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AN OFT EXPLOITED, BUT SPECIOUS PLEA





IT is not an infrequent occurrence for persons given to the habit of
petty thefts and fraud, to seek to justify their irregular conduct by a
pretense of justice which they call secret compensation. They stand
arraigned before the bar of their conscience on the charge of niching
small sums, usually from their employers; they have no will to desist;
they therefore plead not guilty, and have nothing so much at heart as
to convince themselves that they act within their rights. They
elaborate a theory of justice after their ideas, or rather, according
to their own desires; they bolster it up with facts that limp all the
way from half-truths to downright falsities; and thus acquit themselves
of sin, and go their way in peace. A judge is always lenient when he
tries his own case.

Secret compensation is the taking surreptitiously from another of the
equivalent of what is due to one, of what has been taken and is kept
against all justice, in order to indemnify oneself for losses
sustained. This sort of a thing, in theory at least, has a perfectly
plausible look, nor, in fact, is it contrary to justice, when all the
necessary conditions are fulfilled to the letter. But the cases in
which these conditions are fulfilled are so few and rare that they may
hardly be said to exist at all. It is extremely difficult to find such
A case, and nearly always when this practice is resorted to, the order
of justice is violated.

And if common sense in the case of any given individual fail to show
him this truth, we here quote for his benefit an authority capable of
putting all his doubts at rest. The following proposition was advanced:
"Domestic servants who adjudge themselves underpaid for services
rendered, may appropriate to themselves by stealth a compensation."
This proposition has received the full weight of papal condemnation. It
cannot be denied that it applies to all who engage their services for
hire. To maintain the contrary is to revolt against the highest
authority in the Church; to practise it is purely and simply to Sin.

A case is often made out on the grounds that wages are small, work very
hard and the laborer therefore insufficiently remunerated. But to
conclude therefrom the right to help oneself to the employer's goods,
is a strange manner of reasoning, while it opens the door to all manner
of injustice. Where is there a man, whatever his labor and pay, who
could not come to the same conclusion? Who may not consider himself
ill-paid? And who is there that really thinks he is not worth more than
he gets? There is no limit to the value one may put on one's own
services; and he who is justified to-day in taking a quarter of a
dollar, would be equally justified to-morrow in appropriating the whole
concern. And then what becomes of honesty, and the right of property?
And what security can anyone have against the private judgment of his
neighbor?

And what about the contract according to the terms of which you are to
give your services and to receive in return a stipulated amount? Was
there any clause therein by which you are entitled to change the terms
of said contract without consulting the other party interested? You
don't think he would mind it. You don't think anything of the kind; you
know he will and does mind it. He may be generous, but he is not a
fool.

"But I make up for it. I work overtime, work harder, am more attentive
to my work; and thereby save more for my employer than I take." Here
you contradict yourself. You are therefore not underpaid. And if you
furnish a greater amount of labor than is expected of you, that is your
business and your free choice. And the right you have to a compensation
for such extra labor is entirely dependent on the free will of your
employer. People usually pay for what they call for; services uncalled
for are gratuitous services. To think otherwise betokens a befuddled
state of mind.

"But I am forced to work harder and longer than we agreed." Then it is
up to you to remonstrate with your employer, to state the case as it is
and to ask for a raise. If he refuses, then his refusal is your cue to
quit and go elsewhere. It means that your services are no longer
required. It means, at any rate, that you have to stand the cut or seek
to better your condition under other employers. It is hard! Of course
it is hard, but no harder than a great many other things we have to put
up with.

If my neighbor holds unjustly what belongs to me, or if he has failed
to repair damages caused, to recover my losses by secret compensation
has the same degree of malice and disorder. The law is instituted for
just such purposes; you have recourse thereto. You may prosecute and
get damages. If the courts fail to give you justice, then perhaps there
may be occasion to discuss the merits of the secret compensation
theory. But you had better get the advice of some competent person
before you attempt to put it in practice; otherwise you are liable to
get into a bigger hole than the one you are trying to get out of.

Sometimes the bold assertion is advanced that the employer knows
perfectly that he is being systematically robbed and tolerates it. It
is incumbent on this party to prove his assertion in a very simple way.
Let him denounce himself to his employer and allow the truth or falsity
thereof hang on the result. If he does not lose his job inside of
twenty-four hours after the interview, he may continue his peculations
in perfect tranquillity of conscience. If he escapes prosecution
through the consideration of his former employer, he must take it for
granted that the toleration he spoke of was of a very general nature,
the natural stand for a man to take who is being robbed and cannot help
it. To justify oneself on such a principle is to put a premium on
shrewd dishonesty.





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Previous: PETTY THEFTS



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