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the quantity or quality of the labour employed on

Labour alone, labour independent of nature,
can produce nothing. Labour alone, labour inde-
pendent of nature, can confer value on nothing. It
can no more absolutely create the value of com-
modities than it can create commodities themselves.
Mother Nature helps always, but in infinitely
varying degrees, to produce both economic com-
modities and their values.

Besides, in order that there may be labour there
must be labourers. Labour without labourers is a
nonsensical abstraction. But a labourer is the result
of a great deal of saving, represents a large amount
of capital, not his own. For years before he could
do any productive labour his parents or other bene-
factors had to feed and clothe, lodge, tend, and
educate him ; and he may well feel bound to repay
them in some measure for those sacrifices of theirs
to which he owes his strength and power to labour.
After he has acquired power to labour he must, if
without capital of his own, contract and co-operate
with someone who has it, in order that he may be
provided with the necessaries of life and the means
of production, so as to be free to work usefully and
effectively ; but he cannot reasonably expect that
he will get the help of the capitalist without giving
an equivalent. The manufacturer did not get the



buildings, machinery, materials, &c., which compose
his capital for nothing ; he paid for them, and is
fully entitled to be paid for the use of them.

Further, the intelligence which foresees when,
where, and how labour may be most profitably
applied, which, by discoveries, inventions, shrewd-
ness, and watchfulness, increases its effectiveness,
saves it from waste, and secures good markets
for its products — the intelligence which super-
intends and directs Industrial enterprises — is
as clearl}^ entitled to be remunerated as is the
exertion of muscular force in the execution of
industrial operations. Great industries have never
been created by the labours of workmen alone.
They have in every instance been largely the result
of the foresight and sagacity, of the powers of calcu-
lation and talent of organisation, of the patience
and resourcefulness, of particular men. " There is no
case on record," says Mr. Frederic Harrison, " of a
body of workmen creating a new market, or founding
an original enterprise."

To say, then, that labour alone is the source
of wealth is as extreme and as absurd as to say that
natural agents alone, or capital alone, or intelligence
alone. Is Its source. Wealth is the result of labour, of
natural agents, and of capital, intelligently combined
and intelligently used. The amount of it produced
in any given case depends not only on the amount of
labour employed in Its production, but also on the
quantity of material to work on, the extent of
capital engaged In the occupation, and the measure
of executive and directive Intelligence put forth.


Hence, where wealth is produced not only the
labourer, but the supplier of material also, the owner
of capital, and the managing intellect, have all a
right to share in it, for they have all contributed to
produce it.

There is a still more decisive objection to the
notion that the value of commodities is conferred on
them only by the labour expended on them. It is
not labour which gives value to commodities ; but it
is the utility of commodities, the desirability of
them, the demand for them, which gives value to
labour. Unless things be felt to be useful, in the
sense of being desirable or fitted to gratify some
want, unless there be a demand for them no labour,
will be spent in producing them, and for the obvious
reason that the labour so spent would have no value,
would neither receive nor deserve any remuneration.
Labour simply as such, i.e., labour viewed without
reference to its end and usefulness, labour for which
there is no desire or demand, is of no value, however
painful or protracted it may be. The notion of
resolving the value of things into the quantity of
labour embodied in them, or of measuring their value
by the length of time w"hich it has taken to produce
them, is thus a manifest error, and any doctrine of
economic justice or scheme of social reorganisation
founded upon it is condemned in advance to utter
failure. To speak of a doctrine or scheme which
rests on such a basis as "scientific" is an abuse of
language. Any such doctrine or scheme must
necessarily be Utopian, a dream, a delusion.

If labour is not the sole source of wealth the



whole socialist doctrine as to labour is erroneous ;
and, in particular, the conclusion that all wealth
ought to belong to the labourers is plainly unjust.

