Popular Science Monthly/Volume 42/December 1892/Fallacies of Modern Economists
|←Protective Inoculation for Cholera||Popular Science Monthly Volume 42 December 1892 (1892)
Fallacies of Modern Economists
By Arthur Kitson
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By ARTHUR KITSON.
IN matters scientific as well as religious a conflict of opinion among professors is apt to produce skepticism among scholars. Nothing tends to discredit the teachings of a system more than want of harmony among its exponents. For such discordance is an acknowledgment of doubt and uncertainty, of failure to discover the truth. Before any branch of human inquiry can properly be dignified with the name of science, there must be some sort of general recognition of at least the fundamental principles upon which it is built—some general agreement as to what laws govern the phenomena with which it deals.
Not until conflicting theories and opinions have been settled and a uniform classification arrived at, can we be said to have entered the realm of exact science. Scientific exactness is, in fact, marked by the absence of intelligent criticism. Like religion, science has had and still has its battle-grounds, where scientist wars on scientist. Such disputes, however, are usually confined to mere speculations, undemonstrable theories, or undeveloped fields of inquiry. When once the speculation ripens into a demonstrable truth, all contention ceases. For the aim of science is the discovery of truth. Of modern sciences, none stands more discredited by the average reader than the so-called science of economics. The cause of this becomes apparent when we consider the contradictory nature of the theories taught by modern economists, the utterly discordant answers given to social problems, and the extreme divergence of the paths proposed for reaching social happiness. For instance, we are informed by one economist that the cause of all or nearly all the crime and misery surrounding us is due to the system of private ownership in land; another attributes it to the profit system, another to industrial warfare engendered by competition, another to privileges granted by governments to specially favored classes and individuals, another to the drink traffic, and so on. And the remedies prescribed are equally varied. One school directs us to nationalize the land, another to confine taxation to land, another to nationalize all the instruments and means of production, another prescribes a system of co-operation. One favors the enlargement of the powers and scope of government, and another insists on the annihilation of all governments. Small wonder, therefore, that the reader, who has not time to penetrate far below the surface, should lack faith in the teachings of a system whose doctors so thoroughly disagree.
An interesting and somewhat amusing book, entitled The Why I Ams, published by the Twentieth Century Publication Company, comprises a collection of short essays by the representatives of most of the modern economic societies, in which the writers give their reasons for the faith that is within them. Each writer is confident that the school to which he belongs possesses the true solution to the riddle of the social sphinx, and regards his scheme for social redemption as founded on "fundamental scientific principles." Let us examine some of these "fundamental principles" upon which these societies are founded. One of the "fundamental principles" underlying Progress and Poverty is, that the fund out of which wages are paid is created by the wage-earner. It follows that, if this be so, the doctrine that wages are advanced by capital falls to the ground. Mr. George proceeds to test his theory by induction. The illustrations he gives are of two kinds. One class applies to isolated settlements and the other to modern society. The one class apparently favors his theory, the other, however, is decidedly against him. For example, he instances conditions where men are employed in picking berries, gathering eggs, catching whales, etc. In these cases he says it is customary to pay those employed in such occupations by giving them a certain proportion of the things they have brought. In certain gold-fields it has been customary to pay the miner for his labor by giving him a certain percentage of the gold he has mined. All this seems clear enough, and, if the world's industries were confined to those above cited, Mr. George's principle would undoubtedly be sustained. But when he goes on to apply it to the modern factory, ship-yard, and those industries which form the vast majority of human occupations, the facts clearly disprove his assertions.
