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The Right To Work
by [?]

ALL kinds of relief, charitable or other, doubtless tend to perpetuation of pauperism, inasmuch as paupers are thereby kept alive; and living paupers unquestionably propagate their unthrifty kind more abundantly than dead ones. It is not true, though, that relief interferes with Nature’s beneficent law of the survival of the fittest, for the power to excite sympathy and obtain relief is a kind of fitness. I am still a devotee of the homely primitive doctrine that mischance, disability or even unthrift, is not a capital crime justly and profitably punishable by starvation. I still regard the Good Samaritan with a certain toleration and Jesus Christ’s tenderness to the poor as something more than a policy of obstruction.

If no such thing as an almshouse, a hospital, an asylum or any one of the many public establishments for relief of the unfortunate were known the proposal to found one would indubitably evoke from thousands of throats notes of deprecation and predictions of disaster. It would be called Socialism of the radical and dangerous kind–of a kind to menace the stability of government and undermine the very foundations of organized society! Yet who is more truly unfortunate than an able-bodied man out of work through no delinquency of will and no default of effort? Is hunger to him and his less poignant than to the feeble in body and mind whom we support for nothing in almshouse or asylum? Are cold and exposure less disagreeable to him than to them? Is not his claim to the right to live as valid as theirs if backed by the will to pay for life with work? And in denial of his claim is there not latent a far greater peril to society than inheres in denial of theirs? So unfortunate and dangerous a creature as a man willing to work, yet having no work to do, should be unknown outside of the literature of satire. Doubtless there would be enormous difficulties in devising a practicable and beneficent system, and doubtless the reform, like all permanent and salutary reforms, will have to grow. The growth naturally will be delayed by opposition of the workingmen themselves–precisely as they oppose prison labor from ignorance that labor makes labor.

It matters not that nine in ten of all our tramps and vagrants are such from choice, and irreclaimable degenerates into the bargain; so long as one worthy man is out of employment and unable to obtain it our duty is to provide it by law. Nay, so long as industrial conditions are such that so pathetic a phenomenon is possible we have not the moral right to disregard that possibility. The right to employment being the right to life, its denial is homicide. It should be needless to point out the advantages of its concession. It would preserve the life and self-respect of him who is needy through misfortune, and supply an infallible means of detection of his criminal imitator, who could then be dealt with as he deserves, widiout the lenity that finds justification in doubt and compassion. It would diminish crime, for an empty stomach has no morals. With a wage rate lower than the commercial, it would disturb no private industries by luring away their workmen, and with nothing made to sell there would be no competition with private products. Properly directed, it would give us highways, bridges and embankments which we shall not otherwise have.

It is difficult to say if our laws relating to vagrancy and vagrants are more cruel or more absurd. If not so atrocious they would evoke laughter; if less ridiculous we should read them with indignation. Here is an imaginary conversation:

The Law: It is forbidden to you to rob. It is forbidden to you to steal. It is forbidden to you to beg.

The Vagrant: Being without money, and denied employment, I am compelled to obtain food, shelter and clothing in one of these ways, else I shall be hungry and cold.

The Law: That is no affair of mine. Yet I am considerate–you are permitted to be as hungry as you like and as cold as may suit you.

The Vagrant: Hungry, yes, and many thanks to you; but if I go naked I am arrested for indecent exposure. You require me to wear clothing.

The Law: You’ll admit that you need it.

The Vagrant: But not that you provide a way for me to get it. No one will give me shelter at night; you forbid me to sleep in a straw stack.

The Law: Ungrateful man! we provide a cell.

The Vagrant: Even when I obey you, starving all day and freezing all night, and holding my tongue with both hands, I am liable to arrest for being “without visible means of support.”

The Law: A most reprehensible condition.

The Vagrant: One thing has been overlooked–a legal punishment for begging for work.

The Law: True; I am not perfect.