Popular Science Monthly/Volume 80/June 1912/A Program of Radical Democracy
|A PROGRAM OF RADICAL DEMOCRACY|
THEEE is advance towards radical democracy in every nation. In the United States the two political parties have made some progress in recent years in answer to the demands of the people; but this slow and halting movement, falling behind that of Great Britain, should be hastened, either by the formation of a new political party or of a radical section within one of the existing parties. The socialist party might serve as a center of union, if questions concerning the production of wealth and the limitation of individualism can be subordinated to social welfare. The best solution, however, of the existing political situation would probably be the maintenance of the two historic parties, the republican party being frankly devoted to rule by the privileged classes under the leadership of men such as Mr. Roosevelt, Mr. Taft and Mr. Hughes; the democratic party to control by the people with as little individual domination as may be. Twenty reforms in the direction of radical democracy are here indicated. Some of them may appear to be utopian and 'doctrinaire, but there is not one of them toward which progress has not been made in recent years, not one of them toward which further progress will not be made in the near future.
1. Universal suffrage, the votes of children being cast by their parents. The bearing and the rearing of children are so much more important than any other work that the right to vote is in comparison insignificant; but voting would in no way disqualify women for their greater service, and this surely should not disqualify them from voting. Women have long been goddesses, queens, prostitutes and slaves; it is clearly time that they should have exactly the same political, legal and economic rights as men. Women are on the whole more sympathetic, patient, personal, emotional, illogical than men. These traits would probably improve political conditions; but this is almost irrelevant. Universal suffrage is simply the presupposition of democracy. Children are also human beings, and their votes should be cast by their parents. This would give the correct distribution of political power and the basis for a complete political democracy. The substitution of the rights of children for the privileges of property is the greatest advance that can be made by society. The woman or man who has children is that much more of a woman or man and should vote accordingly.
2. Personal liberty and local government. The liberty of the individual should be limited only when it interferes with the liberty or the rights of others. The man who has smallpox must be isolated; one who mistreats his children must be imprisoned; the owner of an automobile, the upkeep of which costs more than the support of an average family, should be taxed; because each of them would otherwise interfere with the welfare of others. But legislation to suppress unobtrusive vice, to keep people married who want to separate, to prevent polygamy, and the like, is of doubtful value. The national congress should not do what state legislatures can do equally well, or the state legislature interfere with local government. The inequality and artificial boundaries of the states, the disastrous growth of cities, the heterogeneous and changing population, are among the conditions which make local government difficult. But the nation should not lord it over the states, the state over the county or city, the county or city over its local units, these over the group or family, the group or family over the individual.
3. The abolition or the limitation of the powers of the constitution of the United States, of the president, of the senate and of the supreme court. Similar limitations in state governments. The national government being historically a federation of states may need some constitution, but it does not need much of one or one very much. It would be entirely safe for the congress to decide what the nation shall do and what shall be left to the separate states. Great Britain is better off without a written constitution. The scheme of checks and balances is wrong in theory and bad in practise. Men will nearly always rise to the level of the responsibility put on them. The existing lack of responsibility demoralizes the legislature; placing responsibility on the individual autocrat makes, as a rule, a good autocrat; but that is not what democracy wants. The president should be only the executive officer of the congress. The senate is a superfluous nuisance. A supreme court may be needed to decide what the congress intended when it enacted a law, but it is not there to play with the meaning of words or to interfere with legislation. Every outworn constitution and law, every perpetual franchise and charter, should be scrapped. The dead can not be permitted to rule the living.
4. Government and all its functions to be executed by those most fit, selected by and responsible to the people. Political democracy does not mean government by the uninformed, but by those best able to serve the people. Delegated and expert government is necessary; it is clearly impossible for the people to consider all the minor measures that must be enacted and all the minor officers that must be selected. The proper condition seems to be for those of a neighborhood to select the men in whom they have from personal acquaintance the most confidence, these to select a representative to meet with representatives of other neighborhoods for the county or state, these representatives to select the national officers. But this scheme has broken down under the party system and the control which can be exerted by professional politicians and selfish interests. At present representative government has partly collapsed, but the demands of the people will soon be met. In the meanwhile direct nominations, the initiative, the referendum and the recall may be of use. But direct nominations favor notoriety and wealth. The referendum is a conservative rather than a radical measure; it can, however, be used to advantage as an educational method when all are concerned and interested. A commission should be more competent to select a health officer than a plebiscite vote, though it may be that the people would be more likely to be guided by expert opinion than is a temporary autocrat, such as Governor Dix. Great progress has been made in appointments for fitness and in civil service rules. The present unrest and dissatisfaction is not due to worse selections, but to higher standards. Our political organization and our politicians have advanced more slowly than the intelligence and the moral sense of the community.
