Frederic Clemson Howe.

Privilege and democracy in America online

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taxation to be made the plaything of stock-jobbing
interests, in which the stakes involved are the
control of a continent and the well-being of
80,000,000 of the most highly educated people of
the globe. Yet such is not an exaggerated picture
of what has happened to America during the past
few years.

Whoever controls these agencies controls a
people's destiny. They can decree comfort, con-
tentment, and happiness, just as they can decree
poverty, misery, and decay. That an increasing per-
centage of the wealth of the world is not enjoyed by
those who produce it the preceding pages indicate.
That this must be true is demonstrated by deduc-
tive as well as by inductive logic. For there are
only three possible claimants to the wealth that is
produced: the landlord, the capitalist, and the
wage-earner. If an increasing share goes to rent,
the returns of capital and labor must be reduced
pro tanto. According to the United States Cen-
sus the wealth produced in 1900 amounted to
$18,540,345,312. This included all kinds of farm
products, the output of the mines and of manu-


facturing plants/ The per capita wealth produced
was $234.04, or $1,170.20 for every family of five in
the country. This was all there was to be dis-
tributed. We have seen that the land values of
the country, including as land values the sites of
the railroads and public service corporations, are
at least $40,000,000,000. They probably exceed
$60,000,000,000. Manifestly these values can only
exist because they yield an income which warrants
this valuation, which, calculated at five per cent.,
amounts to from $2,000,000,000 to $3,000,000,000
per annum. This is land rent. It is the annual
tribute of the unearned increment. It can only be
paid from out the current production. The wealth
to be divided between capital and labor is reduced
by this charge.

At least $2,000,000,000 more is taken through
indirect taxes on consumption and the monopoly
charges which the protected interests exact, while
from $500,000,000 to $700,000,000 is appropriated
by the railways and the public utility corporations
in excess of a reasonable charge for the services
which they render.

Out of the $1,170.20 per family, at least $300.00

'The production of wealth was divided by the census as follows:

Farm products valued at $4,739,118,752

Mineral products valued at 796,826,417

Manufactured goods valued at 13,004,400,143

Total production $18,540,345,312

Twelfth Census of the United States, see Special Reports.


a year is taken in rent, consumption taxes, and
monopoly charges. This estimate is conservative.
I am convinced that the tribute thus exacted is
not far from one-third of all of the wealth produced.
It is probably in the neighborhood of an average of
$400.00 per family.

But the wage-worker does not receive anything
like his per capita proportion of the wealth pro-
duced. The average wage is below $450.00 a year.
The census estimate, as we have seen, is but $432.40.
Yet the part of the wage-earner's income appropri-
ated by privilege is undoubtedly in excess of one-
third of his income. This is the cost, to those who
toil, of the private ownerships of the land, and the
control of the government by an economic class.

So long as these conditions continue the poor
must become poorer, just as those who own the
land and the resources and the public service cor-
porations must of necessity grow richer. The
growth of population insures this. Already millions
are in poverty, while a score of millions have noth-
ing save the morrow's wage between them and des-
titution. And with each passing day those on the
dead-line of poverty must increase in number.
From now on the standard of living of those who
have nothing but their labor to sell must of necessity
fall. To-morrow the purchasing power of wages
will be less than it is to-day. So will the chance
of employment. This is the inevitable result when


the land and the highways and the poHtics of a
people are in the hands of an ascendant class. By
a perfectly logical process, those who own the land
will take all that the tax-gatherer does not. The
landlord is the residual claimant of all that is

That this is true is evidenced by the incomplete
statistical data which we possess. Wages should
have increased in recent years, but as we have seen
they were actually lower by seven per cent, in 1900
than they were in 1890, while the cost of living had
materially increased.^ At the same time the earn-
ings of one class and one class alone have increased.
Rent increased 52.43 per cent, in Massachusetts in
five years' time.^ It is rapidly advancing all over
the country. Railway gross earnings doubled in
ten years, while the dividends of mine and fran-
chise corporations have shown a similar advance.
These are the privileged interests. Their earnings
alone respond to the growth of population. All
other classes, even the competitive capitalist, suffer
by reason of it.

