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IF the classic line had only read, "the poor debtor you have with you always," it would save a lot of current bother. In that event the text would have brought the comforting assurance that a situation we do not like is eternal and inevitable, and therefore beyond our responsibility and control. Yet the interpellation of a single word finds little warrant in human experience. From the dawn of time until this year of grace there have existed groups whose material well-being is hardly to be described by so substantial a word as wealth, nor has poverty as yet ever respected the wishes of the nation or age which sought its abolition. But, common as is the-condition-of-being-poor, its presence in association with the-state-of-being-in-debt is far from universal. So far as the evidence in scribbled records goes, one may start "in the beginning" and get within hailing distance of our own times before encountering so modern an association. During the short period of three or four thousand years, in which an abundance of material allows the story to be picked out, the poor debtor has bobbed in and out of the annals of mankind; but it is only within the last century and a half that he has become a social phenomenon. His unobtrusive entrances and exits have depended upon the changing ways in which societies have been ordered; and he is himself, not a natural, but a social phenomenon.
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