Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
In the early years of the century, English readers enjoyed the perusal of many American works of fiction dealing with the rural life of the Eastern States in those almost forgotten days when railways and telegraphs were unknown, when all beyond the Mississippi was "the far west," when California and Texas were foreign countries, and when millionnaires, tramps, and paupers were alike unknown. They introduced us to an almost idyllic life, so far as rude abundance, varied occupations, and mutual help and friendliness among neighbors constitute such a state of existence. Almost all the necessaries and many of the comforts of life were obtained by the farmer from his own land. He had abundance of bread, meat, and poultry, with occasional game. Of butter, cheese, fruit, and vegetables there was no lack. He made his own sugar from his maple trees, and soap from refuse fat and wood ashes; while his clothes were the produce of his own flocks, spun, and often dyed, woven, and made at home. His land contained timber, not only for firing, but for fencing and house-building materials, as well as for making many of his farm implements; and he easily sold in the nearest town enough of his surplus products to provide the few foreign luxuries that the family required. The farmer of that day worked hard, no doubt, but he had also variety and recreation, and there was none of that continuous grinding, hopeless toil, that appears to characterize the life of the Western farmer to-day. As a rule, his farm was his own, unburdened by either rent or mortgage. Year by year it increased in value, and if he did not get rich he was at least able to live in comfort and to give his sons and daughters a suitable start in life. In those days wages of [[p. 396]] all kinds were high; food was cheap and abundant; and the strange phenomenon--yet so familiar and so sad a phenomenon now--of men seeking for work in order to live, and seeking it in vain, was absolutely unknown.
The impression of general well being and contentment given by these tales, was confirmed by the narratives of travellers and the more solid works of students of society. All agreed in telling us that not only the pauperism of Europe, but even ordinary poverty or want was quite unknown. The absence of beggars was a noticeable fact; and except in cases of illness, accident, or old age, occasions for the exercise of charity could hardly arise. The extraordinary contrast between this state of things and that which prevailed in Europe, had to be accounted for, and several different causes were suggested. A favorite explanation on both sides of the Atlantic was, that it was a matter of political institutions. On the one hand, it was said, you have a Republican government, in which all men have equal rights and no privileged classes can oppress or rob the people; on the other, there is a luxurious court, a bloated aristocracy, and an established church, quite sufficient to render a people poor and miserable; and this was long the opinion of the English radicals, who thought that the cost of the throne and of the church was the chief cause of the poverty of the working classes. Others maintained that it was entirely a matter of density of population. Europe, it was said, was overpeopled; and it was prophesied that, as time went on, poverty would surely arise in America and become intensified in Europe. More philosophical thinkers imputed the difference to the fact that there was an inexhaustible supply of unoccupied and fertile land in America, on which all who desired to work could easily support themselves; and that, all surplus labor being thus continually drawn off, wages were necessarily high, as the only means of inducing men to work for others instead of for themselves. When the accessible land was all occupied, it was anticipated that America would reproduce the phenomena of poverty in the midst of wealth which are prevalent throughout Europe.
It is needless to point out that these anticipations have been realized far sooner and far more completely than were ever thought possible. The periodical literature of America teems with facts which show that the workers of almost [[p. 397]] every class are now very little, if any, better off than those of the corresponding classes in England. For though their wages are nominally higher, the working hours are longer; many necessaries, especially clothing, tools, and house rent, are dearer; while employment is, on the whole, less continuous. The identity of conditions as regards the poverty and misery of the lower grades of workers is well shown by the condition of the great cities on both sides of the Atlantic. The description of the dwellers in the tenement houses of New York, Boston, and Chicago exactly parallels that of the poorer London workers, as revealed in the "Bitter Cry of Outcast London," in the "Report of the Sweating Commission," and in cases of misery and starvation recorded almost daily in the newspapers. In both we find the same horrible and almost incredible destitution, the same murderous hours of labor, the same starvation wages; and the official statistical outcome of this misery is almost the same also. The English registrar-general records that considerably over one tenth of all the deaths in London occur in the workhouses, while nearly the same proportion receive pauper burial in New York.1
Henry George, in his great work "Progress and Poverty," declares in his title page that there is, in modern civilization, "increase of want with increase of wealth"; and in Book V., Chapter II., he traces out the causes of "the persistence of poverty amid advancing wealth." The truth of this latter statement stares us in the face in every country, and especially in every great city, of the civilized world; no one can have the hardihood to deny it. But people are so dazzled by the palpable signs which everywhere surround them of wealth and luxury; so many comforts are now obtainable by the middle classes, which were formerly unknown; so many and so wonderful have been the gifts of science in labor-saving machinery, in the means of locomotion and of distant communication, and in a hundred arts and processes which add to the innocent pleasures and refinements of life; and again, so jubilant are our legislators and our political writers over our ever-increasing trade and the vast bulk of yearly growing wealth, that they cannot and will not believe in the increase or even in the persistence of an equal amount of poverty as in former years. That there [[p. 398]] is far too much cruel and grinding poverty in the midst of our civilization, they admit; but they comfort themselves with the belief that it is decreasing; that, bad as it is, it is far better than at any previous time during the present century, at all events; and they scout the very notion that it is even proportionally as great as ever, as too absurd to be seriously discussed.
These good people, however, believe what they wish to believe, and persistently shut their eyes to facts. Even in Great Britain it can, I believe, be demonstrated that there is actually a greater bulk of poverty and starvation than one hundred or even fifty years ago; probably even a larger proportion of the population suffering the cruel pangs of cold and hunger. I need not here go into the evidence for this statement, beyond referring to two facts. There has, during the last thirty or forty years, been an enormous extension of the sphere of private charity, together with a judicious organization calculated to minimize its pauperizing effects.
Besides the marvellous work of Dr. Barnado and General Booth, there are in London, and in all our great cities, scores of general and hundreds of local charities; while the number of earnest men and women who devote their lives to alleviating the sorrows and sufferings of the poor, have been steadily increasing, and may now be counted by thousands. The fact of a slight diminution in the amount of state relief under the poor law is, therefore, quite consistent with a great increase of real poverty; yet this slight diminution is again and again cited to show that the people are really better off. This decrease is, however, wholly due to the growing system, favored by the authorities, of refusing all outdoor relief, the place of which is fully taken by the increase of private and systematized charity. And there is good proof that this vast growth of charitable relief has not overtaken the still greater increase of real pauperism. This proof is to be found in the steadily increasing proportion of the population of London which dies in the workhouses. The registrargeneral gives this number as 6,743 in 1872; in 1881 it had risen to 10,692, and in 1891 to 12,473. Thus the deaths of paupers in workhouses had increased 85 per cent from 1872 to 1891, while the total deaths in London during the same period had increased from 70,893 to 90,216, or 27 per cent. It may be thought that this has been caused [[p. 399]] by the influx of the poor into the towns; but it is mainly the young that thus emigrate; and the registrar-general shows that the same increase of deaths in workhouses has occurred, though in a less degree, in the whole country. In his report for 1888, the only one I have at hand, he says: "The proportion of deaths recorded in workhouses, which steadily increased from 5.6 per cent in 1875 to 6.7 per cent in 1885, further rose, after a slight decline in 1886 and 1887, to 6.9 per cent in 1888." The same continuous increase of aged pauperism is thus proved to occur in all England, but to be especially great in the larger cities; and this fact appears to me to demonstrate the increase of poverty during the last twenty years of rapidly increasing wealth, and ever-growing luxury. And at the same time, notwithstanding all the efforts of all the charitable institutions and philanthropic associations, we see every week in the papers, though only a few of these cases get noticed, such headings as "Shocking Destitution," "Destitution and Death," proving that the official records, terrible though they are, only show us a portion, perhaps only a small portion, of the wretchedness and poverty culminating in actual death from want of food, fire, and clothing, in the midst of the wealthiest city the world has ever seen.
