By reason of our natural differences in ability, wealth is unequally distributed. The most efficient hunters secure the game, the best fishermen the fish, the best farmers the crop, the best fighters the land, and the brainiest business men the wealth. In the unconstrained competition which we demand in democracies the wealth naturally goes into the hands of those who can secure it by reason of their intelligence, so that the conditions in America are the same as those in every other civilization, ancient and modern. In ancient Chaldea, 8,000 years ago, the wealthy land owners lived in urban luxury while their estates held hordes of poverty stricken peasants and slaves. In ancient Egypt we find the same phenomena - fabulous riches of the few, and people starving by the thousands. India has always been noted for the enormous wealth of the upper crust, while famines periodically affected millions. At the present moment economists are worrying over the fact that much, if not most, of the silver of the world is being hoarded in India, and yet we try to relieve the famines which rich Indians ignore. In 1847 France was the richest nation in Europe, yet it had 337,000 beggars.
It is not paradoxical, then, that the greater the prosperity, the greater the poverty of some. In England* it was stated that two-thirds of the wealth produced was absorbed by one-fourth of the nation - *500,000,000 sterling being taken in rents, royalties and dividends alone - while ninety-nine per cent, of wage earners have no property whatever. It is said of the United States* that three-tenths of one per cent, of our families own one-fifth of the wealth, and nine per cent, have nearly three-quarters of it. It is also said that seven-eighths of our families have only one-eighth the wealth, and that one per cent, of the families have more wealth than all the rest of the ninety-nine. In 1903, New York was one of the richest cities in the world, yet in that year 60,403 families - fourteen per cent. - were evicted for non-payment of rent, and ten per cent, of those who died were buried in the Potter's field. The first snowstorm of the winter of 1908 drove hundreds of homeless people to the authorities for shelter, and many were women with babies in their arms, forced into the streets for non-payment of rent.
Mr. Leroy Scott*¡ has investigated the unemployed of our great cities and lays great stress upon the fact that they are unemployable - unfit for work. As soon as paid they desert the jobs found for them - many do not hold on even that long. His investigation leaves no reasonable doubt that most of our unemployed are the unfit who are being eliminated. He says that fully ninety per cent, of them do not want work. Though there are perhaps 500,000 people in the United States practically starving, yet there must be fully 500,000 households which would welcome them as paid helpers - not servants - if they could only work. The starving could find good homes, clothing, money and food, if they were not so stupid. While the well-to-do are clamoring for helpers, the stupid are starving because they can't help. The servant question is thus boiled down to the old, old struggle for existence, and the suffering of the least fit. Of 60,000 offers of work given to idlers in New York City's bread lines and slums in four years, 1904-1908, only two per cent, accepted.
* Report of Royal Commissioner of Labor, 1894. * Political Science Quarterly, *¡ World's Work, 1905.
An experiment by Mr. Benjamin C. Marsh, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Society to Protect Children, showed that of 118 men who took charity, saying they were out of work, forty-five disappeared when they learned they could get work, and of thirty-one who were given jobs, only six stuck to their work. There was plenty of work nevertheless, for he put on old clothes himself and in one day secured sixteen jobs to begin work the next day. All this agrees with what is known of the neurasthenic condition of vagabonds. The matter was investigated originally in Belgium, and it was found that all of these unfortunates were nervous defectives. It is said that there are 20,000 hoboes in France who cannot work, and their support costs the country $2,000,000 yearly. It is estimated that we support 150,000 and England 30,000. Investigations of the men seeking aid in the rooms of the Young Men's Christian Association of New York City, showed one-fourth to be well educated, many being college and university men. They were mostly young but unable to stand the stress of life. About three per cent, of London's population are paupers, and the proportion is slightly less in the rest of the kingdom. London alone spends $22,-000,000 on them. Nevertheless, many of the stories of suffering in America are unreliable, the Philadelphia Society for Organizing Charity finding few genuine cases of destitution. Mr. Scott shows that the last census estimate of 6,500,000 of people engaged in gainful operations who were unemployed part of the year, or twenty-two per cent, of the working population, is a tremendous overstatement, as it includes the wealthy leisure class, those too old to work or who are normally unemployed part of every year (masons, etc.), and those who are taking a needed rest.