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Title: Progress and Poverty, Volume  I (of 2) - An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and - of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth
Author: George, Henry
Language: English
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*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Progress and Poverty, Volume  I (of 2) - An Inquiry into the Cause of Industrial Depressions and - of Increase of Want with Increase of Wealth" ***

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  This Memorial Edition of the Writings of
  Henry George is limited to one thousand
  numbered copies, of which this is

  No. 4


  VOL. I.

Make for thyself a definition or description of the thing which is
presented to thee, so as to see distinctly what kind of a thing it is,
in its substance, in its nudity, in its complete entirety, and tell
thyself its proper name, and the names of the things of which it has
been compounded, and into which it will be resolved. For nothing is so
productive of elevation of mind as to be able to examine methodically
and truly every object which is presented to thee in life, and always
to look at things so as to see at the same time what kind of universe
this is, and what kind of use everything performs in it, and what value
everything has with reference to the whole, and what with reference to
man, who is a citizen of the highest city, of which all other cities
are like families; what each thing is, and of what it is composed, and
how long it is the nature of this thing to endure.—_Marcus Aurelius

[Illustration: _Henry George when writing “Progress and Poverty” San
Francisco, 1879_]






  [Illustration: Colophon]


  Copyright, 1891, by



  SAN FRANCISCO, March, 1879.

            There must be refuge! Men
    Perished in winter winds till one smote fire
    From flint stones coldly hiding what they held,
    The red spark treasured from the kindling sun;
    They gorged on flesh like wolves, till one sowed corn,
    Which grew a weed, yet makes the life of man;
    They mowed and babbled till some tongue struck speech,
    And patient fingers framed the lettered sound.
    What good gift have my brothers, but it came
    From search and strife and loving sacrifice?

    _Edwin Arnold._

                    Never yet
    Share of Truth was vainly set
      In the world’s wide fallow;
    After hands shall sow the seed,
      After hands, from hill and mead,
    Reap the harvests yellow.



The views herein set forth were in the main briefly stated in a
pamphlet entitled “Our Land and Land Policy,” published in San
Francisco in 1871. I then intended, as soon as I could, to present them
more fully, but the opportunity did not for a long time occur. In the
meanwhile I became even more firmly convinced of their truth, and saw
more completely and clearly their relations; and I also saw how many
false ideas and erroneous habits of thought stood in the way of their
recognition, and how necessary it was to go over the whole ground.

This I have here tried to do, as thoroughly as space would permit. It
has been necessary for me to clear away before I could build up, and
to write at once for those who have made no previous study of such
subjects, and for those who are familiar with economic reasonings;
and, so great is the scope of the argument that it has been impossible
to treat with the fullness they deserve many of the questions raised.
What I have most endeavored to do is to establish general principles,
trusting to my readers to carry further their applications where this
is needed.

In certain respects this book will be best appreciated by those who
have some knowledge of economic literature; but no previous reading
is necessary to the understanding of the argument or the passing of
judgment upon its conclusions. The facts upon which I have relied are
not facts which can be verified only by a search through libraries.
They are facts of common observation and common knowledge, which every
reader can verify for himself, just as he can decide whether the
reasoning from them is or is not valid.

Beginning with a brief statement of facts which suggest this inquiry,
I proceed to examine the explanation currently given in the name of
political economy of the reason why, in spite of the increase of
productive power, wages tend to the minimum of a bare living. This
examination shows that the current doctrine of wages is founded upon
a misconception; that, in truth, wages are produced by the labor for
which they are paid, and should, other things being equal, increase
with the number of laborers. Here the inquiry meets a doctrine which
is the foundation and center of most important economic theories,
and which has powerfully influenced thought in all directions—the
Malthusian doctrine, that population tends to increase faster than
subsistence. Examination, however, shows that this doctrine has no
real support either in fact or in analogy, and that when brought to a
decisive test it is utterly disproved.

Thus far the results of the inquiry, though extremely important, are
mainly negative. They show that current theories do not satisfactorily
explain the connection of poverty with material progress, but throw
no light upon the problem itself, beyond showing that its solution
must be sought in the laws which govern the distribution of wealth.
It therefore becomes necessary to carry the inquiry into this field.
A preliminary review shows that the three laws of distribution must
necessarily correlate with each other, which as laid down by the
current political economy they fail to do, and an examination of the
terminology in use reveals the confusion of thought by which this
discrepancy has been slurred over. Proceeding then to work out the laws
of distribution, I first take up the law of rent. This, it is readily
seen, is correctly apprehended by the current political economy. But it
is also seen that the full scope of this law has not been appreciated,
and that it involves as corollaries the laws of wages and interest—the
cause which determines what part of the produce shall go to the land
owner necessarily determining what part shall be left for labor and
capital. Without resting here, I proceed to an independent deduction
of the laws of interest and wages. I have stopped to determine the
real cause and justification of interest, and to point out a source of
much misconception—the confounding of what are really the profits of
monopoly with the legitimate earnings of capital. Then returning to the
main inquiry, investigation shows that interest must rise and fall with
wages, and depends ultimately upon the same thing as rent—the margin
of cultivation or point in production where rent begins. A similar but
independent investigation of the law of wages yields similar harmonious
results. Thus the three laws of distribution are brought into mutual
support and harmony, and the fact that with material progress rent
everywhere advances is seen to explain the fact that wages and interest
do not advance.

What causes this advance of rent is the next question that arises,
and it necessitates an examination of the effect of material progress
upon the distribution of wealth. Separating the factors of material
progress into increase of population and improvements in the arts,
it is first seen that increase in population tends constantly, not
merely by reducing the margin of cultivation, but by localizing the
economies and powers which come with increased population, to increase
the proportion of the aggregate produce which is taken in rent, and to
reduce that which goes as wages and interest. Then eliminating increase
of population, it is seen that improvement in the methods and powers of
production tends in the same direction, and, land being held as private
property, would produce in a stationary population all the effects
attributed by the Malthusian doctrine to pressure of population.
And then a consideration of the effects of the continuous increase
in land values which thus spring from material progress reveals in
the speculative advance inevitably begotten when land is private
property a derivative but most powerful cause of the increase of rent
and the crowding down of wages. Deduction shows that this cause must
necessarily produce periodical industrial depressions, and induction
proves the conclusion; while from the analysis which has thus been made
it is seen that the necessary result of material progress, land being
private property, is, no matter what the increase in population, to
force laborers to wages which give but a bare living.

This identification of the cause that associates poverty with progress
points to the remedy, but it is to so radical a remedy that I have
next deemed it necessary to inquire whether there is any other remedy.
Beginning the investigation again from another starting point, I have
passed in examination the measures and tendencies currently advocated
or trusted in for the improvement of the condition of the laboring
masses. The result of this investigation is to prove the preceding
one, as it shows that nothing short of making land common property can
permanently relieve poverty and check the tendency of wages to the
starvation point.

The question of justice now naturally arises, and the inquiry passes
into the field of ethics. An investigation of the nature and basis
of property shows that there is a fundamental and irreconcilable
difference between property in things which are the product of labor
and property in land; that the one has a natural basis and sanction
while the other has none, and that the recognition of exclusive
property in land is necessarily a denial of the right of property
in the products of labor. Further investigation shows that private
property in land always has, and always must, as development proceeds,
lead to the enslavement of the laboring class; that land owners can
make no just claim to compensation if society choose to resume its
right; that so far from private property in land being in accordance
with the natural perceptions of men, the very reverse is true, and
that in the United States we are already beginning to feel the effects
of having admitted this erroneous and destructive principle.

The inquiry then passes to the field of practical statesmanship. It
is seen that private property in land, instead of being necessary to
its improvement and use, stands in the way of improvement and use, and
entails an enormous waste of productive forces; that the recognition
of the common right to land involves no shock or dispossession, but is
to be reached by the simple and easy method of abolishing all taxation
save that upon land values. And this an inquiry into the principles of
taxation shows to be, in all respects, the best subject of taxation.

A consideration of the effects of the change proposed then shows that
it would enormously increase production; would secure justice in
distribution; would benefit all classes; and would make possible an
advance to a higher and nobler civilization.

The inquiry now rises to a wider field, and recommences from another
starting point. For not only do the hopes which have been raised
come into collision with the widespread idea that social progress is
possible only by slow race improvement, but the conclusions we have
arrived at assert certain laws which, if they are really natural laws,
must be manifest in universal history. As a final test, it therefore
becomes necessary to work out the law of human progress, for certain
great facts which force themselves on our attention, as soon as we
begin to consider this subject, seem utterly inconsistent with what
is now the current theory. This inquiry shows that differences in
civilization are not due to differences in individuals, but rather
to differences in social organization; that progress, always kindled
by association, always passes into retrogression as inequality is
developed; and that even now, in modern civilization, the causes which
have destroyed all previous civilizations are beginning to manifest
themselves, and that mere political democracy is running its course
toward anarchy and despotism. But it also identifies the law of social
life with the great moral law of justice, and, proving previous
conclusions, shows how retrogression may be prevented and a grander
advance begun. This ends the inquiry. The final chapter will explain

The great importance of this inquiry will be obvious. If it has been
carefully and logically pursued, its conclusions completely change the
character of political economy, give it the coherence and certitude of
a true science, and bring it into full sympathy with the aspirations of
the masses of men, from which it has long been estranged. What I have
done in this book, if I have correctly solved the great problem I have
sought to investigate, is, to unite the truth perceived by the school
of Smith and Ricardo to the truth perceived by the schools of Proudhon
and Lasalle; to show that _laissez faire_ (in its full true meaning)
opens the way to a realization of the noble dreams of socialism; to
identify social law with moral law, and to disprove ideas which in the
minds of many cloud grand and elevating perceptions.

This work was written between August, 1877, and March, 1879, and
the plates finished by September of that year. Since that time new
illustrations have been given of the correctness of the views herein
advanced, and the march of events—and especially that great movement
which has begun in Great Britain in the Irish land agitation—shows
still more clearly the pressing nature of the problem I have endeavored
to solve. But there has been nothing in the criticisms they have
received to induce the change or modification of these views—in fact,
I have yet to see an objection not answered in advance in the book
itself. And except that some verbal errors have been corrected and a
preface added, this edition is the same as previous ones.

  NEW YORK, _November_, 1880.




  The Problem                                                          3


  Chapter I.—The current doctrine of wages—its insufficiency          17

         II.—The meaning of the terms                                 30

        III.—Wages not drawn from capital, but produced by the labor  49

         IV.—The maintenance of laborers not drawn from capital       70

          V.—The real functions of capital                            79


  Chapter I.—The Malthusian theory, its genesis and support           91

         II.—Inferences from facts                                   103

        III.—Inferences from analogy                                 129

         IV.—Disproof of the Malthusian theory                       140


  Chapter I.—The inquiry narrowed to the laws of
             distribution—necessary  relation of these laws          153

         II.—Rent and the law of rent                                165

        III.—Interest and the cause of interest                      173

         IV.—Of spurious capital and of profits often mistaken
             for interest                                            189

          V.—The law of interest                                     195

         VI.—Wages and the law of wages                              204

        VII.—Correlation and co-ordination of these laws             217

       VIII.—The statics of the problem thus explained               219


  Chapter I.—The dynamics of the problem yet to seek                 225

         II.—Effect of increase of population upon the distribution
             of wealth                                               228

        III.—Effect of improvements in the arts upon the
             distribution of wealth                                  242

         IV.—Effect of the expectation raised by material progress   253


  Chapter I.—The primary cause of recurring paroxysms of industrial
             depression                                              261

         II.—The persistence of poverty amid advancing wealth        280


  Chapter I.—Insufficiency of remedies currently advocated           297

         II.—The true remedy                                         326


  Chapter I.—Injustice of private property in land                   331

         II.—Enslavement of laborers the ultimate result of
             private property in land                                345

        III.—Claim of land owners to compensation                    356

         IV.—Property in land historically considered                366

          V.—Property in land in the United States                   383


  Chapter I.—Private property in land inconsistent with the best
             use of land                                             395

         II.—How equal rights to the land may be asserted and
             secured                                                 401

        III.—The proposition tried by the canons of taxation         406

         IV.—Indorsements and objections                             420


  Chapter I.—Of the effect upon the production of wealth             431

         II.—Of the effect upon distribution and thence upon
             production                                              438

        III.—Of the effect upon individuals and classes              445

         IV.—Of the changes that would be wrought in social
             organization and social life                            452


  Chapter I.—The current theory of human progress—its insufficiency  473

         II.—Differences in civilization—to what due                 487

        III.—The law of human progress                               503

         IV.—How modern civilization may decline                     524

          V.—The central truth                                       541


  The problem of individual life                                     553



    Ye build! ye build! but ye enter not in,
    Like the tribes whom the desert devoured in their sin;
    From the land of promise ye fade and die,
    Ere its verdure gleams forth on your wearied eye.

    _—Mrs. Sigourney._



The present century has been marked by a prodigious increase in
wealth-producing power. The utilization of steam and electricity, the
introduction of improved processes and labor-saving machinery, the
greater subdivision and grander scale of production, the wonderful
facilitation of exchanges, have multiplied enormously the effectiveness
of labor.

At the beginning of this marvelous era it was natural to expect, and
it was expected, that labor-saving inventions would lighten the toil
and improve the condition of the laborer; that the enormous increase in
the power of producing wealth would make real poverty a thing of the
past. Could a man of the last century—a Franklin or a Priestley—have
seen, in a vision of the future, the steamship taking the place of the
sailing vessel, the railroad train of the wagon, the reaping machine
of the scythe, the threshing machine of the flail; could he have heard
the throb of the engines that in obedience to human will, and for the
satisfaction of human desire, exert a power greater than that of all
the men and all the beasts of burden of the earth combined; could he
have seen the forest tree transformed into finished lumber—into doors,
sashes, blinds, boxes or barrels, with hardly the touch of a human
hand; the great workshops where boots and shoes are turned out by the
case with less labor than the old-fashioned cobbler could have put on
a sole; the factories where, under the eye of a girl, cotton becomes
cloth faster than hundreds of stalwart weavers could have turned it out
with their handlooms; could he have seen steam hammers shaping mammoth
shafts and mighty anchors, and delicate machinery making tiny watches;
the diamond drill cutting through the heart of the rocks, and coal oil
sparing the whale; could he have realized the enormous saving of labor
resulting from improved facilities of exchange and communication—sheep
killed in Australia eaten fresh in England, and the order given by the
London banker in the afternoon executed in San Francisco in the morning
of the same day; could he have conceived of the hundred thousand
improvements which these only suggest, what would he have inferred as
to the social condition of mankind?

It would not have seemed like an inference; further than the vision
went it would have seemed as though he saw; and his heart would have
leaped and his nerves would have thrilled, as one who from a height
beholds just ahead of the thirst-stricken caravan the living gleam of
rustling woods and the glint of laughing waters. Plainly, in the sight
of the imagination, he would have beheld these new forces elevating
society from its very foundations, lifting the very poorest above the
possibility of want, exempting the very lowest from anxiety for the
material needs of life; he would have seen these slaves of the lamp of
knowledge taking on themselves the traditional curse, these muscles of
iron and sinews of steel making the poorest laborer’s life a holiday,
in which every high quality and noble impulse could have scope to grow.

And out of these bounteous material conditions he would have seen
arising, as necessary sequences, moral conditions realizing the golden
age of which mankind have always dreamed. Youth no longer stunted and
starved; age no longer harried by avarice; the child at play with the
tiger; the man with the muck-rake drinking in the glory of the stars!
Foul things fled, fierce things tame; discord turned to harmony! For
how could there be greed where all had enough? How could the vice, the
crime, the ignorance, the brutality, that spring from poverty and the
fear of poverty, exist where poverty had vanished? Who should crouch
where all were freemen; who oppress where all were peers?

More or less vague or clear, these have been the hopes, these the
dreams born of the improvements which give this wonderful century
its preëminence. They have sunk so deeply into the popular mind as
radically to change the currents of thought, to recast creeds and
displace the most fundamental conceptions. The haunting visions of
higher possibilities have not merely gathered splendor and vividness,
but their direction has changed—instead of seeing behind the faint
tinges of an expiring sunset, all the glory of the daybreak has decked
the skies before.

It is true that disappointment has followed disappointment, and that
discovery upon discovery, and invention after invention, have neither
lessened the toil of those who most need respite, nor brought plenty to
the poor. But there have been so many things to which it seemed this
failure could be laid, that up to our time the new faith has hardly
weakened. We have better appreciated the difficulties to be overcome;
but not the less trusted that the tendency of the times was to overcome

Now, however, we are coming into collision with facts which there can
be no mistaking. From all parts of the civilized world come complaints
of industrial depression; of labor condemned to involuntary idleness;
of capital massed and wasting; of pecuniary distress among business
men; of want and suffering and anxiety among the working classes. All
the dull, deadening pain, all the keen, maddening anguish, that to
great masses of men are involved in the words “hard times,” afflict
the world to-day. This state of things, common to communities differing
so widely in situation, in political institutions, in fiscal and
financial systems, in density of population and in social organization,
can hardly be accounted for by local causes. There is distress where
large standing armies are maintained, but there is also distress where
the standing armies are nominal; there is distress where protective
tariffs stupidly and wastefully hamper trade, but there is also
distress where trade is nearly free; there is distress where autocratic
government yet prevails, but there is also distress where political
power is wholly in the hands of the people; in countries where paper is
money, and in countries where gold and silver are the only currency.
Evidently, beneath all such things as these, we must infer a common

That there is a common cause, and that it is either what we call
material progress or something closely connected with material
progress, becomes more than an inference when it is noted that the
phenomena we class together and speak of as industrial depression are
but intensifications of phenomena which always accompany material
progress, and which show themselves more clearly and strongly as
material progress goes on. Where the conditions to which material
progress everywhere tends are most fully realized—that is to say, where
population is densest, wealth greatest, and the machinery of production
and exchange most highly developed—we find the deepest poverty, the
sharpest struggle for existence, and the most of enforced idleness.

It is to the newer countries—that is, to the countries where material
progress is yet in its earlier stages—that laborers emigrate in search
of higher wages, and capital flows in search of higher interest. It is
in the older countries—that is to say, the countries where material
progress has reached later stages—that widespread destitution is
found in the midst of the greatest abundance. Go into one of the new
communities where Anglo-Saxon vigor is just beginning the race of
progress; where the machinery of production and exchange is yet rude
and inefficient; where the increment of wealth is not yet great enough
to enable any class to live in ease and luxury; where the best house is
but a cabin of logs or a cloth and paper shanty, and the richest man is
forced to daily work—and though you will find an absence of wealth and
all its concomitants, you will find no beggars. There is no luxury, but
there is no destitution. No one makes an easy living, nor a very good
living; but every one _can_ make a living, and no one able and willing
to work is oppressed by the fear of want.

But just as such a community realizes the conditions which all
civilized communities are striving for, and advances in the scale
of material progress—just as closer settlement and a more intimate
connection with the rest of the world, and greater utilization of
labor-saving machinery, make possible greater economies in production
and exchange, and wealth in consequence increases, not merely in the
aggregate, but in proportion to population—so does poverty take a
darker aspect. Some get an infinitely better and easier living, but
others find it hard to get a living at all. The “tramp” comes with
the locomotive, and almshouses and prisons are as surely the marks
of “material progress” as are costly dwellings, rich warehouses, and
magnificent churches. Upon streets lighted with gas and patrolled by
uniformed policemen, beggars wait for the passer-by, and in the shadow
of college, and library, and museum, are gathering the more hideous
Huns and fiercer Vandals of whom Macaulay prophesied.

This fact—the great fact that poverty and all its concomitants show
themselves in communities just as they develop into the conditions
toward which material progress tends—proves that the social
difficulties existing wherever a certain stage of progress has been
reached, do not arise from local circumstances, but are, in some way or
another, engendered by progress itself.

And, unpleasant as it may be to admit it, it is at last becoming
evident that the enormous increase in productive power which has marked
the present century and is still going on with accelerating ratio,
has no tendency to extirpate poverty or to lighten the burdens of
those compelled to toil. It simply widens the gulf between Dives and
Lazarus, and makes the struggle for existence more intense. The march
of invention has clothed mankind with powers of which a century ago
the boldest imagination could not have dreamed. But in factories where
labor-saving machinery has reached its most wonderful development,
little children are at work; wherever the new forces are anything like
fully utilized, large classes are maintained by charity or live on the
verge of recourse to it; amid the greatest accumulations of wealth,
men die of starvation, and puny infants suckle dry breasts; while
everywhere the greed of gain, the worship of wealth, shows the force of
the fear of want. The promised land flies before us like the mirage.
The fruits of the tree of knowledge turn as we grasp them to apples of
Sodom that crumble at the touch.

It is true that wealth has been greatly increased, and that the
average of comfort, leisure, and refinement has been raised; but these
gains are not general. In them the lowest class do not share.[1] I do
not mean that the condition of the lowest class has nowhere nor in
anything been improved; but that there is nowhere any improvement which
can be credited to increased productive power. I mean that the tendency
of what we call material progress is in nowise to improve the condition
of the lowest class in the essentials of healthy, happy human life.
Nay, more, that it is still further to depress the condition of the
lowest class. The new forces, elevating in their nature though they be,
do not act upon the social fabric from underneath, as was for a long
time hoped and believed, but strike it at a point intermediate between
top and bottom. It is as though an immense wedge were being forced, not
underneath society, but through society. Those who are above the point
of separation are elevated, but those who are below are crushed down.

This depressing effect is not generally realized, for it is not
apparent where there has long existed a class just able to live. Where
the lowest class barely lives, as has been the case for a long time
in many parts of Europe, it is impossible for it to get any lower,
for the next lowest step is out of existence, and no tendency to
further depression can readily show itself. But in the progress of new
settlements to the conditions of older communities it may clearly be
seen that material progress does not merely fail to relieve poverty—it
actually produces it. In the United States it is clear that squalor
and misery, and the vices and crimes that spring from them, everywhere
increase as the village grows to the city, and the march of development
brings the advantages of the improved methods of production and
exchange. It is in the older and richer sections of the Union that
pauperism and distress among the working classes are becoming most
painfully apparent. If there is less deep poverty in San Francisco than
in New York, is it not because San Francisco is yet behind New York in
all that both cities are striving for? When San Francisco reaches the
point where New York now is, who can doubt that there will also be
ragged and barefooted children on her streets?

This association of poverty with progress is the great enigma of our
times. It is the central fact from which spring industrial, social,
and political difficulties that perplex the world, and with which
statesmanship and philanthropy and education grapple in vain. From it
come the clouds that overhang the future of the most progressive and
self-reliant nations. It is the riddle which the Sphinx of Fate puts
to our civilization, and which not to answer is to be destroyed. So
long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings goes but
to build up great fortunes, to increase luxury and make sharper the
contrast between the House of Have and the House of Want, progress is
not real and cannot be permanent. The reaction must come. The tower
leans from its foundations, and every new story but hastens the final
catastrophe. To educate men who must be condemned to poverty, is but to
make them restive; to base on a state of most glaring social inequality
political institutions under which men are theoretically equal, is to
stand a pyramid on its apex.

All-important as this question is, pressing itself from every quarter
painfully upon attention, it has not yet received a solution which
accounts for all the facts and points to any clear and simple remedy.
This is shown by the widely varying attempts to account for the
prevailing depression. They exhibit not merely a divergence between
vulgar notions and scientific theories, but also show that the
concurrence which should exist between those who avow the same general
theories breaks up upon practical questions into an anarchy of opinion.
Upon high economic authority we have been told that the prevailing
depression is due to overconsumption; upon equally high authority,
that it is due to overproduction; while the wastes of war, the
extension of railroads, the attempts of workmen to keep up wages, the
demonetization of silver, the issues of paper money, the increase of
labor-saving machinery, the opening of shorter avenues to trade, etc.,
are separately pointed out as the cause, by writers of reputation.

And while professors thus disagree, the ideas that there is a necessary
conflict between capital and labor, that machinery is an evil, that
competition must be restrained and interest abolished, that wealth may
be created by the issue of money, that it is the duty of government
to furnish capital or to furnish work, are rapidly making way among
the great body of the people, who keenly feel a hurt and are sharply
conscious of a wrong. Such ideas, which bring great masses of men,
the repositories of ultimate political power, under the leadership of
charlatans and demagogues, are fraught with danger; but they cannot be
successfully combated until political economy shall give some answer to
the great question which shall be consistent with all her teachings,
and which shall commend itself to the perceptions of the great masses
of men.

It must be within the province of political economy to give such
an answer. For political economy is not a set of dogmas. It is the
explanation of a certain set of facts. It is the science which, in the
sequence of certain phenomena, seeks to trace mutual relations and to
identify cause and effect, just as the physical sciences seek to do in
other sets of phenomena. It lays its foundations upon firm ground. The
premises from which it makes its deductions are truths which have the
highest sanction; axioms which we all recognize; upon which we safely
base the reasoning and actions of everyday life, and which may be
reduced to the metaphysical expression of the physical law that motion
seeks the line of least resistance—viz., that men seek to gratify their
desires with the least exertion. Proceeding from a basis thus assured,
its processes, which consist simply in identification and separation,
have the same certainty. In this sense it is as exact a science as
geometry, which, from similar truths relative to space, obtains its
conclusions by similar means, and its conclusions when valid should
be as self-apparent. And although in the domain of political economy
we cannot test our theories by artificially produced combinations
or conditions, as may be done in some of the other sciences, yet
we can apply tests no less conclusive, by comparing societies in
which different conditions exist, or by, in imagination, separating,
combining, adding or eliminating forces or factors of known direction.

I propose in the following pages to attempt to solve by the methods of
political economy the great problem I have outlined. I propose to seek
the law which associates poverty with progress, and increases want with
advancing wealth; and I believe that in the explanation of this paradox
we shall find the explanation of those recurring seasons of industrial
and commercial paralysis which, viewed independently of their relations
to more general phenomena, seem so inexplicable. Properly commenced
and carefully pursued, such an investigation must yield a conclusion
that will stand every test, and as truth, will correlate with all other
truth. For in the sequence of phenomena there is no accident. Every
effect has a cause, and every fact implies a preceding fact.

That political economy, as at present taught, does not explain the
persistence of poverty amid advancing wealth in a manner which accords
with the deep-seated perceptions of men; that the unquestionable truths
which it does teach are unrelated and disjointed; that it has failed to
make the progress in popular thought that truth, even when unpleasant,
must make; that, on the contrary, after a century of cultivation,
during which it has engrossed the attention of some of the most
subtle and powerful intellects, it should be spurned by the statesman,
scouted by the masses, and relegated in the opinion of many educated
and thinking men to the rank of a pseudo-science in which nothing is
fixed or can be fixed—must, it seems to me, be due not to any inability
of the science when properly pursued, but to some false step in its
premises, or overlooked factor in its estimates. And as such mistakes
are generally concealed by the respect paid to authority, I propose in
this inquiry to take nothing for granted, but to bring even accepted
theories to the test of first principles, and should they not stand the
test, freshly to interrogate facts in the endeavor to discover their

I propose to beg no question, to shrink from no conclusion, but to
follow truth wherever it may lead. Upon us is the responsibility of
seeking the law, for in the very heart of our civilization to-day women
faint and little children moan. But what that law may prove to be is
not our affair. If the conclusions that we reach run counter to our
prejudices, let us not flinch; if they challenge institutions that have
long been deemed wise and natural, let us not turn back.








  He that is to follow philosophy must be a freeman in mind.



Reducing to its most compact form the problem we have set out to
investigate, let us examine, step by step, the explanation which
political economy, as now accepted by the best authority, gives of it.

The cause which produces poverty in the midst of advancing wealth is
evidently the cause which exhibits itself in the tendency, everywhere
recognized, of wages to a minimum. Let us, therefore, put our inquiry
into this compact form:

 _Why, in spite of increase in productive power, do wages tend to a
 minimum which will give but a bare living?_

The answer of the current political economy is, that wages are fixed
by the ratio between the number of laborers and the amount of capital
devoted to the employment of labor, and constantly tend to the lowest
amount on which laborers will consent to live and reproduce, because
the increase in the number of laborers tends naturally to follow and
overtake any increase in capital. The increase of the divisor being
thus held in check only by the possibilities of the quotient, the
dividend may be increased to infinity without greater result.

In current thought this doctrine holds all but undisputed sway. It
bears the indorsement of the very highest names among the cultivators
of political economy, and though there have been attacks upon it, they
are generally more formal than real.[2] It is assumed by Buckle as
the basis of his generalizations of universal history. It is taught in
all, or nearly all, the great English and American universities, and
is laid down in text-books which aim at leading the masses to reason
correctly upon practical affairs, while it seems to harmonize with the
new philosophy, which, having in a few years all but conquered the
scientific world, is now rapidly permeating the general mind.

Thus entrenched in the upper regions of thought, it is in cruder form
even more firmly rooted in what may be styled the lower. What gives to
the fallacies of protection such a tenacious hold, in spite of their
evident inconsistencies and absurdities, is the idea that the sum to
be distributed in wages is in each community a fixed one, which the
competition of “foreign labor” must still further subdivide. The same
idea underlies most of the theories which aim at the abolition of
interest and the restriction of competition, as the means whereby the
share of the laborer in the general wealth can be increased; and it
crops out in every direction among those who are not thoughtful enough
to have any theories, as may be seen in the columns of newspapers and
the debates of legislative bodies.

And yet, widely accepted and deeply rooted as it is, it seems to me
that this theory does not tally with obvious facts. For, if wages
depend upon the ratio between the amount of labor seeking employment
and the amount of capital devoted to its employment, the relative
scarcity or abundance of one factor must mean the relative abundance
or scarcity of the other. Thus, capital must be relatively abundant
where wages are high, and relatively scarce where wages are low. Now,
as the capital used in paying wages must largely consist of the capital
constantly seeking investment, the current rate of interest must be
the measure of its relative abundance or scarcity. So, if it be true
that wages depend upon the ratio between the amount of labor seeking
employment and the capital devoted to its employment, then high wages,
the mark of the relative scarcity of labor, must be accompanied by low
interest, the mark of the relative abundance of capital, and reversely,
low wages must be accompanied by high interest.

This is not the fact, but the contrary. Eliminating from interest the
element of insurance, and regarding only interest proper, or the return
for the use of capital, is it not a general truth that interest is
high where and when wages are high, and low where and when wages are
low? Both wages and interest have been higher in the United States
than in England, in the Pacific than in the Atlantic States. Is it
not a notorious fact that where labor flows for higher wages, capital
also flows for higher interest? Is it not true that wherever there has
been a general rise or fall in wages there has been at the same time
a similar rise or fall in interest? In California, for instance, when
wages were higher than anywhere else in the world, so also was interest
higher. Wages and interest have in California gone down together. When
common wages were $5 a day, the ordinary bank rate of interest was
twenty-four per cent. per annum. Now that common wages are $2 or $2.50
a day, the ordinary bank rate is from ten to twelve per cent.

Now, this broad, general fact, that wages are higher in new countries,
where capital is relatively scarce, than in old countries, where
capital is relatively abundant, is too glaring to be ignored. And
although very lightly touched upon, it is noticed by the expounders
of the current political economy. The manner in which it is noticed
proves what I say, that it is utterly inconsistent with the accepted
theory of wages. For in explaining it such writers as Mill, Fawcett,
and Price virtually give up the theory of wages upon which, in the
same treatises, they formally insist. Though they declare that wages
are fixed by the ratio between capital and laborers, they explain the
higher wages and interest of new countries by the greater relative
production of wealth. I shall hereafter show that this is not the fact,
but that, on the contrary, the production of wealth is relatively
larger in old and densely populated countries than in new and sparsely
populated countries. But at present I merely wish to point out the
inconsistency. For to say that the higher wages of new countries are
due to greater proportionate production, is clearly to make the ratio
with production, and not the ratio with capital, the determinator of

Though this inconsistency does not seem to have been perceived by
the class of writers to whom I refer, it has been noticed by one of
the most logical of the expounders of the current political economy.
Professor Cairnes[3] endeavors in a very ingenious way to reconcile
the fact with the theory, by assuming that in new countries, where
industry is generally directed to the production of food and what in
manufactures is called raw material, a much larger proportion of the
capital used in production is devoted to the payment of wages than in
older countries where a greater part must be expended in machinery and
material, and thus, in the new country, though capital is scarcer, and
interest is higher, the amount determined to the payment of wages is
really larger, and wages are also higher. For instance, of $100,000
devoted in an old country to manufactures, $80,000 would probably
be expended for buildings, machinery and the purchase of materials,
leaving but $20,000 to be paid out in wages; whereas in a new country,
of $30,000 devoted to agriculture, etc., not more than $5,000 would be
required for tools, etc., leaving $25,000 to be distributed in wages.
In this way it is explained that the wage fund may be comparatively
large where capital is comparatively scarce, and high wages and high
interest accompany each other.

In what follows I think I shall be able to show that this explanation
is based upon a total misapprehension of the relations of labor to
capital—a fundamental error as to the fund from which wages are drawn;
but at present it is necessary only to point out that the connection
in the fluctuation of wages and interest in the same countries and
in the same branches of industry cannot thus be explained. In those
alternations known as “good times” and “hard times” a brisk demand
for labor and good wages is always accompanied by a brisk demand for
capital and stiff rates of interest. While, when laborers cannot find
employment and wages droop, there is always an accumulation of capital
seeking investment at low rates.[4] The present depression has been
no less marked by want of employment and distress among the working
classes than by the accumulation of unemployed capital in all the great
centers, and by nominal rates of interest on undoubted security. Thus,
under conditions which admit of no explanation consistent with the
current theory, do we find high interest coinciding with high wages,
and low interest with low wages—capital seemingly scarce when labor is
scarce, and abundant when labor is abundant.

All these well known facts, which coincide with each other, point to
a relation between wages and interest, but it is to a relation of
conjunction, not of opposition. Evidently they are utterly inconsistent
with the theory that wages are determined by the ratio between labor
and capital, or any part of capital.

How, then, it will be asked, could such a theory arise? How is it that
it has been accepted by a succession of economists, from the time of
Adam Smith to the present day?

If we examine the reasoning by which in current treatises this theory
of wages is supported, we see at once that it is not an induction from
observed facts, but a deduction from a previously assumed theory—viz.,
that wages are drawn from capital. It being assumed that capital is the
source of wages, it necessarily follows that the gross amount of wages
must be limited by the amount of capital devoted to the employment
of labor, and hence that the amount individual laborers can receive
must be determined by the ratio between their number and the amount of
capital existing for their recompense.[5] This reasoning is valid, but
the conclusion, as we have seen, does not correspond with the facts.
The fault, therefore, must be in the premises. Let us see.

I am aware that the theorem that wages are drawn from capital is
one of the most fundamental and apparently best settled of current
political economy, and that it has been accepted as axiomatic by all
the great thinkers who have devoted their powers to the elucidation
of the science. Nevertheless, I think it can be demonstrated to be
a fundamental error—the fruitful parent of a long series of errors,
which vitiate most important practical conclusions. This demonstration
I am about to attempt. It is necessary that it should be clear and
conclusive, for a doctrine upon which so much important reasoning is
based, which is supported by such a weight of authority, which is so
plausible in itself, and is so liable to recur in different forms,
cannot be safely brushed aside in a paragraph.

The proposition I shall endeavor to prove, is:

 _That wages, instead of being drawn from capital, are in reality drawn
 from the product of the labor for which they are paid._[6]

Now, inasmuch as the current theory that wages are drawn from capital
also holds that capital is reimbursed from production, this at first
glance may seem a distinction without a difference—a mere change
in terminology, to discuss which would be but to add to those
unprofitable disputes that render so much that has been written upon
politico-economic subjects as barren and worthless as the controversies
of the various learned societies about the true reading of the
inscription on the stone that Mr. Pickwick found. But that it is much
more than a formal distinction will be apparent when it is considered
that upon the difference between the two propositions are built up all
the current theories as to the relations of capital and labor; that
from it are deduced doctrines that, themselves regarded as axiomatic,
bound, direct, and govern the ablest minds in the discussion of the
most momentous questions. For, upon the assumption that wages are drawn
directly from capital, and not from the product of the labor, is based,
not only the doctrine that wages depend upon the ratio between capital
and labor, but the doctrine that industry is limited by capital—that
capital must be accumulated before labor is employed, and labor cannot
be employed except as capital is accumulated; the doctrine that every
increase of capital gives or is capable of giving additional employment
to industry; the doctrine that the conversion of circulating capital
into fixed capital lessens the fund applicable to the maintenance of
labor; the doctrine that more laborers can be employed at low than
at high wages; the doctrine that capital applied to agriculture will
maintain more laborers than if applied to manufactures; the doctrine
that profits are high or low as wages are low or high, or that they
depend upon the cost of the subsistence of laborers; together with such
paradoxes as that a demand for commodities is not a demand for labor,
or that certain commodities may be increased in cost by a reduction in
wages or diminished in cost by an increase in wages.

In short, all the teachings of the current political economy, in the
widest and most important part of its domain, are based more or less
directly upon the assumption that labor is maintained and paid out
of existing capital before the product which constitutes the ultimate
object is secured. If it be shown that this is an error, and that
on the contrary the maintenance and payment of labor do not even
temporarily trench on capital, but are directly drawn from the product
of the labor, then all this vast superstructure is left without support
and must fall. And so likewise must fall the vulgar theories which also
have their base in the belief that the sum to be distributed in wages
is a fixed one, the individual shares in which must necessarily be
decreased by an increase in the number of laborers.

The difference between the current theory and the one I advance is, in
fact, similar to that between the mercantile theory of international
exchanges and that with which Adam Smith supplanted it. Between the
theory that commerce is the exchange of commodities for money, and the
theory that it is the exchange of commodities for commodities, there
may seem no real difference when it is remembered that the adherents
of the mercantile theory did not assume that money had any other use
than as it could be exchanged for commodities. Yet, in the practical
application of these two theories, there arises all the difference
between rigid governmental protection and free trade.

If I have said enough to show the reader the ultimate importance of
the reasoning through which I am about to ask him to follow me, it
will not be necessary to apologize in advance either for simplicity
or prolixity. In arraigning a doctrine of such importance—a doctrine
supported by such a weight of authority, it is necessary to be both
clear and thorough.

Were it not for this I should be tempted to dismiss with a sentence
the assumption that wages are drawn from capital. For all the vast
superstructure which the current political economy builds upon this
doctrine is in truth based upon a foundation which has been merely
taken for granted, without the slightest attempt to distinguish the
apparent from the real. Because wages are generally paid in money, and
in many of the operations of production are paid before the product
is fully completed, or can be utilized, it is inferred that wages are
drawn from pre-existing capital, and, therefore, that industry is
limited by capital—that is to say that labor cannot be employed until
capital has been accumulated, and can only be employed to the extent
that capital has been accumulated.

Yet in the very treatises in which the limitation of industry by
capital is laid down without reservation and made the basis for the
most important reasonings and elaborate theories, we are told that
capital is stored-up or accumulated labor—“that part of wealth which
is saved to assist future production.” If we substitute for the word
“capital” this definition of the word, the proposition carries its own
refutation, for that labor cannot be employed until the results of
labor are saved becomes too absurd for discussion.

Should we, however, with this _reductio ad absurdum_, attempt to
close the argument, we should probably be met with the explanation,
not that the first laborers were supplied by Providence with the
capital necessary to set them to work, but that the proposition merely
refers to a state of society in which production has become a complex

But the fundamental truth, that in all economic reasoning must
be firmly grasped, and never let go, is that society in its most
highly developed form is but an elaboration of society in its rudest
beginnings, and that principles obvious in the simpler relations of
men are merely disguised and not abrogated or reversed by the more
intricate relations that result from the division of labor and the
use of complex tools and methods. The steam grist mill, with its
complicated machinery exhibiting every diversity of motion, is simply
what the rude stone mortar dug up from an ancient river bed was in
its day—an instrument for grinding corn. And every man engaged in it,
whether tossing wood into the furnace, running the engine, dressing
stones, printing sacks or keeping books, is really devoting his labor
to the same purpose that the pre-historic savage did when he used his
mortar—the preparation of grain for human food.

And so, if we reduce to their lowest terms all the complex operations
of modern production, we see that each individual who takes part in
this infinitely subdivided and intricate network of production and
exchange is really doing what the primeval man did when he climbed the
trees for fruit or followed the receding tide for shellfish—endeavoring
to obtain from nature by the exertion of his powers the satisfaction of
his desires. If we keep this firmly in mind, if we look upon production
as a whole—as the co-operation of all embraced in any of its great
groups to satisfy the various desires of each, we plainly see that the
reward each obtains for his exertions comes as truly and as directly
from nature as the result of that exertion, as did that of the first

To illustrate: In the simplest state of which we can conceive, each
man digs his own bait and catches his own fish. The advantages of the
division of labor soon become apparent, and one digs bait while the
others fish. Yet evidently the one who digs bait is in reality doing
as much toward the catching of fish as any of those who actually take
the fish. So when the advantages of canoes are discovered, and instead
of all going a-fishing, one stays behind and makes and repairs canoes,
the canoe-maker is in reality devoting his labor to the taking of fish
as much as the actual fishermen, and the fish which he eats at night
when the fishermen come home are as truly the product of his labor as
of theirs. And thus when the division of labor is fairly inaugurated,
and instead of each attempting to satisfy all of his wants by direct
resort to nature, one fishes, another hunts, a third picks berries, a
fourth gathers fruit, a fifth makes tools, a sixth builds huts, and a
seventh prepares clothing—each one is to the extent he exchanges the
direct product of his own labor for the direct product of the labor of
others really applying his own labor to the production of the things he
uses—is in effect satisfying his particular desires by the exertion of
his particular powers; that is to say, what he receives he in reality
produces. If he digs roots and exchanges them for venison, he is in
effect as truly the procurer of the venison as though he had gone in
chase of the deer and left the huntsman to dig his own roots. The
common expression, “I made so and so,” signifying “I earned so and so,”
or “I earned money with which I purchased so and so,” is, economically
speaking, not metaphorically but literally true. Earning is making.

Now, if we follow these principles, obvious enough in a simpler state
of society, through the complexities of the state we call civilized,
we shall see clearly that in every case in which labor is exchanged
for commodities, production really precedes enjoyment; that wages are
the earnings—that is to say, the makings of labor—not the advances of
capital, and that the laborer who receives his wages in money (coined
or printed, it may be, before his labor commenced) really receives in
return for the addition his labor has made to the general stock of
wealth, a draft upon that general stock, which he may utilize in any
particular form of wealth that will best satisfy his desires; and that
neither the money, which is but the draft, nor the particular form of
wealth which he uses it to call for, represents advances of capital
for his maintenance, but on the contrary represents the wealth, or
a portion of the wealth, his labor has already added to the general

Keeping these principles in view we see that the draughtsman, who, shut
up in some dingy office on the banks of the Thames, is drawing the
plans for a great marine engine, is in reality devoting his labor to
the production of bread and meat as truly as though he were garnering
the grain in California or swinging a lariat on a La Plata pampa; that
he is as truly making his own clothing as though he were shearing sheep
in Australia or weaving cloth in Paisley, and just as effectually
producing the claret he drinks at dinner as though he gathered the
grapes on the banks of the Garonne. The miner who, two thousand feet
under ground in the heart of the Comstock, is digging out silver ore,
is, in effect, by virtue of a thousand exchanges, harvesting crops in
valleys five thousand feet nearer the earth’s center; chasing the whale
through Arctic icefields; plucking tobacco leaves in Virginia; picking
coffee berries in Honduras; cutting sugar cane on the Hawaiian Islands;
gathering cotton in Georgia or weaving it in Manchester or Lowell;
making quaint wooden toys for his children in the Hartz Mountains; or
plucking amid the green and gold of Los Angeles orchards the oranges
which, when his shift is relieved, he will take home to his sick
wife. The wages which he receives on Saturday night at the mouth of
the shaft, what are they but the certificate to all the world that he
has done these things—the primary exchange in the long series which
transmutes his labor into the things he has really been laboring for?

       *       *       *       *       *

All this is clear when looked at in this way; but to meet this
fallacy in all its strongholds and lurking places we must change our
investigation from the deductive to the inductive form. Let us now
see, if, beginning with facts and tracing their relations, we arrive
at the same conclusions as are thus obvious when, beginning with first
principles, we trace their exemplification in complex facts.


[1] It is true that the poorest may now in certain ways enjoy what
the richest a century ago could not have commanded, but this does not
show improvement of condition so long as the ability to obtain the
necessaries of life is not increased. The beggar in a great city may
enjoy many things from which the backwoods farmer is debarred, but that
does not prove the condition of the city beggar better than that of the
independent farmer.

[2] This seems to me true of Mr. Thornton’s objections, for while he
denies the existence of a predetermined wage fund, consisting of a
portion of capital set apart for the purchase of labor, he yet holds
(which is the essential thing) that wages are drawn from capital, and
that increase or decrease of capital is increase or decrease of the
fund available for the payment of wages. The most vital attack upon
the wage fund doctrine of which I know is that of Professor Francis A.
Walker (The Wages Question: New York, 1876), yet he admits that wages
are in large part advanced from capital—which, so far as it goes,
is all that the stanchest supporter of the wage fund theory could
claim—while he fully accepts the Malthusian theory. Thus his practical
conclusions in nowise differ from those reached by expounders of the
current theory.

[3] Some Leading Principles of Political Economy Newly Expounded,
Chapter 1, Part 2.

[4] Times of commercial panic are marked by high rates of discount, but
this is evidently not a high rate of interest, properly so-called, but
a high rate of insurance against risk.

[5] For instance McCulloch (Note VI to Wealth of Nations) says: “That
portion of the capital or wealth of a country which the employers of
labor intend to or are willing to pay out in the purchase of labor,
may be much larger at one time than another. But whatever may be its
absolute magnitude, it obviously forms the only source from which any
portion of the wages of labor can be derived. No other fund is in
existence from which the laborer, as such, can draw a single shilling.
And hence _it follows_ that the average rate of wages, or the share of
the national capital appropriated to the employment of labor falling,
at an average, to each laborer, must entirely depend on its amount as
compared with the number of those amongst whom it has to be divided.”
Similar citations might be made from all the standard economists.

[6] We are speaking of labor expended in production, to which it is
best for the sake of simplicity to confine the inquiry. Any question
which may arise in the reader’s mind as to wages for unproductive
services had best therefore be deferred.



Before proceeding further in our inquiry, let us make sure of the
meaning of our terms, for indistinctness in their use must inevitably
produce ambiguity and indeterminateness in reasoning. Not only is it
requisite in economic reasoning to give to such words as “wealth,”
“capital,” “rent,” “wages,” and the like, a much more definite sense
than they bear in common discourse, but, unfortunately, even in
political economy there is, as to some of these terms, no certain
meaning assigned by common consent, different writers giving to the
same term different meanings, and the same writers often using a term
in different senses. Nothing can add to the force of what has been
said by so many eminent authors as to the importance of clear and
precise definitions, save the example, not an infrequent one, of the
same authors falling into grave errors from the very cause they warned
against. And nothing so shows the importance of language in thought as
the spectacle of even acute thinkers basing important conclusions upon
the use of the same word in varying senses. I shall endeavor to avoid
these dangers. It will be my effort throughout, as any term becomes of
importance, to state clearly what I mean by it, and to use it in that
sense and in no other. Let me ask the reader to note and to bear in
mind the definitions thus given, as otherwise I cannot hope to make
myself properly understood. I shall not attempt to attach arbitrary
meanings to words, or to coin terms, even when it would be convenient
to do so, but shall conform to usage as closely as is possible, only
endeavoring so to fix the meaning of words that they may clearly
express thought.

What we have now on hand is to discover whether, as a matter of fact,
wages are drawn from capital. As a preliminary, let us settle what
we mean by wages and what we mean by capital. To the former word a
sufficiently definite meaning has been given by economic writers,
but the ambiguities which have attached to the use of the latter in
political economy will require a detailed examination.

As used in common discourse “wages” means a compensation paid to a
hired person for his services; and we speak of one man “working for
wages,” in contradistinction to another who is “working for himself.”
The use of the term is still further narrowed by the habit of applying
it solely to compensation paid for manual labor. We do not speak of
the wages of professional men, managers or clerks, but of their fees,
commissions, or salaries. Thus the common meaning of the word wages
is the compensation paid to a hired person for manual labor. But in
political economy the word wages has a much wider meaning, and includes
all returns for exertion. For, as political economists explain, the
three agents or factors in production are land, labor, and capital, and
that part of the produce which goes to the second of these factors is
by them styled wages.

Thus the term labor includes all human exertion in the production of
wealth, and wages, being that part of the produce which goes to labor,
includes all reward for such exertion. There is, therefore, in the
politico-economic sense of the term wages no distinction as to the kind
of labor, or as to whether its reward is received through an employer
or not, but wages means the return received for the exertion of labor,
as distinguished from the return received for the use of capital, and
the return received by the landholder for the use of land. The man who
cultivates the soil for himself receives his wages in its produce,
just as, if he uses his own capital and owns his own land, he may also
receive interest and rent; the hunter’s wages are the game he kills;
the fisherman’s wages are the fish he takes. The gold washed out by
the self-employing gold-digger is as much his wages as the money paid
to the hired coal miner by the purchaser of his labor,[7] and, as Adam
Smith shows, the high profits of retail storekeepers are in large part
wages, being the recompense of their labor and not of their capital.
In short, whatever is received as the result or reward of exertion is

This is all it is now necessary to note as to “wages,” but it is
important to keep this in mind. For in the standard economic works this
sense of the term wages is recognized with greater or less clearness
only to be subsequently ignored.

But it is more difficult to clear away from the idea of capital the
ambiguities that beset it, and to fix the scientific use of the
term. In general discourse, all sorts of things that have a value or
will yield a return are vaguely spoken of as capital, while economic
writers vary so widely that the term can hardly be said to have a
fixed meaning. Let us compare with each other the definitions of a few
representative writers:

“That part of a man’s stock,” says Adam Smith (Book II, Chap. I),
“which he expects to afford him a revenue, is called his capital,”
and the capital of a country or society, he goes on to say, consists
of (1) machines and instruments of trade which facilitate and abridge
labor; (2) buildings, not mere dwellings, but which may be considered
instruments of trade—such as shops, farmhouses, etc.; (3) improvements
of land which better fit it for tillage or culture; (4) the acquired
and useful abilities of all the inhabitants; (5) money; (6) provisions
in the hands of producers and dealers, from the sale of which they
expect to derive a profit; (7) the material of, or partially completed,
manufactured articles still in the hands of producers or dealers;
(8) completed articles still in the hands of producers or dealers.
The first four of these he styles fixed capital, and the last four
circulating capital, a distinction of which it is not necessary to our
purpose to take any note.

Ricardo’s definition is:

 “Capital is that part of the wealth of a country which is employed
 in production, and consists of food, clothing, tools, raw materials,
 machinery, etc., necessary to give effect to labor.”—_Principles of
 Political Economy, Chapter V._

This definition, it will be seen, is very different from that of
Adam Smith, as it excludes many of the things which he includes—as
acquired talents, articles of mere taste or luxury in the possession
of producers or dealers; and includes some things he excludes—such as
food, clothing, etc., in the possession of the consumer.

McCulloch’s definition is:

 “The capital of a nation really comprises all those portions of the
 produce of industry existing in it that _may be_ directly employed
 either to support human existence or to facilitate production.”—_Notes
 on Wealth of Nations, Book II, Chap. I._

This definition follows the line of Ricardo’s, but is wider. While
it excludes everything that is not capable of aiding production, it
includes everything that is so capable, without reference to actual
use or necessity for use—the horse drawing a pleasure carriage being,
according to McCulloch’s view, as he expressly states, as much capital
as the horse drawing a plow, because he may, if need arises, be used to
draw a plow.

John Stuart Mill, following the same general line as Ricardo and
McCulloch, makes neither the use nor the capability of use, but the
determination to use, the test of capital. He says:

 “Whatever things are destined to supply productive labor with the
 shelter, protection, tools and materials which the work requires, and
 to feed and otherwise maintain the laborer during the process, are
 capital.”—_Principles of Political Economy, Book I, Chap. IV._

These quotations sufficiently illustrate the divergence of the masters.
Among minor authors the variance is still greater, as a few examples
will suffice to show.

Professor Wayland, whose “Elements of Political Economy” has long been
a favorite text-book in American educational institutions, where there
has been any pretense of teaching political economy, gives this lucid

 “The word capital is used in two senses. In relation to product it
 means any substance on which industry is to be exerted. In relation
 to industry, the material on which industry is about to confer value,
 that on which it has conferred value; the instruments which are used
 for the conferring of value, as well as the means of sustenance by
 which the being is supported while he is engaged in performing the
 operation.”—_Elements of Political Economy, Book I, Chap. I._

Henry C. Carey, the American apostle of protectionism, defines capital
as “the instrument by which man obtains mastery over nature, including
in it the physical and mental powers of man himself.” Professor Perry,
a Massachusetts free trader, very properly objects to this that it
hopelessly confuses the boundaries between capital and labor, and then
himself hopelessly confuses the boundaries between capital and land
by defining capital as “any valuable thing outside of man himself
from whose use springs a pecuniary increase or profit.” An English
economic writer of high standing, Mr. Wm. Thornton, begins an elaborate
examination of the relations of labor and capital (“On Labor”) by
stating that he will include land with capital, which is very much as
if one who proposed to teach algebra should begin with the declaration
that he would consider the signs plus and minus as meaning the same
thing and having the same value. An American writer, also of high
standing, Professor Francis A. Walker, makes the same declaration in
his elaborate book on “The Wages Question.” Another English writer,
N. A. Nicholson (“The Science of Exchanges,” London, 1873), seems to
cap the climax of absurdity by declaring in one paragraph (p. 26) that
“capital must of course be accumulated by saving,” and in the very next
paragraph stating that “the land which produces a crop, the plow which
turns the soil, the labor which secures the produce, and the produce
itself, if a material profit is to be derived from its employment,
are all alike capital.” But how land and labor are to be accumulated
by saving them he nowhere condescends to explain. In the same way a
standard American writer, Professor Amasa Walker (p. 66, “Science of
Wealth”), first declares that capital arises from the net savings of
labor and then immediately afterward declares that land is capital.

I might go on for pages, citing contradictory and self-contradictory
definitions. But it would only weary the reader. It is unnecessary
to multiply quotations. Those already given are sufficient to show
how wide a difference exists as to the comprehension of the term
capital. Any one who wants further illustration of the “confusion
worse confounded” which exists on this subject among the professors of
political economy may find it in any library where the works of these
professors are ranged side by side.

Now, it makes little difference what name we give to things, if when
we use the name we always keep in view the same things and no others.
But the difficulty arising in economic reasoning from these vague and
varying definitions of capital is that it is only in the premises of
reasoning that the term is used in the peculiar sense assigned by the
definition, while in the practical conclusions that are reached it is
always used, or at least it is always understood, in one general and
definite sense. When, for instance, it is said that wages are drawn
from capital, the word capital is understood in the same sense as when
we speak of the scarcity or abundance, the increase or decrease, the
destruction or increment, of capital—a commonly understood and definite
sense which separates capital from the other factors of production,
land and labor, and also separates it from like things used merely for
gratification. In fact, most people understand well enough what capital
is until they begin to define it, and I think their works will show
that the economic writers who differ so widely in their definitions use
the term in this commonly understood sense in all cases except in their
definitions and the reasoning based on them.

This common sense of the term is that of wealth devoted to procuring
more wealth. Dr. Adam Smith correctly expresses this common idea
when he says: “That part of a man’s stock which he expects to afford
him revenue is called his capital.” And the capital of a community
is evidently the sum of such individual stocks, or that part of the
aggregate stock which is expected to procure more wealth. This also is
the derivative sense of the term. The word capital, as philologists
trace it, comes down to us from a time when wealth was estimated in
cattle, and a man’s income depended upon the number of head he could
keep for their increase.

The difficulties which beset the use of the word capital, as an exact
term, and which are even more strikingly exemplified in current
political and social discussions than in the definitions of economic
writers, arise from two facts—first, that certain classes of things,
the possession of which to the individual is precisely equivalent
to the possession of capital, are not part of the capital of the
community; and, second, that things of the same kind may or may not be
capital, according to the purpose to which they are devoted.

With a little care as to these points, there should be no difficulty in
obtaining a sufficiently clear and fixed idea of what the term capital
as generally used properly includes; such an idea as will enable us
to say what things are capital and what are not, and to use the word
without ambiguity or slip.

Land, labor, and capital are the three factors of production. If we
remember that capital is thus a term used in contradistinction to
land and labor, we at once see that nothing properly included under
either one of these terms can be properly classed as capital. The
term land necessarily includes, not merely the surface of the earth
as distinguished from the water and the air, but the whole material
universe outside of man himself, for it is only by having access to
land, from which his very body is drawn, that man can come in contact
with or use nature. The term land embraces, in short, all natural
materials, forces, and opportunities, and, therefore, nothing that is
freely supplied by nature can be properly classed as capital. A fertile
field, a rich vein of ore, a falling stream which supplies power,
may give to the possessor advantages equivalent to the possession of
capital, but to class such things as capital would be to put an end to
the distinction between land and capital, and, so far as they relate to
each other, to make the two terms meaningless. The term labor, in like
manner, includes all human exertion, and hence human powers whether
natural or acquired can never properly be classed as capital. In common
parlance we often speak of a man’s knowledge, skill, or industry as
constituting his capital; but this is evidently a metaphorical use of
language that must be eschewed in reasoning that aims at exactness.
Superiority in such qualities may augment the income of an individual
just as capital would, and an increase in the knowledge, skill, or
industry of a community may have the same effect in increasing its
production as would an increase of capital; but this effect is due to
the increased power of labor and not to capital. Increased velocity
may give to the impact of a cannon ball the same effect as increased
weight, yet, nevertheless, weight is one thing and velocity another.

Thus we must exclude from the category of capital everything that
may be included either as land or labor. Doing so, there remain only
things which are neither land nor labor, but which have resulted from
the union of these two original factors of production. Nothing can be
properly capital that does not consist of these—that is to say, nothing
can be capital that is not wealth.

But it is from ambiguities in the use of this inclusive term wealth
that many of the ambiguities which beset the term capital are derived.

As commonly used the word “wealth” is applied to anything having an
exchange value. But when used as a term of political economy it must
be limited to a much more definite meaning, because many things are
commonly spoken of as wealth which in taking account of collective or
general wealth cannot be considered as wealth at all. Such things have
an exchange value, and are commonly spoken of as wealth, insomuch as
they represent as between individuals, or between sets of individuals,
the power of obtaining wealth; but they are not truly wealth, inasmuch
as their increase or decrease does not affect the sum of wealth.
Such are bonds, mortgages, promissory notes, bank bills, or other
stipulations for the transfer of wealth. Such are slaves, whose value
represents merely the power of one class to appropriate the earnings
of another class. Such are lands, or other natural opportunities,
the value of which is but the result of the acknowledgment in favor
of certain persons of an exclusive right to their use, and which
represents merely the power thus given to the owners to demand a share
of the wealth produced by those who use them. Increase in the amount of
bonds, mortgages, notes, or bank bills cannot increase the wealth of
the community that includes as well those who promise to pay as those
who are entitled to receive. The enslavement of a part of their number
could not increase the wealth of a people, for what the enslavers
gained the enslaved would lose. Increase in land values does not
represent increase in the common wealth, for what land owners gain by
higher prices, the tenants or purchasers who must pay them will lose.
And all this relative wealth, which, in common thought and speech, in
legislation and law, is undistinguished from actual wealth, could,
without the destruction or consumption of anything more than a few
drops of ink and a piece of paper, be utterly annihilated. By enactment
of the sovereign political power debts might be canceled, slaves
emancipated, and land resumed as the common property of the whole
people, without the aggregate wealth being diminished by the value of a
pinch of snuff, for what some would lose others would gain. There would
be no more destruction of wealth than there was creation of wealth
when Elizabeth Tudor enriched her favorite courtiers by the grant of
monopolies, or when Boris Godoonof made Russian peasants merchantable

All things which have an exchange value are, therefore, not wealth, in
the only sense in which the term can be used in political economy. Only
such things can be wealth the production of which increases and the
destruction of which decreases the aggregate of wealth. If we consider
what these things are, and what their nature is, we shall have no
difficulty in defining wealth.

When we speak of a community increasing in wealth—as when we say that
England has increased in wealth since the accession of Victoria, or
that California is a wealthier country than when it was a Mexican
territory—we do not mean to say that there is more land, or that
the natural powers of the land are greater, or that there are more
people, for when we wish to express that idea we speak of increase of
population; or that the debts or dues owing by some of these people
to others of their number have increased; but we mean that there is
an increase of certain tangible things, having an actual and not
merely a relative value—such as buildings, cattle, tools, machinery,
agricultural and mineral products, manufactured goods, ships, wagons,
furniture, and the like. The increase of such things constitutes an
increase of wealth; their decrease is a lessening of wealth; and the
community that, in proportion to its numbers, has most of such things
is the wealthiest community. The common character of these things is
that they consist of natural substances or products which have been
adapted by human labor to human use or gratification, their value
depending on the amount of labor which upon the average would be
required to produce things of like kind.

Thus wealth, as alone the term can be used in political economy,
consists of natural products that have been secured, moved, combined,
separated, or in other ways modified by human exertion, so as to fit
them for the gratification of human desires. It is, in other words,
labor impressed upon matter in such a way as to store up, as the heat
of the sun is stored up in coal, the power of human labor to minister
to human desires. Wealth is not the sole object of labor, for labor is
also expended in ministering directly to desire; but it is the object
and result of what we call productive labor—that is, labor which gives
value to material things. Nothing which nature supplies to man without
his labor is wealth, nor yet does the expenditure of labor result in
wealth unless there is a tangible product which has and retains the
power of ministering to desire.

Now, as capital is wealth devoted to a certain purpose, nothing can
be capital which does not fall within this definition of wealth. By
recognizing and keeping this in mind, we get rid of misconceptions
which vitiate all reasoning in which they are permitted, which befog
popular thought, and have led into mazes of contradiction even acute

But though all capital is wealth, all wealth is not capital. Capital is
only a part of wealth—that part, namely, which is devoted to the aid of
production. It is in drawing this line between the wealth that is and
the wealth that is not capital that a second class of misconceptions
are likely to occur.

The errors which I have been pointing out, and which consist in
confounding with wealth and capital things essentially distinct, or
which have but a relative existence, are now merely vulgar errors.
They are widespread, it is true, and have a deep root, being held,
not merely by the less educated classes, but seemingly by a large
majority of those who in such advanced countries as England and
the United States mold and guide public opinion, make the laws in
Parliaments, Congresses and Legislatures, and administer them in the
courts. They crop out, moreover, in the disquisitions of many of those
flabby writers who have burdened the press and darkened counsel by
numerous volumes which are dubbed political economy, and which pass
as text-books with the ignorant and as authority with those who do
not think for themselves. Nevertheless, they are only vulgar errors,
inasmuch as they receive no countenance from the best writers on
political economy. By one of those lapses which flaw his great work
and strikingly evince the imperfections of the highest talent, Adam
Smith counts as capital certain personal qualities, an inclusion which
is not consistent with his original definition of capital as stock
from which revenue is expected. But this error has been avoided by his
most eminent successors, and in the definitions, previously given, of
Ricardo, McCulloch, and Mill, it is not involved. Neither in their
definitions nor in that of Smith is involved the vulgar error which
confounds as real capital things which are only relatively capital,
such as evidences of debt, land values, etc. But as to things which are
really wealth, their definitions differ from each other, and widely
from that of Smith, as to what is and what is not to be considered
as capital. The stock of a jeweler would, for instance, be included
as capital by the definition of Smith, and the food or clothing in
possession of a laborer would be excluded. But the definitions of
Ricardo and McCulloch would exclude the stock of the jeweler, as would
also that of Mill, if understood as most persons would understand the
words I have quoted. But as explained by him, it is neither the nature
nor the destination of the things themselves which determines whether
they are or are not capital, but the intention of the owner to devote
either the things or the value received from their sale to the supply
of productive labor with tools, materials, and maintenance. All these
definitions, however, agree in including as capital the provisions and
clothing of the laborer, which Smith excludes.

Let us consider these three definitions, which represent the best
teachings of current political economy:

To McCulloch’s definition of capital as “all those portions of the
produce of industry that may be directly employed either to support
human existence or to facilitate production,” there are obvious
objections. One may pass along any principal street in a thriving town
or city and see stores filled with all sorts of valuable things, which,
though they cannot be employed either to support human existence or to
facilitate production, undoubtedly constitute part of the capital of
the storekeepers and part of the capital of the community. And he can
also see products of industry capable of supporting human existence
or facilitating production being consumed in ostentation or useless
luxury. Surely these, though they might, _do not_ constitute part of

Ricardo’s definition avoids including as capital things which might
be but are not employed in production, by covering only such as are
employed. But it is open to the first objection made to McCulloch’s. If
only wealth that may be, or that is, or that is destined to be, used
in supporting producers, or assisting production, is capital, then the
stocks of jewelers, toy dealers, tobacconists, confectioners, picture
dealers, etc.—in fact, all stocks that consist of, and all stocks in so
far as they consist of articles of luxury, are not capital.

If Mill, by remitting the distinction to the mind of the capitalist,
avoids this difficulty (which does not seem to me clear), it is by
making the distinction so vague that no power short of omniscience
could tell in any given country at any given time what was and what was
not capital.

But the great defect which these definitions have in common is
that they include what clearly cannot be accounted capital, if any
distinction is to be made between laborer and capitalist. For they
bring into the category of capital the food, clothing, etc., in the
possession of the day laborer, which he will consume whether he works
or not, as well as the stock in the hands of the capitalist, with which
he proposes to pay the laborer for his work.

Yet, manifestly, this is not the sense in which the term capital is
used by these writers when they speak of labor and capital as taking
separate parts in the work of production and separate shares in the
distribution of its proceeds; when they speak of wages as drawn from
capital, or as depending upon the ratio between labor and capital, or
in any of the ways in which the term is generally used by them. In
all these cases the term capital is used in its commonly understood
sense, as that portion of wealth which its owners do not propose to use
directly for their own gratification, but for the purpose of obtaining
more wealth. In short, by political economists, in everything except
their definitions and first principles, as well as by the world at
large, “that part of a man’s stock,” to use the words of Adam Smith,
“which he expects to afford him revenue is called his capital.” This is
the only sense in which the term capital expresses any fixed idea—the
only sense in which we can with any clearness separate it from wealth
and contrast it with labor. For, if we must consider as capital
everything which supplies the laborer with food, clothing, shelter,
etc., then to find a laborer who is not a capitalist we shall be forced
to hunt up an absolutely naked man, destitute even of a sharpened
stick, or of a burrow in the ground—a situation in which, save as the
result of exceptional circumstances, human beings have never yet been

It seems to me that the variance and inexactitude in these definitions
arise from the fact that the idea of what capital is has been deduced
from a preconceived idea of how capital assists production. Instead of
determining what capital is, and then observing what capital does, the
functions of capital have first been assumed, and then a definition of
capital made which includes all things which do or may perform those
functions. Let us reverse this process, and, adopting the natural
order, ascertain what the thing is before settling what it does. All
we are trying to do, all that it is necessary to do, is to fix, as
it were, the metes and bounds of a term that in the main is well
apprehended—to make definite, that is, sharp and clear on its verges, a
common idea.

If the articles of actual wealth existing at a given time in a given
community were presented _in situ_ to a dozen intelligent men who
had never read a line of political economy, it is doubtful if they
would differ in respect to a single item, as to whether it should be
accounted capital or not. Money which its owner holds for use in his
business or in speculation would be accounted capital; money set aside
for household or personal expenses would not. That part of a farmer’s
crop held for sale or for seed, or to feed his help in part payment of
wages, would be accounted capital; that held for the use of his own
family would not be. The horses and carriage of a hackman would be
classed as capital, but an equipage kept for the pleasure of its owner
would not. So no one would think of counting as capital the false hair
on the head of a woman, the cigar in the mouth of a smoker, or the toy
with which a child is playing; but the stock of a hair dealer, of a
tobacconist, or of the keeper of a toy store, would be unhesitatingly
set down as capital. A coat which a tailor had made for sale would be
accounted capital, but not the coat he had made for himself. Food in
the possession of a hotel-keeper or a restaurateur would be accounted
capital, but not the food in the pantry of a housewife, or in the lunch
basket of a workman. Pig iron in the hands of the smelter, or founder,
or dealer, would be accounted capital, but not the pig iron used as
ballast in the hold of a yacht. The bellows of a blacksmith, the looms
of a factory, would be capital, but not the sewing machine of a woman
who does only her own work; a building let for hire, or used for
business or productive purposes, but not a homestead. In short, I think
we should find that now, as when Dr. Adam Smith wrote, “that part of
a man’s stock which he expects to yield him a revenue is called his
capital.” And, omitting his unfortunate slip as to personal qualities,
and qualifying somewhat his enumeration of money, it is doubtful if
we could better list the different articles of capital than did Adam
Smith in the passage which in the previous part of this chapter I have

Now, if, after having thus separated the wealth that is capital from
the wealth that is not capital, we look for the distinction between
the two classes, we shall not find it to be as to the character,
capabilities, or final destination of the things themselves, as has
been vainly attempted to draw it; but it seems to me that we shall
find it to be as to whether they are or are not in the possession of
the consumer.[8] Such articles of wealth as in themselves, in their
uses, or in their products, are yet to be exchanged are capital;
such articles of wealth as are in the hands of the consumer are not
capital. Hence, if we define capital as _wealth in course of exchange_,
understanding exchange to include not merely the passing from hand to
hand, but also such transmutations as occur when the reproductive or
transforming forces of nature are utilized for the increase of wealth,
we shall, I think, comprehend all the things that the general idea of
capital properly includes, and shut out all it does not. Under this
definition, it seems to me, for instance, will fall all such tools as
are really capital. For it is as to whether its services or uses are
to be exchanged or not which makes a tool an article of capital or
merely an article of wealth. Thus, the lathe of a manufacturer used
in making things which are to be exchanged is capital, while the lathe
kept by a gentleman for his own amusement is not. Thus, wealth used
in the construction of a railroad, a public telegraph line, a stage
coach, a theater, a hotel, etc., may be said to be placed in the course
of exchange. The exchange is not effected all at once, but little by
little, with an indefinite number of people. Yet there is an exchange,
and the “consumers” of the railroad, the telegraph line, the stage
coach, theater or hotel, are not the owners, but the persons who from
time to time use them.

Nor is this definition inconsistent with the idea that capital is that
part of wealth devoted to production. It is too narrow an understanding
of production which confines it merely to the making of things.
Production includes not merely the making of things, but the bringing
of them to the consumer. The merchant or storekeeper is thus as truly a
producer as is the manufacturer, or farmer, and his stock or capital is
as much devoted to production as is theirs. But it is not worth while
now to dwell upon the functions of capital, which we shall be better
able to determine hereafter. Nor is the definition of capital I have
suggested of any importance. I am not writing a text-book, but only
attempting to discover the laws which control a great social problem,
and if the reader has been led to form a clear idea of what things are
meant when we speak of capital my purpose is served.

But before closing this digression let me call attention to what is
often forgotten—namely, that the terms “wealth,” “capital,” “wages,”
and the like, as used in political economy are abstract terms, and
that nothing can be generally affirmed or denied of them that cannot
be affirmed or denied of the whole class of things they represent. The
failure to bear this in mind has led to much confusion of thought,
and permits fallacies, otherwise transparent, to pass for obvious
truths. Wealth being an abstract term, the idea of wealth, it must be
remembered, involves the idea of exchange ability. The possession of
wealth to a certain amount is potentially the possession of any or all
species of wealth to that equivalent in exchange. And, consequently, so
of capital.


[7] This was recognized in common speech in California, where the
placer miners styled their earnings their “wages,” and spoke of making
high wages or low wages according to the amount of gold taken out.

[8] Money may be said to be in the hands of the consumer when devoted
to the procurement of gratification, as, though not in itself devoted
to consumption, it represents wealth which is; and thus what in the
previous paragraph I have given as the common classification would be
covered by this distinction, and would be substantially correct. In
speaking of money in this connection, I am of course speaking of coin,
for although paper money may perform all the functions of coin, it is
not wealth, and cannot therefore be capital.



The importance of this digression will, I think, become more and more
apparent as we proceed in our inquiry, but its pertinency to the branch
we are now engaged in may at once be seen.

It is at first glance evident that the economic meaning of the term
wages is lost sight of, and attention is concentrated upon the common
and narrow meaning of the word, when it is affirmed that wages are
drawn from capital. For, in all those cases in which the laborer is
his own employer and takes directly the produce of his labor as its
reward, it is plain enough that wages are not drawn from capital, but
result directly as the product of the labor. If, for instance, I devote
my labor to gathering birds’ eggs or picking wild berries, the eggs or
berries I thus get are my wages. Surely no one will contend that in
such a case wages are drawn from capital. There is no capital in the
case. An absolutely naked man, thrown on an island where no human being
has before trod, may gather birds’ eggs or pick berries.

Or if I take a piece of leather and work it up into a pair of shoes,
the shoes are my wages—the reward of my exertion. Surely they are not
drawn from capital—either my capital or any one else’s capital—but are
brought into existence by the labor of which they become the wages; and
in obtaining this pair of shoes as the wages of my labor, capital is
not even momentarily lessened one iota. For, if we call in the idea of
capital, my capital at the beginning consists of the piece of leather,
the thread, etc. As my labor goes on, value is steadily added, until,
when my labor results in the finished shoes, I have my capital plus the
difference in value between the material and the shoes. In obtaining
this additional value—my wages—how is capital at any time drawn upon?

Adam Smith, who gave the direction to economic thought that has
resulted in the current elaborate theories of the relation between
wages and capital, recognized the fact that in such simple cases as I
have instanced, wages are the produce of labor, and thus begins his
chapter upon the wages of labor (Chapter VIII):

 “_The produce of labor constitutes the natural recompense or wages
 of labor._ In that original state of things which precedes both the
 appropriation of land and the accumulation of stock, the whole produce
 of labor belongs to the laborer. He has neither landlord nor master to
 share with him.”

Had the great Scotchman taken this as the initial point of his
reasoning, and continued to regard the produce of labor as the natural
wages of labor, and the landlord and master but as sharers, his
conclusions would have been very different, and political economy
to-day would not embrace such a mass of contradictions and absurdities;
but instead of following the truth obvious in the simple modes of
production as a clew through the perplexities of the more complicated
forms, he momentarily recognizes it, only immediately to abandon it,
and stating that “in every part of Europe twenty workmen serve under a
master for one that is independent,” he recommences the inquiry from a
point of view in which the master is considered as providing from his
capital the wages of his workmen.

It is evident that in thus placing the proportion of self-employing
workmen as but one in twenty, Adam Smith had in mind but the mechanic
arts, and that, including all laborers, the proportion who take their
earnings directly, without the intervention of an employer, must,
even in Europe a hundred years ago, have been much greater than this.
For, besides the independent laborers who in every community exist in
considerable numbers, the agriculture of large districts of Europe has,
since the time of the Roman Empire, been carried on by the metayer
system, under which the capitalist receives his return from the laborer
instead of the laborer from the capitalist. At any rate, in the United
States, where any general law of wages must apply as fully as in
Europe, and where in spite of the advance of manufactures a very large
part of the people are yet self-employing farmers, the proportion of
laborers who get their wages through an employer must be comparatively

But it is not necessary to discuss the ratio in which self-employing
laborers anywhere stand to hired laborers, nor is it necessary to
multiply illustrations of the truism that where the laborer takes
directly his wages they are the product of his labor, for as soon as
it is realized that the term wages includes all the earnings of labor,
as well when taken directly by the laborer in the results of his labor
as when received from an employer, it is evident that the assumption
that wages are drawn from capital, on which as a universal truth such
a vast superstructure is in standard politico-economic treatises so
unhesitatingly built, is at least in large part untrue, and the utmost
that can with any plausibility be affirmed, is that some wages, _i.e._
wages received by the laborer from an employer, are drawn from capital.
This restriction of the major premise at once invalidates all the
deductions that are made from it; but without resting here, let us see
whether even in this restricted sense it accords with the facts. Let
us pick up the clew where Adam Smith dropped it, and advancing step
by step, see whether the relation of facts which is obvious in the
simplest forms of production does not run through the most complex.

Next in simplicity to “that original state of things,” of which many
examples may yet be found, where the whole produce of labor belongs to
the laborer, is the arrangement in which the laborer, though working
for another person, or with the capital of another person, receives
his wages in kind—that is to say, in the things his labor produces. In
this case it is as clear as in the case of the self-employing laborer
that the wages are really drawn from the product of the labor, and not
at all from capital. If I hire a man to gather eggs, to pick berries,
or to make shoes, paying him from the eggs, the berries, or the shoes
that his labor secures, there can be no question that the source of
the wages is the labor for which they are paid. Of this form of hiring
is the saer-and-daer stock tenancy, treated of with such perspicuity
by Sir Henry Maine in his “Early History of Institutions,” and which
so clearly involved the relation of employer and employed as to render
the acceptor of cattle the man or vassal of the capitalist who thus
employed him. It was on such terms as these that Jacob worked for
Laban, and to this day, even in civilized countries, it is not an
infrequent mode of employing labor. The farming of land on shares,
which prevails to a considerable extent in the Southern States of the
Union and in California, the metayer system of Europe, as well as the
many cases in which superintendents, salesmen, etc., are paid by a
percentage of profits, what are they but the employment of labor for
wages which consist of part of its produce?

The next step in the advance from simplicity to complexity is where the
wages, though estimated in kind, are paid in an equivalent of something
else. For instance, on American whaling ships the custom is not to
pay fixed wages, but a “lay,” or proportion of the catch, which varies
from a sixteenth to a twelfth to the captain down to a three-hundredth
to the cabin-boy. Thus, when a whaleship comes into New Bedford or San
Francisco after a successful cruise, she carries in her hold the wages
of her crew, as well as the profits of her owners, and an equivalent
which will reimburse them for all the stores used up during the voyage.
Can anything be clearer than that these wages—this oil and bone which
the crew of the whaler have taken—have not been drawn from capital,
but are really a part of the produce of their labor? Nor is this fact
changed or obscured in the slightest degree where, as a matter of
convenience, instead of dividing up between the crew their proportion
of the oil and bone, the value of each man’s share is estimated at the
market price, and he is paid for it in money. The money is but the
equivalent of the real wages, the oil and bone. In no way is there any
advance of capital in this payment. The obligation to pay wages does
not accrue until the value from which they are to be paid is brought
into port. At the moment when the owner takes from his capital money to
pay the crew he adds to his capital oil and bone.

So far there can be no dispute. Let us now take another step, which
will bring us to the usual method of employing labor and paying wages.

The Farallone Islands, off the Bay of San Francisco, are a hatching
ground of sea-fowl, and a company who claim these islands employ men in
the proper season to collect the eggs. They might employ these men for
a proportion of the eggs they gather, as is done in the whale fishery
and probably would do so if there were much uncertainty attending the
business; but as the fowl are plentiful and tame, and about so many
eggs can be gathered by so much labor, they find it more convenient to
pay their men fixed wages. The men go out and remain on the islands,
gathering the eggs and bringing them to a landing, whence, at intervals
of a few days, they are taken in a small vessel to San Francisco
and sold. When the season is over the men return and are paid their
stipulated wages in coin. Does not this transaction amount to the same
thing as if, instead of being paid in coin, the stipulated wages were
paid in an equivalent of the eggs gathered? Does not the coin represent
the eggs, by the sale of which it was obtained, and are not these
wages as much the product of the labor for which they are paid as the
eggs would be in the possession of a man who gathered them for himself
without the intervention of any employer?

To take another example, which shows by reversion the identity of wages
in money with wages in kind. In San Buenaventura lives a man who makes
an excellent living by shooting for their oil and skins the common hair
seals which frequent the islands forming the Santa Barbara Channel.
When on these sealing expeditions he takes two or three Chinamen along
to help him, whom at first he paid wholly in coin. But it seems that
the Chinese highly value some of the organs of the seal, which they dry
and pulverize for medicine, as well as the long hairs in the whiskers
of the male seal, which, when over a certain length, they greatly
esteem for some purpose that to outside barbarians is not very clear.
And this man soon found that the Chinamen were very willing to take
instead of money these parts of the seals killed, so that now, in large
part, he thus pays them their wages.

Now, is not what may be seen in all these cases—the identity of wages
in money with wages in kind—true of all cases in which wages are paid
for productive labor? Is not the fund created by the labor really the
fund from which the wages are paid?

It may, perhaps, be said: “There is this difference— where a man works
for himself, or where, when working for an employer, he takes his
wages in kind, his wages depend upon the result of his labor. Should
that, from any misadventure, prove futile, he gets nothing. When he
works for an employer, however, he gets his wages anyhow—they depend
upon the performance of the labor, not upon the result of the labor.”
But this is evidently not a real distinction. For on the average, the
labor that is rendered for fixed wages not only yields the amount of
the wages, but more; else employers could make no profit. When wages
are fixed, the employer takes the whole risk and is compensated for
this assurance, for wages when fixed are always somewhat less than
wages contingent. But though when fixed wages are stipulated the
laborer who has performed his part of the contract has usually a
legal claim upon the employer, it is frequently, if not generally,
the case that the disaster which prevents the employer from reaping
benefit from the labor prevents him from paying the wages. And in one
important department of industry the employer is legally exempt in
case of disaster, although the contract be for wages certain and not
contingent. For the maxim of admiralty law is, that “freight is the
mother of wages,” and though the seaman may have performed his part,
the disaster which prevents the ship from earning freight deprives him
of claim for his wages.

In this legal maxim is embodied the truth for which I am contending.
Production is always the mother of wages. Without production, wages
would not and could not be. It is from the produce of labor, not from
the advances of capital that wages come.

Wherever we analyze the facts this will be found to be true. For labor
always precedes wages. This is as universally true of wages received
by the laborer from an employer as it is of wages taken directly by
the laborer who is his own employer. In the one class of cases as
in the other, reward is conditioned upon exertion. Paid sometimes by
the day, oftener by the week or month, occasionally by the year, and
in many branches of production by the piece, the payment of wages by
an employer to an employee always implies the previous rendering of
labor by the employee for the benefit of the employer, for the few
cases in which advance payments are made for personal services are
evidently referable either to charity or to guarantee and purchase. The
name “retainer,” given to advance payments to lawyers, shows the true
character of the transaction, as does the name “blood money” given in
’longshore vernacular to a payment which is nominally wages advanced
to sailors, but which in reality is purchase money—both English and
American law considering a sailor as much a chattel as a pig.

I dwell on this obvious fact that labor always precedes wages, because
it is all-important to an understanding of the more complicated
phenomena of wages that it should be kept in mind. And obvious as it
is, as I have put it, the plausibility of the proposition that wages
are drawn from capital—a proposition that is made the basis for such
important and far-reaching deductions—comes in the first instance from
a statement that ignores and leads the attention away from this truth.
That statement is, that labor cannot exert its productive power unless
supplied by capital with maintenance.[9] The unwary reader at once
recognizes the fact that the laborer must have food, clothing, etc.,
in order to enable him to perform the work, and having been told that
the food, clothing, etc., used by productive laborers are capital, he
assents to the conclusion that the consumption of capital is necessary
to the application of labor, and from this it is but an obvious
deduction that industry is limited by capital—that the demand for labor
depends upon the supply of capital, and hence that wages depend upon
the ratio between the number of laborers looking for employment and the
amount of capital devoted to hiring them.

But I think the discussion in the previous chapter will enable any
one to see wherein lies the fallacy of this reasoning—a fallacy
which has entangled some of the most acute minds in a web of their
own spinning. It is in the use of the term capital in two senses. In
the primary proposition that capital is necessary to the exertion of
productive labor, the term “capital” is understood as including all
food, clothing, shelter, etc.; whereas, in the deductions finally
drawn from it, the term is used in its common and legitimate meaning
of wealth devoted, not to the immediate gratification of desire, but
to the procurement of more wealth—of wealth in the hands of employers
as distinguished from laborers. The conclusion is no more valid than
it would be from the acceptance of the proposition that a laborer
cannot go to work without his breakfast and some clothes, to infer
that no more laborers can go to work than employers first furnish
with breakfasts and clothes. Now, the fact is that laborers generally
furnish their own breakfasts and the clothes in which they go to work;
and the further fact is that capital (in the sense in which the word
is used in distinction to labor) in exceptional cases sometimes may,
but is never compelled to make advances to labor before the work
begins. Of all the vast number of unemployed laborers in the civilized
world to-day, there is probably not a single one willing to work who
could not be employed without any advance of wages. A great proportion
would doubtless gladly go to work on terms which did not require the
payment of wages before the end of a month; it is doubtful if there are
enough to be called a class who would not go to work and wait for their
wages until the end of the week, as most laborers habitually do; while
there are certainly none who would not wait for their wages until the
end of the day, or if you please, until the next meal hour. The precise
time of the payment of wages is immaterial; the essential point—the
point I lay stress on—is that it is _after_ the performance of work.

The payment of wages, therefore, always implies the previous rendering
of labor. Now, what does the rendering of labor in production imply?
Evidently the production of wealth, which, if it is to be exchanged
or used in production, is capital. Therefore, the payment of capital
in wages pre-supposes a production of capital by the labor for which
the wages are paid. And as the employer generally makes a profit, the
payment of wages is, so far as he is concerned, but the return to the
laborer of a portion of the capital he has received from the labor. So
far as the employee is concerned, it is but the receipt of a portion of
the capital his labor has previously produced. As the value paid in the
wages is thus exchanged for a value brought into being by the labor,
how can it be said that wages are drawn from capital or advanced by
capital? As in the exchange of labor for wages the employer always gets
the capital created by the labor before he pays out capital in the
wages, at what point is his capital lessened even temporarily?[10]

Bring the question to the test of facts. Take, for instance, an
employing manufacturer who is engaged in turning raw material into
finished products—cotton into cloth, iron into hardware, leather into
boots, or so on, as may be, and who pays his hands, as is generally
the case, once a week. Make an exact inventory of his capital on
Monday morning before the beginning of work, and it will consist of
his buildings, machinery, raw materials, money on hand, and finished
products in stock. Suppose, for the sake of simplicity, that he
neither buys nor sells during the week, and after work has stopped
and he has paid his hands on Saturday night, take a new inventory of
his capital. The item of money will be less, for it has been paid
out in wages; there will be less raw material, less coal, etc., and
a proper deduction must be made from the value of the buildings
and machinery for the week’s wear and tear. But if he is doing a
remunerative business, which must on the average be the case, the item
of finished products will be so much greater as to compensate for all
these deficiencies and show in the summing up an increase of capital.
Manifestly, then, the value he paid his hands in wages was not drawn
from his capital, or from any one else’s capital. It came, not from
capital, but from the value created by the labor itself. There was no
more advance of capital than if he had hired his hands to dig clams,
and paid them with a part of the clams they dug. Their wages were as
truly the produce of their labor as were the wages of the primitive
man, when, long “before the appropriation of land and the accumulation
of stock,” he obtained an oyster by knocking it with a stone from the

As the laborer who works for an employer does not get his wages until
he has performed the work, his case is similar to that of the depositor
in a bank who cannot draw money out until he has put money in. And as
by drawing out what he has previously put in, the bank depositor does
not lessen the capital of the bank, neither can laborers by receiving
wages lessen even temporarily either the capital of the employer or
the aggregate capital of the community. Their wages no more come from
capital than the checks of depositors are drawn against bank capital.
It is true that laborers in receiving wages do not generally receive
back wealth in the same form in which they have rendered it, any more
than bank depositors receive back the identical coins or bank notes
they have deposited, but they receive it in equivalent form, and as
we are justified in saying that the depositor receives from the bank
the money he paid in, so are we justified in saying that the laborer
receives in wages the wealth he has rendered in labor.

That this universal truth is so often obscured, is largely due to that
fruitful source of economic obscurities, the confounding of wealth with
money; and it is remarkable to see so many of those who, since Dr. Adam
Smith made the egg stand on its head, have copiously demonstrated the
fallacies of the mercantile system, fall into delusions of the very
same kind in treating of the relations of capital and labor. Money
being the general medium of exchanges, the common flux through which
all transmutations of wealth from one form to another take place,
whatever difficulties may exist to an exchange will generally show
themselves on the side of reduction to money, and thus it is sometimes
easier to exchange money for any other form of wealth than it is to
exchange wealth in a particular form into money, for the reason that
there are more holders of wealth who desire to make some exchange
than there are who desire to make any particular exchange. And so a
producing employer who has paid out his money in wages may sometimes
find it difficult to turn quickly back into money the increased value
for which his money has really been exchanged, and is spoken of as
having exhausted or advanced his capital in the payment of wages. Yet,
unless the new value created by the labor is less than the wages paid,
which can be only an exceptional case, the capital which he had before
in money he now has in goods—it has been changed in form, but not

There is one branch of production in regard to which the confusions of
thought which arise from the habit of estimating capital in money are
least likely to occur, inasmuch as its product is the general material
and standard of money. And it so happens that this business furnishes
us, almost side by side, with illustrations of production passing from
the simplest to most complex forms.

In the early days of California, as afterward in Australia, the placer
miner, who found in river bed or surface deposit the glittering
particles which the slow processes of nature had for ages been
accumulating, picked up or washed out his “wages” (so, too, he called
them) in actual money, for coin being scarce, gold dust passed as
currency by weight, and at the end of the day had his wages in money
in a buckskin bag in his pocket. There can be no dispute as to whether
these wages came from capital or not. They were manifestly the produce
of his labor. Nor could there be any dispute when the holder of a
specially rich claim hired men to work for him and paid them off in the
identical money which their labor had taken from gulch or bar. As coin
became more abundant, its greater convenience in saving the trouble and
loss of weighing assigned gold dust to the place of a commodity, and
with coin obtained by the sale of the dust their labor had procured,
the employing miner paid off his hands. Where he had coin enough to do
so, instead of selling his gold dust at the nearest store and paying
a dealer’s profit, he retained it until he got enough to take a trip,
or send by express to San Francisco, where at the mint he could have
it turned into coin without charge. While thus accumulating gold dust
he was lessening his stock of coin; just as the manufacturer, while
accumulating a stock of goods, lessens his stock of money. Yet no one
would be obtuse enough to imagine that in thus taking in gold dust and
paying out coin the miner was lessening his capital.

But the deposits that could be worked without preliminary labor
were soon exhausted, and gold mining rapidly took a more elaborate
character. Before claims could be opened so as to yield any return
deep shafts had to be sunk, great dams constructed, long tunnels cut
through the hardest rock, water brought for miles over mountain ridges
and across deep valleys, and expensive machinery put up. These works
could not be constructed without capital. Sometimes their construction
required years, during which no return could be hoped for, while the
men employed had to be paid their wages every week, or every month.
Surely, it will be said, in such cases, even if in no others, that
wages do actually come from capital; are actually advanced by capital;
and must necessarily lessen capital in their payment! Surely here, at
least, industry is limited by capital, for without capital such works
could not be carried on! Let us see:

       *       *       *       *       *

It is cases of this class that are always instanced as showing that
wages are advanced from capital. For where wages are paid before the
object of the labor is obtained, or is finished—as in agriculture,
where plowing and sowing must precede by several months the harvesting
of the crop; as in the erection of buildings, the construction of
ships, railroads, canals, etc.—it is clear that the owners of the
capital paid in wages cannot expect an immediate return, but, as the
phrase is, must “outlay it,” or “lie out of it” for a time, which
sometimes amounts to many years. And hence, if first principles are
not kept in mind, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that wages are
advanced by capital.

But such cases will not embarrass the reader to whom in what has
preceded I have made myself clearly understood. An easy analysis will
show that these instances where wages are paid before the product is
finished, or even produced, do not afford any exception to the rule
apparent where the product is finished before wages are paid.

If I go to a broker to exchange silver for gold, I lay down my silver,
which he counts and puts away, and then hands me the equivalent in
gold, minus his commission. Does the broker advance me any capital?
Manifestly not. What he had before in gold he now has in silver, plus
his profit. And as he got the silver before he paid out the gold, there
is on his part not even momentarily an advance of capital.

Now, this operation of the broker is precisely analogous to what the
capitalist does, when, in such cases as we are now considering, he
pays out capital in wages. As the rendering of labor precedes the
payment of wages, and as the rendering of labor in production implies
the creation of value, the employer receives value before he pays out
value—he but exchanges capital of one form for capital of another form.
For the creation of value does not depend upon the finishing of the
product; it takes place at every stage of the process of production, as
the immediate result of the application of labor, and hence, no matter
how long the process in which it is engaged, labor always adds to
capital by its exertion before it takes from capital in its wages.

Here is a blacksmith at his forge making picks. Clearly he is making
capital—adding picks to his employer’s capital before he draws money
from it in wages. Here is a machinist or boilermaker working on
the keel-plates of a Great Eastern. Is not he also just as clearly
creating value—making capital? The giant steamship, as the pick, is
an article of wealth, an instrument of production, and though the one
may not be completed for years, while the other is completed in a
few minutes, each day’s work, in the one case as in the other, is as
clearly a production of wealth—an addition to capital. In the case of
the steamship, as in the case of the pick, it is not the last blow,
any more than the first blow, that creates the value of the finished
product—the creation of value is continuous, it immediately results
from the exertion of labor.

