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Title: What Social Classes Owe to Each Other
Author: Sumner, William Graham, 1840-1910
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    | Transcriber's Note:                                        |
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    | The original from which this text is transcribed uses an   |
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First published by Harper & Brothers, 1883


CHAPTER                                                      PAGE
      FOREWORD                                                  5

      INTRODUCTION                                              7


      CANNOT TAKE "TIPS"                                       25




      CARE OF HIMSELF                                          71


      RULE TO MIND ONE'S OWN BUSINESS                          97





Written more than fifty years ago--in 1883--WHAT SOCIAL CLASSES OWE
TO EACH OTHER is even more pertinent today than at the time of its
first publication. Then the arguments and "movements" for penalizing
the thrifty, energetic, and competent by placing upon them more and
more of the burdens of the thriftless, lazy and incompetent, were just
beginning to make headway in our country, wherein these "social
reforms" now all but dominate political and so-called "social"

Among the great nations of the world today, only the United States of
America champions the rights of the individual as against the state and
organized pressure groups, and our faith has been dangerously
weakened--watered down by a blind and essentially false and cruel

In "Social Classes" Sumner defined and emphasized the basically
important role in our social and economic development played by "The
Forgotten Man." The misappropriation of this title and its application
to a character the exact opposite of the one for whom Sumner invented
the phrase is, unfortunately, but typical of the perversion of words
and phrases indulged in by our present-day "liberals" in their attempt
to further their revolution by diverting the loyalties of
individualists to collectivist theories and beliefs.

How often have you said: "If only someone had the vision to see and the
courage and ability to state the truth about these false theories which
today are attracting our youth and confusing well-meaning people
everywhere!" Well, here is the answer to your prayer--the everlasting
truth upon the greatest of issues in social science stated for you by
the master of them all in this field. If this edition calls this great
work to the attention of any of you for the first time, that alone will
amply justify its republication. To those of you who have read it
before, we commend it anew as the most up-to-date and best discussion
you can find anywhere of the most important questions of these critical


Los Angeles, California
November 15, 1951



We are told every day that great social problems stand before us and
demand a solution, and we are assailed by oracles, threats, and
warnings in reference to those problems. There is a school of writers
who are playing quite a _rôle_ as the heralds of the coming duty and
the coming woe. They assume to speak for a large, but vague and
undefined, constituency, who set the task, exact a fulfillment, and
threaten punishment for default. The task or problem is not
specifically defined. Part of the task which devolves on those who are
subject to the duty is to define the problem. They are told only that
something is the matter: that it behooves them to find out what it is,
and how to correct it, and then to work out the cure. All this is more
or less truculently set forth.

After reading and listening to a great deal of this sort of assertion I
find that the question forms itself with more and more distinctness in
my mind: Who are those who assume to put hard questions to other
people and to demand a solution of them? How did they acquire the right
to demand that others should solve their world-problems for them? Who
are they who are held to consider and solve all questions, and how did
they fall under this duty?

So far as I can find out what the classes are who are respectively
endowed with the rights and duties of posing and solving social
problems, they are as follows: Those who are bound to solve the
problems are the rich, comfortable, prosperous, virtuous, respectable,
educated, and healthy; those whose right it is to set the problems are
those who have been less fortunate or less successful in the struggle
for existence. The problem itself seems to be, How shall the latter be
made as comfortable as the former? To solve this problem, and make us
all equally well off, is assumed to be the duty of the former class;
the penalty, if they fail of this, is to be bloodshed and destruction.
If they cannot make everybody else as well off as themselves, they are
to be brought down to the same misery as others.

During the last ten years I have read a great many books and articles,
especially by German writers, in which an attempt has been made to set
up "the State" as an entity having conscience, power, and will
sublimated above human limitations, and as constituting a tutelary
genius over us all. I have never been able to find in history or
experience anything to fit this concept. I once lived in Germany for
two years, but I certainly saw nothing of it there then. Whether the
State which Bismarck is moulding will fit the notion is at best a
matter of faith and hope. My notion of the State has dwindled with
growing experience of life. As an abstraction, the State is to me only
All-of-us. In practice--that is, when it exercises will or adopts a
line of action--it is only a little group of men chosen in a very
haphazard way by the majority of us to perform certain services for all
of us. The majority do not go about their selection very rationally,
and they are almost always disappointed by the results of their own
operation. Hence "the State," instead of offering resources of wisdom,
right reason, and pure moral sense beyond what the average of us
possess, generally offers much less of all those things. Furthermore,
it often turns out in practice that "the State" is not even the known
and accredited servants of the State, but, as has been well said, is
only some obscure clerk, hidden in the recesses of a Government bureau,
into whose power the chance has fallen for the moment to pull one of
the stops which control the Government machine. In former days it often
happened that "The State" was a barber, a fiddler, or a bad woman. In
our day it often happens that "the State" is a little functionary on
whom a big functionary is forced to depend.

I cannot see the sense of spending time to read and write observations,
such as I find in the writings of many men of great attainments and of
great influence, of which the following might be a general type: If the
statesmen could attain to the requisite knowledge and wisdom, it is
conceivable that the State might perform important regulative functions
in the production and distribution of wealth, against which no positive
and sweeping theoretical objection could be made from the side of
economic science; but statesmen never can acquire the requisite
knowledge and wisdom.--To me this seems a mere waste of words. The
inadequacy of the State to regulative tasks is agreed upon, as a matter
of fact, by all. Why, then, bring State regulation into the discussion
simply in order to throw it out again? The whole subject ought to be
discussed and settled aside from the hypothesis of State regulation.

The little group of public servants who, as I have said, constitute the
State, when the State determines on anything, could not do much for
themselves or anybody else by their own force. If they do anything,
they must dispose of men, as in an army, or of capital, as in a
treasury. But the army, or police, or _posse comitatus_, is more or
less All-of-us, and the capital in the treasury is the product of the
labor and saving of All-of-us. Therefore, when the State means
power-to-do it means All-of-us, as brute force or as industrial force.

If anybody is to benefit from the action of the State it must be
Some-of-us. If, then, the question is raised, What ought the State to
do for labor, for trade, for manufactures, for the poor, for the
learned professions? etc., etc.--that is, for a class or an
interest--it is really the question, What ought All-of-us to do for
Some-of-us? But Some-of-us are included in All-of-us, and, so far as
they get the benefit of their own efforts, it is the same as if they
worked for themselves, and they may be cancelled out of All-of-us. Then
the question which remains is, What ought Some-of-us to do for
Others-of-us? or, What do social classes owe to each other?

I now propose to try to find out whether there is any class in society
which lies under the duty and burden of fighting the battles of life
for any other class, or of solving social problems for the satisfaction
of any other class; also, whether there is any class which has the
right to formulate demands on "society"--that is, on other classes;
also, whether there is anything but a fallacy and a superstition in the
notion that "the State" owes anything to anybody except peace, order,
and the guarantees of rights.

I have in view, throughout the discussion, the economic, social, and
political circumstances which exist in the United States.



It is commonly asserted that there are in the United States no classes,
and any allusion to classes is resented. On the other hand, we
constantly read and hear discussions of social topics in which the
existence of social classes is assumed as a simple fact. "The poor,"
"the weak," "the laborers," are expressions which are used as if they
had exact and well-understood definition. Discussions are made to bear
upon the assumed rights, wrongs, and misfortunes of certain social
classes; and all public speaking and writing consists, in a large
measure, of the discussion of general plans for meeting the wishes of
classes of people who have not been able to satisfy their own desires.
These classes are sometimes discontented, and sometimes not. Sometimes
they do not know that anything is amiss with them until the "friends of
humanity" come to them with offers of aid. Sometimes they are
discontented and envious. They do not take their achievements as a fair
measure of their rights. They do not blame themselves or their parents
for their lot, as compared with that of other people. Sometimes they
claim that they have a right to everything of which they feel the need
for their happiness on earth. To make such a claim against God and
Nature would, of course, be only to say that we claim a right to live
on earth if we can. But God and Nature have ordained the chances and
conditions of life on earth once for all. The case cannot be reopened.
We cannot get a revision of the laws of human life. We are absolutely
shut up to the need and duty, if we would learn how to live happily, of
investigating the laws of Nature, and deducing the rules of right
living in the world as it is. These are very wearisome and commonplace
tasks. They consist in labor and self-denial repeated over and over
again in learning and doing. When the people whose claims we are
considering are told to apply themselves to these tasks they become
irritated and feel almost insulted. They formulate their claims as
rights against society--that is, against some other men. In their view
they have a right, not only to _pursue_ happiness, but to _get_ it; and
if they fail to get it, they think they have a claim to the aid of
other men--that is, to the labor and self-denial of other men--to get
it for them. They find orators and poets who tell them that they have
grievances, so long as they have unsatisfied desires.

Now, if there are groups of people who have a claim to other people's
labor and self-denial, and if there are other people whose labor and
self-denial are liable to be claimed by the first groups, then there
certainly are "classes," and classes of the oldest and most vicious
type. For a man who can command another man's labor and self-denial for
the support of his own existence is a privileged person of the highest
species conceivable on earth. Princes and paupers meet on this plane,
and no other men are on it all. On the other hand, a man whose labor
and self-denial may be diverted from his maintenance to that of some
other man is not a free man, and approaches more or less toward the
position of a slave. Therefore we shall find that, in all the notions
which we are to discuss, this elementary contradiction, that there are
classes and that there are not classes, will produce repeated confusion
and absurdity. We shall find that, in our efforts to eliminate the old
vices of class government, we are impeded and defeated by new products
of the worst class theory. We shall find that all the schemes for
producing equality and obliterating the organization of society produce
a new differentiation based on the worst possible distinction--the
right to claim and the duty to give one man's effort for another man's
satisfaction. We shall find that every effort to realize equality
necessitates a sacrifice of liberty.

It is very popular to pose as a "friend of humanity," or a "friend of
the working classes." The character, however, is quite exotic in the
United States. It is borrowed from England, where some men, otherwise
of small account, have assumed it with great success and advantage.
Anything which has a charitable sound and a kind-hearted tone generally
passes without investigation, because it is disagreeable to assail it.
Sermons, essays, and orations assume a conventional standpoint with
regard to the poor, the weak, etc.; and it is allowed to pass as an
unquestioned doctrine in regard to social classes that "the rich" ought
to "care for the poor"; that Churches especially ought to collect
capital from the rich and spend it for the poor; that parishes ought to
be clusters of institutions by means of which one social class should
perform its duties to another; and that clergymen, economists, and
social philosophers have a technical and professional duty to devise
schemes for "helping the poor." The preaching in England used all to be
done to the poor--that they ought to be contented with their lot and
respectful to their betters. Now, the greatest part of the preaching in
America consists in injunctions to those who have taken care of
themselves to perform their assumed duty to take care of others.
Whatever may be one's private sentiments, the fear of appearing cold
and hard-hearted causes these conventional theories of social duty and
these assumptions of social fact to pass unchallenged.

Let us notice some distinctions which are of prime importance to a
correct consideration of the subject which we intend to treat.

Certain ills belong to the hardships of human life. They are natural.
They are part of the struggle with Nature for existence. We cannot
blame our fellow-men for our share of these. My neighbor and I are both
struggling to free ourselves from these ills. The fact that my neighbor
has succeeded in this struggle better than I constitutes no grievance
for me. Certain other ills are due to the malice of men, and to the
imperfections or errors of civil institutions. These ills are an object
of agitation, and a subject for discussion. The former class of ills is
to be met only by manly effort and energy; the latter may be corrected
by associated effort. The former class of ills is constantly grouped
and generalized, and made the object of social schemes. We shall see,
as we go on, what that means. The second class of ills may fall on
certain social classes, and reform will take the form of interference
by other classes in favor of that one. The last fact is, no doubt, the
reason why people have been led, not noticing distinctions, to believe
that the same method was applicable to the other class of ills. The
distinction here made between the ills which belong to the struggle for
existence and those which are due to the faults of human institutions
is of prime importance.

It will also be important, in order to clear up our ideas about the
notions which are in fashion, to note the relation of the economic to
the political significance of assumed duties of one class to another.
That is to say, we may discuss the question whether one class owes
duties to another by reference to the economic effects which will be
produced on the classes and society; or we may discuss the political
expediency of formulating and enforcing rights and duties respectively
between the parties. In the former case we might assume that the givers
of aid were willing to give it, and we might discuss the benefit or
mischief of their activity. In the other case we must assume that some
at least of those who were forced to give aid did so unwillingly. Here,
then, there would be a question of rights. The question whether
voluntary charity is mischievous or not is one thing; the question
whether legislation which forces one man to aid another is right and
wise, as well as economically beneficial, is quite another question.
Great confusion and consequent error is produced by allowing these two
questions to become entangled in the discussion. Especially we shall
need to notice the attempts to apply legislative methods of reform to
the ills which belong to the order of Nature.

There is no possible definition of "a poor man." A pauper is a person
who cannot earn his living; whose producing powers have fallen
positively below his necessary consumption; who cannot, therefore, pay
his way. A human society needs the active co-operation and productive
energy of every person in it. A man who is present as a consumer, yet
who does not contribute either by land, labor, or capital to the work
of society, is a burden. On no sound political theory ought such a
person to share in the political power of the State. He drops out of
the ranks of workers and producers. Society must support him. It
accepts the burden, but he must be cancelled from the ranks of the
rulers likewise. So much for the pauper. About him no more need be
said. But he is not the "poor man." The "poor man" is an elastic term,
under which any number of social fallacies may be hidden.

Neither is there any possible definition of "the weak." Some are weak
in one way, and some in another; and those who are weak in one sense
are strong in another. In general, however, it may be said that those
whom humanitarians and philanthropists call the weak are the ones
through whom the productive and conservative forces of society are
wasted. They constantly neutralize and destroy the finest efforts of
the wise and industrious, and are a dead-weight on the society in all
its struggles to realize any better things. Whether the people who mean
no harm, but are weak in the essential powers necessary to the
performance of one's duties in life, or those who are malicious and
vicious, do the more mischief, is a question not easy to answer.

Under the names of the poor and the weak, the negligent, shiftless,
inefficient, silly, and imprudent are fastened upon the industrious and
prudent as a responsibility and a duty. On the one side, the terms are
extended to cover the idle, intemperate, and vicious, who, by the
combination, gain credit which they do not deserve, and which they
could not get if they stood alone. On the other hand, the terms are
extended to include wage-receivers of the humblest rank, who are
degraded by the combination. The reader who desires to guard himself
against fallacies should always scrutinize the terms "poor" and "weak"
as used, so as to see which or how many of these classes they are made
to cover.

The humanitarians, philanthropists, and reformers, looking at the facts
of life as they present themselves, find enough which is sad and
unpromising in the condition of many members of society. They see
wealth and poverty side by side. They note great inequality of social
position and social chances. They eagerly set about the attempt to
account for what they see, and to devise schemes for remedying what
they do not like. In their eagerness to recommend the less fortunate
classes to pity and consideration they forget all about the rights of
other classes; they gloss over all the faults of the classes in
question, and they exaggerate their misfortunes and their virtues. They
invent new theories of property, distorting rights and perpetuating
injustice, as anyone is sure to do who sets about the readjustment of
social relations with the interests of one group distinctly before his
mind, and the interests of all other groups thrown into the background.
When I have read certain of these discussions I have thought that it
must be quite disreputable to be respectable, quite dishonest to own
property, quite unjust to go one's own way and earn one's own living,
and that the only really admirable person was the good-for-nothing. The
man who by his own effort raises himself above poverty appears, in
these discussions, to be of no account. The man who has done nothing to
raise himself above poverty finds that the social doctors flock about
him, bringing the capital which they have collected from the other
class, and promising him the aid of the State to give him what the
other had to work for. In all these schemes and projects the organized
intervention of society through the State is either planned or hoped
for, and the State is thus made to become the protector and guardian of
certain classes. The agents who are to direct the State action are, of
course, the reformers and philanthropists. Their schemes, therefore,
may always be reduced to this type--that A and B decide what C shall
do for D. It will be interesting to inquire, at a later period of our
discussion, who C is, and what the effect is upon him of all these
arrangements. In all the discussions attention is concentrated on A and
B, the noble social reformers, and on D, the "poor man." I call C the
Forgotten Man, because I have never seen that any notice was taken of
him in any of the discussions. When we have disposed of A, B, and D we
can better appreciate the case of C, and I think that we shall find
that he deserves our attention, for the worth of his character and the
magnitude of his unmerited burdens. Here it may suffice to observe
that, on the theories of the social philosophers to whom I have
referred, we should get a new maxim of judicious living: Poverty is the
best policy. If you get wealth, you will have to support other people;
if you do not get wealth, it will be the duty of other people to
support you.