But if any real doubt can exist as to the actual increase of poverty in England, we have in America an object lesson in which the fact is demonstrated with a clearness and fulness that admits of no dispute. Fifty years ago there was, practically, no poverty, as we now understand the word, in the sense of men willing to work being unable to procure the bare necessaries of life. Now these exist by tens of thousands, culminating in all the great cities, in actual death caused or accelerated by want of the barest necessaries of life. That the wealth of the community has increased enormously in this period, there is also no doubt. According to Mr. Mulhall, the great English statistician, the total wealth of the United States increased nearly seven-fold from 1850 to 1888, while the population had increased less than two and three-fourths fold. Here, then, we have a clear and palpable "increase of want with increase of wealth"; and as the causes which have been at work in the production of this increased wealth are of exactly the same nature in America and in England, only that they have acted with more [[p. 400]] intensity in America, we are justified in the conclusion that the coincident increase of want has occurred also, though with less intensity, in England. The causes of the enormous wealth-increase are simple and indisputable. First, steam power has increased in America seven-fold (and probably as much in England), and its application to ever-improving labor-saving machinery has given it an effective productive power of perhaps twenty-fold or even more; secondly, railways have spread over the country, enabling the varied products of the whole land to be more and more utilized. The result of these two great factors has been the corresponding increase of agriculture, mining, manufactures, and commerce, by means of which the increased wealth has been directly produced. If, then, fifty years ago there was practically no want in the United States, and there is now, say, ten times the wealth, with about four times the population, not only ought there to be no want of any kind, but all those who had mere necessaries before should be able to have comforts and even luxuries now; hours of labor should be shorter, and the struggle for existence less severe. But the facts are the very opposite of these; and there has evidently been an increasing inequality in the distribution of the wealth produced. The result of this inequality is seen, broadly, in the increase of wealth and luxury on the one hand, and of the most grinding poverty on the other; and more particularly in the growth and increase of millionnaires. Fifty years ago a millionnaire was a rarity in England; now they are so common as to excite no special attention. In America in 1840, there was probably no one worth one million pounds (five million dollars). Now there are certainly hundreds, perhaps over a thousand, who own as much; and it has been estimated that two hundred and fifty thousand persons own three fourths of the whole wealth of the country.
The paradox of increasing want with increasing wealth is thus clearly explained. If we take the two hundred and fifty thousand persons above referred to to be heads of families, four to a family, we have a million persons absorbing three fourths of the wealth created by the whole community, the remaining fifty-nine millions having the remaining one fourth between them; and as probably half of these are comfortably off, the other half have to exist in various [[p. 401]] grades of destitution from genteel poverty down to absolute starvation.
The problem we have now to solve is, to discover what are the special legal and social conditions that have enabled a small proportion of the community to possess themselves of so much of the wealth which the whole of the community have helped to produce. That much of this wealth has been obtained dishonestly, is quite certain, yet it has for the most part been obtained quite legally; and it is probable that if the whole of the transactions of some of the chief of American millionnaires were made public, few of them would be found to be contrary to law, or even contrary to what public opinion holds to be quite justifiable modes of getting rich. Yet there is probably a very large majority of voters who see the evil results of the system, and would be glad to alter it if they knew how. They have a vague feeling that something is wrong in the social organization which renders such results possible. They begin to see that the old explanations of the poverty and starvation in Europe were all wrong; since, though America still possesses its republican constitution, though it is still free from hereditary aristocracy, state church, or the relics of a feudal system, though its population is less than twenty to a square mile, while Great Britain has over three hundred, it has, nevertheless, reached an almost identical condition of great extremes of wealth and poverty, of fierce struggles between capitalists and laborers, of crowded cities where women are often compelled to work sixteen hours a day in order to sustain life, and where thousands of little children cry in vain for food. The causes that have led to such identical results, slowly in the one case, more rapidly in the other, must in all probability be identical in their fundamental nature.
The present writer has long since arrived at very definite conclusions as to what these causes are, and what are the measures which alone will remedy the evil. In America there has hitherto been a great prejudice against these measures because they run counter to one of the institutions which has profoundly influenced society, and which, till quite recently, has been considered to be almost perfect and to be of inestimable value--I allude, of course, to the land system of the United States. It is because the present [[p. 402]] generation has been taught to look upon this land system as almost perfect, that we now behold the curious phenomenon of a large and most important class of the community, the Western farmers, while almost on the brink of ruin, yet quite unable to discover the real cause of their suffering, and frantically asking help of the government through action which might, perhaps, alleviate their immediate distress, but could have no effect in permanently benefiting them. As this question of the farmers is one calculated to throw light on the whole problem of "increasing want with increasing wealth," it will be well to devote a little space to its discussion.
The farmers in the great food-producing states of the West are admitted to be very badly off. A large proportion of them are crushed down by heavy mortgages, others are tenants at high rents, and almost all have a hard struggle for a bare livelihood.2 Their friends and representatives consider that their misfortunes depend primarily on financial and fiscal legislation, and advocate reforms of this nature. Mr. S. S. King of Kansas City says: "The first step in legislation is for the people to undo, so far as they can, the things done by the hired tools of the monopolists, repeal the National Banking Act, pay off the bonds, stop the interest, call in the National Bank notes, and replace them with full legal-tender paper money issued by the government. . . . Then let the government reclaim from the railroads all the land still held by them beyond what is necessary for the operation of the roads . . . take absolute control of the roads . . . then level to the ground the tariff-tax abomination." Hon. James H. Kyle, U. S. Senator from South Dakota, says: "To pass the income tax; to sweep away national banks; to restore free coinage of gold and silver; to have money issued directly to the people in sufficient volume to meet the needs of [[p. 403]] legitimate business--these are the reforms which are entirely within the reach of earnest and persistent agitation. . . . Land loans and produce loans would surely follow. . . . The nationalization of the great highways of commerce would inevitably follow."
These same reforms are advocated by General J. B. Weaver in his powerful work "A Call to Action"; and he imputes all the evils of the present land system--the increase of large proprietors, the rapidly increasing army of tenants, the numerous mortgages at high interest, and the universal distress of the agriculturists--to causes connected with the banking system and with the tariff.
Now, so far as I can understand these difficult questions, all the evils pointed out by these writers are real and very great evils, and the remedies they suggest may to some extent remove these evils; but I feel convinced that these are not the fundamental evils as regards the farmers. The suggested remedies would benefit them along with the rest of the community, but would not remove the troubles that specially affect the tillers of the soil. It would, no doubt, be an advantage to be able to pay off existing mortgages with money advanced by the government at very low interest; but an agriculture that rests on mortgages, whether at high or at low interest, is not a successful agriculture. General Weaver truly says: "The cultivation of the soil should be, and in fact is, under natural conditions, the surest road to opulence known among men. Under just relations it would be impossible to impoverish this calling, for it feeds, clothes, and shelters the human family." And again: "What the farmer most wants is a good price for the products of his farm rather than an advance in the value of the farm itself." But he does not pursue this point, and does not show how any of the remedial measures suggested can possibly raise the price of farm produce; and unless this is done, the farmer's condition, though it may be somewhat ameliorated, will never be raised to the degree of comfort and security which ought to be enjoyed by those whose labor provides the food of the community.
