The Malthusian Dragon

From: Henry George versus Henry George

The Malthusian Dragon and the new St. George

In the first chapter of his second “book,” Mr. George tells us, (p. 81,) that the current doctrine as to the source and law of wages, finds its strongest support in the Malthusian theory, “that population tends to increase faster than subsistence.” He thinks it hardly to be wondered at, that such a theory of wages should have arisen and maintained itself among “the masses of men who rarely take the trouble to separate the real from the apparent.”

“But it is surprising that a theory which, on examination [now for the first time?] appears to be so groundless, could have been accepted by so many acute thinkers as have during the present century devoted their powers to the elucidation and development of the science of political economy.”

Then he tells us, without the least reserve or qualification, that:

“The explanation of this otherwise unaccountable fact is to be found in the general acceptance of the Malthusian theory.”

And this theory, of wages being drawn from capital, in the minds of political economists, has seemed self-evident because backed by the Malthusian theory. And yet, he does not think it easy to say (p. 82) which did the first backing; i.e., which “is entitled to historical precedence.” And so he ventures the statement that they both “naturally spring up and grow with each other.” And on the same page he cites the authority of Buckle to the fact that the doctrine of Malthus was not published till eight years after the death of Adam Smith, who had long before fully set the wages theory on its legs, never to be tripped till Henry George entered the lists against it. Mr. George thinks that Malthusianism was present in a sort of rudimentary form in Mr. Smith’s mind, and was responsible for the misdirection which his speculations took—on the wages question. Mr. Buckle thinks the wages theory was the foundation, and the Malthus doctrine the superstructure, which Smith wholly “missed.”

Now, of course, their close relation or interdependence is quite apparent. Indeed, it is now hardly possible to hold apart the ideas of population, wages, and subsistence—the central ideas of the two doctrines—the relation of capital to wages, and of population to subsistence. Mr. Malthus essayed a quantitive, or numerical, illustration of his theory. Mr. Mill and others expressly repudiate this as “wholly superfluous to the argument.” Mr. George himself hardly thinks “it worth while to dwell on the fallacy” and nevertheless he seems to dissent from its repudiation, or even to resent it as an impertinent interference with his plan of attack, and falls foul of the hapless illustration with might and main—repeatedly returning to the assault, (pp. 85-93.) as if it were the Redan or Malakoff of the line of defences, and he were bent upon taking by violence what had already been surrendered at discretion. Evidently he regards it as either the palladium of the obnoxious doctrine, or else its only vulnerable point, and is bound to make the most of it.

We quite agree with Mr. George that it is not worth while to dwell upon this fallacy, though we have something more to say about it further on. But it is worth while, from a psychological point of view, to read the paragraph on page 85 of Mr. George’s book; and to make sure of the opportunity for the reader, we give it here.

“Although in reality not more repugnant to the sense of harmonious adaptation by creative beneficence and wisdom than the complacent no-theory which throws the responsibility for poverty and its concomitants upon the inscrutable decrees of Providence, without attempting to trace them, this theory, in avowedly making vice and suffering the necessary results of a natural instinct with which are linked the purest and sweetest affections, comes rudely in collision with ideas deeply rooted in the human mind, and it was, as soon as formally promulgated, fought with a bitterness in which zeal was often more manifest than logic. But it has triumphantly withstood the ordeal, and in spite of the refutations [it certainly shows game, to stand triumphantly after being refuted!] of the Goodwins, the denunciations of the Cobbetts, and all the shafts that argument, sarcasm, ridicule, and sentiment could direct against it, to-day it stands in the world of thought as an accepted truth, which compels the recognition even of those who would fain disbelieve it ”

And, what is more, still more in matter, and quite as significant, “the causes of its triumph, the sources of its strength are” plain to be seen.—Mr. George uses the words “not obscure.” For our purpose we like the “plain to be seen” better. If one should say that, upon reflection, it is clear, that they mean the same thing, we reply yea, upon reflection! But it is tolerably evident that Mr. George does not calculate on an over-much of that article on the part of his readers. While they can be swept along by a torrent of foaming, dashing, splashing, dogmatic assertions, he can keep them with him; but let them once, at any point, drift aside into a quiet eddy of reflection, the gush of eloquence would be left to go on its roaring, tumultuous way alone.

But if the causes of the almost universal acceptance of Malthusianism are so plain to be seen—”are not obscure”—how happened it that all the clear-sighted, great thinkers, before Mr. George, like Buckle, Mill and others, failed to discover, as Mr. George claims to have done, that there was nothing in those obvious causes to justify their endorsement of the cherished doctrine? Mr. George himself, seems to think that this rather remarkable fact calls for explanation, and we shall see how he tenders it.