Mr. George says: "Bring the question to the test of facts. Take, for instance, an employing manufacturer who is engaged in turning raw material into finished products—cotton into cloth, iron into hardware, leather into boots, and so on—as may be, and who pays his hands, as is generally the case, once a week. Make an exact inventory of his capital on Monday morning before the beginning of work, and it will consist of his buildings, machinery, raw materials, money on hand, and finished products in stock. Suppose, for the sake of simplicity, that he neither buys nor sells during the week, and after work has stopped and he has paid his hands on Saturday night take a new inventory of his capital. The item of money will be less, for it has been paid out in wages; there will be less raw material, less coal, etc., and a proper deduction must be made from the value of the buildings and machinery for the week's wear and tear. But if he is doing a remunerative business, which must on the average be the case, the item of finished products will be so much greater as to compensate for all these deficiencies, and show in the summing up an increase of capital. Manifestly, then, the value he paid his hands in wages was not drawn from his capital, etc." (Progress and Poverty, page 53.) You will observe the qualification allowed in the sentence, "if he is doing a remunerative business, which must on the average be the case"—a qualification that admits the incorrectness of Mr. George's theory applied to unremunerative businesses. Nonpaying industries are not rare. One statistician tells us that from ninety to ninety-five per cent of all those who embark in business in this country—the majority of whom are employers of labor and pay out wages—fail. It seems extraordinary that an able thinker like Mr. George could believe he had discovered a general law which admittedly fails in so many instances. In applying the theory to the case of the Great Eastern steamship, Mr. George chooses a most unfortunate instance. He says: "Here is a machinist or boiler-maker working on the keel plates of the Great Eastern; is he not also just as clearly creating value-making capital?" Not necessarily. It depends entirely upon whether the steamship proves a success. Events since showed that she was a gigantic failure. She never earned more than a mere percentage of her cost, and was finally sold for old junk. The greater part of the wages paid to those workmen was drawn directly out of the pockets of the English capitalists, and little, if any, of it was ever returned.
The facts in all those instances selected by Mr. George simply show that under certain circumstances the wage-earner brings to his employer the fund out of which his wages are paid, and under others (probably the vastly greater number) the wages are paid directly out of the fund provided by the employer. The conclusion is, therefore, that while Mr. George has shown exceptions to the economic theory that wages are drawn from capital, he has certainly failed to establish the truth of his own.
In the broad philosophical sense, capital is always the mother of labor, which simply means that before labor is possible there must be a stock or reserve fund of power— a certain potential force—from which labor draws its sustenance, whether it be in the shape of money of the realm or that for which it is exchangeable—viz., food products—or the capital may take the form of ready manufactured brain, blood, nerves, and muscles.
No labor is possible without the power to work, and the power to work must be stored up in the human frame, and a sufficient supply of protoplasm housed to maintain human energy, in order to make labor possible. What else is this than capital—"wealth devoted to the production of more wealth"?
The definition of labor given by Mr. George "includes all human exertion in the production of wealth." Supposing wageworkers were limited to this definition as the standard for gauging the value of their services, what would become of those employed in unremunerative industries or in those of an experimental nature? It would mean that the time they had spent in the manufacture or construction of anything which on completion was found to be unsuccessful, could not be classed as labor, and for which they could make no claim—a decision which Mr. George would scarcely be prepared to allow as just.
I must now call your attention to another fallacy which is too gross to overlook, especially as it occurs in other schools of reform outside of the single-tax party. It is that of ascertaining some law applicable to a rude or elementary society, such as Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday on a desert island, and applying the same law to society in an advanced state.
Reasoning by analogy is often a very dangerous proceeding, especially when used by the unskillful. In order to show that capital is really a very useless thing and quite unessential to life, Mr. George cites instances where a number of men begin life on an island and commence without capital by picking berries, catching fish, and killing game. This may be all true in a small community, providing there happen to be the necessary game and fish and berries, the possible absence of which Mr. George overlooks. But where can a city like New York provide itself with sufficient game, fish, and berries to support life without the use of capital? Mr. George tells us that the fundamental truth, that in all economic reasoning must be firmly grasped and never let go, is, that all society in its most highly developed forms is but an elaboration of society in its rudest beginnings, and that principles obvious in the simple relations of men are merely disguised, and not abrogated or reversed, by the more intricate relations that result from the division of labor and the use of complex tools and methods." (Progress and Poverty, page 29.) For a complete refutation of this "fundamental truth" we have an argument furnished by Mr. George himself. In his efforts to demolish the Malthusian theory, he says in Chapter II of Book II: "The globe may be surveyed and history may be reviewed in vain for any instance of a considerable country in which poverty and want can be fairly attributed to the pressure of an increasing population." You will notice how he qualifies "country" by the word "considerable." And in a foot-note he explains the meaning of the words "considerable country," by stating that there may be small , such as Pitcairn's, which may seem to offer examples in point. Now, if the "fundamental truth to be grasped and never let go" is, that laws applicable to a small and crude society hold equally "in its most highly developed forms," why is not the law of the pressure of population against subsistence which reigns in Pitcairn's and other small islands applicable likewise to societies everywhere? And if not, why propound such a theory?
