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ONE of the most striking features of recent political life has been the appearance and growth of what is known as socialism. Those who profess the socialist creed assert that the poverty and misery of modern life arise from the inequality produced by the free play of competition. They propose to substitute for competition the regulation of industry by the State. In the socialist State there would be no money and no wages. The industry of the country would be organised and managed by the State, as the Post Office is now. The State would own all the land and all the instruments of production—farms, mines, mills, shops, railways, and ships. Goods of all kinds would be produced and distributed for use, and not for sale, in such quantities as were needed. Hours of labour would be fixed, and every citizen would take what he or she desired from the common stock. Food, clothing, lodging, fuel, transit, amusement, and everything else would be supplied by the State. The socialists assert that, if the socialist régime were established, the evils which attend modern life would disappear, inequality of condition would be largely abolished, and prosperity and happiness would be universally diffused.
The doctrines of socialism have been propagated with considerable energy and zeal. The confidence with which the socialists have asserted their dogmas has exercised a considerable influence on the public mind, and many people who do not accept their teaching feel in a vague kind of way that, sooner or later, socialism is inevitable. Confident assertion, however, is not a satisfactory substitute for proof, and it does not follow that because a creed is propagated with zeal it is necessarily true. There are many who dissent from the teaching of socialism, and distrust the claims which it puts forward. It is right that they should give expression to their views.
It is constantly asserted by socialists as a principal reason for advocating their creed that poverty and misery are growing, and that the social residuum is an increasing mass. The moment this assertion is examined it is found to be untrue. It is unnecessary to go beyond our own country. Wages are going up, while prices are coming down, and food is becoming cheaper. The steady lowering of the death-rate is itself a conclusive proof that the average life is much less trying than it was a hundred years ago, and that socialists are wrong when they say that poverty and misery are on the increase.
Mr. Herbert Spencer has called attention to the curious fact that the more things improve, the more people talk of their badness. A hundred years ago, when drunkenness was common, nobody said a word against it. Now, when it is steadily decreasing, people are crying out for measures of repressive legislation, instead of leaving it to disappear under the influences which have been working against it in the past. Formerly, when the condition of women was far inferior to that of men and they were the drudges of the family, no protest was made; now, when their claims are put before those of men and they are the objects of attention and consideration, we hear talk of the “new woman,” and of woman’s rights and woman’s grievances. In all departments of social life the same tendency appears.
There may be disadvantages attaching to a system of social life based on competition; but the question is whether the evils now suffered are not less than would be suffered under another system. The opponent of socialism maintains that efforts for mitigation along the lines followed thus far are more likely to succeed than efforts along lines long since abandoned. Under the feudal system life was carried on by compulsory co-operation. Society took a military form. The social grades corresponded with the ranks of an army, and the people were primarily soldiers. As in an army absolute submission to superiors and rigid performance of prescribed duties are strictly enforced, so under the feudal system life was carried on by compulsory co-operation. In the course of time, however, the system of compulsory co-operation was gradually replaced by one of voluntary co-operation. The part of the community devoted to war grew less and less. Towns sprang up, where life was not military, but industrial. Men grew out of the feudal system. Their labour, instead of being at the disposal of their feudal superiors, was left to their own disposal, to be employed in the way most advantageous to themselves. Services were bought and sold like corn or cattle. Competition replaced compulsory co-operation.
The improvement in social life, however, did not stop restlessness or silence complaints. Mr. Spencer has pointed out that, just as the best easy chair becomes wearisome after a time, so the restlessness generated by pressure against the conditions of existence perpetually prompts the desire to try a new position. It is the same with humanity. Having by long strides emancipated itself from the hard discipline of the ancient régime, and having discovered that the new regime into which it has grown, though relatively easy, is not without stresses and pains, its impatience with these prompts the wish to try another system, which other system is in principle, if not in appearance, the same as that which during past generations was escaped from with much rejoicing. Men forget that all permanent improvement of social conditions is very gradual. “One would have thought it sufficiently clear to everybody,” says Mr. Spencer, “that the great changes taking place in this world of ours are uniformly slow ..... ..Did it not require nearly the whole Christian era to abolish slavery and serfdom in Europe? Did not a hundred generations live and die while picture-writing grew into printing?” Nothing but the slow modification of human nature by the discipline of social life can produce permanently advantageous changes.
