Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE DEMAND FOR MEN - The Challenge of Facts and other Essays
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THE DEMAND FOR MEN - William Graham Sumner, The Challenge of Facts and other Essays 
The Challenge of Facts and other Essays, ed. Albert Galloway Keller (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1914).
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THE DEMAND FOR MEN
THE DEMAND FOR MEN1
To every individual the history of the world begins and ends in himself. Each man finds it hard, if not impossible, to imagine the world without himself, that is, to imagine that he had never been born. Our way of looking at history is to treat all which has been done here as a preparation for us, and our current construction of the life of the world is that the sufferings of the past, and its achievements, have their sense through their utility in contributing to our welfare. Once in a while we do also speak about our obligations to posterity, as if we did feel that our way of thinking about the past brought with it a corollary that we are only links in the chain of preparation for others yet farther on; at this point, however, there is a notable drop in the intensity of interest and conviction with which the idea is pursued. Further, in all our speculations about the future we probably conceive of ourselves as present and as part of the future, and rarely, if ever, does the speaker himself realize that he will drop out of the host in its march and disappear from its activity, lost and forgotten like a thistle-down which floated for a moment on the summer breeze.
To the individual, therefore, it is hard to realize that he is not needed here; that his existence, however interesting and important to himself, is of no consequence to the world; that if he had never been born he never would have been missed; that the men in all history who have proved by their life and works that the world did need them and could illy have spared them, are not more than a score or two.
Much more is it a remarkable idea that men in general should ever be in demand. If we do not go beyond current habits of thought, we think that the world was made for men, that it has no significance without men; that its existence is, as it were, a call or demand for men; that of course we all ought to be here, and, having come, that we ought to be made welcome and honorably provided for. Our complaints are for the most part complaints of those very conditions of earthly life by virtue of which it is possible that we may be here. If there is any “banquet of life” offered, by the fact that the world is here, we find that there are a great number of us who have come to be guests at it and that there is a hungry crowd of other animals, upon whom we look down as not fit to dispute the banquet with us, but who defend their possession of it with as much ferocity and tenacity as if they were revolutionists and could declaim about natural rights. Our assumption is that we should all be here, under any circumstances whatever, and that the provision for us here is, or ought to be, somewhere on hand.
Unfortunately none of these ideas can be verified by an examination of the facts. We are not needed here at all; the world existed no one knows how long without any men on it. They were never missed by the other forms of nature, who absorbed, enjoyed, and gave back again into the cosmos the energy and the material of organized existence, generation after generation; and there is no room for any idea that the universe suffered any lack or fell short of anything which was necessary to keep it going on in a round of transformations and repetitions which were adequate to the maintenance of all there was. There is no need for man and no demand for man, in nature; it is complete without him.
When he appears on earth he does not appear as one needed, but as another competitor for a place here. He is infinitely interesting to himself, and he has constructed for the gratification of his vanity whole systems of mythology and philosophy to prove to himself that the rest has sense only as used up by him. In truth he is here like the rest, on the tenure of sustaining himself if he can. The curse of the self-glorification of the human species is that it blinds them to the truth of their situation, keeps them from intelligent effort to make the best of it, and sets them to rending each other when their demands are not satisfied.
It is therefore a most extraordinary state of things on earth — a revolution — when men are in demand, that is, not only welcome, but subject to economic demand, so that their presence will be paid for; and the social consequences of such a state of affairs, when it occurs, stand in such contrast to the state when men are in excessive supply that the mind of man is astounded to contemplate the difference. It will be found that the glorification of modern progress, modern ideas, and so on, resolves itself into this “revolution” which causes all the others.
It must be noticed that the demand for men is not a demand for human beings; this distinction cannot be passed over, since the neglect of it has helped to prevent an understanding of the point we are now presenting. The human race reproduces and increases, but unfortunately its new-born members are a burden, the heaviest one which society has to bear. Between initial helplessness and capacity for self-maintenance lies a period of cost, or outlay, by the adult generation. Here again we come on the same fact, that there is no demand for men in the sense of human beings, since cost and outlay are never an object of demand but are in the nature of a penalty or sacrifice for a good not otherwise attainable. When savage races practice infanticide, it is because they rate the cost higher than the return; the self-centered view of the adult, mentioned above, then predominates entirely. For him the world begins and ends in himself, and the sacrifice he must endure to perpetuate the species, being just so much reduction from the individual enjoyment which he might get out of life (which is the case always touching the sacrifices of parents for offspring), seems to him to present no consideration.
It is therefore only when there is a demand for adults that there arises a demand for human beings which makes the cost of rearing them sink into comparative unimportance. When children are welcome as new power, instead of being unwelcome as new burdens, the real social revolution is accomplished. The book of Genesis presents, in the case of the patriarchs, a state of things in which more children meant more power, and the texts which express that fact in the social situation of that time have sometimes been used as giving an absolute religious sanction to special views of the significance of the increase of the species.
An economic demand is one which is backed up by an equivalent offered in reward for a satisfaction of it, and the demand for men is subject to the same interpretation, or it is a fiction. The payment which must be brought into the labor market as an equivalent to support the demand for men is means of subsistence; if men are wanted they must be subsisted, and they must be subsisted in such rich measure that they can sustain not only themselves but also wives and little ones to maintain the increase. Means of subsistence, however, are not raw land, for the latter, like the infants, is a long stage from the labor market. If raw land were a demand for men, that would mean that nature demands men — which, as we saw at the outset, is not true. Nature does not come into the market; she offers no equivalents in exchange; she presents no means of subsistence which are capable of sustaining more than the scantiest numbers in the lowest misery. The terms of the case in no wise apply to her, and all those who, when discussing these matters, allow themselves to philosophize about “boons of nature,” and “banquets of life” are only spinning delusions.
The means of subsistence are capital-products which men who are already here have made and are ready to share with new-comers, as a means to persuade others to come. This is the demand for men. We are accustomed to call it “demand for labor,” and this phrase, blinding us to the facts by a technical relation put in place of the real one, is the great cause of some of the foolish notions about wages which have been set afloat, and which have become the prolific cause of social and industrial fallacies. The case which is new, anomalous, astounding, is the one in which the men who are already here not only do not dread new-comers or treat them with hostility, but even pay them, out of the products of their own previous labor, to come. That is a true demand for men. When it arises, men rise in market value, with consequences which are next to be noted.
Here it remains only to point out that the reason why those already here will hire others to come, continually raising their bid, is that by bringing in more human labor they can raise the industrial organization to a higher grade and increase the production per man from the land at their disposal, so that the increase in numbers will increase, not diminish, the average rate of comfort for all.
This last remark exposes the fallacy of the arguments which are made against immigration, for immigration supplies the men, and without cost of production on them, for the community which gets them.
The following fourteen essays come from the Independent of various dates between 1887 and 1891.