How might one summarize Chapter 1 of John Ruskin's book Unto This Last?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first chapter of John Ruskin’s book Unto This Last might be summarized as follows:

  • Recent political economists have been mistaken to ignore human affections and focus instead on human greed.
  • The relations between employers and workers is crucial to actual economic life but has been ignored by recent political economists.
  • Human beings are not always motivated by simple, naked self-interests, as animals are.
  • Human beings were created by God to be concerned with justice, not merely with self-interest.
  • Workers will work best for those who treat them decently; they are not mere machines:

if the master, instead of endeavouring to get as much work as possible from the servant, seeks rather to render his appointed and necessary work beneficial to him, and to forward his interests in all just and wholesome ways, the real amount of work ultimately done, or of good rendered, by the person so cared for, will indeed be the greatest possible.

  • Workers who are treated as human beings, not as cogs in an economic machine, will be the most productive:

Treat the servant kindly, with the idea of turning his gratitude to account, and you will get, as you deserve, no gratitude, nor any value for your kindness; but treat him kindly without any economical purpose, and all economical purposes will be answered . . .

  • Paying the lowest possible wages is not a good way to get the best workers.
  • Wages for various jobs should be standardized; workers should not be hired according to which ones cost less:

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.

  • Society tends to value people who give of themselves over those who seem selfish. Thus, doctors are generally valued over businessmen because the latter are presumed to act from selfish motives. Ideally, however, merchants and businessmen should not act from selfish motives.
  • The ideal purpose of merchants and businessmen is to provide for the needs of the nation.
  • Ideally, it is the businessman’s

duty, not only to be always considering how to produce what he sells, in the purest and cheapest forms, but how to make the various employments involved in the production, or transference of it, most beneficial to the men employed.

  • Businessmen should be like concerned fathers to the people they employ.



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