Let us then try and get at the root of this question. Why is it that the degree of comfort and safety of the American farmer has, during the last fifty years or less, so greatly deteriorated? What is the cause of the strange [[p. 404]] phenomenon of food being sold by its producers at such low prices as to be unremunerative to them? It is evident that these prices are determined by competition. How is it that in this particular business competition has forced prices down to such a point as to be permanently unprofitable? The causes that have brought this about are clearly twofold: the absence of the equalizing power of RENT, and the competition of capitalist or bonanza farms. Why this is so will now be explained.
Owing to the almost universal custom in America (until recently) of purchase rather than rental of land, and the wide-spread interests involved in real-estate speculation, the true nature of RENT, as thoroughly worked out by the political economists of Europe, is quite unknown except to the comparatively few who have made a special study of the subject. It is therefore necessary to show, in as clear a manner as possible, its economic importance, and that it is really the key to the whole problem of American agricultural distress.
Rent is the equalizer of opportunities, the means of giving fair play to all cultivators of the soil in the struggle for existence. Farms differ greatly in value, from two quite distinct causes: the fertility of the land itself, as dependent on soil and climate, is one cause; situation, as regards distance from a railroad or from a market, is the other. Let us suppose one farm to produce thirty bushels of wheat an acre, another only twenty, with the same labor and cost, and that the first farm is only a mile from a railroad, while the other is ten miles over a bad and hilly track. The owner of the first farm will evidently have a double advantage over the owner of the other, both in the amount of his crops and the economy in getting them to market; and prices which will enable the first to live comfortably and lay by money, will mean poverty or ruin to the second. It is just the same as with shops or stores. The business done, other things being equal, will depend upon situation. If one store is situated in a main street, with five hundred people passing the door every hour, and another store just like it is in a by-street where not more than fifty people pass per hour, and both sell exactly the same goods of the same quality, and neither have any special connection or reputation, but depend mainly on chance customers, then it is quite certain [[p. 405]] that the one will make a living where the other will starve. Now prices are fixed by the competition of the whole of the stores of these two classes, and the more favored class will run down prices just so low that the less favored class can hardly live; and the inevitable result will be that many of them will be starved out, and the whole of the business be absorbed by the other class. But if all these shops belong to landlords, whether private individuals or the municipalities, then rents will be so much higher in the one class than in the other as to approximately equalize the opportunities of both. Both will then be able to earn a living for a time, and the ultimate superior success of either will be a matter of business capacity. The competition between them will be fair and equal.
The same thing happens with rival manufacturers. Facilities for getting raw material, cheapness of water power, and above all the possession of the best and most improved machinery, enable one to undersell another, and ultimately to drive him out of the market, unless the latter can improve his conditions, or the former is subject to an increased rent, to compensate for his advantages of position.
Now, in the case of the farmer there is no possibility of removing the disadvantages of some as compared with others. Land which is naturally poor can never be made equal to that which is naturally fertile; neither can a farm be moved bodily near to a market or to a railway. The competition between different farmers is, therefore, not a fair one. As more land is cultivated and more surplus grain produced, those having the advantage in land and situation will get their produce earliest to market; and those who come later, when the market is already well supplied, must take a lower price. Year by year, as the output of grain increases, the price becomes lower still, till it reaches a point at which those worst situated cannot afford to grow it at all. Then either the worst farms go out of cultivation, or some other crops are grown, or the owner, burthened with mortgages, is sold out, and his farm is perhaps joined to another, and goes to form one of the great capitalist farms, which form another means of driving down prices below the level at which the less favored farmers can make a living.
Many people argue that if large farming pays where small farming will not pay, that large farming therefore produces [[p. 406]] more food and is better for the country. But this is a great mistake. The farms measured by thousands of acres never produce so much per acre as the small farms of fifty or a hundred acres. In the former the object is to reduce the cost of labor to a minimum, and so leave a larger profit to the owner. Whether in Australia, Dakota, or California, the great machine-worked farms only produce from about eight to twelve or twenty bushels of wheat an acre; but on ten thousand acres a very small profit per bushel will give a large income, while the same profit on a much larger produce per acre will starve the small farmer. In 1879 the wheat produce of the United States varied in the several states from an average of seven bushels an acre in North Carolina and Mississippi, to nineteen and twenty bushels in Michigan and Indiana; and in the bad year, 1884, the range was from five bushels to twenty bushels. But as these are the averages of whole states, the produce of the several farms must have a very much wider range; and the profit made will vary still more than the produce, owing to much greater cost of carriage to market in some cases than in others. It thus happens that the variations in the cost of producing a bushel of wheat are, in the United States, extremely large, perhaps larger than in any other part of the world, because, in the first place, that cost is not equalized by any general payment of rent for the land in proportion to its better or worse quality; and in the second place, because capitalists have been allowed to acquire enormous areas of land from which, by means of machinery and a very little hired labor, they can make large profits from a very small produce per acre.
Some people will say that this result is a good one. Bread is made cheap, and that benefits the whole community. This, however, is one of those utterly narrow views by which capitalist writers delude the people. All other things being equal, cheap bread is doubtless better than dear; but if cheap bread is only obtained through the poverty or ruin of the bulk of those who grow it, and if its value to most other workers is discounted by lower wages or smaller earnings, both of which propositions are in the present state of society demonstrably true, then cheap bread is altogether evil.
There are few better definitions of good government than that it renders possible for all, and actually produces in the [[p. 407]] great majority of cases, happy homes and a contented people. Unless a number of the best writers of American fiction, and a considerable proportion of these who contribute to the most serious periodicals of the day, are deluding their readers, the present system of cheap bread production is founded on privation, misery, or ruin in the houses of thousands of farmers, and on the unnatural growth of great cities, with a corresponding increase of millionnaires, of pauperism, and of crime.
If the exposition now given of the causes of the sufferings of the Western farmers is correct,--and I have the greatest confidence that it is so,--the only thorough remedy will be to bring the land back into the possession of the people, to be administered locally for the benefit of the men who actually use it, never for those who want it only for speculation; and by means of a carefully adjusted system of rents or land taxes, to equalize the benefits to be derived by occupiers from the land (as regards quality and situation), so that none will be able to undersell others to their ruin. Prices will then be adjusted by fair competition, and will fall to the lowest level compatible with the usual standard of living of the time and place, and will be such as to leave a clear margin of profit for the support of a family and for provision for old age.
It will of course be understood that under such a system the farmers would be really as much the owners of their land as if they possessed the fee simple and were free of mortgage. So long as the very moderate differential rent or land tax was paid, the farmer would have perpetual, undisturbed possession, with the right to bequeath or sell, just as he has now. Rents would never be raised on the farmer's improvements, but only on any increase of value of the land itself, due to the action of the community, as when increase of population or new railroads so raised prices or cheapened production as to increase the inherent value of land in that locality in proportion to its value in other localities. But it should be always recognized that the creation of "happy homes," so far as material well being affects them, is the first object of land legislation; and thus rents should in every case be assessed low enough to secure that end, always supposing reasonable care and industry in the farmer, which would be sufficiently indicated by the average result.
