Alvin Victor Sellers.

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MY surmises were correct, and my Socialist
opponent had not long to wait before he could
see that these people had not come to thank me for
anything I had done, but rather to urge upon me the
adoption of the same measures as he himself advo-
cated namely, to tax Capital rather than Land.

They were boisterous, but not very self-confident,
and gave me the impression that they intended
to overawe and frighten me into submission.

Their spokesman, a rather portly gentleman,
commenced in an imperious tone

" We have come to demand the instant repeal
of these disastrous proclamations which are working
the ruin of the country. We shall not submit to "

Here I interposed, reminding him that I represented
the Sovereign People, and that I must insist on
more respectful language. That, while they were free
to place before me their complaints and to expect
redress if they could make out a good case, they were
not allowed to refuse obedience to the law as it

" If the law is bad," I continued, " you are free to
agitate for its repeal ; but while it is in force it must
be obeyed. You know this doctrine, since you have
preached it often enough yourselves. Now you may
proceed. What is it you have to say ? "

" We have to inform you, then, that since your
proclamation has been issued the country has been
ruined. Millions of capital have been destroyed, and
unless there is a speedy repeal of this in er this


er this disastrous law, bankruptcy is staring the
nation in the face."

I was not much alarmed'jbyi the statement ; for,
though there were many of them, they were neither
the whole nation , nor representatives of the whole
nation. So I said calmly

" Will you please state who you are, and what
interests you represent ? Clearly you cannot mean
the whole nation, since many who have been here
before you have expressed their satisfaction with
the new administration."

" Yes," replied the spokesman ; " those whom
you have benefited by plundering us."

I again sternly rebuked the speaker, and warned
him against using such disrespectful language. He
then explained , that those present were directors
of the several .railway companies, and that since
this new proclamation their companies had been
utterly ruined. This was serious news ; railways
are important industrial undertakings, and I had no
intention of hampering their usefulness. I said as
much, which seemed to give reassurance and hope
to the deputation. " Please explain to me in what
manner this change has affected you," I continued.

" It has affected us in a manner," said the speaker,
" which you could not have foreseen ; which only
shows how dangerous it is to tamper with old-
established institutions. In the first place, you have
taxed away all the revenue we have derived from our
land, and have taxed in addition all the land over
which the lines are running."

" But I have remitted all your other taxes," I
said ; " and in that respect have placed you on an
equality with every other industrial undertaking."

" Yes, yes ; but, as I told you, you do not yet


understand all the effects which this has had. Our
employes demand exorbitant wages, which would
not leave us a single penny profit."

"Then don't pay the wages, if they are exorbitant."

" But what are we to do ? We cannot get enough
men as it is, and if we stopped working the lines,
how could we afford to pay the tremendous Land
Tax ? In less than a month or so this would absorb
all our rolling stock and buildings ; while, thanks
to your administration, the value of the land, for
which we have paid so dearly, is gone already."

" But if your employes are so extortionate, why
not replace them by recruiting from the army of
unemployed ? "

The speaker waxed indignant, and there was
great murmuring amongst the deputation.

" You are absolutely ignorant of the condition
the country is in, and therefore unfit for the position
you occupy. Unemployed, indeed, when I tell you
that we are unable to get sufficient hands to cope
with the tremendous traffic, which has increased
to nearly double its former amount, and not a man
to be had for love or money ! We are left entirely
to the mercy of our employes."

" That explains why the mass of unemployed have
left you. They have evidently learnt already to
stand on their own legs, and mean to dispense with
their nurses," I whispered to the Socialist. Then
turning to the speaker, I said aloud
>K"But surely the country cannot then be in such
a disastrous state as you represented. You really
confuse me."

Here one of the deputation stepped forward,
a man with av fine head, closely shaven face, and
frank and noble countenance. His demeanour was


deferential and polite, in pleasing contrast to the
angry looks of the majority.