We see this very clearly wherever the division of labor has made it
customary for different parts of the full process of production to be
carried on by different sets of producers—that is to say, wherever we
are in the habit of estimating the amount of value which the labor
expended in any preparatory stage of production has created. And a
moment’s reflection will show that this is the case as to the vast
majority of products. Take a ship, a building, a jackknife, a book,
a lady’s thimble or a loaf of bread. They are finished products. But
they were not produced at one operation or by one set of producers.
And this being the case, we readily distinguish different points or
stages in the creation of the value which as completed articles they
represent. When we do not distinguish different parts in the final
process of production we do distinguish the value of the materials.
The value of these materials may often be again decomposed many times,
exhibiting as many clearly defined steps in the creation of the final
value. At each of these steps we habitually estimate a creation of
value, an addition to capital. The batch of bread which the baker is
taking from the oven has a certain value. But this is composed in part
of the value of the flour from which the dough was made. And this again
is composed of the value of the wheat, the value given by milling, etc.
Iron in the form of pigs is very far from being a completed product.
It must yet pass through several, or, perhaps, through many, stages of
production before it results in the finished articles that were the
ultimate objects for which the iron ore was extracted from the mine.
Yet, is not pig iron capital? And so the process of production is not
really completed when a crop of cotton is gathered, nor yet when it is
ginned and pressed; nor yet when it arrives at Lowell or Manchester;
nor yet when it is converted into yarn; nor yet when it becomes cloth;
but only when it is finally placed in the hands of the consumer. Yet
at each step in this progress there is clearly enough a creation of
value—an addition to capital. Why, therefore, although we do not so
habitually distinguish and estimate it, is there not a creation of
value—an addition to capital—when the ground is plowed for the crop?
Is it because it may possibly be a bad season and the crop may fail?
Evidently not; for a like possibility of misadventure attends every one
of the many steps in the production of the finished article. On the
average a crop is sure to come up, and so much plowing and sowing will
on the average result in so much cotton in the boll, as surely as so
much spinning of cotton yarn will result in so much cloth.

In short, as the payment of wages is always conditioned upon the
rendering of labor, the payment of wages in production, no matter
how long the process, never involves any advance of capital, or even
temporarily lessens capital. It may take a year, or even years, to
build a ship, but the creation of value of which the finished ship will
be the sum goes on day by day, and hour by hour, from the time the keel
is laid or even the ground is cleared. Nor by the payment of wages
before the ship is completed, does the master builder lessen either his
capital or the capital of the community, for the value of the partially
completed ship stands in place of the value paid out in wages. There is
no advance of capital in this payment of wages, for the labor of the
workmen during the week or month creates and renders to the builder
more capital than is paid back to them at the end of the week or month,
as is shown by the fact that if the builder were at any stage of the
construction asked to sell a partially completed ship he would expect a

And so, when a Sutro or St. Gothard tunnel or a Suez canal is cut,
there is no advance of capital. The tunnel or canal, as it is cut,
becomes capital as much as the money spent in cutting it—or, if you
please, the powder, drills, etc., used in the work, and the food,
clothes, etc., used by the workmen—as is shown by the fact that the
value of the capital stock of the company is not lessened as capital in
these forms is gradually changed into capital in the form of tunnel or
canal. On the contrary, it probably, and on the average, increases as
the work progresses, just as the capital invested in a speedier mode of
production would on the average increase.

And this is obvious in agriculture also. That the creation of value
does not take place all at once when the crop is gathered, but step
by step during the whole process which the gathering of the crop
concludes, and that no payment of wages in the interim lessens the
farmer’s capital, is tangible enough when land is sold or rented
during the process of production, as a plowed field will bring more
than an unplowed field, or a field that has been sown more than one
merely plowed. It is tangible enough when growing crops are sold, as
is sometimes done, or where the farmer does not harvest himself, but
lets a contract to the owner of harvesting machinery. It is tangible in
the case of orchards and vineyards which, though not yet in bearing,
bring prices proportionate to their age. It is tangible in the case
of horses, cattle and sheep, which increase in value as they grow
toward maturity. And if not always tangible between what may be called
the usual exchange points in production, this increase of value as
surely takes place with every exertion of labor. Hence, where labor
is rendered before wages are paid, the advance of capital is really
made by labor, and is from the employed to the employer, not from the
employer to the employed.

“Yet,” it may be said, “in such cases as we have been considering
capital is required!” Certainly; I do not dispute that. But it is not
required in order to make advances to labor. It is required for quite
another purpose. What that purpose is we may readily see.

When wages are paid in kind—that is to say, in wealth of the same
species as the labor produces; as, for instance, if I hire men to cut
wood, agreeing to give them as wages a portion of the wood they cut, a
method sometimes adopted by the owners or lessees of woodland, it is
evident that no capital is required for the payment of wages. Nor yet
when, for the sake of mutual convenience, arising from the fact that
a large quantity of wood can be more readily and more advantageously
exchanged than a number of small quantities, I agree to pay wages
in money, instead of wood, shall I need any capital, provided I can
make the exchange of the wood for money before the wages are due. It
is only when I cannot make such an exchange, or such an advantageous
exchange as I desire, until I accumulate a large quantity of wood that
I shall need capital. Nor even then shall I need capital if I can make
a partial or tentative exchange by borrowing on my wood. If I cannot,
or do not choose, either to sell the wood or to borrow upon it, and
yet wish to go ahead accumulating a large stock of wood, I shall need
capital. But manifestly, I need this capital, not for the payment of
wages, but for the accumulation of a stock of wood. Likewise in cutting
a tunnel. If the workmen were paid in tunnel (which, if convenient,
might easily be done by paying them in stock of the company), no
capital for the payment of wages would be required. It is only when
the undertakers wish to accumulate capital in the shape of a tunnel
that they will need capital. To recur to our first illustration: The
broker to whom I sell my silver cannot carry on his business without
capital. But he does not need this capital because he makes any advance
of capital to me when he receives my silver and hands me gold. He needs
it because the nature of the business requires the keeping of a certain
amount of capital on hand, in order that when a customer comes he may
be prepared to make the exchange the customer desires.

And so we shall find it in every branch of production. Capital has
never to be set aside for the payment of wages when the produce of the
labor for which the wages are paid is exchanged as soon as produced;
it is only required when this produce is stored up, or what is to the
individual the same thing, placed in the general current of exchanges
without being at once drawn against—that is, sold on credit. But the
capital thus required is not required for the payment of wages, nor
for advances to labor, as it is always represented in the produce of
the labor. It is never as an employer of labor that any producer needs
capital; when he does need capital, it is because he is not only an
employer of labor, but a merchant or speculator in, or an accumulator
of, the products of labor. This is generally the case with employers.

       *       *       *       *       *

To recapitulate: The man who works for himself gets his wages in the
things he produces, as he produces them, and exchanges this value
into another form whenever he sells the produce. The man who works
for another for stipulated wages in money works under a contract of
exchange. He also creates his wages as he renders his labor, but he
does not get them except at stated times, in stated amounts, and in a
different form. In performing the labor he is advancing in exchange;
when he gets his wages the exchange is completed. During the time he
is earning the wages he is advancing capital to his employer, but at
no time, unless wages are paid before work is done, is the employer
advancing capital to him. Whether the employer who receives this
produce in exchange for the wages immediately re-exchanges it, or
keeps it for awhile, no more alters the character of the transaction
than does the final disposition of the product made by the ultimate
receiver, who may, perhaps, be in another quarter of the globe and at
the end of a series of exchanges numbering hundreds.



But a stumbling block may yet remain, or may recur, in the mind of the

As the plowman cannot eat the furrow, nor a partially completed steam
engine aid in any way in producing the clothes the machinist wears,
have I not, in the words of John Stuart Mill, “forgotten that the
people of a country are maintained and have their wants supplied, not
by the produce of present labor, but of past?” Or, to use the language
of a popular elementary work—that of Mrs. Fawcett—have I not “forgotten
that many months must elapse between the sowing of the seed and the
time when the produce of that seed is converted into a loaf of bread,”
and that “it is, therefore, evident that laborers cannot live upon
that which their labor is assisting to produce, but are maintained by
that wealth which their labor, or the labor of others, has previously
produced, which wealth is capital?”[11]

The assumption made in these passages—the assumption that it is so
self-evident that labor must be subsisted from capital that the
proposition has but to be stated to compel recognition—runs through
the whole fabric of current political economy. And so confidently is
it held that the maintenance of labor is drawn from capital that the
proposition that “population regulates itself by the funds which are
to employ it, and, therefore, always increases or diminishes with
the increase or diminution of capital,”[12] is regarded as equally
axiomatic, and in its turn made the basis of important reasoning.

Yet being resolved, these propositions are seen to be, not
self-evident, but absurd; for they involve the idea that labor cannot
be exerted until the products of labor are saved—thus putting the
product before the producer.

And being examined, they will be seen to derive their apparent
plausibility from a confusion of thought.

I have already pointed out the fallacy, concealed by an erroneous
definition, which underlies the proposition that because food, raiment
and shelter are necessary to productive labor, therefore industry
is limited by capital. To say that a man must have his breakfast
before going to work is not to say that he cannot go to work unless a
capitalist furnishes him with a breakfast, for his breakfast may, and
in point of fact in any country where there is not actual famine will,
come not from wealth set apart for the assistance of production, but
from wealth set apart for subsistence. And, as has been previously
shown, food, clothing, etc.—in short, all articles of wealth—are only
capital so long as they remain in the possession of those who propose,
not to consume, but to exchange them for other commodities or for
productive services, and cease to be capital when they pass into the
possession of those who will consume them; for in that transaction
they pass from the stock of wealth held for the purpose of procuring
other wealth, and pass into the stock of wealth held for purposes of
gratification, irrespective of whether their consumption will aid in
the production of wealth or not. Unless this distinction is preserved
it is impossible to draw the line between the wealth that is capital
and the wealth that is not capital, even by remitting the distinction
to the “mind of the possessor,” as does John Stuart Mill. For men do
not eat or abstain, wear clothes or go naked, as they propose to engage
in productive labor or not. They eat because they are hungry, and wear
clothes because they would be uncomfortable without them. Take the
food on the breakfast table of a laborer who will work or not that day
as he gets the opportunity. If the distinction between capital and
non-capital be the support of productive labor, is this food capital or
not? It is as impossible for the laborer himself as for any philosopher
of the Ricardo-Mill school to tell. Nor yet can it be told when it gets
into his stomach; nor, supposing that he does not get work at first,
but continues the search, can it be told until it has passed into the
blood and tissues. Yet the man will eat his breakfast all the same.

But, though it would be logically sufficient, it is hardly safe to rest
here and leave the argument to turn on the distinction between wealth
and capital. Nor is it necessary. It seems to me that the proposition
that present labor must be maintained by the produce of past labor will
upon analysis prove to be true only in the sense that the afternoon’s
labor must be performed by the aid of the noonday meal, or that before
you eat the hare he must be caught and cooked. And this, manifestly,
is not the sense in which the proposition is used to support the
important reasoning that is made to hinge upon it. That sense is, that
before a work which will not immediately result in wealth available
for subsistence can be carried on, there must exist such a stock of
subsistence as will support the laborers during the process. Let us see
if this be true:

The canoe which Robinson Crusoe made with such infinite toil and pains
was a production in which his labor could not yield an immediate
return. But was it necessary that, before he commenced, he should
accumulate a stock of food sufficient to maintain him while he felled
the tree, hewed out the canoe, and finally launched her into the sea?
Not at all. It was necessary only that he should devote part of his
time to the procurement of food while he was devoting part of his time
to the building and launching of the canoe. Or supposing a hundred men
to be landed, without any stock of provisions, in a new country. Will
it be necessary for them to accumulate a season’s stock of provisions
before they can begin to cultivate the soil? Not at all. It will be
necessary only that fish, game, berries, etc., shall be so abundant
that the labor of a part of the hundred may suffice to furnish daily
enough of these for the maintenance of all, and that there shall be
such a sense of mutual interest, or such a correlation of desires, as
shall lead those who in the present get the food to divide (exchange)
with those whose efforts are directed to future recompense.

What is true in these cases is true in all cases. It is not necessary
to the production of things that cannot be used as subsistence, or
cannot be immediately utilized, that there should have been a previous
production of the wealth required for the maintenance of the laborers
while the production is going on. It is only necessary that there
should be, somewhere within the circle of exchange, a contemporaneous
production of sufficient subsistence for the laborers, and a
willingness to exchange this subsistence for the thing on which the
labor is being bestowed.

And as a matter of fact, is it not true, in any normal condition of
things, that consumption is supported by contemporaneous production?

Here is a luxurious idler, who does no productive work either with
head or hand, but lives, we say, upon wealth which his father left
him securely invested in government bonds. Does his subsistence, as
a matter of fact, come from wealth accumulated in the past or from
the productive labor that is going on around him? On his table are
new-laid eggs, butter churned but a few days before, milk which the
cow gave this morning, fish which twenty-four hours ago were swimming
in the sea, meat which the butcher boy has just brought in time to be
cooked, vegetables fresh from the garden, and fruit from the orchard—in
short, hardly anything that has not recently left the hand of the
productive laborer (for in this category must be included transporters
and distributors as well as those who are engaged in the first stages
of production), and nothing that has been produced for any considerable
length of time, unless it may be some bottles of old wine. What this
man inherited from his father, and on which we say he lives, is not
actually wealth at all, but only the power of commanding wealth as
others produce it. And it is from this contemporaneous production that
his subsistence is drawn.

The fifty square miles of London undoubtedly contain more wealth
than within the same space anywhere else exists. Yet were productive
labor in London absolutely to cease, within a few hours people would
begin to die like rotten sheep, and within a few weeks, or at most a
few months, hardly one would be left alive. For an entire suspension
of productive labor would be a disaster more dreadful than ever yet
befell a beleaguered city. It would not be a mere external wall of
circumvallation, such as Titus drew around Jerusalem, which would
prevent the constant incoming of the supplies on which a great city
lives, but it would be the drawing of a similar wall around each
household. Imagine such a suspension of labor in any community, and you
will see how true it is that mankind really live from hand to mouth;
that it is the daily labor of the community that supplies the community
with its daily bread.

Just as the subsistence of the laborers who built the Pyramids was
drawn not from a previously hoarded stock, but from the constantly
recurring crops of the Nile Valley; just as a modern government
when it undertakes a great work of years does not appropriate to it
wealth already produced, but wealth yet to be produced, which is
taken from producers in taxes as the work progresses; so it is that
the subsistence of the laborers engaged in production which does not
directly yield subsistence comes from the production of subsistence in
which others are simultaneously engaged.

If we trace the circle of exchange by which work done in the production
of a great steam engine secures to the worker bread, meat, clothes and
shelter, we shall find that though between the laborer on the engine
and the producers of the bread, meat, etc., there may be a thousand
intermediate exchanges, the transaction, when reduced to its lowest
terms, really amounts to an exchange of labor between him and them.
Now the cause which induces the expenditure of the labor on the engine
is evidently that some one who has power to give what is desired by
the laborer on the engine wants in exchange an engine—that is to say,
there exists a demand for an engine on the part of those producing
bread, meat, etc., or on the part of those who are producing what the
producers of the bread, meat, etc., desire. It is this demand which
directs the labor of the machinist to the production of the engine, and
hence, reversely, the demand of the machinist for bread, meat, etc.,
really directs an equivalent amount of labor to the production of these
things, and thus his labor, actually exerted in the production of the
engine, virtually produces the things in which he expends his wages.

Or, to formularize this principle:

 _The demand for consumption determines the direction in which labor
 will be expended in production._

This principle is so simple and obvious that it needs no further
illustration, yet in its light all the complexities of our subject
disappear, and we thus reach the same view of the real objects and
rewards of labor in the intricacies of modern production that we gained
by observing in the first beginnings of society the simpler forms of
production and exchange. We see that now, as then, each laborer is
endeavoring to obtain by his exertions the satisfaction of his own
desires; we see that although the minute division of labor assigns to
each producer the production of but a small part, or perhaps nothing
at all, of the particular things he labors to get, yet, in aiding in
the production of what other producers want, he is directing other
labor to the production of the things he wants—in effect, producing
them himself. And thus, if he make jack-knives and eat wheat, the wheat
is really as much the produce of his labor as if he had grown it for
himself and left wheat-growers to make their own jack-knives.

We thus see how thoroughly and completely true it is, that in whatever
is taken or consumed by laborers in return for labor rendered, there
is no advance of capital to the laborers. If I have made jack-knives,
and with the wages received have bought wheat, I have simply exchanged
jack-knives for wheat—added jack-knives to the existing stock of wealth
and taken wheat from it. And as the demand for consumption determines
the direction in which labor will be expended in production, it cannot
even be said, so long as the limit of wheat production has not been
reached, that I have lessened the stock of wheat, for, by placing
jack-knives in the exchangeable stock of wealth and taking wheat out,
I have determined labor at the other end of a series of exchanges
to the production of wheat, just as the wheat grower, by putting in
wheat and demanding jack-knives, determined labor to the production of
jack-knives, as the easiest way by which wheat could be obtained.

And so the man who is following the plow—though the crop for which
he is opening the ground is not yet sown, and after being sown will
take months to arrive at maturity—he is yet, by the exertion of his
labor in plowing, virtually producing the food he eats and the wages
he receives. For, though plowing is but a part of the operation of
producing a crop, it is a part, and as necessary a part as harvesting.
The doing of it is a step toward procuring a crop, which, by the
assurance which it gives of the future crop, sets free from the stock
constantly held the subsistence and wages of the plowman. This is not
merely theoretically true, it is practically and literally true. At
the proper time for plowing, let plowing cease. Would not the symptoms
of scarcity at once manifest themselves without waiting for the time
of the harvest? Let plowing cease, and would not the effect at once be
felt in counting-room, and machine shop, and factory? Would not loom
and spindle soon stand as idle as the plow? That this would be so, we
see in the effect which immediately follows a bad season. And if this
would be so, is not the man who plows really producing his subsistence
and wages as much as though during the day or week his labor actually
resulted in the things for which his labor is exchanged?

As a matter of fact, where there is labor looking for employment, the
want of capital does not prevent the owner of land which promises a
crop for which there is a demand from hiring it. Either he makes an
agreement to cultivate on shares, a common method in some parts of the
United States, in which case the laborers, if they are without means of
subsistence, will, on the strength of the work they are doing, obtain
credit at the nearest store; or, if he prefers to pay wages, the farmer
will himself obtain credit, and thus the work done in cultivation is
immediately utilized or exchanged as it is done. If anything more
will be used up than would be used up if the laborers were forced to
beg instead of to work (for in any civilized country during a normal
condition of things the laborers must be supported anyhow), it will be
the reserve capital drawn out by the prospect of replacement, and which
is in fact replaced by the work as it is done. For instance, in the
purely agricultural districts of Southern California there was in 1877
a total failure of the crop, and of millions of sheep nothing remained
but their bones. In the great San Joaquin Valley were many farmers
without food enough to support their families until the next harvest
time, let alone to support any laborers. But the rains came again in
proper season, and these very farmers proceeded to hire hands to plow
and to sow. For every here and there was a farmer who had been holding
back part of his crop. As soon as the rains came he was anxious to sell
before the next harvest brought lower prices, and the grain thus held
in reserve, through the machinery of exchanges and advances, passed to
the use of the cultivators—set free, in effect produced, by the work
done for the next crop.

The series of exchanges which unite production and consumption may be
likened to a curved pipe filled with water. If a quantity of water is
poured in at one end, a like quantity is released at the other. It is
not identically the same water, but is its equivalent. And so they
who do the work of production put in as they take out—they receive in
subsistence and wages but the produce of their labor.


[9] Industry is limited by capital.... There can be no more industry
than is supplied with materials to work up and food to eat.
Self-evident as the thing is, it is often forgotten that the people
of a country are maintained and have their wants supplied not by the
produce of present labor, but of past. They consume what has been
produced, not what is about to be produced. Now, of what has been
produced a part only is allotted to the support of productive labor,
and there will not and cannot be more of that labor than the portion
so allotted (which is the capital of the country) can feed and provide
with the materials and instruments of production.—_John Stuart Mill,
Principles of Political Economy, Book I, Chap. V, Sec. I._

[10] I speak of labor producing capital for the sake of greater
clearness. What labor always procures is either wealth, which may or
may not be capital, or services, the cases in which nothing is obtained
being merely exceptional cases of misadventure. Where the object of
the labor is simply the gratification of the employer, as where I
hire a man to black my boots, I do not pay the wages from capital,
but from wealth which I have devoted, not to reproductive uses, but
to consumption for my own satisfaction. Even if wages thus paid be
considered as drawn from capital, then by that act they pass from the
category of capital to that of wealth devoted to the gratification of
the possessor, as when a cigar dealer takes a dozen cigars from the
stock he has for sale and puts them in his pocket for his own use.

[11] Political Economy for Beginners, by Millicent Garrett Fawcett,
Chap. III, p. 25.

[12] The words quoted are Ricardo’s (Chap. II); but the idea is common
in standard works.



It may now be asked, If capital is not required for the payment of
wages or the support of labor during production, what, then, are its

The previous examination has made the answer clear. Capital, as we have
seen, consists of wealth used for the procurement of more wealth, as
distinguished from wealth used for the direct satisfaction of desire;
or, as I think it may be defined, of wealth in the course of exchange.

Capital, therefore, increases the power of labor to produce wealth:
(1) By enabling labor to apply itself in more effective ways, as by
digging up clams with a spade instead of the hand, or moving a vessel
by shoveling coal into a furnace, instead of tugging at an oar. (2) By
enabling labor to avail itself of the reproductive forces of nature,
as to obtain corn by sowing it, or animals by breeding them. (3) By
permitting the division of labor, and thus, on the one hand, increasing
the efficiency of the human factor of wealth, by the utilization of
special capabilities, the acquisition of skill, and the reduction of
waste; and, on the other, calling in the powers of the natural factor
at their highest, by taking advantage of the diversities of soil,
climate and situation, so as to obtain each particular species of
wealth where nature is most favorable to its production.

Capital does not supply the materials which labor works up into wealth,
as is erroneously taught; the materials of wealth are supplied by
nature. But such materials partially worked up and in the course of
exchange are capital.

Capital does not supply or advance wages, as is erroneously taught.
Wages are that part of the produce of his labor obtained by the laborer.

Capital does not maintain laborers during the progress of their work,
as is erroneously taught. Laborers are maintained by their labor, the
man who produces, in whole or in part, anything that will exchange for
articles of maintenance, virtually producing that maintenance.

Capital, therefore, does not limit industry, as is erroneously taught,
the only limit to industry being the access to natural material. But
capital may limit the form of industry and the productiveness of
industry, by limiting the use of tools and the division of labor.

That capital may limit the form of industry is clear. Without the
factory, there could be no factory operatives; without the sewing
machine, no machine sewing; without the plow, no plowman; and without
a great capital engaged in exchange, industry could not take the
many special forms which are concerned with exchanges. It is also as
clear that the want of tools must greatly limit the productiveness
of industry. If the farmer must use the spade because he has not
capital enough for a plow, the sickle instead of the reaping machine,
the flail instead of the thresher; if the machinist must rely upon
the chisel for cutting iron; the weaver on the hand loom, and so
on, the productiveness of industry cannot be a tithe of what it is
when aided by capital in the shape of the best tools now in use.
Nor could the division of labor go further than the very rudest and
almost imperceptible beginnings, nor the exchanges which make it
possible extend beyond the nearest neighbors, unless a portion of the
things produced were constantly kept in stock or in transit. Even the
pursuits of hunting, fishing, gathering nuts, and making weapons
could not be specialized so that an individual could devote himself to
any one, unless some part of what was procured by each was reserved
from immediate consumption, so that he who devoted himself to the
procurement of things of one kind could obtain the others as he wanted
them, and could make the good luck of one day supply the shortcomings
of the next. While to permit the minute subdivision of labor that is
characteristic of, and necessary to, high civilization, a great amount
of wealth of all descriptions must be constantly kept in stock or in
transit. To enable the resident of a civilized community to exchange
his labor at option with the labor of those around him and with the
labor of men in the most remote parts of the globe, there must be
stocks of goods in warehouses, in stores, in the holds of ships, and in
railway cars, just as to enable the denizen of a great city to draw at
will a cupful of water, there must be thousands of millions of gallons
stored in reservoirs and moving through miles of pipe.

But to say that capital may limit the form of industry or the
productiveness of industry is a very different thing from saying that
capital limits industry. For the dictum of the current political
economy that “capital limits industry,” means not that capital limits
the form of labor or the productiveness of labor, but that it limits
the exertion of labor. This proposition derives its plausibility
from the assumption that capital supplies labor with materials and
maintenance—an assumption that we have seen to be unfounded, and which
is indeed transparently preposterous the moment it is remembered that
capital is produced by labor, and hence that there must be labor before
there can be capital. Capital may limit the form of industry and the
productiveness of industry; but this is not to say that there could be
no industry without capital, any more than it is to say that without
the power loom there could be no weaving; without the sewing machine
no sewing; no cultivation without the plow; or that in a community of
one, like that of Robinson Crusoe, there could be no labor because
there could be no exchange.

And to say that capital _may_ limit the form and productiveness of
industry is a different thing from saying that capital _does_. For the
cases in which it can be truly said that the form of productiveness
of the industry of a community is limited by its capital, will, I
think, appear upon examination to be more theoretical than real.
It is evident that in such a country as Mexico or Tunis the larger
and more general use of capital would greatly change the forms of
industry and enormously increase its productiveness; and it is often
said of such countries that they need capital for the development of
their resources. But is there not something back of this—a want which
includes the want of capital? Is it not the rapacity and abuses of
government, the insecurity of property, the ignorance and prejudice of
the people, that prevent the accumulation and use of capital? Is not
the real limitation in these things, and not in the want of capital,
which would not be used even if placed there? We can, of course,
imagine a community in which the want of capital would be the only
obstacle to an increased productiveness of labor, but it is only by
imagining a conjunction of conditions that seldom, if ever, occurs,
except by accident or as a passing phase. A community in which capital
has been swept away by war, conflagration, or convulsion of nature,
and, possibly, a community composed of civilized people just settled in
a new land, seem to me to furnish the only examples. Yet how quickly
the capital habitually used is reproduced in a community that has been
swept by war, has long been noticed, while the rapid production of the
capital it can, or is disposed to use, is equally noticeable in the
case of a new community.

I am unable to think of any other than such rare and passing conditions
in which the productiveness of labor is really limited by the want of
capital. For, although there may be in a community individuals who from
want of capital cannot apply their labor as efficiently as they would,
yet so long as there is a sufficiency of capital in the community at
large, the real limitation is not the want of capital, but the want
of its proper distribution. If bad government rob the laborer of his
capital, if unjust laws take from the producer the wealth with which
he would assist production, and hand it over to those who are mere
pensioners upon industry, the real limitation to the effectiveness
of labor is in misgovernment, and not in want of capital. And so of
ignorance, or custom, or other conditions which prevent the use of
capital. It is they, not the want of capital, that really constitute
the limitation. To give a circular saw to a Terra del Fuegan, a
locomotive to a Bedouin Arab, or a sewing machine to a Flathead squaw,
would not be to add to the efficiency of their labor. Neither does it
seem possible by giving anything else to add to their capital, for any
wealth beyond what they had been accustomed to use as capital would
be consumed or suffered to waste. It is not the want of seeds and
tools that keeps the Apache and the Sioux from cultivating the soil.
If provided with seeds and tools they would not use them productively
unless at the same time restrained from wandering and taught to
cultivate the soil. If all the capital of a London were given them in
their present condition, it would simply cease to be capital, for they
would only use productively such infinitesimal part as might assist in
the chase, and would not even use that until all the edible part of the
stock thus showered upon them had been consumed. Yet such capital as
they do want they manage to acquire, and in some forms in spite of the
greatest difficulties. These wild tribes hunt and fight with the best
weapons that American and English factories produce, keeping up with
the latest improvements. It is only as they became civilized that they
would care for such other capital as the civilized state requires, or
that it would be of any use to them.

In the reign of George IV., some returning missionaries took with them
to England a New Zealand chief called Hongi. His noble appearance
and beautiful tatooing attracted much attention, and when about to
return to his people he was presented by the monarch and some of the
religious societies with a considerable stock of tools, agricultural
instruments, and seeds. The grateful New Zealander did use this capital
in the production of food, but it was in a manner of which his English
entertainers little dreamed. In Sydney, on his way back, he exchanged
it all for arms and ammunition, with which, on getting home, he began
war against another tribe with such success that on the first battle
field three hundred of his prisoners were cooked and eaten, Hongi
having preluded the main repast by scooping out and swallowing the
eyes and sucking the warm blood of his mortally wounded adversary, the
opposing chief.[13] But now that their once constant wars have ceased,
and the remnant of the Maoris have largely adopted European habits,
there are among them many who have and use considerable amounts of

Likewise it would be a mistake to attribute the simple modes of
production and exchange which are resorted to in new communities solely
to a want of capital. These modes, which require little capital, are
in themselves rude and inefficient, but when the conditions of such
communities are considered, they will be found in reality the most
effective. A great factory with all the latest improvements is the most
efficient instrument that has yet been devised for turning wool or
cotton into cloth, but only so where large quantities are to be made.
The cloth required for a little village could be made with far less
labor by the spinning wheel and hand loom. A perfecting press will, for
each man required, print many thousand impressions while a man and a
boy would be printing a hundred with a Stanhope or Franklin press; yet
to work off the small edition of a country newspaper the old-fashioned
press is by far the most efficient machine. To carry occasionally two
or three passengers, a canoe is a better instrument than a steamboat;
a few sacks of flour can be transported with less expenditure of
labor by a pack horse than by a railroad train; to put a great stock
of goods into a cross-roads store in the backwoods would be but to
waste capital. And, generally, it will be found that the rude devices
of production and exchange which obtain among the sparse populations
of new countries result not so much from the want of capital as from
inability profitably to employ it.

As, no matter how much water is poured in, there can never be in a
bucket more than a bucketful, so no greater amount of wealth will be
used as capital than is required by the machinery of production and
exchange that under all the existing conditions—intelligence, habit,
security, density of population, etc.—best suit the people. And I am
inclined to think that as a general rule this amount will be had—that
the social organism secretes, as it were, the necessary amount of
capital just as the human organism in a healthy condition secretes the
requisite fat.

But whether the amount of capital ever does limit the productiveness
of industry, and thus fix a maximum which wages cannot exceed, it is
evident that it is not from any scarcity of capital that the poverty
of the masses in civilized countries proceeds. For not only do wages
nowhere reach the limit fixed by the productiveness of industry, but
wages are relatively the lowest where capital is most abundant. The
tools and machinery of production are in all the most progressive
countries evidently in excess of the use made of them, and any prospect
of remunerative employment brings out more than the capital needed. The
bucket is not only full; it is overflowing. So evident is this, that
not only among the ignorant, but by men of high economic reputation, is
industrial depression attributed to the abundance of machinery and the
accumulation of capital; and war, which is the destruction of capital,
is looked upon as the cause of brisk trade and high wages—an idea
strangely enough, so great is the confusion of thought on such matters,
countenanced by many who hold that capital employs labor and pays wages.

       *       *       *       *       *

Our purpose in this inquiry is to solve the problem to which so many
self-contradictory answers are given. In ascertaining clearly what
capital really is and what capital really does, we have made the
first, and an all-important step. But it is only a first step. Let us
recapitulate and proceed.

We have seen that the current theory that wages depend upon the ratio
between the number of laborers and the amount of capital devoted to the
employment of labor is inconsistent with the general fact that wages
and interest do not rise and fall inversely, but conjointly.

This discrepancy having led us to an examination of the grounds of
the theory, we have seen, further, that, contrary to the current
idea, wages are not drawn from capital at all, but come directly from
the produce of the labor for which they are paid. We have seen that
capital does not advance wages or subsist laborers, but that its
functions are to assist labor in production with tools, seed, etc., and
with the wealth required to carry on exchanges.

We are thus irresistibly led to practical conclusions so important as
amply to justify the pains taken to make sure of them.

For if wages are drawn, not from capital, but from the produce of
labor, the current theories as to the relations of capital and labor
are invalid, and all remedies, whether proposed by professors of
political economy or workingmen, which look to the alleviation of
poverty either by the increase of capital or the restriction of the
number of laborers or the efficiency of their work, must be condemned.

If each laborer in performing the labor really creates the fund from
which his wages are drawn, then wages cannot be diminished by the
increase of laborers, but, on the contrary, as the efficiency of labor
manifestly increases with the number of laborers, the more laborers,
other things being equal, the higher should wages be.

But this necessary proviso, “other things being equal,” brings us to a
question which must be considered and disposed of before we can further
proceed. That question is, Do the productive powers of nature tend
to diminish with the increasing drafts made upon them by increasing


[13] New Zealand and its Inhabitants. Rev. Richard Taylor. London,
1855. Chap. XXI.







    Are God and Nature then at strife,
      That Nature lends such evil dreams?
      So careful of the type she seems,
    So careless of the single life.




Behind the theory we have been considering lies a theory we have yet to
consider. The current doctrine as to the derivation and law of wages
finds its strongest support in a doctrine as generally accepted—the
doctrine to which Malthus has given his name—that population naturally
tends to increase faster than subsistence. These two doctrines, fitting
in with each other, frame the answer which the current political
economy gives to the great problem we are endeavoring to solve.

In what has preceded, the current doctrine that wages are determined
by the ratio between capital and laborers has, I think, been shown to
be so utterly baseless as to excite surprise as to how it could so
generally and so long obtain. It is not to be wondered at that such a
theory should have arisen in a state of society where the great body of
laborers seem to depend for employment and wages upon a separate class
of capitalists, nor yet that under these conditions it should have
maintained itself among the masses of men, who rarely take the trouble
to separate the real from the apparent. But it is surprising that a
theory which on examination appears to be so groundless could have been
successively accepted by so many acute thinkers as have during the
present century devoted their powers to the elucidation and development
of the science of political economy.

The explanation of this otherwise unaccountable fact is to be found in
the general acceptance of the Malthusian theory. The current theory of
wages has never been fairly put upon its trial, because, backed by the
Malthusian theory, it has seemed in the minds of political economists a
self-evident truth. These two theories mutually blend with, strengthen,
and defend each other, while they both derive additional support from a
principle brought prominently forward in the discussions of the theory
of rent—viz., that past a certain point the application of capital and
labor to land yields a diminishing return. Together they give such
an explanation of the phenomena presented in a highly organized and
advancing society as seems to fit all the facts, and which has thus
prevented closer investigation.

Which of these two theories is entitled to historical precedence it is
hard to say. The theory of population was not formulated in such a way
as to give it the standing of a scientific dogma until after that had
been done for the theory of wages. But they naturally spring up and
grow with each other, and were both held in a form more or less crude
long prior to any attempt to construct a system of political economy.
It is evident, from several passages, that though he never fully
developed it, the Malthusian theory was in rudimentary form present in
the mind of Adam Smith, and to this, it seems to me, must be largely
due the misdirection which on the subject of wages his speculations
took. But, however this may be, so closely are the two theories
connected, so completely do they complement each other, that Buckle,
reviewing the history of the development of political economy in his
“Examination of the Scotch Intellect during the Eighteenth Century,”
attributes mainly to Malthus the honor of “decisively proving” the
current theory of wages by advancing the current theory of the pressure
of population upon subsistence. He says in his “History of Civilization
in England,” Vol. 3, Chap. 5:

  “Scarcely had the Eighteenth Century passed away when it was
 decisively proved that the reward of labor depends solely on two
 things; namely, the magnitude of that national fund out of which all
 labor is paid, and the number of laborers among whom the fund is to
 be divided. This vast step in our knowledge is due, mainly, though
 not entirely, to Malthus, whose work on population, besides marking
 an epoch in the history of speculative thought, has already produced
 considerable practical results, and will probably give rise to others
 more considerable still. It was published in 1798; so that Adam Smith,
 who died in 1790, missed what to him would have been the intense
 pleasure of seeing how, in it, his own views were expanded rather
 than corrected. Indeed, it is certain that without Smith there would
 have been no Malthus; that is, unless Smith had laid the foundation,
 Malthus could not have raised the superstructure.”

The famous doctrine which ever since its enunciation has so powerfully
influenced thought, not alone in the province of political economy,
but in regions of even higher speculation, was formulated by Malthus
in the proposition that, as shown by the growth of the North American
colonies, the natural tendency of population is to double itself
at least every twenty-five years, thus increasing in a geometrical
ratio, while the subsistence that can be obtained from land “under
circumstances the most favorable to human industry could not possibly
be made to increase faster than in an arithmetical ratio, or by an
addition every twenty-five years of a quantity equal to what it at
present produces.” “The necessary effects of these two different
rates of increase, when brought together,” Mr. Malthus naïvely goes
on to say, “will be very striking.” And thus (Chap. I) he brings them

 “Let us call the population of this island eleven millions; and
 suppose the present produce equal to the easy support of such a
 number. In the first twenty-five years the population would be
 twenty-two millions, and the food being also doubled, the means of
 subsistence would be equal to this increase. In the next twenty-five
 years the population would be forty-four millions, and the means of
 subsistence only equal to the support of thirty-three millions. In the
 next period the population would be equal to eighty-eight millions,
 and the means of subsistence just equal to the support of half that
 number. And at the conclusion of the first century, the population
 would be a hundred and seventy-six millions, and the means of
 subsistence only equal to the support of fifty-five millions; leaving
 a population of a hundred and twenty-one millions totally unprovided

 “Taking the whole earth instead of this island, emigration would of
 course be excluded; and supposing the present population equal to a
 thousand millions, the human species would increase as the numbers
 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, and subsistence as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5,
 6, 7, 8, 9. In two centuries the population would be to the means of
 subsistence as 256 to 9; in three centuries, 4,096 to 13, and in two
 thousand years the difference would be almost incalculable.”

Such a result is of course prevented by the physical fact that no
more people can exist than can find subsistence, and hence Malthus’
conclusion is, that this tendency of population to indefinite increase
must be held back either by moral restraint upon the reproductive
faculty, or by the various causes which increase mortality, which he
resolves into vice and misery. Such causes as prevent propagation he
styles the preventive check; such causes as increase mortality he
styles the positive check. This is the famous Malthusian doctrine, as
promulgated by Malthus himself in the “Essay on Population.”

It is not worth while to dwell upon the fallacy involved in the
assumption of geometrical and arithmetical rates of increase, a play
upon proportions which hardly rises to the dignity of that in the
familiar puzzle of the hare and the tortoise, in which the hare is
made to chase the tortoise through all eternity without coming up with
him. For this assumption is not necessary to the Malthusian doctrine,
or at least is expressly repudiated by some of those who fully accept
that doctrine; as, for instance, John Stuart Mill, who speaks of it
as “an unlucky attempt to give precision to things which do not
admit of it, which every person capable of reasoning must see is
wholly superfluous to the argument.”[14] The essence of the Malthusian
doctrine is, that population tends to increase faster than the power of
providing food, and whether this difference be stated as a geometrical
ratio for population and an arithmetical ratio for subsistence, as
by Malthus; or as a constant ratio for population and a diminishing
ratio for subsistence, as by Mill, is only a matter of statement. The
vital point, on which both agree, is, to use the words of Malthus,
“that there is a natural tendency and constant effort in population to
increase beyond the means of subsistence.”

The Malthusian doctrine, as at present held, may be thus stated in its
strongest and least objectionable form:

That population, constantly tending to increase, must, when
unrestrained, ultimately press against the limits of subsistence, not
as against a fixed, but as against an elastic barrier, which makes the
procurement of subsistence progressively more and more difficult. And
thus, wherever reproduction has had time to assert its power, and is
unchecked by prudence, there must exist that degree of want which will
keep population within the bounds of subsistence.

Although in reality not more repugnant to the sense of harmonious
adaptation by creative beneficence and wisdom than the complacent
no-theory which throws the responsibility for poverty and its
concomitants upon the inscrutable decrees of Providence, without
attempting to trace them, this theory, in avowedly making vice and
suffering the necessary results of a natural instinct with which are
linked the purest and sweetest affections, comes rudely in collision
with ideas deeply rooted in the human mind, and it was, as soon as
formally promulgated, fought with a bitterness in which zeal was often
more manifest than logic. But it has triumphantly withstood the ordeal,
and in spite of the refutations of the Godwins, the denunciations of
the Cobbetts, and all the shafts that argument, sarcasm, ridicule, and
sentiment could direct against it, to-day it stands in the world of
thought as an accepted truth, which compels the recognition even of
those who would fain disbelieve it.

The causes of its triumph, the sources of its strength, are not
obscure. Seemingly backed by an indisputable arithmetical truth—that a
continuously increasing population must eventually exceed the capacity
of the earth to furnish food or even standing room, the Malthusian
theory is supported by analogies in the animal and vegetable kingdoms,
where life everywhere beats wastefully against the barriers that hold
its different species in check—analogies to which the course of modern
thought, in leveling distinctions between different forms of life, has
given a greater and greater weight; and it is apparently corroborated
by many obvious facts, such as the prevalence of poverty, vice, and
misery amid dense populations; the general effect of material progress
in increasing population without relieving pauperism; the rapid growth
of numbers in newly settled countries and the evident retardation of
increase in more densely settled countries by the mortality among the
class condemned to want.

The Malthusian theory furnishes a general principle which accounts
for these and similar facts, and accounts for them in a way which
harmonizes with the doctrine that wages are drawn from capital, and
with all the principles that are deduced from it. According to the
current doctrine of wages, wages fall as increase in the number of
laborers necessitates a more minute division of capital; according
to the Malthusian theory, poverty appears as increase in population
necessitates the more minute division of subsistence. It requires but
the identification of capital with subsistence, and number of laborers
with population, an identification made in the current treatises on
political economy, where the terms are often converted, to make the
two propositions as identical formally as they are substantially.[15]
And thus it is, as stated by Buckle in the passage previously quoted,
that the theory of population advanced by Malthus has appeared to prove
decisively the theory of wages advanced by Smith.

Ricardo, who a few years subsequent to the publication of the “Essay on
Population” corrected the mistake into which Smith had fallen as to the
nature and cause of rent, furnished the Malthusian theory an additional
support by calling attention to the fact that rent would increase as
the necessities of increasing population forced cultivation to less
and less productive lands, or to less and less productive points on
the same lands, thus explaining the rise of rent. In this way was
formed a triple combination, by which the Malthusian theory has been
buttressed on both sides—the previously received doctrine of wages and
the subsequently received doctrine of rent exhibiting in this view but
special examples of the operation of the general principle to which the
name of Malthus has been attached—the fall in wages and the rise in
rents which come with increasing population being but modes in which
the pressure of population upon subsistence shows itself.

Thus taking its place in the very framework of political economy (for
the science as currently accepted has undergone no material change or
improvement since the time of Ricardo, though in some minor points
it has been cleared and illustrated), the Malthusian theory, though
repugnant to sentiments before alluded to, is not repugnant to other
ideas, which, in older countries at least, generally prevail among the
working classes; but, on the contrary, like the theory of wages by
which it is supported and in turn supports, it harmonizes with them. To
the mechanic or operative the cause of low wages and of the inability
to get employment is obviously the competition caused by the pressure
of numbers, and in the squalid abodes of poverty what seems clearer
than that there are too many people?

But the great cause of the triumph of this theory is, that, instead
of menacing any vested right or antagonizing any powerful interest,
it is eminently soothing and reassuring to the classes who, wielding
the power of wealth, largely dominate thought. At a time when old
supports were falling away, it came to the rescue of the special
privileges by which a few monopolize so much of the good things of this
world, proclaiming a natural cause for the want and misery which, if
attributed to political institutions, must condemn every government
under which they exist. The “Essay on Population” was avowedly a reply
to William Godwin’s “Inquiry concerning Political Justice,” a work
asserting the principle of human equality; and its purpose was to
justify existing inequality by shifting the responsibility for it from
human institutions to the laws of the Creator. There was nothing new
in this, for Wallace, nearly forty years before, had brought forward
the danger of excessive multiplication as the answer to the demands of
justice for an equal distribution of wealth; but the circumstances of
the times were such as to make the same idea, when brought forward by
Malthus, peculiarly grateful to a powerful class, in whom an intense
fear of any questioning of the existing state of things had been
generated by the outburst of the French Revolution.

Now, as then, the Malthusian doctrine parries the demand for reform,
and shelters selfishness from question and from conscience by the
interposition of an inevitable necessity. It furnishes a philosophy by
which Dives as he feasts can shut out the image of Lazarus who faints
with hunger at his door; by which wealth may complacently button up
its pocket when poverty asks an alms, and the rich Christian bend
on Sundays in a nicely upholstered pew to implore the good gifts of
the All Father without any feeling of responsibility for the squalid
misery that is festering but a square away. For poverty, want, and
starvation are by this theory not chargeable either to individual
greed or to social mal-adjustments; they are the inevitable results
of universal laws, with which, if it were not impious, it were as
hopeless to quarrel as with the law of gravitation. In this view, he
who in the midst of want has accumulated wealth, has but fenced in a
little oasis from the driving sand which else would have overwhelmed
it. He has gained for himself, but has hurt nobody. And even if the
rich were literally to obey the injunctions of Christ and divide their
wealth among the poor, nothing would be gained. Population would be
increased, only to press again upon the limits of subsistence or
capital, and the equality that would be produced would be but the
equality of common misery. And thus reforms which would interfere with
the interests of any powerful class are discouraged as hopeless. As the
moral law forbids any forestalling of the methods by which the natural
law gets rid of surplus population and thus holds in check a tendency
to increase potent enough to pack the surface of the globe with human
beings as sardines are packed in a box, nothing can really be done,
either by individual or by combined effort, to extirpate poverty,
save to trust to the efficacy of education and preach the necessity of

A theory that, falling in with the habits of thought of the poorer
classes, thus justifies the greed of the rich and the selfishness of
the powerful, will spread quickly and strike its roots deep. This has
been the case with the theory advanced by Malthus.

And of late years the Malthusian theory has received new support in
the rapid change of ideas as to the origin of man and the genesis of
species. That Buckle was right in saying that the promulgation of
the Malthusian theory marked an epoch in the history of speculative
thought could, it seems to me, be easily shown; yet to trace its
influence in the higher domains of philosophy, of which Buckle’s own
work is an example, would, though extremely interesting, carry us
beyond the scope of this investigation. But how much be reflex and how
much original, the support which is given to the Malthusian theory
by the new philosophy of development, now rapidly spreading in every
direction, must be noted in any estimate of the sources from which
this theory derives its present strength. As in political economy, the
support received from the doctrine of wages and the doctrine of rent
combined to raise the Malthusian theory to the rank of a central truth,
so the extension of similar ideas to the development of life in all its
forms has the effect of giving it a still higher and more impregnable
position. Agassiz, who, to the day of his death, was a strenuous
opponent of the new philosophy, spoke of Darwinism as “Malthus all
over,”[16] and Darwin himself says the struggle for existence “is the
doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and
vegetable kingdoms.”[17]

It does not, however, seem to me exactly correct to say that the theory
of development by natural selection or survival of the fittest is
extended Malthusianism, for the doctrine of Malthus did not originally
and does not necessarily involve the idea of progression. But this
was soon added to it. McCulloch[18] attributes to the “principle of
increase” social improvement and the progress of the arts, and declares
that the poverty that it engenders acts as a powerful stimulus to the
development of industry, the extension of science and the accumulation
of wealth by the upper and middle classes, without which stimulus
society would quickly sink into apathy and decay. What is this but the
recognition in regard to human society of the developing effects of the
“struggle for existence” and “survival of the fittest,” which we are
now told on the authority of natural science have been the means which
Nature has employed to bring forth all the infinitely diversified and
wonderfully adapted forms which the teeming life of the globe assumes?
What is it but the recognition of the force, which, seemingly cruel and
remorseless, has yet in the course of unnumbered ages developed the
higher from the lower type, differentiated the man and the monkey, and
made the Nineteenth Century succeed the age of stone?

Thus commended and seemingly proved, thus linked and buttressed, the
Malthusian theory—the doctrine that poverty is due to the pressure
of population against subsistence, or, to put it in its other form,
the doctrine that the tendency to increase in the number of laborers
must always tend to reduce wages to the minimum on which laborers can
reproduce—is now generally accepted as an unquestionable truth, in
the light of which social phenomena are to be explained, just as for
ages the phenomena of the sidereal heavens were explained upon the
supposition of the fixity of the earth, or the facts of geology upon
that of the literal inspiration of the Mosaic record. If authority were
alone to be considered, formally to deny this doctrine would require
almost as much audacity as that of the colored preacher who recently
started out on a crusade against the opinion that the earth moves
around the sun, for in one form or another, the Malthusian doctrine has
received in the intellectual world an almost universal indorsement,
and in the best as in the most common literature of the day may be
seen cropping out in every direction. It is indorsed by economists
and by statesmen, by historians and by natural investigators; by
social science congresses and by trade unions; by churchmen and by
materialists; by conservatives of the strictest sect and by the most
radical of radicals. It is held and habitually reasoned from by many
who never heard of Malthus and who have not the slightest idea of what
his theory is.

Nevertheless, as the grounds of the current theory of wages have
vanished when subjected to a candid examination, so, do I believe, will
vanish the grounds of this, its twin. In proving that wages are not
drawn from capital we have raised this Antæus from the earth.


[14] Principles of Political Economy, Book II, Chap. IX., Sec. VI.—Yet
notwithstanding what Mill says, it is clear that Malthus himself lays
great stress upon his geometrical and arithmetical ratios, and it
is also probable that it is to these ratios that Malthus is largely
indebted for his fame, as they supplied one of those high-sounding
formulas that with many people carry far more weight than the clearest

[15] The effect of the Malthusian doctrine upon the definitions of
capital may, I think, be seen by comparing (see pp. 32, 33, 34) the
definition of Smith, who wrote prior to Malthus, with the definitions
of Ricardo, McCulloch and Mill, who wrote subsequently.

[16] Address before Massachusetts State Board of Agriculture, 1872.
Report U. S. Department of Agriculture, 1873.

[17] Origin of Species, Chap. III.

[18] Note IV. to Wealth of Nations.



The general acceptance of the Malthusian theory and the high authority
by which it is indorsed have seemed to me to make it expedient to
review its grounds and the causes which have conspired to give it such
a dominating influence in the discussion of social questions.

But when we subject the theory itself to the test of straightforward
analysis, it will, I think, be found as utterly untenable as the
current theory of wages.

In the first place, the facts which are marshaled in support of this
theory do not prove it, and the analogies do not countenance it.

And in the second place, there are facts which conclusively disprove it.

I go to the heart of the matter in saying that there is no warrant,
either in experience or analogy, for the assumption that there is any
tendency in population to increase faster than subsistence. The facts
cited to show this simply show that where, owing to the sparseness
of population, as in new countries, or where, owing to the unequal
distribution of wealth, as among the poorer classes in old countries,
human life is occupied with the physical necessities of existence,
the tendency to reproduce is at a rate which would, were it to go on
unchecked, some time exceed subsistence. But it is not a legitimate
inference from this that the tendency to reproduce would show itself
in the same force where population was sufficiently dense and wealth
distributed with sufficient evenness to lift a whole community above
the necessity of devoting their energies to a struggle for mere
existence. Nor can it be assumed that the tendency to reproduce, by
causing poverty, must prevent the existence of such a community; for
this, manifestly, would be assuming the very point at issue, and
reasoning in a circle. And even if it be admitted that the tendency to
multiply must ultimately produce poverty, it cannot from this alone
be predicated of existing poverty that it is due to this cause, until
it be shown that there are no other causes which can account for it—a
thing in the present state of government, laws, and customs, manifestly

This is abundantly shown in the “Essay on Population” itself. This
famous book, which is much oftener spoken of than read, is still well
worth perusal, if only as a literary curiosity. The contrast between
the merits of the book itself and the effect it has produced, or is
at least credited with (for though Sir James Stewart, Mr. Townsend,
and others, share with Malthus the glory of discovering “the principle
of population,” it was the publication of the “Essay on Population”
that brought it prominently forward), is, it seems to me, one of the
most remarkable things in the history of literature; and it is easy to
understand how Godwin, whose “Political Justice” provoked the “Essay
on Population,” should until his old age have disdained a reply. It
begins with the assumption that population tends to increase in a
geometrical ratio, while subsistence can at best be made to increase
only in an arithmetical ratio—an assumption just as valid, and no
more so, than it would be, from the fact that a puppy doubled the
length of his tail while he added so many pounds to his weight, to
assert a geometric progression of tail and an arithmetical progression
of weight. And, the inference from the assumption is just such as
Swift in satire might have credited to the savans of a previously
dogless island, who, by bringing these two ratios together, might
deduce the very “striking consequence” that by the time the dog grew
to a weight of fifty pounds his tail would be over a mile long, and
extremely difficult to wag, and hence recommend the prudential check
of a bandage as the only alternative to the positive check of constant
amputations. Commencing with such an absurdity, the essay includes a
long argument for the imposition of a duty on the importation, and
the payment of a bounty for the exportation of corn, an idea that has
long since been sent to the limbo of exploded fallacies. And it is
marked throughout the argumentative portions by passages which show on
the part of the reverend gentleman the most ridiculous incapacity for
logical thought—as, for instance, that if wages were to be increased
from eighteen pence or two shillings per day to five shillings, meat
would necessarily increase in price from eight or nine pence to two or
three shillings per pound, and the condition of the laboring classes
would therefore not be improved, a statement to which I can think of
no parallel so close as a proposition I once heard a certain printer
gravely advance—that because an author, whom he had known, was forty
years old when he was twenty, the author must now be eighty years old
because he (the printer) was forty. This confusion of thought does not
merely crop out here and there; it characterizes the whole work.[19]
The main body of the book is taken up with what is in reality a
refutation of the theory which the book advances, for Malthus’
review of what he calls the positive checks to population is simply
the showing that the results which he attributes to over-population
actually arise from other causes. Of all the cases cited, and pretty
much the whole globe is passed over in the survey, in which vice and
misery check increase by limiting marriages or shortening the term of
human life, there is not a single case in which the vice and misery can
be traced to an actual increase in the number of mouths over the power
of the accompanying hands to feed them; but in every case the vice and
misery are shown to spring either from unsocial ignorance and rapacity,
or from bad government, unjust laws or destructive warfare.

Nor what Malthus failed to show has any one since him shown. The globe
may be surveyed and history may be reviewed in vain for any instance
of a considerable country[20] in which poverty and want can be fairly
attributed to the pressure of an increasing population. Whatever be the
possible dangers involved in the power of human increase, they have
never yet appeared. Whatever may some time be, this never yet has been
the evil that has afflicted mankind. Population always tending to
overpass the limit of subsistence! How is it, then, that this globe of
ours, after all the thousands, and it is now thought millions, of years
that man has been upon the earth, is yet so thinly populated? How is
it, then, that so many of the hives of human life are now deserted—that
once cultivated fields are rank with jungle, and the wild beast licks
her cubs where once were busy haunts of men?

It is a fact, that, as we count our increasing millions, we are apt
to lose sight of—nevertheless it is a fact—that in what we know of
the world’s history decadence of population is as common as increase.
Whether the aggregate population of the earth is now greater than at
any previous epoch is a speculation which can deal only with guesses.
Since Montesquieu, in the early part of the last century, asserted,
what was then probably the prevailing impression, that the population
of the earth had, since the Christian era, greatly declined, opinion
has run the other way. But the tendency of recent investigation
and exploration has been to give greater credit to what have been
deemed the exaggerated accounts of ancient historians and travelers,
and to reveal indications of denser populations and more advanced
civilizations than had before been suspected, as well as of a higher
antiquity in the human race. And in basing our estimates of population
upon the development of trade, the advance of the arts, and the size
of cities, we are apt to underrate the density of population which the
intensive cultivations, characteristic of the earlier civilizations,
are capable of maintaining—especially where irrigation is resorted
to. As we may see from the closely cultivated districts of China and
Europe a very great population of simple habits can readily exist with
very little commerce and a much lower stage of those arts in which
modern progress has been most marked, and without that tendency to
concentrate in cities which modern populations show.[21]

Be this as it may, the only continent which we can be sure now contains
a larger population than ever before is Europe. But this is not true
of all parts of Europe. Certainly Greece, the Mediterranean Islands,
and Turkey in Europe, probably Italy, and possibly Spain, have
contained larger populations than now, and this may be likewise true of
Northwestern and parts of Central and Eastern Europe.

America also has increased in population during the time we know of
it; but this increase is not so great as is popularly supposed, some
estimates giving to Peru alone at the time of the discovery a greater
population than now exists on the whole continent of South America. And
all the indications are that previous to the discovery the population
of America had been declining. What great nations have run their
course, what empires have arisen and fallen in “that new world which
is the old,” we can only imagine. But fragments of massive ruins yet
attest a grander pre-Incan civilization; amid the tropical forests of
Yucatan and Central America are the remains of great cities forgotten
ere the Spanish conquest; Mexico, as Cortez found it, showed the
superimposition of barbarism upon a higher social development, while
through a great part of what is now the United States are scattered
mounds which prove a once relatively dense population, and here and
there, as in the Lake Superior copper mines, are traces of higher arts
than were known to the Indians with whom the whites came in contact.

As to Africa there can be no question. Northern Africa can contain but
a fraction of the population that it had in ancient times; the Nile
Valley once held an enormously greater population than now, while south
of the Sahara there is nothing to show increase within historic times,
and widespread depopulation was certainly caused by the slave trade.

As for Asia, which even now contains more than half the human race,
though it is not much more than half as densely populated as Europe,
there are indications that both India and China once contained larger
populations than now, while that great breeding ground of men from
which issued swarms that overran both countries and sent great waves
of people rolling upon Europe, must have been once far more populous.
But the most marked change is in Asia Minor, Syria, Babylonia, Persia,
and in short that vast district which yielded to the conquering arms of
Alexander. Where were once great cities and teeming populations are now
squalid villages and barren wastes.

It is somewhat strange that among all the theories that have been
raised, that of a fixed quantity to human life on this earth has not
been broached. It would at least better accord with historical facts
than that of the constant tendency of population to outrun subsistence.
It is clear that population has here ebbed and there flowed; its
centers have changed; new nations have arisen and old nations declined;
sparsely settled districts have become populous and populous districts
have lost their population; but as far back as we can go without
abandoning ourselves wholly to inference, there is nothing to show
continuous increase, or even clearly to show an aggregate increase
from time to time. The advance of the pioneers of peoples has, so far
as we can discern, never been into uninhabited lands—their march has
always been a battle with some other people previously in possession;
behind dim empires vaguer ghosts of empire loom. That the population
of the world must have had its small beginnings we confidently infer,
for we know that there was a geologic era when human life could not
have existed, and we cannot believe that men sprang up all at once, as
from the dragon teeth sowed by Cadmus; yet through long vistas, where
history, tradition and antiquities shed a light that is lost in faint
glimmers, we may discern large populations. And during these long
periods the principle of population has not been strong enough fully
to settle the world, or even so far as we can clearly see materially
to increase its aggregate population. Compared with its capacities to
support human life the earth as a whole is yet most sparsely populated.

There is another broad, general fact which cannot fail to strike any
one who, thinking of this subject, extends his view beyond modern
society. Malthusianism predicates a universal law—that the natural
tendency of population is to outrun subsistence. If there be such a
law, it must, wherever population has attained a certain density,
become as obvious as any of the great natural laws which have been
everywhere recognized. How is it, then, that neither in classical
creeds and codes, nor in those of the Jews, the Egyptians, the Hindoos,
the Chinese, nor any of the peoples who have lived in close association
and have built up creeds and codes, do we find any injunctions to the
practice of the prudential restraints of Malthus; but that, on the
contrary, the wisdom of the centuries, the religions of the world, have
always inculcated ideas of civic and religious duty the very reverse
of those which the current political economy enjoins, and which Annie
Besant is now trying to popularize in England?

And it must be remembered that there have been societies in which the
community guaranteed to every member employment and subsistence. John
Stuart Mill says (Book II, Chap. XII, Sec. 2), that to do this without
state regulation of marriages and births, would be to produce a state
of general misery and degradation. “These consequences,” he says, “have
been so often and so clearly pointed out by authors of reputation
that ignorance of them on the part of educated persons is no longer
pardonable.” Yet in Sparta, in Peru, in Paraguay, as in the industrial
communities which appear almost everywhere to have constituted the
primitive agricultural organization, there seems to have been an utter
ignorance of these dire consequences of a natural tendency.

Besides the broad, general facts I have cited, there are facts
of common knowledge which seem utterly inconsistent with such an
overpowering tendency to multiplication. If the tendency to reproduce
be so strong as Malthusianism supposes, how is it that families so
often become extinct—families in which want is unknown? How is it,
then, that when every premium is offered by hereditary titles and
hereditary possessions, not alone to the principle of increase, but
to the preservation of genealogical knowledge and the proving up of
descent, that in such an aristocracy as that of England, so many
peerages should lapse, and the House of Lords be kept up from century
to century only by fresh creations?

For the solitary example of a family that has survived any great
lapse of time, even though assured of subsistence and honor, we must
go to unchangeable China. The descendants of Confucius still exist
there, and enjoy peculiar privileges and consideration, forming,
in fact, the only hereditary aristocracy. On the presumption that
population tends to double every twenty-five years, they should,
in 2,150 years after the death of Confucius, have amounted to
859,559,193,106,709,670,198,710,528 souls. Instead of any such
unimaginable number, the descendants of Confucius, 2,150 years after
his death, in the reign of Kanghi, numbered 11,000 males, or say 22,000
souls. This is quite a discrepancy, and is the more striking when it
is remembered that the esteem in which this family is held on account
of their ancestor, “the Most Holy Ancient Teacher,” has prevented
the operation of the positive check, while the maxims of Confucius
inculcate anything but the prudential check.

Yet, it may be said, that even this increase is a great one. Twenty-two
thousand persons descended from a single pair in 2,150 years is far
short of the Malthusian rate. Nevertheless, it is suggestive of
possible overcrowding.

But consider. Increase of descendants does not show increase of
population. It could only do this when the breeding was in and in.
Smith and his wife have a son and daughter, who marry respectively some
one else’s daughter and son, and each have two children. Smith and his
wife would thus have four grandchildren; but there would be in the
one generation no greater number than in the other—each child would
have four grandparents. And supposing this process were to go on, the
line of descent might constantly spread out into hundreds, thousands
and millions; but in each generation of descendants there would be no
more individuals than in any previous generation of ancestors. The web
of generations is like lattice-work or the diagonal threads in cloth.
Commencing at any point at the top, the eye follows lines which at the
bottom widely diverge; but beginning at any point at the bottom, the
lines diverge in the same way to the top. How many children a man may
have is problematical. But that he had two parents is certain, and
that these again had two parents each is also certain. Follow this
geometrical progression through a few generations and see if it does
not lead to quite as “striking consequences” as Mr. Malthus’ peopling
of the solar systems.

But from such considerations as these let us advance to a more definite
inquiry. I assert that the cases commonly cited as instances of
over-population will not bear investigation. India, China, and Ireland
furnish the strongest of these cases. In each of these countries, large
numbers have perished by starvation and large classes are reduced to
abject misery or compelled to emigrate. But is this really due to

Comparing total population with total area, India and China are far
from being the most densely populated countries of the world. According
to the estimates of MM. Behm and Wagner, the population of India is
but 132 to the square mile and that of China 119, whereas Saxony has
a population of 442 to the square mile; Belgium 441; England 422; the
Netherlands 291; Italy 234 and Japan 233.[22] There are thus in both
countries large areas unused or not fully used, but even in their more
densely populated districts there can be no doubt that either could
maintain a much greater population in a much higher degree of comfort,
for in both countries is labor applied to production in the rudest and
most inefficient ways, and in both countries great natural resources
are wholly neglected. This arises from no innate deficiency in the
people, for the Hindoo, as comparative philology has shown, is of our
own blood, and China possessed a high degree of civilization and the
rudiments of the most important modern inventions when our ancestors
were wandering savages. It arises from the form which the social
organization has in both countries taken, which has shackled productive
power and robbed industry of its reward.

In India from time immemorial, the working classes have been ground
down by exactions and oppressions into a condition of helpless and
hopeless degradation. For ages and ages the cultivator of the soil
has esteemed himself happy if, of his produce, the extortion of the
strong hand left him enough to support life and furnish seed; capital
could nowhere be safely accumulated or to any considerable extent be
used to assist production; all wealth that could be wrung from the
people was in the possession of princes who were little better than
robber chiefs quartered on the country, or in that of their farmers
or favorites, and was wasted in useless or worse than useless luxury,
while religion, sunken into an elaborate and terrible superstition,
tyrannized over the mind as physical force did over the bodies of
men. Under these conditions, the only arts that could advance were
those that ministered to the ostentation and luxury of the great. The
elephants of the rajah blazed with gold of exquisite workmanship, and
the umbrellas that symbolized his regal power glittered with gems; but
the plow of the ryot was only a sharpened stick. The ladies of the
rajah’s harem wrapped themselves in muslins so fine as to take the name
of woven wind, but the tools of the artisan were of the poorest and
rudest description, and commerce could only be carried on, as it were,
by stealth.

Is it not clear that this tyranny and insecurity have produced the want
and starvation of India; and not, as according to Buckle, the pressure
of population upon subsistence that has produced the want, and the
want the tyranny.[23] Says the Rev. William Tennant, a chaplain in the
service of the East India Company, writing in 1796, two years before
the publication of the “Essay on Population:”

 “When we reflect upon the great fertility of Hindostan, it is amazing
 to consider the frequency of famine. It is evidently not owing to
 any sterility of soil or climate; the evil must be traced to some
 political cause, and it requires but little penetration to discover
 it in the avarice and extortion of the various governments. The great
 spur to industry, that of security, is taken away. Hence no man raises
 more grain than is barely sufficient for himself, and the first
 unfavorable season produces a famine.

 “The Mogul government at no period offered full security to the
 prince, still less to his vassals; and to peasants the most scanty
 protection of all. It was a continued tissue of violence and
 insurrection, treachery and punishment, under which neither commerce
 nor the arts could prosper, nor agriculture assume the appearance of a
 system. Its downfall gave rise to a state still more afflictive, since
 anarchy is worse than misrule. The Mohammedan government, wretched
 as it was, the European nations have not the merit of overturning.
 It fell beneath the weight of its own corruption, and had already
 been succeeded by the multifarious tyranny of petty chiefs, whose
 right to govern consisted in their treason to the state, and whose
 exactions on the peasants were as boundless as their avarice. The
 rents to government were, and, where natives rule, still are, levied
 twice a year by a merciless banditti, under the semblance of an army,
 who wantonly destroy or carry off whatever part of the produce may
 satisfy their caprice or satiate their avidity, after having hunted
 the ill-fated peasants from the villages to the woods. Any attempt
 of the peasants to defend their persons or property within the mud
 walls of their villages only calls for the more signal vengeance on
 those useful, but ill-fated mortals. They are then surrounded and
 attacked with musketry and field pieces till resistance ceases, when
 the survivors are sold, and their habitations burned and leveled
 with the ground. Hence you will frequently meet with the ryots
 gathering up the scattered remnants of what had yesterday been their
 habitation, if fear has permitted them to return; but oftener the
 ruins are seen smoking, after a second visitation of this kind,
 without the appearance of a human being to interrupt the awful silence
 of desolation. This description does not apply to the Mohammedan
 chieftains alone; it is equally applicable to the Rajahs in the
 districts governed by Hindoos.”[24]

To this merciless rapacity, which would have produced want and famine
were the population but one to a square mile and the land a Garden
of Eden, succeeded, in the first era of British rule in India, as
merciless a rapacity, backed by a far more irresistible power. Says
Macaulay, in his essay on Lord Clive:

 “Enormous fortunes were rapidly accumulated at Calcutta, while
 millions of human beings were reduced to the extremity of
 wretchedness. They had been accustomed to live under tyranny, but
 never under tyranny like this. They found the little finger of the
 Company thicker than the loins of Surajah Dowlah. * * * It resembled
 the government of evil genii, rather than the government of human
 tyrants. Sometimes they submitted in patient misery. Sometimes they
 fled from the white man as their fathers had been used to fly from the
 Maharatta, and the palanquin of the English traveler was often carried
 through silent villages and towns that the report of his approach had
 made desolate.”

Upon horrors that Macaulay thus but touches, the vivid eloquence of
Burke throws a stronger light—whole districts surrendered to the
unrestrained cupidity of the worst of human kind, poverty-stricken
peasants fiendishly tortured to compel them to give up their little
hoards, and once populous tracts turned into deserts.

But the lawless license of early English rule has been long restrained.
To all that vast population the strong hand of England has given a
more than Roman peace; the just principles of English law have been
extended by an elaborate system of codes and law officers designed
to secure to the humblest of these abject peoples the rights of
Anglo-Saxon freemen; the whole peninsula has been intersected by
railways, and great irrigation works have been constructed. Yet, with
increasing frequency, famine has succeeded famine, raging with greater
intensity over wider areas.

Is not this a demonstration of the Malthusian theory? Does it not
show that no matter how much the possibilities of subsistence are
increased, population still continues to press upon it? Does it not
show, as Malthus contended, that, to shut up the sluices by which
superabundant population is carried off, is but to compel nature to
open new ones, and that unless the sources of human increase are
checked by prudential regulation, the alternative of war is famine?
This has been the orthodox explanation. But the truth, as may be seen
in the facts brought forth in recent discussions of Indian affairs in
the English periodicals, is that these famines, which have been, and
are now, sweeping away their millions, are no more due to the pressure
of population upon the natural limits of subsistence than was the
desolation of the Carnatic when Hyder Ali’s horsemen burst upon it in a
whirlwind of destruction.

The millions of India have bowed their necks beneath the yokes of
many conquerors, but worst of all is the steady, grinding weight of
English domination—a weight which is literally crushing millions out
of existence, and, as shown by English writers, is inevitably tending
to a most frightful and widespread catastrophe. Other conquerors have
lived in the land, and, though bad and tyrannous in their rule, have
understood and been understood by the people; but India now is like a
great estate owned by an absentee and alien landlord. A most expensive
military and civil establishment is kept up, managed and officered by
Englishmen who regard India as but a place of temporary exile; and an
enormous sum, estimated as at least £20,000,000 annually, raised from a
population where laborers are in many places glad in good times to work
for 1½d. to 4d. a day, is drained away to England in the shape of
remittances, pensions, home charges of the government, etc.—a tribute
for which there is no return. The immense sums lavished on railroads
have, as shown by the returns, been economically unproductive; the
great irrigation works are for the most part costly failures. In large
parts of India the English, in their desire to create a class of landed
proprietors, turned over the soil in absolute possession to hereditary
tax-gatherers, who rack-rent the cultivators most mercilessly. In
other parts, where the rent is still taken by the State in the shape
of a land tax, assessments are so high, and taxes are collected so
relentlessly, as to drive the ryots, who get but the most scanty living
in good seasons, into the claws of money lenders, who are, if possible,
even more rapacious than the zemindars. Upon salt, an article of prime
necessity everywhere, and of especial necessity where food is almost
exclusively vegetable, a tax of nearly twelve hundred per cent. is
imposed, so that its various industrial uses are prohibited, and large
bodies of the people cannot get enough to keep either themselves or
their cattle in health. Below the English officials are a horde of
native employees who oppress and extort. The effect of English law,
with its rigid rules, and, to the native, mysterious proceedings, has
been but to put a potent instrument of plunder into the hands of the
native money lenders, from whom the peasants are compelled to borrow on
the most extravagant terms to meet their taxes, and to whom they are
easily induced to give obligations of which they know not the meaning.
“We do not care for the people of India,” writes Florence Nightingale,
with what seems like a sob. “The saddest sight to be seen in the
East—nay, probably in the world—is the peasant of our Eastern Empire.”
And she goes on to show the causes of the terrible famines, in taxation
which takes from the cultivators the very means of cultivation, and the
actual slavery to which the ryots are reduced as “the consequences of
our own laws;” producing in “the most fertile country in the world, a
grinding, chronic semi-starvation in many places where what is called
famine does not exist.”[25] “The famines which have been devastating
India,” says H. M. Hyndman,[26] “are in the main financial famines.
Men and women cannot get food, because they cannot save the money to
buy it. Yet we are driven, so we say, to tax these people more.” And
he shows how, even from famine stricken districts, food is exported in
payment of taxes, and how the whole of India is subjected to a steady
and exhausting drain, which, combined with the enormous expenses of
government, is making the population year by year poorer. The exports
of India consist almost exclusively of agricultural products. For at
least one-third of these, as Mr. Hyndman shows, no return whatever is
received; they represent tribute—remittances made by Englishmen in
India, or expenses of the English branch of the Indian government.[27]
And for the rest, the return is for the most part government stores, or
articles of comfort and luxury used by the English masters of India. He
shows that the expenses of government have been enormously increased
under Imperial rule; that the relentless taxation of a population so
miserably poor that the masses are not more than half fed, is robbing
them of their scanty means for cultivating the soil; that the number
of bullocks (the Indian draft animal) is decreasing, and the scanty
implements of culture being given up to money lenders, from whom “we,
a business people, are forcing the cultivators to borrow at 12, 24, 60
per cent.[28] to build and pay the interest on the cost of vast public
works, which have never paid nearly five per cent.” Says Mr. Hyndman:
“The truth is that Indian society as a whole has been frightfully
impoverished under our rule, and that the process is now going on at an
exceedingly rapid rate”—a statement which cannot be doubted, in view of
the facts presented not only by such writers as I have referred to, but
by Indian officials themselves. The very efforts made by the government
to alleviate famines do, by the increased taxation imposed, but
intensify and extend their real cause. Although in the recent famine
in Southern India six millions of people, it is estimated, perished
of actual starvation, and the great mass of those who survived were
actually stripped, yet the taxes were not remitted and the salt tax,
already prohibitory to the great bulk of these poverty stricken people,
was increased forty per cent., just as after the terrible Bengal famine
in 1770 the revenue was actually driven up, by raising assessments upon
the survivors and rigorously enforcing collection.

In India now, as in India in past times, it is only the most
superficial view that can attribute want and starvation to pressure of
population upon the ability of the land to produce subsistence. Could
the cultivators retain their little capital—could they be released
from the drain which, even in non-famine years, reduces great masses
of them to a scale of living not merely below what is deemed necessary
for the sepoys, but what English humanity gives to the prisoners in
the jails—reviving industry, assuming more productive forms, would
undoubtedly suffice to keep a much greater population. There are still
in India great areas uncultivated, vast mineral resources untouched,
and it is certain that the population of India does not reach, as
within historical times it never has reached, the real limit of the
soil to furnish subsistence, or even the point where this power begins
to decline with the increasing drafts made upon it. The real cause
of want in India has been, and yet is, the rapacity of man, not the
niggardliness of nature.

What is true of India is true of China. Densely populated as China is
in many parts, that the extreme poverty of the lower classes is to be
attributed to causes similar to those which have operated in India,
and not to too great population, is shown by many facts. Insecurity
prevails, production goes on under the greatest disadvantages, and
exchange is closely fettered. Where the government is a succession of
squeezings, and security for capital of any sort must be purchased of
a mandarin; where men’s shoulders are the great reliance for inland
transportation; where the junk is obliged to be constructed so as to
unfit it for a sea-boat; where piracy is a regular trade, and robbers
often march in regiments, poverty would prevail and the failure of a
crop result in famine, no matter how sparse the population.[29] That
China is capable of supporting a much greater population is shown not
only by the great extent of uncultivated land to which all travelers
testify, but by the immense unworked mineral deposits which are there
known to exist. China, for instance, is said to contain the largest and
finest deposit of coal yet anywhere discovered. How much the working
of these coal beds would add to the ability to support a greater
population, may readily be imagined. Coal is not food, it is true; but
its production is equivalent to the production of food. For, not only
may coal be exchanged for food, as is done in all mining districts, but
the force evolved by its consumption may be used in the production of
food, or may set labor free for the production of food.

Neither in India nor China, therefore, can poverty and starvation be
charged to the pressure of population against subsistence. It is not
dense population, but the causes which prevent social organization
from taking its natural development and labor from securing its full
return, that keep millions just on the verge of starvation, and every
now and again force millions beyond it. That the Hindoo laborer thinks
himself fortunate to get a handful of rice, that the Chinese eat rats
and puppies, is no more due to the pressure of population than it is
due to the pressure of population that the Digger Indians live on
grasshoppers, or the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia eat the worms
found in rotten wood.

Let me be understood. I do not mean merely to say that India or China
could, with a more highly developed civilization, maintain a greater
population, for to this any Malthusian would agree. The Malthusian
doctrine does not deny that an advance in the productive arts would
permit a greater population to find subsistence. But the Malthusian
theory affirms—and this is its essence—that, whatever be the capacity
for production, the natural tendency of population is to come up with
it, and, in the endeavor to press beyond it, to produce, to use the
phrase of Malthus, that degree of vice and misery which is necessary
to prevent further increase; so that as productive power is increased,
population will correspondingly increase, and in a little time produce
the same results as before. What I say is this: that nowhere is there
any instance which will support this theory; that nowhere can want be
properly attributed to the pressure of population against the power to
procure subsistence in the then existing degree of human knowledge;
that everywhere the vice and misery attributed to over-population
can be traced to the warfare, tyranny, and oppression which prevent
knowledge from being utilized and deny the security essential to
production. The reason why the natural increase of population does not
produce want, we shall come to hereafter. The fact that it has not
yet anywhere done so, is what we are now concerned with. This fact
is obvious with regard to India and China. It will be obvious, too,
wherever we trace to their causes the results which on superficial view
are often taken to proceed from over-population.

Ireland, of all European countries, furnishes the great stock example
of over-population. The extreme poverty of the peasantry and the low
rate of wages there prevailing, the Irish famine, and Irish emigration,
are constantly referred to as a demonstration of the Malthusian theory
worked out under the eyes of the civilized world. I doubt if a more
striking instance can be cited of the power of a preaccepted theory to
blind men as to the true relations of facts. The truth is, and it lies
on the surface, that Ireland has never yet had a population which the
natural powers of the country, in the existing state of the productive
arts, could not have maintained in ample comfort. At the period of her
greatest population (1840-45) Ireland contained something over eight
millions of people. But a very large proportion of them managed merely
to exist—lodging in miserable cabins, clothed with miserable rags, and
with but potatoes for their staple food. When the potato blight came,
they died by thousands. But was it the inability of the soil to support
so large a population that compelled so many to live in this miserable
way, and exposed them to starvation on the failure of a single root
crop? On the contrary, it was the same remorseless rapacity that robbed
the Indian ryot of the fruits of his toil and left him to starve where
nature offered plenty. A merciless banditti of tax-gatherers did not
march through the land plundering and torturing, but the laborer was
just as effectually stripped by as merciless a horde of landlords,
among whom the soil had been divided as their absolute possession,
regardless of any rights of those who lived upon it.

Consider the conditions of production under which this eight millions
managed to live until the potato blight came. It was a condition to
which the words used by Mr. Tennant in reference to India may as
appropriately be applied—“the great spur to industry, that of security,
was taken away.” Cultivation was for the most part carried on by
tenants at will, who, even if the rack-rents which they were forced
to pay had permitted them, did not dare to make improvements which
would have been but the signal for an increase of rent. Labor was
thus applied in the most inefficient and wasteful manner, and labor
was dissipated in aimless idleness that, with any security for its
fruits, would have been applied unremittingly. But even under these
conditions, it is a matter of fact that Ireland did more than support
eight millions. For when her population was at its highest, Ireland
was a food-exporting country. Even during the famine, grain and meat
and butter and cheese were carted for exportation along roads lined
with the starving and past trenches into which the dead were piled. For
these exports of food, or at least for a great part of them, there was
no return. So far as the people of Ireland were concerned, the food
thus exported might as well have been burned up or thrown into the sea,
or never produced. It went not as an exchange, but as a tribute—to pay
the rent of absentee landlords; a levy wrung from producers by those
who in no wise contributed to production.

Had this food been left to those who raised it; had the cultivators
of the soil been permitted to retain and use the capital their labor
produced; had security stimulated industry and permitted the adoption
of economical methods, there would have been enough to support in
bounteous comfort the largest population Ireland ever had, and the
potato blight might have come and gone without stinting a single
human being of a full meal. For it was not the imprudence “of Irish
peasants,” as English economists coldly say, which induced them to
make the potato the staple of their food. Irish emigrants, when they
can get other things, do not live upon the potato, and certainly in
the United States the prudence of the Irish character, in endeavoring
to lay by something for a rainy day, is remarkable. They lived on the
potato, because rack-rents stripped everything else from them. The
truth is, that the poverty and misery of Ireland have never been fairly
attributable to over-population.

McCulloch, writing in 1838, says, in Note IV to “Wealth of Nations:”

 “The wonderful density of population in Ireland is the immediate cause
 of the abject poverty and depressed condition of the great bulk of
 the people. It is not too much to say that there are at present more
 than double the persons in Ireland it is, with its existing means of
 production, able either fully to employ or to maintain in a moderate
 state of comfort.”

As in 1841 the population of Ireland was given as 8,175,124, we
may set it down in 1838 as about eight millions. Thus, to change
McCulloch’s negative into an affirmative, Ireland would, according
to the over-population theory, have been able to employ fully and
maintain in a moderate state of comfort something less than four
million persons. Now, in the early part of the preceding century, when
Dean Swift wrote his “Modest Proposal,” the population of Ireland was
about two millions. As neither the means nor the arts of production
had perceptibly advanced in Ireland during the interval, then—if the
abject poverty and depressed condition of the Irish people in 1838 were
attributable to over-population—there should, upon McCulloch’s own
admission, have been in Ireland in 1727 more than full employment, and
much more than a moderate state of comfort, for the whole two millions.
Yet, instead of this being the case, the abject poverty and depressed
condition of the Irish people in 1727 were such, that, with burning,
blistering irony, Dean Swift proposed to relieve surplus population
by cultivating a taste for roasted babies, and bringing yearly to the
shambles, as dainty food for the rich, 100,000 Irish infants!

It is difficult for one who has been looking over the literature of
Irish misery, as while writing this chapter I have been doing, to
speak in decorous terms of the complacent attribution of Irish want
and suffering to over-population which are to be found even in the
works of such high-minded men as Mill and Buckle. I know of nothing
better calculated to make the blood boil than the cold accounts of
the grasping, grinding tyranny to which the Irish people have been
subjected, and to which, and not to any inability of the land to
support its population, Irish pauperism and Irish famine are to be
attributed; and were it not for the enervating effect which the history
of the world proves to be everywhere the result of abject poverty, it
would be difficult to resist something like a feeling of contempt for
a race who, stung by such wrongs, have only occasionally murdered a

Whether over-population ever did cause pauperism and starvation, may be
an open question; but the pauperism and starvation of Ireland can no
more be attributed to this cause than can the slave trade be attributed
to the over-population of Africa, or the destruction of Jerusalem
to the inability of subsistence to keep pace with reproduction. Had
Ireland been by nature a grove of bananas and bread-fruit, had her
coasts been lined by the guano-deposits of the Chinchas, and the sun
of lower latitudes warmed into more abundant life her moist soil, the
social conditions that have prevailed there would still have brought
forth poverty and starvation. How could there fail to be pauperism and
famine in a country where rack-rents wrested from the cultivator of
the soil all the produce of his labor except just enough to maintain
life in good seasons; where tenure at will forbade improvements and
removed incentive to any but the most wasteful and poverty-stricken
culture; where the tenant dared not accumulate capital, even if he
could get it, for fear the landlord would demand it in the rent; where
in fact he was an abject slave, who, at the nod of a human being like
himself, might at any time be driven from his miserable mud cabin, a
houseless, homeless, starving wanderer, forbidden even to pluck the
spontaneous fruits of the earth, or to trap a wild hare to satisfy
his hunger? No matter how sparse the population, no matter what
the natural resources, are not pauperism and starvation necessary
consequences in a land where the producers of wealth are compelled to
work under conditions which deprive them of hope, of self-respect, of
energy, of thrift; where absentee landlords drain away without return
at least a fourth of the net produce of the soil, and when, besides
them, a starving industry must support resident landlords, with their
horses and hounds, agents, jobbers, middlemen and bailiffs, an alien
state church to insult religious prejudices, and an army of policemen
and soldiers to overawe and hunt down any opposition to the iniquitous
system? Is it not impiety far worse than atheism to charge upon natural
laws misery so caused?

What is true in these three cases will be found upon examination true
of all cases. So far as our knowledge of facts goes, we may safely deny
that the increase of population has ever yet pressed upon subsistence
in such a way as to produce vice and misery; that increase of numbers
has ever yet decreased the relative production of food. The famines of
India, China, and Ireland can no more be credited to over-population
than the famines of sparsely populated Brazil. The vice and misery
that come of want can no more be attributed to the niggardliness of
Nature than can the six millions slain by the sword of Genghis Khan,
Tamerlane’s pyramid of skulls, or the extermination of the ancient
Britons or of the aboriginal inhabitants of the West Indies.


[19] Malthus’ other works, though written after he became famous, made
no mark, and are treated with contempt even by those who find in the
Essay a great discovery. The Encyclopædia Britannica, for instance,
though fully accepting the Malthusian theory, says of Malthus’
Political Economy: “It is very ill arranged, and is in no respect
either a practical or a scientific exposition of the subject. It is
in great part occupied with an examination of parts of Mr. Ricardo’s
peculiar doctrines, and with an inquiry into the nature and causes
of value. Nothing, however, can be more unsatisfactory than these
discussions. In truth Mr. Malthus never had any clear or accurate
perception of Mr. Ricardo’s theories, or of the principles which
determine the value in exchange of different articles.”

[20] I say considerable country, because there may be small islands,
such as Pitcairn’s Island, cut off from communication with the rest
of the world and consequently from the exchanges which are necessary
to the improved modes of production resorted to as population
becomes dense, which may seem to offer examples in point. A moment’s
reflection, however, will show that these exceptional cases are not in

[21] As may be seen from the map in H. H. Bancroft’s “Native Races,”
the State of Vera Cruz is not one of those parts of Mexico noticeable
for its antiquities. Yet Hugo Fink, of Cordova, writing to the
Smithsonian Institute (Reports 1870), says there is hardly a foot in
the whole State in which by excavation either a broken obsidian knife
or a broken piece of pottery is not found; that the whole country is
intersected with parallel lines of stones intended to keep the earth
from washing away in the rainy season, which show that even the very
poorest land was put into requisition, and that it is impossible to
resist the conclusion that the ancient population was at least as dense
as it is at present in the most populous districts of Europe.

[22] I take these figures from the Smithsonian Report for 1873, leaving
out decimals. MM. Behm and Wagner put the population of China at
446,500,000, though there are some who contend that it does not exceed
150,000,000. They put the population of Hither India at 206,225,580,
giving 132.39 to the square mile; of Ceylon at 2,405,287 or 97.36 to
the square mile; of Further India at 21,018,062, or 27.94 to the square
mile. They estimate the population of the world at 1,377,000,000, an
average of 26.64 to the square mile.

[23] History of Civilization. Vol. I., Chap. 2. In this chapter
Buckle has collected a great deal of evidence of the oppression
and degradation of the people of India from the most remote times,
a condition which, blinded by the Malthusian doctrine, he has
accepted and made the cornerstone of his theory of the development of
civilization, he attributes to the ease with which food can there be

[24] Indian Recreations. By Rev. Wm. Tennant. London, 1804. Vol. I.,

[25] Miss Nightingale (The People of India, in “Nineteenth Century”
for August, 1878) gives instances, which she says represent millions
of cases, of the state of peonage to which the cultivators of Southern
India have been reduced through the facilities afforded by the Civil
Courts to the frauds and oppressions of money lenders and minor native
officials. “Our Civil Courts are regarded as institutions for enabling
the rich to grind the faces of the poor, and many are fain to seek a
refuge from their jurisdiction within native territory,” says Sir David
Wedderburn, in an article on Protected Princes in India, in a previous
(July) number of the same magazine, in which he also gives a native
State, where taxation is comparatively light, as an instance of the
most prosperous population of India.

[26] See articles in “Nineteenth Century” for October, 1878, and March,

[27] Prof. Fawcett, in a recent article on the Proposed Loans to India,
calls attentions to such items as £1,200 for outfit and passage of a
member of the Governor General’s Council; £2,450 for outfit and passage
of Bishops of Calcutta and Bombay.

[28] Florence Nightingale says 100 per cent. is common, and even then
the cultivator is robbed in ways which she illustrates. It is hardly
necessary to say that these rates, like those of the pawnbroker, are
not interest in the economic sense of the term.

[29] The seat of recent famine in China was not the most thickly
settled districts.



If we turn from an examination of the facts brought forward in
illustration of the Malthusian theory to consider the analogies by
which it is supported, we shall find the same inconclusiveness.

The strength of the reproductive force in the animal and vegetable
kingdoms—such facts as that a single pair of salmon might, if preserved
from their natural enemies for a few years, fill the ocean; that a
pair of rabbits would, under the same circumstances, soon overrun a
continent; that many plants scatter their seeds by the hundred fold,
and some insects deposit thousands of eggs; and that everywhere through
these kingdoms each species constantly tends to press, and when not
limited by the number of its enemies, evidently does press, against
the limits of subsistence—is constantly cited, from Malthus down to
the text-books of the present day, as showing that population likewise
tends to press against subsistence, and, when unrestrained by other
means, its natural increase must necessarily result in such low wages
and want, or, if that will not suffice, and the increase still goes
on, in such actual starvation, as will keep it within the limits of

But is this analogy valid? It is from the vegetable and animal
kingdoms that man’s food is drawn, and hence the greater strength of
the reproductive force in the vegetable and animal kingdoms than in
man simply proves the power of subsistence to increase faster than
population. Does not the fact that all of the things which furnish
man’s subsistence have the power to multiply many fold—some of them
many thousand fold, and some of them many million or even billion
fold—while he is only doubling his numbers, show that, let human beings
increase to the full extent of their reproductive power, the increase
of population can never exceed subsistence? This is clear when it
is remembered that though in the vegetable and animal kingdoms each
species, by virtue of its reproductive power, naturally and necessarily
presses against the conditions which limit its further increase, yet
these conditions are nowhere fixed and final. No species reaches the
ultimate limit of soil, water, air, and sunshine; but the actual limit
of each is in the existence of other species, its rivals, its enemies,
or its food. Thus the conditions which limit the existence of such of
these species as afford him subsistence man can extend (in some cases
his mere appearance will extend them), and thus the reproductive forces
of the species which supply his wants, instead of wasting themselves
against their former limit, start forward in his service at a pace
which his powers of increase cannot rival. If he but shoot hawks,
food-birds will increase, if he but trap foxes the wild rabbits will
multiply; the honey bee moves with the pioneer, and on the organic
matter with which man’s presence fills the rivers, fishes feed.

Even if any consideration of final causes be excluded; even if it be
not permitted to suggest that the high and constant reproductive force
in vegetables and animals has been ordered to enable them to subserve
the uses of man, and that therefore the pressure of the lower forms of
life against subsistence does not tend to show that it must likewise be
so with man, “the roof and crown of things;” yet there still remains a
distinction between man and all other forms of life that destroys the
analogy. Of all living things, man is the only one who can give play
to the reproductive forces, more powerful than his own, which supply
him with food. Beast, insect, bird, and fish take only what they find.
Their increase is at the expense of their food, and when they have
reached the existing limits of food, their food must increase before
they can increase. But unlike that of any other living thing, the
increase of man involves the increase of his food. If bears instead of
men had been shipped from Europe to the North American continent, there
would now be no more bears than in the time of Columbus, and possibly
fewer, for bear food would not have been increased nor the conditions
of bear life extended, by the bear immigration, but probably the
reverse. But within the limits of the United States alone, there are
now forty-five millions of men where then there were only a few hundred
thousand, and yet there is now within that territory much more food
per capita for the forty-five millions than there was then for the few
hundred thousand. It is not the increase of food that has caused this
increase of men; but the increase of men that has brought about the
increase of food. There is more food, simply because there are more men.

Here is a difference between the animal and the man. Both the jay-hawk
and the man eat chickens, but the more jay-hawks the fewer chickens,
while the more men the more chickens. Both the seal and the man eat
salmon, but when a seal takes a salmon there is a salmon the less, and
were seals to increase past a certain point salmon must diminish; while
by placing the spawn of the salmon under favorable conditions man can
so increase the number of salmon as more than to make up for all he may
take, and thus, no matter how much men may increase, their increase
need never outrun the supply of salmon.

In short, while all through the vegetable and animal kingdoms the
limit of subsistence is independent of the thing subsisted, with man
the limit of subsistence is, within the final limits of earth, air,
water, and sunshine, dependent upon man himself. And this being the
case, the analogy which it is sought to draw between the lower forms of
life and man manifestly fails. While vegetables and animals do press
against the limits of subsistence, man cannot press against the limits
of his subsistence until the limits of the globe are reached. Observe,
this is not merely true of the whole, but of all the parts. As we
cannot reduce the level of the smallest bay or harbor without reducing
the level not merely of the ocean with which it communicates, but of
all the seas and oceans of the world, so the limit of subsistence in
any particular place is not the physical limit of that place, but the
physical limit of the globe. Fifty square miles of soil will in the
present state of the productive arts yield subsistence for only some
thousands of people, but on the fifty square miles which comprise the
city of London some three and a half millions of people are maintained,
and subsistence increases as population increases. So far as the limit
of subsistence is concerned, London may grow to a population of a
hundred millions, or five hundred millions, or a thousand millions, for
she draws for subsistence upon the whole globe, and the limit which
subsistence sets to her growth in population is the limit of the globe
to furnish food for its inhabitants.