This same style of argument occurs likewise among socialistic and anarchistic writers, and is one of the props necessary to sustain their conclusions. For example, the socialist witnessing that, with the formation of trusts, the cheapening and facilitating of production goes on wherever the combination and co-operation of capital takes place, argues that production will reach its limit of perfection by the appropriation of all capital and of all the means of production by the state—an error disproved every day by the inability of the people collectively, through their representatives, to even pave their own streets, manufacture an average quality of gas, or supply themselves with decent water.
The anarchists, observing that many laws work injustice and wrong to thousands, and that great advantages have been brought about by the repeal of them, reason that the summit of human happiness will be attained by the repeal of all laws and the abolition of all government, strangely forgetting that mankind have found both government and law essential to the organization and stability of society, forgetting also that well-merited punishment is very generally meted out to criminals by law. It does not follow that, because within certain limits the benefits of a given system are found to vary in a direct ratio with its extent of application, this same ratio will be continued ad infinitum. "Trees do not grow up to the skies."
The man who gradually reduced his donkey's daily rations in hopes of eventually accustoming him to do without food, succeeded in accomplishing his purpose. But the donkey died. May I ask my anarchist friends if they have contemplated under their scheme the possibility of the death of their donkey-society?
State socialism and philosophical anarchism are generally supposed to be antipodal to each other, the one achieving its results by the welding of men into a rigid whole, the other dividing society into its units.
Viewing theni from a philosophical standpoint, I should say the one lacks mobility, the other cohesion. The one has a single eye to the freedom of the individual and trusts to luck as to the destiny of society; the other sees only the social union and equality of all, and trusts to chance to take care of the freedom of the individual.
I do not want to fall into the vicious error of our a priori friends who think they can predict exactly the results that will flow from their social prescriptions. But if human experience is to be taken for anything, neither socialism nor anarchism are destined to work out the way their advocates would have us believe. Economics is not an exact science. We have not yet arrived at that point where we can predict events. The fact that among economists there are so many contradictions is evidence of the want of a scientific basis for their theories. One cause of very much of the disagreement among modern economists is the misapplication of the law of induction. Inductive reasoning is safe only when conducted on proper lines and carried out to the fullest extent, otherwise it is, as Bacon says, "a weak and useless thing." The interminable contention between the schools of free trade and protection (or "aggression," as Herbert Spencer calls the latter) is largely due to this kind of imperfect reasoning. "Your theories are all very fine," exclaims the protectionist, "but we prove our case by facts, cold facts." And when you carefully examine his collection of instances, you find them to consist of a specially assorted lot of isolated cases that apparently favor his theory, all others being carefully avoided or rejected. For example, on the question of wages. We are told by high political authorities that high wages are a necessary consequence of high protection, while free trade produces low wages. Now for the proof. In the United States, a protective country, wages are higher than in free-trade England! The free-trader naturally asks why the protectionist confines his instances to just these two countries. If inductive reasoning is to be applied, why not collect every possible instance? The results would be as follows: Russia, Germany, Austria, France, Spain, and Italy, are all "protected" countries—some highly "protected." Wages in each of these are far lower than in Great Britain.
Again, in the free-trade colony of New South Wales wages have been, and I understand are still, higher than in this country, and in parts of Africa where no tariff exists wages are extremely high. On the other hand, in China, where "protection" has existed longer than in any other country, and where it has reached its highest stage of consistency, wages are lower than anywhere else on the face of the globe. And yet once more: "Cold facts" show that the standard of living and rate of wages among the working classes in England have been and are much higher under free trade than they ever were under "protection." Facts are unquestionably worthy of attention, but no general law can possibly be established by any such collection of isolated cases as that commonly made by the "protectionist." The same fallacious reasoning is accountable for most of the sophisms that at present becloud the minds of the disciples of this school.
