Front Page Titles (by Subject) 10: Property and Plunder 1 - Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850
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10: Property and Plunder 1 - Frédéric Bastiat, Collected Works of Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850 
The Collected Works of Frédéric Bastiat. Vol. 2: The Law, The State, and Other Political Writings, 1843-1850, Jacques de Guenin, General Editor. Translated from the French by Jane Willems and Michel Willems, with an introduction by Pascal Salin. Annotations and Glossaries by Jacques de Guenin, Jean-Claude Paul-Dejean, and David M. Hart. Translation Editor Dennis O’Keeffe. Academic Editor, David M. Hart (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2012).
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Property and Plunder1
[vol. 4, p. 394. “Propriété et spoliation.” Originally published in the 24 July 1848 issue of Le Journal des débats.]
The National Assembly has been set an immense question, the answer to which is of the greatest interest to the prosperity and peace of France.2 A new right is knocking on the door of the Constitution: the right to work. Not only is it demanding a place for itself, but also it claims to take, in all or in part, the place of the right to property.
M. Louis Blanc has already provisionally proclaimed this new right with the success we have seen.3
M. Proudhon claims the right to work in order to put paid to property.
M. Considérant claims it in order to strengthen it by making it legitimate.
Thus, according to these political writers, property carries within it something that is unjust and wrong, a germ of death. I pretend to demonstrate that it is truth and justice itself and that what it carries within itself is the very basis of progress and life.
They appear to believe that, in the combat about to take place, the poor have an interest in the triumph of the right to work and the rich in the defense of the right to property. I believe I can prove that property rights are essentially democratic and that everything that denies or violates them is fundamentally aristocratic and anarchical.
I hesitated to ask for space in a journal for a dissertation on social economy. The following may perhaps justify this attempt:
First of all, there is the seriousness and topicality of the subject.
Second, MM Louis Blanc, Considérant, and Proudhon are not merely political writers. They are also the heads of schools with a number of enthusiastic disciples, as is shown by their presence in the National Assembly. Their doctrines today exercise considerable influence, which I think disastrous, on the world of business; and, what is no less serious, they may be strengthened by concessions at odds with the orthodoxy of the masters of political economy.
Last, and why should I not admit it, something in the depths of my conscience tells me that at the heart of this burning controversy it might be given to me to cast an unexpected ray of light to illuminate the terrain on which the schools most in opposition may sometimes be reconciled.
This is enough, I hope, for these letters to be accepted by their readers.
First of all, I have to set out the criticism made of property.
In short, this is how M. Considérant explains it. I do not think I am distorting his theory by summarizing it.4
All men legitimately possess the thing that their activity has created.
They may consume it, give it, exchange it, and transmit it without any person, even the whole of society, having any concern with it.
Landowners therefore legitimately possess not only the products they have created on the land but also the added value they have given to the land itself through farming.
However, there is one thing that they have not created, which is the fruit of no work, and that is the ground in its natural state, the original capital and the productive power of the agents of nature. However, landowners have taken over this capital. In this lie usurpation, confiscation, injustice, and constant illegitimacy.
The human race has been put on this globe in order to live and develop itself. The species is therefore the usufructuary of the surface of the globe. However, this surface has now been confiscated by the minority at the expense of the majority.
It is true that this confiscation was inevitable, for how can it be cultivated if each person can exercise, as he sees fit and in total freedom, his natural rights, that is to say, the rights of savagery?
We should therefore not destroy property but legitimize it. How? We should do it by recognizing the right to work.
In fact, savages exercise their four rights (to hunt, fish, grow crops, and graze animals) only provided they work. It is therefore under the same proviso that society owes the proletariat the equivalent of the usufruct of which it has robbed them.
To sum up, society owes all the members of humanity, on condition that they work, a wage that puts them in a situation that can be reckoned equally favorable to that of savages.
Property will then be legitimate from all points of view, and the poor and the rich will be reconciled.
This is M. Considérant’s entire theory.5 He asserts that this question of property is very simple, since it can be solved with just a little common sense, but nevertheless no one before him had understood it at all.
This is not much of a compliment to the human race, but in compensation I can only admire the extreme modesty expressed in the author’s conclusions.
What in effect is he asking of society?
That it acknowledge the right to work as equivalent for humanity’s well-being to a usufruct of the land in its natural state.
And what value does he place on this equivalent?
He reckons it equivalent to the level at which the land in its natural state can keep savages alive.
Since there is approximately one inhabitant per square league, the owners of land in France can certainly legitimize their usurpation at very little cost. All they have to do is to undertake that thirty to forty thousand nonowners will continue to live side by side with them at the full level of the Eskimos.
But what am I saying? Why are we talking about France? In this system there is no longer any France and no longer any national property, since the life tenancy of the land belongs as of right to the whole human race.
Besides, I have no intention of examining M. Considérant’s theory in detail, since that would take me too far. I wish only to attack what is weighty and consequential at the core of this theory, that is to say, the question of rent.
M. Considérant’s system can be summarized thus:
An agricultural product exists through the combination of two actions:
The action by a man, or work, which creates the right to property,
And the action of nature, which ought to be free and which landowners can arrange to be turned unjustly to their advantage.
This is what constitutes the usurpation of the rights of humanity.
If, therefore, I were to prove that men, in the course of their transactions, are mutually paid only for their work and that they do not contrive to have the action of nature included in the price of the items being exchanged, M. Considérant should consider himself to be totally satisfied.
M. Proudhon’s complaints against property are absolutely identical.6 “Property,” he says, “will cease to be abusive through the mutual sharing of services.” Therefore, if I demonstrate that men exchange only services with each other, never charging each other a sou for the use of the forces of nature that God has given to everyone free of charge, M. Proudhon, for his part, should agree that his utopia has been achieved.
These two political writers are not entitled to claim the right to work. It does not matter that they consider this famous right in such a diametrically opposed light that, in M. Considérant’s view, it ought to legitimize property while according to M. Proudhon it ought to put paid to it. It is still true that there will no longer be any question of this right, provided that it is clearly proved that, under the regime of property, men will exchange hardship for hardship, effort for effort, work for work, and service for service, with the contribution made by nature always provided in addition to the bargain struck, so that the forces of nature, intended to be free of charge, continue to be free of charge through all human transactions.
We can see that what is being contested is the legitimacy of rent, since it is supposed that this is, in whole or in part, an unjust payment that the consumer makes to the landowner, not for a personal service but for the advantages supplied by nature free of charge.
I have said that modern reformers can base themselves on the opinion of the leading economists.7
In fact, Adam Smith says that rent is oft en a reasonable interest payment for the capital spent on improving the land, and also that this interest is oft en just a part of the rent.
To which McCulloch makes this positive declaration:
That which is properly called rent is the sum paid for the use of the forces of nature and the inherent power of the land. It is totally distinct from the sum paid for the buildings, fences, roads, and other improvements made to the land. Rent is therefore always a monopoly.
Buchanan goes so far as to say that “rent is a part of the revenue from consumers that goes into the pockets of landowners.”
A part of the rent is paid for the use of the capital that has been used to improve the quality of the land, constructing buildings, etc.; the rest is paid for the use of the latent and indestructible powers of the land.
The value of the land and the ability to draw a rent from it are the result of two circumstances: 1. the appropriation of its natural powers, and 2. the work devoted to improving it.
With regard to the first circumstance, rent is a monopoly. It is a restriction to the usufructor of the gift s that the Creator has made to men to satisfy their needs. This restriction is just only to the extent that it is necessary for the common good.
The instruments of production are labor and the agents of nature. Once the agents of nature are appropriated, landowners have themselves paid for their use in the form of rent, which is compensation for no sacrifice whatever and is received by those who have neither worked nor made any advance payments, but who limit themselves to holding out their hands to receive the offerings of the community.
After having said that part of rent is the interest on capital, Senior adds:
The rest is taken by the owner of the agents of nature and consists of his reward, not for having worked or saved but simply for not having kept to himself what he could have kept to himself and for having allowed the gift s of nature to be used by others.
Certainly, when entering into an argument with men who proclaim a doctrine that is specious in itself, which is likely to give rise to hopes and favorable reactions from the suffering classes and which is based on authorities like these, it is not enough to close your eyes to the seriousness of the situation. It is not enough to cry disdainfully that you are facing dreamers, utopians, people that are crazy, or even members of factions. You have to study the question and settle it once and for all. It is worth a moment of dull work.
