Our consideration of the natural laws which govern the production and distribution of the materials of life has now led us to the following conclusions:—
Competition first acts in co-operation with the Law of the Economy of Power to promote progress. Every producer is incessantly compelled to increase his powers of production, whether by reducing his expenditure of Power, or—which is the same thing—by creating a greater quantity of products by the same expenditure; failing to respond, he is distanced in the race for existence, starved, and perishes.
Competition next co-operates with the Law of Value to regulate the production and distribution of the materials of life. By means identical with those of the physical Law of Gravitation, it now establishes an equilibrium between supply and demand at the level of price necessary to induce production, and regulates the distribution of products between the agents of production, capital and labour, on terms which ensure their reconstitution and permanent co-operation in the act of production.
Production and distribution are naturally related to consumption. Products are produced and shared with a view to consumption, to their employment, that is, in the reconstruction and multiplication of the material, and the physical and moral forces, which constitute the human species. Between this material and these forces products and services are distributed, and the division can be advantageous or disadvantageous according to the manner in which it either ministers to the conservation and augmentation of vitality, or injures them. It is, therefore, necessary to regulate distribution.
It is to be borne in mind that there are two species of consumption—the collective and the individual. Collective consumption is essentially a matter of obligation; individual consumption depends on the exercise of free will. Collective consumption consumes those governmental services implied by the terms internal and external security, and those local services of sewage, highways, lighting, &c., which are the proper sphere of provincial or sectional administration. The collective character of these services renders their consumption obligatory, but governments and local administrations have undertaken further services, which are the proper subjects for voluntary individual consumption, and, whether wholly or in part, the cost of these services is defrayed by obligatory taxes and imposts. Imposts were established under the old order in virtue of the proprietary rights of the master over his slave, the lord over his serf, or the king over his subject; and they were attached to the discretionary power conferred by these rights. The collector fixed their number and amount according to his own wishes; he owed no services in return, and the sole limitation to his power was the possibility of resistance by those who paid. The new system, both in fact and in theory, transformed impost into a payment for services. But the survival of the State of War implies an unlimited risk, justifying the retention by government of an equally unlimited right to tax those who consume the security which it provides, and constitutional and parliamentary organisations, erected as checks upon the exercise of this right, not only fail to so restrain it, but sometimes even favour it. Hence the proportion of individual income, levied for the benefit of the State no less than for that of its protégés, is now equal to, if it do not exceed, the authorised exactions under the earlier system.
The Society of To-morrow, under a State of Peace and in an era of assured liberty of government, will be able to reduce this part of obligatory consumption by at least nine-tenths; but, however great the proportion of income available for the free use of the individual, this consumption should certainly be regulated likewise. The old system rigidly regulated the consumption of classes in subjection. The rules established in his personal interest by the master, lord, or chief of the State, were aimed at the conservation and profitable augmentation of his property—slaves, serfs, or subjects—and were enforced by material and spiritual penalties, the latter being enacted by the religious authority associated with the secular State. The majority of these rules were beneficial to the individual, and he continued to observe them after his enfranchisement. It does not, however, require a very careful examination of the way in which the free individual regulates his consumption, especially since the removal of earlier religious restrictions, to perceive that such regulation has deteriorated rather than advanced, and that it is now no less defective than that practised by the collective government. A particular point, more especially observable among that numerical majority which was probably emancipated too soon, is the improvident drain for present expenditure upon what should be reserved in case of future need, and as a fund of assurance against the chances and changes of human existence. Deficient self-control is also answerable for a far too great satisfaction of disorderly or vicious desires.
We need not dwell on the harmful effects which follow this insufficient, and defective, self-government on the part of the consumer. Besides himself, the individual damages the society of which he is a member, and likewise all other societies in relation with his own. The man who, with no thought for the morrow, expends his entire income on the satisfaction of immediate needs or desires, takes no toll of present earnings on account of future loss or accident, particularly the supreme accident of old age; who, yet more, injures his productive faculties by debauchery and drink; vows himself and his dependents to a life of suffering and misery. To increase his income is rather harmful than beneficial, since it merely increases opportunities for indulgence in those vices which degrade and enfeeble his nature.