" I think I can explain matters to you, sir, and
perhaps also to my fellow-Directors, who I think
take a somewhat one-sided view of the matter.
Under the circumstances this is perhaps natural.
Since you have opened the racecourse, allowing
everybody to compete on equal terms, those who
formerly enjoyed exclusive privileges do not find
it so easy to get their accustomed swag. We find
that others can run faster than ourselves, and get the
prizes. For myself I will not complain, but throw off
here old traditions which now are hampering me, and
try again my strength under the new conditions."

" Instead of explaining, you only puzzle me more
and more."

" I will be plain then. You have opened up the
natural opportunities to the people, and now every-
one is able to make the best of his abilities. At
first I, too, considered your proposals sheer madness,
because I thought that, even if you did open up the
land, everybody would not be fit to start farming.
I don't know why, but the idea of land reform always
suggested to me that it meant everybody should
become a farmer. But I now see that that is neither
necessary nor even possible. You have certainly
taught us that railway dividends come as much from
land as do potatoes. The farmers, who are now
making good profits,^ employ builders to improve
their habitations, buy carpets, furniture, clothing,
and all manner of other conveniences. The manu-
facturers and tradespeople are all busy, and, of
course, earning good money. v These, too, try' to
improve their conditions. Most of them were
really out at elbow, barely having been able to


provide themselves with the merest necessities of
life. But now that they are in a position to do so
everybody is buying and sending out orders on one
hand, and supplying others with such articles as
they themselves produce or deal in. This gave a
sudden and great impetus to all the trades, and, of
course, also to the railways. The army of unem-
ployed vanished as if by magic. Under these con-
ditions everybody naturally demands for his services
an equal counter-service. The labourer has no
longer to beg for employment, and unless people are
willing to pay him what he thinks his labour is worth,
he refuses to part with it. I cannot blame him, for
we do the same ; we have raised our rates on the
railways, and people pay cheerfully."

14 Yes ; but have we anything of it ? " asked
the former speaker. " Does it not all go away
again in wages or in taxes ? "

" It does, certainly. Those who work the railways
get the benefit, leaving to us just about enough to
recoup us for the wear and tear of rolling plant, and
such return as would be about an equitable return
for the rent of our buildings and other plant."

The deputation got a little noisy, each of them
attempting to remonstrate at the same time with
the last speaker for his frankness, for which they
called him a Judas and other coarse names.

I again interfered, and after some difficulty suc-
ceeded in restoring quiet. Turning to the first
speaker, I said

" This is a somewhat different picture from what
you drew, and is most satisfactory and gratifying.
Instead of having ruined the nation, I find that the
nation is prosperous ; and I fail to see what you have
come to complain about. If the wages of all those


engaged in railway work are higher, surely you, as
the managers of the concern, must share in the general
prosperity. For if each man is in a position to put
his own price on his labour, you, as the most im-
portant officials, must be able to command good
salaries for your services. I mean your wages of
superintendence . ' '

The man whom I addressed bit his lip and was
silent, as were the rest, excepting the gentleman
who had made the former frank statement.

" If you will pardon me, sir, for saying so," he
said, " I think my friend was right when he said you
were ignorant on many points of railway management.
We, as Directors, have nothing to do with the manage-
ment or superintendence of railway work proper.
Our business is, or I should rather say was, to receive
the balance-sheet and the earnings of the men and
to declare dividends. Of course, there are still
earnings, and still dividends to be declared ; but
now a rent collector could perform the work for us."

" Well, and is that so bad ? I should say your
rents for buildings, and so on, should be more secure
now than formerly ; and, considering that houses
and rolling stock represent labour, and that labour is
now well paid, their value, I should think, would be

" It is. But railway carriages and buildings
don't last for ever, as does the land. Nor was our
chief revenue derived from this source. We had
a profit on every man we employed ; this is now
gone. And as population increased and trade
improved, so the value of our lands improved. This
is now gone too. Our shares formerly went up,
whether our carriages and buildings were new or
old. Now they go down every day, as our plant


depreciates. And if we wanted to keep our plant
in the same condition, we could draw no dividends
at all, since all we receive would be absorbed for
depreciation, to repair or to replace the old stock."

