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What do you understand by Individualism?
It is the opposite of Socialism.
Why do you give this negative definition?
Because Individualism is the natural system, and would never have got a distinctive name, or have had to search for its principles, and the reasons on which they are founded, but for the rise of the artificial system of Socialism.
Am I to understand, then, that Individualism is the earlier of the two systems?
No. Modern Socialism is an attempt to give a scientific justification for a barbarous stage through which men passed in their upward struggle to their present happier state.
Why do you call Socialism artificial?
Because man always, if left free, passes from Socialism to Individualism, at least in the more advanced races. His happiness and prosperity are in proportion to the completeness of the change. Socialism is an attempt to set back the clock, and forcibly to re-introduce barbarism.
What, then, are these two opposite systems?
They are systems for the arrangement of society wholly in the field of economics.
Why do you lay stress on the word "economics"?
Because there is a very common error among inaccurate thinkers, seen even in so eminent a writer as Ruskin, that these systems have something to do with ethics. Mr. Bax, in his "Catechism of Socialism," devotes a chapter to the Ethics of Socialism. But Socialism has no ethics. A Socialist may have—he may be an Intuitionist or a Utilitarian, just as he might be an Allopathist or a Homeopathist, but he might as well talk of the ethics of astronomy or chemistry as of the ethics of socialism.
What, then, is the distinction between ethics on the one hand and economics, chemistry, physics, etc., on the other?
Ethics gives orders, the other sciences state facts.
How has the confusion arisen in the case of ethics and economics?
Probably in this way. They both deal with human motives and actions.
What is the difference in their treatment?
Ethics tells me what ought to be my motives and my actions. Economics tells me what are other men's motives, and what will be their actions.
Can you give an example of this confusion from a well-known writer?
Ruskin quotes a saying of Adam Smith, that the real check on a tradesman is his customer. He characterises this as the most bestial utterance he ever heard. It is plain, then, that when Adam Smith made the economic statement, that a tradesman was induced to sell good wares for fear of losing customers, Ruskin took him to make the ethical statement, that his sole reason for being honest ought to be the fear of losing customers. And when Ruskin goes on to say that in his ideal state every baker should belong to a guild, which should sternly punish him if he sold short weight, he furnishes a delightful instance of inconsistency.
Then ethics cannot move till these other sciences have had their say?
Exactly. When chemistry has told me that nitric acid thrown in a person's face will cause great agony; when physics has told me that throwing a person out of a window will tend to cause broken bones or death; when economics has told me that promising to keep a person in old age will make him idle and improvident, then, and not till then, can ethics step in and forbid me to commit those actions.
Can you give a definition of Socialism?
This is the definition given by Mr. Belfort Bax in his "Catechism of Socialism": "The system of society the material basis of which is social production for social use."
Have you any objection to make to this definition?
The coat I wear and the beefsteak I eat are used by me individually, not socially.
Supposing the definition were altered to "Social production for individual use," would you still object?
Yes. Men have produced socially for individual use ever since civilisation began. In fact, that is civilisation. If twenty men agree to form a society, community, or tribe, Brown agrees to make all the shoes for the community, Jones all the coats, and so on. That, if a voluntary arrangement, is individualistic.
Where, then, does the difference between Socialism and Individualism come in?
Chiefly in the distribution. Though I believe Socialism would control the number of shoes Brown produces, instead of leaving it to Brown to estimate the demand.
Then are there two questions involved?
There are—production and distribution. First, how many shoes and coats Brown and Jones shall make; and, secondly, how many shoes Brown the shoemaker shall give Jones the tailor for a coat.
How is this settled under the system of Individualism?
By leaving Brown and Jones to gauge the demand for their respective goods, under the stimulus of self-interest, their living depending on a right estimate; and by assuming that every man is the best judge of what he wants and its value to him, and leaving the matter to be settled by bargaining.
What are the advantages of this system?
The question is settled automatically and without expense. Both parties gain, and both are satisfied.
Are there any drawbacks?
No human institution is perfect. Brown or Jones may overestimate or underestimate the demand, so that there will be some loss to one of the parties.
How is it settled under the system of Socialism?
It could only be settled by appointing some central authority to tell Brown, first, how many shoes he is to make, and, secondly, how many he is to give Jones for a coat.
What are the drawbacks to this plan?