I must add, that even if labour were the source of
all wealth, the conclusion that landlords, capitalists,
and non-operatives should have no share in it would
be very questionable. Bastiat fully admitted the
premises yet entirely denied the conclusion, as he
held that the wealth which consists in the rent and
capital is as natural and legitimate a result of labour
as that which consists in wages, and as justly owing
to proprietors and capitalists as wages to workmen.
I do not doubt that he could have victoriously main-
tained his position against any attack of Karl Marx.

Nay more, were the Collectivism of Karl Marx
established, it could by no possibility confer on
labourers what he taught them to look for as their
due, the whole produce of their labours ; but only
such part of it as remains after deduction of an
equivalent to rents, whatever it might be called, of
the wealth necessary to maintain the collective
capital, and of the expenses of government and
administration. That a larger share of the produce
would be left for the labourers than at present is
easy to assume, but not easy to prove. I shall return,
however, to this subject in a later chapter.

A superficial observer, and especially, perhaps, if
he be an ordinary manual labourer, is apt to fall into
the mistake of supposing that the labour directly
and immediately spent on a thing is the only labour
involved in that thing. The shoemaker when he
has finished a pair of shoes may thoughtlessly


imagine that they are wholly his work, and that he
is entitled to receive the whole value of* them. But
in this he deceives himself. He alone has not made
the shoes ; those who prepared his leather and
formed his tools, whoever pays him a wage or lets
him his shop, or finds customers for his shoes, and
even the policeman, soldier, and sailor, the magis-
trate, the judge, and cabinet minister, who secure
him from disturbance, violence, and fraud in the
prosecution of his business, have all contributed to
the production of the shoes, and to the worth of the
shoes. It takes man}^ more people than shoemakers
to make shoes, and still more to make good markets
for shoes. And so of all other thino-s.*

Society is not even now, whatever Socialists may
say to the contrary, essentially or mainly anarchy

* Mr. Frederic Harrison, in a lecture from which I have aheady quoted,
well says : — " Unhappily, in the current language of Socialists, we too
often miss important elements which enter into all products, material or
intellectual, but which are usually completely left aside. The first is the
enormous part played in every product by the society itself in which it is
produced, the past workers, thinkers, and managers, and the social organism
at present, which alone enables us to produce at all. An ocean steamship
could not be built on the Victoria Nyanza, nor could factories be estab-
lished on the banks of the Aruwhimi. No one in these discussions as to
' Rights of Labour ' seems to allow a penny for government, civil popula-
tion, industrial habits, inherited aptitudes, stored materials, mechanical
inventions, and the thousand and one traditions of the past and apjaliances
of civil organisation, without which no complex thing could be prod accd
at all. And they entirely leave out of sight posterity. That is to say,
socialist reasoners are apt to leave out of account society altogether.
And society — that is, the social organism in the past plus the social
organism of the moment — is something entirely distinct from the par-
ticular workmen of a given factory or pit, and indeed has interests and
claims opposed to theirs. Thus society, which Socialists ought to be the
very last to forget, is the indispensable antecedent, and very largely the
creator, of every product." (" Moral and Religious Socialism," p. 15, 1S91.)


and confusion and strife. A remarkable and bene-
ficent order, a marvellous natural organisation, is to
be seen in it when we look a little below the surface.
All classes composing it are wondrously bound
together, intimately dependent on one another, and
constantly co-operating even when they have no
wish to do so, no consciousness that thev are doino:
SO ; yea, co-operating often in and through their very

The teaching in economics then, which leads any
class o± men to believe, that they alone produce
wealth, will not bear examination, and can only do
harm. Whoever seeks, for example, to persuade
workmen that it is their labour alone which has
produced the wealth of the world, and that there-
fore for a capitalist or inventor to be rich while
workmen are poor is an injustice, is labouring to
mislead them. He is fully warranted, indeed, to
advise them to look carefully to their own interests,
and to be unitedly on the alert that capitalists and
inventors do not get more than their fair share of
the produce of labour ; but if he goes farther, and
denies that the capitalist and inventor have real
claims, and large claims, to remuneration out of the
produce of labour, he becomes a sower of tares, a
breeder of mischief But for capitalists and inventors
workmen would be either much poorer or much
fewer than they are.

