Alvin Victor Sellers.

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be disposed to support idleness and foster vice."

1 delivered these words with deliberation and
emphasis, and I could see that their meaning was
not lost upon my applicant. He saw at once how
difficult it would be for him to practise in future
his former habits, and half-plaintively asked me
to give him an order for the workhouse.

" There are none," I replied. " Those disgraceful


institutions have been closed, and such blots on
humanity and civilisation have at last been wiped

" What ! actually turned all the poor helpless
folks out into the street ? "

" Not so. Most of its occupants were there
because they had no home to go to old helpless
folk or cripples. But now that their children and
other relatives can earn good livings and have
comfortable homes, they would no longer tolerate
those dear to them branded as State paupers, but
took them home now no longer a burthen to
them, but a source of pleasure. Some few there
were helpless and friendless, victims of former
social conditions. To these we have granted pensions
to enable them to live where they like and as they
like as citizens of the State, not as its paupers."
" Can't you grant me a pension ? "
" Certainly not ; you are not helpless."
" No, I am not helpless. You are right," he said
defiantly. " If you have closed your workhouses,
you have not yet closed your prisons. I shall find
ways and means to get there, and then you will
have to keep me."

" If you do violence to the liberty or property of
your fellow-citizens, of course it will be my duty to
protect them ; and if you cannot otherwise be pre-
vailed upon to keep the peace and respect the equal
rights of others, we shall have to restrain you. But
you will not be cast into prison and fed at the ex-
pense of your fellow-men. You will find a nice
clean cottage ready for you, comfortably furnished,
with a garden-plot and spade, or a workshop and
such other tools by which you may prefer to earn
your living, but isolated from the rest of the com-


munity, so that you cannot interfere with their
liberties. You will be charged a certain rent for
the house and tools supplied you, and you will have
to pay, of course, the Ground Tax just the same as
the others ; in addition to which you will have to
pay your share of the salaries of the Governor,
Guardians, and Doctors, whom the State will have
to employ to watch you and others like yourself."
" Doctors ? " he asked.

" Yes, Doctors. We have replaced Lawyers by
Doctors, because such cases as your own do not call
for quibbles about precedents and abstractions, but
demand medical skill and judgment. Our Judges
only decide whether there is any necessity to put
people under restraint or not. In this they are
guided by the fact whether the accused being at
large would interfere with the liberties of other
citizens. For how long this restraint is to last is
for medical men to decide, not for lawyers."

" Then would you treat me as if I were insane ? "
" What else is a man who has every opportunity
offered to be free, independent, and happy, and yet
prefers to work harder and to be deprived of his
liberty ? For while under restraint you will have
to work just the same for your living as if you were
free, and, in addition, will have to pay the expenses
of officials."

" But I tell you I am not going to work."
" In that case, of course, you will starve while
under restraint ; and if you do not pay the rent of
the cottage provided for you, you will be turned out
of it and allowed to starve in the fields."

" What ! and would you actually let me starve ? "

" If you choose to, why not ? I do not see that

I have any right to interfere with your liberties ;


and, truth to tell, if you would rather starve than
be an honest man, I think it would be a blessing for
mankind to be rid of such as you."

My visitor stared at me in profound astonishment,
and for some time seemed as if he could not find
speech. I watched him carefully, as if studying the
effect of a drastic remedy on a patient. At last he

" I have, it seems, to work or to starve. The
only choice you give me is to do either of these two
things as a prisoner or as a free man. If a prisoner,
I have not only to work for myself, but also for
your police-troopers and doctors, and besides am stig-
matised as a lunatic. Under these circumstances it
will pay me much better to become an honest man."

Here a deep sigh followed. " I can see through
your plan," he continued. " Circumstances made
a Loafer of me, and you now wish to employ the
same means to make me honest again. Sir, I may
be bad and wicked, but I am not a fool. Your
methods are very drastic, but I think your plan is
good. You shall hear of me again, but no more as
a Loafer. I shall try and retrieve my lost dignity
and manhood, and see whether I cannot be as good
a citizen as I might have been had society but
allowed me."



