From: Henry George versus Henry George
by R.C. RUTHERFORD
Running through pages from 299 to 304 of Mr. George’s book are to be found repeated endorsement of the leading idea of the foregoing extract—namely: the right of every man to the unrestricted use of his own powers, and the exclusive and absolute ownership of the fruits of their use.
“That which a man makes or produces is his own, as against all the world—to enjoy or to destroy, to use, to exchange or to give.”
“Thus, my exclusive right of ownership in the pen springs from the natural right of the individual to the use of his own faculties.” (P. 300.)
“The laws of nature are the decrees of the Creator. There is written in them no recognition of any right save that of labor; and in them is written broadly and clearly the equal right of all men to the use and enjoyment of nature; to apply to her by their exertions, and to receive and possess her rewards.” (Pp. 301, 302.)
“No one else can rightfully claim it, [that which a man makes,] and his exclusive right to it involves no wrong to any one else.” (P. 300.)
Yielding to his propensity to resolve things, Mr. George reduces, in a “last analysis,” the right of a man to ownership, to the integrity of his “motor nerves.”
“From what else then [than the motor nerves] can the right of possessing and controlling things be derived?” (P. 301.)
Mr. George is quite sure that a man has a right to himself, and that his ownership of himself is the sole ground of his right to own anything else. Yet he does not seem to see any reason, after saying this, why he should not say, that a man’s sole right to anything is derived from “human exertion”; though he does not explain how a man got his title to himself in that way. A strict construction of this right would put the title of ownership of a man, not in himself, but in his nurse. We will not, however, press the point, but turn to the essential idea in the quotation from Mr. Jones, namely:
“Of such a system, those who are best able to save and plant, must be put in charge.”
Brief as it is, it is broad enough to cover the whole politico-economic history of the world, including the problem of “Progress and Poverty.” Those who are most able to save and plant, and plant and save, are “put in charge.” That is the way it always has been, and is, and “must be,” just so long as men have a right to the use and the fruits of the use of their superior gifts of bone, brain and muscle.
The “basis of property” is “the right of a man to himself.” (P. 300.) …” Each man is a definite, coherent, independent whole.” … “As a man belongs to himself, so his labor when put in concrete form belongs to him.” … “What other right exists from which the right to the exclusive possession of anything can be derived, save the right of a man to himself?”
“Nature acknowledges no ownership or control in man save as the result of exertion.” (Pp. 299, 300, 301.)
Mr. George challenges bluntness. We accept the challenge and say:
Man does not belong to himself. He is not an independent whole. His right to property cannot be derived from self-proprietorship—for that does not exist. He does not belong to himself, and has no more right to live for himself, than his mother had to strangle him at his birth—which she had a perfect right to do if she belonged to herself—had a right to live for herself and owed nothing to her child. A man is no more independent of the social body—the body politic—than the arm is independent of the natural body. There is no time, between the cradle and the grave, when a man can stand in complete isolation and independence, “as if he were the maker of himself and knew no other kin.” If a man were self-derived, he might belong to himself—own his own life, to take it up and lay it down as he willed.
If his right to property rest on no better ground than that of independence and self-proprietorship, his title is a rope of sand.
A man’s right to property is derived from the necessities of his being—his right to exist, and appropriate that which is necessary to his existence. First, to satisfy present need; next, to provide—to lay up—for prospective want. The roots which one eats as he digs can hardly be called his property; but those which he saves to eat hereafter are his property. His right to this stock-in-hand is good against all who have an equal chance to dig and save. More than enough to meet these ends he neither should nor really can gather for himself. The surplus belongs to another, and will go to another, serius ocius, and may be rightfully taken by any other whose need and un-forfeited right to live are his title to it. No man, no law, can rightfully hinder him from taking it. Justice demands it for him. There is no other use for the State but to see that he has it. The State is for justice’ sake. Justice is—awarding to every man his rights. The State that cannot do that, stands on a powder-mine with uncertain length of fuse. Every tax that takes from the rich to help the poor is an implied recognition of that right—though but a halting, bungling execution of it.
“A house and the lot on which it stands are alike property, as being the subject of ownership, and are alike classed by lawyers as real estate. Yet in nature and relations they differ widely. The one is produced by human labor, and belongs to the class in political economy styled ‘wealth.’ The other is a part of nature, and belongs to the class in political economy styled ‘land.'” “The essential character of the one class is, that they embody labor.” “The essential character of the other class is, that they do not embody labor.” (P. 303.)
Because one is produced by man—the other by Nature. Let us take a second look at this.
The tree from which the planks were made, of which the house was built, was of the land. Both land and tree apart from man are worthless. It was labor—the hand of man—that transformed the worthless tree into a valuable house; that “impressed the character of wealth” upon it. But the tree is no more the raw material of the house than land, air and water are the raw material of the tree.
