Streaks of Dawn

NEXT day proved warm and sunny, and we started early, to enjoy the luxury of a good long chat before he would be obliged to leave me.

`This neighbourhood has more than its due proportion of the very poor,' I remarked, as we passed a group of hovels, too dilapidated to deserve the name of `cottages'.

`But the few rich,' Arthur replied, `give more than their due proportion of help in charity. So the balance is kept.'

`I suppose the Earl does a good deal?'

`He gives liberally; but he has not the health or strength to do more. Lady Muriel does more in the way of school-teaching and cottage-visiting than she would like me to reveal.'

`Then she, at least, is not one of the "idle mouths" one so often meets with among the upper classes. I have sometimes thought they would have a hard time of it, if suddenly called on to give their raison d'être, and to show cause why they should be allowed to live any longer!'

`The whole subject,' said Arthur, `of what we may call "idle mouths" (I mean persons who absorb some of the material wealth of a community -- in the form of food, clothes, and so on -- without contributing its equivalent in the form of productive labour) is a complicated one, no doubt. I've tried to think it out. And it seemed to me that the simplest form of the problem, to start with, is a community without money, who buy and sell by barter only; and it makes it yet simpler to suppose the food and other things to be capable of keeping for many years without spoiling.'

`Yours is an excellent plan,' I said. `What is your solution of the problem?'

`The commonest type of "idle mouths",' said Arthur, `is no doubt due to money being left by parents to their own children. So I imagined a man -- either exceptionally clever, or exceptionally strong and industrious -- who had contributed so much valuable labour to the needs of the community that its equivalent, in clothes, etc., was (say) five times as much as he needed for himself. We cannot deny his absolute right to give the superfluous wealth as he chooses. So, if he leaves four children behind him (say two sons and two daughters), with enough of all the necessaries of life to last them a life-time, I cannot see that the community is in any way wronged if they choose to do nothing in life but to "eat, drink, and be merry". Most certainly, the community could not fairly say, in reference to them, "if a man will not work, neither let him eat." Their reply would be crushing. "The labour has already been done, which is a fair equivalent for the food we are eating; and you have had the benefit of it. On what principle of justice can you demand two quotas of work for one quota of food?"'

`Yet surely,' I said, `there is something wrong somewhere, if these four people are well able to do useful work, and if that work is actually needed by the community, and they elect to sit idle?'

`I think there is,' said Arthur: `but it seems to me to arise from a Law of God -- that every one shall do as much as he can to help others -- and not from any rights, on the part of the community, to exact labour as an equivalent for food that has already been fairly earned.'

`I suppose the second form of the problem is where the "idle mouths" possess money instead of material wealth?'

`Yes,' replied Arthur: and I think the simplest case is that of paper-money. Gold is itself a form of material wealth; but a bank-note is merely a promise to hand over so much material wealth when called upon to do so. The father of these four "idle mouths", had done (let us say) five thousand pounds' worth of useful work for the community. In return for this, the community had given him what amounted to a written promise to hand over, whenever called upon to do so, five thousand pounds' worth of food, etc. Then, if he only uses one thousand pounds' worth himself, and leaves the rest of the notes to his children,

  By PanEris using Melati.

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