BORN OLD AND RICH

by Charles Dudley Warner

We have been remiss in not proposing a remedy for our present social and economic condition. Looking backward, we see this. The scheme may not be practical, any more than the Utopian plans that have been put forward, but it is radical and interesting, and requires, as the other schemes do, a total change in human nature (which may be a good thing to bring about), and a general recasting of the conditions of life. This is and should be no objection to a socialistic scheme. Surface measures will not avail. The suggestion for a minor alleviation of inequality, which seems to have been acted on, namely, that women should propose, has not had the desired effect if it is true, as reported, that the eligible young men are taking to the woods. The workings of such a measure are as impossible to predict in advance as the operation of the McKinley tariff. It might be well to legislate that people should be born equal (including equal privileges of the sexes), but the practical difficulty is to keep them equal. Life is wrong somehow. Some are born rich and some are born poor, and this inequality makes misery, and then some lose their possessions, which others get hold of, and that makes more misery. We can put our fingers on the two great evils of life as it now is: the first is poverty; and the second is infirmity, which is the accompaniment of increasing years. Poverty, which is only the unequal distribution of things desired, makes strife, and is the opportunity of lawyers; and infirmity is the excuse for doctors. Think what the world would be without lawyers and doctors!

We are all born young, and most of us are born poor. Youth is delightful, but we are always getting away from it. How different it would be if we were always going towards it! Poverty is unpleasant, and the great struggle of life is to get rid of it; but it is the common fortune that in proportion as wealth is attained the capacity of enjoying it departs. It seems, therefore, that our life is wrong end first. The remedy suggested is that men should be born rich and old. Instead of the necessity of making a fortune, which is of less and less value as death approaches, we should have only the privilege of spending it, and it would have its natural end in the cradle, in which we should be rocked into eternal sleep. Born old, one would, of course, inherit experience, so that wealth could be made to contribute to happiness, and each day, instead of lessening the natural powers and increasing infirmities, would bring new vigor and capacity of enjoyment. It would be going from winter to autumn, from autumn to summer, from summer to spring. The joy of a life without care as to ways and means, and every morning refitted with the pulsations of increasing youth, it is almost impossible to imagine. Of course this scheme has difficulties on the face of it. The allotting of the measure of wealth would not be difficult to the socialists, because they would insist that every person should be born with an equal amount of property. What this should be would depend upon the length of life; and how should this be arrived at? The insurance companies might agree, but no one else would admit that he belongs in the average. Naturally the Biblical limit of threescore and ten suggests itself; but human nature is very queer. With the plain fact before them that the average life of man is less than thirty-four years, few would be willing, if the choice were offered, to compromise on seventy. Everybody has a hope of going beyond that, so that if seventy were proposed as the year at birth, there would no doubt be as much dissatisfaction as there is at the present loose arrangement. Science would step in, and demonstrate that there is no reason why, with proper care of the system, it should not run a hundred years. It is improbable, then, that the majority could be induced to vote for the limit of seventy years, or to exchange the exciting uncertainty of adding a little to the period which must be accompanied by the weight of the grasshopper, for the certainty of only seventy years in this much-abused world.

But suppose a limit to be agreed on, and the rich old man and the rich old woman (never now too old to marry) to start on their career towards youth and poverty. The imagination kindles at the idea. The money would hold out just as long as life lasted, and though it would all be going downhill, as it were, what a charming descent, without struggle, and with only the lessening infirmities that belong to decreasing age! There would be no second childhood, only the innocence and elasticity of the first. It all seems very fair, but we must not forget that this is a mortal world, and that it is liable to various accidents. Who, for instance, could be sure that he would grow young gracefully? There would be the constant need of fighting the hot tempers and impulses of youth, growing more and more instead of less and less unreasonable. And then, how many would reach youth? More than half, of course, would be cut off in their prime, and be more and more liable to go as they fell back into the pitfalls and errors of childhood. Would people grow young together even as harmoniously as they grow old together? It would be a pretty sight, that of the few who descended into the cradle together, but this inversion of life would not escape the woes of mortality. And there are other considerations, unless it should turn out that a universal tax on land should absolutely change human nature. There are some who would be as idle and spendthrift going towards youth as they now are going away from it, and perhaps more, so that half the race on coming to immaturity would be in child asylums. And then others who would be stingy and greedy and avaricious, and not properly spend their allotted fortune. And we should have the anomaly, which is so distasteful to the reformer now, of rich babies. A few babies inordinately rich, and the rest in asylums.

Still, the plan has more to recommend it than most others for removing poverty and equalizing conditions. We should all start rich, and the dying off of those who would never attain youth would amply provide fortunes for those born old. Crime would be less also; for while there would, doubtless, be some old sinners, the criminal class, which is very largely under thirty, would be much smaller than it is now. Juvenile depravity would proportionally disappear, as not more people would reach non-age than now reach over-age. And the great advantage of the scheme, one that would indeed transform the world, is that women would always be growing younger.