No doubt one chief reason for the unclear and contradictory theories of
class relations lies in the fact that our society, largely controlled
in all its organization by one set of doctrines, still contains
survivals of old social theories which are totally inconsistent with
the former. In the Middle Ages men were united by custom and
prescription into associations, ranks, guilds, and communities of
various kinds. These ties endured as long as life lasted. Consequently
society was dependent, throughout all its details, on status, and the
tie, or bond, was sentimental. In our modern state, and in the United
States more than anywhere else, the social structure is based on
contract, and status is of the least importance. Contract, however, is
rational--even rationalistic. It is also realistic, cold, and
matter-of-fact. A contract relation is based on a sufficient reason,
not on custom or prescription. It is not permanent. It endures only so
long as the reason for it endures. In a state based on contract
sentiment is out of place in any public or common affairs. It is
relegated to the sphere of private and personal relations, where it
depends not at all on class types, but on personal acquaintance and
personal estimates. The sentimentalists among us always seize upon the
survivals of the old order. They want to save them and restore them.
Much of the loose thinking also which troubles us in our social
discussions arises from the fact that men do not distinguish the
elements of status and of contract which may be found in our society.

Whether social philosophers think it desirable or not, it is out of the
question to go back to status or to the sentimental relations which
once united baron and retainer, master and servant, teacher and pupil,
comrade and comrade. That we have lost some grace and elegance is
undeniable. That life once held more poetry and romance is true
enough. But it seems impossible that any one who has studied the matter
should doubt that we have gained immeasurably, and that our farther
gains lie in going forward, not in going backward. The feudal ties can
never be restored. If they could be restored they would bring back
personal caprice, favoritism, sycophancy, and intrigue. A society based
on contract is a society of free and independent men, who form ties
without favor or obligation, and co-operate without cringing or
intrigue. A society based on contract, therefore, gives the utmost room
and chance for individual development, and for all the self-reliance
and dignity of a free man. That a society of free men, co-operating
under contract, is by far the strongest society which has ever yet
existed; that no such society has ever yet developed the full measure
of strength of which it is capable; and that the only social
improvements which are now conceivable lie in the direction of more
complete realization of a society of free men united by contract, are
points which cannot be controverted. It follows, however, that one man,
in a free state, cannot claim help from, and cannot be charged to give
help to, another. To understand the full meaning of this assertion it
will be worth while to see what a free democracy is.



A free man, a free country, liberty, and equality are terms of constant
use among us. They are employed as watchwords as soon as any social
questions come into discussion. It is right that they should be so
used. They ought to contain the broadest convictions and most positive
faiths of the nation, and so they ought to be available for the
decision of questions of detail.

In order, however, that they may be so employed successfully and
correctly it is essential that the terms should be correctly defined,
and that their popular use should conform to correct definitions. No
doubt it is generally believed that the terms are easily understood,
and present no difficulty. Probably the popular notion is, that liberty
means doing as one has a mind to, and that it is a metaphysical or
sentimental good. A little observation shows that there is no such
thing in this world as doing as one has a mind to. There is no man,
from the tramp up to the President, the Pope, or the Czar, who can do
as he has a mind to. There never has been any man, from the primitive
barbarian up to a Humboldt or a Darwin, who could do as he had a mind
to. The "Bohemian" who determines to realize some sort of liberty of
this kind accomplishes his purpose only by sacrificing most of the
rights and turning his back on most of the duties of a civilized man,
while filching as much as he can of the advantages of living in a
civilized state. Moreover, liberty is not a metaphysical or sentimental
thing at all. It is positive, practical, and actual. It is produced and
maintained by law and institutions, and is, therefore, concrete and
historical. Sometimes we speak distinctively of civil liberty; but if
there be any liberty other than civil liberty--that is, liberty under
law--it is a mere fiction of the schoolmen, which they may be left to

Even as I write, however, I find in a leading review the following
definition of liberty: Civil liberty is "the result of the restraint
exercised by the sovereign people on the more powerful individuals and
classes of the community, preventing them from availing themselves of
the excess of their power to the detriment of the other classes." This
definition lays the foundation for the result which it is apparently
desired to reach, that "a government by the people can in no case
become a paternal government, since its law-makers are its mandatories
and servants carrying out its will, and not its fathers or its
masters." Here we have the most mischievous fallacy under the general
topic which I am discussing distinctly formulated. In the definition of
liberty it will be noticed that liberty is construed as the act of the
sovereign people against somebody who must, of course, be
differentiated from the sovereign people. Whenever "people" is used in
this sense for anything less than the total population, man, woman,
child, and baby, and whenever the great dogmas which contain the word
"people" are construed under the limited definition of "people," there
is always fallacy.

History is only a tiresome repetition of one story. Persons and classes
have sought to win possession of the power of the State in order to
live luxuriously out of the earnings of others. Autocracies,
aristocracies, theocracies, and all other organizations for holding
political power, have exhibited only the same line of action. It is the
extreme of political error to say that if political power is only taken
away from generals, nobles, priests, millionaires, and scholars, and
given to artisans and peasants, these latter may be trusted to do only
right and justice, and never to abuse the power; that they will repress
all excess in others, and commit none themselves. They will commit
abuse, if they can and dare, just as others have done. The reason for
the excesses of the old governing classes lies in the vices and
passions of human nature--cupidity, lust, vindictiveness, ambition, and
vanity. These vices are confined to no nation, class, or age. They
appear in the church, the academy, the workshop, and the hovel, as
well as in the army or the palace. They have appeared in autocracies,
aristocracies, theocracies, democracies, and ochlocracies, all alike.
The only thing which has ever restrained these vices of human nature in
those who had political power is law sustained by impersonal
institutions. If political power be given to the masses who have not
hitherto had it, nothing will stop them from abusing it but laws and
institutions. To say that a popular government cannot be paternal is to
give it a charter that it can do no wrong. The trouble is that a
democratic government is in greater danger than any other of becoming
paternal, for it is sure of itself, and ready to undertake anything,
and its power is excessive and pitiless against dissentients.

What history shows is, that rights are safe only when guaranteed
against all arbitrary power, and all class and personal interest.
Around an autocrat there has grown up an oligarchy of priests and
soldiers. In time a class of nobles has been developed, who have broken
into the oligarchy and made an aristocracy. Later the _demos_, rising
into an independent development, has assumed power and made a
democracy. Then the mob of a capital city has overwhelmed the democracy
in an ochlocracy. Then the "idol of the people," or the military
"savior of society," or both in one, has made himself autocrat, and
the same old vicious round has recommenced. Where in all this is
liberty? There has been no liberty at all, save where a state has known
how to break out, once for all, from this delusive round; to set
barriers to selfishness, cupidity, envy, and lust, in _all_ classes,
from highest to lowest, by laws and institutions; and to create great
organs of civil life which can eliminate, as far as possible, arbitrary
and personal elements from the adjustment of interests and the
definition of rights. Liberty is an affair of laws and institutions
which bring rights and duties into equilibrium. It is not at all an
affair of selecting the proper class to rule.

The notion of a free state is entirely modern. It has been developed
with the development of the middle class, and with the growth of a
commercial and industrial civilization. Horror at human slavery is not
a century old as a common sentiment in a civilized state. The idea of
the "free man," as we understand it, is the product of a revolt against
mediaeval and feudal ideas; and our notion of equality, when it is true
and practical, can be explained only by that revolt. It was in England
that the modern idea found birth. It has been strengthened by the
industrial and commercial development of that country. It has been
inherited by all the English-speaking nations, who have made liberty
real because they have inherited it, not as a notion, but as a body of
institutions. It has been borrowed and imitated by the military and
police state of the European continent so fast as they have felt the
influence of the expanding industrial civilization; but they have
realized it only imperfectly, because they have no body of local
institutions or traditions, and it remains for them as yet too much a
matter of "declarations" and pronunciamentos.

The notion of civil liberty which we have inherited is that of _a
status created for the individual by laws and institutions, the effect
of which is that each man is guaranteed the use of all his own powers
exclusively for his own welfare_. It is not at all a matter of
elections, or universal suffrage, or democracy. All institutions are to
be tested by the degree to which they guarantee liberty. It is not to
be admitted for a moment that liberty is a means to social ends, and
that it may be impaired for major considerations. Any one who so argues
has lost the bearing and relation of all the facts and factors in a
free state. A human being has a life to live, a career to run. He is a
centre of powers to work, and of capacities to suffer. What his powers
may be--whether they can carry him far or not; what his chances may be,
whether wide or restricted; what his fortune may be, whether to suffer
much or little--are questions of his personal destiny which he must
work out and endure as he can; but for all that concerns the bearing
of the society and its institutions upon that man, and upon the sum of
happiness to which he can attain during his life on earth, the product
of all history and all philosophy up to this time is summed up in the
doctrine, that he should be left free to do the most for himself that
he can, and should be guaranteed the exclusive enjoyment of all that he
does. If the society--that is to say, in plain terms, if his
fellow-men, either individually, by groups, or in a mass--impinge upon
him otherwise than to surround him with neutral conditions of security,
they must do so under the strictest responsibility to justify
themselves. Jealousy and prejudice against all such interferences are
high political virtues in a free man. It is not at all the function of
the State to make men happy. They must make themselves happy in their
own way, and at their own risk. The functions of the State lie entirely
in the conditions or chances under which the pursuit of happiness is
carried on, so far as those conditions or chances can be affected by
civil organization. Hence, liberty for labor and security for earnings
are the ends for which civil institutions exist, not means which may be
employed for ulterior ends.

Now, the cardinal doctrine of any sound political system is, that
rights and duties should be in equilibrium. A monarchical or
aristocratic system is not immoral, if the rights and duties of persons
and classes are in equilibrium, although the rights and duties of
different persons and classes are unequal. An immoral political system
is created whenever there are privileged classes--that is, classes who
have arrogated to themselves rights while throwing the duties upon
others. In a democracy all have equal political rights. That is the
fundamental political principle. A democracy, then, becomes immoral, if
all have not equal political duties. This is unquestionably the
doctrine which needs to be reiterated and inculcated beyond all others,
if the democracy is to be made sound and permanent. Our orators and
writers never speak of it, and do not seem often to know anything about
it; but the real danger of democracy is, that the classes which have
the power under it will assume all the rights and reject all the
duties--that is, that they will use the political power to plunder
those-who-have. Democracy, in order to be true to itself, and to
develop into a sound working system, must oppose the same cold
resistance to any claims for favor on the ground of poverty, as on the
ground of birth and rank. It can no more admit to public discussion, as
within the range of possible action, any schemes for coddling and
helping wage-receivers than it could entertain schemes for restricting
political power to wage-payers. It must put down schemes for making
"the rich" pay for whatever "the poor" want, just as it tramples on the
old theories that only the rich are fit to regulate society. One needs
but to watch our periodical literature to see the danger that democracy
will be construed as a system of favoring a new privileged class of the
many and the poor.

Holding in mind, now, the notions of liberty and democracy as we have
defined them, we see that it is not altogether a matter of fanfaronade
when the American citizen calls himself a "sovereign." A member of a
free democracy is, in a sense, a sovereign. He has no superior. He has
reached his sovereignty, however, by a process of reduction and
division of power which leaves him no inferior. It is very grand to
call one's self a sovereign, but it is greatly to the purpose to notice
that the political responsibilities of the free man have been
intensified and aggregated just in proportion as political rights have
been reduced and divided. Many monarchs have been incapable of
sovereignty and unfit for it. Placed in exalted situations, and
inheritors of grand opportunities they have exhibited only their own
imbecility and vice. The reason was, because they thought only of the
gratification of their own vanity, and not at all of their duty. The
free man who steps forward to claim his inheritance and endowment as a
free and equal member of a great civil body must understand that his
duties and responsibilities are measured to him by the same scale as
his rights and his powers. He wants to be subject to no man. He wants
to be equal to his fellows, as all sovereigns are equal. So be it; but
he cannot escape the deduction that he can call no man to his aid. The
other sovereigns will not respect his independence if he becomes
dependent, and they cannot respect his equality if he sues for favors.
The free man in a free democracy, when he cut off all the ties which
might pull him down, severed also all the ties by which he might have
made others pull him up. He must take all the consequences of his new
status. He is, in a certain sense, an isolated man. The family tie does
not bring to him disgrace for the misdeeds of his relatives, as it once
would have done, but neither does it furnish him with the support which
it once would have given. The relations of men are open and free, but
they are also loose. A free man in a free democracy derogates from his
rank if he takes a favor for which he does not render an equivalent.

A free man in a free democracy has no duty whatever toward other men of
the same rank and standing, except respect, courtesy, and good-will. We
cannot say that there are no classes, when we are speaking
politically, and then say that there are classes, when we are telling A
what it is his duty to do for B. In a free state every man is held and
expected to take care of himself and his family, to make no trouble for
his neighbor, and to contribute his full share to public interests and
common necessities. If he fails in this he throws burdens on others. He
does not thereby acquire rights against the others. On the contrary, he
only accumulates obligations toward them; and if he is allowed to make
his deficiencies a ground of new claims, he passes over into the
position of a privileged or petted person-emancipated from duties,
endowed with claims. This is the inevitable result of combining
democratic political theories with humanitarian social theories. It
would be aside from my present purpose to show, but it is worth
noticing in passing, that one result of such inconsistency must surely
be to undermine democracy, to increase the power of wealth in the
democracy, and to hasten the subjection of democracy to plutocracy; for
a man who accepts any share which he has not earned in another man's
capital cannot be an independent citizen.

It is often affirmed that the educated and wealthy have an obligation
to those who have less education and property, just because the latter
have political equality with the former, and oracles and warnings are
uttered about what will happen if the uneducated classes who have the
suffrage are not instructed at the care and expense of the other
classes. In this view of the matter universal suffrage is not a measure
for _strengthening_ the State by bringing to its support the aid and
affection of all classes, but it is a new burden, and, in fact, a
peril. Those who favor it represent it as a peril. This doctrine is
politically immoral and vicious. When a community establishes universal
suffrage, it is as if it said to each new-comer, or to each young man:
"We give you every chance that any one else has. Now come along with
us; take care of yourself, and contribute your share to the burdens
which we all have to bear in order to support social institutions."
Certainly, liberty, and universal suffrage, and democracy are not
pledges of care and protection, but they carry with them the exaction
of individual responsibility. The State gives equal rights and equal
chances just because it does not mean to give anything else. It sets
each man on his feet, and gives him leave to run, just because it does
not mean to carry him. Having obtained his chances, he must take upon
himself the responsibility for his own success or failure. It is a pure
misfortune to the community, and one which will redound to its injury,
if any man has been endowed with political power who is a heavier
burden then than he was before; but it cannot be said that there is
any new _duty_ created for the good citizens toward the bad by the fact
that the bad citizens are a harm to the State.



I have before me a newspaper slip on which a writer expresses the
opinion that no one should be allowed to possess more than one million
dollars' worth of property. Alongside of it is another slip, on which
another writer expresses the opinion that the limit should be five
millions. I do not know what the comparative wealth of the two writers
is, but it is interesting to notice that there is a wide margin between
their ideas of how rich they would allow their fellow-citizens to
become, and of the point at which they ("the State," of course) would
step in to rob a man of his earnings. These two writers only represent
a great deal of crude thinking and declaiming which is in fashion. I
never have known a man of ordinary common-sense who did not urge upon
his sons, from earliest childhood, doctrines of economy and the
practice of accumulation. A good father believes that he does wisely to
encourage enterprise, productive skill, prudent self-denial, and
judicious expenditure on the part of his son. The object is to teach
the boy to accumulate capital. If, however, the boy should read many of
the diatribes against "the rich" which are afloat in our literature; if
he should read or hear some of the current discussion about "capital";
and if, with the ingenuousness of youth, he should take these
productions at their literal sense, instead of discounting them, as his
father does, he would be forced to believe that he was on the path of
infamy when he was earning and saving capital. It is worth while to
consider which we mean or what we mean. Is it wicked to be rich? Is it
mean to be a capitalist? If the question is one of degree only, and it
is right to be rich up to a certain point and wrong to be richer, how
shall we find the point? Certainly, for practical purposes, we ought to
define the point nearer than between one and five millions of dollars.

There is an old ecclesiastical prejudice in favor of the poor and
against the rich. In days when men acted by ecclesiastical rules these
prejudices produced waste of capital, and helped mightily to replunge
Europe into barbarism. The prejudices are not yet dead, but they
survive in our society as ludicrous contradictions and inconsistencies.
One thing must be granted to the rich: they are good-natured. Perhaps
they do not recognize themselves, for a rich man is even harder to
define than a poor one. It is not uncommon to hear a clergyman utter
from the pulpit all the old prejudice in favor of the poor and against
the rich, while asking the rich to do something for the poor; and the
rich comply, without apparently having their feelings hurt at all by
the invidious comparison. We all agree that he is a good member of
society who works his way up from poverty to wealth, but as soon as he
has worked his way up we begin to regard him with suspicion, as a
dangerous member of society. A newspaper starts the silly fallacy that
"the rich are rich because the poor are industrious," and it is copied
from one end of the country to the other as if it were a brilliant
apothegm. "Capital" is denounced by writers and speakers who have never
taken the trouble to find out what capital is, and who use the word in
two or three different senses in as many pages. Labor organizations are
formed, not to employ combined effort for a common object, but to
indulge in declamation and denunciation, and especially to furnish an
easy living to some officers who do not want to work. People who have
rejected dogmatic religion, and retained only a residuum of religious
sentimentalism, find a special field in the discussion of the rights of
the poor and the duties of the rich. We have denunciations of banks,
corporations, and monopolies, which denunciations encourage only
helpless rage and animosity, because they are not controlled by any
definitions or limitations, or by any distinctions between what is
indispensably necessary and what is abuse, between what is established
in the order of nature and what is legislative error. Think, for
instance, of a journal which makes it its special business to denounce
monopolies, yet favors a protective tariff, and has not a word to say
against trades-unions or patents! Think of public teachers who say that
the farmer is ruined by the cost of transportation, when they mean that
he cannot make any profits because his farm is too far from the market,
and who denounce the railroad because it does not correct for the
farmer, at the expense of its stockholders, the disadvantage which lies
in the physical situation of the farm! Think of that construction of
this situation which attributes all the trouble to the greed of
"moneyed corporations!" Think of the piles of rubbish that one has read
about corners, and watering stocks, and selling futures!

