Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
(S726, Appendix: 1898)
THE REMEDY FOR WANT IN THE MIDST OF WEALTH.
The end of Government is to unfold
New Times demand new measures and new men;
The experience of the whole century, and more especially of the latter half of it, has fully established the fact that, under our present competitive system of capitalistic production and distribution, the continuous increase of wealth in the possession of the capitalist and land-owning classes is not accompanied by any corresponding diminution in the severity of misery and want or in the numbers of those who suffer from extreme poverty, rendered more unendurable by the presence of the most lavish waste and luxury on every side of them. Even the most cautious writers who really look at the facts are compelled to admit so much as this; but, as I have shown, the actual facts prove more than this. They show clearly that with the increase of wealth there has been a positive and very large increase of want; while, if we take account of all the facts, and without prejudice or prepossession consider what they really imply, we are driven to the conclusion that, during the latter half of this most marvellous of all the centuries, while science has been enlarging man's power over nature in a hundred varied ways, resulting in possibilities of wealth-production a hundred-fold that of any preceding century, the direst want of the bare necessaries of life has seized upon, not only a greater absolute number, but a larger proportion of our population; and this has happened notwithstanding an increase of charity and benevolent work among the poor which is equally unexampled.
Many of our greatest writers and clearest thinkers have observed [[p. 383]] these facts, and have plainly declared that our social system has broken down. The number of those who see this is increasing daily; and the public conscience is being aroused by the heart-rending misery and suffering of millions of those who work, or beg to be allowed to work, in order to produce comforts and luxuries for others while living in poverty, hunger, and dirt themselves. I take it for granted that we shall not much longer permit this social hell to surround us on every side without making some strenuous efforts to abolish it. To do this with the slightest chance of success we must recognize the absolute inefficiency of the old methods of charity and other small ameliorations, except as admittedly temporary measures; and we must devote ourselves to work on new lines, which must be fundamental in their nature and calculated to remove the causes of poverty.
I have myself indicated those lines in an address to the Land Nationalization Society in 1895, reprinted with alterations and addition in "Forecasts of the Coming Century," of which it forms the first article, under the title "Reoccupation of the Land." The principle is, briefly, the Organization of Labor, in Production, for the Consumption of the Laborers. Nobody has attempted, seriously, to show why this should not be done. Even if the land and stock necessary to start each such co-operative colony were given free, it would be the wisest and most profitable public expenditure ever made, because it is certain to abolish all unmerited poverty, by absorbing all the unemployed. I have shown by sufficient examples the enormous economies of such organization of labor--economies so great and acting in so many directions that, they are quite certain to result, not only in a subsistence for the workers, but in an abundance of all the necessaries, comforts, and rational enjoyments of life.
Just consider for a moment. The workers of the country, very imperfectly organized by the capitalists in their own interests, do actually produce every year all the wealth that is consumed, including not only necessaries and comforts, but an enormous quantity of luxuries, consumed only by the wealthy. All these workers, when in full work, do earn enough to live on, and many of them to live comfortably, although they are paid less than half, often only a quarter of the value of their work in the finished article. It is only because the value they add to the product is many times more than the wages they receive that there is a surplus sufficient to give a profit to the capitalist-manufacturer and to two or three middlemen, to pay for railway carriage, for travellers, and for advertisements, as well as for loss upon unsalable goods. All these expenses would be [[p. 384]] saved when almost everything was made to be consumed on the spot by the producers themselves, only a few surplus products being sold in the nearest market to pay for some foreign luxuries. How could such an organization fail to succeed? If it is said that the unemployed are not first-rate workmen, we reply, second or even third-rate men will do very well. Average mechanics--carpenters, masons, plumbers, tanners, tailors, shoemakers, spinners, weavers, agricultural laborers, etc.--will be able to build second-class houses, make second-class clothing, and produce plain food. Again, why not? If every kind of trade and manufacture can be carried on and well managed by public companies, whose shareholders know nothing of the business, why not by the local authorities? Every company has to compete with other companies and with great capitalists in the sale of its products. Here there would be no competition, as the great bulk of the products would be consumed by the producers themselves, and in some cases exchanged for the products of other similar settlements when it is found to be beneficial to do so. Why, then, is this not done? Why is it nowhere attempted? There is really only one answer. Manufacturers and capitalists are afraid it would succeed. They know, in fact, that it would only succeed too well; that it would render those who are now unemployed self-supporting; and, by abolishing the spur of starvation, or the dread of starvation, would raise wages all round. Hence, so long as we have capitalist governments, and the workers are so blind as to send manufacturers and capitalists and lawyers to misrepresent them in Parliament, a really effective remedy will not be tried.
