The most obvious need of our time is an improved distribution. Given such distribution, we could all move on with assurance to that constant desideratum, improved productive efficiency per capita. But together with such practical aims, we need fresh ethical and spiritual stimuli and a higher motive than that of mere profit. In no department of economics are these truisms more bitterly true than in all that relates to housing. And housing is today perhaps the very crux of our whole economic, monetary, moral tangle.
Near Santiniketan, India, not far from the International College of Rabindranath Tagore, there lies a village of the Santals, an ancient race of simple folk numerous in that section. For centuries almost unnumbered the Santals, notwithstanding relative poverty, have joyfully, peacefully, and busily maintained their racial life in physical decency and well-being, continually actuated by richness of spirit. The Santals like comfort; their villages are clear and well built. Raised above the mud of the surrounding soil and its plant growth, their homes are cleaner by far than many of our complicated homes and hotels, not to mention our clubs, roadside inns, and college dormitories.
Intermingled with Santal villages are those of other tribes, neither poorer nor richer, whose ways of life are not fine but squalid. In India as elsewhere, it is wealth of spirit that makes the home decent, not economic wealth. Wealth of spirit is what we need in the United States; economic wealth may then take care of itself. Therein is shown the road to sound economy in production and distribution and to decent living. Spirit alone can make living decent.
In these days, especially in the United States, false standards of respectability are in the ascendent. So many pens and tongues have asserted the inability of large portions of our population to possess a respectable home that the public is beginning to believe it. A third of our people - some say two-thirds - is said to live in squalor and indecency because of lack of income. Have our lives become so controlled by the almighty dollar that spiritual values have disappeared? Unselfishness, industry, and love will make a home decent and healthy, however humble and simple it many be. A national spirit founded on such a belief would make the nation sound and strong. Not all the bathtubs and radios in the world will make decent a home that is ruled by love of pleasure, selfishness, and animosity. How are we building our nation - with the qualities that lead to health and decency, or those that bring sickness and indecency?
In Great Britain the ethical protest against the "slum" has risen into a wave of passionate action that is patriotic in the noblest sense. The feeling that this crying evil must be abolished in England's green and plesant land is finding expression in legislation and building schemes which, whether or not soundly conceived, will beneficially affect many human lives. Similar effort in Germany seems more wisely directed toward preventative means, though by no less fine a spirit of social justice than in England. Happy, healthful homes are a nation's very heart, source of its life, set and symbol of its soul. Houses that are fit to be true homes are, therefore, its best material asset, for they develop and safeguard the good life for its people.
In these days of social and political reconstructrion, when an over-stimulated public interest moves hastily over dangerous ground, any action dealing with this fundamental necessity, shelter, shold be most carefully scrutinized. Housing plays so important a role in the economic life of every country that its position as a revenue producer, alike to individual and state, should be safeguarded and improved by every possible means.Serendip