Undoubtedly there are, in connection with each of these things, cases
of fraud, swindling, and other financial crimes; that is to say, the
greed and selfishness of men are perpetual. They put on new phases,
they adjust themselves to new forms of business, and constantly devise
new methods of fraud and robbery, just as burglars devise new artifices
to circumvent every new precaution of the lock-makers. The criminal law
needs to be improved to meet new forms of crime, but to denounce
financial devices which are useful and legitimate because use is made
of them for fraud, is ridiculous and unworthy of the age in which we
live. Fifty years ago good old English Tories used to denounce all
joint-stock companies in the same way, and for similar reasons.

All the denunciations and declamations which have been referred to are
made in the interest of "the poor man." His name never ceases to echo
in the halls of legislation, and he is the excuse and reason for all
the acts which are passed. He is never forgotten in poetry, sermon, or
essay. His interest is invoked to defend every doubtful procedure and
every questionable institution. Yet where is he? Who is he? Who ever
saw him? When did he ever get the benefit of any of the numberless
efforts in his behalf? When, rather, were his name and interest ever
invoked, when, upon examination, it did not plainly appear that
somebody else was to win--somebody who was far too "smart" ever to be
poor, far too lazy ever to be rich by industry and economy?

A great deal is said about the unearned increment from land, especially
with a view to the large gains of landlords in old countries. The
unearned increment from land has indeed made the position of an English
land-owner, for the last two hundred years, the most fortunate that any
class of mortals ever has enjoyed; but the present moment, when the
rent of agricultural land in England is declining under the
competition of American land, is not well chosen for attacking the old
advantage. Furthermore, the unearned increment from land appears in the
United States as a gain to the first comers, who have here laid the
foundations of a new State. Since the land is a monopoly, the unearned
increment lies in the laws of Nature. Then the only question is, Who
shall have it?--the man who has the ownership by prescription, or some
or all others? It is a beneficent incident of the ownership of land
that a pioneer who reduces it to use, and helps to lay the foundations
of a new State, finds a profit in the increasing value of land as the
new State grows up. It would be unjust to take that profit away from
him, or from any successor to whom he has sold it. Moreover, there is
an unearned increment on capital and on labor, due to the presence,
around the capitalist and the laborer, of a great, industrious, and
prosperous society. A tax on land and a succession or probate duty on
capital might be perfectly justified by these facts. Unquestionably
capital accumulates with a rapidity which follows in some high series
the security, good government, peaceful order of the State in which it
is employed; and if the State steps in, on the death of the holder, to
claim a share of the inheritance, such a claim may be fully justified.
The laborer likewise gains by carrying on his labor in a strong,
highly civilized, and well-governed State far more than he could gain
with equal industry on the frontier or in the midst of anarchy. He
gains greater remuneration for his services, and he also shares in the
enjoyment of all that accumulated capital of a wealthy community which
is public or semi-public in its nature.

It is often said that the earth belongs to the race, as if raw land was
a boon, or gift. Raw land is only a _chance_ to prosecute the struggle
for existence, and the man who tries to earn a living by the
subjugation of raw land makes that attempt under the most unfavorable
conditions, for land can be brought into use only by great hardship and
exertion. The boon, or gift, would be to get some land after somebody
else had made it fit for use. Any one in the world today can have raw
land by going to it; but there are millions who would regard it simply
as "transportation for life," if they were forced to go and live on new
land and get their living out of it. Private ownership of land is only
division of labor. If it is true in any sense that we all own the soil
in common, the best use we can make of our undivided interests is to
vest them all gratuitously (just as we now do) in any who will assume
the function of directly treating the soil, while the rest of us take
other shares in the social organization. The reason is, because in
this way we all get more than we would if each one owned some land and
used it directly. Supply and demand now determine the distribution of
population between the direct use of land and other pursuits; and if
the total profits and chances of land-culture were reduced by taking
all the "unearned increment" in taxes, there would simply be a
redistribution of industry until the profits of land-culture, less
taxes and without chances from increasing value, were equal to the
profits of other pursuits under exemption from taxation.

It is remarkable that jealousy of individual property in land often
goes along with very exaggerated doctrines of tribal or national
property in land. We are told that John, James, and William ought not
to possess part of the earth's surface because it belongs to all men;
but it is held that Egyptians, Nicaraguans, or Indians have such right
to the territory which they occupy, that they may bar the avenues of
commerce and civilization if they choose, and that it is wrong to
override their prejudices or expropriate their land. The truth is, that
the notion that the race own the earth has practical meaning only for
the latter class of cases.

The great gains of a great capitalist in a modern state must be put
under the head of wages of superintendence. Anyone who believes that
any great enterprise of an industrial character can be started without
labor must have little experience of life. Let anyone try to get a
railroad built, or to start a factory and win reputation for its
products, or to start a school and win a reputation for it, or to found
a newspaper and make it a success, or to start any other enterprise,
and he will find what obstacles must be overcome, what risks must be
taken, what perseverance and courage are required, what foresight and
sagacity are necessary. Especially in a new country, where many tasks
are waiting, where resources are strained to the utmost all the time,
the judgment, courage, and perseverance required to organize new
enterprizes and carry them to success are sometimes heroic. Persons who
possess the necessary qualifications obtain great rewards. They ought
to do so. It is foolish to rail at them. Then, again, the ability to
organize and conduct industrial, commercial, or financial enterprises
is rare; the great captains of industry are as rare as great generals.
The great weakness of all co-operative enterprises is in the matter of
supervision. Men of routine or men who can do what they are told are
not hard to find; but men who can think and plan and tell the routine
men what to do are very rare. They are paid in proportion to the supply
and demand of them.

If Mr. A.T. Stewart made a great fortune by collecting and bringing
dry-goods to the people of the United States, he did so because he
understood how to do that thing better than any other man of his
generation. He proved it, because he carried the business through
commercial crises and war, and kept increasing its dimensions. If, when
he died, he left no competent successor, the business must break up,
and pass into new organization in the hands of other men. Some have
said that Mr. Stewart made his fortune out of those who worked for him
or with him. But would those persons have been able to come together,
organize themselves, and earn what they did earn without him? Not at
all. They would have been comparatively helpless. He and they together
formed a great system of factories, stores, transportation, under his
guidance and judgment. It was for the benefit of all; but he
contributed to it what no one else was able to contribute--the one
guiding mind which made the whole thing possible. In no sense whatever
does a man who accumulates a fortune by legitimate industry exploit his
employés, or make his capital "out of" anybody else. The wealth which
he wins would not be but for him.

The aggregation of large fortunes is not at all a thing to be
regretted. On the contrary, it is a necessary condition of many forms
of social advance. If we should set a limit to the accumulation of
wealth, we should say to our most valuable producers, "We do not want
you to do us the services which you best understand how to perform,
beyond a certain point." It would be like killing off our generals in
war. A great deal is said, in the cant of a certain school about
"ethical views of wealth," and we are told that some day men will be
found of such public spirit that, after they have accumulated a few
millions, they will be willing to go on and labor simply for the
pleasure of paying the taxes of their fellow-citizens. Possibly this is
true. It is a prophecy. It is as impossible to deny it as it is silly
to affirm it. For if a time ever comes when there are men of this kind,
the men of that age will arrange their affairs accordingly. There are
no such men now, and those of us who live now cannot arrange our
affairs by what men will be a hundred generations hence.

There is every indication that we are to see new developments of the
power of aggregated capital to serve civilization, and that the new
developments will be made right here in America. Joint-stock companies
are yet in their infancy, and incorporated capital, instead of being a
thing which can be overturned, is a thing which is becoming more and
more indispensable. I shall have something to say in another chapter
about the necessary checks and guarantees, in a political point of
view, which must be established. Economically speaking, aggregated
capital will be more and more essential to the performance of our
social tasks. Furthermore, it seems to me certain that all aggregated
capital will fall more and more under personal control. Each great
company will be known as controlled by one master mind. The reason for
this lies in the great superiority of personal management over
management by boards and committees. This tendency is in the public
interest, for it is in the direction of more satisfactory
responsibility. The great hindrance to the development of this
continent has lain in the lack of capital. The capital which we have
had has been wasted by division and dissipation, and by injudicious
applications. The waste of capital, in proportion to the total capital,
in this country between 1800 and 1850, in the attempts which were made
to establish means of communication and transportation, was enormous.
The waste was chiefly due to ignorance and bad management, especially
to State control of public works. We are to see the development of the
country pushed forward at an unprecedented rate by an aggregation of
capital, and a systematic application of it under the direction of
competent men. This development will be for the benefit of all, and it
will enable each one of us, in his measure and way, to increase his
wealth. We may each of us go ahead to do so, and we have every reason
to rejoice in each other's prosperity. There ought to be no laws to
guarantee property against the folly of its possessors. In the absence
of such laws, capital inherited by a spendthrift will be squandered and
re-accumulated in the hands of men who are fit and competent to hold
it. So it should be, and under such a state of things there is no
reason to desire to limit the property which any man may acquire.



The Arabs have a story of a man who desired to test which of his three
sons loved him most. He sent them out to see which of the three would
bring him the most valuable present. The three sons met in a distant
city, and compared the gifts they had found. The first had a carpet on
which he could transport himself and others whithersoever he would. The
second had a medicine which would cure any disease. The third had a
glass in which he could see what was going on at any place he might
name. The third used his glass to see what was going on at home: he saw
his father ill in bed. The first transported all three to their home on
his carpet. The second administered the medicine and saved the father's
life. The perplexity of the father when he had to decide which son's
gift had been of the most value to him illustrates very fairly the
difficulty of saying whether land, labor, or capital is most essential
to production. No production is possible without the co-operation of
all three.

We know that men once lived on the spontaneous fruits of the earth,
just as other animals do. In that stage of existence a man was just
like the brutes. His existence was at the sport of Nature. He got what
he could by way of food, and ate what he could get, but he depended on
finding what Nature gave. He could wrest nothing from Nature; he could
make her produce nothing; and he had only his limbs with which to
appropriate what she offered. His existence was almost entirely
controlled by accident; he possessed no capital; he lived out of his
product, and production had only the two elements of land and labor of
appropriation. At the present time man is an intelligent animal. He
knows something of the laws of Nature; he can avail himself of what is
favorable, and avert what is unfavorable, in nature, to a certain
extent; he has narrowed the sphere of accident, and in some respects
reduced it to computations which lessen its importance; he can bring
the productive forces of Nature into service, and make them produce
food, clothing, and shelter. How has the change been brought about? The
answer is, By capital. If we can come to an understanding of what
capital is, and what a place it occupies in civilization, it will clear
up our ideas about a great many of these schemes and philosophies which
are put forward to criticise social arrangements, or as a basis of
proposed reforms.

The first beginnings of capital are lost in the obscurity which covers
all the germs of civilization. The more one comes to understand the
case of the primitive man, the more wonderful it seems that man ever
started on the road to civilization. Among the lower animals we find
some inchoate forms of capital, but from them to the lowest forms of
real capital there is a great stride. It does not seem possible that
man could have taken that stride without intelligent reflection, and
everything we know about the primitive man shows us that he did not
reflect. No doubt accident controlled the first steps. They may have
been won and lost again many times. There was one natural element which
man learned to use so early that we cannot find any trace of him when
he had it not--fire. There was one tool-weapon in nature--the flint.
Beyond the man who was so far superior to the brutes that he knew how
to use fire and had the use of flints we cannot go. A man of lower
civilization than that was so like the brutes that, like them, he could
leave no sign of his presence on the earth save his bones.

The man who had a flint no longer need be a prey to a wild animal, but
could make a prey of it. He could get meat food. He who had meat food
could provide his food in such time as to get leisure to improve his
flint tools. He could get skins for clothing, bones for needles,
tendons for thread. He next devised traps and snares by which to take
animals alive. He domesticated them, and lived on their increase. He
made them beasts of draught and burden, and so got the use of a
natural force. He who had beasts of draught and burden could make a
road and trade, and so get the advantage of all soils and all climates.
He could make a boat, and use the winds as force. He now had such
tools, science, and skill that he could till the ground, and make it
give him more food. So from the first step that man made above the
brute the thing which made his civilization possible was capital. Every
step of capital won made the next step possible, up to the present
hour. Not a step has been or can be made without capital. It is labor
accumulated, multiplied into itself--raised to a higher power, as the
mathematicians say. The locomotive is only possible today because, from
the flint-knife up, one achievement has been multiplied into another
through thousands of generations. We cannot now stir a step in our life
without capital. We cannot build a school, a hospital, a church, or
employ a missionary society, without capital, any more than we could
build a palace or a factory without capital. We have ourselves, and we
have the earth; the thing which limits what we can do is the third
requisite--capital. Capital is force, human energy stored or
accumulated, and very few people ever come to appreciate its importance
to civilized life. We get so used to it that we do not see its use.

The industrial organization of society has undergone a development with
the development of capital. Nothing has ever made men spread over the
earth and develop the arts but necessity--that is, the need of getting
a living, and the hardships endured in trying to meet that need. The
human race has had to pay with its blood at every step. It has had to
buy its experience. The thing which has kept up the necessity of more
migration or more power over Nature has been increase of population.
Where population has become chronically excessive, and where the
population has succumbed and sunk, instead of developing energy enough
for a new advance, there races have degenerated and settled into
permanent barbarism. They have lost the power to rise again, and have
made no inventions. Where life has been so easy and ample that it cost
no effort, few improvements have been made. It is in the middle range,
with enough social pressure to make energy needful, and not enough
social pressure to produce despair, that the most progress has been

At first all labor was forced. Men forced it on women, who were drudges
and slaves. Men reserved for themselves only the work of hunting or
war. Strange and often horrible shadows of all the old primitive
barbarism are now to be found in the slums of great cities, and in the
lowest groups of men, in the midst of civilized nations. Men impose
labor on women in some such groups today. Through various grades of
slavery, serfdom, villeinage, and through various organizations of
castes and guilds, the industrial organization has been modified and
developed up to the modern system. Some men have been found to denounce
and deride the modern system--what they call the capitalist system. The
modern system is based on liberty, on contract, and on private
property. It has been reached through a gradual emancipation of the
mass of mankind from old bonds both to Nature and to their fellow-men.
Village communities, which excite the romantic admiration of some
writers, were fit only for a most elementary and unorganized society.
They were fit neither to cope with the natural difficulties of winning
much food from little land, nor to cope with the malice of men. Hence
they perished. In the modern society the organization of labor is high.
Some are land-owners and agriculturists, some are transporters,
bankers, merchants, teachers; some advance the product by manufacture.
It is a system of division of functions, which is being refined all the
time by subdivision of trade and occupation, and by the differentiation
of new trades.

The ties by which all are held together are those of free co-operation
and contract. If we look back for comparison to anything of which
human history gives us a type or experiment, we see that the modern
free system of industry offers to every living human being chances of
happiness indescribably in excess of what former generations have
possessed. It offers no such guarantees as were once possessed by some,
that they should in no case suffer. We have an instance right at hand.
The Negroes, once slaves in the United States, used to be assured care,
medicine, and support; but they spent their efforts, and other men took
the products. They have been set free. That means only just this: they
now work and hold their own products, and are assured of nothing but
what they earn. In escaping from subjection they have lost claims.
Care, medicine, and support they get, if they earn it. Will any one say
that the black men have not gained? Will any one deny that individual
black men may seem worse off? Will any one allow such observations to
blind them to the true significance of the change? If any one thinks
that there are or ought to be somewhere in society guarantees that no
man shall suffer hardship, let him understand that there can be no such
guarantees, unless other men give them--that is, unless we go back to
slavery, and make one man's effort conduce to another man's welfare. Of
course, if a speculator breaks loose from science and history, and
plans out an ideal society in which all the conditions are to be
different, he is a law-giver or prophet, and those may listen to him
who have leisure.