Without the hand of man the land is as worthless as the unhewn tree. To plant an acorn, raise a tree and build a ship, are labor conferring value no less upon land than upon tree and ship. These values are all the creation of man, and (if value imposed by labor confers property) belong to him—quite as much that which he puts in the soil as that which he puts in the ship. Has he who dykes a marsh, or drains a swamp, or clears a forest, and makes waving fields of grain take the place of bogs and fens, wrought nothing into the value of the ground which he may rightly call his own? Has he who makes a blade of grass grow where none grew before, no right but to walk off with his blade of grass and leave the now-grass-growing ground to any comer?
Mr. George says, he has “a title to the improvements,” but “not to the land itself.” ( P. 307.) He may take the added values out of the “forest,” “swamp,” “morass,” if he can, and do what he pleases with them—”use, enjoy or destroy “—but to the soil itself he has no right. If he cannot subtract the improvements, they are “swamped” indeed for him, and go to Tom, Dick or Harry, or all three, if they like.
You smelt, hammer and grind the shapeless mass of ore until you produce an axe. The shape and sharpness are yours—the ore, any man’s that wants it. The only practical difference between this and land-improvements is, that you cannot carry off the swamp on your shoulders as you can the axe.
“Have we made the earth” Mr. George asks triumphantly, “that we should determine the rights of those who, after us, shall tenant it in their turn? ” (P. 304.)
Have we made the house “that we should determine the rights of those who, after us, shall tenant it in their turn?” Yes, (Mr. George being judge,) we made all that is of value in the house; all that is of value in the “earth”—both being worthless till quickened by the hand of man. On the preceding page it is plainly set forth that the house a man builds belongs to the man who made it, because “it is produced by human labor.”
But the lot on which the house stands—to whom does that belong? Not to him, we are told, any more than “to the poorest child that is born in London to-day,” or to “the puniest infant that comes wailing into the world,” in a New York tenement-house. The birds of the air have nests and the foxes have holes, but your house hath not where to rest its sills. You cannot even hang it in the air, only till the puniest infant comes along and bids you “move on” and yield him his u equal right.” “You take my house when you do take the prop that doth sustain my house.”
But, of course, that is our affair and no concern of the new Political Economy.
This whole argument in relation to ownership, (p. 300,) either proves too much or nothing. That a man owns himself, and, therefore, all upon which he bestows himself—all into which he infuses a value by his labor—if accepted as true, must be as rigorously applicable to land as to anything else. The value added to a log of wood by being transformed into a desk by the hand of labor, no more belongs to the man who made it than the value added to a plat of ground by being transformed from a bog to a potato-patch. If the wood of which the one is made be the natural product of the soil, it belongs to the soil, and no one man has any more right to touch it than another, nor can have, until the question as to whom it belongs be decided in some other court than the court of might. If the desk be the product of the soil, plus the improving hand of man, and the fact of improvement confers a property, then the wood and the improvement belong to the improver—he may take his improvement with all that is inseparable from it. It is with the resources of Nature as at the mill—first come, first served. You own the wood because you were the first to lay the improving, the value-imposing hand of labor on it. If you cannot own the ground which you have changed from a swamp to a garden, because it is a part of Nature, neither can you, for the same reason, own the wood which you have turned from a log into a canoe or desk. Any man has an equal right with you to the wood and may take it as rightly as you—if he can separate it from the value you have conferred upon it by your improvement. If he cannot do that, he must either take the fruit of your labor, which is clearly not his, or surrender the wood which, Mr. George being judge, is clearly not yours; or, that the rights of either may not be infringed, we will smash the desk and do an equal wrong to both. Or, shall we solve the difficulty by agreeing to use it in common? This might be feasible with a desk, but hardly, with a stool, if both needed rest at the same time. If it be wrong—unjust—to appropriate another mans improvement—the product of his labor—to make common property of the wood which has been rendered valuable by being converted into a stool or desk, it is equally wrong to make common property of the land a man has improved by his labor. The land is no more common property by nature than the tree which grows upon it. If the first-comer has a right to take the one, he has an equal right to take the other—so much of it as by labor he can convert to his own proper use. If a man own a desk by virtue of labor bestowed upon its material, he may make and own a thousand, and keep, use, give away, or sell the thousand and use the proceeds to turn a fen into an Eden. The fen was worth nothing, and so the property of no one till he laid his improving hand on it, and endowed it with value. All that makes it valuable now is the desks, or their equivalent, that he has put into it. That equivalent was, and still is his, and must of right be, so long as he wills; and no man, nor any “State” can justly deprive him of it, without full compensation, or demand that he shall take it out to let another in. The second comer, whether an individual or the State, must go elsewhere. All this according to Mr. George. A man owns his house, desk, or coat, by reason of his labor has impressed upon it. But not land—because he cannot impress a value upon it by his labor? But Mr. George tells us (p. 146,) that “Labor can only be exerted upon land” “Land is the field and material of labor.” Then, by Mr. George’s logic, instead of being the only thing a man has not a right to own, it is the only thing he has a right to own.
