A Rejoinder to Mr. Wells

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A Rejoinder to Mr. Wells is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The New-York Times on 11 august 1912. The article is included in a collection of articles of other authors under the title : Famous men discuss the labor unrest of today. The portrait of Conan Doyle is displayed in the article.

A Rejoinder to Mr. Wells

The New-York Times (11 august 1912)

I agree with Mr. Wells that the workingman has in many trades this excuse for his discontent, that prices have advanced in a greater ratio than wages. The same grievance applies to countless people who are not in the ordinary sense workingmen — to Government employes, pensioned officers, and others who have small inelastic incomes, and are at the further disadvantage of having to keep up appearances in order to retain a place in their own class.

Mr. Wells suggests that a cure be found in a commercial partnership between employer and employed. Such an arrangement would be unjust as excluding all those other classes who suffer from the same cause but would not be reached by such a remedy. But the scheme when viewed narrowly is full of flaws. It may well be adopted in a steady-doing business which is in the nature of a monopoly, such as a gas company, or a railroad. But how about the numerous concerns which have no profits, but only losses?

Is there any remedy through Parliament? I do not see how Parliament can affect the large questions, of supply and demand which regulate the price of labor. They could pass a minimum wage bill, but if it were unreasonably high it would only have the effect of driving away the trade and turning an inflated wage into no wage at all. One thing Parliament could do. They could rescue the British workman from his present position of being unprotected in his competition against the cheap and sweated labor of the world. In that fact lies, in my opinion, the main reason of the stagnation in the rise of wages.

Apart from the question of wages, where I see no hope of a rise save through a tariff, I agree with Mr. Wells that much good could be done by measures for the better housing of the poorer classes, especially in the country, where the present State of things is a national disaster. When, if ever, the German cloud has been dissipated and we can afford to relax our present high insurances which absorb so much of our budget, this should surely be the first care of our rulers.

Mr. Wells has indulged in prophecy, so I will venture upon the same very dangerous game. My reading of the future then, is that this unrest will pass away into a cycle of repose, as every labor unrest has done before. The workingman, being educated and intelligent, will realize that he has many compensations in life. He will remember that at the present moment a good artisan often earns more than a clerk, a shopman, or a curate, and that a highly-skilled workman may show a larger income than a member of the learned professions or an officer in the public service. He knows that the market varies with his own gifts, and that with sufficient energy and industry there is no position which he may not attain. I do not believe that there is any immediate danger of Mr. Wells or myself being forced to quit our manuscripts in order to work upon the face of a coal seam, nor do I dread any revolutionary upheaval.