The modern industrial system is a great social co-operation. It is
automatic and instinctive in its operation. The adjustments of the
organs take place naturally. The parties are held together by
impersonal force--supply and demand. They may never see each other;
they may be separated by half the circumference of the globe. Their
co-operation in the social effort is combined and distributed again by
financial machinery, and the rights and interests are measured and
satisfied without any special treaty or convention at all. All this
goes on so smoothly and naturally that we forget to notice it. We think
that it costs nothing--does itself, as it were. The truth is, that this
great co-operative effort is one of the great products of
civilization--one of its costliest products and highest refinements,
because here, more than anywhere else, intelligence comes in, but
intelligence so clear and correct that it does not need expression.

Now, by the great social organization the whole civilized body (and
soon we shall say the whole human race) keeps up a combined assault on
Nature for the means of subsistence. Civilized society may be said to
be maintained in an unnatural position, at an elevation above the
earth, or above the natural state of human society. It can be
maintained there only by an efficient organization of the social effort
and by capital. At its elevation it supports far greater numbers than
it could support on any lower stage. Members of society who come into
it as it is today can live only by entering into the organization. If
numbers increase, the organization must be perfected, and capital must
increase--_i.e._, power over Nature. If the society does not keep up
its power, if it lowers its organization or wastes its capital, it
falls back toward the natural state of barbarism from which it rose,
and in so doing it must sacrifice thousands of its weakest members.
Hence human society lives at a constant strain forward and upward, and
those who have most interest that this strain be successfully kept up,
that the social organization be perfected, and that capital be
increased, are those at the bottom.

The notion of property which prevails among us today is, that a man has
a right to the thing which he has made by his labor. This is a very
modern and highly civilized conception. Singularly enough, it has been
brought forward dogmatically to prove that property in land is not
reasonable, because man did not make land. A man cannot "make" a
chattel or product of any kind whatever without first appropriating
land, so as to get the ore, wood, wool, cotton, fur, or other raw
material. All that men ever appropriate land for is to get out of it
the natural materials on which they exercise their industry.
Appropriation, therefore, precedes labor-production, both historically
and logically. Primitive races regarded, and often now regard,
appropriation as the best title to property. As usual, they are
logical. It is the simplest and most natural mode of thinking to regard
a thing as belonging to that man who has, by carrying, wearing, or
handling it, associated it for a certain time with his person. I once
heard a little boy of four years say to his mother, "Why is not this
pencil mine now? It used to be my brother's, but I have been using it
all day." He was reasoning with the logic of his barbarian ancestors.
The reason for allowing private property in land is, that two men
cannot eat the same loaf of bread. If A has taken a piece of land, and
is at work getting his loaf out of it, B cannot use the same land at
the same time for the same purpose. Priority of appropriation is the
only title of right which can supersede the title of greater force. The
reason why man is not altogether a brute is, because he has learned to
accumulate capital, to use capital, to advance to a higher organization
of society, to develop a completer co-operation, and so to win greater
and greater control over Nature.

It is a great delusion to look about us and select those men who occupy
the most advanced position in respect to worldly circumstances as the
standard to which we think that all might be and ought to be brought.
All the complaints and criticisms about the inequality of men apply to
inequalities in property, luxury, and creature comforts, not to
knowledge, virtue, or even physical beauty and strength. But it is
plainly impossible that we should all attain to equality on the level
of the best of us. The history of civilization shows us that the human
race has by no means marched on in a solid and even phalanx. It has had
its advance-guard, its rear-guard, and its stragglers. It presents us
the same picture today; for it embraces every grade, from the most
civilized nations down to the lowest surviving types of barbarians.
Furthermore, if we analyze the society of the most civilized state,
especially in one of the great cities where the highest triumphs of
culture are presented, we find survivals of every form of barbarism and
lower civilization. Hence, those who today enjoy the most complete
emancipation from the hardships of human life, and the greatest command
over the conditions of existence, simply show us the best that man has
yet been able to do. Can we all reach that standard by wishing for it?
Can we all vote it to each other? If we pull down those who are most
fortunate and successful, shall we not by that very act defeat our own
object? Those who are trying to reason out any issue from this tangle
of false notions of society and of history are only involving
themselves in hopeless absurdities and contradictions. If any man is
not in the first rank who might get there, let him put forth new energy
and take his place. If any man is not in the front rank, although he
has done his best, how can he be advanced at all? Certainly in no way
save by pushing down any one else who is forced to contribute to his

It is often said that the mass of mankind are yet buried in poverty,
ignorance, and brutishness. It would be a correct statement of the
facts intended, from an historical and sociological point of view, to
say, Only a small fraction of the human race have as yet, by thousands
of years of struggle, been partially emancipated from poverty,
ignorance, and brutishness. When once this simple correction is made in
the general point of view, we gain most important corollaries for all
the subordinate questions about the relations of races, nations, and



In our modern revolt against the mediaeval notions of hereditary honor
and hereditary shame we have gone too far, for we have lost the
appreciation of the true dependence of children on parents. We have a
glib phrase about "the accident of birth," but it would puzzle anybody
to tell what it means. If A takes B to wife, it is not an accident that
he took B rather than C, D, or any other woman; and if A and B have a
child, X, that child's ties to ancestry and posterity, and his
relations to the human race, into which he has been born through A and
B, are in no sense accidental. The child's interest in the question
whether A should have married B or C is as material as anything one can
conceive of, and the fortune which made X the son of A, and not of
another man, is the most material fact in his destiny. If those things
were better understood public opinion about the ethics of marriage and
parentage would undergo a most salutary change. In following the modern
tendency of opinion we have lost sight of the due responsibility of
parents, and our legislation has thrown upon some parents the
responsibility, not only of their own children, but of those of

The relation of parents and children is the only case of sacrifice in
Nature. Elsewhere equivalence of exchange prevails rigorously. The
parents, however, hand down to their children the return for all which
they had themselves inherited from their ancestors. They ought to hand
down the inheritance with increase. It is by this relation that the
human race keeps up a constantly advancing contest with Nature. The
penalty of ceasing an aggressive behavior toward the hardships of life
on the part of mankind is, that we go backward. We cannot stand still.
Now, parental affection constitutes the personal motive which drives
every man in his place to an aggressive and conquering policy toward
the limiting conditions of human life. Affection for wife and children
is also the greatest motive to social ambition and personal
self-respect--that is, to what is technically called a "high standard
of living."

Some people are greatly shocked to read of what is called
Malthusianism, when they read it in a book, who would be greatly
ashamed of themselves if they did not practise Malthusianism in their
own affairs. Among respectable people a man who took upon himself the
cares and expenses of a family before he had secured a regular trade or
profession, or had accumulated some capital, and who allowed his wife
to lose caste, and his children to be dirty, ragged, and neglected,
would be severely blamed by the public opinion of the community. The
standard of living which a man makes for himself and his family, if he
means to earn it, and does not formulate it as a demand which he means
to make on his fellow-men, is a gauge of his self-respect; and a high
standard of living is the moral limit which an intelligent body of men
sets for itself far inside of the natural limits of the sustaining
power of the land, which latter limit is set by starvation, pestilence,
and war. But a high standard of living restrains population; that is,
if we hold up to the higher standard of men, we must have fewer of

Taking men as they have been and are, they are subjects of passion,
emotion, and instinct. Only the _élite_ of the race has yet been
raised to the point where reason and conscience can even curb the
lower motive forces. For the mass of mankind, therefore, the price of
better things is too severe, for that price can be summed up in one
word--self-control. The consequence is, that for all but a few of us
the limit of attainment in life in the best case is to live out our
term, to pay our debts, to place three or four children in a position
to support themselves in a position as good as the father's was, and
there to make the account balance.

Since we must all live, in the civilized organization of society, on
the existing capital; and since those who have only come out even have
not accumulated any of the capital, have no claim to own it, and cannot
leave it to their children; and since those who own land have parted
with their capital for it, which capital has passed back through other
hands into industrial employment, how is a man who has inherited
neither land nor capital to secure a living? He must give his
productive energy to apply capital to land for the further production
of wealth, and he must secure a share in the existing capital by a
contract relation to those who own it.

Undoubtedly the man who possesses capital has a great advantage over
the man who has no capital, in all the struggle for existence. Think of
two men who want to lift a weight, one of whom has a lever, and the
other must apply his hands directly; think of two men tilling the soil,
one of whom uses his hands or a stick, while the other has a horse and
a plough; think of two men in conflict with a wild animal, one of whom
has only a stick or a stone, while the other has a repeating rifle;
think of two men who are sick, one of whom can travel, command medical
skill, get space, light, air, and water, while the other lacks all
these things. This does not mean that one man has an advantage
_against_ the other, but that, when they are rivals in the effort to
get the means of subsistence from Nature, the one who has capital has
immeasurable advantages over the other. If it were not so capital would
not be formed. Capital is only formed by self-denial, and if the
possession of it did not secure advantages and superiorities of a high
order men would never submit to what is necessary to get it. The first
accumulation costs by far the most, and the rate of increase by profits
at first seems pitiful. Among the metaphors which partially illustrate
capital--all of which, however, are imperfect and inadequate--the
snow-ball is useful to show some facts about capital. Its first
accumulation is slow, but as it proceeds the accumulation becomes rapid
in a high ratio, and the element of self-denial declines. This fact,
also, is favorable to the accumulation of capital, for if the
self-denial continued to be as great per unit when the accumulation had
become great, there would speedily come a point at which further
accumulation would not pay. The man who has capital has secured his
future, won leisure which he can employ in winning secondary objects of
necessity and advantage, and emancipated himself from those things in
life which are gross and belittling. The possession of capital is,
therefore, an indispensable prerequisite of educational, scientific,
and moral goods. This is not saying that a man in the narrowest
circumstances may not be a good man. It is saying that the extension
and elevation of all the moral and metaphysical interests of the race
are conditioned on that extension of civilization of which capital is
the prerequisite, and that he who has capital can participate in and
move along with the highest developments of his time. Hence it appears
that the man who has his self-denial before him, however good may be
his intention, cannot be as the man who has his self-denial behind him.
Some seem to think that this is very unjust, but they get their notions
of justice from some occult source of inspiration, not from observing
the facts of this world as it has been made and exists.

The maxim, or injunction, to which a study of capital leads us is, Get
capital. In a community where the standard of living is high, and the
conditions of production are favorable, there is a wide margin within
which an individual may practise self-denial and win capital without
suffering, if he has not the charge of a family. That it requires
energy, courage, perseverance, and prudence is not to be denied. Any
one who believes that any good thing on this earth can be got without
those virtues may believe in the philosopher's stone or the fountain of
youth. If there were any Utopia its inhabitants would certainly be very
insipid and characterless.

Those who have neither capital nor land unquestionably have a closer
class interest than landlords or capitalists. If one of those who are
in either of the latter classes is a spendthrift he loses his
advantage. If the non-capitalists increase their numbers, they
surrender themselves into the hands of the landlords and capitalists.
They compete with each other for food until they run up the rent of
land, and they compete with each other for wages until they give the
capitalist a great amount of productive energy for a given amount of
capital. If some of them are economical and prudent in the midst of a
class which saves nothing and marries early, the few prudent suffer for
the folly of the rest, since they can only get current rates of wages;
and if these are low the margin out of which to make savings by special
personal effort is narrow. No instance has yet been seen of a society
composed of a class of great capitalists and a class of laborers who
had fallen into a caste of permanent drudges. Probably no such thing is
possible so long as landlords especially remain as a third class, and
so long as society continues to develop strong classes of merchants,
financiers, professional men, and other classes. If it were conceivable
that non-capitalist laborers should give up struggling to become
capitalists, should give way to vulgar enjoyments and passions, should
recklessly increase their numbers, and should become a permanent caste,
they might with some justice be called proletarians. The name has been
adopted by some professed labor leaders, but it really should be
considered insulting. If there were such a proletariat it would be
hopelessly in the hands of a body of plutocratic capitalists, and a
society so organized would, no doubt, be far worse than a society
composed only of nobles and serfs, which is the worst society the world
has seen in modern times.

At every turn, therefore, it appears that the number of men and the
quality of men limit each other, and that the question whether we shall
have more men or better men is of most importance to the class which
has neither land nor capital.



The discussion of "the relations of labor and capital" has not hitherto
been very fruitful. It has been confused by ambiguous definitions, and
it has been based upon assumptions about the rights and duties of
social classes which are, to say the least, open to serious question as
regards their truth and justice. If, then, we correct and limit the
definitions, and if we test the assumptions, we shall find out whether
there is anything to discuss about the relations of "labor and
capital," and, if anything, what it is.

Let us first examine the terms.

1. Labor means properly _toil_, irksome exertion, expenditure of
productive energy.

2. The term is used, secondly, by a figure of speech, and in a
collective sense, to designate the body of _persons_ who, having
neither capital nor land, come into the industrial organization
offering productive services in exchange for means of subsistence.
These persons are united by community of interest into a group, or
class, or interest, and, when interests come to be adjusted, the
interests of this group will undoubtedly be limited by those of other

3. The term labor is used, thirdly, in a more restricted, very popular
and current, but very ill-defined way, to designate a limited sub-group
among those who live by contributing productive efforts to the work of
society. Every one is a laborer who is not a person of leisure. Public
men, or other workers, if any, who labor but receive no pay, might be
excluded from the category, and we should immediately pass, by such a
restriction, from a broad and philosophical to a technical definition
of the labor class. But merchants, bankers, professional men, and all
whose labor is, to an important degree, mental as well as manual, are
excluded from this third use of the term labor. The result is, that the
word is used, in a sense at once loosely popular and strictly
technical, to designate a group of laborers who separate their
interests from those of other laborers. Whether farmers are included
under "labor" in this third sense or not I have not been able to
determine. It seems that they are or are not, as the interest of the
disputants may require.

1. Capital is any _product_ of labor which is used to assist

2. This term also is used, by a figure of speech, and in a collective
sense, for the _persons_ who possess capital, and who come into the
industrial organization to get their living by using capital for
profit. To do this they need to exchange capital for productive
services. These persons constitute an interest, group, or class,
although they are not united by any such community of interest as
laborers, and, in the adjustment of interests, the interests of the
owners of capital must be limited by the interests of other groups.

3. Capital, however, is also used in a vague and popular sense which it
is hard to define. In general it is used, and in this sense, to mean
employers of laborers, but it seems to be restricted to those who are
employers on a large scale. It does not seem to include those who
employ only domestic servants. Those also are excluded who own capital
and lend it, but do not directly employ people to use it.

It is evident that if we take for discussion "capital and labor," if
each of the terms has three definitions, and if one definition of each
is loose and doubtful, we have everything prepared for a discussion
which shall be interminable and fruitless, which shall offer every
attraction to undisciplined thinkers, and repel everybody else.

The real collision of interest, which is the centre of the dispute, is
that of employers and employed; and the first condition of successful
study of the question, or of successful investigation to see if there
is any question, is to throw aside the technical economic terms, and to
look at the subject in its true meaning, expressed in untechnical
language. We will use the terms "capital" and "labor" only in their
strict economic significance, viz., the first definition given above
under each term, and we will use the terms "laborers" and "capitalists"
when we mean the persons described in the second definition under each

It is a common assertion that the interests of employers and employed
are identical, that they are partners in an enterprise, etc. These
sayings spring from a disposition, which may often be noticed, to find
consoling and encouraging observations in the facts of sociology, and
to refute, if possible, any unpleasant observations. If we try to learn
what is true, we shall both do what is alone right, and we shall do the
best for ourselves in the end. The interests of employers and employed
as parties to a contract are antagonistic in certain respects and
united in others, as in the case wherever supply and demand operate. If
John gives cloth to James in exchange for wheat, John's interest is
that cloth be good and attractive but not plentiful, but that wheat be
good and plentiful; James' interest is that wheat be good and
attractive but not plentiful, but that cloth be good and plentiful. All
men have a common interest that all things be good, and that all
things but the one which each produces be plentiful. The employer is
interested that capital be good but rare, and productive energy good
and plentiful; the employé is interested that capital be good and
plentiful, but that productive energy be good and rare. When one man
alone can do a service, and he can do it very well, he represents the
laborer's ideal. To say that employers and employed are partners in an
enterprise is only a delusive figure of speech. It is plainly based on
no facts in the industrial system.

Employers and employed make contracts on the best terms which they can
agree upon, like buyers and sellers, renters and hirers, borrowers and
lenders. Their relations are, therefore, controlled by the universal
law of supply and demand. The employer assumes the direction of the
business, and takes all the risk, for the capital must be consumed in
the industrial process, and whether it will be found again in the
product or not depends upon the good judgment and foresight with which
the capital and labor have been applied. Under the wages system the
employer and the employé contract for time. The employé fulfils the
contract if he obeys orders during the time, and treats the capital as
he is told to treat it. Hence he is free from all responsibility, risk,
and speculation. That this is the most advantageous arrangement for
him, on the whole and in the great majority of cases, is very certain.
Salaried men and wage-receivers are in precisely the same
circumstances, except that the former, by custom and usage, are those
who have special skill or training, which is almost always an
investment of capital, and which narrows the range of competition in
their case. Physicians, lawyers, and others paid by fees are workers by
the piece. To the capital in existence all must come for their
subsistence and their tools.