But will advanced thinkers and the educated workers continue much longer to permit myriads to suffer penury that a few may get rich? for that is really what it comes to. The mere consideration that the powers of production are now practically unlimited, and that not only enough for every human being, but far more than could possibly be consumed, can be produced by the machinery and labor now in existence, shows how cruel and unnecessary is the system that condemns so many men and women and children either to long hours of grinding labor or to idleness and its attendant want and misery.
The ingenious sophistries of modern writers, from the point of view of the competitive and capitalistic system as an absolute fundamental fact, have rendered it difficult for most people to comprehend the reason of the paradox, that with an enormous increase of wealth and of power of producing all commodities there should be a corresponding perpetuation, or even increase, of poverty. We owe it to an [[p. 385]] American writer to have cleared up this difficulty more completely and more intelligently than has ever been done before; and I strongly recommend those who wish to understand how it is that our capitalistic individualism necessarily produces and perpetuates poverty, to read chapter xxii. of Mr. Edward Bellamy's new book "Equality," entitled "Economic Suicide of the Profit System." Although the form of this chapter is not perhaps the best, being that of a school examination, it is, nevertheless, an admirably reasoned discussion of the problem, and is, in my judgment, absolutely conclusive. Chapter xxvi. extends the discussion to the effects of foreign trade, both free and protectionist; and shows that under our capitalist and competitive system this only further intensifies the evil as regards the poverty of the masses. Another chapter (xxiii.), entitled "The Parable of the Water Tank," is an amusing illustration of the absurdity of our system, in which a superabundance of all the necessaries of life, produced by the labor of the people, actually increases the want and starvation of the same people!
Seeing, then, that the actual facts of the case, at the end of our century of ever-increasing capacity of wealth production, are in complete accordance with its necessary results logically reasoned out from the premises of competitive capitalism, we are bound as rational beings to get rid of this system with as little disturbance as possible, and, therefore, by some process of evolution; but, nevertheless, in such a way as at once to remedy its most cruel and disgraceful effects. The method I have suggested is one of the least revolutionary, while it is both the easiest and the most effective; and, during its gradual extension, experience will be gained as to the best methods of carrying it out over the whole country.
How to Stop Starvation.
But, till some such method is demanded by public opinion, and forced upon our legislators, the horrible scandal and crime of men, women, and little children, by thousands and millions, living in the most wretched want, dying of actual starvation, or driven to suicide by the dread of it--MUST BE STOPPED! I will therefore conclude with suggestions for stopping this horror at once; and also for obtaining the necessary funds, both for this temporary purpose and to carry out the system of co-operative colonies already referred to.
The only certain way to abolish starvation, not when it is too late, but in its very earliest stages, is free bread. I imagine the outcry against this--"pauperization! fraud! loafing!" etc., etc. Perhaps so; [[p. 386]] perhaps not. But if it must be so, better a hundred loafers than a thousand starving; and if my main proposal or something equally effective is adopted, the loafers will soon be disposed of. I have thought over this plan of free bread for a couple of years, and I now believe that all the difficulties may be easily overcome. In the first place, all who want it, all who have not money to buy wholesome food, must be enabled to get this bread with the minimum of trouble. There must be no tests, like those for poor-law relief. A decent home with good furniture and good clothes must be no bar; neither must the possession of money, if that money is required for rent, for coals, or for any other necessaries of life. The bread must be given to prevent injurious penury, not merely to alleviate it. Whenever a man (or woman) is out of work from no fault of his own, however good wages he earns when in work, he must have a claim to bread. The bread is not to be charity, not poor-relief; but a rightful claim upon society for its neglect to so organize itself that all, without exception, who have worked, and are willing to work, or are unable to work, may at the very least have food to support life.