Among the unprivileged ones competition plays
and plays fiercely. There is free trade among the
producing classes. The tariff laws do not extend to
those who toil. The doctrine of laissez faire is but
slightly relieved by the trades-union. A million

» See chap. XV, " The Future of Labor."
2 Idem.


incoming immigrants each year render the struggle
that much the more remorseless. They, too, find
the resources of the country appropriated, the land
enclosed. They, too, are imprisoned by privilege,
the privilege of those who own and the privilege of
unjust taxation. The millions added by the birth
rate make the struggle that much more hopeless,
just as they make the tribute which privilege exacts
that much the heavier.

Only the wage-earner and the farmer, the retail
dealer and the unprotected manufacturer remain to
give reality to the teachings of political economy.
For it is only among these classes that competition

To this burden of rent and of indirect taxes must
be added another and an even more important ele-
ment in determining the well-being of a people.
Rent and taxation control the standard of living
through distribution. But production is likewise
strangled in the process, through the speculative
withholding of the land and resources from use.
This is the costliest burden of all. Labor could
carry the burden of rent, it could carry the burdens
of indirect taxation, were it free to employ itself
where opportunity called or instinct suggested.
But the private ownership of the land stifles talent,
it limits capital no less than labor to the work which
is nearest at hand. Not agriculture, not mining,
not the elementary processes of production alone,


would be awakened by the freeing of the land from
the hand of the speculator, but numberless other
industries would come into life by the opening up of
the resources of nature to be used by those who
are most fitted to occupy them.

The cost of the processes which have been enu-
merated are the costs of poverty wherever it ap-
pears. Poverty means destitution, sickness, lack of
education. It means undernourishment for the
worker and his offspring. Poverty breeds vice and
crime. Nine-tenths of the crime of the community
is traceable directly or indirectly to industrial
causes. It is social. It is from the poor of the
community that the tramp and the vagrant are
recruited, it is from this class that the workhouse is
replenished. Poverty fills the streets with unfort-
unate women, the most pitiful wreckage of the city.
It is poverty that breeds the criminal of to-morrow
from the boys and girls on the streets to-day. They
enter the sweat-shop and the department store
while yet in tender years. They do not receive a
living wage. They are worked to exhaustion. They
are driven to the streets by hunger itself. They
gladly accept the alternative of '^a short life and a
merry one" in exchange for all that hope holds out
for them. Thus poverty is the mother of vice, of
crime, of prostitution. And this wreckage is of our
own making.

And it is apparent that the tide of poverty is con-


stantly rising. It engulfs one class after another.
From the unskilled it passes on to the skilled
laborer. From him it extends to the clerk and the
small shopkeeper. In time, it laps at the feet of
those who have heretofore enjoyed comparative
security. Under existing conditions the tide of
poverty can^iot recede. It never will recede until
the nation itself begins to ebb. For the line of
poverty creeps up with the line of rent, slowly
reducing the standard of living of all classes save
those who own the land.

It is at this point that a nation begins to decay.
A people without hope is a people without initiative.
Ambition lives only with opportunity. Education,
art, skill, literature, invention, are all postulated on
economic well-being. The arts cannot live where
the worker is compelled to struggle for the barest
necessities of life. Political liberty itself is but a
reflection of the economic foundations of a people.
The same is true of industry. Culture and civiliza-
tion mirror the industrial freedom or servitude of
a nation. Men must be economically free before
they can be much else. And this is impossible where
the right to work is as hazardous, and the returns of
the worker are as insignificant, as they are to-day.

