Edward Everett Hale.

We, the people : a series of papers on topics of to-day online

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or he need not weave so many hours, or he could
still make a hat or two, or weave a yard or two.
But now that the artisan works with great ma-
chines, his hatting, shoeing, or weaving is the
product of machinery, worked by steam-engines
or by waterfalls much more than it is a
product of human hands. The men who con-
tribute perhaps a tenth part toward manufacture
are, as they grow old, in a wholly different con-
dition from that of a century ago. As the old
phrase was, they must run with the machines.
If they are in a State where machinery runs
eleven hours, they must work eleven hours. If
they cannot work eleven hours, they cannot work
at all.

Just this same change asserts itself in almost
all other life. The average man, in New York,


in Philadelphia, or in Chicago, is a thousand
times as strong as the average man of a century
ago. By which I mean that he uses a thousand
times as much physical power. But he does
this on the condition that he shall keep up with
the machine. Your commission house is no
longer a dainty establishment in which you pack
nephews and young cousins from the country in
convenient clerkships where they shall lounge
away a few hours and draw a good salary. Your
commission house, like your hatter, has to run
with the machine. You must have men who are
fresh and well and alert, and they must do a
good day's work or you do not want them at all.
This is a long preface. But it answers its
purpose if it makes the reader reflect that there
is now no place in our working order for old
men that is to say, for men who have passed
what used to be called the "grand climacteric."
What happens now is that when the great firm
of Spinner & Dresser dissolves, after a pros-
perous career for half a century in New York,
when Mr. Spinner has died and left ten millions
to his wife, and Mr. Dresser has gone up to the
Second Cataract in his private yacht with his
family, that nice Mr. Workman, who has been
in the office as cashier so long, receives a hand-
some present of half a year's salary in advance.


He has a silver pitcher given him by the firm,
and when he is sixty-five years of age he finds
that there is nothing for him to do. Nobody
chooses to employ an old man of sixty-five.

Exactly the same thing happens to Tom Soley
when, at sixty-five, he finds that he cannot go
down to the shoe-shop before daylight, work
there ten or eleven hours, according as he hap-
pens to live in Massachusetts or Rhode Island,
and go back up the hill to his house. Nobody
wants to employ him, and nobody will employ
him, unless he can keep up with the machine.

They caught hold of this truth in England
before we did in America. The agitation for
the pension of old men in England began with
some papers by a Rev. Mr. Wilkinson, which
were printed as early as 1892. The best thing
that can be said of Mr. Joseph Chamberlain is
that he, who was brought up in a manufacturing
town, caught hold early of the idea of old-age
pensions, and that he has followed it up bravely
in all chances and changes since. In England,
when such a thing is proposed, they have the
difficulty, which we do not have, of arranging
between the submerged tenth and the bottom of
the lower class, and the middle of the lower class,
and the upper lower class. Then they have to
consider the lower middle class, which is differ-


ent from the middle lower class, and the middle
middle class, and the upper middle class. And
then they have to arrange for the lower upper
class, and the middle upper class, and the really
upper class, and then for the uppest class. Poor
Mr. Chamberlain and his friends are still mud-
dling around in the various complications which
follow on such a system, if system it may be
called. All the same, four times a year, the
magic words, Old-Age Pensions, get spoken in
one or other report or review, and England goes
forward, though not very rapidly.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand they belled the
cat, and are living under a statute which provides
a stated pension for men and women over sixty-
five years of age.

The adjustment of the old-age pensions would
be much easier in the United States than it is in
England, and whoever takes it up seriously here
will find that it is received by our legislators
with much more cordiality than it is received by
the Parliament of Great Britain. In England,
in their various trade organizations, they are not
unused to plans for benefits to be received at cer-
tain fixed periods in the future. The admirable
arrangement of benefit societies in this country
has instructed our people in similar plans. And
the occasional failures of benefit societies here



have, in a harder way, given instruction in the
matter which is of value.

