This brief investigation of the working of moral and educational cures for industrial diseases shows us that these remedies can only operate in improving the material condition of the poorest classes, in so far as they conduce to raise the standard of living among the poor. Since a higher standard of comfort means economically a restriction in the number of persons willing to undertake work for a lower rate of wage than will support this standard of comfort, it may be said that moral remedies can be only effectual in so far as they limit the supply of low-skilled, low-paid labour. Thus we are brought round again to the one central point in the problem of poverty, the existence of an excessive supply of cheap labour.
Sec. 5. The False Dilemma which impedes Progress.—There are those who seek to retard all social progress by a false and mischievous dilemma which takes the following shape. No radical improvement in industrial organization, no work of social reconstruction, can be of any real avail unless it is preceded by such moral and intellectual improvement in the condition of the mass of workers as shall render the new machinery effective; unless the change in human nature comes first, a change in external conditions will be useless. On the other hand, it is evident that no moral or intellectual education can be brought effectively to bear upon the mass of human beings, whose whole energies are necessarily absorbed by the effort to secure the means of bare physical support. Thus it is made to appear as if industrial and moral progress must each precede the other, a thing which is impossible. Those who urge that the two forms of improvement must proceed pari passu, do not precisely understand what they propose.
The falsehood of the above dilemma consists in the assumption that industrial reformers wish to proceed by a sudden leap from an old industrial order to a new one. Such sudden movements are not in accordance with the gradual growth which nature insists upon as the condition of wise change. But it is equally in accordance with nature that the material growth precedes the moral. Not that the work of moral reconstruction can lag far behind. Each step in this industrial advancement of the poor should, and must, if the gain is to be permanent, be followed closely and secured by a corresponding advance in moral and intellectual character and habits. But the moral and religious reformer should never forget that in order of time material reform comes first, and that unless proper precedence be yielded to it, the higher ends of humanity are unattainable.
Sec. 1. Legislation in restraint of “Free” Contract.—The direct pressure of certain tangible and painful forms of industrial grievance and of poverty has forced upon us a large mass of legislation which is sometimes called by the name of Socialistic Legislation. It is necessary to enter on a brief examination of the character of the various enactments included under this vague term, in order to ascertain the real nature of the remedy they seek to apply.