But here will arise another idea from which the Malthusian theory
derives great support—that of the diminishing productiveness of land.
As conclusively proving the law of diminishing productiveness it is
said in the current treatises that were it not true that beyond a
certain point land yields less and less to additional applications
of labor and capital, increasing population would not cause any
extension of cultivation, but that all the increased supplies needed
could and would be raised without taking into cultivation any fresh
ground. Assent to this seems to involve assent to the doctrine that
the difficulty of obtaining subsistence must increase with increasing

But I think the necessity is only in seeming. If the proposition be
analyzed it will be seen to belong to a class that depend for validity
upon an implied or suggested qualification—a truth relatively, which
taken absolutely becomes a non-truth. For that man cannot exhaust or
lessen the powers of nature follows from the indestructibility of
matter and the persistence of force. Production and consumption are
only relative terms. Speaking absolutely, man neither produces nor
consumes. The whole human race, were they to labor to infinity, could
not make this rolling sphere one atom heavier or one atom lighter,
could not add to or diminish by one iota the sum of the forces whose
everlasting circling produces all motion and sustains all life. As
the water that we take from the ocean must again return to the ocean,
so the food we take from the reservoirs of nature is, from the moment
we take it, on its way back to those reservoirs. What we draw from
a limited extent of land may temporarily reduce the productiveness
of that land, because the return may be to other land, or may be
divided between that land and other land, or, perhaps, all land; but
this possibility lessens with increasing area, and ceases when the
whole globe is considered. That the earth could maintain a thousand
billions of people as easily as a thousand millions is a necessary
deduction from the manifest truths that, at least so far as our agency
is concerned, matter is eternal and force must forever continue to
act. Life does not use up the forces that maintain life. We come into
the material universe bringing nothing; we take nothing away when we
depart. The human being, physically considered, is but a transient form
of matter, a changing mode of motion. The matter remains and the force
persists. Nothing is lessened, nothing is weakened. And from this it
follows that the limit to the population of the globe can be only the
limit of space.

Now this limitation of space—this danger that the human race may
increase beyond the possibility of finding elbow room—is so far off as
to have for us no more practical interest than the recurrence of the
glacial period or the final extinguishment of the sun. Yet remote and
shadowy as it is, it is this possibility which gives to the Malthusian
theory its apparently self-evident character. But if we follow it, even
this shadow will disappear. It, also, springs from a false analogy.
That vegetable and animal life tend to press against the limits of
space does not prove the same tendency in human life.

Granted that man is only a more highly developed animal; that the
ring-tailed monkey is a distant relative who has gradually developed
acrobatic tendencies, and the hump-backed whale a far-off connection
who in early life took to the sea—granted that back of these he is kin
to the vegetable, and is still subject to the same laws as plants,
fishes, birds, and beasts. Yet there is still this difference between
man and all other animals—he is the only animal whose desires increase
as they are fed; the only animal that is never satisfied. The wants
of every other living thing are uniform and fixed. The ox of to-day
aspires to no more than did the ox when man first yoked him. The
sea gull of the English Channel, who poises himself above the swift
steamer, wants no better food or lodging than the gulls who circled
round as the keels of Cæsar’s galleys first grated on a British beach.
Of all that nature offers them, be it ever so abundant, all living
things save man can take, and care for, only enough to supply wants
which are definite and fixed. The only use they can make of additional
supplies or additional opportunities is to multiply.

But not so with man. No sooner are his animal wants satisfied than new
wants arise. Food he wants first, as does the beast; shelter next, as
does the beast; and these given, his reproductive instincts assert
their sway, as do those of the beast. But here man and beast part
company. The beast never goes further; the man has but set his feet on
the first step of an infinite progression—a progression upon which the
beast never enters; a progression away from and above the beast.

The demand for quantity once satisfied, he seeks quality. The very
desires that he has in common with the beast become extended, refined,
exalted. It is not merely hunger, but taste, that seeks gratification
in food; in clothes, he seeks not merely comfort, but adornment; the
rude shelter becomes a house; the undiscriminating sexual attraction
begins to transmute itself into subtile influences, and the hard and
common stock of animal life to blossom and to bloom into shapes of
delicate beauty. As power to gratify his wants increases, so does
aspiration grow. Held down to lower levels of desire, Lucullus will
sup with Lucullus; twelve boars turn on spits that Antony’s mouthful
of meat maybe done to a turn; every kingdom of Nature be ransacked to
add to Cleopatra’s charms, and marble colonnades and hanging gardens
and pyramids that rival the hills arise. Passing into higher forms of
desire, that which slumbered in the plant and fitfully stirred in the
beast, awakes in the man. The eyes of the mind are opened, and he longs
to know. He braves the scorching heat of the desert and the icy blasts
of the polar sea, but not for food; he watches all night, but it is
to trace the circling of the eternal stars. He adds toil to toil, to
gratify a hunger no animal has felt; to assuage a thirst no beast can

Out upon nature, in upon himself, back through the mists that shroud
the past, forward into the darkness that overhangs the future, turns
the restless desire that arises when the animal wants slumber in
satisfaction. Beneath things, he seeks the law; he would know how the
globe was forged and the stars were hung, and trace to their origins
the springs of life. And, then, as the man develops his nobler nature,
there arises the desire higher yet—the passion of passions, the hope
of hopes—the desire that he, even he, may somehow aid in making life
better and brighter, in destroying want and sin, sorrow and shame. He
masters and curbs the animal; he turns his back upon the feast and
renounces the place of power; he leaves it to others to accumulate
wealth, to gratify pleasant tastes, to bask themselves in the warm
sunshine of the brief day. He works for those he never saw and never
can see; for a fame, or maybe but for a scant justice, that can only
come long after the clods have rattled upon his coffin lid. He toils
in the advance, where it is cold, and there is little cheer from men,
and the stones are sharp and the brambles thick. Amid the scoffs of the
present and the sneers that stab like knives, he builds for the future;
he cuts the trail that progressive humanity may hereafter broaden into
a highroad. Into higher, grander spheres desire mounts and beckons, and
a star that rises in the east leads him on. Lo! the pulses of the man
throb with the yearnings of the god—he would aid in the process of the

Is not the gulf too wide for the analogy to span? Give more food,
open fuller conditions of life, and the vegetable or animal can but
multiply; the man will develop. In the one the expansive force can but
extend existence in new numbers; in the other, it will inevitably tend
to extend existence in higher forms and wider powers. Man is an animal;
but he is an animal plus something else. He is the mythic earth-tree,
whose roots are in the ground, but whose topmost branches may blossom
in the heavens!

Whichever way it be turned, the reasoning by which this theory of
the constant tendency of population to press against the limits
of subsistence is supported shows an unwarranted assumption, an
undistributed middle, as the logicians would say. Facts do not warrant
it, analogy does not countenance it. It is a pure chimera of the
imagination, such as those that for a long time prevented men from
recognizing the rotundity and motion of the earth. It is just such a
theory as that underneath us everything not fastened to the earth must
fall off; as that a ball dropped from the mast of a ship in motion must
fall behind the mast; as that a live fish placed in a vessel full of
water will displace no water. It is as unfounded, if not as grotesque,
as an assumption we can imagine Adam might have made had he been of
an arithmetical turn of mind and figured on the growth of his first
baby from the rate of its early months. From the fact that at birth it
weighed ten pounds and in eight months thereafter twenty pounds, he
might, with the arithmetical knowledge which some sages have supposed
him to possess, have ciphered out a result quite as striking as that
of Mr. Malthus; namely, that by the time it got to be ten years old it
would be as heavy as an ox, at twelve as heavy as an elephant, and at
thirty would weigh no less than 175,716,339,548 tons.

The fact is, there is no more reason for us to trouble ourselves about
the pressure of population upon subsistence than there was for Adam
to worry himself about the rapid growth of his baby. So far as an
inference is really warranted by facts and suggested by analogy, it
is that the law of population includes such beautiful adaptations as
investigation has already shown in other natural laws, and that we are
no more warranted in assuming that the instinct of reproduction, in
the natural development of society, tends to produce misery and vice,
than we should be in assuming that the force of gravitation must hurl
the moon to the earth and the earth to the sun, or than in assuming
from the contraction of water with reductions of temperature down to
thirty-two degrees that rivers and lakes must freeze to the bottom
with every frost, and the temperate regions of earth be thus rendered
uninhabitable by even moderate winters. That, besides the positive and
prudential checks of Malthus, there is a third check which comes into
play with the elevation of the standard of comfort and the development
of the intellect, is pointed to by many well-known facts. The
proportion of births is notoriously greater in new settlements, where
the struggle with nature leaves little opportunity for intellectual
life, and among the poverty-bound classes of older countries, who in
the midst of wealth are deprived of all its advantages and reduced
to all but an animal existence, than it is among the classes to whom
the increase of wealth has brought independence, leisure, comfort,
and a fuller and more varied life. This fact, long ago recognized in
the homely adage, “a rich man for luck, and a poor man for children,”
was noted by Adam Smith, who says it is not uncommon to find a poor
half-starved Highland woman has been the mother of twenty-three or
twenty-four children, and is everywhere so clearly perceptible that it
is only necessary to allude to it.

If the real law of population is thus indicated, as I think it must
be, then the tendency to increase, instead of being always uniform, is
strong where a greater population would give increased comfort, and
where the perpetuity of the race is threatened by the mortality induced
by adverse conditions; but weakens just as the higher development of
the individual becomes possible and the perpetuity of the race is
assured. In other words, the law of population accords with and is
subordinate to the law of intellectual development, and any danger
that human beings may be brought into a world where they cannot be
provided for arises not from the ordinances of nature, but from social
mal-adjustments that in the midst of wealth condemn men to want. The
truth of this will, I think, be conclusively demonstrated when, after
having cleared the ground, we trace out the true laws of social growth.
But it would disturb the natural order of the argument to anticipate
them now. If I have succeeded in maintaining a negative—in showing that
the Malthusian theory is not proved by the reasoning by which it is
supported—it is enough for the present. In the next chapter I propose
to take the affirmative and show that it is disproved by facts.



So deeply rooted and thoroughly entwined with the reasonings of the
current political economy is this doctrine that increase of population
tends to reduce wages and produce poverty, so completely does it
harmonize with many popular notions, and so liable is it to recur in
different shapes, that I have thought it necessary to meet and show
in some detail the insufficiency of the arguments by which it is
supported, before bringing it to the test of facts; for the general
acceptance of this theory adds a most striking instance to the many
which the history of thought affords of how easily men ignore facts
when blindfolded by a preaccepted theory.

To the supreme and final test of facts we can easily bring this theory.
Manifestly the question whether increase of population necessarily
tends to reduce wages and cause want, is simply the question whether it
tends to reduce the amount of wealth that can be produced by a given
amount of labor.

This is what the current doctrine holds. The accepted theory is, that
the more that is required from nature the less generously does she
respond, so that doubling the application of labor will not double the
product; and hence, increase of population must tend to reduce wages
and deepen poverty, or, in the phrase of Malthus, must result in vice
and misery. To quote the language of John Stuart Mill:

  “A greater number of people cannot, in any given state of
 civilization, be collectively so well provided for as a smaller. The
 niggardliness of nature, not the injustice of society, is the cause
 of the penalty attached to over-population. An unjust distribution
 of wealth does not aggravate the evil, but, at most, causes it be
 somewhat earlier felt. It is in vain to say that all mouths which
 the increase of mankind calls into existence bring with them hands.
 The new mouths require as much food as the old ones, and the hands
 do not produce as much. If all instruments of production were held
 in joint property by the whole people, and the produce divided with
 perfect equality among them, and if in a society thus constituted,
 industry were as energetic and the produce as ample as at the present
 time, there would be enough to make all the existing population
 extremely comfortable; but when that population had doubled itself,
 as, with existing habits of the people, under such an encouragement,
 it undoubtedly would in little more than twenty years, what would
 then be their condition? Unless the arts of production were in the
 same time improved in an almost unexampled degree, the inferior
 soils which must be resorted to, and the more laborious and scantily
 remunerative cultivation which must be employed on the superior
 soils, to procure food for so much larger a population, would, by
 an insuperable necessity, render every individual in the community
 poorer than before. If the population continued to increase at the
 same rate, a time would soon arrive when no one would have more than
 mere necessaries, and, soon after, a time when no one would have a
 sufficiency of those, and the further increase of population would be
 arrested by death.”[30]

All this I deny. I assert that the very reverse of these propositions
is true. I assert that in any given state of civilization a greater
number of people can collectively be better provided for than a
smaller. I assert that the injustice of society, not the niggardliness
of nature, is the cause of the want and misery which the current theory
attributes to over-population. I assert that the new mouths which an
increasing population calls into existence require no more food than
the old ones, while the hands they bring with them can in the natural
order of things produce more. I assert that, other things being equal,
the greater the population, the greater the comfort which an equitable
distribution of wealth would give to each individual. I assert that in
a state of equality the natural increase of population would constantly
tend to make every individual richer instead of poorer.

I thus distinctly join issue, and submit the question to the test of

But observe (for even at the risk of repetition I wish to warn the
reader against a confusion of thought that is observable even in
writers of great reputation), that the question of fact into which
this issue resolves itself is not in what stage of population is
most subsistence produced? but in what stage of population is there
exhibited the greatest power of producing wealth? For the power of
producing wealth in any form is the power of producing subsistence—and
the consumption of wealth in any form, or of wealth-producing power,
is equivalent to the consumption of subsistence. I have, for instance,
some money in my pocket. With it I may buy either food or cigars
or jewelry or theater tickets, and just as I expend my money do I
determine labor to the production of food, of cigars, of jewelry, or
of theatrical representations. A set of diamonds has a value equal
to so many barrels of flour—that is to say, it takes on the average
as much labor to produce the diamonds as it would to produce so much
flour. If I load my wife with diamonds, it is as much an exertion of
subsistence-producing power as though I had devoted so much food to
purposes of ostentation. If I keep a footman, I take a possible plowman
from the plow. The breeding and maintenance of a race-horse require
care and labor which would suffice for the breeding and maintenance
of many work-horses. The destruction of wealth involved in a general
illumination or the firing of a salute is equivalent to the burning
up of so much food; the keeping of a regiment of soldiers, or of a
war-ship and her crew, is the diversion to unproductive uses of labor
that could produce subsistence for many thousands of people. Thus the
power of any population to produce the necessaries of life is not to
be measured by the necessaries of life actually produced, but by the
expenditure of power in all modes.

There is no necessity for abstract reasoning. The question is one of
simple fact. Does the relative power of producing wealth decrease with
the increase of population?

The facts are so patent that it is only necessary to call attention
to them. We have, in modern times, seen many communities advance in
population. Have they not at the same time advanced even more rapidly
in wealth? We see many communities still increasing in population. Are
they not also increasing their wealth still faster? Is there any doubt
that while England has been increasing her population at the rate of
two per cent. per annum, her wealth has been growing in still greater
proportion? Is it not true that while the population of the United
States has been doubling every twenty-nine[31] years her wealth has
been doubling at much shorter intervals? Is it not true that under
similar conditions—that is to say, among communities of similar people
in a similar stage of civilization—the most densely populated community
is also the richest? Are not the more densely populated Eastern States
richer in proportion to population than the more sparsely populated
Western or Southern States? Is not England, where population is
even denser than in the Eastern States of the Union, also richer in
proportion? Where will you find wealth devoted with the most lavishness
to non-productive use—costly buildings, fine furniture, luxurious
equipages, statues, pictures, pleasure gardens and yachts? Is it not
where population is densest rather than where it is sparsest? Where
will you find in largest proportion those whom the general production
suffices to keep without productive labor on their part—men of income
and of elegant leisure, thieves, policemen, menial servants, lawyers,
men of letters, and the like? Is it not where population is dense
rather than where it is sparse? Whence is it that capital overflows for
remunerative investment? Is it not from densely populated countries
to sparsely populated countries? These things conclusively show that
wealth is greatest where population is densest; that the production of
wealth to a given amount of labor increases as population increases.
These things are apparent wherever we turn our eyes. On the same level
of civilization, the same stage of the productive arts, government,
etc., the most populous countries are always the most wealthy.

Let us take a particular case, and that a case which of all that
can be cited seems at first blush best to support the theory we are
considering—the case of a community where, while population has largely
increased, wages have greatly decreased, and it is not a matter of
dubious inference but of obvious fact that the generosity of nature
has lessened. That community is California. When upon the discovery of
gold the first wave of immigration poured into California it found a
country in which nature was in the most generous mood. From the river
banks and bars the glittering deposits of thousands of years could be
taken by the most primitive appliances, in amounts which made an ounce
($16) per day only ordinary wages. The plains, covered with nutritious
grasses, were alive with countless herds of horses and cattle, so
plenty that any traveler was at liberty to shift his saddle to a fresh
steed, or to kill a bullock if he needed a steak, leaving the hide, its
only valuable part, for the owner. From the rich soil which came first
under cultivation, the mere plowing and sowing brought crops that
in older countries, if procured at all, can only be procured by the
most thorough manuring and cultivation. In early California, amid this
profusion of nature, wages and interest were higher than anywhere else
in the world.

This virgin profusion of nature has been steadily giving way before
the greater and greater demands which an increasing population has
made upon it. Poorer and poorer diggings have been worked, until now
no diggings worth speaking of can be found, and gold mining requires
much capital, large skill, and elaborate machinery, and involves great
risks. “Horses cost money,” and cattle bred on the sage-brush plains
of Nevada are brought by railroad across the mountains and killed in
San Francisco shambles, while farmers are beginning to save their straw
and look for manure, and land is in cultivation which will hardly
yield a crop three years out of four without irrigation. At the same
time wages and interest have steadily gone down. Many men are now glad
to work for a week for less than they once demanded for the day, and
money is loaned by the year for a rate which once would hardly have
been thought extortionate by the month. Is the connection between the
reduced productiveness of nature and the reduced rate of wages that of
cause and effect? Is it true that wages are lower because labor yields
less wealth? On the contrary! Instead of the wealth-producing power of
labor being less in California in 1879 than in 1849, I am convinced
that it is greater. And, it seems to me, that no one who considers how
enormously during these years the efficiency of labor in California
has been increased by roads, wharves, flumes, railroads, steamboats,
telegraphs, and machinery of all kinds; by a closer connection with the
rest of the world; and by the numberless economies resulting from a
larger population, can doubt that the return which labor receives from
nature in California is on the whole much greater now than it was in
the days of unexhausted placers and virgin soil—the increase in the
power of the human factor having more than compensated for the decline
in the power of the natural factor. That this conclusion is the correct
one is proved by many facts which show that the consumption of wealth
is now much greater, as compared with the number of laborers, than it
was then. Instead of a population composed almost exclusively of men
in the prime of life, a large proportion of women and children are
now supported, and other non-producers have increased in much greater
ratio than the population; luxury has grown far more than wages have
fallen; where the best houses were cloth and paper shanties, are now
mansions whose magnificence rivals European palaces; there are liveried
carriages on the streets of San Francisco and pleasure yachts on her
bay; the class who can live sumptuously on their incomes has steadily
grown; there are rich men beside whom the richest of the earlier years
would seem little better than paupers—in short, there are on every hand
the most striking and conclusive evidences that the production and
consumption of wealth have increased with even greater rapidity than
the increase of population, and that if any class obtains less it is
solely because of the greater inequality of distribution.

What is obvious in this particular instance is obvious where the
survey is extended. The richest countries are not those where nature
is most prolific; but those where labor is most efficient—not Mexico,
but Massachusetts; not Brazil, but England. The countries where
population is densest and presses hardest upon the capabilities of
nature, are, other things being equal, the countries where the largest
proportion of the produce can be devoted to luxury and the support of
non-producers, the countries where capital overflows, the countries
that upon exigency, such as war, can stand the greatest drain. That
the production of wealth must, in proportion to the labor employed,
be greater in a densely populated country like England than in new
countries where wages and interest are higher, is evident from the fact
that, though a much smaller proportion of the population is engaged in
productive labor, a much larger surplus is available for other purposes
than that of supplying physical needs. In a new country the whole
available force of the community is devoted to production—there is no
well man who does not do productive work of some kind, no well woman
exempt from household tasks. There are no paupers or beggars, no idle
rich, no class whose labor is devoted to ministering to the convenience
or caprice of the rich, no purely literary or scientific class, no
criminal class who live by preying upon society, no large class
maintained to guard society against them. Yet with the whole force of
the community thus devoted to production, no such consumption of wealth
in proportion to the whole population takes place, or can be afforded,
as goes on in the old country; for, though the condition of the lowest
class is better, and there is no one who cannot get a living, there is
no one who gets much more—few or none who can live in anything like
what would be called luxury, or even comfort, in the older country.
That is to say, that in the older country the consumption of wealth in
proportion to population is greater, although the proportion of labor
devoted to the production of wealth is less—or that fewer laborers
produce more wealth; for wealth must be produced before it can be

It may, however, be said, that the superior wealth of older countries
is due not to superior productive power, but to the accumulations of
wealth which the new country has not yet had time to make.

It will be well for a moment to consider this idea of accumulated
wealth. The truth is, that wealth can be accumulated but to a slight
degree, and that communities really live, as the vast majority of
individuals live, from hand to mouth. Wealth will not bear much
accumulation; except in a few unimportant forms it will not keep. The
matter of the universe, which, when worked up by labor into desirable
forms, constitutes wealth, is constantly tending back to its original
state. Some forms of wealth will last for a few hours, some for a few
days, some for a few months, some for a few years; and there are very
few forms of wealth that can be passed from one generation to another.
Take wealth in some of its most useful and permanent forms—ships,
houses, railways, machinery. Unless labor is constantly exerted in
preserving and renewing them, they will almost immediately become
useless. Stop labor in any community, and wealth would vanish almost
as the jet of a fountain vanishes when the flow of water is shut off.
Let labor again exert itself, and wealth will almost as immediately
reappear. This has been long noticed where war or other calamity has
swept away wealth, leaving population unimpaired. There is not less
wealth in London to-day because of the great fire of 1666; nor yet
is there less wealth in Chicago because of the great fire of 1870.
On those fire-swept acres have arisen, under the hand of labor, more
magnificent buildings, filled with greater stocks of goods; and the
stranger who, ignorant of the history of the city, passes along those
stately avenues would not dream that a few years ago all lay so black
and bare. The same principle—that wealth is constantly recreated—is
obvious in every new city. Given the same population and the same
efficiency of labor, and the town of yesterday will possess and
enjoy as much as the town founded by the Romans. No one who has seen
Melbourne or San Francisco can doubt that if the population of England
were transported to New Zealand, leaving all accumulated wealth behind,
New Zealand would soon be as rich as England is now; or, conversely,
that if the population of England were reduced to the sparseness of the
present population of New Zealand, in spite of accumulated wealth, they
would soon be as poor. Accumulated wealth seems to play just about such
a part in relation to the social organism as accumulated nutriment does
to the physical organism. Some accumulated wealth is necessary, and to
a certain extent it may be drawn upon in exigencies; but the wealth
produced by past generations can no more account for the consumption
of the present than the dinners he ate last year can supply a man with
present strength.

But without these considerations, which I allude to more for their
general than for their special bearing, it is evident that superior
accumulations of wealth can account for greater consumption of wealth
only in cases where accumulated wealth is decreasing, and that wherever
the volume of accumulated wealth is maintained, and even more obviously
where it is increasing, a greater consumption of wealth must imply
a greater production of wealth. Now, whether we compare different
communities with each other, or the same community at different
times, it is obvious that the progressive state, which is marked by
increase of population, is also marked by an increased consumption
and an increased accumulation of wealth, not merely in the aggregate,
but per capita. And hence, increase of population, so far as it has
yet anywhere gone, does not mean a reduction, but an increase in the
average production of wealth.

And the reason of this is obvious. For, even if the increase of
population does reduce the power of the natural factor of wealth, by
compelling a resort to poorer soils, etc., it yet so vastly increases
the power of the human factor as more than to compensate. Twenty men
working together will, where nature is niggardly, produce more than
twenty times the wealth that one man can produce where nature is
most bountiful. The denser the population the more minute becomes the
subdivision of labor, the greater the economies of production and
distribution, and, hence, the very reverse of the Malthusian doctrine
is true; and, within the limits in which we have reason to suppose
increase would still go on, in any given state of civilization a
greater number of people can produce a larger proportionate amount of
wealth, and more fully supply their wants, than can a smaller number.

Look simply at the facts. Can anything be clearer than that the cause
of the poverty which festers in the centers of civilization is not in
the weakness of the productive forces? In countries where poverty is
deepest, the forces of production are evidently strong enough, if fully
employed, to provide for the lowest not merely comfort but luxury.
The industrial paralysis, the commercial depression which curses the
civilized world to-day, evidently springs from no lack of productive
power. Whatever be the trouble, it is clearly not in the want of
ability to produce wealth.

It is this very fact—that want appears where productive power is
greatest and the production of wealth is largest—that constitutes the
enigma which perplexes the civilized world, and which we are trying
to unravel. Evidently the Malthusian theory, which attributes want to
the decrease of productive power, will not explain it. That theory is
utterly inconsistent with all the facts. It is really a gratuitous
attribution to the laws of God of results which, even from this
examination, we may infer really spring from the mal-adjustments of
men—an inference which, as we proceed, will become a demonstration. For
we have yet to find what _does_ produce poverty amid advancing wealth.


[30] Principles of Political Economy, Book I., Chap. XIII., Sec. 2.

[31] The rate up to 1860 was 35 per cent. each decade.











 The machines that are first invented to perform any particular
 movement are always the most complex, and succeeding artists generally
 discover that with fewer wheels, with fewer principles of motion
 than had originally been employed, the same effects may be more
 easily produced. The first philosophical systems, in the same manner,
 are always the most complex, and a particular connecting chain, or
 principle, is generally thought necessary to unite every two seemingly
 disjointed appearances; but it often happens that one great connecting
 principle is afterward found to be sufficient to bind together all the
 discordant phenomena that occur in a whole species of things.—_Adam
 Smith_, _Essay on the Principles which Lead and Direct Philosophical
 Inquiries, as Illustrated by the History of Astronomy_.



The preceding examination has, I think, conclusively shown that the
explanation currently given, in the name of political economy, of the
problem we are attempting to solve, is no explanation at all.

That with material progress wages fail to increase, but rather tend
to decrease, cannot be explained by the theory that the increase of
laborers constantly tends to divide into smaller portions the capital
sum from which wages are paid. For, as we have seen, wages do not come
from capital, but are the direct produce of labor. Each productive
laborer, as he works, creates his wages, and with every additional
laborer there is an addition to the true wages fund—an addition to the
common stock of wealth, which, generally speaking, is considerably
greater than the amount he draws in wages.

Nor, yet, can it be explained by the theory that nature yields less to
the increasing drafts which an increasing population make upon her; for
the increased efficiency of labor makes the progressive state a state
of continually increasing production per capita, and the countries of
densest population, other things being equal, are always the countries
of greatest wealth.

So far, we have only increased the perplexities of the problem. We
have overthrown a theory which did, in some sort of fashion, explain
existing facts; but in doing so have only made existing facts seem
more inexplicable. It is as though, while the Ptolemaic theory was
yet in its strength, it had been proved simply that the sun and
stars do not revolve about the earth. The phenomena of day and night,
and of the apparent motion of the celestial bodies, would yet remain
unexplained, inevitably to reinstate the old theory unless a better
one took its place. Our reasoning has led us to the conclusion that
each productive laborer produces his own wages, and that increase in
the number of laborers should increase the wages of each; whereas,
the apparent facts are that there are many laborers who cannot obtain
remunerative employment, and that increase in the number of laborers
brings diminution of wages. We have, in short, proved that wages ought
to be highest where in reality they are lowest.

Nevertheless, even in doing this we have made some progress. Next to
finding what we look for, is to discover where it is useless to look.
We have at least narrowed the field of inquiry. For this, at least, is
now clear—that the cause which, in spite of the enormous increase of
productive power, confines the great body of producers to the least
share of the product upon which they will consent to live, is not the
limitation of capital, nor yet the limitation of the powers of nature
which respond to labor. As it is not, therefore, to be found in the
laws which bound the production of wealth, it must be sought in the
laws which govern distribution. To them let us turn.

       *       *       *       *       *

It will be necessary to review in its main branches the whole subject
of the distribution of wealth. To discover the cause which, as
population increases and the productive arts advance, deepens the
poverty of the lowest class, we must find the law which determines
what part of the produce is distributed to labor as wages. To find the
law of wages, or at least to make sure when we have found it, we must
also determine the laws which fix the part of the produce which goes
to capital and the part which goes to land owners, for as land, labor,
and capital join in producing wealth, it is between these three that
the produce must be divided. What is meant by the produce or production
of a community is the sum of the wealth produced by that community—the
general fund from which, as long as previously existing stock is not
lessened, all consumption must be met and all revenues drawn. As I
have already explained, production does not merely mean the making of
things, but includes the increase of value gained by transporting or
exchanging things. There is a produce of wealth in a purely commercial
community, as there is in a purely agricultural or manufacturing
community; and in the one case, as in the others, some part of this
produce will go to capital, some part to labor, and some part, if
land have any value, to the owners of land. As a matter of fact, a
portion of the wealth produced is constantly going to the replacement
of capital, which is constantly consumed and constantly replaced. But
it is not necessary to take this into account, as it is eliminated by
considering capital as continuous, which, in speaking or thinking of
it, we habitually do. When we speak of the produce, we mean, therefore,
that part of the wealth produced above what is necessary to replace the
capital consumed in production; and when we speak of interest, or the
return to capital, we mean what goes to capital after its replacement
or maintenance.

It is, further, a matter of fact, that in every community which has
passed the most primitive stage some portion of the produce is taken
in taxation and consumed by government. But it is not necessary, in
seeking the laws of distribution, to take this into consideration. We
may consider taxation either as not existing, or as by so much reducing
the produce. And so, too, of what is taken from the produce by certain
forms of monopoly, which will be considered in a subsequent chapter
(Chap. IV), and which exercise powers analogous to taxation. After we
have discovered the laws of distribution we can then see what bearing,
if any, taxation has upon them.

We must discover these laws of distribution for ourselves—or, at least,
two out of the three. For, that they are not, at least as a whole,
correctly apprehended by the current political economy, may be seen,
irrespective of our preceding examination of one of them, in any of the
standard treatises.

This is evident, in the first place, from the terminology employed.

In all politico-economic works we are told that the three factors in
production are land, labor, and capital, and that the whole produce
is primarily distributed into three corresponding parts. Three terms,
therefore, are needed, each of which shall clearly express one of these
parts to the exclusion of the others. Rent, as defined, clearly enough
expresses the first of these parts—that which goes to the owners of
land. Wages, as defined, clearly enough expresses the second—that part
which constitutes the return to labor. But as to the third term—that
which should express the return to capital—there is in the standard
works a most puzzling ambiguity and confusion.

Of words in common use, that which comes nearest to exclusively
expressing the idea of return for the use of capital, is interest,
which, as commonly used, implies the return for the use of capital,
exclusive of any labor in its use or management, and exclusive of any
risk, except such as may be involved in the security. The word profits,
as commonly used, is almost synonymous with revenue; it means a gain,
an amount received in excess of an amount expended, and frequently
includes receipts that are properly rent; while it nearly always
includes receipts which are properly wages, as well as compensations
for the risk peculiar to the various uses of capital. Unless extreme
violence is done to the meaning of the word, it cannot, therefore, be
used in political economy to signify that share of the produce which
goes to capital, in contradistinction to those parts which go to labor
and to land owners.

Now, all this is recognized in the standard works on political economy.
Adam Smith well illustrates how wages and compensation for risk largely
enter into profits, pointing out how the large profits of apothecaries
and small retail dealers are in reality wages for their labor, and not
interest on their capital; and how the great profits sometimes made in
risky businesses, such as smuggling and the lumber trade, are really
but compensations for risk, which, in the long run, reduce the returns
to capital so used to the ordinary, or below the ordinary, rate.
Similar illustrations are given in most of the subsequent works, where
profit is formally defined in its common sense, with, perhaps, the
exclusion of rent. In all these works, the reader is told that profits
are made up of three elements—wages of superintendence, compensation
for risk, and _interest_, or the return for the use of capital.

Thus, neither in its common meaning nor in the meaning expressly
assigned to it in the current political economy, can profits have any
place in the discussion of the distribution of wealth between the three
factors of production. Either in its common meaning or in the meaning
expressly assigned to it, to talk about the distribution of wealth into
rent, wages, and profits is like talking of the division of mankind
into men, women, and human beings.

Yet this, to the utter bewilderment of the reader, is what is done in
all the standard works. After formally decomposing profits into wages
of superintendence, compensation for risk, and interest—the net return
for the use of capital—they proceed to treat of the distribution of
wealth between the rent of land, the wages of labor, and the PROFITS of

I doubt not that there are thousands of men who have vainly puzzled
their brains over this confusion of terms, and abandoned the effort
in despair, thinking that as the fault could not be in such great
thinkers, it must be in their own stupidity. If it is any consolation
to such men they may turn to Buckle’s “History of Civilization,” and
see how a man who certainly got a marvelously clear idea of what he
read, and who had read carefully the principal economists from Smith
down, was inextricably confused by this jumble of profits and interest.
For Buckle (Vol. 1, Chap. II, and notes) persistently speaks of the
distribution of wealth into rent, wages, interest, _and_ profits.

And this is not to be wondered at. For, after formally decomposing
profits into wages of superintendence, insurance, and interest, these
economists, in assigning causes which fix the general rate of profit,
speak of things which evidently affect only that part of profits which
they have denominated interest; and then, in speaking of the rate of
interest, either give the meaningless formula of supply and demand,
or speak of causes which affect the compensation for risk; evidently
using the word in its common sense, and not in the economic sense they
have assigned to it, from which compensation for risk is eliminated.
If the reader will take up John Stuart Mill’s “Principles of Political
Economy,” and compare the chapter on Profits (Book II, Chap. 15) with
the chapter on Interest (Book III, Chap. 23), he will see the confusion
thus arising exemplified in the case of the most logical of English
economists, in a more striking manner than I would like to characterize.

Now, such men have not been led into such confusion of thought without
a cause. If they, one after another, have followed Dr. Adam Smith,
as boys play “follow my leader,” jumping where he jumped, and falling
where he fell, it has been that there was a fence where he jumped and a
hole where he fell.

The difficulty from which this confusion has sprung is in the
preaccepted theory of wages. For reasons which I have before assigned,
it has seemed to them a self-evident truth that the wages of certain
classes of laborers depended upon the ratio between capital and the
number of laborers. But there are certain kinds of reward for exertion
to which this theory evidently will not apply, so the term wages has in
use been contracted to include only wages in the narrow common sense.
This being the case, if the term interest were used, as consistently
with their definitions it should have been used, to represent the third
part of the division of the produce, all rewards of personal exertion,
save those of what are commonly called wage-workers, would clearly have
been left out. But by treating the division of wealth as between rent,
wages, and profits, instead of between rent, wages, and interest, this
difficulty is glossed over, all wages which will not fall under the
preaccepted law of wages being vaguely grouped under profits, as wages
of superintendence.

To read carefully what economists say about the distribution of wealth
is to see that, though they correctly define it, wages, as they use
it in this connection, is what logicians would call an undistributed
term—it does not mean all wages, but only some wages—viz., the wages
of manual labor paid by an employer. So other wages are thrown over
with the return to capital, and included under the term profits,
and any clear distinction between the returns to capital and the
returns to human exertion thus avoided. The fact is that the current
political economy fails to give any clear and consistent account of the
distribution of wealth. The law of rent _is_ clearly stated, but it
stands unrelated. The rest is a confused and incoherent jumble.

The very arrangement of these works shows this confusion and
inconclusiveness of thought. In no politico-economic treatise that I
know of are these laws of distribution brought together, so that the
reader can take them in at a glance and recognize their relation to
each other; but what is said about each one is enveloped in a mass of
political and moral reflections and dissertations. And the reason is
not far to seek. To bring together the three laws of distribution as
they are now taught, is to show at a glance that they lack necessary

The laws of the distribution of wealth are obviously laws of
proportion, and must be so related to each other that any two being
given the third may be inferred. For to say that one of the three parts
of a whole is increased or decreased, is to say that one or both of the
other parts is, reversely, decreased or increased. If Tom, Dick, and
Harry are partners in business, the agreement which fixes the share of
one in the profits must at the same time fix either the separate or the
joint shares of the other two. To fix Tom’s share at forty per cent. is
to leave but sixty per cent. to be divided between Dick and Harry. To
fix Dick’s share at forty per cent. and Harry’s share at thirty-five
per cent. is to fix Tom’s share at twenty-five per cent.

But between the laws of the distribution of wealth, as laid down in
the standard works, there is no such relation. If we fish them out and
bring them together, we find them to be as follows:

Wages are determined by the ratio between the amount of capital devoted
to the payment and subsistence of labor and the number of laborers
seeking employment.

Rent is determined by the margin of cultivation; all lands yielding as
rent that part of their produce which exceeds what an equal application
of labor and capital could procure from the poorest land in use.

Interest is determined by the equation between the demands of borrowers
and the supply of capital offered by lenders. Or, if we take what is
given as the law of profits, it is determined by wages, falling as
wages rise and rising as wages fall—or, to use the phrase of Mill, by
the cost of labor to the capitalist.

The bringing together of these current statements of the laws of the
distribution of wealth shows at a glance that they lack the relation to
each other which the true laws of distribution must have. They do not
correlate and co-ordinate. Hence, at least two of these three laws are
either wrongly apprehended or wrongly stated. This tallies with what we
have already seen, that the current apprehension of the law of wages,
and, inferentially, of the law of interest, will not bear examination.
Let us, then, seek the true laws of the distribution of the produce of
labor into wages, rent, and interest. The proof that we have found them
will be in their correlation—that they meet, and relate, and mutually
bound each other.

With profits this inquiry has manifestly nothing to do. We want to
find what it is that determines the division of their joint produce
between land, labor, and capital; and profits is not a term that
refers exclusively to any one of these three divisions. Of the three
parts into which profits are divided by political economists—namely,
compensation for risk, wages of superintendence, and return for the use
of capital—the latter falls under the term interest, which includes
all the returns for the use of capital, and excludes everything else;
wages of superintendence falls under the term wages, which includes
all returns for human exertion, and excludes everything else; and
compensation for risk has no place whatever, as risk is eliminated
when all the transactions of a community are taken together. I shall,
therefore, consistently with the definitions of political economists,
use the term interest as signifying that part of the produce which
goes to capital.

To recapitulate:

Land, labor, and capital are the factors of production. The term land
includes all natural opportunities or forces; the term labor, all human
exertion; and the term capital, all wealth used to produce more wealth.
In returns to these three factors is the whole produce distributed.
That part which goes to land owners as payment for the use of natural
opportunities is called rent; that part which constitutes the reward
of human exertion is called wages; and that part which constitutes the
return for the use of capital is called interest. These terms mutually
exclude each other. The income of any individual may be made up from
any one, two, or all three of these sources; but in the effort to
discover the laws of distribution we must keep them separate.

       *       *       *       *       *

Let me premise the inquiry which we are about to undertake by saying
that the miscarriage of political economy, which I think has now been
abundantly shown, can, it seems to me, be traced to the adoption of an
erroneous standpoint. Living and making their observations in a state
of society in which a capitalist generally rents land and hires labor,
and thus seems to be the undertaker or first mover in production, the
great cultivators of the science have been led to look upon capital
as the prime factor in production, land as its instrument, and labor
as its agent or tool. This is apparent on every page—in the form and
course of their reasoning, in the character of their illustrations,
and even in their choice of terms. Everywhere capital is the starting
point, the capitalist the central figure. So far does this go that both
Smith and Ricardo use the term “natural wages” to express the minimum
upon which laborers can live; whereas, unless injustice is natural, all
that the laborer produces should rather be held as his natural wages.
This habit of looking upon capital as the employer of labor has led
both to the theory that wages depend upon the relative abundance of
capital, and to the theory that interest varies inversely with wages,
while it has led away from truths that but for this habit would have
been apparent. In short, the misstep which, so far as the great laws of
distribution are concerned, has led political economy into the jungles,
instead of upon the mountain tops, was taken when Adam Smith, in his
first book, left the standpoint indicated in the sentence, “The produce
of labor constitutes the natural recompense or wages of labor,” to take
that in which capital is considered as employing labor and paying wages.

But when we consider the origin and natural sequence of things, this
order is reversed; and capital instead of first is last; instead of
being the employer of labor, it is in reality employed by labor. There
must be land before labor can be exerted, and labor must be exerted
before capital can be produced. Capital is a result of labor, and is
used by labor to assist it in further production. Labor is the active
and initial force, and labor is therefore the employer of capital.
Labor can be exerted only upon land, and it is from land that the
matter which it transmutes into wealth must be drawn. Land therefore is
the condition precedent, the field and material of labor. The natural
order is land, labor, capital; and, instead of starting from capital as
our initial point, we should start from land.

There is another thing to be observed. Capital is not a necessary
factor in production. Labor exerted upon land can produce wealth
without the aid of capital, and in the necessary genesis of things must
so produce wealth before capital can exist. Therefore the law of rent
and the law of wages must correlate each other and form a perfect whole
without reference to the law of capital, as otherwise these laws would
not fit the cases which can readily be imagined, and which to some
degree actually exist, in which capital takes no part in production.
And as capital is, as is often said, but stored-up labor, it is but a
form of labor, a subdivision of the general term labor; and its law
must be subordinate to, and independently correlate with, the law of
wages, so as to fit cases in which the whole produce is divided between
labor and capital, without any deduction for rent. To resort to the
illustration before used: The division of the produce between land,
labor and capital must be as it would be between Tom, Dick, and Harry,
if Tom and Dick were the original partners, and Harry came in but as an
assistant to and sharer with Dick.



The term rent, in its economic sense—that is, when used, as I am
using it, to distinguish that part of the produce which accrues to
the owners of land or other natural capabilities by virtue of their
ownership—differs in meaning from the word rent as commonly used.
In some respects this economic meaning is narrower than the common
meaning; in other respects it is wider.

It is narrower in this: In common speech, we apply the word rent to
payments for the use of buildings, machinery, fixtures, etc., as well
as to payments for the use of land or other natural capabilities; and
in speaking of the rent of a house or the rent of a farm, we do not
separate the price for the use of the improvements from the price for
the use of the bare land. But in the economic meaning of rent, payments
for the use of any of the products of human exertion are excluded, and
of the lumped payments for the use of houses, farms, etc., only that
part is rent which constitutes the consideration for the use of the
land—that part paid for the use of buildings or other improvements
being properly interest, as it is a consideration for the use of

It is wider in this: In common speech we speak of rent only when owner
and user are distinct persons. But in the economic sense there is also
rent where the same person is both owner and user. Where owner and user
are thus the same person, whatever part of his income he might obtain
by letting the land to another is rent, while the return for his labor
and capital are that part of his income which they would yield him did
he hire instead of owning the land. Rent is also expressed in a selling
price. When land is purchased, the payment which is made for the
ownership, or right to perpetual use, is rent commuted or capitalized.
If I buy land for a small price and hold it until I can sell it for
a large price, I have become rich, not by wages for my labor or by
interest upon my capital, but by the increase of rent. Rent, in short,
is the share in the wealth produced which the exclusive right to the
use of natural capabilities gives to the owner. Wherever land has an
exchange value there is rent in the economic meaning of the term.
Wherever land having a value is used, either by owner or hirer, there
is rent actual; wherever it is not used, but still has a value, there
is rent potential. It is this capacity of yielding rent which gives
value to land. Until its ownership will confer some advantage, land has
no value.[32]

Thus rent or land value does not arise from the productiveness or
utility of land. It in no wise represents any help or advantage given
to production, but simply the power of securing apart of the results
of production. No matter what are its capabilities, land can yield
no rent and have no value until some one is willing to give labor or
the results of labor for the privilege of using it; and what any one
will thus give depends not upon the capacity of the land, but upon its
capacity as compared with that of land that can be had for nothing. I
may have very rich land, but it will yield no rent and have no value
so long as there is other land as good to be had without cost. But
when this other land is appropriated, and the best land to be had for
nothing is inferior, either in fertility, situation, or other quality,
my land will begin to have a value and yield rent. And though the
productiveness of my land may decrease, yet if the productiveness of
the land to be had without charge decreases in greater proportion, the
rent I can get, and consequently the value of my land, will steadily
increase. Rent, in short, is the price of monopoly, arising from the
reduction to individual ownership of natural elements which human
exertion can neither produce nor increase.

If one man owned all the land accessible to any community, he could,
of course, demand any price or condition for its use that he saw fit;
and, as long as his ownership was acknowledged, the other members of
the community would have but death or emigration as the alternative to
submission to his terms. This has been the case in many communities;
but in the modern form of society, the land, though generally reduced
to individual ownership, is in the hands of too many different persons
to permit the price which can be obtained for its use to be fixed
by mere caprice or desire. While each individual owner tries to get
all he can, there is a limit to what he can get, which constitutes
the market price or market rent of the land, and which varies with
different lands and at different times. The law, or relation, which,
under these circumstances of free competition among all parties, the
condition which in tracing out the principles of political economy is
always to be assumed, determines what rent or price can be got by the
owner, is styled the law of rent. This fixed with certainty, we have
more than a starting point from which the laws which regulate wages
and interest may be traced. For, as the distribution of wealth is a
division, in ascertaining what fixes the share of the produce which
goes as rent, we also ascertain what fixes the share which is left for
wages, where there is no co-operation of capital; and what fixes the
joint share left for wages and interest, where capital does co-operate
in production.

Fortunately, as to the law of rent there is no necessity for
discussion. Authority here coincides with common sense,[33] and the
accepted dictum of the current political economy has the self-evident
character of a geometric axiom. This accepted law of rent, which John
Stuart Mill denominates the _pons asinorum_ of political economy, is
sometimes styled “Ricardo’s law of rent,” from the fact that, although
not the first to announce it, he first brought it prominently into
notice.[34] It is:

_The rent of land is determined by the excess of its produce over that
which the same application can secure from the least productive land in

This law, which of course applies to land used for other purposes than
agriculture, and to all natural agencies, such as mines, fisheries,
etc., has been exhaustively explained and illustrated by all the
leading economists since Ricardo. But its mere statement has all the
force of a self-evident proposition, for it is clear that the effect of
competition is to make the lowest reward for which labor and capital
will engage in production, the highest that they can claim; and hence
to enable the owner of more productive land to appropriate in rent
all the return above that required to recompense labor and capital at
the ordinary rate—that is to say, what they can obtain upon the least
productive land in use, or at the least productive point, where, of
course, no rent is paid.

Perhaps it may conduce to a fuller understanding of the law of rent to
put it in this form: The ownership of a natural agent of production
will give the power of appropriating so much of the wealth produced by
the exertion of labor and capital upon it as exceeds the return which
the same application of labor and capital could secure in the least
productive occupation in which they freely engage.

This, however, amounts to precisely the same thing, for there is no
occupation in which labor and capital can engage which does not require
the use of land; and, furthermore, the cultivation or other use of land
will always be carried to as low a point of remuneration, all things
considered, as is freely accepted in any other pursuit. Suppose, for
instance, a community in which part of the labor and capital is devoted
to agriculture and part to manufactures. The poorest land cultivated
yields an average return which we will call 20, and 20 therefore will
be the average return to labor and capital, as well in manufactures
as in agriculture. Suppose that from some permanent cause the return
in manufactures is now reduced to 15. Clearly, the labor and capital
engaged in manufactures will turn to agriculture; and the process will
not stop until, either by the extension of cultivation to inferior
lands or to inferior points on the same land, or by an increase in
the relative value of manufactured products, owing to the diminution
of production—or, as a matter of fact, by both processes—the yield to
labor and capital in both pursuits has, all things considered, been
brought again to the same level, so that whatever be the final point of
productiveness at which manufactures are still carried on, whether it
be 18 or 17 or 16, cultivation will also be extended to that point.
And, thus, to say that rent will be the excess in productiveness over
the yield at the margin, or lowest point, of cultivation, is the same
thing as to say that it will be the excess of produce over what the
same amount of labor and capital obtains in the least remunerative

The law of rent is, in fact, but a deduction from the law of
competition, and amounts simply to the assertion that as wages
and interest tend to a common level, all that part of the general
production of wealth which exceeds what the labor and capital employed
could have secured for themselves, if applied to the poorest natural
agent in use, will go to land owners in the shape of rent. It rests,
in the last analysis, upon the fundamental principle, which is to
political economy what the attraction of gravitation is to physics—that
men will seek to gratify their desires with the least exertion.

This, then, is the law of rent. Although many standard treatises follow
too much the example of Ricardo, who seems to view it merely in its
relation to agriculture, and in several places speaks of manufactures
yielding no rent, when, in truth, manufactures and exchange yield
the highest rents, as is evinced by the greater value of land in
manufacturing and commercial cities, thus hiding the full importance of
the law, yet, ever since the time of Ricardo, the law itself has been
clearly apprehended and fully recognized. But not so its corollaries.
Plain as they are, the accepted doctrine of wages (backed and fortified
not only as has been hitherto explained, but by considerations
whose enormous weight will be seen when the logical conclusion
toward which we are tending is reached) has hitherto prevented their
recognition.[35] Yet, is it not as plain as the simplest geometrical
demonstration, that the corollary of the law of rent is the law of
wages, where the division of the produce is simply between rent and
wages; or the law of wages and interest taken together, where the
division is into rent, wages, and interest? Stated reversely, the law
of rent is necessarily the law of wages and interest taken together,
for it is the assertion, that no matter what be the production which
results from the application of labor and capital, these two factors
will receive in wages and interest only such part of the produce as
they could have produced on land free to them without the payment of
rent—that is, the least productive land or point in use. For, if, of
the produce, all over the amount which labor and capital could secure
from land for which no rent is paid must go to land owners as rent,
then all that can be claimed by labor and capital as wages and interest
is the amount which they could have secured from land yielding no rent.

Or to put it in algebraic form:

As Produce = Rent + Wages + Interest,

Therefore, Produce-Rent = Wages + Interest.

Thus wages and interest do not depend upon the produce of labor and
capital, but upon what is left after rent is taken out; or, upon the
produce which they could obtain without paying rent—that is, from the
poorest land in use. And hence, no matter what be the increase in
productive power, if the increase in rent keeps pace with it, neither
wages nor interest can increase.

The moment this simple relation is recognized, a flood of light streams
in upon what was before inexplicable, and seemingly discordant facts
range themselves under an obvious law. The increase of rent which
goes on in progressive countries is at once seen to be the key which
explains why wages and interest fail to increase with increase of
productive power. For the wealth produced in every community is divided
into two parts by what may be called the rent line, which is fixed by
the margin of cultivation, or the return which labor and capital could
obtain from such natural opportunities as are free to them without
the payment of rent. From the part of the produce below this line
wages and interest must be paid. All that is above goes to the owners
of land. Thus, where the value of land is low, there may be a small
production of wealth, and yet a high rate of wages and interest, as
we see in new countries. And, where the value of land is high, there
may be a very large production of wealth, and yet a low rate of wages
and interest, as we see in old countries. And, where productive power
increases, as it is increasing in all progressive countries, wages and
interest will be affected, not by the increase, but by the manner in
which rent is affected. If the value of land increases proportionately,
all the increased production will be swallowed up by rent, and wages
and interest will remain as before. If the value of land increases in
greater ratio than productive power, rent will swallow up even more
than the increase; and while the produce of labor and capital will be
much larger, wages and interest will fall. It is only when the value of
land fails to increase as rapidly as productive power, that wages and
interest can increase with the increase of productive power. All this
is exemplified in actual fact.


[32] In speaking of the value of land I use and shall use the words as
referring to the value of the bare land. When I wish to speak of the
value of land and improvements I shall use those words.

[33] I do not mean to say that the accepted law of rent has never been
disputed. In all the nonsense that in the present disjointed condition
of the science has been printed as political economy, it would be
hard to find anything that has not been disputed. But I mean to say
that it has the sanction of all economic writers who are really to be
regarded as authority. As John Stuart Mill says (Book II., Chap. XVI.),
“there are few persons who have refused their assent to it, except
from not having thoroughly understood it. The loose and inaccurate
way in which it is often apprehended by those who affect to refute
it is very remarkable.” An observation which has received many later

[34] According to McCulloch the law of rent was first stated in a
pamphlet by Dr. James Anderson of Edinburgh in 1777, and simultaneously
in the beginning of this century by Sir Edward West, Mr. Malthus, and
Mr. Ricardo.

[35] Buckle (Chap. II., History of Civilization) recognizes the
necessary relation between rent, interest, and wages, but evidently
never worked it out.



Having made sure of the law of rent, we have obtained as its necessary
corollary the law of wages, where the division is between rent and
wages; and the law of wages and interest taken together, where the
division is between the three factors. What proportion of the produce
is taken as rent must determine what proportion is left for wages, if
but land and labor are concerned; or to be divided between wages and
interest, if capital joins in the production.

But without reference to this deduction, let us seek each of these laws
separately and independently. If, when obtained in this way, we find
that they correlate, our conclusions will have the highest certainty.

And, inasmuch as the discovery of the law of wages is the ultimate
purpose of our inquiry, let us take up first the subject of interest.

I have already referred to the difference in meaning between the terms
profits and interest. It may be worth while, further, to say that
interest, as an abstract term in the distribution of wealth, differs
in meaning from the word as commonly used, in this: That it includes
all returns for the use of capital, and not merely those that pass from
borrower to lender; and that it excludes compensation for risk, which
forms so great a part of what is commonly called interest. Compensation
for risk is evidently only an equalization of return between different
employments of capital. What we want to find is, what fixes the general
rate of interest proper? The different rates of compensation for risk
added to this will give the current rates of commercial interest.

Now, it is evident that the greatest differences in what is ordinarily
called interest are due to differences in risk; but it is also evident
that between different countries and different times there are also
considerable variations in the rate of interest proper. In California
at one time two per cent. a month would not have been considered
extravagant interest on security on which loans could now be effected
at seven or eight per cent. per annum, and though some part of the
difference may be due to an increased sense of general stability, the
greater part is evidently due to some other general cause. In the
United States generally the rate of interest has been higher than in
England; and in the newer States of the Union higher than in the older
States; and the tendency of interest to sink as society progresses is
well marked and has long been noticed. What is the law which will bind
all these variations together and exhibit their cause?

It is not worth while to dwell more than has hitherto incidentally been
done upon the failure of the current political economy to determine the
true law of interest. Its speculations upon this subject have not the
definiteness and coherency which have enabled the accepted doctrine of
wages to withstand the evidence of fact, and do not require the same
elaborate review. That they run counter to the facts is evident. That
interest does not depend on the productiveness of labor and capital
is proved by the general fact that where labor and capital are most
productive interest is lowest. That it does not depend reversely upon
wages (or the cost of labor), lowering as wages rise, and increasing as
wages fall, is proved by the general fact that interest is high when
and where wages are high, and low when and where wages are low.

Let us begin at the beginning. The nature and functions of capital have
already been sufficiently shown, but even at the risk of something
like a digression, let us endeavor to ascertain the cause of interest
before considering its law. For in addition to aiding our inquiry by
giving us a firmer and clearer grasp of the subject now in hand, it
may lead to conclusions whose practical importance will be hereafter

What is the reason and justification of interest? Why should the
borrower pay back to the lender more than he received? These questions
are worth answering, not merely from their speculative, but from
their practical importance. The feeling that interest is the robbery
of industry is widespread and growing, and on both sides of the
Atlantic shows itself more and more in popular literature and in
popular movements. The expounders of the current political economy say
that there is no conflict between labor and capital, and oppose as
injurious to labor, as well as to capital, all schemes for restricting
the reward which capital obtains; yet in the same works the doctrine
is laid down that wages and interest bear to each other an inverse
relation, and that interest will be low or high as wages are high or
low.[36] Clearly, then, if this doctrine is correct, the only objection
that from the standpoint of the laborer can be logically made to
any scheme for the reduction of interest is that it will not work,
which is manifestly very weak ground while ideas of the omnipotence
of legislatures are yet so widespread; and though such an objection
may lead to the abandonment of any one particular scheme, it will not
prevent the search for another.

Why should interest be? Interest, we are told, in all the standard
works, is the reward of abstinence. But, manifestly, this does not
sufficiently account for it. Abstinence is not an active, but a passive
quality; it is not a doing—it is simply a not doing. Abstinence in
itself produces nothing. Why, then, should any part of what is produced
be claimed for it? If I have a sum of money which I lock up for a
year, I have exercised as much abstinence as though I had loaned it.
Yet, though in the latter case I will expect it to be returned to me
with an additional sum by way of interest, in the former I will have
but the same sum, and no increase. But the abstinence is the same. If
it be said that in lending it I do the borrower a service, it may be
replied that he also does me a service in keeping it safely—a service
that under some conditions may be very valuable, and for which I would
willingly pay, rather than not have it; and a service which, as to
some forms of capital, may be even more obvious than as to money.
For there are many forms of capital which will not keep, but must be
constantly renewed; and many which are onerous to maintain if one has
no immediate use for them. So, if the accumulator of capital helps the
user of capital by loaning it to him, does not the user discharge the
debt in full when he hands it back? Is not the secure preservation,
the maintenance, the re-creation of capital, a complete offset to the
use? Accumulation is the end and aim of abstinence. Abstinence can go
no further and accomplish no more; nor of itself can it even do this.
If we were merely to abstain from using it, how much wealth would
disappear in a year! And how little would be left at the end of two
years! Hence, if more is demanded for abstinence than the safe return
of capital, is not labor wronged? Such ideas as these underlie the
widespread opinion that interest can accrue only at the expense of
labor, and is in fact a robbery of labor which in a social condition
based on justice would be abolished.

The attempts to refute these views do not appear to me always
successful. For instance, as it illustrates the usual reasoning, take
Bastiat’s oft-quoted illustration of the plane. One carpenter, James,
at the expense of ten days’ labor, makes himself a plane, which will
last in use for 290 of the 300 working days of the year. William,
another carpenter, proposes to borrow the plane for a year, offering
to give back at the end of that time, when the plane will be worn out,
a new plane equally as good. James objects to lending the plane on
these terms, urging that if he merely gets back a plane he will have
nothing to compensate him for the loss of the advantage which the use
of the plane during the year would give him. William, admitting this,
agrees not merely to return a plane, but, in addition, to give James
a new plank. The agreement is carried out to mutual satisfaction. The
plane is used up during the year, but at the end of the year James
receives as good a one, and a plank in addition. He lends the new
plane again and again, until finally it passes into the hands of his
son, “who still continues to lend it,” receiving a plank each time.
This plank, which represents interest, is said to be a natural and
equitable remuneration, as by giving it in return for the use of the
plane, William “obtains the power which exists in the tool to increase
the productiveness of labor,” and is no worse off than he would have
been had he not borrowed the plane; while James obtains no more than he
would have had if he had retained and used the plane instead of lending

Is this really so? It will be observed that it is not affirmed that
James could make the plane and William could not, for that would be
to make the plank the reward of superior skill. It is only that James
had abstained from consuming the result of his labor until he had
accumulated it in the form of a plane—which is the essential idea of

Now, if James had not lent the plane he could have used it for 290
days, when it would have been worn out, and he would have been obliged
to take the remaining ten days of the working year to make a new
plane. If William had not borrowed the plane he would have taken
ten days to make himself a plane, which he could have used for the
remaining 290 days. Thus, if we take a plank to represent the fruits
of a day’s labor with the aid of a plane, at the end of the year, had
no borrowing taken place, each would have stood with reference to the
plane as he commenced, James with a plane, and William with none, and
each would have had as the result of the year’s work 290 planks. If
the condition of the borrowing had been what William first proposed,
the return of a new plane, the same relative situation would have been
secured. William would have worked for 290 days, and taken the last
ten days to make the new plane to return to James. James would have
taken the first ten days of the year to make another plane which would
have lasted for 290 days, when he would have received a new plane from
William. Thus, the simple return of the plane would have put each in
the same position at the end of the year as if no borrowing had taken
place. James would have lost nothing to the gain of William, and
William would have gained nothing to the loss of James. Each would have
had the return his labor would otherwise have yielded—viz., 290 planks,
and James would have had the advantage with which he started, a new

But when, in addition to the return of a plane, a plank is given, James
at the end of the year will be in a better position than if there had
been no borrowing, and William in a worse. James will have 291 planks
and a new plane, and William 289 planks and no plane. If William now
borrows the plank as well as the plane on the same terms as before,
he will at the end of the year have to return to James a plane, two
planks and a fraction of a plank; and if this difference be again
borrowed, and so on, is it not evident that the income of the one
will progressively decline, and that of the other will progressively
increase, until at length, if the operation be continued, the time will
come when, as the result of the original lending of a plane, James will
obtain the whole result of William’s labor—that is to say, William will
become virtually his slave?

Is interest, then, natural and equitable? There is nothing in this
illustration to show it to be. Evidently what Bastiat (and many others)
assigns as the basis of interest, “the power which exists in the
tool to increase the productiveness of labor,” is neither in justice
nor in fact the basis of interest. The fallacy which makes Bastiat’s
illustration pass as conclusive with those who do not stop to analyze
it, as we have done, is that with the loan of the plane they associate
the transfer of the increased productive power which a plane gives to
labor. But this is really not involved. The essential thing which James
loaned to William was not the increased power which labor acquires
from using planes. To suppose this, we should have to suppose that the
making and using of planes was a trade secret or a patent right, when
the illustration would become one of monopoly, not of capital. The
essential thing which James loaned to William was not the privilege of
applying his labor in a more effective way, but the use of the concrete
result of ten days’ labor. If “the power which exists in tools to
increase the productiveness of labor” were the cause of interest, then
the rate of interest would increase with the march of invention. This
is not so. Nor yet will I be expected to pay more interest if I borrow
a fifty-dollar sewing machine than if I borrow fifty dollars’ worth of
needles; if I borrow a steam engine than if I borrow a pile of bricks
of equal value. Capital, like wealth, is interchangeable. It is not
one thing; it is anything to that value within the circle of exchange.
Nor yet does the improvement of tools add to the reproductive power of
capital; it adds to the productive power of labor.

And I am inclined to think that if all wealth consisted of such things
as planes, and all production was such as that of carpenters—that is
to say, if wealth consisted but of the inert matter of the universe,
and production of working up this inert matter into different shapes,
that interest would be but the robbery of industry, and could not
long exist. This is not to say that there would be no accumulation,
for though the hope of increase is a motive for turning wealth into
capital, it is not the motive, or, at least, not the main motive, for
accumulating. Children will save their pennies for Christmas; pirates
will add to their buried treasure; Eastern princes will accumulate
hoards of coin; and men like Stewart or Vanderbilt, having become once
possessed of the passion of accumulating, would continue as long as
they could to add to their millions, even though accumulation brought
no increase. Nor yet is it to say that there would be no borrowing
or lending, for this, to a large extent, would be prompted by mutual
convenience. If William had a job of work to be immediately begun and
James one that would not commence until ten days thereafter, there
might be a mutual advantage in the loan of the plane, though no plank
should be given.

But all wealth is not of the nature of planes, or planks, or money,
which has no reproductive power; nor is all production merely the
turning into other forms of this inert matter of the universe. It is
true that if I put away money, it will not increase. But suppose,
instead, I put away wine. At the end of a year I will have an increased
value, for the wine will have improved in quality. Or supposing that
in a country adapted to them, I set out bees; at the end of a year I
will have more swarms of bees, and the honey which they have made.
Or, supposing, where there is a range, I turn out sheep, or hogs, or
cattle; at the end of the year I will, upon the average, also have an

Now what gives the increase in these cases is something which, though
it generally requires labor to utilize it, is yet distinct and
separable from labor—the active power of nature; the principle of
growth, of reproduction, which everywhere characterizes all the forms
of that mysterious thing or condition which we call life. And it seems
to me that it is this which is the cause of interest, or the increase
of capital over and above that due to labor. There are, so to speak,
in the movements which make up the everlasting flux of nature, certain
vital currents, which will, if we use them, aid us, with a force
independent of our own efforts, in turning matter into the forms we
desire—that is to say, into wealth.

While many things might be mentioned which, like money, or planes, or
planks, or engines, or clothing, have no innate power of increase, yet
other things are included in the terms wealth and capital which, like
wine, will of themselves increase in quality up to a certain point;
or, like bees or cattle, will of themselves increase in quantity; and
certain other things, such as seeds, which, though the conditions which
enable them to increase may not be maintained without labor, yet will,
when these conditions are maintained, yield an increase, or give a
return over and above that which is to be attributed to labor.

Now the interchangeability of wealth necessarily involves an average
between all the species of wealth of any special advantage which
accrues from the possession of any particular species, for no one
would keep capital in one form when it could be changed into a more
advantageous form. No one, for instance, would grind wheat into flour
and keep it on hand for the convenience of those who desire from time
to time to exchange wheat or its equivalent for flour, unless he could
by such exchange secure an increase equal to that which, all things
considered, he could secure by planting his wheat. No one, if he could
keep them, would exchange a flock of sheep now for their net weight in
mutton to be returned next year; for by keeping the sheep he would not
only have the same amount of mutton next year, but also the lambs and
the fleeces. No one would dig an irrigating ditch, unless those who by
its aid are enabled to utilize the reproductive forces of nature would
give him such a portion of the increase they receive as to make his
capital yield him as much as theirs. And so, in any circle of exchange,
the power of increase which the reproductive or vital force of nature
gives to some species of capital must average with all; and he who
lends, or uses in exchange, money, or planes, or bricks, or clothing,
is not deprived of the power to obtain an increase, any more than if he
had lent or put to a reproductive use so much capital in a form capable
of increase.

There is also in the utilization of the variations in the powers of
nature and of man which is effected by exchange, an increase which
somewhat resembles that produced by the vital forces of nature. In
one place, for instance, a given amount of labor will secure 200
in vegetable food or 100 in animal food. In another place, these
conditions are reversed, and the same amount of labor will produce 100
in vegetable food or 200 in animal. In the one place, the relative
value of vegetable to animal food will be as two to one, and in the
other as one to two; and, supposing equal amounts of each to be
required, the same amount of labor will in either place secure 150 of
both. But by devoting labor in the one place to the procurement of
vegetable food, and in the other, to the procurement of animal food,
and exchanging to the quantity required, the people of each place
will be enabled by the given amount of labor to procure 200 of both,
less the losses and expenses of exchange; so that in each place the
produce which is taken from use and devoted to exchange brings back an
increase. Thus Whittington’s cat, sent to a far country where cats are
scarce and rats are plenty, returns in bales of goods and bags of gold.

Of course, labor is necessary to exchange, as it is to the utilization
of the reproductive forces of nature, and the produce of exchange,
as the produce of agriculture, is clearly the produce of labor; but
yet, in the one case as in the other, there is a distinguishable force
cooperating with that of labor, which makes it impossible to measure
the result solely by the amount of labor expended, but renders the
amount of capital and the time it is in use integral parts in the
sum of forces. Capital aids labor in all of the different modes of
production, but there is a distinction between the relations of the two
in such modes of production as consist merely of changing the form or
place of matter, as planing boards or mining coal; and such modes of
production as avail themselves of the reproductive forces of nature, or
of the power of increase arising from differences in the distribution
of natural and human powers, such as the raising of grain or the
exchange of ice for sugar. In production of the first kind, labor
alone is the efficient cause; when labor stops, production stops. When
the carpenter drops his plane as the sun sets, the increase of value,
which he with his plane is producing, ceases until he begins his labor
again the following morning. When the factory bell rings for closing,
when the mine is shut down, production ends until work is resumed.
The intervening time, so far as regards production, might as well be
blotted out. The lapse of days, the change of seasons is no element in
the production that depends solely upon the amount of labor expended.
But in the other modes of production to which I have referred, and in
which the part of labor may be likened to the operations of lumbermen
who throw their logs into the stream, leaving it to the current to
carry them to the boom of the sawmill many miles below, time _is_ an
element. The seed in the ground germinates and grows while the farmer
sleeps or plows new fields, and the everflowing currents of air and
ocean bear Whittington’s cat toward the rat-tormented ruler in the
regions of romance.

To recur now to Bastiat’s illustration. It is evident that if there is
any reason why William at the end of the year should return to James
more than an equally good plane, it does not spring, as Bastiat has
it, from the increased power which the tool gives to labor, for that,
as I have shown, is not an element; but it springs from the element
of time—the difference of a year between the lending and return of
the plane. Now, if the view is confined to the illustration, there is
nothing to suggest how this element should operate, for a plane at the
end of the year has no greater value than a plane at the beginning. But
if we substitute for the plane a calf, it is clearly to be seen that to
put James in as good a position as if he had not lent, William at the
end of the year must return, not a calf, but a cow. Or, if we suppose
that the ten days’ labor had been devoted to planting corn, it is
evident that James would not have been fully recompensed if at the end
of the year he had received simply so much planted corn, for during the
year the planted corn would have germinated and grown and multiplied;
and so if the plane had been devoted to exchange, it might during the
year have been turned over several times, each exchange yielding an
increase to James. Now, therefore, as James’ labor might have been
applied in any of those ways—or what amounts to the same thing, some of
the labor devoted to making planes might have been thus transferred—he
will not make a plane for William to use for the year unless he gets
back more than a plane. And William can afford to give back more than
a plane, because the same general average of the advantages of labor
applied in different modes will enable him to obtain from his labor an
advantage from the element of time. It is this general averaging, or
as we may say, “pooling” of advantages, which necessarily takes place
where the exigencies of society require the simultaneous carrying on
of the different modes of production, which gives to the possession of
wealth incapable in itself of increase an advantage similar to that
which attaches to wealth used in such a way as to gain from the element
of time. And, in the last analysis, the advantage which is given by
the lapse of time springs from the generative force of nature and the
varying powers of nature and of man.

Were the quality and capacity of matter everywhere uniform, and all
productive power in man, there would be no interest. The advantage
of superior tools might at times be transferred on terms resembling
the payment of interest, but such transactions would be irregular and
intermittent—the exception, not the rule. For the power of obtaining
such returns would not, as now, inhere in the possession of capital,
and the advantage of time would operate only in peculiar circumstances.
That I, having a thousand dollars, can certainly let it out at
interest, does not arise from the fact that there are others, not
having a thousand dollars, who will gladly pay me for the use of it,
if they can get it no other way; but from the fact that the capital
which my thousand dollars represents has the power of yielding an
increase to whomsoever has it, even though he be a millionaire. For the
price which anything will bring does not depend upon what the buyer
would be willing to give rather than go without it, so much as upon
what the seller can otherwise get. For instance, a manufacturer who
wishes to retire from business has machinery to the value of $100,000.
If he cannot, should he sell, take this $100,000 and invest it so
that it will yield him interest, it will be immaterial to him, risk
being eliminated, whether he obtains the whole price at once or in
installments, and if the purchaser has the requisite capital, which we
must suppose in order that the transaction may rest on its own merits,
it will be immaterial whether he pay at once or after a time. If the
purchaser has not the required capital, it may be to his convenience
that payments should be delayed, but it would be only in exceptional
circumstances that the seller would ask, or the buyer would consent, to
pay any premium on this account; nor in such cases would this premium
be properly interest. For interest is not properly a payment made for
the use of capital, but a return accruing from the increase of capital.
If the capital did not yield an increase, the cases would be few and
exceptional in which the owner would get a premium. William would soon
find out if it did not pay him to give a plank for the privilege of
deferring payment on James’ plane.

In short, when we come to analyze production we find it to fall into
three modes—viz:

ADAPTING, or changing natural products either in form or in place so as
to fit them for the satisfaction of human desire.

GROWING, or utilizing the vital forces of nature, as by raising
vegetables or animals.

EXCHANGING, or utilizing, so as to add to the general sum of wealth,
the higher powers of those natural forces which vary with locality,
or of those human forces which vary with situation, occupation, or

In each of these three modes of production capital may aid labor—or, to
speak more precisely, in the first mode capital may aid labor, but is
not absolutely necessary; in the others capital must aid labor, or is

Now, while by adapting capital in proper forms we may increase the
effective power of labor to impress upon matter the character of
wealth, as when we adapt wood and iron to the form and use of a plane;
or iron, coal, water, and oil to the form and use of a steam engine;
or stone, clay, timber, and iron to that of a building, yet the
characteristic of this use of capital is, that the benefit is in the
use. When, however, we employ capital in the second of these modes, as
when we plant grain in the ground, or place animals on a stock farm,
or put away wine to improve with age, the benefit arises, not from
the use, but from the increase. And so, when we employ capital in the
third of these modes, and instead of using a thing we exchange it, the
benefit is in the increase or greater value of the things received in

Primarily, the benefits which arise from use go to labor, and the
benefits which arise from increase, to capital. But, inasmuch as the
division of labor and the interchangeability of wealth necessitate and
imply an averaging of benefits, in so far as these different modes of
production correlate with each other, the benefits that arise from one
will average with the benefits that arise from the others, for neither
labor nor capital will be devoted to any mode of production while any
other mode which is open to them will yield a greater return. That is
to say, labor expended in the first mode of production will get, not
the whole return, but the return minus such part as is necessary to
give to capital such an increase as it could have secured in the other
modes of production, and capital engaged in the second and third modes
will obtain, not the whole increase, but the increase minus what is
sufficient to give to labor such reward as it could have secured if
expended in the first mode.

Thus interest springs from the power of increase which the reproductive
forces of nature, and the in effect analogous capacity for exchange,
give to capital. It is not an arbitrary, but a natural thing; it is
not the result of a particular social organization, but of laws of the
universe which underlie society. It is, therefore, just.

They who talk about abolishing interest fall into an error similar to
that previously pointed out as giving its plausibility to the doctrine
that wages are drawn from capital. When they thus think of interest,
they think only of that which is paid by the user of capital to the
owner of capital. But, manifestly, this is not all interest, but only
some interest. Whoever uses capital and obtains the increase it is
capable of giving receives interest. If I plant and care for a tree
until it comes to maturity, I receive, in its fruit, interest upon the
capital I have thus accumulated—that is, the labor I have expended. If
I raise a cow, the milk which she yields me, morning and evening, is
not merely the reward of the labor then exerted; but interest upon the
capital which my labor, expended in raising her, has accumulated in the
cow. And so, if I use my own capital in directly aiding production,
as by machinery, or in indirectly aiding production, in exchange, I
receive a special and distinguishable advantage from the reproductive
character of capital, which is as real, though perhaps not as clear, as
though I had lent my capital to another and he had paid me interest.


[36] This is really said of profits, but with the evident meaning of
returns to capital.



The belief that interest is the robbery of industry is, I am persuaded,
in large part due to a failure to discriminate between what is really
capital and what is not, and between profits which are properly
interest and profits which arise from other sources than the use of
capital. In the speech and literature of the day every one is styled a
capitalist who possesses what, independent of his labor, will yield him
a return, while whatever is thus received is spoken of as the earnings
or takings of capital, and we everywhere hear of the conflict of labor
and capital. Whether there is, in reality, any conflict between labor
and capital, I do not yet ask the reader to make up his mind; but it
will be well here to clear away some misapprehensions which confuse the

Attention has already been called to the fact that land values, which
constitute such an enormous part of what is commonly called capital,
are not capital at all; and that rent, which is as commonly included in
the receipts of capital, and which takes an ever-increasing portion of
the produce of an advancing community, is not the earnings of capital,
and must be carefully separated from interest. It is not necessary now
to dwell further upon this point. Attention has likewise been called to
the fact that the stocks, bonds, etc., which constitute another great
part of what is commonly called capital, are not capital at all; but,
in some of their shapes, these evidences of indebtedness so closely
resemble capital, and in some cases actually perform, or seem to
perform, the functions of capital, while they yield a return to their
owners which is not only spoken of as interest, but has every semblance
of interest, that it is worth while, before attempting to clear the
idea of interest from some other ambiguities that beset it, to speak
again of these at greater length.

Nothing can be capital, let it always be remembered, that is not
wealth—that is to say, nothing can be capital that does not consist
of actual, tangible things, not the spontaneous offerings of nature,
which have in themselves, and not by proxy, the power of directly or
indirectly ministering to human desire.

Thus, a government bond is not capital, nor yet is it the
representative of capital. The capital that was once received for
it by the government has been consumed unproductively—blown away
from the mouths of cannon, used up in war ships, expended in keeping
men marching and drilling, killing and destroying. The bond cannot
represent capital that has been destroyed. It does not represent
capital at all. It is simply a solemn declaration that the government
will, some time or other, take by taxation from the then existing stock
of the people, so much wealth, which it will turn over to the holder
of the bond; and that, in the meanwhile, it will, from time to time,
take, in the same way, enough to make up to the holder the increase
which so much capital as it some day promises to give him would yield
him were it actually in his possession. The immense sums which are
thus taken from the produce of every modern country to pay interest on
public debts are not the earnings or increase of capital—are not really
interest in the strict sense of the term, but are taxes levied on the
produce of labor and capital, leaving so much less for wages and so
much less for real interest.

But, supposing the bonds have been issued for the deepening of a river
bed, the construction of lighthouses, or the erection of a public
market; or supposing, to embody the same idea while changing the
illustration, they have been issued by a railroad company. Here they do
represent capital, existing and applied to productive uses, and like
stock in a dividend paying company may be considered as evidences of
the ownership of capital. But they can be so considered only in so far
as they actually represent capital, and not as they have been issued in
excess of the capital used. Nearly all our railroad companies and other
incorporations are loaded down in this way. Where one dollar’s worth of
capital has been really used, certificates for two, three, four, five,
or even ten, have been issued, and upon this fictitious amount interest
or dividends are paid with more or less regularity. Now, what, in
excess of the amount due as interest to the real capital invested, is
thus earned by these companies and thus paid out, as well as the large
sums absorbed by managing rings and never accounted for, is evidently
not taken from the aggregate produce of the community on account of the
services rendered by capital—it is not interest. If we are restricted
to the terminology of economic writers who decompose profits into
interest, insurance, and wages of superintendence, it must fall into
the category of wages of superintendence.

But while wages of superintendence clearly enough include the income
derived from such personal qualities as skill, tact, enterprise,
organizing ability, inventive power, character, etc., to the profits we
are speaking of there is another contributing element, which can only
arbitrarily be classed with these—the element of monopoly.

When James I. granted to his minion the exclusive privilege of making
gold and silver thread, and prohibited, under severe penalties, every
one else from making such thread, the income which Buckingham enjoyed
in consequence did not arise from the interest upon the capital
invested in the manufacture, nor from the skill, etc., of those
who really conducted the operations, but from what he got from the
king—viz., the exclusive privilege—in reality the power to levy a tax
for his own purposes upon all the users of such thread. From a similar
source comes a large part of the profits which are commonly confounded
with the earnings of capital. Receipts from the patents granted for
a limited term of years for the purpose of encouraging invention
are clearly attributable to this source, as are the returns derived
from monopolies created by protective tariffs under the pretense of
encouraging home industry. But there is another far more insidious
and far more general form of monopoly. In the aggregation of large
masses of capital under a common control there is developed a new and
essentially different power from that power of increase which is a
general characteristic of capital and which gives rise to interest.
While the latter is, so to speak, constructive in its nature, the power
which, as aggregation proceeds, rises upon it is destructive. It is
a power of the same kind as that which James granted to Buckingham,
and it is often exercised with as reckless a disregard, not only of
the industrial, but of the personal rights of individuals. A railroad
company approaches a small town as a highwayman approaches his victim.
The threat, “If you do not accede to our terms we will leave your
town two or three miles to one side!” is as efficacious as the “Stand
and deliver,” when backed by a cocked pistol. For the threat of the
railroad company is not merely to deprive the town of the benefits
which the railroad might give; it is to put it in a far worse position
than if no railroad had been built. Or if, where there is water
communication, an opposition boat is put on; rates are reduced until
she is forced off, and then the public are compelled to pay the cost of
the operation, just as the Rohillas were obliged to pay the forty lacs
with which Surajah Dowlah hired of Warren Hastings an English force to
assist him in desolating their country and decimating their people.
And just as robbers unite to plunder in concert and divide the spoil,
so do the trunk lines of railroad unite to raise rates and pool their
earnings, or the Pacific roads form a combination with the Pacific Mail
Steamship Company by which toll gates are virtually established on
land and ocean. And just as Buckingham’s creatures, under authority of
the gold thread patent, searched private houses, and seized papers and
persons for purposes of lust and extortion, so does the great telegraph
company which, by the power of associated capital deprives the people
of the United States of the full benefits of a beneficent invention,
tamper with correspondence and crush out newspapers which offend it.

It is necessary only to allude to these things, not to dwell on them.
Every one knows the tyranny and rapacity with which capital when
concentrated in large amounts is frequently wielded to corrupt, to
rob, and to destroy. What I wish to call the reader’s attention to is
that profits thus derived are not to be confounded with the legitimate
returns of capital as an agent of production. They are for the most
part to be attributed to a maladjustment of forces in the legislative
department of government, and to a blind adherence to ancient
barbarisms and the superstitious reverence for the technicalities of a
narrow profession in the administration of law; while the general cause
which in advancing communities tends, with the concentration of wealth,
to the concentration of power, is the solution of the great problem we
are seeking for, but have not yet found.

Any analysis will show that much of the profits which are, in common
thought, confounded with interest are in reality due, not to the
power of capital, but to the power of concentrated capital, or of
concentrated capital acting upon bad social adjustments. And it will
also show that what are clearly and properly wages of superintendence
are very frequently confounded with the earnings of capital.

And, so, profits properly due to the elements of risk are frequently
confounded with interest. Some people acquire wealth by taking chances
which to the majority of people must necessarily bring loss. Such are
many forms of speculation, and especially that mode of gambling known
as stock dealing. Nerve, judgment, the possession of capital, skill in
what in lower forms of gambling are known as the arts of the confidence
man and blackleg, give advantage to the individual; but, just as at a
gaming table, whatever one gains some one else must lose.

Now, taking the great fortunes that are so often referred to as
exemplifying the accumulative power of capital—the Dukes of Westminster
and Marquises of Bute, the Rothschilds, Astors, Stewarts, Vanderbilts,
Goulds, Stanfords, and Floods—it is upon examination readily seen that
they have been built up, in greater or less part, not by interest, but
by elements such as we have been reviewing.

How necessary it is to note the distinctions to which I have been
calling attention is shown in current discussions, where the shield
seems alternately white or black as the standpoint is shifted from
one side to the other. On the one hand we are called upon to see, in
the existence of deep poverty side by side with vast accumulations of
wealth, the aggressions of capital on labor, and in reply it is pointed
out that capital aids labor, and hence we are asked to conclude that
there is nothing unjust or unnatural in the wide gulf between rich and
poor; that wealth is but the reward of industry, intelligence, and
thrift; and poverty but the punishment of indolence, ignorance, and



Let us turn now to the law of interest, keeping in mind two things to
which attention has heretofore been called—viz:

_First_—That it is not capital which employs labor, but labor which
employs capital.

_Second_—That capital is not a fixed quantity, but can always be
increased or decreased, (1) by the greater or less application of labor
to the production of capital, and (2) by the conversion of wealth into
capital, or capital into wealth, for capital being but wealth applied
in a certain way, wealth is the larger and inclusive term.

It is manifest that under conditions of freedom the maximum that can be
given for the use of capital will be the increase it will bring, and
the minimum or zero will be the replacement of capital; for above the
one point the borrowing of capital would involve a loss, and below the
other, capital could not be maintained.

Observe, again: It is not, as is carelessly stated by some writers, the
increased efficiency given to labor by the adaptation of capital to any
special form or use which fixes this maximum, but the average power
of increase which belongs to capital generally. The power of applying
itself in advantageous forms is a power of labor, which capital as
capital cannot claim nor share. A bow and arrows will enable an Indian
to kill, let us say, a buffalo every day, while with sticks and stones
he could hardly kill one in a week; but the weapon maker of the tribe
could not claim from the hunter six out of every seven buffaloes
killed as a return for the use of a bow and arrows; nor will capital
invested in a woolen factory yield to the capitalist the difference
between the produce of the factory and what the same amount of labor
could have obtained with the spinning-wheel and hand-loom. William when
he borrows a plane from James does not in that obtain the advantage of
the increased efficiency of labor when using a plane for the smoothing
of boards over what it has when smoothing them with a shell or flint.
The progress of knowledge has made the advantage involved in the use of
planes a common property and power of labor. What he gets from James is
merely such advantage as the element of a year’s time will give to the
possession of so much capital as is represented by the plane.

Now, if the vital forces of nature which give an advantage to the
element of time be the cause of interest, it would seem to follow that
this maximum rate of interest would be determined by the strength of
these forces and the extent to which they are engaged in production.
But while the reproductive force of nature seems to vary enormously,
as, for instance, between the salmon, which spawns thousands of eggs,
and the whale, which brings forth a single calf at intervals of years;
between the rabbit and the elephant, the thistle and the gigantic
redwood, it appears from the way the natural balance is maintained that
there is an equation between the reproductive and destructive forces of
nature, which in effect brings the principle of increase to a uniform
point. This natural balance man has within narrow limits the power
to disturb, and by the modification of natural conditions may avail
himself at will of the varying strength of the reproductive force in
nature. But when he does so, there arises from the wide scope of his
desires another principle which brings about in the increase of wealth
a similar equation and balance to that which is effected in nature
between the different forms of life. This equation exhibits itself
through values. If, in a country adapted to both, I go to raising
rabbits and you to raising horses, my rabbits may, until the natural
limit is reached, increase faster than your horses. But my capital will
not increase faster, for the effect of the varying rates of increase
will be to lower the value of rabbits as compared with horses, and to
increase the value of horses as compared with rabbits.

Though the varying strength of the vital forces of nature is thus
brought to uniformity, there may be a difference in the different
stages of social development as to the proportionate extent to
which, in the aggregate production of wealth, these vital forces are
enlisted. But as to this, there are two remarks to be made. In the
first place, although in such a country as England the part taken by
manufactures in the aggregate wealth production has very much increased
as compared with the part taken by agriculture, yet it is to be
noticed that to a very great extent this is true only of the political
or geographical division, and not of the industrial community. For
industrial communities are not limited by political divisions, or
bounded by seas or mountains. They are limited only by the scope of
their exchanges, and the proportion which in the industrial economy of
England agriculture and stock-raising bear to manufactures is averaged
with Iowa and Illinois, with Texas and California, with Canada and
India, with Queensland and the Baltic—in short, with every country to
which the world-wide exchanges of England extend. In the next place,
it is to be remarked that although in the progress of civilization
the tendency is to the relative increase of manufactures, as compared
with agriculture, and consequently to a proportionately less reliance
upon the reproductive forces of nature, yet this is accompanied by a
corresponding extension of exchanges, and hence a greater calling in
of the power of increase which thus arises. So these tendencies, to a
great extent, and, probably, so far as we have yet gone, completely,
balance each other, and preserve the equilibrium which fixes the
average increase of capital, or the normal rate of interest.

Now, this normal point of interest, which lies between the necessary
maximum and the necessary minimum of the return to capital, must,
wherever it rests, be such that all things (such as the feeling of
security, desire for accumulation, etc.) considered, the reward of
capital and the reward of labor will be equal—that is to say, will give
an equally attractive result for the exertion or sacrifice involved.
It is impossible, perhaps, to formulate this point, as wages are
habitually estimated in quantity and interest in a ratio; but if we
suppose a given quantity of wealth to be the produce of a given amount
of labor, cooperating for a stated time with a certain amount of
capital, the proportion in which the produce would be divided between
the labor and the capital would afford a comparison. There must be such
a point at, or rather, about, which the rate of interest must tend to
settle; since, unless such an equilibrium were effected, labor would
not accept the use of capital, or capital would not be placed at the
disposal of labor. For labor and capital are but different forms of
the same thing—human exertion. Capital is produced by labor; it is,
in fact, but labor impressed upon matter—labor stored up in matter,
to be released again as needed, as the heat of the sun stored up in
coal is released in the furnace. The use of capital in production
is, therefore, but a mode of labor. As capital can be used only by
being consumed, its use is the expenditure of labor, and for the
maintenance of capital, its production by labor must be commensurate
with its consumption in aid of labor. Hence the principle that, under
circumstances which permit free competition, operates to bring wages
to a common standard and profits to a substantial equality—the
principle that men will seek to gratify their desires with the least
exertion—operates to establish and maintain this equilibrium between
wages and interest.

This natural relation between interest and wages—this equilibrium at
which both will represent equal returns to equal exertions—may be
stated in a form which suggests a relation of opposition; but this
opposition is only apparent. In a partnership between Dick and Harry,
the statement that Dick receives a certain proportion of the profits
implies that the portion of Harry is less or greater as Dick’s is
greater or less; but where, as in this case, each gets only what he
adds to the common fund, the increase of the portion of the one does
not decrease what the other receives.

And this relation fixed, it is evident that interest and wages must
rise and fall together, and that interest cannot be increased without
increasing wages; nor wages lowered without depressing interest. For if
wages fall, interest must also fall in proportion, else it becomes more
profitable to turn labor into capital than to apply it directly; while,
if interest falls, wages must likewise proportionately fall, or else
the increment of capital would be checked.

We are, of course, not speaking of particular wages and particular
interest, but of the general rate of wages and the general rate of
interest, meaning always by interest the return which capital can
secure, less insurance and wages of superintendence. In a particular
case, or a particular employment, the tendency of wages and interest to
an equilibrium may be impeded; but between the general rate of wages
and the general rate of interest, this tendency must be prompt to act.
For though in a particular branch of production the line may be clearly
drawn between those who furnish labor and those who furnish capital,
yet even in communities where there is the sharpest distinction
between the general class laborers and the general class capitalists,
these two classes shade off into each other by imperceptible
gradations, and on the extremes where the two classes meet in the same
persons, the interaction which restores equilibrium, or rather prevents
its disturbance, can go on without obstruction, whatever obstacles may
exist where the separation is complete. And, furthermore, it must be
remembered, as has before been stated, that capital is but a portion
of wealth, distinguished from wealth generally only by the purpose to
which it is applied, and, hence, the whole body of wealth has upon
the relations of capital and labor the same equalizing effect that a
fly-wheel has upon the motion of machinery, taking up capital when
it is in excess and giving it out again when there is a deficiency,
just as a jeweler may give his wife diamonds to wear when he has a
superabundant stock, and put them in his showcase again when his stock
becomes reduced. Thus any tendency on the part of interest to rise
above the equilibrium with wages must immediately beget not only a
tendency to direct labor to the production of capital, but also the
application of wealth to the uses of capital; while any tendency of
wages to rise above the equilibrium with interest must in like manner
beget not only a tendency to turn labor from the production of capital,
but also to lessen the proportion of capital by diverting from a
productive to a non-productive use some of the articles of wealth of
which capital is composed.

To recapitulate: There is a certain relation or ratio between wages and
interest, fixed by causes, which, if not absolutely permanent, slowly
change, at which enough labor will be turned into capital to supply the
capital which, in the degree of knowledge, state of the arts, density
of population, character of occupations, variety, extent and rapidity
of exchanges, will be demanded for production, and this relation or
ratio the interaction of labor and capital constantly maintains; hence
interest must rise and fall with the rise and fall of wages.

To illustrate: The price of flour is determined by the price of wheat
and cost of milling. The cost of milling varies slowly and but little,
the difference being, even at long intervals, hardly perceptible; while
the price of wheat varies frequently and largely. Hence we correctly
say that the price of flour is governed by the price of wheat. Or,
to put the proposition in the same form as the preceding: There is a
certain relation or ratio between the value of wheat and the value
of flour, fixed by the cost of milling, which relation or ratio the
interaction between the demand for flour and the supply of wheat
constantly maintains; hence the price of flour must rise and fall with
the rise and fall of the price of wheat.

Or, as, leaving the connecting link, the price of wheat, to inference,
we say that the price of flour depends upon the character of the
seasons, wars, etc., so may we put the law of interest in a form which
directly connects it with the law of rent, by saying that the general
rate of interest will be determined by the return to capital upon the
poorest land to which capital is freely applied—that is to say, upon
the best land open to it without the payment of rent. Thus we bring the
law of interest into a form which shows it to be a corollary of the law
of rent.

We may prove this conclusion in another way: For that interest must
decrease as rent increases, we can plainly see if we eliminate wages.
To do this, we must, to be sure, imagine a universe organized on
totally different principles. Nevertheless, we may imagine what Carlyle
would call a fool’s paradise, where the production of wealth went on
without the aid of labor, and solely by the reproductive force of
capital—where sheep bore ready-made clothing on their backs, cows
presented butter and cheese, and oxen, when they got to the proper
point of fatness, carved themselves into beefsteaks and roasting
ribs; where houses grew from the seed, and a jackknife thrown upon
the ground would take root and in due time bear a crop of assorted
cutlery. Imagine certain capitalists transported, with their capital in
appropriate forms, to such a place. Manifestly, they would get, as the
return for their capital, the whole amount of wealth it produced only
so long as none of its produce was demanded as rent. When rent arose,
it would come out of the produce of capital, and as it increased,
the return to the owners of capital must necessarily diminish. If we
imagine the place where capital possessed this power of producing
wealth without the aid of labor to be of limited extent, say an island,
we shall see that as soon as capital had increased to the limit of the
island to support it, the return to capital must fall to a trifle above
its minimum of mere replacement, and the land owners would receive
nearly the whole produce as rent, for the only alternative capitalists
would have would be to throw their capital into the sea. Or, if we
imagine such an island to be in communication with the rest of the
world, the return to capital would settle at the rate of return in
other places. Interest there would be neither higher nor lower than
anywhere else. Rent would obtain the whole of the superior advantage,
and the land of such an island would have a great value.