[[p. 408]] Under such a system of land tenure as is here suggested, the farmer's life would become a peaceable and happy one, more like that of the early days, when he supplied most of his own wants, and only needed to sell a portion of his surplus products. Every benefit which the community at large may derive by the abolition of import duties, and the operation of the railroads by the state for the good of all, would be fully enjoyed by the farmer also, and his standard of comfort would gradually rise. If, however, these last mentioned reforms are made without any alteration of land tenure, he will not be permanently benefited, because the competition of the better, rent-free land, and also that of the great capitalist farmers, will still drive prices down to the lowest point at which he can just exist. This competition will act quite as surely and quite as cruelly as the competition of laborers in the towns and cities, which always drives down the earnings of unskilled labor to the very lowest point, a point which is kept stationary by the presence of a large body of the unemployed on the verge of starvation and always ready to work at a little above starvation wages.
It will no doubt be objected that, even admitting such a land system to be desirable, there is now no equitable means of getting the land back, except the impossible one of purchase from existing owners. But this is a mistake, and several practical methods have been or can be suggested. We have, first, the "single tax" of Mr. George, which has already obtained many adherents. At first sight farmers may think this would increase their burthens; but it would, on the contrary, relieve them, because all land would be taxed on its inherent, not on its improved, value. Now the inherent value of land in and around cities is enormous, and is not now fairly assessed. This city land would bear a much larger share of taxation than now; farm land proportionally less; and as this single tax would be accompanied by the removal of all duties on imported goods and produce, the farmer's tools, machinery, and clothing would be greatly cheapened.
But notwithstanding this single tax on land values, it might still be worth the while of great capitalists, companies, and trusts to hold large areas of land, because they could derive both profit and power from it in various indirect ways. The people will never be free from the countless [[p. 409]] evils of land-monopoly and land-speculation until it is declared contrary to public policy for any one to hold land except for personal use and occupation. A date might then be fixed before which all land not personally occupied must be sold; and that it should be really sold might be insured by declaring that afterwards no rental or other charge on land to individuals or companies would be recoverable at law. All municipalities, townships, or other local authorities should, however, have a prior and also a continuous right to purchase all such land at a moderate but fair valuation, paying for it with bonds bearing a low interest and redeemable at fixed dates. In this way the public would be able to acquire most of the land for some miles around all towns and cities; and as this would certainly increase rapidly in value, through growth of population and municipal improvements, the bonds could in a few years be redeemed out of the increased rents.
There is, however, another quite distinct method of reclaiming the land for the community, which has many advantages. This may be affected by carrying into practice two great ethical principles. These are, first, that the unborn have no individual rights to succeed to property; and, second, that there is no equitable principle involved in collateral succession to property, whatever there may be in direct succession. By the application of these two principles the people may, if they so will, in the course of some eighty years gradually regain possession of the whole national domain, without either confiscation or purchase. The law should declare that, after a certain date, land would cease to be transferable except to direct descendants--children or grandchildren; and, that, when all the children of these direct descendants, who were living at the time of passing the law, had died out, the land should revert to the state. As people owning land, but having no children, are dying daily, while even whole families often die off in a few years, land would be continually falling in, to be let out to applicants on a secure and permanent tenure, as already explained, so as best to subserve the wants of the community.
Here, then, are two very distinct methods of obtaining the land, both thoroughly justifiable when the welfare of a whole nation is at stake. The last named is that which seems best to the present writer, since it would at once abolish the [[p. 410]] greatest evils of the American social system--those founded on land speculation and land monopoly; while the land itself would be acquired by means involving the minimum of interference with the property or welfare of any living persons. But, unless by these or some analogous measures farmers are relieved from the competition of great capitalists, while competition among themselves is rendered fair and equal by a differential rent or land tax, no other kind of legislation can possibly relieve the majority of them from the state of poverty and continuous labor in which they now exist. In an unfair and unequal competition the less favored must always be beaten.
The once familiar term "republican simplicity" is now an unmeaning one, since both in France and in America there is an amount of wealth and luxury not surpassed in any of the old monarchies. Yet it serves to show us the ideal which the founders of republics fondly hoped to attain. They aimed at abolishing forever, not only the rank and titles of hereditary nobility, but also those vast differences of wealth and social grade which were supposed to depend upon monarchical government. Their objects were to secure, not only political and religious freedom, but also an approximate equality of social conditions; or, at the very least, an adequate share of the comforts and enjoyments of life for every industrious citizen. Yet after a century of unprecedented growth, and the utilization of the natural riches of a great continent, we find to-day, in all the great cities of the United States, thousands and tens of thousands who by constant toil cannot secure necessaries and comforts for their children or make any provision for an old age of peaceful repose. One great object of republican institutions has, it is clear, not been attained. Let us now endeavor to form some idea of the extent and nature of the disease of the social organism, so as more effectually to provide the true remedy.
In his "Social Problems" (written in 1883) Henry George thus refers to the condition of one of the richest states of the union, Illinois: "In their last report the Illinois Commissioners of Labor Statistics say that their tables of wages and cost of living are representative only of intelligent working men who make the most of their advantages, [[p. 526]] and do not reach 'the confines of that world of helpless ignorance and destitution in which multitudes in all large cities continually live, and whose only statistics are those of epidemics, pauperism, and crime.' Nevertheless, they go on to say, an examination of these tables will demonstrate that one half of these intelligent working men of Illinois 'are not even able to earn enough for their daily bread, and have to depend upon the labor of women and children to eke out their miserable existence.'"
Dr. Edward Aveling, in his book on the "Working Class Movement in America," quotes from the same reports for other states as follows: "In Massachusetts a physician gives evidence as to the condition of Fall River: 'Every mill in the city is making money, . . . but the operatives travel in the same old path--sickness, suffering, and small pay.'"
In Pennsylvania the commissioners say, "The rich and poor are further apart than ever."
In New Jersey, "The struggle for existence is daily becoming keener, and the average wage laborer must practise the strictest economy, or he will find himself behind at the end of the season."
In Kansas, "The condition of the laboring classes is too bad for utterance. . . . It is useless to disguise the fact that out of this . . . enforced idleness grows much of the discontent and dissatisfaction now pervading the country, and which has obtained a strong footing now upon the soil of Kansas, where only the other day her pioneers were staking out homesteads almost within sight of her capital city."
In Michigan, "Labor to-day is poorer paid than ever before; more discontent exists, more men in despair; and if a change is not soon devised, trouble must come."
In the pages of The Arena, within the last two years, I find the following statements:--
"In the city of New York there are over one hundred and fifty thousand people who earn less than sixty cents a day. Thousands of this number are poor girls who work from eleven to sixteen hours a day. Last year there were over twenty-three thousand families forcibly evicted in that city owing to their inability to pay their rent." (Arena, February, 1891, p. 375.)
"During the ten years which ended in 1889, the great metropolis of the western continent added to the assessed [[p. 527]] value of its taxable property almost half a billion dollars. In all other essential respects save one, the decade was a period of retrogression for New York City. Crime, pauperism, insanity, and suicide increased; repression by brute force personified in an armed police was fostered, while the education of the children of the masses ebbed lower and lower. The standing army of the homeless swelled to twelve thousand nightly lodgers in a single precinct, and forty thousand children were forced to toil for scanty bread." (Arena, August, 1891, p. 365.)