5. The payment of all national, state, county and municipal debts. Taxation discouraging private debts. Freedom from debt is the first principle of personal and domestic economy. It is extraordinary that it should be so completely neglected in the case of public debts. If the socialist party wants municipalities and the state to own the tools of production, the first thing to do is to let them own themselves. Debts are the principal hold of the kleptocratic classes on the community, giving us our system of paper wealth by means of which a small class taxes the people. Temporary war debts can be understood, though nothing would conduce more to peace than the payment of the cost of war as it proceeds. Debts for exceptional public improvements are proper, but they should be paid within a fixed period. Contrary to existing practise, bonds should be taxed rather than stocks. The taxing of evidences of debt would limit borrowing and would return to the people part of the interest fund. The rich would be compelled to invest their money in productive enterprises, where it would be of use and would take risks, leading to its wider distribution.
6. A national progressive tax on inheritances and incomes as large as can he collected. A progressive tax on corporations. A heavy tax on expenditures involving waste and luxury. Inheritances and incomes should be taxed by the nation to prevent dodging if the taxes are local. No tax is good, but an inheritance tax is the least objectionable of all taxes. It taxes the dead or at all events those who have not had the property; it is easily and truly collected; it tends to the distribution of wealth. It should be at least half of large fortunes, and larger when there are no children, or but one or two. An income tax promotes lying, but it should be adopted, and the sworn statements of all incomes and expenditures beyond the average should be made public. No one deserves more than, say, four times the average income. A man's services may be worth more than that, but they are made possible by the organization of society. A progressive tax averaging fifty per cent, on incomes above $5,000 would be desirable, if it could be collected. Every one who spends much more than the average should be placed under the supervision of the state. The connotation of stealing and robbery has been extended beyond force, but it must be further extended. The tax on corporations is the most excellent and radical measure passed by a recent congress; credit for this should be given to President Taft. In so far as large corporations are undesirable, they should be taxed progressively. The remaining income required by the national government should be from import and excise taxes on products the use of which involves injury, luxury and waste.
7. A local and state progressive tax on real estate and tangible personal property. State and local taxes should be on real estate and tangible personal property, situated where the receipts from the taxes are used. It is not clear that the increment of value on land belongs to the public more than the increment of value on personal property, but a transfer tax on real estate, based partly on the increment of value, can be conveniently collected and would discourage speculative holding. There should also be a large transfer tax on stocks and bonds, the increment of value being taken into consideration. A progressive tax on dwellings is the most useful of local taxes. A house or tenement, the rental value of which or of whose apartments is under $150 a year, especially if owned by the occupants, might be exempt, while a million dollar dwelling might be taxed a hundred thousand dollars a year. Dwellings represent pretty accurately the annual expenditures, and a progressive tax is the most convenient way of taxing these. There should be a high progressive tax on tangible personal property that is not the tools of production—on expensive furnishings, pleasure automobiles and the like. Owners might be allowed to place their own valuation on real estate and personal property, the state or any individual being permitted to purchase it at twenty per cent, advance, the property being redeemable by the original owner on payment of this margin.