THE next petitioner, from whom I learnt that
he was a small shopkeeper in Cheapside, was
much agitated, and bore a worried look.

" Sir," he said, in a trembling voice, " I hope you


will relax your sternness a little in my case. I am
hard hit. I am a hard-working, honest man, and
have been all my life. After fighting the battle for
life for so many weary years, I have at last suc-
ceeded in scraping enough together to buy a small
piece of land and to build a house on it. What
am I to do now ? "

" Why, keep it, good sir, and make the best of it."
My answer seemed to electrify the man into life

" Then you are not going to take it from me ? "
he inquired eagerly.

" Certainly not. I could not if I would. The
Constitution would not allow me."

" But I understood that you were to confiscate
all the land."

" You mean, perhaps, nationalise ? "

" Well, is not that the same thing ? "

" No, not by a long way. To confiscate means
to take away. But the object of the Constitution
is not to take the land from the people, but to open
it up to them, since without access to it they cannot
live save, of course, by permission, and on the
terms of those who can debar them from it."

" And and has everybody a right to it now ? "

" Yes ; everybody has an equal right with yourself
to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and
therefore to the means of life, that is, the land and
the elements of Nature."

" Then anybody may come and turn me off
the land out of my home ? "

" Oh no. No one can do that so long as you
care to stay. - You are only expected to share
with the others the advantages that accrue to you
from the exclusive possession of that particular spot ;


and in return, all the other people have to share
with you whatever similar advantages they may
enjoy by monopolising other portions of the country."

" And how are you going to adjust what I am to
give and what I am to receive in return ? "

" Very easily. Whatever the rental value of
your plot of land may be, is the measure of the
advantages you enjoy to the exclusion of all others.
Therefore you will be required to hand over to the
State a sum equal thereto. That is, you will pay
a tax of twenty shillings in the pound on the unim-
proved value of your land. Others will do the same,
and thus provide the funds necessary for public pur-
poses. Your returns will consist in the enjoyment
of those conveniences which the money will provide."

" If you tax my land to its full value, is it not
the same as if you took it away ? "

" Certainly not. You can still use it the same
as before. But if I took it away you could not."

" But is not its value gone ? "

" Surely not its utility. You can live on it,
trade on it, and grow on it whatever it could yield,
as before. These values it will still possess un-
diminished, and yours will be the exclusive right
to enjoy them so long as you pay the tax or rent."

He shook his head. " You leave me in possession
of the land, certainly, but you tax me, and that

" No more than what you receive in return ;
and not so much, I think, as you paid formerly
for less. You are a business man. Let me put
a few common-sense questions to you. Suppose you
sold goods to a customer of yours and sent them
home by another man's cart, would you claim the
money for the cartage as well as for the goods ? "


" The cartage money would go, of course, to
the man to whom the cart belongs."

" Twenty shillings in the pound ? "

" Of course."

" That is precisely your case. If you withhold a
portion of the country, with all its natural advan-
tages, from your fellow- citizens, you have to pay
them for the privilege ; while whatever you create
on the land by your toil is yours. Others have to
do the same. Those who would contribute less must
be content with monopolising less. Everybody is
treated alike, and each has to pay, not according
to what he possesses, but according to value received."

" I do not dispute the correctness, or even the
justice of your principles," he said with a sigh,
" but it falls heavily on me. You see, sir, I have
bought my land with honest, hard-earned money,
and now am as good as losing it every penny."

" What is the value of your land ? "

" I paid for it 240. It is assessed now at an
annual value of 10."

" Then your taxes will amount to 10. Have
you not paid as much before ? "

" No, certainly not. My tax did not amount
to more than nine shillings."

" Yes, the land tax. But I mean altogether, taxes
and rates. Surely you have paid as much before ? "

" Oh, altogether, I have paid, let me see inhabited
house duty, 10s. ; property tax I believe as much ;
and rates and poor law, 15 ; that is about 16."

" And on your shop is that your own too ? "

" I have built it, but it's mine only for another
eighty years."