"When the compulsory education law went into effect (in Chicago), the inspectors found in the squalid region a great number of children so destitute that they were absolutely unfit to attend school on account of their far more than semi-nude condition; and although a number of noble-hearted ladies banded together and decently clothed three hundred of these almost naked boys and girls, they were compelled to admit the humiliating fact that they had only reached the outskirts, while the great mass of poverty had not been touched. . . . On one night last February, one hundred and twenty-four destitute men begged for shelter at the cells of one of the city police stations." (Arena, November, 1891, p. 761.)
"Within cannon shot of Beacon Hill, where proudly rises the golden dome of the Capitol, are hundreds of families slowly starving and stifling; families who are bravely battling for life's barest necessities, while year by year the conditions are becoming more hopeless, the struggle for bread fiercer, the outlook more dismal." (Arena, March, 1892, p. 524.)
The above extracts may serve to give an imperfect indication of the condition of those whose labor produces much of America's phenomenal wealth. Volumes would not suffice to picture a tithe of the misery, starvation, and degradation that pervades all the great cities, and to a less extent the smaller manufacturing towns and rural districts; and one of the latest writers on the subject gives it as his conclusion, "that there is in the heart of America's money centre a poverty as appalling, as hopeless, as degrading, as exists in any civilized community on earth." (Arena, December, 1892, p. 49.)
Let it be clearly understood that I do not in any way [[p. 528]] imply that republicanism is itself the cause of this state of things. It simply exists in spite of republicanism, and serves to demonstrate the great truth that systems of government are in themselves powerless to abolish poverty. The startling, and at first sight depressing, fact that grinding poverty dogs the footsteps of civilization under all forms of government alike, is really, from one point of view, a hopeful circumstance, since it assures us that the source of the evil is one that is common alike to republic, constitutional monarchy, and despotism, and we are thus taught where not to look for the remedy. We find it prevailing where militarism is at a maximum, as in France, Italy, and Germany, and where it is at a minimum, as in the United States. It is quite as bad in thinly as in thickly populated countries; but the one thing that it always accompanies is CAPITALISM. Wherever wealth accumulates most rapidly in the hands of private capitalists, there--notwithstanding the most favorable conditions, such as general education, free institutions, a fertile soil, and the fullest use of labor-saving machinery--poverty not only persists but increases. We must therefore look for the source of the evil in something that favors the accumulation of individual wealth.
Now, great wealth is obtained by individuals in two ways: either by speculation, which is but a form of gambling and perhaps the very worst form, since it impoverishes, not a few fellow-gamblers only, but the whole community; or by large industrial enterprises, and these depend for their success on the existence of great bodies of laborers who have no means of living except by wage labor, and are thus absolutely dependent on employment by capitalists in order to sustain life, and are compelled in the last resort to accept such wages as the capitalists choose to give. The result of these conditions is very low wages, or if nominally higher wages, then intermittent work; and thus we find in all great cities--in New York, Chicago, London, Vienna, for example, in this winter of 1892-93--tens of thousands of men out of work, and either partially supported by charity or undergoing slow starvation. Now I propose to show that these terrible phenomena, pervading all modern civilizations alike--speculation, capitalism, compulsory idleness of those willing to labor, women and children starving or killed by overwork--all arise as the natural consequences and direct results of private [[p. 529]] property, and consequent monopoly in land. This is the one identical feature in the social economy of modern civilizations, and it alone is an adequate cause for an identity of results when so many of the conditions of existence in the great civilized communities of to-day are not identical but altogether diverse.
We must always remember that the existence of large numbers of surplus laborers, which is at once the indication and the measure of poverty, is a purely artificial phenomenon. There is no surplus as regards land and natural products waiting to be transmuted by labor into various forms of wealth; there is no surplus as regards demand for this wealth by those in want of all the comforts and many of the barest necessaries of life, and who only ask to be allowed to call those necessaries into existence by their labor. The only surplus is a surplus as regards demand for laborers by capitalists, a surplus which owes its existence wholly to artificial conditions which are fundamentally wrong. It is not a natural but a man-created surplus, and all the want and misery and crime that spring from it is equally man-created, and altogether unnatural and unnecessary.3
In those early times to which I referred in my first article, wages were higher, food cheaper, and there were practically none unemployed. Why was this? The country was then far less rich; there was almost no labor-saving machinery; yet no one wanted food, clothing, or fire. The reason simply was that immediately around most of the smaller towns was land which could be had for little or nothing; and farther off was everywhere the forest or the prairie, where any one might build his log hut, grow his corn, or even hunt or fish to support life. Every one could then easily find land from which he could, by his own labor, support himself and his family. There was a charm in the free life, and men were continually drifting away from civilization to enjoy it. Therefore it was that wage labor was [[p. 530]] scarce and wages high, for no one would work for low wages when he had the alternative of working for himself. The laborer could then really make a "free contract" with the capitalist who required his services, because he would have an alternative; or, at all events, a sufficient number would have this alternative, and would avail themselves of it, to prevent there being any surplus labor vainly seeking employment.
Now the great majority of the unemployed have no such alternative. It is either work for the capitalist or starve. Hence "free contract" is a mockery; the wages of unskilled labor is the minimum that will support life in a working condition,--it cannot permanently be less,--and skilled labor obtains somewhat better terms just in proportion as it is plentiful or scarce. If, then, we really desire that laborers shall all be better paid, and none be unemployed (and the two things necessarily go together), we must enable a large proportion of all wage workers to have a sufficiency of land, by the cultivation of which they can obtain food for themselves and their families, and thus have an alternative to starvation wages. There is absolutely no other way, because it is from land alone that a man can, by his own labor, obtain food without the intervention of a capitalist employer. But in order to insure his doing this, he must have the land on a permanent tenure; he must be able to live on it, and must never be taxed on the improvements he himself makes on it; and though he may be allowed to sell or bequeath it, he must not be allowed to mortgage it, since what we want is to create as many secure and permanent homes as possible, as the only safe foundation for a prosperous and happy community.
But in order to do this--not here and there in certain localities, but everywhere throughout the length and breadth of the Union--the people must resume the land, which should never have been parted with, to be administered locally for the benefit of all, and to be held always for use, never for speculation. People are now beginning to see that land speculation is the curse of the country. Millionnaires have, in almost every case, grown by what is, fundamentally, land speculation. It is this which has enabled the few to acquire the bulk of the wealth created by the many toilers; and it is by the monopoly of land, whether in city lots, in railroads, [[p. 531]] mines, bonanza farms, vast forests, or vaster cattle ranches, that the rich are ever growing richer, and the poor more numerous.
In an American town or city to-day, it is practically impossible for the worker to obtain land for cultivation, except at town-lot prices; while beyond the municipal limits the land is usually held in farms of one hundred and sixty acres or more, the owners of which are all holding for a rise in value when the town limits are extended so as to include some of their property. But so soon as the land becomes all municipal or township property, and it becomes recognized that on its proper use depends the well being of the workers, these workers, being everywhere in the majority, will see that beyond the central business part of the town, the land is let in lots of from one to five or ten acres at fair agricultural rents, and on a permanent tenure. Such small lots would be a twofold benefit to the community. In the first place they would constitute homesteads for workers, where they and their families could utilize every portion of spare time in the production of vegetables, fruit, poultry, eggs, pork, and other foodstuffs, which would supply their families with a considerable portion of their daily food. In the second place they would supply the town itself with fresh and wholesome vegetables, fruit, eggs, etc., and also, from the larger plots of five or ten acres, abundance of fresh milk and butter and other farm and garden produce. A little farther off, the regular farms, held in the same way, would provide the town with wheat, corn, hay, beef, mutton, and other necessaries; and thus each town and the surrounding district would be to a large extent self-contained and self-supporting.
