Saturday, March 31, 2007

Van Ornum, Why Government at All? - Part IV, Chapter 3

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CHAPTER III.

THE EFFECT UPON THE DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH.

Inasmuch as the concentrations of wealth result wholly from the laws of property, to abolish those laws must produce the same effect upon property as pulling down the dam does on the mill-pond. While the multitude of the wealthy may not as yet perceive how prompt and thorough this result would be, yet they instinctively realize that in the law alone lies the secret of their advantage; therefore every influence which can be brought to the support of the law, morality, religion, education, culture, public sentiment, society, respectability and patriotism are all made to do duty, to induce obedience and submission, and to promote a reverence and respect for the law. The law is made to support all of them, that they in turn may support the law, and preserve to the rich the accumulations which have grown out of it. Under these circumstances those who attack the law must expect. to find all these influences, arrayed against them. And more: they must expect to find them backed by secret funds contributed to manufacture evidence, stuborn juries, and corrupt courts to hang and imprison those who presume to call in question the authority of the law.

There is no occasion for condemnation or resentment toward the rich because these things are done. They will tell us that we would do the same things if we were given the same opportunity, which is true. And because it is true,—because all men are constituted alike, and will always abuse special advantages and privileges, it is conclusive evidence that no such privileges should ever be granted, or if granted, they should be withdrawn. It should teach us further that anything like malice, or hatred, [318] or revenge, is wholly out of place and is unjustifiable from every possible standpoint, because they have done, and are doing, only what we should do were we placed in their circumstances. The only thing that is called for is, a calm, dispassionate inquiry into the causes of our troubles, a discovery of the best and easiest means of remedying them, and the firmness and wisdom to apply the remedy with out unnecessary offense to any.

With the laws of property abolished, the natural condition of property,—that of occupation, will assert itself, the mortgage will lose his claim upon the property of the mortgagor, whether it be in city or country; the debtor becomes discharged of both principal and interest; the tenant farmer becomes at once the rightful freehold proprietor without rent or purchase; the occupant of city or village household will be its proprietor notwithstanding any adverse claim of its former landlord to whom he previously paid rent; the tax-gatherer can then no longer take the earnings of the people to support the bond-holders, and idlers; the money monopoly will be destroyed, and business be free to provide such appliances for carrying it on as its needs may suggest, without the intervention of blundering and self-seeking politicians; transportation becomes freed from the incubus of bonded debts, of capital stocks, and ornamental high-priced officers, so that the expense accounts of the railroads, the telegraphs, the telephones, etc., will be reduced to the maintenance of the rolling-stock, and plants, and the payment of the wages of those who do the work. The present employees will simply become the co-operating proprietors, with no dividends to. pay on stocks, no interest on bonds, or big salaries to arrogant officials. Every bonded or mortgage indebtedness public and private, stocks, titles, and securities of all kinds, which are now means of enslavement, will become at once the active means for [319] restitution, redistribution, and equalization of wealth. Not one of the great fortunes can be maintained for a week. They will vanish like a bubble when it is pricked.

It is true that the rich will cry out against ‘the spoliation.” They will appeal to men’s sense of justice, and denounce it as confiscation. What! Appeal to justice to sustain an injustice, to equity to support an inequality!” Dismiss the appeal for want of equity. The appellant has no standing in court. Even the law recognizes a man’s right to recover his own, no matter in whose hands he finds it. And if those who have produced the wealth of this world, find it in the hands of those who did not produce it, who shall gainsay their right to retake it, especially where it involves no more than the destruction of the means which have been employed to wrest it from them. Certainly the rich cannot object. They are condemned out of their own law.

But even admitting the momentary spoliation, what is that to the centuries of expropriation of the poor? Will the ostentation and aggrandizement of a few be allowed to weigh against the degraded, embruted, and ruined lives, the blasted hopes, and miserable deaths of the many? Shall the Moloch of wealth continue to claim its victims by the thousands every day, and every hour, in order that a few rich people may continue in the enjoyment of wealth they never had a hand in producing?

With the destruction of the law which produces and perpetuates inequalities, the inequalities of wealth must quickly disappear, and along with them the inequalities in social condition. Men will come to be esteemed for what they are, instead of for what they have. The possession of wealth will confer no power, and consequently no distinction. Then men will seek distinction in the acquirement of personal qualities which command the admiration [320] of men, and thus promote the growth of individual character. But the thing we are now concerned with is, the effect which the application of the remedy will have upon the distribution of wealth. As already, seen it will be toward a redistribution and equalization almost immediately, the tendency being constantly toward a more perfect equalization. The first changes will naturally be from those who have most, to those who have least. The destruction of the law will at once loosen every hold upon those who are the hardest pressed, and therefore in the greatest straits. It will also relieve the necessities of those who are often compelled to oppress others in order to meet demands upon themselves. Many a man will crowd a debtor because others crowd him. But the relief will be general. No man can then oppress another, because the engine of oppression, and the only efficient engine of oppression, is the law.