It shifts the duty of estimating the needs of the community from a responsible person, who would suffer if he judged wrongly, to an irresponsible person, who would not suffer. Also this person would have to be paid, which burden would fall on all the other members. Also, as he could not possibly gauge the value of anything, he would certainly not satisfy one of the exchangers, and probably would satisfy neither. Moreover, as production would be limited to supposed needs, the power of choice would be much curtailed for the consumer.
Would the system have any advantages?
It is claimed for it that it would save the expenses of advertising, commercial travellers, and such like. Also that things would be produced which are not now, because they afford no profit—that is, are so little desired that people will not give enough for them to afford a profit.
You used the word "value." What meaning do you attach to that word?
The power of satisfying man's desires.
Is this a quality inherent in things and constant?
Certainly not. It varies with each individual man, with the same man from year to year and from hour to hour. A man of sixty does not value a top as he did when he was six, nor does a man who has just dined value a loaf of bread as much as one does who has fasted twelve hours.
How is value measured?
By the pain or annoyance that would be caused by the absence of the last increment of the thing in question.
Give an example.
A man at dinner values a morsel of food by the annoyance he would feel if he had not got it, not by his wish for the next morsel, for if he has had enough he attaches no value to the next morsel.
What is this called?
The marginal value of a thing—that is a man's estimate of its marginal utility.
But is not this difficult to express definitely?
It is. In practice we estimate the value of a thing by the amount of something else which a man has and will give up rather than forego the thing in question.
Would not this amount vary with the nature of the something else he gives up?
It would. Men usually fix on some one thing in which to estimate the value of all others. This one thing is called a medium of exchange, and value as expressed in it is called price.
Do not some writers, like Ruskin, say that value is inherent in a thing?
They do. Ruskin says that a picture by Botticelli has inherent value, while a cask of whisky has not only no value, but has, so to speak, a minus value.
What is your comment on this?
On analysing this statement I find that value is still a matter of opinion, only it is Ruskin's opinion of what satisfies his desires, instead of the opinion of those concerned of what satisfies their desires.
Then it is not an economic utterance?
No. It confuses economics, which investigates what men do like, with Ruskin's sociology which lays down what he thinks they ought to like.
Had Ruskin an amusing proof of this in his own experience?
He had. He wrote a number of works, eloquently laying down what he thought right conduct, which works he thought valuable. But twice the editor of a magazine had to refuse his articles, for fear of their ruining the magazine.
Then what would have been Ruskin's position under the system of State regulation which he advocated?
He would have been utterly refused a hearing.
Is, then, the value of anything never constant?
If the demand for anything is very great, and it is either very durable or can be produced in great quantities, its value tends to be constant.
Can you give examples?
Gold is an instance of the first, and bread of the second. Bread is perishable; but the ratio between the number of loaves on sale and the number of men who want to buy remains without change over considerable periods.
Then there seems to be a connection between the number and frequency of exchanges of a thing and the steadiness of its value?
A direct connection as Mr. Cree has shown. A loaf of bread, in which thousands of exchanges take place every day, remains very constant in value. A picture by an old master changes hands once in twenty years, and its price cannot be guessed by many thousand pounds.
To what do Socialists attribute value?
To the amount of labour a thing has cost.
Does this agree with facts?
A thing that is valuable has generally cost labour, which is the result of value, not the cause of it.
How do you know that?
A thing men do not wish for has no value, however much labour it has cost. A thing men desire intensely has much value, however little labour it has cost.
Give an example.
Two men shall spend the same number of years learning to paint, and then spend the same number of hours in painting a picture. One picture is worth $5 the other $5000.
Do not people speak of different kinds of value?
Economists have sometimes spoken of value in use as different from value in exchange, speaking of iron as being useful, and gold as being useless.
Is this an error?
It springs from two errors. One is confusing, like Ruskin, what you think people ought to value with what they do value. Men all the world over are prone to value things which minister to show (like gold) more than things that minister to bodily needs (like iron). Again, much confusion arises from speaking of the value of gold or iron. Gold, iron, and bread have no value in the abstract. A particular piece of one of them may have value, according to the circumstances. In the Sahara a loaf of bread might be worth many times its weight in gold, and Robinson Crusoe might have been glad to give a large lump of gold for an iron knife.
How do you sum up the difference between the two systems of Individualism and Socialism?
Individualism throws on each man the responsibility of choosing a calling, fixing on the number of hours he shall work, the price of his goods, and the provision he shall make for the future of himself and his family. Socialism has all these fixed by Government.
