"The strength and power of a country depends absolutely
on the quantity of good men and women in it."
- John Ruskin -
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"I believe that I
discovered some of my deepest convictions reflected in this great
book of Ruskin,
Unto This Last
and that is why it so captured me and made me transform my life."
- Mahatma Gandhi -
"Nay, but I choose my physician and my clergyman, thus indicating my sense of the quality of their work. By all means, also, choose your bricklayer; that is the proper reward of the good workman, to be chosen.
The natural and right system respecting all labour is, that it should be paid at a fixed rate, but the good workman employed, and the bad workman unemployed.
The false, unnatural, and destructive system is when the bad workman is allowed to offer his work at half-price, and either take the place of the good, or force him by his competition to work for an inadequate sum."
From Until this Last:
Suppose two sailors cast away on an uninhabited coast, and obliged to maintain themselves there by their own labour for a series of years. If they both kept their health, and worked steadily and in amity with each other, they might build themselves a convenient house, and in time come to possess a certain quantity of cultivated land, together with various stores laid up for future use.
All these things would be real riches or property; and, supposing the men both to have worked equally hard, they would each have right to equal share or use of it. Their political economy would consist merely in careful preservation and just division of these possessions.
Perhaps, however, after some time one or other might be dissatisfied with the results of their common farming; and they might in consequence agree to divide the land they had brought under the spade into equal shares, so that each might thenceforward work in his own field, and live by it. Suppose that after this arrangement had been made, one of them were to fall ill, and be unable to work on his land at a critical time—say of sowing or harvest. He would naturally ask the other to sow or reap for him.
Then his companion might say, with perfect justice, “I will do this additional work for you; but if I do it, you must promise to do as much for me at another time. I will count how many hours I spend on your ground, and you shall give me a written promise to work for the same number of hours on mine, whenever I need your help, and you are able to give it.”
Suppose the disabled man’s sickness to continue, and that under various circumstances, for several years, requiring the help of the other, he on each occasion gave a written pledge to work, as soon as he was able, at his companion’s orders, for the same number of hours which the other had given up to him. What will the positions of the two men be when the invalid is able to resume work?
Considered as a “Polis,” or state, they will be poorer than they would have been otherwise: poorer by the withdrawal of what the sick man’s labour would have produced in the interval. His friend may perhaps have toiled with an energy quickened by the enlarged need, but in the end his own land and property must have suffered by the withdrawal of so much of his time and thought from them: and the united property of the two men will be certainly less than it would have been if both had remained in health and activity. But the relations in which they stand to each other are also widely altered.
The sick man has not only pledged his labour for some years, but will probably have exhausted his own share of the accumulated stores, and will be in consequence for some time dependent on the other for food, which he can only “pay” or reward him for by yet more deeply pledging his own labour.
Supposing the written promises to be held entirely valid (among civilized nations their validity is secured by legal measures), the person who had hitherto worked for both might now, if he chose, rest altogether, and pass his time in idleness, not only forcing his companion to redeem all the engagements he had already entered into, but exacting from him pledges for further labour, to an arbitrary amount, for what food he had to advance to him.
There might not, from first to last, be the least illegality (in the ordinary sense of the word) in the arrangement; but if a stranger arrived on the coast at this advanced epoch of their political economy, he would find one man commercially Rich; the other commercially Poor. He would see, perhaps, with no small surprise, one passing his days in idleness; the other labouring for both, and living sparely, in the hope of recovering his independence at some distant period.
From Unto this Last:
The fact is, that people never have had clearly explained to them the true functions of a merchant with respect to other people. I should like the reader to be very clear about this.
Five great intellectual professions, relating to daily necessities of life, have hitherto existed — three exist necessarily, in every civilised nation:
The Soldier’s profession is to defend it.
“On due occasion,” namely: -
The Soldier, rather than leave his post in
It is the main question for the merchant, as for all of us. For, truly, the man who does not know when to die, does not know how to live.
Supposing the captain of a frigate saw it right, or were by any chance obliged, to place his own son in the position of a common sailor: as he would then treat his son, he is bound always to treat every one of the men under him. So, also, supposing the master of a manufactory saw it right, or were by any chance obliged, to place his own son in the position of an ordinary workman; as he would then treat his son, he is bound always to treat every one of his men. This is the only effective, true, or practical Rule which can be given on this point of political economy.
And as the captain of a ship is bound to be the last man to leave his ship in case of wreck, and to share his last crust with the sailors in case of famine, so the manufacturer, in any commercial crisis or distress, is bound to take the suffering of it with his men, and even to take more of it for himself than he allows his men to feel; as a father would in a famine, shipwreck, or battle, sacrifice himself for his son.
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The Ruskin Commongood Chamber of eCommerce is a social club; not a dues-paying
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The Ruskin Commongood Chamber of eCommerce is not affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or U.S. Chamber of Commerce Federation Partnership program.