The Menace of Privilege Chapter Nine second 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.
middle of CHAPTER 9, PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND MORAL DETERIORATION
Children are Always the First Victims of Privilege
And continuing, Dr. Smith says: “But poverty, though it does not prevent generation, is extremely unfavorable to the rearing of children. The tender plant is produced, but in so cold a soil, and so severe a climate, soon withers and dies. It is not uncommon, I have been frequently told, in the Highlands of Scotland for a mother who has borne twenty children not to have two alive…. In some places one half the children born die before they are four years of age; in many places before they are seven; and in almost all places before they are nine or ten. This great mortality, however, will everywhere be found chiefly among the children of the common people, who cannot afford to tend them with the same care as those of better station. Though their marriages are generally more fruitful than those of people of fashion, a smaller proportion of their children arrive at maturity. In foundling hospitals, and among the children brought up in parish charities, the mortality is still greater than among those of the common people.”
This may well be used to describe conditions in the United States. In the rural regions and in the poor quarters reproduction is rapid; among the classes of ease and wealth much slower. And of those children born to the latter a very much larger proportion are protected from early death than those born among the poor.
One of the most pathetic sights of a great American city is the number of little rough wooden coffins to be seen in the public morgues awaiting interment in the public burying grounds. The last place where the poor will stint is at a funeral, yet such is the depth and extent of poverty in Greater New York that more than eight and one half per cent. of all the people who die in the five boroughs are buried in Potter’s Field at public expense. In the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx the Potter’s Field interments approximate ten per cent. (These figures do not show the full extent of this phase of poverty, since they do not include the Jewish dead who are taken to the morgue, but are there rescued by the Jewish societies and are interred elsewhere. Nor do they include the large number of public paupers who would go to Potter’s Field but for the burial insurance placed on them by certain undertakers who find a profit between the small amount of such policies and the still smaller expense to which they are put in getting the dead bodies a private interment. Singularly enough, those almshouse inmates who have such burial insurance on them, miserably small though the sum be, regard themselves as superior to those who do not have it. They draw attention to the fact. It amounts to a badge of aristocracy among the public paupers.)
Of this ten per cent. a dreadful proportion consists of babies, whose flickering little lives are snuffed out in the fetid atmosphere of poor quarters. Infancy and early childhood have a heavy battle for life in New York, even under good circumstances. (Of the total of 78,060 deaths in the whole city during 1904, the babies under one year of age numbered 16,125, and under five years, 25,543.) There can be no doubt that a very large proportion of these early deaths are directly or indirectly due to poverty.
It is a fact too well attested for dispute that tuberculosis and other virulent diseases of the slum quarters of our cities have yielded materially to the treatment, not of removing patients to other places and climates, but simply by improving the physical environments to which poverty had sentenced them. A very large part of the post graduate hospital work in New York City is along this line, with a remarkably high percentage of cures.
There are some who call themselves optimists who shut their eyes to all this and say that if the rich are richer, the poor are richer, too. They point to the large funds in the savings-banks – more than $3,000,000,000, and 7,000,000 depositors for 1903, averaging more than $400 to the depositor. But just as the investigation made by the Massachusetts Labor Bureau in 1873 revealed the fact that persons not wage-earners were depositors to at least one half the total amount in the savings-banks of that State at that time, so similar examination now would reveal all over the country a similar ownership of these savings. As the Massachusetts investigation showed, wealthy people use savings-banks to escape taxation and the care of their investments. They deposit for themselves to the full limit and open accounts for members of their families and also as trustees. (See Mr. Bolton Hall’s “Free America,” p. 47.)
On the other hand, the pessimist says with self-righteous asperity that the poor are not provident. As well talk of frugality to him who faces famine. And if economies were effected in their mode of living by the whole class of struggling poor, that would only mean that they would sink to lower levels of competition. The savings effected from the new economies would be forced from the poor in the rivalry for employment. General wages would fall correspondingly with the general benefit derived from the general frugality.
Not long ago the United States Government with some success conducted experiments in the Department of the Missouri to show that soldiers can be well nourished by an expenditure of only five cents a meal. In New York City a few benevolent people have established “People’s Kitchens,” at which two-cent meals are served. Well, what of it? Suppose the whole nation were to economize to this basis. The body of the workers would lose the benefit of it. Reduced in the standard of living to the rice-eating basis of the Chinese, the wages of American workmen would, through undercutting for work, come down to the Chinese rice-eating level. Individuals alone following such a course would be lifted from the mass. But we are not considering isolated cases. We are considering the whole.
If in the present state of “cut-throat” competition for employment, when the great storehouse of Nature is locked away from the mass of labor, to effect general industry, frugality, integrity, virtue and sobriety is only to keep the poor enslaved by poverty, what use is there to try? That is the supreme question. Because there seems to be no reply explains why young girls sell their bodies at the low dance halls, the “red-light” dives and the outwardly more decent appearing places that, like leper spots, infest the neighborhoods of the poor. It explains why men seek forgetfulness in drink; why 148 saloons are to be counted within an area of 514 by 375 yards in one swarming spot in New York.
The wonder is not that there is so much sin and drunkenness and shame under such circumstances, but how it is there is so little. For virtue and innocence and honesty and cheerful courage are to be found there to a surprising degree. They are, indeed, heroic in extent and form. But this does not argue that such hardships are good for the training of human beings. It proves only what hardships multitudes will survive.
