"There Speaks the Nineteenth Century!": For the Weekend
For the weekend: One powerful and very common presumption among the thinkers of the nineteenth century was that if the problems of overpopulation could be solved, and if that coupled with better technology solved the problem of inadequate resources to provide necessities, then the distribution of conveniences and luxuries would take care of itself, and the distribution of necessities would be unproblematic as an immediate consequence of common humanity in an age of abundance. They were wrong:
Edward Bellamy: Looking Backward 2000-1887 https://delong.typepad.com/files/bellamy-backward.pdf: '“Who is capable of self-support?” he demanded. “There is no such thing in a civilized society as self-support. In a state of society so barbarous as not even to know family coöperation, each individual may possibly support himself, though even then for a part of his life only; but from the moment that men begin to live together, and constitute even the rudest sort of society, self-support becomes impossible. As men grow more civilized, and the subdivision of occupations and services is carried out, a complex mutual dependence becomes the universal rule. Every man, however solitary may seem his occupation, is a member of a vast industrial partnership, as large as the nation, as large as humanity. The necessity of mutual dependence should imply the duty and guarantee of mutual support; and that it did not in your day constituted the essential cruelty and unreason of your system”...
...“That may all be so,” I replied, “but it does not touch the case of those who are unable to contribute anything to the product of industry.”
“Surely I told you this morning, at least I thought I did,” replied Dr. Leete, “that the right of a man to maintenance at the nation’s table depends on the fact that he is a man, and not on the amount of health and strength he may have, so long as he does his best.”
“You said so,” I answered, “but I supposed the rule applied only to the workers of different ability. Does it also hold of those who can do nothing at all?”
“Are they not also men?”
“I am to understand, then, that the lame, the blind, the sick, and the impotent, are as well off as the most efficient, and have the same income?”
“Certainly,” was the reply.
“The idea of charity on such a scale,” I answered, “would have made our most enthusiastic philanthropists gasp.”
“If you had a sick brother at home,” replied Dr. Leete, “unable to work, would you feed him on less dainty food, and lodge and clothe him more poorly, than yourself? More likely far, you would give him the preference; nor would you think of calling it charity. Would not the word, in that connection, fill you with indignation?”
“Of course,” I replied; “but the cases are not parallel. There is a sense, no doubt, in which all men are brothers; but this general sort of brotherhood is not to be compared, except for rhetorical purposes, to the brotherhood of blood, either as to its sentiment or its obligations.”
“There speaks the nineteenth century!” exclaimed Dr. Leete. “Ah, Mr. West, there is no doubt as to the length of time that you slept. If I were to give you, in one sentence, a key to what may seem the mysteries of our civilization as compared with that of your age, I should say that it is the fact that the solidarity of the race and the brotherhood of man, which to you were but fine phrases, are, to our thinking and feeling, ties as real and as vital as physical fraternity...
#economicgrowth #economichistory #moralphilosophy #politicaleconomy #weekendreading #2019-12-20