I believe that it will be settled satisfactorily for all if I prove that property not only leaves those that are labeled the proletariat the free usufruct of the agents of nature but even increases it by ten or a hundredfold. I dare to hope that the result of this demonstration will be a clear view of a few harmonies likely to satisfy intelligent minds and calm the pretensions of all the schools of economists, socialists, or even communists.8
What inflexible power logic has!
Rough conquerors share an island. They live from rent in leisure and luxury among hard-working and poor vanquished people. According to political economy, there is, therefore, a source of value other than work.
This being so, political economy sets about breaking down rent and floats this theory on the world:
“Rent is partly interest on capital spent. Another part stems from the monopoly of the agents of nature that have been usurped and confiscated.”
This strain of political economy from the English school very rapidly crossed the Channel. Socialist logic caught hold of it and told the workers, “Watch out! There are three elements in the price of the bread you eat. There is the labor of the workers, you owe them for this; there is the work of the landowners, you owe them for this; and there is the work of nature, for which you do not owe anything. What is being taken from you under this heading is a monopoly, as Scrope says; it is a tax imposed on the gift s that God has given you, as Senior says.”
Political economy sees the danger of this distinction. In spite of this, political economy does not withdraw it but explains it: “True, in the social mechanism the role of the landowner is useful and necessary. People work for him and he pays them with the heat of the sun and the coolness of the dew. This has to be the way; otherwise there would be no crops grown.”
“Never mind that,” logic replies; “I have a thousand types of organization in reserve with which to eliminate injustice, which incidentally is never necessary.”
Therefore, because of a false principle gathered from the English school, logic has breached landownership. Will it stop there? Do not be too ready to believe this. It would not be logic if this were so.
As logic said to farmers, “The law governing plant life cannot be property and generate profit”; it will say to manufacturers of woolen cloth, “The law of gravity cannot be property and generate profit.”
To manufacturers of cotton sheeting, “The law of the elasticity of steam cannot be a property and generate profit.”
To ironmasters, “The law of combustion cannot be property and generate profit.”
To seamen, “The laws of hydrostatics cannot be property and generate profit.”
To roofers, carpenters, and lumberjacks, “You use saws, axes, and hammers; you also contribute to your work the hardness of bodies and the resistance of environments. These laws belong to everyone and should not generate profit.”
Yes, logic will go this far at the risk of overturning the entire system of society. Once it has denied landownership, it will deny the productivity of capital, continuing to use as its basis the fact that landowners and capitalists are charging payment for the use of the force of nature. For this reason it is important to prove that logic is starting from a false premise, that it is not true that in any art, trade, or industry the forces of nature are being charged for and that in this respect agriculture is not receiving special treatment.
There are things that are useful without any work intervening, such as the earth, the air, water, the light and heat of the sun, and the materials and forces that nature provides.
There are others, which become useful only because work has been carried out on these materials and has taken over these forces.
Utility is therefore sometimes due to nature alone, sometimes due to work alone, but nearly always due to the combined activity of work and nature.
Let others lose their way in definitions. For my part, I understand utility to be what everyone understands by this word whose etymology shows its meaning exactly, namely, that everything that serves a purpose, whether by its nature, by work, or by both, being useful, constitutes utility.
I call value the only part of utility that is communicated or added by work, so that two things are of equal value when those who have worked on them exchange them freely with each other. The following are my reasons for this:
What makes a man refuse an exchange? It is his knowledge that the item being offered to him would require less work from him than the item demanded from him. It is absurd to say to him, “I have worked less than you, but gravity helped me and I have included it in the calculation.” He will reply, “I can also use gravity with work that is equal to yours.”
When two men are isolated, if they work, it is to provide a service to themselves. Where an exchange is involved, each person is providing a service to the other and receives an equivalent service in return. If one of them is helped by some force of nature that is at the disposal of the other, this force will not be included in the bargain as the right to refuse will oppose this.
Robinson hunts and Friday fishes. It is clear that the quantity of fish exchanged for game will be determined by the work involved. If Robinson said to Friday, “Nature goes to a lot more trouble in making a bird than a fish, so give me more of your work than I will give you of mine since I am trading you in return a greater effort by nature. . . .” Friday would not fail to reply, “It is no more up to you than me to judge the efforts of nature. What should be compared is your work to mine, and if you wish to establish our relationship on the footing that I will work more than you on a regular basis, I will start to hunt and you can fish if you want to.”
You can see that the generosity of nature in this hypothesis cannot become a monopoly unless violence is involved. You can also see that, while it is a significant factor in utility, it is not a factor in value.
I have pointed out in the past that metaphors are an enemy of political economy. Here I accuse metonymy of the same misdeed.9
Are people using language accurately when they say, “Water is worth two sous”?
It is said that a famous astronomer could not bring himself to say, “Ah, what a fine sunset!” Even in the presence of ladies he cried, in a strange form of enthusiasm, “Ah, what a fine sight is the rotation of the earth when the sun’s rays strike it tangentially!”
This astronomer was accurate and ridiculous. An economist would be no less ridiculous if he said, “The work needed to go to fetch water from the spring is worth two sous.”
The strange character of the paraphrase does not prevent its accuracy.
In effect, water is not worth anything. It has no value although it is useful. If we all had a constant spring near our doorstep, obviously water would have no value because it would not give rise to any exchange. But if it is a quarter of a league away and you have to go to fetch it, this is work and here you have the origin of value. If it is half a league away, it is double the work and therefore double the value, although its utility remains the same. In my view, water is a free gift of nature on condition that you go to fetch it. If I do it for myself, I am doing myself a service involving some work. If I entrust this to another, I am giving him the bother and I owe him a payment for service rendered. There are thus two occasions of work and two services that have to be compared and discussed. The gift of nature continues to be free. In fact, I consider that the value lies in the work and not in the water and that metonymy is being used as much when people say, “Water is worth two sous” as when they say, “I have drunk a bottle.”
Air is a free gift of nature and has no value. Economists say, “It has no exchange value, but it has a use value.” What language! Well, sirs, have you made it your work to turn people off science? Why not simply say, “It has no value, but it is useful.” It is useful because it serves a purpose. It has no value because nature has done everything and work nothing. If work has not entered into it, no one has any service to return, receive, or pay for. There is no effort involved nor any exchange to be made. There is nothing to compare; therefore there is no value.
But if you enter a diving bell and entrust a man with transmitting air to you by using a pump for two hours, he will be exerting himself by providing you with a service and you will have to pay for this. Will you be paying for the air? No, you will be paying for the work. Therefore, has the air acquired value? You can say so to abbreviate, if you like, but do not forget that it is metonymy. The air remains free and no human intelligence is capable of attributing value to it. If it has a value, it is that measured by the effort taken compared with the effort required to make the exchange.
A launderer is obliged to dry washing in a large building using the action of fire. Another is content to hang it out in the sun. This launderer takes less trouble; he is not nor can he be as demanding. He therefore does not make me pay for the heat of the sun’s rays and I, as the consumer, benefit from this.
Therefore the major economic law is this:
Services are traded for other services.
Do ut des; do ut facias; facio ut des; facio ut facias (do this for me and I will do that for you). This is very trivial and common but is nonetheless the beginning, the middle, and the end of political economy.10
From these three examples we can draw the following general conclusion: the consumer pays for all the services received by him, all the trouble he is saved, and all the work he generates, but he enjoys free of charge the free gift s from nature and its powers that the producer has put to use.
Here are three men who have placed air, water, and heat at my disposal with only their work being paid for.
What then has been able to make people think that farmers who also make use of the air, water, and heat are making me pay the so-called intrinsic value of these agents of nature? That they are charging me alike for utility created and utility not created? That, for example, the price of wheat sold at 18 francs is broken down as follows:
Why do all the economists in the English school believe that this last element has crept surreptitiously into the value of wheat?
Services are traded for other services. I am obliged to make a heroic effort to resist the temptation of showing how simple, true, and fertile this axiom is.
Faced with it, what are all these subtle notions, use-value and exchange-value, material and immaterial products, or the productive and unproductive classes? Industrialists, lawyers, doctors, civil servants, bankers, merchants, seamen, soldiers, artists, workers, whichever of these we are, with the exception of rapacious men, we provide and receive services. However, as these mutual services are commensurate only with each other, it is in them alone that value resides and not in the free material and the free agents of nature they set in motion. Let nobody say, therefore, as is currently fashionable, that merchants are parasitical intermediaries. Does he or does he not have to make an effort? Does he or does he not save us work? Does he or does he not provide us with services? If he provides services, he creates value just as much as the manufacturer does.11
Just as the manufacturer by means of his steam engine uses the weight of the atmosphere and the expansion of gas to turn his thousand spindles, the merchant uses the direction of the wind and the fluidity of water to transport his products. But neither of these makes us pay for the forces of nature since the more they are assisted the more they are obliged to lower their prices. These things therefore remain what God wanted them to be, a free gift for the whole of humanity, except for the work put in.
