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PROBLEMS OF THE AGE
Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.
By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner
III. – The World’s Leveling Processes
Individualities.– The fact that men enjoy separate and independent agencies, that to every man is given an individualist, presupposes, of course, a striking difference in men’s capabilities. Again, men are born into different environments which in themselves offer a multitude of opportunities by which men make progress in the financial and intellectual world. These environments we sometimes call the accidents of birth; but we may never know to what extent the distribution of the spirits of God in this world is the result of divine agency.
Men also move from place to place. They are thrown into different environments by reason of their activities, and these again tell either advantageously or disadvantageously their future welfare. But even where men do not move about from one locality to another so as to change their environments, it often happens that an inrush of population makes a difference in their opportunities. It is easy, therefore, to understand that we are not exclusively the architects of our own fortune, that we are creatures of circumstances, of environment, of birth, as well as creatures of different capabilities.
Luck.– Man is ever prone to figure out causes for certain effects which come under his observation. Whenever it lends color to his superiority, he is quick to discard every reason for his advanced place in the world except that of his sheer ability. Such reasoning, of course, is in a large measure the result of individual pride. But is there, we ask, such a thing as luck? Luck as come to be a rather unsatisfactory word; but if it is said that luck consists of those agencies over which we ourselves have no control, it must be said that there is such a thing as luck, – decidedly so. But it is impossible to say just what chance has to do with the individual fortunes or misfortunes of men. It is true that some have the spirit of foresight; they can see what is likely to happen; they figure on probabilities, and of course take their chances, although they may have been so very careful in their estimates that they really have few chances to take. For example: A man has a small tract of land in a small town, or hear a small town. He has no reason in the world to believe that in such a place land values are likely to be very great. His land can be made useful to him in a small way, and he decides to keep it. While he is performing the individual duties of his life, unconscious of what is going on in some great city, a board of directors meets in a distant city, and votes on a railroad policy that is sure to make the town in which the man lives a very populous one. The railroad policy is carried out, thousands of people rush into the place, land values rise rapidly, and the result is a personal fortune for the man who had nothing whatever to do with the railroad policy which made him rich, and who even knew nothing about it. Was it the man’s foresight, or was it a circumstance over which he had no control? Call it a good chance, or call it luck, whichever you care to do, the fact remains that between that man and his neighbor, who formerly were comparatively on equal terms in their material standing, there is constantly arising a great financial inequality.
Rising Values.– As a rule land values, if the land has a certain degree of production in it , are what we might call stable values in ordinary times, but in extraordinary times, rising values. There are those who will remember that in early days the people among the Latter-day Saints were warned against parting with their land. Their attention was called to these rising values which men of wisdom and more perfect insight foresaw, and the people were given an opportunity to take it, which with rare exceptions they threw away.
Thrift.– As men differ in other qualities of life, so they differ in thrift. Some are economical, and have the power and industry to earn much more than others, and the difference in thrift, of course, always creates a difference in wealth. Some of these differences which men enjoy are the results of their superior wisdom, and they therefore reap a rich financial reward for those principles of progress which we call thrift. Indeed, we speak of them as virtues. But all the superior advantages which certain men enjoy in a material way over their fellow men are not advantages which have accrued to them as a result of their wisdom or of their virtues. Many of them have come accidentally, so far as human provision can give us the power to discern. Whatever the causes of these differences may be, in time they often become very painful. They are a source, very often of great injustice, of sorrow, of human suffering. They entail misery, at times, upon untold generations, and the differences would continue to increase the miseries of humanity, if there were not some leveling process by which they could be destroyed.
Laws of Moses.– when God undertook, through Moses, to establish a national life, he gave laws for correcting the inequalities that produce wrongs to social life. He established the Sabbatical year and the year of Jubilee. Every seventh year men were compelled to forego certain advantages: they were compelled to release slaves whom they had bought; they had to return land which they had obtained. They had to forgive men their debts, and thus, by the frequent application of this law, the wrongs that grew out of the inequalities could not become so intense; frequent corrections made the sufferings much less; and above all, it had a tendency to preserve, in a large degree, the brother hood of man.
The Law Disregarded.– The law that God gave to ancient Israel was not always respected. In time it was forgotten. Even the book containing it was lost, and the people went on under the wrongs of inequalities until the severer leveling processes were brought upon them. Surrounding nations broke in upon them, robbed them and plundered them, and when such corrections did not suffice, the Israelites were carried away into bondage, and the entire people reduced to a condition of abject servitude. The differences and the wrongs that grew out of them made a new beginning in life necessary. But the leveling processes that come as a result of punishment are so much more terrible; they are so severe, that sometimes whole nations are practically wiped out of existence. To correct the inequalities of conditions in life, war sometimes has its terrible work to do. Revolutions break out, and anarchy prevails. History teaches us that as a rule immorality increases with the increase of inequality – with the divergence between the rich and the poor.
Inequalities Created by War.– Witness the prodigious revenue required for war and the taxes needed to supply them. Many believe that the rich will be practically taxed out of existence. Will they? Or will they in time be able to shift, by all sorts of contrivances, the burden of taxation upon the general public. Income taxes upon great corporations and monopolies are too often made a part of running expenses, and the public pays the bill., Men easily conceal themselves behind corporations and practice extortions they could not carry on as individuals. Men at the battle fronts may feel the equalizing processes that come through comradeship, but in civil life huge fortunes are created because of war conditions. Those who fight will feel the pinch of finance after the war. The pinch will be severe, and those who suffer will sense keenly the financial differences which others have reaped at their expense. Those who have met the dangers and borne the burden of war in its most dreadful aspects will clamor for some leveling process. Selfishness will obliterate the highest patriotic motives, and men must suffer from unjust discriminations. How much will they suffer? No human means has ever been devised for financial equality. Money will still be an unjust power, so great it may be as to provoke revolutions and create anarchy.
Need of Religion.– Religion must come to the relief of the unfortunate if serious trouble is escaped. To add to the difficulty and danger there will be an army of dependents, many of whom will avoid the divinely appointed duty of toil. It will be the old condition of unworthy poor and oppressive rich. A revelation in 1831 portrays the unhappy lives of both classes, Doc. and Cov. 56:16, 17.