and their brass checks, a horrible species of Oriental slavery. Yet it is a slavery not arising from innate depravity. Nor is it imported. It is made by social conditions. It is a fruit of poverty, and that in the metropolis of our country.
In the city of Cleveland, Ohio, not long since a disreputable house was raided by the police. The inmates were arrested. Among them was a woman, who, because she could not pay the fine imposed, was sent to the workhouse. When she had there worked out all but $26 of the fine, an offer was made by a woman acquaintance to lend her that sum and thus enable the prisoner to regain her liberty. The offer was refused. This surprised the workhouse officials, who reported the case to the mayor of the city, Tom L. Johnson. He questioned the prisoner, asking why she did not take her liberty. “I want my liberty,” she replied; “but if I borrow $26 to wipe out the amount of fine still against me, how shall I repay it? At present I have no other way of doing so than by going back to the old business. It would take fifty-two times at 50 cents a time to meet the debt. I prefer to stay and work off the $26 here in the workhouse!” The mayor pardoned her.
Such a case is isolated only in its particular form. It belongs to a great class of cases. As I pause in my writing my eye falls upon a newspaper item telling of the arrest and the holding under bail of $100 for trial, of a New York sweat-shop clothing merchant for employing little Rosie Lindenbaum of 235 Sixth Street. Rosie said she was fifteen years old, but she had no certificate showing that she was of legal age to work. Rosie’s mother came before Magistrate Ommen and said: “My little girl is the sole support of myself, my husband and five children at this time. If she is taken from her work, the little bread that we have will be taken from us.” The inspector told Magistrate Ommen that they found the children eating crumbs, the only food in the house.
Tragedies of this kind are too common nowadays to receive more than passing thought from us. Nothing seems so cheap as human flesh and blood among the poor of our great cities. And now and then comes a pronouncement from a court of law that emphasizes this. One such was made by William G. Gummere, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey — New Jersey, the great trust-incorporating State. A child had been killed in a street railroad accident in Jersey City. The parents brought suit for $50,000 compensation. Justice Gummere ruled that a child’s life is financially not worth more than $1 to its parents. By that ruling the jurist became popularly known as “Dollar-a-life Gummere.” After stubborn fighting in the courts, and taking the case to the highest tribunal in the State, Justice Gummere was overborne and $1000 awarded the parents of the dead child. (Abram Graham vs. Jersey City Consolidated Traction Company. Case came into court April 10, 1896. Justice Gummere made his ruling July 20 following. Appeal was taken and the case was settled November 11, 1901.)
This was more in keeping with the early usage in this country by which, as has been cited, Dr. Adam Smith tells us a child was estimated to bring to its parents “before it could leave their house £100 above all expenses of its rearing and keep.” (“Wealth of Nations,” Bk. I, Chap. VIII.)
Now, while in new countries it is always the fact that marriages occur early and are very fruitful, and while Dr. Franklin reckoned eight births to a marriage in America, as against four in Europe (” Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind and the Peopling of Countries,” Frankli n’s Works, Bigelow Edition, Vol. IV, p. 225), yet it also is true that generation is active in conditions of dense population where poverty rules. This seems to indicate the natural law — that Nature endeavors to multiply the human stock where the latter is sparse or where hardship and disease threaten its discontinuance. The law seems to be proved by the fact that we have before noticed that there is a lowered birth-rate among the body of people who live in circumstances of ease, and a yet further lowered rate among the very rich, so far as may be judged to be the natural order and aside from the increasing preventive practices.
Adam Smith illustrates by conditions in Scotland the phase of the matter most clearly (“Wealth of Nations,” Bk. I, Chap. VIII). “Poverty,” says he “though it no doubt discourages, does not always prevent marriage. Jt seems even to be favorable to generation A half-starved Highland woman frequently bears more than twenty children, while a pampered fine lady is often incapable of bearing any, and is generally exhausted by two or three. Barrenness, so frequent among women of fashion is very rare among those of inferior stations. Luxury in the fair sex, while it inflames perhaps the passion for enjoyment, seems almost to weaken, and frequently to destroy, the powers of generation.”
Next week — the distinction between Justice and Charity.
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