Front Page Titles (by Subject) 8: Private Property and Common Wealth - Economic Harmonies (Boyers trans.)
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8: Private Property and Common Wealth - Frédéric Bastiat, Economic Harmonies (Boyers trans.) 
Economic Harmonies, trans by W. Hayden Boyers, ed. George B. de Huszar, introduction by Dean Russell (Irvington-on-Hudson: Foundation for Economic Education, 1996).
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Private Property and Common Wealth
While freely granting to the land, to the forces of Nature, and to the tools of production what is their just due—the power of creating utility—I have taken pains to deprive them of what has been attributed erroneously to them—the faculty of creating value—since this faculty resides exclusively in the services that men perform for one another through exchange.
This simple correction will at one and the same time strengthen the role of property by redefining it according to its true character and will reveal to political economists a fact of the greatest importance, which, if I am not mistaken, they still have not noticed, namely, that of common ownership, constituting a real, essential, and progressively increasing communal domain, which develops providentially in any social order that is guided by the principles of liberty. Its manifest destiny is to lead all men, as brothers, from their state of original equality, the equality of privation, want, and ignorance, toward ultimate equality in the possession of prosperity and truth.
If this basic distinction between the utility of things and the value of services is sound in principle as well as in the consequences I have deduced from it, its significance cannot be misunderstood; for it means that the promise of utopia falls within the scope of political economy, and that all conflicting schools of thought will be reconciled in a common faith, to the complete satisfaction of all minds and of all hearts.
Men of property and of leisure, however high on the social scale your achievements, your honesty, your self-control, your thrift, may have carried you, you are still strangely disturbed. Why? Because the sweet-smelling but deadly perfume of utopia threatens your way of life. There are men who say, who rant, that the competency you have laid aside for the quiet of your old age, for your daily bread, for the education and the future of your children, has been acquired at the expense of your brethren. They say that you have stood between God and His gifts to the poor; that, like the greedy publicans of old, you have exacted a tribute on these gifts in the name of property, of interest, of rent, and hire. They call upon you to make restitution. To add to your dismay, only too often your own advocates make this implicit admission in coming to your defense: The usurpation is indeed flagrant, but it is necessary.
But I say, no, you have not misappropriated the gifts of God. You have received them gratis from the hand of Nature, it is true; but you have also passed them on gratis to your fellow men and have withheld nothing. They have acted similarly toward you, and all that has passed between you has been compensation for mental or physical effort, for sweat and toil expended, for dangers faced, for skills contributed, for sacrifices made, for pains taken, for services rendered and received. You thought only of yourselves, perhaps, but even your own self-interest has become in the hands of an infinitely wise and all-seeing Providence an instrument for making greater abundance available to all men; for, had it not been for your efforts, all the useful effects that Nature at your command has transmitted without payment among men would have remained eternally dormant. I say, without payment; for the payment you received was only the simple return to you of the efforts you had expended, and not at all a price levied on the gifts of God. Live, then, in peace, without fear and without qualms. You have no other property in the world save your claim to services due you for services that you have fairly rendered, and that your fellow men have voluntarily accepted. This property of yours is legitimate, unassailable; no utopia can prevail against it, for it is part and parcel of our very nature. No new ideology will ever shake its foundations or wither its roots.
Men of toil and hardship, you can never shut your eyes to this truth: that the starting point for the human race was a state of complete community, a perfect equality of poverty, want, and ignorance. By the sweat of its brow humanity is regenerated and directs its course toward another state of community, one in which the gifts of God are obtained and shared at the cost of less and less effort; toward equality of another kind, the equality of well-being, of enlightenment, of moral dignity. To be sure, men's steps along this road to a better and better life are not all of equal length, and to the degree that the rapid strides of the advance guard might impede your own, you would have just cause for complaint. But the contrary is the case. No spark of knowledge illumines another's mind without casting some small gleam of light upon your own; no progress is achieved by others, prompted by the desire for property, that does not contribute to your progress; no wealth is created that does not work for your liberation, no capital that does not increase your enjoyments and diminish your toil, no property acquired that does not make it easier for you to acquire property, no property created that is not destined to increase the abundance shared by all men. The social order has been so artfully designed by the Divine Artificer that those who have moved farthest ahead along the road to progress extend a helping hand, wittingly or unwittingly; for He has so contrived that no man can honestly work for himself without at the same time working for all. It is strictly accurate to say that any attack upon this marvelous order would be on your part not only an act of homicide, but of suicide as well. The whole of mankind constitutes a remarkable chain wherein, miraculously, motion imparted to the first link is communicated with ever increasing speed right up to the last.