Now, the very reverse of this is the case; most of the towns and cities drawing their supplies mainly from great distances, the country immediately around them being often but half cultivated. Certain districts grow cattle, others wheat, others vegetables, others again fruit, each kind having its special district where it is raised on an enormous scale and sent by rail for hundreds or even thousands of miles to where it is to be consumed. This is thought to be economy, but it is really waste from every point of view except that of the capitalist farmer. He chooses a place where land can be had cheaply (though probably not more suitable for the [[p. 532]] special purpose than plenty of land within a few miles of every city), where communication is easy, and labor abundant, and therefore cheap; and by growing on a large scale, and employing the greatest amount of machinery and the least amount of labor, he obtains large profits. But this profit is derived, not from superior cultivation, but from the practical monopoly of a large area of land, and by the labor of hundreds of men and women who work hard and live poorly to make him rich. The same land, if cultivated for themselves by an equal or a larger number of workers, would produce far more per acre, and would keep them all in comfort, instead of making one man exceptionally well off while all the rest live in uncertainty and poverty. And besides this material difference, there is the moral effect of work on a man's own homestead, where every hour's extra labor increases the value of his property or the comfort of his home, as compared with wage work for a master who will discharge him as soon as he ceases to want him, and in whose work, therefore, he can take no interest. Experience in every part of the world shows that this moral effect is one of the greatest advantages of securing to the mass of the people homesteads of their very own. As this aspect of the question is hardly ever discussed in America, a few illustrative examples must be given.
And first as to the profits of small farms as compared with large ones. Lord Carrington has eight hundred tenants of small plots of land around the town of High Wycombe, Bucks., and he has recently stated that these tenants get a net produce of forty pounds an acre, while the most that the farmers can obtain from the same land by plough cultivation is seven pounds an acre. Here is a gain to the country of thirty-three pounds an acre by peasant cultivation; and it is all clear gain, for these men are wage laborers, and their little plots of land are cultivated by themselves and their families in time that would otherwise be wasted.
Another case is that of the Rev. Mr. Tuckwell of Stockton, Warwickshire, who has let two hundred acres of land to laborers in plots of from one to four acres, at fair rents, and with security for fourteen years. Most of the men with two acres grow enough wheat and potatoes to supply their families for the whole year, besides providing food for a pig, and all this by utilizing the spare time of the family. These men grow forty bushels of wheat to the acre, the farmer's [[p. 533]] average being less than thirty; and their other crops are good in proportion.
Still more interesting is the Wellingborough Allotment Association in Northamptonshire, where two hundred and twenty-three men rent and occupy a farm of one hundred and eighty-four acres at three hundred pounds a year rent, though the land is rather poor. It is divided into plots from one eighth of an acre to six acres, the occupiers being various wage workers, small tradesmen, mechanics, and comparatively few farm laborers. The farm was visited by Mr. Impey, who states that it was excellently cultivated, and that the wheat averaged forty-eight bushels an acre,--nearly twice the average of Great Britain,--while one man got fifty-six bushels an acre from two and one-fourth acres. When this farm was let to a farmer, four men on the average were employed on it; now an amount of work equal to that of forty men is expended on it, and a considerable portion of the work is done during time that would otherwise be wasted.
The reports issued by the last Royal Commission on Agriculture in 1882 give numerous similar illustrations, showing that in periods of agricultural distress, when large farmers were being ruined, the small farmers who cultivated the land themselves were prosperous. Thus Mr. F. Winn Knight, M. P., of Exmoor, Devonshire, had sixteen tenants paying rents from thirteen pounds up to two hundred pounds a year, all being paid regularly to the last shilling, and every one of these men had been agricultural laborers. More remarkable is the case of Penstrasse Moor in Cornwall, a barren, sandy waste, which neither landlord nor tenant farmer thought worth cultivation. Yet five hundred acres of this waste have been enclosed and reclaimed by miners, mechanics, and other laborers, on the security of leases for three lives at a low rent. This land now carries more stock than any of the surrounding farms, and the total produce is estimated by the assistant commissioner, Mr. Little, at nearly twice the average of the county.
Remarks are then made both on the material and moral effects of this experiment. "The family have a much more comfortable home, and many advantages, such as milk, butter, eggs, which they would not otherwise enjoy. The man has a motive for saving his money and employing his spare time; he enjoys a position of independence; he is [[p 534]] elevated in the social scale; his self-respect is awakened and stimulated, and he acquires a stake and an interest in the country." And the same reporter again recurs to the subject in the following weighty remarks: "Interesting as this subject is in its relation to agriculture, as showing the capacity for improvement which some barren spots possess, and as a triumph of patience and industry, it is most valuable as an instance where the opportunity of investing surplus wages and spare hours in the acquirement of a home for the family, an independent position for the laborer, a provision for wife and children in the future, has been a great encouragement to thrift and providence. It is not only that the estate represents so much land reclaimed from the waste and put to a good use, it represents also so much time well spent, which would, without this incentive, have most probably been wasted, and wages, which would otherwise probably have been squandered, employed in securing a homestead and some support for the widow and family when the workman dies." The men who reclaimed this waste, it must be remembered, are all miners, hence the references to their "wages"; and all these good results are secured on an uncertain tenure dependent on the duration of the longest of three lives, after which it all reverts to the landlord, who has not spent a penny on it, but has, on the contrary, received rent the whole time for giving the tenants permission to reclaim it! Under an equitable system of permanent tenure, the interest of the laborer in improving the land would be greater, his position more secure, and the benefit to the nation in the creation of happy homes more certain to be brought about.
Another illustration of the moral effects of even a moderately good land system is given by the Honorable George C. Brodrick, in his interesting work "English Land and English Landlords." It occurred on the Annandale Estate in Dumfriesshire, where farm laborers were given leases for twenty-five years, at ordinary farm rents, of from two to six acres of land each, on which they built their own cottages with stone and timber supplied by the landlord. "All the work on these little farms was done at by-hours, and by members of the family, the cottager buying roots of the farmer, and producing milk, butter, and pork, besides rearing calves. Among such peasant farmers pauperism soon ceased to exist, and many of them became comparatively [[p. 535]] well off. It was particularly observed that habits of marketing and the constant demands on thrift and forethought, brought out new virtues and powers in the wives. In fact, the moral effects of the system, in fostering industry, sobriety, and contentment, were described as no less satisfactory than its economical success."
These moral effects of the secure tenure of land in small farms or cottage homesteads have been observed by politicians, travellers, and moralists wherever the system prevails. Thus William Howitt, in his "Rural and Domestic Life of Germany," says: "The German peasants work hard, but they have no actual want. Every man has his house, his orchard, his roadside-trees, commonly so heavy with fruit that he is obliged to prop and secure them or they would be torn to pieces. He has his corn plot, his plots for mangold-wurzel, for hemp, and so forth. He is his own master, and he and every member of his family have the strongest motives to labour. You see the effects of this in that unremitting diligence which is beyond that of the whole world besides, and his economy, which is still greater. . . . The German bauer looks on the country as made for him and his fellow-men. He feels himself a man; he has a stake in the country as good as that of the bulk of his neighbours; no man can threaten him with ejection or the workhouse so long as he is active and economical. He walks, therefore, with a bold step; he looks you in the face with the air of a free man, but a respectful air."