Under socialism there is to be no money. There will be a common stock of necessaries and conveniences. Men will be paid in certificates of social labour-time, which will entitle them to a certain proportion of the Common stock. Socialists say that it would be possible to fix the amount of the common stock by finding out how many hours a day for how many days in a year every working member of a given community would have to work, in order that every individual in such community should have exactly as much of everything as he or she wanted. How is the supply to be fixed? There is no article of consumption, not even bread itself, for which the demand does not so vary from day to day that it is impossible to say how much of it will be required. An instance may be taken. Let it be supposed that under socialism the State officials estimate that, under ordinary circumstances, the town of A requires 10,000 tons of coal during the month of October, which are supplied from the B coalpit. From some cause or other the demand of A for coal suddenly falls. Under the present system things adjust themselves at once. The miners work half time, or prices are lowered to induce people to buy. Under socialism full work must always be provided for the miners, and prices are never lowered. The socialist system gets out of gear at once.
If the citizens of the socialist State are to be paid in certificates of labour-time, how is the value of different kinds of labour to be fixed? What is the value of an hour of a sailor’s work as compared with an hour of a mason’s work? Professor Jevons says it is “impossible to compare a priori the productive powers of a navvy, a carpenter, an iron-puddler, a barrister, and a schoolmaster.” How is the value of an inventor’s labour to be fixed? “I will not ask,” says one writer, “what would have been the ‘social labour-value’ of James Watt’s time when he sat watching the lid of his mother’s tea-kettle being lifted up by the steam. But it is fair to ask what Boulton would have done if, instead of being a private capitalist, he had been a socialist industrial chief when Watt proposed to him to make experiments on the condensing steam-engine. Would he have had resources at his disposal? It is very doubtful. If he were paid his salary as overseer in labour certificates, we may certainly say not. Would he have felt justified in taking up the ‘social labour-time’ of the workmen under his supervision in making experiments of a costly nature, which, for all he could possibly foresee, might come to nothing?”
The whole conception that men are paid for labour is unsound. Labour has no value of its own. If a man spends his time in making articles which nobody wants, his labour is worthless. If a man cuts down a tree for a meal, the meal is given for the service, not for the labour expended in rendering the service. The owner of the tree pays the man because the tree which was formerly standing is now out down, not because the man has performed so much labour. Where two men are engaged in different kinds of work, the comparison is not between their labour, but between the things which have been respectively produced by their labour.
Under socialism life would be carried on under compulsion. Each man’s employment would be fixed for him by the State, and he would be compelled to accept the remuneration fixed for him by his superiors. There could be no voluntary exchange of labour and produce, as this would produce competition. If twelve men wanted to be physicians and the State did not want more than six, the State would refuse to allow the remaining six to follow the profession for which they felt themselves suited.
The State would groan under an intolerable load of officialdom. The more advanced the organisation, the greater is the development of the machinery required for regulating it. If the whole life of the people were regulated by the State, the administration needed would be enormous. Well may Schaffle ask “whether the commonwealth of the socialists would be able to cope with the enormous socialistic book-keeping, and to estimate heterogeneous labour correctly according to socialistic units of labour-time.” At present the distribution of the necessaries and conveniences of life is left to private enterprise. Under socialism public officials would take the place of private enterprise. It is appalling to think of the army of officials who would manage the affairs of the nation. Imagine the staffs required for producing every article of food and clothing; for distributing them to everybody everywhere; for carrying on every farm, factory, business house, mine, and railway; for superintending the national roads, canals, and shipping; for exporting and importing goods (if such a thing is possible under socialism, which is doubtful); for managing the gas, water, tramways, and electric power required for every town; for conducting those services already managed by the State: the Post Office, the police, the army, and the navy. What would become of the poor worker? On the Continent, where officialdom and bureaucracy are much more developed than in England, there are constant complaints of the tyranny and brutality of officials. Even in England there is a strong tendency for joint-stock companies, labour unions, railway companies, and societies of all kinds, to fall under the dominion of the permanent staffs. What would be the state of England if our national life were under the control of one huge permanent staff? Life would resolve itself into one gigantic system of castes. Grade upon grade of officials would rise one above the other, each intermarrying within itself, and gradually hardening into a caste. Under such a consolidated mass of superiors how would the man fare who disliked his occupation and wished to enter a more congenial one, or who thought his merits entitled him to a greater proportion of the common stock than he was getting, or who considered that more work was allotted to him than was just?