We simply ask the reader to attend carefully for a single moment to the first, long sentence in the above quoted paragraph, and leave the choice of epithets by which to characterize it, to himself.

Waiving all comment upon the appeal to the odium theologicum[1] of which Mr. George already seems to find it necessary to avail himself, we pass to the question: Does Mr. George dare to deny, that by far the largest part of the “vice and suffering” in the world, are “the results of a natural instinct with which,” (in the rarest and noblest examples of humanity) “are linked the purest and sweetest affections,” And also, if he dare to assert that the Malthusian theory “avowedly” makes any vice or suffering, the “necessary result of any natural instinct”? Or, if, on the contrary, it does not explicitly inculcate the lesson of the avoidance of these evils by moral and even physical regulations and restraints?

After giving many “causes” of the wide acceptance and stability of Malthusianism, Mr. George adds the following:

“But the great cause of the triumph of this theory is, that, instead of menacing any vested right or antagonizing any powerful interest, it is eminently soothing and reassuring to the classes who, wielding the power of wealth, largely dominate thought.”
“It came to the rescue of the special privileges by which a few monopolize so much of the good things of this world.”

It is not enough for Mr. George to hold up to general contempt the short-sightedness—the comparative short-sightedness of the great host of “great thinkers”—their myopy to the momentous truth that Mr. George is about to lay bare to the most vulgar visual capacity; but he must also hale them forth as a band of flunkies, who have set up and sustained the doctrine of Malthus, in truckling subserviency to the privileged few who monopolize so much of the good things of this world. How else “came it to the rescue” of these menaced favorites of fortune, save as it was brought by the great, obsequious doctors in politico-economic science, as a soothing syrup to pampered opulence and a purse-proud aristocracy?

To still further magnify his task and the splendor of his prospective triumph, we quote another passage from the page just preceding his entrance upon that “straightforward analysis” which is to disclose the utter untenableness of the Malthusian doctrine. (If the reader is at a loss to know exactly what a “straightforward analysis” is, we would suggest that he may possibly find light in Mr. George’s procedure under the promise of it)

“The Malthusian doctrine has received in the intellectual world an almost universal indorsement, and in the best as in the most common literature of the day may be seen cropping out in every direction. It is endorsed by economists and statesmen, by historians and by natural investigators; by social science congresses and by trade unions; by churchmen and by materialists; by conservatives of the strictest sect and by the most radical of radicals. It is held and habitually reasoned from by many who never heard of Malthus and who have not the slightest idea of what his theory is.” (P. 90.)

Hear him!

“Nevertheless, as the grounds of the current theory [of wages] have vanished when subjected to a candid examination, so, do I believe, will vanish the grounds of this, its twin. In proving that wages are not drawn from capital we have raised this Antaeus from the earth.”

To those who have seen how the grounds of the current theory of wages have vanished into the thin air of Mr. Georges logic, the modesty of this vaunt will appear in the bright tint of its proper maiden blush.

Now if the reader does not understand that it is Mr. George’s purpose to beard this monster error in his stronghold, with that swelling of the heart which warriors feel in foemen worthy of their steel, it is clearly not Mr. Georges fault. The odds are simply stupendous. And there is nothing to forbid the inference, that no body but a downright madman, or a brave of extraordinary valor, mental caliber and equipment, could have the temerity, single-handed and alone, to assault a foe so mighty in arms and so flushed with repeated victories. But it is to be remembered that Mr. George is a man who “has the courage of his opinions”; that he was not brought up in the woods to be scared at owls, however wise they look. So, nothing daunted by the formidable array of fearful adversaries, but, the rather elated by his previous triumph in raising “Antaeus from the earth”; with his soul in arms and eager for the fray, he will buckle on his armor, “hold hard the breath and stretch the nostril wide”; roll up his sleeves; bend up each corporal agent to this terrible feat, and shouting St. George and victory! dash in, and with that same Herculean might that flung the heels of Antaeus in the air, lay the Malthusian dragon low.

At the close of his first chapter on Malthusian ism, (p. 90,) Mr. George says:

“Thus commended and seemingly proved, thus linked and buttressed, the Malthusian theory—the doctrine that poverty is due to the pressure of the population against subsistence; or, to put it in its other form, the doctrine that the tendency to increase in the number of laborers must always tend to reduce wages to the minimum on which laborers can reproduce—is now generally accepted as an unquestionable truth, in the light of which social phenomena are to be explained.”