The vile districts in the great cities will vanish as quickly as the vast fortunes of the inordinately rich. The law is the only thing that prevents their inhabitants from making better homes for themselves on lands lying vacant and unused, and utilizing the clay for bricks, the rocks as quarries, and the forest for timber, in the construction of those homes. Men who have been in the habit of paying a large proportion of their earnings every month to the landlord, will use those earnings to beautify and adorn their homes, make improvements, and provide comforts. This will make an enormous demand for labor, not only in the building trades for the building of new homes, and the improvement of old ones, but in the production of all the forms of wealth which minister to human wants. Under the stimulus of this demand for the products of labor, the wages of labor must necessarily increase, so that comfort, prosperity, happiness, even luxury becomes possible to all. The department stores [321] can then no longer crush, by their pitiless competition, the small merchant, because wages will rise until they will absorb their profits. They will have no advantage in taxes, in interest, or in rents, because all these things will be abolished. Trade will be emancipated from the restrictions which now hamper its freedom, and which destroy the prosperity of the people and consequently their ability to purchase. With the expenses of business so largely reduced, with the advantage which some have over others removed, and with the ability of their customers to buy increased beyond all previous calculation, such a thing as a mercantile failure will be a thing unheard of. Under such a state bf affairs the conditions outlined in the chapter on "property,” in Part II, as the end toward which property necessarily must develop, cannot long be delayed. Property must soon become a common possession, and be enjoyed by all to their fullest capacity for enjoyment. Men will become like guests at a well filled table, spread with such a wealth of abundance that none will begrudge another any possible enjoyment. Human society will then no longer be built upon the subjection of one man or one set of men to other men. Men will become free; and their freedom will have a definite significance, very different from the meaningless jargon now employed to express their subservience to their legal masters. One of the first fruits of liberty will be the extinction of property as an individual possession, not as a regulation, or as an institution definitely set up,—instituted, but as a convenience, in order to avoid the labor and the trouble of keeping accounts, of exacting payment, and the care of looking after large personal belongings. Thus will be realized a condition of socialism of “to each according to his needs,” more perfect than the dreams of a Bellamy, and without the dangerous interferences with personal freedom so essential to his proposed [322] system. It will come as naturally as the fruit comes upon the tree, through the destruction of government, instead of the extension and increase of the functions of government.

I set out, at the beginning, to carry the examination of social questions to the point where all social reformers meet upon common ground. And I have done it. I have reached the promised land, which, like Moses of old, we beheld from afar, and which, notwithstanding the mists and haze of uncertainty, was lit with the sunlight of hope; and even then appeared so beautiful. But now that we can clearly see it; can almost walk among its groves, enjoy its refreshing breezes, listen to the music of its songsters, the babble and plash of its waters, inhale the sweet fragrance of its endless variety of shrubs and flowers, and contemplate the abundance of its provisions and resources for the gratification of every human want; everything to please the eye, the ear, and every sense, as well as uplift the soul to higher aspirations, I feel that my laborious re search has not been in vain.

Here, in the destruction of all that hampers human freedom in thought or expression; which binds men down to low desires; which hinders the growth of knowledge, and diverts them from the cultivation of a rich and varied individuality, to the sordid acquirement of gold; and which is filling the world with untold sorrow and mourning; I say, in the destruction of all these, we reach the grand realization toward which men in all ages have striven, the reign of universal peace and justice.

All this brings the promise of direct, positive, and present relief to the oppressed of every name and clime; to the workingmen vainly resisting the downward tendency of wages, and the increasing difficulty of finding employment; to the merchant crowded out of trade by the unequal competition against monopoly; to the farmer who is made the [323] victim of every species of imposition and injustice, striving against hope to save his home and fireside from the grasp of the usurer; to that large and increasing class, the criminals, against whom the door of hope has been closed, and who are branded with an infamy which elsewise even death itself cannot remove; and to the social outcasts whom it is an offense even to mention in polite society: to all these, and more, it comes as a deliverer, to break every chain, and set the oppressed free. With the fire of liberty kindled here, its light will be seen around the world. No despot in this world will be able to maintain himself long in the face of a practical realization of liberty such as this.

But let us explore still further this utopia, and see what more it offers.

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