Men of good will, lovers of equality, blind defenders and dangerous friends of all who suffer, who lag behind on the road to civilization, you who seek to establish the state of community in this world, why do you begin by unsettling men's minds and natural interests? Why, in your pride, do you aspire to bend all wills to the yoke of your social inventions? Do you not see that this community for which you yearn so ardently, and which is to extend the kingdom of God over the whole world, has already been conceived and provided for by God Himself; that He has not awaited your coming to make it the heritage of His children; that He does not need your inventions or your acts of violence; that every day His admirable decrees make it more and more a reality; that He has not turned for guidance to the uncertainties of your childish makeshifts nor even to the increasing expression of altruism manifested by acts of charity, but has entrusted the accomplishment of His plans to the most active, the most personal, the most enduring of our energies, our own self-interest, confident that it is ever alert? Study, therefore, the machinery of society, as it came from the hands of the Great Artificer, and you will be convinced that He evidences a concern for all men that goes far beyond your dreams and fantasies. Then, perhaps, instead of proposing to redo the divine handiwork, you will be content to pay it homage.
This does not mean that there is no room in the world for reforms or reformers. Nor does it mean that humanity must not eagerly recruit and generously encourage devoted researchers and scholars, loyal to the cause of democracy. They are still most necessary, not to subvert the law of society, but, on the contrary, to oppose the artificial obstacles that disturb and pervert its natural action. Truly, it is difficult to understand how people can continue to repeat such trite statements as this: “Political economy is very optimistic toward accomplished fact; it affirms that whatever is, is right; whether confronted with evil or with good, it is content to say laissez faire.” Do they imply that we do not know that humanity began in complete want and ignorance, and under the rule of brute force, or that we are optimists concerning accomplished facts such as these? Do they suggest that we do not know that the motive force of human nature is aversion to all pain, all drudgery; and that, since labor is drudgery, the first manifestation of self-interest was the effort to pass this painful burden along from one to another? Do they mean to say that the words “cannibalism,” “war,” “slavery,” “privilege,” “monopoly,” “fraud,” “plunder,” “imposture,” have never reached our ears, or that we see in these abominations the inevitable rumblings of the machine on the road to progress? But are not they themselves to some extent willfully confusing the issue in order to accuse us of confused thinking? When we admire the providential laws that govern men's transactions, when we say that the self-interest of every man coincides with that of every other man, when we conclude that the natural direction of these coincident interests tends to achieve relative equality and general progress; obviously it is from the operation of these laws, not from interference with their operation, that we anticipate harmony. When we say, laissez faire, obviously we mean: Allow these laws to operate; and not: Allow the operation of these laws to be interfered with. According as these laws are conformed to or violated, good or evil is produced. In other words, men's interests are harmonious, provided every man remains within his rights, provided services are exchanged freely, voluntarily, for services. But does this mean that we are unaware of the perpetual struggle between the wrong and the right? Does this mean that we do not see, or that we approve, the efforts made in all past ages, and still made today, to upset, by force or by fraud, the natural equivalence of services? These are the very things that we reject as breaches of the social laws of Providence, as attacks against the principle of property; for, in our eyes, free exchange of services, justice, property, liberty, security, are all merely different aspects of the same basic concept. It is not the principle of property that must be attacked, but, on the contrary, the principle hostile to it, the principle of spoliation and plunder. Men of property of all ranks, reformers of all schools, this is the mission that must reconcile us and unite us.
It is time, it is high time, that this crusade should begin. The ideological war now being waged against property is neither the most bitter nor the most dangerous that it has had to contend with. Since the beginning of the world there has also been a real war of violence and conspiracy waged against it that gives no sign of abating. War, slavery, imposture, inequitable taxation, monopoly, privilege, unethical practices, colonialism, the right to employment, the right to credit, the right to education, the right to public aid, progressive taxation in direct or inverse ratio to the ability to pay—all are so many battering-rams pounding against the tottering column. Could anyone assure me whether there are many men in France, even among those who consider themselves conservatives, who do not, in one form or another, lend a hand to this work of destruction?