Even industry is threatened by these conditions.
The recent hard times were due to land speculation
and the growth of rent. For capital is dependent
upon the well-being of tne working classes. A


people cannot buy if they are compelled to pay all
that they produce for the mere right to be upon
the earth. That is the condition of the tenement
dwellers of our cities. It is the condition of the
workers in the mines. It is rapidly becoming the
condition of the agricultural worker as well. They
are too poor to provide a market for industry.
Ultimately the landlord will impoverish the capi-
talist class as well as the worker.

I am convinced that, under existing conditions,
progressive industrial and social decay is a matter
of a relatively short time. Just as a single loaf of
bread commands everything save life itself between
two starving men, so land, even in a nation like our
own, will command famine prices as soon as it is
all appropriated. It may be a generation before we
face the problem in all its acuteness, but there
is every indication that the burden of rent and the
monopoly of the land have already started America
on a downward path, not unlike that which older
nations have followed. That science does not
accept this explanation of social conditions, is no
more remarkable than the refusal of the Church to
accept the evolutionary h3^otheses of Darwin and
of Spencer: it is no more remarkable than the
refusal of the plantation owners of the South to be
convinced of the wrongness of human slavery; or
of the protected industries to see the costly con-
fusion of the tariff. All of the traditions of political


economy are founded upon the idea of private
ownership of the land. As a science, it assumed
form and shape in the land of all others where the
land-owning classes are most dominant. More-
over, political science as well as jurisprudence is
the heritage of twenty centuries of control by the
landed classes. Added to these influences, all of
the traditions of America are those of an immense
and inexhaustible public domain, of free land in
abundance to any one who wanted it. Woven in
and out of the teachings and thought of the people
is the idea that the private ownership of the land is
sanctioned by the laws of nature if not of God.
With these burdens of tradition, of class interest, of
jurisprudence, and of ignorance, it is no wonder
that political economy has been slow to challenge
the idea of the private ownership of the land, or
statesmen or political scientists to question its

Yet the experience of all history confirms this
interpretation, an interpretation which is as re-
morseless in its logic as any proposition of Euclid.
The effects of land monopoly, of the struggle of the
people for its use, these, together with the effects of
the rule of a class upon the destinies of a people,
are to be seen in the history of all nations from the
first recognition of private property in land. The
right has been challenged by many thinkers, by
social reformers and agitators in every age. It


is only in the present generation that universal
suffrage, a free press, and representative govern-
ment have made the challenge audible. Two re-
cent French writers, examining the history of the
Hebrew, Greek, and Roman peoples, say:

*'A regime where there is no limit to the extension
of individual property, no tempering of its enjoy-
ment, no responsibility in its exercise, where interest
and taxes take from labor the best of its produce,
excludes the majority from the owning of any prop-
erty. Then classes form. Their division becomes
more marked, struggles break out, the invader
arrives, and the nation is destroyed. This is the
history of the republics of Greece, Carthage, and
Rome. One people alone continues through all
antiquity — the Hebrew people. It resists all time,
survives even migration as a people. According
to the Mosaic law, everything here below belongs
to the Lord and man is but the user, obliged to
conform to the conditions fixed by the divine order;
conditions which have for their aim the assurance
of the union of the land and the family, and to
preserve to the needy a legitimate part of the re-
sources of the earth." ^

' La Question Agraire, by Meyer and Ardent, p. 12.


Just as the politics of a country reflect the inter-
ests of an ascendant economic class, so the ideas
of right and wrong of any age mirror the will of
the same economic ascendancy. Ethics, the cur-
rent sense of morality, even the criminal laws are
made to serve a class. So too the agencies of public
opinion are enlisted in its service. The press is
largely owned by the privileged interests. News
and publicity bureaus are organized and con-
sciously employed for the purpose of moulding pub-
lic opinion, while the press that is free is colored
by the same influences. Even the universities,
both those that are privately endowed as well as
those that are supported by the state, the institu-
tions for scientific research as well as the Church,
the philanthropic agencies, and the learned pro-
fessions, are all dependent upon those who have
favors to grant. They are unconsciously coerced
into an alliance with the economic interests that
are dominant, just as they were in the days of
feudalism, when the learned professions, the bench,
the bar the Church, and the universities, were the



servitors of the ruling aristocracy. It is these
agencies which make the morals and the public
opinion of an age.