Association is the lowest and simplest mode of attaining accord and
concord between men. It is now the mode best suited to the condition
and chances of employés. Employers formerly made use of guilds to
secure common action for a common interest. They have given up this
mode of union because it has been superseded by a better one.
Correspondence, travel, newspapers, circulars, and telegrams bring to
employers and capitalists the information which they need for the
defense of their interests. The combination between them is automatic
and instinctive. It is not formal and regulated by rule. It is all the
stronger on that account, because intelligent men, holding the same
general maxims of policy, and obtaining the same information, pursue
similar lines of action, while retaining all the ease, freedom, and
elasticity of personal independence.

At present employés have not the leisure necessary for the higher modes
of communication. Capital is also necessary to establish the ties of
common action under the higher forms. Moreover, there is, no doubt, an
incidental disadvantage connected with the release which the employé
gets under the wages system from all responsibility for the conduct of
the business. That is, that employés do not learn to watch or study the
course of industry, and do not plan for their own advantage, as other
classes do. There is an especial field for combined action in the case
of employés. Employers are generally separated by jealousy and pride in
regard to all but the most universal class interests. Employés have a
much closer interest in each other's wisdom. Competition of capitalists
for profits redounds to the benefit of laborers. Competition of
laborers for subsistence redounds to the benefit of capitalists. It is
utterly futile to plan and scheme so that either party can make a
"corner" on the other. If employers withdraw capital from employment in
an attempt to lower wages, they lose profits. If employés withdraw from
competition in order to raise wages, they starve to death. Capital and
labor are the two things which least admit of monopoly. Employers can,
however, if they have foresight of the movements of industry and
commerce, and if they make skillful use of credit, win exceptional
profits for a limited period. One great means of exceptional profit
lies in the very fact that the employés have not exercised the same
foresight, but have plodded along and waited for the slow and
successive action of the industrial system through successive periods
of production, while the employer has anticipated and synchronized
several successive steps. No bargain is fairly made if one of the
parties to it fails to maintain his interest. If one party to a
contract is well informed and the other ill informed, the former is
sure to win an advantage. No doctrine that a true adjustment of
interest follows from the free play of interests can be construed to
mean that an interest which is neglected will get its rights.

The employés have no means of information which is as good and
legitimate as association, and it is fair and necessary that their
action should be united in behalf of their interests. They are not in a
position for the unrestricted development of individualism in regard to
many of their interests. Unquestionably the better ones lose by this,
and the development of individualism is to be looked forward to and
hoped for as a great gain. In the meantime the labor market, in which
wages are fixed, cannot reach fair adjustments unless the interest of
the laborers is fairly defended, and that cannot, perhaps, yet be done
without associations of laborers. No newspapers yet report the labor
market. If they give any notices of it--of its rise and fall, of its
variations in different districts and in different trades--such notices
are always made for the interest of the employers. Re-distribution of
employés, both locally and trade-wise (so far as the latter is
possible), is a legitimate and useful mode of raising wages. The
illegitimate attempt to raise wages by limiting the number of
apprentices is the great abuse of trades-unions. I shall discuss that
in the ninth chapter.

It appears that the English trades were forced to contend, during the
first half of this century, for the wages which the market really would
give them, but which, under the old traditions and restrictions which
remained, they could not get without a positive struggle. They formed
the opinion that a strike could raise wages. They were educated so to
think by the success which they had won in certain attempts. It appears
to have become a traditional opinion, in which no account is taken of
the state of the labor market. It would be hard to find a case of any
strike within thirty or forty years, either in England or the United
States, which has paid. If a strike occurs, it certainly wastes capital
and hinders production. It must, therefore, lower wages subsequently
below what they would have been if there had been no strike. If a
strike succeeds, the question arises whether an advance of wages as
great or greater would not have occurred within a limited period
without a strike.

Nevertheless, a strike is a legitimate resort at last. It is like war,
for it is war. All that can be said is that those who have recourse to
it at last ought to understand that they assume a great responsibility,
and that they can only be justified by the circumstances of the case. I
cannot believe that a strike for wages ever is expedient. There are
other purposes, to be mentioned in a moment, for which a strike may be
expedient; but a strike for wages is a clear case of a strife in which
ultimate success is a complete test of the justifiability of the course
of those who made the strife. If the men win an advance, it proves that
they ought to have made it. If they do not win, it proves that they
were wrong to strike. If they strike with the market in their favor,
they win. If they strike with the market against them, they fail. It is
in human nature that a man whose income is increased is happy and
satisfied, although, if he demanded it, he might perhaps at that very
moment get more. A man whose income is lessened is displeased and
irritated, and he is more likely to strike then, when it may be in
vain. Strikes in industry are not nearly so peculiar a phenomenon as
they are often thought to be. Buyers strike when they refuse to buy
commodities of which the price has risen. Either the price remains
high, and they permanently learn to do without the commodity, or the
price is lowered, and they buy again. Tenants strike when house rents
rise too high for them. They seek smaller houses or parts of houses
until there is a complete readjustment. Borrowers strike when the rates
for capital are so high that they cannot employ it to advantage and pay
those rates. Laborers may strike and emigrate, or, in this country,
take to the land. This kind of strike is a regular application of
legitimate means, and is sure to succeed. Of course, strikes with
violence against employers or other employés are not to be discussed at

Trades-unions, then, are right and useful, and it may be that they are
necessary. They may do much by way of true economic means to raise
wages. They are useful to spread information, to maintain _esprit de
corps_, to elevate the public opinion of the class. They have been
greatly abused in the past. In this country they are in constant danger
of being used by political schemers--a fact which does more than
anything else to disparage them in the eyes of the best workmen. The
economic notions most in favor in the trades-unions are erroneous,
although not more so than those which find favor in the counting-room.
A man who believes that he can raise wages by doing bad work, wasting
time, allowing material to be wasted, and giving generally the least
possible service in the allotted time, is not to be distinguished from
the man who says that wages can be raised by putting protective taxes
on all clothing, furniture, crockery, bedding, books, fuel, utensils,
and tools. One lowers the services given for the capital, and the other
lowers the capital given for the services. Trades-unionism in the
higher classes consists in jobbery. There is a great deal of it in the
professions. I once heard a group of lawyers of high standing sneer at
an executor who hoped to get a large estate through probate without
allowing any lawyers to get big fees out of it. They all approved of
steps which had been taken to force a contest, which steps had forced
the executor to retain two or three lawyers. No one of the speakers had
been retained.

Trades-unions need development, correction, and perfection. They ought,
however, to get this from the men themselves. If the men do not feel
any need of such institutions, the patronage of other persons who come
to them and give them these institutions will do harm and not good.
Especially trades-unions ought to be perfected so as to undertake a
great range of improvement duties for which we now rely on Government
inspection, which never gives what we need. The safety of workmen from
machinery, the ventilation and sanitary arrangements required by
factories, the special precautions of certain processes, the hours of
labor of women and children, the schooling of children, the limits of
age for employed children, Sunday work, hours of labor--these and other
like matters ought to be controlled by the men themselves through their
organizations. The laborers about whom we are talking are free men in a
free state. If they want to be protected they must protect themselves.
They ought to protect their own women and children. Their own class
opinion ought to secure the education of the children of their class.
If an individual workman is not bold enough to protest against a wrong
to laborers, the agent of a trades-union might with propriety do it on
behalf of the body of workmen. Here is a great and important need, and,
instead of applying suitable and adequate means to supply it, we have
demagogues declaiming, trades-union officers resolving, and Government
inspectors drawing salaries, while little or nothing is done.

I have said that trades-unions are right and useful, and perhaps,
necessary; but trades-unions are, in fact, in this country, an exotic
and imported institution, and a great many of their rules and modes of
procedure, having been developed in England to meet English
circumstances, are out of place here. The institution itself does not
flourish here as it would if it were in a thoroughly congenial
environment. It needs to be supported by special exertion and care. Two
things here work against it. First, the great mobility of our
population. A trades-union, to be strong, needs to be composed of men
who have grown up together, who have close personal acquaintance and
mutual confidence, who have been trained to the same code, and who
expect to live on together in the same circumstances and interests. In
this country, where workmen move about frequently and with facility,
the unions suffer in their harmony and stability. It was a significant
fact that the unions declined during the hard times. It was only when
the men were prosperous that they could afford to keep up the unions,
as a kind of social luxury. When the time came to use the union it
ceased to be. Secondly, the American workman really has such personal
independence, and such an independent and strong position in the labor
market, that he does not need the union. He is farther on the road
toward the point where personal liberty supplants the associative
principle than any other workman. Hence the association is likely to be
a clog to him, especially if he is a good laborer, rather than an
assistance. If it were not for the notion brought from England, that
trades-unions are, in some mysterious way, beneficial to the
workmen--which notion has now become an article of faith--it is very
doubtful whether American workmen would find that the unions were of
any use, unless they were converted into organizations for
accomplishing the purposes enumerated in the last paragraph.

The fashion of the time is to run to Government boards, commissions,
and inspectors to set right everything which is wrong. No experience
seems to damp the faith of our public in these instrumentalities. The
English Liberals in the middle of this century seemed to have full
grasp of the principle of liberty, and to be fixed and established in
favor of non-interference. Since they have come to power, however, they
have adopted the old instrumentalities, and have greatly multiplied
them since they have had a great number of reforms to carry out. They
seem to think that interference is good if only they interfere. In this
country the party which is "in" always interferes, and the party which
is "out" favors non-interference. The system of interference is a
complete failure to the ends it aims at, and sooner or later it will
fall of its own expense and be swept away. The two notions--one to
regulate things by a committee of control, and the other to let things
regulate themselves by the conflict of interests between free men--are
diametrically opposed; and the former is corrupting to free
institutions, because men who are taught to expect Government
inspectors to come and take care of them lose all true education in
liberty. If we have been all wrong for the last three hundred years in
aiming at a fuller realization of individual liberty, as a condition of
general and widely-diffused happiness, then we must turn back to
paternalism, discipline, and authority; but to have a combination of
liberty and dependence is impossible.

I have read a great many diatribes within the last ten years against
employers, and a great many declamations about the wrongs of employés.
I have never seen a defense of the employer. Who dares say that he is
not the friend of the poor man? Who dares say that he is the friend of
the employer? I will try to say what I think is true. There are bad,
harsh, cross employers; there are slovenly, negligent workmen; there
are just about as many proportionately of one of these classes as of
the other. The employers of the United States--as a class, proper
exceptions being understood--have no advantage over their workmen. They
could not oppress them if they wanted to do so. The advantage, taking
good and bad times together, is with the workmen. The employers wish
the welfare of the workmen in all respects, and would give redress for
any grievance which was brought to their attention. They are
considerate of the circumstances and interests of the laborers. They
remember the interests of the workmen when driven to consider the
necessity of closing or reducing hours. They go on, and take risk and
trouble on themselves in working through bad times, rather than close
their works. The whole class of those-who-have are quick in their
sympathy for any form of distress or suffering. They are too quick.
Their sympathies need regulating, not stimulating. They are more likely
to give away capital recklessly than to withhold it stingily when any
alleged case of misfortune is before them. They rejoice to see any man
succeed in improving his position. They will aid him with counsel and
information if he desires it, and any man who needs and deserves help
because he is trying to help himself will be sure to meet with
sympathy, encouragement, and assistance from those who are better off.
If those who are in that position are related to him as employers to
employé, that tie will be recognized as giving him an especial claim.



The history of the human race is one long story of attempts by certain
persons and classes to obtain control of the power of the State, so as
to win earthly gratifications at the expense of others. People
constantly assume that there is something metaphysical and sentimental
about government. At bottom there are two chief things with which
government has to deal. They are, the property of men and the honor of
women. These it has to defend against crime. The capital which, as we
have seen, is the condition of all welfare on earth, the fortification
of existence, and the means of growth, is an object of cupidity. Some
want to get it without paying the price of industry and economy. In
ancient times they made use of force. They organized bands of robbers.
They plundered laborers and merchants. Chief of all, however, they
found that means of robbery which consisted in gaining control of the
civil organization--the State--and using its poetry and romance as a
glamour under cover of which they made robbery lawful. They developed
high-spun theories of nationality, patriotism, and loyalty. They took
all the rank, glory, power, and prestige of the great civil
organization, and they took all the rights. They threw on others the
burdens and the duties. At one time, no doubt, feudalism was an
organization which drew together again the fragments of a dissolved
society; but when the lawyers had applied the Roman law to modern
kings, and feudal nobles had been converted into an aristocracy of
court nobles, the feudal nobility no longer served any purpose.

In modern times the great phenomenon has been the growth of the middle
class out of the mediaeval cities, the accumulation of wealth, and the
encroachment of wealth, as a social power, on the ground formerly
occupied by rank and birth. The middle class has been obliged to fight
for its rights against the feudal class, and it has, during three or
four centuries, gradually invented and established institutions to
guarantee personal and property rights against the arbitrary will of
kings and nobles.

In its turn wealth is now becoming a power in three or four centuries,
gradually invented and the State, and, like every other power, it is
liable to abuse unless restrained by checks and guarantees. There is an
insolence of wealth, as there is an insolence of rank. A plutocracy
might be even far worse than an aristocracy. Aristocrats have always
had their class vices and their class virtues. They have always been,
as a class, chargeable with licentiousness and gambling. They have,
however, as a class, despised lying and stealing. They have always
pretended to maintain a standard of honor, although the definition and
the code of honor have suffered many changes and shocking
deterioration. The middle class has always abhorred gambling and
licentiousness, but it has not always been strict about truth and
pecuniary fidelity. That there is a code and standard of mercantile
honor which is quite as pure and grand as any military code, is beyond
question, but it has never yet been established and defined by long
usage and the concurrent support of a large and influential society.
The feudal code has, through centuries, bred a high type of men, and
constituted a caste. The mercantile code has not yet done so, but the
wealthy class has attempted to merge itself in or to imitate the feudal

The consequence is, that the wealth-power has been developed, while the
moral and social sanctions by which that power ought to be controlled
have not yet been developed. A plutocracy would be a civil organization
in which the power resides in wealth, in which a man might have
whatever he could buy, in which the rights, interests, and feelings of
those who could not pay would be overridden.

There is a plain tendency of all civilized governments toward
plutocracy. The power of wealth in the English House of Commons has
steadily increased for fifty years. The history of the present French
Republic has shown an extraordinary development of plutocratic spirit
and measures. In the United States many plutocratic doctrines have a
currency which is not granted them anywhere else; that is, a man's
right to have almost anything which he can pay for is more popularly
recognized here than elsewhere. So far the most successful limitation
on plutocracy has come from aristocracy, for the prestige of rank is
still great wherever it exists. The social sanctions of aristocracy
tell with great force on the plutocrats, more especially on their wives
and daughters. It has already resulted that a class of wealthy men is
growing up in regard to whom the old sarcasms of the novels and the
stage about _parvenus_ are entirely thrown away. They are men who have
no superiors, by whatever standard one chooses to measure them. Such an
interplay of social forces would, indeed, be a great and happy solution
of a new social problem, if the aristocratic forces were strong enough
for the magnitude of the task. If the feudal aristocracy, or its modern
representative--which is, in reality, not at all feudal--could carry
down into the new era and transmit to the new masters of society the
grace, elegance, breeding, and culture of the past, society would
certainly gain by that course of things, as compared with any such
rupture between past and present as occurred in the French Revolution.
The dogmatic radicals who assail "on principle" the inherited social
notions and distinctions are not serving civilization. Society can do
without patricians, but it cannot do without patrician virtues.

In the United States the opponent of plutocracy is democracy. Nowhere
else in the world has the power of wealth come to be discussed in its
political aspects as it is here. Nowhere else does the question arise
as it does here. I have given some reasons for this in former chapters.
Nowhere in the world is the danger of plutocracy as formidable as it is
here. To it we oppose the power of numbers as it is presented by
democracy. Democracy itself, however, is new and experimental. It has
not yet existed long enough to find its appropriate forms. It has no
prestige from antiquity such as aristocracy possesses. It has, indeed,
none of the surroundings which appeal to the imagination. On the other
hand, democracy is rooted in the physical, economic, and social
circumstances of the United States. This country cannot be other than
democratic for an indefinite period in the future. Its political
processes will also be republican. The affection of the people for
democracy makes them blind and uncritical in regard to it, and they are
as fond of the political fallacies to which democracy lends itself as
they are of its sound and correct interpretation, or fonder. Can
democracy develop itself and at the same time curb plutocracy?

Already the question presents itself as one of life or death to
democracy. Legislative and judicial scandals show us that the conflict
is already opened, and that it is serious. The lobby is the army of the
plutocracy. An elective judiciary is a device so much in the interest
of plutocracy, that it must be regarded as a striking proof of the
toughness of the judicial institution that it has resisted the
corruption so much as it has. The caucus, convention, and committee
lend themselves most readily to the purposes of interested speculators
and jobbers. It is just such machinery as they might have invented if
they had been trying to make political devices to serve their purpose,
and their processes call in question nothing less than the possibility
of free self-government under the forms of a democratic republic.

