What is Property?/Seventh Proposition

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Seventh Proposition: Property is impossible, because, in consuming its Receipts, it loses them; in hoarding them, it nullifies them; and in using them as Capital, it turns them against Production.[edit]

I. If, with the economists, we consider the laborer as a living machine, we must regard the wages paid to him as the amount necessary to support this machine, and keep it in repair. The head of a manufacturing establishment--who employs laborers at three, five, ten, and fifteen francs per day, and who charges twenty francs for his superintendence--does not regard his disbursements as losses, because he knows they will return to him in the form of products. Consequently, LABOR and REPRODUCTIVE CONSUMPTION are identical.

What is the proprietor? He is a machine which does not work; or, which working for its own pleasure, and only when it sees fit, produces nothing.

What is it to consume as a proprietor? It is to consume without working, to consume without reproducing. For, once more, that which the proprietor consumes as a laborer comes back to him; he does not give his labor in exchange for his property, since, if he did, he would thereby cease to be a proprietor. In consuming as a laborer, the proprietor gains, or at least does not lose, since he recovers that which he consumes; in consuming as a proprietor, he impoverishes himself. To enjoy property, then, it is necessary to destroy it; to be a real proprietor, one must cease to be a proprietor.

The laborer who consumes his wages is a machine which destroys and reproduces; the proprietor who consumes his income is a bottomless gulf,--sand which we water, a stone which we sow. So true is this, that the proprietor--neither wishing nor knowing how to produce, and perceiving that as fast as he uses his property he destroys it for ever--has taken the precaution to make some one produce in his place. That is what political economy, speaking in the name of eternal justice, calls PRODUCING BY HIS CAPITAL,--PRODUCING BY HIS TOOLS. And that is what ought to be called PRODUCING BY A SLAVE--PRODUCING AS A THIEF AND AS A TYRANT. He, the proprietor, produce! . . . The robber might say, as well: "I produce."

The consumption of the proprietor has been styled luxury, in opposition to USEFUL consumption. From what has just been said, we see that great luxury can prevail in a nation which is not rich,--that poverty even increases with luxury, and vice versa. The economists (so much credit must be given them, at least) have caused such a horror of luxury, that to-day a very large number of proprietors--not to say almost all--ashamed of their idleness--labor, economize, and capitalize. They have jumped from the frying-pan into the fire.

I cannot repeat it too often: the proprietor who thinks to deserve his income by working, and who receives wages for his labor, is a functionary who gets paid twice; that is the only difference between an idle proprietor and a laboring proprietor. By his labor, the proprietor produces his wages only--not his income. And since his condition enables him to engage in the most lucrative pursuits, it may be said that the proprietor's labor harms society more than it helps it. Whatever the proprietor does, the consumption of his income is an actual loss, which his salaried functions neither repair nor justify; and which would annihilate property, were it not continually replenished by outside production.

II. Then, the proprietor who consumes annihilates the product: he does much worse if he lays it up. The things which he lays by pass into another world; nothing more is seen of them, not even the _caput mortuum_,--the smoke. If we had some means of transportation by which to travel to the moon, and if the proprietors should be seized with a sudden fancy to carry their savings thither, at the end of a certain time our terraqueous planet would be transported by them to its satellite!

The proprietor who lays up products will neither allow others to enjoy them, nor enjoy them himself; for him there is neither possession nor property. Like the miser, he broods over his treasures: he does not use them. He may feast his eyes upon them; he may lie down with them; he may sleep with them in his arms: all very fine, but coins do not breed coins. No real property without enjoyment; no enjoyment without consumption; no consumption without loss of property,--such is the inflexible necessity to which God's judgment compels the proprietor to bend. A curse upon property !

III. The proprietor who, instead of consuming his income, uses it as capital, turns it against production, and thereby makes it impossible for him to exercise his right. For the more he increases the amount of interest to be paid upon it, the more he is compelled to diminish wages. Now, the more he diminishes wages,--that is, the less he devotes to the maintenance and repair of the machines,--the more he diminishes the quantity of labor; and with the quantity of labor the quantity of product, and with the quantity of product the very source of his income. This is clearly shown by the following example:--

Take an estate consisting of arable land, meadows, and vineyards, containing the dwellings of the owner and the tenant; and worth, together with the farming implements, one hundred thousand francs, the rate of increase being three per cent. If, instead of consuming his revenue, the proprietor uses it, not in enlarging but in beautifying his estate, can he annually demand of his tenant an additional ninety francs on account of the three thousand francs which he has thus added to his capital? Certainly not; for on such conditions the tenant, though producing no more than before, would soon be obliged to labor for nothing,--what do I say? to actually suffer loss in order to hold his lease.