" Would you please explain this point a little
more clearly," I said.

" Certainly. Supposing you built a house, a car-
riage or an engine, none of these would last for

" Of course not."

" Well, then, supposing an engine to last for
twenty years, then you would not pay for an engine
that has been in work ten years the same price as if
it were new. And if you lent that engine on hire,
you could not get more for its use than just what
would replace another engine of the same kind by
the time it is used up, since everybody is in a position
to command whatever he needs, and is unwilling to
pay usury. The same applies, of course, to our
plant and rolling stock. If we withdraw the money
which we earn for its use, the carriages, engines, etc.,
would depreciate and ultimately be all used up.
And if we keep things in repair, replacing old stock
by new, we can draw no dividends at all."

" But then your plant and stock is left you."

" Indeed ! " exclaimed the first speaker. " And
you would have us provide the public with con-
venience for nothing ? "

" But you do not provide it for nothing, if they
enable you to replace what they consume. Would
you have more in return than what you give ? "

" Oh, it is no good arguing with him," one of
them said ; " we had better stop traffic altogether,
and see then whether the people will stand it."

" I will answer for that," I said, rising from my


seat. " The plant is yours, and you can do with
it whatever you please, gentlemen. The land is
yours also, so long as you choose to keep it, and pay
the rent for it to the State. If you do not care to keep
it, you are allowed to pick up your rails and sleepers
and do with them as you please ; and the State would
have to provide new railway lines for the people.'

This deliverance put an end to their bluster.
They were terror-stricken, and I considered the
moment opportune to make them a proposal, which
I thought would be of advantage to the State and
convenient to themselves. I said

" In a country of such general prosperity, where
penniless and ignorant people are in a position to
earn comfortable livings, men like yourselves, who
have education, abilities, and substance to start
with, should not be in despair. Abilities you un-
doubtedly possess, but hitherto you have wasted
them on unholy objects that is, in finding out
ways and means how to profit at the expense of
your fellow-men. I do not blame you for having
done so, nor do I reproach you. You were the
creatures of circumstances, as were the rest of us.
Now a new order has set in ; and I doubt not but
that your abilities will soon find outlets in more
legitimate, and perhaps even more profitable channels.
Under the new conditions you may not care to con-
tinue the worries incidental to company manage-
ment, and could employ, perhaps, your wealth in
other ways more congenial to your tastes under the
altered circumstances. If so, the State is willing
to relieve you of all your responsibilities, and to pay
you for every rail, nail, brick, and sleeper its full
price at present valuation."

In less than five minutes they agreed to my pro-


posals, and I gave instructions to have the plant
surveyed and appraised.

Thus, the high roads of the country ! became the
property of the nation by voluntary surrender.



ril KINGS happen strangely and oddly in dreams,
JL and yet everything seems perfectly natural.
The Directors of the Railway Company had not left
my presence, nor \do I remember anyone having
entered the room while they were there. Not-
withstanding this, 1 had before me another deputa-
tion. The men were the same, but not the interest
or concern, rather which they represented. This
time it was on behalf of the New River Company
that one of their number addressed me. Fixing
his eyes upon me, he said

" I hear that you are very fond of facts, and that
you will not believe anything that cannot be demon-
strated to you. Here, then, are some hard facts
for you to digest." And he held up to me two
copies of Stock Exchange quotations. " Look on
this picture and on that."

I did so, and read in one " New River Company,
138,000 " ; and in the other " New River Company,
13, 10s. ; no business done." I also noticed great
reductions in other stock, though not to the same
extent ; and opposite many of the companies there
were either no quotations at all, or the legend " In


" Are you convinced now that we are putting
facts before you ? " he asked.

"I am; and most surprising I facts they < are,"
I replied.