That these two propositions which Mr. George treats as equivalents, differ in something other than in “form,” is evident from the fact that one may be true and the other false. It may not be true that poverty in every particular instance, or even generally, is due to “pressure upon subsistence”; but that, as a general proposition, “the tendency to increase in the number of laborers must always tend to reduce wages,” is true, is as incontrovertible, if not as obvious, as the proposition that the quotient of ten divided by five is less than the quotient of ten divided by two. This proposition must stand as an unassailable axiom, notwithstanding the truth of this other proposition, that, if the dividend be increased proportionally with the divisor, the quotient remains unchanged. That an increase of laborers does not lower wages where there is a corresponding increase of demand for labor, does not militate against the doctrine laid down in the above quoted maxim.

To Mr. George this doctrine is a twin goblin to “the current theory of wages,” and as he has laid the latter, he expects to quell the former. Even so. For, in spite of his self-complacency and bravado, (p. 91,) setting aside his manifold dogmatic assertions and undemonstrable negations, he has done absolutely nothing towards disturbing “the current theory of wages.” Nor, while it is level to common apprehension, that the law of limitation applies to the whole earth as well as to a single acre, with regard to productive capacity, will it seem absurd to say that poverty may be the result of “pressure upon subsistence”—the more especially as stakes and stones are not the sole conditions of limitation. And the obviousness, of this truth is doubtless the reason why it “is now” and always will be “generally accepted as unquestionable”; and none the less so for anything Mr. George has written in his book.

So thoroughly is this doctrine of wages rooted in the minds of men, that even Mr. George cannot wholly divest himself of it, nor speak consistently with his own constrained utterances against it. See, for example, page 111, where he speaks of wages as capital even where they are not paid at all, but simply “retained ” by the laborer.

As to the soundness of the proposition, viz.: “That the increase of population, by multiplying laborers, tends to reduce wages,” and so abridge the resources of the working man, it seems there can be no doubt; but that the poverty in general, of this, or any other age, in which the hovel has stood beside the palace, may be justly attributed to over-population, relatively to the whole country, and consequent pressure upon subsistence, alone or even as the main factor, we think with Mr. George, if that be what he means, has never been proved. And we are in hearty sympathy with every word he utters in condemnation of the doctrine, whoever asserts it, that it is the “niggardliness of Nature,” and not the brutal selfishness, injustice and rapacity of man that is responsible for the sufferings, miseries and degradations of the poor. We do not believe there has ever yet been a time in the world when there was not bread enough in it to fill the mouths of every one of God’s children, were it accessible to them.

Nor do we hesitate to say that every pang that comes to a human soul for having less than he needs, is a reproach to every other who has more than he needs. To have more than he needs while another has less, is a crime against humanity, whether he got it by the superior might of his right arm or the superior cunning of his brain. Might is no more right with brain than with muscle. The strength of the strong is for the help of the weak—not to outwit, oppress, enslave and rob them. Till this divine truth, without which no principle of Political Economy is worth the breath it takes to utter it, be recognized among men, and made their rule of action, and the principle of government in the State, not only will vice banish peace from the world, but the wretchedness of poverty and the luxuries of wealth will confront each other, and bread-riots and French Revolutions be ever present possibilities—and periodical necessities. There is, without doubt, much suffering that is simple justice, but until starvation be the righteous penalty for crime, every human being that goes hungry is wronged, and society is accessory to the wrong, and, in some way, will have to pay the penalty of the wrong as surely as the relation between cause and effect obtains. No man on the face of God’s green earth has a right to keep hounds while his neighbor kills his own children to keep them from starving for the want of the crust that goes to feed the hounds. Upon this theme we will fight on Mr. George’s side till our “eyelids will no longer wag.”

But, what Mr. George states the question “manifestly” to be, (p. 125,) is not the question at all. Let us see:

“Manifestly the question whether increase of population necessarily tends to reduce wages and cause want, is simply the question whether it tends to reduce the amount of wealth that can be produced by a given amount of labor.”

Even giving to the word “necessarily” so broad a construction as to include any conceivable order of things as human nature is now constituted, we say this is not the question.

It is not the same thing to say, that increase of population tends to reduce wages, that it is to say, that increase of population, (for that is the antecedent to Mr. Georges “it” in the fourth line of the above passage,) that increase of population tends to reduce the amount of wealth that can be produced by a given amount of labor.

An influx of laborers that may reduce wages (by competition) 100 per cent, need not reduce the productive capacity of the previous laborers at all.

It may be conceded, that the more hands the more wealth, absolutely or proportionally, and yet truly affirmed that the more hands the lower wages, as a rule. This is the law, and always must be, so long as there is a question of wages at all—that is, so long as the relation of “employer and laborer” obtains. Repeal that relation—make it possible for the laborer to retain all the produce of his labor, whether it be more or less, lower or higher, it is not “wages” that he gets, and the question of raising or lowering wages is not in place. Such a state of society “where every man digs his own roots,” may be possible, and it may be desirable, with a view to securing to every man the results of his own labor; but until it does exist; until that blissful state shall be restored—if it ever did exist—the law, as stated in the “current doctrine” and denied by Mr. George, must prevail. And it all depends on so simple a proposition as, that “increase of population,” (in its politico-economic sense of increase of laborers,)—increase of population is increase of competition for employment; the tendency of which always is to lower wages.