Now for the mode of obtaining this bread. All local authorities shall be required to prepare bread tickets, duly stamped and numbered, of a convenient form, with coupons to be detached, each representing a four-pound loaf. These tickets are to be issued in suitable quantities to every policeman, to all the clergy of every denomination, to all medical men, and to such other persons as may be willing to undertake their distribution and are considered to be trustworthy. Any person in want of food, on applying to any of these distributors, is to be given a coupon for one loaf (initialled or signed by the giver) without any question whatever. If the person wants more than one loaf, or wishes to have one or more loaves a day for a week or a month, he or she must give name and address. The distributor, or some deputy, will then pay a visit during the day, ascertain the facts, give a suitable number of bread tickets, and, if needful, as in case of sickness or delicate health, obtain further relief from charitable persons or from any funds available for the purpose.
Now there are only two possible objections to this method of temporarily stopping starvation while more permanent measures are preparing. The first is that it would pauperize; the next, that, as wages tend to sink to the minimum for bare subsistence, it would still further lower wages, so that it would then become needful to give coals free, and a little later rent free, till wages were reduced to the Scriptural penny a day, and the whole of the unskilled [[p. 387]] workers had to be supported. The first objection is absurd; because the effect of this free bread would be to check and almost abolish pauperization. It would enable the home to be kept up; it would prevent that cruel mockery of the present poor-law system that the home must be denuded or given up, the children's clothes pawned, all self-respect lost, before relief is given. The second objection, if valid, would be the strongest condemnation of our actual competitive wage-system. But it is not valid. It is the pressure of absolute hunger, of the still more cruel pang of seeing their children pining for want of bread, that makes men and women consent to work for anything they can get, and gives all the power to the sweater's trade. The being able to hold out a week or a month would give strength to the poor half-starved women and children now working their lives out in misery and destitution. It would give them power and time to bargain. In each shop or factory they could combine. They could afford to strike against oppression, which they dare not do now, and the result would be a rise, not a fall of wages. But, for some persons, that will be an equal objection; and as no one can tell exactly what would happen except that starvation would be abolished, perhaps it is simpler to ignore all such theoretical and imaginary evils. Let us first stop the starvation, and leave other difficulties to be dealt with as they arise.
How to get the Funds.--This question ought not to require asking, in a country where there is such enormous accumulated wealth in the hands of individuals that a large part of it is absolutely useless to them, gives them no rational pleasure, and is, really and fundamentally, the cause of the very poverty we seek to abolish.
There are now in Great Britain sixty-six persons whose incomes from "trades and professions" are £50,000 a year and upward. The total amount of the sixty-six incomes is £5,632,577, so that the surplus, over £50,000 a year each, amounts to £2,332,577 a year. Up to the end of the last century it is probable that no one person in Great Britain had an income of £50,000 a year. It would then have been considered what Dr. Johnson termed "wealth beyond the dreams of avarice," and even to-day it is far beyond what is sufficient for every luxury which one family ought to have or ought to want. Surely, for the one purpose of giving BREAD to those who need it, to save MILLIONS from insufficiency of food culminating in absolute starvation, there can be few of these sixty-six who, when appealed to by the humanity, by the intellect, and by the religion of the nation, will refuse to give up this enormous superfluity of wealth to the bread fund, to be taken charge of, perhaps, by the Local [[p. 388]] Government Board, and administered, on the principles here suggested, by the local authorities. For those who refuse there will be the scorn and contempt of all good men. In the burning words of Scott,
"High though his titles, proud his name,
But the above-named amount is only a part, a very small part, of the wealth that is immediately available. There are sitting in the House of Lords sixty peers who hold possession of land producing a rental of over £50,000 a year each. The sum total of these sixty rentals is £5,405,900, so that the amount of the surplus is £2,405,000 a year, and as the average rental is something over a pound an acre, this surplus represents considerably more than two million acres of land. The owners of this surplus land should also be invited to make it over to the nation, to be used, temporarily, for the bread fund, but ultimately for the establishment of the co-operative colonies. Surely these sixty noble lords will not refuse, from their great superfluity, to return a portion to the nation, for the use of those workers who give to the land all its rental value!