The bottom question is, not whether I have as much right to own land as to own bread, but whether I have a right to own either land or bread, beyond my need, while my neighbor starves. The rich man who suffers his natural brother, father or mother to die in the poorhouse or starve on the street, is looked upon (privately) as a monster of inhumanity. But nothing save injustice can make monsters of men. The true man, the just man, will divide his last crust with his needy brother. So will the just man with his neighbor. But who is his neighbor? Who is his brother? “Behold my mother and my brethren,” said One who laid the foundation of the only true democracy, and announced the only fundamental principle of Political Economy, in the doctrine of the universal brotherhood of man. Until this simple truth be practically recognized, the evil of poverty must be borne—the salvation of the world must wait. There can be no substitute for this—not even in confiscated lands or rents.
On page 312 we are told that private property in land is unjust, as chattel slavery is unjust—the ownership of land always giving the ownership of men. He says:
“Place one hundred men on an island from which there is no escape, and whether you make one of these men the absolute owner of the other ninety-nine, or the absolute owner of the soil of the island, will make no difference either to him or them.”
Mr. George is quite confident in this—it is to him a self-evident proposition. Yet, as usual, he himself furnishes the refutation of it. He says:
“In the one case, as the other, the one will be the absolute master of the ninety-nine—his power extending even to life and death, for simply to refuse them permission to live upon the island would be to force them into the sea.”
“To refuse them permission” etc.—but how can he refuse? Is not the politico-economic law of gravitation dead set against it—the “Law of Least Exertion”? For the one man to drive them into the sea is to doom himself to dig his own roots, which the all-dominating “law of least exertion” will not permit him to do. Indeed, Mr. George gives us evidence (p. 243) that time was when landowners “endeavored to compel laborers to remain on their estates.” What the law of least exertion will not suffer him to do, it is his interest, everyway, not to do. It is his interest to keep every man of them on the island—and in such condition and on such terms as will make them most useful to him; and that is the condition, and those are the terms which will be most beneficial to them. To see that one fact in all its height and depth, length and breadth, is to find the key to the whole difficulty.
But, is this law of least exertion sufficiently controling—and is self-interest sufficiently restraining to insure the rights and well-being of the ninety-nine”? We doubt it, but Mr. George says (page 196) that the law of least exertion
— “is the all-compelling law that is as inseparable from the human mind as attraction is inseparable from matter, … without which it would be impossible to previse or calculate upon any human action, the most trivial or the most important”
On page 318 we read:
“In the Southern States during the days of slavery, the master who would have compelled his negroes to work and live as large classes of free white men and women are compelled in free countries to work and live, would have been deemed infamous, and if public opinion had not restrained him, his own interest in the maintenance of the health and strength of his chattels would.”
This does not look like driving them into the sea.
Again, on page 315:
“This power [of life and death] exists wherever the ownership of land exists, and can be brought out wherever the competition for the use of land is great enough to enable the landlord to make his own terms.”
What, beside “over-population” and “pressure upon subsistence,” could ever enable a landlord to make his own terms? But even that could not do it. No landlord can ever make his own terms, while there is another landlord to compete with him. Both need labor and are rival bidders for it. Or if there be but one and none to compete with him, the law of least exertion holds his nose to the grind-stone. It makes him as much dependent upon the laborer as the laborer is dependent upon him. The landlord must either work himself or find a substitute—or starve. He will not work, for the law of least exertion will not let him; he will not starve, the law of an empty belly cries out against that; so he will find a substitute. On what terms? It is the laborers fault if he have not as much to say about that as the landlord. It is in his power to “cut off the supplies,” as much as it is in the landlord’s. He is a fool if he does not know it. He is a slave, and deserves to be, if he surrender it. If, under any circumstances, one man can drive ” ninety-nine” men into the sea, the sea—the very bottom of it—is the right place for them. It is idle to talk of making men free.” He who would be free, himself must strike the blow.” It “is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Nor can you put men down. They go down, the mass of them, of their own sweet wills, and have an “alacrity at sinking.” You can help human beings up and “stay them after”; but you cannot put a man down. Try it once, and see how you come out. While he is a man you will let him alone. And the thing that you can put down is above all the very thing you had better keep up. The easier it is to put it down—the harder it is to keep your heel on it. And it is only a question of time whether its fang shall bruise you.
Since writing these pages, we have had, by the courtesy of the author, the pleasure of reading, and permission to use, an excellent article, on this land question, though much more ably and elaborately presented in “Popular Science Monthly” for February, by Oliver B. Bunce. The paper is especially notable for its clearness of statement, and practical, sound sense throughout. The following extracts will at once commend themselves to the approval of the reader:
“Labor creates the conditions that make land wealth just as much as it creates the conditions that make other things wealth.”