If this be not the fact, why is it that there is so much clamor among workingmen against the increase of the laboring population in their respective crafts, either by additions at home or importations from abroad?

Mr. George either does not understand, or fairly treat, the paragraph quoted from Mr. Mill. (Pp. 125, 126.) Mr. Mill may have made the mistake of generalizing from crowded states and cities; Mr. George, of generalizing from his California experience. As the antagonism of Mr. George with the old system is nowhere more pronounced than here, nor the groundlessness of it more susceptible of demonstration, we give the paragraph from Mr. Mill entire, and let Mr. George state the issue:

[1] “A greater number of people cannot, in any given state of civilization, be collectively so well provided for as a smaller. [2] The niggardliness of nature, not the injustice of society, is the cause of the penalty attached to overpopulation. [3] An unjust distribution of wealth does not aggravate the evil, but, at most, causes it to be somewhat earlier felt. It is vain to say, that all mouths which the increase of mankind calls into existence bring with them hands. The new mouths require as much food as the old ones, and the hands do not produce as much. If all instruments of production were held in joint property by the whole people, and the produce divided with perfect equality among them, and if in a society thus constituted, industry were as energetic and the produce as ample as at the present time, there would be enough to make all the existing population extremely comfortable; but when the population had doubled itself, as, with existing habits of the people, under such an encouragement, it undoubtedly would in little more than twenty years, what would then be their condition? Unless the arts of production be in the same time improved in an almost unexampled degree, the inferior soils which must be resorted to, and the more laborious and scantily remunerative cultivation which must be employed in the superior soils, to procure food for so much larger a population, would, by an insuperable necessity, render every individual in the community poorer than before. If the population continued to increase at the same rate, a time would soon arrive when no one would have more than the mere necessaries, and, soon after, a time when no one would have a sufficiency of these, and the further increase of population would be arrested by death.” (“Principles of Political Economy,” vol. I, pp, 345, 246.)

Mr. George traverses all this. He says:

“I assert that the very reverse of these propositions is true.”

Taking it without qualification, Mr. George would be clearly right in denying Mr. Mill’s first proposition. Taking it with the explanation, he is clearly wrong. Up to a certain point, increase of population is increase of provision for all, as is happily illustrated by Mr. George’s example of the growth of a village from the small beginning of a single immigrant on the prairie, (p. 212,) the hint of which he gets from Mr. Mill himself.

Beyond that certain point Mr. Mills rule holds good, and, as a principle, is incontrovertible. It is just as true that there may be too many mouths for the broth, as that too many cooks spoil it. If the current doctrine err in placing that point too near, Mr. George errs still more in not placing it at all. It is simply a question of the capacity of Nature to respond to the demands of man.

Nothing can be more strictly true, abstractly, than Mr. Mills second proposition. But the “niggardliness of Nature” will not be felt till more is asked than she can grant. And that day is so far off, blinking the social limitations, that it makes practically the view of Mr. George the nearer correct as a rule of action. The niggardliness of Nature will not punish “overpopulation” till over-population occur, which we are inclined to think, with Mr. George, has never yet been the case, taking in the whole field, nor is so soon likely to be, as to make Nature—unless inhuman Nature—responsible for the “want and misery” of the poor of any age. Not the niggardliness of Nature, as a whole, but the rapacity, thriftlessness and shiftlessness of man are to be reproached with the poverty, vice, crime, squalor and suffering of “over-populated” communities.

That Mr. Mill intended the necessary qualification of his proposition, so as to wholly break the force of Mr. George’s objection, may be seen from the following passages taken from the same section as the above quotation, and apparently not taken into account by Mr. George:

“After a degree of density has been obtained, sufficient to allow the principal benefits of combination of labor, all further increase tends in itself to mischief, so far as regards the average condition of the people; but the progress of improvement has a counteracting operation, and allows of increased numbers without any deterioration, and even consistently with a higher degree of comfort.”
“But if the growth of human power over nature is suspended or slackened, and population does not slacken its increase; if, with only the existing command over natural agencies, those agencies are called upon for an increased produce, this greater produce will not be afforded to the increased population, without either demanding on the average a greater effort from each, or on the average reducing each to a smaller return out of the aggregate produce.”—(Mill’s “Political Economy,” vol. I, pp. 246, 247.)