Is a socialistic State possible?
In a community like a monastery, where food and clothing are coarse and uniform—above all, where all are unmarried, Socialism may be successfully practised.
The difference, then, between the two systems seems to turn on the amount of Government interference with individuals?
It does. Individualism limits the action of Government to repressing violence and fraud, and doing those things which, being everybody's business, are nobody's business.
How, then, are all social wants provided for under this system?
By making the doer of a service earn his living by what the receiver gives him freely. It is each man's interest to find out who wants a service, and to supply it well.
This system, then, throws the maximum of responsibility on individuals?
It appears, then, to be the same thing as freedom?
Socialism, then, must be the same thing as slavery?
Just so. The essence of slavery is absence of responsibility.
But do Socialists acknowledge this?
Clear-headed ones, like Ruskin, do. A Socialist writer, Mr. J. A. Hobson, remarks that Ruskin often turns aside to praise slavery.
Would not Government acting like a providence have a tendency to make men thoughtless, and leave everything to it?
It would, as we had a striking example in Paris not long ago. A fire broke out in a crowded bazaar, and many persons were burnt to death. One of the managers publicly repudiated all responsibility, and said that it was the fault of Government for not compelling them to provide means of rapid and orderly exit.
Is the system called Socialism well named?
Quite the contrary. It is a system of anti-social conduct; and Individualism contributes just as much to the welfare of society as to that of the individual.
But ought not the majority to rule the minority?
Only with regard to conduct hurtful to the majority. If two men are in a boat, it cannot sail both east and west at once. It must do one or the other. Now, if one of the two wants to put out to sea in a storm, the other, whose life would be endangered, has a right to resist. But that does not give him a right to interfere with the first man's religion, or dress, or the way he spends his time, so long as it is not spent in hindering the second. Then, if ninety-nine others, like minded with the second, enter the boat, that gives them no right to interfere with the first man that the second did not possess when alone. That is the A B C of liberty.
But do not Socialists complain that society now is unorganised?
They do, but it is a pure delusion. "Organised" means arranged like an organism. The human body is an organism. In it digestion, assimilation, nutrition, and expulsion of waste—processes which correspond to the feeding, clothing, travelling, and other activities of society—go on normally not only without the interference of the brain, which is the government, but without its knowledge. If, then, the five millions in London get without fail daily their milk, bread, papers, and everything they want without the interference of government, society in London is organised. Also in a free society government is carried on by certain units elected by the others for a definite and limited purpose. The cells of the brain are not elected by the cells of the bones and muscles. In a society the life of the units is higher and more varied than that of the whole, in an organism it is just the reverse.
But Socialists say that production is now carried on in the interest and for the profit of the class that owns the means of production.
Anyone can see the falsity of that statement. There are producers in my village who own neither land, house, nor factory, nor anything but such tools as they have bought with their savings as wage earners. The mightiest businesses have all had a similar origin.
Then there is no such class as the Socialists speak of, bound together by a common interest against the rest of society?
Certainly not. Every member of the supposed class produces one thing, but consumes a thousand. Even if his interest in the one thing were opposed to that of the rest of society, his interest in the other thousand is at one with that of the rest of society.
What is the Socialist definition of capital?
This is a summary of Mr. Bax's definition—a good example of the way in which Socialists mix morals with economics: A "considerable concentration of the means of production in the hands of one or a few persons, who employ others to produce and keep the product, paying only a small proportion to the producers."
What strikes you in this definition?
The appeals to prejudice. Capital is not recognised as such unless it is large, and in the hands of few, who treat their workmen unjustly.
What is capital really?
Produce saved, whether little or much, and used to produce more wealth, whether by the owner or by others. What is wealth? Anything that has value.
You said value was the power of satisfying human desire.
I did. That implies that a valuable thing is limited in quantity, for no one would desire a particular mouthful of air if he could get another as good for nothing.
Can air ever have value?
Yes, in the Black Hole of Calcutta, as a draught of water is valuable in the desert or in a large town.
Socialists attribute value to the average labour which a thing has cost, do they not?
Yes, following an unfortunate mistake of Adam Smith and Ricardo. They deify labour and think, like Charles Lamb's friend, that they could write as good plays as Shakespeare's if they had a mind.
What example does Mr. Bax give?
