It is a fact that by the laws of commensalism in every organization, each unit inevitably works for the good of the whole while it is working for itself. Moreover, each has public as well as private duties, though the latter are not necessarily performed in rendering personal service, for many do nothing except pay taxes, either directly in money or indirectly through the higher prices on taxed necessaries of life. No person can escape doing his share toward the support of the organism, nor should he, for he must pay for the privilege of living. Taxes on necessaries will continue because they are natural.
Yet there are some duties demanding personal service and loss of time - either a short time, as in jury duty, or all the time as in public office. Such personal service was done freely when society was so privately organized that the duties of supporting it were not onerous. But it has long been recognized that in the complexity of modern life they require so much personal sacrifice as to lessen the individual's ability to struggle for existence. Organization is impossible if its existence demands the sacrifice of those who keep it in existence, and the social organism is injured if its units are injured. Men evade jury duty because it injures them unduly, and the organism suffers. The question then arose as to the value of public services, and it has received a world of discussion.
It is an axiom of political economy that when labor is spent upon materials, its price is proportional to the increase of value it gives to the materials. For instance, a stone cutter is hired for but a few dollars a day to carve a shaft of marble, because the increased value he gives to the stone is not very great, but an artist who carves it into a beautiful statue gives it great value, and therefore he is paid much for his labor. It makes no difference how long or how hard or how faithfully a man labors, his pay is in proportion to the increased value he gives to the things labored upon. A lawyer who saves an immense estate from destruction is paid much more than he who saved a small estate, even though the latter may have worked longer, harder and more faithfully. A tugboat which pulls a valuable steamer from the rocks, where it would otherwise be shortly destroyed, receives an immense salvage fee, even if it is for only a few minutes' work.
To a certain extent this political axiom applies to labor spent upon society. He who assists one person to make money does not accomplish near as much as he who assists all, and the latter should receive more pay. Yet work done for society is not essentially to enable the units to become wealthier, but to guarantee their survival. It is life saving. The organism has no property, one might say, though one school of socialists believe that all property is really public, and that private ownership is theft. This may be true of the future organism, but on biological grounds wealth now belongs to the units and groups of units, of the present more loosely organized society, unequally distributed, to be sure, and sometimes so unequally as to be injurious, but the organism cannot own it in the manner the body owns the blood. Consequently, public service is really remunerated primarily for saving the units and only secondarily for increasing their prosperity, though the latter is popularly supposed to be the sole purpose of government.
Now there is positively no way of determining the money value of life. It is an old fiction that it is of enormous value; indeed, invaluable - without price. So it is - to the man himself, but to no one else. It is often calculated that a human life is worth so many dollars - it was once said to be $2,000 in the United States. This is the amount of money required to raise the child to maturity. When damages are awarded to survivors who had been dependent upon a man killed, say, by a railroad, the amount is proportional only to his earning capacity. If he was a stupid laborer, never able to give to his family more than $300 a year, that is the basis for the calculation of the award. If he could have given them $10,000 a year by his labor, and was possessed of no other income, the damage to them is greater than the damage to the former, for the children are deprived of schools and a good start in life, hence $10,000 a year is a basis for calculation. It is all value of services - not the value of life itself - no one valued that except its owner, who is dead and cannot collect. The matters have been elaborated by Marshall O. Leighton in an article on "The Commercial Value of Human Life,"* who shows that the value of a life is its productiveness, and has the same money value to relatives as to society.
When it comes to a question of paying for the privilege of living, we are on entirely different grounds than mere property. The frightful overpopulation always existing has made it necessary to destroy life in ancient times, and as before explained slavery for the vanquished was the price eventually paid for survival. Captives gave all they possessed, not only their goods but their labor for life and that of their descendants. It was an enormous fee for saving what was without price to them. This was at times when destruction of competitors or raiding their lands was the only course to pursue. The military leader who destroyed his tens of thousands, did so to save the hundreds of thousands of the organism he served, and he became a hero for this reason and not because he was a murderer. There has recently arisen an idea that military commanders were highly rewarded because of the life destruction, whereas it is essentially the opposite - men paying money and gratitude for the privilege of living. The land was divided up among the victorious soldiers - a method still in vogue. Nearly all of Great Britain is still owned by the descendants of conquerors who seized the land as a fee for allowing the conquered to live. Greece was owned by conquerors, but the vanquished were allowed to live on the land as serfs. The victors became rulers, and every time the ruled were benefited they had to pay for it then as now; but if a ruler benefited a million people at one stroke, his fee was a million times greater than if he benefited but one.
* Popular Science Monthly, June, 1902.
The superabundance of men caused that curious war paradox so frequently commented upon - materials must be guarded more carefully than the men. In ancient Greece a good horse was worth six slaves, and in many a modern war, a mule was more valuable than the man who could be sacrificed with impunity, as there was always another man ready to step into his place. Until recently, in all civilized armies, it was even the custom to give the mule special doctors to keep him in condition, and these men were given actual rank superior to the surgeons who had the status of civilians employed by the army, without rank, with poor pay and little consideration, not even pensioned if wounded, though performing far more dangerous duty in battle than the veterinarians.
The evolution of organization be ng based on preservation of the unit, we find that society has already taken on that duty, and we instinctively consider it a right to be saved from death when in jeopardy. Hence, the curious paradox in modern life, of the small rewards we give to those who save our lives, so vastly different from the time when men gave all they possessed. Cases are known where rich men have gladly given a veterinarian fifty dollars for services rendered a valuable horse, but complained bitterly of being compelled to pay a doctor ten dollars for identical services to himself.
In spite of this popular idea men pay enormously for the privilege of living, because overpopulation still exists. The fees go to the public servants now as ever, and the law of supply and demand regulates the matter. The equality of members of ancient democracies made it possible for all to do a share of public service, and the supply being universal, the pay was absent. Each donated his service. In modern democracies, where no two men are equal and the vast majority are mentally unfit to serve the organism, the guiding duties must devolve on a few highly paid or the organism suffers.