Under voluntary co-operation as at present carried on, the organisers, as distinguished from the labourers, are restrained from taking too great a share of the produce of labour by public opinion, unions among the workmen, and other causes. Under compulsory co-operation, the organisers and regulators would seek their own interests without being restrained by combinations of free workers. Their power would grow and ramify and consolidate till it became irresistible. It is said that the energetic working man would be successful under socialism. But he is so under private enterprise. The shiftless or idle man can only be made to work by want. If socialism applies the spur of want, how is it better than individualism? If the prison or the scourge be applied, is socialism not worse than individualism?
In considering "the production of wealth, the socialists have always laid undue stress on labour as distinguished from capital. Adam Smith, who is often called the father of political economy, described labour as the cause of wealth, leaving out of consideration the two other necessary agents, land and capital. This error has run through the teaching of most subsequent economists, and is responsible for many of the errors of socialism. Labour is the cause of wealth, say the socialists; therefore the man who labours is entitled to the wealth. The landowner who controls the original and indestructible powers of the soil, which he has not created by his own labour, is held to be an agent of injustice. The capitalist, who has not created his wealth by his own labour, is declared to have no right to it. He has acquired his wealth, says the socialist, at the expense of the worker.
This teaching is wrong. Labour and wealth are not indissolubly united. It is possible to have labour without wealth, as already pointed out. It is possible to acquire wealth without labour. If a man fills his cellar with wine, or stocks his lake with fish, or his wood with some valuable wild animal which needs no human care, he will often acquire wealth by simple efflux of time. If the teaching of the socialists were true, and labour were the measure of wealth, any manufacture which employed much labour would be lucrative. If we wanted to know whether a large employer of labour was wealthy, we should merely have to look at his wages bill. As a matter of fact, everyone knows this would be no criterion. The proper method would be to go to his ledger, and ascertain his profits after he had paid his workers and sold his goods.
"His surplus is his wealth. The surplus would not have been there without labour; but, as every bankrupt too well knows, there may be the labour without the surplus ..... ..The surplus is the reward which accrues to the merchant for satisfying certain human desires better than anyone else. The wealth of the capitalist is not obtained at the expense of the workers, but represents the value of his services to the community." [MacPherson’s “Adam Smith," p. 101.]
Karl Marx and the socialist school greatly exaggerated the proportion of the produce of labour which falls to capital. As has been already said, if the socialist estimate was a just one, every manufacture which employed much labour would be lucrative. This is not the case. If the profits of capital, as distinguished from labour, were what socialists represent them, co-operative working men’s associations would speedily multiply, for by placing labour and capital in the same hands they would almost inevitably succeed. It is notorious that a multitude of these societies have totally failed. Marx concentrated attention wholly on the few instances of great gain, entirely overlooking the many risks and .. failures which attend commercial enterprise.
The political economists who laid so much stress on labour were led into another error. They took a too materialistic view of it. They overlooked the part played by the intellect in producing wealth. They wrote as if wealth were produced by mere manual labour, and as if the men who organised and directed it had no part in the matter, except that of appropriating the fruits, forgetting that it would be just as reasonable to ascribe the whole merit of the victory of Austerlitz to the French privates, and to refuse all share to Napoleon. There has been an enormous growth of wealth during the past century. It was natural that workers brought up on the theory that labour was the cause of wealth should think when they saw this increase of wealth that they were being cheated out of their share. “The socialist propaganda, however,” says Mr. MacPherson, “gets a severe check when it is recognised that the great increase in the national wealth is not the creation of labour, in the manual sense, but, as Mr. Mallock clearly and ably demonstrates, the creation of labour under the direction of intellect. Sir Robert Giffen, a few years ago, calculated that wealth in Great Britain was progressing twice as fast as population. This increase manifestly is not due to any exertion of labour, in the sense of the term as used by Smith, Ricardo, and Mill. The increase is due to the increased power of man over nature, in the form of scientific discoveries and inventions, and in the marvellous organising power of the captains of industry.”