Capitalists and inventors, of course, without the
workmen would have been as helpless as the work-
men without them. But as in war the fact that
officers cannot do without soldiers any more than


soldiers without officers is no reason for representing
officers as contributing nothino- to victories, or for
sowing dissension between officers and privates,
so is it in industry with regard to employers and
employed. A great general, although not striking
a blow with his own hand, may do more to deter-
mine the success of a campaign than many thous-
ands of the actual fighters ; and, in like manner,
a great capitalist endowed with commercial genius
may count for more in the achievements of industry
than multitudes of those who carry into effect what
he devises and commands. The indebtedness of
labour to capital is enormous ; its indebtedness to
science and invention is also enormous ; and it is as
wrong for labour to ignore this as for capital, science,
and invention to ignore their enormous indebtedness
to labour.

When Socialists fail to establish that labour alone
originates and deserves wealth, they naturally pro-
ceed to argue that it at least produces more than ia
acknowledged, and is entitled to more than it
receives. They insist that under the present reign
of competition the distribution of the produce of
industry is unjust ; that the labourer gets too little
and the capitalist too much ; that too little goes to
wages, too much to profits and rents. Competition,
*' anarchic individualist competition," is denounced
with heartiest vehemence. It is represented as
internecine war, as essentially inhuman and immoral,
as the hateful process through which the iron law
of wages operates, as the root of manifold evils and
iniquities, and especially as the main cause of the


prevalence of starvation and misery alongside of
luxury and waste.

Even this part of the plea for Socialism, however,
is not made out, although the eloquence which has
been expended on it will be readily granted to have
been often generous in spirit and motive, and
cannot be denied to have been popularly most
effective. It is quite possible, and even quite
common, for capital as well as labour to get too
little remuneration. Labour may, and not infre-
quently does, ask more than capital can give. The
griefs and losses of capital are not imaginary, or
few, or light. At the same time it is perfectly true
that labour in its conflict or co-operation with
capital often gets too little, and is always in danger
of getting too little. And it is most desirable that
it should ol^tain all that is due to it, all that it
})ossibly can consistently with that general indus-
trial and social prosperity on which its own welfare
depends. But even under the reign of competition
it is far from powerless to obtain this. With
adequate and correct knowledge of the labour
market and of what may in each trade under actual
circumstances be reasonably and safely demanded,
and with organisation and energy to give eftect to
its demands and to defend its interests, it can hope-
fully hold its own in any controversy which it may
have with capital ; and under the reign of competi-
tion this knowledge, energy, and organisation it has
acquired to a remarkable extent, and is constantly
increasing and perfecting. Would it be able to
stru<'L;'le as efl'ectivelv amiinst the authoritative


and unified administration of capital under the
reign of Collectivism ?

It is further true that where there is competition
there must be temptation to have recourse to ignoble
and unfair means of success, to lying and cheating*
to cruelty and injustice. Where competitors are
numerous and competition keen, many will pro-
bably succumb to the temptation. But if this
happen it will be their own fault. Daily experience
amply testifies that, in spite of competition, mer-
chants and operatives can be not only truthful and
honest, but even generous and self-denying. The
excesses to which competition may lead afford no
reason for the suppression of competition ; they
afford a reason merely for restraining it within
moral and rational limits, for preventing or punishing
hurtful or wicked conduct prompted by greed of

And this Is a task which the State is clearly
bound to undertake. Whatever else the State may
be, it is society organised for the maintenance and
realisation of justice. A State which does not hold
the balance equal between conflicting interests and
parties, which allows any one class of its citizens to
oppress or plunder any other class, which does not
prevent individuals from doing wi'ong or injury to
t'.ie community, is a State which fails to justify its
own existence. It manifestlv does not perform its
duty or fulfil its mission. The State is an essen-
tially ethical organism and institute ; and the laws
of ethics ought to condition, permeate and, regulate
the entire economic life. The more of industrial


freedom and Peiieral liberty the members of the
State enjoy, not the less but the more scope and
need are there for the etliical superintendence and
intervention of the State. Those who suppose that
an ample and practical recognition of the ethical
character and functions of the State is a distinctive
feature of Socialism, or is incompatible with approval
of the competition inseparable from industrial free-
dom, are utterly mistaken.

