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Problems of the Age: 7: A Real Danger to the Middle Class

By: Ardis E. Parshall - April 19, 2011

For links to other parts of this series, see this chart.

For a statement on the unofficial nature (i.e., personal interpretation for discussion purposes, not necessarily representative of church doctrine) of these lessons, see this notice.

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

VII. – A Real Danger to the Middle Class

Growth. – In general terms the middle class may be said to occupy a position somewhere along the line between the producer and consumer. They consist of distributors, such as merchants and other agencies – who take from the producer and hand to the consumer, and in turn become a part of the class of consumers. Within the bounds of their legitimate calling they are benefactors to all industrial life. They are common carriers and distributors that make it possible for all the world to enjoy the products created or grown in every part of the earth. Modern commerce is a comparatively new field of human endeavor. It has for centuries been a sparsely occupied field. It has grown rapidly within the past few decades, and is therefore today full of adventure and of reward. It has called for men of superior talents, and has invited them from all ranks of life. Like other new fields of enterprise, it has been both novel and remunerative. There is no field of exploit so fascinating and paying as that of humanity. Out of it myriads of fortunes have been accumulated, and it is the most attractive of all adventures. The result is that millions have flocked to it, and incurred the danger of tipping one end of the balance board into the stream. At times very large numbers of them may be carried down stream or drowned. Nothing seems more certain at the present juncture of human life than that the middle class, so called, is altogether beyond the needs of industrial life, and that its massed formation will make it all the better target for the new machine guns that are sure to be turned on it by the present and coming changes in organized industry.

The same inequality in industrial life has more than once in the history of mankind proved disastrous to national well-being. Examine for a moment the present movement of life into the great cities, where men and women find employment in occupations that are ephemeral, that is, in those whose chief business it is to produce luxuries and amusements not necessary for the support of mankind. Take as examples automobiles, movies, and every conceivable form of amusement. Profitable they may be in prosperous times, but such employment is the first to go down in every industrial crisis. Luxuries must go. The pinch of the rising cost of living, and the dangers of financial panics may at any time reduce millions to a state of starvation. The panics of the future will not be what those of the past have been. Food and clothing are higher, and the numbers of those outside productive life are so much greater, that a serious disturbance in the industrial world would create a social havoc wholly unknown to history. The siren of false business principles is luring thousands into the danger zone. What is not done by adventurous business methods to entice men and women away from safe conditions of existence, is done by our state and national legislative bodies that are creating boards and commissions galore to meet the demands of those who are chiefly exploiters of humanity. It would be a hopeless task to tabulate the appendages to the industrial life of our nation. When men cannot find legislative aid they organize clubs and societies that are today really becoming a burden to the producer and consumer. It is sometimes called a “speculative life.” It is speculative, for no one can even guess the dangers it carries with it.

Ethical Conditions. – Aside from its dangers, there are ethical reasons why such a life is disturbing to the welfare of society. Nothing does more to create discontent and disappointment than speculation. Those who fail despair and make for anarchy. Those who succeed, plunge into extravagances which in turn lead to physical and moral destruction. The spirit of our modern world is largely that of the gambler. “I’m going to take my chances” is the announcement before a leap into the unknown regions of disaster whichever way the chances go. No man can afford to take chances that have more temptation to vice than he can endure. To fully one-half which thus take chances there comes the misery of envy and despair.

Satisfaction in Production. – There is not the satisfaction in speculation that there is in production. The gains of contentment in the latter are immeasurably greater than they are in the former. The mental anxiety over the outcome of production and markets when judicious labor is expended, is incomparably preferable to the anxiety of a pure game of chance. There is a solid satisfaction in the thought that you have helped others that is not found in the all-too-prevalent fact that you have “done” others.

He who raises enough grain to feed a hundred others besides his own family, contributes really as much to his own happiness as he does to the welfare of society. Such is the ethical side of productive life.

Physical Enjoyment. – Nothing need be said of physical enjoyment. I know a man who said that the happiest experience of his life was when he sat by the warm fire of a friend’s home in sterling, Canada, after days of great activity and exposure with sheep, when the thermometer registered often 30 degrees below zero. It was the pleasure that comes from the rebound of physical activity and hardship to rest and comfort. Rob man of physical rest and recuperation by a life of physical ease and indulgence, and you rob him of the ability to enjoy the blessings of his existence. A world upside down is sure to be snagged.