Is this not equally true for farming? This is what I have to examine.
Let us suppose that there is a huge island inhabited by a few savages. One of these has the bright idea of concentrating on growing crops. He prepares for this at length as he knows that the enterprise will take up a great many days of work before it shows the slightest yield. He gathers provisions and manufactures crude instruments. At last he is ready and fences and clears a tract of land.
Two questions arise:
Does this savage contravene community rights?
Does he contravene his own interests?
Since there is a hundred thousand times more land than the community is capable of cultivating, he no more contravenes its interests than I contravene those of my fellow countrymen when I take a glass of water from the Seine to drink or a cubic foot of air from the atmosphere to breathe.
He does not contravene his own interests either. On the contrary, since he no longer hunts or hunts less, his companions have proportionally more space. What is more, if he produces more crops than he can consume, he will have a surplus to trade.
In trading, will he be exercising the slightest pressure on his fellow men? No, because they will be free to accept or refuse.
Will he be charging for the contribution of the earth, sun, and rain? No, because everyone, like him, has recourse to these agents of production.
Should he wish to sell his tract of land, what could he obtain for it? The equivalent of his work, that is all. If he said, “First of all, give me as much of your time as I have devoted to the operation and then another amount of your time for the value of the land in its natural state,” people would answer, “There is land in its natural state next to yours; I can only repay you for your time, since, for an equal amount of time, nothing stops me from putting myself in a position similar to yours.” This is exactly the reply we would give to the water carrier who asks us for two sous for the value of his service and two for the value of the water, from which we can see that the earth and water have this in common: both are very useful but neither has any value.
If our savage wished to rent out his land, he would never obtain anything other than payment for his work in another form. The more exaggerated of his demands would always meet this inexorable reply, “There is more land on the island,” a reply more decisive than that of the miller of Sans-Souci,12 “There are judges in Berlin.”13
Thus, at least at the beginning, the landowner who either sells the products of his land or his land itself or leases it is doing nothing more than provide and receive services on an equal footing. It is the services that are compared, and consequently have value, the value being attributed to the land only by abbreviation or metonymy.
Let us see what happens as the island becomes increasingly populated and farmed.
It is quite clear that the ease of procuring raw materials, subsistence, and work is increasing for everyone, without privileged advantage for anyone, as we can see in the United States. There, it is absolutely impossible for landowners to put themselves in a position that is more favorable than that of other workers since, because of the abundance of land, each person has the choice of taking up agriculture if it becomes more lucrative than other jobs. This freedom is enough to maintain the balance between services. It is also enough to ensure that the agents of nature, used in a great many industries as well as in agriculture, do not benefit producers as such but the general public who are the consumers.
Two brothers take leave of each other; one is going whaling, the other to clear land in the far west. They then trade oil for wheat. Does one take the value of the land more into account than the value of the whale? Comparison can be made only between services received and given. These services therefore are the only ones to have value.
This is so true that, when nature has been very generous with regard to the soil, that is to say, when the harvest is plentiful, the price of wheat decreases and it is the fisherman who benefits from this. When nature is generous with produce from the ocean, in other words, when catches are large, oil is cheap and farmers benefit from this. Nothing proves better that the free gift s of nature remain free for the masses than the fact that producers who bring goods to market are paid solely for the service they provide in doing so.
Therefore, for as long as there is an abundance of uncultivated land in the country, the balance will be maintained between mutual services; and any exceptional advantage to the landowner will be refused.
This would not be so if landowners succeeded in prohibiting any new land clearance. In this case, it is perfectly clear that they would be laying down the law to the rest of the community. As the population is growing, the need for subsistence is increasingly being felt and it is clear that they would be in a position to have their services remunerated at a higher price, which in normal speech would be expressed by the metonymy, land has increased in value. However, the proof that this iniquitous privilege would be conferring an artificial value, not to the matter but to the services, is the situation we are witnessing in France and in Paris itself. Through a procedure similar to the one we have just described, the law limits the number of brokers, currency exchange agents, notaries, and butchers, and what is the result? By enabling them to put a high price on their services, it creates for their benefit a capital that is not included in any material. The need for brevity produces the following statement, “This project, this practice, or this patent is worth so much,” and the metonymy is obvious. The same applies to the land.
We have reached the final hypothesis, that in which the land in the entire island is subject to individual appropriation and farming.
In this case, it appears that the relative position of the two sectors will change.
In effect, the population continues to grow. It will take up all the occupations except for the one that has been filled. The latter’s owner will then operate the law of trade! What limits the value of a service is never the goodwill of the person supplying it; it is when the person to whom it is being offered can either do without it, supply it himself, or ask for it from others. The propertyless man no longer has any of these alternatives. In former times, he would say to a landowner, “If you ask me for more than the payment for your work, I will grow my own crops!” and the landowner would be forced to give way. These days, a landowner would reply, “There is no more land in the country.” Thus, whether we see value in things or in services, farmers will take advantage of the lack of any competition and, like landowners, will lay down the law to sharecroppers and farm laborers and in the long run to everyone.
This new situation has obviously one single cause, the fact that those who do not own land can no longer stem the demands of those that do by stating, “There is still land left to clear.”
What, therefore, is needed to ensure that the balance between services is maintained and that the situation according to the current hypothesis immediately concurs with that of the previous one? One single thing: that another island rises up next to our island, or even better new continents that are not totally covered by agriculture.
If this happened, production would continue to develop and be distributed in fair proportions between agriculture and other industries without any possible oppression on either side, since if landowners said to craftsmen, “I will sell you my wheat at a price that exceeds the normal payment for the work,” craftsmen would be quick to reply, “I will work for the landowners on the continent who are unable to make such demands.”
Once this situation has happened, the proper guarantee for the masses lies in free exchange, that is, in the right of labor.14
The right of labor constitutes freedom and property. Craftsmen are the owners of their labor, their services, or the price they earn from them in the same way that landowners own the soil. So true is this that, by virtue of this right, craftsmen can exchange their labor and services around the world for agricultural products and are bound to keep landowners in the position of equality I have previously described in which services are exchanged for other services, without the possession of the land itself conferring any more of a benefit independently of the land’s being put to work than does the ownership of a steam engine or the simplest tool.
However, if by usurping legislative power, landowners prohibit the landless farm laborers15 from working away from the land in return for subsistence, the equilibrium between services is broken. Out of respect for accuracy in political economy, I will not say that in this way they are artificially increasing the value of the land or agents of nature, but I will say that that they are artificially increasing the value of their services. With less work themselves, they are buying more work. They are committing oppression. They are behaving like all the monopolists with patents. They are behaving like all the landowners in the earlier period who prohibited land clearance. They are introducing into society a cause of inequality and poverty. They are changing the notions of justice and property and are digging an abyss under their feet.16
But what relief can nonlandowners draw from the proclamation of the right to work? How does this new right increase subsistence or the work distributed to the masses? Are not all forms of capital devoted to making work for people? Do they increase by passing through the coffers of the state? When it purloins capital from the people through taxes, does the state not eliminate as many sources of work on the one hand as it opens up on the other?
Furthermore, in whose favor are you claiming this right? According to the theory that revealed it to you, it would be to the advantage of anyone who no longer has a share in the usufruct of the land in its original state. But bankers, merchants, manufacturers, lawyers, doctors, civil servants, artists, and craftsmen are not landowners. Do you mean that those who own the land will all be required to provide work for all these citizens? But all participants create openings for one another. Is it your view that only the rich, whether landowners or not, have to come to the assistance of the poor? In this case, what you are talking about is assistance and not a right that takes its source from an appropriation of the land.
With regard to rights, the one that has to be insisted on, because it is incontestable, rigorous, and sacred, is the right to work. It is freedom and ownership, not only of the land but also of bodily strength, intelligent minds, faculties, and personality, that are violated if one class can forbid to others the free exchange of services, both domestic and foreign. As long as this freedom exists, landownership is not a privilege; like all the others, it is just the ownership of a form of work.
I need only to deduce a few consequences of this doctrine.
The physiocrats used to say, “Only the land is productive.” Certain economists have said, “Only work is productive.”