In fact, revenue can increase only as productive soil increases: it is useless to build walls of marble, and work with plows of gold. But, since it is impossible to go on acquiring for ever, to add estate to estate, to CONTINUE ONE'S POSSESSIONS, as the Latins said; and since, moreover, the proprietor always has means wherewith to capitalize,--it follows that the exercise of his right finally becomes impossible.

Well, in spite of this impossibility, property capitalizes, and in capitalizing increases its revenue; and, without stopping to look at the particular cases which occur in commerce, manufacturing operations, and banking, I will cite a graver fact,-- one which directly affects all citizens. I mean the indefinite increase of the budget.

The taxes increase every year. It would be difficult to tell in which department of the government the expenses increase; for who can boast of any knowledge as to the budget? On this point, the ablest financiers continually disagree. What is to be thought, I ask, of the science of government, when its professors cannot understand one another's figures? Whatever be the immediate causes of this growth of the budget, it is certain that taxation increases at a rate which causes everybody to despair. Everybody sees it, everybody acknowledges it; but nobody seems to understand the primary cause.[1] Now, I say that it cannot be otherwise,--that it is necessary and inevitable.

[1] "The financial situation of the English government was shown up in the House of Lords during the session of January 23. It is not an encouraging one. For several years the expenses have exceeded the receipts, and the Minister has been able to re- establish the balance only by loans renewed annually. The combined deficits of the years 1838 and 1839 amount to forty- seven million five hundred thousand francs. In 1840, the excess of expenses over receipts is expected to be twenty-two million five hundred thousand francs. Attention was called to these figures by Lord Ripon. Lord Melbourne replied: `The noble earl unhappily was right in declaring that the public expenses continually increase, and with him I must say that there is no room for hope that they can be diminished or met in any way.'"-- National: January 26, 1840.



A nation is the tenant of a rich proprietor called the GOVERNMENT, to whom it pays, for the use of the soil, a farm- rent called a tax. Whenever the government makes war, loses or gains a battle, changes the outfit of its army, erects a monu- ment, digs a canal, opens a road, or builds a railway, it borrows money, on which the tax-payers pay interest; that is, the government, without adding to its productive capacity, increases its active capital,--in a word, capitalizes after the manner of the proprietor of whom I have just spoken.

Now, when a governmental loan is once contracted, and the interest is once stipulated, the budget cannot be reduced. For, to accomplish that, either the capitalists must relinquish their interest, which would involve an abandonment of property; or the government must go into bankruptcy, which would be a fraudulent denial of the political principle; or it must pay the debt, which would require another loan; or it must reduce expenses, which is impossible, since the loan was contracted for the sole reason that the ordinary receipts were insufficient; or the money expended by the government must be reproductive, which requires an increase of productive capacity,--a condition excluded by our hypothesis; or, finally, the tax-payers must submit to a new tax in order to pay the debt,--an impossible thing. For, if this new tax were levied upon all citizens alike, half, or even more, of the citizens would be unable to pay it; if the rich had to bear the whole, it would be a forced contribution,--an invasion of property. Long financial experience has shown that the method of loans, though exceedingly dangerous, is much surer, more convenient, and less costly than any other method; consequently the government borrows,--that is, goes on capitalizing,--and increases the budget.

Then, a budget, instead of ever diminishing, must necessarily and continually increase. It is astonishing that the economists, with all their learning, have failed to perceive a fact so simple and so evident. If they have perceived it, why have they neglected to condemn it?


HISTORICAL COMMENT.--Much interest is felt at present in a financial operation which is expected to result in a reduction of the budget. It is proposed to change the present rate of increase, five per cent. Laying aside the politico-legal question to deal only with the financial question,--is it not true that, when five per cent. is changed to four per cent., it will then be necessary, for the same reasons, to change four to three; then three to two, then two to one, and finally to sweep away increase altogether? But that would be the advent of equality of conditions and the abolition of property. Now it seems to me, that an intelligent nation should voluntarily meet an inevitable revolution half way, instead of suffering itself to be dragged after the car of inflexible necessity.