Monday, September 19, 2016

A 1906 Criticism of Socialism

A 1906 Criticism of Socialism

Article in The Theosophical Quarterly 1906

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A book on Socialism cannot be reviewed in the space this magazine can afford to give it, so that this does not pretend to be more than a notice of some of many points which occur to one when glancing through the above volume. In the first place we are confronted with the eternal difficulty when dealing with the subject of Socialism; that is that there are as many kinds of Socialism as there are exponents of a socialistic belief. It should be understood, therefore, that the following remarks refer to the Wilshire brand. It is a not unpleasant brand in several ways, for Mr. Wilshire is a kind-hearted man who sees and avoids the evils of inflaming class hatred, which is so important a stock in trade of so many socialists. He endeavors to treat the question from an economic standpoint and has kind things to say of every one, even the hated capitalist. He does not agree with most socialistic writers that they are a wicked and perverse generation, but on the contrary says that they are pretty much like other men, and only differ, because, by birth or circumstance, they are exploiters of labor, instead of being laborers.

Trusts, he thinks, are a natural outcome of economic conditions, therefore inevitable, and therefore not evil. They are simply a step on the road towards the national ownership of the means of production, and he rather likes them because they indicate that a very considerable distance has been traveled on that road. He believes that the time is close at hand, a year or two perhaps, unless a great war or a great calamity postpones it, when this country will be confronted by the "great unemployed problem," which will usher in the socialistic regime. It is here that we must depart from him. He has been making the same prediction for the last fifteen years and, so far as we can read the economics of the matter, there is no reason why he should not continue to make such predictions indefinitely.

He says that capital is already finding difficulty of profitable investment, and that another year or two will find it going begging. How he reconciles this with the recent statements of J. J. Hill that the railroads of this country need five billion dollars and five million men to carry out needed improvements in the next five years, we do not understand. He says that our economic troubles are owing to the competitive system of labor and that the solution of the trouble is to have government ownership of the means of production, but he does not show how this will be the case. He simply says it would. We do not believe it, and deny it, and our statement in the absence of proof is quite as valid as his.

The main defect of his writings is along this line. He regards Socialism (his brand, always remember) as a panacea for all our social troubles, but he nowhere shows how this would be the case. He makes the assertion that the government ownership of the means of production would do all these things, and then leaves the matter just as it begins to get interesting. How would the government ownership of the means of production actually work out in practice? Most people think that it would result in indescribable chaos, and there is nothing in Mr. Wilshire's book to lead us to think otherwise.

Of course, he falls into the fundamental socialistic fallacy of attributing the result of production to labor, although he goes farther than many socialists, and adds "labor plus machinery," but he then ignores the share of machinery. As a matter of fact, and this is the crux of the whole subject, labor cannot and does not produce any more now than it did a hundred or a thousand or a million years ago. In fact it does not produce as much, for men do not have to work as hard as they used to. The increase in production has not been brought about by labor at all but by ability, by enterprise, by systematizing the means of production, by the invention of machinery, by combination, and by the countless other factors which represent our modern commercial and industrial life. Mallock sums up all these factors in the single word "ability," and it will do as well as any other. The great increase in production has been brought about by "ability," and it is easy to show that instead of labor receiving less than its share of this increase, that it actually receives more than it is justly entitled to. Wilshire says in one place that we produce twenty times as much as our ancestors and in another place he says it is a hundred times as much. Now, although this increase of production has been brought about by ability and not by labor, he acknowledges that labor now receives about a fifth to a sixth of the total product, which is either three or four times or twenty times as much as it should receive, according to his own statistics.

This is the Great Heresy of Socialism and comes straight down from Marx himself. Marx founded his entire system on the theorem that wealth is the result of labor applied to natural objects, and it is not true. Wealth is the result of labor and ability applied to natural objects, and "ability" is responsible for and should receive all the great increase in the amount produced in recent times. Labor, without the assistance of ability and all that ability represents, could still produce only a bare livelihood by unremitting and incessant toil. Fortunately this is a matter of observation and not of argument. All we have to do is to go to a country where ability, and what it represents, is still absent and we see millions of people engaged in incessant toil for a bare livelihood. China and India are cases in point; and we know that there will be no relief for the peoples of those two countries until the labor of their inhabitants is associated with ability and the production of wealth is thereby increased. From this increase labor will get, as heretofore, more than the share to which it is strictly entitled, and so will the general condition of the people of those two countries be gradually ameliorated.

Neither Wilshire nor any other socialist of whom we have knowledge is free from this fundamental fallacy, which invalidates all their conclusions and makes useless all they write. C. A. G. Jr.

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