To sum up, the law of interest is this:

 _The relation between wages and interest is determined by the
 average power of increase which attaches to capital from its use in
 reproductive modes. As rent arises, interest will fall as wages fall,
 or will be determined by the margin of cultivation._

I have endeavored at this length to trace out and illustrate the law
of interest more in deference to the existing terminology and modes
of thought than from the real necessities of our inquiry, were it
unembarrassed by befogging discussions. In truth, the primary division
of wealth in distribution is dual, not tripartite. Capital is but a
form of labor, and its distinction from labor is in reality but a
subdivision, just as the division of labor into skilled and unskilled
would be. In our examination we have reached the same point as would
have been attained had we simply treated capital as a form of labor,
and sought the law which divides the produce between rent and wages;
that is to say, between the possessors of the two factors, natural
substances and powers, and human exertion—which two factors by their
union produce all wealth.



We have by inference already obtained the law of wages. But to verify
the deduction and to strip the subject of all ambiguities, let us seek
the law from an independent starting point.

There is, of course, no such thing as a common rate of wages, in
the sense that there is at any given time and place a common rate
of interest. Wages, which include all returns received from labor,
not only vary with the differing powers of individuals, but, as the
organization of society becomes elaborate, vary largely as between
occupations. Nevertheless, there is a certain general relation between
all wages, so that we express a clear and well-understood idea when
we say that wages are higher or lower in one time or place than in
another. In their degrees, wages rise and fall in obedience to a common
law. What is this law?

The fundamental principle of human action—the law that is to political
economy what the law of gravitation is to physics—is that men
seek to gratify their desires with the least exertion. Evidently,
this principle must bring to an equality, through the competition
it induces, the reward gained by equal exertions under similar
circumstances. When men work for themselves, this equalization will
be largely affected by the equation of prices; and between those who
work for themselves and those who work for others, the same tendency
to equalization will operate. Now, under this principle, what, in
conditions of freedom, will be the terms at which one man can hire
others to work for him? Evidently, they will be fixed by what the men
could make if laboring for themselves. The principle which will prevent
him from having to give anything above this, except what is necessary
to induce the change, will also prevent them from taking less. Did
they demand more, the competition of others would prevent them from
getting employment. Did he offer less, none would accept the terms,
as they could obtain greater results by working for themselves. Thus,
although the employer wishes to pay as little as possible, and the
employee to receive as much as possible, wages will be fixed by the
value or produce of such labor to the laborers themselves. If wages
are temporarily carried either above or below this line, a tendency to
carry them back at once arises.

But the result, or the earnings of labor, as is readily seen in those
primary and fundamental occupations in which labor first engages,
and which, even in the most highly developed condition of society,
still form the base of production, does not depend merely upon the
intensity or quality of the labor itself. Wealth is the product of two
factors, land and labor, and what a given amount of labor will yield
will vary with the powers of the natural opportunities to which it is
applied. This being the case, the principle that men seek to gratify
their desires with the least exertion will fix wages at the produce
of such labor at the point of highest natural productiveness open to
it. Now, by virtue of the same principle, the highest point of natural
productiveness open to labor under existing conditions will be the
lowest point at which production continues, for men, impelled by a
supreme law of the human mind to seek the satisfaction of their desires
with the least exertion, will not expend labor at a lower point of
productiveness while a higher is open to them. Thus the wages which
an employer must pay will be measured by the lowest point of natural
productiveness to which production extends, and wages will rise or fall
as this point rises or falls.

To illustrate: In a simple state of society, each man, as is the
primitive mode, works for himself—some in hunting, let us say, some in
fishing, some in cultivating the ground. Cultivation, we will suppose,
has just begun, and the land in use is all of the same quality,
yielding a similar return to similar exertions. Wages, therefore—for,
though there is neither employer nor employed, there are yet wages—will
be the full produce of labor, and, making allowance for the difference
of agreeableness, risk, etc., in the three pursuits, they will be on
the average equal in each—that is to say, equal exertions will yield
equal results. Now, if one of their number wishes to employ some of his
fellows to work for him instead of for themselves, he must pay wages
fixed by this full, average produce of labor.

Let a period of time elapse. Cultivation has extended, and, instead of
land of the same quality, embraces lands of different qualities. Wages,
now, will not be as before, the average produce of labor. They will be
the average produce of labor at the margin of cultivation, or the point
of lowest return. For, as men seek to satisfy their desires with the
least possible exertion, the point of lowest return in cultivation must
yield to labor a return equivalent to the average return in hunting
and fishing.[37] Labor will no longer yield equal returns to equal
exertions, but those who expend their labor on the superior land will
obtain a greater produce for the same exertion than those who cultivate
the inferior land. Wages, however, will still be equal, for this excess
which the cultivators of the superior land receive is in reality rent,
and if land has been subjected to individual ownership will give it a
value. Now, if, under these changed circumstances, one member of this
community wishes to hire others to work for him, he will have to pay
only what the labor yields at the lowest point of cultivation. If
thereafter the margin of cultivation sinks to points of lower and lower
productiveness, so must wages sink; if, on the contrary, it rises,
so also must wages rise; for, just as a free body tends to take the
shortest route to the earth’s center, so do men seek the easiest mode
to the gratification of their desires.

Here, then, we have the law of wages, as a deduction from a principle
most obvious and most universal. That wages depend upon the margin of
cultivation—that they will be greater or less as the produce which
labor can obtain from the highest natural opportunities open to it is
greater or less, flows from the principle that men will seek to satisfy
their wants with the least exertion.

Now, if we turn from simple social states to the complex phenomena of
highly civilized societies, we shall find upon examination that they
also fall under this law.

In such societies, wages differ widely, but they still bear a more
or less definite and obvious relation to each other. This relation
is not invariable, as at one time a philosopher of repute may earn
by his lectures many fold the wages of the best mechanic, and at
another can hardly hope for the pay of a footman; as in a great city
occupations may yield relatively high wages, which in a new settlement
would yield relatively low wages; yet these variations between wages
may, under all conditions, and in spite of arbitrary divergences
caused by custom, law, etc., be traced to certain circumstances. In
one of his most interesting chapters Adam Smith thus enumerates the
principal circumstances “which make up for a small pecuniary gain
in some employments and counterbalance a great one in others: First,
the agreeableness or disagreeableness of the employments themselves.
Secondly, the easiness and cheapness, or the difficulty and expense of
learning them. Thirdly, the constancy or inconstancy of employment in
them. Fourthly, the small or great trust which must be reposed in them.
Fifthly, the probability or improbability of success in them.”[38] It
is not necessary to dwell in detail on these causes of variation in
wages between different employments. They have been admirably explained
and illustrated by Adam Smith and the economists who have followed
him, who have well worked out the details, even if they have failed to
apprehend the main law.

The effect of all the circumstances which give rise to the differences
between wages in different occupations may be included as supply and
demand, and it is perfectly correct to say that the wages in different
occupations will vary relatively according to differences in the supply
and demand of labor—meaning by demand the call which the community
as a whole makes for services of the particular kind, and by supply
the relative amount of labor which, under the existing conditions,
can be determined to the performance of those particular services.
But though this is true as to the relative differences of wages, when
it is said, as is commonly said, that the general rate of wages is
determined by supply and demand, the words are meaningless. For supply
and demand are but relative terms. The supply of labor can only mean
labor offered in exchange for labor or the produce of labor, and the
demand for labor can only mean labor or the produce of labor offered
in exchange for labor. Supply is thus demand, and demand supply, and,
in the whole community, one must be co-extensive with the other. This
is clearly apprehended by the current political economy in relation to
sales, and the reasoning of Ricardo, Mill, and others, which proves
that alterations in supply and demand cannot produce a general rise
or fall of values, though they may cause a rise or fall in the value
of a particular thing, is as applicable to labor. What conceals the
absurdity of speaking generally of supply and demand in reference to
labor is the habit of considering the demand for labor as springing
from capital and as something distinct from labor; but the analysis to
which this idea has been heretofore subjected has sufficiently shown
its fallacy. It is indeed evident from the mere statement, that wages
can never permanently exceed the produce of labor, and hence that there
is no fund from which wages can for any time be drawn, save that which
labor constantly creates.

But, though all the circumstances which produce the differences in
wages between occupations may be considered as operating through
supply and demand, they, or rather, their effects, for sometimes the
same cause operates in both ways, may be separated into two classes,
according as they tend only to raise apparent wages or as they tend
to raise real wages—that is, to increase the average reward for equal
exertion. The high wages of some occupations much resemble what Adam
Smith compares them to, the prizes of a lottery, in which the great
gain of one is made up from the losses of many others. This is not
only true of the professions by means of which Dr. Smith illustrates
the principle, but is largely true of the wages of superintendence
in mercantile pursuits, as shown by the fact that over ninety per
cent. of the mercantile firms that commence business ultimately
fail. The higher wages of those occupations which can be prosecuted
only in certain states of the weather, or are otherwise intermittent
and uncertain, are also of this class; while differences that arise
from hardship, discredit, unhealthiness, etc., imply differences of
sacrifice, the increased compensation for which only preserves the
level of equal returns for equal exertions. All these differences are,
in fact, equalizations, arising from circumstances which, to use
the words of Adam Smith, “make up for a small pecuniary gain in some
employments and counterbalance a great one in others.” But, besides
these merely apparent differences, there are real differences in wages
between occupations, which are caused by the greater or less rarity
of the qualities required—greater abilities or skill, whether natural
or acquired, commanding on the average greater wages. Now, these
qualities, whether natural or acquired, are essentially analogous to
differences in strength and quickness in manual labor, and as in manual
labor the higher wages paid the man who can do more would be based upon
wages paid to those who can do only the average amount, so wages in the
occupations requiring superior abilities and skill must depend upon the
common wages paid for ordinary abilities and skill.

It is, indeed, evident from observation, as it must be from theory,
that whatever be the circumstances which produce the differences of
wages in different occupations, and although they frequently vary in
relation to each other, producing, as between time and time, and place
and place, greater or less relative differences, yet the rate of wages
in one occupation is always dependent on the rate in another, and so
on, down, until the lowest and widest stratum of wages is reached, in
occupations where the demand is more nearly uniform and in which there
is the greatest freedom to engage.

For, although barriers of greater or less difficulty may exist, the
amount of labor which can be determined to any particular pursuit is
nowhere absolutely fixed. All mechanics could act as laborers, and many
laborers could readily become mechanics; all storekeepers could act
as shopmen, and many shopmen could easily become storekeepers; many
farmers would, upon inducement, become hunters or miners, fishermen or
sailors, and many hunters, miners, fishermen, and sailors know enough
of farming to turn their hands to it on demand. In each occupation
there are men who unite it with others, or who alternate between
occupations, while the young men who are constantly coming in to fill
up the ranks of labor are drawn in the direction of the strongest
inducements and least resistances. And further than this, all the
gradations of wages shade into each other by imperceptible degrees,
instead of being separated by clearly defined gulfs. The wages, even
of the poorer paid mechanics, are generally higher than the wages
of simple laborers, but there are always some mechanics who do not,
on the whole, make as much as some laborers; the best paid lawyers
receive much higher wages than the best paid clerks, but the best paid
clerks make more than some lawyers, and in fact the worst paid clerks
make more than the worst paid lawyers. Thus, on the verge of each
occupation, stand those to whom the inducements between one occupation
and another are so nicely balanced that the slightest change is
sufficient to determine their labor in one direction or another. Thus,
any increase or decrease in the demand for labor of a certain kind
cannot, except temporarily, raise wages in that occupation above, nor
depress them below, the relative level with wages in other occupations,
which is determined by the circumstances previously adverted to,
such as relative agreeableness or continuity of employment, etc.
Even, as experience shows, where artificial barriers are imposed
to this interaction, such as limiting laws, guild regulations, the
establishment of caste, etc., they may interfere with, but cannot
prevent, the maintenance of this equilibrium. They operate only as
dams, which pile up the water of a stream above its natural level, but
cannot prevent its overflow.

Thus, although they may from time to time alter in relation to each
other, as the circumstances which determine relative levels change, yet
it is evident that wages in all strata must ultimately depend upon
wages in the lowest and widest stratum—the general rate of wages rising
or falling as these rise or fall.

Now, the primary and fundamental occupations, upon which, so to
speak, all others are built up, are evidently those which procure
wealth directly from nature; hence the law of wages in them must be
the general law of wages. And, as wages in such occupations clearly
depend upon what labor can produce at the lowest point of natural
productiveness to which it is habitually applied; therefore, wages
generally depend upon the margin of cultivation, or, to put it more
exactly, upon the highest point of natural productiveness to which
labor is free to apply itself without the payment of rent.

So obvious is this law that it is often apprehended without being
recognized. It is frequently said of such countries as California and
Nevada that cheap labor would enormously aid their development, as it
would enable the working of the poorer but most extensive deposits of
ore. A relation between low wages and a low point of production is
perceived by those who talk in this way, but they invert cause and
effect. It is not low wages which will cause the working of low-grade
ore, but the extension of production to the lower point which will
diminish wages. If wages could be arbitrarily forced down, as has
sometimes been attempted by statute, the poorer mines would not be
worked so long as richer mines could be worked. But if the margin of
production were arbitrarily forced down, as it might be, were the
superior natural opportunities in the ownership of those who chose
rather to wait for future increase of value than to permit them to be
used now, wages would necessarily fall.

The demonstration is complete. The law of wages we have thus obtained
is that which we previously obtained as the corollary of the law of
rent, and it completely harmonizes with the law of interest. It is,

 _Wages depend upon the margin of production, or upon the produce which
 labor can obtain at the highest point of natural productiveness open
 to it without the payment of rent._

This law of wages accords with and explains universal facts that
without its apprehension seem unrelated and contradictory. It shows

Where land is free and labor is unassisted by capital, the whole
produce will go to labor as wages.

Where land is free and labor is assisted by capital, wages will consist
of the whole produce, less that part necessary to induce the storing up
of labor as capital.

Where land is subject to ownership and rent arises, wages will be fixed
by what labor could secure from the highest natural opportunities open
to it without the payment of rent.

Where natural opportunities are all monopolized, wages may be forced by
the competition among laborers to the minimum at which laborers will
consent to reproduce.

This necessary minimum of wages (which by Smith and Ricardo is
denominated the point of “natural wages,” and by Mill supposed to
regulate wages, which will be higher or lower as the working classes
consent to reproduce at a higher or lower standard of comfort) is,
however, included in the law of wages as previously stated, as it is
evident that the margin of production cannot fall below that point at
which enough will be left as wages to secure the maintenance of labor.

Like Ricardo’s law of rent of which it is the corollary, this law of
wages carries with it its own proof and becomes self-evident by mere
statement. For it is but an application of the central truth that is
the foundation of economic reasoning—that men will seek to satisfy
their desires with the least exertion. The average man will not work
for an employer for less, all things considered, than he can earn by
working for himself; nor yet will he work for himself for less than he
can earn by working for an employer, and hence the return which labor
can secure from such natural opportunities as are free to it must fix
the wages which labor everywhere gets. That is to say, the line of rent
is the necessary measure of the line of wages. In fact, the accepted
law of rent depends for its recognition upon a previous, though in many
cases it seems to be an unconscious, acceptance of this law of wages.
What makes it evident that land of a particular quality will yield as
rent the surplus of its produce over that of the least productive land
in use, is the apprehension of the fact that the owner of the higher
quality of land can procure the labor to work his land by the payment
of what that labor could produce if exerted upon land of the poorer

In its simpler manifestations, this law of wages is recognized by
people who do not trouble themselves about political economy, just
as the fact that a heavy body would fall to the earth was long
recognized by those who never thought of the law of gravitation. It
does not require a philosopher to see that if in any country natural
opportunities were thrown open which would enable laborers to make
for themselves wages higher than the lowest now paid, the general
rate of wages would rise; while the most ignorant and stupid of the
placer miners of early California knew that as the placers gave out or
were monopolized, wages must fall. It requires no fine-spun theory to
explain why wages are so high relatively to production in new countries
where land is yet unmonopolized. The cause is on the surface. One man
will not work for another for less than his labor will really yield,
when he can go upon the next quarter section and take up a farm for
himself. It is only as land becomes monopolized and these natural
opportunities are shut off from labor, that laborers are obliged to
compete with each other for employment, and it becomes possible for the
farmer to hire hands to do his work while he maintains himself on the
difference between what their labor produces and what he pays them for

Adam Smith himself saw the cause of high wages where land was yet
open to settlement, though he failed to appreciate the importance and
connection of the fact. In treating of the Causes of the Prosperity of
New Colonies (Chapter VII, Book IV, “Wealth of Nations,”) he says:

 “Every colonist gets more land than he can possibly cultivate. He has
 no rent and scarce any taxes to pay. * * He is eager, therefore, to
 collect laborers from every quarter and to pay them the most liberal
 wages. But these liberal wages, joined to the plenty and cheapness of
 land, soon make these laborers leave him in order to become landlords
 themselves, and to reward with equal liberality other laborers who
 soon leave them for the same reason they left their first masters.”

This chapter contains numerous expressions which, like the opening
sentence in the chapter on The Wages of Labor, show that Adam Smith
failed to appreciate the true laws of the distribution of wealth only
because he turned away from the more primitive forms of society to
look for first principles amid complex social manifestations, where he
was blinded by a preaccepted theory of the functions of capital, and,
as it seems to me, by a vague acceptance of the doctrine which, two
years after his death, was formulated by Malthus. And it is impossible
to read the works of the economists who since the time of Smith have
endeavored to build up and elucidate the science of political economy
without seeing how, over and over again, they stumble over the law of
wages without once recognizing it. Yet, “if it were a dog it would bite
them!” Indeed, it is difficult to resist the impression that some
of them really saw this law of wages, but, fearful of the practical
conclusions to which it would lead, preferred to ignore and cover it
up, rather than use it as the key to problems which without it are so
perplexing. A great truth to an age which has rejected and trampled on
it, is not a word of peace, but a sword!

Perhaps it may be well to remind the reader, before closing this
chapter, of what has been before stated—that I am using the word wages
not in the sense of a quantity, but in the sense of a proportion. When
I say that wages fall as rent rises, I do not mean that the quantity
of wealth obtained by laborers as wages is necessarily less, but that
the proportion which it bears to the whole produce is necessarily
less. The proportion may diminish while the quantity remains the same
or even increases. If the margin of cultivation descends from the
productive point which we will call 25, to the productive point we will
call 20, the rent of all lands that before paid rent will increase by
this difference, and the proportion of the whole produce which goes
to laborers as wages will to the same extent diminish; but if, in the
meantime, the advance of the arts or the economies that become possible
with greater population have so increased the productive power of labor
that at 20 the same exertion will produce as much wealth as before at
25, laborers will get as wages as great a quantity as before, and the
relative fall of wages will not be noticeable in any diminution of the
necessaries or comforts of the laborer, but only in the increased value
of land and the greater incomes and more lavish expenditure of the
rent-receiving class.


[37] This equalization will be effected by the equation of prices.

[38] This last, which is analogous to the element of risk in profits,
accounts for the high wages of successful lawyers, physicians,
contractors, actors, etc.



The conclusions we have reached as to the laws which govern the
distribution of wealth recast a large and most important part of the
science of political economy, as at present taught, overthrowing some
of its most highly elaborated theories and shedding a new light on
some of its most important problems. Yet, in doing this, no disputable
ground has been occupied; not a single fundamental principle advanced
that is not already recognized.

The law of interest and the law of wages which we have substituted
for those now taught are necessary deductions from the great law
which alone makes any science of political economy possible—the
all-compelling law that is as inseparable from the human mind as
attraction is inseparable from matter, and without which it would be
impossible to previse or calculate upon any human action, the most
trivial or the most important. This fundamental law, that men seek to
gratify their desires with the least exertion, becomes, when viewed in
its relation to one of the factors of production, the law of rent; in
relation to another, the law of interest; and in relation to a third,
the law of wages. And in accepting the law of rent, which, since the
time of Ricardo, has been accepted by every economist of standing, and
which, like a geometrical axiom, has but to be understood to compel
assent, the law of interest and law of wages, as I have stated them,
are inferentially accepted, as its necessary sequences. In fact,
it is only relatively that they can be called sequences, as in the
recognition of the law of rent they too must be recognized. For on
what depends the recognition of the law of rent? Evidently upon the
recognition of the fact that the effect of competition is to prevent
the return to labor and capital being anywhere greater than upon the
poorest land in use. It is in seeing this that we see that the owner
of land will be able to claim as rent all of its produce which exceeds
what would be yielded to an equal application of labor and capital on
the poorest land in use.

The harmony and correlation of the laws of distribution as we have now
apprehended them are in striking contrast with the want of harmony
which characterizes these laws as presented by the current political
economy. Let us state them side by side:

   _The Current Statement._            _The True Statement._

  RENT depends on the margin         RENT depends on the margin
    of cultivation, rising as it      of cultivation, rising as it
    falls and falling as it rises.    falls and falling as it rises.

  WAGES depend upon the              WAGES depend on the margin
    ratio between the number          of cultivation, falling
    of laborers and the amount        as it falls and rising as it
    of capital devoted to their       rises.

  INTEREST depends upon the          INTEREST (its ratio with wages
    equation between the supply       being fixed by the net
    of and demand for                 power of increase which
    capital; or, as is stated of      attaches to capital) depends
    profits, upon wages (or           on the margin of
    the cost of labor), rising        cultivation, falling as it
    as wages fall, and falling        falls and rising as it rises.
    as wages rise.

In the current statement the laws of distribution have no common
center, no mutual relation; they are not the correlating divisions of
a whole, but measures of different qualities. In the statement we have
given, they spring from one point, support and supplement each other,
and form the correlating divisions of a complete whole.



We have now obtained a clear, simple, and consistent theory of the
distribution of wealth, which accords with first principles and
existing facts, and which, when understood, will commend itself as

Before working out this theory, I have deemed it necessary to show
conclusively the insufficiency of current theories; for, in thought,
as in action, the majority of men do but follow their leaders, and a
theory of wages which has not merely the support of the highest names,
but is firmly rooted in common opinions and prejudices, will, until it
has been proved untenable, prevent any other theory from being even
considered, just as the theory that the earth was the center of the
universe prevented any consideration of the theory that it revolves on
its own axis and circles round the sun, until it was clearly shown that
the apparent movements of the heavenly bodies could not be explained in
accordance with the theory of the fixity of the earth.

There is in truth a marked resemblance between the science of political
economy, as at present taught, and the science of astronomy, as taught
previous to the recognition of the Copernican theory. The devices by
which the current political economy endeavors to explain the social
phenomena that are now forcing themselves upon the attention of the
civilized world may well be compared to the elaborate system of cycles
and epicycles constructed by the learned to explain the celestial
phenomena in a manner according with the dogmas of authority and the
rude impressions and prejudices of the unlearned. And, just as the
observations which showed that this theory of cycles and epicycles
could not explain all the phenomena of the heavens cleared the way for
the consideration of the simpler theory that supplanted it, so will a
recognition of the inadequacy of the current theories to account for
social phenomena clear the way for the consideration of a theory that
will give to political economy all the simplicity and harmony which the
Copernican theory gave to the science of astronomy.

But at this point the parallel ceases. That “the fixed and steadfast
earth” should be really whirling through space with inconceivable
velocity is repugnant to the first apprehensions of men in every
state and situation; but the truth I wish to make clear is naturally
perceived, and has been recognized in the infancy of every people,
being obscured only by the complexities of the civilized state, the
warpings of selfish interests, and the false direction which the
speculations of the learned have taken. To recognize it, we have but to
come back to first principles and heed simple perceptions. Nothing can
be clearer than the proposition that the failure of wages to increase
with increasing productive power is due to the increase of rent.

Three things unite to production—labor, capital, and land.

Three parties divide the produce—the laborer, the capitalist, and the
land owner.

If, with an increase of production the laborer gets no more and the
capitalist no more it is a necessary inference that the land owner
reaps the whole gain.

And the facts agree with the inference. Though neither wages nor
interest anywhere increase as material progress goes on, yet the
invariable accompaniment and mark of material progress is the increase
of rent—the rise of land values.

The increase of rent explains why wages and interest do not increase.
The cause which gives to the land holder is the cause which denies to
the laborer and capitalist. That wages and interest are higher in new
than in old countries is not, as the standard economists say, because
nature makes a greater return to the application of labor and capital,
but because land is cheaper, and, therefore, as a smaller proportion
of the return is taken by rent, labor and capital can keep for their
share a larger proportion of what nature does return. It is not the
total produce, but the net produce, after rent has been taken from it,
that determines what can be divided as wages and interest. Hence, the
rate of wages and interest is everywhere fixed, not so much by the
productiveness of labor as by the value of land. Wherever the value
of land is relatively low, wages and interest are relatively high;
wherever land is relatively high, wages and interest are relatively low.

If production had not passed the simple stage in which all labor is
directly applied to the land and all wages are paid in its produce, the
fact that when the land owner takes a larger portion the laborer must
put up with a smaller portion could not be lost sight of.

But the complexities of production in the civilized state, in which so
great a part is borne by exchange, and so much labor is bestowed upon
materials after they have been separated from the land, though they may
to the unthinking disguise, do not alter the fact that all production
is still the union of the two factors, land and labor, and that rent
(the share of the land holder) cannot be increased except at the
expense of wages (the share of the laborer) and interest (the share of
capital). Just as the portion of the crop, which in the simpler forms
of industrial organization the owner of agricultural land receives at
the end of the harvest as his rent, lessens the amount left to the
cultivator as wages and interest, so does the rental of land on which
a manufacturing or commercial city is built lessen the amount which can
be divided as wages and interest between the laborer and capital there
engaged in the production and exchange of wealth.

In short, the value of land depending wholly upon the power which its
ownership gives of appropriating wealth created by labor, the increase
of land values is always at the expense of the value of labor. And,
hence, that the increase of productive power does not increase wages,
is because it does increase the value of land. Rent swallows up the
whole gain and pauperism accompanies progress.

It is unnecessary to refer to facts. They will suggest themselves to
the reader. It is the general fact, observable everywhere, that as
the value of land increases, so does the contrast between wealth and
want appear. It is the universal fact, that where the value of land is
highest, civilization exhibits the greatest luxury side by side with
the most piteous destitution. To see human beings in the most abject,
the most helpless and hopeless condition, you must go, not to the
unfenced prairies and the log cabins of new clearings in the backwoods,
where man single-handed is commencing the struggle with nature, and
land is yet worth nothing, but to the great cities, where the ownership
of a little patch of ground is a fortune.







 Hitherto, it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made
 have lightened the day’s toil of any human being.—_John Stuart Mill._

    Do ye hear the children weeping, O my brothers,
        Ere the sorrow comes with years?
    They are leaning their young heads against their mothers,
        And _that_ cannot stop their tears.
    The young lambs are bleating in the meadows;
      The young birds are chirping in the nest;
    The young fawns are playing with the shadows;
      The young flowers are blowing toward the west—
    But the young, young children, O, my brothers,
        They are weeping bitterly!
    They are weeping in the playtime of the others,
        In the country of the free.

    —_Mrs. Browning._



In identifying rent as the receiver of the increased production which
material progress gives, but which labor fails to obtain; in seeing
that the antagonism of interests is not between labor and capital, as
is popularly believed, but is in reality between labor and capital
on the one side and land ownership on the other, we have reached a
conclusion that has most important practical bearings. But it is not
worth while to dwell on them now, for we have not yet fully solved the
problem which was at the outset proposed. To say that wages remain low
because rent advances is like saying that a steamboat moves because
its wheels turn around. The further question is, What causes rent to
advance? What is the force or necessity that, as productive power
increases, distributes a greater and greater proportion of the produce
as rent?

The only cause pointed out by Ricardo as advancing rent is the increase
of population, which by requiring larger supplies of food necessitates
the extension of cultivation to inferior lands, or to points of
inferior production on the same lands, and in current works of other
authors attention is so exclusively directed to the extension of
production from superior to inferior lands as the cause of advancing
rents that Mr. Carey (followed by Professor Perry and others) has
imagined that he has overthrown the Ricardian theory of rent by denying
that the progress of agriculture is from better to worse lands.[39]

Now, while it is unquestionably true that the increasing pressure of
population which compels a resort to inferior points of production
will raise rents, and does raise rents, I do not think that all the
deductions commonly made from this principle are valid, nor yet that
it fully accounts for the increase of rent as material progress goes
on. There are evidently other causes which conspire to raise rent, but
which seem to have been wholly or partially hidden by the erroneous
views as to the functions of capital and genesis of wages which have
been current. To see what these are, and how they operate, let us trace
the effect of material progress upon the distribution of wealth.

The changes which constitute or contribute to material progress are
three: (1) increase in population; (2) improvements in the arts of
production and exchange; and (3) improvements in knowledge, education,
government, police, manners, and morals, so far as they increase the
power of producing wealth. Material progress, as commonly understood,
consists of these three elements or directions of progression, in
all of which the progressive nations have for some time past been
advancing, though in different degrees. As, considered in the light
of material forces or economies, the increase of knowledge, the
betterment of government, etc., have the same effect as improvements
in the arts, it will not be necessary in this view to consider them
separately. What bearing intellectual or moral progress, merely as
such, has upon our problem we may hereafter consider. We are at present
dealing with material progress, to which these things contribute only
as they increase wealth-producing power, and shall see their effects
when we see the effect of improvements in the arts.

To ascertain the effects of material progress upon the distribution
of wealth, let us, therefore, consider the effects of increase of
population apart from improvement in the arts, and then the effect of
improvement in the arts apart from increase of population.


[39] As to this, it may be worth while to say: (1) That the general
fact, as shown by the progress of agriculture in the newer States of
the Union and by the character of the land left out of cultivation in
the older, is that the course of cultivation _is_ from the better to
the worse qualities of land. (2) That, whether the course of production
be from the absolutely better to the absolutely worse lands or the
reverse (and there is much to indicate that better or worse in this
connection merely relates to our knowledge, and that future advances
may discover compensating qualities in portions of the earth now
esteemed most sterile), it is always, and from the nature of the human
mind, _must_ always tend to be, from land under existing conditions
deemed better, to land under existing conditions deemed worse. (3)
That Ricardo’s law of rent does not depend upon the direction of the
extension of cultivation, but upon the proposition that if land of a
certain quality will yield something, land of a better quality will
yield more.



The manner in which increasing population advances rent, as explained
and illustrated in current treatises, is that the increased demand
for subsistence forces production to inferior soil or to inferior
productive points. Thus, if, with a given population, the margin of
cultivation is at 30, all lands of productive power over 30 will pay
rent. If the population be doubled, an additional supply is required,
which cannot be obtained without an extension of cultivation that will
cause lands to yield rent that before yielded none. If the extension
be to 20, then all the land between 20 and 30 will yield rent and
have a value, and all land over 30 will yield increased rent and have
increased value.

It is here that the Malthusian doctrine receives from the current
elucidations of the theory of rent the support of which I spoke when
enumerating the causes that have combined to give that doctrine an
almost undisputed sway in current thought. According to the Malthusian
theory, the pressure of population against subsistence becomes
progressively harder as population increases, and although two hands
come into the world with every new mouth, it becomes, to use the
language of John Stuart Mill, harder and harder for the new hands to
supply the new mouths. According to Ricardo’s theory of rent, rent
arises from the difference in productiveness of the lands in use, and
as explained by Ricardo and the economists who have followed him, the
advance in rents which, experience shows, accompanies increasing
population, is caused by the inability of procuring more food except
at a greater cost, which thus forces the margin of population to lower
and lower points of production, commensurately increasing rent. Thus
the two theories, as I have before explained, are made to harmonize
and blend, the law of rent becoming but a special application of the
more general law propounded by Malthus, and the advance of rents with
increasing population a demonstration of its resistless operation. I
refer to this incidentally, because it now lies in our way to see the
misapprehension which has enlisted the doctrine of rent in the support
of a theory to which it in reality gives no countenance. The Malthusian
theory has been already disposed of, and the cumulative disproof which
will prevent the recurrence of a lingering doubt will be given when it
is shown, further on, that the phenomena attributed to the pressure
of population against subsistence would, under existing conditions,
manifest themselves were population to remain stationary.

The misapprehension to which I now refer, and which, to a proper
understanding of the effect of increase of population upon the
distribution of wealth, it is necessary to clear up, is the
presumption, expressed or implied in all the current reasoning upon
the subject of rent in connection with population, that the recourse
to lower points of production involves a smaller aggregate produce
in proportion to the labor expended; though that this is not always
the case is clearly recognized in connection with agricultural
improvements, which, to use the words of Mill, are considered “as
a partial relaxation of the bonds which confine the increase of
population.” But it is not involved even where there is no advance in
the arts, and the recourse to lower points of production is clearly
the result of the increased demand of an increased population. For
increased population, of itself, and without any advance in the arts,
implies an increase in the productive power of labor. The labor of 100
men, other things being equal, will produce much more than one hundred
times as much as the labor of one man, and the labor of 1,000 men much
more than ten times as much as the labor of 100 men; and, so, with
every additional pair of hands which increasing population brings,
there is a more than proportionate addition to the productive power of
labor. Thus, with an increasing population, there may be a recourse to
lower natural powers of production, not only without any diminution in
the average production of wealth as compared to labor, but without any
diminution at the lowest point. If population be doubled, land of but
20 productiveness may yield to the same amount of labor as much as land
of 30 productiveness could before yield. For it must not be forgotten
(what often _is_ forgotten) that the productiveness either of land
or labor is not to be measured in any one thing, but in all desired
things. A settler and his family may raise as much corn on land a
hundred miles away from the nearest habitation as they could raise were
their land in the center of a populous district. But in the populous
district they could obtain with the same labor as good a living from
much poorer land, or from land of equal quality could make as good
a living after paying a high rent, because in the midst of a large
population their labor would have become more effective; not, perhaps,
in the production of corn, but in the production of wealth generally—or
the obtaining of all the commodities and services which are the real
object of their labor.

But even where there is a diminution in the productiveness of labor at
the lowest point—that is to say, where the increasing demand for wealth
has driven production to a lower point of natural productiveness than
the addition to the power of labor from increasing population suffices
to make up for—it does not follow that the aggregate production, as
compared with the aggregate labor, has been lessened.

Let us suppose land of diminishing qualities. The best would naturally
be settled first, and as population increased production would take in
the next lower quality, and so on. But, as the increase of population,
by permitting greater economies, adds to the effectiveness of labor,
the cause which brought each quality of land successively into
cultivation would at the same time increase the amount of wealth that
the same quality of labor could produce from it. But it would also
do more than this—it would increase the power of producing wealth on
all the superior lands already in cultivation. If the relations of
quantity and quality were such that increasing population added to
the effectiveness of labor faster than it compelled a resort to less
productive qualities of land, though the margin of cultivation would
fall and rent would rise, the minimum return to labor would increase.
That is to say, though wages as a proportion would fall, wages as a
quantity would rise. The average production of wealth would increase.
If the relations were such that the increasing effectiveness of labor
just compensated for the diminishing productiveness of the land as it
was called into use, the effect of increasing population would be to
increase rent by lowering the margin of cultivation without reducing
wages as a quantity, and to increase the average production. If we now
suppose population still increasing, but, between the poorest quality
of land in use and the next lower quality, to be a difference so great
that the increased power of labor which comes with the increased
population that brings it into cultivation cannot compensate for
it—the minimum return to labor will be reduced, and with the rise of
rents, wages will fall, not only as a proportion, but as a quantity.
But unless the descent in the quality of land is far more precipitous
than we can well imagine, or than, I think, ever exists, the average
production will still be increased, for the increased effectiveness
which comes by reason of the increased population that compels resort
to the inferior quality of land attaches to all labor, and the gain
on the superior qualities of land will more than compensate for the
diminished production on the quality last brought in. The aggregate
wealth production, as compared with the aggregate expenditure of labor,
will be greater, though its distribution will be more unequal.

Thus, increase of population, as it operates to extend production to
lower natural levels, operates to increase rent and reduce wages as a
proportion, and may or may not reduce wages as a quantity; while it
seldom can, and probably never does, reduce the aggregate production of
wealth as compared with the aggregate expenditure of labor, but on the
contrary increases, and frequently largely increases it.

But while the increase of population thus increases rent by lowering
the margin of cultivation, it is a mistake to look upon this as the
only mode by which rent advances as population grows. Increasing
population increases rent, without reducing the margin of cultivation;
and notwithstanding the dicta of such writers as McCulloch, who assert
that rent would not arise were there an unbounded extent of equally
good land, increases it without reference to the natural qualities of
land, for the increased powers of co-operation and exchange which come
with increased population are equivalent to—nay, I think we can say
without metaphor, that they give—an increased capacity to land.

I do not mean to say merely that, like an improvement in the methods
or tools of production, the increased power which comes with increased
population gives to the same labor an increased result, which is
equivalent to an increase in the natural powers of land; but that
it brings out a superior power in labor, which is localized on
land—which attaches not to labor generally, but only to labor exerted
on particular land; and which thus inheres in the land as much as any
qualities of soil, climate, mineral deposit, or natural situation, and
passes, as they do, with the possession of the land.

An improvement in the method of cultivation which, with the same
outlay, will give two crops a year in place of one, or an improvement
in tools and machinery which will double the result of labor, will
manifestly, on a particular piece of ground, have the same effect
on the produce as a doubling of the fertility of the land. But the
difference is in this respect—the improvement in method or in tools
can be utilized on any land; but the improvement in fertility can be
utilized only on the particular land to which it applies. Now, in large
part, the increased productiveness of labor which arises from increased
population can be utilized only on particular land, and on particular
land in greatly varying degrees.

Here, let us imagine, is an unbounded savannah, stretching off in
unbroken sameness of grass and flower, tree and rill, till the traveler
tires of the monotony. Along comes the wagon of the first immigrant.
Where to settle he cannot tell—every acre seems as good as every other
acre. As to wood, as to water, as to fertility, as to situation, there
is absolutely no choice, and he is perplexed by the embarrassment of
richness. Tired out with the search for one place that is better than
another, he stops—somewhere, anywhere—and starts to make himself a
home. The soil is virgin and rich, game is abundant, the streams flash
with the finest trout. Nature is at her very best. He has what, were he
in a populous district, would make him rich; but he is very poor. To
say nothing of the mental craving, which would lead him to welcome the
sorriest stranger, he labors under all the material disadvantages of
solitude. He can get no temporary assistance for any work that requires
a greater union of strength than that afforded by his own family, or
by such help as he can permanently keep. Though he has cattle, he
cannot often have fresh meat, for to get a beefsteak he must kill a
bullock. He must be his own blacksmith, wagonmaker, carpenter, and
cobbler—in short, a “jack of all trades and master of none.” He cannot
have his children schooled, for, to do so, he must himself pay and
maintain a teacher. Such things as he cannot produce himself, he must
buy in quantities and keep on hand, or else go without, for he cannot
be constantly leaving his work and making a long journey to the verge
of civilization; and when forced to do so, the getting of a vial of
medicine or the replacement of a broken auger may cost him the labor of
himself and horses for days. Under such circumstances, though nature is
prolific, the man is poor. It is an easy matter for him to get enough
to eat; but beyond this, his labor will suffice to satisfy only the
simplest wants in the rudest way.

Soon there comes another immigrant. Although every quarter section of
the boundless plain is as good as every other quarter section, he is
not beset by any embarrassment as to where to settle. Though the land
is the same, there is one place that is clearly better for him than
any other place, and that is where there is already a settler and he
may have a neighbor. He settles by the side of the first comer, whose
condition is at once greatly improved, and to whom many things are now
possible that were before impossible, for two men may help each other
to do things that one man could never do.

Another immigrant comes, and, guided by the same attraction, settles
where there are already two. Another, and another, until around
our first comer there are a score of neighbors. Labor has now an
effectiveness which, in the solitary state, it could not approach.
If heavy work is to be done, the settlers have a log-rolling, and
together accomplish in a day what singly would require years. When
one kills a bullock, the others take part of it, returning when they
kill, and thus they have fresh meat all the time. Together they hire a
schoolmaster, and the children of each are taught for a fractional part
of what similar teaching would have cost the first settler. It becomes
a comparatively easy matter to send to the nearest town, for some one
is always going. But there is less need for such journeys. A blacksmith
and a wheelwright soon set up shops, and our settler can have his tools
repaired for a small part of the labor it formerly cost him. A store
is opened and he can get what he wants as he wants it; a post-office,
soon added, gives him regular communication with the rest of the world.
Then come a cobbler, a carpenter, a harness-maker, a doctor; and a
little church soon arises. Satisfactions become possible that in the
solitary state were impossible. There are gratifications for the social
and the intellectual nature—for that part of the man that rises above
the animal. The power of sympathy, the sense of companionship, the
emulation of comparison and contrast, open a wider, and fuller, and
more varied life. In rejoicing, there are others to rejoice; in sorrow,
the mourners do not mourn alone. There are husking bees, and apple
parings, and quilting parties. Though the ballroom be unplastered and
the orchestra but a fiddle, the notes of the magician are yet in the
strain, and Cupid dances with the dancers. At the wedding, there are
others to admire and enjoy; in the house of death, there are watchers;
by the open grave, stands human sympathy to sustain the mourners.
Occasionally, comes a straggling lecturer to open up glimpses of the
world of science, of literature, or of art; in election times, come
stump speakers, and the citizen rises to a sense of dignity and power,
as the cause of empires is tried before him in the struggle of John
Doe and Richard Roe for his support and vote. And, by and by, comes
the circus, talked of months before, and opening to children whose
horizon has been the prairie, all the realms of the imagination—princes
and princesses of fairy tale, mail-clad crusaders and turbaned Moors,
Cinderella’s fairy coach, and the giants of nursery lore; lions such
as crouched before Daniel, or in circling Roman amphitheater tore the
saints of God; ostriches who recall the sandy deserts; camels such
as stood around when the wicked brethren raised Joseph from the well
and sold him into bondage; elephants such as crossed the Alps with
Hannibal, or felt the sword of the Maccabees; and glorious music that
thrills and builds in the chambers of the mind as rose the sunny dome
of Kubla Khan.

Go to our settler now, and say to him: “You have so many fruit trees
which you planted; so much fencing, such a well, a barn, a house—in
short, you have by your labor added so much value to this farm. Your
land itself is not quite so good. You have been cropping it, and by
and by it will need manure. I will give you the full value of all your
improvements if you will give it to me, and go again with your family
beyond the verge of settlement.” He would laugh at you. His land yields
no more wheat or potatoes than before, but it does yield far more of
all the necessaries and comforts of life. His labor upon it will bring
no heavier crops, and, we will suppose, no more valuable crops, but it
will bring far more of all the other things for which men work. The
presence of other settlers—the increase of population—has added to
the productiveness, in these things, of labor bestowed upon it, and
this added productiveness gives it a superiority over land of equal
natural quality where there are as yet no settlers. If no land remains
to be taken up, except such as is as far removed from population as
was our settler’s land when he first went upon it, the value or rent
of this land will be measured by the whole of this added capability.
If, however, as we have supposed, there is a continuous stretch of
equal land, over which population is now spreading, it will not be
necessary for the new settler to go into the wilderness, as did the
first. He will settle just beyond the other settlers, and will get the
advantage of proximity to them. The value or rent of our settler’s
land will thus depend on the advantage which it has, from being at the
center of population, over that on the verge. In the one case, the
margin of production will remain as before; in the other, the margin of
production will be raised.

Population still continues to increase, and as it increases so do the
economies which its increase permits, and which in effect add to the
productiveness of the land. Our first settler’s land, being the center
of population, the store, the blacksmith’s forge, the wheelwright’s
shop, are set up on it, or on its margin, where soon arises a village,
which rapidly grows into a town, the center of exchanges for the people
of the whole district. With no greater agricultural productiveness
than it had at first, this land now begins to develop a productiveness
of a higher kind. To labor expended in raising corn, or wheat, or
potatoes, it will yield no more of those things than at first; but to
labor expended in the subdivided branches of production which require
proximity to other producers, and, especially, to labor expended in
that final part of production, which consists in distribution, it will
yield much larger returns. The wheat-grower may go further on, and
find land on which his labor will produce as much wheat, and nearly as
much wealth; but the artisan, the manufacturer, the storekeeper, the
professional man, find that their labor expended here, at the center
of exchanges, will yield them much more than if expended even at a
little distance away from it; and this excess of productiveness for
such purposes the landowner can claim just as he could an excess in its
wheat-producing power. And so our settler is able to sell in building
lots a few of his acres for prices which it would not bring for
wheat-growing if its fertility had been multiplied many times. With the
proceeds, he builds himself a fine house, and furnishes it handsomely.
That is to say, to reduce the transaction to its lowest terms, the
people who wish to use the land build and furnish the house for him,
on condition that he will let them avail themselves of the superior
productiveness which the increase of population has given the land.

Population still keeps on increasing, giving greater and greater
utility to the land, and more and more wealth to its owner. The town
has grown into a city—a St. Louis, a Chicago or a San Francisco—and
still it grows. Production is here carried on upon a great scale, with
the best machinery and the most favorable facilities; the division of
labor becomes extremely minute, wonderfully multiplying efficiency;
exchanges are of such volume and rapidity that they are made with the
minimum of friction and loss. Here is the heart, the brain, of the
vast social organism that has grown up from the germ of the first
settlement; here has developed one of the great ganglions of the human
world. Hither run all roads, hither set all currents, through all the
vast regions round about. Here, if you have anything to sell, is the
market; here, if you have anything to buy, is the largest and the
choicest stock. Here intellectual activity is gathered into a focus,
and here springs that stimulus which is born of the collision of mind
with mind. Here are the great libraries, the storehouses and granaries
of knowledge, the learned professors, the famous specialists. Here are
museums and art galleries, collections of philosophical apparatus, and
all things rare, and valuable, and best of their kind. Here come great
actors, and orators, and singers, from all over the world. Here, in
short, is a center of human life, in all its varied manifestations.

So enormous are the advantages which this land now offers for the
application of labor that instead of one man with a span of horses
scratching over acres, you may count in places thousands of workers to
the acre, working tier on tier, on floors raised one above the other,
five, six, seven and eight stories from the ground, while underneath
the surface of the earth engines are throbbing with pulsations that
exert the force of thousands of horses.

All these advantages attach to the land; it is on this land and
no other that they can be utilized, for here is the center of
population—the focus of exchanges, the market place and workshop of
the highest forms of industry. The productive powers which density
of population has attached to this land are equivalent to the
multiplication of its original fertility by the hundred fold and the
thousand fold. And rent, which measures the difference between this
added productiveness and that of the least productive land in use, has
increased accordingly. Our settler, or whoever has succeeded to his
right to the land, is now a millionaire. Like another Rip Van Winkle,
he may have lain down and slept; still he is rich—not from anything
he has done, but from the increase of population. There are lots from
which for every foot of frontage the owner may draw more than an
average mechanic can earn; there are lots that will sell for more than
would suffice to pave them with gold coin. In the principal streets are
towering buildings, of granite, marble, iron, and plate glass, finished
in the most expensive style, replete with every convenience. Yet they
are not worth as much as the land upon which they rest—the same land,
in nothing changed, which when our first settler came upon it had no
value at all.

That this is the way in which the increase of population powerfully
acts in increasing rent, whoever, in a progressive country, will look
around him, may see for himself. The process is going on under his
eyes. The increasing difference in the productiveness of the land in
use, which causes an increasing rise in rent, results not so much
from the necessities of increased population compelling the resort to
inferior land, as from the increased productiveness which increased
population gives to the lands already in use. The most valuable lands
on the globe, the lands which yield the highest rent, are not lands of
surpassing natural fertility, but lands to which a surpassing utility
has been given by the increase of population.

The increase of productiveness or utility which increase of population
gives to certain lands, in the way to which I have been calling
attention, attaches, as it were, to the mere quality of extension. The
valuable quality of land that has become a center of population is its
superficial capacity—it makes no difference whether it is fertile,
alluvial soil like that of Philadelphia; rich bottom land like that of
New Orleans; a filled-in marsh like that of St. Petersburg, or a sandy
waste like the greater part of San Francisco.

And where value seems to arise from superior natural qualities, such
as deep water and good anchorage, rich deposits of coal and iron, or
heavy timber, observation also shows that these superior qualities are
brought out, rendered tangible, by population. The coal and iron fields
of Pennsylvania, that to-day are worth enormous sums, were fifty years
ago valueless. What is the efficient cause of the difference? Simply
the difference in population. The coal and iron beds of Wyoming and
Montana, which to-day are valueless, will, in fifty years from now, be
worth millions on millions, simply because, in the meantime, population
will have greatly increased.

It is a well provisioned ship, this on which we sail through space. If
the bread and beef above decks seem to grow scarce, we but open a hatch
and there is a new supply, of which before we never dreamed. And very
great command over the services of others comes to those who as the
hatches are opened are permitted to say, “This is mine!”

To recapitulate: The effect of increasing population upon the
distribution of wealth is to increase rent, and consequently to
diminish the proportion of the produce which goes to capital and labor,
in two ways: First, By lowering the margin of cultivation. Second, By
bringing out in land special capabilities otherwise latent, and by
attaching special capabilities to particular lands.

I am disposed to think that the latter mode, to which little attention
has been given by political economists, is really the more important.
But this, in our inquiry, is not a matter of moment.



Eliminating improvements in the arts, we have seen the effects of
increase of population upon the distribution of wealth. Eliminating
increase of population, let us now see what effect improvements in the
arts of production have upon distribution.

We have seen that increase of population increases rent, rather by
increasing the productiveness of labor than by decreasing it. If it
can now be shown that, irrespective of the increase of population, the
effect of improvements in methods of production and exchange is to
increase rent, the disproof of the Malthusian theory—and of all the
doctrines derived from or related to it—will be final and complete, for
we shall have accounted for the tendency of material progress to lower
wages and depress the condition of the lowest class, without recourse
to the theory of increasing pressure against the means of subsistence.

That this is the case will, I think, appear on the slightest

The effect of inventions and improvements in the productive arts is to
save labor—that is, to enable the same result to be secured with less
labor, or a greater result with the same labor.

Now, in a state of society in which the existing power of labor served
to satisfy all material desires, and there was no possibility of new
desires being called forth by the opportunity of gratifying them,
the effect of labor-saving improvements would be simply to reduce
the amount of labor expended. But such a state of society, if it can
anywhere be found, which I do not believe, exists only where the human
most nearly approaches the animal. In the state of society called
civilized, and which in this inquiry we are concerned with, the very
reverse is the case. Demand is not a fixed quantity, that increases
only as population increases. In each individual it rises with _his_
power of getting the things demanded. Man is not an ox, who, when he
has eaten his fill, lies down to chew the cud; he is the daughter
of the horse leech, who constantly asks for more. “When I get some
money,” said Erasmus, “I will buy me some Greek books and afterward
some clothes.” The amount of wealth produced is nowhere commensurate
with the desire for wealth, and desire mounts with every additional
opportunity for gratification.

This being the case, the effect of labor-saving improvements will
be to increase the production of wealth. Now, for the production of
wealth, two things are required—labor and land. Therefore, the effect
of labor-saving improvements will be to extend the demand for land,
and wherever the limit of the quality of land in use is reached, to
bring into cultivation lands of less natural productiveness, or to
extend cultivation on the same lands to a point of lower natural
productiveness. And thus, while the primary effect of labor-saving
improvements is to increase the power of labor, the secondary
effect is to extend cultivation, and, where this lowers the margin
of cultivation, to increase rent. Thus, where land is entirely
appropriated, as in England, or where it is either appropriated or is
capable of appropriation as rapidly as it is needed for use, as in
the United States, the ultimate effect of labor-saving machinery or
improvements is to increase rent without increasing wages or interest.

It is important that this be fully understood, for it shows that
effects attributed by current theories to increase of population are
really due to the progress of invention, and explains the otherwise
perplexing fact that labor-saving machinery everywhere fails to benefit

Yet, to grasp fully this truth, it is necessary to keep in mind what
I have already more than once adverted to—the interchangeability of
wealth. I refer to this again, only because it is so persistently
forgotten or ignored by writers who speak of agricultural production as
though it were to be distinguished from production in general, and of
food or subsistence as though it were not included in the term wealth.

Let me ask the reader to bear in mind, what has already been
sufficiently illustrated, that the possession or production of any
form of wealth is virtually the possession or production of any
other form of wealth for which it will exchange—in order that he may
clearly see that it is not merely improvements which effect a saving
in labor directly applied to land that tend to increase rent, but all
improvements that in any way save labor.

That the labor of any individual is applied exclusively to the
production of one form of wealth is solely the result of the division
of labor. The object of labor on the part of any individual is not the
obtainment of wealth in one particular form, but the obtainment of
wealth in all the forms that consort with his desires. And, hence, an
improvement which effects a saving in the labor required to produce
one of the things desired, is, in effect, an increase in the power of
producing all the other things. If it take half a man’s labor to keep
him in food, and the other half to provide him clothing and shelter,
an improvement which would increase his power of producing food would
also increase his power of providing clothing and shelter. If his
desires for more or better food, and for more or better clothing
and shelter, were equal, an improvement in one department of labor
would be precisely equivalent to a like improvement in the other. If
the improvement consisted in a doubling of the power of his labor in
producing food, he would give one-third less labor to the production
of food, and one-third more to the providing of clothing and shelter.
If the improvement doubled his power to provide clothing and shelter
he would give one-third less labor to the production of these things,
and one-third more to the production of food. In either case, the
result would be the same—he would be enabled with the same labor to get
one-third more in quantity or quality of all the things he desired.

And, so, where production is carried on by the division of labor
between individuals, an increase in the power of producing one of the
things sought by production in the aggregate adds to the power of
obtaining others, and will increase the production of the others, to
an extent determined by the proportion which the saving of labor bears
to the total amount of labor expended, and by the relative strength
of desires. I am unable to think of any form of wealth, the demand
for which would not be increased by a saving in the labor required to
produce the others. Hearses and coffins have been selected as examples
of things for which the demand is little likely to increase; but this
is true only as to quantity. That increased power of supply would lead
to a demand for more expensive hearses and coffins, no one can doubt
who has noticed how strong is the desire to show regard for the dead by
costly funerals.

Nor is the demand for food limited, as in economic reasoning is
frequently, but erroneously, assumed. Subsistence is often spoken of
as though it were a fixed quantity; but it is fixed only as having a
definite minimum. Less than a certain amount will not keep a human
being alive, and less than a somewhat larger amount will not keep a
human being in good health. But, above this minimum, the subsistence
which a human being can use may be increased almost indefinitely.
Adam Smith says, and Ricardo indorses the statement, that the desire
for food is limited in every man by the narrow capacity of the human
stomach; but this, manifestly, is true only in the sense that when
a man’s belly is filled, hunger is satisfied. His demands for food
have no such limit. The stomach of a Louis XIV., a Louis XV., or
a Louis XVI., could not hold or digest more than the stomach of a
French peasant of equal stature, yet, while a few rods of ground would
supply the black bread and herbs which constituted the subsistence
of the peasant, it took hundreds of thousands of acres to supply the
demands of the king, who, besides his own wasteful use of the finest
qualities of food, required immense supplies for his servants, horses
and dogs. And in the common facts of daily life, in the unsatisfied,
though perhaps latent, desires which each one has, we may see how every
increase in the power of producing any form of wealth must result in
an increased demand for land and the direct products of land. The man
who now uses coarse food, and lives in a small house, will, as a rule,
if his income be increased, use more costly food, and move to a larger
house. If he grows richer and richer he will procure horses, servants,
gardens and lawns, his demand for the use of land constantly increasing
with his wealth. In the city where I write, is a man—but the type of
men everywhere to be found—who used to boil his own beans and fry his
own bacon, but who, now that he has got rich, maintains a town house
that takes up a whole block and would answer for a first-class hotel,
two or three country houses with extensive grounds, a large stud of
racers, a breeding farm, private track, etc. It certainly takes at
least a thousand times, it may be several thousand times, as much land
to supply the demands of this man now as it did when he was poor.

And, so, every improvement or invention, no matter what it be, which
gives to labor the power of producing more wealth, causes an increased
demand for land and its direct products, and thus tends to force
down the margin of cultivation, just as would the demand caused by
an increased population. This being the case, every labor-saving
invention, whether it be a steam plow, a telegraph, an improved process
of smelting ores, a perfecting printing press, or a sewing machine, has
a tendency to increase rent.

Or to state this truth concisely:

 _Wealth in all its forms being the product of labor applied to land or
 the products of land, any increase in the power of labor, the demand
 for wealth being unsatisfied, will be utilized in procuring more
 wealth, and thus increase the demand for land._

To illustrate this effect of labor-saving machinery and improvements,
let us suppose a country where, as in all the countries of the
civilized world, the land is in the possession of but a portion of the
people. Let us suppose a permanent barrier fixed to further increase
of population, either by the enactment and strict enforcement of an
Herodian law, or from such a change in manners and morals as might
result from an extensive circulation of Annie Besant’s pamphlets.
Let the margin of cultivation, or production, be represented by 20.
Thus land or other natural opportunities which, from the application
of labor and capital, will yield a return of 20, will just give the
ordinary rate of wages and interest, without yielding any rent; while
all lands yielding to equal applications of labor and capital more
than 20 will yield the excess as rent. Population remaining fixed,
let there be made inventions and improvements which will reduce by
one-tenth the expenditure of labor and capital necessary to produce
the same amount of wealth. Now, either one-tenth of the labor and
capital may be freed, and production remain the same as before; or
the same amount of labor and capital may be employed, and production
be correspondingly increased. But the industrial organization, as
in all civilized countries, is such that labor and capital, and
especially labor, must press for employment on any terms—the industrial
organization is such that mere laborers are not in a position to demand
their fair share in the new adjustment, and that any reduction in the
application of labor to production will, at first, at least, take the
form, not of giving each laborer the same amount of produce for less
work, but of throwing some of the laborers out of work and giving them
none of the produce. Now, owing to the increased efficiency of labor
secured by the new improvements, as great a return can be secured at
the point of natural productiveness represented by 18, as before at 20.
Thus, the unsatisfied desire for wealth, the competition of labor and
capital for employment, would insure the extension of the margin of
production, we will say to 18, and thus rent would be increased by the
difference between 18 and 20, while wages and interest, in quantity,
would be no more than before, and, in proportion to the whole produce,
would be less. There would be a greater production of wealth, but land
owners would get the whole benefit, subject to temporary deductions,
which will be hereafter stated.

If invention and improvement still go on, the efficiency of labor
will be still further increased, and the amount of labor and capital
necessary to produce a given result further diminished. The same causes
will lead to the utilization of this new gain in productive power for
the production of more wealth; the margin of cultivation will be
again extended, and rent will increase, both in proportion and amount,
without any increase in wages and interest. And, so, as invention
and improvement go on, constantly adding to the efficiency of labor,
the margin of production will be pushed lower and lower, and rent
constantly increased, though population should remain stationary.

I do not mean to say that the lowering of the margin of production
would always exactly correspond with the increase in productive power,
any more than I mean to say that the process would be one of clearly
defined steps. Whether, in any particular case, the lowering of the
margin of production lags behind or exceeds the increase in productive
power, will depend, I conceive, upon what may be called the area of
productiveness that can be utilized before cultivation is forced to
the next lowest point. For instance, if the margin of cultivation be
at 20, improvements which enable the same produce to be obtained with
one-tenth less capital and labor will not carry the margin to 18, if
the area having a productiveness of 19 is sufficient to employ all the
labor and capital displaced from the cultivation of the superior lands.
In this case, the margin of cultivation would rest at 19, and rents
would be increased by the difference between 19 and 20, and wages and
interest by the difference between 18 and 19. But if, with the same
increase in productive power the area of productiveness between 20
and 18 should not be sufficient to employ all the displaced labor and
capital, the margin of cultivation must, if the same amount of labor
and capital press for employment, be carried lower than 18. In this
case, rent would gain more than the increase in the product, and wages
and interest would be less than before the improvements which increased
productive power.

Nor is it precisely true that the labor set free by each improvement
will all be driven to seek employment in the production of more wealth.
The increased power of satisfaction, which each fresh improvement gives
to a certain portion of the community, will be utilized in demanding
leisure or services, as well as in demanding wealth. Some laborers
will, therefore, become idlers and some will pass from the ranks of
productive to those of unproductive laborers—the proportion of which,
as observation shows, tends to increase with the progress of society.

But, as I shall presently refer to a cause, as yet unconsidered, which
constantly tends to lower the margin of cultivation, to steady the
advance of rent, and even carry it beyond the proportion that would be
fixed by the actual margin of cultivation, it is not worth while to
take into account these perturbations in the downward movement of the
margin of cultivation and the upward movement of rent. All I wish to
make clear is that, without any increase in population, the progress of
invention constantly tends to give a larger proportion of the produce
to the owners of land, and a smaller and smaller proportion to labor
and capital.

And, as we can assign no limits to the progress of invention, neither
can we assign any limits to the increase of rent, short of the whole
produce. For, if labor-saving inventions went on until perfection
was attained, and the necessity of labor in the production of wealth
was entirely done away with, then everything that the earth could
yield could be obtained without labor, and the margin of cultivation
would be extended to zero. Wages would be nothing, and interest would
be nothing, while rent would take everything. For the owners of the
land, being enabled without labor to obtain all the wealth that could
be procured from nature, there would be no use for either labor or
capital, and no possible way in which either could compel any share of
the wealth produced. And no matter how small population might be, if
anybody but the land owners continued to exist, it would be at the whim
or by the mercy of the land owners—they would be maintained either for
the amusement of the land owners, or, as paupers, by their bounty.

This point, of the absolute perfection of labor-saving inventions, may
seem very remote, if not impossible of attainment; but it is a point
toward which the march of invention is every day more strongly tending.
And in the thinning out of population in the agricultural districts
of Great Britain, where small farms are being converted into larger
ones, and in the great machine-worked wheat-fields of California and
Dakota, where one may ride for miles and miles through waving grain
without seeing a human habitation, there are already suggestions of the
final goal toward which the whole civilized world is hastening. The
steam plow and the reaping machine are creating in the modern world
latifundia of the same kind that the influx of slaves from foreign wars
created in ancient Italy. And to many a poor fellow as he is shoved
out of his accustomed place and forced to move on—as the Roman farmers
were forced to join the proletariat of the great city, or sell their
blood for bread in the ranks of the legions—it seems as though these
labor-saving inventions were in themselves a curse, and we hear men
talking of work, as though the wearying strain of the muscles were, in
itself, a thing to be desired.

In what has preceded, I have, of course, spoken of inventions and
improvements when generally diffused. It is hardly necessary to say
that as long as an invention or an improvement is used by so few that
they derive a special advantage from it, it does not, to the extent of
this special advantage, affect the general distribution of wealth. So,
in regard to the limited monopolies created by patent laws, or by the
causes which give the same character to railroad and telegraph lines,
etc. Although generally mistaken for profits of capital, the special
profits thus arising are really the returns of monopoly, as has been
explained in a previous chapter, and, to the extent that they subtract
from the benefits of an improvement, do not primarily affect general
distribution. For instance, the benefits of a railroad or similar
improvement in cheapening transportation are diffused or monopolized,
as its charges are reduced to a rate which will yield ordinary interest
on the capital invested, or kept up to a point which will yield an
extraordinary return, or cover the stealing of the constructors or
directors. And, as is well known, the rise in rent or land values
corresponds with the reduction in the charges.

As has before been said, in the improvements which advance rent, are
not only to be included the improvements which directly increase
productive power, but also such improvements in government, manners,
and morals as indirectly increase it. Considered as material forces,
the effect of all these is to increase productive power, and, like
improvements in the productive arts, their benefit is ultimately
monopolized by the possessors of the land. A notable instance of this
is to be found in the abolition of protection by England. Free trade
has enormously increased the wealth of Great Britain, without lessening
pauperism. It has simply increased rent. And if the corrupt governments
of our great American cities were to be made models of purity and
economy, the effect would simply be to increase the value of land, not
to raise either wages or interest.



We have now seen that while advancing population tends to advance rent,
so all the causes that in a progressive state of society operate to
increase the productive power of labor tend, also, to advance rent, and
not to advance wages or interest. The increased production of wealth
goes ultimately to the owners of land in increased rent; and, although,
as improvement goes on, advantages may accrue to individuals not land
holders, which concentrate in their hands considerable portions of the
increased produce, yet there is in all this improvement nothing which
tends to increase the general return either to labor or to capital.

But there is a cause, not yet adverted to, which must be taken into
consideration fully to explain the influence of material progress upon
the distribution of wealth.

That cause is the confident expectation of the future enhancement of
land values, which arises in all progressive countries from the steady
increase of rent, and which leads to speculation, or the holding of
land for a higher price than it would then otherwise bring.

We have hitherto assumed, as is generally assumed in elucidations
of the theory of rent, that the actual margin of cultivation
always coincides with what may be termed the necessary margin of
cultivation—that is to say, we have assumed that cultivation extends to
less productive points only as it becomes necessary from the fact that
natural opportunities are at the more productive points fully utilized.

This, probably, is the case in stationary or very slowly progressing
communities, but in rapidly progressing communities, where the
swift and steady increase of rent gives confidence to calculations
of further increase, it is not the case. In such communities, the
confident expectation of increased prices produces, to a greater or
less extent, the effects of a combination among land holders, and tends
to the withholding of land from use, in expectation of higher prices,
thus forcing the margin of cultivation farther than required by the
necessities of production.

This cause must operate to some extent in all progressive communities,
though in such countries as England, where the tenant system prevails
in agriculture, it may be shown more in the selling price of land than
in the agricultural margin of cultivation, or actual rent. But in
communities like the United States, where the user of land generally
prefers, if he can, to own it, and where there is a great extent of
land to overrun, it operates with enormous power.

The immense area over which the population of the United States is
scattered shows this. The man who sets out from the Eastern seaboard in
search of the margin of cultivation, where he may obtain land without
paying rent, must, like the man who swam the river to get a drink, pass
for long distances through half-tilled farms, and traverse vast areas
of virgin soil, before he reaches the point where land can be had free
of rent—_i.e._, by homestead entry or pre-emption. He (and, with him,
the margin of cultivation) is forced so much farther than he otherwise
need have gone, by the speculation which is holding these unused lands
in expectation of increased value in the future. And when he settles,
he will, in his turn, take up, if he can, more land than he can use, in
the belief that it will soon become valuable; and so those who follow
him are again forced farther on than the necessities of production
require, carrying the margin of cultivation to still less productive,
because still more remote points.

The same thing may be seen in every rapidly growing city. If the land
of superior quality as to location were always fully used before land
of inferior quality were resorted to, no vacant lots would be left as
a city extended, nor would we find miserable shanties in the midst of
costly buildings. These lots, some of them extremely valuable, are
withheld from use, or from the full use to which they might be put,
because their owners, not being able or not wishing to improve them,
prefer, in expectation of the advance of land values, to hold them for
a higher rate than could now be obtained from those willing to improve
them. And, in consequence of this land being withheld from use, or from
the full use of which it is capable, the margin of the city is pushed
away so much farther from the center.

But when we reach the limits of the growing city—the actual margin
of building, which corresponds to the margin of cultivation in
agriculture—we shall not find the land purchasable at its value for
agricultural purposes, as it would be were rent determined simply by
present requirements; but we shall find that for a long distance beyond
the city land bears a speculative value, based upon the belief that it
will be required in the future for urban purposes, and that to reach
the point at which land can be purchased at a price not based upon
urban rent, we must go very far beyond the actual margin of urban use.

Or, to take another case of a different kind, instances similar to
which may doubtless be found in every locality. There is in Marin
County, within easy access of San Francisco, a fine belt of redwood
timber. Naturally, this would be first used, before resorting for the
supply of the San Francisco market to timber lands at a much greater
distance. But it yet remains uncut, and lumber procured many miles
beyond is daily hauled past it on the railroad, because its owner
prefers to hold for the greater price it will bring in the future.
Thus, by the withholding from use of this body of timber, the margin
of production of redwood is forced so much farther up and down the
Coast Range. That mineral land, when reduced to private ownership,
is frequently withheld from use while poorer deposits are worked, is
well known, and in new States it is common to find individuals who
are called “land poor”—that is, who remain poor, sometimes almost to
deprivation, because they insist on holding land, which they themselves
cannot use, at prices at which no one else can profitably use it.

To recur now to the illustration we made use of in the preceding
chapter: With the margin of cultivation standing at 20, an increase
in the power of production takes place, which renders the same result
obtainable with one-tenth less labor. For reasons before stated, the
margin of production must now be forced down, and if it rests at 18,
the return to labor and capital will be the same as before, when the
margin stood at 20. Whether it will be forced to 18 or be forced lower
depends upon what I have called the area of productiveness which
intervenes between 20 and 18. But if the confident expectation of a
further increase of rents leads the land owners to demand 3 rent for
20 land, 2 for 19, and 1 for 18 land, and to withhold their land from
use until these terms are complied with, the area of productiveness
may be so reduced that the margin of cultivation must fall to 17 or
even lower; and thus, as the result of the increase in the efficiency
of labor, laborers would get less than before, while interest would be
proportionately reduced, and rent would increase in greater ratio than
the increase in productive power.

Whether we formulate it as an extension of the margin of production,
or as a carrying of the rent line beyond the margin of production, the
influence of speculation in land in increasing rent is a great fact
which cannot be ignored in any complete theory of the distribution of
wealth in progressive countries. It is the force, evolved by material
progress, which tends constantly to increase rent in a greater ratio
than progress increases production, and thus constantly tends, as
material progress goes on and productive power increases, to reduce
wages, not merely relatively, but absolutely. It is this expansive
force which, operating with great power in new countries, brings to
them, seemingly long before their time, the social diseases of older
countries; produces “tramps” on virgin acres, and breeds paupers on
half-tilled soil.

In short, the general and steady advance in land values in a
progressive community necessarily produces that additional tendency
to advance which is seen in the case of commodities when any general
and continuous cause operates to increase their price. As, during the
rapid depreciation of currency which marked the latter days of the
Southern Confederacy, the fact that whatever was bought one day could
be sold for a higher price the next, operated to carry up the prices of
commodities even faster than the depreciation of the currency, so does
the steady increase of land values, which material progress produces,
operate still further to accelerate the increase. We see this secondary
cause operating in full force in those manias of land speculation which
mark the growth of new communities; but though these are the abnormal
and occasional manifestations, it is undeniable that the cause steadily
operates, with greater or less intensity, in all progressive societies.

The cause which limits speculation in commodities, the tendency of
increasing price to draw forth additional supplies, cannot limit the
speculative advance in land values, as land is a fixed quantity,
which human agency can neither increase nor diminish; but there is
nevertheless a limit to the price of land, in the minimum required by
labor and capital as the condition of engaging in production. If it
were possible continuously to reduce wages until zero were reached,
it would be possible continuously to increase rent until it swallowed
up the whole produce. But as wages cannot be permanently reduced
below the point at which laborers will consent to work and reproduce,
nor interest below the point at which capital will be devoted to
production, there is a limit which restrains the speculative advance
of rent. Hence speculation cannot have the same scope to advance rent
in countries where wages and interest are already near the minimum, as
in countries where they are considerably above it. Yet that there is
in all progressive countries a constant tendency in the speculative
advance of rent to overpass the limit where production would cease, is,
I think, shown by recurring seasons of industrial paralysis—a matter
which will be more fully examined in the next book.





 To whomsoever the soil at any time belongs, to him belong the fruits
 of it. White parasols, and elephants mad with pride are the flowers
 of a grant of land.—_Sir Wm. Jones’ translation of an Indian grant of
 land, found at Tanna._

       *       *       *       *       *

 The widow is gathering nettles for her children’s dinner; a perfumed
 seigneur, delicately lounging in the Œil de Bœuf, hath an alchemy
 whereby he will extract from her the third nettle, and call it



Our long inquiry is ended. We may now marshal the results.

To begin with the industrial depressions, to account for which so many
contradictory and self-contradictory theories are broached.

A consideration of the manner in which the speculative advance in
land values cuts down the earnings of labor and capital and checks
production leads, I think, irresistibly to the conclusion that this
is the main cause of those periodical industrial depressions to which
every civilized country, and all civilized countries together, seem
increasingly liable.

I do not mean to say that there are not other proximate causes. The
growing complexity and interdependence of the machinery of production,
which makes each shock or stoppage propagate itself through a widening
circle; the essential defect of currencies which contract when most
needed, and the tremendous alternations in volume that occur in the
simpler forms of commercial credit, which, to a much greater extent
than currency in any form, constitute the medium or flux of exchanges;
the protective tariffs which present artificial barriers to the
interplay of productive forces, and other similar causes, undoubtedly
bear important part in producing and continuing what are called
hard times. But, both from the consideration of principles and the
observation of phenomena, it is clear that the great initiatory cause
is to be looked for in the speculative advance of land values.

In the preceding chapter I have shown that the speculative advance in
land values tends to press the margin of cultivation, or production,
beyond its normal limit, thus compelling labor and capital to accept
of a smaller return, or (and this is the only way they can resist the
tendency) to cease production. Now, it is not only natural that labor
and capital should resist the crowding down of wages and interest
by the speculative advance of rent, but they are driven to this in
self-defense, inasmuch as there is a minimum of return below which
labor cannot exist nor capital be maintained. Hence, from the fact of
speculation in land, we may infer all the phenomena which mark these
recurring seasons of industrial depression.

Given a progressive community, in which population is increasing and
one improvement succeeds another, and land must constantly increase in
value. This steady increase naturally leads to speculation in which
future increase is anticipated, and land values are carried beyond the
point at which, under the existing conditions of production, their
accustomed returns would be left to labor and capital. Production,
therefore, begins to stop. Not that there is necessarily, or even
probably, an absolute diminution in production; but that there is
what in a progressive community would be equivalent to an absolute
diminution of production in a stationary community—a failure in
production to increase proportionately, owing to the failure of new
increments of labor and capital to find employment at the accustomed

This stoppage of production at some points must necessarily show itself
at other points of the industrial network, in a cessation of demand,
which would again check production there, and thus the paralysis would
communicate itself through all the interlacings of industry and
commerce, producing everywhere a partial disjointing of production
and exchange, and resulting in the phenomena that seem to show
overproduction or overconsumption, according to the standpoint from
which they are viewed.

The period of depression thus ensuing would continue until (1) the
speculative advance in rents had been lost; or (2) the increase in the
efficiency of labor, owing to the growth of population and the progress
of improvement, had enabled the normal rent line to overtake the
speculative rent line; or (3) labor and capital had become reconciled
to engaging in production for smaller returns. Or, most probably, all
three of these causes would co-operate to produce a new equilibrium,
at which all the forces of production would again engage, and a season
of activity ensue; whereupon rent would begin to advance again, a
speculative advance again take place, production again be checked, and
the same round be gone over.

In the elaborate and complicated system of production which is
characteristic of modern civilization, where, moreover, there is no
such thing as a distinct and independent industrial community, but
geographically or politically separated communities blend and interlace
their industrial organizations in different modes and varying measures,
it is not to be expected that effect should be seen to follow cause as
clearly and definitely as would be the case in a simpler development of
industry, and in a community forming a complete and distinct industrial
whole; but, nevertheless, the phenomena actually presented by these
alternate seasons of activity and depression clearly correspond with
those we have inferred from the speculative advance of rent.

Deduction thus shows the actual phenomena as resulting from the
principle. If we reverse the process, it is as easy by induction to
reach the principle by tracing up the phenomena.

These seasons of depression are always preceded by seasons of activity
and speculation, and on all hands the connection between the two is
admitted—the depression being looked upon as the reaction from the
speculation, as the headache of the morning is the reaction from the
debauch of the night. But as to the manner in which the depression
results from the speculation, there are two classes or schools of
opinion, as the attempts made on both sides of the Atlantic to account
for the present industrial depression will show.

One school says that the speculation produced the depression by causing
overproduction, and point to the warehouses filled with goods that
cannot be sold at remunerative prices, to mills closed or working on
half time, to mines shut down and steamers laid up, to money lying idly
in bank vaults, and workmen compelled to idleness and privation. They
point to these facts as showing that the production has exceeded the
demand for consumption, and they point, moreover, to the fact that when
government during war enters the field as an enormous consumer, brisk
times prevail, as in the United States during the civil war and in
England during the Napoleonic struggle.

The other school says that the speculation has produced the depression
by leading to overconsumption, and point to full warehouses, rusting
steamers, closed mills, and idle workmen as evidences of a cessation of
effective demand, which, they say, evidently results from the fact that
people, made extravagant by a fictitious prosperity, have lived beyond
their means, and are now obliged to retrench—that is, to consume less
wealth. They point, moreover, to the enormous consumption of wealth by
wars, by the building of unremunerative railroads, by loans to bankrupt
governments, etc., as extravagances which, though not felt at the time,
just as the spendthrift does not at the moment feel the impairment of
his fortune, must now be made up by a season of reduced consumption.

Now, each of these theories evidently expresses one side or phase of a
general truth, but each of them evidently fails to comprehend the full
truth. As an explanation of the phenomena, each is equally and utterly

For while the great masses of men want more wealth than they can get,
and while they are willing to give for it that which is the basis and
raw material of wealth—their labor—how can there be overproduction? And
while the machinery of production wastes and producers are condemned to
unwilling idleness, how can there be overconsumption?

When, with the desire to consume more, there co-exist the ability and
willingness to produce more, industrial and commercial paralysis cannot
be charged either to overproduction or to overconsumption. Manifestly,
the trouble is that production and consumption cannot meet and satisfy
each other.

How does this inability arise? It is evidently and by common consent
the result of speculation. But of speculation in what?

Certainly not of speculation in things which are the products of
labor—in agricultural or mineral productions, or manufactured goods,
for the effect of speculation in such things, as is well shown in
current treatises that spare me the necessity of illustration, is
simply to equalize supply and demand, and to steady the interplay
of production and consumption by an action analogous to that of a
fly-wheel in a machine.

Therefore, if speculation be the cause of these industrial depressions,
it must be speculation in things not the production of labor, but yet
necessary to the exertion of labor in the production of wealth—of
things of fixed quantity; that is to say, it must be speculation in

That land speculation is the true cause of industrial depression is,
in the United States, clearly evident. In each period of industrial
activity land values have steadily risen, culminating in speculation
which carried them up in great jumps. This has been invariably followed
by a partial cessation of production, and its correlative, a cessation
of effective demand (dull trade), generally accompanied by a commercial
crash; and then has succeeded a period of comparative stagnation,
during which the equilibrium has been again slowly established, and the
same round been run again. This relation is observable throughout the
civilized world. Periods of industrial activity always culminate in a
speculative advance of land values, followed by symptoms of checked
production, generally shown at first by cessation of demand from the
newer countries, where the advance in land values has been greatest.

That this must be the main explanation of these periods of depression,
will be seen by an analysis of the facts.

All trade, let it be remembered, is the exchange of commodities for
commodities, and hence the cessation of demand for some commodities,
which marks the depression of trade, is really a cessation in the
supply of other commodities. That dealers find their sales declining
and manufacturers find orders falling off, while the things which they
have to sell, or stand ready to make, are things for which there is
yet a widespread desire, simply shows that the supply of other things,
which in the course of trade would be given for them, has declined. In
common parlance we say that “buyers have no money,” or that “money is
becoming scarce,” but in talking in this way we ignore the fact that
money is but the medium of exchange. What the would-be buyers really
lack is not money, but commodities which they can turn into money—what
is really becoming scarcer, is produce of some sort. The diminution
of the effective demand of consumers is therefore but a result of the
diminution of production.

This is seen very clearly by storekeepers in a manufacturing town when
the mills are shut down and operatives thrown out of work. It is the
cessation of production which deprives the operatives of means to make
the purchases they desire, and thus leaves the storekeeper with what,
in view of the lessened demand, is a superabundant stock, and forces
him to discharge some of his clerks and otherwise reduce his demands.
And the cessation of demand (I am speaking, of course, of general
cases and not of any alteration in relative demand from such causes as
change of fashion), which has left the manufacturer with superabundant
stock and compelled him to discharge his hands, must arise in the same
way. Somewhere, it may be at the other end of the world, a check in
production has produced a check in the demand for consumption. That
demand is lessened without want being satisfied, shows that production
is somewhere checked.

People want the things the manufacturer makes as much as ever, just
as the operatives want the things the storekeeper has to sell. But
they do not have as much to give for them. Production has somewhere
been checked, and this reduction in the supply of some things has
shown itself in cessation of demand for others, the check propagating
itself through the whole framework of industry and exchange. Now,
the industrial pyramid manifestly rests on the land. The primary and
fundamental occupations, which create a demand for all others, are
evidently those which extract wealth from nature, and, hence, if we
trace from one exchange point to another, and from one occupation to
another, this check to production, which shows itself in decreased
purchasing power, we must ultimately find it in some obstacle which
checks labor in expending itself on land. And that obstacle, it is
clear, is the speculative advance in rent, or the value of land, which
produces the same effects, as in fact, it is, a lock-out of labor and
capital by land owners. This check to production, beginning at the
basis of interlaced industry, propagates itself from exchange point to
exchange point, cessation of supply becoming failure of demand, until,
so to speak, the whole machine is thrown out of gear, and the spectacle
is everywhere presented of labor going to waste while laborers suffer
from want.

This strange and unnatural spectacle of large numbers of willing men
who cannot find employment is enough to suggest the true cause to
whomsoever can think consecutively. For, though custom has dulled us
to it, it is a strange and unnatural thing that men who wish to labor,
in order to satisfy their wants, cannot find the opportunity—as, since
labor is that which produces wealth, the man who seeks to exchange
labor for food, clothing, or any other form of wealth, is like one who
proposes to give bullion for coin, or wheat for flour. We talk about
the supply of labor and the demand for labor, but, evidently, these are
only relative terms. The supply of labor is everywhere the same—two
hands always come into the world with one mouth, twenty-one boys to
every twenty girls; and the demand for labor must always exist as long
as men want things which labor alone can procure. We talk about the
“want of work,” but, evidently, it is not work that is short while want
continues; evidently, the supply of labor cannot be too great, nor the
demand for labor too small, when people suffer for the lack of things
that labor produces. The real trouble must be that supply is somehow
prevented from satisfying demand, that somewhere there is an obstacle
which prevents labor from producing the things that laborers want.

Take the case of any one of these vast masses of unemployed men, to
whom, though he never heard of Malthus, it to-day seems that there
are too many people in the world. In his own wants, in the needs of
his anxious wife, in the demands of his half-cared-for, perhaps even
hungry and shivering children, there is demand enough for labor, Heaven
knows! In his own willing hands is the supply. Put him on a solitary
island, and though cut off from all the enormous advantages which the
co-operation, combination, and machinery of a civilized community give
to the productive powers of man, yet his two hands can fill the mouths
and keep warm the backs that depend upon them. Yet where productive
power is as its highest development they cannot. Why? Is it not because
in the one case he has access to the material and forces of nature, and
in the other this access is denied?

Is it not the fact that labor is thus shut off from nature which can
alone explain the state of things that compels men to stand idle who
would willingly supply their wants by their labor? The proximate cause
of enforced idleness with one set of men may be the cessation of demand
on the part of other men for the particular things they produce, but
trace this cause from point to point, from occupation to occupation,
and you will find that enforced idleness in one trade is caused by
enforced idleness in another, and that the paralysis which produces
dullness in all trades cannot be said to spring from too great a supply
of labor or too small a demand for labor, but must proceed from the
fact that supply cannot meet demand by producing the things which
satisfy want and are the object of labor.

Now, what is necessary to enable labor to produce these things, is
land. When we speak of labor creating wealth, we speak metaphorically.
Man creates nothing. The whole human race, were they to labor forever,
could not create the tiniest mote that floats in a sunbeam—could not
make this rolling sphere one atom heavier or one atom lighter. In
producing wealth, labor, with the aid of natural forces, but works up,
into the forms desired, pre-existing matter, and, to produce wealth,
must, therefore, have access to this matter and to these forces—that
is to say, to land. The land is the source of all wealth. It is the
mine from which must be drawn the ore that labor fashions. It is the
substance to which labor gives the form. And, hence, when labor cannot
satisfy its wants, may we not with certainty infer that it can be from
no other cause than that labor is denied access to land?

When in all trades there is what we call scarcity of employment; when,
everywhere, labor wastes, while desire is unsatisfied, must not the
obstacle which prevents labor from producing the wealth it needs, lie
at the foundation of the industrial structure? That foundation is land.
Milliners, optical instrument makers, gilders, and polishers, are
not the pioneers of new settlements. Miners did not go to California
or Australia because shoemakers, tailors, machinists, and printers
were there. But those trades followed the miners, just as they are
now following the gold diggers into the Black Hills and the diamond
diggers into South Africa. It is not the storekeeper who is the cause
of the farmer, but the farmer who brings the storekeeper. It is not
the growth of the city that develops the country, but the development
of the country that makes the city grow. And, hence, when, through
all trades, men willing to work cannot find opportunity to do so, the
difficulty must arise in the employment that creates a demand for all
other employments—it must be because labor is shut out from land.

In Leeds or Lowell, in Philadelphia or Manchester, in London or New
York, it may require a grasp of first principles to see this; but
where industrial development has not become so elaborate, nor the
extreme links of the chain so widely separated, one has but to look
at obvious facts. Although not yet thirty years old, the city of San
Francisco, both in population and in commercial importance, ranks
among the great cities of the world, and, next to New York, is the
most metropolitan of American cities. Though not yet thirty years old,
she has had for some years an increasing number of unemployed men.
Clearly, here, it is because men cannot find employment in the country
that there are so many unemployed in the city; for when the harvest
opens they go trooping out, and when it is over they come trooping
back to the city again. If these now unemployed men were producing
wealth from the land, they would not only be employing themselves, but
would be employing all the mechanics of the city, giving custom to the
storekeepers, trade to the merchants, audiences to the theaters, and
subscribers and advertisements to the newspapers—creating effective
demand that would be felt in New England and Old England, and wherever
throughout the world come the articles that, when they have the means
to pay for them, such a population consumes.

Now, why is it that this unemployed labor cannot employ itself upon the
land? Not that the land is all in use. Though all the symptoms that
in older countries are taken as showing a redundancy of population
are beginning to manifest themselves in San Francisco, it is idle to
talk of redundancy of population in a State that with greater natural
resources than France has not yet a million of people. Within a few
miles of San Francisco is unused land enough to give employment to
every man who wants it. I do not mean to say that every unemployed man
could turn farmer or build himself a house, if he had the land; but
that enough could and would do so to give employment to the rest. What
is it, then, that prevents labor from employing itself on this land?
Simply, that it has been monopolized and is held at speculative prices,
based not upon present value, but upon the added value that will come
with the future growth of population.

What may thus be seen in San Francisco by whoever is willing to see,
may, I doubt not, be seen as clearly in other places.

The present commercial and industrial depression, which first
clearly manifested itself in the United States in 1872, and has
spread with greater or less intensity over the civilized world, is
largely attributed to the undue extension of the railroad system,
with which there are many things that seem to show its relation. I
am fully conscious that the construction of railroads before they
are actually needed may divert capital and labor from more to less
productive employments, and make a community poorer instead of richer;
and when the railroad mania was at its highest, I pointed this out
in a political tract addressed to the people of California;[40] but
to assign to this wasting of capital such a widespread industrial
dead-lock seems to me like attributing an unusually low tide to the
drawing of a few extra bucketfuls of water. The waste of capital
and labor during the civil war was enormously greater than it could
possibly be by the construction of unnecessary railroads, but without
producing any such result. And, certainly, there seems to be little
sense in talking of the waste of capital and labor in railroads as
causing this depression, when the prominent feature of the depression
has been the superabundance of capital and labor seeking employment.

Yet, that there is a connection between the rapid construction of
railroads and industrial depression, any one who understands what
increased land values mean, and who has noticed the effect which the
construction of railroads has upon land speculation, can easily see.
Wherever a railroad was built or projected, lands sprang up in value
under the influence of speculation, and thousands of millions of
dollars were added to the nominal values which capital and labor were
asked to pay outright, or to pay in installments, as the price of being
allowed to go to work and produce wealth. The inevitable result was to
check production, and this check to production propagated itself in a
cessation of demand, which checked production to the furthest verge of
the wide circle of exchanges, operating with accumulated force in the
centers of the great industrial commonwealth into which commerce links
the civilized world.

The primary operations of this cause can, perhaps, be nowhere more
clearly traced than in California, which, from its comparative
isolation, has constituted a peculiarly well-defined community.

Until almost its close, the last decade was marked in California by
the same industrial activity which was shown in the Northern States,
and, in fact, throughout the civilized world, when the interruption of
exchanges and the disarrangement of industry caused by the war and the
blockade of Southern ports is considered. This activity could not be
attributed to inflation of the currency or to lavish expenditures of
the General Government, to which in the Eastern States the comparative
activity of the same period has since been attributed; for, in spite
of legal tender laws, the Pacific Coast adhered to a coin currency,
and the taxation of the Federal Government took away very much more
than was returned in Federal expenditures. It was attributable solely
to normal causes, for, though placer mining was declining, the Nevada
silver mines were being opened, wheat and wool were beginning to take
the place of gold in the table of exports, and an increasing population
and the improvement in the methods of production and exchange were
steadily adding to the efficiency of labor.

With this material progress went on a steady enhancement in land
values—its consequence. This steady advance engendered a speculative
advance, which, with the railroad era, ran up land values in every
direction. If the population of California had steadily grown when
the long, costly, fever-haunted Isthmus route was the principal mode
of communication with the Atlantic States, it must, it was thought,
increase enormously with the opening of a road which would bring New
York harbor and San Francisco Bay within seven days’ easy travel, and
when in the State itself the locomotive took the place of stage coach
and freight wagon. The expected increase of land values which would
thus accrue was discounted in advance. Lots on the outskirts of San
Francisco rose hundreds and thousands per cent., and farming land was
taken up and held for high prices, in whichever direction an immigrant
was likely to go.

But the anticipated rush of immigrants did not take place. Labor
and capital could not pay so much for land and make fair returns.
Production was checked, if not absolutely, at least relatively. As the
transcontinental railroad approached completion, instead of increased
activity symptoms of depression began to manifest themselves; and, when
it was completed, to the season of activity had succeeded a period
of depression which has not since been fully recovered from, during
which wages and interest have steadily fallen. What I have called the
actual rent line, or margin of cultivation, is thus (as well as by the
steady march of improvement and increase of population, which, though
slower than it otherwise would have been, still goes on) approaching
the speculative rent line, but the tenacity with which a speculative
advance in the price of land is maintained in a developing community is
well known.[41]

Now, what thus went on in California went on in every progressive
section of the Union. Everywhere that a railroad was built or
projected, land was monopolized in anticipation, and the benefit of the
improvement was discounted in increased land values. The speculative
advance in rent thus outrunning the normal advance, production was
checked, demand was decreased, and labor and capital were turned back
from occupations more directly concerned with land, to glut those in
which the value of land is a less perceptible element. It is thus
that the rapid extension of railroads is related to the succeeding

And what went on in the United States went on in a greater or less
obvious degree all over the progressive world. Everywhere land values
have been steadily increasing with material progress, and everywhere
this increase begot a speculative advance. The impulse of the primary
cause not only radiated from the newer sections of the Union to the
older sections, and from the United States to Europe, but everywhere
the primary cause was acting. And, hence, a world-wide depression of
industry and commerce, begotten of a world-wide material progress.

There is one thing which, it may seem, I have overlooked, in
attributing these industrial depressions to the speculative advance
of rent or land values as a main and primary cause. The operation of
such a cause, though it may be rapid, must be progressive—resembling
a pressure, not a blow. But these industrial depressions seem to come
suddenly—they have, at their beginning, the character of a paroxysm,
followed by a comparative lethargy, as if of exhaustion. Everything
seems to be going on as usual, commerce and industry vigorous and
expanding, when suddenly there comes a shock, as of a thunderbolt
out of a clear sky—a bank breaks, a great manufacturer or merchant
fails, and, as if a blow had thrilled through the entire industrial
organization, failure succeeds failure, and on every side workmen
are discharged from employment, and capital shrinks into profitless

Let me explain what I think to be the reason of this: To do so, we
must take into account the manner in which exchanges are made, for
it is by exchanges that all the varied forms of industry are linked
together into one mutually related and interdependent organization. To
enable exchanges to be made between producers far removed by space and
time, large stocks must be kept in store and in transit, and this, as
I have already explained, I take to be the great function of capital,
in addition to that of supplying tools and seed. These exchanges are,
perhaps necessarily, largely made upon credit—that is to say, the
advance upon one side is made before the return is received on the

Now, without stopping to inquire as to the causes, it is manifest that
these advances are, as a rule, from the more highly organized and
later developed industries to the more fundamental. The West Coast
African, for instance, who exchanges palm oil and cocoanuts for gaudy
calico and Birmingham idols, gets his return immediately; the English
merchant, on the contrary, has to lay out of his goods a long while
before he gets his returns. The farmer can sell his crop as soon as it
is harvested, and for cash; the great manufacturer must keep a large
stock, send his goods long distances to agents, and, generally, sell on
time. Thus, as advances and credits are generally from what we may call
the secondary, to what we may call the primary industries, it follows
that any check to production which proceeds from the latter will not
immediately manifest itself in the former. The system of advances and
credits constitutes, as it were, an elastic connection, which will give
considerably before breaking, but which, when it breaks, will break
with a snap.

