However important it may be for the lumberman, the miner, the wagon-maker, the railroad man, the house-builder,—for every industry,—that conservation should obtain, when all is said and done, conservation goes back in its directest application to one body in this country, and that is to the children. There is in this country no other movement except possibly the education movement—and that after all is in a sense only another aspect of the conservation question, the seeking to make the most of what we have—so directly aimed to help the children, so conditioned upon the needs of the children, so belonging to the children, as the conservation movement; and it is for that reason more than any other that it has the support of the women of the Nation.
AN EQUAL CHANCE
The American people have evidently made up their minds that our natural resources must be conserved. That is good, but it settles only half the question. For whose benefit shall they be conserved—for the benefit of the many, or for the use and profit of the few? The great conflict now being fought will decide. There is no other question before us that begins to be so important, or that will be so difficult to straddle, as the great question between special interest and equal opportunity, between the privileges of the few and the rights of the many, between government by men for human welfare and government by money for profit, between the men who stand for the Roosevelt policies and the men who stand against them. This is the heart of the conservation problem to-day.
The conservation issue is a moral issue. When a few men get possession of one of the necessaries of life, either through ownership of a natural resource or through unfair business methods, and use that control to extort undue profits, as in the recent cases of the Sugar Trust and the beef-packers, they injure the average man without good reason, and they are guilty of a moral wrong. It does not matter whether the undue profit comes through stifling competition by rebates or other crooked devices, through corruption of public officials, or through seizing and monopolizing resources which belong to the people. The result is always the same—a toll levied on the cost of living through special privilege.
The income of the average family in the United States is less than $600 a year. To increase the cost of living to such a family beyond the reasonable profits of legitimate business is wrong. It is not merely a question of a few cents more a day for the necessaries of life, or of a few cents less a day for wages. Far more is at stake—the health or sickness of little babies, the education or ignorance of children, virtue or vice in young daughters, honesty or criminality in young sons, the working power of bread-winners, the integrity of families, the provision for old age—in a word, the welfare and happiness or the misery and degradation of the plain people are involved in the cost of living.