Warnings. – How do we know that the middle class is upsetting the balance of a safe social and industrial condition? We have symptoms enough to warn us of the disease. There is the higher cost of living, there is an increase of vices which an over-crowded middle class always produces, and lastly, we have the disease itself in the most violent form. War has always been the selfish determination of one or more nations of the world to exploit humanity. The soldiers of Europe are the most numerous of all its middle classes.

The worst aspect of this class is its drift away from religion. It may not be universal, but it is general. There is less religion in the city than on the farm; there is less religion in speculation than there is in the factory. Work is an essential part of religion, even physical work. That explains why among the Latter-day Saints men of affairs are chosen to so many places of ecclesiastical offices. Members of the twelve are given opportunity, after their spiritual labors, to recuperate in some form of activity. They urge an active, not a restful, life. Mental action is not sufficient to obtain the best results, and many Church authorities engage in out-door life in one form or another. “Home industry” has been the keynote of life and labor among the Saints, and they have been warned frequently against the evils and dangers that follow those who shirk toil.

From Producer to Consumer. – What are the dangers to the middle class in the United States today? There is now on foot a movement which is rapidly increasing; it is the slogan, “From the producer direct to the consumer.” Its dangers to the distributors of the middle class are minimized by those it is most likely to affect. It began by the enactment of the parcel post system, which for some unaccountable reason did not make a monopoly of it. The government could handle all the business cheaper and more effectively than it now handles the part of it which the express companies have been allowed to retain. There is certain to be a strong movement in favor of the government’s exclusive control and an extension of the system that will make the government the greatest business institution in the United States. There is further a restive spirit against overloading the producer and consumer with any heavier demand from the middle class. Until recently the producer felt most the weight of this load. Men and women were leaving the farm for city life, not factory life, and labor became a menacing problem. The increase by our agricultural colleges of men whose business it has become to tell the farmer how to do rather than to do themselves, is a striking illustration of a tendency to ally education with the middle man rather than with the producer. Indeed, that is the tendency of all our education. It is making that class of society most popular. In the factories, the work is done largely by foreigners. The recruits to the industrial life of the nation are not supported by the ideals and aims of modern education in the United States as they should be. Years of experience in education convinced the writer that nearly all educational talks were about ideals, aims, and ambitions, rather than about work, duty, and industrial life. The professional side of education has almost obliterated its industrial side, notwithstanding that we putter a little with manual training. The enticing influence of education is leading the great army of school men into city life. How large an army of this middle class the producer and consumer can support is of course a question, but that the load is sure to bring a break-down, no thoughtful person can deny. A newspaper in Lethbridge, Canada, published an account of a man who bought a barrel of apples in which he found the following card: “I sold this barrel of apples for 90c; what did you pay?” The purchaser paid $5.75. The high cost of living is the most vital issue in the world today. What has caused it? The most potent of all causes has been the unparalleled increase of the middle class and the corresponding decrease of producers, especially in agriculture, animal husbandry, and fruit growing. To add to the danger of the situation, there is a growing antagonism toward those who have imposed themselves by various agencies upon both the producer and the consumer. Government intervention has resulted, and it is not likely to be wholly vacated after the war.

Dangers of Anarchy. – The middle class has heretofore been a great bulwark against anarchy. It has usually been well fed and cared for. Let us suppose a violent suppression of this class through famine or a financial collapse – something easily imagined. Famine and its consequent sufferings know no law. This preponderating class is growing, therefore, dangerously large. It cannot be easily provided for, and any movement to disperse it would be deeply resented. How can such a large mass be provided for in case of a dispersion? Other forms of life would be distasteful, and whatever forced them away from their present pursuits would engender hatred of a most violent form. Hatred is the stuff from which wars and anarchy are made. Men are often the creatures of circumstances over which they have no control. The world has ceased to be merely drifting: it is at sea, and without a safeguard, or rudder. Confusion has laid its perilous hands upon the political and social life of the world. President Wilson has said that “the world must be made safe for democracy”: and Governor McCall of Massachusetts has added that “democracy must be made safe for the world.” Can there be a godless democracy? The world long will be forced to seek a solution of conditions that are so full of danger and disaster to the welfare and happiness of mankind. All sorts of remedies will be sought; but outside of religion, they will never be found.

Revelation – “Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned, to warn his neighbor” (Doc. and Cov. 88:81).



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