" What rates and taxes did you pay for that ? "

" About 60. It is assessed at 300 per annum."


" Income tax ? "

" That's not much, something like 6."

" Stamp duties on cheques and receipts ? "

" Say two shillings a week."

" Customs duties on tea, coffee, currants, etc. ? "

" Well, I daresay it comes to something like 4
^ year, although I neither smoke nor drink. But I
have six children, and they make up for it in tea and

" Let us see now. You have paid altogether in
rates and taxes something like 91, of which burden
you are now entirely relieved. You are asked to pay
instead 10 on your land only. Are you really so
hardly done by ? "

" If you put it that way, perhaps not."

" And for these ten pounds," I continued, " the
community places at your disposal postal and tele-
graph service, roads, railways, protection^ life, liberty,
and property, education for your children, and many
other conveniences. Is that so great a hardship ? "

;< These are very fine promises, truly ; but if you
are going to reduce my taxes from 91 to 10, as you
say, where is the money to come from to carry them
out ? "

'* You say your shop in Cheapside is not on your
own land. What is the ground rent of that ? "

" I pay 500 in ground rent ; of course, besides
my own shop, there are offices which I sublet."

" Then you see these 500 which you formerly
paid into private pockets will now go into the State
coffers, as the price of ' natural opportunities with-
held.' This will more than compensate the State
for the reduction of taxes made to you and your
fellow-tenants. The annual value of ground rents
amounts to more than two hundred million pounds,



which is far above the total expenditure, that for
last year was only 185,000,000. But on this we
shall be able to economise a good deal so that the
rent tax will be sufficient for both imperial and local
needs and spend it more usefully. What was spent
on poor-law, police, prisons, hereditary pensions to
people who had done nothing to earn them, on
sinecures and gewgaws, will now be devoted to more
useful purposes. We shall also save a great deal by
abolishing customs houses and by the simplification of
taxation, which will enable us to do away with much
unnecessary machinery, or, at anyrate, to employ
it more profitably. In short, instead of hampering
trade and industry, we shall try to help it on."

" But for all that you have made a poorer man of
me. Yesterday I could have sold my house and
land for 1000."

" You can still sell your house ! "

" Yes, but I would get nothing for the land."

" No, but you could buy another block for the
same price."

" So I could," he muttered with amazement,
as if this truth had only just dawned upon him.

" And your children won't have to toil and scrape
for years before they are allowed to have a home in
their native land."

" That's enough, sir ! " he exclaimed. " I was a
blockhead to have given you all this trouble for
nothing. What a fool ! Actually wanted to keep
up land monopoly, because it has made my battle in
life so hard ; and never to think that if kept up it
would make it as hard for my children. Good-day,
sir. I am more than satisfied with the change."



MY conversation with the shopkeeper seemed
to have a salutary effect on a good many
besides himself ; for as he left a large number of those
who were waiting their turn left with him, evidently
pleased and well satisfied with what they had heard.

As they left one of the crowd rushed eagerly
forward. He was excited, but that kind of excite-
ment which honest men feel when they think a wrong
has been done to others. He was a rather lean man,
well-dressed, with high forehead, and very intelligent

" It is plain that you have given every satisfaction
to the middle class, and have earned the gratitude of
the whole bourgeoisie," he said, with a bitter sneer.
" They are to have their taxes reduced, railways
and telegraphs provided, so that they can increase
their profits, and have their children educated for
nothing ; and the working men are to be left to the
mercies of the capitalist, with not even a workhouse
to go to, lest the bourgeoisie might have to be taxed.
Is this your idea of equal rights and equal liberties? "

For this kind of opposition I was scarcely pre-
pared. But there was no mistaking the sincerity
of the man, nor his honesty of purpose. To tell him
that he was mistaken in thus interpreting my actions,
and bid him have patience, that all would come right
in the end, and so forth, was clearly out of question.
The man was not to be pacified unless he could
first be satisfied. And as it was my aim to enlist
the sympathies of the people for my reforms, and to


avoid unnecessary friction, I said, after some moments
of reflection

" I am only enforcing the Constitution, for which,
amongst others, you yourself have voted. If I put
a wrong construction on it I sin in ignorance, and
shall be thankful to you for putting me right."