(Mr. George says, substantially, the same thing; and says also, that man is the sole owner of the wealth he creates—though he repudiates the conclusions of his own logic when applied to land wealth.)
“When we buy or sell land, the price is not for the mere stretch of earth, but either for improvements or conditions, for something given to the land by the efforts of man, or something that has been developed in connection with the land as a consequence of man’s relation to it.”
And which, it may be added (as that is unquestionably Mr. Bunce’s meaning), is inseparable from it, making it a mockery to say, that the creator of the wealth—the improvements—owns the improvements, but not the land, without which the wealth is worthless to the creator of it.
We return to Mr. George:
“The truth is, and from this truth there can be no escape, that there is and can be no just title to an exclusive possession of the soil, and that private property in land is a bold, bare, enormous wrong, like that of chattel slavery.” (P. 332.)
“From this one great fundamental wrong flow want and misery, and vice and shame,” (P. 327.)
If this be true, the wrong cannot be righted too soon. The harshness of the means is not to be considered for a moment. Another flood, an expurgation by fire, should be welcomed unhesitatingly, if remedies so heroic be necessary. It were better that a million tons of dynamite be exploded at the center of this earth and the polluted fragments blown into infinite space, than that such a state of things should continue. To say nothing of ownership in land, it were a thousand times better to abolish the land itself than that want, misery, vice and shame continue. But we fear that Mr. George has mistaken the seat of the disease. If it were in the land, it could soon be rooted out. But it is not in the land, nor in the tide to land; it is in the heart of man. Abolish its selfish lusts and hate; “cleanse the stuffed bosom of that perilous stuff;” “raze out” the canker from that; find the purgative drug that can scour hence its evil passions; in a word, change the nature of man, and your task is done. Unless you can do this, the abolition of property in land will be of no avail. It will only take time, and a short one at that, to bring us back again to our present state. ”Give men land,” and ” liberty” to buy and sell—and the “law of least exertion” will soon do the rest.
Mr. George denies that there is any honest landholder—that is, honest in the sense of having any right to own a single square foot of ground—as having any better right than any other man, woman or child to the same square foot. The landholder of to-day is the perpetuation of a robbery committed by some freebooter, or other armed ruffian in the “dark backward and abysm of time.” The first possessor was a thief and a robber, and can convey by deed or will no better title than he has himself—and all who hold under him are thieves and robbers—to whom any starveling pauper or puling infant has a right to say, Go! Hence, he condemns Mill’s and Spencer’s notion of “compensation,” for taking away their lands, as ridiculous and criminal. And rightly, too, if he be right in saying that no individual ownership can be just. But we cannot see how he can be right in this, if his other proposition be true, that a man has a right to the value that is created by his own labor. We have considered this in another place. (Pp. 226-235.) Mr. George is not wholly unmindful of this, and for that reason does not “propose” to go as far as the law allows.
“It is sufficient if the people resume the ownership of the land. Let the landowners retain their improvements and personal property in secure possession. ” (P. 330.)
His fences, for example, and all that they enclose? Of course, for unless left in situ they are neither fences nor improvements, but so much lumber only, and there is not a spot even on which to pile them, that the improver can call his own. Or else he is to retain possession of land and all, and let the people tickle themselves with the mockery of calling it theirs. Or else he is to retain possession, manage the estate, sow and reap, and give the people title and proceeds. That would be “nice” for the people, so long as the stimulus for exertion, on the part of the possessor, holds out.
Now, is there not in all this, in the mind of Mr. George, an unconscious separation of “the people” from the owners, or occupants or tillers of the soil? Does Mr. George expect “the people to resume the ownership of the land,” and then farm it out to an army of laborers, who are not the people, but are simple-minded enough to plow, plant and reap for pastime, and give “the people”—the new landlord—the products of their labor? Or will the people hold the deeds and appoint an agent of the people to lease the land back to the people, or laborers, in quantities to suit? And their agent will be—the Government? And the people are the Government—and so, being the parties to both sides of the transaction, they cannot fail to be suited.
Notwithstanding Mr. George’s assertion that “the opinion that private property in land is necessary to society is but an offspring of ignorance,” we venture the counter-assertion that there can be no nation—no permanent government—without the home; no home without a house; no house without land; no efficient motive to retain or improve either, without that sense of security that ownership, or the hope of ownership, alone can give.
To Mr. George’s statement, on page 333, that “nowhere has unrestricted individual ownership been adopted,” we (if that can be any comfort to him) would say, that nowhere ought it ever to have been. But there is some difference between restricting men in the use of their property and robbing them of it.
On page 334 Mr. George quotes a passage from M. de Laveleye, namely:
“In all primitive societies the soil was the joint property of the tribes and was subject to periodical distribution among all the families, so that all might live by their labor as nature has ordained. The comfort of each was thus proportioned to his energy and intelligence; no one, at any rate, was destitute of the means of subsistence, and inequality increasing from generation to generation was provided against.”