He supposes a man wishing to exchange a pair of boots for a quarter of wheat, and assumes that his anxiety is to get the same amount of labour in return that the boots cost him.
Why is this not so?
The wheat would cost the bootmaker much more labour than the boots have, and he has no means of knowing how much it cost the farmer. A great many things derive their excellence from inborn qualities, without labour, which no labour can give, like a singer's voice.
So it is not even true that, as Mr. Bax says, the labour spent on each side, take all bargains together, balances?
No; and even if it were, the labour would be the result of the value, not the cause of it. But the voice and ear of a singer, the touch of a player, the eye of a painter, the imagination of a poet, even the taste of a tailor or milliner, are not, and cannot be, the result of labour.
Does not Mr. Bax complain that things are made now for exchange, not for use?
He does; but that is only the result of the division of labour, whereby men get many more satisfactions, by each making one thing and exchanging.
How would Socialists manage it?
They would have everything sent into a Government warehouse, and served out in return for tickets or orders. That would only shift the estimate of value from the parties concerned to a Government official. How much bread would he value Mr. Bax's catechism at?
How does Mr. Bax explain profit?
In the queerest way. He says profit cannot be made on the market, for as the sum of satisfactions or profits on each side must, in the long run, balance, there can be no profit. Now, as profit is what every producer for exchange lives on, everyone must be dead.
That sounds singular reasoning.
It is quite normal Socialist reasoning. A bootmaker, having provided for his own wear, exchanges the other boots he makes for wheat, mutton, coats, and everything necessary to support life, and the farmer does the same with his spare wheat, and this goes on for seventy years. Yet, according to Mr. Bax, they are dead all the time.
How has the error arisen?
Mr. Bax says that it is impossible to make a profit by exchange, for to do that you must sell above the cost of production, and that is impossible if the accounts balance. He does not see that we measure our profits, not in sovereigns, but in the satisfaction of our desires. If I get a pound of tea from a Chinaman in return for a yard of cotton, the tea which I had not gives me more pleasure than the cotton of which I had enough already. So I sell at a profit. In the same way the Chinaman values the cotton more than the tea, of which he had enough and to spare. So he sells at a profit. The accounts balance, and yet we are alive!
How do Socialists say profit is made?
By a curious and fantastic thing called surplus value. This is very important, for, as Mr. Bax says, in this is "the kernel of the whole capitalist system of production for profit, with its exploitation and impoverishment of the proletariat." (Socialists are very fond of these question-begging words.) I should say in this is the kernel of the whole socialist system of error.
What is this surplus value?
It is "the difference between the cost of labour-power to the capitalist and the amount of labour-power he is able to extract from his workpeople."
Give an example.
Mr. Bax would say that, if John Smith works in a boot factory eight hours a day, with the produce of four hours' work he provides his own sustenance, the other four hours he is working for his employer. That second four hours' work is surplus value, which is "wrung" from him; or, in other words, he is "exploited" by the employer, who gets all that for nothing.
Have you anything to say to that?
I have several things to say. First, no account is taken of rent of factory, interest on cost of machinery, repairs, risk, and so on. Secondly, if Smith did not work some time for his employer, how is the employer to live? As his whole time is taken up in superintending his men, how could he live if all the produce goes to those men?
Can you give an "argumentum ad hominem"?
I can. Mr. Bax every day buys a loaf of bread for fourpence. But the value of it to him is more than that—say, fivepence.
How can you prove that?
When flour rises in price, the loaf goes up to fivepence, and Mr. Bax gives that rather than go without bread. So he "wrings" from the baker a pennyworth of bread which he has not paid for, for nothing—that is, he "exploits" the baker, which, as he knows better, is very naughty of Mr. Bax.
What is the baker's position?
To him, again, the cost of producing the loaf is less than fourpence—say, threepence. So he "wrings" from Mr. Bax a penny, for which he has given nothing—that is, he "exploits" Mr. Bax. But as things have now got pretty mixed, and there is an old saying, "Pull Bax, pull baker," we will leave them to settle it between them.
Have you a third objection?
I have—a practical test. If John Smith is not satisfied, let him leave the factory and work on his own account. The fact of his entering the factory shows that he feels he does better there.
But do not the machinery, organisation, and division of labour in the factory enable him to produce much more than if he worked on his own account?