Or, to illustrate in another way what I mean: The great pyramid of
Gizeh is composed of layers of masonry, the bottom layer, of course,
supporting all the rest. Could we by some means gradually contract
this bottom layer, the upper part of the pyramid would for some
time retain its form, and then, when gravitation at length overcame
the adhesiveness of the material, would not diminish gradually and
regularly, but would break off suddenly, in large pieces. Now, the
industrial organization may be likened to such a pyramid. What is the
proportion which in a given stage of social development the various
industries bear to each other, it is difficult, and perhaps impossible,
to say; but it is obvious that there is such a proportion, just as
in a printer’s font of type there is a certain proportion between
the various letters. Each form of industry, as it is developed by
division of labor, springs from and rises out of the others, and all
rest ultimately upon land; for, without land, labor is as impotent
as would be a man in void space. To make the illustration closer to
the condition of a progressive country, imagine a pyramid composed
of superimposed layers—the whole constantly growing and expanding.
Imagine the growth of the layer nearest the ground to be checked. The
others will for a time keep on expanding—in fact, for the moment, the
tendency will be to quicker expansion, for the vital force which is
refused scope on the ground layer will strive to find vent in those
above—until, at length, there is a decided overbalance and a sudden
crumbling along all the faces of the pyramid.

That the main cause and general course of the recurring paroxysms of
industrial depression, which are becoming so marked a feature of modern
social life, are thus explained, is, I think, clear. And let the reader
remember that it is only the main causes and general courses of such
phenomena that we are seeking to trace or that, in fact, it is possible
to trace with any exactness. Political economy can deal, and has need
to deal, only with general tendencies. The derivative forces are so
multiform, the actions and reactions are so various, that the exact
character of the phenomena cannot be predicted. We know that if a tree
is cut through it will fall, but precisely in what direction will be
determined by the inclination of the trunk, the spread of the branches,
the impact of the blows, the quarter and force of the wind; and even a
bird lighting on a twig, or a frightened squirrel leaping from bough
to bough, will not be without its influence. We know that an insult
will arouse a feeling of resentment in the human breast, but to say how
far and in what way it will manifest itself, would require a synthesis
which would build up the entire man and all his surroundings, past and

The manner in which the sufficient cause to which I have traced
them explains the main features of these industrial depressions is
in striking contrast with the contradictory and self-contradictory
attempts which have been made to explain them on the current theories
of the distribution of wealth. That a speculative advance in rent or
land values invariably precedes each of these sea sons of industrial
depression is everywhere clear. That they bear to each other the
relations of cause and effect, is obvious to whomsoever considers the
necessary relations between land and labor.

And that the present depression is running its course, and that, in the
manner previously indicated, a new equilibrium is being established,
which will result in another season of comparative activity, may
already be seen in the United States. The normal rent line and the
speculative rent line are being brought together: (1) By the fall in
speculative land values, which is very evident in the reduction of
rents and shrinkage of real estate values in the principal cities.
(2) By the increased efficiency of labor, arising from the growth of
population and the utilization of new inventions and discoveries,
some of which almost as important as that of the use of steam we seem
to be on the verge of grasping. (3) By the lowering of the habitual
standard of interest and wages, which, as to interest, is shown by the
negotiation of a government loan at four per cent., and as to wages is
too generally evident for any special citation. When the equilibrium
is thus re-established, a season of renewed activity, culminating in
a speculative advance of land values will set in.[42] But wages and
interest will not recover their lost ground. The net result of all
these perturbations or wave-like movements is the gradual forcing of
wages and interest toward their minimum. These temporary and recurring
depressions exhibit, in fact, as was noticed in the opening chapter,
but intensifications of the general movement which accompanies material


[40] The Subsidy Question and the Democratic Party, 1871.

[41] It is astonishing how in a new country of great expectations
speculative prices of land will be kept up. It is common to hear the
expression, “There is no market for real estate; you cannot sell it at
any price,” and yet, at the same time, if you go to buy it, unless you
find somebody who is absolutely compelled to sell, you must pay the
prices that prevailed when speculation ran high. For owners, believing
that land values must ultimately advance, hold on as long as they can.

[42] This was written a year ago. It is now (July, 1879) evident that
a new period of activity has commenced, as above predicted, and in New
York and Chicago real estate prices have already begun to recover.



The great problem, of which these recurring seasons of industrial
depression are but peculiar manifestations, is now, I think, fully
solved, and the social phenomena which all over the civilized world
appall the philanthropist and perplex the statesman, which hang with
clouds the future of the most advanced races, and suggest doubts of the
reality and ultimate goal of what we have fondly called progress, are
now explained.

 _The reason why, in spite of the increase of productive power, wages
 constantly tend to a minimum which will give but a bare living, is
 that, with increase in productive power, rent tends to even greater
 increase, thus producing a constant tendency to the forcing down of

In every direction, the direct tendency of advancing civilization
is to increase the power of human labor to satisfy human desires—to
extirpate poverty, and to banish want and the fear of want. All the
things in which progress consists, all the conditions which progressive
communities are striving for, have for their direct and natural result
the improvement of the material (and consequently the intellectual
and moral) condition of all within their influence. The growth of
population, the increase and extension of exchanges, the discoveries
of science, the march of invention, the spread of education, the
improvement of government, and the amelioration of manners, considered
as material forces, have all a direct tendency to increase the
productive power of labor—not of some labor, but of all labor; not in
some departments of industry, but in all departments of industry; for
the law of the production of wealth in society is the law of “each for
all, and all for each.”

But labor cannot reap the benefits which advancing civilization
thus brings, because they are intercepted. Land being necessary to
labor, and being reduced to private ownership, every increase in the
productive power of labor but increases rent—the price that labor
must pay for the opportunity to utilize its powers; and thus all the
advantages gained by the march of progress go to the owners of land,
and wages do not increase. Wages cannot increase; for the greater the
earnings of labor the greater the price that labor must pay out of its
earnings for the opportunity to make any earnings at all. The mere
laborer has thus no more interest in the general advance of productive
power than the Cuban slave has in advance in the price of sugar. And
just as an advance in the price of sugar may make the condition of the
slave worse, by inducing the master to drive him harder, so may the
condition of the free laborer be positively, as well as relatively,
changed for the worse by the increase in the productive power of his
labor. For, begotten of the continuous advance of rents, arises a
speculative tendency which discounts the effect of future improvements
by a still further advance of rent, and thus tends, where this has not
occurred from the normal advance of rent, to drive wages down to the
slave point—the point at which the laborer can just live.

And thus robbed of all the benefits of the increase in productive
power, labor is exposed to certain effects of advancing civilization
which, without the advantages that naturally accompany them, are
positive evils, and of themselves tend to reduce the free laborer to
the helpless and degraded condition of the slave.

For all improvements which add to productive power as civilization
advances consist in, or necessitate, a still further subdivision of
labor, and the efficiency of the whole body of laborers is increased
at the expense of the independence of the constituents. The individual
laborer acquires knowledge of and skill in but an infinitesimal part of
the varied processes which are required to supply even the commonest
wants. The aggregate produce of the labor of a savage tribe is small,
but each member is capable of an independent life. He can build his
own habitation, hew out or stitch together his own canoe, make his own
clothing, manufacture his own weapons, snares, tools and ornaments.
He has all the knowledge of nature possessed by his tribe—knows what
vegetable productions are fit for food, and where they may be found;
knows the habits and resorts of beasts, birds, fishes, and insects;
can pilot himself by the sun or the stars, by the turning of blossoms
or the mosses on the trees; is, in short, capable of supplying all his
wants. He may be cut off from his fellows and still live; and thus
possesses an independent power which makes him a free contracting party
in his relations to the community of which he is a member.

Compare with this savage the laborer in the lowest ranks of civilized
society, whose life is spent in producing but one thing, or oftener
but the infinitesimal part of one thing, out of the multiplicity of
things that constitute the wealth of society and go to supply even the
most primitive wants; who not only cannot make even the tools required
for his work, but often works with tools that he does not own, and can
never hope to own. Compelled to even closer and more continuous labor
than the savage, and gaining by it no more than the savage gets—the
mere necessaries of life—he loses the independence of the savage. He
is not only unable to apply his own powers to the direct satisfaction
of his own wants, but, without the concurrence of many others, he is
unable to apply them indirectly to the satisfaction of his wants. He is
a mere link in an enormous chain of producers and consumers, helpless
to separate himself, and helpless to move, except as they move. The
worse his position in society, the more dependent is he on society; the
more utterly unable does he become to do anything for himself. The very
power of exerting his labor for the satisfaction of his wants passes
from his own control, and may be taken away or restored by the actions
of others, or by general causes over which he has no more influence
than he has over the motions of the solar system. The primeval curse
comes to be looked upon as a boon, and men think, and talk, and clamor,
and legislate as though monotonous manual labor in itself were a good
and not an evil, an end and not a means. Under such circumstances,
the man loses the essential quality of manhood—the godlike power of
modifying and controlling conditions. He becomes a slave, a machine, a
commodity—a thing, in some respects, lower than the animal.

I am no sentimental admirer of the savage state. I do not get my ideas
of the untutored children of nature from Rousseau, or Chateaubriand,
or Cooper. I am conscious of its material and mental poverty, and
its low and narrow range. I believe that civilization is not only
the natural destiny of man, but the enfranchisement, elevation, and
refinement of all his powers, and think that it is only in such moods
as may lead him to envy the cud-chewing cattle, that a man who is free
to the advantages of civilization could look with regret upon the
savage state. But, nevertheless, I think no one who will open his eyes
to the facts can resist the conclusion that there are in the heart of
our civilization large classes with whom the veriest savage could not
afford to exchange. It is my deliberate opinion that if, standing on
the threshold of being, one were given the choice of entering life as
a Tierra del Fuegan, a black fellow of Australia, an Esquimaux in the
Arctic Circle, or among the lowest classes in such a highly civilized
country as Great Britain, he would make infinitely the better choice in
selecting the lot of the savage. For those classes who in the midst of
wealth are condemned to want suffer all the privations of the savage,
without his sense of personal freedom; they are condemned to more than
his narrowness and littleness, without opportunity for the growth
of his rude virtues; if their horizon is wider, it is but to reveal
blessings that they cannot enjoy.

There are some to whom this may seem like exaggeration, but it is
only because they have never suffered themselves to realize the
true condition of those classes upon whom the iron heel of modern
civilization presses with full force. As De Tocqueville observes, in
one of his letters to Mme. Swetchine, “we so soon become used to the
thought of want that we do not feel that an evil which grows greater
to the sufferer the longer it lasts becomes less to the observer by
the very fact of its duration;” and perhaps the best proof of the
justice of this observation is that in cities where there exists a
pauper class and a criminal class, where young girls shiver as they
sew for bread, and tattered and barefooted children make a home in
the streets, money is regularly raised to send missionaries to the
heathen! Send missionaries to the heathen! it would be laughable if it
were not so sad. Baal no longer stretches forth his hideous, sloping
arms; but in Christian lands mothers slay their infants for a burial
fee! And I challenge the production from any authentic accounts of
savage life of such descriptions of degradation as are to be found in
official documents of highly civilized countries—in reports of Sanitary
Commissioners and of inquiries into the condition of the laboring poor.

The simple theory which I have outlined (if indeed it can be called
a theory which is but the recognition of the most obvious relations)
explains this conjunction of poverty with wealth, of low wages with
high productive power, of degradation amid enlightenment, of virtual
slavery in political liberty. It harmonizes, as results flowing from
a general and inexorable law, facts otherwise most perplexing, and
exhibits the sequence and relation between phenomena that without
reference to it are diverse and contradictory. It explains why interest
and wages are higher in new than in older communities, though the
average, as well as the aggregate, production of wealth is less. It
explains why improvements which increase the productive power of
labor and capital increase the reward of neither. It explains what is
commonly called the conflict between labor and capital, while proving
the real harmony of interest between them. It cuts the last inch of
ground from under the fallacies of protection, while showing why free
trade fails to benefit permanently the working classes. It explains why
want increases with abundance, and wealth tends to greater and greater
aggregations. It explains the periodically recurring depressions of
industry without recourse either to the absurdity of “overproduction”
or the absurdity of “overconsumption.” It explains the enforced
idleness of large numbers of would-be producers, which wastes the
productive force of advanced communities, without the absurd assumption
that there is too little work to do or that there are too many to do
it. It explains the ill effects upon the laboring classes which often
follow the introduction of machinery, without denying the natural
advantages which the use of machinery gives. It explains the vice and
misery which show themselves amid dense population, without attributing
to the laws of the All-Wise and All-Beneficent defects which belong
only to the short-sighted and selfish enactments of men.

This explanation is in accordance with all the facts.

Look over the world to-day. In countries the most widely
differing—under conditions the most diverse as to government, as to
industries, as to tariffs, as to currency—you will find distress among
the working classes; but everywhere that you thus find distress and
destitution in the midst of wealth you will find that the land is
monopolized; that instead of being treated as the common property of
the whole people, it is treated as the private property of individuals;
that, for its use by labor, large revenues are extorted from the
earnings of labor. Look over the world to-day, comparing different
countries with each other, and you will see that it is not the
abundance of capital or the productiveness of labor that makes wages
high or low; but the extent to which the monopolizers of land can, in
rent, levy tribute upon the earnings of labor. Is it not a notorious
fact, known to the most ignorant, that new countries, where the
aggregate wealth is small, but where land is cheap, are always better
countries for the laboring classes than the rich countries, where land
is dear? Wherever you find land relatively low, will you not find
wages relatively high? And wherever land is high, will you not find
wages low? As land increases in value, poverty deepens and pauperism
appears. In the new settlements, where land is cheap, you will find
no beggars, and the inequalities in condition are very slight. In the
great cities, where land is so valuable that it is measured by the
foot, you will find the extremes of poverty and of luxury. And this
disparity in condition between the two extremes of the social scale
may always be measured by the price of land. Land in New York is more
valuable than in San Francisco; and in New York, the San Franciscan may
see squalor and misery that will make him stand aghast. Land is more
valuable in London than in New York; and in London, there is squalor
and destitution worse than that of New York.

Compare the same country in different times, and the same relation
is obvious. As the result of much investigation, Hallam says he is
convinced that the wages of manual labor were greater in amount in
England during the middle ages than they are now. Whether this is so
or not, it is evident that they could not have been much, if any,
less. The enormous increase in the efficiency of labor, which even
in agriculture is estimated at seven or eight hundred per cent., and
in many branches of industry is almost incalculable, has only added
to rent. The rent of agricultural land in England is now, according
to Professor Rogers, 120 times as great, measured in money, as it
was 500 years ago, and 14 times as great, measured in wheat; while
in the rent of building land, and mineral land, the advance has been
enormously greater. According to the estimate of Professor Fawcett,
the capitalized rental value of the land of England now amounts to
£4,500,000,000, or $21,870,000,000—that is to say, a few thousand of
the people of England hold a lien upon the labor of the rest, the
capitalized value of which is more than twice as great as, at the
average price of Southern negroes in 1860 would be the value of her
whole population were they slaves.

In Belgium and Flanders, in France and Germany, the rent and selling
price of agricultural land have doubled within the last thirty
years.[43] In short, increased power of production has everywhere added
to the value of land; nowhere has it added to the value of labor; for
though actual wages may in some places have somewhat risen, the rise
is clearly attributable to other causes. In more places they have
fallen—that is, where it has been possible for them to fall—for there
is a minimum below which laborers cannot keep up their numbers. And,
everywhere, wages, as a proportion of the produce, have decreased.

How the Black Death brought about the great rise of wages in England in
the Fourteenth Century is clearly discernible, in the efforts of the
land holders to regulate wages by statute. That that awful reduction in
population, instead of increasing, really reduced the effective power
of labor, there can be no doubt; but the lessening of competition for
land still more greatly reduced rent, and wages advanced so largely
that force and penal laws were called in to keep them down. The reverse
effect followed the monopolization of land that went on in England
during the reign of Henry VIII., in the inclosure of commons and the
division of the church lands between the panders and parasites who were
thus enabled to found noble families. The result was the same as that
to which a speculative increase in land values tends. According to
Malthus (who, in his “Principles of Political Economy,” mentions the
fact without connecting it with land tenures), in the reign of Henry
VII., half a bushel of wheat would purchase but little more than a
day’s common labor, but in the latter part of the reign of Elizabeth,
half a bushel of wheat would purchase three days’ common labor. I can
hardly believe that the reduction in wages could have been so great
as this comparison would indicate; but that there was a reduction in
common wages, and great distress among the laboring classes, is evident
from the complaints of “sturdy vagrants” and the statutes made to
suppress them. The rapid monopolization of the land, the carrying of
the speculative rent line beyond the normal rent line, produced tramps
and paupers, just as like effects from like causes have lately been
evident in the United States.

“Land which went heretofore for twenty or forty pounds a year,” said
Hugh Latimer, “now is let for fifty or a hundred. My father was a
yeoman, and had no lands of his own; only he had a farm at a rent of
three or four pounds by the year at the uttermost, and thereupon he
tilled so much as kept half a dozen men. He had walk for a hundred
sheep, and my mother milked thirty kine; he was able and did find the
King a harness with himself and his horse when he came to the place
that he should receive the King’s wages. I can remember that I buckled
his harness when he went to Blackheath Field. He kept me to school; he
married my sisters with five pound apiece, so that he brought them up
in godliness and fear of God. He kept hospitality for his neighbors and
some alms he gave to the poor. And all this he did of the same farm,
where he that now hath it payeth sixteen pounds rent or more by year,
and is not able to do anything for his Prince, for himself, nor for his
children, nor to give a cup of drink to the poor.”

“In this way,” said Sir Thomas More, referring to the ejectment of
small farmers which characterized this advance of rent, “it comes to
pass that these poor wretches, men, women, husbands, orphans, widows,
parents with little children, householders greater in number than in
wealth, all of these emigrate from their native fields, without knowing
where to go.”

And so from the stuff of the Latimers and Mores—from the sturdy spirit
that amid the flames of the Oxford stake cried, “Play the man, Master
Ridley!” and the mingled strength and sweetness that neither prosperity
could taint nor the ax of the executioner abash—were evolved thieves
and vagrants, the mass of criminality and pauperism that still blights
the innermost petals and preys a gnawing worm at the root of England’s

But it were as well to cite historical illustrations of the attraction
of gravitation. The principle is as universal and as obvious. That rent
_must_ reduce wages, is as clear as that the greater the subtractor the
less the remainder. That rent _does_ reduce wages, any one, wherever
situated, can see by merely looking around him.

There is no mystery as to the cause which so suddenly and so largely
raised wages in California in 1849, and in Australia in 1852. It was
the discovery of the placer mines in unappropriated land to which labor
was free that raised the wages of cooks in San Francisco restaurants to
$500 a month, and left ships to rot in the harbor without officers or
crew until their owners would consent to pay rates that in any other
part of the globe seemed fabulous. Had these mines been on appropriated
land, or had they been immediately monopolized so that rent could have
arisen, it would have been land values that would have leaped upward,
not wages. The Comstock lode has been richer than the placers, but the
Comstock lode was readily monopolized, and it is only by virtue of the
strong organization of the Miners’ Association and the fears of the
damage which it might do, that enables men to get four dollars a day
for parboiling themselves two thousand feet underground, where the
air that they breathe must be pumped down to them. The wealth of the
Comstock lode has added to rent. The selling price of these mines runs
up into hundreds of millions, and it has produced individual fortunes
whose monthly returns can be estimated only in hundreds of thousands,
if not in millions. Nor is there any mystery about the cause which has
operated to reduce wages in California from the maximum of the early
days to very nearly a level with wages in the Eastern States, and that
is still operating to reduce them. The productiveness of labor has not
decreased, on the contrary it has increased, as I have before shown;
but, out of what it produces labor has now to pay rent. As the placer
deposits were exhausted, labor had to resort to the deeper mines and to
agricultural land, but monopolization of these being permitted, men
now walk the streets of San Francisco ready to go to work for almost
anything—for natural opportunities are now no longer free to labor.

The truth is self-evident. Put to any one capable of consecutive
thought this question:

“Suppose there should arise from the English Channel or the German
Ocean a No-man’s land on which common labor to an unlimited amount
should be able to make ten shillings a day and which should remain
unappropriated and of free access, like the commons which once
comprised so large a part of English soil. What would be the effect
upon wages in England?”

He would at once tell you that common wages throughout England must
soon increase to ten shillings a day.

And in response to another question, “What would be the effect
on rents?” he would at a moment’s reflection say that rents must
necessarily fall; and if he thought out the next step he would tell
you that all this would happen without any very large part of English
labor being diverted to the new natural opportunities, or the forms and
direction of industry being much changed; only that kind of production
being abandoned which now yields to labor and to landlord together less
than labor could secure on the new opportunities. The great rise in
wages would be at the expense of rent.

Take now the same man or another—some hard-headed business man, who has
no theories, but knows how to make money. Say to him: “Here is a little
village; in ten years it will be a great city—in ten years the railroad
will have taken the place of the stage coach, the electric light of the
candle; it will abound with all the machinery and improvements that so
enormously multiply the effective power of labor. Will, in ten years,
interest be any higher?”

He will tell you, “No!”

“Will the wages of common labor be any higher; will it be easier for a
man who has nothing but his labor to make an independent living?”

He will tell you, “No; the wages of common labor will not be any
higher; on the contrary, all the chances are that they will be lower;
it will not be easier for the mere laborer to make an independent
living; the chances are that it will be harder.”

“What, then, will be higher?”

“Rent; the value of land. Go, get yourself a piece of ground, and hold

And if, under such circumstances, you take his advice, you need do
nothing more. You may sit down and smoke your pipe; you may lie around
like the lazzaroni of Naples or the leperos of Mexico; you may go up in
a balloon, or down a hole in the ground; and without doing one stroke
of work, without adding one iota to the wealth of the community, in
ten years you will be rich! In the new city you may have a luxurious
mansion; but among its public buildings will be an almshouse.

In all our long investigation we have been advancing to this simple
truth: That as land is necessary to the exertion of labor in the
production of wealth, to command the land which is necessary to labor,
is to command all the fruits of labor save enough to enable labor
to exist. We have been advancing as through an enemy’s country, in
which every step must be secured, every position fortified, and every
by-path explored; for this simple truth, in its application to social
and political problems, is hid from the great masses of men partly by
its very simplicity, and in greater part by widespread fallacies and
erroneous habits of thought which lead them to look in every direction
but the right one for an explanation of the evils which oppress and
threaten the civilized world. And back of these elaborate fallacies and
misleading theories is an active, energetic power, a power that in
every country, be its political forms what they may, writes laws and
molds thought—the power of a vast and dominant pecuniary interest.

But so simple and so clear is this truth, that to see it fully once
is always to recognize it. There are pictures which, though looked at
again and again, present only a confused labyrinth of lines or scroll
work—a landscape, trees, or something of the kind—until once the
attention is called to the fact that these things make up a face or a
figure. This relation once recognized, is always afterward clear. It
is so in this case. In the light of this truth all social facts group
themselves in an orderly relation, and the most diverse phenomena are
seen to spring from one great principle. It is not in the relations
of capital and labor; it is not in the pressure of population against
subsistence, that an explanation of the unequaled development of our
civilization is to be found. The great cause of inequality in the
distribution of wealth is inequality in the ownership of land. The
ownership of land is the great fundamental fact which ultimately
determines the social, the political, and consequently the intellectual
and moral condition of a people. And it must be so. For land is the
habitation of man, the storehouse upon which he must draw for all his
needs, the material to which his labor must be applied for the supply
of all his desires; for even the products of the sea cannot be taken,
the light of the sun enjoyed, or any of the forces of nature utilized,
without the use of land or its products. On the land we are born, from
it we live, to it we return again—children of the soil as truly as is
the blade of grass or the flower of the field. Take away from man all
that belongs to land, and he is but a disembodied spirit. Material
progress cannot rid us of our dependence upon land; it can but add
to the power of producing wealth from land; and hence, when land is
monopolized, it might go on to infinity without increasing wages or
improving the condition of those who have but their labor. It can but
add to the value of land and the power which its possession gives.
Everywhere, in all times, among all peoples, the possession of land is
the base of aristocracy, the foundation of great fortunes, the source
of power. As said the Brahmins, ages ago—

 “_To whomsoever the soil at any time belongs, to him belong the fruits
 of it. White parasols and elephants mad with pride are the flowers of
 a grant of land._”


[43] Systems of Land Tenure, published by the Cobden Club.

 This Memorial Edition of the Writings of Henry George is limited to
 one thousand numbered copies, of which this is

 No. 4


  VOL. II.






  [Illustration: Colophon]


  Copyright, 1891, by






 A new and fair division of the goods and rights of this world
 should be the main object of those who conduct human affairs.—_De

       *       *       *       *       *

 When the object is to raise the permanent condition of a people, small
 means do not merely produce small effects; they produce no effect at
 all.—_John Stuart Mill._



In tracing to its source the cause of increasing poverty amid advancing
wealth, we have discovered the remedy; but before passing to that
branch of our subject it will be well to review the tendencies or
remedies which are currently relied on or advocated. The remedy to
which our conclusions point is at once radical and simple—so radical
that, on the one side, it will not be fairly considered so long as
any faith remains in the efficacy of less caustic measures; so simple
that, on the other side, its real efficacy and comprehensiveness are
likely to be overlooked, until the effect of more elaborate measures is

The tendencies and measures which current literature and discussions
show to be more or less relied on or advocated as calculated to relieve
poverty and distress among the masses may be divided into six classes.
I do not mean that there are so many distinct parties or schools of
thought, but merely that, for the purpose of our inquiry, prevailing
opinions and proposed measures may be so grouped for review. Remedies
which for the sake of greater convenience and clearness we shall
consider separately are often combined in thought.

There are many persons who still retain a comfortable belief that
material progress will ultimately extirpate poverty, and there are many
who look to prudential restraint upon the increase of population as the
most efficacious means, but the fallacy of these views has already
been sufficiently shown. Let us now consider what may be hoped for:

I. From greater economy in government.

II. From the better education of the working classes and improved
habits of industry and thrift.

III. From combinations of workmen for the advance of wages.

IV. From the co-operation of labor and capital.

V. From governmental direction and interference.

VI. From a more general distribution of land.

Under these six heads I think we may in essential form review all hopes
and propositions for the relief of social distress short of the simple
but far-reaching measure which I shall propose.

_I.—From Greater Economy in Government._

Until a very few years ago it was an article of faith with Americans—a
belief shared by European liberals—that the poverty of the down-trodden
masses of the Old World was due to aristocratic and monarchical
institutions. This belief has rapidly passed away with the appearance
in the United States, under republican institutions, of social distress
of the same kind, if not of the same intensity, as that prevailing in
Europe. But social distress is still largely attributed to the immense
burdens which existing governments impose—the great debts, the military
and naval establishments, the extravagance which is characteristic
as well of republican as of monarchical rulers, and especially
characteristic of the administration of great cities. To these must be
added, in the United States, the robbery involved in the protective
tariff, which for every twenty-five cents it puts in the treasury takes
a dollar and it may be four or five out of the pocket of the consumer.
Now, there seems to be an evident connection between the immense sums
thus taken from the people and the privations of the lower classes,
and it is upon a superficial view natural to suppose that a reduction
in the enormous burdens thus uselessly imposed would make it easier for
the poorest to get a living. But a consideration of the matter in the
light of the economic principles heretofore traced out will show that
this would not be the effect. A reduction in the amount taken from the
aggregate produce of a community by taxation would be simply equivalent
to an increase in the power of net production. It would in effect add
to the productive power of labor just as do the increasing density of
population and improvement in the arts. And as the advantage in the one
case goes, and must go, to the owners of land, in increased rent, so
would the advantage in the other.

From the produce of the labor and capital of England are now supported
the burden of an immense debt, an Established Church, an expensive
royal family, a large number of sinecurists, a great army and great
navy. Suppose the debt repudiated, the Church disestablished, the royal
family set adrift to make a living for themselves, the sinecurists cut
off, the army disbanded, the officers and men of the navy discharged
and the ships sold. An enormous reduction in taxation would thus become
possible. There would be a great addition to the net produce which
remains to be distributed among the parties to production. But it
would be only such an addition as improvement in the arts has been for
a long time constantly making, and not so great an addition as steam
and machinery have made within the last twenty or thirty years. And as
these additions have not alleviated pauperism, but have only increased
rent, so would this. English land owners would reap the whole benefit.
I will not dispute that if all these things could be done suddenly, and
without the destruction and expense involved in a revolution, there
might be a temporary improvement in the condition of the lowest class;
but such a sudden and peaceable reform is manifestly impossible. And
if it were, any temporary improvement would, by the process we now see
going on in the United States, be ultimately swallowed up by increased
land values.

And, so, in the United States, if we were to reduce public expenditures
to the lowest possible point, and meet them by revenue taxation, the
benefit could certainly not be greater than that which railroads have
brought. There would be more wealth left in the hands of the people as
a whole, just as the railroads have put more wealth in the hands of the
people as a whole, but the same inexorable laws would operate as to its
distribution. The condition of those who live by their labor would not
ultimately be improved.

A dim consciousness of this pervades—or, rather, is beginning to
pervade—the masses, and constitutes one of the grave political
difficulties that are closing in around the American republic. Those
who have nothing but their labor, and especially the proletarians
of the cities—a growing class—care little about the prodigality of
government, and in many cases are disposed to look upon it as a good
thing—“furnishing employment,” or “putting money in circulation.”
Tweed, who robbed New York as a guerrilla chief might levy upon a
captured town (and who was but a type of the new banditti who are
grasping the government of all our cities), was undoubtedly popular
with a majority of the voters, though his thieving was notorious,
and his spoils were blazoned in big diamonds and lavish personal
expenditure. After his indictment, he was triumphantly elected to the
Senate; and, even when a recaptured fugitive, was frequently cheered on
his way from court to prison. He had robbed the public treasury of many
millions, but the proletarians felt that he had not robbed them. And
the verdict of political economy is the same as theirs.

Let me be clearly understood. I do not say that governmental
economy is not desirable; but simply that reduction in the expenses
of government can have no direct effect in extirpating poverty and
increasing wages, so long as land is monopolized.

Although this is true, yet even with sole reference to the interests
of the lowest class, no effort should be spared to keep down useless
expenditures. The more complex and extravagant government becomes, the
more it gets to be a power distinct from and independent of the people,
and the more difficult does it become to bring questions of real public
policy to a popular decision. Look at our elections in the United
States—upon what do they turn? The most momentous problems are pressing
upon us, yet so great is the amount of money in politics, so large are
the personal interests involved, that the most important questions of
government are but little considered. The average American voter has
prejudices, party feelings, general notions of a certain kind, but he
gives to the fundamental questions of government not much more thought
than a street-car horse does to the profits of the line. Were this not
the case, so many hoary abuses could not have survived and so many new
ones been added. Anything that tends to make government simple and
inexpensive tends to put it under control of the people and to bring
questions of real importance to the front. But no reduction in the
expenses of government can of itself cure or mitigate the evils that
arise from a constant tendency to the unequal distribution of wealth.

_II.—From the Diffusion of Education and Improved Habits of Industry
and Thrift._

There is, and always has been, a widespread belief among the more
comfortable classes that the poverty and suffering of the masses are
due to their lack of industry, frugality, and intelligence. This
belief, which at once soothes the sense of responsibility and flatters
by its suggestion of superiority, is probably even more prevalent in
countries like the United States, where all men are politically equal,
and where, owing to the newness of society, the differentiation into
classes has been of individuals rather than of families, than it is
in older countries, where the lines of separation have been longer,
and are more sharply, drawn. It is but natural for those who can trace
their own better circumstances to the superior industry and frugality
that gave them a start, and the superior intelligence that enabled them
to take advantage of every opportunity,[44] to imagine that those who
remain poor do so simply from lack of these qualities.

But whoever has grasped the laws of the distribution of wealth, as in
previous chapters they have been traced out, will see the mistake in
this notion. The fallacy is similar to that which would be involved
in the assertion that every one of a number of competitors might
win a race. That _any_ one might is true; that _every_ one might is

For, as soon as land acquires a value, wages, as we have seen, do
not depend upon the real earnings or product of labor, but upon
what is left to labor after rent is taken out; and when land is all
monopolized, as it is everywhere except in the newest communities, rent
must drive wages down to the point at which the poorest paid class
will be just able to live and reproduce, and thus wages are forced
to a minimum fixed by what is called the standard of comfort—that
is, the amount of necessaries and comforts which habit leads the
working classes to demand as the lowest on which they will consent
to maintain their numbers. This being the case, industry, skill,
frugality, and intelligence can avail the individual only in so far
as they are superior to the general level—just as in a race speed can
avail the runner only in so far as it exceeds that of his competitors.
If one man work harder, or with superior skill or intelligence than
ordinary, he will get ahead; but if the average of industry, skill, or
intelligence be brought up to the higher point, the increased intensity
of application will secure but the old rate of wages, and he who would
get ahead must work harder still.

One individual may save money from his wages by living as Dr. Franklin
did when, during his apprenticeship and early journeyman days, he
concluded to practice vegetarianism; and many poor families might be
made more comfortable by being taught to prepare the cheap dishes to
which Franklin tried to limit the appetite of his employer Keimer, as
a condition to his acceptance of the position of confuter of opponents
to the new religion of which Keimer wished to become the prophet,[45]
but if the working classes generally came to live in that way, wages
would ultimately fall in proportion, and whoever wished to get ahead by
the practice of economy, or to mitigate poverty by teaching it, would
be compelled to devise some still cheaper mode of keeping soul and body
together. If, under existing conditions, American mechanics would come
down to the Chinese standard of living, they would ultimately have to
come down to the Chinese standard of wages; or if English laborers
would content themselves with the rice diet and scanty clothing of the
Bengalee, labor would soon be as ill paid in England as in Bengal. The
introduction of the potato into Ireland was expected to improve the
condition of the poorer classes, by increasing the difference between
the wages they received and the cost of their living. The consequences
that did ensue were a rise of rent and a lowering of wages, and, with
the potato blight, the ravages of famine among a population that had
already reduced its standard of comfort so low that the next step was

And, so, if one individual work more hours than the average, he will
increase his wages; but the wages of all cannot be increased in this
way. It is notorious that in occupations where working hours are long,
wages are not higher than where working hours are shorter; generally
the reverse, for the longer the working day, the more helpless does
the laborer become—the less time has he to look around him and develop
other powers than those called forth by his work; the less becomes his
ability to change his occupation or to take advantage of circumstances.
And, so, the individual workman who gets his wife and children to
assist him may thus increase his income; but in occupations where
it has become habitual for the wife and children of the laborer to
supplement his work, it is notorious that the wages earned by the whole
family do not on the average exceed those of the head of the family in
occupations where it is usual for him only to work. Swiss family labor
in watch making competes in cheapness with American machinery. The
Bohemian cigar makers of New York, who work, men, women, and children,
in their tenement-house rooms, have reduced the prices of cigar making
to less than the Chinese in San Francisco were getting.

These general facts are well known. They are fully recognized in
standard politico-economic works, where, however, they are explained
upon the Malthusian theory of the tendency of population to multiply
up to the limit of subsistence. The true explanation, as I have
sufficiently shown, is in the tendency of rent to reduce wages.

As to the effects of education, it may be worth while to say a few
words specially, for there is a prevailing disposition to attribute to
it something like a magical influence. Now, education is only education
in so far as it enables a man more effectively to use his natural
powers, and this is something that what we call education in very great
part fails to do. I remember a little girl, pretty well along in her
school geography and astronomy, who was much astonished to find that
the ground in her mother’s back yard was really the surface of the
earth, and, if you talk with them, you will find that a good deal of
the knowledge of many college graduates is much like that of the little
girl. They seldom think any better, and sometimes not so well as men
who have never been to college.

A gentleman who had spent many years in Australia, and knew intimately
the habits of the aborigines (Rev. Dr. Bleesdale), after giving some
instances of their wonderful skill in the use of their weapons, in
foretelling changes in the wind and weather and in trapping the shyest
birds, once said to me: “I think it a great mistake to look on these
black fellows as ignorant. Their knowledge is different from ours,
but in it they are generally better educated. As soon as they begin
to toddle, they are taught to play with little boomerangs and other
weapons, to observe and to judge, and, when they are old enough to
take care of themselves, they are fully able to do so—are, in fact,
in reference to the nature of their knowledge, what I should call
well-educated gentlemen; which is more than I can say for many of our
young fellows who have had what we call the best advantages, but who
enter upon manhood unable to do anything either for themselves or for

Be this as it may, it is evident that intelligence, which is or should
be the aim of education, until it induces and enables the masses to
discover and remove the cause of the unequal distribution of wealth,
can operate upon wages only by increasing the effective power of labor.
It has the same effect as increased skill or industry. And it can raise
the wages of the individual only in so far as it renders him superior
to others. When to read and write were rare accomplishments, a clerk
commanded high respect and large wages, but now the ability to read and
write has become so nearly universal as to give no advantage. Among
the Chinese the ability to read and write seems absolutely universal,
but wages in China touch the lowest possible point. The diffusion of
intelligence, except as it may make men discontented with a state of
things which condemns producers to a life of toil while non-producers
loll in luxury, cannot tend to raise wages generally, or in any way
improve the condition of the lowest class—the “mud-sills” of society,
as a Southern Senator once called them—who must rest on the soil,
no matter how high the superstructure may be carried. No increase
of the effective power of labor can increase general wages, so long
as rent swallows up all the gain. This is not merely a deduction
from principles. It is the fact, proved by experience. The growth of
knowledge and the progress of invention have multiplied the effective
power of labor over and over again without increasing wages. In England
there are over a million paupers. In the United States almshouses are
increasing and wages are decreasing.

It is true that greater industry and skill, greater prudence, and a
higher intelligence, are, as a rule, found associated with a better
material condition of the working classes; but that this is effect, not
cause, is shown by the relation of the facts. Wherever the material
condition of the laboring classes has been improved, improvement in
their personal qualities has followed, and wherever their material
condition has been depressed, deterioration in these qualities has
been the result; but nowhere can improvement in material condition be
shown as the result of the increase of industry, skill, prudence, or
intelligence in a class condemned to toil for a bare living, though
these qualities when once attained (or, rather, their concomitant—the
improvement in the standard of comfort) offer a strong, and, in many
cases, a sufficient, resistance to the lowering of material condition.

The fact is, that the qualities that raise man above the animal are
superimposed on those which he shares with the animal, and that it is
only as he is relieved from the wants of his animal nature that his
intellectual and moral nature can grow. Compel a man to drudgery for
the necessities of animal existence, and he will lose the incentive to
industry—the progenitor of skill—and will do only what he is forced to
do. Make his condition such that it cannot be much worse, while there
is little hope that anything he can do will make it much better, and he
will cease to look beyond the day. Deny him leisure—and leisure does
not mean the want of employment, but the absence of the need which
forces to uncongenial employment—and you cannot, even by running the
child through a common school and supplying the man with a newspaper,
make him intelligent.

It is true that improvement in the material condition of a people
or class may not show immediately in mental and moral improvement.
Increased wages may at first be taken out in idleness and dissipation.
But they will ultimately bring increased industry, skill, intelligence,
and thrift. Comparisons between different countries; between different
classes in the same country; between the same people at different
periods; and between the same people when their conditions are changed
by emigration, show, as an invariable result, that the personal
qualities of which we are speaking appear as material conditions are
improved, and disappear as material conditions are depressed. Poverty
is the Slough of Despond which Bunyan saw in his dream, and into
which good books may be tossed forever without result. To make people
industrious, prudent, skillful, and intelligent, they must be relieved
from want. If you would have the slave show the virtues of the freeman,
you must first make him free.

_III.—From Combinations of Workmen._

It is evident from the laws of distribution, as previously traced,
that combinations of workmen _can_ advance wages, and this not at
the expense of other workmen, as is sometimes said, nor yet at the
expense of capital, as is generally believed; but, ultimately, at the
expense of rent. That no general advance in wages can be secured by
combination; that any advance in particular wages thus secured must
reduce other wages or the profits of capital, or both—are ideas that
spring from the erroneous notion that wages are drawn from capital.
The fallacy of these ideas is demonstrated, not alone by the laws of
distribution as we have worked them out, but by experience, so far as
it has gone. The advance of wages in particular trades by combinations
of workmen, of which there are many examples, has nowhere shown any
effect in lowering wages in other trades, or in reducing the rate
of profits. Except as it may affect his fixed capital or current
engagements, a diminution of wages can benefit, and an increase of
wages injure an employer only in so far as it gives him an advantage
or puts him at a disadvantage as compared with other employers. The
employer who first succeeds in reducing the wages of his hands, or is
first compelled to pay an advance, gains an advantage, or is put at
a disadvantage in regard to his competitors, which ceases when the
movement includes them also. So far, however, as the change in wages
affects his contracts or stock on hand, by changing the relative cost
of production, it may be to him a real gain or loss, though this gain
or loss, being purely relative, disappears when the whole community
is considered. And, if the change in wages works a change in relative
demand, it may render capital fixed in machinery, buildings, or
otherwise, more or less profitable. But, in this, a new equilibrium is
soon reached; for, especially in a progressive country, fixed capital
is only somewhat less mobile than circulating capital. If there is too
little in a certain form, the tendency of capital to assume that form
soon brings it up to the required amount; if there is too much, the
cessation of increment soon restores the level.

But, while a change in the rate of wages in any particular occupation
may induce a change in the relative demand for labor, it can produce
no change in the aggregate demand. For instance, let us suppose that
a combination of the workmen engaged in any particular manufacture
raise wages in one country, while a combination of employers reduce
wages in the same manufacture in another country. If the change be
great enough, the demand, or part of the demand, in the first country
will now be supplied by importation of such manufactures from the
second. But, evidently, this increase in importations of a particular
kind must necessitate either a corresponding decrease in importations
of other kinds, or a corresponding increase in exportations. For, it
is only with the produce of its labor and capital that one country
can demand, or can obtain, in exchange, the produce of the labor and
capital of another. The idea that the lowering of wages can increase,
or the increase of wages can diminish, the trade of a country, is as
baseless as the idea that the prosperity of a country can be increased
by taxes on imports, or diminished by the removal of restrictions on
trade. If all wages in any particular country were to be doubled, that
country would continue to export and import the same things, and in
the same proportions; for exchange is determined not by absolute, but
by relative, cost of production. But, if wages in some branches of
production were doubled, and in others not increased, or not increased
so much, there would be a change in the proportion of the various
things imported, but no change in the proportion between exports and

While most of the objections made to the combination of workmen for
the advance of wages are thus baseless, while the success of such
combinations cannot reduce other wages, or decrease the profits of
capital, or injuriously affect national prosperity, yet so great are
the difficulties in the way of the effective combinations of laborers,
that the good that can be accomplished by them is extremely limited,
while there are inherent disadvantages in the process.

To raise wages in a particular occupation or occupations, which is all
that any combination of workmen yet made has been equal to attempting,
is manifestly a task the difficulty of which progressively increases.
For the higher are wages of any particular kind raised above their
normal level with other wages, the stronger are the tendencies to bring
them back. Thus, if a printers’ union, by a successful or threatened
strike, raise the wages of typesetting ten per cent. above the normal
rate as compared with other wages, relative demand and supply are at
once affected. On the one hand, there is a tendency to a diminution
of the amount of typesetting called for; and, on the other, the
higher rate of wages tends to increase the number of compositors in
ways the strongest combination cannot altogether prevent. If the
increase be twenty per cent., these tendencies are much stronger; if
it is fifty per cent., they become stronger still, and so on. So that
practically—even in countries like England, where the lines between
different trades are much more distinct and difficult to pass than
in countries like the United States—that which trades’ unions, even
when supporting each other, can do in the way of raising wages is
comparatively little, and this little, moreover, is confined to their
own sphere, and does not affect the lower stratum of unorganized
laborers, whose condition most needs alleviation and ultimately
determines that of all above them. The only way by which wages could be
raised to any extent and with any permanence by this method would be
by a general combination, such as was aimed at by the Internationals,
which should include laborers of all kinds. But such a combination
may be set down as practically impossible, for the difficulties of
combination, great enough in the most highly paid and smallest trades,
become greater and greater as we descend in the industrial scale.

Nor, in the struggle of endurance, which is the only method which
combinations not to work for less than a certain minimum have of
effecting the increase of wages, must it be forgotten who are the real
parties pitted against each other. It is not labor and capital. It
is laborers on the one side and the owners of land on the other. If
the contest were between labor and capital, it would be on much more
equal terms. For the power of capital to stand out is only some little
greater than that of labor. Capital not only ceases to earn anything
when not used, but it goes to waste—for in nearly all its forms it can
be maintained only by constant reproduction. But land will not starve
like laborers or go to waste like capital—its owners can wait. They may
be inconvenienced, it is true, but what is inconvenience to them, is
destruction to capital and starvation to labor.

The agricultural laborers in certain parts of England are now
endeavoring to combine for the purpose of securing an increase in
their miserably low wages. If it was capital that was receiving the
enormous difference between the real produce of their labor and
the pittance they get out of it, they would have but to make an
effective combination to secure success; for the farmers, who are
their direct employers, can afford to go without labor but little,
if any, better than the laborers can afford to go without wages. But
the farmers cannot yield much without a reduction of rent; and thus
it is between the land owners and the laborers that the real struggle
must come. Suppose the combination to be so thorough as to include
all agricultural laborers, and to prevent from doing so all who might
be tempted to take their places. The laborers refuse to work except
at a considerable advance of wages; the farmers can give it only by
securing a considerable reduction of rent, and have no way to back
their demands except as the laborers back theirs, by refusing to go on
with production. If cultivation thus comes to a dead-lock, the land
owners would lose only their rent, while the land improved by lying
fallow. But the laborers would starve. And if English laborers of all
kinds were united in one grand league for a general increase of wages,
the real contest would be the same, and under the same conditions.
For wages could not be increased except to the decrease of rent; and
in a general dead-lock, land owners could live, while laborers of all
sorts must starve or emigrate. The owners of the land of England are by
virtue of their ownership the masters of England. So true is it that
“to whomsoever the soil at any time belongs, to him belong the fruits
of it.” The white parasols and the elephants mad with pride passed with
the grant of English land, and the people at large can never regain
their power until that grant is resumed. What is true of England, is
universally true.

It may be said that such a dead-lock in production could never occur.
This is true; but true only because no such thorough combination of
labor as might produce it is possible. But the fixed and definite
nature of land enables land owners to combine much more easily and
efficiently than either laborers or capitalists. How easy and efficient
their combination is, there are many historical examples. And the
absolute necessity for the use of land, and the certainty in all
progressive countries that it must increase in value, produce among
land owners, without any formal combination, all the effects that
could be produced by the most rigorous combination among laborers or
capitalists. Deprive a laborer of opportunity of employment, and he
will soon be anxious to get work on any terms, but when the receding
wave of speculation leaves nominal land values clearly above real
values, whoever has lived in a growing country knows with what tenacity
land owners hold on.

And, besides these practical difficulties in the plan of forcing by
endurance an increase of wages, there are in such methods inherent
disadvantages which workingmen should not blink. I speak without
prejudice, for I am still an honorary member of the union which, while
working at my trade, I always loyally supported. But, see: The methods
by which a trade union can alone act are necessarily destructive;
its organization is necessarily tyrannical. A strike, which is the
only recourse by which a trade union can enforce its demands, is a
destructive contest—just such a contest as that to which an eccentric,
called “The Money King,” once, in the early days of San Francisco,
challenged a man who had taunted him with meanness, that they should
go down to the wharf and alternately toss twenty-dollar pieces into
the bay until one gave in. The struggle of endurance involved in a
strike is, really, what it has often been compared to—a war; and, like
all war, it lessens wealth. And the organization for it must, like
the organization for war, be tyrannical. As even the man who would
fight for freedom, must, when he enters an army, give up his personal
freedom and become a mere part in a great machine, so must it be with
workmen who organize for a strike. These combinations are, therefore,
necessarily destructive of the very things which workmen seek to gain
through them—wealth and freedom.

There is an ancient Hindoo mode of compelling the payment of a just
debt, traces of something akin to which Sir Henry Maine has found in
the laws of the Irish Brehons. It is called, sitting _dharna_—the
creditor seeking enforcement of his debt by sitting down at the door of
the debtor, and refusing to eat or drink until he is paid.

Like this is the method of labor combinations. In their strikes,
trades’ unions sit _dharna_. But, unlike the Hindoo, they have not the
power of superstition to back them.

_IV.—From Co-operation._

It is now, and has been for some time, the fashion to preach
co-operation as the sovereign remedy for the grievances of the working
classes. But, unfortunately for the efficacy of co-operation as a
remedy for social evils, these evils, as we have seen, do not arise
from any conflict between labor and capital; and if co-operation were
universal, it could not raise wages or relieve poverty. This is readily

Co-operation is of two kinds—co-operation in supply and co-operation
in production. Now, co-operation in supply, let it go as far as it
may in excluding middlemen, only reduces the cost of exchanges. It
is simply a device to save labor and eliminate risk, and its effect
upon distribution can be only that of the improvements and inventions
which have in modern times so wonderfully cheapened and facilitated
exchanges—viz., to increase rent. And co-operation in production is
simply a reversion to that form of wages which still prevails in the
whaling service, and is there termed a “lay.” It is the substitution of
proportionate wages for fixed wages—a substitution of which there are
occasional instances in almost all employments; or, if the management
is left to the workmen, and the capitalist but takes his proportion of
the net produce, it is simply the system that has prevailed to a large
extent in European agriculture since the days of the Roman Empire—the
colonial or metayer system. All that is claimed for co-operation in
production is, that it makes the workman more active and industrious—in
other words, that it increases the efficiency of labor. Thus its effect
is in the same direction as the steam engine, the cotton gin, the
reaping machine—in short, all the things in which material progress
consists, and it can produce only the same result—viz., the increase of

It is a striking proof of how first principles are ignored in dealing
with social problems, that in current economic and semi-economic
literature so much importance is attached to co-operation as a means
for increasing wages and relieving poverty. That it can have no such
general tendency is apparent.

Waiving all the difficulties that under present conditions beset
co-operation either of supply or of production, and supposing it so
extended as to supplant present methods—that co-operative stores
made the connection between producer and consumer with the minimum
of expense, and co-operative workshops, factories, farms, and mines,
abolished the employing capitalist who pays fixed wages, and greatly
increased the efficiency of labor—what then? Why, simply that it would
become possible to produce the same amount of wealth with less labor,
and consequently that the owners of land, the source of all wealth,
could command a greater amount of wealth for the use of their land.
This is not a matter of mere theory; it is proved by experience and
by existing facts. Improved methods and improved machinery have the
same effect that co-operation aims at—of reducing the cost of bringing
commodities to the consumer and increasing the efficiency of labor, and
it is in these respects that the older countries have the advantage of
new settlements. But, as experience has amply shown, improvements in
the methods and machinery of production and exchange have no tendency
to improve the condition of the lowest class, and wages are lower
and poverty deeper where exchange goes on at the minimum of cost and
production has the benefit of the best machinery. The advantage but
adds to rent.

But suppose co-operation between producers and land owners? That
would simply amount to the payment of rent in kind—the same system
under which much land is rented in California and the Southern States
where the land owner gets a share of the crop. Save as a matter of
computation it in no wise differs from the system which prevails in
England of a fixed money rent. Call it co-operation, if you choose,
the terms of the co-operation would still be fixed by the laws which
determine rent, and wherever land was monopolized, increase in
productive power would simply give the owners of the land the power to
demand a larger share.

That co-operation is by so many believed to be the solution of the
“labor question” arises from the fact that, where it has been tried,
it has in many instances improved perceptibly the condition of those
immediately engaged in it. But this is due simply to the fact that
these cases are isolated. Just as industry, economy, or skill may
improve the condition of the workmen who possess them in superior
degree, but cease to have this effect when improvement in these
respects becomes general, so a special advantage in procuring supplies,
or a special efficiency given to some labor, may secure advantages
which would be lost as soon as these improvements became so general
as to affect the general relations of distribution. And the truth
is, that, save possibly in educational effects, co-operation can
produce no general results that competition will not produce. Just as
the cheap-for-cash stores have a similar effect upon prices as the
co-operative supply associations, so does competition in production
lead to a similar adjustment of forces and division of proceeds as
would co-operative production. That increasing productive power does
not add to the reward of labor, is not because of competition, but
because competition is one-sided. Land, without which there can be no
production, is monopolized, and the competition of producers for its
use forces wages to a minimum and gives all the advantage of increasing
productive power to land owners, in higher rents and increased land
values. Destroy this monopoly, and competition could exist only to
accomplish the end which co-operation aims at—to give to each what
he fairly earns. Destroy this monopoly, and industry must become the
co-operation of equals.

_V.—From Governmental Direction and Interference._

The limits within which I wish to keep this book will not permit
an examination in detail of the methods in which it is proposed to
mitigate or extirpate poverty by governmental regulation of industry
and accumulation, and which in their most thorough-going form are
called socialistic. Nor is it necessary, for the same defects attach
to them all. These are the substitution of governmental direction for
the play of individual action, and the attempt to secure by restriction
what can better be secured by freedom. As to the truths that are
involved in socialistic ideas I shall have something to say hereafter;
but it is evident that whatever savors of regulation and restriction
is in itself bad, and should not be resorted to if any other mode
of accomplishing the same end presents itself. For instance, to take
one of the simplest and mildest of the class of measures I refer to—a
graduated tax on incomes. The object at which it aims, the reduction
or prevention of immense concentrations of wealth, is good; but this
means involves the employment of a large number of officials clothed
with inquisitorial powers; temptations to bribery, and perjury, and
all other means of evasion, which beget a demoralization of opinion,
and put a premium upon unscrupulousness and a tax upon conscience;
and, finally, just in proportion as the tax accomplishes its effect, a
lessening in the incentive to the accumulation of wealth, which is one
of the strong forces of industrial progress. While, if the elaborate
schemes for regulating everything and finding a place for everybody
could be carried out, we should have a state of society resembling that
of ancient Peru, or that which, to their eternal honor, the Jesuits
instituted and so long maintained in Paraguay.

I will not say that such a state as this is not a better social state
than that to which we now seem to be tending, for in ancient Peru,
though production went on under the greatest disadvantages, from the
want of iron and the domestic animals, yet there was no such thing
as want, and the people went to their work with songs. But this it
is unnecessary to discuss. Socialism in anything approaching such
a form, modern society cannot successfully attempt. The only force
that has ever proved competent for it—a strong and definite religious
faith—is wanting and is daily growing less. We have passed out of the
socialism of the tribal state, and cannot re-enter it again except by
a retrogression that would involve anarchy and perhaps barbarism. Our
governments, as is already plainly evident, would break down in the
attempt. Instead of an intelligent award of duties and earnings, we
should have a Roman distribution of Sicilian corn, and the demagogue
would soon become the Imperator.

The ideal of socialism is grand and noble; and it is, I am convinced,
possible of realization; but such a state of society cannot be
manufactured—it must grow. Society is an organism, not a machine. It
can live only by the individual life of its parts. And in the free and
natural development of all the parts will be secured the harmony of the
whole. All that is necessary to social regeneration is included in the
motto of those Russian patriots sometimes called Nihilists—“Land and

_VI.—From a More General Distribution of Land._

There is a rapidly growing feeling that the tenure of land is in some
manner connected with the social distress which manifests itself in
the most progressive countries; but this feeling as yet mostly shows
itself in propositions which look to the more general division of
landed property—in England, free trade in land, tenant right, or the
equal partition of landed estates among heirs; in the United States,
restrictions upon the size of individual holdings. It has been also
proposed in England that the state should buy out the landlords, and
in the United States that grants of money should be made to enable the
settlements of colonies upon public lands. The former proposition let
us pass for the present; the latter, so far as its distinctive feature
is concerned, falls into the category of the measures considered in
the last section. It needs no argument to show to what abuses and
demoralization grants of public money or credit would lead.

How what the English writers call “free trade in land”—the removal of
duties and restrictions upon conveyances—could facilitate the division
of ownership in agricultural land, I cannot see, though it might to
some extent have that effect as regards town property. The removal of
restrictions upon buying and selling would merely permit the ownership
of land to assume more quickly the form to which it tends. Now, that
the tendency in Great Britain is to concentration is shown by the fact
that, in spite of the difficulties interposed by the cost of transfer,
land ownership has been and is steadily concentrating there, and that
this tendency is a general one is shown by the fact that the same
process of concentration is observable in the United States. I say this
unhesitatingly in regard to the United States, although statistical
tables are sometimes quoted to show a different tendency. But how,
in such a country as the United States, the ownership of land may be
really concentrating, while census tables show rather a diminution
in the average size of holdings, is readily seen. As land is brought
into use, and, with the growth of population, passes from a lower to
a higher or intenser use, the size of holdings tends to diminish.
A small stock range would be a large farm, a small farm would be a
large orchard, vineyard, nursery, or vegetable garden, and a patch of
land which would be small even for these purposes would make a very
large city property. Thus, the growth of population, which puts land
to higher or intenser uses, tends naturally to reduce the size of
holdings, by a process very marked in new countries; but with this may
go on a tendency to the concentration of land ownership, which, though
not revealed by tables which show the average size of holdings, is just
as clearly seen. Average holdings of one acre in a city may show a much
greater concentration of land ownership than average holdings of 640
acres in a newly settled township. I refer to this to show the fallacy
in the deductions drawn from the tables which are frequently paraded in
the United States to show that land monopoly is an evil that will cure
itself. On the contrary, it is obvious that the proportion of land
owners to the whole population is constantly decreasing.

And that there is in the United States, as there is in Great Britain, a
strong tendency to the concentration of land ownership in agriculture
is clearly seen. As, in England and Ireland, small farms are being
thrown into larger ones, so in New England, according to the reports
of the Massachusetts Bureau of Labor Statistics, is the size of farms
increasing. This tendency is even more clearly noticeable in the newer
States and Territories. Only a few years ago a farm of 320 acres would,
under the system of agriculture prevailing in the northern parts of
the Union, have anywhere been a large one, probably as much as one man
could cultivate to advantage. In California now there are farms (not
cattle ranges) of five, ten, twenty, forty and sixty thousand acres,
while the model farm of Dakota embraces 100,000 acres. The reason is
obvious. It is the application of machinery to agriculture and the
general tendency to production on a large scale. The same tendency
which substitutes the factory, with its army of operatives, for many
independent hand-loom weavers, is beginning to exhibit itself in

Now, the existence of this tendency shows two things: first, that any
measures which merely permit or facilitate the greater subdivision of
land would be inoperative; and, second, that any measures which would
compel it would have a tendency to check production. If land in large
bodies can be cultivated more cheaply than land in small bodies, to
restrict ownership to small bodies will reduce the aggregate production
of wealth, and, in so far as such restrictions are imposed and take
effect, will they tend to diminish the general productiveness of labor
and capital.

The effort, therefore, to secure a fairer division of wealth by such
restrictions is liable to the drawback of lessening the amount to
be divided. The device is like that of the monkey, who, dividing the
cheese between the cats, equalized matters by taking a bite off the
biggest piece.

But there is not merely this objection, which weighs against every
proposition to restrict the ownership of land, with a force that
increases with the efficiency of the proposed measure. There is the
further and fatal objection that restriction will not secure the end
which is alone worth aiming at—a fair division of the produce. It will
not reduce rent, and therefore cannot increase wages. It may make the
comfortable classes larger, but will not improve the condition of those
in the lowest class.

If what is known as the Ulster tenant right were extended to the whole
of Great Britain, it would be but to carve out of the estate of the
landlord an estate for the tenant. The condition of the laborer would
not be a whit improved. If landlords were prohibited from asking an
increase of rent from their tenants and from ejecting a tenant so
long as the fixed rent was paid, the body of the producers would gain
nothing. Economic rent would still increase, and would still steadily
lessen the proportion of the produce going to labor and capital. The
only difference would be that the tenants of the first landlords, who
would become landlords in their turn, would profit by the increase.

If by a restriction upon the amount of land any one individual might
hold, by the regulation of devises and successions, or by cumulative
taxation, the few thousand land holders of Great Britain should be
increased by two or three million, these two or three million people
would be gainers. But the rest of the population would gain nothing.
They would have no more share in the advantages of land ownership than
before. And if, what is manifestly impossible, a fair distribution of
the land were made among the whole population, giving to each his
equal share, and laws enacted which would interpose a barrier to the
tendency to concentration by forbidding the holding by any one of more
than the fixed amount, what would become of the increase of population?

Just what may be accomplished by the greater division of land may be
seen in those districts of France and Belgium where minute division
prevails. That such a division of land is on the whole much better,
and that it gives a far more stable basis to the state than that which
prevails in England, there can be no doubt. But that it does not make
wages any higher or improve the condition of the class who have only
their labor, is equally clear. These French and Belgian peasants
practice a rigid economy unknown to any of the English-speaking
peoples. And if such striking symptoms of the poverty and distress of
the lowest class are not apparent as on the other side of the channel,
it must, I think, be attributed, not only to this fact, but to another
fact, which accounts for the continuance of the minute division of the
land—that material progress has not been so rapid.

Neither has population increased with the same rapidity (on the
contrary it has been nearly stationary), nor have improvements in the
modes of production been so great. Nevertheless, M. de Laveleye, all
of whose prepossessions are in favor of small holdings, and whose
testimony will therefore carry more weight than that of English
observers, who may be supposed to harbor a prejudice for the system of
their own country, states in his paper on the Land Systems of Belgium
and Holland, printed by the Cobden Club, that the condition of the
laborer is worse under this system of the minute division of land
than it is in England; while the tenant farmers—for tenancy largely
prevails even where the _morcellment_ is greatest—are rack-rented with
a mercilessness unknown in England, and even in Ireland, and the
franchise “so far from raising them in the social scale, is but a
source of mortification and humiliation to them, for they are forced to
vote according to the dictates of the landlord instead of following the
dictates of their own inclination and convictions.”

But while the subdivision of land can thus do nothing to cure the evils
of land monopoly, while it can have no effect in raising wages or in
improving the condition of the lowest classes, its tendency is to
prevent the adoption or even advocacy of more thorough-going measures,
and to strengthen the existing unjust system by interesting a larger
number in its maintenance. M. de Laveleye, in concluding the paper from
which I have quoted, urges the greater division of land as the surest
means of securing the great land owners of England from something far
more radical. Although in the districts where land is so minutely
divided, the condition of the laborer is, he states, the worst in
Europe and the renting farmer is much more ground down by his landlord
than the Irish tenant, yet “feelings hostile to social order,” M. de
Laveleye goes on to say, “do not manifest themselves,” because—

 “The tenant, although ground down by the constant rise of rents,
 lives among his equals, peasants like himself who have tenants whom
 they use just as the large land holder does his. His father, his
 brother, perhaps the man himself, possesses something like an acre of
 land, which he lets at as high a rent as he can get. In the public
 house peasant proprietors will boast of the high rents they get for
 their lands, just as they might boast of having sold their pigs or
 potatoes very dear. Letting at as high a rent as possible comes thus
 to seem to him to be quite a matter of course, and he never dreams of
 finding fault with either the land owners as a class or with property
 in land. His mind is not likely to dwell on the notion of a caste
 of domineering landlords, of “bloodthirsty tyrants,” fattening on
 the sweat of impoverished tenants and doing no work themselves; for
 those who drive the hardest bargains are not the great land owners
 but his own fellows. Thus, the distribution of a number of small
 properties among the peasantry forms a kind of rampart and safeguard
 for the holders of large estates, and peasant property may without
 exaggeration be called the lightning conductor that averts from
 society dangers which might otherwise lead to violent catastrophes.

 “The concentration of land in large estates among a small number
 of families is a sort of provocation of leveling legislation. The
 position of England, so enviable in many respects, seems to me to be
 in this respect full of danger for the future.”

To me, for the very same reason that M. de Laveleye expresses, the
position of England seems full of hope.

Let us abandon all attempt to get rid of the evils of land monopoly
by restricting land ownership. An equal distribution of land is
impossible, and anything short of that would be only a mitigation,
not a cure, and a mitigation that would prevent the adoption of a
cure. Nor is any remedy worth considering that does not fall in with
the natural direction of social development, and swim, so to speak,
with the current of the times. That concentration is the order of
development there can be no mistaking—the concentration of people in
large cities, the concentration of handicrafts in large factories, the
concentration of transportation by railroad and steamship lines, and of
agricultural operations in large fields. The most trivial businesses
are being concentrated in the same way—errands are run and carpet
sacks are carried by corporations. All the currents of the time run to
concentration. To resist it successfully we must throttle steam and
discharge electricity from human service.



We have traced the unequal distribution of wealth which is the curse
and menace of modern civilization to the institution of private
property in land. We have seen that so long as this institution
exists no increase in productive power can permanently benefit the
masses; but, on the contrary, must tend still further to depress their
condition. We have examined all the remedies, short of the abolition of
private property in land, which are currently relied on or proposed for
the relief of poverty and the better distribution of wealth, and have
found them all inefficacious or impracticable.

There is but one way to remove an evil—and that is, to remove its
cause. Poverty deepens as wealth increases, and wages are forced down
while productive power grows, because land, which is the source of
all wealth and the field of all labor, is monopolized. To extirpate
poverty, to make wages what justice commands they should be, the
full earnings of the laborer, we must therefore substitute for the
individual ownership of land a common ownership. Nothing else will go
to the cause of the evil—in nothing else is there the slightest hope.

This, then, is the remedy for the unjust and unequal distribution of
wealth apparent in modern civilization, and for all the evils which
flow from it:

 _We must make land common property._

We have reached this conclusion by an examination in which every step
has been proved and secured. In the chain of reasoning no link is
wanting and no link is weak. Deduction and induction have brought us
to the same truth—that the unequal ownership of land necessitates the
unequal distribution of wealth. And as in the nature of things unequal
ownership of land is inseparable from the recognition of individual
property in land, it necessarily follows that the only remedy for the
unjust distribution of wealth is in making land common property.

But this is a truth which, in the present state of society, will arouse
the most bitter antagonism, and must fight its way, inch by inch. It
will be necessary, therefore, to meet the objections of those who,
even when driven to admit this truth, will declare that it cannot be
practically applied.

In doing this we shall bring our previous reasoning to a new and
crucial test. Just as we try addition by subtraction and multiplication
by division, so may we, by testing the sufficiency of the remedy, prove
the correctness of our conclusions as to the cause of the evil.

The laws of the universe are harmonious. And if the remedy to which we
have been led is the true one, it must be consistent with justice; it
must be practicable of application; it must accord with the tendencies
of social development and must harmonize with other reforms.

All this I propose to show. I propose to meet all practical objections
that can be raised, and to show that this simple measure is not only
easy of application; but that it is a sufficient remedy for all the
evils which, as modern progress goes on, arise from the greater
and greater inequality in the distribution of wealth—that it will
substitute equality for inequality, plenty for want, justice for
injustice, social strength for social weakness, and will open the way
to grander and nobler advances of civilization.

I thus propose to show that the laws of the universe do not deny the
natural aspirations of the human heart; that the progress of society
might be, and, if it is to continue, must be, toward equality, not
toward inequality; and that the economic harmonies prove the truth
perceived by the Stoic Emperor—

 “_We are made for co-operation—like feet, like hands, like eyelids,
 like the rows of the upper and lower teeth._”


[44] To say nothing of superior want of conscience, which is often the
determining quality which makes a millionaire out of one who otherwise
might have been a poor man.

[45] Franklin, in his inimitable way, relates how Keimer finally broke
his resolution and ordering a roast pig invited two lady friends to
dine with him, but the pig being brought in before the company arrived,
Keimer could not resist the temptation and ate it all himself.








 Justice is a relation of congruity which really subsists between two
 things. This relation is always the same, whatever being considers it,
 whether it be God, or an angel, or lastly a man.—_Montesquieu._



When it is proposed to abolish private property in land the first
question that will arise is that of justice. Though often warped by
habit, superstition, and selfishness into the most distorted forms, the
sentiment of justice is yet fundamental to the human mind, and whatever
dispute arouses the passions of men, the conflict is sure to rage, not
so much as to the question “Is it wise?” as to the question “Is it

This tendency of popular discussions to take an ethical form has
a cause. It springs from a law of the human mind; it rests upon a
vague and instinctive recognition of what is probably the deepest
truth we can grasp. That alone is wise which is just; that alone is
enduring which is right. In the narrow scale of individual actions and
individual life this truth may be often obscured, but in the wider
field of national life it everywhere stands out.

I bow to this arbitrament, and accept this test. If our inquiry into
the cause which makes low wages and pauperism the accompaniments of
material progress has led us to a correct conclusion, it will bear
translation from terms of political economy into terms of ethics, and
as the source of social evils show a wrong. If it will not do this, it
is disproved. If it will do this, it is proved by the final decision.
If private property in land be just, then is the remedy I propose a
false one; if, on the contrary, private property in land be unjust,
then is this remedy the true one.

What constitutes the rightful basis of property? What is it that
enables a man justly to say of a thing, “It is mine?” From what springs
the sentiment which acknowledges his exclusive right as against all the
world? Is it not, primarily, the right of a man to himself to the use
of his own powers, to the enjoyment of the fruits of his own exertions?
Is it not this individual right, which springs from and is testified
to by the natural facts of individual organization—the fact that each
particular pair of hands obey a particular brain and are related to a
particular stomach; the fact that each man is a definite, coherent,
independent whole—which alone justifies individual ownership? As a man
belongs to himself, so his labor when put in concrete form belongs to

And for this reason, that which a man makes or produces is his own, as
against all the world—to enjoy or to destroy, to use, to exchange, or
to give. No one else can rightfully claim it, and his exclusive right
to it involves no wrong to any one else. Thus there is to everything
produced by human exertion a clear and indisputable title to exclusive
possession and enjoyment, which is perfectly consistent with justice,
as it descends from the original producer, in whom it vested by natural
law. The pen with which I am writing is justly mine. No other human
being can rightfully lay claim to it, for in me is the title of the
producers who made it. It has become mine, because transferred to me by
the stationer, to whom it was transferred by the importer, who obtained
the exclusive right to it by transfer from the manufacturer, in whom,
by the same process of purchase, vested the rights of those who dug the
material from the ground and shaped it into a pen. Thus, my exclusive
right of ownership in the pen springs from the natural right of the
individual to the use of his own faculties.

Now, this is not only the original source from which all ideas of
exclusive ownership arise—as is evident from the natural tendency
of the mind to revert to it when the idea of exclusive ownership is
questioned, and the manner in which social relations develop—but it is
necessarily the only source. There can be to the ownership of anything
no rightful title which is not derived from the title of the producer
and does not rest upon the natural right of the man to himself. There
can be no other rightful title, because (1st) there is no other natural
right from which any other title can be derived, and (2d) because the
recognition of any other title is inconsistent with and destructive of

For (1st) what other right exists from which the right to the exclusive
possession of anything can be derived, save the right of a man to
himself? With what other power is man by nature clothed, save the power
of exerting his own faculties? How can he in any other way act upon or
affect material things or other men? Paralyze the motor nerves, and
your man has no more external influence or power than a log or stone.
From what else, then, can the right of possessing and controlling
things be derived? If it spring not from man himself, from what can it
spring? Nature acknowledges no ownership or control in man save as the
result of exertion. In no other way can her treasures be drawn forth,
her powers directed, or her forces utilized or controlled. She makes
no discriminations among men, but is to all absolutely impartial. She
knows no distinction between master and slave, king and subject, saint
and sinner. All men to her stand upon an equal footing and have equal
rights. She recognizes no claim but that of labor, and recognizes that
without respect to the claimant. If a pirate spread his sails, the wind
will fill them as well as it will fill those of a peaceful merchantman
or missionary bark; if a king and a common man be thrown overboard,
neither can keep his head above water except by swimming; birds will
not come to be shot by the proprietor of the soil any quicker than
they will come to be shot by the poacher; fish will bite or will not
bite at a hook in utter disregard as to whether it is offered them by
a good little boy who goes to Sunday-school, or a bad little boy who
plays truant; grain will grow only as the ground is prepared and the
seed is sown; it is only at the call of labor that ore can be raised
from the mine; the sun shines and the rain falls, alike upon just and
unjust. The laws of nature are the decrees of the Creator. There is
written in them no recognition of any right save that of labor; and in
them is written broadly and clearly the equal right of all men to the
use and enjoyment of nature; to apply to her by their exertions, and to
receive and possess her reward. Hence, as nature gives only to labor,
the exertion of labor in production is the only title to exclusive

2d. This right of ownership that springs from labor excludes the
possibility of any other right of ownership. If a man be rightfully
entitled to the produce of his labor, then no one can be rightfully
entitled to the ownership of anything which is not the produce of his
labor, or the labor of some one else from whom the right has passed
to him. If production give to the producer the right to exclusive
possession and enjoyment, there can rightfully be no exclusive
possession and enjoyment of anything not the production of labor, and
the recognition of private property in land is a wrong. For the right
to the produce of labor cannot be enjoyed without the right to the free
use of the opportunities offered by nature, and to admit the right of
property in these is to deny the right of property in the produce of
labor. When non-producers can claim as rent a portion of the wealth
created by producers, the right of the producers to the fruits of their
labor is to that extent denied.

There is no escape from this position. To affirm that a man can
rightfully claim exclusive ownership in his own labor when embodied in
material things, is to deny that any one can rightfully claim exclusive
ownership in land. To affirm the rightfulness of property in land,
is to affirm a claim which has no warrant in nature, as against a
claim founded in the organization of man and the laws of the material

What most prevents the realization of the injustice of private
property in land is the habit of including all the things that are
made the subject of ownership in one category, as property, or, if any
distinction is made, drawing the line, according to the unphilosophical
distinction of the lawyers, between personal property and real
estate, or things movable and things immovable. The real and natural
distinction is between things which are the produce of labor and things
which are the gratuitous offerings of nature; or, to adopt the terms of
political economy, between wealth and land.

These two classes of things are in essence and relations widely
different, and to class them together as property is to confuse all
thought when we come to consider the justice or the injustice, the
right or the wrong of property.

A house and the lot on which it stands are alike property, as being
the subject of ownership, and are alike classed by the lawyers as real
estate. Yet in nature and relations they differ widely. The one is
produced by human labor, and belongs to the class in political economy
styled wealth. The other is a part of nature, and belongs to the class
in political economy styled land.

The essential character of the one class of things is that they embody
labor, are brought into being by human exertion, their existence
or non-existence, their increase or diminution, depending on man.
The essential character of the other class of things is that they
do not embody labor, and exist irrespective of human exertion and
irrespective of man; they are the field or environment in which man
finds himself; the storehouse from which his needs must be supplied,
the raw material upon which, and the forces with which alone his labor
can act.

The moment this distinction is realized, that moment is it seen that
the sanction which natural justice gives to one species of property is
denied to the other; that the rightfulness which attaches to individual
property in the produce of labor implies the wrongfulness of individual
property in land; that, whereas the recognition of the one places all
men upon equal terms, securing to each the due reward of his labor,
the recognition of the other is the denial of the equal rights of men,
permitting those who do not labor to take the natural reward of those
who do.

Whatever may be said for the institution of private property in land,
it is therefore plain that it cannot be defended on the score of

The equal right of all men to the use of land is as clear as their
equal right to breathe the air—it is a right proclaimed by the fact of
their existence. For we cannot suppose that some men have a right to be
in this world and others no right.

If we are all here by the equal permission of the Creator, we are all
here with an equal title to the enjoyment of his bounty—with an equal
right to the use of all that nature so impartially offers.[46] This is
a right which is natural and inalienable; it is a right which vests
in every human being as he enters the world, and which during his
continuance in the world can be limited only by the equal rights of
others. There is in nature no such thing as a fee simple in land. There
is on earth no power which can rightfully make a grant of exclusive
ownership in land. If all existing men were to unite to grant away
their equal rights, they could not grant away the right of those who
follow them. For what are we but tenants for a day? Have we made the
earth, that we should determine the rights of those who after us shall
tenant it in their turn? The Almighty, who created the earth for man
and man for the earth, has entailed it upon all the generations of
the children of men by a decree written upon the constitution of all
things—a decree which no human action can bar and no prescription
determine. Let the parchments be ever so many, or possession ever
so long, natural justice can recognize no right in one man to the
possession and enjoyment of land that is not equally the right of all
his fellows. Though his titles have been acquiesced in by generation
after generation, to the landed estates of the Duke of Westminster
the poorest child that is born in London to-day has as much right as
has his eldest son.[47] Though the sovereign people of the State of
New York consent to the lauded possessions of the Astors, the puniest
infant that comes wailing into the world in the squalidest room of the
most miserable tenement house, becomes at that moment seized of an
equal right with the millionaires. And it is robbed if the right is

Our previous conclusions, irresistible in themselves, thus stand
approved by the highest and final test. Translated from terms of
political economy into terms of ethics they show a wrong as the source
of the evils which increase as material progress goes on.

The masses of men, who in the midst of abundance suffer want; who,
clothed with political freedom, are condemned to the wages of slavery;
to whose toil labor-saving inventions bring no relief, but rather seem
to rob them of a privilege, instinctively feel that “there is something
wrong.” And they are right.

The wide-spreading social evils which everywhere oppress men amid
an advancing civilization spring from a great primary wrong—the
appropriation, as the exclusive property of some men, of the land on
which and from which all must live. From this fundamental injustice
flow all the injustices which distort and endanger modern development,
which condemn the producer of wealth to poverty and pamper the
non-producer in luxury, which rear the tenement house with the palace,
plant the brothel behind the church, and compel us to build prisons as
we open new schools.

There is nothing strange or inexplicable in the phenomena that are
now perplexing the world. It is not that material progress is not in
itself a good; it is not that nature has called into being children
for whom she has failed to provide; it is not that the Creator has
left on natural laws a taint of injustice at which even the human mind
revolts, that material progress brings such bitter fruits. That amid
our highest civilization men faint and die with want is not due to the
niggardliness of nature, but to the injustice of man. Vice and misery,
poverty and pauperism, are not the legitimate results of increase
of population and industrial development; they only follow increase
of population and industrial development because land is treated as
private property—they are the direct and necessary results of the
violation of the supreme law of justice, involved in giving to some men
the exclusive possession of that which nature provides for all men.

The recognition of individual proprietorship of land is the denial of
the natural rights of other individuals—it is a wrong which _must_
show itself in the inequitable division of wealth. For as labor cannot
produce without the use of land, the denial of the equal right to the
use of land is necessarily the denial of the right of labor to its own
produce. If one man can command the land upon which others must labor,
he can appropriate the produce of their labor as the price of his
permission to labor. The fundamental law of nature, that her enjoyment
by man shall be consequent upon his exertion, is thus violated. The one
receives without producing; the others produce without receiving. The
one is unjustly enriched; the others are robbed. To this fundamental
wrong we have traced the unjust distribution of wealth which is
separating modern society into the very rich and the very poor. It
is the continuous increase of rent—the price that labor is compelled
to pay for the use of land, which strips the many of the wealth they
justly earn, to pile it up in the hands of the few, who do nothing to
earn it.

Why should they who suffer from this injustice hesitate for one moment
to sweep it away? Who are the land holders that they should thus be
permitted to reap where they have not sown?

Consider for a moment the utter absurdity of the titles by which we
permit to be gravely passed from John Doe to Richard Roe the right
exclusively to possess the earth, giving absolute dominion as against
all others. In California our land titles go back to the Supreme
Government of Mexico, who took from the Spanish King, who took from
the Pope, when he by a stroke of the pen divided lands yet to be
discovered between the Spanish or Portuguese—or if you please they rest
upon conquest. In the Eastern States they go back to treaties with
Indians and grants from English Kings; in Louisiana to the Government
of France; in Florida to the Government of Spain; while in England they
go back to the Norman conquerors. Everywhere, not to a right which
obliges, but to a force which compels. And when a title rests but on
force, no complaint can be made when force annuls it. Whenever the
people, having the power, choose to annul those titles, no objection
can be made in the name of justice. There have existed men who had
the power to hold or to give exclusive possession of portions of the
earth’s surface, but when and where did there exist the human being who
had the right?

The right to exclusive ownership of anything of human production is
clear. No matter how many the hands through which it has passed,
there was, at the beginning of the line, human labor—some one who,
having procured or produced it by his exertions, had to it a clear
title as against all the rest of mankind, and which could justly pass
from one to another by sale or gift. But at the end of what string of
conveyances or grants can be shown or supposed a like title to any part
of the material universe? To improvements such an original title can
be shown; but it is a title only to the improvements, and not to the
land itself. If I clear a forest, drain a swamp, or fill a morass, all
I can justly claim is the value given by these exertions. They give me
no right to the land itself, no claim other than to my equal share with
every other member of the community in the value which is added to it
by the growth of the community.

But it will be said: There are improvements which in time become
indistinguishable from the land itself! Very well; then the title
to the improvements becomes blended with the title to the land; the
individual right is lost in the common right. It is the greater that
swallows up the less, not the less that swallows up the greater. Nature
does not proceed from man, but man from nature, and it is into the
bosom of nature that he and all his works must return again.

Yet, it will be said: As every man has a right to the use and enjoyment
of nature, the man who is using land must be permitted the exclusive
right to its use in order that he may get the full benefit of his
labor. But there is no difficulty in determining where the individual
right ends and the common right begins. A delicate and exact test is
supplied by value, and with its aid there is no difficulty, no matter
how dense population may become, in determining and securing the
exact rights of each, the equal rights of all. The value of land, as
we have seen, is the price of monopoly. It is not the absolute, but
the relative, capability of land that determines its value. No matter
what may be its intrinsic qualities, land that is no better than other
land which may be had for the using can have no value. And the value
of land always measures the difference between it and the best land
that may be had for the using. Thus, the value of land expresses in
exact and tangible form the right of the community in land held by an
individual; and rent expresses the exact amount which the individual
should pay to the community to satisfy the equal rights of all other
members of the community. Thus, if we concede to priority of possession
the undisturbed use of land, confiscating rent for the benefit of the
community, we reconcile the fixity of tenure which is necessary for
improvement with a full and complete recognition of the equal rights of
all to the use of land.

As for the deduction of a complete and exclusive individual right
to land from priority of occupation, that is, if possible, the most
absurd ground on which land ownership can be defended. Priority of
occupation give exclusive and perpetual title to the surface of a globe
on which, in the order of nature, countless generations succeed each
other! Had the men of the last generation any better right to the use
of this world than we of this? or the men of a hundred years ago? or
of a thousand years ago? Had the mound-builders, or the cave-dwellers,
the contemporaries of the mastodon and the three-toed horse, or the
generations still further back, who, in dim æons that we can think
of only as geologic periods, followed each other on the earth we now
tenant for our little day?

Has the first comer at a banquet the right to turn back all the chairs
and claim that none of the other guests shall partake of the food
provided, except as they make terms with him? Does the first man who
presents a ticket at the door of a theater, and passes in, acquire by
his priority the right to shut the doors and have the performance go
on for him alone? Does the first passenger who enters a railroad car
obtain the right to scatter his baggage over all the seats and compel
the passengers who come in after him to stand up?

The cases are perfectly analogous. We arrive and we depart, guests
at a banquet continually spread, spectators and participants in an
entertainment where there is room for all who come; passengers from
station to station, on an orb that whirls through space—our rights to
take and possess cannot be exclusive; they must be bounded everywhere
by the equal rights of others. Just as the passenger in a railroad car
may spread himself and his baggage over as many seats as he pleases,
until other passengers come in, so may a settler take and use as much
land as he chooses, until it is needed by others—a fact which is shown
by the land acquiring a value—when his right must be curtailed by the
equal rights of the others, and no priority of appropriation can give
a right which will bar these equal rights of others. If this were not
the case, then by priority of appropriation one man could acquire and
could transmit to whom he pleased, not merely the exclusive right to
160 acres, or to 640 acres, but to a whole township, a whole State, a
whole continent.

And to this manifest absurdity does the recognition of individual right
to land come when carried to its ultimate—that any one human being,
could he concentrate in himself the individual rights to the land of
any country, could expel therefrom all the rest of its inhabitants; and
could he thus concentrate the individual rights to the whole surface of
the globe, he alone of all the teeming population of the earth would
have the right to live.

And what upon this supposition would occur is, upon a smaller scale,
realized in actual fact. The territorial lords of Great Britain, to
whom grants of land have given the “white parasols and elephants mad
with pride,” have over and over again expelled from large districts
the native population, whose ancestors had lived on the land from
immemorial times—driven them off to emigrate, to become paupers, or
to starve. And on uncultivated tracts of land in the new State of
California may be seen the blackened chimneys of homes from which
settlers have been driven by force of laws which ignore natural right,
and great stretches of land which might be populous are desolate,
because the recognition of exclusive ownership has put it in the
power of one human creature to forbid his fellows from using it. The
comparative handful of proprietors who own the surface of the British
Islands would be doing only what English law gives them full power
to do, and what many of them have done on a smaller scale already,
were they to exclude the millions of British people from their native
islands. And such an exclusion, by which a few hundred thousand should
at will banish thirty million people from their native country, while
it would be more striking, would not be a whit more repugnant to
natural right than the spectacle now presented, of the vast body of the
British people being compelled to pay such enormous sums to a few of
their number for the privilege of being permitted to live upon and use
the land which they so fondly call their own; which is endeared to them
by memories so tender and so glorious, and for which they are held in
duty bound, if need be, to spill their blood and lay down their lives.

I refer only to the British Islands, because, land ownership being
more concentrated there, they afford a more striking illustration of
what private property in land necessarily involves. “To whomsoever the
soil at any time belongs, to him belong the fruits of it,” is a truth
that becomes more and more apparent as population becomes denser and
invention and improvement add to productive power; but it is everywhere
a truth—as much in our new States as in the British Islands or by the
banks of the Indus.


[46] In saying that private property in land can, in the ultimate
analysis, be justified only on the theory that some men have a better
right to existence than others, I am stating only what the advocates
of the existing system have themselves perceived. What gave to Malthus
his popularity among the ruling classes—what caused his illogical book
to be received as a new revelation, induced sovereigns to send him
decorations, and the meanest rich man in England to propose to give him
a living, was the fact that he furnished a plausible reason for the
assumption that some have a better right to existence than others—an
assumption which is necessary for the justification of private property
in land, and which Malthus clearly states in the declaration that the
tendency of population is constantly to bring into the world human
beings for whom nature refuses to provide, and who consequently “have
not the slightest right to any share in the existing store of the
necessaries of life;” whom she tells as interlopers to begone, “and
does not hesitate to extort by force obedience to her mandates,”
employing for that purpose “hunger and pestilence, war and crime,
mortality and neglect of infantine life, prostitution and syphilis.”
And to-day this Malthusian doctrine is the ultimate defense upon which
those who justify private property in land fall back. In no other way
can it be logically defended.

[47] This natural and inalienable right to the equal use and enjoyment
of land is so apparent that it has been recognized by men wherever
force or habit has not blunted first perceptions. To give but one
instance: The white settlers of New Zealand found themselves unable
to get from the Maoris what the latter considered a complete title
to land, because, although a whole tribe might have consented to a
sale, they would still claim with every new child born among them an
additional payment on the ground that they had parted with only their
own rights, and could not sell those of the unborn. The government was
obliged to step in and settle the matter by buying land for a tribal
annuity, in which every child that is born acquires a share.



If chattel slavery be unjust, then is private property in land unjust.

For let the circumstances be what they may—the ownership of land will
always give the ownership of men, to a degree measured by the necessity
(real or artificial) for the use of land. This is but a statement in
different form of the law of rent.

And when that necessity is absolute—when starvation is the alternative
to the use of land, then does the ownership of men involved in the
ownership of land become absolute.

Place one hundred men on an island from which there is no escape, and
whether you make one of these men the absolute owner of the other
ninety-nine, or the absolute owner of the soil of the island, will make
no difference either to him or to them.

In the one case, as the other, the one will be the absolute master of
the ninety-nine—his power extending even to life and death, for simply
to refuse them permission to live upon the island would be to force
them into the sea.

Upon a larger scale, and through more complex relations, the same cause
must operate in the same way and to the same end—the ultimate result,
the enslavement of laborers, becoming apparent just as the pressure
increases which compels them to live on and from land which is treated
as the exclusive property of others. Take a country in which the soil
is divided among a number of proprietors, instead of being in the
hands of one, and in which, as in modern production, the capitalist has
been specialized from the laborer, and manufactures and exchange, in
all their many branches, have been separated from agriculture. Though
less direct and obvious, the relations between the owners of the soil
and the laborers will, with increase of population and the improvement
of the arts, tend to the same absolute mastery on the one hand and the
same abject helplessness on the other, as in the case of the island
we have supposed. Rent will advance, while wages will fall. Of the
aggregate produce, the land owner will get a constantly increasing, the
laborer a constantly diminishing share. Just as removal to cheaper land
becomes difficult or impossible, laborers, no matter what they produce,
will be reduced to a bare living, and the free competition among them,
where land is monopolized, will force them to a condition which, though
they may be mocked with the titles and insignia of freedom, will be
virtually that of slavery.

There is nothing strange in the fact that, in spite of the enormous
increase in productive power which this century has witnessed, and
which is still going on, the wages of labor in the lower and wider
strata of industry should everywhere tend to the wages of slavery—just
enough to keep the laborer in working condition. For the ownership
of the land on which and from which a man must live is virtually the
ownership of the man himself, and in acknowledging the right of some
individuals to the exclusive use and enjoyment of the earth, we condemn
other individuals to slavery as fully and as completely as though we
had formally made them chattels.

In a simpler form of society, where production chiefly consists in
the direct application of labor to the soil, the slavery that is the
necessary result of according to some the exclusive right to the soil
from which all must live, is plainly seen in helotism, in villeinage,
in serfdom.

Chattel slavery originated in the capture of prisoners in war, and,
though it has existed to some extent in every part of the globe, its
area has been small, its effects trivial, as compared with the forms of
slavery which have originated in the appropriation of land. No people
as a mass have ever been reduced to chattel slavery to men of their own
race, nor yet on any large scale has any people ever been reduced to
slavery of this kind by conquest. The general subjection of the many
to the few, which we meet with wherever society has reached a certain
development, has resulted from the appropriation of land as individual
property. It is the ownership of the soil that everywhere gives the
ownership of the men that live upon it. It is slavery of this kind
to which the enduring pyramids and the colossal monuments of Egypt
yet bear witness, and of the institution of which we have, perhaps, a
vague tradition in the biblical story of the famine during which the
Pharaoh purchased up the lands of the people. It was slavery of this
kind to which, in the twilight of history, the conquerors of Greece
reduced the original inhabitants of that peninsula, transforming them
into helots by making them pay rent for their lands. It was the growth
of the _latifundia_, or great landed estates, which transmuted the
population of ancient Italy, from a race of hardy husbandmen, whose
robust virtues conquered the world, into a race of cringing bondsmen;
it was the appropriation of the land as the absolute property of their
chieftains which gradually turned the descendants of free and equal
Gallic, Teutonic and Hunnish warriors into colonii and villains, and
which changed the independent burghers of Sclavonic village communities
into the boors of Russia and the serfs of Poland; which instituted the
feudalism of China and Japan, as well as that of Europe, and which made
the High Chiefs of Polynesia the all but absolute masters of their
fellows. How it came to pass that the Aryan shepherds and warriors
who, as comparative philology tells us, descended from the common
birthplace of the Indo-Germanic race into the lowlands of India, were
turned into the suppliant and cringing Hindoo, the Sanscrit verse
which I have before quoted gives us a hint. The white parasols and the
elephants mad with pride of the Indian Rajah are the flowers of grants
of land. And could we find the key to the records of the long-buried
civilizations that lie entombed in the gigantic ruins of Yucatan and
Guatemala, telling at once of the pride of a ruling class and the
unrequited toil to which the masses were condemned, we should read,
in all human probability, of a slavery imposed upon the great body of
the people through the appropriation of the land as the property of
a few—of another illustration of the universal truth that they who
possess the land are masters of the men who dwell upon it.

The necessary relation between labor and land, the absolute power which
the ownership of land gives over men who cannot live but by using it,
explains what is otherwise inexplicable—the growth and persistence of
institutions, manners, and ideas so utterly repugnant to the natural
sense of liberty and equality.