That the morality of an age is moulded by the
interests of the ascendant class has frequently been
remarked by those who were not socialists.

'^Whenever there is an ascendant class," says
John Stuart Mill, "a large portion of the morality
of that country emanates from its class interests
and its feelings of class superiority. The morality
between Spartans and Helots, between planters and
negroes, between princes and subjects, between
nobles and roturiers, between men and women has
been, for the most part, the creation of these class
interests and feelings." ^

And the ideas of right and wrong in America are
essentially the ideals of the privileged class. The
current conceptions of liberty and of duty, of obedi-
ence and of reverence, of submission and content-
ment have been implanted in our minds by these
influences. So are our ideas of crime. It is not so
much that the rich offender is not as rigorously
prosecuted as are the poor for the same offence.
It is the absence of a moral code or penal statutes
directed against the offences of the ascendant class
that stamps the ethics of to-day as class ethics.
We can see this in the criminal codes of our states.
Crimes against property are relatively more serious

' Essay on " Liberty. "


than crimes against the person, while crimes against
the state, and especially crimes against society, are
scarcely provided for at all. Thus the criminal
code of New York provides a maximum sentence of
ten years' imprisonment for criminal assault with
intent to kill or commit a felony, and a minimum
sentence of ten years' imprisonment for first degree
burglary. The minimum punishment for rape and
for manslaughter in the first degree is twenty years'
imprisonment, while for arson it is forty years'
imprisonment. The abandonment of a child under
six years of age is punishable by a maximum sen-
tence of seven years' imprisonment, while the sale
of impure food, even though it may poison a whole
community, is only a misdemeanor, and the viola-
tion of laws for the protection of railway workers
from death and accident is punishable only by a
fine of $500.

The offences of the ascendant class against those
who are dependent upon them, or for a breach of
trust to the many, are but mildly punished. Cer-
tain kinds of fraud by the directors and officers of
a bank by which thousands of depositors may be
robbed of their savings are punishable by imprison-
ment for but one year and a fine of $500, or both;
while a corporation which commits an offence which
would be a felony were it committed by an indi-
vidual may only be fined, and then not in excess of


The same class instinct characterizes the Federal
law. Bribery of a member of Congress is punish-
able by three years' imprisonment; while the
counterfeiter of a coin may be sentenced to ten
years of hard labor. Moonshine or illicit distilling
by the poor whites of the South to defraud the
revenue is ruthlessly pursued; while smuggling,
which is an ofTence of the richer class, and for the
same motive, is practically ignored. All of the
power of the National Government is turned against
him who rifles a mail-bag; while he who rifles a
nation of a million-acre estate is unmolested in his
theft, and even more rarely punished for it.

When it comes to the administration of the law,
the disproportion is even more conspicuous. Our
penal institutions are filled with minor offenders
who, in the great majority of instances, have been
driven to the commission of some petty offence
by industrial conditions over which they have no
control. In the police courts of our cities men
and women are committed to the workhouse at the
rate of a score every hour, and are started on a
career of vice and crime which destroys every
chance of recovery, and in many instances leads
inevitably to the penitentiary.

The corrupt alderman who accepts a bribe is
shunned by all men, and his prosecution is vigor-
ously supported by public opinion and reform or-
ganizations, while he who gives the bribe is often


feted by his associates, and the prosecuting attorney
who would indict him as a criminal is treated as a
social pariah/ While he who innocently buys a
stolen horse gets no better title than the thief,
he who knowingly buys a stolen franchise is pro-
tected by the courts in his grant. Jacob Sharp
and his associates were sent to Sing Sing for cor-
rupt connection with the Broadway Street Railway
franchise in New York; but the franchise itself was
upheld, even though the title was known to be
tainted with fraud.