All of which Mr. George, with a singular obtuseness to its bearing upon his own argument, expressly recognizes as true—see page 129 of his book, and the same passage which we quote on the following page.

When once understood, it is plain that there can be no controversy with Mr. Mill on his second proposition, unless about the question as to what constitutes “over-population.”

Granting that it is not clear upon what ground Mr. Mill affirms that “an unjust distribution of wealth does not aggravate the evil,” (of overpopulation,) there is nothing else left of which Mr. George can complain; and at the end it is obvious that he has hurled himself against that impregnable stonghold in vain. There are no facts to which Mr. George appeals for which Mr. Mill has not entirely provided, as any one who will carefully read the whole chapter, in Mill’s work, may readily perceive.

When, in putting his California example, Mr. George says (p. 129): “At the same time wages and interest have steadily gone down,” he neglects to add, as he might have done, and, pari passu, population has steadily gone up; which, according to the “current theory,” might alone account for all the other concomitants.

On page 130, Mr. George asks:

“Is it true that wages are lower because labor yields less wealth?”

Mr. George asks, let him also answer. We have to turn back only one leaf to find these words:

“This virgin profusion of nature has been steadily giving way before the greater demands which an increasing population made upon it. Poorer and poorer diggings have been worked, until now no diggings worth speaking of can be found, and gold-mining requires much capital, large elaborate machinery, and involves great risks.”

If Mr. George will but recall to mind, that increased improvements in machinery is equivalent, in respect to production, to increase of population, (laborers, in its politico-economic sense, a fact which Mr. George implicitly recognizes on p. 220,) he can hardly fail to discover, that nothing furnishes a better illustration of the current doctrine, that increase of population tends to lower wages, than the arguments he uses against it on pages 129-130.

Irrespective of the amount of wealth produced, what can conduce more effectually to its unequal distribution than the competition inevitable to a numerous population, and labor-saving inventions, which cut down the laborers wages? (P. 131.) What, in California, at the beginning was to be had for the small pains of stooping and picking it up, can now be got only at the expense of “much capital, large skill, and elaborate machinery and great risks.” (P. 129.) A part of that which was once paid for stooping and picking up, since stooping and picking up no longer “pays,” is devoted to the purchase of “machinery,” “skill,” and compensation for risks. And though it requires labor to produce the machinery which displaces laborers in California, the machinery is produced by labor where wages for it are determined by population. Consider the increase of population in California—the men displaced by machinery because they cannot do the work of the machine—and does not the current doctrine explain why it is, that “men are now glad to work for a week for less than what they once demanded for a day”?

Mr. George may be quite right in his “conviction,” that the “wealth-producing power is greater in California in 1879 than it was in 1849,” and even, that Nature yields more, absolutely; but he will not pretend for a moment, that it yields more relatively, (especially after conceding the falling off in its “virgin profusion,” p. 129;) that a man, with his pick and pan and perfect freedom, can go anywhere in 1879 and dig as much gold a day as he could in 1849. And yet, this is the thing essential to the validity of his argument. And when he says, (pp. 130-131,) that, in California, “wealth has increased with greater rapidity than population,” (workingmen,) he seems to forget that every machine introduced into California, that does the work of one hundred men, stands for precisely so much working population: And something more—the working population bring their eating mouths; the machinery brings none.

Mr. George’s main error consists in supposing, that it was necessary to overthrow a general principle because it did not seem to apply to a particular instance—to deny the existence of a cause because other causes produced similar effects. The doctrine of Malthus teaches, that certain social conditions inevitably tend to produce poverty—not that they are the cause of all poverty, nor of all the vices and crimes that knot and gender in it. To show that a man has been reduced from affluence, or a competency, to poverty by the villainous chicanery or treachery of lawyers, or by the more manly craft of highway robbery, is no disproof of the doctrine of Malthus, that overpopulation crowds upon subsistence, lowers wages and produces poverty. We think with Mr. George, that the poverty, and the distress and crime that come of it—that “the industrial paralysis, the commercial depression which curse the civilized world to-day, evidently come from no lack of productive power. Whatever the trouble be, it is clearly not in the want of ability to produce wealth” (P. 134.) When I see a delicate mother and her little children suffering for the want of proper food and clothing, and other pinchings of poverty, while the villain who robbed them is traveling on his spoils, for pleasure, among the Alps and Apennines, I impute their distress to neither lack of wealth, nor over-population;—nor yet do I doubt the soundness of the Malthusian doctrine. And when Mr. George arraigns Malthusianism for inconsistency in not accounting for all the poverty of “to-day,” he is simply tilting at a man of straw of his own setting up.

The poverty of to-day comes not from a lack of power to create wealth in the aggregate, whatever it may be in the individual. The trouble is in the want of individual ability to control wealth—the product of labor. Show the cause of that, and that, in the possible nature of things, it is curable, and the problem of “poverty in the midst of abundance” is solved.