For now I come to the particular point which I desire to bring forward
against all the denunciations and complainings about the power of
chartered corporations and aggregated capital. If charters have been
given which confer undue powers, who gave them? Our legislators did.
Who elected these legislators. We did. If we are a free, self-governing
people, we must understand that it costs vigilance and exertion to be
self-governing. It costs far more vigilance and exertion to be so under
the democratic form, where we have no aids from tradition or prestige,
than under other forms. If we are a free, self-governing people, we can
blame nobody but ourselves for our misfortunes. No one will come to
help us out of them. It will do no good to heap law upon law, or to try
by constitutional provisions simply to abstain from the use of powers
which we find we always abuse. How can we get bad legislators to pass a
law which shall hinder bad legislators from passing a bad law? That is
what we are trying to do by many of our proposed remedies. The task
before us, however, is one which calls for fresh reserves of moral
force and political virtue from the very foundations of the social
body. Surely it is not a new thing to us to learn that men are greedy
and covetous, and that they will be selfish and tyrannical if they
dare. The plutocrats are simply trying to do what the generals, nobles,
and priests have done in the past--get the power of the State into
their hands, so as to bend the rights of others to their own advantage;
and what we need to do is to recognize the fact that we are face to
face with the same old foes--the vices and passions of human nature.
One of the oldest and most mischievous fallacies in this country has
been the notion that we are better than other nations, and that
Government has a smaller and easier task here than elsewhere. This
fallacy has hindered us from recognizing our old foes as soon as we
should have done. Then, again, these vices and passions take good care
here to deck themselves out in the trappings of democratic watchwords
and phrases, so that they are more often greeted with cheers than with
opposition when they first appear. The plan of electing men to
represent us who systematically surrender public to private interests,
and then trying to cure the mischief by newspaper and platform
declamation against capital and corporations, is an entire failure.

The new foes must be met, as the old ones were met--by institutions and
guarantees. The problem of civil liberty is constantly renewed. Solved
once, it re-appears in a new form. The old constitutional guarantees
were all aimed against king and nobles. New ones must be invented to
hold the power of wealth to that responsibility without which no power
whatever is consistent with liberty. The judiciary has given the most
satisfactory evidence that it is competent to the new duty which
devolves upon it. The courts have proved, in every case in which they
have been called upon, that there are remedies, that they are adequate,
and that they can be brought to bear upon the cases. The chief need
seems to be more power of voluntary combination and co-operation among
those who are aggrieved. Such co-operation is a constant necessity
under free self-government; and when, in any community, men lose the
power of voluntary co-operation in furtherance or defense of their own
interests, they deserve to suffer, with no other remedy than newspaper
denunciations and platform declamations. Of course, in such a state of
things, political mountebanks come forward and propose fierce measures
which can be paraded for political effect. Such measures would be
hostile to all our institutions, would destroy capital, overthrow
credit, and impair the most essential interests of society. On the side
of political machinery there is no ground for hope, but only for fear.
On the side of constitutional guarantees and the independent action of
self-governing freemen there is every ground for hope.



The passion for dealing with social questions is one of the marks of
our time. Every man gets some experience of, and makes some
observations on social affairs. Except matters of health, probably none
have such general interest as matters of society. Except matters of
health, none are so much afflicted by dogmatism and crude speculation
as those which appertain to society. The amateurs in social science
always ask: What shall we do? What shall we do with Neighbor A? What
shall we do for Neighbor B? What shall we make Neighbor A do for
Neighbor B? It is a fine thing to be planning and discussing broad and
general theories of wide application. The amateurs always plan to use
the individual for some constructive and inferential social purpose, or
to use the society for some constructive and inferential individual
purpose. For A to sit down and think, What shall I do? is commonplace;
but to think what B ought to do is interesting, romantic, moral,
self-flattering, and public-spirited all at once. It satisfies a great
number of human weaknesses at once. To go on and plan what a whole
class of people ought to do is to feel one's self a power on earth, to
win a public position, to clothe one's self in dignity. Hence we have
an unlimited supply of reformers, philanthropists, humanitarians, and
would-be managers-in-general of society.

Every man and woman in society has one big duty. That is, to take care
of his or her own self. This is a social duty. For, fortunately, the
matter stands so that the duty of making the best of one's self
individually is not a separate thing from the duty of filling one's
place in society, but the two are one, and the latter is accomplished
when the former is done. The common notion, however, seems to be that
one has a duty to society, as a special and separate thing, and that
this duty consists in considering and deciding what other people ought
to do. Now, the man who can do anything for or about anybody else than
himself is fit to be head of a family; and when he becomes head of a
family he has duties to his wife and his children, in addition to the
former big duty. Then, again, any man who can take care of himself and
his family is in a very exceptional position, if he does not find in
his immediate surroundings people who need his care and have some sort
of a personal claim upon him. If, now, he is able to fulfill all this,
and to take care of anybody outside his family and his dependents, he
must have a surplus of energy, wisdom, and moral virtue beyond what he
needs for his own business. No man has this; for a family is a charge
which is capable of infinite development, and no man could suffice to
the full measure of duty for which a family may draw upon him. Neither
can a man give to society so advantageous an employment of his
services, whatever they are, in any other way as by spending them on
his family. Upon this, however, I will not insist. I recur to the
observation that a man who proposes to take care of other people must
have himself and his family taken care of, after some sort of a
fashion, and must have an as yet unexhausted store of energy.

The danger of minding other people's business is twofold. First, there
is the danger that a man may leave his own business unattended to; and,
second, there is the danger of an impertinent interference with
another's affairs. The "friends of humanity" almost always run into
both dangers. I am one of humanity, and I do not want any volunteer
friends. I regard friendship as mutual, and I want to have my say about
it. I suppose that other components of humanity feel in the same way
about it. If so, they must regard any one who assumes the _rôle_ of a
friend of humanity as impertinent. The reference to the friend of
humanity back to his own business is obviously the next step.

Yet we are constantly annoyed, and the legislatures are kept
constantly busy, by the people who have made up their minds that it is
wise and conducive to happiness to live in a certain way, and who want
to compel everybody else to live in their way. Some people have decided
to spend Sunday in a certain way, and they want laws passed to make
other people spend Sunday in the same way. Some people have resolved to
be teetotalers, and they want a law passed to make everybody else a
teetotaler. Some people have resolved to eschew luxury, and they want
taxes laid to make others eschew luxury. The taxing power is especially
something after which the reformer's finger always itches. Sometimes
there is an element of self-interest in the proposed reformation, as
when a publisher wanted a duty imposed on books, to keep Americans from
reading books which would unsettle their Americanisms; and when artists
wanted a tax laid on pictures, to save Americans from buying bad

I make no reference here to the giving and taking of counsel and aid
between man and man: of that I shall say something in the last chapter.
The very sacredness of the relation in which two men stand to one
another when one of them rescues the other from vice separates that
relation from any connection with the work of the social busybody, the
professional philanthropist, and the empirical legislator.

The amateur social doctors are like the amateur physicians--they always
begin with the question of _remedies_, and they go at this without any
diagnosis or any knowledge of the anatomy or physiology of society.
They never have any doubt of the efficacy of their remedies. They never
take account of any ulterior effects which may be apprehended from the
remedy itself. It generally troubles them not a whit that their remedy
implies a complete reconstruction of society, or even a reconstitution
of human nature. Against all such social quackery the obvious
injunction to the quacks is, to mind their own business.

The social doctors enjoy the satisfaction of feeling themselves to be
more moral or more enlightened than their fellow-men. They are able to
see what other men ought to do when the other men do not see it. An
examination of the work of the social doctors, however, shows that they
are only more ignorant and more presumptuous than other people. We have
a great many social difficulties and hardships to contend with.
Poverty, pain, disease, and misfortune surround our existence. We fight
against them all the time. The individual is a centre of hopes,
affections, desires, and sufferings. When he dies, life changes its
form, but does not cease. That means that the person--the centre of all
the hopes, affections, etc.--after struggling as long as he can, is
sure to succumb at last. We would, therefore, as far as the hardships
of the human lot are concerned, go on struggling to the best of our
ability against them but for the social doctors, and we would endure
what we could not cure. But we have inherited a vast number of social
ills which never came from Nature. They are the complicated products of
all the tinkering, muddling, and blundering of social doctors in the
past. These products of social quackery are now buttressed by habit,
fashion, prejudice, platitudinarian thinking, and new quackery in
political economy and social science. It is a fact worth noticing, just
when there seems to be a revival of faith in legislative agencies, that
our States are generally providing against the experienced evils of
over-legislation by ordering that the Legislature shall sit only every
other year. During the hard times, when Congress had a real chance to
make or mar the public welfare, the final adjournment of that body was
hailed year after year with cries of relief from a great anxiety. The
greatest reforms which could now be accomplished would consist in
undoing the work of statesmen in the past, and the greatest difficulty
in the way of reform is to find out how to undo their work without
injury to what is natural and sound. All this mischief has been done
by men who sat down to consider the problem (as I heard an apprentice
of theirs once express it), What kind of a society do we want to make?
When they had settled this question _a priori_ to their satisfaction,
they set to work to make their ideal society, and today we suffer the
consequences. Human society tries hard to adapt itself to any
conditions in which it finds itself, and we have been warped and
distorted until we have got used to it, as the foot adapts itself to an
ill-made boot. Next, we have come to think that that is the right way
for things to be; and it is true that a change to a sound and normal
condition would for a time hurt us, as a man whose foot has been
distorted would suffer if he tried to wear a well-shaped boot. Finally,
we have produced a lot of economists and social philosophers who have
invented sophisms for fitting our thinking to the distorted facts.

Society, therefore, does not need any care or supervision. If we can
acquire a science of society, based on observation of phenomena and
study of forces, we may hope to gain some ground slowly toward the
elimination of old errors and the re-establishment of a sound and
natural social order. Whatever we gain that way will be by growth,
never in the world by any reconstruction of society on the plan of
some enthusiastic social architect. The latter is only repeating the
old error over again, and postponing all our chances of real
improvement. Society needs first of all to be freed from these
meddlers--that is, to be let alone. Here we are, then, once more back
at the old doctrine--_Laissez faire_. Let us translate it into blunt
English, and it will read, Mind your own business. It is nothing but
the doctrine of liberty. Let every man be happy in his own way. If his
sphere of action and interest impinges on that of any other man, there
will have to be compromise and adjustment. Wait for the occasion. Do
not attempt to generalize those interferences or to plan for them _a
priori_. We have a body of laws and institutions which have grown up as
occasion has occurred for adjusting rights. Let the same process go on.
Practise the utmost reserve possible in your interferences even of this
kind, and by no means seize occasion for interfering with natural
adjustments. Try first long and patiently whether the natural
adjustment will not come about through the play of interests and the
voluntary concessions of the parties.

I have said that we have an empirical political economy and social
science to fit the distortions of our society. The test of empiricism
in this matter is the attitude which one takes up toward _laissez
faire_. It no doubt wounds the vanity of a philosopher who is just
ready with a new solution of the universe to be told to mind his own
business. So he goes on to tell us that if we think that we shall, by
being let alone, attain a perfect happiness on earth, we are mistaken.
The half-way men--the professional socialists--join him. They solemnly
shake their heads, and tell us that he is right--that letting us alone
will never secure us perfect happiness. Under all this lies the
familiar logical fallacy, never expressed, but really the point of the
whole, that we _shall_ get perfect happiness if we put ourselves in the
hands of the world-reformer. We never supposed that _laissez faire_
would give us perfect happiness. We have left perfect happiness
entirely out of our account. If the social doctors will mind their own
business, we shall have no troubles but what belong to Nature. Those we
will endure or combat as we can. What we desire is, that the friends of
humanity should cease to add to them. Our disposition toward the ills
which our fellow-man inflicts on us through malice or meddling is quite
different from our disposition toward the ills which are inherent in
the conditions of human life.

To mind one's own business is a purely negative and unproductive
injunction, but, taking social matters as they are just now, it is a
sociological principle of the first importance. There might be
developed a grand philosophy on the basis of minding one's own



The type and formula of most schemes of philanthropy or humanitarianism
is this: A and B put their heads together to decide what C shall be
made to do for D. The radical vice of all these schemes, from a
sociological point of view, is that C is not allowed a voice in the
matter, and his position, character, and interests, as well as the
ultimate effects on society through C's interests, are entirely
overlooked. I call C the Forgotten Man. For once let us look him up and
consider his case, for the characteristic of all social doctors is,
that they fix their minds on some man or group of men whose case
appeals to the sympathies and the imagination, and they plan remedies
addressed to the particular trouble; they do not understand that all
the parts of society hold together, and that forces which are set in
action act and react throughout the whole organism, until an
equilibrium is produced by a readjustment of all interests and rights.
They therefore ignore entirely the source from which they must draw all
the energy which they employ in their remedies, and they ignore all the
effects on other members of society than the ones they have in view.
They are always under the dominion of the superstition of government,
and, forgetting that a government produces nothing at all, they leave
out of sight the first fact to be remembered in all social
discussion--that the State cannot get a cent for any man without taking
it from some other man, and this latter must be a man who has produced
and saved it. This latter is the Forgotten Man.

The friends of humanity start out with certain benevolent feelings
toward "the poor," "the weak," "the laborers," and others of whom they
make pets. They generalize these classes, and render them impersonal,
and so constitute the classes into social pets. They turn to other
classes and appeal to sympathy and generosity, and to all the other
noble sentiments of the human heart. Action in the line proposed
consists in a transfer of capital from the better off to the worse off.
Capital, however, as we have seen, is the force by which civilization
is maintained and carried on. The same piece of capital cannot be used
in two ways. Every bit of capital, therefore, which is given to a
shiftless and inefficient member of society, who makes no return for
it, is diverted from a reproductive use; but if it was put to
reproductive use, it would have to be granted in wages to an efficient
and productive laborer. Hence the real sufferer by that kind of
benevolence which consists in an expenditure of capital to protect the
good-for-nothing is the industrious laborer. The latter, however, is
never thought of in this connection. It is assumed that he is provided
for and out of the account. Such a notion only shows how little true
notions of political economy have as yet become popularized. There is
an almost invincible prejudice that a man who gives a dollar to a
beggar is generous and kind-hearted, but that a man who refuses the
beggar and puts the dollar in a savings-bank is stingy and mean. The
former is putting capital where it is very sure to be wasted, and where
it will be a kind of seed for a long succession of future dollars,
which must be wasted to ward off a greater strain on the sympathies
than would have been occasioned by a refusal in the first place.
Inasmuch as the dollar might have been turned into capital and given to
a laborer who, while earning it, would have reproduced it, it must be
regarded as taken from the latter. When a millionaire gives a dollar to
a beggar the gain of utility to the beggar is enormous, and the loss of
utility to the millionaire is insignificant. Generally the discussion
is allowed to rest there. But if the millionaire makes capital of the
dollar, it must go upon the labor market, as a demand for productive
services. Hence there is another party in interest--the person who
supplies productive services. There always are two parties. The second
one is always the Forgotten Man, and any one who wants to truly
understand the matter in question must go and search for the Forgotten
Man. He will be found to be worthy, industrious, independent, and
self-supporting. He is not, technically, "poor" or "weak"; he minds his
own business, and makes no complaint. Consequently the philanthropists
never think of him, and trample on him.

We hear a great deal of schemes for "improving the condition of the
working-man." In the United States the farther down we go in the grade
of labor, the greater is the advantage which the laborer has over the
higher classes. A hod-carrier or digger here can, by one day's labor,
command many times more days' labor of a carpenter, surveyor,
bookkeeper, or doctor than an unskilled laborer in Europe could command
by one day's labor. The same is true, in a less degree, of the
carpenter, as compared with the bookkeeper, surveyor, and doctor. This
is why the United States is the great country for the unskilled
laborer. The economic conditions all favor that class. There is a great
continent to be subdued, and there is a fertile soil available to
labor, with scarcely any need of capital. Hence the people who have the
strong arms have what is most needed, and, if it were not for social
consideration, higher education would not pay. Such being the case,
the working-man needs no improvement in his condition except to be
freed from the parasites who are living on him. All schemes for
patronizing "the working classes" savor of condescension. They are
impertinent and out of place in this free democracy. There is not, in
fact, any such state of things or any such relation as would make
projects of this kind appropriate. Such projects demoralize both
parties, flattering the vanity of one and undermining the self-respect
of the other.

For our present purpose it is most important to notice that if we lift
any man up we must have a fulcrum, or point of reaction. In society
that means that to lift one man up we push another down. The schemes
for improving the condition of the working classes interfere in the
competition of workmen with each other. The beneficiaries are selected
by favoritism, and are apt to be those who have recommended themselves
to the friends of humanity by language or conduct which does not
betoken independence and energy. Those who suffer a corresponding
depression by the interference are the independent and self-reliant,
who once more are forgotten or passed over; and the friends of humanity
once more appear, in their zeal to help somebody, to be trampling on
those who are trying to help themselves.

