Things Might Be Worse

Tough times, are they? Well, compare them with the "good old days" and see how you feel

M. GRATTAN O’LEARY October 1 1931

Things Might Be Worse

Tough times, are they? Well, compare them with the "good old days" and see how you feel

M. GRATTAN O’LEARY October 1 1931

Things Might Be Worse

Tough times, are they? Well, compare them with the "good old days" and see how you feel


EVERY day we meet the fellow who wails, "These are tough times." Just how tough are they? How does our position compare with the rest of the world?

How with what some sentimentally call “the good old days?” We have 200,000 unemployed. But England has 2,500,000 unemployed; the United States, 6,000,000; Germany, 3,000,000. Our trade is depressed, our exports and imports down. But England’s trade is more depressed, and that of the United States, and the decline of their exports and imports is proportionately greater. They have more closed factories and half-time factories, more workless workers, more poverty and more consequences of poverty than the worst of our pessimists can imagine. They have slums and the things slums breed, and humans herded into tenements, and—in the case of England—millions on the dole.

Only in one part of the earth is there no unemployment— in Russia. But the Southern Confederacy, when it had slavery, had no unemployment either; and that’s the answer to that. There is always work for serfs.

There is our position in the West. But we mustn’t confuse an act of Providence with a general economic condition, with the general state of our prosperity or the lack of it. Drought on the prairies is an accident, something particular, unrelated to permanency. The only way to judge of that, in relation to the nation as a whole, is in connection with the nation’s capacity to cope with the emergency. In other words, are we well enough off to deal with it?

Well, just how well or how badly off are we? Are we really all broke, or about to go bankrupt, or galloping at a breakneck pace toward the demnition bow-wows?

Let us see. Our pessimists are always talking about the “good old days.” How good, really, were they? We have just read a reminiscence from 1900. the heyday of the bicycle, which notes that there was then in the country bicycle to every eighty people. And now, in 1931, we are nearly at a figure of one automobile for every eight people

Horses? In 1900 the census reported 1,577,493 horses, worth about $100 each. Our present 1,193,889 registered motor cars are stated to be worth an average of $350 each, and—take it or leave it, for so the Dominion Bureau of Statistics declares—the country now possesses 3.295,000 horses, just twice as many as before.

Hard times? What about roads? No need here for figures. As we know roads today, there were none in 1900; absolutely none except for railroads. As late as 1904 there were only 141 miles of paved road on the whole of the North American continent, less than a fifth of these being in Canada. Today they stretch all over the country, paved highways, trunk gravelled roads, dirt roads for farmers— tens of thousands of miles of them. The country lad who 1900 returned from a trip to Toronto had an audience for month to hear him tell about it. Today they are flying from Toronto to Montreal and back again between lunch and dinner, and to work up a name as a traveller one has to go round the world at least twice.

Take railways. In 1900 the railway mileage of this country was 17,000. Today the Canadian National has over 20,000 miles of its own, not to mention the C. P. R., and then there are the motor buses that cover the country, the airships that are all over the sky.

Money Is More Plentiful

TOUGH times? Admitted. But how tough comparatively? In 1900, in the good old prosperous days, there was $58 in the bank for every man, woman and child in the country. Just now, when we’re all suffering so much, the amount of money in the bank for every man, woman and child is $215—nearly four times as much. In 1900 a population of 5,371,313 had $316,000.000 in the banks. Today, despite the depression, all that our nearly ten million population have stowed away in the banks is $2,063,391,000. More than that, our people have just taken up 630 millions of dollars of a conversion loan, hold hundreds of millions dollars of provincial and municipal bonds, have their lives insured for the tidy sum of $6,000,000,000.

Tough times? Lack of work? In 1900 we had 14,000 manufacturers employing 339,000 persons, paying out 113 millions in wages and producing 481 million dollars worth of goods. Today we have 24,000 manufacturers with capital of five billion dollars, employing 650,000 people, paying out 755 million dollars in wages, producing four billion dollars worth of goods. In 1900 the average manufacturing plant employed twenty persons, paid an average wage of $300 per year. Today the average plant employs twenty-seven persons, at an average yearly wage of $1,000.

Take actual working conditions, changes in wages. In 1900 the average day laborer received between thirty-seven and forty cents per hour, worked a sixty-hour week. Today the same laborer gets between forty-five and fifty cents an hour, works a forty-eight-hour week.