8. The conversion of the army into local police forces and corps for engineering work and other improvements. The conversion of the navy into a merchant marine. We should have the best army for defense and improved police forces if all local police were soldiers, one twelfth of their wages being paid by the nation and one month annually being spent in camps and drills. Idling in barracks is a method for the promotion of war, drunkenness and disease. The engineering corps, the health service and the commissiariat are the most important factors in modern warfare. Engineers, health officers, inspectors of food and others employed by the nation, the states and the municipalities should be at the same time officers in the army and those under them enlisted men. A well-organized and efficient army for defense would thus be maintained at comparatively small expense and be an institution for education instead of for demoralization. The navy should be converted into a merchant marine, carrying a postal, express, freight and passenger service to every port in the world. At the cost of an idle navy five to ten times as many ships and men could be maintained and employed in useful work. In case of war swift ships and experienced men would win over dreadnoughts. Shipyards and factories for armaments and ammunition should be owned by the nation and manned by officers and enlisted men. The army and the navy can be made self-supporting nearly as easily as the post office. Fortunately they may be regarded as temporary institutions.
9. Limitation of foreign treaties and representatives. No interference with foreign nations except for humanitarian reasons. The submission of all international questions to arbitration. We are warned against entangling alliances; all treaties are such to a certain extent, and in most cases are at present useless and dangerous, though international courts and agreements may in the future become desirable. Let us be just and generous to all nations and to all foreigners, and trust them to be the same to us. If they are not, those who see fit to deal with them should take the risks. Missionaries, traders and travelers should be subject to the laws and ways of the lands to which they go. Secret diplomacy has no place in a democracy; the social snobbery of an ambassador is disgusting; his political office is made useless by the cable. Arbitration treaties are unnecessary; but we should be ready to submit all questions to arbitration. There should be no interference with foreign affairs, except for clear humanitarian reasons, approved by neutral and disinterested nations. We shall be better off if South America is peopled by Germans and Russians as well as by Spaniards, Portuguese and Indians. War is avoided by delay. It should not be possible for the president to involve the nation in war, and no war except for defense should be undertaken before the question has been submitted to a plebiscite vote and carried by a majority exceeding one half of the population.
10. Colonies and dependencies to be held only for the benefit of the peoples concerned and with their consent. The vigorous and prolific races will supplant those which are decadent; but wars of conquest are now equally injurious to the conqueror and to the conquered. In the past it was necessary for an expanding population to subdue savage races and sparsely populated regions, but with the exception of Africa such conditions no longer obtain. Races must work out their own destiny. India can not be ruled indefinitely for the support of the younger sons of the upper classes of England. Conditions have been inherited from a barbarous past, and we must make the best of them. But hereafter no race and no section of a nation should be held in subjugation by force, except for humanitarian reasons, which appear sufficient to neutral nations. Fortunately our own complications are practically limited to the Philippines and are not insoluble. Political conditions and social relations should be independent of race and color.
11. Gradual reduction of the existing tariff. The protective tariff has been one of our most disastrous adventures; the present opposition to it is a gratifying sign of national health. The tariff has not only caused boundless political corruption and waste of economic resources, but has forced people from a healthy life in the country into the cities, the manufactories and the mines, and has supplanted our native population with immigrants. It is largely responsible for inequality of wealth and industrial slavery. To meddle with the schedules of the tariff will cause further corruption and industrial disorder. It should be abolished gradually by a five or ten per cent, reduction annually on all schedules. Desirable import taxes can be separately imposed.
12. The government to regulate the value of money, hut not to engage in borrowing or lending. If any one supposes the first part of this proposition to be due to Mr. Bryan, he is referred to the constitution of the United States. Mr. Bryan is essentially conservative, as are the people; but in his sympathies at least he is the best leader for a democracy that the country has had since Lincoln. In the bimetallic campaign he was not wrong in his aims, but only in his calculations. The present increase in prices—the cost of living is another matter—is in the main due to the depreciation of the value of gold, and is evidence of the inadequacy of a monometallic standard. The net result of this depreciation may not be bad, as it decreases the wealth of the passively exploiting classes, though it increases the wealth of the actively predatory classes and is unjust to those living on wages and salaries. But an unstable monetary standard is a bad business. The nation should fix a standard of value, based on the more important products of the country, and be prepared to redeem its paper currency in these products. It would not of course need to redeem it; the property of the nation is ample physical security. We have in fact a paper currency—checks and drafts being its most important part—but we need a fixed standard of value, first national and then international. A national bank is as objectionable as are the other activities of the author of the scheme. Postal savings may be of use as a temporary piece of paternalism, but should not be permanent. The banks, the bankers. Wall Street and the money power should be controlled by progressive taxation.
