Capitalism’s Admirable Crichtons
One of J. M. Barrie’s immortal plays portrays the butler who by sheer force of superior mentality and ability assumed leadership over his aristocratic employers when shipwrecked on a desert island. The position is intended to be a more or less fanciful one, but in reality present day society teems with examples of the repression of great minds by the mediocre-minded few. Many of us in even our small circles can point to one or two acquaintances who can find no outlet for really brilliant intelligences, and who are forced by stress of economic circumstance to spend their lives in uncongenial work and uninspiring environment. History has many cases to show of genius which has been discovered too late, of great minds that have been starved of opportunity. Men and women who, even under adverse conditions, managed to leave something behind that humanity is the better for, have in countless cases died of want and hopeless despair. The painting that might fetch a small fortune at Christie’s to-day perhaps was sold by the artist for the price of a loaf of bread. The machine that may make a modern Croesus was invented by one whose life was one long struggle against penury and who died, as he had lived, in obscurity.
Many more must there be who have no opportunity of bringing into the light ideas that would stamp them as being more than ordinary men. Who could expect a man to come back, after a long day’s toil, to a miserable hovel, surrounded by those scenes and noises which are so great a part of the worker’s environment, and to sit down and compose beautiful music, or paint a masterpiece, or write a treatise that should make history ?
All that matters to-day is the ability to make a profit—if that be ability. Very few employers are more intelligent than some of their own machine-minders, but the fact that the machines belong to them and not to the minders is sufficient to obtain for them the comfort and luxury that the latter and their families are not even able to dream of. Even their vaunted “directive ability” is vested in managers and foremen. We had the case recently of an American millionaire who made a fortune while in the madhouse! He, like the rest of his class, could not help it. It requires practically no effort on their part. That is the irony of it all. If ability counted they would not be in the position they are in. The working class invent machinery, they work machinery, they pay their own meagre wages, and hand the surplus to the employers. There is not an operation from the loading of a trolley to the cashing of a cheque that is not performed by a member of the working class.