Trades-unions adopt various devices for raising wages, and those who
give their time to philanthropy are interested in these devices, and
wish them success. They fix their minds entirely on the workmen for the
time being _in_ the trade, and do not take note of any other _workmen_
as interested in the matter. It is supposed that the fight is between
the workmen and their employers, and it is believed that one can give
sympathy in that contest to the workmen without feeling responsibility
for anything farther. It is soon seen, however, that the employer adds
the trades-union and strike risk to the other risks of his business,
and settles down to it philosophically. If, now, we go farther, we see
that he takes it philosophically because he has passed the loss along
on the public. It then appears that the public wealth has been
diminished, and that the danger of a trade war, like the danger of a
revolution, is a constant reduction of the well-being of all. So far,
however, we have seen only things which could _lower_ wages--nothing
which could raise them. The employer is worried, but that does not
raise wages. The public loses, but the loss goes to cover extra risk,
and that does not raise wages.

A trades-union raises wages (aside from the legitimate and economic
means noticed in Chapter VI.) by restricting the number of apprentices
who may be taken into the trade. This device acts directly on the
supply of laborers, and that produces effects on wages. If, however,
the number of apprentices is limited, some are kept out who want to get
in. Those who are in have, therefore, made a monopoly, and constituted
themselves a privileged class on a basis exactly analogous to that of
the old privileged aristocracies. But whatever is gained by this
arrangement for those who are in is won at a greater loss to those who
are kept out. Hence it is not upon the masters nor upon the public that
trades-unions exert the pressure by which they raise wages; it is upon
other persons of the labor class who want to get into the trades, but,
not being able to do so, are pushed down into the unskilled labor
class. These persons, however, are passed by entirely without notice in
all the discussions about trades-unions. They are the Forgotten Men.
But, since they want to get into the trade and win their living in it,
it is fair to suppose that they are fit for it, would succeed at it,
would do well for themselves and society in it; that is to say, that,
of all persons interested or concerned, they most deserve our sympathy
and attention.

The cases already mentioned involve no legislation. Society, however,
maintains police, sheriffs, and various institutions, the object of
which is to protect people against themselves--that is, against their
own vices. Almost all legislative effort to prevent vice is really
protective of vice, because all such legislation saves the vicious man
from the penalty of his vice. Nature's remedies against vice are
terrible. She removes the victims without pity. A drunkard in the
gutter is just where he ought to be, according to the fitness and
tendency of things. Nature has set up on him the process of decline and
dissolution by which she removes things which have survived their
usefulness. Gambling and other less mentionable vices carry their own
penalties with them.

Now, we never can annihilate a penalty. We can only divert it from the
head of the man who has incurred it to the heads of others who have not
incurred it. A vast amount of "social reform" consists in just this
operation. The consequence is that those who have gone astray, being
relieved from Nature's fierce discipline, go on to worse, and that
there is a constantly heavier burden for the others to bear. Who are
the others? When we see a drunkard in the gutter we pity him. If a
policeman picks him up, we say that society has interfered to save him
from perishing. "Society" is a fine word, and it saves us the trouble
of thinking. The industrious and sober workman, who is mulcted of a
percentage of his day's wages to pay the policeman, is the one who
bears the penalty. But he is the Forgotten Man. He passes by and is
never noticed, because he has behaved himself, fulfilled his
contracts, and asked for nothing.

The fallacy of all prohibitory, sumptuary, and moral legislation is the
same. A and B determine to be teetotalers, which is often a wise
determination, and sometimes a necessary one. If A and B are moved by
considerations which seem to them good, that is enough. But A and B put
their heads together to get a law passed which shall force C to be a
teetotaler for the sake of D, who is in danger of drinking too much.
There is no pressure on A and B. They are having their own way, and
they like it. There is rarely any pressure on D. He does not like it,
and evades it. The pressure all comes on C. The question then arises,
Who is C? He is the man who wants alcoholic liquors for any honest
purpose whatsoever, who would use his liberty without abusing it, who
would occasion no public question, and trouble nobody at all. He is the
Forgotten Man again, and as soon as he is drawn from his obscurity we
see that he is just what each one of us ought to be.



There is a beautiful notion afloat in our literature and in the minds
of our people that men are born to certain "natural rights." If that
were true, there would be something on earth which was got for nothing,
and this world would not be the place it is at all. The fact is, that
there is no right whatever inherited by man which has not an equivalent
and corresponding duty by the side of it, as the price of it. The
rights, advantages, capital, knowledge, and all other goods which we
inherit from past generations have been won by the struggles and
sufferings of past generations; and the fact that the race lives,
though men die, and that the race can by heredity accumulate within
some cycle its victories over Nature, is one of the facts which make
civilization possible. The struggles of the race as a whole produce the
possessions of the race as a whole. Something for nothing is not to be
found on earth.

If there were such things as natural rights, the question would arise,
Against whom are they good? Who has the corresponding obligation to
satisfy these rights? There can be no rights against Nature, except to
get out of her whatever we can, which is only the fact of the struggle
for existence stated over again. The common assertion is, that the
rights are good against society; that is, that society is bound to
obtain and secure them for the persons interested. Society, however, is
only the persons interested plus some other persons; and as the persons
interested have by the hypothesis failed to win the rights, we come to
this, that natural rights are the claims which certain persons have by
prerogative against some other persons. Such is the actual
interpretation in practice of natural rights--claims which some people
have by prerogative on other people.

This theory is a very far-reaching one, and of course it is adequate to
furnish a foundation for a whole social philosophy. In its widest
extension it comes to mean that if any man finds himself uncomfortable
in this world, it must be somebody else's fault, and that somebody is
bound to come and make him comfortable. Now, the people who are most
uncomfortable in this world (for if we should tell all our troubles it
would not be found to be a very comfortable world for anybody) are
those who have neglected their duties, and consequently have failed to
get their rights. The people who can be called upon to serve the
uncomfortable must be those who have done their duty, as the world
goes, tolerably well. Consequently the doctrine which we are discussing
turns out to be in practice only a scheme for making injustice prevail
in human society by reversing the distribution of rewards and
punishments between those who have done their duty and those who have

We are constantly preached at by our public teachers, as if respectable
people were to blame because some people are not respectable--as if the
man who has done his duty in his own sphere was responsible in some way
for another man who has not done his duty in his sphere. There are
relations of employer and employé which need to be regulated by
compromise and treaty. There are sanitary precautions which need to be
taken in factories and houses. There are precautions against fire which
are necessary. There is care needed that children be not employed too
young, and that they have an education. There is care needed that
banks, insurance companies, and railroads be well managed, and that
officers do not abuse their trusts. There is a duty in each case on the
interested parties to defend their own interest. The penalty of neglect
is suffering. The system of providing for these things by boards and
inspectors throws the cost of it, not on the interested parties, but on
the tax-payers. Some of them, no doubt, are the interested parties, and
they may consider that they are exercising the proper care by paying
taxes to support an inspector. If so, they only get their fair deserts
when the railroad inspector finds out that a bridge is not safe after
it is broken down, or when the bank examiner comes in to find out why a
bank failed after the cashier has stolen all the funds. The real victim
is the Forgotten Man again--the man who has watched his own
investments, made his own machinery safe, attended to his own plumbing,
and educated his own children, and who, just when he wants to enjoy the
fruits of his care, is told that it is his duty to go and take care of
some of his negligent neighbors, or, if he does not go, to pay an
inspector to go. No doubt it is often in his interest to go or to send,
rather than to have the matter neglected, on account of his own
connection with the thing neglected, and his own secondary peril; but
the point now is, that if preaching and philosophizing can do any good
in the premises, it is all wrong to preach to the Forgotten Man that it
is his duty to go and remedy other people's neglect. It is not his
duty. It is a harsh and unjust burden which is laid upon him, and it is
only the more unjust because no one thinks of him when laying the
burden so that it falls on him. The exhortations ought to be expended
on the negligent--that they take care of themselves.

It is an especially vicious extension of the false doctrine above
mentioned that criminals have some sort of a right against or claim on
society. Many reformatory plans are based on a doctrine of this kind
when they are urged upon the public conscience. A criminal is a man
who, instead of working with and for the society, has turned against
it, and become destructive and injurious. His punishment means that
society rules him out of its membership, and separates him from its
association, by execution or imprisonment, according to the gravity of
his offense. He has no claims against society at all. What shall be
done with him is a question of expediency to be settled in view of the
interests of society--that is, of the non-criminals. The French writers
of the school of '48 used to represent the badness of the bad men as
the fault of "society." As the object of this statement was to show
that the badness of the bad men was not the fault of the bad men, and
as society contains only good men and bad men, it followed that the
badness of the bad men was the fault of the good men. On that theory,
of course the good men owed a great deal to the bad men who were in
prison and at the galleys on their account. If we do not admit that
theory, it behooves us to remember that any claim which we allow to the
criminal against the "State" is only so much burden laid upon those who
have never cost the State anything for discipline or correction. The
punishments of society are just like those of God and Nature--they are
warnings to the wrong-doer to reform himself.

When public offices are to be filled numerous candidates at once
appear. Some are urged on the ground that they are poor, or cannot earn
a living, or want support while getting an education, or have female
relatives dependent on them, or are in poor health, or belong in a
particular district, or are related to certain persons, or have done
meritorious service in some other line of work than that which they
apply to do. The abuses of the public service are to be condemned on
account of the harm to the public interest, but there is an incidental
injustice of the same general character with that which we are
discussing. If an office is granted by favoritism or for any personal
reason to A, it cannot be given to B. If an office is filled by a
person who is unfit for it, he always keeps out somebody somewhere who
is fit for it; that is, the social injustice has a victim in an unknown
person--the Forgotten Man--and he is some person who has no political
influence, and who has known no way in which to secure the chances of
life except to deserve them. He is passed by for the noisy, pushing,
importunate, and incompetent.

I have said something disparagingly in a previous chapter about the
popular rage against combined capital, corporations, corners, selling
futures, etc., etc. The popular rage is not without reason, but it is
sadly misdirected and the real things which deserve attack are thriving
all the time. The greatest social evil with which we have to contend is
jobbery. Whatever there is in legislative charters, watering stocks,
etc., etc., which is objectionable, comes under the head of jobbery.
Jobbery is any scheme which aims to gain, not by the legitimate fruits
of industry and enterprise, but by extorting from somebody a part of
his product under guise of some pretended industrial undertaking. Of
course it is only a modification when the undertaking in question has
some legitimate character, but the occasion is used to graft upon it
devices for obtaining what has not been earned. Jobbery is the vice of
plutocracy, and it is the especial form under which plutocracy corrupts
a democratic and republican form of government. The United States is
deeply afflicted with it, and the problem of civil liberty here is to
conquer it. It affects everything which we really need to have done to
such an extent that we have to do without public objects which we need
through fear of jobbery. Our public buildings are jobs--not always, but
often. They are not needed, or are costly beyond all necessity or even
decent luxury. Internal improvements are jobs. They are not made
because they are needed to meet needs which have been experienced.
They are made to serve private ends, often incidentally the political
interests of the persons who vote the appropriations. Pensions have
become jobs. In England pensions used to be given to aristocrats,
because aristocrats had political influence, in order to corrupt them.
Here pensions are given to the great democratic mass, because they have
political power, to corrupt them. Instead of going out where there is
plenty of land and making a farm there, some people go down under the
Mississippi River to make a farm, and then they want to tax all the
people in the United States to make dikes to keep the river off their
farms. The California gold-miners have washed out gold, and have washed
the dirt down into the rivers and on the farms below. They want the
Federal Government to now clean out the rivers and restore the farms.
The silver-miners found their product declining in value, and they got
the Federal Government to go into the market and buy what the public
did not want, in order to sustain (as they hoped) the price of silver.
The Federal Government is called upon to buy or hire unsalable ships,
to build canals which will not pay, to furnish capital for all sorts of
experiments, and to provide capital for enterprises of which private
individuals will win the profits. All this is called "developing our
resources," but it is, in truth, the great plan of all living on each

The greatest job of all is a protective tariff. It includes the biggest
log-rolling and the widest corruption of economic and political ideas.
It was said that there would be a rebellion if the taxes were not taken
off whiskey and tobacco, which taxes were paid into the public
Treasury. Just then the importations of Sumatra tobacco became
important enough to affect the market. The Connecticut tobacco-growers
at once called for an import duty on tobacco which would keep up the
price of their product. So it appears that if the tax on tobacco is
paid to the Federal Treasury there will be a rebellion, but if it is
paid to the Connecticut tobacco-raisers there will be no rebellion at
all. The farmers have long paid tribute to the manufacturers; now the
manufacturing and other laborers are to pay tribute to the farmers. The
system is made more comprehensive and complete, and we all are living
on each other more than ever.

Now, the plan of plundering each other produces nothing. It only
wastes. All the material over which the protected interests wrangle and
grab must be got from somebody outside of their circle. The talk is all
about the American laborer and American industry, but in every case in
which there is not an actual production of wealth by industry there
are two laborers and two industries to be considered--the one who gets
and the one who gives. Every protected industry has to plead, as the
major premise of its argument, that any industry which does not pay
_ought_ to be carried on at the expense of the consumers of the
product, and, as its minor premise, that the industry in question does
not pay; that is, that it cannot reproduce a capital equal in value to
that which it consumes plus the current rate of profit. Hence every
such industry must be a parasite on some other industry. What is the
other industry? Who is the other man? This, the real question, is
always overlooked.

In all jobbery the case is the same. There is a victim somewhere who is
paying for it all. The doors of waste and extravagance stand open, and
there seems to be a general agreement to squander and spend. It all
belongs to somebody. There is somebody who had to contribute it, and
who will have to find more. Nothing is ever said about him. Attention
is all absorbed by the clamorous interests, the importunate
petitioners, the plausible schemers, the pitiless bores. Now, who is
the victim? He is the Forgotten Man. If we go to find him, we shall
find him hard at work tilling the soil to get out of it the fund for
all the jobbery, the object of all the plunder, the cost of all the
economic quackery, and the pay of all the politicians and statesmen
who have sacrificed his interests to his enemies. We shall find him an
honest, sober, industrious citizen, unknown outside his little circle,
paying his debts and his taxes, supporting the church and the school,
reading his party newspaper, and cheering for his pet politician.

We must not overlook the fact that the Forgotten Man is not
infrequently a woman. I have before me a newspaper which contains five
letters from corset-stitchers who complain that they cannot earn more
than seventy-five cents a day with a machine, and that they have to
provide the thread. The tax on the grade of thread used by them is
prohibitory as to all importation, and it is the corset-stitchers who
have to pay day by day out of their time and labor the total
enhancement of price due to the tax. Women who earn their own living
probably earn on an average seventy-five cents per day of ten hours.
Twenty-four minutes' work ought to buy a spool of thread at the retail
price, if the American work-woman were allowed to exchange her labor
for thread on the best terms that the art and commerce of today would
allow; but after she has done twenty-four minutes' work for the thread
she is forced by the laws of her country to go back and work sixteen
minutes longer to pay the tax--that is, to support the thread-mill.
The thread-mill, therefore, is not an institution for getting thread
for the American people, but for making thread harder to get than it
would be if there were no such institution.

In justification, now, of an arrangement so monstrously unjust and out
of place in a free country, it is said that the employés in the
thread-mill get high wages, and that, but for the tax, American
laborers must come down to the low wages of foreign thread-makers. It
is not true that American thread-makers get any more than the market
rate of wages, and they would not get less if the tax were entirely
removed, because the market rate of wages in the United States would be
controlled then, as it is now, by the supply and demand of laborers
under the natural advantages and opportunities of industry in this
country. It makes a great impression on the imagination, however, to go
to a manufacturing town and see great mills and a crowd of operatives;
and such a sight is put forward, _under the special allegation that it
would not exist but for a protective tax_, as a proof that protective
taxes are wise. But if it be true that the thread-mill would not exist
but for the tax, or that the operatives would not get such good wages
but for the tax, then how can we form a judgment as to whether the
protective system is wise or not unless we call to mind all the
seamstresses, washer-women, servants, factory-hands, saleswomen,
teachers, and laborers' wives and daughters, scattered in the garrets
and tenements of great cities and in cottages all over the country, who
are paying the tax which keeps the mill going and pays the extra wages?
If the sewing-women, teachers, servants, and washer-women could once be
collected over against the thread-mill, then some inferences could be
drawn which would be worth something. Then some light might be thrown
upon the obstinate fallacy of "creating an industry," and we might
begin to understand the difference between wanting thread and wanting a
thread-mill. Some nations spend capital on great palaces, others on
standing armies, others on iron-clad ships of war. Those things are all
glorious, and strike the imagination with great force when they are
seen; but no one doubts that they make life harder for the scattered
insignificant peasants and laborers who have to pay for them all. They
"support a great many people," they "make work," they "give employment
to other industries." We Americans have no palaces, armies, or
iron-clads, but we spend our earnings on protected industries. A big
protected factory, if it really needs the protection for its support,
is a heavier load for the Forgotten Men and Women than an iron-clad
ship of war in time of peace.