There are people in whose eyes property appears only in the form of a plot of land or a sack of coins. Provided only that the land's sacrosanct boundaries are not moved and that pockets are not literally picked, they are quite content. But is there not also property in men's labor, in their faculties, in their ideas—in a word, is there not property in services? When I throw a service into the social scale, is it not my right that it remain there, suspended, if I may so express myself, until, according to the laws of its own natural equivalence, it can be met and counterbalanced by another service that someone is willing to tender me in exchange? By common consent we have instituted forces of law and order to protect property, so understood. Where are we, then, if these very forces take it upon themselves to upset this natural balance, under the socialistic pretext that freedom begets monopoly, that laissez faire is hateful and merciless? When things reach such a pass, theft by an individual may be rare and severely dealt with, but plunder is organized, legalized, and systematized. Reformers, be of good cheer; your work is not yet done; only try to understand what it really is.
But, before we proceed to the analysis of plunder, public or private, legal or illegal, its role in the world, the extent to which it is a social problem, we must, if possible, come to a clear understanding of what the communal domain and private property are; for as we shall see, private property is bounded on one side by plunder even as it is bounded on the other by the communal domain.
From what has been said in previous chapters, notably the one on utility and value, we may deduce this formula:
Every man enjoys gratis all utilities furnished or produced byNature on condition that he take the pains to avail himself of them, or that he pay with an equivalent service those who render him the service of taking pains for him.
In this formula two elements are combined and fused together, although they are essentially distinct.
There are, first, the gifts of Nature: gratuitous raw materials and gratuitous forces; these constitute the communal domain.
In addition, there are the human efforts that go into making these materials available, into directing these forces—efforts that are exchanged, evaluated, and paid for; these constitute the domain of private property.
In other words, in our relations with one another, we are not owners of the utility of things, but of their value, and value is the appraisal made of reciprocal services.
Private property and the communal domain are two correlative ideas founded, respectively, on those of effort and freedom from effort.
What is free of effort is held in common, for all men enjoy it and are permitted to enjoy it unconditionally.
What is acquired by effort is private property, because taking pains is prerequisite to its satisfaction, just as the satisfaction is the reason for taking the pains.
If exchange intervenes, it is effected by the evaluation of two sets of pains taken, or two services rendered.
This recourse to pains implies the idea of an obstacle. We may then say that the result sought comes closer and closer to the condition of being gratis and common to all in proportion as the intervening obstacle is reduced, since, according to our premise, the complete absence of obstacles would imply a condition of being completely gratis and common to all.
Now, since human nature is dynamic in its drive toward progress and perfection, an obstacle can never be considered as a fixed and absolute quantity. It is reduced. Hence, the pains it entails are reduced along with it, and the service along with the pains, and the value along with the service, and the property with the value.
But the utility remains constant. Hence, what is free of charge and common to all is increased at the expense of what formerly required effort and was private property.
To set man to work, a motive is necessary; and that motive is the satisfaction aimed at, or utility. It cannot be denied that he tends always and irresistibly to achieve the greatest possible satisfaction with the least possible amount of work, that is, to make the greatest amount of utility correspond with the least amount of property; consequently, the function of property, or rather of the spirit of property, is continually to enlarge the communal domain.
Since the human race started from the point of greatest poverty, that is, from the point where there were the most obstacles to be overcome, it is clear that all that has been gained from one era to the next has been due to the spirit of property.
This being the case, can anyone be found anywhere in the world who is hostile to the idea of property? Does not everyone see that it is impossible to imagine a force in society that is at once more just and more democratic? The fundamental dogma of Proudhon himself is mutuality of services. On this point we are in agreement. The point on which we differ is this: I call this dogma property, not mutuality of services, because careful analysis assures me that men, if they are free, do not and cannot have any other property than the ownership of value, or their services. Proudhon, on the contrary, like most economists, thinks that certain natural resources have an intrinsic value of their own, and that they are consequently appropriated. But, as for the idea that services constitute property, far from opposing it, he makes it his main article of faith. Does anyone desire to go further yet? As far as to say that a man should not be the owner of the pains he himself takes, that, in exchange, it is not enough to turn over gratis the help received from natural resources, that he must also surrender gratis his own efforts? But let him take care! This would mean glorifying slavery; for, to say that certain men must render services that are not paid for means that other men must receive services that they do not pay for, which is certainly slavery. Now, if he says that this gratuitous gift must be reciprocal, he is merely quibbling; for, either the exchange will be made with a certain degree of justice, in which case the services will be in some way or other evaluated and paid for; or else they will not be evaluated and paid for, and, in that case, some will give much and others little, and we are back to slavery.