So long as the fish a man catches, the roots he digs, or the berries he picks, suffice him—so long he controls the whole product of his labor. But when he needs a hook for his fish, a pick for his roots, or a basket for his berries, which involves the aid of another, for a consideration, then he no longer controls the whole product of his labor, for a part of it is commanded by another.[2] When another begins to control a part, just then and there is initiated that condition of things which makes it only a question of time when another will control all the product of labor except the minimum requisite to efficient labor. If the “law of least exertion,” so strenuously insisted on by Mr. George, the law of laziness—the law of selfishness—be a valid one (though Mr. George himself repudiates it further on in his book, pp. 121, 412, 414, 415, 416, 419, 420,) then there is not, never has been, and never will be, any escape from inequality in the distribution of wealth and its baleful consequences, so graphically depicted and eloquently deprecated by Mr. George. The remedy is, the regeneration of man—the reconstruction of human nature on a basis exclusive of the “law of least exertion.” If abolition of private ownership in land be adequate to that feat, we will “All hail!” it, though the heavens fall.

After reading Mr. Georges arguments, the dog and puppy one included, (pp. 93, 94,) against Malthusianism, and his exultation over the demolition of that doctrine, the reader can put himself in the mood for properly appreciating the splendor of Mr. George’s achievement, by reading the following passage from Mill’s “Political Economy,” vol. I, p, 439:

“Some, for instance, have achieved an easy victory over a passing remark of Mr. Malthus, hazarded chiefly by way of illustration, that the increase of food may perhaps be assumed to take place in an arithmetical ratio, while population increases in a geometrical; when every candid reader knows that Malthus laid no stress on this unlucky attempt to give numerical precision to things which do not admit of it, and every person capable of reasoning must see that it is wholly superfluous to his argument.”

Had Mr. George duly considered this passage, together with Mr. Mills explanation of the expression “the tendency of population to increase faster than the means of subsistence” on the same page, though it might not have spared us his puppy joke, it certainly would have moderated the rapture of his triumph.[3]

We do not suppose that there is one person in a hundred of those who have read Mr. George’s book but would rise from it with the impression that Mr. Mill is responsible for the statement, that the poverty, want, and consequent miseries that are in the world, are not due to mans inhumanity to man, but to the niggardliness of Nature. And such readers will doubtless be surprised to learn, that Mr. Mill has never uttered a word or syllable that can be tortured into such a meaning, or that can be pleaded in justification of the turn Mr. George has given to what he does say. Mr. Mill’s sole deliverance upon this point, as quoted by Mr. George, is in the form of a proposition so conspicuously self-evident that the formal logician would be tempted to class it with what are characterized as “identical propositions.” Here are his words:

“The niggardliness of nature, not the injustice” of society, is the cause of the penalty attached “to over-population.”

It is simply equivalent to saying, that “whenever the population of a state or country exceeds the capacity of the soil to sustain it, its incapacity to sustain it is the cause of the penalty attached to such excess—the over-population; that penalty being an empty stomach and its consequences. Mr. Mill could not have spoken a more incontrovertible truth had he said: Whenever more guests crowd to the table than have been provided for, some must go away hungry; and that the cause of their going away hungry is the lack of provisions—or, that there are more mouths for the meat than meat for the mouths.

And when Mr. George says: “I assert that the very reverse of this proposition is true,” you can not help but draw conclusions not very flattering to Mr. George’s logic. The reverse of that proposition would be: The larger the crowd of guests that can not be provided for, the better will they all be provided for.

That over-population will have to take the consequences of over-population (accept the penalty attached to it) is all the proposition asserts, and it is that which Mr. George denies.—What constitutes over-population; when the limit of Nature’s capacity is reached; is quite another question. Mr. Mill may err in his calculations on this point; he may not be able to tell how many bushels of potatoes a given patch of ground will yield to the acre, but if Mr. Mill should utter the proposition, that, if pigs were squealing for more potatoes than the ground could produce, some swine would have to go hungry; we assume that nobody but Mr. Henry George would venture to “assert the contrary of that proposition to be true.”

Let us put Mr. Mills proposition in another form:

A = niggardliness of Nature
B = penalty (= starvation).
C = over-population.

Mr. Mill says: A is the cause of the B that attaches to C.

Mr. George says: There is no C.

Granted—that disproves nothing; denies nothing said by Mr. Mill.

Mr. Mill says: Arsenic is a poison, and the cause of the death of Hans Snyder.

Mr. George says: Hans Snyder is not dead—or, if he is dead, he was killed by lightning, and, therefore, arsenic is not a poison.