Another cause of very much of the difference of opinion that exists among economic writers and reformers lies in the indefiniteness of the terms employed. If we compare the definitions of the writers of different schools, we shall see what a hopeless confusion reigns. Land, wealth, capital, labor, wages, interest, rent, and profit all mean something different to different schools. And yet we are told by each school that it is founded upon science, that it has a scientific basis. I know of nothing more unscientific than a confusion of terms. "Land is wealth," says one. "Land is capital," says another. "Land has no value," says a third; and so on, until you begin to wonder what sort of a thing land really is. Until an agreement on terms is reached, there can be little hope of harmony in teaching, or a discovery of truth. This discord, however, shows us how difficult a problem these gentlemen are attempting to solve, they "who rush in where angels fear to tread." To my mind, it will be a long time before political economy arrives at that point where it can be dignified by the name of science—to that "great and final object of all science, predicting events," as Buckle calls it. At present we have much a priori speculation and little else. Every reformer thinks he knows exactly what his scheme will bring forth—how it will operate—"how sorrow and sighing will flee away, and tears be wiped away from all eyes." But one can not help inquiring how these gentlemen know that such and such results must follow the adoption of their plans. History is strewn with the wrecks of numerous enterprises founded on similar reforms, conceived, planned, and superintended by exceedingly intelligent men, such as Fourier and Robert Owen, John Ruskin, and others.
The fact is, that what we call society is such a marvelously complex machine, or animal, that its scientific treatment—analysis, synthesis, etc.—is at present utterly impossible. In fact, our treatment of society as a whole, as a huge machine, is both misleading and irrational. Society is not so much one machine as a multitude of small machines, each acted on by various forces, the resultant of which is an unknown and indeterminate quantity. These forces propel the machines in various directions—some antagonistic to others, impinging on each other, rebounding, expending force uselessly, with endless friction, noise, and breakage. How difficult it must be to form any intelligent classification, a moment's thought must convince us. Here is a man whose motive power is love of money, who shrinks from nothing, dares all, endures all, to satisfy this passion. There is one whose sympathies are strong, who spends and is spent for others, philanthropically. Another is driven by conceit, by love of fame; another by fine clothes, and another by love of power; another sacrifices all for knowledge, and so on. All these and thousands of other types, possessing not one, but many passions in varied amounts, and probably no two individuals identical, go to make up this unit which we call society. And then we divide them into laborers and capitalists, and prescribe hard and fast rules by which we assume the conduct of each class is controlled, and on these assumptions we build a science! Such is the science of political economy!
Take, for instance, the term "laborer." To whom does it refer? "To the producer," says our economist. Producers of what? "Of wealth." And what is wealth? "Good things," says one. "Useful things,", says another. And what is a useful thing? "That which in its operation conduces to human welfare or pleasure." So that the laborer is an animal or a machine, the product of which is finally resolved into terms of human pleasure. What man is there who is not a laborer? Who does not produce pleasure to others as well as to himself? Why, the very act of living requires an expenditure of labor. And from this sheer act of existence up to the hardest kind of manual labor there is a gradual crescendo, a line of unbroken continuity.
How, then, can you draw a complete dividing line separating producers from non-producers? Surely not at digging the earth, nor even at manual labor. Try as you will, I fail to see where a dividing line comes, save only between the dead and the living. If, for instance, you admit the school-teacher, the actor, the musician, the painter, the confectioner, or the milliner, as laborers, why should you omit the friend, the husband, the child? For the basis of the classification of the first is the satisfaction of human desires. The latter class likewise satisfy human desires!
Again, if we attempt to draw a line separating capitalists from laborers, we are met with the same difficulty. For, as capital is the mother of labor, every laborer must of necessity be a capitalist, and from the man who possesses simply physical health, strength, and reasoning faculties, with clothes enough to cover him, we rise by insensible gradations, by an unbroken line, to the millionaire who controls thousands of men.
A characteristic of one class of economists is their fierce denunciation of the profit system. "Profit," they say, "is robbery." They contend that if a manufacturer supply the machinery for the manufacture of commodities, an amount set apart sufficient to replace the machinery when it shall have worn out, and no more, is a just return for its use, and all over and above this is theft. Now, the question at once arises, What does the laborer do more than the machine, that he should expect more than the equivalent for the quantity of brain-matter, nerve-tissue, and muscle expended by him in his labor? In other words, if he be allowed sufficient food, clothing, and shelter to maintain him in a healthy condition so long as he gives his entire labor time, is not justice satisfied? Is not this a quid pro quo? Why should one class of labor be allowed a larger return for its produce than another, even though this be made of brass and iron and steel instead of blood and bone and brains? Still further, if the producer is to receive the full reward of his labor, why should not the machine that produces ten times the quantity that the laborer produces receive ten times the reward? Setting out with the term "labor" as "that which produces wealth," a term that likewise defines the function of machinery, you will see the results to which we are reasonably drawn. You will understand that your economist does not claim that the question of affection or of moral obligation should interfere with the logical conclusions at which he arrives. The grand science of economics does not recognize human sympathies.