“In one judicial district in this city,” says a New York newspaper, “there have been more evictions within the ]ast three months than have occurred in the whole of Ireland during the same period.” It is a matter of official record that more than twenty thousand evictions occur in that city each year. This one cold fact outweighs a thousand vainglorious Fourth of July orations about the Nation’s progress. (A curious group of eviction cases grew out of the determination of one Elias Russ, owning the tenement house at No.6 Goerck Street, to demard fifty cents a month extra rent for every baby on the premises after the beginning of March, 1905. The building was occupied by 30 families, who boasted of 150 children. The tenants refused to pay the increase. Dispossess writs were served. Mrs. Frederick Friedmann, one of the tenants, loudly cried: “What is it you would do? Should I turn my firstborn, Isaac, into the street, stab Rachael, strangle Moses, shoot Rebecca, drown Mira, poison Nathan, throw Lizzie from the roof, or hug the twin babies to death? Oh! monster of a man! ” The tenants, with many of their children, went in a body before Justice Worcester of the Thirteenth Municipal District Court to protest. Mrs. Fannie Frank became one of the spokesmen and declared, “The landlord is against the Scriptures which bid men multiply.” The justice gave the tenants only a stay until the following Monday, by which time they were to decide either to pay the increased rent demanded or to find other premises.)
None will gainsay that the public and pnivate expenditures for charities have enormously increased within the last score of years Yet beggars are to be met with everywhere on our streets. Thomas Jefferson said that the occasional beggar to be seen in the cities in his time were usually foreigners who had just come over and had not yet obtained a settlement. Subsistence, he said, was “easily gained” in this country then (“Notes on the State of Virginia,” Jefferson’s Writings, Ford Edition, Vol.111, p. 239). Charles Dickens, when he came to America more than half a century later said, “A beggar in Boston would be like a flaming sword.”
Yet Salvation Army circulars now speak of providing 3,000,000 beds annually for the poor in the United States.
The advent of the model twenty-five-cent-a-night lodging houses erected by the California millionaire, Mr D. O. Mills, and bearing his name, were hailed as a godsend to the poor. But they have proved high-priced to those who can afford to pay only ten and fifteen cents for a night’s lodging. More than the poor really frequent these Mills hotels. A friend who lived at one of them for a time to study its occupants told me that the feature that most surprised him was the number of silk hats that issued forth in the morning. These hats are worn by business men who are struggling to keep up a bold front by day, and who are constrained by night to practice the extremes of economy.
Each night for twenty-seven years a line has formed in front of Fleischmann’s Vienna Bakery at Broadway and Tenth Street, New York. Each man in that line has received half a loaf of bread and a steaming cup of coffee. The line has not shortened with years. If anything it has lengthened. Other free bread and coffee lines have been established, and one of the most popular of the daily newspapers gave night food to thousands last winter.
The most alarming form of this kind of charity is the feeding of school children. For many years it has been observed and commented on by public school-teachers in the poorer districts of New York that a large percentage of the children attending were underfed – some actually weak and sick from hunger. Mr. Robert Hunter, whose work in the University Settlement and other organizations for helping the poor gave him means for ascertaining the facts, startled public complacency by announcing that 70,000 children in Greater New York arrive at school “underfed and undernourished.”
Inspector H. M. Lechstrecker, of the State Board of Charities, on investigating, reported that out of 10,707 school children, only 1855, or less than one fifth, began the day’s work with adequate breakfast. Over 1000 children never had for their morning meal more than bread only or coffee only, and nearly 500 came without any breakfast at all. The Salvation Army at once opened food stations for school children and actually has close to a thousand every morning in attendance. It is quite apparent that as soon as the poor get somewhat inured to this new form of degradation in free America, the number of school children dependent upon charity for one or more meals daily will be not one thousand but many.
And then we shall be confronted by the question up in London: Whether the public school system should not include the feeding of the children? (At a National Labor Conference in Guildhall, London, on Jan.20, 1905, the Lord Mayor (Alderman John Pound), welcoming the delegates, and Sir John E. Gorst, M. P., in the chair, it was resolved by acclamation that state maintenance of children is the necessary corollary of compulsory education.) Sir John E. Gorst, commenting upon the London experience (North American Review, July, 1905) recites what is of prime significance, “A large portion of the feeble-minded children, culled as unteachable from the London schools, actually recover their mental powers under the influence of a generous diet.”
Last Christmas Hon. Timothy D. Sullivan, Member of Congress from the Eighth New York District, member of the Executive Committee of Tammany Hall and Bowery saloon-keeper, distributed baskets of provisions and crisp greenbacks among five thousand of his political vassals and hangers-on.
Does this indicate free, independent politics? Or does it reveal the rottenest kind of rotten boroughs?
Accompanying it, we see the wide extension of the habit of tipping, which but a few generations ago Americans, especially those in the West, would have indignantly spurned. Now the tip is accepted with servile humility, and often its not-coming is practically resented. De Tocqueville wrote, “I never saw a man in the United States who reminded me of that class of confidential servants of which we still retain a reminiscence in Europe, neither did I ever meet with such a thing as a lackey: all traces of the one and the other have disappeared” (Democracy in America, Vol. II, p. 220). For, said the keen-eyed Frenchman, going at once to the reason, “at any moment a servant may become a master, and he aspires to rise to that condition. The servant is therefore not a different man from the master. Why then has the former a right to command, and what compels the latter to obey? The free and temporary consent of both their wills. Neither of them is, by nature, inferior to the other. They only become so for a time by covenant. Within the terms of this covenant, the one is a servant, the other a master. Beyond it, they are two citizens of the commonwealth — two men.”
This does not describe present conditions among us. While social environments are molding some into obsequious, servile lackeys, they are driving others to suicide, to insanity and to all manner of crime.
Next week — Privilege’s child, Criminality.
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