Stated very briefly, the difficulty in every ben-
efit society is this : You make a thousand bright
and successful young fellows agree to form a
benefit society. If any one of the thousand dies,
the other nine hundred and ninety-nine will sub-
scribe each a dollar apiece for his widow. When
a man falls off the top of a cupola and lies on
the sidewalk seventy feet below, every one of
the nine hundred and ninety-nine are glad that
it was not he, and will pay up the dollar they
have promised. While they are all compara-
tively young, each man pays up willingly enough.
But it is when they begin to grow old, when one
and another casualty follows on with that very
determined law which has surrounded death since
Horace's time, that it appears difficult to keep up
the number of the society. Every device has to
be considered to attempt to persuade people to
join with as much alacrity where half the mem-
bers are more than fifty. Some benefit societies
are so craftily managed that this difficulty is met.
Some of them are so badly managed that the
whole thing goes into insolvency, and many a
poor fellow who has paid his scot gallantly for
ten years finds he has earned nothing from it.
Now, every one of these failures simply shows



what happens to people who have been seduced
by the devil.

The devil has offered to give them something
for nothing, and this is an offer which he will
not make good. The time comes when there is
nothing in the treasury, because nothing has been
put into meet that particular exigency. In case
of life-insurance on any of the selfish lines, this
central truth of the universe asserts itself with
painful significance. When the person who
wishes to insure himself goes to the medical ex-
aminer, he finds that there are fourteen bacteria
in him where there should be none, and the medi-
cal examiner declines to give him a policy. It
is only his brother or his cousin, who has no
bacteria in that particular spot, who passes the
examination. That is to say, according to the
present theory, it is only the people who won't
die who are insured against sickness or against
disease. All the other applicants, from fair to
middling and from middling to quarter mid-
ling, are cast out. The community at large does
not pay much attention to this. The workers
who are the agents of the life-insurance compa-
nies do not bring it forward in their speculations;
but it vitiates the whole business, and there is a
certain sensitive feeling at the bottom of a well-
regulated mind which gives warning that there



is something in the business which does not quite
bear investigation. The truth is, you are play-
ing your cards in the hope that you shall deceive
death, and the insurance people are acting as the

Any one who thinks on the matter, however,
sees that if he would accept the universe, and
make a fair calculation as to what are the chances
for every person man or woman, rich or poor,
upper middle class or lower middle class he
would avoid these difficulties. We shall avoid
them if, in our system of old-age pensions, we
shall provide bravely for every person who has
been born into the world and who has lived to
a period where we find, on the whole, that a
man can no longer run with the machine. Mr.
Wilkinson and Mr. Chamberlain and the rest
who have written on the subject select different
ages for this period. The law of those Austral-
ian colonies that have introduced general old-
age insurance fixes the time at sixty-five. What
the old writers called the grand climacteric was
sixty-three years. A "climacteric," or step in
the human ladder, was supposed to come in every
seventh year. Thus, a man is of age at the end
of his third climacteric; and the grand climacteric
marks the end of the ninth. According to some
of us, it is the prime of life.


Now, in America, we are used to equality.
We cannot be drawing these delicate lines be-
tween the lower middle class and the upper mid-
dle class which Mr. Chamberlain and the rest
of the English writers delight in. To our simple
political economy, all men are sons of God and
all women are daughters of God. They are all
born in the same family, and the simplest way
in which the family can arrange is to take care
of all of them in the same method. So we give
to all of them pure water, we give to all of them
the right to walk on the street. We illumine
the lighthouses for all of them. We keep the
public schools for all of them. Before the law
all of them are equal. We do not contradict
this system of equality if we say that a man of
sixty-nine years of age shall receive no pension,
but a man of seventy shall. Our law cannot take
care of trifles, and we must fix, on the whole,
our average at the point which human experience
has settled upon as an average. It would
not then be difficult in America to provide a
modest life-pension for every man and every
woman who belongs in a given community, who
is past the line, if you please, of seventy years
or sixty-eight, or sixty-five, or of seventy-five, as
that community chooses to fix it. In practice, it
will probably be better to fix the line quite high



at the beginning, and let it come lower and lower,
according as the public is trained to see how easy
the working of the system is.