The injurious effects of bad self-government by individuals damage society by diminishing the productive capacity of its members and its industry, and these ill-effects are perpetuated throughout the world in a decline in the general capacity for consumption. The consumer, even of the lowest rank, is, however, attaining to a higher degree of self-government, as is shown by the immense recent increase in savings-bank deposits—particularly in England and the United States—and the extraordinary increase in the number of insurances effected by workmen. Nevertheless, even the most advanced industrial communities show far too many members unable to entirely support themselves, and subsisting, in whole or in part, at the expense of those who have successfully resolved this vital problem, in most cases, only with considerable effort.
It has long been needful to help these unfortunates—victims, too often, of incapacity on the part of the collective government, no less than of their own personal deficiencies. Private charity found the task beyond its control as soon as the change from the old order put an end to the obligatory guardianship of the master or owner. Public charity had then to step in. Under various names and in various forms, it established a poor-tax and a public fund of relief. Institutions for the relief of the indigent were established, hospitals and refuges multiplied. Misery was thus relieved, but its prime cause—improvidence—aggravated. However insufficient public and private charity may be, they inevitably discourage providence. Their mere existence is equivalent to a suggestion that the individual need not rely solely on himself for a solution of the problem of existence, but may look to others to make good deficits that are too often the fruit of vice and idleness. Nor is this their only evil effect. Socialism teaches that society is obliged to assist its members; to satisfy the needs for which they are, themselves, unable to provide.
This gospel of the socialists—that society is responsible for the misery and suffering of the individual, has led to the so-called socialistic legislation, which begins with protective enactments and passes on to measures of assurance. Having limited the legal hours of female and child labour in the manufacturing industries, it proceeded to similar regulation of the hours of adult male workers. Government next undertook to insure the labourer against accident, illness, and old age, these burdens being chiefly borne by industrial and allied undertakings. That the State should stand guardian to beings incapable of self-protection, and whose natural guardians, oblivious of duty, merely contend for an opportunity of exploiting their growing powers, is doubtless justifiable, however arbitrary and doubtfully efficacious the system may be proved. But this consideration does not hold equally good for laws of assurance. These laws are inevitably subject to the defect of applying to entire classes, while—whatever the capacity of the individual—he is subject to the law, obliged to suffer its enactments, and robbed of the right of choosing a method more applicable to his particular case. They also circumscribe the development of an industry, compelling it to bear a burden which increases the costs of production. But there is a still greater objection. Socialism pretends that society is compelled to guarantee the life and well-being of the individual, but it ignores the inevitable consequence—that government, having this duty to perform, must be invested with the means—a sovereign power over the life and all possessions of that individual. If government is under an obligation to forthwith reduce social misery, the members of society should invest it with authority to regulate their consumption and reproduction, as the master regulated that of his slaves. The panacea for all evils, the last step on the road of progress, would thus be nothing else than a return to the first and barbarous stage of slavery.
No one can affirm that the Society of the Future will not be afflicted with a certain number of persons incapable of usefully governing their lives, and regulating their consumption, without injury to themselves or others. A guardianship, supplementing the insufficiency of their governing faculties, and aiding the growth of those faculties by an appropriate system of training, might be necessary. But we believe that such a guardianship has already proved by no means incompatible with that age of liberty towards which mankind is moving. Parents have always been the recognised guardians of "minor" children, with the sole proviso that a more of less arbitrary date has been fixed for emancipation on the ground of their "coming of age." But minority is not limited to those of tender years, and there is no logical reason for rejecting a right possessed by the parent of a child, and by government over those members of society which are incapable of self-government. No reason justifies a refusal to place men, notoriously incapable of supporting all those obligations which attach to a state of complete liberty, under such control as is fitting for one whose faculties of control are so imperfect. Those who are conscious of such lacunæ in their sense of responsibility know the amount of liberty justified by their state.
The possible organisation of a system of guardianship of individuals lacking the power of self-government, in whatever degree, has been discussed elsewhere. Such a system will conduce to progress, but progress will be still better secured by measures extending the sphere of individual self-government, and enlarging the liberty of consumption to the same extent as production already enjoys.