If we distinguish between labor and machinery by defining the former as human exertion applied to production, we gain nothing, since political economy gives no reason why a difference should be made in the treatment of the two. The distinction ordinarily observed is to make labor the grand motive power of production, and machinery the mere agency for rendering labor more productive. This is not a clear nor a just distinction. For the principal function of machinery is to displace the laborer rather than to make his labor more productive.
Take an illustration or two. The man who, in place of using a rough knife to cut down the branches of trees, invented a saw, made something which caused his labor to be more productive—i. e., a given quantity of the same kind of his energy produced larger useful results than before. So the invention of the file, by enabling him to sharpen his saw, made his labor still further productive than if he had to use a blunt one. Tools, especially, fulfill this particular function of making labor—the same kind of energy—more productive.
Now, take the case of machinery. In place of the old-fashioned wells, with the bucket and rope—the primitive method of drawing water—you have the pumps, boilers, steam engines, and reservoirs of a modern water-works. Similarly, instead of the ancient style of propelling boats by means of oars and paddles, you have the modern steam vessels. To say that machinery in these and endless other examples is "that which renders labor more productive or more efficient" is mere folly. Human labor is here wholly displaced, and the principal human exertion employed is that of a totally different nature, being transferred from the muscle to the mind. Instead of ten, twenty, forty, or a limitless number of human arms pulling on as many oars, you have one or two employed in watching indicators, water gauges, and other similar contrivances. And the principal manual exertion is that required in turning a valve. Even in the case of firing boilers, the recent inventions in fuel tend to abolish human exertion. The tendency of human ingenuity in the field of production is to wholly and totally abolish human labor. Machinery, therefore, becomes qualitatively the equivalent of labor, inasmuch as it supersedes it—does what men's muscles do, only more economically and efficiently. Speaking logically, we have no grounds for making any distinction in economics between labor and that which possesses precisely similar functions, viz., machinery. And so long as this is the case we have no reason, from an economical standpoint, to observe the slightest difference in our treatment of the results of each. In a division of the proceeds of capital and labor, dividing them in the ratio of the amount contributed by each, how small a share belongs equitably to labor, and how large an amount to machinery, a moment's thought will make clear.
Adam Smith stated that in his time ten men could make 48,000 needles per day. This was prior to the invention of the needle machine. This machine Karl Marx mentions as making 145,000 per day of eleven hours, and that "one woman or girl superintended four such machines, which produced near upon 600,000 needles in a day and upward of 3,000,000 in a week." It would be absurd to speak of this machinery making labor more productive. It has entirely displaced it, and the only human exertion required is that of the girl's superintendence, which is of a vastly different character from that of the men who made needles by hand, and is really of a lower order of skill and intelligence. Dividing the gross products in ratio of the two factors employed, we find that one girl and four machines are the equivalent to twelve and a half men. If we allow the girl's labor as equal to half a man's, we have four needle machines equal to twelve men, or one machine equal to three men. It is unnecessary to multiply examples. The tendency in mechanical inventions is to totally displace labor, both, manual and mental. Each improvement in machinery tends to make it more and more automatic, self-governing, and the least intelligent person is usually found capable of running some kind of machinery.
The socialist admits that the vast production of wealth which has characterized the past century is due to labor-saving machinery. But he claims that this machinery is in itself the product of labor, which it unquestionably is. He argues, however, that the inventor has no right to the exclusive enjoyment of his ideas.
If inventions were the creation of all the members of a society equally, each would be entitled to his share of the product equally, and our economist would be right. But such is not the case. Supposing in a community a number of men are engaged in weaving a certain kind of fabric by hand. After a time, by careful thought, study, and years of experimenting during his evenings, one of them succeeds in constructing a machine capable of weaving in a day as much of the fabric as ten men can do in the same time; and, supposing the amount of manual power to operate this machine is the exact amount expended by one man in his ordinary day's task, then this man and his machine perform the work of ten men in an equal time, and if he only work it one hour he has produced what previously occupied him one day. He may therefore work one hour per day and get the same return as before, or by working one day get the produce of ten men. Supposing he offers to one of the other men the privilege of working this machine in his place, which, requires no greater expenditure of labor on this man's part than the work he is engaged on, and the man accepts. The inventor of the machine may offer him the produce of two days' labor as an incentive to accept employment from him. The inventor then becomes a capitalist, an employer, and gets his ten days' produce, paying his employee two days, and retaining eight himself, for which he himself does nothing. Practically his work has ceased after inventing, designing, and constructing the machine. Is it an act of injustice for him to claim the product of the machine which is his invention? And if he build one machine and employ one man, may he not build two and employ two men, and carry this on until his machines supply the entire demand? And may he not transfer his interest, or part of an interest, to another, and another, until you have a number of idle men living off the produce of the labor of the machines and employees? There is in this nothing unjust from an economical standpoint, for this man has taken nothing which did not originate with him.