This mollified him somewhat, and I could not help
thinking at the moment how wrong it was for people
who should pull together, to fall out with each other
on account of difference of opinion as to the best
methods of attaining their common end.

" What are my particular errors of omission or
commission ? " I asked.

" In the first place you have established no
national workshops."

" On the contrary," I interposed, " the whole
country is now one large national workshop, in
which each can work to his heart's content ;
where, when, and how he likes." But, heedless of
my interruption, he continued

" You have made no laws to restrict the powers of
the capitalist, to limit the hours of labour, the rate
of wages, or of interest."

" But such laws would be against the spirit of the
Constitution our Democratic Constitution which
says that every citizen shall have perfect liberty,
limited only by the like liberties of his fellow-citizens.
If I should tell a man how many hours he is to work,
or what he is to give or take in exchange for certain
services, would this not be a flagrant interference
with his personal liberties ? Besides, such legisla-
tion is absolutely mischievous, and could only result
in the re-establishment of class-rule and class-
legislation, from the evils of which we are just now
trying to escape."


" Not only have you omitted doing all these things,'
he continued, again disregarding my answer, as if
solely intent on his own thoughts, "but you have
actually abolished what few taxes the capitalists
had to pay the Income and Property Tax, Pro-
bate Duties, etc., thus allowing the wealthy to escape
scot free."

" But surely you do not wish to abolish the well-
to-do ? I was always under the impression that
what you objected to was poverty, and that the
object of good government was to extirpate this, root
and branch."

" Oh, certainly, if you put it that way ! But how
do you set about it ? "

" By encouraging industry, in the first place,
thrift in the second. Surely, it is good that the
nation should possess as much as possible of all the
good things which add to its comfort. Can it be
that you regard wealthy citizens as an evil, and
therefore wish to put a tax on them ? "

" Come, sir, you evade the question. Is it not
a fact that the few have piled up their millions
at the expense of the many ? And if they are not
checked by taxation, what is to stop them from
continuing the same thing ? "

" They are checked from getting what belongs
to others, since all have now equal opportunities ;
but there is no check to prevent anyone from pro-
ducing wealth, or from accumulating it, if he so
choose. A person should not be fined for building
a house or planting a tree ; nor should a premium
be offered for indolence or improvidence."

" Fined for building a house or planting a tree ?
You speak in enigmas."

" Not at all. Every tax levied on industry ia


of the nature of a fine ; that is, even if not intended
as such, it has the same effect as a fine. A tax on
dogs tends to diminish their number. Or, supposing
it were thought there were too many bachelors,
then a bachelors' tax, if high enough, would en-
courage matrimony. In the one case you practically
fine a man for keeping a dog ; in the other for not
getting married."

" Well, if dogs and bachelors are objectionable,
is it not right to tax them ? "

;< Yes ; and if wealth were objectionable we might
tax that, too. But my object is to exterminate
poverty, not wealth."

" That's all very well. But if one man were not
allowed to accumulate more than a certain amount,
the remainder would be distributed amongst the

" How do you know there would be any remainder ?
Suppose we did determine that a man should not
own more than a certain amount of wealth ; is it
not possible that he would waste more, or else stop
production when he has reached the limit ? "

" Well, I don't know. You are trying to theorise.
This fact, however, remains, that people with money
grind down the poor, and while idlers roll in wealth,
many workers are starving."

" That was a fact ; and did but indicate that as a
remedy for such a deplorable state of things we
should discourage idleness and encourage the worker."

My Socialist visitor remained silent, and so I

"It is for this reason that I spoke to the first
applicant, whom you call a working man, as I did.
He was not a worker by his own confession, although
I hope he is one now. You should not fall into the


error of calling every poor man a worker and every
rich man an idler. You can find both workers and
idlers in all classes."