" Most surprising," echoed the Socialist.

"Within the last few months," continued the
spokesman, " over five hundred thousand million
pounds worth of capital has been destroyed."

The allusion to the last few months astonished
me more than the amount of capital destroyed.

" Dear me ! " I exclaimed ; " have I been in
office so long ? How the time does fly."

" Over half a million millions of pounds, if a
penny," he continued. " I am prepared to make
good my statement."

" Oh, I take your word for the amount," I said
smilingly. "But would you be good enough to
tell me what kind of ' capital ' has been destroyed,
and in what manner ? "

" If you will come with me to my office I will
show you a whole strong-room full of what was
once most valuable ' stock,' but which is now so
much waste paper or very nearly so."

" Dear me ! have the moths got into them,
or mice, or rats ? "

" Neither of these, but the blight and canker
of your cursed government," he said, with ill-
suppressed anger.

"I fail to see how I could ', have done any-
thing to spoil goods locked up in your strong-

He gazed at me with angry amazement. " I
verily believe," he said, after a while, " that you
are utterly ignorant of what ' stock ' means."

" Not at all," I said. " I myself keep oxen,


horses, pigs, poultry. But these should be safe,
one would think, locked up in strong-rooms."

" I am not speaking of live stock," he exclaimed
indignantly, " but of shares. Have I not shown you
that the shares of the New River Company alone have
come down from over a hundred thousand pounds to
a paltry 13, 10s., and no buyers even at that ? "

" Perhaps they are not worth more," I suggested.

" No ; not while you are at the helm of State,
and allow us to be plundered in this shameful and
outrageous fashion. For that, sir, is the cause
of this tremendous fall ; we are being plundered,
and that by your authority."

"Plundered!" I said. "No; that I will not
allow. I will stop that at once." And I rang
the bell sharply, and ordered the Commissioner
of Police to be sent. No sooner had I done so
than that functionary stood before me.

" Have I not given strict orders," I thundered,
" that the liberty and property of every citizen
shall be protected, and that without any distinction
whatever ? How is it that these gentlemen here
have to complain of having been plundered of
several millions ? "

But the Commissioner of Police neither quaked
nor trembled at my thundering ; and as I looked
at him more closely, he turned out to be no other
than my friend Verinder, who, with the familiar
twinkle in his eye, said

" Your instructions have been carried out to
the letter, and that is just the complaint of these
gentlemen. What they have been ' plundered of '
is the right to plunder others. I believe the figures
to be right, for I always thought theirs was a most
lucrative business."


" But they also speak of destruction of capital."

" Nothing of the kind, I assure you. They
are still in possession of all they had their works,
pumps, pipes, and taps. Their ' shares ' or ' stock '
are as fresh and crisp as ever, and I doubt not
that with proper care and in strong-rooms they
will keep so for many years."

" But you have made waste paper of them," ex-
claimed the spokesman of the deputation. Whereupon
Police Commissioner Verinder explained as follows

" These gentlemen were lords of the clouds ;
that is, the water that was showered down by our
Heavenly Father upon the just and unjust alike
was claimed by them as their exclusive property.
They erected large filters and pumps, laid down
pipes in all directions, and supplied the water to
the inhabitants at so much per gallon. The in-
habitants complained, demanded a reduction in price,
and threatened to take possession of their works."

" And have they done so ? " I asked.

" No, but they have done worse ; that is, as
far as these gentlemen are concerned. They have
left them their works and pipes, and have erected
a new plant, belonging to the community ; and
now, of course, the people will no longer buy their
water at a higher rate than that at which they can
be supplied by the parish pumps."

" You do not give all the facts," interrupted
the complainant. " Nor do you mention that
you acted as an agitator against our interests."