It is not easy to see how, while the comfort was “proportioned to the energy and intelligence of each,” inequality could be provided against. But that it could be checked and the balance periodically restored seems not only feasible but possibly desirable—nay, absolutely just and necessary, if there be no other way of preventing the strong from taking advantage of the weak—of giving him the unrestricted benefit of his superior “energy and intelligence”—by the “law of might.”
It is not certain but that a return to these primitive conditions would work the abolition of pauperism and be in other respects a betterment of the human estate. In the “primitive society,” where the “comfort of each is proportioned to his energy and intelligence,” the pauper is an impossibility, for the very law of his existence would be the pioneer’s motto: “Root, hog, or die!” No one could be long “destitute of the means of subsistence” in a society where destitution is death; where the pauper—the weak in mind or body—unblest with “energy and intelligence “—is not fit to live, and where only the fit to live survive—”the survival of the fittest” being the absolute and inexorable law. Still it is not clear, that the civilization that makes pauperism possible, may not have something to offer which more than compensates for it; something, perhaps, in the shape of the greatest good to the greatest number. Let it once appear that going back is the only way, or the better way—we cannot turn too soon. The wrongs of poverty must be righted. The honest need of any man, of every man, is a right against all the world. There is a terrible guilt on the soul of every man in that community where a man, woman or child, dies for want of shelter, clothes or bread. Not guilty, perhaps, in having his hand directly in that particular death, but in acquiescing in that state of things which could make such a death possible. But the guilt is to be shunned; the remedy is to be found, not in the doctrine that the “comfort of each is to be proportioned to his energy and intelligence.” There are rights resting on other, higher grounds than the might of “energy and intelligence.” Land and liberty are not the highest aim of man, nor the means by which Justice is to be set up in the earth. There is no hope for man till men learn the lesson, that the rich are not rich for themselves; that the strong are not strong for themselves; that the mighty in “energy and intelligence” are not here to be ministered unto, but to minister. How? “That is the question.”
A new divide and a fair start are possible terms, but there is no power, “short of omnipotence,” to insure an even race and an equal prize. All may start together; two may tie—only one can take the first prize. The very terms “race,” “goal,” “prize,” “rewards,” “victory,” hurl denial at “equality.” The word has no place among the gifts, the aims, the deeds of men. The very word incentive contradicts it. The phrase “equal chance” is a delusion. Equality and excellence are contradictory terms. The only equality conceivable is equality before the law—the equal right of all men to the best use of all their faculties—the very equality that cancels all others. The motto “Liberty and Equality” is a solecism—an absurdity. Liberty destroys equality—liberty to grow, to surpass, to excel; liberty to be superior—unequal.
“Unquestionably, economic merit should be allowed to tell; superior usefulness not only in fact deserves, but cannot prudently be denied, a resulting reward, proportioned to the degree in which it is superior.” (Charles Frederick Adams, International Review, March, 1882.)
See pages 390, 391, of Mr. George’s book.
The plain implication of all which is, that some must be above and many below; some up and many down; some before and many behind; some great and many small; many called but few chosen; some rich and many poor—poor “in the possession of dirt,” but rich in the inheritance of the kingdom of God.
On page 359 Mr. George tells us, in his rampant spirit of contradiction, that
—”it is not the magic of property, as Arthur Young said, that has turned the Flemish sands into fruitful fields. It is the magic of security to labor.”
If the phrase “magic of security to labor” be not sheer nonsense, it means—security to the products of labor. If there be a difference between ”property” and “the products of labor,” or between the “magic of security to property” and the “magic of security to the products of labor,” then Mr. George has denied and affirmed something—otherwise he is beating the air. “Give a man security that he may reap and he will sow.” That is, give him security that what he reaps shall be his own—his property—”and he will sow.” “Assure him of the possession of the house he wants to build, and he will build it.” That is, assure him that it shall be his house, his property—and it goes up as by magic—”the magic of property.”
“These [that is, the harvests and houses] are, the natural rewards of labor. It is for the sake of the reaping that men sow; it is for the sake of possessing houses that men build. The ownership of land has nothing to do with it.” (P. 358.)
Does Mr. George use the words “reaping” and “possessing” to disguise the fact that the property (the thing that he denies), in the house and harvest, is the essential thing with the builder and sower, and, by so disguising it, give plausibility to his contradiction of Mr. Young?
The fact is, in spite of Mr. George’s denial, that, simmered down, his statement and Mr. Young’s are identical propositions. But, then, Mr. George would not be profound or original if he did not dissent from the great thinkers. The incentive to sow or to build is—not security to labor—freedom from molestation while sowing, reaping or building—but security in the property produced by the labor. There all the magic lies. It may be that “land has nothing to do with it”; provided the security for the ownership of the house and harvest be all the same. If security to the house carry with it secure possession of the land, it matters little to whom the empty epithet of “ownership” applies—in whose hands the empty title rests. It matters little to Richard Doe whether Tom, Dick or Harry, or all of them together, claim the “ownership” of the lands on which his house, shops, barns, sheds and sheep-folds stand, provided he have the sole and perfect use of them to himself, his heirs and assigns forever.