The same class ethics appear in the proceedings
against the railways and industrial combinations,
and the land and timber thieves of the West.
These offences involve hundreds of millions of dol-
lars. They are knowingly committed against a
sovereign state. Their number runs into the tens
of thousands. Yet there have been rare imprison-
ments of the offenders, and but few fines collected.
Anti-trust laws and laws against rebates and dis-
criminations are still openly ignored. The orders
of the Interstate Commerce Commission are con-
temptuously violated, while mine operators and
manufacturers refuse to obey the laws for the pro-
tection of their employees.^

' For examples of evidence of this class-conscious morality see the
contemporary accounts of the graft prosecutions in St. Louis and San
Francisco and the attitude of the press and public opinion toward
Folk and Heney.

2 Within the last year the case of the United States against the
Standard Oil Company for violation of the statutes directed against


It is not alone that these offences are committed.
It is the acquiescence on the part of the public in
their commission that stamps the ethics of the day
as those of a class. We do not protest against the
crimes of the business world, certainly not as we
protest against the offences of organized labor or
of those who violate the excise laws of the state.
The offences of the former do not fall within the
present day ethical code, neither do they violate the
public opinion which makes that code. But the
same public opinion rings with outraged morality
at the action of the Western Federation of Miners,
the boycott of an ''unfair" house, or the criticism
of a decision of the courts by the representatives of
organized labor. It is aroused to frenzy over the
tyranny of the closed shop, but not over the tyran-
nies of the closed corporation.

It demands as a sacred and inviolable right the
freedom of the non-union man to work where he
will, irrespective of organized labor, but denies in
the same breath the sacred and inviolable right of
the same man to buy or sell in the markets of the
world irrespective of organized capital, unionized
by the tariff. Privilege compares the dilatory
criminal proceedings of the American courts with
the expeditious punishment of offenders in England,

rebates was dismissed by the courts, while the officers of the Ameri-
can Federation of Labor were committed to jail for alleged violation
of a court order.


but makes no reference to the prolonged delay in
the payment of franchise taxes by the corporations
of New York city or the litigation over the eighty-
cent gas legislation in that state. It is silent about
the endless litigation over every petty order of the
Interstate Cotnmerce Commission, the statutes of
our states, or the exhausting policy adopted to
resist the payment of personal injury claims by the
corporations. It identifies itself with agitation to
close the saloon and to punish petty vice, but
betrays no interest in any movement to discover
the cause of these evils or to control the privileged
interests which lie back of their existence.

How, it may be asked, does all this accord with
the recent acti\ity of the state and the nation
against the big business interests? As a matter of
fact, there comes a time in the evolution of class
morality when the very excesses of the dominant
class must be checked in order to preserve the class.
And an examination of the recent legislation against
corporate abuses will show that it is designed for the
protection of the ascendant class rather than the
destruction of its privileges. The worst offenders
must be held in check. Monopoly must be regu-
lated or it will be destroyed; the railways must
abandon discrimination if they would check the
movement for government ownership. The more
far-sighted owners of the franchise corporations have
approved of the creation of state commissions for


the same purpose, just as the brewers and distillers
have drafted model license laws to check the move-
ment for prohibition. Such restrictive legislation
is designed to save the institution, by the creation
of a legal code which will restrain the irresponsi-
ble offender. By these means the public will be
diverted from the fact that the institution itself is
wrong, to the idea that it is the occasional offender
who is at fault.

The same sinister influence exercises its power
over the agencies of public opinion. It tempers
the pulpit and the university. It limits discussion
to other than vital questions. The abuses of the
business world, and the wrongs of humanity, are

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Online LibraryFrederic Clemson HowePrivilege and democracy in America → online text (page 15 of 19)