" Then why not treat them all alike ? "

" That is precisely what I am directed to do by
our Constitution. There are now equal opportunities
to all and favours to none. Whosoever likes to
work is now free to do so, and may enjoy the full
fruits of his labour. And if anyone will not work,
neither shall he eat, be his name Jack or Sir John."

" Then, after all your fine promises, you simply
mean to pursue the ' let-it-alone ' policy ? "

" If by * let-it-alone policy ' you mean that each
person is to be allowed to employ himself and enjoy
himself as he or she may think fit, without anyone
having the right of interference with their liberties,
then ' Yes ! ' that is indeed the spirit of that prin-
ciple for which you and the whole Democracy have
been fighting for years past."

" Then you mean to allow the capitalist to grind
down the workers without affording the latter the
protection of the law ? "

" I merely substitute freedom for club-rule. Under
such conditions everybody can look after himself.
You wish to rule by whims and fancies ; I carry out

" Not by whims and fancies, but by law"

" What you call Law are but whims and fancies
of people. Laws are not, and cannot be, made
by man, but are as old as the universe itself. All
man has to do is to discover them I mean, of
course, the Laws of Nature ; but these you ignore
entirely, and think that by writing your own opinions
your whims and fancies on parchment, you
have manufactured a ' Law.' If such enactment


fails in its intended purpose, you set about amending
it ; then amend the amendment, and so keep on
tinkering from year's end to year's end call it
wisdom, statesmanship, legislation. Arid when any-
one points out to you that your enactments run
counter to every natural^ law, then you exclaim,
4 Theory, theory ! ' "

" You are simply a slave to principle."

" Yes, I confess my guilt on that head. I certainly
have greater faith in the principles of Nature than
in the opinions and haphazard guesses of man.
Men have now been tinkering at legislation these
many centuries, and with what result you know.
Under these circumstances, do you not think it
high time to give Nature a trial, were it only to
demonstrate the worthlessness of her laws compared
with human wisdom ? "

There was no reply to this, so I continued in a
more conciliatory tone

" If this principle, upon which you and I and
all schools of political thought are agreed, is a true
one, let us have faith in it, and follow out its dictates
to the letter. For if the principle is wrong, or if
principles are not to be relied on at all, then pray
by what can we be guided ? Would you have us
return to Party Government, with its appeals to
ignorance, religious prejudices, and racial animosities,
without either reason or principle ? Or re-establish
the rule of might ? "

My visitor was not yet convinced. " That is
all very well in theory. I commend your abolition
of the land-capitalist ; but that in itself will be
useless, unless \you at the same time abolish all
other capitalists and establish a system of State-
directed production and distribution."


I glanced at the people behind him whom, up
till now, I had somehow regarded as a deputation
of workmen on whose behalf he was pleading.
But on closer examination I saw, to my surprise,
that all those present were well dressed, and betrayed
none of the characteristics of workmen. I called
my visitor's attention to this fact, and he at once
replied that he had not come with those people,
but had headed a large number of unemployed,
and that he could not explain how it was that they
had all left. " These gentlemen," he added, " prob-
ably came to thank you for your partiality towards
them ; " this with another sneer.

An idea struck me. I saw plainly that an object-
lesson would be far more convincing to this man than
abstract arguments ; and I could read in the looks
of those present that they came for other purposes
than to express any gratitude towards me. So I said

" Sir, you are right ; we must not allow the
labourers to be ground down, if they are really in
such a helpless condition as you represent. If
they cannot take care of themselves, we that is,
you and I will look after them, and nurse them
as we would helpless babies. To be honest with
you, I myself do not think that your fears are well
grounded. I think that in a fair and open field
every true working man is able to hold his own,
and look after himself. If I am mistaken in this,
then I am on your side ; for already have I made
provision for the maimed and helpless. But first
let us see what this influential deputation have
come for ; perhaps it may throw some side-light
on the points you have raised. So please remain
where you are, and listen to their representations."

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Online LibraryAlvin Victor SellersThe story of my dictatorship .. → online text (page 2 of 9)