What is Property?/Second Proposition

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Second Proposition: Property is impossible because wherever it exists Production costs more than it is worth.[edit]

The preceding proposition was legislative in its nature; this one is economical. It serves to prove that property, which originates in violence, results in waste.

"Production," says Say, "is exchange on a large scale. To render the exchange productive the value of the whole amount of service must be balanced by the value of the product. If this condition is not complied with, the exchange is unequal; the producer gives more than he receives."

Now, value being necessarily based upon utility, it follows that every useless product is necessarily valueless,--that it cannot be exchanged; and, consequently, that it cannot be given in payment for productive services.

Then, though production may equal consumption, it never can exceed it; for there is no real production save where there is a production of utility, and there is no utility save where there is a possibility of consumption. Thus, so much of every product as is rendered by excessive abundance inconsumable, becomes useless, valueless, unexchangeable,--consequently, unfit to be given in payment for any thing whatever, and is no longer a product.

Consumption, on the other hand, to be legitimate,--to be true consumption,--must be reproductive of utility; for, if it is unproductive, the products which it destroys are cancelled values--things produced at a pure loss; a state of things which causes products to depreciate in value. Man has the power to destroy, but he consumes only that which he reproduces. Under a right system of economy, there is then an equation between production and consumption.

These points established, let us suppose a community of one thousand families, enclosed in a territory of a given circumference, and deprived of foreign intercourse. Let this community represent the human race, which, scattered over the face of the earth, is really isolated. In fact, the difference between a community and the human race being only a numerical one, the economical results will be absolutely the same in each case.

Suppose, then, that these thousand families, devoting themselves exclusively to wheat-culture, are obliged to pay to one hundred individuals, chosen from the mass, an annual revenue of ten per cent. on their product. It is clear that, in such a case, the right of increase is equivalent to a tax levied in advance upon social production. Of what use is this tax?

It cannot be levied to supply the community with provisions, for between that and farm-rent there is nothing in common; nor to pay for services and products,--for the proprietors, laboring like the others, have labored only for themselves. Finally, this tax is of no use to its recipients who, having harvested wheat enough for their own consumption, and not being able in a society without commerce and manufactures to procure any thing else in exchange for it, thereby lose the advantage of their income.

In such a society, one-tenth of the product being inconsumable, one-tenth of the labor goes unpaid--production costs more than it is worth.

Now, change three hundred of our wheat-producers into artisans of all kinds: one hundred gardeners and wine-growers, sixty shoemakers and tailors, fifty carpenters and blacksmiths, eighty of various professions, and, that nothing may be lacking, seven school-masters, one mayor, one judge, and one priest; each industry furnishes the whole community with its special product. Now, the total production being one thousand, each laborer's consumption is one; namely, wheat, meat, and grain, 0.7; wine and vegetables, 0.1; shoes and clothing, 0.06; iron-work and furniture, 0.05; sundries, 0.08; instruction, 0.007; administration, 0.002; mass, 0.001, Total 1.

But the community owes a revenue of ten per cent.; and it matters little whether the farmers alone pay it, or all the laborers are responsible for it,--the result is the same. The farmer raises the price of his products in proportion to his share of the debt; the other laborers follow his example. Then, after some fluctuations, equilibrium is established, and all pay nearly the same amount of the revenue. It would be a grave error to assume that in a nation none but farmers pay farm-rent--the whole nation pays it.

I say, then, that by this tax of ten per cent. each laborer's consumption is reduced as follows: wheat, 0.63; wine and vegetables, 0.09; clothing and shoes, 0.054; furniture and iron- work, 0.045; other products, 0.072; schooling, 0.0063; administration, 0.0018; mass, 0.0009. Total 0.9.

The laborer has produced 1; he consumes only 0.9. He loses, then, one-tenth of the price of his labor; his production still costs more than it is worth. On the other hand, the tenth received by the proprietors is no less a waste; for, being laborers themselves, they, like the others, possess in the nine- tenths of their product the wherewithal to live: they want for nothing. Why should they wish their proportion of bread, wine, meat, clothes, shelter, &c., to be doubled, if they can neither consume nor exchange them? Then farm-rent, with them as with the rest of the laborers, is a waste, and perishes in their hands. Extend the hypothesis, increase the number and variety of the products, you still have the same result.

Hitherto, we have considered the proprietor as taking part in the production, not only (as Say says) by the use of his instrument, but in an effective manner and by the labor of his hands. Now, it is easy to see that, under such circumstances, property will never exist. What happens?

The proprietor--an essentially libidinous animal, without virtue or shame--is not satisfied with an orderly and disciplined life. He loves property, because it enables him to do at leisure what he pleases and when he pleases. Having obtained the means of life, he gives himself up to trivialities and indolence; he enjoys, he fritters away his time, he goes in quest of curiosities and novel sensations. Property--to enjoy itself--has to abandon ordinary life, and busy itself in luxurious occupations and unclean enjoyments.

Instead of giving up a farm-rent, which is perishing in their hands, and thus lightening the labor of the community, our hundred proprietors prefer to rest. In consequence of this withdrawal,--the absolute production being diminished by one hundred, while the consumption remains the same,--production and consumption seem to balance. But, in the first place, since the proprietors no longer labor, their consumption is, according to economical principles, unproductive; consequently, the previous condition of the community--when the labor of one hundred was rewarded by no products--is superseded by one in which the products of one hundred are consumed without labor. The deficit is always the same, whichever the column of the account in which it is expressed. Either the maxims of political economy are false, or else property, which contradicts them, is impossible.

The economists--regarding all unproductive consumption as an evil, as a robbery of the human race--never fail to exhort proprietors to moderation, labor, and economy; they preach to them the necessity of making themselves useful, of remunerating production for that which they receive from it; they launch the most terrible curses against luxury and laziness. Very beautiful morality, surely; it is a pity that it lacks common sense. The proprietor who labors, or, as the economists say, WHO MAKES HIMSELF USEFUL, is paid for this labor and utility; is he, therefore, any the less idle as concerns the property which he does not use, and from which he receives an income? His condition, whatever he may do, is an unproductive and FELONIOUS one; he cannot cease to waste and destroy without ceasing to be a proprietor.

But this is only the least of the evils which property engenders.

Society has to maintain some idle people, whether or no. It will always have the blind, the maimed, the insane, and the idiotic. It can easily support a few sluggards. At this point, the impossibilities thicken and become complicated.