I am writing in Massachusetts, where the con-
struction of a system of pensions is easier, be-
cause we maintain our old-fashioned system of
poll-tax, without which, as it seems to me, the
true manhood of the voter cannot be maintained
in any community. We make every man who is
more than eighteen years of age put two dollars
a year into the treasury of the State. Thus, in
the last year, 1902, every male citizen was made
to pay this sum for the services of the town or
of the State. This tax was apart from what he
paid into the excise on his liquor and spirits, and
on his share of the national tariff.

By a curious obliquity, the women begged off
from the poll-tax which they formerly paid.
This was their way of saying that they did not
want to receive any benefits from the State. All
the same, the old women would have stood a
better chance of receiving life-pensions if they
had paid two dollars apiece into the treasury
since they were eighteen years old.

Under this healthy interpretation of "equal-
ity," the native male citizens of Massachusetts
paid into her town treasuries in 1902 more than
two million dollars. The payment for ten years


only would give us two hundred thousand pen-
sions of one hundred dollars each. But if we
paid a hundred dollars to every citizen, man and
woman, over sixty-nine years of age, we should
only have to pay about one hundred and twenty-
five thousand dollars. Each one of them would
feel that he had been insuring himself in old age
by his payments to the commonwealth. No one
of them would feel that he was a beggar or a
pauper. And so soon as we shall begin upon
such an arrangement, so soon will tax-dodging
on the part of poll-tax people come to an end.
There is not a young man or an old man a
hobbledehoy or a hobbledehoy's father who
would not gladly pay his scot, year by year, when
he saw the cheer and comfort which such a pay-
ment gives, perhaps to a father or mother, per-
haps to a grandfather or grandmother. And
I do not think even the fairer or weaker sex
need decline the one hundred dollars which will
be paid to each of them. As was intimated
above, their case would be a little stronger in the
forum of justice if they had paid any poll-tax.
As it is, the poll-tax fund paid by the man is
sufficient for every payment, and we may well
charge it to the same account to which we charge
ostrich-feathers and pancake-hats, which we see
daily in the street-cars, which we know were paid



for by the willing work of husbands, or sons, or

Simply speaking, the payment of an old-age
pension say of a hundred dollars each to every
citizen, male or female, who has passed the age
of seventy does not involve a heavy burden to
the State. For where the State has been col-
lecting poll-taxes, it has received from such taxes
far more than the pension proposed would re-

Let us now consider for a moment the advan-
tages which the State, as an organization, would
receive from such a system. As matters stand,
the managers of asylums, whether for the poor,
or perhaps for the blind, or the insane, or other
invalids, are always at their wits' ends to know
what they shall do with the aged people who are
crowded upon them. The almshouses of towns
and counties are filled in the same way.

Now, all these old people are better cared for
in the homes of old neighbors, or old friends,
very possibly of sons, or of daughters, who would
receive them and take charge of them humanely
if they could receive a little ready money for the
extra expense. As society organizes itself, a
very little money goes a great way in the average
household of an American. The moment that
it appears that a grandfather or a grandmother


has one hundred dollars a year to his good, that
moment we shall find that the burden thrown
upon the State and town in their asylums is re-
duced by a larger proportion than by the charge
made by the pensions upon the treasury. Thus
the pension system has the great advantage that
it maintains life in homes, and that it abates the
necessity for great institutions or asylums. With
the somewhat stumbling precedent which is given
in the management of the great benefit societies,
it seems to me sure that the Australian system of
State pensions will work its way into the more
intelligent States first, and gradually into the
States which do not affect civilization.


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Santa Barbara



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Online LibraryEdward Everett HaleWe, the people : a series of papers on topics of to-day → online text (page 15 of 15)