Again, wherever competition prevails some must
succeed and others fail, some will be at the front
and others in the rear. This does not imply that
those who fail or fall behind will be absolutely
worse oif than they would have been had no com-
petition existed. There may be universal com-
petition and yet universal improvement. After
seventy years of industrial and capitalist competi-
tion in this country, pauperism is not found to have
grown in proportion either to wealth or population ;
it is found to have greatly decreased relatively to
both. Seventy years ago there were as many
paupers in London as there are now, although it
has more than tripled its population in the interval.
During the last twenty-five years, " the mach-
inery epoch," in which competition has been at its
keenest, labour has been better remunerated relat-
ively to capital than at any former epoch, and tiie
general improvement in the condition of the labour-
ing population has been most marked. Competi-
tion is not the direct or necessary cause of poverty,
misery, or crime, and its suppression would not be
their removal.


As under the reign of competition, however, these
€vils larsfelv exist, and as in all our lar^e centres of
population many of the physically, intellectually,
and morally weak or lethargic, and many who are
unfavourably situated, break utterly down, and fall
into the loathsome mass of pauperism and crime,
which is the standing reproach and shame of our
civilisation, society ought undoubtedly to occupy
itself in earnest endeavour to prevent and suppress
misery and vice. To abandon the fallen and
unfortunate to their fate, to say "let the fittest
survive," is unchristian and inhuman ; it is even
inexpedient, and sure to degrade, corrupt, and
weaken a people. Mr. Spencer has done grievous
injustice to his own theory of development in
representing it as involving such a conclusion. The
State, it seems to me, is clearly under the law of
duty in relation to the destitute and helpless. If,
indeed, their wants can be more wisely and
efficiently relieved by individual charity or special
organisations than by its own intervention, then, of
course, it ought not to intervene ; but if this be not
the case it must act itself, and supplement private
charity in so far as it is insufficient, taking due
care neither to deaden the germs of self-help nor to
dry up the sources of voluntary liberality. It is
further its duty to watch over the institutions and
administration of private charity lest they increase
and confirm, as they so often do, the very evils
which they are intended to diminish and remove.

And now, after these elucidations, I do not
hesitate to give my entire assent to tlie principle


of industrial competition, and to reject the antago-
nistic principle of Socialism as altogether erroneous
and pernicious. What really is the principle of
industrial competition assailed ? Nothing less, but,
also nothing more, than the principle of industrial
liberty ; than the affirmation of a man's right to
labour, and to live by his labour, as he judges to be
best and most expedient, so long as he does not
thereby wrong and injure his fellow-men. What-
ever Socialists may say to the contrary, the
principle of competition, or laisser-faire, has never
been otherwise understood by economists ; and thus
understood, it is simply identical with liberty in
the sphere of economics, and one form of that
liberty which makes man a moral personality.

Is it, then, unchristian ? If it be, so much the
worse for Christianity. Any religion which denies
man to be thus far free must be itself so far false. Is
the principle immoral ? On the contrary, it is the
recognition of a moral right, the affirmation that
man is a free moral being or law unto himself in
regard to his own labour. Is it unjust ? No,
because it is limited by justice. Is it a warrant for
selfishness, for unneighbourly or un brotherly deal-
ing, for disregarding the interest of the community
at large ? It may seem so at the first glance, and
socialist writers continually assume that it must be
so. But this view is most superficial, as Bishop
Butler conclusively showed long ago.