When you see laborers bent over the furrow that they drench with their sweat, you can scarcely deny their contribution to the work of production. On the other hand, nature never rests. And the ray of sunshine that pierces the clouds and the clouds that the wind chases away and the wind that brings rain and the rain that dissolves fertilizing substances and these substances that develop the mystery that is life in young plants—all the known and unknown powers of nature—prepare the harvest while laborers seek solace from their weariness in sleep.
It is therefore impossible not to recognize that work and nature join forces in accomplishing the phenomenon of production. Utility, which is the basis on which the human race survives, results from this cooperation, and this is as true of almost all forms of industry as it is of agriculture.
However, in the exchanges carried out between men, there is one thing only that is and can be compared, and that is human labor, the services received and rendered. These services alone are mutually commensurable and therefore they alone can elicit payment. In them alone lies value and it is precisely accurate to say that in the final analysis man is the sole owner of his own work.
As for the portion of utility due to the contribution of nature, although this is genuine, although it is immensely greater than anything that man can accomplish, it is free. It is transmitted from hand to hand over and above the market and is properly speaking without value. And who could assess, measure, and determine the value of the natural laws that, since the world began, have acted to produce an effect when work solicits them? With what should they be compared? How should we evaluate them? If they had a value, they would be included in our accounts and inventories; we would have ourselves reimbursed for their use. And how could we manage to do this, since they are at the disposal of all under the same condition, that of work?17
Thus all useful production is the work of nature, which acts free of charge, and of labor, which is paid for.
However, in achieving the production of a given utility, these two elements, human labor and the forces of nature, are not in fixed and immutable proportions. Far from it. Progress consists in ensuring that the proportion of the contribution from nature increases constantly and reduces in the same proportion that of human work by taking its place. In other words, for a given quantity of utility, the free cooperation of nature increasingly tends to replace the burdensome cooperation of work. The common portion grows at the expense of the portion remunerated and appropriated.
If you had to transport a burden weighing one hundred kilograms from Paris to Lille without the intervention of any force of nature, that is to say, on the backs of men, you would need one month of hard labor. If, instead of taking this work on yourself, you gave it to another person, you would have to compensate him for an equal effort; otherwise he would not do it. The sled came on the scene, followed by the cart and then the railway. At each stage of progress part of the work is entrusted to the forces of nature with a corresponding reduction of the labor to be taken or paid for. Well, it is clear that any remuneration eliminated is a victory, not in favor of the person providing the service but of him who receives it, that is to say, the human race.
Before the invention of printing, a scribe could not copy the Bible in less than one year, and that was the measure of the remuneration he was entitled to claim. Today we can procure a Bible for five francs, which is scarcely the reward for one day’s work. The free forces of nature have thus taken the place of paid force in the proportion of 299 parts out of 300. One part still represents human labor and remains personal property; 299 parts represent the contribution of nature, no longer paid for, and consequently are relegated to that which is free and common.
There is no tool, instrument, or machine that does not result in reducing the contribution of human labor, which can be seen either as the value of the product or as the basis of property.
This observation, which I agree is only imperfectly set out here, ought to rally the schools of thought, which so bitterly divide the arena of public opinion today, on the common ground of property and liberty.
Each school can be summarized in one axiom:
I will indicate (for I cannot do otherwise here) that the doctrine set out in the preceding lines meets all these priorities.
Economists. It is scarcely necessary to prove that economists are obliged to welcome a doctrine that comes so obviously from Smith and Say and is only a consequence of the general laws they discovered. Laissez-faire, laissez-passer,18 is summarized by the word freedom, and I ask whether it is possible to conceive the notion of property without freedom. Am I the owner of my work, faculties, or physical powers if I cannot use them to provide services voluntarily undertaken? Do I not need to be free either to exercise my forces in isolation, which involves the need for exchange, or to join them with those of my fellows, which is association or exchange under another form?
And if freedom is hampered, is not property itself assailed? On the other hand, how will mutual services all have their full relative value if they are not exchanged freely and if the law forbids labor from being drawn to those best remunerated? Property, justice, equality, and the proper balance of services can obviously result only from freedom. It is also freedom that causes the contribution made by the forces of nature to become a common benefit, for as long as a legal privilege grants me the exclusive exploitation of one of nature’s powers, I ensure that I am remunerated not only for my work but also for the use of this power. I know how fashionable it is today to curse freedom. The century appears to have taken seriously the ironic refrain of our great songwriter:
For my part, since I have always instinctively loved freedom, I will always defend it through reason.
Egalitarians. The mutuality of services they aspire to is exactly that resulting from a property-owning regime.
In appearance, men are the owners of the whole, the entire thing, of all the utility that this thing holds. In reality, they own only its value, that portion of utility communicated by work, since by selling it they can obtain payment only for the service they are providing. The representative of the egalitarians condemned property from the rostrum recently, restricting this word to what he called usury, the use of the soil, money, houses, credit, etc. But this usury is production and cannot be anything other than production. Receiving a service implies the obligation of reciprocating it. It is in this that the mutuality of services exists. When I lend something I have produced by the sweat of my brow and from which I might draw benefit, I am providing a service to the borrower, who also owes me a service. He will not provide me with one if he limits himself to giving me back the thing one year later. During this interval, he would have benefited from my labor to my detriment. If I obtained payment for something other than my work, the objection of the egalitarians would be specious. But this is not so. Therefore, once they are assured of the truth of the theory set out in these articles, if they are consistent, they will join us to support property and claim what completes or rather what constitutes it, freedom.
Saint-Simonians. To each according to his ability, to each ability according to its works.
This is also what the property-owning regime achieves.
We provide each other with services mutually, but these services are not proportional to the length or intensity of the work. They are not measured using a dynamometer or chronometer. Whether I have been busy for one hour or one day, it is of little concern to the person to whom I provide my service. What he looks at is not the trouble I go to but the trouble I save him.20 To save effort and time, I seek to obtain help from some power in nature. As long as no one except me is capable of taking advantage of this power, I am giving others, for an equal amount of time, more output than they could provide for themselves. I am well paid and grow rich without damaging anyone. The natural power is used for my benefit alone and my ability is remunerated. To each according to his capacity. However, my secret is soon divulged. Imitators take over my process and competition obliges me to reduce my demands. The price of the product is decreased until my work receives only the normal pay for any similar work. The natural power is not thereby lost; it escapes my control but is recuperated by the entire human race which, from now on, will gain equal satisfaction from less work. Whoever exploits this power for his own use will need to take less trouble than in former times, and consequently anyone who exploits it on behalf of others will be entitled to less payment. If he wishes to increase his well-being, he will have no other option than to increase the amount of his work. To each ability according to its works. In the end, it is a question of working better or working more, which is the literal translation of the axiom for followers of Saint-Simon.
Socialists. The equal sharing of capital, talent, and work.
Equitable sharing results from the law: Services are exchanged for other services, provided that these exchanges are free, that is to say, provided that property is acknowledged and respected.
First of all, it is perfectly clear that the person with the most talent provides more services for a given amount of work. From this it follows that he is readily paid more handsomely.
As for capital and labor, this is a subject that, I regret, I cannot discuss in detail here, since no other has been presented to the general public under more false and disastrous colors.
Capital is oft en represented as a devouring monster, as the enemy of labor. In this way, an irrational sort of antagonism has been fostered between two powers that, basically, have the same origin and the same nature and that contribute to and help each other and cannot do without each other. When I see labor growing angry with capital, I seem to be seeing starvation rejecting food.
I define capital thus: materials, instruments, and provisions, whose use is free, let us not forget, to the extent that nature has contributed to producing them and for which only the value, the fruit of work, is paid for.
To execute a useful work, you need materials. If it is at all complicated, you need instruments. If it takes a long time, you need provisions. For example, for a railway line to be built, society must have saved enough means of existence to keep thousands of men alive for several years.
Materials, instruments, and provisions are themselves the fruit of previous work, which has not yet been paid for. Therefore, when previous work and current work are combined for an end, a common work, they pay for each other; there is an exchange of work, an exchange of services in accordance with agreed conditions. Which of the two parties will obtain the better conditions? The one that needs the other less. We are faced here with the inexorable law of supply and demand, and complaining about it is puerile and contradictory. To say that work should be highly paid when there are many workers and a limited level of capital is to say that each person has to be paid all the more when capital resources are smaller.
For work to be in demand and well paid, it is therefore necessary for there to be a great deal of materials, instruments, and provisions in the country, in other words, a great deal of capital.
