Front Page Titles (by Subject) WHO WIN BY PROGRESS? - The Challenge of Facts and other Essays
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WHO WIN BY PROGRESS? - 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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WHO WIN BY PROGRESS?
WHO WIN BY PROGRESS?
In a former article I endeavored to show that the word proletariat, which is now coming into use as a name by which the wages-class is designated by itself and its friends, ought properly to be applied only to persons who live from hand to mouth, who have no definite industrial reliance for support, who have no capital and no reasonable chance of ever getting any, who touch elbows all the time with crime and occasionally fall into its power, and who increase the population through vice. No such class of persons as this exists in modern society, all assertions to the contrary notwithstanding.
Not even in the slums of great modern cities is there any class of persons who could be called proletarians and yet be distinguished from the dangerous and criminal class; for any honest man who finds himself there and is discontented can make his way, by moderate effort, to other places where the conditions are easier.
It is true that a poor man who is fond of the life of a great city cannot secure health, virtue, and capital for his children there at as easy a rate as he could in the country. What then? Shall his fellow-citizens, many of whom have fled to the country, not because they like it but because they can do better for their children in that way, be called upon to enable him to enjoy the delights of the city on the easy terms of the country? It has been asked whether there is not some remedy for the harsh contrasts of wealth and poverty in great cities. There is; it consists in a voluntary disruption of the city and a scattering of its population over the country. Now let us see who will go first — it is safe to predict that among the last to go will be the inhabitants of the slums.
In general, there is no man who is honest and industrious who cannot put himself in a way to maintain himself and his family, misfortune apart, in a condition of substantial comfort. We have any amount of reckless assertion to the contrary; it is asserted that the wagesclass is in misery, and suffers from a great number of grievances; but no statement of this kind has ever been made in terms which could be subjected to examination.
It is also asserted that the wages-class have not shared in the advantages of progress. Here it should be noticed, in the first place, that so soon as a member of the non-capitalist class wins capital, he is reckoned with the capitalist class. What we should really need in order to test the question as to what chances the non-capitalists have had for a century past would be a census of the capitalists and non-capitalists a century ago, a similar census now, and a census of those who, in the meantime, have gone over from the latter to the former. The usual method of argument is to show that comparative poverty still exists, and this mode of argument is often extended still further, so that it amounts to arguing that our civilization has accomplished nothing at all because it can be shown that it has not yet got everything done.
In opposition to all this I maintain that the progress of the arts and sciences in the last hundred years has inured most of all to the benefit of the non-capitalists and that the social agitation which we are now witnessing is a proof of the strength, not of the weakness, of that class. If any one wants to see how weak classes have been treated in all ages of the world, let him note how landlords are treated now.
It is a common opinion that the effect of the extension of capital, especially in the form of machinery, is to displace human labor. That opinion is superficial and erroneous; the more complex the tools or machines, the more dependent the owner is on hired help to work them for him. The railroads do not employ fewer men than the canals and stage coaches which they displaced; the sewing machine does not give work to fewer women than the old hand sewing; a new loom calls for more help at another point or the number of new looms is multiplied until they need as much labor as the old ones. All these changes raise the social organization to higher power. We need more men and can support more men, and the machines set free those who are needed to sustain the higher organization by a more refined division of labor. The greater the power of the machines, the greater is the abundance of means of subsistence which the machines produce, and the greater, therefore, is the demand for productive services.
The effect of our progress in the arts and sciences within a century has, therefore, been:
1. That the civilized part of the earth, to say nothing of the other part, is able to support a greater population than ever before; the improvements in transportation have brought within the reach of civilized man vast areas of the earth's surface which were not available a century ago. This fact in itself, for those who can appreciate its significance, is enough to show what class of the population must be chiefly benefited.
2. It has been made cheap and easy for those who had nothing but strong hands and good will to get away from the crowded centers of population to acquire almost without cost land which would richly repay their labor, and to send their products to those markets, however distant, which would return them the largest amount of other products in exchange. Hence the accumulation of capital has outstripped the growth of population, great as the latter has been. It certainly would be a strange social phenomenon ff the century which has seen the new continents of America, Australia, and Africa opened to the use of civilized man had also seen the mass of civilized men reduced to lower comfort than they previously enjoyed. The economists and social philosophers who have given countenance to this notion have not only made a professional blunder but also incurred a great responsibility.
3. It is said, however, that the gains have all been won by landlords and capitalists. In truth the vast increase in the production of means of subsistence, won at constantly diminishing outlay of labor and capital, has lowered money prices and made money wages worth more, and has, at the same time, lowered the rate of interest on capital and increased the demand for labor. It is not at all astonishing that the results have combined and accumulated so as to produce a crisis.
4. It is the fact, also, that the improvements have lowered the pressure of population at the old centers and have, therefore, lowered the rent of land, so that landlords are in the way of being ruined and the old landed aristocracies seem doomed to extinction.
It seems to be believed that we can have all these changes, and that the non-capitalist class can win all the benefit from them without any correlative inconvenience; but that is impossible in the nature of things. The changes which have come about have made life more stringent and exacting for everybody. The rewards of prudence and intelligence are more ample and the penalties of heedlessness and adherence to routine are greater than ever before; every one is forced to “keep up.” The more the machines do, the more the rational animal, man, needs to bring brains to bear to rise above the machines. In a sense, our whole society is machine-ridden; it is our fate; it is the price we pay for living in an age of steam, with all the glories of which we boast. The man who has won most of all from the progress is the man who possesses executive power and organizing ability. We get together vast masses of capital and hundreds of laborers, and the happiness or misery of thousands comes to depend on the man whose judgment and knowledge decide what shall be done, and how. We cannot break out of this intense and exacting social organization without sacrificing our means of comfort and throwing thousands into distress; hence we pay the man who can manage the organization a monopoly price for his rare and indispensable abilities.
Next to these, however, who are not capitalists and who are so few that they can hardly be spoken of as a class, the wage-earners have won. They run a greater risk than formerly of interruptions of work and of being compelled to sacrifice routine knowledge which they have acquired. These are weighty risks, and they are weightier in proportion as the organization is more intense, because the higher the organization the harder it is, having once fallen out of it, to get into it again. What the landlords and capitalists will do under the strain which the changes have thrown on them remains to be seen.
The new position of the wage-earner, economically speaking, is the cause of his gain in political power. It is the reason why flatterers and sycophants cluster about him; it is the reason why the laws are warped in his favor, to give him privileges and to force others to yield to him. In our own experience within a year it has been evident that the wage-earners could win their demands when they limited them to a certain measure, that is to say, it has appeared that they were the strong party in the market. They are so, and until the population increases or the land is all taken up they will remain so. As between that which has been achieved and the struggle to achieve, the odds are now largely in favor of the latter.