They do; but the whole of that excess is created not by him, but by the brains and labour of his employer. If the workman claims any of that, he is exploiting his employer. If he is not satisfied still, let him start as an employer.
But how can he get the capital?
In the same way as his employer did, who probably began as a workman. The famous James Nasmyth, inventor of the steam hammer, began business with $60. John Smith could save this in three years by putting off marriage.
But do not workmen often do what you suggest?
Very often; and the results are instructive. In going about the smaller streets I have often been struck, and saddened, by noticing that a shop which two years ago bore the name of "Brown, Tailor," and a year ago "Jones, Fishmonger," is now "Robinson, Grocer."
What does that mean?
That in each case a hard-working man has saved money, started in business, and failed.
Why has he failed?
For one or all of many reasons—fixing on a bad situation; want of judgment of the quality of goods; want of a head for figures; want of the gift of managing men. Many men are good servants, but bad masters.
What proportion of these ventures fail?
An American economist puts it at nine-tenths.
Then it is not the fact, as Mr. Bax and all Socialists assume, that the profits of capital are large?
No. That is one of the delusions but for which Socialism would not have arisen. If you divide the total profits of capital by the number of capitalists, the quotient is small.
Are the profits steady?
Not at all. Many prosperous businesses have periods, sometimes of several years, when they make nothing, or even a loss, yet the workmen get their wages all the time. It is in the foundations, then, that Socialism is so weak? Yes. An Irishman might describe it as an economic house of cards, founded on mares' nests of sentiment.
You spoke of wages. What is that? The share of the produce given to the workman. In lengthy processes this is advanced out of capital. How is the amount of wages fixed?
Socialists, consistently with their erroneous measuring of value by the amount of labour a thing has cost, say that it is determined by the cost of subsistence of the labourer. That is called the "Iron Law of Wages."
Is this so?
Of course, wages cannot fall below what will support life. But as the subsistence of one man costs about as much as that of another, and the wages of one man are often a hundred times as much as those of another, there must be another determinant.
What postulate lies at the root of the Socialist definition?
The assumption that workmen always multiply improvidently, so that there are more workmen than there are places. Mr. Bax says: "The labourer is not really free. He must sell his labour-power in order to live, and, having no control over the means of production, cannot employ himself." All this implies a man who spends all his wages, and goes into the labour market without a penny.
Do you accept this?
No. I have shown that, if a man saves, he can employ himself, as happens every day. If, in addition, he has the gift of management, he can employ others as well.
What, then, do Socialists want?
They want a man who has not the gift of management and does not manage, to be paid as if he did; a man who has no risk, to be paid compensation for risk; a man who contributes no capital, to receive interest on capital.
What really governs wages?
The ratio between the amount of capital available to pay them and the number of men seeking work.
But is not the idea of a wages fund abandoned?
It is by many, but it is a quibble about words. When capital is abundant and men few, wages rise. When the case is reversed, they fall. An employer looks to recoup himself for his outgoings and get interest on his capital and return for his brains and risk.
Then an employer does not object to high wages?
Quite the contrary, if he gets a proportionate return, as is seen in America.
What, then, is the way to raise wages?
To have increased production by increased talent in the employer devising improvements in machinery and processes, and increased energy and industry in the workmen.
Then wages cannot be raised by combination?
Not permanently. If there are more men than there is employment for, they can only be prevented from competing, and so lowering wages, by devoting the extra wages those at work get to buying off the unemployed.
But do not Socialists propose to abolish the wages system?
They do. That means that capital is to be provided and risk born by the whole community, instead of by the persons who are interested in providing the first and avoiding the second.
But do not Socialists say that production would be increased under their system?
They do—quintupled. As success in production depends on abundance of capital and minute attention to details, they expect an increase under a system where no one would feel any compulsion to produce capital—that is, to save— and no one would have the special knowledge, or the time, or the stimulus, to supervise details.
But would not public officials do that?
They could not provide capital, which must come from the savings of private persons. As for supervision, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? They would require supervising, and it is universal experience that public management is more costly than private, owing to no one in particular feeling bound to acquire the knowledge or to give the time.
Then it all comes to this, that Socialism presupposes a radical change in human nature?
But do not Socialists expect also a great saving in consumption?
They do, by co-operative housekeeping. But this, if voluntary, has nothing socialistic about it. It is largely practised now.
By all classes of persons?
No. People who are comfortably off, and are either single or without young children, often live in hotels or boarding-houses, and get more for their money than if they lived alone.