But, says the reformer, were it not for the protection afforded the inventor by society, the privilege he artificially enjoys, these employees would build their own machines and each man be his own master. This, however, does not necessarily follow, for it assumes that each man would have both the ability and willingness to construct a machine. But suppose they did, would this be just? Is it any the less robbery for a man to steal another's brain produce—ideas—than to steal the products of his hands, commodities? Would the infringer not be obtaining something which he did not produce? If justice consists in giving to each man the product of his labor, and robbery consists in a man taking that which another produces, would those who copied the inventor's machine be any the less robbers?
If we are to accept the basis laid down by economists by which "rights " are determined, I do not see how you can escape from the system known as profits. You say this system is degrading and unjust. Granted. But, on the grounds that Mr. George and others have selected for determining what is right and what wrong, I can not see any escape from the "right" of profits. You may say it is inexpedient for society to continue it. That is a different matter entirely, and it may be for the welfare of society to abolish profit, rent, and interest. But, in the light of the "science of selfishness," there is nothing which shows it to be unjust, or those accepting such return as being robbers.
I have endeavored to select at random a few of the fallacies underlying many, if not all, of the modern schools of reform, that teach that the road to social bliss is by the science of economics. My contention is that much of the present evils which afflict society is due to too great a prevalence of Nature's laws, and to too little practice of the moral law. So long as reformers endeavor to work out their respective systems by an appeal to the so-called science of political economy, and persistently ignore the moral phase of the question, so long must society wait in vain for the realization of its dreams. The final teaching of economics would show that it is far more conducive to national wealth and prosperity to stimulate the production of machinery than of men!
This grand science of economy has surely had a wonderful effect. It has cheapened commodities and cheapened men, and men are now cheaper than the commodities! Since it has determined to work the problem of society out on this basis of the laws of supply and demand, and has taught man to buy in the cheapest and sell in the dearest markets, it has brought humanity itself to the same basis, and men find themselves immeshed in a web of their own weaving. The law of supply and demand now governs them, and men are bought and sold like the commodities themselves.
Is there, then, no solution to the great social problem of poverty? Can nothing be done to save humanity from itself? "It is all very well to criticise the schemes of others," may be said, "but have you anything better to offer?"
I confess I have no particular scheme of reform to offer, nor any patent method by which society can lift itself up by its bootstraps; but, in my humble judgment, most of the modern reformers are overlooking the one thing which is really the parent of much of the misery they desire to exterminate. And that cause is the parents themselves. Go into the slums and alleys where most of this poverty and misery abound, and you find them teeming with children—ragged, half-starved, hungry-eyed, semi-diseased children. What is the use of dredging a pool if, for every bucket of dirt you take out, another dumps in a wagon-load? Why, if that part of society to which this state of existence is common did not make themselves so cheap, they need be in no such condition. When there is a superabundant crop of apples, you will find the orchard strewn with them, rotting from neglect. The best are taken, and the poor ones are trodden under foot. And when these bountiful harvests of children continue with such exasperating regularity, you may expect to see the worst part of humanity cast out and trodden under foot, literally left to rot as useless, so long as society is as it is. Why should men make themselves so cheap? If ever the doctrine of "restriction" needed enforcement, if ever there was a field where its results would be productive of good, it is here, by restricting the supply and so enhancing the prices of men.
Involuntary pauperism and its attending evils will cease whenever the demand for men runs ahead of the supply.