When the idea of individual ownership, which so justly and naturally
attaches to things of human production, is extended to land, all the
rest is a mere matter of development. The strongest and most cunning
easily acquire a superior share in this species of property, which is
to be had, not by production, but by appropriation, and in becoming
lords of the land they become necessarily lords of their fellow-men.
The ownership of land is the basis of aristocracy. It was not nobility
that gave land, but the possession of land that gave nobility. All the
enormous privileges of the nobility of medieval Europe flowed from
their position as the owners of the soil. The simple principle of the
ownership of the soil produced, on the one side, the lord, on the
other, the vassal—the one having all rights, the other none. The right
of the lord to the soil acknowledged and maintained, those who lived
upon it could do so only upon his terms. The manners and conditions of
the times made those terms include services and servitudes, as well as
rents in produce or money, but the essential thing that compelled them
was the ownership of land. This power exists wherever the ownership
of land exists, and can be brought out wherever the competition for
the use of land is great enough to enable the landlord to make his
own terms. The English land owner of to-day has, in the law which
recognizes his exclusive right to the land, essentially all the power
which his predecessor the feudal baron had. He might command rent in
services or servitudes. He might compel his tenants to dress themselves
in a particular way, to profess a particular religion, to send their
children to a particular school, to submit their differences to his
decision, to fall upon their knees when he spoke to them, to follow him
around dressed in his livery, or to sacrifice to him female honor, if
they would prefer these things to being driven off his land. He could
demand, in short, any terms on which men would still consent to live
on his land, and the law could not prevent him so long as it did not
qualify his ownership, for compliance with them would assume the form
of a free contract or voluntary act. And English landlords do exercise
such of these powers as in the manners of the times they care to.
Having shaken off the obligation of providing for the defense of the
country, they no longer need the military service of their tenants, and
the possession of wealth and power being now shown in other ways than
by long trains of attendants, they no longer care for personal service.
But they habitually control the votes of their tenants, and dictate to
them in many little ways. That “right reverend father in God,” Bishop
Lord Plunkett, evicted a number of his poor Irish tenants because they
would not send their children to Protestant Sunday-schools; and to
that Earl of Leitrim for whom Nemesis tarried so long before she sped
the bullet of an assassin, even darker crimes are imputed; while, at
the cold promptings of greed, cottage after cottage has been pulled
down and family after family forced into the roads. The principle that
permits this is the same principle that in ruder times and a simpler
social state enthralled the great masses of the common people and
placed such a wide gulf between noble and peasant. Where the peasant
was made a serf, it was simply by forbidding him to leave the estate
on which he was born, thus artificially producing the condition we
supposed on the island. In sparsely settled countries this is necessary
to produce absolute slavery, but where land is fully occupied,
competition may produce substantially the same conditions. Between the
condition of the rack-rented Irish peasant and the Russian serf, the
advantage was in many things on the side of the serf. The serf did not

Now, as I think I have conclusively proved, it is the same cause which
has in every age degraded and enslaved the laboring masses that is
working in the civilized world to-day. Personal liberty—that is to say,
the liberty to move about—is everywhere conceded, while of political
and legal inequality there are in the United States no vestiges,
and in the most backward civilized countries but few. But the great
cause of inequality remains, and is manifesting itself in the unequal
distribution of wealth. The essence of slavery is that it takes from
the laborer all he produces save enough to support an animal existence,
and to this minimum the wages of free labor, under existing conditions,
unmistakably tend. Whatever be the increase of productive power, rent
steadily tends to swallow up the gain, and more than the gain.

Thus the condition of the masses in every civilized country is, or
is tending to become, that of virtual slavery under the forms of
freedom. And it is probable that of all kinds of slavery this is the
most cruel and relentless. For the laborer is robbed of the produce
of his labor and compelled to toil for a mere subsistence; but his
taskmasters, instead of human beings, assume the form of imperious
necessities. Those to whom his labor is rendered and from whom his
wages are received are often driven in their turn—contact between the
laborers and the ultimate beneficiaries of their labor is sundered,
and individuality is lost. The direct responsibility of master to
slave, a responsibility which exercises a softening influence upon
the great majority of men, does not arise; it is not one human being
who seems to drive another to unremitting and ill-requited toil,
but “the inevitable laws of supply and demand,” for which no one in
particular is responsible. The maxims of Cato the Censor—maxims which
were regarded with abhorrence even in an age of cruelty and universal
slave-holding—that after as much work as possible is obtained from a
slave he should be turned out to die, become the common rule; and even
the selfish interest which prompts the master to look after the comfort
and well-being of the slave is lost. Labor has become a commodity, and
the laborer a machine. There are no masters and slaves, no owners and
owned, but only buyers and sellers. The higgling of the market takes
the place of every other sentiment.

When the slaveholders of the South looked upon the condition of the
free laboring poor in the most advanced civilized countries, it is no
wonder that they easily persuaded themselves of the divine institution
of slavery. That the field hands of the South were as a class better
fed, better lodged, better clothed; that they had less anxiety and
more of the amusements and enjoyments of life than the agricultural
laborers of England there can be no doubt; and even in the Northern
cities, visiting slaveholders might see and hear of things impossible
under what they called their organization of labor. In the Southern
States, during the days of slavery, the master who would have compelled
his negroes to work and live as large classes of free white men and
women are compelled in free countries to work and live, would have
been deemed infamous, and if public opinion had not restrained him,
his own selfish interest in the maintenance of the health and strength
of his chattels would. But in London, New York, and Boston, among
people who have given, and would give again, money and blood to free
the slave, where no one could abuse a beast in public without arrest
and punishment, barefooted and ragged children may be seen running
around the streets even in the winter time, and in squalid garrets and
noisome cellars women work away their lives for wages that fail to
keep them in proper warmth and nourishment. Is it any wonder that to
the slaveholders of the South the demand for the abolition of slavery
seemed like the cant of hypocrisy?

And now that slavery has been abolished, the planters of the South
find they have sustained no loss. Their ownership of the land upon
which the freedmen must live gives them practically as much command of
labor as before, while they are relieved of responsibility, sometimes
very expensive. The negroes as yet have the alternative of emigrating,
and a great movement of that kind seems now about commencing, but as
population increases and land becomes dear, the planters will get a
greater proportionate share of the earnings of their laborers than
they did under the system of chattel slavery, and the laborers a less
share—for under the system of chattel slavery the slaves always got
at least enough to keep them in good physical health, but in such
countries as England there are large classes of laborers who do not get

The influences which, wherever there is personal relation between
master and slave, slip in to modify chattel slavery, and to prevent the
master from exerting to its fullest extent his power over the slave,
also showed themselves in the ruder forms of serfdom that characterized
the earlier periods of European development, and aided by religion,
and, perhaps, as in chattel slavery, by the more enlightened but still
selfish interests of the lord, and hardening into custom, universally
fixed a limit to what the owner of the land could extort from the serf
or peasant, so that the competition of men without means of existence
bidding against each other for access to the means of existence, was
nowhere suffered to go to its full length and exert its full power of
deprivation and degradation. The helots of Greece, the métayers of
Italy, the serfs of Russia and Poland, the peasants of feudal Europe,
rendered to their landlords a fixed proportion either of their produce
or their labor, and were not generally squeezed past that point. But
the influences which thus stepped in to modify the extortive power of
land ownership, and which may still be seen on English estates where
the landlord and his family deem it their duty to send medicines and
comforts to the sick and infirm, and to look after the well-being of
their cottagers, just as the Southern planter was accustomed to look
after his negroes, are lost in the more refined and less obvious form
which serfdom assumes in the more complicated processes of modern
production, which separates so widely and by so many intermediate
gradations the individual whose labor is appropriated from him who
appropriates it, and makes the relations between the members of the
two classes not direct and particular, but indirect and general. In
modern society, competition has free play to force from the laborer the
very utmost he can give, and with what terrific force it is acting may
be seen in the condition of the lowest class in the centers of wealth
and industry. That the condition of this lowest class is not yet more
general, is to be attributed to the great extent of fertile land which
has hitherto been open on this continent, and which has not merely
afforded an escape for the increasing population of the older sections
of the Union, but has greatly relieved the pressure in Europe—in one
country, Ireland, the emigration having been so great as actually to
reduce the population. This avenue of relief cannot last forever. It
is already fast closing up, and as it closes, the pressure must become
harder and harder.

It is not without reason that the wise crow in the Ramayana, the crow
Bushanda, “who has lived in every part of the universe and knows all
events from the beginnings of time,” declares that, though contempt of
worldly advantages is necessary to supreme felicity, yet the keenest
pain possible is inflicted by extreme poverty. The poverty to which in
advancing civilization great masses of men are condemned, is not the
freedom from distraction and temptation which sages have sought and
philosophers have praised; it is a degrading and embruting slavery,
that cramps the higher nature, dulls the finer feelings, and drives
men by its pain to acts which the brutes would refuse. It is into
this helpless, hopeless poverty, that crushes manhood and destroys
womanhood, that robs even childhood of its innocence and joy, that the
working classes are being driven by a force which acts upon them like a
resistless and unpitying machine. The Boston collar manufacturer who
pays his girls two cents an hour may commiserate their condition, but
he, as they, is governed by the law of competition, and cannot pay more
and carry on his business, for exchange is not governed by sentiment.
And so, through all intermediate gradations, up to those who receive
the earnings of labor without return, in the rent of land, it is the
inexorable laws of supply and demand, a power with which the individual
can no more quarrel or dispute than with the winds and the tides, that
seem to press down the lower classes into the slavery of want.

But in reality, the cause is that which always has and always must
result in slavery—the monopolization by some of what nature has
designed for all.

Our boasted freedom necessarily involves slavery, so long as we
recognize private property in land. Until that is abolished,
Declarations of Independence and Acts of Emancipation are in vain. So
long as one man can claim the exclusive ownership of the land from
which other men must live, slavery will exist, and as material progress
goes on, must grow and deepen!

This—and in previous chapters of this book we have traced the process,
step by step—is what is going on in the civilized world to-day. Private
ownership of land is the nether millstone. Material progress is the
upper millstone. Between them, with an increasing pressure, the working
classes are being ground.


[48] One of the anti-slavery agitators (Col. J. A. Collins) on a visit
to England addressed a large audience in a Scotch manufacturing town,
and wound up as he had been used to in the United States, by giving the
ration which in the slave codes of some of the States fixed the minimum
of maintenance for a slave. He quickly discovered that to many of his
hearers it was an anti-climax.



The truth is, and from this truth there can be no escape, that there is
and can be no just title to an exclusive possession of the soil, and
that private property in land is a bold, bare, enormous wrong, like
that of chattel slavery.

The majority of men in civilized communities do not recognize this,
simply because the majority of men do not think. With them whatever is,
is right, until its wrongfulness has been frequently pointed out, and
in general they are ready to crucify whoever first attempts this.

But it is impossible for any one to study political economy, even as at
present taught, or to think at all upon the production and distribution
of wealth, without seeing that property in land differs essentially
from property in things of human production, and that it has no warrant
in abstract justice.

This is admitted, either expressly or tacitly, in every standard work
on political economy, but in general merely by vague admission or
omission. Attention is in general called away from the truth, as a
lecturer on moral philosophy in a slave-holding community might call
away attention from too close a consideration of the natural rights of
men, and private property in land is accepted without comment, as an
existing fact, or is assumed to be necessary to the proper use of land
and the existence of the civilized state.

The examination through which we have passed has proved conclusively
that private property in land cannot be justified on the ground of
utility—that, on the contrary, it is the great cause to which are to
be traced the poverty, misery, and degradation, the social disease
and the political weakness which are showing themselves so menacingly
amid advancing civilization. Expediency, therefore, joins justice in
demanding that we abolish it.

When expediency thus joins justice in demanding that we abolish an
institution that has no broader base or stronger ground than a mere
municipal regulation, what reason can there be for hesitation?

The consideration that seems to cause hesitation, even on the part of
those who see clearly that land by right is common property, is the
idea that having permitted land to be treated as private property for
so long, we should in abolishing it be doing a wrong to those who have
been suffered to base their calculations upon its permanence; that
having permitted land to be held as rightful property, we should by
the resumption of common rights be doing injustice to those who have
purchased it with what was unquestionably their rightful property.
Thus, it is held that if we abolish private property in land, justice
requires that we should fully compensate those who now possess it, as
the British Government, in abolishing the purchase and sale of military
commissions, felt itself bound to compensate those who held commissions
which they had purchased in the belief that they could sell them again,
or as in abolishing slavery in the British West Indies $100,000,000 was
paid the slaveholders.

Even Herbert Spencer, who in his “Social Statics” has so clearly
demonstrated the invalidity of every title by which the exclusive
possession of land is claimed, gives countenance to this idea (though
it seems to me inconsistently) by declaring that justly to estimate
and liquidate the claims of the present landholders “who have either
by their own acts or by the acts of their ancestors given for their
estates equivalents of honestly-earned wealth,” to be “one of the most
intricate problems society will one day have to solve.”

It is this idea that suggests the proposition, which finds advocates
in Great Britain, that the government shall purchase at its market
price the individual proprietorship of the land of the country, and it
was this idea which led John Stuart Mill, although clearly perceiving
the essential injustice of private property in land, to advocate,
not a full resumption of the land, but only a resumption of accruing
advantages in the future. His plan was that a fair and even liberal
estimate should be made of the market value of all the land in the
kingdom, and that future additions to that value, not due to the
improvements of the proprietor, should be taken by the state.

To say nothing of the practical difficulties which such cumbrous plans
involve, in the extension of the functions of government which they
would require and the corruption they would beget, their inherent
and essential defect lies in the impossibility of bridging over by
any compromise the radical difference between wrong and right. Just
in proportion as the interests of the land holders are conserved,
just in that proportion must general interests and general rights be
disregarded, and if land holders are to lose nothing of their special
privileges, the people at large can gain nothing. To buy up individual
property rights would merely be to give the land holders in another
form a claim of the same kind and amount that their possession of
land now gives them; it would be to raise for them by taxation the
same proportion of the earnings of labor and capital that they are
now enabled to appropriate in rent. Their unjust advantage would be
preserved and the unjust disadvantage of the non-landholders would be
continued. To be sure there would be a gain to the people at large
when the advance of rents had made the amount which the land holders
would take under the present system greater than the interest upon the
purchase price of the land at present rates, but this would be only a
future gain, and in the meanwhile there would not only be no relief,
but the burden imposed upon labor and capital for the benefit of the
present land holders would be much increased. For one of the elements
in the present market value of land is the expectation of future
increase of value, and thus, to buy up the lands at market rates and
pay interest upon the purchase money would be to saddle producers not
only with the payment of actual rent, but with the payment in full
of speculative rent. Or to put it in another way: The land would be
purchased at prices calculated upon a lower than the ordinary rate of
interest (for the prospective increase in land values always makes the
market price of land much greater than would be the price of anything
else yielding the same present return), and interest upon the purchase
money would be paid at the ordinary rate. Thus, not only all that the
land yields them now would have to be paid the land owners, but a
considerably larger amount. It would be, virtually, the state taking a
perpetual lease from the present land holders at a considerable advance
in rent over what they now receive. For the present the state would
merely become the agent of the land holders in the collection of their
rents, and would have to pay over to them not only what they received,
but considerably more.

Mr. Mill’s plan for nationalizing the future “unearned increase in the
value of land,” by fixing the present market value of all lands and
appropriating to the state future increase in value, would not add to
the injustice of the present distribution of wealth, but it would not
remedy it. Further speculative advance of rent would cease, and in
the future the people at large would gain the difference between the
increase of rent and the amount at which that increase was estimated
in fixing the present value of land, in which, of course, prospective,
as well as present, value is an element. But it would leave, for all
the future, one class in possession of the enormous advantage over
others which they now have. All that can be said of this plan is, that
it might be better than nothing.

Such inefficient and impracticable schemes may do to talk about, where
any proposition more efficacious would not at present be entertained,
and their discussion is a hopeful sign, as it shows the entrance of the
thin end of the wedge of truth. Justice in men’s mouths is cringingly
humble when she first begins a protest against a time-honored wrong,
and we of the English-speaking nations still wear the collar of the
Saxon thrall, and have been educated to look upon the “vested rights”
of land owners with all the superstitious reverence that ancient
Egyptians looked upon the crocodile. But when the times are ripe for
them, ideas grow, even though insignificant in their first appearance.
One day, the Third Estate covered their heads when the king put on his
hat. A little while thereafter, and the head of a son of St. Louis
rolled from the scaffold. The anti-slavery movement in the United
States commenced with talk of compensating owners, but when four
millions of slaves were emancipated, the owners got no compensation,
nor did they clamor for any. And by the time the people of any such
country as England or the United States are sufficiently aroused to the
injustice and disadvantages of individual ownership of land to induce
them to attempt its nationalization, they will be sufficiently aroused
to nationalize it in a much more direct and easy way than by purchase.
They will not trouble themselves about compensating the proprietors of

Nor is it right that there should be any concern about the proprietors
of land. That such a man as John Stuart Mill should have attached so
much importance to the compensation of land owners as to have urged the
confiscation merely of the future increase in rent, is explainable only
by his acquiescence in the current doctrines that wages are drawn from
capital and that population constantly tends to press upon subsistence.
These blinded him as to the full effects of the private appropriation
of land. He saw that “the claim of the land holder is altogether
subordinate to the general policy of the state,” and that “when private
property in land is not expedient, it is unjust,”[49] but, entangled in
the toils of the Malthusian doctrine, he attributed, as he expressly
states in a paragraph I have previously quoted, the want and suffering
that he saw around him to “the niggardliness of nature, not to the
injustice of man,” and thus to him the nationalization of land seemed
comparatively a little thing, that could accomplish nothing toward the
eradication of pauperism and the abolition of want—ends that could
be reached only as men learned to repress a natural instinct. Great
as he was and pure as he was—warm heart and noble mind—he yet never
saw the true harmony of economic laws, nor realized how from this one
great fundamental wrong flow want and misery, and vice and shame.
Else he could never have written this sentence: “The land of Ireland,
the land of every country, belongs to the people of that country. The
individuals called land owners have no right in morality and justice to
anything but the rent, or compensation for its salable value.”

In the name of the Prophet—figs! If the land of any country belong to
the people of that country, what right, in morality and justice, have
the individuals called land owners to the rent? If the land belong to
the people, why in the name of morality and justice should the people
pay its salable value for their own?

Herbert Spencer says:[50] “_Had_ we to deal with the parties who
originally robbed the human race of its heritage, we might make short
work of the matter?” Why not make short work of the matter anyhow? For
this robbery is not like the robbery of a horse or a sum of money, that
ceases with the act. It is a fresh and continuous robbery, that goes
on every day and every hour. It is not from the produce of the past
that rent is drawn; it is from the produce of the present. It is a
toll levied upon labor constantly and continuously. Every blow of the
hammer, every stroke of the pick, every thrust of the shuttle, every
throb of the steam engine, pay it tribute. It levies upon the earnings
of the men who, deep under ground, risk their lives, and of those who
over white surges hang to reeling masts; it claims the just reward of
the capitalist and the fruits of the inventor’s patient effort; it
takes little children from play and from school, and compels them to
work before their bones are hard or their muscles are firm; it robs
the shivering of warmth; the hungry, of food; the sick, of medicine;
the anxious, of peace. It debases, and embrutes, and embitters. It
crowds families of eight and ten into a single squalid room; it herds
like swine agricultural gangs of boys and girls; it fills the gin
palace and groggery with those who have no comfort in their homes;
it makes lads who might be useful men candidates for prisons and
penitentiaries; it fills brothels with girls who might have known the
pure joy of motherhood; it sends greed and all evil passions prowling
through society as a hard winter drives the wolves to the abodes of
men; it darkens faith in the human soul, and across the reflection of
a just and merciful Creator draws the veil of a hard, and blind, and
cruel fate!

It is not merely a robbery in the past; it is a robbery in the
present—a robbery that deprives of their birthright the infants that
are now coming into the world! Why should we hesitate about making
short work of such a system? Because I was robbed yesterday, and the
day before, and the day before that, is it any reason that I should
suffer myself to be robbed to-day and to-morrow? any reason that I
should conclude that the robber has acquired a vested right to rob me?

If the land belong to the people, why continue to permit land owners
to take the rent, or compensate them in any manner for the loss of
rent? Consider what rent is. It does not arise spontaneously from land;
it is due to nothing that the land owners have done. It represents a
value created by the whole community. Let the land holders have, if
you please, all that the possession of the land would give them in the
absence of the rest of the community. But rent, the creation of the
whole community, necessarily belongs to the whole community.

Try the case of the land holders by the maxims of the common law by
which the rights of man and man are determined. The common law we
are told is the perfection of reason, and certainly the land owners
cannot complain of its decision, for it has been built up by and for
land owners. Now what does the law allow to the innocent possessor when
the land for which he paid his money is adjudged rightfully to belong
to another? Nothing at all. That he purchased in good faith gives him
no right or claim whatever. The law does not concern itself with the
“intricate question of compensation” to the innocent purchaser. The
law does not say, as John Stuart Mill says: “The land belongs to A,
therefore B who has thought himself the owner has no right to anything
but the rent, or compensation for its salable value.” For that would be
indeed like a famous fugitive slave case decision in which the Court
was said to have given the law to the North and the nigger to the
South. The law simply says: “The land belongs to A, let the Sheriff put
him in possession!” It gives the innocent purchaser of a wrongful title
no claim, it allows him no compensation. And not only this, it takes
from him all the improvements that he has in good faith made upon the
land. You may have paid a high price for land, making every exertion
to see that the title is good; you may have held it in undisturbed
possession for years without thought or hint of an adverse claimant;
made it fruitful by your toil or erected upon it a costly building of
greater value than the land itself, or a modest home in which you hope,
surrounded by the fig-trees you have planted and the vines you have
dressed, to pass your declining days; yet if Quirk, Gammon & Snap can
mouse out a technical flaw in your parchments or hunt up some forgotten
heir who never dreamed of his rights, not merely the land, but all
your improvements, may be taken away from you. And not merely that.
According to the common law, when you have surrendered the land and
given up your improvements, you may be called upon to account for the
profits you derived from the land during the time you had it.

Now if we apply to this case of The People _vs._ The Land Owners the
same maxims of justice that have been formulated by land owners into
law, and are applied every day in English and American courts to
disputes between man and man, we shall not only not think of giving
the land holders any compensation for the land, but shall take all the
improvements and whatever else they may have as well.

But I do not propose, and I do not suppose that any one else will
propose, to go so far. It is sufficient if the people resume the
ownership of the land. Let the land owners retain their improvements
and personal property in secure possession.

And in this measure of justice would be no oppression, no injury to any
class. The great cause of the present unequal distribution of wealth,
with the suffering, degradation, and waste that it entails, would be
swept away. Even land holders would share in the general gain. The gain
of even the large land holders would be a real one. The gain of the
small land holders would be enormous. For in welcoming Justice, men
welcome the handmaid of Love. Peace and Plenty follow in her train,
bringing their good gifts, not to some, but to all.

How true this is, we shall hereafter see.

If in this chapter I have spoken of justice and expediency as if
justice were one thing and expediency another, it has been merely to
meet the objections of those who so talk. In justice is the highest and
truest expediency.


[49] Principles of Political Economy, Book I, Chap. 3, Sec. 6.

[50] Social Statics, page 142. [It may be well to say in the new
reprint of this book (1897) that this and all other references to
Herbert Spencer’s “Social Statics” are from the edition of that book
published by D. Appleton & Co., New York, with his consent, from 1864
to 1892. At that time “Social Statics” was repudiated, and a new
edition under the name of “Social Statics, abridged and revised,” has
taken its place. From this, all that the first Social Statics had said
in denial of property in land has been eliminated, and it of course
contains nothing here referred to. Mr. Spencer has also been driven by
the persistent heckling of the English single tax men, who insisted
on asking him the questions suggested in the first Social Statics, to
bring out a small volume, entitled “Mr. Herbert Spencer on the Land
Question,” in which are reprinted in parallel columns Chapter IX of
Social Statics, with what he considers valid answers to himself as
given in “Justice,” 1891. This has also been reprinted by D. Appleton &
Co., and constitutes, I think, the very funniest answer to himself ever
made by a man who claimed to be a philosopher.



What more than anything else prevents the realization of the essential
injustice of private property in land and stands in the way of a candid
consideration of any proposition for abolishing it, is that mental
habit which makes anything that has long existed seem natural and

We are so used to the treatment of land as individual property, it is
so thoroughly recognized in our laws, manners, and customs, that the
vast majority of people never think of questioning it; but look upon
it as necessary to the use of land. They are unable to conceive, or at
least it does not enter their heads to conceive, of society as existing
or as possible without the reduction of land to private possession. The
first step to the cultivation or improvement of land seems to them to
get for it a particular owner, and a man’s land is looked on by them as
fully and as equitably his, to sell, to lease, to give, or to bequeath,
as his house, his cattle, his goods, or his furniture. The “sacredness
of property” has been preached so constantly and effectively,
especially by those “conservators of ancient barbarism,” as Voltaire
styled the lawyers, that most people look upon the private ownership of
land as the very foundation of civilization, and if the resumption of
land as common property is suggested, think of it at first blush either
as a chimerical vagary, which never has and never can be realized, or
as a proposition to overturn society from its base and bring about a
reversion to barbarism.

If it were true that land had always been treated as private property,
that would not prove the justice or necessity of continuing so to treat
it, any more than the universal existence of slavery, which might once
have been safely affirmed, would prove the justice or necessity of
making property of human flesh and blood.

Not long ago monarchy seemed all but universal, and not only the kings
but the majority of their subjects really believed that no country
could get along without a king. Yet, to say nothing of America, France
now gets along without a king; the Queen of England and Empress of
India has about as much to do with governing her realms as the wooden
figurehead of a ship has in determining its course, and the other
crowned heads of Europe sit, metaphorically speaking, upon barrels of

Something over a hundred years ago, Bishop Butler, author of the famous
Analogy, declared that “a constitution of civil government without any
religious establishment is a chimerical project of which there is no
example.” As for there being no example, he was right. No government at
that time existed, nor would it have been easy to name one that ever
had existed, without some sort of an established religion; yet in the
United States we have since proved by the practice of a century that it
is possible for a civil government to exist without a state church.

But while, were it true, that land had always and everywhere been
treated as private property would not prove that it should always be
so treated, this is _not_ true. On the contrary, the common right to
land has everywhere been primarily recognized, and private ownership
has nowhere grown up save as the result of usurpation. The primary and
persistent perceptions of mankind are that all have an equal right
to land, and the opinion that private property in land is necessary
to society is but an offspring of ignorance that cannot look beyond
its immediate surroundings—an idea of comparatively modern growth, as
artificial and as baseless as that of the right divine of kings.

The observations of travelers, the researches of the critical
historians who within a recent period have done so much to reconstruct
the forgotten records of the people, the investigations of such men
as Sir Henry Maine, Emile de Laveleye, Professor Nasse of Bonn, and
others, into the growth of institutions, prove that wherever human
society has formed, the common right of men to the use of the earth has
been recognized, and that nowhere has unrestricted individual ownership
been freely adopted. Historically, as ethically, private property in
land is robbery. It nowhere springs from contract; it can nowhere be
traced to perceptions of justice or expediency; it has everywhere had
its birth in war and conquest, and in the selfish use which the cunning
have made of superstition and law.

Wherever we can trace the early history of society, whether in Asia,
in Europe, in Africa, in America, or in Polynesia, land has been
considered, as the necessary relations which human life has to it would
lead to its consideration—as common property, in which the rights
of all who had admitted rights were equal. That is to say, that all
members of the community, all citizens, as we should say, had equal
rights to the use and enjoyment of the land of the community. This
recognition of the common right to land did not prevent the full
recognition of the particular and exclusive right in things which
are the result of labor, nor was it abandoned when the development
of agriculture had imposed the necessity of recognizing exclusive
possession of land in order to secure the exclusive enjoyment of the
results of the labor expended in cultivating it. The division of
land between the industrial units, whether families, joint families,
or individuals, went only as far as was necessary for that purpose,
pasture and forest lands being retained as common, and equality as to
agricultural land being secured, either by a periodical re-division, as
among the Teutonic races, or by the prohibition of alienation, as in
the law of Moses.

This primary adjustment still exists, in more or less intact form, in
the village communities of India, Russia, and the Sclavonic countries
yet, or until recently, subjected to Turkish rule; in the mountain
cantons of Switzerland; among the Kabyles in the north of Africa, and
the Kaffirs in the south; among the native population of Java, and
the aborigines of New Zealand—that is to say, wherever extraneous
influences have left intact the form of primitive social organization.
That it everywhere existed has been within late years abundantly proved
by the researches of many independent students and observers, and which
are, to my knowledge, best summarized in the “Systems of Land Tenures
in Various Countries,” published under authority of the Cobden Club,
and in M. Emile de Laveleye’s “Primitive Property,” to which I would
refer the reader who desires to see this truth displayed in detail.

“In all primitive societies,” says M. de Laveleye, as the result of
an investigation which leaves no part of the world unexplored—“in all
primitive societies, the soil was the joint property of the tribes and
was subject to periodical distribution among all the families, so that
all might live by their labor as nature has ordained. The comfort of
each was thus proportioned to his energy and intelligence; no one, at
any rate, was destitute of the means of subsistence, and inequality
increasing from generation to generation was provided against.”

If M. de Laveleye be right in this conclusion, and that he is right
there can be no doubt, how, it will be asked, has the reduction of land
to private ownership become so general?

The causes which have operated to supplant this original idea of the
equal right to the use of land by the idea of exclusive and unequal
rights may, I think, be everywhere vaguely but certainly traced. They
are everywhere the same which have led to the denial of equal personal
rights and to the establishment of privileged classes.

These causes may be summarized as the concentration of power in the
hands of chieftains and the military class, consequent on a state of
warfare, which enabled them to monopolize common lands; the effect of
conquest, in reducing the conquered to a state of predial slavery, and
dividing their lands among the conquerors, and in disproportionate
share to the chiefs; the differentiation and influence of a sacerdotal
class, and the differentiation and influence of a class of professional
lawyers, whose interests were served by the substitution of exclusive,
in place of common, property in land[51]—inequality once produced
always tending to greater inequality, by the law of attraction.

It was the struggle between this idea of equal rights to the soil and
the tendency to monopolize it in individual possession, that caused
the internal conflicts of Greece and Rome; it was the check given to
this tendency—in Greece by such institutions as those of Lycurgus and
Solon, and in Rome by the Licinian Law and subsequent divisions of
land—that gave to each their days of strength and glory; and it was
the final triumph of this tendency that destroyed both. Great estates
ruined Greece, as afterward “great estates ruined Italy,”[52] and as
the soil, in spite of the warnings of great legislators and statesmen,
passed finally into the possession of a few, population declined, art
sank, the intellect became emasculate, and the race in which humanity
had attained its most splendid development became a by-word and
reproach among men.

The idea of absolute individual property in land, which modern
civilization derived from Rome, reached its full development there in
historic times. When the future mistress of the world first looms up,
each citizen had his little homestead plot, which was inalienable,
and the general domain—“the corn-land which was of public right”—was
subject to common use, doubtless under regulations or customs which
secured equality, as in the Teutonic mark and Swiss allmend. It was
from this public domain constantly extended by conquest, that the
patrician families succeeded in carving their great estates. These
great estates by the power with which the great attracts the less, in
spite of temporary checks by legal limitation and recurring divisions,
finally crushed out all the small proprietors, adding their little
patrimonies to the _latifundia_ of the enormously rich, while they
themselves were forced into the slave gangs, became rent-paying
colonii, or else were driven into the freshly conquered foreign
provinces, where land was given to the veterans of the legions; or to
the metropolis, to swell the ranks of the proletariat who had nothing
to sell but their votes.

Cæsarism, soon passing into an unbridled despotism of the Eastern
type, was the inevitable political result, and the empire, even while
it embraced the world, became in reality a shell, kept from collapse
only by the healthier life of the frontiers, where the land had
been divided among military settlers or the primitive usages longer
survived. But the _latifundia_, which had devoured the strength of
Italy, crept steadily outward, carving the surface of Sicily, Africa,
Spain, and Gaul into great estates cultivated by slaves or tenants.
The hardy virtues born of personal independence died out, an exhaustive
agriculture impoverished the soil, and wild beasts supplanted men,
until at length, with a strength nurtured in equality, the barbarians
broke through; Rome perished; and of a civilization once so proud
nothing was left but ruins.

Thus came to pass that marvelous thing, which at the time of Rome’s
grandeur would have seemed as impossible as it seems now to us that
the Comanches or Flatheads should conquer the United States, or the
Laplanders should desolate Europe. The fundamental cause is to be
sought in the tenure of land. On the one hand, the denial of the common
right to land had resulted in decay; on the other, equality gave

“Freedom,” says M. de Laveleye (“Primitive Property,” p. 116),
“freedom, and, as a consequence, the ownership of an undivided share
of the common property, to which the head of every family in the clan
was equally entitled, were in the German village essential rights.
This system of absolute equality impressed a remarkable character on
the individual, which explains how small bands of barbarians made
themselves masters of the Roman Empire, in spite of its skillful
administration, its perfect centralization and its civil law, which has
preserved the name of written reason.”

It was, on the other hand, that the heart was eaten out of that great
empire. “Rome perished,” says Professor Seeley, “from the failure of
the crop of men.”

In his lectures on the “History of Civilization in Europe,” and more
elaborately in his lectures on the “History of Civilization in France,”
M. Guizot has vividly described the chaos that in Europe succeeded
the fall of the Roman Empire—a chaos which, as he says, “carried all
things in its bosom,” and from which the structure of modern society
was slowly evolved. It is a picture which cannot be compressed into a
few lines, but suffice it to say that the result of this infusion of
rude but vigorous life into Romanized society was a disorganization
of the German, as well as the Roman structure—both a blending and an
admixture of the idea of common rights in the soil with the idea of
exclusive property, substantially as occurred in those provinces of the
Eastern Empire subsequently overrun by the Turks. The feudal system,
which was so readily adopted and so widely spread, was the result of
such a blending; but underneath, and side by side with the feudal
system, a more primitive organization, based on the common rights of
the cultivators, took root or revived, and has left its traces all
over Europe. This primitive organization, which allots equal shares of
cultivated ground and the common use of uncultivated ground, and which
existed in Ancient Italy as in Saxon England, has maintained itself
beneath absolutism and serfdom in Russia, beneath Moslem oppression in
Servia, and in India has been swept, but not entirely destroyed, by
wave after wave of conquest, and century after century of oppression.

The feudal system, which is not peculiar to Europe, but seems to be the
natural result of the conquest of a settled country by a race among
whom equality and individuality are yet strong, clearly recognized, in
theory at least, that the land belongs to society at large, not to the
individual. Rude outcome of an age in which might stood for right as
nearly as it ever can (for the idea of right is ineradicable from the
human mind, and must in some shape show itself even in the association
of pirates and robbers), the feudal system yet admitted in no one
the uncontrolled and exclusive right to land. A fief was essentially
a trust, and to enjoyment was annexed obligation. The sovereign,
theoretically the representative of the collective power and rights of
the whole people, was in feudal view the only absolute owner of land.
And though land was granted to individual possession, yet in its
possession were involved duties, by which the enjoyer of its revenues
was supposed to render back to the commonwealth an equivalent for the
benefits which from the delegation of the common right he received.

In the feudal scheme the crown lands supported public expenditures
which are now included in the civil list; the church lands defrayed the
cost of public worship and instruction, of the care of the sick and of
the destitute, and maintained a class of men who were supposed to be,
and no doubt to a great extent were, devoting their lives to purposes
of public good; while the military tenures provided for the public
defense. In the obligation under which the military tenant lay to bring
into the field such and such a force when need should be, as well as in
the aid he had to give when the sovereign’s eldest son was knighted,
his daughter married, or the sovereign himself made prisoner of war,
was a rude and inefficient recognition, but still unquestionably a
recognition, of the fact, obvious to the natural perceptions of all
men, that land is not individual but common property.

Nor yet was the control of the possessor of land allowed to extend
beyond his own life. Although the principle of inheritance soon
displaced the principle of selection, as where power is concentrated it
always must, yet feudal law required that there should always be some
representative of a fief, capable of discharging the duties as well as
of receiving the benefits which were annexed to a landed estate, and
who this should be was not left to individual caprice, but rigorously
determined in advance. Hence wardship and other feudal incidents. The
system of primogeniture and its outgrowth, the entail, were in their
beginnings not the absurdities they afterward became.

The basis of the feudal system was the absolute ownership of the
land, an idea which the barbarians readily acquired in the midst
of a conquered population to whom it was familiar; but over this,
feudalism threw a superior right, and the process of infeudation
consisted of bringing individual dominion into subordination to the
superior dominion, which represented the larger community or nation.
Its units were the land owners, who by virtue of their ownership were
absolute lords on their own domains, and who there performed the office
of protection which M. Taine has so graphically described, though
perhaps with too strong a coloring, in the opening chapter of his
“Ancient Régime.” The work of the feudal system was to bind together
these units into nations, and to subordinate the powers and rights of
the individual lords of land to the powers and rights of collective
society, as represented by the suzerain or king.

Thus the feudal system, in its rise and development, was a triumph of
the idea of the common right to land, changing an absolute tenure into
a conditional tenure, and imposing peculiar obligations in return for
the privilege of receiving rent. And during the same time, the power
of land ownership was trenched, as it were, from below, the tenancy
at will of the cultivators of the soil very generally hardening into
tenancy by custom, and the rent which the lord could exact from the
peasant becoming fixed and certain.

And amid the feudal system there remained, or there grew up,
communities of cultivators, more or less subject to feudal dues, who
tilled the soil as common property; and although the lords, where and
when they had the power, claimed pretty much all they thought worth
claiming, yet the idea of common right was strong enough to attach
itself by custom to a considerable part of the land. The commons, in
feudal ages, must have embraced a very large proportion of the area of
most European countries. For in France (although the appropriations of
these lands by the aristocracy, occasionally checked and rescinded by
royal edict, had gone on for some centuries prior to the Revolution,
and during the Revolution and First Empire large distributions and
sales were made), the common or communal lands still amount, according
to M. de Laveleye, to 4,000,000 hectares, or 9,884,400 acres. The
extent of the common land of England during the feudal ages may be
inferred from the fact that though inclosures by the landed aristocracy
began during the reign of Henry VII., it is stated that no less than
7,660,413 acres of common lands were inclosed under Acts passed between
1710 and 1843, of which 600,000 acres have been inclosed since 1845;
and it is estimated that there still remain 2,000,000 acres of common
in England, though of course the most worthless parts of the soil.

In addition to these common lands, there existed in France, until the
Revolution, and in parts of Spain, until our own day, a custom having
all the force of law, by which cultivated lands, after the harvest
had been gathered, became common for purposes of pasturage or travel,
until the time had come to use the ground again; and in some places a
custom by which any one had the right to go upon ground which its owner
neglected to cultivate, and there to sow and reap a crop in security.
And if he chose to use manure for the first crop, he acquired the right
to sow and gather a second crop without let or hindrance from the owner.

It is not merely the Swiss allmend, the Ditmarsh mark, the Servian
and Russian village communities; not merely the long ridges which
on English ground, now the exclusive property of individuals, still
enable the antiquarian to trace out the great fields in ancient time
devoted to the triennial rotation of crops, and in which each villager
was annually allotted his equal plot; not merely the documentary
evidence which careful students have within late years drawn from old
records; but the very institutions under which modern civilization has
developed, which prove the universality and long persistence of the
recognition of the common right to the use of the soil.

There still remain in our legal systems survivals that have lost their
meaning, that, like the still existing remains of the ancient commons
of England, point to this. The doctrine of eminent domain, existing as
well in Mohammedan law, which makes the sovereign theoretically the
only absolute owner of land, springs from nothing but the recognition
of the sovereign as the representative of the collective rights of the
people; primogeniture and entail, which still exist in England, and
which existed in some of the American States a hundred years ago, are
but distorted forms of what was once an outgrowth of the apprehension
of land as common property. The very distinction made in legal
terminology between real and personal property is but the survival of
a primitive distinction between what was originally looked upon as
common property and what from its nature was always considered the
peculiar property of the individual. And the greater care and ceremony
which are yet required for the transfer of land is but a survival, now
meaningless and useless, of the more general and ceremonious consent
once required for the transfer of rights which were looked upon, not as
belonging to any one member, but to every member of a family or tribe.

The general course of the development of modern civilization since the
feudal period has been to the subversion of these natural and primary
ideas of collective ownership in the soil. Paradoxical as it may
appear, the emergence of liberty from feudal bonds has been accompanied
by a tendency in the treatment of land to the form of ownership which
involves the enslavement of the working classes, and which is now
beginning to be strongly felt all over the civilized world, in the
pressure of an iron yoke, which cannot be relieved by any extension
of mere political power or personal liberty, and which political
economists mistake for the pressure of natural laws, and workmen for
the oppressions of capital.

This is clear—that in Great Britain to-day the right of the people
as a whole to the soil of their native country is much less fully
acknowledged than it was in feudal times. A much smaller proportion of
the people own the soil, and their ownership is much more absolute.
The commons, once so extensive and so largely contributing to the
independence and support of the lower classes, have, all but a small
remnant of yet worthless land, been appropriated to individual
ownership and inclosed; the great estates of the church, which were
essentially common property devoted to a public purpose, have been
diverted from that trust to enrich individuals; the dues of the
military tenants have been shaken off, and the cost of maintaining
the military establishment and paying the interest upon an immense
debt accumulated by wars has been saddled upon the whole people, in
taxes upon the necessaries and comforts of life. The crown lands have
mostly passed into private possession, and for the support of the royal
family and all the petty princelings who marry into it, the British
workman must pay in the price of his mug of beer and pipe of tobacco.
The English yeoman—the sturdy breed who won Crecy, and Poictiers, and
Agincourt—is as extinct as the mastodon. The Scottish clansman, whose
right to the soil of his native hills was then as undisputed as that of
his chieftain, has been driven out to make room for the sheep ranges
or deer parks of that chieftain’s descendant; the tribal right of the
Irishman has been turned into a tenancy-at-will. Thirty thousand men
have legal power to expel the whole population from five-sixths of the
British Islands, and the vast majority of the British people have no
right whatever to their native land save to walk the streets or trudge
the roads. To them may be fittingly applied the words of a Tribune
of the Roman People: “_Men of Rome_,” said Tiberius Gracchus—“_men
of Rome, you are called the lords of the world, yet have no right to
a square foot of its soil! The wild beasts have their dens, but the
soldiers of Italy have only water and air!_”

The result has, perhaps, been more marked in England than anywhere
else, but the tendency is observable everywhere, having gone further
in England owing to circumstances which have developed it with greater

The reason, I take it, that with the extension of the idea of personal
freedom has gone on an extension of the idea of private property in
land, is that as in the progress of civilization the grosser forms of
supremacy connected with land ownership were dropped, or abolished, or
became less obvious, attention was diverted from the more insidious,
but really more potential forms, and the land owners were easily
enabled to put property in land on the same basis as other property.

The growth of national power, either in the form of royalty or
parliamentary government, stripped the great lords of individual power
and importance, and of their jurisdiction and power over persons,
and so repressed striking abuses, as the growth of Roman Imperialism
repressed the more striking cruelties of slavery. The disintegration of
the large feudal estates, which, until the tendency to concentration
arising from the modern tendency to production upon a large scale is
strongly felt, operated to increase the number of land owners, and
the abolition of the restraints by which land owners when population
was sparser endeavored to compel laborers to remain on their estates
also contributed to draw away attention from the essential injustice
involved in private property in land; while the steady progress of
legal ideas drawn from the Roman law, which has been the great mine
and storehouse of modern jurisprudence, tended to level the natural
distinction between property in land and property in other things.
Thus, with the extension of personal liberty, went on an extension of
individual proprietorship in land.

The political power of the barons was, moreover, not broken by the
revolt of the classes who could clearly feel the injustice of land
ownership. Such revolts took place, again and again; but again and
again were they repressed with terrific cruelties. What broke the
power of the barons was the growth of the artisan and trading classes,
between whose wages and rent there is not the same obvious relation.
These classes, too, developed under a system of close guilds and
corporations, which, as I have previously explained in treating of
trade combinations and monopolies, enabled them somewhat to fence
themselves in from the operation of the general law of wages, and which
were much more easily maintained than now, when the effect of improved
methods of transportation, and the diffusion of rudimentary education
and of current news, is steadily making population more mobile. These
classes did not see, and do not yet see, that the tenure of land is
the fundamental fact which must ultimately determine the conditions of
industrial, social, and political life. And so the tendency has been to
assimilate the idea of property in land with that of property in things
of human production, and even steps backward have been taken, and been
hailed, as steps in advance. The French Constituent Assembly, in 1789,
thought it was sweeping away a relic of tyranny when it abolished
tithes and imposed the support of the clergy on general taxation.
The Abbé Sieyès stood alone when he told them that they were simply
remitting to the proprietors a tax which was one of the conditions on
which they held their lands, and reimposing it on the labor of the
nation. But in vain. The Abbé Sieyès, being a priest, was looked on as
defending the interests of his order, when in truth he was defending
the rights of man. In those tithes, the French people might have
retained a large public revenue which would not have taken one centime
from the wages of labor or the earnings of capital.

And so the abolition of the military tenures in England by the Long
Parliament, ratified after the accession of Charles II., though simply
an appropriation of public revenues by the feudal land holders, who
thus got rid of the consideration on which they held the common
property of the nation, and saddled it on the people at large, in the
taxation of all consumers, has long been characterized, and is still
held up in the law books, as a triumph of the spirit of freedom. Yet
here is the source of the immense debt and heavy taxation of England.
Had the form of these feudal dues been simply changed into one better
adapted to the changed times, English wars need never have occasioned
the incurring of debt to the amount of a single pound, and the labor
and capital of England need not have been taxed a single farthing for
the maintenance of a military establishment. All this would have come
from rent, which the land holders since that time have appropriated to
themselves—from the tax which land ownership levies on the earnings
of labor and capital. The land holders of England got their land on
terms which required them even in the sparse population of Norman days
to put in the field, upon call, sixty thousand perfectly equipped
horsemen,[53] and on the further condition of various fines and
incidents which amounted to a considerable part of the rent. It would
probably be a low estimate to put the pecuniary value of these various
services and dues at one-half the rental value of the land. Had the
land holders been kept to this contract and no land been permitted
to be inclosed except upon similar terms, the income accruing to the
nation from English land would to-day be greater by many millions
than the entire public revenues of the United Kingdom. England to-day
might have enjoyed absolute free trade. There need not have been a
customs duty, an excise, license, or income tax, yet all the present
expenditures could be met, and a large surplus remain to be devoted to
any purpose which would conduce to the comfort or well-being of the
whole people.

Turning back, wherever there is light to guide us, we may everywhere
see that in their first perceptions, all peoples have recognized the
common ownership in land, and that private property is an usurpation, a
creation of force and fraud.

As Madame de Stael said, “Liberty is ancient.” Justice, if we turn to
the most ancient records, will always be found to have the title of


[51] The influence of the lawyers has been very marked in Europe, both
on the continent and in Great Britain, in destroying all vestiges
of the ancient tenure, and substituting the idea of the Roman law,
exclusive ownership.

[52] Latifundia perdidere Italiam.—_Pliny._

[53] Andrew Bisset, in “The Strength of Nations,” London, 1859, a
suggestive work in which he calls the attention of the English people
to this measure by which the land owners avoided the payment of their
rent to the nation, disputes the statement of Blackstone that a
knight’s service was but for 40 days, and says it was during necessity.



In the earlier stages of civilization we see that land is everywhere
regarded as common property. And, turning from the dim past to our own
times, we may see that natural perceptions are still the same, and that
when placed under circumstances in which the influence of education and
habit is weakened, men instinctively recognize the equality of right to
the bounty of nature.

The discovery of gold in California brought together in a new country
men who had been used to look on land as the rightful subject of
individual property, and of whom probably not one in a thousand had
ever dreamed of drawing any distinction between property in land and
property in anything else. But, for the first time in the history of
the Anglo-Saxon race, these men were brought into contact with land
from which gold could be obtained by the simple operation of washing it

Had the land with which they were thus called upon to deal been
agricultural, or grazing, or forest land, of peculiar richness; had
it been land which derived peculiar value from its situation for
commercial purposes, or by reason of the water power which it afforded;
or even had it contained rich mines of coal, iron or lead, the land
system to which they had been used would have been applied, and it
would have been reduced to private ownership in large tracts, as even
the pueblo lands of San Francisco, really the most valuable in the
State, which by Spanish law had been set apart to furnish homes for
the future residents of that city, were reduced, without any protest
worth speaking of. But the novelty of the case broke through habitual
ideas, and threw men back upon first principles, and it was by common
consent declared that this gold-bearing land should remain common
property, of which no one might take more than he could reasonably use,
or hold for a longer time than he continued to use it. This perception
of natural justice was acquiesced in by the General Government and the
courts, and while placer mining remained of importance, no attempt was
made to overrule this reversion to primitive ideas. The title to the
land remained in the government, and no individual could acquire more
than a possessory claim. The miners in each district fixed the amount
of ground an individual could take and the amount of work that must
be done to constitute use. If this work were not done, any one could
re-locate the ground. Thus, no one was allowed to forestall or to lock
up natural resources. Labor was acknowledged as the creator of wealth,
was given a free field, and secured in its reward. The device would not
have assured complete equality of rights under the conditions that in
most countries prevail; but under the conditions that there and then
existed—a sparse population, an unexplored country, and an occupation
in its nature a lottery, it secured substantial justice. One man might
strike an enormously rich deposit, and others might vainly prospect
for months and years, but all had an equal chance. No one was allowed
to play the dog in the manger with the bounty of the Creator. The
essential idea of the mining regulations was to prevent forestalling
and monopoly. Upon the same principle are based the mining laws of
Mexico; and the same principle was adopted in Australia, in British
Columbia, and in the diamond fields of South Africa, for it accords
with natural perceptions of justice.

With the decadence of placer mining in California, the accustomed
idea of private property finally prevailed in the passage of a law
permitting the patenting of mineral lands. The only effect is to lock
up opportunities—to give the owner of mining ground the power of saying
that no one else may use what he does not choose to use himself. And
there are many cases in which mining ground is thus withheld from
use for speculative purposes, just as valuable building lots and
agricultural land are withheld from use. But while thus preventing
use, the extension to mineral land of the same principle of private
ownership which marks the tenure of other lands has done nothing for
the security of improvements. The greatest expenditures of capital in
opening and developing mines—expenditures that in some cases amounted
to millions of dollars—were made upon possessory titles.

Had the circumstances which beset the first English settlers in North
America been such as to call their attention _de novo_ to the question
of land ownership, there can be no doubt that they would have reverted
to first principles, just as they reverted to first principles in
matters of government; and individual land ownership would have been
rejected, just as aristocracy and monarchy were rejected. But while
in the country from which they came this system had not yet fully
developed itself, nor its effects been fully felt, the fact that in
the new country an immense continent invited settlement prevented any
question of the justice and policy of private property in land from
arising. For in a new country, equality seems sufficiently assured if
no one is permitted to take land to the exclusion of the rest. At first
no harm seems to be done by treating this land as absolute property.
There is plenty of land left for those who choose to take it, and the
slavery that in a later stage of development necessarily springs from
the individual ownership of land is not felt.

In Virginia and to the South, where the settlement had an aristocratic
character, the natural complement of the large estates into which the
land was carved was introduced in the shape of negro slaves. But the
first settlers of New England divided the land as, twelve centuries
before, their ancestors had divided the land of Britain, giving to each
head of a family his town lot and his seed lot, while beyond lay the
free common. So far as concerned the great proprietors whom the English
kings by letters patent endeavored to create, the settlers saw clearly
enough the injustice of the attempted monopoly, and none of these
proprietors got much from their grants; but the plentifulness of land
prevented attention from being called to the monopoly which individual
land ownership, even when the tracts are small, must involve when land
becomes scarce. And so it has come to pass that the great republic
of the modern world has adopted at the beginning of its career an
institution that ruined the republics of antiquity; that a people who
proclaim the inalienable rights of all men to life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness have accepted without question a principle which,
in denying the equal and inalienable right to the soil, finally denies
the equal right to life and liberty; that a people who at the cost of a
bloody war have abolished chattel slavery, yet permit slavery in a more
widespread and dangerous form to take root.

The continent has seemed so wide, the area over which population might
yet pour so vast, that familiarized by habit with the idea of private
property in land, we have not realized its essential injustice. For not
merely has this background of unsettled land prevented the full effect
of private appropriation from being felt, even in the older sections,
but to permit a man to take more land than he could use, that he might
compel those who afterwards needed it to pay him for the privilege of
using it, has not seemed so unjust when others in their turn might
do the same thing by going further on. And more than this, the very
fortunes that have resulted from the appropriation of land, and
that have thus really been drawn from taxes levied upon the wages of
labor, have seemed, and have been heralded, as prizes held out to the
laborer. In all the newer States, and even to a considerable extent in
the older ones, our landed aristocracy is yet in its first generation.
Those who have profited by the increase in the value of land have been
largely men who began life without a cent. Their great fortunes, many
of them running up high into the millions, seem to them, and to many
others, as the best proofs of the justice of existing social conditions
in rewarding prudence, foresight, industry, and thrift; whereas, the
truth is that these fortunes are but the gains of monopoly, and are
necessarily made at the expense of labor. But the fact that those thus
enriched started as laborers hides this, and the same feeling which
leads every ticket holder in a lottery to delight in imagination in the
magnitude of the prizes has prevented even the poor from quarreling
with a system which thus made many poor men rich.

In short, the American people have failed to see the essential
injustice of private property in land, because as yet they have not
felt its full effects. This public domain—the vast extent of land yet
to be reduced to private possession, the enormous common to which the
faces of the energetic were always turned, has been the great fact
that, since the days when the first settlements began to fringe the
Atlantic Coast, has formed our national character and colored our
national thought. It is not that we have eschewed a titled aristocracy
and abolished primogeniture; that we elect all our officers from school
director up to president; that our laws run in the name of the people,
instead of in the name of a prince; that the State knows no religion,
and our judges wear no wigs—that we have been exempted from the ills
that Fourth of July orators used to point to as characteristic of the
effete despotisms of the Old World. The general intelligence, the
general comfort, the active invention, the power of adaptation and
assimilation, the free, independent spirit, the energy and hopefulness
that have marked our people, are not causes, but results—they have
sprung from unfenced land. This public domain has been the transmuting
force which has turned the thriftless, unambitious European peasant
into the self-reliant Western farmer; it has given a consciousness
of freedom even to the dweller in crowded cities, and has been a
well-spring of hope even to those who have never thought of taking
refuge upon it. The child of the people, as he grows to manhood
in Europe, finds all the best seats at the banquet of life marked
“taken,” and must struggle with his fellows for the crumbs that fall,
without one chance in a thousand of forcing or sneaking his way to
a seat. In America, whatever his condition, there has always been
the consciousness that the public domain lay behind him; and the
knowledge of this fact, acting and reacting, has penetrated our whole
national life, giving to it generosity and independence, elasticity
and ambition. All that we are proud of in the American character; all
that makes our conditions and institutions better than those of older
countries, we may trace to the fact that land has been cheap in the
United States, because new soil has been open to the emigrant.

But our advance has reached the Pacific. Further west we cannot go, and
increasing population can but expand north and south and fill up what
has been passed over. North, it is already filling up the valley of
the Red River, pressing into that of the Saskatchewan and pre-empting
Washington Territory; south, it is covering Western Texas and taking up
the arable valleys of New Mexico and Arizona.

The republic has entered upon a new era, an era in which the monopoly
of the land will tell with accelerating effect. The great fact which
has been so potent is ceasing to be. The public domain is almost
gone—a very few years will end its influence, already rapidly failing.
I do not mean to say that there will be no public domain. For a long
time to come there will be millions of acres of public lands carried
on the books of the Land Department. But it must be remembered that
the best part of the continent for agricultural purposes is already
overrun, and that it is the poorest land that is left. It must be
remembered that what remains comprises the great mountain ranges, the
sterile deserts, the high plains fit only for grazing. And it must
be remembered that much of this land which figures in the reports as
open to settlement is unsurveyed land, which has been appropriated
by possessory claims or locations which do not appear until the land
is returned as surveyed. California figures on the books of the
Land Department as the greatest land State of the Union, containing
nearly 100,000,000 acres of public land—something like one-twelfth of
the whole public domain. Yet so much of this is covered by railroad
grants or held in the way of which I have spoken; so much consists of
untillable mountains or plains which require irrigation; so much is
monopolized by locations which command the water, that as a matter of
fact it is difficult to point the immigrant to any part of the State
where he can take up a farm on which he can settle and maintain a
family, and so men, weary of the quest, end by buying land or renting
it on shares. It is not that there is any real scarcity of land in
California—for, an empire in herself, California will some day maintain
a population as large as that of France—but appropriation has got ahead
of the settler and manages to keep just ahead of him.

Some twelve or fifteen years ago the late Ben Wade of Ohio said, in a
speech in the United States Senate, that by the close of this century
every acre of ordinary agricultural land in the United States would be
worth $50 in gold. It is already clear that if he erred at all, it
was in overstating the time. In the twenty-one years that remain of
the present century, if our population keep on increasing at the rate
which it has maintained since the institution of the government, with
the exception of the decade which included the civil war, there will
be an addition to our present population of something like forty-five
millions, an addition of some seven millions more than the total
population of the United States as shown by the census of 1870, and
nearly half as much again as the present population of Great Britain.
There is no question about the ability of the United States to support
such a population and many hundreds of millions more, and, under proper
social adjustments, to support them in increased comfort; but in view
of such an increase of population, what becomes of the unappropriated
public domain? Practically there will soon cease to be any. It will be
a very long time before it is all in use; but it will be a very short
time, as we are going, before all that men can turn to use will have an

But the evil effects of making the land of a whole people the exclusive
property of some do not wait for the final appropriation of the public
domain to show themselves. It is not necessary to contemplate them in
the future; we may see them in the present. They have grown with our
growth, and are still increasing.

We plow new fields, we open new mines, we found new cities; we drive
back the Indian and exterminate the buffalo; we girdle the land with
iron roads and lace the air with telegraph wires; we add knowledge to
knowledge, and utilize invention after invention; we build schools and
endow colleges; yet it becomes no easier for the masses of our people
to make a living. On the contrary, it is becoming harder. The wealthy
class is becoming more wealthy; but the poorer class is becoming more
dependent. The gulf between the employed and the employer is growing
wider; social contrasts are becoming sharper; as liveried carriages
appear, so do barefooted children. We are becoming used to talk of the
working classes and the propertied classes; beggars are becoming so
common that where it was once thought a crime little short of highway
robbery to refuse food to one who asked for it, the gate is now barred
and the bulldog loosed, while laws are passed against vagrants which
suggest those of Henry VIII.

We call ourselves the most progressive people on earth. But what is the
goal of our progress, if these are its wayside fruits?

These are the results of private property in land—the effects of a
principle that must act with increasing and increasing force. It is
not that laborers have increased faster than capital; it is not that
population is pressing against subsistence; it is not that machinery
has made “work scarce;” it is not that there is any real antagonism
between labor and capital—it is simply that land is becoming more
valuable; that the terms on which labor can obtain access to the
natural opportunities which alone enable it to produce are becoming
harder and harder. The public domain is receding and narrowing.
Property in land is concentrating. The proportion of our people who
have no legal right to the land on which they live is becoming steadily

Says the New York _World_: “A non-resident proprietary, like that
of Ireland, is getting to be the characteristic of large farming
districts in New England, adding yearly to the nominal value of
leasehold farms; advancing yearly the rent demanded, and steadily
degrading the character of the tenantry.” And the _Nation_, alluding
to the same section, says: “Increased nominal value of land, higher
rents, fewer farms occupied by owners; diminished product; lower
wages; a more ignorant population; increasing number of women employed
at hard, outdoor labor (surest sign of a declining civilization),
and a steady deterioration in the style of farming—these are the
conditions described by a cumulative mass of evidence that is perfectly

The same tendency is observable in the new States, where the large
scale of cultivation recalls the _latifundia_ that ruined ancient
Italy. In California a very large proportion of the farming land is
rented from year to year, at rates varying from a fourth to even half
the crop.

The harder times, the lower wages, the increasing poverty perceptible
in the United States are but results of the natural laws we have
traced—laws as universal and as irresistible as that of gravitation. We
did not establish the republic when, in the face of principalities and
powers, we flung the declaration of the inalienable rights of man; we
shall never establish the republic until we practically carry out that
declaration by securing to the poorest child born among us an equal
right to his native soil! We did not abolish slavery when we ratified
the Fourteenth Amendment; to abolish slavery we must abolish private
property in land! Unless we come back to first principles, unless we
recognize natural perceptions of equity, unless we acknowledge the
equal right of all to land, our free institutions will be in vain; our
common schools will be in vain; our discoveries and inventions will but
add to the force that presses the masses down!







    Why hesitate? Ye are full-bearded men,
    With God-implanted will, and courage if
    Ye dare but show it. Never yet was will
    But found some way or means to work it out,
    Nor e’er did Fortune frown on him who dared.
    Shall we in presence of this grievous wrong,
    In this supremest moment of all time,
    Stand trembling, cowering, when with one bold stroke
    These groaning millions might be ever free?—
    And that one stroke so just, so greatly good,
    So level with the happiness of man,
    That all the angels will applaud the deed.

    —_E. R. Taylor._



There is a delusion resulting from the tendency to confound the
accidental with the essential—a delusion which the law writers have
done their best to extend, and political economists generally have
acquiesced in, rather than endeavored to expose—that private property
in land is necessary to the proper use of land, and that again to make
land common property would be to destroy civilization and revert to

This delusion may be likened to the idea which, according to Charles
Lamb, so long prevailed among the Chinese after the savor of roast
pork had been accidentally discovered by the burning down of Ho-ti’s
hut—that to cook a pig it was necessary to set fire to a house. But,
though in Lamb’s charming dissertation it was required that a sage
should arise to teach people that they might roast pigs without burning
down houses, it does not take a sage to see that what is required for
the improvement of land is not absolute ownership of the land, but
security for the improvements. This will be obvious to whoever will
look around him. While there is no more necessity for making a man
the absolute and exclusive owner of land, in order to induce him to
improve it, than there is of burning down a house in order to cook a
pig; while the making of land private property is as rude, wasteful,
and uncertain a device for securing improvement, as the burning down
of a house is a rude, wasteful, and uncertain device for roasting a
pig, we have not the excuse for persisting in the one that Lamb’s
Chinamen had for persisting in the other. Until the sage arose who
invented the rude gridiron, which according to Lamb, preceded the spit
and oven, no one had known or heard of a pig being roasted, except by
a house being burned. But, among us, nothing is more common than for
land to be improved by those who do not own it. The greater part of
the land of Great Britain is cultivated by tenants, the greater part
of the buildings of London are built upon leased ground, and even in
the United States the same system prevails everywhere to a greater or
less extent. Thus it is a common matter for use to be separated from

Would not all this land be cultivated and improved just as well if the
rent went to the State or municipality, as now, when it goes to private
individuals? If no private ownership in land were acknowledged, but
all land were held in this way, the occupier or user paying rent to
the State, would not land be used and improved as well and as securely
as now? There can be but one answer: Of course it would. Then would
the resumption of land as common property in nowise interfere with the
proper use and improvement of land.

What is necessary for the use of land is not its private ownership,
but the security of improvements. It is not necessary to say to a man,
“this land is yours,” in order to induce him to cultivate or improve
it. It is only necessary to say to him, “whatever your labor or capital
produces on this land shall be yours.” Give a man security that he may
reap, and he will sow; assure him of the possession of the house he
wants to build, and he will build it. These are the natural rewards of
labor. It is for the sake of the reaping that men sow; it is for the
sake of possessing houses that men build. The ownership of land has
nothing to do with it.

It was for the sake of obtaining this security, that in the beginning
of the feudal period so many of the smaller land holders surrendered
the ownership of their lands to a military chieftain, receiving back
the use of them in fief or trust, and kneeling bareheaded before the
lord, with their hands between his hands, swore to serve him with life,
and limb, and worldly honor. Similar instances of the giving up of
ownership in land for the sake of security in its enjoyment are to be
seen in Turkey, where a peculiar exemption from taxation and extortion
attaches to _vakouf_, or church lands, and where it is a common thing
for a land owner to sell his land to a mosque for a nominal price, with
the understanding that he may remain as tenant upon it at a fixed rent.

It is not the magic of property, as Arthur Young said, that has turned
Flemish sands into fruitful fields. It is the magic of security to
labor. This can be secured in other ways than making land private
property, just as the heat necessary to roast a pig can be secured in
other ways than by burning down houses. The mere pledge of an Irish
landlord that for twenty years he would not claim in rent any share
in their cultivation induced Irish peasants to turn a barren mountain
into gardens; on the mere security of a fixed ground rent for a term of
years the most costly buildings of such cities as London and New York
are erected on leased ground. If we give improvers such security, we
may safely abolish private property in land.

The complete recognition of common rights to land need in no way
interfere with the complete recognition of individual right to
improvements or produce. Two men may own a ship without sawing her in
half. The ownership of a railway may be divided into a hundred thousand
shares, and yet trains be run with as much system and precision as
if there were but a single owner. In London, joint stock companies
have been formed to hold and manage real estate. Everything could go
on as now, and yet the common right to land be fully recognized by
appropriating rent to the common benefit. There is a lot in the center
of San Francisco to which the common rights of the people of that city
are yet legally recognized. This lot is not cut up into infinitesimal
pieces nor yet is it an unused waste. It is covered with fine
buildings, the property of private individuals, that stand there in
perfect security. The only difference between this lot and those around
it, is that the rent of the one goes into the common school fund, the
rent of the others into private pockets. What is to prevent the land of
a whole country being held by the people of the country in this way?

It would be difficult to select any portion of the territory of the
United States in which the conditions commonly taken to necessitate
the reduction of land to private ownership exist in higher degree
than on the little islets of St. Peter and St. Paul, in the Aleutian
Archipelago, acquired by the Alaska purchase from Russia. These
islands are the breeding places of the fur seal, an animal so timid
and wary that the slightest fright causes it to abandon its accustomed
resort, never to return. To prevent the utter destruction of this
fishery, without which the islands are of no use to man, it is not
only necessary to avoid killing the females and young cubs, but even
such noises as the discharge of a pistol or the barking of a dog. The
men who do the killing must be in no hurry, but quietly walk around
among the seals who line the rocky beaches, until the timid animals, so
clumsy on land but so graceful in water, show no more sign of fear than
lazily to waddle out of the way. Then those who can be killed without
diminution of future increase are carefully separated and gently
driven inland, out of sight and hearing of the herds, where they are
dispatched with clubs. To throw such a fishery as this open to whoever
chose to go and kill—which would make it to the interest of each
party to kill as many as they could at the time without reference to
the future—would be utterly to destroy it in a few seasons, as similar
fisheries in other oceans have been destroyed. But it is not necessary,
therefore, to make these islands private property. Though for reasons
greatly less cogent, the great public domain of the American people has
been made over to private ownership as fast as anybody could be got
to take it, these islands have been leased at a rent of $317,500 per
year,[54] probably not very much less than they could have been sold
for at the time of the Alaska purchase. They have already yielded two
millions and a half to the national treasury, and they are still, in
unimpaired value (for under the careful management of the Alaska Fur
Company the seals increase rather than diminish), the common property
of the people of the United States.

So far from the recognition of private property in land being necessary
to the proper use of land, the contrary is the case. Treating land as
private property stands in the way of its proper use. Were land treated
as public property it would be used and improved as soon as there was
need for its use or improvement, but being treated as private property,
the individual owner is permitted to prevent others from using or
improving what he cannot or will not use or improve himself. When the
title is in dispute, the most valuable land lies unimproved for years;
in many parts of England improvement is stopped because, the estates
being entailed, no security to improvers can be given; and large tracts
of ground which, were they treated as public property, would be covered
with buildings and crops, are kept idle to gratify the caprice of
the owner. In the thickly settled parts of the United States there is
enough land to maintain three or four times our present population,
lying unused, because its owners are holding it for higher prices, and
immigrants are forced past this unused land to seek homes where their
labor will be far less productive. In every city valuable lots may be
seen lying vacant for the same reason. If the best use of land be the
test, then private property in land is condemned, as it is condemned
by every other consideration. It is as wasteful and uncertain a mode
of securing the proper use of land as the burning down of houses is of
roasting pigs.


[54] The fixed rent under the lease to the Alaska Fur Company is
$55,000 a year, with a payment of $2.62½ on each skin, which on
100,000 skins, to which the take is limited, amounts to $262,500—a
total rent of $317,500.



We have traced the want and suffering that everywhere prevail among
the working classes, the recurring paroxysms of industrial depression,
the scarcity of employment, the stagnation of capital, the tendency of
wages to the starvation point, that exhibit themselves more and more
strongly as material progress goes on, to the fact that the land on
which and from which all must live is made the exclusive property of

We have seen that there is no possible remedy for these evils but
the abolition of their cause; we have seen that private property in
land has no warrant in justice, but stands condemned as the denial
of natural right—a subversion of the law of nature that as social
development goes on must condemn the masses of men to a slavery the
hardest and most degrading.

We have weighed every objection, and seen that neither on the ground
of equity or expediency is there anything to deter us from making land
common property by confiscating rent.

But a question of method remains. How shall we do it?

We should satisfy the law of justice, we should meet all economic
requirements, by at one stroke abolishing all private titles, declaring
all land public property, and letting it out to the highest bidders in
lots to suit, under such conditions as would sacredly guard the private
right to improvements.

Thus we should secure, in a more complex state of society, the
same equality of rights that in a ruder state were secured by equal
partitions of the soil, and by giving the use of the land to whoever
could procure the most from it, we should secure the greatest

Such a plan, instead of being a wild, impracticable vagary, has (with
the exception that he suggests compensation to the present holders of
land—undoubtedly a careless concession which he upon reflection would
reconsider) been indorsed by no less eminent a thinker than Herbert
Spencer, who (“Social Statics,” Chap. IX, Sec. 8) says of it:

 “Such a doctrine is consistent with the highest state of civilization;
 may be carried out without involving a community of goods, and need
 cause no very serious revolution in existing arrangements. The change
 required would simply be a change of landlords. Separate ownership
 would merge into the joint-stock ownership of the public. Instead of
 being in the possession of individuals, the country would be held
 by the great corporate body—society. Instead of leasing his acres
 from an isolated proprietor, the farmer would lease them from the
 nation. Instead of paying his rent to the agent of Sir John or his
 Grace, he would pay it to an agent or deputy agent of the community.
 Stewards would be public officials instead of private ones, and
 tenancy the only land tenure. A state of things so ordered would be
 in perfect harmony with the moral law. Under it all men would be
 equally landlords, all men would be alike free to become tenants. * *
 * Clearly, therefore, on such a system, the earth might be enclosed,
 occupied and cultivated, in entire subordination to the law of equal

But such a plan, though perfectly feasible, does not seem to me the
best. Or rather I propose to accomplish the same thing in a simpler,
easier, and quieter way, than that of formally confiscating all the
land and formally letting it out to the highest bidders.

To do that would involve a needless shock to present customs and habits
of thought—which is to be avoided.

To do that would involve a needless extension of governmental
machinery—which is to be avoided.

It is an axiom of statesmanship, which the successful founders of
tyranny have understood and acted upon—that great changes can best be
brought about under old forms. We, who would free men, should heed the
same truth. It is the natural method. When nature would make a higher
type, she takes a lower one and develops it. This, also, is the law of
social growth. Let us work by it. With the current we may glide fast
and far. Against it, it is hard pulling and slow progress.

I do not propose either to purchase or to confiscate private property
in land. The first would be unjust; the second, needless. Let the
individuals who now hold it still retain, if they want to, possession
of what they are pleased to call _their_ land. Let them continue to
call it _their_ land. Let them buy and sell, and bequeath and devise
it. We may safely leave them the shell, if we take the kernel. _It is
not necessary to confiscate land; it is only necessary to confiscate

Nor to take rent for public uses is it necessary that the State
should bother with the letting of lands, and assume the chances of
the favoritism, collusion, and corruption this might involve. It is
not necessary that any new machinery should be created. The machinery
already exists. Instead of extending it, all we have to do is to
simplify and reduce it. By leaving to land owners a percentage of rent
which would probably be much less than the cost and loss involved in
attempting to rent lands through State agency, and by making use of
this existing machinery, we may, without jar or shock, assert the
common right to land by taking rent for public uses.

We already take some rent in taxation. We have only to make some
changes in our modes of taxation to take it all.

What I, therefore, propose, as the simple yet sovereign remedy,
which will raise wages, increase the earnings of capital, extirpate
pauperism, abolish poverty, give remunerative employment to whoever
wishes it, afford free scope to human powers, lessen crime, elevate
morals, and taste, and intelligence, purify government and carry
civilization to yet nobler heights, is—_to appropriate rent by

In this way the State may become the universal landlord without calling
herself so, and without assuming a single new function. In form, the
ownership of land would remain just as now. No owner of land need be
dispossessed, and no restriction need be placed upon the amount of land
any one could hold. For, rent being taken by the State in taxes, land,
no matter in whose name it stood, or in what parcels it was held, would
be really common property, and every member of the community would
participate in the advantages of its ownership.

Now, insomuch as the taxation of rent, or land values, must necessarily
be increased just as we abolish other taxes, we may put the proposition
into practical form by proposing—

_To abolish all taxation save that upon land values._

As we have seen, the value of land is at the beginning of society
nothing, but as society develops by the increase of population and the
advance of the arts, it becomes greater and greater. In every civilized
country, even the newest, the value of the land taken as a whole is
sufficient to bear the entire expenses of government. In the better
developed countries it is much more than sufficient. Hence it will not
be enough merely to place all taxes upon the value of land. It will
be necessary, where rent exceeds the present governmental revenues,
commensurately to increase the amount demanded in taxation, and to
continue this increase as society progresses and rent advances. But
this is so natural and easy a matter, that it may be considered as
involved, or at least understood, in the proposition to put all taxes
on the value of land. That is the first step, upon which the practical
struggle must be made. When the hare is once caught and killed, cooking
him will follow as a matter of course. When the common right to land is
so far appreciated that all taxes are abolished save those which fall
upon rent, there is no danger of much more than is necessary to induce
them to collect the public revenues being left to individual land

Experience has taught me (for I have been for some years endeavoring to
popularize this proposition) that wherever the idea of concentrating
all taxation upon land values finds lodgment sufficient to induce
consideration, it invariably makes way, but that there are few of the
classes most to be benefited by it, who at first, or even for a long
time afterward, see its full significance and power. It is difficult
for workingmen to get over the idea that there is a real antagonism
between capital and labor. It is difficult for small farmers and
homestead owners to get over the idea that to put all taxes on the
value of land would be unduly to tax them. It is difficult for both
classes to get over the idea that to exempt capital from taxation would
be to make the rich richer, and the poor poorer. These ideas spring
from confused thought. But behind ignorance and prejudice there is a
powerful interest, which has hitherto dominated literature, education,
and opinion. A great wrong always dies hard, and the great wrong which
in every civilized country condemns the masses of men to poverty and
want, will not die without a bitter struggle.

I do not think the ideas of which I speak can be entertained by the
reader who has followed me thus far; but inasmuch as any popular
discussion must deal with the concrete, rather than with the abstract,
let me ask him to follow me somewhat further, that we may try the
remedy I have proposed by the accepted canons of taxation. In doing
so, many incidental bearings may be seen that otherwise might escape



The best tax by which public revenues can be raised is evidently that
which will closest conform to the following conditions:

1. That it bear as lightly as possible upon production—so as least to
check the increase of the general fund from which taxes must be paid
and the community maintained.

2. That it be easily and cheaply collected, and fall as directly as may
be upon the ultimate payers—so as to take from the people as little as
possible in addition to what it yields the government.

3. That it be certain—so as to give the least opportunity for tyranny
or corruption on the part of officials, and the least temptation to
law-breaking and evasion on the part of the taxpayers.

4. That it bear equally—so as to give no citizen an advantage or put
any at a disadvantage, as compared with others.

Let us consider what form of taxation best accords with these
conditions. Whatever it be, that evidently will be the best mode in
which the public revenues can be raised.

_I.—The Effect of Taxes upon Production._

All taxes must evidently come from the produce of land and labor,
since there is no other source of wealth than the union of human
exertion with the material and forces of nature. But the manner in
which equal amounts of taxation may be imposed may very differently
affect the production of wealth. Taxation which lessens the reward of
the producer necessarily lessens the incentive to production; taxation
which is conditioned upon the act of production, or the use of any of
the three factors of production, necessarily discourages production.
Thus taxation which diminishes the earnings of the laborer or the
returns of the capitalist tends to render the one less industrious
and intelligent, the other less disposed to save and invest. Taxation
which falls upon the processes of production interposes an artificial
obstacle to the creation of wealth. Taxation which falls upon labor
_as_ it is exerted, wealth _as_ it is used as capital, and _as_ it is
cultivated, will manifestly tend to discourage production much more
powerfully than taxation to the same amount levied upon laborers,
whether they work or play, upon wealth whether used productively or
unproductively, or upon land whether cultivated or left waste.

The mode of taxation is, in fact, quite as important as the amount.
As a small burden badly placed may distress a horse that could carry
with ease a much larger one properly adjusted, so a people may be
impoverished and their power of producing wealth destroyed by taxation,
which, if levied in another way, could be borne with ease. A tax on
date-trees, imposed by Mohammed Ali, caused the Egyptian fellahs to cut
down their trees; but a tax of twice the amount imposed on the land
produced no such result. The tax of ten per cent. on all sales, imposed
by the Duke of Alva in the Netherlands, would, had it been maintained,
have all but stopped exchange while yielding but little revenue.

But we need not go abroad for illustrations. The production of wealth
in the United States is largely lessened by taxation which bears upon
its processes. Ship-building, in which we excelled, has been all but
destroyed, so far as the foreign trade is concerned, and many branches
of production and exchange seriously crippled, by taxes which divert
industry from more to less productive forms.

This checking of production is in greater or less degree characteristic
of most of the taxes by which the revenues of modern governments are
raised. All taxes upon manufactures, all taxes upon commerce, all taxes
upon capital, all taxes upon improvements, are of this kind. Their
tendency is the same as that of Mohammed Ali’s tax on date-trees,
though their effect may not be so clearly seen.

All such taxes have a tendency to reduce the production of wealth, and
should, therefore, never be resorted to when it is possible to raise
money by taxes which do not check production. This becomes possible
as society develops and wealth accumulates. Taxes which fall upon
ostentation would simply turn into the public treasury what otherwise
would be wasted in vain show for the sake of show; and taxes upon wills
and devises of the rich would probably have little effect in checking
the desire for accumulation, which, after it has fairly got hold of a
man, becomes a blind passion. But the great class of taxes from which
revenue may be derived without interference with production are taxes
upon monopolies—for the profit of monopoly is in itself a tax levied
upon production, and to tax it is simply to divert into the public
coffers what production must in any event pay.

There are among us various sorts of monopolies. For instance, there
are the temporary monopolies created by the patent and copyright
laws. These it would be extremely unjust and unwise to tax, inasmuch
as they are but recognitions of the right of labor to its intangible
productions, and constitute a reward held out to invention and
authorship.[55] There are also the onerous monopolies alluded to in
Chapter IV of Book III, which result from the aggregation of capital in
businesses which are of the nature of monopolies. But while it would
be extremely difficult, if not altogether impossible, to levy taxes
by general law so that they would fall exclusively on the returns of
such monopoly and not become taxes on production or exchange, it is
much better that these monopolies should be abolished. In large part
they spring from legislative commission or omission, as, for instance,
the ultimate reason that San Francisco merchants are compelled to
pay more for goods sent direct from New York to San Francisco by the
Isthmus route than it costs to ship them from New York to Liverpool
or Southampton and thence to San Francisco, is to be found in the
“protective” laws which make it so costly to build American steamers
and which forbid foreign steamers to carry goods between American
ports. The reason that residents of Nevada are compelled to pay as
much freight from the East as though their goods were carried to
San Francisco and back again, is that the authority which prevents
extortion on the part of a hack driver is not exercised in respect to
a railroad company. And it may be said generally that businesses which
are in their nature monopolies are properly part of the functions of
the State, and should be assumed by the State. There is the same reason
why Government should carry telegraphic messages as that it should
carry letters; that railroads should belong to the public as that
common roads should.

But all other monopolies are trivial in extent as compared with the
monopoly of land. And the value of land expressing a monopoly, pure and
simple, is in every respect fitted for taxation. That is to say, while
the value of a railroad or telegraph line, the price of gas or of a
patent medicine, may express the price of monopoly, it also expresses
the exertion of labor and capital; but the value of land, or economic
rent, as we have seen, is in no part made up from these factors, and
expresses nothing but the advantage of appropriation. Taxes levied upon
the value of land cannot check production in the slightest degree,
until they exceed rent, or the value of land taken annually, for
unlike taxes upon commodities, or exchange, or capital, or any of the
tools or processes of production, they do not bear upon production. The
value of land does not express the reward of production, as does the
value of crops, of cattle, of buildings, or any of the things which are
styled personal property and improvements. It expresses the exchange
value of monopoly. It is not in any case the creation of the individual
who owns the land; it is created by the growth of the community.
Hence the community can take it all without in any way lessening the
incentive to improvement or in the slightest degree lessening the
production of wealth. Taxes may be imposed upon the value of land until
all rent is taken by the State, without reducing the wages of labor
or the reward of capital one iota; without increasing the price of a
single commodity, or making production in any way more difficult.

But more than this. Taxes on the value of land not only do not
check production as do most other taxes, but they tend to increase
production, by destroying speculative rent. How speculative rent checks
production may be seen not only in the valuable land withheld from use,
but in the paroxysms of industrial depression which, originating in
the speculative advance in land values, propagate themselves over the
whole civilized world, everywhere paralyzing industry, and causing more
waste and probably more suffering than would a general war. Taxation
which would take rent for public uses would prevent all this; while if
land were taxed to anything near its rental value, no one could afford
to hold land that he was not using, and, consequently, land not in
use would be thrown open to those who would use it. Settlement would
be closer, and, consequently, labor and capital would be enabled to
produce much more with the same exertion. The dog in the manger who, in
this country especially, so wastes productive power, would be choked

There is yet an even more important way by which, through its effect
upon distribution, the taking of rent to public uses by taxation would
stimulate the production of wealth. But reference to that may be
reserved. It is sufficiently evident that with regard to production,
the tax upon the value of land is the best tax that can be imposed.
Tax manufactures, and the effect is to check manufacturing; tax
improvements, and the effect is to lessen improvement; tax commerce,
and the effect is to prevent exchange; tax capital, and the effect
is to drive it away. But the whole value of land may be taken in
taxation, and the only effect will be to stimulate industry, to open
new opportunities to capital, and to increase the production of wealth.

_II.—As to Ease and Cheapness of Collection._

With, perhaps, the exception of certain licenses and stamp duties,
which may be made almost to collect themselves, but which can be relied
on for only a trivial amount of revenue, a tax upon land values can,
of all taxes, be most easily and cheaply collected. For land cannot be
hidden or carried off; its value can be readily ascertained, and the
assessment once made, nothing but a receiver is required for collection.

And as under all fiscal systems some part of the public revenues is
collected from taxes on land, and the machinery for that purpose
already exists and could as well be made to collect all as a part, the
cost of collecting the revenue now obtained by other taxes might be
entirely saved by substituting the tax on land values for all other
taxes. What an enormous saving might thus be made can be inferred from
the horde of officials now engaged in collecting these taxes.

This saving would largely reduce the difference between what taxation
now costs the people and what it yields, but the substitution of a
tax on land values for all other taxes would operate to reduce this
difference in an even more important way.

A tax on land values does not add to prices, and is thus paid directly
by the persons on whom it falls; whereas, all taxes upon things of
unfixed quantity increase prices, and in the course of exchange are
shifted from seller to buyer, increasing as they go. If we impose a tax
upon money loaned, as has been often attempted, the lender will charge
the tax to the borrower, and the borrower must pay it or not obtain the
loan. If the borrower uses it in his business, he in his turn must get
back the tax from his customers, or his business becomes unprofitable.
If we impose a tax upon buildings, the users of buildings must finally
pay it, for the erection of buildings will cease until building rents
become high enough to pay the regular profit and the tax besides. If
we impose a tax upon manufactures or imported goods, the manufacturer
or importer will charge it in a higher price to the jobber, the jobber
to the retailer, and the retailer to the consumer. Now, the consumer,
on whom the tax thus ultimately falls, must not only pay the amount of
the tax, but also a profit on this amount to every one who has thus
advanced it—for profit on the capital he has advanced in paying taxes
is as much required by each dealer as profit on the capital he has
advanced in paying for goods. Manila cigars cost, when bought of the
importer in San Francisco, $70 a thousand, of which $14 is the cost of
the cigars laid down in this port and $56 is the customs duty. But the
dealer who purchases these cigars to sell again must charge a profit,
not on $14, the real cost of the cigars, but on $70, the cost of the
cigars plus the duty. In this way all taxes which add to prices are
shifted from hand to hand, increasing as they go, until they ultimately
rest upon consumers, who thus pay much more than is received by the
government. Now, the way taxes raise prices is by increasing the cost
of production, and checking supply. But land is not a thing of human
production, and taxes upon rent cannot check supply. Therefore, though
a tax on rent compels the land owners to pay more, it gives them no
power to obtain more for the use of their land, as it in no way tends
to reduce the supply of land. On the contrary, by compelling those who
hold land on speculation to sell or let for what they can get, a tax on
land values tends to increase the competition between owners, and thus
to reduce the price of land.

Thus in all respects a tax upon land values is the cheapest tax by
which a large revenue can be raised—giving to the government the
largest net revenue in proportion to the amount taken from the people.

_III.—As to Certainty._

Certainty is an important element in taxation, for just as the
collection of a tax depends upon the diligence and faithfulness of the
collectors and the public spirit and honesty of those who are to pay
it, will opportunities for tyranny and corruption be opened on the one
side, and for evasions and frauds on the other.

The methods by which the bulk of our revenues are collected are
condemned on this ground, if on no other. The gross corruptions and
fraud occasioned in the United States by the whisky and tobacco taxes
are well known; the constant undervaluations of the Custom House, the
ridiculous untruthfulness of income tax returns, and the absolute
impossibility of getting anything like a just valuation of personal
property, are matters of notoriety. The material loss which such taxes
inflict—the item of cost which this uncertainty adds to the amount
paid by the people but not received by the government—is very great.
When, in the days of the protective system of England, her coasts
were lined with an army of men endeavoring to prevent smuggling, and
another army of men were engaged in evading them, it is evident that
the maintenance of both armies had to come from the produce of labor
and capital; that the expenses and profits of the smugglers, as well as
the pay and bribes of the Custom House officers, constituted a tax upon
the industry of the nation, in addition to what was received by the
government. And so, all douceurs to assessors; all bribes to customs
officials; all moneys expended in electing pliable officers or in
procuring acts or decisions which avoid taxation; all the costly modes
of bringing in goods so as to evade duties, and of manufacturing so as
to evade imposts; all moieties, and expenses of detectives and spies;
all expenses of legal proceedings and punishments, not only to the
government, but to those prosecuted, are so much which these taxes take
from the general fund of wealth, without adding to the revenue.

Yet this is the least part of the cost. Taxes which lack the element
of certainty tell most fearfully upon morals. Our revenue laws as a
body might well be entitled, “Acts to promote the corruption of public
officials, to suppress honesty and encourage fraud, to set a premium
upon perjury and the subornation of perjury, and to divorce the idea
of law from the idea of justice.” This is their true character, and
they succeed admirably. A Custom House oath is a by-word; our assessors
regularly swear to assess all property at its full, true, cash value,
and habitually do nothing of the kind; men who pride themselves on
their personal and commercial honor bribe officials and make false
returns; and the demoralizing spectacle is constantly presented of the
same court trying a murderer one day and a vendor of unstamped matches
the next!

So uncertain and so demoralizing are these modes of taxation that the
New York Commission, composed of David A. Wells, Edwin Dodge and George
W. Cuyler, who investigated the subject of taxation in that State,
proposed to substitute for most of the taxes now levied, other than
that on real estate, an arbitrary tax on each individual, estimated on
the rental value of the premises he occupied.

But there is no necessity of resorting to any arbitrary assessment. The
tax on land values, which is the least arbitrary of taxes, possesses
in the highest degree the element of certainty. It may be assessed
and collected with a definiteness that partakes of the immovable and
unconcealable character of the land itself. Taxes levied on land may
be collected to the last cent, and though the assessment of land
is now often unequal, yet the assessment of personal property is
far more unequal, and these inequalities in the assessment of land
largely arise from the taxation of improvements with land, and from
the demoralization that, springing from the causes to which I have
referred, affects the whole scheme of taxation. Were all taxes placed
upon land values, irrespective of improvements, the scheme of taxation
would be so simple and clear, and public attention would be so directed
to it, that the valuation of taxation could and would be made with
the same certainty that a real estate agent can determine the price a
seller can get for a lot.

_IV.—As to Equality._

Adam Smith’s canon is, that “The subjects of every state ought to
contribute toward the support of the government as nearly as possible
in proportion to their respective abilities; that is, in proportion
to the revenue which they respectively enjoy under the protection of
the state.” Every tax, he goes on to say, which falls only upon rent,
or only upon wages, or only upon interest, is necessarily unequal. In
accordance with this is the common idea which our systems of taxing
everything vainly attempt to carry out—that every one should pay taxes
in proportion to his means, or in proportion to his income.

But, waiving all the insuperable practical difficulties in the way of
taxing every one according to his means, it is evident that justice
cannot be thus attained.

Here, for instance, are two men of equal means, or equal incomes, one
having a large family, the other having no one to support but himself.
Upon these two men indirect taxes fall very unequally, as the one
cannot avoid the taxes on the food, clothing, etc., consumed by his
family, while the other need pay only upon the necessaries consumed by
himself. But, supposing taxes levied directly, so that each pays the
same amount. Still there is injustice. The income of the one is charged
with the support of six, eight, or ten persons; the income of the other
with that of but a single person. And unless the Malthusian doctrine be
carried to the extent of regarding the rearing of a new citizen as an
injury to the state, here is a gross injustice.

But it may be said that this is a difficulty which cannot be got over;
that it is Nature herself that brings human beings helpless into
the world and devolves their support upon the parents, providing in
compensation therefor her own sweet and great rewards. Very well, then,
let us turn to Nature, and read the mandates of justice in her law.

Nature gives to labor; and to labor alone. In a very Garden of Eden
a man would starve but for human exertion. Now, here are two men of
equal incomes—that of the one derived from the exertion of his labor,
that of the other from the rent of land. Is it just that they should
equally contribute to the expenses of the state? Evidently not. The
income of the one represents wealth he creates and adds to the general
wealth of the state; the income of the other represents merely wealth
that he takes from the general stock, returning nothing. The right of
the one to the enjoyment of his income rests on the warrant of nature,
which returns wealth to labor; the right of the other to the enjoyment
of his income is a mere fictitious right, the creation of municipal
regulation, which is unknown and unrecognized by nature. The father
who is told that from his labor he must support his children must
acquiesce, for such is the natural decree; but he may justly demand
that from the income gained by his labor not one penny shall be taken,
so long as a penny remains of incomes which are gained by a monopoly of
the natural opportunities which Nature offers impartially to all, and
in which his children have as their birthright an equal share.

Adam Smith speaks of incomes as “enjoyed under the protection of the
state;” and this is the ground upon which the equal taxation of all
species of property is commonly insisted upon—that it is equally
protected by the state. The basis of this idea is evidently that the
enjoyment of property is made possible by the state—that there is a
value created and maintained by the community, which is justly called
upon to meet community expenses. Now, of what values is this true?
Only of the value of land. This is a value that does not arise until
a community is formed, and that, unlike other values, grows with the
growth of the community. It exists only as the community exists.
Scatter again the largest community, and land, now so valuable, would
have no value at all. With every increase of population the value of
land rises; with every decrease it falls. This is true of nothing else
save of things which, like the ownership of land, are in their nature

The tax upon land values is, therefore, the most just and equal of all
taxes. It falls only upon those who receive from society a peculiar
and valuable benefit, and upon them in proportion to the benefit
they receive. It is the taking by the community, for the use of the
community, of that value which is the creation of the community. It
is the application of the common property to common uses. When all
rent is taken by taxation for the needs of the community, then will
the equality ordained by nature be attained. No citizen will have an
advantage over any other citizen save as is given by his industry,
skill, and intelligence; and each will obtain what he fairly earns.
Then, but not till then, will labor get its full reward, and capital
its natural return.


[55] Following the habit of confounding the exclusive right granted by
a patent and that granted by a copyright as recognitions of the right
of labor to its intangible productions, I in this fell into error which
I subsequently acknowledged and corrected in the _Standard_ of June
23, 1888. The two things are not alike, but essentially different. The
copyright is not a right to the exclusive use of a fact, an idea, or
a combination, which by the natural law of property all are free to
use; but only to the labor expended in the thing itself. It does not
prevent any one from using for himself the facts, the knowledge, the
laws or combinations for a similar production, but only from using
the identical form of the particular book or other production—the
actual labor which has in short been expended in producing it. It
rests therefore upon the natural, moral right of each one to enjoy the
products of his own exertion, and involves no interference with the
similar right of any one else to do likewise.

The patent, on the other hand, prohibits any one from doing a similar
thing, and involves, usually for a specified time, an interference
with the equal liberty on which the right of ownership rests. The
copyright is therefore in accordance with the moral law—it gives to
the man who has expended the intangible labor required to write a
particular book or paint a picture security against the copying of
that identical thing. The patent is in defiance of this natural right.
It prohibits others from doing what has been already attempted. Every
one has a moral right to think what I think, or to perceive what I
perceive, or to do what I do—no matter whether he gets the hint from me
or independently of me. Discovery can give no right of ownership, for
whatever is discovered must have been already here to be discovered.
If a man make a wheelbarrow, or a book, or a picture, he has a moral
right to that particular wheelbarrow, or book, or picture, but no right
to ask that others be prevented from making similar things. Such a
prohibition, though given for the purpose of stimulating discovery and
invention, really in the long run operates as a check upon them.



The grounds from which we have drawn the conclusion that the tax on
land values or rent is the best method of raising public revenues have
been admitted expressly or tacitly by all economists of standing, since
the determination of the nature and law of rent.

Ricardo says (Chap. X), “a tax on rent would fall wholly on landlords,
and could not be shifted to any class of consumers,” for it “would
leave unaltered the difference between the produce obtained from the
least productive land in cultivation and that obtained from land of
every other quality. * * * A tax on rent would not discourage the
cultivation of fresh land, for such land pays no rent and would be

McCulloch (Note XXIV to “Wealth of Nations”) declares that “in a
practical point of view taxes on the rent of land are among the
most unjust and impolitic that can be imagined,” but he makes this
assertion solely on the ground of his assumption that it is practically
impossible to distinguish in taxation between the sum paid for the use
of the soil and that paid on account of the capital expended upon it.
But, supposing that this separation could be effected, he admits that
the sum paid to landlords for the use of the natural powers of the soil
might be entirely swept away by a tax without their having it in their
power to throw any portion of the burden upon any one else, and without
affecting the price of produce.

