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ARE MATTERS GROWING WORSE ?
that the much greater public attention at present paid to such matters, is itself a source of error-is apt to generate the belief that evils now becoming recognized, are evils that have recently arisen; when in truth they have merely been hitherto disregarded, or less regarded. It has been clearly thus with crime, with distress, with popular ignorance; and it is very probably thus with trading-dishonesties. As it is true of individual beings, that their height in the scale of creation may be measured by the degree of their self-consciousness; so, in a sense, it is true of societies. Advanced and highly-organized societies are distinguished from lower ones by the evolution of something that stands for a social self-consciousness-a consciousness in each citizen, of the state of the aggregate of citizens. Among ourselves there has, happily, been of late years a remarkable growth of this social self-consciousness; and we believe that to this is chiefly ascribable the impression, that com mercial mal-practices are increasing.
Such facts as have come down to us respecting the trade of past times, confirm this view. In his “ Complete English Tradesman,” Defoe mentions, among other man @uvres of retailers, the false lights which they introduced into their shops, for the purpose of giving delusive appearances to their goods. He comments on the “shop rhetorick,” the “flux of falsehoods,” which tradesmen habitually "attered to their customers; and quotes their defence as being that they could not live without lying. He says, too, that there was scarce a shopkeeper who had not a bag of spurious or debased coin, from which he gave change whenever he could; and that men, even the most honest, triumphed in their skill in getting rid of bad money. These facts show that the mercantile morals of that day were, at any rate, not better than ours; and it we call to mind the numerous Acts of Parliament passed in old times to prevent frauds of all kinds, we perceive
the like implication. As much may, indeed, be safely in ferred from the general state of society.
When, reign after reign, governments debased the coinage, the moral tone of the middle classes could scarcely have been higher than now. Anong generations whose sympathy with the claims of fellow.creatures was so weak, that the slave-trade was not only thought justifiable, but the initiator of it was rewarded by permission to record the feat in his coat of arms; it is hardly possible that men respected the claims of their fellow-citizens more than at present. Times characterized by an administration of justice so inefficient, that there were in London nests of criminals who defied the law, and on all high roads robbers who eluded it, cannot have been distinguished by just mercantile dealings. While, conversely, an age which, like ours, has seen so many equitable social changes thrust on the legislature by public opinion, is very unlikely to be an age in which the transactions between individuals have been growing more inequitable. Yet, on the other hand, it is undeniable that many of the dishonesties we have described are of modern origin. Not a few of them have become established during the last thirty years; and others are even now arising. How are the seeming contradictions to be reconciled ?
We believe the reconciliation is not difficult. It lies in the fact that while the great and direct frauds have been diminishing, the small and indirect frauds have been increasing: alike in variety and in number. And this admission we take to be quite consistent with the opinion that the standard of commercial morals is higher than it was. For, if we omit, as excluded from the question, the penal restraints-religious and legal—and ask what is the ultimate moral restraint to the aggression of man on man; we find it to be sympathy with the pain inflicted. Now
the keenness of the sympathy, depending on the vividness with which this pain is realized, varies with the conditions of the case.
It may be active enough to check misdeeds which will cause great suffering; and yet not be active enough to check misdeeds which will cause but slight annoyance. While sufficiently acute to prevent a man from doing that which will entail immediate injury on a given person; it may not be sufficiently acute to prevent him from doing that which will entail remote injuries on unknown persons. And we find the facts to agree with this deduction, that the moral restraint varies according to the clearness with which the evil consequences are conceived. Many a one who would shrink from picking a pocket does not scruple to adulterate his goods; and he who never dreams of passing base coin, will yet be a party to joint-stock-bank deceptions. Hence, as we say, the multiplication of the more subtle and complex forms of fraud, is consistent with a general progress in morality; provided it is accompanied with a decrease in the grosser forms of fraud.
But the question which most concerns us is, not whether the morals of trade are better or worse than they have been? but rather—why are they so bad? Why in this civilized state of ours, is there so much that betrays the cunning selfishness of the savage? Why, after the careful inculcations of rectitude during education, comes there in after-life all this knavery? Why, in spite of all the exhortations to which the commercial classes listen every Sunday, do they next morning recommence their evil deeds? What is this' so potent agency which almost neutralizes the discipline of education, of law, of reigion ?
Various subsidiary causes that might be assigned must be passed over, that we may have space to deal with the chief cause. In an exhaustive statement, something would have to be said on the credulity of consumers, which leads them to believe in representations of impossible advantages; and something, too, on their greediness, which, ever prompting them to look for more than they ought to get, encourages the sellers to offer delusive bar gains. The increased difficulty of living consequent on growing pressure of population, might perhaps come in as a part cause; and that greater cost of bringing up a family, which results from the higher standard of education, might be added. But all these are relatively insignificant. The great inciter of these trading mal-practices is, intense desire for wealth. And if we ask-Why this intense desire ? the reply is—It results from the indiscriminate respect paid to wealth.
To be distinguished from the common herd—to be somebody—to make a name, a position—this is the universal ambition; and to accumulate riches, is alike the surest and the easiest way of fulfilling this ambition. Very early in life all learn this. At school, the court paid to one whose parents have called in their carriage to see him, is conspicuous; while the poor boy, whose insufficient stock of ciothes implies the small means of his family, soon has burnt into his memory the fact that poverty is contemptible. On entering the world, the lessons that may have been taught about the nobility of self-sacrifice, the reverence due to genius, the admirableness of high integrity, are quickly neutralized by experience: men's actions proving that these are not their standards of respect. It is soon perceived that while abundant outward marks of deference from fellow-citizens, may almost certainly be gained by directing every energy to the accumulation of property, they are but rarely to be gained in any other way; and that even in the few cases where they are other wise gained, they are not given with entire unreserve; buut
TRUE CAUSE OF THE EVIL.
are commonly joined with a more or less manifest display of patronage. When, seeing this, the young man further sees that while the acquisition of property is quite possi. ble with his mediocre endowments, the acquirement of distinction by brilliant discoveries, or heroic acts, or high achievements in art, implies faculties and feelings which lie does not possess; it is not difficult to understand why he devotes himself heart and soul to business.
We do not mean to say that men act on the consciously reasoned-out conclusions thus indicated; but we mea] that these conclusions are the unconsciously-formed products of their daily experience. From early childhood, the sayings and doings of all around them have generated the idea, that wealth and respectability are two sides of the same thing. This idea, growing with their growth, and strengthening with their strength, becomes at last almost what we may call an organic conviction. And this organic conviction it is, which prompts the expenditure of all their energies in money-making. We contend that the chief stimulus is not the desire for the wealth itself; but for the applause and position which the wealth brings. And in this belief, we find ourselves at one with various intelligent traders with whom we have talked on the matter.
It is incredible that men should make the sacrifices, mental and bodily, which they do, merely to get the material benefits which money purchases. Who would undertake an extra burden of business for the
purpose getting a cellar of choice wines for his own drinking ? He who does it, does it that he may have choice wines to give his guests and gain their praises. What merchant would spend an additional hour at his office daily, merely that he might move into a larger house in a better quarter? In so far as health and comfort are concerned, he knows he will be a loser by the exchange; and would