I am not preaching Malthusianism as it is generally understood. It is local over-population and its accompanying unmanageability of which I speak. I have no doubt that this earth, if properly tilled and worked, will supply humanity with bread enough and to spare. But that will take many generations to accomplish. I am simply looking at things as they are, no matter how they came to be so. I can see that so long as human beings are brought into society at the present rate, and in the condition we are in, economics is not going to save them. One of the most hopeful signs in the spread of education is, that each class as it rises to a higher scale of knowledge lowers the percentage of its birth-rate. Where would your capitalists be with an extremely limited supply of labor? Given an exclusive community of millionaires, and what avail will be their millions? Riches and poverty are simply relative conditions. Your millionaire is rich only because there happens to be a herd of men extremely desirous of getting what he possesses. And a man believes himself poor if he does not possess those desirable things, even though he have enough to eat and drink and wear. One generation would suffice to settle this anti-poverty question could you but hammer this fact into men's minds. I have often wondered how men reconciled the idea of a divine and all-wise Providence with that startling phenomenon—viz., the prolificness of the ignorant and the sterility of the wise.
There are two pleas which reformers urge in justification of their claims: the one, what they call "natural" justice, founded upon the imaginary natural rights " theory; the other, expediency.
Prof. Huxley, in one of his series of vigorous articles published in the Nineteenth Century Magazine recently, and to which I refer you, has exposed at length the utter baselessness of the theory of "natural rights." It was this doctrine that had most significance, and became most famous prior to and during the great French Revolution through the writings and teachings of Rousseau and other French economists. It had been evidently borrowed from the English philosophers by Rousseau, and from the Romans by them. It forms the basis in Progress and Poverty for the justification of Mr. George's remedy for poverty.
So far as rights go, the rights we prize so dearly are, in fact, artificial rights, not natural—man-made, granted and secured by society. The natural condition is slavery. The civilized, the artificial, is freedom; and the curses that still hang over society, checking progress, are the presence of "natural" feelings and instincts with which man is still endowed. The limit of freedom will be approached the further man gets away from his "natural state."
The question of expediency is a difficult one to determine. All social changes, arbitrarily arranged, work misfortune to some, and these would question the "expediency" of the change with perfect propriety. The "greatest good of the greatest number" is an extremely rough method to determine "expediency," for there would be coercion of the smaller number.
On what grounds, then, are social problems to be answered? "Natural rights" being mythical, "expediency" being often indeterminable, is there no ground upon which to decide what is best? I think so. The attractive force that has drawn so many of us to study these social questions—that, in fact, led the authors of the various schemes enumerated to devise them—is human affection. I believe that the ground, and the only one, upon which permanent results and the best can be built will be an ethical one.
The remedies prescribed for poverty, by both anarchists and socialists, are based upon the assumption that under certain conditions all men will act alike, a fallacy that scarcely needs exposing. Under socialism it is supposed that the state administration will be honestly carried out, that each and every man will do his duty, that there will be no "combines" on the part of overseers and administrators to turn the means of production to their own use and defraud the masses. For it is very certain that state socialism administered or superintended by such a class of men as that which recently met at Minneapolis to nominate their man, or the class that usually control the machinery of government in this "free" country, would not only fail in its purpose, but result in civil war, or the conditions of life would be worse than humanity has ever experienced.
Similarly, philosophical anarchism and the doctrine of non-invasion must fall short of its purpose unless all men confine themselves to their own business, and do not interfere with their neighbors. But the presence of a handful of men in an anarchistic community, who determined to live by plunder, would suffice to destroy either anarchism or the community.
Anarchy reminds one of a certain Chinese puzzle, the solution of which depended upon getting a number of different-shaped blocks together and dropping them at the same instant, so that they fell exactly into their respective places. If one happened to fall slightly out of place, it upset the entire number. Philosophical anarchy can only exist when all men have attained that condition where each fits his place and is content to remain in it.
I contend that no science of economics will elevate society to the condition its advocates believe, unaccompanied by a system of ethics. It is more a question of every man doing right, fulfilling obligations, guiding his conduct by some standard, than it is of the nationalization of land or the abolition of privilege. When every one is governed by his noblest impulses, in place of selfish instincts, poverty and misery will begin to disappear. Then the so-called science of economics will be rewritten, and a new basis of human action accepted. And, without this, no reform system will accomplish the purpose of its author.
- Abstract of a lecture delivered before Friendship Liberal League, Philadelphia, June 10, 1892.
- See Prof. Huxley's essay, Capital, the Mother of Labor.
- Ruskin, Government and Co-operation, p. 64.
- I have already dealt at length with this fallacious mode of reasoning in The Popular Science Monthly for November, 1890, entitled Logic of Free Trade and Protection.
- "There is no wealth but life; life including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration."—Ruskin.