Then are there two kinds of economy?
There are. If a person has only $90 a year, it is no use telling him that for a payment of $100 in an hotel he can get $120 worth of comfort. By living alone he might get $80 worth of comfort for his $90.
But could he not save proportionately by cooperative living on the smaller sum?
With difficulty, for people shrink from practising petty economies in public. Besides, it would destroy the feeling of home. Compulsory co-operative living, as in workhouses and shelters, is a miserable thing.
What does history say?
Mr. Bax gives an historical sketch, beginning with the astonishing statement that the condition of the mass of the people is not improved, and that the purchasing power of money has decreased. He acknowledges that primitive society was communistic, but calls the introduction of slavery a step towards Individualism.
But is there not a difference between Socialism and ancient slavery?
Yes. The chief or owner of old got a larger share of the produce than his slaves. Socialism proposes that he should still furnish the capital and management, but share equally with the slaves.
Do not Socialists assert that the serfs had rights in the land of which they have been wrongfully deprived?
They do, and attribute pauperism and the necessity for the Poor Law to that cause.
But have there not been, and are there not now, many small owners?
There are, and always have been; but their condition is not so superior to that of the wage-labourer as to support the Socialist contention. The fact that most of the statesmen or small owners of Cumberland have sold their property shows that they cannot have been very flourishing.
Do not Socialists attribute much of present-day evils to some ogre called the capitalist system, which they assert to be a modern invention?
They do. Mr. Bax defines it as "large bodies of labourers working together for a single employer, and for his profit."
When does he say this began?
About the middle of the sixteenth century.
Is this historically correct?
It is not. Stonehenge, the Coliseum, the pyramids, the palaces of Babylon, the temples of India, could not have been made without large bodies of men working together for a single man, and for his profit, certainly not for their own.
Then was this system the same as the modern capitalist system?
By no means, though it answers Mr. Bax's definition. The ancient labour was wholly unproductive, was solely to gratify the vanity of a despot, and was attended with frightful suffering. In the modern system the workers unless they are redundant, which is not the capitalists' fault, always earn a comfortable subsistence for themselves, and sometimes a profit for their employer.
Then the difference between ancient and modern capitalism is in favour of modern?
Entirely, as far as the workman is concerned.
But do the workmen acknowledge this?
They do, by their actions, whatever their words may be. In Australia, where land may be had for the asking, men prefer to stop in the towns and work for wages, showing that they think themselves better off as wage-earners.
To what do you attribute the Socialist delusion that the workmen are exploited?
To their failure to understand the difference between productive and unproductive labour.
Explain your meaning.
They argue that as a man now, owing to machinery, division of labour, and other improvements, can produce many times more wealth than before, his share ought to be proportionately greater.
Is not that correct?
It is true that a man can produce a much greater quantity of lace, wall-paper, and all the ornaments of life; but he cannot produce much more food. The purchasing power, therefore, of those who grow corn or meat—that is, the excess of what they produce over what they consume—is not much greater than it was.
What is the effect on the producers of comforts and luxuries?
Their produce is cheapened—that is, they have to give a greater amount of it for the same quantity of food.
Then what is the difference between the state of the ancient and modern workman?
The ancient workman perhaps had as much to eat, but he did not eat it with a fork, drink out of glass, sleep in cotton sheets, have glazed windows, wall papers and pictures, and a hundred such refinements.
But does not the employer make a large profit?
Sometimes, if he is clever and fortunate, a small profit on each workman will amount to a large fortune in time; but the average profit is not large.
Do not large concerns tend to increase in number and size?
Naturally, with increased population, capital, and concentration, men who have the gift of organisation have a greater opportunity of forming what Mr. Bax calls "giant octopus-like combinations which promise to bring all the businesses of the world under the control of a mere handful of wealthy capitalists."
Are these great businesses likely to be permanent?
Seeing that they are created by the talent of one man, and that talent and energy are not always inherited, they have a tendency to decline when the founder dies.
How do Socialists propose to cure this evil, as they consider, of big concerns?
By making them bigger still—that is, handing them over to Government.
What effect would that have?
Government would have to make the present employers managers, as no one else would have the talent. If they were selfish before, making them State officials would not make them less so, and they would have larger opportunities of enriching themselves with less supervision. If they died, and there was no one to succeed them, ruin would follow.