Competition, as the term is used in economics,
implies self-love, a regard of one's own interest ;
altruism is not the immediate source of any merely


business transaction. But he who confounds self-
love with selfishness, or suppose that regard to one's
own interest implies disregard of or aversion to the
interests of others, or imagines that there is any-
natural or peculiar opposition between self-love and
benevolence, is an inaccurate observer and thinker,
and shows an ignorance of rudimentary mental and
moral truths which one does not expect to find
displayed by educated Englishmen, the countrymen
of Bishop Butler. A really reasonable regard to a
man's own interest has not an anti- social but a
social tendency. Men cannot truly, or on the
whole and in the long run, secure their own good
by looking only to their own good. Every man in
order to attain his own true good must work
towards the good of others ; and so every class of
men, in order to promote their own true interest,
must have in view also what is best for the com-
munity. Aiming at the higher end is the indispen-
sable condition of gaining the lower end.

Then, we must not forget to ask. What is the
principle which Socialism has to oppose to, and
which it would substitute for, competition ? Is it
co-operation ? Certainly not. If men are entitled
to be free to compete, they are at the same time
and to the same extent entitled to co-operate. If
thev would compete successfully they must also
largely co-operate. With the utmost freedom of
competition prevailing, the workmen of England
have become more closely united, more practically
fraternal, and more strongly and healthily organ-
ised, than those of countries fettered by so-called


protection. The real opposite of competition or
liberty is compulsion or slavery, the authoritative
assio-nment to each man of the work which he has
to do. This is what genuine Socialism, what
Collectivism, proffers us. This is its distinctive
principle ; it is also its decisive condemnation. It
means robbino- man of his true self, of what sfives to
his soul and conduct dignity and worth. It is
treating man as a thing or a beast, not as a person.
The organisation of labour, or of society, thus to be
obtained would be dearly bought whatever might
be the material advantages which it conferred.
These advantages would probably be very few
and sliofht, and the disadvantacjes numerous and

Socialists dwell on what they regard as the
injustice of the rate of wages being fixed by compe-
tition according to the proportion of supply and
demand. The truth is that if the rate were exactly
fixed between real supply and demand, it would
be quite justly fixed. Injustice comes in because
it is often not so fixed. Absolute justice is difficult
to obtain in this world. Who hopes to see a perfectly
just income-tax ? Is there any bargain, any at least
not of the very simplest kind, in which one of the
j^arties does not get more and the other less than is
exactly right ? I have no doubt that labourers have
often the worst of it in their contracts with capital-
ists, and would approve whatever can aid them to
get tlieir proper share of the produce of industry.
But to encourage then to quari-el with the law of
supply and demand, instead of to study its opera-


tlons and to act accordingly, is as absurd as it would
be to attempt to enrage us against the law of gravi-
tation. The law of gravitation will break our necks,
if we do not take care. The law of supply and de-
mand will leave us without a penn}^, if we do not
take care. The lesson is, Take care ; it is not, Set
aside the law.

Socialists have failed to show that any other
method of determining the rate of wages due to
labour would be as just as the one which they con-
demn. Some have proposed as a substitute for it
an equal distribution of the produce; they would
pay every man alike. It is a very simple plan, but
also a very unjust one. Men differ much in ability,
and their labours differ much in quality and worth.
To io'nore these differences — to treat mere " hotel i-
ing " and genuine work, unskilled and skilled labour,
carelessness and carefulness, stupidity and genius, as
equal — would be essentially unjust, dishonouring
to labour, discouraging to talent, energy, and
conscientiousness, and hurtful to society.

Saint-Simon and others have said, distribute in
proportion to liability give to every man according
to his capacities. But even if it be granted that
this shows a sense of justice, how is it to be acted
on ? How is society to ascertain and judge of men's
abilities unless by letting them have free scope to
show what thev can do : or how can it estimate the
worth of what they do except by finding out what
value is assigned to it by those who set any value

Online LibraryRobert FlintSocialism → online text (page 9 of 38)