But that does not prove that arsenic is not poisonous; and if he shows that Hans Snyder was not killed at all, it only invalidates Mr. Mill’s example; it does not touch his proposition.

Suppose Mr. Mill had referred to Ireland and all the other countries Mr. George mentions as refuting the doctrine of “population pressing upon subsistence,” as examples supporting the affirmative view; and Mr. George goes down into those countries to fetch proof that there never was any over-population there; and comes back groaning under the weight of it; what does it all amount to? It merely takes away the given examples. It comes not near the theory. Now these negative facts, granting them to be such, are all that Mr. George offers us in fulfilment of his promise to volatilize and spirit away, in the alembic of a “straightforward analysis,” the “linked and buttressed” doctrine of Malthus.

It is apparent now what Mr. George’s idea of a straightforward analysis is. It consists of “heaps on heaps” of asseverations offered to the reader as facts. The proper reply is a simple demurrer. For, admitting them to be the facts as stated, it is plain to be seen that they are utterly worthless for Mr. George’s purpose, for the simple reason that in every case cited he wholly ignores the part that both the “prudential” and “positive checks” of the Malthusian theory played in the given cases.

Taking leave of the analysis, let us try our hand at a little synthesis, and start a community on Mr. George’s theory of the primitive man, with the least-complex conditions, and on his fundamental principles.

1st. The principle of least exertion, i.e., the law that man will seek the gratification of his wants with the least possible expenditure of muscular effort; or, to make the matter level to the dullest apprehension—man does not like to work and will not work any more than he is obliged to. This is the social law of gravitation. In a word, man is normally lazy—”constitutionally tired.”

2d. The principle of equality—the right of all to an equal start in the world.

3d. The right of every man to the legitimate reward of his diligence and industry—or his right to own the product of his own labor.

4th. “Land and liberty”—or the right of every man to do what he pleases with his own, even his own body, being the sole proprietor of himself.

This is the man. The chief condition of his environment is, a universe of fixed quantities. There is just so much and no more of everything. Man can not “create an atom,” nor “lessen the powers of Nature.” Among all the habitable globes there is but just one world for him—but one! There is just so much land, air and water. Thus there are “limitations” put to his field of operations. And there are others besides. And, mark especially, that it does not matter whether the limitations be fixed by the rock-bound coast of a continent, the circumference of the globe, an impassable gulf, or river, or sea, a Chinese wall, a hedge fence or an equally-impassable barrier of social conditions.

There are subjective as well as objective limitations. As the physical limitations are fixed by the laws of physical nature, so the social limitations are fixed by the laws of human nature— the bottom-rock of which is, as we have seen, “the law of least exertion.”

By social conditions we are to understand such as spring up as a consequence of two or more human beings abiding within the pale of reciprocal influences.

Now, in the light of these preliminaries, we are to set up a community on Mr. George’s foundation, with his materials and according to his “laws” or principles.

Two men, Peter and Andrew, with their wives, one each, are cast upon a desolate island “where no human being ever trod;” no matter how cast, whether from a ship, a raft, or a passing comet. They are (for we are to take the simplest, least complex conditions) simple, naked, honest, troglodytes—cave-dwellers. Resting over night from the fatigues of their journey, voyage, or whatever it is, leaving their wives to look after the household affairs of their respective domiciles, Peter and Andrew sally forth in quest of a breakfast. They start on perfectly equal terms, though under constitutional differences that at once begin to tell on results, for Andrew, having more conjugal affection than Peter, or being more happily mated, lingers behind to kiss his bride goodbye. This gives Peter the lead, who is thus the first to find an “oyster rock” and stake out his claim. This little march stolen on Andrew is the reward of his “superior diligence” or conjugal self-denial, or indifference. Andrew, coming to the water later has to take second choice and hunt another rock. He soon “locates,” however, gets a days supply and returns with his “wages,” the product of his labor, to his family, where they fare sumptuously. But Peter, bent on business, puts in the day and staggers home at night under a load for a week. Of these, Peter and his spouse partake sparingly, but enough, with an eye to hygiene rather than to luxury. And while Peter is fishing the next day, his wife instead of going out shopping, is busy at home salting down the surplus of the previous day’s take. While Andrew’s wife, having no surplus to salt down, but an artistic turn of mind, puts in the time making mother-of-pearl ornaments for her fingers and toes, and perhaps her nose. And thus go they on from day to day, one gathering and eating, the other gathering and saving, till Peter has accumulated a large stock of oysters and Andrews wife a fine assortment of pearls. Then a rainy day sets in, and Andrew, not wanting to work in the wet, goes to neighbor Peter for a temporary supply from the latter’s stored-up stock. Peter having observed Andrews ways and devoutly believing that thrift is blessing, so men steal it not, gives Andrew to understand, with truly diplomatic courtesy, that he does not care to lend, but is quite willing to sell. Andrew inwardly acknowledges the “corner,” and would gladly buy, but has nothing with which to pay except his wife’s pearls or his own “claim.” As can be foreseen, Peter has no use for the jewelry himself, and has shown no disposition to indulge his better-half in such luxuries. After some higgling and whittling of shingles, it is agreed that Andrew shall have a month’s supply from Peter’s stock in exchange for the fee simple to Andrew’s oyster rock. The contract is duly executed on linen paper, water-marked, and signed with a No. 5 Yale Triumph Pen. At the end of the month, Andrew is out of oysters, out of pocket and minus his “claim,” on a square deal. He has now no choice but to stake out a new claim or to go to work for Peter. There are plenty of good rocks farther up the coast “on the next quarter section,” but Andrews wife don’t want to go where she can make no display of her ornaments, and she wont move before the first of May anyway. So Andrew goes to work for Peter, knocking off oysters on shares or for a cash salary of $10 a week—oysters being legal tender.