" Oh, if you wish me to go into details I will do
so with pleasure," replied the acute Police Com-
missioner. " There was, as I said, a perfect revolu-
tion. The people wanted to take possession of the
waterworks, and pay the present owners at valua-


tion. I drew a cordon of police around the works to
protect the property of the company. I then ex-
plained to the people that they had no right to force
people to surrender aught against their will, nor
fix the price of their services, any more than the
company could force people to work for them at
their price. But I advised them, certainly, that if
they were dissatisfied with the company's prices,
they could erect a plant of their own. They decided
to do so, and were about to tap the river, when the
directors of the company came to me with a parch-
ment, claiming the sole right to the whole river.
Now, sir, your proclamation was that no one should
be disturbed in his present possessions, and I again
promised the company full protection, but pointed
out that, inasmuch as the river itself is a natural
opportunity, if they wished to have exclusive posses-
sion of it, they would have to pay for the privilege."

" And we made a liberal offer."

: ' You did ; but it did not come up to the liberality
of the Constitution, which demands twenty shillings
in the pound on the full value of all natural advan-
tages. I said to them that so long as everybody
can have free access, and there is water enough for
all, the rent or tax would be nil, since in that case
there would be no monopoly. But if there should
be competition for the water, the tax would be the
full value which this competition would give it.
They refused to pay the tax, and so the local authority
tapped the river. Under these circumstances there
being no monopoly of course there is no rent for
either party. Nor need I say that the company is not
now paying any other taxes, since they have all been
abolished, excepting only, of course, the ground rent
for land occupied by their buildings, reservoirs, etc."


" And no capital has been destroyed ? "

" None whatever. What these people call ' capital '
was a certificate which gave them the right to levy
a tribute from the citizens of the district, before
they allowed them to quench their thirst or have a
bath. The enormous value of their ' shares ' or
' scrip ' only showed the extent to which this black-
mailing was carried on. Now that people have
access to the natural opportunities, they no longer
pay for what they can get for nothing. The com-
pany is still supplying a large area, and that because
they have lowered their rates to those charged by
the corporation, whereupon the latter desisted from
extending the new pipes. These rates are just
sufficient to pay for filtration and distribution, and
the expenses connected therewith."

"That is to say," I remarked, " that whereas they
were formerly water-fords, they now are water-

"Precisely. And instead of having taken any
capital from them, we have actually removed all
former taxes much to their regret. They volun-
teered to treble their income tax, and to have their
machinery rated to any extent the people liked, pro-
vided they were left in possession of the river. This
was the ' liberal ' offer referred to. But by this
time the people saw the cat, and "

" Enough, sir," I said. And, turning towards
the deputation, I added

' Your petition is dismissed. You are free to
pump water from the river, and to sell it at whatever
price you can get for it. But I cannot prevent other
people from doing the same thing, since I cannot
deny them access to the opportunities of Nature, nor
can I force them to pay you more for your services


than they think these are worth. But if you don't
care to carry on the business of water-carriers under
these new conditions, I offer to buy your plant on
behalf of the inhabitants of the district at present
valuation. Shall we say it is a bargain ? "

And a bargain it was, for after a very brief con-
sultation among themselves I received the following

" We have no option but to accept."


" TTTONDERFUL ! You must be a magician,"
T exclaimed the Socialist, as soon as the last
deputation withdrew. " I can hardly believe that
these people have surrendered their capital so
meekly otherwise than under the influence of some
magic. Seriously, have you hypnotised them ? "

" It would almost seem so ; but the only magic
I have made use of is the application of natural
principles in the regulation of the relations between
man and man."

" That hardly explains why such a selfish set of
people, as most capitalists are, should surrender the
power they had of robbing the community of

" Because they are selfish, and because, having
no longer a profitable monopoly, they do not care
to provide people with water. You speak of them
as ' capitalists.' In a sense, they were capitalists ;
but how much do you think their real capital
amounted to ? "


" Millions. Many millions. They were kings
water kings."

I smiled, and handed him the estimate I had just

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Online LibraryAlvin Victor SellersThe story of my dictatorship .. → online text (page 3 of 9)