That admirable historian and novelist, Mr. Baring Gould, confirms this. Writing at a much later period, he says in his "Germany Past and Present": "The artisan is restless and dissatisfied. He is mechanized. He finds no interest in his work, and his soul frets at the routine. He is miserable, and he knows not why. But the man who toils on his own plot of ground is morally and physically healthy. He is a freeman; the sense he has of independence gives him his upright carriage, his fearless brow, and his joyous laugh."4
We see, then, that the statements continually made by economical writers as to the advantages of large farms are either partially or wholly untrue. Large farms, as compared with smaller farms--one thousand acres with two hundred [[p. 536]] acres, for instance--may be more profitable, but partly because the larger farmer usually has more capital, and employs more machinery. His individual profits may also be much larger, even if he gets a smaller profit per acre, on account of his larger acreage; and for this reason landlords like large farmers because they can afford to pay a higher rent. But this has nothing whatever to do with the question of peasant or cottage farmers who do their own work, and capitalist farmers employing wage labor. In every case known, and in all parts of the world, the former raise a much larger produce from the land, and it is this question of the amount of produce that is the important question for the community.
It is often the case, perhaps even generally the case with capitalist farmers, that a larger profit is obtained from a small than from a large production. This is the reason that, during the last twenty years, about two million acres of English arable land have been converted into pasture. Now the average produce of arable land in Great Britain has been estimated by the best authorities as worth about ten pounds, while the average produce of pasture land does not exceed one pound ten shillings. Here is an enormous difference, yet the profit to the farmer is often larger per acre from the small than from the large produce. This is because the cost of raising the larger produce is much greater, labor of men and horses being the most important item of this great cost. When prices of wheat and other arable crops are low, it therefore pays both landlord and farmer to discharge their laborers, sow grass, and keep cattle or sheep, which require the minimum amount of labor per hundred acres. We have already seen in the case of the Wellingborough Allotment Association, that men working for themselves can profitably put ten times as much labor on the land as a tenant farmer usually employs; and this last number is again reduced to one fifth when the land is turned into grass. It follows that the two millions of acres recently thrown out of cultivation in Great Britain would support in comfort, at the lowest computation, more than a hundred thousand families in excess of those who are now employed there.
The reductio ad absurdum of this method of confounding profit with produce was seen when, in reply to the demand of the Highland crofters to be allowed to occupy and cultivate the valleys formerly cultivated by their ancestors, but [[p. 537]] from which these were expelled to make room for deer, the Duke of Argyle replied that there was no unoccupied land available, since all the land in Scotland was applied to its best "economic use." By which he meant that the rental received by the landlords for their deer and grouse shootings was greater than they could obtain from the Highland cultivators. The difference in produce of food might be a hundred to one in favor of the Highlanders; but that, in the duke's opinion, had nothing to do with the matter. Political economists, as a rule, never allude to this most important point, of the essential difference between production and profit. Mill just mentions it while showing that peasant farms are the most productive; but he does not reason the thing out, and few other writers mention it at all. Hence political writers, in the face of the clearest and most abundant evidence, again and again deny that laborers can possibly grow wheat and other crops at a profit because capitalist farmers cannot do so. But the peasant gives that daily, minute, and loving attention to his small plot which the capitalist farmer cannot possibly give to his hundreds of acres; he works early and late at critical periods of the growth of each crop; and as a result he often obtains double the produce at less than half the cost.
There is yet another objection to peasant cultivators, repeated again and again with the greatest confidence, but which is shown to be equally unfounded by the inexorable logic of facts. Peasants and small farmers, it is said, cannot afford to have the best machinery, neither can they make those great improvements which require large expenditure of capital; therefore they should not be encouraged. Yet fifty years ago Mr. Laing, in his "Journal of a Residence in Norway," showed how far advanced were the peasant farmers of Scandinavia in co-operative works. The droughts of summer are very severe; and to prevent their evil consequences, the peasants have combined to carry out extensive irrigation works. The water is brought in wooden troughs from high up the valleys and then distributed to the several plots. In one case the main troughs extended along a valley for forty miles. Another writer, Mr. Kay, in his work on the "Social Condition of the People in Europe," shows that the countries where the most extensive irrigation works are carried on are always those where small proprietors prevail, such as [[p. 538]] Vaucluse and the Bouches-du-Rhone in France, Sienna Lucca and other portions of Italy, and also in parts of Germany.
Again, in the French Jura and in Switzerland, the peasants of each parish combine together for co-operative cheese-making, each receiving his share of the product when sold, in proportion to the quantity of milk he has contributed. This system is also at work in Australia, where, in the districts suited to dairying, co-operative butter and cheese factories are established, where the best machinery and the newest methods are used, the result being that some of the butter is so good that, after supplying the great cities, the surplus is exported to England. Of course it would be easy to apply the same principle to mowing machines, harvesters, or even flour mills, all of which might be obtained and worked by the co-operation of peasant farmers, each paying in proportion to the days or hours he made use of the machine. Neither is there anything in the superior education and intelligence often claimed for the large farmer. Mr. Kay tells us that in Saxony "the peasants endeavor to outstrip one another in the quantity and quality of the produce, in the preparation of the ground, and in the general cultivation of their respective portions. All the little proprietors are eager to find out how to farm so as to produce the greatest results; they diligently seek after improvements; they send their children to agricultural schools, in order to fit them to assist their fathers; and each proprietor soon adopts a new improvement introduced by any of his neighbors." Finally, under this system of small peasant cultivators, who reap all the fruits of their own labors, the land is improved in an almost incredible manner. The bare sands of Belgium and Flanders have been gradually converted into gardens, and Mr. Kay sums up his observations by saying: "The peasant farming of Prussia, Holland, Saxony, and Switzerland is the most perfect and economical farming I have ever witnessed in any country;" thus illustrating the famous axiom of Arthur Young a century ago, "Give a man secure possession of a bleak rock, and he will turn it into a garden." It will hardly be said that the workers of America and of England to-day are less industrious, less intelligent, less influenced by the desire for an independent life and a home which shall be indeed each man's castle, than were the peasants of various parts of Europe half a century [[p. 539]] ago. Give them, therefore, equal or even superior opportunities, and you will obtain at least equal, probably far superior, results.
The reason why we may expect better results is, that the system of peasant proprietors, from which most of our illustrations have necessarily been drawn, had in it the seeds of decay and failure from the very same causes as those which have led to the failure of the homestead system of the United States: unequal competition, owing to differences in quality and situation of farms, as well as to capitalist farmers, the influence of both having been greatly increased by railroads and other means of rapid communication, and by the growth of great cities offering a practically unlimited market. Added to this there has been the twofold influence of the millionnaire and the speculator, ever seeking to buy land, and of the money lender, ever seeking to lend money on land mortgages. These combined influences have led to the almost complete extermination of the statesmen and other small land-owning farmers of England, and have greatly diminished the number and the prosperity of the peasant farmers in France, Germany, and Austria. The lawyers and money lenders have now absorbed many of the peasant properties of France and Belgium, whose former owners are now tenants, subject to the grinding pressure of rack rents; while many others are struggling in the meshes of the mortgages, as are so many of the farmers in the Western States of America.