The object of the chapter on “Ownership and the Use of Land” (p. 357) is to show that common ownership removes no incentive to private enterprise, because the common ownership must take a form that shall in no way contravene private rights.
“The complete recognition of common rights to land need in no way interfere with the complete recognition of individual right to improvements or produce. Two men may own a ship without sawing her in half. The ownership of a railway may be divided into a hundred thousand shares, and yet trains be run with as much system and precision as if there were but a single owner.” (P. 359.)
Even so; but mark: the two men own the ship—to sail, sell, sink or give away; the two hundred men (more or less) own the railway—not for, as trustees, but as against y all the rest of mankind. In a sense, too, and valid enough, the ship and railway may be cut in half, each man taking his share and going his way, absolutely secure in the possession of his own—no man presuming to stand forth and say him nay. So, two, ten or a hundred men may “run” a farm and make it work well on marinestock or railway-corporation principles. But are they not the owners of their farm? Does not each stockholder feel that he has, if not a divided, at least a divisible interest in the concern, and that he has the right, unless forfeited by his own act, to take it when, and do with it as he pleases? Is this what Mr. George means by common property? Is this the “common property” that is to secure “to the poorest child born among us an equal right to his native soil”? (P. 354.) If not, the ship and railway systems have no place or pertinency here as illustrations of his doctrine—much less as arguments in support of it.
Rent may be confiscated and “the whole value of land may be taken in taxation” to be held by the Government, “for public uses.” (p. 371.)
That is to say: that portion of the produce of labor that stopped, as rent, with the landlord, now goes on to the Government which is in some way, not defined by Mr. George, to be returned to the laborer (after, of course, deducting cost of oil for lubricating the Government machinery) as his reward for “labor done and performed.” Otherwise, how is the desiderated “increase” of the laborer s wages to be realized? Nor does Mr. George’s scheme provide for the difficulties which might arise, to obstruct the execution of his plan, from the fact that the official trustees of this vast mass of wealth, the Government, are a “banditti,” held to a faithful execution of their trust only by that form of the ineradicable sense of honor which, he says, prevails among thieves.
If the abolition of property in land could make one honest man grow where a hundred scoundrels now wax fat and kick, the expedient could not be adopted too soon. That is a consummation to be sought at any cost. Unless something of that sort comes in when land-titles go out—unless the “banditti” are abolished with the “private ownership” or before “confiscation ” begins, there will be room for a doubt whether the laborer will be the gainer by having the products of his toil taken from the pockets of the rapacious, landlords, to go a progress through the hands of a “banditti”—with whom the “higher law” is, the code of “honor among thieves.” But the people will look after them? Will the people do that? The people had better look a little after itself first The people that elects prize-fighters to Congress, and convicted felons to State Senates, “by large majorities,” is not misrepresented by its chosen “banditti.” The robbers are among them and of them. The first problem is: “What rhubarb, senna, or what purgative drug, would scour these rascals hence?” Unless Mr. George can show that “confiscation of rent” contains “some sweet, oblivious antidote” for the scoundrelism of the age, he might as well throw his physic to the dogs.
“The law of society is, each for all, as well as all for each.” (P. 391.)
That is what the law of society should be; but we have heard it put this way: “Every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost!”
“For this simple devise of placing all taxes on the value of land would be in effect putting up the land at auction to whomsoever would pay the highest rent to the State.” (P. 392)
To whomsoever would and could. To whomsoever has, by “industry, thrift and skill,” saved the wherewithal to bid the highest. But what is to become of the poor bidder who would and could not? He falls to the rear—and to thinking, possibly, of the beauty of the maxim: “Land, liberty and equality.”
And will riot the rent so paid to the State then, as before, come from the products of labor? Does this look like giving the laborer the full return of his labor? But the answer is, the State takes it only to give it back again after deducting the cost of running the State machinery. Then what the laborer gets will show what of his wages is left after having run the gauntlet of a “banditti.” “But the State must be honest!” By what compulsion must it? “Honest, my lord?” That is, one State picked out of ten thousand. An honest State, and all that that implies—an honest people—would spare us Mr. George’s heroic remedy,
“If I have worked harder and built myself a good house while you have been contented to live in a hovel, the tax-gatherer now comes annually to make me pay a penalty for my energy and industry, by taxing me more than you.” (P. 390.)