John Stuart Mill not only admits all this, but expressly declares the
expediency and justice of a peculiar tax on rent, asking what right
the landlords have to the accession of riches that comes to them from
the general progress of society without work, risk, or economizing on
their part, and although he expressly disapproves of interfering with
their claim to the present value of land, he proposes to take the whole
future increase as belonging to society by natural right.

Mrs. Fawcett, in the little compendium of the writings of her husband,
entitled “Political Economy for Beginners,” says: “The land tax,
whether small or great in amount, partakes of the nature of a rent paid
by the owner of land to the state. In a great part of India the land is
owned by the government and therefore the land tax is rent paid direct
to the state. The economic perfection of this system of tenure may be
readily perceived.”

In fact, that rent should, both on grounds of expediency and justice,
be the peculiar subject of taxation, is involved in the accepted
doctrine of rent, and may be found in embryo in the works of all
economists who have accepted the law of Ricardo. That these principles
have not been pushed to their necessary conclusions, as I have pushed
them, evidently arises from the indisposition to endanger or offend the
enormous interest involved in private ownership in land, and from the
false theories in regard to wages and the cause of poverty which have
dominated economic thought.

But there has been a school of economists who plainly perceived,
what is clear to the natural perceptions of men when uninfluenced
by habit—that the revenues of the common property, land, ought to
be appropriated to the common service. The French Economists of the
last century, headed by Quesnay and Turgot, proposed just what I
have proposed, that all taxation should be abolished save a tax upon
the value of land. As I am acquainted with the doctrines of Quesnay
and his disciples only at second hand through the medium of the
English writers, I am unable to say how far his peculiar ideas as to
agriculture being the only productive avocation, etc., are erroneous
apprehensions, or mere peculiarities of terminology. But of this I am
certain from the proposition in which his theory culminated—that he
saw the fundamental relation between land and labor which has since
been lost sight of, and that he arrived at practical truth, though,
it may be, through a course of defectively expressed reasoning. The
causes which leave in the hands of the landlord a “produce net” were
by the Physiocrats no better explained than the suction of a pump was
explained by the assumption that nature abhors a vacuum, but the fact
in its practical relations to social economy was recognized, and the
benefit which would result from the perfect freedom given to industry
and trade by a substitution of a tax on rent for all the impositions
which hamper and distort the application of labor was doubtless as
clearly seen by them as it is by me. One of the things most to be
regretted about the French Revolution is that it overwhelmed the
ideas of the Economists, just as they were gaining strength among
the thinking classes, and were apparently about to influence fiscal

Without knowing anything of Quesnay or his doctrines, I have reached
the same practical conclusion by a route which cannot be disputed, and
have based it on grounds which cannot be questioned by the accepted
political economy.

The only objection to the tax on rent or land values which is to be
met with in standard politico-economic works is one which concedes
its advantages—for it is, that from the difficulty of separation, we
might, in taxing the rent of land, tax something else. McCulloch,
for instance, declares taxes on the rent of land to be impolitic
and unjust because the return received for the natural and inherent
powers of the soil cannot be clearly distinguished from the return
received from improvements and meliorations, which might thus be
discouraged. Macaulay somewhere says that if the admission of the
attraction of gravitation were inimical to any considerable pecuniary
interest, there would not be wanting arguments against gravitation—a
truth of which this objection is an illustration. For admitting
that it is impossible invariably to separate the value of land from
the value of improvements, is this necessity of continuing to tax
_some_ improvements any reason why we should continue to tax _all_
improvements? If it discourage production to tax values which labor and
capital have intimately combined with that of land, how much greater
discouragement is involved in taxing not only these, but all the
clearly distinguishable values which labor and capital create?

But, as a matter of fact, the value of land can always be readily
distinguished from the value of improvements. In countries like the
United States there is much valuable land that has never been improved;
and in many of the States the value of the land and the value of
improvements are habitually estimated separately by the assessors,
though afterward reunited under the term real estate. Nor where ground
has been occupied from immemorial times, is there any difficulty in
getting at the value of the bare land, for frequently the land is owned
by one person and the buildings by another, and when a fire occurs
and improvements are destroyed, a clear and definite value remains in
the land. In the oldest country in the world no difficulty whatever
can attend the separation, if all that be attempted is to separate
the value of the clearly distinguishable improvements, made within a
moderate period, from the value of the land, should they be destroyed.
This, manifestly, is all that justice or policy requires. Absolute
accuracy is impossible in any system, and to attempt to separate all
that the human race has done from what nature originally provided would
be as absurd as impracticable. A swamp drained or a hill terraced by
the Romans constitutes now as much a part of the natural advantages of
the British Isles as though the work had been done by earthquake or
glacier. The fact that after a certain lapse of time the value of such
permanent improvements would be considered as having lapsed into that
of the land, and would be taxed accordingly, could have no deterrent
effect on such improvements, for such works are frequently undertaken
upon leases for years. The fact is, that each generation builds and
improves for itself, and not for the remote future. And the further
fact is, that each generation is heir, not only to the natural powers
of the earth, but to all that remains of the work of past generations.

An objection of a different kind may however be made. It may be said
that where political power is diffused, it is highly desirable that
taxation should fall not on one class, such as land owners, but on
all; in order that all who exercise political power may feel a proper
interest in economical government. Taxation and representation, it will
be said, cannot safely be divorced.

But however desirable it may be to combine with political power the
consciousness of public burdens, the present system certainly does not
secure it. Indirect taxes are largely raised from those who pay little
or nothing consciously. In the United States the class is rapidly
growing who not only feel no interest in taxation, but who have no
concern in good government. In our large cities elections are in great
measure determined not by considerations of public interest, but by
such influences as determined elections in Rome when the masses had
ceased to care for anything but bread and the circus.

The effect of substituting for the manifold taxes now imposed a single
tax on the value of land would hardly lessen the number of conscious
taxpayers, for the division of land now held on speculation would
much increase the number of land holders. But it would so equalize
the distribution of wealth as to raise even the poorest above that
condition of abject poverty in which public considerations have no
weight; while it would at the same time cut down those overgrown
fortunes which raise their possessors above concern in government. The
dangerous classes politically are the very rich and very poor. It is
not the taxes that he is conscious of paying that gives a man a stake
in the country, an interest in its government; it is the consciousness
of feeling that he is an integral part of the community; that its
prosperity is his prosperity, and its disgrace his shame. Let but the
citizen feel this; let him be surrounded by all the influences that
spring from and cluster round a comfortable home, and the community may
rely upon him, even to limb or to life. Men do not vote patriotically,
any more than they fight patriotically, because of their payment of
taxes. Whatever conduces to the comfortable and independent material
condition of the masses will best foster public spirit, will make the
ultimate governing power more intelligent and more virtuous.

But it may be asked: If the tax on land values is so advantageous
a mode of raising revenue, how is it that so many other taxes are
resorted to in preference by all governments?

The answer is obvious: The tax on land values is the only tax of any
importance that does not distribute itself. It falls upon the owners of
land, and there is no way in which they can shift the burden upon any
one else. Hence, a large and powerful class are directly interested in
keeping down the tax on land values and substituting, as a means for
raising the required revenue, taxes on other things, just as the land
owners of England, two hundred years ago, succeeded in establishing
an excise, which fell on all consumers, for the dues under the feudal
tenures, which fell only on them.

There is, thus, a definite and powerful interest opposed to the
taxation of land values; but to the other taxes upon which modern
governments so largely rely there is no special opposition. The
ingenuity of statesmen has been exercised in devising schemes of
taxation which drain the wages of labor and the earnings of capital as
the vampire bat is said to suck the lifeblood of its victim. Nearly
all of these taxes are ultimately paid by that indefinable being, the
consumer; and he pays them in a way which does not call his attention
to the fact that he is paying a tax—pays them in such small amounts and
in such insidious modes that he does not notice it, and is not likely
to take the trouble to remonstrate effectually. Those who pay the money
directly to the tax collector are not only not interested in opposing a
tax which they so easily shift from their own shoulders, but are very
frequently interested in its imposition and maintenance, as are other
powerful interests which profit, or expect to profit, by the increase
of prices which such taxes bring about.

Nearly all of the manifold taxes by which the people of the United
States are now burdened have been imposed rather with a view to
private advantage than to the raising of revenue, and the great
obstacle to the simplification of taxation is these private interests,
whose representatives cluster in the lobby whenever a reduction of
taxation is proposed, to see that the taxes by which they profit are
not reduced. The fastening of a protective tariff upon the United
States has been due to these influences, and not to the acceptance of
absurd theories of protection upon their own merits. The large revenue
which the civil war rendered necessary was the golden opportunity of
these special interests, and taxes were piled up on every possible
thing, not so much to raise revenue as to enable particular classes
to participate in the advantages of tax-gathering and tax-pocketing.
And, since the war, these interested parties have constituted the
great obstacle to the reduction of taxation; those taxes which cost
the people least having, for this reason, been found easier to abolish
than those taxes which cost the people most. And, thus, even popular
governments, which have for their avowed principle the securing of
the greatest good to the greatest number, are, in a most important
function, used to secure a questionable good to a small number, at the
expense of a great evil to the many.

License taxes are generally favored by those on whom they are imposed,
as they tend to keep others from entering the business; imposts upon
manufactures are frequently grateful to large manufacturers for
similar reasons, as was seen in the opposition of the distillers to
the reduction of the whisky tax; duties on imports not only tend to
give certain producers special advantages, but accrue to the benefit
of importers or dealers who have large stocks on hand; and so, in the
case of all such taxes, there are particular interests, capable of
ready organization and concerted action, which favor the imposition of
the tax, while, in the case of a tax upon the value of land, there is a
solid and sensitive interest steadily and bitterly to oppose it.

But if once the truth which I am trying to make clear is understood by
the masses, it is easy to see how a union of political forces strong
enough to carry it into practice becomes possible.







 I cannot play upon any stringed instrument; but I can tell you how of
 a little village to make a great and glorious city.—_Themistocles._

       *       *       *       *       *

 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the
 brier shall come up the myrtle tree.

 And they shall build houses and inhabit them; and they shall plant
 vineyards and eat the fruit of them. They shall not build and another
 inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat.—_Isaiah._



The elder Mirabeau, we are told, ranked the proposition of Quesnay, to
substitute one single tax on rent (the _impôt unique_) for all other
taxes, as a discovery equal in utility to the invention of writing or
the substitution of the use of money for barter.

To whomsoever will think over the matter, this saying will appear an
evidence of penetration rather than of extravagance. The advantages
which would be gained by substituting for the numerous taxes by
which the public revenues are now raised, a single tax levied upon
the value of land, will appear more and more important the more they
are considered. This is the secret which would transform the little
village into the great city. With all the burdens removed which now
oppress industry and hamper exchange, the production of wealth would
go on with a rapidity now undreamed of. This, in its turn, would lead
to an increase in the value of land—a new surplus which society might
take for general purposes. And released from the difficulties which
attend the collection of revenue in a way that begets corruption and
renders legislation the tool of special interests, society could assume
functions which the increasing complexity of life makes it desirable to
assume, but which the prospect of political demoralization under the
present system now leads thoughtful men to shrink from.

Consider the effect upon the production of wealth.

To abolish the taxation which, acting and reacting, now hampers every
wheel of exchange and presses upon every form of industry, would be
like removing an immense weight from a powerful spring. Imbued with
fresh energy, production would start into new life, and trade would
receive a stimulus which would be felt to the remotest arteries. The
present method of taxation operates upon exchange like artificial
deserts and mountains; it costs more to get goods through a custom
house than it does to carry them around the world. It operates upon
energy, and industry, and skill, and thrift, like a fine upon those
qualities. If I have worked harder and built myself a good house while
you have been contented to live in a hovel, the tax-gatherer now comes
annually to make me pay a penalty for my energy and industry, by
taxing me more than you. If I have saved while you wasted, I am mulct,
while you are exempt. If a man build a ship we make him pay for his
temerity, as though he had done an injury to the state; if a railroad
be opened, down comes the tax-collector upon it, as though it were a
public nuisance; if a manufactory be erected we levy upon it an annual
sum which would go far toward making a handsome profit. We say we want
capital, but if any one accumulate it, or bring it among us, we charge
him for it as though we were giving him a privilege. We punish with a
tax the man who covers barren fields with ripening grain; we fine him
who puts up machinery, and him who drains a swamp. How heavily these
taxes burden production only those realize who have attempted to follow
our system of taxation through its ramifications, for, as I have before
said, the heaviest part of taxation is that which falls in increased
prices. But manifestly these taxes are in their nature akin to the
Egyptian Pasha’s tax upon date-trees. If they do not cause the trees to
be cut down, they at least discourage the planting.

To abolish these taxes would be to lift the whole enormous weight of
taxation from productive industry. The needle of the seamstress and the
great manufactory; the cart-horse and the locomotive; the fishing boat
and the steamship; the farmer’s plow and the merchant’s stock, would be
alike untaxed. All would be free to make or to save, to buy or to sell,
unfined by taxes, unannoyed by the tax-gatherer. Instead of saying to
the producer, as it does now, “The more you add to the general wealth
the more shall you be taxed!” the state would say to the producer, “Be
as industrious, as thrifty, as enterprising as you choose, you shall
have your full reward! You shall not be fined for making two blades of
grass grow where one grew before; you shall not be taxed for adding to
the aggregate wealth.”

And will not the community gain by thus refusing to kill the goose that
lays the golden eggs; by thus refraining from muzzling the ox that
treadeth out the corn; by thus leaving to industry, and thrift, and
skill, their natural reward, full and unimpaired? For there is to the
community also a natural reward. The law of society is, each for all,
as well as all for each. No one can keep to himself the good he may do,
any more than he can keep the bad. Every productive enterprise, besides
its return to those who undertake it, yields collateral advantages to
others. If a man plant a fruit-tree, his gain is that he gathers the
fruit in its time and season. But in addition to his gain, there is a
gain to the whole community. Others than the owner are benefited by
the increased supply of fruit; the birds which it shelters fly far and
wide; the rain which it helps to attract falls not alone on his field;
and, even to the eye which rests upon it from a distance, it brings a
sense of beauty. And so with everything else. The building of a house,
a factory, a ship, or a railroad, benefits others besides those who get
the direct profits. Nature laughs at a miser. He is like the squirrel
who buries his nuts and refrains from digging them up again. Lo! they
sprout and grow into trees. In fine linen, steeped in costly spices,
the mummy is laid away. Thousands and thousands of years thereafter,
the Bedouin cooks his food by a fire of its encasings, it generates the
steam by which the traveler is whirled on his way, or it passes into
far-off lands to gratify the curiosity of another race. The bee fills
the hollow tree with honey, and along comes the bear or the man.

Well may the community leave to the individual producer all that
prompts him to exertion; well may it let the laborer have the full
reward of his labor, and the capitalist the full return of his capital.
For the more that labor and capital produce, the greater grows the
common wealth in which all may share. And in the value or rent of land
is this general gain expressed in a definite and concrete form. Here
is a fund which the state may take while leaving to labor and capital
their full reward. With increased activity of production this would
commensurately increase.

And to shift the burden of taxation from production and exchange to the
value or rent of land would not merely be to give new stimulus to the
production of wealth; it would be to open new opportunities. For under
this system no one would care to hold land unless to use it, and land
now withheld from use would everywhere be thrown open to improvement.

The selling price of land would fall; land speculation would receive
its deathblow; land monopolization would no longer pay. Millions and
millions of acres from which settlers are now shut out by high prices
would be abandoned by their present owners or sold to settlers upon
nominal terms. And this not merely on the frontiers, but within what
are now considered well settled districts. Within a hundred miles of
San Francisco would be thus thrown open land enough to support, even
with present modes of cultivation, an agricultural population equal
to that now scattered from the Oregon boundary to the Mexican line—a
distance of 800 miles. In the same degree would this be true of most of
the Western States, and in a great degree of the older Eastern States,
for even in New York and Pennsylvania is population yet sparse as
compared with the capacity of the land. And even in densely populated
England would such a policy throw open to cultivation many hundreds
of thousands of acres now held as private parks, deer preserves, and
shooting grounds.

For this simple device of placing all taxes on the value of land would
be in effect putting up the land at auction to whomsoever would pay the
highest rent to the state. The demand for land fixes its value, and
hence, if taxes were placed so as very nearly to consume that value,
the man who wished to hold land without using it would have to pay very
nearly what it would be worth to any one who wanted to use it.

And it must be remembered that this would apply, not merely to
agricultural land, but to all land. Mineral land would be thrown open
to use, just as agricultural land; and in the heart of a city no one
could afford to keep land from its most profitable use, or on the
outskirts to demand more for it than the use to which it could at the
time be put would warrant. Everywhere that land had attained a value,
taxation, instead of operating, as now, as a fine upon improvement,
would operate to force improvement. Whoever planted an orchard, or
sowed a field, or built a house, or erected a manufactory, no matter
how costly, would have no more to pay in taxes than if he kept so much
land idle. The monopolist of agricultural land would be taxed as much
as though his land were covered with houses and barns, with crops and
with stock. The owner of a vacant city lot would have to pay as much
for the privilege of keeping other people off of it until he wanted
to use it, as his neighbor who has a fine house upon his lot. It would
cost as much to keep a row of tumble-down shanties upon valuable
land as though it were covered with a grand hotel or a pile of great
warehouses filled with costly goods.

Thus, the bonus that wherever labor is most productive must now be paid
before labor can be exerted would disappear. The farmer would not have
to pay out half his means, or mortgage his labor for years, in order
to obtain land to cultivate; the builder of a city homestead would not
have to lay out as much for a small lot as for the house he puts upon
it; the company that proposed to erect a manufactory would not have to
expend a great part of their capital for a site. And what would be paid
from year to year to the state would be in lieu of all the taxes now
levied upon improvements, machinery, and stock.

Consider the effect of such a change upon the labor market. Competition
would no longer be one-sided, as now. Instead of laborers competing
with each other for employment, and in their competition cutting down
wages to the point of bare subsistence, employers would everywhere be
competing for laborers, and wages would rise to the fair earnings of
labor. For into the labor market would have entered the greatest of
all competitors for the employment of labor, a competitor whose demand
cannot be satisfied until want is satisfied—the demand of labor itself.
The employers of labor would not have merely to bid against other
employers, all feeling the stimulus of greater trade and increased
profits, but against the ability of laborers to become their own
employers upon the natural opportunities freely opened to them by the
tax which prevented monopolization.

With natural opportunities thus free to labor; with capital and
improvements exempt from tax, and exchange released from restrictions,
the spectacle of willing men unable to turn their labor into the things
they are suffering for would become impossible; the recurring paroxysms
which paralyze industry would cease; every wheel of production would
be set in motion; demand would keep pace with supply, and supply with
demand; trade would increase in every direction, and wealth augment on
every hand.



But great as they thus appear, the advantages of a transference of
all public burdens to a tax upon the value of land cannot be fully
appreciated until we consider the effect upon the distribution of

Tracing out the cause of the unequal distribution of wealth which
appears in all civilized countries, with a constant tendency to greater
and greater inequality as material progress goes on, we have found it
in the fact that, as civilization advances, the ownership of land, now
in private hands, gives a greater and greater power of appropriating
the wealth produced by labor and capital.

Thus, to relieve labor and capital from all taxation, direct and
indirect, and to throw the burden upon rent, would be, as far as it
went, to counteract this tendency to inequality, and, if it went so far
as to take in taxation the whole of rent, the cause of inequality would
be totally destroyed. Rent, instead of causing inequality, as now,
would then promote equality. Labor and capital would then receive the
whole produce, minus that portion taken by the state in the taxation of
land values, which, being applied to public purposes, would be equally
distributed in public benefits.

That is to say, the wealth produced in every community would be divided
into two portions. One part would be distributed in wages and interest
between individual producers, according to the part each had taken in
the work of production; the other part would go to the community as a
whole, to be distributed in public benefits to all its members. In
this all would share equally—the weak with the strong, young children
and decrepit old men, the maimed, the halt, and the blind, as well as
the vigorous. And justly so—for while one part represents the result
of individual effort in production, the other represents the increased
power with which the community as a whole aids the individual.

Thus, as material progress tends to increase rent, were rent taken by
the community for common purposes the very cause which now tends to
produce inequality as material progress goes on would then tend to
produce greater and greater equality. Fully to understand this effect,
let us revert to principles previously worked out.

We have seen that wages and interest must everywhere be fixed by the
rent line or margin of cultivation—that is to say, by the reward
which labor and capital can secure on land for which no rent is paid;
that the aggregate amount of wealth, which the aggregate of labor and
capital employed in production will receive, will be the amount of
wealth produced (or rather, when we consider taxes, the net amount),
minus what is taken as rent.

We have seen that with material progress, as it is at present going
on, there is a twofold tendency to the advance of rent. Both are to
the increase of the proportion of the wealth produced which goes as
rent, and to the decrease of the proportion which goes as wages and
interest. But the first, or natural tendency, which results from the
laws of social development, is to the increase of rent as a quantity,
without the reduction of wages and interest as quantities, or even with
their quantitative increase. The other tendency, which results from
the unnatural appropriation of land to private ownership, is to the
increase of rent as a quantity by the reduction of wages and interest
as quantities.

Now, it is evident that to take rent in taxation for public purposes,
which virtually abolishes private ownership in land, would be to
destroy the tendency to an absolute decrease in wages and interest, by
destroying the speculative monopolization of land and the speculative
increase in rent. It would be very largely to increase wages and
interest, by throwing open natural opportunities now monopolized and
reducing the price of land. Labor and capital would thus not merely
gain what is now taken from them in taxation, but would gain by the
positive decline in rent caused by the decrease in speculative land
values. A new equilibrium would be established, at which the common
rate of wages and interest would be much higher than now.

But this new equilibrium established, further advances in productive
power, and the tendency in this direction would be greatly accelerated,
would result in still increasing rent, not at the expense of wages and
interest, but by new gains in production, which, as rent would be taken
by the community for public uses, would accrue to the advantage of
every member of the community. Thus, as material progress went on, the
condition of the masses would constantly improve. Not merely one class
would become richer, but all would become richer; not merely one class
would have more of the necessaries, conveniences, and elegancies of
life, but all would have more. For, the increasing power of production,
which comes with increasing population, with every new discovery in
the productive arts, with every labor-saving invention, with every
extension and facilitation of exchanges, could be monopolized by none.
That part of the benefit which did not go directly to increase the
reward of labor and capital would go to the state—that is to say, to
the whole community. With all the enormous advantages, material and
mental, of a dense population, would be united the freedom and equality
that can now be found only in new and sparsely settled districts.

And, then, consider how equalization in the distribution of wealth
would react upon production, everywhere preventing waste, everywhere
increasing power.

If it were possible to express in figures the direct pecuniary loss
which society suffers from the social mal-adjustments which condemn
large classes to poverty and vice, the estimate would be appalling.
England maintains over a million paupers on official charity; the
city of New York alone spends over seven million dollars a year in a
similar way. But what is spent from public funds, what is spent by
charitable societies and what is spent in individual charity, would,
if aggregated, be but the first and smallest item in the account. The
potential earnings of the labor thus going to waste, the cost of the
reckless, improvident and idle habits thus generated; the pecuniary
loss, to consider nothing more, suggested by the appalling statistics
of mortality, and especially infant mortality, among the poorer
classes; the waste indicated by the gin palaces or low groggeries
which increase as poverty deepens; the damage done by the vermin
of society that are bred of poverty and destitution—the thieves,
prostitutes, beggars, and tramps; the cost of guarding society against
them, are all items in the sum which the present unjust and unequal
distribution of wealth takes from the aggregate which, with present
means of production, society might enjoy. Nor yet shall we have
completed the account. The ignorance and vice, the recklessness and
immorality engendered by the inequality in the distribution of wealth
show themselves in the imbecility and corruption of government; and the
waste of public revenues, and the still greater waste involved in the
ignorant and corrupt abuse of public powers and functions, are their
legitimate consequences.

But the increase in wages, and the opening of new avenues of employment
which would result from the appropriation of rent to public purposes,
would not merely stop these wastes and relieve society of these
enormous losses; new power would be added to labor. It is but a truism
that labor is most productive where its wages are largest. Poorly paid
labor is inefficient labor, the world over.

What is remarked between the efficiency of labor in the agricultural
districts of England where different rates of wages prevail; what
Brassey noticed as between the work done by his better paid English
navvies and that done by the worse paid labor of the continent; what
was evident in the United States as between slave labor and free
labor; what is seen by the astonishing number of mechanics or servants
required in India or China to get anything done, is universally true.
The efficiency of labor always increases with the habitual wages of
labor—for high wages mean increased self-respect, intelligence, hope,
and energy. Man is not a machine, that will do so much and no more; he
is not an animal, whose powers may reach thus far and no further. It is
mind, not muscle, which is the great agent of production. The physical
power evolved in the human frame is one of the weakest of forces, but
for the human intelligence the resistless currents of nature flow, and
matter becomes plastic to the human will. To increase the comforts,
and leisure, and independence of the masses is to increase their
intelligence; it is to bring the brain to the aid of the hand; it is
to engage in the common work of life the faculty which measures the
animalcule and traces the orbits of the stars!

Who can say to what infinite powers the wealth-producing capacity
of labor may not be raised by social adjustments which will give
to the producers of wealth their fair proportion of its advantages
and enjoyments! With present processes the gain would be simply
incalculable, but just as wages are high, so do the invention and
utilization of improved processes and machinery go on with greater
rapidity and ease. That the wheat crops of Southern Russia are
still reaped with the scythe and beaten out with the flail is simply
because wages are there so low. American invention, American aptitude
for labor-saving processes and machinery are the result of the
comparatively high wages that have prevailed in the United States. Had
our producers been condemned to the low reward of the Egyptian fellah
or Chinese coolie, we would be drawing water by hand and transporting
goods on the shoulders of men. The increase in the reward of labor and
capital would still further stimulate invention and hasten the adoption
of improved processes, and these would truly appear, what in themselves
they really are—an unmixed good. The injurious effects of labor-saving
machinery upon the working classes, that are now so often apparent, and
that, in spite of all argument, make so many people regard machinery as
an evil instead of a blessing, would disappear. Every new power engaged
in the service of man would improve the condition of all. And from the
general intelligence and mental activity springing from this general
improvement of condition would come new developments of power of which
we as yet cannot dream.

But I shall not deny, and do not wish to lose sight of the fact, that
while thus preventing waste and thus adding to the efficiency of labor,
the equalization in the distribution of wealth that would result from
the simple plan of taxation that I propose, must lessen the intensity
with which wealth is pursued. It seems to me that in a condition of
society in which no one need fear poverty, no one would desire great
wealth—at least, no one would take the trouble to strive and to strain
for it as men do now. For, certainly, the spectacle of men who have
only a few years to live, slaving away their time for the sake of dying
rich, is in itself so unnatural and absurd, that in a state of society
where the abolition of the fear of want had dissipated the envious
admiration with which the masses of men now regard the possession of
great riches, whoever would toil to acquire more than he cared to use
would be looked upon as we would now look on a man who would thatch
his head with half a dozen hats, or walk around in the hot sun with an
overcoat on. When every one is sure of being able to get enough, no one
will care to make a pack-horse of himself.

And though this incentive to production be withdrawn, can we not
spare it? Whatever may have been its office in an earlier stage
of development, it is not needed now. The dangers that menace
our civilization do not come from the weakness of the springs of
production. What it suffers from, and what, if a remedy be not applied,
it must die from, is unequal distribution!

Nor would the removal of this incentive, regarded only from the
standpoint of production, be an unmixed loss. For, that the aggregate
of production is greatly reduced by the greed with which riches are
pursued, is one of the most obtrusive facts of modern society. While,
were this insane desire to get rich at any cost lessened, mental
activities now devoted to scraping together riches would be translated
into far higher spheres of usefulness.



When it is first proposed to put all taxes upon the value of land, and
thus confiscate rent, all land holders are likely to take the alarm,
and there will not be wanting appeals to the fears of small farm and
homestead owners, who will be told that this is a proposition to rob
them of their hard-earned property. But a moment’s reflection will show
that this proposition should commend itself to all whose interests
as land holders do not largely exceed their interests as laborers or
capitalists, or both. And further consideration will show that though
the large land holders may lose relatively, yet even in their case
there will be an absolute gain. For, the increase in production will
be so great that labor and capital will gain very much more than will
be lost to private land ownership, while in these gains, and in the
greater ones involved in a more healthy social condition, the whole
community, including the land owners themselves, will share.

In a preceding chapter I have gone over the question of what is due to
the present land holders, and have shown that they have no claim to
compensation. But there is still another ground on which we may dismiss
all idea of compensation. They will not really be injured.

It is manifest, of course, that the change I propose will greatly
benefit all those who live by wages, whether of hand or of
head—laborers, operatives, mechanics, clerks, professional men of
all sorts. It is manifest, also, that it will benefit all those
who live partly by wages and partly by the earnings of their
capital—storekeepers, merchants, manufacturers, employing or
undertaking producers and exchangers of all sorts—from the peddler or
drayman to the railroad or steamship owner—and it is likewise manifest
that it will increase the incomes of those whose incomes are drawn from
the earnings of capital, or from investments other than in lands, save
perhaps the holders of government bonds or other securities bearing
fixed rates of interest, which will probably depreciate in selling
value, owing to the rise in the general rate of interest, though the
income from them will remain the same.

Take, now, the case of the homestead owner—the mechanic, storekeeper,
or professional man who has secured himself a house and lot, where he
lives, and which he contemplates with satisfaction as a place from
which his family cannot be ejected in case of his death. He will not
be injured; on the contrary, he will be the gainer. The selling value
of his lot will diminish—theoretically it will entirely disappear. But
its usefulness to him will not disappear. It will serve his purpose as
well as ever. While, as the value of all other lots will diminish or
disappear in the same ratio, he retains the same security of always
having a lot that he had before. That is to say, he is a loser only
as the man who has bought himself a pair of boots may be said to be a
loser by a subsequent fall in the price of boots. His boots will be
just as useful to him, and the next pair of boots he can get cheaper.
So, to the homestead owner, his lot will be as useful, and should he
look forward to getting a larger lot, or having his children, as they
grow up, get homesteads of their own, he will, even in the matter of
lots, be the gainer. And in the present, other things considered,
he will be much the gainer. For though he will have more taxes to
pay upon his land, he will be released from taxes upon his house and
improvements, upon his furniture and personal property, upon all that
he and his family eat, drink, and wear, while his earnings will be
largely increased by the rise of wages, the constant employment, and
the increased briskness of trade. His only loss will be, if he wants
to sell his lot without getting another, and this will be a small loss
compared with the great gain.

And so with the farmer. I speak not now of the farmers who never touch
the handles of a plow, who cultivate thousands of acres and enjoy
incomes like those of the rich Southern planters before the war; but
of the working farmers who constitute such a large class in the United
States—men who own small farms, which they cultivate with the aid of
their boys, and perhaps some hired help, and who in Europe would be
called peasant proprietors. Paradoxical as it may appear to these
men until they understand the full bearings of the proposition, of
all classes above that of the mere laborer they have most to gain by
placing all taxes upon the value of land. That they do not now get as
good a living as their hard work ought to give them, they generally
feel, though they may not be able to trace the cause. The fact is that
taxation, as now levied, falls on them with peculiar severity. They are
taxed on all their improvements—houses, barns, fences, crops, stock.
The personal property which they have cannot be as readily concealed
or undervalued as can the more valuable kinds which are concentrated
in the cities. They are not only taxed on personal property and
improvements, which the owners of unused land escape, but their land
is generally taxed at a higher rate than land held on speculation,
simply because it is improved. But further than this, all taxes imposed
on commodities, and especially the taxes which, like our protective
duties, are imposed with a view of raising the prices of commodities,
fall on the farmer without mitigation. For in a country like the
United States, which exports agricultural produce, the farmer cannot be
protected. Whoever gains, he must lose. Some years ago the Free Trade
League of New York published a broadside containing cuts of various
articles of necessity marked with the duties imposed by the tariff, and
which read something in this wise: “The farmer rises in the morning
and draws on his pantaloons taxed 40 per cent. and his boots taxed 30
per cent., striking a light with a match taxed 200 per cent.,” and so
on, following him through the day and through life, until, killed by
taxation, he is lowered into the grave with a rope taxed 45 per cent.
This is but a graphic illustration of the manner in which such taxes
ultimately fall. The farmer would be a great gainer by the substitution
of a single tax upon the value of land for all these taxes, for the
taxation of land values would fall with greatest weight, not upon the
agricultural districts, where land values are comparatively small, but
upon the towns and cities where land values are high; whereas taxes
upon personal property and improvements fall as heavily in the country
as in the city. And in sparsely settled districts there would be hardly
any taxes at all for the farmer to pay. For taxes, being levied upon
the value of the bare land, would fall as heavily upon unimproved as
upon improved land. Acre for acre, the improved and cultivated farm,
with its buildings, fences, orchard, crops, and stock could be taxed
no more than unused land of equal quality. The result would be that
speculative values would be kept down, and that cultivated and improved
farms would have no taxes to pay until the country around them had been
well settled. In fact, paradoxical as it may at first seem to them,
the effect of putting all taxation upon the value of land would be to
relieve the harder working farmers of all taxation.

But the great gain of the working farmer can be seen only when the
effect upon the distribution of population is considered. The
destruction of speculative land values would tend to diffuse population
where it is too dense and to concentrate it where it is too sparse; to
substitute for the tenement house, homes surrounded by gardens, and
fully to settle agricultural districts before people were driven far
from neighbors to look for land. The people of the cities would thus
get more of the pure air and sunshine of the country, the people of the
country more of the economies and social life of the city. If, as is
doubtless the case, the application of machinery tends to large fields,
agricultural population will assume the primitive form and cluster in
villages. The life of the average farmer is now unnecessarily dreary.
He is not only compelled to work early and late, but he is cut off by
the sparseness of population from the conveniences, the amusements, the
educational facilities, and the social and intellectual opportunities
that come with the closer contact of man with man. He would be far
better off in all these respects, and his labor would be far more
productive, if he and those around him held no more land than they
wanted to use.[56] While his children, as they grew up, would neither
be so impelled to seek the excitement of a city nor would they be
driven so far away to seek farms of their own. Their means of living
would be in their own hands, and at home.

In short, the working farmer is both a laborer and a capitalist, as
well as a land owner, and it is by his labor and capital that his
living is made. His loss would be nominal; his gain would be real and

In varying degrees is this true of all land holders. Many land
holders are laborers of one sort or another. And it would be hard to
find a land owner not a laborer, who is not also a capitalist—while
the general rule is, that the larger the land owner the greater the
capitalist. So true is this that in common thought the characters are
confounded. Thus to put all taxes on the value of land, while it would
be largely to reduce all great fortunes, would in no case leave the
rich man penniless. The Duke of Westminster, who owns a considerable
part of the site of London, is probably the richest land owner in the
world. To take all his ground rents by taxation would largely reduce
his enormous income, but would still leave him his buildings and all
the income from them, and doubtless much personal property in various
other shapes. He would still have all he could by any possibility
enjoy, and a much better state of society in which to enjoy it.

So would the Astors of New York remain very rich. And so, I think, it
will be seen throughout—this measure would make no one poorer but such
as could be made a great deal poorer without being really hurt. It
would cut down great fortunes, but it would impoverish no one.

Wealth would not only be enormously increased; it would be equally
distributed. I do not mean that each individual would get the same
amount of wealth. That would not be equal distribution, so long as
different individuals have different powers and different desires.
But I mean that wealth would be distributed in accordance with the
degree in which the industry, skill, knowledge, or prudence of each
contributed to the common stock. The great cause which concentrates
wealth in the hands of those who do not produce, and takes it from the
hands of those who do, would be gone. The inequalities that continued
to exist would be those of nature, not the artificial inequalities
produced by the denial of natural law. The non-producer would no longer
roll in luxury while the producer got but the barest necessities of
animal existence.

The monopoly of the land gone, there need be no fear of large fortunes.
For then the riches of any individual must consist of wealth, properly
so-called—of wealth, which is the product of labor, and which
constantly tends to dissipation, for national debts, I imagine, would
not long survive the abolition of the system from which they spring.
All fear of great fortunes might be dismissed, for when every one gets
what he fairly earns, no one can get more than he fairly earns. How
many men are there who fairly earn a million dollars?


[56] Besides the enormous increase in the productive power of labor
which would result from the better distribution of population, there
would be also a similar economy in the productive power of land. The
concentration of population in cities fed by the exhaustive cultivation
of large, sparsely populated areas, results in a literal draining into
the sea of the elements of fertility. How enormous this waste is may
be seen from the calculations that have been made as to the sewage of
our cities, and its practical result is to be seen in the diminishing
productiveness of agriculture in large sections. In a great part of the
United States we are steadily exhausting our lands.



We are dealing only with general principles. There are some matters
of detail—such as those arising from the division of revenues between
local and general governments—which upon application of these
principles would come up, but these it is not necessary here to
discuss. When once principles are settled, details will be readily

Nor without too much elaboration is it possible to notice all the
changes which would be wrought, or would become possible, by a change
which would readjust the very foundation of society, but to some main
features let me call attention.

Noticeable among these is the great simplicity which would become
possible in government. To collect taxes, to prevent and punish
evasions, to check and countercheck revenues drawn from so many
distinct sources, now make up probably three-fourths, perhaps
seven-eighths of the business of government, outside of the
preservation of order, the maintenance of the military arm, and the
administration of justice. An immense and complicated network of
governmental machinery would thus be dispensed with.

In the administration of justice there would be a like saving of
strain. Much of the civil business of our courts arises from disputes
as to ownership of land. These would cease when the state was virtually
acknowledged as the sole owner of land, and all occupiers became
practically rent-paying tenants. The growth of morality consequent
upon the cessation of want would tend to a like diminution in other
civil business of the courts, which could be hastened by the adoption
of the common sense proposition of Bentham to abolish all laws for
the collection of debts and the enforcement of private contracts. The
rise of wages, the opening of opportunities for all to make an easy
and comfortable living, would at once lessen and would soon eliminate
from society the thieves, swindlers, and other classes of criminals who
spring from the unequal distribution of wealth. Thus the administration
of the criminal law, with all its paraphernalia of policemen,
detectives, prisons, and penitentiaries, would, like the administration
of the civil law, cease to make such a drain upon the vital force and
attention of society. We should get rid, not only of many judges,
bailiffs, clerks and prison keepers, but of the great host of lawyers
who are now maintained at the expense of producers; and talent now
wasted in legal subtleties would be turned to higher pursuits.

The legislative, judicial, and executive functions of government would
in this way be vastly simplified. Nor can I think that the public
debts and the standing armies, which are historically the outgrowth
of the change from feudal to allodial tenures, would long remain
after the reversion to the old idea that the land of a country is the
common right of the people of the country. The former could readily be
paid off by a tax that would not lessen the wages of labor nor check
production, and the latter the growth of intelligence and independence
among the masses, aided, perhaps, by the progress of invention, which
is revolutionizing the military art, must soon cause to disappear.

Society would thus approach the ideal of Jeffersonian democracy, the
promised land of Herbert Spencer, the abolition of government. But of
government only as a directing and repressive power. It would at the
same time, and in the same degree, become possible for it to realize
the dream of socialism. All this simplification and abrogation of the
present functions of government would make possible the assumption
of certain other functions which are now pressing for recognition.
Government could take upon itself the transmission of messages by
telegraph, as well as by mail; of building and operating railroads,
as well as of opening and maintaining common roads. With present
functions so simplified and reduced, functions such as these could be
assumed without danger or strain, and would be under the supervision
of public attention, which is now distracted. There would be a great
and increasing surplus revenue from the taxation of land values, for
material progress, which would go on with greatly accelerated rapidity,
would tend constantly to increase rent. This revenue arising from
the common property could be applied to the common benefit, as were
the revenues of Sparta. We might not establish public tables—they
would be unnecessary; but we could establish public baths, museums,
libraries, gardens, lecture rooms, music and dancing halls, theaters,
universities, technical schools, shooting galleries, play grounds,
gymnasiums, etc. Heat, light, and motive power, as well as water,
might be conducted through our streets at public expense; our roads
be lined with fruit trees; discoverers and inventors rewarded,
scientific investigations supported; and in a thousand ways the
public revenues made to foster efforts for the public benefit. We
should reach the ideal of the socialist, but not through governmental
repression. Government would change its character, and would become the
administration of a great co-operative society. It would become merely
the agency by which the common property was administered for the common

Does this seem impracticable? Consider for a moment the vast changes
that would be wrought in social life by a change which would assure to
labor its full reward; which would banish want and the fear of want;
and give to the humblest freedom to develop in natural symmetry.

In thinking of the possibilities of social organization, we are apt to
assume that greed is the strongest of human motives, and that systems
of administration can be safely based only upon the idea that the fear
of punishment is necessary to keep men honest—that selfish interests
are always stronger than general interests. Nothing could be further
from the truth.

From whence springs this lust for gain, to gratify which men tread
everything pure and noble under their feet; to which they sacrifice all
the higher possibilities of life; which converts civility into a hollow
pretense, patriotism into a sham, and religion into hypocrisy; which
makes so much of civilized existence an Ishmaelitish warfare, of which
the weapons are cunning and fraud?

Does it not spring from the existence of want? Carlyle somewhere
says that poverty is the hell of which the modern Englishman is most
afraid. And he is right. Poverty is the open-mouthed, relentless hell
which yawns beneath civilized society. And it is hell enough. The
Vedas declare no truer thing than when the wise crow Bushanda tells
the eagle-bearer of Vishnu that the keenest pain is in poverty. For
poverty is not merely deprivation; it means shame, degradation; the
searing of the most sensitive parts of our moral and mental nature as
with hot irons; the denial of the strongest impulses and the sweetest
affections; the wrenching of the most vital nerves. You love your wife,
you love your children; but would it not be easier to see them die than
to see them reduced to the pinch of want in which large classes in
every highly civilized community live? The strongest of animal passions
is that with which we cling to life, but it is an everyday occurrence
in civilized societies for men to put poison to their mouths or pistols
to their heads from fear of poverty, and for one who does this there
are probably a hundred who have the desire, but are restrained by
instinctive shrinking, by religious considerations, or by family ties.

From this hell of poverty, it is but natural that men should make
every effort to escape. With the impulse to self-preservation and
self-gratification combine nobler feelings, and love as well as fear
urges in the struggle. Many a man does a mean thing, a dishonest thing,
a greedy and grasping and unjust thing, in the effort to place above
want, or the fear of want, mother or wife or children.

And out of this condition of things arises a public opinion which
enlists, as an impelling power in the struggle to grasp and to keep,
one of the strongest—perhaps with many men the very strongest—springs
of human action. The desire for approbation, the feeling that urges
us to win the respect, admiration, or sympathy of our fellows, is
instinctive and universal. Distorted sometimes into the most abnormal
manifestations, it may yet be everywhere perceived. It is potent
with the veriest savage, as with the most highly cultivated member
of the most polished society; it shows itself with the first gleam
of intelligence, and persists to the last breath. It triumphs over
the love of ease, over the sense of pain, over the dread of death. It
dictates the most trivial and the most important actions.

The child just beginning to toddle or to talk will make new efforts
as its cunning little tricks excite attention and laughter; the dying
master of the world gathers his robes around him, that he may pass
away as becomes a king; Chinese mothers will deform their daughters’
feet by cruel stocks, European women will sacrifice their own comfort
and the comfort of their families to similar dictates of fashion; the
Polynesian, that he may excite admiration by his beautiful tattoo,
will hold himself still while his flesh is torn by sharks’ teeth; the
North American Indian, tied to the stake, will bear the most fiendish
tortures without a moan, and, that he may be respected and admired as
a great brave, will taunt his tormentors to new cruelties. It is this
that leads the forlorn hope; it is this that trims the lamp of the pale
student; it is this that impels men to strive, to strain, to toil, and
to die. It is this that raised the pyramids and that fired the Ephesian

Now, men admire what they desire. How sweet to the storm-stricken seems
the safe harbor; food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, warmth to
the shivering, rest to the weary, power to the weak, knowledge to him
in whom the intellectual yearnings of the soul have been aroused. And
thus the sting of want and the fear of want make men admire above all
things the possession of riches, and to become wealthy is to become
respected, and admired, and influential. Get money—honestly, if you
can, but at any rate get money! This is the lesson that society is
daily and hourly dinning in the ears of its members. Men instinctively
admire virtue and truth, but the sting of want and the fear of want
make them even more strongly admire the rich and sympathize with the
fortunate. It is well to be honest and just, and men will commend it;
but he who by fraud and injustice gets him a million dollars will have
more respect, and admiration, and influence, more eye service and lip
service, if not heart service, than he who refuses it. The one may have
his reward in the future; he may know that his name is writ in the
Book of Life, and that for him is the white robe and the palm branch
of the victor against temptation; but the other has his reward in the
present. His name is writ in the list of “our substantial citizens;”
he has the courtship of men and the flattery of women; the best pew
in the church and the personal regard of the eloquent clergyman who
in the name of Christ preaches the Gospel of Dives, and tones down
into a meaningless flower of Eastern speech the stern metaphor of the
camel and the needle’s eye. He may be a patron of arts, a Mæcenas to
men of letters; may profit by the converse of the intelligent, and be
polished by the attrition of the refined. His alms may feed the poor,
and help the struggling, and bring sunshine into desolate places; and
noble public institutions commemorate, after he is gone, his name and
his fame. It is not in the guise of a hideous monster, with horns and
tail, that Satan tempts the children of men, but as an angel of light.
His promises are not alone of the kingdoms of the world, but of mental
and moral principalities and powers. He appeals not only to the animal
appetites, but to the cravings that stir in man because he is more than
an animal.

Take the case of those miserable “men with muckrakes,” who are to be
seen in every community as plainly as Bunyan saw their type in his
vision—who, long after they have accumulated wealth enough to satisfy
every desire, go on working, scheming, striving to add riches to
riches. It was the desire “to be something;” nay, in many cases, the
desire to do noble and generous deeds, that started them on a career of
money getting. And what compels them to it long after every possible
need is satisfied, what urges them still with unsatisfied and ravenous
greed, is not merely the force of tyrannous habit, but the subtler
gratifications which the possession of riches gives—the sense of power
and influence, the sense of being looked up to and respected, the sense
that their wealth not merely raises them above want, but makes them men
of mark in the community in which they live. It is this that makes the
rich man so loath to part with his money, so anxious to get more.

Against temptations that thus appeal to the strongest impulses of our
nature, the sanctions of law and the precepts of religion can effect
but little; and the wonder is, not that men are so self-seeking, but
that they are not much more so. That under present circumstances men
are not more grasping, more unfaithful, more selfish than they are,
proves the goodness and fruitfulness of human nature, the ceaseless
flow of the perennial fountains from which its moral qualities are fed.
All of us have mothers; most of us have children, and so faith, and
purity, and unselfishness can never be utterly banished from the world,
howsoever bad be social adjustments.

But whatever is potent for evil may be made potent for good. The change
I have proposed would destroy the conditions that distort impulses in
themselves beneficent, and would transmute the forces which now tend to
disintegrate society into forces which would tend to unite and purify

Give labor a free field and its full earnings; take for the benefit
of the whole community that fund which the growth of the community
creates, and want and the fear of want would be gone. The springs of
production would be set free, and the enormous increase of wealth would
give the poorest ample comfort. Men would no more worry about finding
employment than they worry about finding air to breathe; they need
have no more care about physical necessities than do the lilies of the
field. The progress of science, the march of invention, the diffusion
of knowledge, would bring their benefits to all.

With this abolition of want and the fear of want, the admiration of
riches would decay, and men would seek the respect and approbation
of their fellows in other modes than by the acquisition and display
of wealth. In this way there would be brought to the management of
public affairs, and the administration of common funds, the skill, the
attention, the fidelity, and integrity that can now be secured only
for private interests, and a railroad or gas works might be operated
on public account, not only more economically and efficiently than
as at present, under joint stock management, but as economically and
efficiently as would be possible under a single ownership. The prize
of the Olympian games, that called forth the most strenuous exertions
of all Greece, was but a wreath of wild olive; for a bit of ribbon men
have over and over again performed services no money could have bought.

Shortsighted is the philosophy which counts on selfishness as the
master motive of human action. It is blind to facts of which the world
is full. It sees not the present, and reads not the past aright. If
you would move men to action, to what shall you appeal? Not to their
pockets, but to their patriotism; not to selfishness, but to sympathy.
Self-interest is, as it were, a mechanical force—potent, it is true;
capable of large and wide results. But there is in human nature
what may be likened to a chemical force; which melts and fuses and
overwhelms; to which nothing seems impossible. “All that a man hath
will he give for his life”—that is self-interest. But in loyalty to
higher impulses men will give even life.

It is not selfishness that enriches the annals of every people with
heroes and saints. It is not selfishness that on every page of the
world’s history bursts out in sudden splendor of noble deeds or sheds
the soft radiance of benignant lives. It was not selfishness that
turned Gautama’s back to his royal home or bade the Maid of Orleans
lift the sword from the altar; that held the Three Hundred in the Pass
of Thermopylæ, or gathered into Winkelried’s bosom the sheaf of spears;
that chained Vincent de Paul to the bench of the galley, or brought
little starving children, during the Indian famine, tottering to the
relief stations with yet weaker starvelings in their arms. Call it
religion, patriotism, sympathy, the enthusiasm for humanity, or the
love of God—give it what name you will; there is yet a force which
overcomes and drives out selfishness; a force which is the electricity
of the moral universe; a force beside which all others are weak.
Everywhere that men have lived it has shown its power, and to-day, as
ever, the world is full of it. To be pitied is the man who has never
seen and never felt it. Look around! among common men and women, amid
the care and the struggle of daily life, in the jar of the noisy street
and amid the squalor where want hides—every here and there is the
darkness lighted with the tremulous play of its lambent flames. He who
has not seen it has walked with shut eyes. He who looks may see, as
says Plutarch, that “the soul has a principle of kindness in itself,
and is born to love, as well as to perceive, think, or remember.”

And this force of forces—that now goes to waste or assumes perverted
forms—we may use for the strengthening, and building up, and ennobling
of society, if we but will, just as we now use physical forces that
once seemed but powers of destruction. All we have to do is but to
give it freedom and scope. The wrong that produces inequality; the
wrong that in the midst of abundance tortures men with want or harries
them with the fear of want; that stunts them physically, degrades them
intellectually, and distorts them morally, is what alone prevents
harmonious social development. For “all that is from the gods is full
of providence. We are made for co-operation—like feet, like hands, like
eyelids, like the rows of the upper and lower teeth.”

There are people into whose heads it never enters to conceive of any
better state of society than that which now exists—who imagine that the
idea that there could be a state of society in which greed would be
banished, prisons stand empty, individual interests be subordinated to
general interests, and no one seek to rob or to oppress his neighbor,
is but the dream of impracticable dreamers, for whom these practical
level-headed men, who pride themselves on recognizing facts as they
are, have a hearty contempt. But such men—though some of them write
books, and some of them occupy the chairs of universities, and some of
them stand in pulpits—do not think.

If they were accustomed to dine in such eating houses as are to be
found in the lower quarters of London and Paris, where the knives
and forks are chained to the table, they would deem it the natural,
ineradicable disposition of man to carry off the knife and fork with
which he has eaten.

Take a company of well-bred men and women dining together. There is
no struggling for food, no attempt on the part of any one to get
more than his neighbor; no attempt to gorge or to carry off. On the
contrary, each one is anxious to help his neighbor before he partakes
himself; to offer to others the best rather than pick it out for
himself; and should any one show the slightest disposition to prefer
the gratification of his own appetite to that of the others, or in any
way to act the pig or pilferer, the swift and heavy penalty of social
contempt and ostracism would show how such conduct is reprobated by
common opinion.

All this is so common as to excite no remark, as to seem the natural
state of things. Yet it is no more natural that men should not be
greedy of food than that they should not be greedy of wealth. They
_are_ greedy of food when they are not assured that there will be a
fair and equitable distribution which will give each enough. But when
these conditions are assured, they cease to be greedy of food. And so
in society, as at present constituted, men are greedy of wealth because
the conditions of distribution are so unjust that instead of each
being sure of enough, many are certain to be condemned to want. It
is the “devil catch the hindmost” of present social adjustments that
causes the race and scramble for wealth, in which all considerations
of justice, mercy, religion, and sentiment are trampled under foot; in
which men forget their own souls, and struggle to the very verge of the
grave for what they cannot take beyond. But an equitable distribution
of wealth, that would exempt all from the fear of want, would destroy
the greed of wealth, just as in polite society the greed of food has
been destroyed.

On the crowded steamers of the early California lines there was often
a marked difference between the manners of the steerage and the cabin,
which illustrates this principle of human nature. An abundance of food
was provided for the steerage as for the cabin, but in the former
there were no regulations which insured efficient service, and the
meals became a scramble. In the cabin, on the contrary, where each was
allotted his place and there was no fear that every one would not get
enough, there was no such scrambling and waste as were witnessed in the
steerage. The difference was not in the character of the people, but
simply in this fact. The cabin passenger transferred to the steerage
would participate in the greedy rush, and the steerage passenger
transferred to the cabin would at once become decorous and polite.
The same difference would show itself in society in general were the
present unjust distribution of wealth replaced by a just distribution.

Consider this existing fact of a cultivated and refined society, in
which all the coarser passions are held in check, not by force, not
by law, but by common opinion and the mutual desire of pleasing. If
this is possible for a part of a community, it is possible for a whole
community. There are states of society in which every one has to go
armed—in which every one has to hold himself in readiness to defend
person and property with the strong hand. If we have progressed beyond
that, we may progress still further.

But it may be said, to banish want and the fear of want, would be to
destroy the stimulus to exertion; men would become simply idlers, and
such a happy state of general comfort and content would be the death
of progress. This is the old slaveholders’ argument, that men can be
driven to labor only with the lash. Nothing is more untrue.

Want might be banished, but desire would remain. Man is the unsatisfied
animal. He has but begun to explore, and the universe lies before him.
Each step that he takes opens new vistas and kindles new desires. He is
the constructive animal; he builds, he improves, he invents, and puts
together, and the greater the thing he does, the greater the thing he
wants to do. He is more than an animal. Whatever be the intelligence
that breathes through nature, it is in that likeness that man is made.
The steamship, driven by her throbbing engines through the sea, is in
kind, though not in degree, as much a creation as the whale that swims
beneath. The telescope and the microscope, what are they but added
eyes, which man has made for himself; the soft webs and fair colors in
which our women array themselves, do they not answer to the plumage
that nature gives the bird? Man must be doing something, or fancy that
he is doing something, for in him throbs the creative impulse; the mere
basker in the sunshine is not a natural, but an abnormal man.

As soon as a child can command its muscles, it will begin to make mud
pies or dress a doll; its play is but the imitation of the work of its
elders; its very destructiveness arises from the desire to be doing
something, from the satisfaction of seeing itself accomplish something.
There is no such thing as the pursuit of pleasure for the sake of
pleasure. Our very amusements amuse only as they are, or simulate, the
learning or the doing of something. The moment they cease to appeal
either to our inquisitive or to our constructive powers, they cease to
amuse. It will spoil the interest of the novel reader to be told just
how the story will end; it is only the chance and the skill involved in
the game that enable the card-player to “kill time” by shuffling bits
of pasteboard. The luxurious frivolities of Versailles were possible to
human beings only because the king thought he was governing a kingdom
and the courtiers were in pursuit of fresh honors and new pensions.
People who lead what are called lives of fashion and pleasure must have
some other object in view, or they would die of _ennui_; they support
it only because they imagine that they are gaining position, making
friends, or improving the chances of their children. Shut a man up, and
deny him employment, and he must either die or go mad.

It is not labor in itself that is repugnant to man; it is not the
natural necessity for exertion which is a curse. It is only labor which
produces nothing—exertion of which he cannot see the results. To toil
day after day, and yet get but the necessaries of life, this is indeed
hard; it is like the infernal punishment of compelling a man to pump
lest he be drowned, or to trudge on a treadmill lest he be crushed.
But, released from this necessity, men would but work the harder and
the better, for then they would work as their inclinations led them;
then would they seem to be really doing something for themselves or
for others. Was Humboldt’s life an idle one? Did Franklin find no
occupation when he retired from the printing business with enough to
live on? Is Herbert Spencer a laggard? Did Michael Angelo paint for
board and clothes?

The fact is that the work which improves the condition of mankind,
the work which extends knowledge and increases power, and enriches
literature, and elevates thought, is not done to secure a living. It is
not the work of slaves, driven to their task either by the lash of a
master or by animal necessities. It is the work of men who perform it
for its own sake, and not that they may get more to eat or drink, or
wear, or display. In a state of society where want was abolished, work
of this sort would be enormously increased.

I am inclined to think that the result of confiscating rent in the
manner I have proposed would be to cause the organization of labor,
wherever large capitals were used, to assume the co-operative form,
since the more equal diffusion of wealth would unite capitalist and
laborer in the same person. But whether this would be so or not is of
little moment. The hard toil of routine labor would disappear. Wages
would be too high and opportunities too great to compel any man to
stint and starve the higher qualities of his nature, and in every
avocation the brain would aid the hand. Work, even of the coarser
kinds, would become a lightsome thing, and the tendency of modern
production to subdivision would not involve monotony or the contraction
of ability in the worker; but would be relieved by short hours, by
change, by the alternation of intellectual with manual occupations.
There would result, not only the utilization of productive forces
now going to waste; not only would our present knowledge, now so
imperfectly applied, be fully used; but from the mobility of labor
and the mental activity which would be generated, there would result
advances in the methods of production that we now cannot imagine.

For, greatest of all the enormous wastes which the present constitution
of society involves, is that of mental power. How infinitesimal are the
forces that concur to the advance of civilization, as compared to the
forces that lie latent! How few are the thinkers, the discoverers,
the inventors, the organizers, as compared with the great mass of the
people! Yet such men are born in plenty; it is the conditions that
permit so few to develop. There are among men infinite diversities of
aptitude and inclination, as there are such infinite diversities in
physical structure that among a million there will not be two that
cannot be told apart. But, both from observation and reflection, I
am inclined to think that the differences of natural power are no
greater than the differences of stature or of physical strength. Turn
to the lives of great men, and see how easily they might never have
been heard of. Had Cæsar come of a proletarian family; had Napoleon
entered the world a few years earlier; had Columbus gone into the
Church instead of going to sea; had Shakespeare been apprenticed to a
cobbler or chimney-sweep; had Sir Isaac Newton been assigned by fate
the education and the toil of an agricultural laborer; had Dr. Adam
Smith been born in the coal hews, or Herbert Spencer forced to get his
living as a factory operative, what would their talents have availed?
But there would have been, it will be said, other Cæsars or Napoleons,
Columbuses or Shakespeares, Newtons, Smiths or Spencers. This is true.
And it shows how prolific is our human nature. As the common worker is
on need transformed into queen bee, so, when circumstances favor his
development, what might otherwise pass for a common man rises into a
hero or leader, discoverer or teacher, sage or saint. So widely has the
sower scattered the seed, so strong is the germinative force that bids
it bud and blossom. But, alas, for the stony ground, and the birds and
the tares! For one who attains his full stature, how many are stunted
and deformed.

The will within us is the ultimate fact of consciousness. Yet how
little have the best of us, in acquirements, in position, even in
character, that may be credited entirely to ourselves; how much to the
influences that have molded us. Who is there, wise, learned, discreet,
or strong, who might not, were he to trace the inner history of his
life, turn, like the Stoic Emperor, to give thanks to the gods, that by
this one and that one, and here and there, good examples have been set
him, noble thoughts have reached him, and happy opportunities opened
before him. Who is there, who, with his eyes about him, has reached
the meridian of life, who has not sometimes echoed the thought of the
pious Englishman, as the criminal passed to the gallows, “But for the
grace of God, there go I.” How little does heredity count as compared
with conditions. This one, we say, is the result of a thousand years
of European progress, and that one of a thousand years of Chinese
petrifaction; yet, placed an infant in the heart of China, and but for
the angle of the eye or the shade of the hair, the Caucasian would
grow up as those around him, using the same speech, thinking the same
thoughts, exhibiting the same tastes. Change Lady Vere de Vere in her
cradle with an infant of the slums, and will the blood of a hundred
earls give you a refined and cultured woman?

To remove want and the fear of want, to give to all classes leisure,
and comfort, and independence, the decencies and refinements of life,
the opportunities of mental and moral development, would be like
turning water into a desert. The sterile waste would clothe itself
with verdure, and the barren places where life seemed banned would ere
long be dappled with the shade of trees and musical with the song of
birds. Talents now hidden, virtues unsuspected, would come forth to
make human life richer, fuller, happier, nobler. For in these round men
who are stuck into three-cornered holes, and three-cornered men who are
jammed into round holes; in these men who are wasting their energies
in the scramble to be rich; in these who in factories are turned into
machines, or are chained by necessity to bench or plow; in these
children who are growing up in squalor, and vice, and ignorance, are
powers of the highest order, talents the most splendid. They need but
the opportunity to bring them forth.

Consider the possibilities of a state of society that gave that
opportunity to all. Let imagination fill out the picture; its colors
grow too bright for words to paint. Consider the moral elevation, the
intellectual activity, the social life. Consider how by a thousand
actions and interactions the members of every community are linked
together, and how in the present condition of things even the fortunate
few who stand upon the apex of the social pyramid must suffer, though
they know it not, from the want, ignorance, and degradation that are
underneath. Consider these things and then say whether the change I
propose would not be for the benefit of every one—even the greatest
land holder? Would he not be safer of the future of his children in
leaving them penniless in such a state of society than in leaving them
the largest fortune in this? Did such a state of society anywhere
exist, would he not buy entrance to it cheaply by giving up all his

I have now traced to their source social weakness and disease. I have
shown the remedy. I have covered every point and met every objection.
But the problems that we have been considering, great as they are, pass
into problems greater yet—into the grandest problems with which the
human mind can grapple. I am about to ask the reader who has gone with
me so far, to go with me further, into still higher fields. But I ask
him to remember that in the little space which remains of the limits to
which this book must be confined, I cannot fully treat the questions
which arise. I can but suggest some thoughts, which may, perhaps, serve
as hints for further thought.








                    What in me is dark
    Illumine, what is low raise and support;
    That to the height of this great argument
    I may assert eternal Providence
    And justify the ways of God to men.




If the conclusions at which we have arrived are correct, they will fall
under a larger generalization.

Let us, therefore, recommence our inquiry from a higher standpoint,
whence we may survey a wider field.

 _What is the law of human progress?_

This is a question which, were it not for what has gone before, I
should hesitate to review in the brief space I can now devote to it, as
it involves, directly or indirectly, some of the very highest problems
with which the human mind can engage. But it is a question which
naturally comes up. Are or are not the conclusions to which we have
come consistent with the great law under which human development goes

What is that law? We must find the answer to our question; for the
current philosophy, though it clearly recognizes the existence of
such a law, gives no more satisfactory account of it than the current
political economy does of the persistence of want amid advancing wealth.

Let us, as far as possible, keep to the firm ground of facts. Whether
man was or was not gradually developed from an animal, it is not
necessary to inquire. However intimate may be the connection between
questions which relate to man as we know him and questions which relate
to his genesis, it is only from the former upon the latter that light
can be thrown. Inference cannot proceed from the unknown to the known.
It is only from facts of which we are cognizant that we can infer what
has preceded cognizance.

However man may have originated, all we know of him is as man—just as
he is now to be found. There is no record or trace of him in any lower
condition than that in which savages are still to be met. By whatever
bridge he may have crossed the wide chasm which now separates him from
the brutes, there remain of it no vestiges. Between the lowest savages
of whom we know and the highest animals, there is an irreconcilable
difference—a difference not merely of degree, but of kind. Many of the
characteristics, actions, and emotions of man are exhibited by the
lower animals; but man, no matter how low in the scale of humanity, has
never yet been found destitute of one thing of which no animal shows
the slightest trace, a clearly recognizable but almost undefinable
something, which gives him the power of improvement—which makes him the
progressive animal.

The beaver builds a dam, and the bird a nest, and the bee a cell; but
while beavers’ dams, and birds’ nests, and bees’ cells are always
constructed on the same model, the house of the man passes from the
rude hut of leaves and branches to the magnificent mansion replete with
modern conveniences. The dog can to a certain extent connect cause
and effect, and may be taught some tricks; but his capacity in these
respects has not been a whit increased during all the ages he has been
the associate of improving man, and the dog of civilization is not a
whit more accomplished or intelligent than the dog of the wandering
savage. We know of no animal that uses clothes, that cooks its food,
that makes itself tools or weapons, that breeds other animals that it
wishes to eat, or that has an articulate language. But men who do not
do such things have never yet been found, or heard of, except in fable.
That is to say, man, wherever we know him, exhibits this power—of
supplementing what nature has done for him by what he does for himself;
and, in fact, so inferior is the physical endowment of man, that there
is no part of the world, save perhaps some of the small islands of the
Pacific, where without this faculty he could maintain an existence.

Man everywhere and at all times exhibits this faculty—everywhere and at
all times of which we have knowledge he has made some use of it. But
the degree in which this has been done greatly varies. Between the rude
canoe and the steamship; between the boomerang and the repeating rifle;
between the roughly carved wooden idol and the breathing marble of
Grecian art; between savage knowledge and modern science; between the
wild Indian and the white settler; between the Hottentot woman and the
belle of polished society, there is an enormous difference.

The varying degrees in which this faculty is used cannot be ascribed to
differences in original capacity—the most highly improved peoples of
the present day were savages within historic times, and we meet with
the widest differences between peoples of the same stock. Nor can they
be wholly ascribed to differences in physical environment—the cradles
of learning and the arts are now in many cases tenanted by barbarians,
and within a few years great cities rise on the hunting grounds of
wild tribes. All these differences are evidently connected with social
development. Beyond perhaps the veriest rudiments, it becomes possible
for man to improve only as he lives with his fellows. All these
improvements, therefore, in man’s powers and condition we summarize in
the term civilization. Men improve as they become civilized, or learn
to co-operate in society.

What is the law of this improvement? By what common principle can
we explain the different stages of civilization at which different
communities have arrived? In what consists essentially the progress
of civilization, so that we may say of varying social adjustments,
this favors it, and that does not; or explain why an institution or
condition which may at one time advance it may at another time retard

The prevailing belief now is, that the progress of civilization is
a development or evolution, in the course of which men’s powers are
increased and his qualities improved by the operation of causes
similar to those which are relied upon as explaining the genesis
of species—viz., the survival of the fittest and the hereditary
transmission of acquired qualities.

That civilization is an evolution—that it is, in the language of
Herbert Spencer, a progress from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity
to a definite, coherent heterogeneity—there is no doubt; but to say
this is not to explain or identify the causes which forward or retard
it. How far the sweeping generalizations of Spencer, which seek to
account for all phenomena under terms of matter and force, may,
properly understood, include all these causes, I am unable to say; but,
as scientifically expounded, the development philosophy has either
not yet definitely met this question, or has given birth, or rather
coherency, to an opinion which does not accord with the facts.

The vulgar explanation of progress is, I think, very much like the
view naturally taken by the money maker of the causes of the unequal
distribution of wealth. His theory, if he has one, usually is, that
there is plenty of money to be made by those who have will and ability,
and that it is ignorance, or idleness, or extravagance, that makes the
difference between the rich and the poor. And so the common explanation
of differences of civilization is of differences in capacity. The
civilized races are the superior races, and advance in civilization
is according to this superiority—just as English victories were, in
common English opinion, due to the natural superiority of Englishmen to
frog-eating Frenchmen; and popular government, active invention, and
greater average comfort are, or were until lately, in common American
opinion, due to the greater “smartness of the Yankee Nation.”

Now, just as the politico-economic doctrines which in the beginning of
this inquiry we met and disproved, harmonize with the common opinion of
men who see capitalists paying wages and competition reducing wages;
just as the Malthusian theory harmonized with existing prejudices
both of the rich and the poor; so does the explanation of progress as
a gradual race improvement harmonize with the vulgar opinion which
accounts by race differences for differences in civilization. It has
given coherence and a scientific formula to opinions which already
prevailed. Its wonderful spread since the time Darwin first startled
the world with his “Origin of Species” has not been so much a conquest
as an assimilation.

The view which now dominates the world of thought is this: That the
struggle for existence, just in proportion as it becomes intense,
impels men to new efforts and inventions. That this improvement and
capacity for improvement is fixed by hereditary transmission, and
extended by the tendency of the best adapted individual, or most
improved individual, to survive and propagate among individuals, and of
the best adapted, or most improved tribe, nation, or race to survive in
the struggle between social aggregates. On this theory the differences
between man and the animals, and differences in the relative progress
of men, are now explained as confidently, and all but as generally,
as a little while ago they were explained upon the theory of special
creation and divine interposition.

The practical outcome of this theory is in a sort of hopeful fatalism,
of which current literature is full.[57] In this view, progress is the
result of forces which work slowly, steadily and remorselessly, for
the elevation of man. War, slavery, tyranny, superstition, famine, and
pestilence, the want and misery which fester in modern civilization,
are the impelling causes which drive man on, by eliminating poorer
types and extending the higher; and hereditary transmission is
the power by which advances are fixed, and past advances made the
footing for new advances. The individual is the result of changes
thus impressed upon and perpetuated through a long series of past
individuals, and the social organization takes its form from the
individuals of which it is composed. Thus, while this theory is, as
Herbert Spencer says[58]—“radical to a degree beyond anything which
current radicalism conceives;” inasmuch as it looks for changes in
the very nature of man; it is at the same time “conservative to a
degree beyond anything conceived by current conservatism,” inasmuch
as it holds that no change can avail save these slow changes in
men’s natures. Philosophers may teach that this does not lessen the
duty of endeavoring to reform abuses, just as the theologians who
taught predestinarianism insisted on the duty of all to struggle for
salvation; but, as generally apprehended, the result is fatalism—“do
what we may, the mills of the gods grind on regardless either of our
aid or our hindrance.” I allude to this only to illustrate what I
take to be the opinion now rapidly spreading and permeating common
thought; not that in the search for truth any regard for its effects
should be permitted to bias the mind. But this I take to be the current
view of civilization: That it is the result of forces, operating in
the way indicated, which slowly change the character, and improve and
elevate the powers of man; that the difference between civilized man
and savage is of a long race education, which has become permanently
fixed in mental organization; and that this improvement tends to go on
increasingly, to a higher and higher civilization. We have reached such
a point that progress seems to be natural with us, and we look forward
confidently to the greater achievements of the coming race—some even
holding that the progress of science will finally give men immortality
and enable them to make bodily the tour not only of the planets, but
of the fixed stars, and at length to manufacture suns and systems for

But without soaring to the stars, the moment that this theory
of progression, which seems so natural to us amid an advancing
civilization, looks around the world, it comes against an enormous
fact—the fixed, petrified civilizations. The majority of the human race
to-day have no idea of progress; the majority of the human race to-day
look (as until a few generations ago our own ancestors looked) upon
the past as the time of human perfection. The difference between the
savage and the civilized man may be explained on the theory that the
former is as yet so imperfectly developed that his progress is hardly
apparent; but how, upon the theory that human progress is the result of
general and continuous causes, shall we account for the civilizations
that have progressed so far and then stopped? It cannot be said of
the Hindoo and of the Chinaman, as it may be said of the savage, that
our superiority is the result of a longer education; that we are, as
it were, the grown men of nature, while they are the children. The
Hindoos and the Chinese were civilized when we were savages. They had
great cities, highly organized and powerful governments, literatures,
philosophies, polished manners, considerable division of labor, large
commerce, and elaborate arts, when our ancestors were wandering
barbarians, living in huts and skin tents, not a whit further advanced
than the American Indians. While we have progressed from this savage
state to Nineteenth Century civilization, they have stood still. If
progress be the result of fixed laws, inevitable and eternal, which
impel men forward, how shall we account for this?

One of the best popular expounders of the development philosophy,
Walter Bagehot (“Physics and Politics”), admits the force of this
objection, and endeavors in this way to explain it: That the first
thing necessary to civilize man is to tame him; to induce him to live
in association with his fellows in subordination to law; and hence a
body or “cake” of laws and customs grows up, being intensified and
extended by natural selection, the tribe or nation thus bound together
having an advantage over those who are not. That this cake of custom
and law finally becomes too thick and hard to permit further progress,
which can go on only as circumstances occur which introduce discussion,
and thus permit the freedom and mobility necessary to improvement.

This explanation, which Mr. Bagehot offers, as he says, with some
misgivings, is I think at the expense of the general theory. But it is
not worth while speaking of that, for it, manifestly, does not explain
the facts.

The hardening tendency of which Mr. Bagehot speaks would show itself
at a very early period of development, and his illustrations of
it are nearly all drawn from savage or semi-savage life. Whereas,
these arrested civilizations had gone a long distance before they
stopped. There must have been a time when they were very far advanced
as compared with the savage state, and were yet plastic, free, and
advancing. These arrested civilizations stopped at a point which was
hardly in anything inferior and in many respects superior to European
civilization of, say, the sixteenth or at any rate the fifteenth
century. Up to that point then there must have been discussion, the
hailing of what was new, and mental activity of all sorts. They had
architects who carried the art of building, necessarily by a series of
innovations or improvements, up to a very high point; ship-builders who
in the same way, by innovation after innovation, finally produced as
good a vessel as the war ships of Henry VIII.; inventors who stopped
only on the verge of our most important improvements, and from some
of whom we can yet learn; engineers who constructed great irrigation
works and navigable canals; rival schools of philosophy and conflicting
ideas of religion. One great religion, in many respects resembling
Christianity, rose in India, displaced the old religion, passed into
China, sweeping over that country, and was displaced again in its old
seats, just as Christianity was displaced in its first seats. There was
life, and active life, and the innovation that begets improvement, long
after men had learned to live together. And, moreover, both India and
China have received the infusion of new life in conquering races, with
different customs and modes of thought.

The most fixed and petrified of all civilizations of which we
know anything was that of Egypt, where even art finally assumed a
conventional and inflexible form. But we know that behind this must
have been a time of life and vigor—a freshly developing and expanding
civilization, such as ours is now—or the arts and sciences could never
have been carried to such a pitch. And recent excavations have brought
to light from beneath what we before knew of Egypt an earlier Egypt
still—in statues and carvings which, instead of a hard and formal type,
beam with life and expression, which show art struggling, ardent,
natural, and free, the sure indication of an active and expanding life.
So it must have been once with all now unprogressive civilizations.

But it is not merely these arrested civilizations that the current
theory of development fails to account for. It is not merely that men
have gone so far on the path of progress and then stopped; it is that
men have gone far on the path of progress and then gone back. It is
not merely an isolated case that thus confronts the theory—_it is the
universal rule_. Every civilization that the world has yet seen has had
its period of vigorous growth, of arrest and stagnation; its decline
and fall. Of all the civilizations that have arisen and flourished,
there remain to-day but those that have been arrested, and our own,
which is not yet as old as were the pyramids when Abraham looked upon
them—while behind the pyramids were twenty centuries of recorded

That our own civilization has a broader base, is of a more advanced
type, moves quicker and soars higher than any preceding civilization is
undoubtedly true; but in these respects it is hardly more in advance
of the Greco-Roman civilization than that was in advance of Asiatic
civilization; and if it were, that would prove nothing as to its
permanence and future advance, unless it be shown that it is superior
in those things which caused the ultimate failure of its predecessors.
The current theory does not assume this.

In truth, nothing could be further from explaining the facts of
universal history than this theory that civilization is the result
of a course of natural selection which operates to improve and
elevate the powers of man. That civilization has arisen at different
times in different places and has progressed at different rates, is
not inconsistent with this theory; for that might result from the
unequal balancing of impelling and resisting forces; but that progress
everywhere commencing, for even among the lowest tribes it is held
that there has been some progress, has nowhere been continuous,
but has everywhere been brought to a stand or retrogression, _is_
absolutely inconsistent. For if progress operated to fix an improvement
in man’s nature and thus to produce further progress, though there
might be occasional interruption, yet the general rule would be that
progress would be continuous—that advance would lead to advance, and
civilization develop into higher civilization.

Not merely the general rule, but _the universal rule_, is the reverse
of this. The earth is the tomb of the dead empires, no less than of
dead men. Instead of progress fitting men for greater progress, every
civilization that was in its own time as vigorous and advancing as
ours is now, has of itself come to a stop. Over and over again, art
has declined, learning sunk, power waned, population become sparse,
until the people who had built great temples and mighty cities, turned
rivers and pierced mountains, cultivated the earth like a garden and
introduced the utmost refinement into the minute affairs of life,
remained but in a remnant of squalid barbarians, who had lost even the
memory of what their ancestors had done, and regarded the surviving
fragments of their grandeur as the work of genii, or of the mighty race
before the flood. So true is this, that when we think of the past, it
seems like the inexorable law, from which we can no more hope to be
exempt than the young man who “feels his life in every limb” can hope
to be exempt from the dissolution which is the common fate of all.
“Even this, O Rome, must one day be thy fate!” wept Scipio over the
ruins of Carthage, and Macaulay’s picture of the New Zealander musing
upon the broken arch of London Bridge appeals to the imagination of
even those who see cities rising in the wilderness and help to lay the
foundations of new empire. And so, when we erect a public building we
make a hollow in the largest corner stone and carefully seal within it
some mementos of our day, looking forward to the time when our works
shall be ruins and ourselves forgot.

Nor whether this alternate rise and fall of civilization, this
retrogression that always follows progression, be, or be not, the
rhythmic movement of an ascending line (and I think, though I will
not open the question, that it would be much more difficult to prove
the affirmative than is generally supposed) makes no difference; for
the current theory is in either case disproved. Civilizations have
died and made no sign, and hard-won progress has been lost to the race
forever, but, even if it be admitted that each wave of progress has
made possible a higher wave and each civilization passed the torch
to a greater civilization, the theory that civilization advances by
changes wrought in the nature of man fails to explain the facts; for in
every case it is not the race that has been educated and hereditarily
modified by the old civilization that begins the new, but a fresh
race coming from a lower level. It is the barbarians of the one epoch
who have been the civilized men of the next; to be in their turn
succeeded by fresh barbarians. For it has been heretofore always the
case that men under the influences of civilization, though at first
improving, afterward degenerate. The civilized man of to-day is vastly
the superior of the uncivilized; but so in the time of its vigor was
the civilized man of every dead civilization. But there are such
things as the vices, the corruptions, the enervations of civilization,
which past a certain point have always heretofore shown themselves.
Every civilization that has been overwhelmed by barbarians has really
perished from internal decay.

This universal fact, the moment that it is recognized, disposes of the
theory that progress is by hereditary transmission. Looking over the
history of the world, the line of greatest advance does not coincide
for any length of time with any line of heredity. On any particular
line of heredity, retrogression seems always to follow advance.

Shall we therefore say that there is a national or race life, as there
is an individual life—that every social aggregate has, as it were, a
certain amount of energy, the expenditure of which necessitates decay?
This is an old and widespread idea, that is yet largely held, and that
may be constantly seen cropping out incongruously in the writings of
the expounders of the development philosophy. Indeed, I do not see why
it may not be stated in terms of matter and of motion so as to bring
it clearly within the generalizations of evolution. For considering
its individuals as atoms, the growth of society is “an integration of
matter and concomitant dissipation of motion; during which the matter
passes from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite,
coherent heterogeneity, and during which the retained motion undergoes
a parallel transformation.”[60] And thus an analogy may be drawn
between the life of a society and the life of a solar system upon the
nebular hypothesis. As the heat and light of the sun are produced by
the aggregation of atoms evolving motion, which finally ceases when the
atoms at length come to a state of equilibrium or rest, and a state of
immobility succeeds, which can be broken in again only by the impact of
external forces, which reverse the process of evolution, integrating
motion and dissipating matter in the form of gas, again to evolve
motion by its condensation; so, it may be said, does the aggregation of
individuals in a community evolve a force which produces the light and
warmth of civilization, but when this process ceases and the individual
components are brought into a state of equilibrium, assuming their
fixed places, petrifaction ensues, and the breaking up and diffusion
caused by an incursion of barbarians is necessary to the recommencement
of the process and a new growth of civilization.

But analogies are the most dangerous modes of thought. They may connect
resemblances and yet disguise or cover up the truth. And all such
analogies are superficial. While its members are constantly reproduced
in all the fresh vigor of childhood, a community cannot grow old, as
does a man, by the decay of its powers. While its aggregate force must
be the sum of the forces of its individual components, a community
cannot lose vital power unless the vital powers of its components are

Yet in both the common analogy which likens the life power of a nation
to that of an individual, and in the one I have supposed, lurks the
recognition of an obvious truth—the truth that the obstacles which
finally bring progress to a halt are raised by the course of progress;
that what has destroyed all previous civilizations has been the
conditions produced by the growth of civilization itself.

This is a truth which in the current philosophy is ignored; but it is
a truth most pregnant. Any valid theory of human progress must account
for it.


[57] In semi-scientific or popularized form this may perhaps be seen
in best, because frankest, expression in “The Martyrdom of Man,” by
Winwood Reade, a writer of singular vividness and power. This book is
in reality a history of progress, or, rather, a monograph upon its
causes and methods, and will well repay perusal for its vivid pictures,
whatever may be thought of the capacity of the author for philosophic
generalization. The connection between subject and title may be seen
by the conclusion: “I give to universal history a strange but true
title—_The Martyrdom of Man_. In each generation the human race has
been tortured that their children might profit by their woes. Our own
prosperity is founded on the agonies of the past. Is it therefore
unjust that we also should suffer for the benefit of those who are to

[58] “The Study of Sociology”—Conclusion.

[59] Winwood Reade, “The Martyrdom of Man.”

[60] Herbert Spencer’s definition of Evolution, “First Principles,” p.



In attempting to discover the law of human progress, the first step
must be to determine the essential nature of those differences which we
describe as differences in civilization.

That the current philosophy, which attributes social progress to
changes wrought in the nature of man, does not accord with historical
facts, we have already seen. And we may also see, if we consider
them, that the differences between communities in different stages
of civilization cannot be ascribed to innate differences in the
individuals who compose these communities. That there are natural
differences is true, and that there is such a thing as hereditary
transmission of peculiarities is undoubtedly true; but the great
differences between men in different states of society cannot be
explained in this way. The influence of heredity, which it is now
the fashion to rate so highly, is as nothing compared with the
influences which mold the man after he comes into the world. What
is more ingrained in habit than language, which becomes not merely
an automatic trick of the muscles, but the medium of thought? What
persists longer, or will quicker show nationality? Yet we are not born
with a predisposition to any language. Our mother tongue is our mother
tongue only because we learned it in infancy. Although his ancestors
have thought and spoken in one language for countless generations, a
child who hears from the first nothing else, will learn with equal
facility any other tongue. And so of other national or local or class
peculiarities. They seem to be matters of education and habit, not of
transmission. Cases of white children captured by Indians in infancy
and brought up in the wigwam show this. They become thorough Indians.
And so, I believe, with children brought up by Gypsies.

That this is not so true of the children of Indians or other distinctly
marked races brought up by whites is, I think, due to the fact that
they are never treated precisely as white children. A gentleman who
had taught a colored school once told me that he thought the colored
children, up to the age of ten or twelve, were really brighter and
learned more readily than white children, but that after that age
they seemed to get dull and careless. He thought this proof of innate
race inferiority, and so did I at the time. But I afterward heard a
highly intelligent negro gentleman (Bishop Hillery) incidentally make a
remark which to my mind seems a sufficient explanation. He said: “Our
children, when they are young, are fully as bright as white children,
and learn as readily. But as soon as they get old enough to appreciate
their status—to realize that they are looked upon as belonging to an
inferior race, and can never hope to be anything more than cooks,
waiters, or something of that sort, they lose their ambition and cease
to keep up.” And to this he might have added, that being the children
of poor, uncultivated and unambitious parents, home influences told
against them. For, I believe it is a matter of common observation that
in the primary part of education the children of ignorant parents are
quite as receptive as the children of intelligent parents, but by
and by the latter, as a general rule, pull ahead and make the most
intelligent men and women. The reason is plain. As to the first simple
things which they learn only at school, they are on a par, but as their
studies become more complex, the child who at home is accustomed to
good English, hears intelligent conversation, has access to books, can
get questions answered, etc., has an advantage which tells.

The same thing may be seen later in life. Take a man who has raised
himself from the ranks of common labor, and just as he is brought
into contact with men of culture and men of affairs, will he become
more intelligent and polished. Take two brothers, the sons of poor
parents, brought up in the same home and in the same way. One is put to
a rude trade, and never gets beyond the necessity of making a living
by hard daily labor; the other, commencing as an errand boy, gets a
start in another direction, and becomes finally a successful lawyer,
merchant, or politician. At forty or fifty the contrast between them
will be striking, and the unreflecting will credit it to the greater
natural ability which has enabled the one to push himself ahead. But
just as striking a difference in manners and intelligence will be
manifested between two sisters, one of whom, married to a man who
has remained poor, has her life fretted with petty cares and devoid
of opportunities, and the other of whom has married a man whose
subsequent position brings her into cultured society and opens to
her opportunities which refine taste and expand intelligence. And so
deteriorations may be seen. That “evil communications corrupt good
manners” is but an expression of the general law that human character
is profoundly modified by its conditions and surroundings.

I remember once seeing, in a Brazilian seaport, a negro man dressed
in what was an evident attempt at the height of fashion, but without
shoes and stockings. One of the sailors with whom I was in company,
and who had made some runs in the slave trade, had a theory that a
negro was not a man, but a sort of monkey, and pointed to this as
evidence in proof, contending that it was not natural for a negro to
wear shoes, and that in his wild state he would wear no clothes at
all. I afterward learned that it was not considered “the thing” there
for slaves to wear shoes, just as in England it is not considered the
thing for a faultlessly attired butler to wear jewelry, though for that
matter I have since seen white men at liberty to dress as they pleased
get themselves up as incongruously as the Brazilian slave. But a great
many of the facts adduced as showing hereditary transmission have
really no more bearing than this of our forecastle Darwinian.

That, for instance, a large number of criminals and recipients of
public relief in New York have been shown to have descended from
a pauper three or four generations back is extensively cited as
showing hereditary transmission. But it shows nothing of the kind,
inasmuch as an adequate explanation of the facts is nearer. Paupers
will raise paupers, even if the children be not their own, just as
familiar contact with criminals will make criminals of the children of
virtuous parents. To learn to rely on charity is necessarily to lose
the self-respect and independence necessary for self-reliance when
the struggle is hard. So true is this that, as is well known, charity
has the effect of increasing the demand for charity, and it is an
open question whether public relief and private alms do not in this
way do far more harm than good. And so of the disposition of children
to show the same feelings, tastes, prejudices, or talents as their
parents. They imbibe these dispositions just as they imbibe from their
habitual associates. And the exceptions prove the rule, as dislikes or
revulsions may be excited.

And there is, I think, a subtler influence which often accounts for
what are looked upon as atavisms of character—the same influence that
makes the boy who reads dime novels want to be a pirate. I once knew a
gentleman in whose veins ran the blood of Indian chiefs. He used to
tell me traditions learned from his grandfather, which illustrated what
is difficult for a white man to comprehend—the Indian habit of thought,
the intense but patient blood thirst of the trail, and the fortitude
of the stake. From the way in which he dwelt on these, I have no doubt
that under certain circumstances, highly educated, civilized man
that he was, he would have shown traits which would have been looked
on as due to his Indian blood; but which in reality would have been
sufficiently explained by the broodings of his imagination upon the
deeds of his ancestors.[61]

In any large community we may see, as between different classes and
groups, differences of the same kind as those which exist between
communities which we speak of as differing in civilization—differences
of knowledge, belief, customs, tastes, and speech, which in their
extremes show among people of the same race, living in the same
country, differences almost as great as those between civilized and
savage communities. As all stages of social development, from the stone
age up, are yet to be found in contemporaneously existing communities,
so in the same country and in the same city are to be found, side by
side, groups which show similar diversities. In such countries as
England and Germany, children of the same race, born and reared in the
same place, will grow up, speaking the language differently, holding
different beliefs, following different customs, and showing different
tastes; and even in such a country as the United States differences
of the same kind, though not of the same degree, may be seen between
different circles or groups.

But these differences are certainly not innate. No baby is born a
Methodist or Catholic, to drop its h’s or to sound them. All these
differences which distinguish different groups or circles are derived
from association in these circles.

The Janissaries were made up of youths torn from Christian parents
at an early age, but they were none the less fanatical Moslems and
none the less exhibited all the Turkish traits; the Jesuits and other
orders show distinct character, but it is certainly not perpetuated
by hereditary transmissions; and even such associations as schools
or regiments, where the components remain but a short time and are
constantly changing, exhibit general characteristics, which are the
result of mental impressions perpetuated by association.

Now, it is this body of traditions, beliefs, customs, laws, habits, and
associations, which arise in every community and which surround every
individual—this “super-organic environment,” as Herbert Spencer calls
it, that, as I take it, is the great element in determining national
character. It is this, rather than hereditary transmission, which makes
the Englishman differ from the Frenchman, the German from the Italian,
the American from the Chinaman, and the civilized man from the savage
man. It is in this way that national traits are preserved, extended, or

Within certain limits, or, if you choose, without limits in itself,
hereditary transmission may develop or alter qualities, but this is
much more true of the physical than of the mental part of a man,
and much more true of animals than it is even of the physical part
of man. Deductions from the breeding of pigeons or cattle will not
apply to man, and the reason is clear. The life of man, even in his
rudest state, is infinitely more complex. He is constantly acted
on by an infinitely greater number of influences, amid which the
relative influence of heredity becomes less and less. A race of men
with no greater mental activity than the animals—men who only ate,
drank, slept, and propagated—might, I doubt not, by careful treatment
and selection in breeding, be made, in course of time, to exhibit as
great diversities in bodily shape and character as similar means have
produced in the domestic animals. But there are no such men; and in
men as they are, mental influences, acting through the mind upon the
body, would constantly interrupt the process. You cannot fatten a man
whose mind is on the strain by cooping him up and feeding him as you
would fatten a pig. In all probability men have been upon the earth
longer than many species of animals. They have been separated from
each other under differences of climate that produce the most marked
differences in animals, and yet the physical differences between the
different races of men are hardly greater than the difference between
white horses and black horses—they are certainly nothing like as
great as between dogs of the same sub-species, as, for instance, the
different varieties of the terrier or spaniel. And even these physical
differences between races of men, it is held by those who account for
them by natural selection and hereditary transmission, were brought out
when man was much nearer the animal—that is to say, when he had less

And if this be true of the physical constitution of man, in how much
higher degree is it true of his mental constitution? All our physical
parts we bring with us into the world; but the mind develops afterward.

There is a stage in the growth of every organism in which it cannot be
told, except by the environment, whether the animal that is to be will
be fish or reptile, monkey or man. And so with the new-born infant;
whether the mind that is yet to awake to consciousness and power is to
be English or German, American or Chinese—the mind of a civilized man
or the mind of a savage—depends entirely on the social environment in
which it is placed.

Take a number of infants born of the most highly civilized parents
and transport them to an uninhabited country. Suppose them in some
miraculous way to be sustained until they come of age to take care of
themselves, and what would you have? More helpless savages than any we
know of. They would have fire to discover; the rudest tools and weapons
to invent; language to construct. They would, in short, have to stumble
their way to the simplest knowledge which the lowest races now possess,
just as a child learns to walk. That they would in time do all these
things I have not the slightest doubt, for all these possibilities are
latent in the human mind just as the power of walking is latent in
the human frame, but I do not believe they would do them any better
or worse, any slower or quicker, than the children of barbarian
parents placed in the same conditions. Given the very highest mental
powers that exceptional individuals have ever displayed, and what
could mankind be if one generation were separated from the next by an
interval of time, as are the seventeen-year locusts? One such interval
would reduce mankind, not to savagery, but to a condition compared with
which savagery, as we know it, would seem civilization.

And, reversely, suppose a number of savage infants could, unknown to
the mothers, for even this would be necessary to make the experiment a
fair one, be substituted for as many children of civilization, can we
suppose that growing up they would show any difference? I think no one
who has mixed much with different peoples and classes will think so.
The great lesson that is thus learned is that “human nature is human
nature all the world over.” And this lesson, too, may be learned in
the library. I speak not so much of the accounts of travelers, for the
accounts given of savages by the civilized men who write books are very
often just such accounts as savages would give of us did they make
flying visits and then write books; but of those mementos of the life
and thoughts of other times and other peoples, which, translated into
our language of to-day, are like glimpses of our own lives and gleams
of our own thought. The feeling they inspire is that of the essential
similarity of men. “This,” says Emanuel Deutsch—“this is the end of all
investigation into history or art. _They were even as we are._”

There is a people to be found in all parts of the world who well
illustrate what peculiarities are due to hereditary transmission and
what to transmission by association. The Jews have maintained the
purity of their blood more scrupulously and for a far longer time than
any of the European races, yet I am inclined to think that the only
characteristic that can be attributed to this is that of physiognomy,
and this is in reality far less marked than is conventionally supposed,
as any one who will take the trouble may see on observation. Although
they have constantly married among themselves, the Jews have everywhere
been modified by their surroundings—the English, Russian, Polish,
German, and Oriental Jews differing from each other in many respects
as much as do the other people of those countries. Yet they have much
in common, and have everywhere preserved their individuality. The
reason is clear. It is the Hebrew religion—and certainly religion is
not transmitted by generation, but by association—which has everywhere
preserved the distinctiveness of the Hebrew race. This religion, which
children derive, not as they derive their physical characteristics, but
by precept and association, is not merely exclusive in its teachings,
but has, by engendering suspicion and dislike, produced a powerful
outside pressure which, even more than its precepts, has everywhere
constituted of the Jews a community within a community. Thus has been
built up and maintained a certain peculiar environment which gives a
distinctive character. Jewish intermarriage has been the effect, not
the cause of this. What persecution which stopped short of taking
Jewish children from their parents and bringing them up outside of this
peculiar environment could not accomplish, will be accomplished by the
lessening intensity of religious belief, as is already evident in the
United States, where the distinction between Jew and Gentile is fast

And it seems to me that the influence of this social net or environment
will explain what is so often taken as proof of race differences—the
difficulty which less civilized races show in receiving higher
civilization, and the manner in which some of them melt away before it.
Just as one social environment persists, so does it render it difficult
or impossible for those subject to it to accept another.

