Competition (Bolton Hall)

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IT is not generally known that before the Indian mutiny, there had been extensive economic discussions among the natives, and that at the uprising some interesting sociological experiments were made by the sepoys, which were unfortunately stopped by the British guns.

The Manchester School had long been teaching that all restraint of the individual was unfair, that each should grab all that he could, and that, however unjust the conditions, there was nothing so good as "Laissez faire." Therefore, when the natives made their first large capture of the English, they proceeded to put these principles in practice, while the band played the March of Civilization. They stuffed the prisoners into what has most unfairly come to be known as the "black hole " of Calcutta, and left them severely alone. Those English malcontents made a great outcry because most of them died in the night, from thirst and heat and suffocation. Now the "hole" was no blacker than an ordinary coal mine, and it is much easier to die in one night than to be worked to death for years.

One of the English gentlemen said to the sentry: " Here, you blackguard, we are dying in here. You must do something to relieve us."

"You haven't read 'Malthus,'" returned the guard. "In India, population is pressing upon the means of subsistence; and war, pestilence, and famine are the means, mercifully appointed by God and us, for curing this disease."

"But," said the officer, "our condition is horrible. What shall we do?"

"Compete freely among yourselves," answered the man." Experience shows that all attempts from outside to better the condition of the weaker and dependent classes result, in the end, only in increasing misery."

"But think of our common humanity"—

"Ah, yes," replied the sentry. "If you are not satisfied, go elsewhere: you are perishing merely from overcrowding. The remedy for that is emigration."

"But you have made it impossible for us to emigrate. We are shut up in here."

"You suffer," said the guard, "from your own weakness and imprudence. Interference with the conditions which have evolved themselves would be most unwise."

"You brute! " cried the Englishman. "We are trampling upon each other! Give us, at least, air and water!"

"Air and water," replied the sepoy, "are the elements of nature which are appointed for possession by an overruling Power, and on which the proletariat are no more entitled to seize than they are to confiscate the land."

"I can't argue," said the officer. "We are dying in here for want of what lies open all about us. Why won't you let us use some of the water which you do not need? "

"Because," returned the other, "our appropriation of water has restricted the supply, and given it a value, much of which is in the hands of widows and orphans. This value it would not be right to destroy. However, you have the same liberty as every one else to buy some water."

"Buy!" answered the unhappy Briton. "You have taken from us everything with which we could buy: you have robbed us of all we had."

"Don't use anarchistic phrases, my friend, else I'll shoot you as a striker. You are a worthless and discontented lot; and to let you out would be, as Professor Gunkum expressed it, 'to subject the newer and higher type to the degrading competition of the older and lower.' "

"Well, for mercy's sake, let some of the children out, anyhow!"

"Now I pity you with all my charity organization," said the sentry. "But, if I were to release you now, you would add to the ordinary glut of the labour market; and I am not going to interfere either with free competition or with the survival of the fittest."

  • Bolton Hall, “Competition—A Fable,” Commonwealth 6, no. 26-30 (July 1899): 18-20.