But if I be permitted to work harder and build myself a good house, while you are permitted to be content with your hovel; if I be permitted to reap the advantage of my saving, while you are forced to pay the penalty of your waste; if “industry, thrift and skill”—(p. 391)—the cunning hand, and the still-more-cunning brain are to have their “natural reward full and unimpaired,” (p. 391,) what becomes of the “equality” upon which so much stress has been laid, as essential to the happiness of men—the cure of poverty—and which, as we have elsewhere shown, is in fatal antagonism with its companion epithet, “liberty”? If the “might” of skill is the right of a man, the might of his muscle has equal claim to be respected. Either there must be no superior industry, thrift and skill tolerated, or they must be denied their “natural reward full and unimpaired” or there must be no equal distribution of wealth. “Under which king, Bezonian?” Unequal skill and an equal share of this world’s goods are simply impossible in a community where “all would be free to make or to save, to buy or to sell.” (P. 390) The shrewd buyer heaps up his gains; the outwitted seller goes to the wall. “He that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.”
“I have saved while you wasted;” ( p. 390); shall I be denied the fruit of my superior skill and thrift? Not according to Mr. George.
It is impossible not to see that liberty is the cause of inequality. Absolute equality is an equality of Procrusteanism. It was the liberty to grow that made Saul rise “among his brethren—taller and fairer.” And the same liberty that permits a man to grow taller than his fellows, leaves him free to grow wiser, shrewder, richer, mightier, and to use all these superior qualities for his own profit and behoof, “as against all the world.” Is it not the baldest folly to talk of liberty and an equal distribution of wealth? Who shall hamper the better-born in the use of his better faculties, or deny him the “reward of his superior industry and thrift”? It would be a crime to level downwards. It is impossible to level upwards, so long as Nature is partial in her gifts. The command upon all seems to be: “Seek that ye may excel.” If one may “covet earnestly the best gifts,” he may use his best gifts to compass his ends, and never be contented with being the equal of the common herd. “Hunc atqui hunc superare laboret” In the light of this undeniable truth, what credence is to be given to the statement, that
— “to relieve labor and capital from all taxation, direct and indirect, and to throw the burden upon rent, would be, as far as it went, to counteract this tendency to inequality, and, if it went so far as to take in taxation the whole of rent, the cause of inequality would be totally destroyed.” (P. 395)
Or, if destroyed, what becomes of the “natural reward of industry, thrift and skill”?
Tax on rent is the Procrustean bed that is to make of one measure all the men of all the nations of the earth!
“American invention, American aptitude for labor-saving processes and machinery are the result of the comparatively high wages that have prevailed in the United States.” (P. 399)
Then there must be some antagonism between wages and machinery, for it is to get round the high wages, that the machinery is contrived. The machine that does the work of ten men, saves the wages of ten men to the contriver. But if the labor of the ten men cost less than the machine and the expense of running it, the ten men will get the work and the wages, and the machine will not be contrived, or, if contrived, not used. There is antagonism, competition, then, between wages and machinery, although machinery be capital, and Mr. George tells us, that there is no conflict of interest between capital and labor; indeed, that “capital and labor are the same thing.” The increase of wages recoils in decrease by stimulating invention—and the equilibrium settles again to bare-living wages, determined by the capacity of the machine. If it cost but four dollars a day to run the machine that does the work often men, the ten men must do the work for four dollars, or stand aside for the machine. For, to get the most work for the least pay, is no less a law of Political Economy than is the law of least exertion—nay, it is the same law differently stated
When Mr. George says that “American invention, American aptitude for labor-saving processes and machinery, are the result of the comparatively high wages that have prevailed in the United States,” he might have added: and the cause of the decline of wages; that is, the laborsaving processes, the substitution of machines for hands, have prevailed over the high wages, as they were meant to do. And thus, again, still without recourse to Rent, he finds solution of his problem, as stated in the inquiry with which he opens his book, in the products of “Yankee ingenuity.”
Now, bringing some of Mr. Georges random utterances within hearing distance of one another, let us hear how they sound!
To beat the laborer out of his high wages, (that is, to get as much work for as little pay as possible,) American aptitude “invents” a machine that does the laborer’s work. We see how straight the line is in which high wages stimulated Invention to do this thing. But there can be no invention without “freedom.” (P. 473.) But, again, we have seen that invention is fatal to high wages. Therefore, Freedom, which, instead of Necessity, is the mother of Invention, is fatal to high wages. Hence, to keep up wages, we must smash up the machines; or, what is the same thing, we must abolish freedom, which not only makes the machine possible, but “is the synonym of equality, the stimulus and condition of progress.” (P. 475.)
What are we to do? High wages, according to Mr. George, are to make the laborers’ paradise. Either freedom or population, or both, must go. Thus, again, in the direct line of his own logic, is Mr. George brought up in the limbo of Malthusianism. Nay, in something infinitely worse—the fearful exigency of a choice between the paradise of high wages and the brutalizing thraldom of freedom.—For, freedom is the mother of invention; invention, the mother of low wages; low wages, the mother of poverty, and poverty, the mother of a servitude worse than that of African Slavery and of a state of vice and crime and debasement beneath that of the savage. One would hardly expect this of Freedom, after the glowing eulogium Mr. George has pronounced upon it, under its synonym of Liberty, on pages 491-493.