13. Complete reform of the courts. Neither Mr. Taft nor Mr. Roosevelt is a radical or a democrat, though both to a certain extent—the latter increasingly—have followed the lead of the people. Mr. Taft is called a conservative and is unpopular because he regards the courts as sacrosanct; Mr. Roosevelt is called a radical and is popular because he attacks them. This is a healthy symptom. The injustice of courts established to promote justice is monstrous; their favoritism of the rich is intolerable. The domination of the legislature by the courts, their powers of injunction, imprisonment for contempt, convictions and acquittals on technicalities, appeals on technicalities, delays purchased by wealth and fines as an alternative to imprisonment, expert testimony, insanity pleas, false charges and pleas by district attorneys as well as by hired lawyers, all this must be swept away even at the risk of temporary disorder. The judges who decide that an employers' liability law passed by the legislature is not due process of law should be impeached. If needs be lawyers should be disqualified for a time from becoming judges or appearing at court. The domination of the lawyer and of his point of view in political life is most unfortunate.
14. Free medical service and the promotion of health in every way that does not interfere with the freedom of the individual. The conditions in medicine are not so bad as in law, but they are very bad. Great Britain is just now setting an example in medical reform which we should follow. It is better to promote health than to try to cure disease. All medical and surgical service should be free to those having less than the average income; no hospitals or clinics should be conducted as charities. Private and endowed philanthropy—except as a temporary expedient—is a public nuisance. The rich should be able to obtain the best medical and surgical services only in or from the hospitals, and should be charged in proportion to their means, the fee going to the hospital, not to the physician, who should have a fixed salary. The freedom of the individual, whether to carry on vivisection, to go without vaccination, or the like, should not be interfered with without good cause. Education, publicity, correct labeling and awards for damages are the best ways to prevent malpractise, fake medicines and adulterated foods. A billion dollars a year spent on the suppression of disease and the promotion of health would be a profitable investment, if men can be found to do the work.
15. Old-age and disability pensions. Subsidies for all children. People must be supported in old age and when disabled or submerged, and this should be done by the state as soon as we can manage it. It is not for the benefit of the state or the race, but is a reasonable demand on humanity. The necessities of life should be supplied to every one and those who earn more should have more. Subsidies to children are for the benefit of the nation and the race as well as of the individual. Those we now give, such as free education, should be extended, until the cost of bearing, supporting and educating each child is borne equally by every one. The means for a healthy life should be provided for every child, and all possible opportunities for well-born and promising children. The care of children is dominant above every other privilege or duty of the individual and the state. Children are now supported by the resources of society, and with our existing wealth two or three times as much could and should be spent on each child. When the state attends to this the taxation will be large, but not unmanageable. The chairman of the committee on ways and means of the house of representatives estimates that a one-per-cent. tax on incomes above $5,000 will yield $60,000,000. The wealth wasted or saved from large incomes would consequently yield $200 for each child under sixteen. This sum will suffice, temporarily, if the locality provides schools, books, meals, medical service, etc.
14. A maximum day's work of eight hours and a minimum wage of two dollars. No child labor, except what is of benefit to the child. A maximum annual income for an individual of $5,000; a maximum inheritance of $50,000. Those who can't or won't work must be provided with the necessities of life. Those who can and will work should have not less than two dollars a day at the present purchasing power of money, and work must be provided for all. Eight hours is a day long enough for employment, but more can be accomplished by those who wish to devote more hours to useful work. Child labor, except for the benefit of the child, is absolutely intolerable. The average annual income of those who work is about $1,000 in Great Britain and in the United States. If idleness and waste can be eliminated it will be about $3,000, including women who care for the home. Under existing conditions, if the minimum wage is $600, an ample margin is allowed for competition, and every one can save money. The average wage being $1,000 there may be numerous individual incomes as large as $2,000 to $5,000, or $4,000 to $10,000 for a family. This is as large as any income should be, so long as the average income is $1,000. Each individual would in addition have by inheritance his home and his tools of production, his share of the wealth held by the nation, the state, the county, etc. But the inheritance of no individual should exceed $50,000. Incomes would be doubled by the suppression of idleness, mismanagement and waste and can be again doubled by the further advances of the applications of science. This fourfold increase of wealth will probably be available before any such partial equalization by taxation as is here proposed becomes feasible. Room can be left for competition and savings so long as such incentives are needed. We may hope, however, that the game of life will become so interesting that it will not be necessary to play for stakes.