It follows from this that the basic interest of the workers is that capital should be built up quickly, that as a result of its prompt accumulation, materials, instruments, and provisions should be in active competition. Only this can improve the lot of the workers. And what is the essential condition for the accumulation of capital? It is that each person should be sure of being genuinely the owner, in the fullest sense of the word, of his work and savings. Property, security, freedom, order, peace, and economy are the things that interest everybody—above all and to the greatest extent, the workers.
Communists. In every age, honest and benevolent hearts have been found—Thomas Mores,21 Harringtons,22 and Fénelons—who, distressed by the sight of human suffering and the inequality of living conditions, sought refuge in a communist utopia.
As strange as it may appear, I claim that the regime of property is increasingly achieving this utopia under our very eyes. This is why I said at the start that property is essentially democratic.
On what foundation does humanity live and develop? On everything that serves a purpose, on everything that is useful. Among the useful things, there are those in which there is no human work, air, water, or sunlight. For these, there is a total absence of payment and full communal ownership. There are others that become useful only following a combination of work and nature. Utility can therefore be broken down into parts. One part is provided by labor and only this is to be paid for, has value, and constitutes property. The other part is contributed by the agents of nature, and this remains free of charge and common to all.
Well, of these two forces that contribute to producing utility the second, the part that is free of charge and common to all, is increasingly replacing the first, which requires work and consequently is to be paid for. This is the law of progress. There is no man on earth who does not seek help from the forces of nature, and when he finds it he shares it with the entire human race by proportionally reducing the price of the product.
Thus, in each given product, the portion of utility that is free of charge gradually replaces the other portion which is to be paid for.
The commonly owned base thus tends to surpass the appropriated base in indefinite proportions, and it can be said that within humanity the domain of common ownership is expanding unceasingly.
On the other hand, it is clear that, under the influence of freedom, the portion of utility that remains to be paid for or that can be appropriated tends to be distributed in a way that is, if not rigorously equal, at least in proportion to the services supplied, since these services themselves are the measure of the payment.
It can thus be seen with what irresistible power the principle of property tends to achieve equality between men. First of all, it establishes a common basis that is constantly increased by each stage of progress and with regard to which equality is perfect, since all men are equal in the face of value that has been eliminated, in the face of a utility that has ceased to generate payment. All men are equal in the face of the portion of the price of books that the publisher has eliminated.
Subsequently, with regard to the portion of utility that corresponds to human work, care that must be taken, or skill, competition tends to establish a balance in the flow of payments and all that remains is the inequality that is justified by the actual inequality of the effort, fatigue, work, or skill, in a word, of the services supplied. And apart from the fact that inequality of this sort will always be just, who does not understand that without it all effort would instantly cease?
I can see the objection coming! People will say: “This is an example of economists’ optimism. They live in a world of theory and do not deign to cast a glance at the facts. Where in reality are these egalitarian tendencies? Can we not see all over the world the lamentable sight of opulence side by side with poverty, ostentation with destitution, idleness with fatigue, and satiety with starvation?”
I do not deny this inequality, this destitution, this suffering. Who could deny them? However, I say, “Far from being the result of the principle of property, they can be attributed to the principle of plunder.”
It remains for me to prove this.
No, economists do not think that we are in the best of all worlds, as they are reproached for doing. They do not shut their eyes to the afflictions of society nor their ears to the groans of those who suffer. But they seek the causes of these sufferings and believe that they have discovered that among those on which society is capable of taking action, there is none more active or generalized than injustice. This is why what they call for in particular and above all is universal justice.
Men wish to improve their lot; that is their first law. In order for this improvement to take place, a prior task or effort is required. The same principle that propels men toward their well-being also incites them to avoid the effort that is its means. Before addressing their own work, they all too oft en have recourse to the work of others.
We can therefore apply to personal interest what Aesop said of language: nothing on earth has done more good or more evil. Personal interest creates everything that enables men to live and develop themselves; it stimulates work and gives rise to property. But at the same time it introduces to the earth all forms of injustice that, depending on their form, take a variety of names and can be summarized in one word, plunder.
Property and plunder, sisters with the same father, the savior and scourge of society, a genius for good and a genius for evil, powers that, right from the start, have been in conflict over the empire and the fate of the world!
It is easy to use this common origin of property and plunder to explain the facility with which Rousseau and his modern disciples have been able to calumniate and undermine the social order. All they needed to do was to show just one of the aspects of personal interest.
We have seen that men are by nature the owners of their work and that by transmitting this work from one to another they provide mutual services to each other.
This having been said, the general character of plunder consists in employing force or guile to change the equivalent value of services in our favor.
The variations of plunder are boundless, as are the resources of human sagacity. Two conditions are needed for services that are exchanged to be considered legitimately equivalent. The first is that the judgment of one of the contracting parties is not distorted by the maneuvers of the other. The second is that the transaction must be free. If a man succeeds in extorting a genuine service from a fellow man by making him believe that what he is giving him in return is also a genuine service whereas it is in fact illusory, there is plunder. This is all the more true if he has recourse to force.
We are initially led to believe that plunder takes place only in the guise of those forms of theft defined and punished by the Code. If this were so, I would be in effect giving too great a social importance to exceptional events that public conscience condemns and the law punishes. But sad to say, there is plunder that takes place with the consent of the law and that is carried out by the law with the consent and oft en the applause of society. It is this form of plunder alone that can take on enormous proportions sufficient to change the distribution of wealth in the body of society, paralyze for a considerable time the force for leveling which lies in freedom, create permanent inequality in living conditions, open the abyss of destitution, and spread around the world the flood of evil that superficial minds attribute to property. This is the plunder of which I am speaking when I say that it has been in conflict with its opposing principle for empire over the world since the beginning. Let us point out briefly just a few of its manifestations.
First of all, what is war, especially as it was understood in antiquity? Men formed an alliance, the nation as a body, and did not deign to apply their faculties to exploiting nature in order to obtain from it the means of existence. On the contrary, after waiting for other peoples to establish properties, they attacked them with fire and sword and stripped them periodically of their goods. The conquerors then gained not only the booty but also the glory, the songs of poets, the acclaim of women, national reward, and the admiration of posterity! It is true that a regime like this and universally accepted ideas of this nature were bound to inflict a great deal of torture and suffering and result in extreme inequality between men. Is this the fault of property?
Later, the plunderers became more refined. Putting the vanquished to the sword was, in their eyes, to destroy a treasure. Plundering only property was a transitory form of plunder; plundering men along with property was to organize permanent plunder. This led to slavery, which is plunder extended to its ideal limit, since slavery plundered the vanquished of all their current and future property, their work, their arms, their minds, their faculties, their affections, and their entire personality. It can be summarized thus: requiring man to provide all the services that force can wrench from him while rendering him none. This was the state of the world until an era that is not all that far from ours. This was the situation in particular in Athens, Sparta, and Rome, and it is sad to think that it is the ideas and customs of these republics that education is offering for our enjoyment and that we are absorbing through our every pore. We are like the plants that growers force to absorb colored water and that thus receive an artificial tint that cannot be effaced. And then we are surprised that generations educated in this way are incapable of founding an honest republic! Be that as it may, it can be agreed that here there was a cause of inequality that can certainly not be imputed to the regime of property as it has been defined in the preceding articles.
I will pass over serfdom, the feudal regime, and what followed it up to 1789. But I cannot prevent myself from mentioning the plunder exercised for so long through the abuse of religious influence. Receiving positive services from men and supplying them in return only with imaginary, fraudulent, illusionary, and derisory services is to rob them of their consent, it is true, an aggravating circumstance since it implies that the plunderers have begun by perverting the very source of all progress, human judgment. I will not stress this any further. Everybody knows that the exploitation of public credulity through the abuse of true or false religions has placed distance between the priesthood and the laity in India, Egypt, Italy, and Spain. Is this also the fault of property?
