1920s >> 1923 >> no-222-february-1923
Is Lack of Wealth the Trouble?
In this land to-day the vast mass of the population suffer from poverty and the evils that flow from poverty. Overwork, underfeeding, in some cases, endless toil in unhealthy surroundings, in others, the hopeless search for toil. This is the position facing the average worker to-day. Why is the mass of the population doomed to follow this miserable and toilsome path?
Is it because there is a lack of wealth? A few hundred years ago the needs of the population were met by a very primitive method of production. Hand labour with poor tools that could only be operated by one person was the rule. In cottages and villages fabric was spun and woven for clothing; the artisans in small rooms hammered out and shaped the metal for the simple tools, ornaments, and such-like; the cottager tilled his little strip of land to provide food for many; the sailing vessel went on lengthy and perilous voyages to distant lands; the townsman plied his little trade in silks and perfumes from the East. Everything was simple and on a small scale, and yet at that time there wasn’t a landless man in the kingdom. And they didn’t work particularly hard in those days either —over a third of the year was occupied in holidays and feastings.
How different are things to-day! The application to industry of the discoveries of myriads of fertile minds has completely changed the face of affairs. No longer is the hand tool the means of producing wealth; no longer does the sailing vessel lord it over the ocean. If one wishes to see the relics of the older method of wealth production one must visit the museums, where they are kept as objects of curiosity and amusement, and material for the writers, of history. These things have past away, and with them has passed the comparative comfort that existed alongside the spinning’ wheel.
The discoveries of new lands and new sea routes; the development of manufacture; the application of steam to industry; the ocean-going liner; and the telegraph—have made possible the prodigious production of wealth as we see around us to-day. How can it be said that there is insufficient wealth when on every side there is evidence of abundance. Machinery has made possible a production of wealth per man many times that which an individual could produce a few hundred years ago. That there is an abundance of wealth can be easily verified. The reports in the papers of the rich man’s feasts; the dinners with choice and rare dishes; the balls attended by people in wonderful and costly dresses; the monkey’s parade at Ascot, and similar places; the stationary and floating palaces; the company reports in the daily papers all bear witness to an abundance of wealth. Whenever companies increase their capitals by fresh issues of shares, these shares are not only fully subscribed in a few days, but they are vastly over-subscribed. There is literally money to burn among a certain section of the community. A glance at the position of the oil companies will show that their expansion has been enormous in the last few years. Their capitals have leaped up from a few thousands to thousands of millions. Standard Oil paid a dividend of over three hundred per cent. recently, in spite of watered capital. The cry of shortage of wealth is obviously nothing more than a figment of the imagination, or a false scent to lead astray the unwary.
How is it that with simple tools and little organisation they could provide for the whole of the population in days gone by, whereas to-day, with complex tools and a mighty organisation, poverty is the lot of the mass of the population?
Investigators, who have lived among savage and barbarian tribes, have stated that starvation was unknown in such little communities, except in the cases of famine or some similar exceptional cause. Yet today, though the shops are overloaded with the things they need and the rich man’s table is groaning under the weight of good things, thousands of men, able and anxious to work, are tramping the streets, starving, in search of the wherewithal to live. Poverty exists to-day in the midst of an abundance unparalled in history. Why?
The food and other necessaries of life, of which we see such a lavish display in the shops, are not there to be distributed to those who require them: They are exhibited for sale to those who can buy them. All goods displayed in the shops to-day are produced for sale in order that profit shall be made, and unless they who need have the wherewithal to buy they may go hungry, though the goods are going rotten for want of a consumer. This is due to the fact that the wealth produced to-day is privately owned.