17. The homes and tools of production to he owned by those who use them. The excess wealth to he owned by the locality, the state and the nation. The enterprises to he operated in the manner that gives the greatest economic efficiency and social welfare. The homes should be owned by those who live in them—tenements and apartments, as well as city and country houses. Taxation of homes should be adjusted so that homes of average value are exempt or lightly taxed, while those of greater value are subject to a progressive tax, becoming prohibitive for palaces or estates. The tools of production should he owned by those who use them. The industrial slavery which has resulted from the passing from individual production to group production can be abolished only by group ownership. The group might be the community, but when possible it should be those who work in the factory, cultivate the farm, sail the ship, etc. The ownership and conduct of industries should be vested where the maximum economic efficiency and conditions most favorable to those who work will result. We all agree that the nation should own and manage the postoffice, the states the roads, the cities the water supply. The extension of state ownership and conduct is entirely a matter of economic efficiency and social welfare. The state should own large natural resources and enterprises, which by the nature of things are monopolies or can most advantageously be conducted as such. The nation should now conduct the telegraph and express service, probably the business of insurance; it or the states should own, but probably not conduct the railways. The states should own the mines and water power; the cities the means of transportation and illumination and the telephones; but at present they can probably be conducted most advantageously by private enterprise. Under existing conditions of human nature place must be given for competition and savings, and an official bureaucracy must be avoided.
18. Education and research to he promoted to the limits permitted hy the resources of the state. It is the great triumph of our industrial democracy that it has supported free education as has no other nation. But we have still to learn what kind of education is of most worth and to extend it to every individual at every age. Together with the bearing and rearing of children, the greatest service to mankind is creation in science and art and their useful applications. In both cases production has been left to fundamental instincts; but these should be reinforced in all possible ways. Payment should be made for services to society no less than for services to individuals, for which only the present competitive system provides. We admit that research must be paid for by society; university chairs are given as rewards, research institutions are endowed, the government undertakes scientific work. But we have by no means gone far enough. Abram H. Hewitt estimated that a single scientific advance—the Bessemer steel process—produces two billion dollars a year for the world. So much has not been spent on research in its whole history; but so much should be spent annually, as soon as men can be found or bred to do the work. Science has given us democracy by providing resources adequate to give each his share of education and of opportunity. Plato had to provide an aristocracy and slaves for his republic. Science by reducing to one fourth the manual work that each must do and by doubling the length of life has made democracy possible and has given us so much of it as we have. For the security and extension of political and social democracy, the advancement of science should be one of the principal concerns of a democratic government and of a democratic people.
19. Equality of advantages to the young; equality of opportunity to all; no special privileges; individual liberty, except when this interferes with the liberty or welfare of others; so far as may he, to each all that he needs, from each all that he can give. These are the ends which this program is intended to forward. They are the presuppositions of radical democracy and do not require argument or defense.
20. The ends here stated to be reached only by gradual evolution and forwarded by conservative methods. In a democracy certain individuals may be prophets or leaders, but we can not advance beyond or apart from the sentiments of the people. They as a whole are more likely to react correctly to the existing situation than any individual. It is proper and desirable that proposals shall be made and urged, however radical and revolutionary; it is equally desirable that laws shall be enacted only when they answer the demands of public opinion. A narrow majority should never enforce radical changes or unduly coerce a minority. Laws, measures and policies should as nearly as may be represent the average opinion after individuals have been counted and weighed. Revolutions are likely to keep on revolving and to be turned by cranks. There are occasions when a saturated solution may be crystallized by a shake; but we should trust to the slow processes of evolution, letting our leaders and our laws follow the moral and intellectual development of a democratic people. A government of laws is better than a government by men; but better than either is freedom, controlled by public opinion and common sense, by precedent and good will.