But these two surplus revenues, amounting to more than four and a half millions a year, are over and above the enormous revenues derived from the great London estates. Some of these would be wholly available as surplus, since their owners possess incomes of £50,000 a year from other sources; while, in other cases the total incomes would be brought to a higher amount than £50,000 by the addition of the London property. There is thus available a fund of at least six or seven millions a year, without reducing any rich man's income below £50,000 a year.
But we should not wish to shut out from this great act of restitution to the nation those persons who possess the comparatively moderate wealth of from £10,000 a year upward, who might be invited to contribute 10 per cent., 20 per cent., 30 per cent., or 40 per cent. of their surplus over the same number of thousands in their income; and this would certainly produce another million or two million per annum, as there are over a thousand persons in this class with an average income of about £18,000 per annum.
[[p. 389]] It is estimated that two pounds of bread a day is a full average for the consumption per head, even if no other food is available. The cost of this at 5d. the four-pound loaf would be £3 16s. a year, so that to supply a million people the whole year would require £3,800,000. This might be enough, or there might be a demand of double this; but the very fact of there being so large a want for mere bread would incite to the adoption of permanent means by which all could be rendered at least self-supporting; and for this purpose the two millions of acres of land would be at once available as a beginning.
It will probably be objected that none of these millionaires will give up their surplus wealth, however piteously we may appeal to them in the name of the suffering millions, from whose labor every pound has been derived, and without whose labor they themselves would be reduced to destitution. Perhaps it may be so. But, if so it be, the people will know the characters of those whom they have to deal with, and will be driven to use their power as voters to obtain by the forms of law what they have not been able to obtain by appeals to either the mercy or the justice of these rich men--who, while calling themselves Christians, will not part with their superfluity of gold and land even to give bread to the poor and needy, and to save widows and the fatherless from misery and starvation.
The means to do this is plain. They must vote for no candidate who will not promise to support--first, a progressive income-tax on that portion of all incomes above £10,000, rising to 100 per cent. on the surplus above £50,000, as here suggested; and, secondly, to support a corresponding or even larger increase in the death duties. The law now permits a man to disinherit his children, or other legal heirs, whenever he chooses; and, in thus permitting him, recognizes the important principle that no one has an indefeasible claim to succeed to any property whatever! For great public purposes, therefore, the State may justly declare itself the heir to any proportion of the property, or even to the whole property of deceased persons. But the State would at the same time recognize the duty--which the owner of property does not always recognize--of providing for all persons dependent on the deceased, either by means of an ample annuity for those past middle life, or by a suitable education and start in life for younger relatives or dependents, and for children.
In this way ample funds would be available for the various purposes here suggested, without really injuring anyone. These purposes--the abolition of starvation, penury, and the degraded life of millions--are the greatest and most important which any [[p. 390]] government can undertake, and should, now, constitute its first duty. They are the essential first step to any really effective social advance; and if all earnest reformers of every class would unite their forces, their efforts would soon be crowned with success. I have done what I can to prove the utter breakdown of our present state of social disorganization--a state which causes all the advances in science, and in our command over the forces of nature, to be absolutely powerless to check the growth of poverty in our midst. Every attempt to salve or to hide our social ulcers has failed, and must continue to fail, because those ulcers are the necessary product of Competitive Individualism.
I therefore call upon all earnest, thinking men and women to devote their energies to advocating those more fundamental changes which both theory and experience prove to be needed, and which alone have any chance of success.
For now--though oft mistaken, oft despairing,