We come to the nineteenth century following great social iniquities that have imprinted a profound trace on the soil, and who can deny that time is needed to efface that trace even when through all our laws and relationships we now give prominence to the principle of property, which is none other than freedom, which is none other than the expression of universal justice? We should remember that serfdom these days covers half of Europe, that in France the feudal system received its death blow scarcely half a century ago, that it is in full splendor in England, that all nations are making unheard-of efforts to keep powerful armies in operation, which implies either that they are mutually threatening each other’s property or that these armies are themselves just a large-scale plunder. Let us remember that all peoples succumb to the weight of debts whose origin lies in past folly. We should not forget that we ourselves are paying millions each year to prolong artificially the lives of colonies with slaves and more millions to prevent slave trading along the coasts of Africa (which has involved us in one of our greatest diplomatic problems) and that we are on the point of delivering one hundred million to planters to crown the sacrifices which this type of plunder has inflicted on us in so many forms.23
This is how the past binds us, no matter what we may say. We can disengage ourselves from it only gradually. Is it surprising that there is inequality between men, since the egalitarian principle, property, has been so little respected up to now? Where will the leveling of living conditions that is the ardent wish of our era and that characterizes it so honorably come from? It will come from simple justice, from the achievement of this law: a service in return for a service. In order for two services to be exchanged according to their genuine value, two things are needed by the contracting parties: enlightened judgment and freedom of transaction. If the judgment is not enlightened, people will accept, even freely, derisory services in return for genuine services. It is even worse if force intervenes in the contract.
This having been said, and acknowledging that there exists inequality between men whose causes are historic and that only time will efface, let us see whether our century at least by giving prominence to justice everywhere will finally banish force and guile from human transactions, allow the equivalent nature of services to establish itself naturally, and cause the democratic and egalitarian cause of property to triumph.
Alas! I can see here so many incipient abuses, so many exceptions, and so many direct and indirect deviations appearing on the horizon of the new social order that I do not know where to begin.
First of all, we have privileges of all sorts. No one can become a lawyer, doctor, lecturer, currency exchange agent, broker, notary, solicitor, pharmacist, printer, butcher, or baker without encountering legal prohibitions. These are so many services that you are forbidden to provide; consequently those to whom authorization is given will charge a higher price for them to the extent that this privilege alone, without any work, oft en has a great deal of value. My complaint here is not that guarantees are required from those who supply these services, although truth to tell the effective guarantee is found in those who receive and pay for it. What is also necessary is for these guarantees not to have any exclusivity. You may demand of me that I know what you need to know to be a lawyer or doctor, but do not demand that I should have learned it in a particular town, in so many years, etc.
Next there is the artificial price, the additional value that people try to add to the majority of essential things such as wheat, meat, fabrics, iron, tools, etc., by playing with the tariffs.
Here there is obviously an effort to destroy the equivalence of services, a violent attack on the most sacred of all properties, that of men’s strength and faculties. As I have already shown, when the soil of a country has been successively occupied, if the working population continues to grow, its right is to limit the claims of the landowner by working elsewhere or by importing its subsistence from abroad. This population has only work to give in exchange for products, and it is clear that if the former increases unceasingly, then should the second remain stationary, more work has to be provided in return for fewer products. This effect is shown by the decrease in earnings—the greatest misfortune when it is due to natural causes and the greatest crime when it results from the law.
Next come taxes. Tax-funded jobs have become a highly sought means of livelihood. We know that the number of positions in government services has always increased and that the number of candidates increases faster than the number of openings. Well, where is the candidate who asks himself if he will be providing the public with services equivalent to those he is expecting from them? Is this scourge anywhere near its end? How can we believe it when we see that public opinion itself presses to have everything done by the fictitious being we call the state, which means a collection of salaried agents? After judging all men without exception to be capable of governing the country, we declare them to be incapable of governing themselves. Soon there will be two or three salaried agents around each Frenchman, one to prevent him from working too much, a second to educate him, a third to supply him with credit, perhaps a fourth to hinder his transactions, etc., etc. Where will this illusion, the illusion that has led us to believe that the state is a person with an inexhaustible fortune independent of ours, take us?
People are beginning to realize that the government machine is expensive. But what they do not know is that the burden inevitably falls on them. They are led to believe that although up to now their share has been heavy, the Republic, while increasing the general burden, has the means of at least shifting the greater part of it to the shoulders of the rich. A disastrous illusion! Doubtless the situation may be reached where the tax collector calls upon one person rather than another and physically receives money from the hands of the rich. But all is not at an end once the tax has been paid. Work is done subsequently in society, there are reactions to the respective value of services, and it is unavoidable for this charge not to be distributed to everybody, including the poor, in the long run. The latter’s real interest, therefore, is not that one class alone is afflicted, but that all classes are treated with consideration because of the solidarity that binds them.
Now, are there any signs that the time has come when taxes will be reduced?
I say this most sincerely: I believe that we are going down a path in which, under very gentle, very subtle, and very ingenious aspects, clad in the fine names of solidarity and fraternity, plunder is going to take on dimensions, the extent of which the imagination scarcely dares to envisage. This is how it will appear: under the denomination of the state, the massed group of citizens will be considered a real being with its own life and wealth, independent of the life and wealth of the citizens themselves. Each person will then call upon this fictional being to ask, one for education, one for work, one for credit, one for food, etc., etc. However, the state cannot give anything to citizens unless it has taken it from them to start with. The only effect of this intermediary is first of all a great waste of effort and then the complete destruction of the equivalence of services, for the effort of each person will be devoted to giving as little as possible to the treasury of the state and taking as much from it as possible. In other words, the public treasury will be pillaged. And can we not see something of this sort happening today? Which class is not clamoring for the favors of the state? It appears in itself to be the principle of life. Setting aside the countless hordes of its own agents, agriculture, factories, trade, the arts, theaters, the colonies, and shipping are expecting everything from it. It is required to clear land, irrigate it, set up colonies, teach, and even amuse us. Everyone is begging for a premium, a subsidy, a motivating payment, and above all for certain services, like education and credit, to be free of charge. And why not ask the state to make all services free of charge? Why not require the state to feed, quench the thirst of, provide lodgings for, and clothe all citizens free of charge?
One class had not been included in these mad pretensions,
and that was the people itself, the countless working class. However, here they are now in the crowd. They pay heavily to the treasury; by all that is just and in virtue of the principle of equality, they have the same rights to this universal dilapidation for which the other classes have fired the starting signal. We should profoundly regret that on the day on which their voices were heard it was to demand their share of the pillage and not that it be stopped. But was it possible for this class to be more enlightened than the others? Might it not be excused for being taken in by the illusion that is blinding us all?
However, because of the very fact that the number of applicants for government positions is now equal to the number of citizens, the error I am pointing out here cannot last long and people will soon, I hope, come to ask from the state only the services it is competent to provide: justice, national defense, public works, etc.
We are facing another cause of inequality, which is perhaps more active than all the others, and that is the war against capital. The working class has only one way to free itself, through an increase in the nation’s capital. Where capital increases faster than the population, two results infallibly occur, both of which contribute to improving the lot of the workers: products decrease in price and earnings rise. However, for capital to increase, it must above all have security. If it is frightened, it hides, takes flight abroad, is dissipated, and is destroyed. At this point, production stops and labor is offered at a knockdown price. The greatest of all misfortunes for the working class is therefore to let itself be carried along by beguilers into a war against capital, which is as absurd as it is disastrous. It is a constant threat of plunder, worse than plunder itself.
In short, if it is true, as I have endeavored to show, that freedom, the free disposal of property, and consequently the supreme consecration of the right to property; if it is true, as I have said, that this freedom invariably tends to bring about a just equivalence of services, and little by little equality, to bring everyone closer to the same constantly rising level, it is not property that is responsible for the distressing inequality that can still be seen around the world; it is its opposing principle, plunder, that has triggered wars, slavery, serfdom, the feudal system, the exploitation of public ignorance and credulity, privilege, monopolies, restrictions, public borrowings, commercial fraud, excessive taxes, and lastly the war against capital and the absurd pretension of each person to live and develop at the expense of all.
Claim Made by M. Considérant and F. Bastiat’s Reply
Published by Le Journal des débats in its issue dated28 July 1848.
In the serious discussions to come on the social question, I am determined to prevent the public from being given, as coming from me, opinions that are not mine, and to prevent my opinions being presented in a way that distorts and disfigures them.
I have not defended the principle of property for twenty years against the followers of Saint-Simon who denied the right of inheritance, against the disciples of Babeuf and Owen, and against all the varieties of communism, to let myself be depicted as being in the ranks of those who oppose the rights of property, whose logical legitimacy I believe I have established on foundations that are difficult to undermine.
I have not fought in the Luxembourg Palace against the doctrines of M. Louis Blanc, I have not on numerous occasions been attacked by M. Proudhon as one of the fiercest defenders of property only to allow M. Bastiat to paint me in your columns as forming, with these two socialists, a sort of triumvirate against property, without my protesting.
Besides, since I do not wish to be obliged to claim your indulgence in inserting lengthy tracts of my prose in your columns, and you doubtless agree with me in this, I am asking your permission to make a few observations to M. Bastiat before he goes any further, which will cut short the replies that he may oblige me to give him and perhaps even to eliminate them completely.