In 1900 laborers and factory workers toiled long hours, often under terrible conditions. Today they are hedged about by a mountain of protective acts—the factory, shop and office building acts; steam boiler acts; the building trades protection acts; fair wage acts; and who knows how many others? And these aren’t all. In addition, we have mothers’ allowances upon which we spent $2,000,000 last year, and workmen’s compensation acts under which were paid nearly $50,000,000 last year, and old age pensions for which we paid $10,000,000 last year and will pay a lot more this year.

Tough times? Drought? Everybody leaving the farm? Admit all or some of these things. Yet in 1900, when everything was supposed to be milk and honey, our farms produced only 364 million dollars worth of products as against $1,240,000.000 worth in 1930.

Improved Farm Conditions

AND what about farm life? There aie farm mortgages 4* n0w, and debts and crop failures and drought, and in some cases destitution. And yet, taking farm conditions as a whole, is the lot of the average farmer today as difficult as it was three decades ago?

Let us begin with the women. In the good old days our mothers, or most of them, got up in the grey dawn, put a match to a wood or coal stove, got the breakfast on it, proceeded to do the washing in a wooden tub, put the morning’s milk in an old-fashioned cream separator, went on to other drudgery. Today many of them get up to switch on an electric light, cook breakfast on an electric range, serve fresh food from a refrigerator. They let their washing machines help to keep their schoolgirl complexions, take time off to read the day’s news in the newspaper left at the farm gate, have time to spend part of the afternoon listening to a concert on the radio. If they want groceries they pick up a telephone and call the nearest town or village; and when night comes—and they don’t have to light a candle or an old smelly oil lamp—they step into a flivver with their brood and hie off to the Talkies.

And the farms produce more. In 1900, when we were all supposedly happy and rich, we had 5,500,000 cattle. 2,500,000 sheep, 2,300,000 pigs. 18,000,000 poultry. Today we have 9,000,000 cattle, 3,600,000 sheep, 4,000,000 pigs, and 60,000,000 poultry. This despite that they say we're not raising any more sheep, that we have stopped going in for hogs, and that all our farms that aren’t abandoned are mortgaged. Despite, too, that we’re raising about five times more wheat, and three times as much fruit, and producing more cheese and butter.

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Things Might Be Worse

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Tough times? What about the cities? In 1900, even in our larger cities, half of the population lived by lamplight. Electricity was such a novelty that the Canada Year Book gives a special paragraph to electric lights. It reports that in 1900 there were only twenty-six arc lights in the Dominion and only 546,642 incandescent lights. There are more incandescent lights than that today in the downtown district of Ottawa.

Take telephones. In 1900 we had 53,000 telephones, or one for every 100 of the population. Today we have 1,434,534, or thirteen telephones to every 100 of the population. We have, in fact, more of all sorts of comforts and conveniences. We have thousands of miles more of sidewalks, hundreds of miles more of sewers, twice as much electric railway mileage, scores of hundreds of miles more of pavements, bus transportation to boot.

Take our city homes. In the “good old days” most of them had sheet-iron stoves, burning wood or sooty coal. Today they have central heating, hot water or hot air heating, often oil or gas burners, other improvements as well. Mother’s day— certainly the days of most mothers—used to be one drudgery after another.

There are mothers who still have drudgery. Yet many of them, hard times notwithstanding, know nothing of the old toil and chores and consequently are healthier and happier.

More Health and Happiness

TN THE old days mothers looked after their babies personally, treated their colic with castor oil. and sometimes but not often called, in the old family doctor.

Today the child specialist sees that the child gets lots of strained spinach and prunes and that it’s sure of its vitamine D. The babies are healthier and perhaps happier. Fewer of them, most certainly, die. The good old days! Go back and look at the infant mortality rate, at the tragedy of grim scourges like scarlet fever and diphtheria, with their toll of thousands of babies. Count their cost, sum up their loss, then look at the same figures for these times.

Tough times? Ah, yes. Still, if you had been born in the old happy past your chances of living more than thirty-five years would have been remote, for more than half of those bom up to a generation or so ago got much less than one-half of the Good Book’s allotted span. In these stressful days, when we have better doctors and scientists and chemists and improved hygiene and purer foods, we have added twenty years to the average life. This is not theory or unsupported argument; it is statistical fact. The 200,000 or more babies who will be bom in this country this year will live ten years longer than those who were bom when the rest of us were boys.

We live in an age when it is fashionable to be cynical, when it is thought smart and sophisticated to hold that everything that is, is wrong; that all the great men are dead, and that this is a day of failure and futility, with the present the very apex of all that is vain and hopeless.

Tough times? We’re not denying them. But with all that is happening to us, with depression, unemployment, low prices and drought, aren’t we still better off than during even the best and most prosperous years of bygone days?