Did you not say that Mr. Bax devotes a section of his work to Socialist ethics?
He does, asserting that Socialism has a special code of ethics, as each stage of society has. He gives a history, in which he strangely mixes up ethics and religion, saying that ethics had first for its object the welfare of the tribe. It then became introspective, and the object was a divinity. But ethics has always been rules of conduct, the result of experience, inherited and acquired, of the conduct that promotes human welfare. Its object was always the community. The Spartan cheerfully gave his life for the good of his tribe. But that was because he found that, if every Spartan bravely risked death, his individual chance of life was better than if he ran away. We find Englishmen to-day just as ready to sacrifice their lives when necessary as Spartans were, only Spartans had to do it oftener, because of the savage manners of the time. Ethics, therefore, develops with the development of society, and is not perfect yet, for most people regard a wrong done to one of lower social position to themselves as less blameworthy than if done to their equal. Religion, on the other hand, has always been a personal affair. Men have pictured to themselves an invisible being like themselves, but stronger, whom they sought to propitiate. At first they gave presents and sacrifices. When they became ethical, they imagined an ethical god who was pleased with virtuous conduct; but the idea that he likes sacrifice and fulsome adulation, like an Eastern King, still lingers.
Does Mr. Bax tell us what Individualist ethics is like?
He does. It is the theory of the Manchester school of economics-—namely, the individual scramble for wealth, the cash nexus, and purely material relations, instead of sentiment between men.
That sounds very confused.
It is. Cobden and Bright were not noted as ethical teachers, though they were persons of eminently ethical conduct, and, when ethical questions were discussed, advocated a pure and lofty morality. But their fame rests on the economic doctrine they preached-—that if each person or nation devoted his or its energies to those commodities which it could produce with least effort, and exchanged with others, all would enjoy the maximum of satisfaction with the minimum of exertion.
How does Mr. Bax sum up Socialist ethics?
It is enlightened selfishness, since, in some unexplained way, under Socialism the good of all will be the good of each-—that is, things will be made pleasant all round, and duty will never entail a sacrifice.
Why, then, does not everyone become a Socialist?
Because, we are told, they are not "class-conscious"—-that is, they do not realise that their interests are opposed to those of the class above them.
Then we have a direct confession that envy is the origin of Socialism?
What are the political views of Socialists?
They are, Mr. Bax says, Little Englanders. They would gladly unite with foreign workmen to ruin their own country if they could thereby plunder their employers or upset the present arrangement of society.
What is their attitude towards co-operation and trade unionism?
They view them with favour, so far as they may be a step in the same direction.
How do they view real improvements—-such as thrifty temperance, and Malthusianism?
They hate them, as enabling workmen to live more cheaply, and so tending to lower wages, starting from the false assumption that wages never rise above the cost of maintenance.
Then the way for workmen to raise their wages would be to drink champagne?
Just so, by similar reasoning.
But is the object of those who preach temperance, thrift, and prudence in marriage to make workmen spend less?
Not at all, but to spend their income so as to have a greater amount of comfort and well-being, and, by having a reserve, to be able to move to where wages are high, and not have their efficiency impaired by sickness or loss of work.
Having criticised the Socialist view, can you give a summary of the Individualist doctrine?
I can. Individualism means enlisting the natural tendencies of human nature on behalf of well-being, as we all do when we reward our children if they are good and punish them if disobedient, and as a workman avails himself of the natural forces of gravitation, friction, etc., to do his work with the least effort. It holds, with Jesus, that good and evil spring from the heart of man and thence affect his surroundings, so that the way to improve him is to deal with the cause, by persuasion, and not with the effect, by compulsion. It holds that social progress, like all natural healthy growths, is slow and that no forced and artificial effect is permanent. It holds that every action has indirect and remote effects as well as immediate ones, and that the former are generally more important. It holds that the State has no money but what it takes from the people. It holds that denunciation of the idle rich who have earned or lawfully acquired their riches accords ill with the proposal to pension a man at his prime whether he has earned his pension or not. It holds that imperfect instruments cannot turn out perfect work, however good the scheme. Its holds that periodicity is the law of the universe, so that the only way to prosperity is to work hard while we have the chance and make hay while the sun shines. It points to the success of the Jews and of all brain workers who pursue this plan. It points out that the time of England's prosperity coincides with the reign of laissez faire and the complaints of German competition with the present system of socialist interference.
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