What is Property?/Third Proposition

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Third Proposition: Property is impossible, because, with a given capital, Production is proportional to labor, not to property.[edit]

To pay a farm-rent of one hundred at the rate of ten per cent. of the product, the product must be one thousand; that the product may be one thousand, a force of one thousand laborers is needed. It follows, that in granting a furlough, as we have just done, to our one hundred laborer-proprietors, all of whom had an equal right to lead the life of men of income,--we have placed ourselves in a position where we are unable to pay their revenues. In fact, the productive power, which at first was one thousand, being now but nine hundred, the production is also reduced to nine hundred, one-tenth of which is ninety. Either, then, ten proprietors out of the one hundred cannot be paid,-- provided the remaining ninety are to get the whole amount of their farm-rent,--or else all must consent to a decrease of ten per cent. For it is not for the laborer, who has been wanting in no particular, who has produced as in the past, to suffer by the withdrawal of the proprietor. The latter must take the consequences of his own idleness. But, then, the proprietor becomes poorer for the very reason that he wishes to enjoy; by exercising his right, he loses it; so that property seems to decrease and vanish in proportion as we try to lay hold of it,-- the more we pursue it, the more it eludes our grasp. What sort of a right is that which is governed by numerical relations, and which an arithmetical calculation can destroy?

The laborer-proprietor received, first, as laborer, 0.9 in wages; second, as proprietor, 1 in farm-rent. He said to himself, "My farm-rent is sufficient; I have enough and to spare without my labor." And thus it is that the income upon which he calculated gets diminished by one-tenth,--he at the same time not even suspecting the cause of this diminution. By taking part in the production, he was himself the creator of this tenth which has vanished; and while he thought to labor only for himself, he unwittingly suffered a loss in exchanging his products, by which he was made to pay to himself one-tenth of his own farm-rent. Like every one else, he produced 1, and received but 0.9

If, instead of nine hundred laborers, there had been but five hundred, the whole amount of farm-rent would have been reduced to fifty; if there had been but one hundred, it would have fallen to ten. We may posit, then, the following axiom as a law of proprietary economy: INCREASE MUST DIMINISH AS THE NUMBER OF IDLERS AUGMENTS.

_ _This first result will lead us to another more surprising still. Its effect is to deliver us at one blow from all the evils of property, without abolishing it, without wronging proprietors, and by a highly conservative process.

We have just proved that, if the farm-rent in a community of one thousand laborers is one hundred, that of nine hundred would be ninety, that of eight hundred, eighty, that of one hundred, ten, &c. So that, in a community where there was but one laborer, the farm-rent would be but 0.1; no matter how great the extent and value of the land appropriated. Therefore, WITH A GIVEN LANDED CAPITAL, PRODUCTION IS PROPORTIONAL TO LABOR, NOT TO PROPERTY.

Guided by this principle, let us try to ascertain the maximum increase of all property whatever.

What is, essentially, a farm-lease? It is a contract by which the proprietor yields to a tenant possession of his land, in consideration of a portion of that which it yields him, the proprietor. If, in consequence of an increase in his household, the tenant becomes ten times as strong as the proprietor, he will produce ten times as much. Would the proprietor in such a case be justified in raising the farm-rent tenfold? His right is not, The more you produce, the more I demand. It is, The more I sacrifice, the more I demand. The increase in the tenant's household, the number of hands at his disposal, the resources of his industry,--all these serve to increase production, but bear no relation to the proprietor. His claims are to be measured by his own productive capacity, not that of others. Property is the right of increase, not a poll-tax. How could a man, hardly capable of cultivating even a few acres by himself, demand of a community, on the ground of its use of ten thousand acres of his property, ten thousand times as much as he is incapable of producing from one acre? Why should the price of a loan be governed by the skill and strength of the borrower, rather than by the utility sacrificed by the proprietor? We must recognize, then, this second economical law: INCREASE IS MEASURED BY A FRACTION OF THE PROPRIETORS PRODUCTION.

Now, this production, what is it? In other words, What can the lord and master of a piece of land justly claim to have sacrificed in lending it to a tenant?

The productive capacity of a proprietor, like that of any laborer, being one, the product which he sacrifices in surrendering his land is also one. If, then, the rate of increase is ten per cent., the maximum increase is 0.1.

But we have seen that, whenever a proprietor withdraws from production, the amount of products is lessened by 1. Then the increase which accrues to him, being equal to 0.1 while he remains among the laborers, will be equal after his withdrawal, by the law of the decrease of farm-rent, to 0.09. Thus we are led to this final formula: THE MAXIMUM INCOME OF A PROPRIETOR IS EQUAL TO THE SQUARE ROOT OF THE PRODUCT OF ONE LABORER (some number being agreed upon to express this product). THE DIMINUTION WHICH THIS INCOME SUFFERS, IF THE PROPRIETOR IS IDLE, IS EQUAL TO A FRACTION WHOSE NUMERATOR IS 1, AND WHOSE DENOMINATOR IS THE NUMBER WHICH EXPRESSES THE PRODUCT.

Thus the maximum income of an idle proprietor, or of one who labors in his own behalf outside of the community, figured at ten per cent. on an average production of one thousand francs per laborer, would be ninety francs. If, then, there are in France one million proprietors with an income of one thousand francs each, which they consume unproductively, instead of the one thousand millions which are paid them annually, they are entitled in strict justice, and by the most accurate calculation, to ninety millions only.

It is something of a reduction, to take nine hundred and ten millions from the burdens which weigh so heavily upon the laboring class! Nevertheless, the account is not finished, and the laborer is still ignorant of the full extent of his rights.

What is the right of increase when confined within just limits? A recognition of the right of occupancy. But since all have an equal right of occupancy, every man is by the same title a proprietor. Every man has a right to an income equal to a fraction of his product. If, then, the laborer is obliged by the right of property to pay a rent to the proprietor, the proprietor is obliged by the same right to pay the same amount of rent to the laborer; and, since their rights balance each other, the difference between them is zero.

_Scholium_.--If farm-rent is only a fraction of the supposed product of the proprietor, whatever the amount and value of the property, the same is true in the case of a large number of small and distinct proprietors. For, although one man may use the property of each separately, he cannot use the property of all at the same time.

To sum up. The right of increase, which can exist only within very narrow limits, defined by the laws of production, is annihilated by the right of occupancy. Now, without the right of increase, there is no property. Then property is impossible.