Under the reign of machinery the wages of labour are increasing at a greater ratio than the profits of Capital. In a highly complex state, where mechanical appliances are strained to the utmost in order to produce both quality and quantity, the demand is for the highest type of workman. Intelligence becomes an important factor in the race for mechanical superiority; consequently, it becomes the highest possible economy to give high wages for good workmen. As the object of high wages is to Cheapen the cost of production, it follows that the worker, being also a consumer, benefits in the cheapening of products brought about by his highly-paid labour. Thus the worker benefits in a twofold manner—by higher wages and by the increased purchasing power of wages. Further, a reduction in the price puts commodities within the reach of a large class who were previously unable to consume them, and the market is thereby extended, thus enlarging the income without raising the profit. In brief, increased wages are given to increased intelligence, which again leads to increased production, thus widening the labour area, and, by making a still further demand upon intelligence, again reacting beneficially on wages. During the present century the wealth of the working classes has greatly increased, especially in countries where manufactures are most developed and machinery most employed; but that increase is due to many causes besides the manual labour of the working classes themselves.
A common habit of socialists is to speak of capitalists as if they belonged to one class, cut off from the rest of the world, and selfishly battening on the labour of the remaining classes. The capitalist is denounced as a vampire and a robber. If this is true, then thousands of working men are robbers. Have you £50 in the savings bank? Do you own your own house? Are you a shareholder in a co-operative society, or a member of a friendly society? Then you are a capitalist and a robber. Any socialistic policy which would confiscate the property of the rich would equally confiscate the property of the poor. There is an immense amount of property in the hands of the working classes. Land and capital are mainly owned in very small shares by an enormous number of people. It may be interesting to give a few figures. Mr. Mallock has shown, first, that the entire rental derived from land is only sixteen per cent of the total assessed to income tax; secondly, that large landowners—that is, owners who hold more than a thousand acres—receive less than twenty-nine million pounds per annum in rental, while the remaining seventy million pounds of rental is divided among nine hundred and fifty thousand landowners, whose rentals average £76 a year; and, thirdly, that if the whole of the land were confiscated and its rental appropriated by the community, the result would be to give each man about twopence a day, and each woman about three-halfpence. [W. H. Mallock’s “ Labour and the Popular Welfare."] If only the land of those who held more than a thousand acres were divided, the total sum to be dealt with would be less than twenty-nine million pounds per annum, which would give less than three-farthings per day to each adult male in the country.
Mr. Mallock has further shown that if the entire interest of the National Debt, and the whole of the profits of the railways, were to be divided equally among the population, the result would be to give every man in the country about a penny a day. In 1880 the number of persons who held Consols was 236,000, and out of these no less than 216,000, or more than nine-tenths of the whole number, derived from their payments less than £90 a year, while nearly one-half of them derived less than £15 a year. An equal division of the annual income of this country, which is one thousand two hundred million pounds, among thirty-eight millions of people would give £32 per head. The benefits which would accrue from a confiscation and division of the national income are paltry compared with the enormous evils which would result from such a revolutionary proceeding.
The true friend of the working man will encourage him to join the ranks of capitalism. The socialists discourage those qualities which enable him to do so. Mr. John Burns, at the Labour Union Congress at Norwich in 1894, said that “thrift was invented by capitalistic rogues to beguile fools to destruction, and to deprive honest fools of their diet and their proper comfort.” Mr. Bax, a socialist writer, observes that the aim of the socialist is “radically at variance with thrift .....To the socialist,” he continues, “labour is an evil to be minimised to the utmost. The man who works at his trade or avocation more than necessity compels him, or who accumulates more than he can enjoy, is not a hero, but a fool, from the socialists’ standpoint.” Assertions like these denote the high-water mark of socialist folly. In September, 1899, it was announced in the Press that the first act of Sir Christopher Furness, in taking over the Weardale Iron and Coal Company’s business, which he had purchased for £750,000, had been to offer to all officials and workmen £1 preference shares. It was added that the workmen were eagerly taking advantage of the offer. This is the true line of improvement. It is in this way that the welfare of the working classes will be advanced.