On pages 396, 397, Mr. George shows how confiscation of rent is to be for public purposes; but, how a process, which “virtually abolishes private ownership in land,” (p. 396,) can make a man who desires to secure homesteads for himself and children, “a gainer in the matter of lots,” (p. 403,) without robbing the puniest child, born in the slums of London or New York, of his equal right to a share in the land, is a problem that shows its bloody head above the brim of Mr. George’s caldron, and declines to be put down by any incantation to be found in Mr. George’s book. With what propriety may a man talk about “his lot,” or the security of “always having a lot,” or of “selling his lot,” if he have no more right to a lot than the puniest infant that sets up an equal claim and right? Whether born in the slums of London or “ditch-delivered by a drab,” the child has as valid a tide to anybody’s lot as anybody else—which is no tide at all for anybody, if private ownership in land be a robbery and a fraud. If the “homestead owner” has “secured himself a house and lot” with the right to get “a larger lot,” from which neither he nor his family can be “ejected,” it being all the time “his lot,” what is that but private ownership in land? The child either has the rights that Mr. George claims for it, or it has not. If it have, you can no more divest it of it in one way than in another, in part than in all, without a wrong. In which case, our author, who set out, so confidently to show up the nonsense of “the great thinkers,” comes out at the same hole whereat he went in.
 In 1866 a gentleman in one of our principal cities “bought a journal almost bankrupted.” He did not try to bolster it up, and save himself, by reducing wages and raising rates (charges). He paid the highest wages and charged the fairest prices. He pays five cents per thousand ems more than is called for by the scale of the Typographical Union No. 2. What does that amount to? Take last week’s work in the composing-room. There was a total of 2,340,119 ems set up. The cost of that amount at the Union rates would be $936; by the rates paid by the proprietor the sum is $1,053, or $117 more than he needs to pay, according to the Union rules. This is an average of $2.85 per week additional pay to each compositor. The men say that a regular compositor on this paper will receive in a year $150 more than the scale of prices calls for, and this has been done since 1877, a period of nine years, and in that time it is safe to say that he has paid to his compositors $55,000 more than the highest rate of composition paid by the proprietor or publisher of any other newspaper in Philadelphia. When men are incapacitated for work through old age or infirmity they are pensioned off, and for the remainder of their lives they are comfortably provided for. When an employee dies his funeral expenses are paid by the same generous hand which deeded a burial lot to the compositors in Woodland Cemetery. Every Christmas Eve he remembers every man and boy in his employment with a generous and timely gift of money, that enables each one of them to gladden the hearts of their wives and little ones by presents of various sorts. In the local and editorial departments good care is taken of the entire staff. Timely increases are made in salaries. Honesty and loyalty are invariably recompensed in a way that is as grateful to the recipient as it is pleasing to the giver. Everybody gets a midsummer vacation, and, in addition to the two weeks’ advance in salary, receives an honorarium that pays his hotel bill either in the country or at the seaside. It is nothing new for him to send a man whose system is run down by illness or other causes for a trip to Europe, to pay all his expenses, and to see that in his absence his family does not suffer, for his salary is paid to them as faithfully and regularly as if their ‘breadwinner’ were really at work. Indeed, in one case of a faithful employee this trip was repeated again and again in hope of benefit to his shattered constitution. There is no partiality or exception in the distribution of these evidences of a large heart What is known in the office of this great publication as the ‘pension list’ foots up yearly thousands of dollars, all of it weekly paid away to old and faithful employees retired from the active pursuits of life, enjoying the comforts of an honored old age. Every man is treated by the employer as a gentleman; his position does not depend upon the caprice or whim of any editor or head of department; no discharges are made except for cause, and it is safe to say that the man who is discharged from this establishment for cause must have committed a grave fault. Justice is always, tempered with mercy. What is the result? Strike? Boycott? In all of the twenty years of ownership, indeed in all of his active business career, this manly man has had no controversy with, or complaint from, the employees, and when his compositors, some years ago, anticipated a reduction in the scale in the principal offices of the city, voluntarily offered to reduce their rates, the employer answered: ‘Why should you do this, or why should I allow you to do it? I receive the same price for my paper. It costs me no more to make it I receive the same rates for advertising. I will not permit you to reduce your scale. It would be unfair to you to do so.’ This man is beloved by all of his men, and they try by strict attention to duty, by loyalty and all that that implies, to return him in a slight measure what he is continually doing for them. Is it necessary to name George W. Quids, who has more effectually shown by deeds how to solve the great social and industrial problem than all the words and plans spoken of or devised inside and outside of Congress since the opening of the session. His plan, his conduct, is bigger than the strike and boycott; it vanquishes them. It is the rendition of justice and right from man to man. So plain and simple is it, that the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein. (Maxwell Stevenson.)