Andrew simply does what he pleases with his own in selling his labor as he did his rock to Peter. True, he might have put by oysters as well as Peter, but for the law of least exertion, or lack of foresight. That law and the social impediment conditioned upon his wife’s feminine vanity, or aesthetic genius, put such a limit to his field of operations, that, for him, the oyster rocks, up the coast, might as well have been up in the moon.

So Andrew keeps on with his work for Peter, taking his pay from, not any longer in, the product of his labor—since, now, a large share goes to Peter for the privilege of working Peter’s now-consolidated claim under the contract. It was one-half Andrew’s, but he had a right to sell it, and did sell it. He owns himself and has a right to sell himself, either by the day in labor, or outright, bodily, for life, according to Mr. George. (Pp. 299, 300.)

After a few, more or less, angels’ visits to these two families, in the shape of little Johnnies and Pollys, Dickies and Tommies, all with mouths adapted to oysters, the demand begins to crowd the supply—an instance of population pressing against subsistence; and pressing more and more, till the discomfort of short allowance, or, the inconvenience of starvation, stares them in the face. They are all subsisting off of Peters plantation, and are all working for him, under the law of competition and over-population, pretty much on his own terms. Peter and his descendants are faring better than Andrew and his descendants. The equality is gone, and in a perfectly legitimate way, through the law of least exertion, the rewards of merit and the rights of property. Legitimate or not, the party of the second part are in a bad box. The problem now is, to get out of it. It will be of no use to order a strike. It is too late for the “prudential check.” The positive check may come in the form of a fight for a dispossession of the Peter proprietors and a new divide; or in the shape of a famine or plague, from a scant and purely fish diet—or by breaking down the social barriers and departing thence into a new country, farther up the coast. This is, unquestionably, the better way; the one which wisdom would have pointed to from the first, but the very one, for obvious reasons rooted in the social nature of man, always last resorted to. And this tune, with an infinite complexity of variations, may be played over and over to the end of time, or till every square foot of the habitable globe is brought under the dominion of squatter sovereignty. Thus we see how it comes, even under Mr. George, that by industry and thrift and “liberty,” and the just rewards of diligence, that the palace of the prince stands beside the hovel of the beggar—if the prince chooses to let the beggar come so near. And all, too, by a law which is to the social world what gravitation is to the physical world. It all may be very “repugnant to that sense of harmonious adaptation” to which Mr. George so touchingly appeals, (p. 85,) but we imagine it is no more complacently impious to put the responsibility upon the inscrutable decrees of Providence than to put it on the law of gravitation.

[1] To people in general, who are moved by this kind of argument, and to Mr. George in particular, who deigns to use it, we commend the following passage from Mill’s “Logic,” p. 538.—”Writers have not yet ceased to oppose the theory of divine benevolence to the evidence of physical facts, to the principle of population for example. And people seem in general to think that they have used a very powerful argument, when they have said, that to suppose some proposition true, would be a reflection on the goodness or wisdom of Deity. Put into the simplest possible terms, their argument is, ‘if it had depended on me, I would not have made the proposition true, therefore it is not true.'”

[2] “Wages—The price of the labourers share of the commodity produced.” (Mill’s “Elements,” etc., p. 41.)

[3] In a note, on page 84, Mr. George questions the correctness of Mr. Mill’s statement, that Malthus laid no stress on his numerical illustration. It is easy to understand Mr. George’s reluctance to be bereft of the only vulnerable object he has at which to hurl his lance; but, as between him and Mr. Mill, on a question of this sort, we— “will take the ghost’s word for a thousand pounds.”

Continued: Wages, Interest and Profits