The Chinese character is fixed if that of any people is. Yet the
Chinese in California acquire American modes of working, trading,
the use of machinery, etc., with such facility as to prove that they
have no lack of flexibility, or natural capacity. That they do not
change in other respects is due to the Chinese environment that still
persists and still surrounds them. Coming from China, they look forward
to return to China, and live while here in a little China of their
own, just as the Englishmen in India maintain a little England. It is
not merely that we naturally seek association with those who share
our peculiarities, and that thus language, religion and custom tend
to persist where individuals are not absolutely isolated; but that
these differences provoke an external pressure, which compels such

These obvious principles fully account for all the phenomena which
are seen in the meeting of one stage or body of culture with another,
without resort to the theory of ingrained differences. For instance,
as comparative philology has shown, the Hindoo is of the same race as
his English conqueror, and individual instances have abundantly shown
that if he could be placed completely and exclusively in the English
environment (which, as before stated, could be thoroughly done only by
placing infants in English families in such a way that neither they,
as they grow up, nor those around them, would be conscious of any
distinction) one generation would be all required to thoroughly implant
European civilization. But the progress of English ideas and habits in
India must be necessarily very slow, because they meet there the web of
ideas and habits constantly perpetuated through an immense population,
and interlaced with every act of life.

Mr. Bagehot (“Physics and Politics”) endeavors to explain the reason
why barbarians waste away before our civilization, while they did
not before that of the ancients, by assuming that the progress of
civilization has given us tougher physical constitutions. After
alluding to the fact that there is no lament in any classical writer
for the barbarians, but that everywhere the barbarian endured the
contact with the Roman and the Roman allied himself to the barbarian,
he says (pp. 47-8):

 “Savages in the first year of the Christian era were pretty much what
 they were in the eighteen hundredth; and if they stood the contact of
 ancient civilized men and cannot stand ours, it follows that our race
 is presumably tougher than the ancient; for we have to bear, and do
 bear, the seeds of greater diseases than the ancients carried with
 them. We may use, perhaps, the unvarying savage as a meter to gauge
 the vigor of the constitution to whose contact he is exposed.”

Mr. Bagehot does not attempt to explain how it is that eighteen
hundred years ago civilization did not give the like relative advantage
over barbarism that it does now. But there is no use of talking
about that, or of the lack of proof that the human constitution has
been a whit improved. To any one who has seen how the contact of our
civilization affects the inferior races, a much readier though less
flattering explanation will occur.

It is not because our constitutions are naturally tougher than those
of the savage, that diseases which are comparatively innocuous to us
are certain death to him. It is that we know and have the means of
treating those diseases, while he is destitute both of knowledge and
means. The same diseases with which the scum of civilization that
floats in its advance inoculates the savage would prove as destructive
to civilized men, if they knew no better than to let them run, as he
in his ignorance has to let them run; and as a matter of fact they
were as destructive, until we found out how to treat them. And not
merely this, but the effect of the impingement of civilization upon
barbarism is to weaken the power of the savage without bringing him
into the conditions that give power to the civilized man. While his
habits and customs still tend to persist, and do persist as far as they
can, the conditions to which they were adapted are forcibly changed.
He is a hunter in a land stripped of game; a warrior deprived of his
arms and called on to plead in legal technicalities. He is not merely
placed between cultures, but, as Mr. Bagehot says of the European
half-breeds in India, he is placed between moralities, and learns the
vices of civilization without its virtues. He loses his accustomed
means of subsistence, he loses self-respect, he loses morality; he
deteriorates and dies away. The miserable creatures who may be seen
hanging around frontier towns or railroad stations, ready to beg, or
steal, or solicit a viler commerce, are not fair representatives of the
Indian before the white man had encroached upon his hunting grounds.
They have lost the strength and virtues of their former state, without
gaining those of a higher. In fact, civilization, as it pushes the red
man, shows no virtues. To the Anglo-Saxon of the frontier, as a rule,
the aborigine has no rights which the white man is bound to respect.
He is impoverished, misunderstood, cheated, and abused. He dies
out, as, under similar conditions, we should die out. He disappears
before civilization as the Romanized Britons disappeared before Saxon

The true reason why there is no lament in any classic writer for the
barbarian, but that the Roman civilization assimilated instead of
destroying, is, I take it, to be found not only in the fact that the
ancient civilization was much nearer akin to the barbarians which
it met, but in the more important fact that it was not extended as
ours has been. It was carried forward, not by an advancing line of
colonists, but by conquest which merely reduced the new province to
general subjection, leaving the social, and generally the political
organization of the people to a great degree unimpaired, so that,
without shattering or deterioration, the process of assimilation went
on. In a somewhat similar way the civilization of Japan seems to be now
assimilating itself to European civilization.

In America the Anglo-Saxon has exterminated, instead of civilizing,
the Indian, simply because he has not brought the Indian into his
environment, nor yet has the contact been in such a way as to induce
or permit the Indian web of habitual thought and custom to be changed
rapidly enough to meet the new conditions into which he has been
brought by the proximity of new and powerful neighbors. That there is
no innate impediment to the reception of our civilization by these
uncivilized races has been shown over and over again in individual
cases. And it has likewise been shown, so far as the experiments have
been permitted to go, by the Jesuits in Paraguay, the Franciscans in
California, and the Protestant missionaries on some of the Pacific

The assumption of physical improvement in the race within any time
of which we have knowledge is utterly without warrant, and within
the time of which Mr. Bagehot speaks, it is absolutely disproved. We
know from classic statues, from the burdens carried and the marches
made by ancient soldiers, from the records of runners and the feats
of gymnasts, that neither in proportions nor strength has the race
improved within two thousand years. But the assumption of mental
improvement, which is even more confidently and generally made, is
still more preposterous. As poets, artists, architects, philosophers,
rhetoricians, statesmen, or soldiers, can modern civilization show
individuals of greater mental power than can the ancient? There is no
use in recalling names—every schoolboy knows them. For our models and
personifications of mental power we go back to the ancients, and if
we can for a moment imagine the possibility of what is held by that
oldest and most widespread of all beliefs—that belief which Lessing
declared on this account the most probably true, though he accepted it
on metaphysical grounds—and suppose Homer or Virgil, Demosthenes or
Cicero, Alexander, Hannibal or Cæsar, Plato or Lucretius, Euclid or
Aristotle, as re-entering this life again in the Nineteenth Century,
can we suppose that they would show any inferiority to the men of
to-day? Or if we take any period since the classic age, even the
darkest, or any previous period of which we know anything, shall we
not find men who in the conditions and degree of knowledge of their
times showed mental power of as high an order as men show now? And
among the less advanced races do we not to-day, whenever our attention
is called to them, find men who in their conditions exhibit mental
qualities as great as civilization can show? Did the invention of the
railroad, coming when it did, prove any greater inventive power than
did the invention of the wheelbarrow when wheelbarrows were not? We of
modern civilization are raised far above those who have preceded us
and those of the less advanced races who are our contemporaries. But
it is because we stand on a pyramid, not that we are taller. What the
centuries have done for us is not to increase our stature, but to build
up a structure on which we may plant our feet.

Let me repeat: I do not mean to say that all men possess the same
capacities, or are mentally alike, any more than I mean to say that
they are physically alike. Among all the countless millions who have
come and gone on this earth, there were probably never two who either
physically or mentally were exact counterparts. Nor yet do I mean to
say that there are not as clearly marked race differences in mind as
there are clearly marked race differences in body. I do not deny the
influence of heredity in transmitting peculiarities of mind in the
same way, and possibly to the same degree, as bodily peculiarities
are transmitted. But nevertheless, there is, it seems to me, a common
standard and natural symmetry of mind, as there is of body, toward
which all deviations tend to return. The conditions under which we fall
may produce such distortions as the Flatheads produce by compressing
the heads of their infants or the Chinese by binding their daughters’
feet. But as Flathead babies continue to be born with naturally shaped
heads and Chinese babies with naturally shaped feet, so does nature
seem to revert to the normal mental type. A child no more inherits
his father’s knowledge than he inherits his father’s glass eye or
artificial leg; the child of the most ignorant parents may become a
pioneer of science or a leader of thought.

But this is the great fact with which we are concerned: That the
differences between the people of communities in different places
and at different times, which we call differences of civilization,
are not differences which inhere in the individuals, but differences
which inhere in the society; that they are not, as Herbert Spencer
holds, differences resulting from differences in the units; but that
they are differences resulting from the conditions under which these
units are brought in the society. In short, I take the explanation
of the differences which distinguish communities to be this: That
each society, small or great, necessarily weaves for itself a web of
knowledge, beliefs, customs, language, tastes, institutions, and laws.
Into this web, woven by each society, or rather, into these webs,
for each community above the simplest is made up of minor societies,
which overlap and interlace each other, the individual is received at
birth and continues until his death. This is the matrix in which mind
unfolds and from which it takes its stamp. This is the way in which
customs, and religions, and prejudices, and tastes, and languages,
grow up and are perpetuated. This is the way that skill is transmitted
and knowledge is stored up, and the discoveries of one time made the
common stock and stepping stone of the next. Though it is this that
often offers the most serious obstacles to progress, it is this that
makes progress possible. It is this that enables any schoolboy in our
time to learn in a few hours more of the universe than Ptolemy knew;
that places the most humdrum scientist far above the level reached by
the giant mind of Aristotle. This is to the race what memory is to the
individual. Our wonderful arts, our far-reaching science, our marvelous
inventions—they have come through this.

Human progress goes on as the advances made by one generation are in
this way secured as the common property of the next, and made the
starting point for new advances.


[61] Wordsworth, in his “Song at the Feast of Brougham Castle,” has in
highly poetical form alluded to this influence:

    Armor rusting in his halls
    On the blood of Clifford calls:
    “Quell the Scot,” exclaims the lance;
    “Bear me to the heart of France,”
    Is the longing of the shield.



What, then, is the law of human progress—the law under which
civilization advances?

It must explain clearly and definitely, and not by vague generalities
or superficial analogies, why, though mankind started presumably with
the same capacities and at the same time, there now exist such wide
differences in social development. It must account for the arrested
civilizations and for the decayed and destroyed civilizations; for the
general facts as to the rise of civilization, and for the petrifying
or enervating force which the progress of civilization has heretofore
always evolved. It must account for retrogression as well as for
progression; for the differences in general character between Asiatic
and European civilizations; for the difference between classical and
modern civilizations; for the different rates at which progress goes
on; and for those bursts, and starts, and halts of progress which are
so marked as minor phenomena. And, thus, it must show us what are the
essential conditions of progress, and what social adjustments advance
and what retard it.

It is not difficult to discover such a law. We have but to look and
we may see it. I do not pretend to give it scientific precision, but
merely to point it out.

The incentives to progress are the desires inherent in human nature—the
desire to gratify the wants of the animal nature, the wants of the
intellectual nature, and the wants of the sympathetic nature; the
desire to be, to know, and to do—desires that short of infinity can
never be satisfied, as they grow by what they feed on.

Mind is the instrument by which man advances, and by which each advance
is secured and made the vantage ground for new advances. Though he may
not by taking thought add a cubit to his stature, man may by taking
thought extend his knowledge of the universe and his power over it,
in what, so far as we can see, is an infinite degree. The narrow span
of human life allows the individual to go but a short distance, but
though each generation may do but little, yet generations, succeeding
to the gain of their predecessors, may gradually elevate the status of
mankind, as coral polyps, building one generation upon the work of the
other, gradually elevate themselves from the bottom of the sea.

Mental power is, therefore, the motor of progress, and men tend to
advance in proportion to the mental power expended in progression—the
mental power which is devoted to the extension of knowledge, the
improvement of methods, and the betterment of social conditions.

Now mental power is a fixed quantity—that is to say, there is a limit
to the work a man can do with his mind, as there is to the work
he can do with his body; therefore, the mental power which can be
devoted to progress is only what is left after what is required for
non-progressive purposes.

These non-progressive purposes in which mental power is consumed may be
classified as maintenance and conflict. By maintenance I mean, not only
the support of existence, but the keeping up of the social condition
and the holding of advances already gained. By conflict I mean not
merely warfare and preparation for warfare, but all expenditure of
mental power in seeking the gratification of desire at the expense of
others, and in resistance to such aggression.

To compare society to a boat. Her progress through the water will not
depend upon the exertion of her crew, but upon the exertion devoted
to propelling her. This will be lessened by any expenditure of force
required for bailing, or any expenditure of force in fighting among
themselves, or in pulling in different directions.

Now, as in a separated state the whole powers of man are required to
maintain existence, and mental power is set free for higher uses only
by the association of men in communities, which permits the division
of labor and all the economies which come with the co-operation of
increased numbers, association is the first essential of progress.
Improvement becomes possible as men come together in peaceful
association, and the wider and closer the association, the greater
the possibilities of improvement. And as the wasteful expenditure of
mental power in conflict becomes greater or less as the moral law which
accords to each an equality of rights is ignored or is recognized,
equality (or justice) is the second essential of progress.

Thus association in equality is the law of progress. Association frees
mental power for expenditure in improvement, and equality, or justice,
or freedom—for the terms here signify the same thing, the recognition
of the moral law—prevents the dissipation of this power in fruitless

Here is the law of progress, which will explain all diversities, all
advances, all halts, and retrogressions. Men tend to progress just as
they come closer together, and by co-operation with each other increase
the mental power that may be devoted to improvement, but just as
conflict is provoked, or association develops inequality of condition
and power, this tendency to progression is lessened, checked, and
finally reversed.

Given the same innate capacity, and it is evident that social
development will go on faster or slower, will stop or turn back,
according to the resistances it meets. In a general way these
obstacles to improvement may, in relation to the society itself, be
classed as external and internal—the first operating with greater
force in the earlier stages of civilization, the latter becoming more
important in the later stages.

Man is social in his nature. He does not require to be caught and tamed
in order to induce him to live with his fellows. The utter helplessness
with which he enters the world, and the long period required for the
maturity of his powers, necessitate the family relation; which, as
we may observe, is wider, and in its extensions stronger, among the
ruder than among the more cultivated peoples. The first societies
are families, expanding into tribes, still holding a mutual blood
relationship, and even when they have become great nations claiming a
common descent.

Given beings of this kind, placed on a globe of such diversified
surface and climate as this, and it is evident that, even with
equal capacity, and an equal start, social development must be very
different. The first limit or resistance to association will come
from the conditions of physical nature, and as these greatly vary
with locality, corresponding differences in social progress must show
themselves. The net rapidity of increase, and the closeness with which
men, as they increase, can keep together, will, in the rude state
of knowledge in which reliance for subsistence must be principally
upon the spontaneous offerings of nature, very largely depend upon
climate, soil, and physical conformation. Where much animal food and
warm clothing are required; where the earth seems poor and niggard;
where the exuberant life of tropical forests mocks barbarous man’s
puny efforts to control; where mountains, deserts, or arms of the sea
separate and isolate men; association, and the power of improvement
which it evolves, can at first go but a little way. But on the rich
plains of warm climates, where human existence can be maintained with
a smaller expenditure of force, and from a much smaller area, men
can keep closer together, and the mental power which can at first be
devoted to improvement is much greater. Hence civilization naturally
first arises in the great valleys and table lands where we find its
earliest monuments.

But these diversities in natural conditions, not merely thus directly
produce diversities in social development, but, by producing
diversities in social development, bring out in man himself an
obstacle, or rather an active counterforce, to improvement. As
families and tribes are separated from each other, the social feeling
ceases to operate between them, and differences arise in language,
custom, tradition, religion—in short, in the whole social web which
each community, however small or large, constantly spins. With these
differences, prejudices grow, animosities spring up, contact easily
produces quarrels, aggression begets aggression, and wrong kindles
revenge.[62] And so between these separate social aggregates arises the
feeling of Ishmael and the spirit of Cain, warfare becomes the chronic
and seemingly natural relation of societies to each other, and the
powers of men are expended in attack or defense, in mutual slaughter
and mutual destruction of wealth, or in warlike preparations. How
long this hostility persists, the protective tariffs and the standing
armies of the civilized world to-day bear witness; how difficult it is
to get over the idea that it is not theft to steal from a foreigner,
the difficulty in procuring an international copyright act will show.
Can we wonder at the perpetual hostilities of tribes and clans? Can we
wonder that when each community was isolated from the others—when each,
uninfluenced by the others, was spinning its separate web of social
environment, which no individual can escape, that war should have been
the rule and peace the exception? “They were even as we are.”

Now, warfare is the negation of association. The separation of men into
diverse tribes, by increasing warfare, thus checks improvement; while
in the localities where a large increase in numbers is possible without
much separation, civilization gains the advantage of exemption from
tribal war, even when the community as a whole is carrying on warfare
beyond its borders. Thus, where the resistance of nature to the close
association of men is slightest, the counterforce of warfare is likely
at first to be least felt; and in the rich plains where civilization
first begins, it may rise to a great height while scattered tribes are
yet barbarous. And thus, when small, separated communities exist in a
state of chronic warfare which forbids advance, the first step to their
civilization is the advent of some conquering tribe or nation that
unites these smaller communities into a larger one, in which internal
peace is preserved. Where this power of peaceable association is broken
up, either by external assaults or internal dissensions, the advance
ceases and retrogression begins.

But it is not conquest alone that has operated to promote association,
and, by liberating mental power from the necessities of warfare,
to promote civilization. If the diversities of climate, soil, and
configuration of the earth’s surface operate at first to separate
mankind, they also operate to encourage exchange. And commerce, which
is in itself a form of association or co-operation, operates to promote
civilization, not only directly, but by building up interests which are
opposed to warfare, and dispelling the ignorance which is the fertile
mother of prejudices and animosities.

And so of religion. Though the forms it has assumed and the animosities
it has aroused have often sundered men and produced warfare, yet it
has at other times been the means of promoting association. A common
worship has often, as among the Greeks, mitigated war and furnished
the basis of union, while it is from the triumph of Christianity over
the barbarians of Europe that modern civilization springs. Had not the
Christian Church existed when the Roman Empire went to pieces, Europe,
destitute of any bond of association, might have fallen to a condition
not much above that of the North American Indians or only received
civilization with an Asiatic impress from the conquering scimitars
of the invading hordes which had been welded into a mighty power by
a religion which, springing up in the deserts of Arabia, had united
tribes separated from time immemorial, and, thence issuing, brought
into the association of a common faith a great part of the human race.

Looking over what we know of the history of the world, we thus see
civilization everywhere springing up where men are brought into
association, and everywhere disappearing as this association is broken
up. Thus the Roman civilization, spread over Europe by the conquests
which insured internal peace, was overwhelmed by the incursions of the
northern nations that broke society again into disconnected fragments;
and the progress that now goes on in our modern civilization began as
the feudal system again began to associate men in larger communities,
and the spiritual supremacy of Rome to bring these communities into a
common relation, as her legions had done before. As the feudal bonds
grew into national autonomies, and Christianity worked the amelioration
of manners, brought forth the knowledge that during the dark days she
had hidden, bound the threads of peaceful union in her all-pervading
organization, and taught association in her religious orders, a greater
progress became possible, which, as men have been brought into closer
and closer association and co-operation, has gone on with greater and
greater force.

But we shall never understand the course of civilization, and the
varied phenomena which its history presents, without a consideration
of what I may term the internal resistances, or counter forces, which
arise in the heart of advancing society, and which can alone explain
how a civilization once fairly started should either come of itself to
a halt or be destroyed by barbarians.

The mental power, which is the motor of social progress, is set free by
association, which is, what, perhaps, it may be more properly called,
an integration. Society in this process becomes more complex; its
individuals more dependent upon each other. Occupations and functions
are specialized. Instead of wandering, population becomes fixed.
Instead of each man attempting to supply all of his wants, the various
trades and industries are separated—one man acquires skill in one
thing, and another in another thing. So, too, of knowledge, the body
of which constantly tends to become vaster than one man can grasp,
and is separated into different parts, which different individuals
acquire and pursue. So, too, the performance of religious ceremonies
tends to pass into the hands of a body of men specially devoted to that
purpose, and the preservation of order, the administration of justice,
the assignment of public duties and the distribution of awards, the
conduct of war, etc., to be made the special functions of an organized
government. In short, to use the language in which Herbert Spencer
has defined evolution, the development of society is, in relation to
its component individuals, the passing from an indefinite, incoherent
homogeneity to a definite, coherent heterogeneity. The lower the
stage of social development, the more society resembles one of those
lowest of animal organisms which are without organs or limbs, and from
which a part may be cut and yet live. The higher the stage of social
development, the more society resembles those higher organisms in
which functions and powers are specialized, and each member is vitally
dependent on the others.

Now, this process of integration, of the specialization of functions
and powers, as it goes on in society, is, by virtue of what is probably
one of the deepest laws of human nature, accompanied by a constant
liability to inequality. I do not mean that inequality is the necessary
result of social growth, but that it is the constant tendency of social
growth if unaccompanied by changes in social adjustments, which, in
the new conditions that growth produces, will secure equality. I
mean, so to speak, that the garment of laws, customs, and political
institutions, which each society weaves for itself, is constantly
tending to become too tight as the society develops. I mean, so to
speak, that man, as he advances, threads a labyrinth, in which, if he
keeps straight ahead, he will infallibly lose his way, and through
which reason and justice can alone keep him continuously in an
ascending path.

For, while the integration which accompanies growth tends in itself to
set free mental power to work improvement, there is, both with increase
of numbers and with increase in complexity of the social organization,
a counter tendency set up to the production of a state of inequality,
which wastes mental power, and, as it increases, brings improvement to
a halt.

To trace to its highest expression the law which thus operates to
evolve with progress the force which stops progress, would be, it seems
to me, to go far to the solution of a problem deeper than that of the
genesis of the material universe—the problem of the genesis of evil.
Let me content myself with pointing out the manner in which, as society
develops, there arise tendencies which check development.

There are two qualities of human nature which it will be well, however,
to first call to mind. The one is the power of habit—the tendency to
continue to do things in the same way; the other is the possibility
of mental and moral deterioration. The effect of the first in social
development is to continue habits, customs, laws and methods, long
after they have lost their original usefulness, and the effect of the
other is to permit the growth of institutions and modes of thought from
which the normal perceptions of men instinctively revolt.

Now the growth and development of society not merely tend to make
each more and more dependent upon all, and to lessen the influence
of individuals, even over their own conditions, as compared with the
influence of society; but the effect of association or integration is
to give rise to a collective power which is distinguishable from the
sum of individual powers. Analogies, or, perhaps, rather illustrations
of the same law, may be found in all directions. As animal organisms
increase in complexity, there arise, above the life and power of the
parts, a life and power of the integrated whole; above the capability
of involuntary movements, the capability of voluntary movements. The
actions and impulses of bodies of men are, as has often been observed,
different from those which, under the same circumstances, would be
called forth in individuals. The fighting qualities of a regiment may
be very different from those of the individual soldiers. But there is
no need of illustrations. In our inquiries into the nature and rise
of rent, we traced the very thing to which I allude. Where population
is sparse, land has no value; just as men congregate together, the
value of land appears and rises—a clearly distinguishable thing from
the values produced by individual effort; a value which springs
from association, which increases as association grows greater, and
disappears as association is broken up. And the same thing is true of
power in other forms than those generally expressed in terms of wealth.

Now, as society grows, the disposition to continue previous social
adjustments tends to lodge this collective power, as it arises, in the
hands of a portion of the community; and this unequal distribution
of the wealth and power gained as society advances tends to produce
greater inequality, since aggression grows by what it feeds on, and the
idea of justice is blurred by the habitual toleration of injustice.

In this way the patriarchal organization of society can easily grow
into hereditary monarchy, in which the king is as a god on earth, and
the masses of the people mere slaves of his caprice. It is natural that
the father should be the directing head of the family, and that at his
death the eldest son, as the oldest and most experienced member of the
little community, should succeed to the headship. But to continue this
arrangement as the family expands, is to lodge power in a particular
line, and the power thus lodged necessarily continues to increase,
as the common stock becomes larger and larger, and the power of the
community grows. The head of the family passes into the hereditary
king, who comes to look upon himself and to be looked upon by others
as a being of superior rights. With the growth of the collective power
as compared with the power of the individual, his power to reward and
to punish increases, and so increase the inducements to flatter and to
fear him; until finally, if the process be not disturbed, a nation
grovels at the foot of a throne, and a hundred thousand men toil for
fifty years to prepare a tomb for one of their own mortal kind.

So the war-chief of a little band of savages is but one of their
number, whom they follow as their bravest and most wary. But when large
bodies come to act together, personal selection becomes more difficult,
a blinder obedience becomes necessary and can be enforced, and from the
very necessities of warfare when conducted on a large scale absolute
power arises.

And so of the specialization of function. There is a manifest gain in
productive power when social growth has gone so far that instead of
every producer being summoned from his work for fighting purposes, a
regular military force can be specialized; but this inevitably tends
to the concentration of power in the hands of the military class or
their chiefs. The preservation of internal order, the administration
of justice, the construction and care of public works, and, notably,
the observances of religion, all tend in similar manner to pass into
the hands of special classes, whose disposition it is to magnify their
function and extend their power.

But the great cause of inequality is in the natural monopoly which
is given by the possession of land. The first perceptions of men
seem always to be that land is common property; but the rude devices
by which this is at first recognized—such as annual partitions
or cultivation in common—are consistent with only a low stage of
development. The idea of property, which naturally arises with
reference to things of human production, is easily transferred to
land, and an institution which when population is sparse merely
secures to the improver and user the due reward of his labor, finally,
as population becomes dense and rent arises, operates to strip the
producer of his wages. Not merely this, but the appropriation of rent
for public purposes, which is the only way in which, with anything like
a high development, land can be readily retained as common property,
becomes, when political and religious power passes into the hands of
a class, the ownership of the land by that class, and the rest of the
community become merely tenants. And wars and conquests, which tend to
the concentration of political power and to the institution of slavery,
naturally result, where social growth has given land a value, in the
appropriation of the soil. A dominant class, who concentrate power in
their hands, will likewise soon concentrate ownership of the land. To
them will fall large partitions of conquered land, which the former
inhabitants will till as tenants or serfs, and the public domain, or
common lands, which in the natural course of social growth are left
for awhile in every country, and in which state the primitive system
of village culture leaves pasture and woodland, are readily acquired,
as we see by modern instances. And inequality once established, the
ownership of land tends to concentrate as development goes on.

I am merely attempting to set forth the general fact that as a social
development goes on, inequality tends to establish itself, and not to
point out the particular sequence, which must necessarily vary with
different conditions. But this main fact makes intelligible all the
phenomena of petrifaction and retrogression. The unequal distribution
of the power and wealth gained by the integration of men in society
tends to check, and finally to counterbalance, the force by which
improvements are made and society advances. On the one side, the
masses of the community are compelled to expend their mental powers
in merely maintaining existence. On the other side, mental power is
expended in keeping up and intensifying the system of inequality, in
ostentation, luxury, and warfare. A community divided into a class
that rules and a class that is ruled—into the very rich and the very
poor, may “build like giants and finish like jewelers;” but it will be
monuments of ruthless pride and barren vanity, or of a religion turned
from its office of elevating man into an instrument for keeping him
down. Invention may for awhile to some degree go on; but it will be the
invention of refinements in luxury, not the inventions that relieve
toil and increase power. In the arcana of temples or in the chambers of
court physicians knowledge may still be sought; but it will be hidden
as a secret thing, or if it dares come out to elevate common thought or
brighten common life, it will be trodden down as a dangerous innovator.
For as it tends to lessen the mental power devoted to improvement, so
does inequality tend to render men adverse to improvement. How strong
is the disposition to adhere to old methods among the classes who are
kept in ignorance by being compelled to toil for a mere existence,
is too well known to require illustration, and on the other hand the
conservatism of the classes to whom the existing social adjustment
gives special advantages is equally apparent. This tendency to resist
innovation, even though it be improvement, is observable in every
special organization—in religion, in law, in medicine, in science, in
trade guilds; and it becomes intense just as the organization is close.
A close corporation has always an instinctive dislike of innovation and
innovators, which is but the expression of an instinctive fear that
change may tend to throw down the barriers which hedge it in from the
common herd, and so rob it of importance and power; and it is always
disposed to guard carefully its special knowledge or skill.

It is in this way that petrifaction succeeds progress. The advance of
inequality necessarily brings improvement to a halt, and as it still
persists or provokes unavailing reactions, draws even upon the mental
power necessary for maintenance, and retrogression begins.

These principles make intelligible the history of civilization.

In the localities where climate, soil, and physical conformation tended
least to separate men as they increased, and where, accordingly,
the first civilizations grew up, the internal resistances to
progress would naturally develop in a more regular and thorough
manner than where smaller communities, which in their separation
had developed diversities, were afterward brought together into a
closer association. It is this, it seems to me, which accounts for
the general characteristics of the earlier civilizations as compared
with the later civilizations of Europe. Such homogeneous communities,
developing from the first without the jar of conflict between different
customs, laws, religions, etc., would show a much greater uniformity.
The concentrating and conservative forces would all, so to speak, pull
together. Rival chieftains would not counterbalance each other, nor
diversities of belief hold the growth of priestly influence in check.
Political and religious power, wealth and knowledge, would thus tend
to concentrate in the same centers. The same causes which tended to
produce the hereditary king and hereditary priest would tend to produce
the hereditary artisan and laborer, and to separate society into
castes. The power which association sets free for progress would thus
be wasted, and barriers to further progress be gradually raised. The
surplus energies of the masses would be devoted to the construction
of temples, palaces, and pyramids; to ministering to the pride and
pampering the luxury of their rulers; and should any disposition to
improvement arise among the classes of leisure it would at once be
checked by the dread of innovation. Society developing in this way must
at length stop in a conservatism which permits no further progress.

How long such a state of complete petrifaction, when once reached,
will continue, seems to depend upon external causes, for the iron bonds
of the social environment which grows up repress disintegrating forces
as well as improvement. Such a community can be most easily conquered,
for the masses of the people are trained to a passive acquiescence in
a life of hopeless labor. If the conquerors merely take the place of
the ruling class, as the Hyksos did in Egypt and the Tartars in China,
everything will go on as before. If they ravage and destroy, the glory
of palace and temple remains but in ruins, population becomes sparse,
and knowledge and art are lost.

European civilization differs in character from civilizations of
the Egyptian type because it springs not from the association of a
homogeneous people developing from the beginning, or at least for
a long time, under the same conditions, but from the association
of peoples who in separation had acquired distinctive social
characteristics, and whose smaller organizations longer prevented
the concentration of power and wealth in one center. The physical
conformation of the Grecian peninsula is such as to separate the people
at first into a number of small communities. As those petty republics
and nominal kingdoms ceased to waste their energies in warfare, and the
peaceable co-operation of commerce extended, the light of civilization
blazed up. But the principle of association was never strong enough
to save Greece from inter-tribal war, and when this was put an end to
by conquest, the tendency to inequality, which had been combated with
various devices by Grecian sages and statesmen, worked its result, and
Grecian valor, art, and literature became things of the past. And so in
the rise and extension, the decline and fall, of Roman civilization,
may be seen the working of these two principles of association and
equality, from the combination of which springs progress.

Springing from the association of the independent husbandmen and
free citizens of Italy, and gaining fresh strength from conquests
which brought hostile nations into common relations, the Roman power
hushed the world in peace. But the tendency to inequality, checking
real progress from the first, increased as the Roman civilization
extended. The Roman civilization did not petrify as did the homogeneous
civilizations where the strong bonds of custom and superstition that
held the people in subjection probably also protected them, or at any
rate kept the peace between rulers and ruled; it rotted, declined and
fell. Long before Goth or Vandal had broken through the cordon of the
legions, even while her frontiers were advancing, Rome was dead at the
heart. Great estates had ruined Italy. Inequality had dried up the
strength and destroyed the vigor of the Roman world. Government became
despotism, which even assassination could not temper; patriotism became
servility; vices the most foul flouted themselves in public; literature
sank to puerilities; learning was forgotten; fertile districts became
waste without the ravages of war—everywhere inequality produced decay,
political, mental, moral, and material. The barbarism which overwhelmed
Rome came not from without, but from within. It was the necessary
product of the system which had substituted slaves and colonii for the
independent husbandmen of Italy, and carved the provinces into estates
of senatorial families.

Modern civilization owes its superiority to the growth of equality with
the growth of association. Two great causes contributed to this—the
splitting up of concentrated power into innumerable little centers by
the influx of the Northern nations, and the influence of Christianity.
Without the first there would have been the petrifaction and slow decay
of the Eastern Empire, where church and state were closely married and
loss of external power brought no relief of internal tyranny. And but
for the other there would have been barbarism, without principle of
association or amelioration. The petty chiefs and allodial lords who
everywhere grasped local sovereignty held each other in check. Italian
cities recovered their ancient liberty, free towns were founded,
village communities took root, and serfs acquired rights in the soil
they tilled. The leaven of Teutonic ideas of equality worked through
the disorganized and disjointed fabric of society. And although society
was split up into an innumerable number of separated fragments, yet
the idea of closer association was always present—it existed in the
recollections of a universal empire; it existed in the claims of a
universal church.

Though Christianity became distorted and alloyed in percolating
through a rotting civilization; though pagan gods were taken into her
pantheon, and pagan forms into her ritual, and pagan ideas into her
creed; yet her essential idea of the equality of men was never wholly
destroyed. And two things happened of the utmost moment to incipient
civilization—the establishment of the papacy and the celibacy of the
clergy. The first prevented the spiritual power from concentrating in
the same lines as the temporal power; and the latter prevented the
establishment of a priestly caste, during a time when all power tended
to hereditary form.

In her efforts for the abolition of slavery; in her Truce of God;
in her monastic orders; in her councils which united nations, and
her edicts which ran without regard to political boundaries; in the
low-born hands in which she placed a sign before which the proudest
knelt; in her bishops who by consecration became the peers of the
greatest nobles; in her “Servant of Servants,” for so his official
title ran, who, by virtue of the ring of a simple fisherman, claimed
the right to arbitrate between nations, and whose stirrup was held
by kings; the Church, in spite of everything, was yet a promoter of
association, a witness for the natural equality of men; and by the
Church herself was nurtured a spirit that, when her early work of
association and emancipation was well-nigh done—when the ties she had
knit had become strong, and the learning she had preserved had been
given to the world—broke the chains with which she would have fettered
the human mind, and in a great part of Europe rent her organization.

The rise and growth of European civilization is too vast and complex
a subject to be thrown into proper perspective and relation in a
few paragraphs; but in all its details, as in its main features, it
illustrates the truth that progress goes on just as society tends
toward closer association and greater equality. Civilization is
co-operation. Union and liberty are its factors. The great extension of
association—not alone in the growth of larger and denser communities,
but in the increase of commerce and the manifold exchanges which
knit each community together and link them with other though widely
separated communities; the growth of international and municipal law;
the advances in security of property and of person, in individual
liberty, and towards democratic government—advances, in short, towards
the recognition of the equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness—it is these that make our modern civilization so much
greater, so much higher, than any that has gone before. It is these
that have set free the mental power which has rolled back the veil of
ignorance which hid all but a small portion of the globe from men’s
knowledge; which has measured the orbits of the circling spheres and
bids us see moving, pulsing life in a drop of water; which has opened
to us the antechamber of nature’s mysteries and read the secrets of a
long-buried past; which has harnessed in our service physical forces
beside which man’s efforts are puny; and increased productive power by
a thousand great inventions.

In that spirit of fatalism to which I have alluded as pervading current
literature, it is the fashion to speak even of war and slavery as means
of human progress. But war, which is the opposite of association,
can aid progress only when it prevents further war or breaks down
anti-social barriers which are themselves passive war.

As for slavery, I cannot see how it could ever have aided in
establishing freedom, and freedom, the synonym of equality, is, from
the very rudest state in which man can be imagined, the stimulus and
condition of progress. Auguste Comte’s idea that the institution of
slavery destroyed cannibalism is as fanciful as Elia’s humorous notion
of the way mankind acquired a taste for roast pig. It assumes that
a propensity that has never been found developed in man save as the
result of the most unnatural conditions—the direst want or the most
brutalizing superstitions[63]—is an original impulse, and that he, even
in his lowest state the highest of all animals, has natural appetites
which the nobler brutes do not show. And so of the idea that slavery
began civilization by giving slave owners leisure for improvement.

Slavery never did and never could aid improvement. Whether the
community consist of a single master and a single slave, or of
thousands of masters and millions of slaves, slavery necessarily
involves a waste of human power; for not only is slave labor less
productive than free labor, but the power of masters is likewise
wasted in holding and watching their slaves, and is called away
from directions in which real improvement lies. From first to last,
slavery, like every other denial of the natural equality of men, has
hampered and prevented progress. Just in proportion as slavery plays an
important part in the social organization does improvement cease. That
in the classical world slavery was so universal, is undoubtedly the
reason why the mental activity which so polished literature and refined
art never hit on any of the great discoveries and inventions which
distinguish modern civilization. No slave-holding people ever were an
inventive people. In a slave-holding community the upper classes may
become luxurious and polished; but never inventive. Whatever degrades
the laborer and robs him of the fruits of his toil stifles the spirit
of invention and forbids the utilization of inventions and discoveries
even when made. To freedom alone is given the spell of power which
summons the genii in whose keeping are the treasures of earth and the
viewless forces of the air.

The law of human progress, what is it but the moral law? Just as social
adjustments promote justice, just as they acknowledge the equality of
right between man and man, just as they insure to each the perfect
liberty which is bounded only by the equal liberty of every other,
must civilization advance. Just as they fail in this, must advancing
civilization come to a halt and recede. Political economy and social
science cannot teach any lessons that are not embraced in the simple
truths that were taught to poor fishermen and Jewish peasants by
One who eighteen hundred years ago was crucified—the simple truths
which, beneath the warpings of selfishness and the distortions of
superstition, seem to underlie every religion that has ever striven to
formulate the spiritual yearnings of man.


[62] How easy it is for ignorance to pass into contempt and dislike;
how natural it is for us to consider any difference in manners,
customs, religion, etc., as proof of the inferiority of those who
differ from us, any one who has emancipated himself in any degree from
prejudice, and who mixes with different classes, may see in civilized
society. In religion, for instance, the spirit of the hymn—

    “I’d rather be a Baptist, and wear a shining face,
    Than for to be a Methodist and always fall from grace,”

is observable in all denominations. As the English Bishop said,
“Orthodoxy is my doxy, and heterodoxy is any other doxy,” while the
universal tendency is to classify all outside of the orthodoxies and
heterodoxies of the prevailing religion as heathens or atheists. And
the like tendency is observable as to all other differences.

[63] The Sandwich Islanders did honor to their good chiefs by eating
their bodies. Their bad and tyrannical chiefs they would not touch. The
New Zealanders had a notion that by eating their enemies they acquired
their strength and valor. And this seems to be the general origin of
eating prisoners of war.



The conclusion we have thus reached harmonizes completely with our
previous conclusions.

This consideration of the law of human progress not only brings the
politico-economic laws, which in this inquiry we have worked out,
within the scope of a higher law—perhaps the very highest law our minds
can grasp—but it proves that the making of land common property in the
way I have proposed would give an enormous impetus to civilization,
while the refusal to do so must entail retrogression. A civilization
like ours must either advance or go back; it cannot stand still. It
is not like those homogeneous civilizations, such as that of the Nile
Valley, which molded men for their places and put them in it like
bricks into a pyramid. It much more resembles that civilization whose
rise and fall is within historic times, and from which it sprung.

There is just now a disposition to scoff at any implication that we are
not in all respects progressing, and the spirit of our times is that of
the edict which the flattering premier proposed to the Chinese Emperor
who burned the ancient books—“that all who may dare to speak together
about the She and the Shoo be put to death; that those who make mention
of the past so as to blame the present be put to death along with their

Yet it is evident that there have been times of decline, just as there
have been times of advance; and it is further evident that these epochs
of decline could not at first have been generally recognized.

He would have been a rash man who, when Augustus was changing the
Rome of brick to the Rome of marble, when wealth was augmenting and
magnificence increasing, when victorious legions were extending the
frontier, when manners were becoming more refined, language more
polished, and literature rising to higher splendors—he would have been
a rash man who then would have said that Rome was entering her decline.
Yet such was the case.

And whoever will look may see that though our civilization is
apparently advancing with greater rapidity than ever, the same cause
which turned Roman progress into retrogression is operating now.

What has destroyed every previous civilization has been the tendency
to the unequal distribution of wealth and power. This same tendency,
operating with increasing force, is observable in our civilization
to-day, showing itself in every progressive community, and with greater
intensity the more progressive the community. Wages and interest tend
constantly to fall, rent to rise, the rich to become very much richer,
the poor to become more helpless and hopeless, and the middle class to
be swept away.

I have traced this tendency to its cause. I have shown by what simple
means this cause may be removed. I now wish to point out _how_, if this
is not done, progress must turn to decadence, and modern civilization
decline to barbarism, as have all previous civilizations. It is worth
while to point out _how_ this may occur, as many people, being unable
to see how progress may pass into retrogression, conceive such a thing
impossible. Gibbon, for instance, thought that modern civilization
could never be destroyed because there remained no barbarians to
overrun it, and it is a common idea that the invention of printing by
so multiplying books has prevented the possibility of knowledge ever
again being lost.

The conditions of social progress, as we have traced the law, are
association and equality. The general tendency of modern development,
since the time when we can first discern the gleams of civilization in
the darkness which followed the fall of the Western Empire, has been
toward political and legal equality—to the abolition of slavery; to the
abrogation of status; to the sweeping away of hereditary privileges;
to the substitution of parliamentary for arbitrary government; to the
right of private judgment in matters of religion; to the more equal
security in person and property of high and low, weak and strong; to
the greater freedom of movement and occupation, of speech and of the
press. The history of modern civilization is the history of advances in
this direction—of the struggles and triumphs of personal, political,
and religious freedom. And the general law is shown by the fact that
just as this tendency has asserted itself civilization has advanced,
while just as it has been repressed or forced back civilization has
been checked.

This tendency has reached its full expression in the American Republic,
where political and legal rights are absolutely equal, and, owing to
the system of rotation in office, even the growth of a bureaucracy
is prevented; where every religious belief or non-belief stands on
the same footing; where every boy may hope to be President, every
man has an equal voice in public affairs, and every official is
mediately or immediately dependent for the short lease of his place
upon a popular vote. This tendency has yet some triumphs to win in
England, in extending the suffrage, and sweeping away the vestiges
of monarchy, aristocracy, and prelacy; while in such countries as
Germany and Russia, where divine right is yet a good deal more than
a legal fiction, it has a considerable distance to go. But it is the
prevailing tendency, and how soon Europe will be completely republican
is only a matter of time, or rather of accident. The United States are
therefore, in this respect, the most advanced of all the great nations,
in a direction in which all are advancing, and in the United States we
see just how much this tendency to personal and political freedom can
of itself accomplish.

Now, the first effect of the tendency to political equality was to the
more equal distribution of wealth and power; for, while population
is comparatively sparse, inequality in the distribution of wealth is
principally due to the inequality of personal rights, and it is only
as material progress goes on that the tendency to inequality involved
in the reduction of land to private ownership strongly appears. But it
is now manifest that absolute political equality does not in itself
prevent the tendency to inequality involved in the private ownership of
land, and it is further evident that political equality, co-existing
with an increasing tendency to the unequal distribution of wealth, must
ultimately beget either the despotism of organized tyranny or the worse
despotism of anarchy.

To turn a republican government into a despotism the basest and most
brutal, it is not necessary formally to change its constitution or
abandon popular elections. It was centuries after Cæsar before the
absolute master of the Roman world pretended to rule other than by
authority of a Senate that trembled before him.

But forms are nothing when substance has gone, and the forms of popular
government are those from which the substance of freedom may most
easily go. Extremes meet, and a government of universal suffrage and
theoretical equality may, under conditions which impel the change,
most readily become a despotism. For there despotism advances in the
name and with the might of the people. The single source of power once
secured, everything is secured. There is no unfranchised class to
whom appeal may be made, no privileged orders who in defending their
own rights may defend those of all. No bulwark remains to stay the
flood, no eminence to rise above it. They were belted barons led by a
mitered archbishop who curbed the Plantagenet with Magna Charta; it
was the middle classes who broke the pride of the Stuarts; but a mere
aristocracy of wealth will never struggle while it can hope to bribe a

And when the disparity of condition increases, so does universal
suffrage make it easy to seize the source of power, for the greater
is the proportion of power in the hands of those who feel no direct
interest in the conduct of government; who, tortured by want and
embruted by poverty, are ready to sell their votes to the highest
bidder or follow the lead of the most blatant demagogue; or who, made
bitter by hardships, may even look upon profligate and tyrannous
government with the satisfaction we may imagine the proletarians
and slaves of Rome to have felt, as they saw a Caligula or Nero
raging among the rich patricians. Given a community with republican
institutions, in which one class is too rich to be shorn of its
luxuries, no matter how public affairs are administered, and another
so poor that a few dollars on election day will seem more than any
abstract consideration; in which the few roll in wealth and the many
seethe with discontent at a condition of things they know not how to
remedy, and power must pass into the hands of jobbers who will buy and
sell it as the Prætorians sold the Roman purple, or into the hands of
demagogues who will seize and wield it for a time, only to be displaced
by worse demagogues.

Where there is anything like an equal distribution of wealth—that is to
say, where there is general patriotism, virtue, and intelligence—the
more democratic the government the better it will be; but where there
is gross inequality in the distribution of wealth, the more democratic
the government the worse it will be; for, while rotten democracy
may not in itself be worse than rotten autocracy, its effects upon
national character will be worse. To give the suffrage to tramps, to
paupers, to men to whom the chance to labor is a boon, to men who must
beg, or steal, or starve, is to invoke destruction. To put political
power in the hands of men embittered and degraded by poverty is to tie
firebrands to foxes and turn them loose amid the standing corn; it
is to put out the eyes of a Samson and to twine his arms around the
pillars of national life.

Even the accidents of hereditary succession or of selection by lot, the
plan of some of the ancient republics, may sometimes place the wise
and just in power; but in a corrupt democracy the tendency is always
to give power to the worst. Honesty and patriotism are weighted, and
unscrupulousness commands success. The best gravitate to the bottom,
the worst float to the top, and the vile will only be ousted by the
viler. While as national character must gradually assimilate to the
qualities that win power, and consequently respect, that demoralization
of opinion goes on which in the long panorama of history we may see
over and over again transmuting races of freemen into races of slaves.

As in England in the last century, when Parliament was but a close
corporation of the aristocracy, a corrupt oligarchy clearly fenced off
from the masses may exist without much effect on national character,
because in that case power is associated in the popular mind with other
things than corruption. But where there are no hereditary distinctions,
and men are habitually seen to raise themselves by corrupt qualities
from the lowest places to wealth and power, tolerance of these
qualities finally becomes admiration. A corrupt democratic government
must finally corrupt the people, and when a people become corrupt there
is no resurrection. The life is gone, only the carcass remains; and it
is left but for the plowshares of fate to bury it out of sight.

Now this transformation of popular government into despotism of the
vilest and most degrading kind, which must inevitably result from the
unequal distribution of wealth, is not a thing of the far future. It
has already begun in the United States, and is rapidly going on under
our eyes. That our legislative bodies are steadily deteriorating in
standard; that men of the highest ability and character are compelled
to eschew politics, and the arts of the jobber count for more than
the reputation of the statesman; that voting is done more recklessly
and the power of money is increasing; that it is harder to arouse
the people to the necessity of reforms and more difficult to carry
them out; that political differences are ceasing to be differences of
principle, and abstract ideas are losing their power; that parties
are passing into the control of what in general government would be
oligarchies and dictatorships; are all evidences of political decline.

The type of modern growth is the great city. Here are to be found the
greatest wealth and the deepest poverty. And it is here that popular
government has most clearly broken down. In all the great American
cities there is to-day as clearly defined a ruling class as in the most
aristocratic countries of the world. Its members carry wards in their
pockets, make up the slates for nominating conventions, distribute
offices as they bargain together, and—though they toil not, neither do
they spin—wear the best of raiment and spend money lavishly. They are
men of power, whose favor the ambitious must court and whose vengeance
he must avoid. Who are these men? The wise, the good, the learned—men
who have earned the confidence of their fellow-citizens by the purity
of their lives, the splendor of their talents, their probity in public
trusts, their deep study of the problems of government? No; they are
gamblers, saloon keepers, pugilists, or worse, who have made a trade
of controlling votes and of buying and selling offices and official
acts. They stand to the government of these cities as the Prætorian
Guards did to that of declining Rome. He who would wear the purple,
fill the curule chair, or have the fasces carried before him, must go
or send his messengers to their camps, give them donatives and make
them promises. It is through these men that the rich corporations
and powerful pecuniary interests can pack the Senate and the bench
with their creatures. It is these men who make School Directors,
Supervisors, Assessors, members of the Legislature, Congressmen. Why,
there are many election districts in the United States in which a
George Washington, a Benjamin Franklin or a Thomas Jefferson could
no more go to the lower house of a State Legislature than under the
Ancient Régime a base-born peasant could become a Marshal of France.
Their very character would be an insuperable disqualification.

In theory we are intense democrats. The proposal to sacrifice swine in
the temple would hardly have excited greater horror and indignation in
Jerusalem of old than would among us that of conferring a distinction
of rank upon our most eminent citizen. But is there not growing up
among us a class who have all the power without any of the virtues of
aristocracy? We have simple citizens who control thousands of miles of
railroad, millions of acres of land, the means of livelihood of great
numbers of men; who name the Governors of sovereign States as they
name their clerks, choose Senators as they choose attorneys, and whose
will is as supreme with Legislatures as that of a French King sitting
in bed of justice. The undercurrents of the times seem to sweep us
back again to the old conditions from which we dreamed we had escaped.
The development of the artisan and commercial classes gradually broke
down feudalism after it had become so complete that men thought of
heaven as organized on a feudal basis, and ranked the first and
second persons of the Trinity as suzerain and tenant-in-chief. But
now the development of manufactures and exchange, acting in a social
organization in which land is made private property, threatens to
compel every worker to seek a master, as the insecurity which followed
the final break-up of the Roman Empire compelled every freeman to seek
a lord. Nothing seems exempt from this tendency. Industry everywhere
tends to assume a form in which one is master and many serve. And when
one is master and the others serve, the one will control the others,
even in such matters as votes. Just as the English landlord votes his
tenants, so does the New England mill owner vote his operatives.

There is no mistaking it—the very foundations of society are being
sapped before our eyes, while we ask, _how_ is it possible that such
a civilization as this, with its railroads, and daily newspapers,
and electric telegraphs, should ever be destroyed? While literature
breathes but the belief that we have been, are, and for the future must
be, leaving the savage state further and further behind us, there are
indications that we are actually turning back again toward barbarism.
Let me illustrate: One of the characteristics of barbarism is the low
regard for the rights of person and of property. That the laws of our
Anglo-Saxon ancestors imposed as penalty for murder a fine proportioned
to the rank of the victim, while our law knows no distinction of rank,
and protects the lowest from the highest, the poorest from the richest,
by the uniform penalty of death, is looked upon as evidence of their
barbarism and our civilization. And so, that piracy, and robbery, and
slave-trading, and blackmailing, were once regarded as legitimate
occupations, is conclusive proof of the rude state of development from
which we have so far progressed.

But it is a matter of fact that, in spite of our laws, any one who has
money enough and wants to kill another may go into any one of our great
centers of population and business, and gratify his desire, and then
surrender himself to justice, with the chances as a hundred to one that
he will suffer no greater penalty than a temporary imprisonment and the
loss of a sum proportioned partly to his own wealth and partly to the
wealth and standing of the man he kills. His money will be paid, not to
the family of the murdered man, who have lost their protector; not to
the state, which has lost a citizen; but to lawyers who understand how
to secure delays, to find witnesses, and get juries to disagree.

And so, if a man steal enough, he may be sure that his punishment will
practically amount but to the loss of a part of the proceeds of his
theft; and if he steal enough to get off with a fortune, he will be
greeted by his acquaintances as a viking might have been greeted after
a successful cruise. Even though he robbed those who trusted him; even
though he robbed the widow and the fatherless; he has only to get
enough, and he may safely flaunt his wealth in the eyes of day.

Now, the tendency in this direction is an increasing one. It is shown
in greatest force where the inequalities in the distribution of wealth
are greatest, and it shows itself as they increase. If it be not a
return to barbarism, what is it? The failures of justice to which I
have alluded are only illustrative of the increasing debility of our
legal machinery in every department. It is becoming common to hear
men say that it would be better to revert to first principles and
abolish law, for then in self-defense the people would form Vigilance
Committees and take justice into their own hands. Is this indicative of
advance or retrogression?

All this is matter of common observation. Though we may not speak it
openly, the general faith in republican institutions is, where they
have reached their fullest development, narrowing and weakening. It
is no longer that confident belief in republicanism as the source of
national blessings that it once was. Thoughtful men are beginning to
see its dangers, without seeing how to escape them; are beginning to
accept the view of Macaulay and distrust that of Jefferson.[64] And the
people at large are becoming used to the growing corruption. The most
ominous political sign in the United States to-day is the growth of a
sentiment which either doubts the existence of an honest man in public
office or looks on him as a fool for not seizing his opportunities.
That is to say, the people themselves are becoming corrupted. Thus in
the United States to-day is republican government running the course
it must inevitably follow under conditions which cause the unequal
distribution of wealth.

Where that course leads is clear to whoever will think. As corruption
becomes chronic; as public spirit is lost; as traditions of honor,
virtue, and patriotism are weakened; as law is brought into contempt
and reforms become hopeless; then in the festering mass will be
generated volcanic forces, which shatter and rend when seeming accident
gives them vent. Strong, unscrupulous men, rising up upon occasion,
will become the exponents of blind popular desires or fierce popular
passions, and dash aside forms that have lost their vitality. The sword
will again be mightier than the pen, and in carnivals of destruction
brute force and wild frenzy will alternate with the lethargy of a
declining civilization.

I speak of the United States only because the United States is the most
advanced of all the great nations. What shall we say of Europe, where
dams of ancient law and custom pen up the swelling waters and standing
armies weigh down the safety valves, though year by year the fires
grow hotter underneath? Europe tends to republicanism under conditions
that will not admit of true republicanism—under conditions that
substitute for the calm and august figure of Liberty the petroleuse and
the guillotine!

Whence shall come the new barbarians? Go through the squalid quarters
of great cities, and you may see, even now, their gathering hordes! How
shall learning perish? Men will cease to read, and books will kindle
fires and be turned into cartridges!

It is startling to think how slight the traces that would be left of
our civilization did it pass through the throes which have accompanied
the decline of every previous civilization. Paper will not last like
parchment, nor are our most massive buildings and monuments to be
compared in solidity with the rock-hewn temples and titanic edifices of
the old civilizations.[65] And invention has given us, not merely the
steam engine and the printing press, but petroleum, nitro-glycerine,
and dynamite.

Yet to hint, to-day, that our civilization may possibly be tending to
decline, seems like the wildness of pessimism. The special tendencies
to which I have alluded are obvious to thinking men, but with the
majority of thinking men, as with the great masses, the belief in
substantial progress is yet deep and strong—a fundamental belief which
admits not the shadow of a doubt.

But any one who will think over the matter will see that this
must necessarily be the case where advance gradually passes into
retrogression. For in social development, as in everything else, motion
tends to persist in straight lines, and therefore, where there has been
a previous advance, it is extremely difficult to recognize decline,
even when it has fully commenced; there is an almost irresistible
tendency to believe that the forward movement which has been advance,
and is still going on, is still advance. The web of beliefs, customs,
laws, institutions, and habits of thought, which each community is
constantly spinning, and which produces in the individual environed
by it all the differences of national character, is never unraveled.
That is to say, in the decline of civilization, communities do not go
down by the same paths that they came up. For instance, the decline of
civilization as manifested in government would not take us back from
republicanism to constitutional monarchy, and thence to the feudal
system; it would take us to imperatorship and anarchy. As manifested in
religion, it would not take us back into the faiths of our forefathers,
into Protestantism or Catholicity, but into new forms of superstition,
of which possibly Mormonism and other even grosser “isms” may give some
vague idea. As manifested in knowledge, it would not take us toward
Bacon, but toward the literati of China.

And how the retrogression of civilization, following a period of
advance, may be so gradual as to attract no attention at the time;
nay, how that decline must necessarily, by the great majority of men,
be mistaken for advance, is easily seen. For instance, there is an
enormous difference between Grecian art of the classic period and that
of the lower empire; yet the change was accompanied, or rather caused,
by a change of taste. The artists who most quickly followed this change
of taste were in their day regarded as the superior artists. And so of
literature. As it became more vapid, puerile, and stilted, it would be
in obedience to an altered taste, which would regard its increasing
weakness as increasing strength and beauty. The really good writer
would not find readers; he would be regarded as rude, dry, or dull.
And so would the drama decline; not because there was a lack of good
plays, but because the prevailing taste became more and more that of a
less cultured class, who, of course, regard that which they most admire
as the best of its kind. And so, too, of religion; the superstitions
which a superstitious people will add to it will be regarded by them as
improvements. While, as the decline goes on, the return to barbarism,
where it is not in itself regarded as an advance, will seem necessary
to meet the exigencies of the times.

For instance, flogging, as a punishment for certain offenses, has
been recently restored to the penal code of England, and has been
strongly advocated on this side of the Atlantic. I express no opinion
as to whether this is or is not a better punishment for crime than
imprisonment. I only point to the fact as illustrating how an
increasing amount of crime and an increasing embarrassment as to the
maintenance of prisoners, both obvious tendencies at present, might
lead to a fuller return to the physical cruelty of barbarous codes.
The use of torture in judicial investigations, which steadily grew
with the decline of Roman civilization, it is thus easy to see, might,
as manners brutalized and crime increased, be demanded as a necessary
improvement of the criminal law.

Whether in the present drifts of opinion and taste there are as yet
any indications of retrogression, it is not necessary to inquire; but
there are many things about which there can be no dispute, which go
to show that our civilization has reached a critical period, and that
unless a new start is made in the direction of social equality, the
nineteenth century may to the future mark its climax. These industrial
depressions, which cause as much waste and suffering as famines
or wars, are like the twinges and shocks which precede paralysis.
Everywhere is it evident that the tendency to inequality, which is
the necessary result of material progress where land is monopolized,
cannot go much further without carrying our civilization into that
downward path which is so easy to enter and so hard to abandon.
Everywhere the increasing intensity of the struggle to live, the
increasing necessity for straining every nerve to prevent being thrown
down and trodden under foot in the scramble for wealth, is draining
the forces which gain and maintain improvements. In every civilized
country pauperism, crime, insanity, and suicides are increasing. In
every civilized country the diseases are increasing which come from
overstrained nerves, from insufficient nourishment, from squalid
lodgings, from unwholesome and monotonous occupations, from premature
labor of children, from the tasks and crimes which poverty imposes
upon women. In every highly civilized country the expectation of life,
which gradually rose for several centuries, and which seems to have
culminated about the first quarter of this century, appears to be now

It is not an advancing civilization that such figures show. It is a
civilization which in its undercurrents has already begun to recede.
When the tide turns in bay or river from flood to ebb, it is not all at
once; but here it still runs on, though there it has begun to recede.
When the sun passes the meridian, it can be told only by the way the
short shadows fall; for the heat of the day yet increases. But as sure
as the turning tide must soon run full ebb; as sure as the declining
sun must bring darkness, so sure is it, that though knowledge yet
increases and invention marches on, and new states are being settled,
and cities still expand, yet civilization has begun to wane when, in
proportion to population, we must build more and more prisons, more and
more almshouses, more and more insane asylums. It is not from top to
bottom that societies die; it is from bottom to top.

But there are evidences far more palpable than any that can be given
by statistics, of tendencies to the ebb of civilization. There is a
vague but general feeling of disappointment; an increased bitterness
among the working classes; a widespread feeling of unrest and brooding
revolution. If this were accompanied by a definite idea of how relief
is to be obtained, it would be a hopeful sign; but it is not. Though
the schoolmaster has been abroad some time, the general power of
tracing effect to cause does not seem a whit improved. The reaction
toward protectionism, as the reaction toward other exploded fallacies
of government, shows this.[67] And even the philosophic free-thinker
cannot look upon that vast change in religious ideas that is now
sweeping over the civilized world without feeling that this tremendous
fact may have most momentous relations, which only the future can
develop. For what is going on is not a change in the form of religion,
but the negation and destruction of the ideas from which religion
springs. Christianity is not simply clearing itself of superstitions,
but in the popular mind it is dying at the root, as the old paganisms
were dying when Christianity entered the world. And nothing arises to
take its place. The fundamental ideas of an intelligent Creator and of
a future life are in the general mind rapidly weakening. Now, whether
this may or may not be in itself an advance, the importance of the part
which religion has played in the world’s history shows the importance
of the change that is now going on. Unless human nature has suddenly
altered in what the universal history of the race shows to be its
deepest characteristics, the mightiest actions and reactions are thus
preparing. Such stages of thought have heretofore always marked periods
of transition. On a smaller scale and to a less depth (for I think any
one who will notice the drift of our literature, and talk upon such
subjects with the men he meets, will see that it is sub-soil and not
surface plowing that materialistic ideas are now doing), such a state
of thought preceded the French revolution. But the closest parallel to
the wreck of religious ideas now going on is to be found in that period
in which ancient civilization began to pass from splendor to decline.
What change may come, no mortal man can tell, but that some great
change _must_ come, thoughtful men begin to feel. The civilized world
is trembling on the verge of a great movement. Either it must be a leap
upward, which will open the way to advances yet undreamed of, or it
must be a plunge downward, which will carry us back toward barbarism.


[64] See Macaulay’s letter to Randall, the biographer of Jefferson.

[65] It is also, it seems to me, instructive to note how inadequate and
utterly misleading would be the idea of our civilization which could be
gained from the religious and funereal monuments of our time, which are
all we have from which to gain our ideas of the buried civilizations.

[66] Statistics which show these things are collected in convenient
form in a volume entitled “Deterioration and Race Education,” by Samuel
Royce, which has been largely distributed by the venerable Peter Cooper
of New York. Strangely enough, the only remedy proposed by Mr. Royce is
the establishment of Kindergarten schools.

[67] In point of constructive statesmanship—the recognition of
fundamental principles and the adaptation of means to ends, the
Constitution of the United States, adopted a century ago, is greatly
superior to the latest State Constitutions, the most recent of which is
that of California—a piece of utter botchwork.



In the short space to which this latter part of our inquiry is
necessarily confined, I have been obliged to omit much that I would
like to say, and to touch briefly where an exhaustive consideration
would not be out of place.

Nevertheless, this, at least, is evident, that the truth to which we
were led in the politico-economic branch of our inquiry is as clearly
apparent in the rise and fall of nations and the growth and decay of
civilizations, and that it accords with those deep-seated recognitions
of relation and sequence that we denominate moral perceptions. Thus
have been given to our conclusions the greatest certitude and highest

This truth involves both a menace and a promise. It shows that the
evils arising from the unjust and unequal distribution of wealth, which
are becoming more and more apparent as modern civilization goes on, are
not incidents of progress, but tendencies which must bring progress to
a halt; that they will not cure themselves, but, on the contrary, must,
unless their cause is removed, grow greater and greater, until they
sweep us back into barbarism by the road every previous civilization
has trod. But it also shows that these evils are not imposed by natural
laws; that they spring solely from social mal-adjustments which ignore
natural laws, and that in removing their cause we shall be giving an
enormous impetus to progress.

The poverty which in the midst of abundance pinches and imbrutes men,
and all the manifold evils which flow from it, spring from a denial of
justice. In permitting the monopolization of the opportunities which
nature freely offers to all, we have ignored the fundamental law of
justice—for, so far as we can see, when we view things upon a large
scale, justice seems to be the supreme law of the universe. But by
sweeping away this injustice and asserting the rights of all men to
natural opportunities, we shall conform ourselves to the law—we shall
remove the great cause of unnatural inequality in the distribution of
wealth and power; we shall abolish poverty; tame the ruthless passions
of greed; dry up the springs of vice and misery; light in dark places
the lamp of knowledge; give new vigor to invention and a fresh impulse
to discovery; substitute political strength for political weakness; and
make tyranny and anarchy impossible.

The reform I have proposed accords with all that is politically,
socially, or morally desirable. It has the qualities of a true reform,
for it will make all other reforms easier. What is it but the carrying
out in letter and spirit of the truth enunciated in the Declaration of
Independence—the “self-evident” truth that is the heart and soul of the
Declaration—“_That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by
their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!_”

These rights are denied when the equal right to land—on which and
by which men alone can live—is denied. Equality of political rights
will not compensate for the denial of the equal right to the bounty
of nature. Political liberty, when the equal right to land is denied,
becomes, as population increases and invention goes on, merely the
liberty to compete for employment at starvation wages. This is the
truth that we have ignored. And so there come beggars in our streets
and tramps on our roads; and poverty enslaves men whom we boast are
political sovereigns; and want breeds ignorance that our schools
cannot enlighten; and citizens vote as their masters dictate; and the
demagogue usurps the part of the statesman; and gold weighs in the
scales of justice; and in high places sit those who do not pay to
civic virtue even the compliment of hypocrisy; and the pillars of the
republic that we thought so strong already bend under an increasing

We honor Liberty in name and in form. We set up her statues and sound
her praises. But we have not fully trusted her. And with our growth so
grow her demands. She will have no half service!

Liberty! it is a word to conjure with, not to vex the ear in empty
boastings. For Liberty means Justice, and Justice is the natural
law—the law of health and symmetry and strength, of fraternity and

They who look upon Liberty as having accomplished her mission when
she has abolished hereditary privileges and given men the ballot, who
think of her as having no further relations to the everyday affairs of
life, have not seen her real grandeur—to them the poets who have sung
of her must seem rhapsodists, and her martyrs fools! As the sun is
the lord of life, as well as of light; as his beams not merely pierce
the clouds, but support all growth, supply all motion, and call forth
from what would otherwise be a cold and inert mass all the infinite
diversities of being and beauty, so is liberty to mankind. It is not
for an abstraction that men have toiled and died; that in every age the
witnesses of Liberty have stood forth, and the martyrs of Liberty have

We speak of Liberty as one thing, and of virtue, wealth, knowledge,
invention, national strength and national independence as other things.
But, of all these, Liberty is the source, the mother, the necessary
condition. She is to virtue what light is to color; to wealth what
sunshine is to grain; to knowledge what eyes are to sight. She is the
genius of invention, the brawn of national strength, the spirit of
national independence. Where Liberty rises, there virtue grows, wealth
increases, knowledge expands, invention multiplies human powers, and in
strength and spirit the freer nation rises among her neighbors as Saul
amid his brethren—taller and fairer. Where Liberty sinks, there virtue
fades, wealth diminishes, knowledge is forgotten, invention ceases, and
empires once mighty in arms and arts become a helpless prey to freer

Only in broken gleams and partial light has the sun of Liberty yet
beamed among men, but all progress hath she called forth.

Liberty came to a race of slaves crouching under Egyptian whips, and
led them forth from the House of Bondage. She hardened them in the
desert and made of them a race of conquerors. The free spirit of the
Mosaic law took their thinkers up to heights where they beheld the
unity of God, and inspired their poets with strains that yet phrase the
highest exaltations of thought. Liberty dawned on the Phœnician coast,
and ships passed the Pillars of Hercules to plow the unknown sea. She
shed a partial light on Greece, and marble grew to shapes of ideal
beauty, words became the instruments of subtlest thought, and against
the scanty militia of free cities the countless hosts of the Great King
broke like surges against a rock. She cast her beams on the four-acre
farms of Italian husbandmen, and born of her strength a power came
forth that conquered the world. They glinted from shields of German
warriors, and Augustus wept his legions. Out of the night that followed
her eclipse, her slanting rays fell again on free cities, and a lost
learning revived, modern civilization began, a new world was unveiled;
and as Liberty grew, so grew art, wealth, power, knowledge, and
refinement. In the history of every nation we may read the same truth.
It was the strength born of Magna Charta that won Crecy and Agincourt.
It was the revival of Liberty from the despotism of the Tudors that
glorified the Elizabethan age. It was the spirit that brought a crowned
tyrant to the block that planted here the seed of a mighty tree. It was
the energy of ancient freedom that, the moment it had gained unity,
made Spain the mightiest power of the world, only to fall to the lowest
depth of weakness when tyranny succeeded liberty. See, in France, all
intellectual vigor dying under the tyranny of the Seventeenth Century
to revive in splendor as Liberty awoke in the Eighteenth, and on the
enfranchisement of French peasants in the Great Revolution, basing the
wonderful strength that has in our time defied defeat.

Shall we not trust her?

In our time, as in times before, creep on the insidious forces that,
producing inequality, destroy Liberty. On the horizon the clouds begin
to lower. Liberty calls to us again. We must follow her further; we
must trust her fully. Either we must wholly accept her or she will not
stay. It is not enough that men should vote; it is not enough that they
should be theoretically equal before the law. They must have liberty
to avail themselves of the opportunities and means of life; they must
stand on equal terms with reference to the bounty of nature. Either
this, or Liberty withdraws her light! Either this, or darkness comes
on, and the very forces that progress has evolved turn to powers that
work destruction. This is the universal law. This is the lesson of
the centuries. Unless its foundations be laid in justice the social
structure cannot stand.

Our primary social adjustment is a denial of justice. In allowing one
man to own the land on which and from which other men must live, we
have made them his bondsmen in a degree which increases as material
progress goes on. This is the subtile alchemy that in ways they do
not realize is extracting from the masses in every civilized country
the fruits of their weary toil; that is instituting a harder and more
hopeless slavery in place of that which has been destroyed; that is
bringing political despotism out of political freedom, and must soon
transmute democratic institutions into anarchy.

It is this that turns the blessings of material progress into a curse.
It is this that crowds human beings into noisome cellars and squalid
tenement houses; that fills prisons and brothels; that goads men with
want and consumes them with greed; that robs women of the grace and
beauty of perfect womanhood; that takes from little children the joy
and innocence of life’s morning.

Civilization so based cannot continue. The eternal laws of the universe
forbid it. Ruins of dead empires testify, and the witness that is in
every soul answers, that it cannot be. It is something grander than
Benevolence, something more august than Charity—it is Justice herself
that demands of us to right this wrong. Justice that will not be
denied; that cannot be put off—Justice that with the scales carries
the sword. Shall we ward the stroke with liturgies and prayers? Shall
we avert the decrees of immutable law by raising churches when hungry
infants moan and weary mothers weep?

Though it may take the language of prayer, it is blasphemy that
attributes to the inscrutable decrees of Providence the suffering and
brutishness that come of poverty; that turns with folded hands to the
All-Father and lays on Him the responsibility for the want and crime of
our great cities. We degrade the Everlasting. We slander the Just One.
A merciful man would have better ordered the world; a just man would
crush with his foot such an ulcerous anthill! It is not the Almighty,
but we who are responsible for the vice and misery that fester amid our
civilization. The Creator showers upon us his gifts—more than enough
for all. But like swine scrambling for food, we tread them in the
mire—tread them in the mire, while we tear and rend each other!

In the very centers of our civilization to-day are want and suffering
enough to make sick at heart whoever does not close his eyes and steel
his nerves. Dare we turn to the Creator and ask Him to relieve it?
Supposing the prayer were heard, and at the behest with which the
universe sprang into being there should glow in the sun a greater
power; new virtue fill the air; fresh vigor the soil; that for every
blade of grass that now grows two should spring up, and the seed that
now increases fifty-fold should increase a hundred-fold! Would poverty
be abated or want relieved? Manifestly no! Whatever benefit would
accrue would be but temporary. The new powers streaming through the
material universe could be utilized only through land. And land, being
private property, the classes that now monopolize the bounty of the
Creator would monopolize all the new bounty. Land owners would alone
be benefited. Rents would increase, but wages would still tend to the
starvation point!

This is not merely a deduction of political economy; it is a fact
of experience. We know it because we have seen it. Within our own
times, under our very eyes, that Power which is above all, and in all,
and through all; that Power of which the whole universe is but the
manifestation; that Power which maketh all things, and without which is
not anything made that is made, has increased the bounty which men may
enjoy, as truly as though the fertility of nature had been increased.
Into the mind of one came the thought that harnessed steam for the
service of mankind. To the inner ear of another was whispered the
secret that compels the lightning to bear a message round the globe.
In every direction have the laws of matter been revealed; in every
department of industry have arisen arms of iron and fingers of steel,
whose effect upon the production of wealth has been precisely the same
as an increase in the fertility of nature. What has been the result?
Simply that land owners get all the gain. The wonderful discoveries and
inventions of our century have neither increased wages nor lightened
toil. The effect has simply been to make the few richer; the many more

Can it be that the gifts of the Creator may be thus misappropriated
with impunity? Is it a light thing that labor should be robbed of its
earnings while greed rolls in wealth—that the many should want while
the few are surfeited? Turn to history, and on every page may be read
the lesson that such wrong never goes unpunished; that the Nemesis that
follows injustice never falters nor sleeps! Look around to-day. Can
this state of things continue? May we even say, “After us the deluge!”
Nay; the pillars of the state are trembling even now, and the very
foundations of society begin to quiver with pent-up forces that glow
underneath. The struggle that must either revivify, or convulse in
ruin, is near at hand, if it be not already begun.

The fiat has gone forth! With steam and electricity, and the new powers
born of progress, forces have entered the world that will either
compel us to a higher plane or overwhelm us, as nation after nation,
as civilization after civilization, have been overwhelmed before. It
is the delusion which precedes destruction that sees in the popular
unrest with which the civilized world is feverishly pulsing only the
passing effect of ephemeral causes. Between democratic ideas and
the aristocratic adjustments of society there is an irreconcilable
conflict. Here in the United States, as there in Europe, it may be seen
arising. We cannot go on permitting men to vote and forcing them to
tramp. We cannot go on educating boys and girls in our public schools
and then refusing them the right to earn an honest living. We cannot
go on prating of the inalienable rights of man and then denying the
inalienable right to the bounty of the Creator. Even now, in old
bottles the new wine begins to ferment, and elemental forces gather for
the strife!

But if, while there is yet time, we turn to Justice and obey her,
if we trust Liberty and follow her, the dangers that now threaten
must disappear, the forces that now menace will turn to agencies of
elevation. Think of the powers now wasted; of the infinite fields
of knowledge yet to be explored; of the possibilities of which the
wondrous inventions of this century give us but a hint. With want
destroyed; with greed changed to noble passions; with the fraternity
that is born of equality taking the place of the jealousy and fear
that now array men against each other; with mental power loosed by
conditions that give to the humblest comfort and leisure; and who shall
measure the heights to which our civilization may soar? Words fail the
thought! It is the Golden Age of which poets have sung and high-raised
seers have told in metaphor! It is the glorious vision which has
always haunted man with gleams of fitful splendor. It is what he saw
whose eyes at Patmos were closed in a trance. It is the culmination of
Christianity—the City of God on earth, with its walls of jasper and its
gates of pearl! It is the reign of the Prince of Peace!



    The days of the nations bear no trace
      Of all the sunshine so far foretold;
    The cannon speaks in the teacher’s place—
      The age is weary with work and gold,
    And high hopes wither, and memories wane;
      On hearths and altars the fires are dead;
    But that brave faith hath not lived in vain—
      And this is all that our watcher said.

    —_Frances Brown._



My task is done.

Yet the thought still mounts. The problems we have been considering
lead into a problem higher and deeper still. Behind the problems of
social life lies the problem of individual life. I have found it
impossible to think of the one without thinking of the other, and so,
I imagine, will it be with those who, reading this book, go with me
in thought. For, as says Guizot, “when the history of civilization
is completed, when there is nothing more to say as to our present
existence, man inevitably asks himself whether all is exhausted,
whether he has reached the end of all things?”

This problem I cannot now discuss. I speak of it only because the
thought which, while writing this book, has come with inexpressible
cheer to me, may also be of cheer to some who read it; for, whatever
be its fate, it will be read by some who in their heart of hearts
have taken the cross of a new crusade. This thought will come to them
without my suggestion; but we are surer that we see a star when we know
that others also see it.

       *       *       *       *       *

The truth that I have tried to make clear will not find easy
acceptance. If that could be, it would have been accepted long ago.
If that could be, it would never have been obscured. But it will find
friends—those who will toil for it; suffer for it; if need be, die for
it. This is the power of Truth.

Will it at length prevail? Ultimately, yes. But in our own times, or
in times of which any memory of us remains, who shall say?

For the man who, seeing the want and misery, the ignorance and
brutishness caused by unjust social institutions, sets himself, in so
far as he has strength, to right them, there is disappointment and
bitterness. So it has been of old time. So is it even now. But the
bitterest thought—and it sometimes comes to the best and bravest—is
that of the hopelessness of the effort, the futility of the sacrifice.
To how few of those who sow the seed is it given to see it grow, or
even with certainty to know that it will grow.

Let us not disguise it. Over and over again has the standard of Truth
and Justice been raised in this world. Over and over again has it been
trampled down—oftentimes in blood. If they are weak forces that are
opposed to Truth, how should Error so long prevail? If Justice has but
to raise her head to have Injustice flee before her, how should the
wail of the oppressed so long go up?

But for those who see Truth and would follow her; for those who
recognize Justice and would stand for her, success is not the only
thing. Success! Why, Falsehood has often that to give; and Injustice
often has that to give. Must not Truth and Justice have something to
give that is their own by proper right—theirs in essence, and not by

That they have, and that here and now, every one who has felt their
exaltation knows. But sometimes the clouds sweep down. It is sad, sad
reading, the lives of the men who would have done something for their
fellows. To Socrates they gave the hemlock; Gracchus they killed with
sticks and stones; and One, greatest and purest of all, they crucified.
These seem but types. To-day Russian prisons are full, and in long
processions, men and women, who, but for high-minded patriotism, might
have lived in ease and luxury, move in chains toward the death-in-life
of Siberia. And in penury and want, in neglect and contempt, destitute
even of the sympathy that would have been so sweet, how many in every
country have closed their eyes? This we see.

_But do we see it all?_

In writing I have picked up a newspaper. In it is a short account,
evidently translated from a semi-official report, of the execution of
three Nihilists at Kieff—the Prussian subject Brandtner, the unknown
man calling himself Antonoff, and the nobleman Ossinsky. At the foot of
the gallows they were permitted to kiss one another. “Then the hangman
cut the rope, the surgeons pronounced the victims dead, the bodies were
buried at the foot of the scaffold, and the Nihilists were given up to
eternal oblivion.” Thus says the account. I do not believe it. No; not
to oblivion!

       *       *       *       *       *

I have in this inquiry followed the course of my own thought. When, in
mind, I set out on it I had no theory to support, no conclusions to
prove. Only, when I first realized the squalid misery of a great city,
it appalled and tormented me, and would not let me rest, for thinking
of what caused it and how it could be cured.

But out of this inquiry has come to me something I did not think to
find, and a faith that was dead revives.

       *       *       *       *       *

The yearning for a further life is natural and deep. It grows with
intellectual growth, and perhaps none really feel it more than those
who have begun to see how great is the universe and how infinite are
the vistas which every advance in knowledge opens before us—vistas
which would require nothing short of eternity to explore. But in the
mental atmosphere of our times, to the great majority of men on whom
mere creeds have lost their hold, it seems impossible to look on this
yearning save as a vain and childish hope, arising from man’s egotism,
and for which there is not the slightest ground or warrant, but which,
on the contrary, seems inconsistent with positive knowledge.

Now, when we come to analyze and trace up the ideas that thus destroy
the hope of a future life, we shall find them, I think, to have their
source, not in any revelations of physical science, but in certain
teachings of political and social science which have deeply permeated
thought in all directions. They have their root in the doctrines,
that there is a tendency to the production of more human beings than
can be provided for; that vice and misery are the result of natural
laws, and the means by which advance goes on; and that human progress
is by a slow race development. These doctrines, which have been
generally accepted as approved truth, do what, except as scientific
interpretations have been colored by them, the extensions of physical
science do not do—they reduce the individual to insignificance; they
destroy the idea that there can be in the ordering of the universe any
regard for his existence, or any recognition of what we call moral

It is difficult to reconcile the idea of human immortality with the
idea that nature wastes men by constantly bringing them into being
where there is no room for them. It is impossible to reconcile the
idea of an intelligent and beneficent Creator with the belief that
the wretchedness and degradation which are the lot of such a large
proportion of human kind result from his enactments; while the idea
that man mentally and physically is the result of slow modifications
perpetuated by heredity, irresistibly suggests the idea that it is
the race life, not the individual life, which is the object of human
existence. Thus has vanished with many of us, and is still vanishing
with more of us, that belief which in the battles and ills of life
affords the strongest support and deepest consolation.

Now, in the inquiry through which we have passed, we have met these
doctrines and seen their fallacy. We have seen that population does not
tend to outrun subsistence; we have seen that the waste of human powers
and the prodigality of human suffering do not spring from natural laws,
but from the ignorance and selfishness of men in refusing to conform
to natural laws. We have seen that human progress is not by altering
the nature of men; but that, on the contrary, the nature of men seems,
generally speaking, always the same.

Thus the nightmare which is banishing from the modern world the
belief in a future life is destroyed. Not that all difficulties
are removed—for turn which way we may, we come to what we cannot
comprehend; but that difficulties are removed which seem conclusive and
insuperable. And, thus, hope springs up.

But this is not all.

       *       *       *       *       *

Political Economy has been called the dismal science, and as currently
taught, _is_ hopeless and despairing. But this, as we have seen,
is solely because she has been degraded and shackled; her truths
dislocated; her harmonies ignored; the word she would utter gagged in
her mouth, and her protest against wrong turned into an indorsement
of injustice. Freed, as I have tried to free her—in her own proper
symmetry, Political Economy is radiant with hope.

For properly understood, the laws which govern the production and
distribution of wealth show that the want and injustice of the present
social state are not necessary; but that, on the contrary, a social
state is possible in which poverty would be unknown, and all the better
qualities and higher powers of human nature would have opportunity for
full development.

And, further than this, when we see that social development is governed
neither by a Special Providence nor by a merciless fate, but by law,
at once unchangeable and beneficent; when we see that human will is
the great factor, and that taking men in the aggregate, their condition
is as they make it; when we see that economic law and moral law are
essentially one, and that the truth which the intellect grasps after
toilsome effort is but that which the moral sense reaches by a quick
intuition, a flood of light breaks in upon the problem of individual
life. These countless millions like ourselves, who on this earth of
ours have passed and still are passing, with their joys and sorrows,
their toil and their striving, their aspirations and their fears, their
strong perceptions of things deeper than sense, their common feelings
which form the basis even of the most divergent creeds—their little
lives do not seem so much like meaningless waste.

The great fact which Science in all her branches shows is the
universality of law. Wherever he can trace it, whether in the fall
of an apple or in the revolution of binary suns, the astronomer sees
the working of the same law, which operates in the minutest divisions
in which we may distinguish space, as it does in the immeasurable
distances with which his science deals. Out of that which lies beyond
his telescope comes a moving body and again it disappears. So far as
he can trace its course the law is ignored. Does he say that this is
an exception? On the contrary, he says that this is merely a part of
its orbit that he has seen; that beyond the reach of his telescope the
law holds good. He makes his calculations, and after centuries they are

Now, if we trace out the laws which govern human life in society,
we find that in the largest as in the smallest community, they are
the same. We find that what seem at first sight like divergences and
exceptions are but manifestations of the same principles. And we find
that everywhere we can trace it, the social law runs into and conforms
with the moral law; that in the life of a community, justice infallibly
brings its reward and injustice its punishment. But this we cannot
see in individual life. If we look merely at individual life we cannot
see that the laws of the universe have the slightest relation to good
or bad, to right or wrong, to just or unjust.[68] Shall we then say
that the law which is manifest in social life is not true of individual
life? It is not scientific to say so. We would not say so in reference
to anything else. Shall we not rather say this simply proves that we do
not see the whole of individual life?

       *       *       *       *       *

The laws which Political Economy discovers, like the facts and
relations of physical nature, harmonize with what seems to be the law
of mental development—not a necessary and involuntary progress, but a
progress in which the human will is an initiatory force. But in life,
as we are cognizant of it, mental development can go but a little
way. The mind hardly begins to awake ere the bodily powers decline—it
but becomes dimly conscious of the vast fields before it, but begins
to learn and use its strength, to recognize relations and extend its
sympathies, when, with the death of the body, it passes away. Unless
there is something more, there seems here a break, a failure. Whether
it be a Humboldt or a Herschel, a Moses who looks from Pisgah, a Joshua
who leads the host, or one of those sweet and patient souls who in
narrow circles live radiant lives, there seems, if mind and character
here developed can go no further, a purposelessness inconsistent with
what we can see of the linked sequence of the universe.

By a fundamental law of our minds—the law, in fact, upon which
Political Economy relies in all her deductions—we cannot conceive
of a means without an end; a contrivance without an object. Now, to
all nature, so far as we come in contact with it in this world, the
support and employment of the intelligence that is in man furnishes
such an end and object. But unless man himself may rise to or bring
forth something higher, his existence is unintelligible. So strong
is this metaphysical necessity that those who deny to the individual
anything more than this life are compelled to transfer the idea of
perfectibility to the race. But as we have seen, and the argument could
have been made much more complete, there is nothing whatever to show
any essential race improvement. Human progress is not the improvement
of human nature. The advances in which civilization consists are not
secured in the constitution of man, but in the constitution of society.
They are thus not fixed and permanent, but may at any time be lost—nay,
are constantly tending to be lost. And further than this, if human
life does not continue beyond what we see of it here, then we are
confronted, with regard to the race, with the same difficulty as with
the individual! For it is as certain that the race must die as it is
that the individual must die. We know that there have been geologic
conditions under which human life was impossible on this earth. We know
that they must return again. Even now, as the earth circles on her
appointed orbit, the northern ice cap slowly thickens, and the time
gradually approaches, when its glaciers will flow again, and austral
seas, sweeping northward, bury the seats of present civilization under
ocean wastes, as it may be they now bury what was once as high a
civilization as our own, And beyond these periods, science discerns
a dead earth, an exhausted sun—a time when, clashing together, the
solar system shall resolve itself into a gaseous form, again to begin
immeasurable mutations.

       *       *       *       *       *

What then is the meaning of life—of life absolutely and inevitably
bounded by death? To me it seems intelligible only as the avenue and
vestibule to another life. And its facts seem explainable only upon a
theory which cannot be expressed but in myth and symbol, and which,
everywhere and at all times, the myths and symbols in which men have
tried to portray their deepest perceptions do in some form express.

The scriptures of the men who have been and gone—the Bibles, the Zend
Avestas, the Vedas, the Dhammapadas, and the Korans; the esoteric
doctrines of old philosophies, the inner meaning of grotesque
religions, the dogmatic constitutions of Ecumenical Councils, the
preachings of Foxes, and Wesleys, and Savonarolas, the traditions of
red Indians, and beliefs of black savages, have a heart and core in
which they agree—a something which seems like the variously distorted
apprehensions of a primary truth. And out of the chain of thought we
have been following there seems vaguely to rise a glimpse of what
they vaguely saw—a shadowy gleam of ultimate relations, the endeavor
to express which inevitably falls into type and allegory. A garden in
which are set the trees of good and evil. A vineyard in which there is
the Master’s work to do. A passage—from life behind to life beyond. A
trial and a struggle, of which we cannot see the end.

Look around to-day.

Lo! here, now, in our civilized society, the old allegories yet have a
meaning, the old myths are still true. Into the Valley of the Shadow of
Death yet often leads the path of duty, through the streets of Vanity
Fair walk Christian and Faithful, and on Greatheart’s armor ring the
clanging blows. Ormuzd still fights with Ahriman—the Prince of Light
with the Powers of Darkness. He who will hear, to him the clarions of
the battle call.

How they call, and call, and call, till the heart swells that hears
them! Strong soul and high endeavor, the world needs them now. Beauty
still lies imprisoned, and iron wheels go over the good and true and
beautiful that might spring from human lives.

And they who fight with Ormuzd, though they may not know each
other—somewhere, sometime, will the muster roll be called.

       *       *       *       *       *

Though Truth and Right seem often overborne, we may not see it all.
How can we see it all? All that is passing, even here, we cannot tell.
The vibrations of matter which give the sensations of light and color
become to us indistinguishable when they pass a certain point. It
is only within a like range that we have cognizance of sounds. Even
animals have senses which we have not. And, here? Compared with the
solar system our earth is but an indistinguishable speck; and the solar
system itself shrivels into nothingness when gauged with the star
depths. Shall we say that what passes from _our_ sight passes into
oblivion? No; not into oblivion. Far, far beyond our ken the eternal
laws must hold their sway.

       *       *       *       *       *

The hope that rises is the heart of all religions! The poets have
sung it, the seers have told it, and in its deepest pulses the heart
of man throbs responsive to its truth. This, that Plutarch said, is
what in all times and in all tongues has been said by the pure hearted
and strong sighted, who, standing as it were, on the mountain tops of
thought and looking over the shadowy ocean, have beheld the loom of

  “_Men’s souls, encompassed here with bodies and passions, have no
 communication with God, except what they can reach to in conception
 only, by means of philosophy, as by a kind of an obscure dream. But
 when they are loosed from the body, and removed into the unseen,
 invisible, impassable, and pure region, this God is then their leader
 and king; they there, as it were, hanging on him wholly, and beholding
 without weariness and passionately affecting that beauty which cannot
 be expressed or uttered by men._


[68] Let us not delude our children. If for no other reason than for
that which Plato gives, that when they come to discard that which we
told them as pious fable they will also discard that which we told them
as truth. The virtues which relate to self do generally bring their
reward. Either a merchant or a thief will be more successful if he be
sober, prudent, and faithful to his promises; but as to the virtues
which do not relate to self—

    “It seems a story from the world of spirits,
    When any one obtains that which he merits,
    Or any merits that which he obtains.”


  Bagehot, Walter, arrest of civilization, 480-481;
    why barbarians waste away, 497-498.

  Bastiat, cause of interest, 176-186.

  Bisset, Andrew, knight’s service, 381_n_.

  Buckle, assumes current doctrine of wages, 18;
    on Malthus, 92-93, 100;
    interest and profits, 158;
    relation between rent, wages and interest, 170.

  Cairnes, J. E., high wages and interest in new countries, 20-22.

  California, economic principles exemplified in, 19-20, 61-63, 78,
    144-146, 174, 255-256, 271-275, 290-291, 344, 383-385, 392, 398,

  Capital, current doctrine of its relation to wages, 17-18;
    idle in industrial depressions, 21;
    theory that wages are drawn from, 20-23;
    deductions from this theory, 24-25;
    varying definitions of, 32-34;
    difficulties besetting use of term, 36-37;
    exclusions of term, 37-38;
    distinguished from wealth, 41-47, 71-72;
    used in two senses, 56-57;
    definitions of Smith, Ricardo, McCulloch, and Mill compared, 41-45;
    wages not drawn from, 23-29, 49-69;
    does not limit industry, 26-29, 57-58, 80-86;
    does not maintain laborers, 70-78;
    modes in which it aids labor, 79, 186-188, 195-196;
    real functions of, 79-87;
    may limit form and productiveness of industry, 80-82;
    apparent want of generally due to some other want, 82-85;
    limited by requirements of production, 85-86;
    poverty not due to scarcity of, 85-86;
    not necessary to production, 163-164;
    a form of labor, 164, 198, 203;
    its essence, 179;
    spurious, 189-194;
    not fixed in quantity, 195;
    if the only active factor in production, 201-202;
    its profits as affected by wages, 308-309;
    wastes when not used, 311;
    invested upon possessory titles, 385.

  Carey, Henry C., on capital, 34;
    rent, 225.

  China, cause of poverty and famine, 121-122;
    civilization, 480-481.

  Civilization, what, 475-476;
    prevailing belief as to progress of, 476-479;
    arrest of, 479-486;
    differences in, 487-502;
    its law, 503-523;
    retrogression, 482-486, 536-537;
    to endure must be based on justice, 543-546;
    character of European, 518, 526.

  Civilization, modern, its riddle, 10;
    has not improved condition of the lowest class, 281-284;
    development of, 372-382;
    superiority, 519-520;
    may decline, 524-528;
    indications of retrogression, 537-540;
    its possibilities, 452-469, 549.

  Communities, industrial, extent of,