1. I would not like M. Bastiat, even when he thinks he is analyzing my thought accurately, to use, in inverted commas and as though quoting textually from my pamphlet on the right of property and the right to work or any other of my writings, phrases of his own that, especially in the penultimate of the quotations he attributes to me, convey my ideas inaccurately. This is not a proper way to proceed, and it may even lead the person who uses it much further than he himself would wish. Abbreviate and analyze as you wish, that is your right, but do not give your analytical abbreviation the character of a verbatim quotation.
2. M. Bastiat says: “They (the three socialists among whom I am included) appear to think that in the combat that is about to take place, the poor have an interest in the triumph of the right to work and the rich in defending the right of property.” For my part, I do not believe and do not even believe that I appear to believe anything of the sort. On the contrary, I believe that the rich now have a more serious interest than the poor in the recognition of the right to work. This is the thought that dominates my entire article, published for the first time not today, but ten years ago, and written to give the men in government and landowners a salutary warning and at the same time defend property against the redoubtable logic of its opponents. Moreover, I believe that the right of property is just as much in the interests of the poor as of the rich, since I regard the denial of this right as a denial of the principle of individuality and would consider its elimination, in whatever form of society, to be the signal for a return to the primitive state, which to my knowledge I have never shown myself to favor.
3. Last, M. Bastiat says:
“Besides, I have no intention of examining M. Considérant’s theory in detail. . . . I wish only to attack what is weighty and consequential at the basis of this theory, that is to say, the question of rent. M. Considérant’s theory can be summarized thus. An agricultural product exists through the combination of two actions: the action by a man, or labor, which generates the right of property; and the action of nature, which ought to be free and which landowners turn unjustly to their advantage. This is what constitutes the usurpation of the rights of humanity.”
I ask a thousand pardons of M. Bastiat, but there is not one word in my pamphlet that authorizes him to attribute to me the opinions that he so freely does here. As a rule I do not hide my thought, and when I think it is midday it is not my habit to say it is two o’clock. Therefore, let M. Bastiat, if he wishes to do me the honor of disparaging my pamphlet, oppose what I have written and not what he attributes to me. I have not written one word against rent; the question of rent, with which I am as familiar as everyone, does not appear at all in any shape or form, and when M. Bastiat quotes me as saying “that the action of nature ought to be free and that landowners turn it unjustly to their advantage and that is what, according to me, constitutes the usurpation of the rights of the human race,” he again remains stuck in a domain of thought that I have not referred to in the slightest. He is attributing to me an opinion that I consider to be absurd and that is even diametrically opposed to the entire doctrine of my article. I am not complaining at all, in fact, that landowners enjoy the action of nature, what I am asking for, in the name of those who do not enjoy this, is the right to work that will enable them to be able, alongside landowners, to create products and to live by working, when property (whether agricultural or industrial) fails to give them the means to do so.
Besides, sir, I have no intention of indulging in a debate on my opinions with M. Bastiat in your columns. This is a favor and an honor not reserved to me. Let M. Bastiat therefore reduce my system to dust and ruin; I will think myself entitled to claim your hospitality for my comments only when, through a lack of understanding, he attributes to me doctrines for which I am not responsible. I am well aware that it is oft en easy to bring down people by attributing to them what you want instead of what they have said, and in particular one is more readily right when opposing socialists when one opposes them in a confused way and in general than when one takes each one to task for what he has put forward. But, whether right or wrong, I for my part insist on taking responsibility for no one other than myself.
M. Editor, the discussion that M. Bastiat has undertaken in your columns bears on subjects that are too sensitive and weighty for you not to be in agreement with me on this at least. I am confident therefore that you will agree that I am right to be upset and that you will in fairness give my complaint a clear and legible place in your columns.
Paris, 24 July 1848
M. Considérant is complaining that I have altered or distorted his opinion on property. If I have committed this fault I have done so involuntarily, and I can do no more in reparation than to quote his words.
After having established that there are two sorts of rights—natural rights, which express the relationships resulting from the very nature of beings or things, and conventional or legal rights, which exist only to regulate false relationships—M. Considérant continues thus:
“This having been said, we will say clearly that property as it has generally been constituted in all the hardworking nations up to now, is tarnished by illegitimacy and is contrary to right. . . . The human race has been placed on earth to live and develop there. The species is thus a usufructuary of the surface of the globe. . ..
“However, under the regime that constitutes property in all civilized nations, the common basis on which the species has right of usufruct has been invaded. It has been confiscated by the minority to the exclusion of the majority. Well then! If there were in fact one single man deprived of his right to a usufruct of the common fund by the nature of the regime of property, this deprivation on its own would constitute an infringement of rights, and the regime of property that endorsed it would certainly be unjust and illegitimate.
“Might not any man who was born into a civilized society with no possessions and who found the land around him confiscated say to those who preached respect for the existing regime of property by affirming the respect due to the rights of property, “My friends, let us understand one another and set things straight a little; I am much in favor of the rights of property and very ready to respect it with regard to others, on the sole condition that others respect it with regard to me. However, as a member of the human race, I am entitled to a usufruct of the fund that is the common property of the race and that nature, as far as I know, has not given to some to the detriment of others. In virtue of the regime of property that I found established on my arrival here, the common fund has been confiscated and is well guarded. Your regime of property is therefore founded on the plunder of my right to a usufruct. Do not confuse the right of property with the particular regime of property that I find is established by your artificial right.
“The current regime of property is therefore illegitimate and is based on fundamental plunder.”
M. Considérant finally manages to set out the fundamental principle of the right of property in these terms:
“Every man possesses the thing that his work, intelligence, or more generally his activity has created.”
To show the extent of this principle, Considérant gives the example of the first generation of men who farm an isolated island. The results of the work of this generation are divided into two categories.
“The first includes the products of the land that belonged to this first generation as usufructuaries, and that were increased, refined, or manufactured by its work and industry. These products, in their raw state or manufactured, consist either of consumer products or instruments of work. It is clear that these products belong in total and legitimate property to those who have created them through their activity. . . .
“Not only has this generation created the products we have just designated . . . but it has also created added value to the original value of the land through cultivation, the buildings, and all the basic and construction work it has carried out.
“This added value obviously constitutes a product, a value due to the activity of the first generation.”
M. Considérant acknowledges that this secondary value is also a legitimate property. Then he adds:
“We can thus totally accept that, when the second generation comes onto the scene, it will find two types of capital on the earth:
“A. The original or natural capital, which has not been created by the men of the first generation, that is to say, the value of the land in its natural state.
“B. The capital created by the first generation, which includes 1. the products, goods, and instruments that have not been consumed and worn out by the first generation; 2. the added value that the work done by the first generation has added to the value of the land in its natural state.
“It is thus obvious and results clearly and essentially from the fundamental principle of the right of property established just now, that each individual of the second generation has an equal right to the original or natural capital, whereas he has no right to the other form of capital, the capital created by the first generation. Each individual of this first generation can thus dispose of his part of the created capital in favor of the particular individuals of the second generation of his choice, his children, friends, etc.”
Thus, in this second generation, there are two types of individuals, those who inherit created capital and those who do not. There are also two types of capital, original or natural capital and created capital. The latter legitimately belongs to the heirs but the former legitimately belongs to everyone. Each individual of the second generation has an equal right to the original capital. Well, it has happened that the heirs to created capital have also seized the capital not created; they have invaded it, usurped it, and confiscated it. This is why and how the current regime of property is illegitimate, contrary to right and based on a fundamental plunder.
I may certainly be mistaken, but it seems to me that this doctrine exactly echoes, though in other terms, the doctrine of Buchanan, McCulloch, and Senior on rent. They too acknowledged the legitimate ownership of what has been created by work. However, they regard as illegitimate the usurpation of that which M. Considérant calls the value of the land in its natural state and what they call the productive force of the land.
Let us now see how this injustice can be put right.
“Primitive men in forests and savannahs enjoy four natural rights: hunting, fishing, the gathering of fruit, and grazing. That is the initial form taken by rights.
“In all civilized forms of society, men of the people, the working classes who inherit nothing and who own nothing, are purely and simply deprived of these rights. We thus cannot say that the initial right has changed its form here, since it no longer exists. The form has disappeared along with the substance.
“But under what form might the right be reconciled with the conditions of a hardworking society? The answer is easy. In primitive forms of society, in order to make use of his rights, man is obliged to act. The work of hunting, fishing, gathering fruit, and grazing is the condition governing the exercise of his rights. The initial right is thus only the right to these forms of work.