It is plain that the Forgotten Man and the Forgotten Woman are the
real productive strength of the country. The Forgotten Man works and
votes--generally he prays--but his chief business in life is to pay.
His name never gets into the newspapers except when he marries or dies.
He is an obscure man. He may grumble sometimes to his wife, but he does
not frequent the grocery, and he does not talk politics at the tavern.
So he is forgotten. Yet who is there whom the statesman, economist, and
social philosopher ought to think of before this man? If any student of
social science comes to appreciate the case of the Forgotten Man, he
will become an unflinching advocate of strict scientific thinking in
sociology, and a hard-hearted skeptic as regards any scheme of social
amelioration. He will always want to know, Who and where is the
Forgotten Man in this case, who will have to pay for it all?

The Forgotten Man is not a pauper. It belongs to his character to save
something. Hence he is a capitalist, though never a great one. He is a
"poor" man in the popular sense of the word, but not in a correct
sense. In fact, one of the most constant and trustworthy signs that the
Forgotten Man is in danger of a new assault is, that "the poor man" is
brought into the discussion. Since the Forgotten Man has some capital,
any one who cares for his interest will try to make capital secure by
securing the inviolability of contracts, the stability of currency, and
the firmness of credit. Any one, therefore, who cares for the Forgotten
Man will be sure to be considered a friend of the capitalist and an
enemy of the poor man.

It is the Forgotten Man who is threatened by every extension of the
paternal theory of government. It is he who must work and pay. When,
therefore, the statesmen and social philosophers sit down to think what
the State can do or ought to do, they really mean to decide what the
Forgotten Man shall do. What the Forgotten Man wants, therefore, is a
fuller realization of constitutional liberty. He is suffering from the
fact that there are yet mixed in our institutions mediaeval theories of
protection, regulation, and authority, and modern theories of
independence and individual liberty and responsibility. The consequence
of this mixed state of things is, that those who are clever enough to
get into control use the paternal theory by which to measure their own
rights--that is, they assume privileges; and they use the theory of
liberty to measure their own duties--that is, when it comes to the
duties, they want to be "let alone." The Forgotten Man never gets into
control. He has to pay both ways. His rights are measured to him by the
theory of liberty--that is, he has only such as he can conquer; his
duties are measured to him on the paternal theory--that is, he must
discharge all which are laid upon him, as is the fortune of parents. In
a paternal relation there are always two parties, a father and a child;
and when we use the paternal relation metaphorically, it is of the
first importance to know who is to be father and who is to be child.
The _rôle_ of parent falls always to the Forgotten Man. What he wants,
therefore, is that ambiguities in our institutions be cleared up, and
that liberty be more fully realized.

It behooves any economist or social philosopher, whatever be the grade
of his orthodoxy, who proposes to enlarge the sphere of the "State," or
to take any steps whatever having in view the welfare of any class
whatever, to pursue the analysis of the social effects of his
proposition until he finds that other group whose interests must be
curtailed or whose energies must be placed under contribution by the
course of action which he proposes; and he cannot maintain his
proposition until he has demonstrated that it will be more
advantageous, _both quantitatively and qualitatively_, to those who
must bear the weight of it than complete non-interference by the State
with the relations of the parties in question.



Suppose that a man, going through a wood, should be struck by a falling
tree and pinned down beneath it. Suppose that another man, coming that
way and finding him there, should, instead of hastening to give or to
bring aid, begin to lecture on the law of gravitation, taking the tree
as an illustration.

Suppose, again, that a person lecturing on the law of gravitation
should state the law of falling bodies, and suppose that an objector
should say: You state your law as a cold, mathematical fact and you
declare that all bodies will fall conformably to it. How heartless! You
do not reflect that it may be a beautiful little child falling from a

These two suppositions may be of some use to us as illustrations.

Let us take the second first. It is the objection of the
sentimentalist; and, ridiculous as the mode of discussion appears when
applied to the laws of natural philosophy, the sociologist is
constantly met by objections of just that character. Especially when
the subject under discussion is charity in any of its public forms, the
attempt to bring method and clearness into the discussion is sure to be
crossed by suggestions which are as far from the point and as foreign
to any really intelligent point of view as the supposed speech in the
illustration. In the first place, a child would fall just as a stone
would fall. Nature's forces know no pity. Just so in sociology. The
forces know no pity. In the second place, if a natural philosopher
should discuss all the bodies which may fall, he would go entirely
astray, and would certainly do no good. The same is true of the
sociologist. He must concentrate, not scatter, and study laws, not all
conceivable combinations of force which may occur in practice. In the
third place, nobody ever saw a body fall as the philosophers say it
will fall, because they can accomplish nothing unless they study forces
separately, and allow for their combined action in all concrete and
actual phenomena. The same is true in sociology, with the additional
fact that the forces and their combinations in sociology are far the
most complex which we have to deal with. In the fourth place, any
natural philosopher who should stop, after stating the law of falling
bodies, to warn mothers not to let their children fall out of the
window, would make himself ridiculous. Just so a sociologist who should
attach moral applications and practical maxims to his investigations
would entirely miss his proper business. There is the force of gravity
as a fact in the world. If we understand this, the necessity of care
to conform to the action of gravity meets us at every step in our
private life and personal experience. The fact in sociology is in no
wise different.

If, for instance, we take political economy, that science does not
teach an individual how to get rich. It is a social science. It treats
of the laws of the material welfare of human societies. It is,
therefore, only one science among all the sciences which inform us
about the laws and conditions of our life on earth. Education has for
its object to give a man knowledge of the conditions and laws of
living, so that, in any case in which the individual stands face to
face with the necessity of deciding what to do, if he is an educated
man, he may know how to make a wise and intelligent decision. If he
knows chemistry, physics, geology, and other sciences, he will know
what he must encounter of obstacle or help in Nature in what he
proposes to do. If he knows physiology and hygiene, he will know what
effects on health he must expect in one course or another. If he knows
political economy, he will know what effect on wealth and on the
welfare of society one course or another will produce. There is no
injunction, no "ought" in political economy at all. It does not assume
to tell man what he ought to do, any more than chemistry tells us that
we ought to mix things, or mathematics that we ought to solve
equations. It only gives one element necessary to an intelligent
decision, and in every practical and concrete case the responsibility
of deciding what to do rests on the man who has to act. The economist,
therefore, does not say to any one, You ought never to give money to
charity. He contradicts anybody who says, You ought to give money to
charity; and, in opposition to any such person, he says, Let me show
you what difference it makes to you, to others, to society, whether you
give money to charity or not, so that you can make a wise and
intelligent decision. Certainly there is no harder thing to do than to
employ capital charitably. It would be extreme folly to say that
nothing of that sort ought to be done, but I fully believe that today
the next pernicious thing to vice is charity in its broad and popular

In the preceding chapters I have discussed the public and social
relations of classes, and those social topics in which groups of
persons are considered as groups or classes, without regard to personal
merits or demerits. I have relegated all charitable work to the domain
of private relations, where personal acquaintance and personal
estimates may furnish the proper limitations and guarantees. A man who
had no sympathies and no sentiments would be a very poor creature; but
the public charities, more especially the legislative charities,
nourish no man's sympathies and sentiments. Furthermore, it ought to
be distinctly perceived that any charitable and benevolent effort which
any man desires to make voluntarily, to see if he can do any good, lies
entirely beyond the field of discussion. It would be as impertinent to
prevent his effort as it is to force co-operation in an effort on some
one who does not want to participate in it. What I choose to do by way
of exercising my own sympathies under my own reason and conscience is
one thing; what another man forces me to do of a sympathetic character,
because his reason and conscience approve of it, is quite another

What, now, is the reason why we should help each other? This carries us
back to the other illustration with which we started. We may
philosophize as coolly and correctly as we choose about our duties and
about the laws of right living; no one of us lives up to what he knows.
The man struck by the falling tree has, perhaps, been careless. We are
all careless. Environed as we are by risks and perils, which befall us
as misfortunes, no man of us is in a position to say, "I know all the
laws, and am sure to obey them all; therefore I shall never need aid
and sympathy." At the very best, one of us fails in one way and another
in another, if we do not fail altogether. Therefore the man under the
tree is the one of us who for the moment is smitten. It may be you
to-morrow, and I next day. It is the common frailty in the midst of a
common peril which gives us a kind of solidarity of interest to rescue
the one for whom the chances of life have turned out badly just now.
Probably the victim is to blame. He almost always is so. A lecture to
that effect in the crisis of his peril would be out of place, because
it would not fit the need of the moment; but it would be very much in
place at another time, when the need was to avert the repetition of
such an accident to somebody else. Men, therefore, owe to men, in the
chances and perils of this life, aid and sympathy, on account of the
common participation in human frailty and folly. This observation,
however, puts aid and sympathy in the field of private and personal
relations, under the regulation of reason and conscience, and gives no
ground for mechanical and impersonal schemes.

We may, then, distinguish four things:

1. The function of science is to investigate truth. Science is
colorless and impersonal. It investigates the force of gravity, and
finds out the laws of that force, and has nothing to do with the weal
or woe of men under the operation of the law.

2. The moral deductions as to what one ought to do are to be drawn by
the reason and conscience of the individual man who is instructed by
science. Let him take note of the force of gravity, and see to it that
he does not walk off a precipice or get in the way of a falling body.

3. On account of the number and variety of perils of all kinds by which
our lives are environed, and on account of ignorance, carelessness, and
folly, we all neglect to obey the moral deductions which we have
learned, so that, in fact, the wisest and the best of us act foolishly
and suffer.

4. The law of sympathy, by which we share each others' burdens, is to
do as we would be done by. It is not a scientific principle, and does
not admit of such generalization or interpretation that A can tell B
what this law enjoins on B to do. Hence the relations of sympathy and
sentiment are essentially limited to two persons only, and they cannot
be made a basis for the relations of groups of persons, or for
discussion by any third party.

Social improvement is not to be won by direct effort. It is secondary,
and results from physical or economic improvements. That is the reason
why schemes of direct social amelioration always have an arbitrary,
sentimental, and artificial character, while true social advance must
be a product and a growth. The efforts which are being put forth for
every kind of progress in the arts and sciences are, therefore,
contributing to true social progress. Let any one learn what hardship
was involved, even for a wealthy person, a century ago, in crossing the
Atlantic, and then let him compare that hardship even with a steerage
passage at the present time, considering time and money cost. This
improvement in transportation by which "the poor and weak" can be
carried from the crowded centres of population to the new land is worth
more to them than all the schemes of all the social reformers. An
improvement in surgical instruments or in anaesthetics really does more
for those who are not well off than all the declamations of the orators
and pious wishes of the reformers. Civil service reform would be a
greater gain to the laborers than innumerable factory acts and
eight-hour laws. Free trade would be a greater blessing to "the poor
man" than all the devices of all the friends of humanity if they could
be realized. If the economists could satisfactorily solve the problem
of the regulation of paper currency, they would do more for the wages
class than could be accomplished by all the artificial doctrines about
wages which they seem to feel bound to encourage. If we could get firm
and good laws passed for the management of savings-banks, and then
refrain from the amendments by which those laws are gradually broken
down, we should do more for the non-capitalist class than by volumes
of laws against "corporations" and the "excessive power of capital."

We each owe to the other mutual redress of grievances. It has been
said, in answer to my argument in the last chapter about the Forgotten
Women and thread, that the tax on thread is "only a little thing," and
that it cannot hurt the women much, and also that, if the women do not
want to pay two cents a spool tax, there is thread of an inferior
quality, which they can buy cheaper. These answers represent the
bitterest and basest social injustice. Every honest citizen of a free
state owes it to himself, to the community, and especially to those who
are at once weak and wronged, to go to their assistance and to help
redress their wrongs. Whenever a law or social arrangement acts so as
to injure any one, and that one the humblest, then there is a duty on
those who are stronger, or who know better, to demand and fight for
redress and correction. When generalized this means that it is the duty
of All-of-us (that is, the State) to establish justice for all, from
the least to the greatest, and in all matters. This, however, is no new
doctrine. It is only the old, true, and indisputable function of the
State; and in working for a redress of wrongs and a correction of
legislative abuses, we are only struggling to a fuller realization of
it--that is, working to improve civil government.

We each owe it to the other to guarantee rights. Rights do not pertain
to _results_, but only to _chances_. They pertain to the _conditions_
of the struggle for existence, not to any of the results of it; to the
_pursuit_ of happiness, not to the possession of happiness. It cannot
be said that each one has a right to have some property, because if one
man had such a right some other man or men would be under a
corresponding obligation to provide him with some property. Each has a
right to acquire and possess property if he can. It is plain what
fallacies are developed when we overlook this distinction. Those
fallacies run through _all_ socialistic schemes and theories. If we
take rights to pertain to results, and then say that rights must be
equal, we come to say that men have a right to be equally happy, and so
on in all the details. Rights should be equal, because they pertain to
chances, and all ought to have equal chances so far as chances are
provided or limited by the action of society. This, however, will not
produce equal results, but it is right just because it will produce
unequal results--that is, results which shall be proportioned to the
merits of individuals. We each owe it to the other to guarantee
mutually the chance to earn, to possess, to learn, to marry, etc.,
etc., against any interference which would prevent the exercise of
those rights by a person who wishes to prosecute and enjoy them in
peace for the pursuit of happiness. If we generalize this, it means
that All-of-us ought to guarantee rights to each of us. But our modern
free, constitutional States are constructed entirely on the notion of
rights, and we regard them as performing their functions more and more
perfectly according as they guarantee rights in consonance with the
constantly corrected and expanded notions of rights from one generation
to another. Therefore, when we say that we owe it to each other to
guarantee rights we only say that we ought to prosecute and improve our
political science.

If we have in mind the value of chances to earn, learn, possess, etc.,
for a man of independent energy, we can go on one step farther in our
deductions about help. The only help which is generally expedient, even
within the limits of the private and personal relations of two persons
to each other, is that which consists in helping a man to help himself.
This always consists in opening the chances. A man of assured position
can by an effort which is of no appreciable importance to him, give aid
which is of incalculable value to a man who is all ready to make his
own career if he can only get a chance. The truest and deepest pathos
in this world is not that of suffering but that of brave struggling.
The truest sympathy is not compassion, but a fellow-feeling with
courage and fortitude in the midst of noble effort.

Now, the aid which helps a man to help himself is not in the least akin
to the aid which is given in charity. If alms are given, or if we "make
work" for a man, or "give him employment," or "protect" him, we simply
take a product from one and give it to another. If we help a man to
help himself, by opening the chances around him, we put him in a
position to add to the wealth of the community by putting new powers in
operation to produce. It would seem that the difference between getting
something already in existence from the one who has it, and producing a
new thing by applying new labor to natural materials, would be so plain
as never to be forgotten; but the fallacy of confusing the two is one
of the commonest in all social discussions.

We have now seen that the current discussions about the claims and
rights of social classes on each other are radically erroneous and
fallacious, and we have seen that an analysis of the general
obligations which we all have to each other leads us to nothing but an
emphatic repetition of old but well acknowledged obligations to perfect
our political institutions. We have been led to restriction, not
extension, of the functions of the State, but we have also been led to
see the necessity of purifying and perfecting the operation of the
State in the functions which properly belong to it. If we refuse to
recognize any classes as existing in society when, perhaps, a claim
might be set up that the wealthy, educated, and virtuous have acquired
special rights and precedence, we certainly cannot recognize any
classes when it is attempted to establish such distinctions for the
sake of imposing burdens and duties on one group for the benefit of
others. The men who have not done their duty in this world never can be
equal to those who have done their duty more or less well. If words
like wise and foolish, thrifty and extravagant, prudent and negligent,
have any meaning in language, then it must make some difference how
people behave in this world, and the difference will appear in the
position they acquire in the body of society, and in relation to the
chances of life. They may, then, be classified in reference to these
facts. Such classes always will exist; no other social distinctions can
endure. If, then, we look to the origin and definition of these
classes, we shall find it impossible to deduce any obligations which
one of them bears to the other. The class distinctions simply result
from the different degrees of success with which men have availed
themselves of the chances which were presented to them. Instead of
endeavoring to redistribute the acquisitions which have been made
between the existing classes, our aim should be to _increase,
multiply, and extend the chances_. Such is the work of civilization.
Every old error or abuse which is removed opens new chances of
development to all the new energy of society. Every improvement in
education, science, art, or government expands the chances of man on
earth. Such expansion is no guarantee of equality. On the contrary, if
there be liberty, some will profit by the chances eagerly and some will
neglect them altogether. Therefore, the greater the chances the more
unequal will be the fortune of these two sets of men. So it ought to
be, in all justice and right reason. The yearning after equality is the
offspring of envy and covetousness, and there is no possible plan for
satisfying that yearning which can do aught else than rob A to give to
B; consequently all such plans nourish some of the meanest vices of
human nature, waste capital, and overthrow civilization. But if we can
expand the chances we can count on a general and steady growth of
civilization and advancement of society by and through its best
members. In the prosecution of these chances we all owe to each other
good-will, mutual respect, and mutual guarantees of liberty and
security. Beyond this nothing can be affirmed as a duty of one group to
another in a free state.

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