The present inquiry has, I venture to think, led us to some definite and almost unassailable conclusions as to the fundamental causes which have led all civilized nations into the Social Quagmire in which they find themselves to-day; and in doing so it has furnished us with an answer to the vital question, What should be our next step towards better social conditions, such as will not render the term "civilization" the mockery it is now?
In the first place, we have demonstrated that a permanently successful agriculture, in which the food producer shall be sure of an adequate reward for his labor, is absolutely impossible without national or state ownership of the soil, so as to insure the farmer undisturbed occupation at a low but equitably graded rent.
It is equally clear, in the second place, that the condition [[p. 540]] of the great body of industrial workers can only be improved permanently by giving them free access to land--the primary source of all food and all wealth--in the form of cottage homesteads around all cities, towns, and villages, by which they may be enabled to provide food for their families and to carry on such home industries as they may find convenient. Thus only will it be possible for them to enter into really "free contracts" with capitalists; thus only can we get rid of the great army of the unemployed, and insure to the worker a much larger proportion of the product of his labor.
When these two great radical reforms have been effected in every part of the country, the industrial classes of every kind will have before them a vista of permanent well being and progressive prosperity. Many industries now carried on in factories, for the benefit of the individual capitalist, can be just as well prosecuted in the home of the worker, if "power" to work his machine is supplied to him. And so soon as there is a demand for such power it will be supplied, either by compressed air or water, or by electricity. A hundred looms or knitting frames or spinning mules can be worked quite as well in separate houses as in one large building, with the enormous advantage to the worker that he could work at them during winter or in wet weather or at times when he would be otherwise idle, while carrying on another occupation out of doors in summer or in fine weather. At such machines different members of the family could work alternately, thus giving them all the relaxation derived from diversity of occupation, and the interest due to the fact that the whole product of their labor would be their own. In the case of those processes that require to be carried on in special buildings and on a larger scale, the workers could combine to erect such a building in their midst, and carry on the work themselves, just as they carry on co-operative cheese and butter making in so many parts of the world already. And gradually, as men came to enjoy the health and the profit derived from varied work, and especially the pleasure which every cultivator of the soil feels in the products he sees grow daily as the result of his own labor, there seems no reason to doubt that co-operation of the kind suggested would spread, till the greater part or the whole of the manufactures of the country were in the hands of associated workers.
[[p. 541]] At the present time all the boasted division of labor and economy of manufacture on a great scale, tends wholly to the benefit of the capitalist. It is advantageous for him to have a thousand men working in one huge building, or agglomeration of buildings, and all the workers are made to come there, though their homes may be a long way off. The gain is his, the loss theirs. It is better for him that each man should do one kind of work only all day long, and from year's end to year's end, because he thus does it quicker and with less supervision. But the man suffers in the monotony of his work and in the injury to his health; while doing one thing only, he is helpless when out of work. But in the future the arrangements will all be made in the interest of the worker. When possible, he will do his work at home, neither tied to special hours nor compelled to walk long distances, and thus lose precious time, besides adding so much unpaid labor to his daily toil. He will then be able to work some hours a day in his garden or farm, or in some occupation possessing more variety and interest than being a mere intelligent part of a vast machine. And when he works at his own machine he will not need to keep at it more than four or six hours a day. Being thus able to work, even as a manufacturer on his own account, in association with his fellow-townsmen, he will not be induced to work for a capitalist except for very high wages and for very moderate hours of labor. He will then soon compete successfully with the capitalist, and ultimately drive him out of the field altogether. For it must always be remembered that, once the workers get homes of their very own, with the means of obtaining a considerable portion of their food direct from the soil, they can save their own capital, and thereafter employ their own labor; whereas the capitalists, though possessing abundance of money and machinery, cannot make a single piece of calico or an ingot of steel, cannot raise a ton of coal or turn out a single watch, unless they can induce men to work for them.
The workers of America, like those of Great Britain, have their future in their own hands. They have the majority of votes, and can return representatives to do their bidding. Let them turn their whole attention to the one point--of rescuing the land from the hands of monopolists and speculators. In this direction only lies the way out of the terrible [[p. 542]] Social Quagmire in which they are now floundering; this is the next step forward towards a happier social condition and a truer civilization.
In conclusion, I should not have ventured to make these suggestions to Americans on matters which, it may be supposed, they are quite able to deal with themselves, were it not that the principles on which my proposals are founded are fundamental in their nature and of universal application. For many years I have advocated similar remedies for my own country, and these are at length being very widely adopted by the chief organizations of our workers. These remedies are equally applicable and equally needed in Australia and New Zealand; while every country in Europe, from Spain to Russia, is at this moment suffering the evils which necessarily result from a vicious land system. You Americans received this system from us, as you received slavery from us. To abolish the latter you incurred a fearful cost and made heroic sacrifices. The system which permits and even encourages land monopoly and land speculation inevitably brings about another form of slavery, more far-reaching, more terrible in its results, than the chattel slavery you have abolished. Let the tenement houses of New York and Chicago, with their thousands of families in hopeless misery, their crowds of half-naked and famishing children, bear witness! These white slaves of our modern civilization everywhere cry out against the system of private ownership and monopoly of land, which is, from its very nature, the robbery of the poor and landless. This system needs no gigantic war to overthrow it; it can be destroyed without really injuring a single human being. Only you must not waste your time and strength in the advocacy of half-measures and petty palliatives, which will leave the system itself to produce ever a fresh crop of evil. The voice of the working and suffering millions must give out no uncertain sound, but must declare unmistakably to those who claim to represent them, "Our land system is the fundamental cause of the persistent misery and poverty of the workers; root and branch it is wholly evil; its fruits are deadly poison; cut it down; why cumbereth the ground?"
2. Mr. Atkinson, the optimist statistician of Boston, in his paper read before the British Association last August, summarizes the special Census Report on this subject as follows: Dealing with Illinois, Alabama, Tennessee, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska, he states that "more than one half of the farms are free from any mortgage," and that "those which are under mortgage are encumbered for less than half their value." This is the optimist way of stating the case, as if it were something gratifying, something that indicated a successful agriculture and a contented body of farmers! Nearly half the farms in six great agricultural states mortgaged! And these mortgaged to nearly half their value, which, at the high rates of interest usually paid, is equivalent to a heavy, sometimes to a crushing rent!! I could scarcely have imagined a more terrible state of things, short of absolute ruin; and had the facts been stated by any less trustworthy authority, I should have thought there was certainly error or exaggeration. It must be remembered, also, that during past years many mortgages have been foreclosed, and the mortgagees are now the landlords. We are not told how many of the farmers in these states are tenants. [[on p. 402]]
3. In his most admirable and thoughtful work, "Poverty and the State," Mr. Herbert V. Mills relates how he was led to study the subject by finding in three adjoining houses in Liverpool a baker, a tailor, and shoemaker, all out of work. They all wanted bread and clothes and shoes; all were anxious to work to supply their own and the others' wants. But the social system of which they formed a part did not permit of their so working for each other, the alleged reason being that there was already an overstocked market of all these commodities; therefore they must either remain starved and naked or be supported in idleness by their fellows. It is hardly possible to imagine a more complete failure of civilization than such a fact as this; and the failure is rendered more grotesque and horrible by the additional fact that no politician or legislator has any effectual remedy to suggest, while the majority maintain that no remedy is needed or is possible! [[on p. 529]]
4. Fuller details of the results of permanent land tenure are given in "Mills' Political Economy," Book II., Chapter VI., and also in the present writer's "Land Nationalization," Chapter VI. [[on p. 535]]