“Well then! Let a hardworking society that has taken possession of the land and removed from men their faculty of exercising their four rights at random and freely over the surface of the land, recognize the right to work of each individual in compensation for these rights that it has taken away from him. Then, in principle and subject to proper application, no individual would have anything to complain about. In effect, his initial right was the right to work exercised in what was the poor workshop constituted by nature in its natural state. His current right would be the same right exercised in a better equipped and richer workshop in which individual activity has to be more productive.
“The condition sine qua non for property to be legitimate is thus that society should recognize the right to work of the proletariat and that it should ensure that it has at least as much of the means of subsistence for the exercise of a given activity as this exercise would have procured for it in the natural state.”
Now I leave the reader to judge whether I have changed or distorted M. Considérant’s opinions.
M. Considérant considers himself to be a fierce defender of the right to property. Doubtless he is defending this right as he understands it, but he understands it in his own way and the question is to establish whether it is the right way. In any case, it is not the way of everybody.
He himself says that, although it needed only a modicum of good sense to settle the question of property, it has never been properly understood. I am fully allowed not to agree with this condemnation of human intelligence.
It is not only the theory that M. Considérant is accusing. I would yield it to him, thinking like him that in this matter as in many others, it has oft en been on the wrong track.
However, he also attacks the universal practice. He says clearly:
“Property, as generally constituted in all hardworking nations up to the present, is tarnished with illegitimacy and sins spectacularly against rights.”
If, therefore, M. Considérant is a fierce defender of property, it is at least of a mode of property that is different from the one recognized and practiced by men since the dawn of time.
I am fully convinced that M. Louis Blanc and M. Proudhon also claim to defend property as they understand it.
I myself have no other pretension than to give an explanation of property that I believe to be true but that is perhaps false.
I believe that the ownership of land, as it is formed naturally, is always the fruit of work, that consequently it is based on the very principle established by M. Considérant, that it does not exclude the working classes from enjoying the usufruct of the land in its natural state but on the contrary it multiplies ten and a hundredfold this usufruct for them and thus is not tarnished with illegitimacy, and that all that undermines it in fact and in belief is as great a calamity for those who do not possess the land as for those who do.
This is what I would like to devote myself to proving, to the extent that this can be done in the columns of a journal.
[1. ]The following five letters were formally addressed to Le Journal des débats, which is why Bastiat refers to them several times as “the articles.” However, in his mind they were intended as letters to Victor Considérant. In them he explains his notions of rent, services, and value as they will be developed later in Economic Harmonies.
[2. ]On 17 May 1848 the Constituent Assembly elected an eighteen-member commission to prepare a draft constitution (Considérant was among the members, but so was Tocqueville). It started by elaborating a preamble, the “declaration of rights and duties,” in which the right to work was prominent. The final preamble, though, referred only to the duty of the republic to protect the citizens’ work and to provide work, within the limits of state resources, for the needy.
[3. ]Written at Blanc’s initiative, the decree of 25 February 1848 stated: “The provisional government guarantees the existence of the worker through work.”
[4. ](Bastiat’s note) See the small volume published by M. Considérant titled Théorie du droit de propriété et du droit au travail [Theory of the Right to Property and the Right to Work].
[5. ](Bastiat’s note) M. Considérant is not the only one to hold it, as is shown by the following passage taken from The Wandering Jew, by M. Eugène Sue:Mortification would express better the complete lack of the essentially vital things that an equitably balanced society ought to owe, yes, ought to owe all active and upright workers, since civilization has dispossessed them of any right to the land and they are born with only their arms as sole heritage.Savages do not enjoy the advantages of civilization, but at least they have as food the animals of the forest, the birds of the air, fish from the rivers, the fruits of the earth, and the trees of the wide forests to give them shelter.Civilized people, who are despoiled of these gift s of God and who regard property as holy and sacred, may therefore, in return for their hard daily labor that enriches the country, claim a wage that is enough to live healthily, neither more nor less.
[6. ]Proudhon is best known for his work Qu’estce que la propriété? (1841).
[7. ](Paillottet’s note) This proposition is developed in more detail in chapters 5 and 9 of the Economic Harmonies. (OC, vol. 6, p. 140, “De la valeur,” and p. 297, “Propriété foncière.”)
[8. ](Paillottet’s note) See the claim from M. Considérant that provoked this first letter at the end of this pamphlet together with F. Bastiat’s reply.
[9. ](Paillottet’s note) See chapter 22 of the first series of Sophisms. (OC, vol. 4, p. 115, “Métaphores.”)
[10. ](Paillottet’s note) “It is not enough for the value not to be in the material or in the forces of nature. It is not enough for it to be exclusively in services. It is also necessary for the services themselves not to have an exaggerated value. For what difference does it make to a poor laborer if the high price he pays for his wheat is because the landowner has himself paid for the productive powers of the soil or has paid excessively for his intervention?
[11. ](Paillottet’s note) On the question of intermediaries, see, in vol. 5, chapter 6 of the pamphlet What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen, and, in vol. 6, the beginning of chapter 16. (OC, vol. 5, “Ce qu’on voit et ce qu’on ne voit pas,” chap. 6, p. 356, “Les Intermédiaires”; and vol. 6, p. 497, “De la population.”)
[12. ]See “Bastiat’s Political Writings: Anecdotes and Reflections,” pp. 414–15 in this volume.
[13. ](Bastiat’s note) We have heard not so long ago a denial of the legitimacy of leasing land. Without going so far, many people find it hard to understand the durable nature of income from capital. “How,” they say, “does capital once formed produce a never-ending income?” Here is an explanation of its legitimacy and durability using this example:
[14. ](Paillottet’s note) This theoretical situation has been examined again by the author in the final part of his letter to M. Thiers. See the last twelve pages of “Protectionism and Communism.” (OC, vol. 4, p. 504, “Protectionisme et communisme,” pp. 534–45 [the last twelve pages].)[See also “Protectionism and Communism,” pp. 257–65, and “Anecdotes and Reflections,” p. 410, in this volume.]
[15. ]Bastiat uses the word prolétaires, which we have translated as “landless farm laborers.”
[16. ](Paillottet’s note) See chapters 9 and 13 of Economic Harmonies on land ownership. See also, in vol. 2, the second parable in the speech given on 29 September 1846 in Montesquieu Hall. (OC, vol. 6, p. 297, “Propriété foncière,” and p. 430, “De la rente”; also see vol. 2, p. 238, “Second discours.”)
[17. ](Paillottet’s note) On the objection drawn from a so-called taking over of the agents of nature, see letter 14 of Free Credit, and, in vol. 4, the last two pages of chapter 14. (OC, vol. 5, p. 312, “Gratuité du crédit,” “Quatorzième lettre”; and vol. 4, p. 86, “Conflit de principes,” pp. 89–90 [last two pages].)
[18. ]Laisser-passer: “Let us go about our affairs.” See also “Bastiat’s Political Writings: Anecdotes and Reflections,” pp. 408–9 in this volume.
[19. ]This verse comes from Pierre-Jean de Béranger’s poem “La Liberté” (“Liberty”), which he wrote in January 1822 when he was imprisoned following the publication of his second volume of satirical songs and poems in 1821. It is ironic that, far from having his spirit broken by short periods of imprisonment, Béranger continued to defy the censors with his poems, which mocked the political and religious establishment. His published songs and poems were bestsellers and went through many editions. They oft en included sheet music to help members of the underground singing and drinking clubs enjoy his political songs.
[20. ](Paillottet’s note) On the effort saved, considered as the most important element of value, see chapter 5 of Economic Harmonies. (OC, vol. 6, p. 140, “De la valeur.”)
[21. ]Sir Thomas More.
[22. ]James Harrington.
[23. ]Slavery in the French colonies ended (again) in the revolution of 1848. See also the entry for “Slavery” in the Glossary of Subjects and Terms.
[24. ]These lines come from Molière’s play Les Femmes savantes (1672). The long-suffering bourgeois gentleman Chrysale is complaining about his household of women who have discovered the joys of disputation, reasoning, and the quotation of verse but who neglect his needs. In these lines Chrysale is complaining to his sister Bélise: “Reasoning has become the norm throughout my house, and reasoning has banished reason. One servant burns my roast while reading some story, another dreams of some verses when I want a drink; finally I see how they have followed your example, I have servants but I am not served.” (See Œuvres complètes de Molière, vol. 6, p. 145.)