As already stated, socialism is really a throw-back. One article of the creed may be taken as an illustration. The socialist declares that no one has any right to lend money at interest. This is one of the oldest doctrines in the world. Aristotle, the Christian Fathers, a long succession of Popes and Councils, all declared that it was criminal to lend money at interest. The doctrine gradually disappeared, and “all the Governments,” says Mr. Lecky, “and
all the great industries of the civilised world depend, and long have depended, on loans made for the sake of profit, on borrowed money and punctually-paid interest.” In these days the old doctrine has been revived, and is once again being fervently preached by the socialists.
But the socialist teachers go further. They maintain that, if a man lives in the house of another man, it is an extortion to ask him to pay a rent. All that the owner is entitled to is that his house should be kept in good repair. One distinguished economist of the party, named Briosnes, has gone yet another "step further. He argues that the owner of the house should not only receive nothing, but should pay the lodger for keeping up the house. It may be left to common sense, as Mr. Lecky points out, to determine how many men would build houses under these conditions for the accommodation of others, and what would be the fate of the houseless poor. [Lecky’s “Democracy and Liberty,” vol. ii., p. 259.]
The doctrine of common property in the soil, or nationalisation of the land, which is held by the socialists, is another return to antiquity. It is, as Mr. Lecky remarks, avowedly based on the remote ages, when a few hunters or shepherds roved in common over an unappropriated land, and on the tribal and communal properties which existed in the barbarous or semi-barbarous stages of national development, and which everywhere disappeared with increasing population, increasing industry, and increasing civilisation.
The minute regulation of life by the State which is desired by socialists is also a return to a condition of things which disappeared long ago. The State once regulated, or tried to regulate, the dress and recreation, the meals and the wages, of our ancestors. Its efforts resulted only in blunders and in failure. From 1563 to 1824 the justices in Quarter Sessions regulated the wages of the agricultural labourer. Nothing has been more disastrous to agriculture than this regulating power. The prejudice against machinery early found vent in an Act against making cloth by machinery, and condemning “divers devilish contrivances.” The Act drove the trade to Holland and to Ireland, and was followed by the suppression of the Irish woollen trade. James’s Seventh Tippling Act begins: “Whereas, notwithstanding all former laws and provisions already made, the inordinate and extreme vice of excessive drinking and drunkenness doth more and more abound,” etc. Even where the State has interfered to assist an industry it has failed in its object. Philip, King of Spain, thought to encourage shipbuilding by grants from the Crown to the shipbuilders. Queen Elizabeth, his contemporary, was urged to follow his example, and refused. Yet Spain declined as a naval power, and England took her place.
Monsieur Le Bon, in his brilliant study of “The Psychology of Socialism,” says: “Socialism, whose dream is to substitute itself for the ancient faiths, proposes but a very low ideal, and to establish it appeals but to sentiments lower still. What, in effect, does it promise more than merely our daily bread, and that at the price of hard labour? With what lever does it seek to raise the soul? With the sentiments of envy and hatred which it creates in the hearts of multitudes? To the crowd, no longer satisfied with political and civic equality, it proposes equality of condition, without dreaming that social inequalities are born of those natural inequalities that man has always been powerless to change.”
The desire of each man to improve his circumstances, to reap the full reward of superior talent, or energy, or thrift, is the very mainspring of the production of the world. Take these motives away, persuade men that by superior work they will obtain no superior reward, cut off all the hopes that stimulate among ordinary men ambition, enterprise, invention, and self-sacrifice, and the whole level of production will rapidly and inevitably sink. If industry is greatly diminished in its amount and greatly lowered in its quality, no possible scheme of redistribution or social combination will prevent material decadence. It is almost impossible to conceive of England as a socialist nation. If this ever does happen, then she may say:—“Farewell, a long farewell, to all my greatness."
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