It is therefore impossible to argue against the idea that services exchanged on the basis of value for value constitute legitimate property. To explain that this property is legitimate, we do not need to have recourse to philosophy or jurisprudence or metaphysics. Socialists, economists, egalitarians, believers in brotherly love, I defy you one and all to raise even the shadow of an objection against the legitimacy of a voluntary exchange of services, and consequently against property, as I have defined it, and as it exists in the natural order of society.
Of course, I know that in practice the ideal principle of property is far from having full sway. Against it are conflicting factors: there are services that are not voluntary, whose remuneration is not arrived at by free bargaining; there are services whose equivalence is impaired by force or fraud; in a word, plunder exists. The legitimacy of the principle of property is not thereby weakened, but confirmed. The principle is violated; therefore, it exists. We must cease believing in anything in this world, in facts, in justice, in universal consent, in human language; or else we must admit that these two words, “property” and “plunder,” express opposite, irreconcilable ideas that can no more be identified than yes and no, light and dark, good and evil, harmony and discord. Taken literally, the famous formula, property is theft,∗ is therefore absurdity raised to the nth degree. It would be no less outlandish to say that theft is property; that what is legal is illegal; that what is, is not, etc. It is probable that the author of this bizarre aphorism merely desired to catch people's attention with a striking paradox, and that what he really meant to state was this: Certain men succeed in getting paid not only for the work that they do but also for the work that they do not do, appropriating to themselves alone God's gifts, gratuitous utility, the common possession of all. But in that case it would first be necessary to prove the statement, and then to say: Theft is theft.
To steal, in common usage, means to take by force or fraud something of value to the detriment and without the consent of the person who has created it. It is easy to understand how fallacious economic thinking was able to extend the meaning of this melancholy word, “steal.” First, utility was confused with value. Then, since Nature plays a part in the creation of utility, it was concluded that Nature also contributed to the creation of value, and, it was said, since this part of value is the fruit of no one's labor, it belongs to everyone. Finally, noting that value is never surrendered without compensation, the economists added: He steals who exacts payment for value that has been created by Nature, which is not in any way a product of human labor, which is inherent in the nature of things and is, by providential design, one of the intrinsic qualities of material objects, like specific gravity or density, form or color.
A careful analysis of value overturns this elaborate structure of subtleties, from which economists sought to deduce a monstrous identification of plunder with private property.
God put raw materials and the forces of Nature at man's disposal. To gain possession of them, either one has to take pains, or one does not have to take pains. If no pains are required, no man will willingly consent to buy from another man at the cost of effort what he can pluck from the hands of Nature without effort. In this case, no services, exchange, value, or property are possible. If pains must be taken, it is incumbent on the one who would receive the satisfaction to take them; hence, the satisfaction must go to the one who has taken the pains. This is the principle of property. Accordingly, if a man takes pains for his own benefit, he becomes the owner of all the combined utility created by his pains and by Nature. If he takes the pains for the benefit of others, he stipulates that he be given in return a utility representing equal pains, and the resulting transaction presents us with two efforts, two utilities that have changed hands, and two satisfactions. But we must not forget the important fact that the transaction is carried out by the comparison, by the evaluation, not of two utilities (they cannot be evaluated), but of the two services that have been exchanged. It is therefore accurate to say that, from his own individual point of view, man by his labor becomes the owner of the natural utility (this is the only reason that he works), whatever may be the ratio (infinitely variable) of his labor to the utility. But from the social point of View, in regard to the relations of one man with another, men can never be owners of anything except value, which is based, not on the bounty of Nature, but on human services, pains taken, risks run, resourcefulness displayed in availing oneself of that bounty; in a word, as far as gratuitous and natural utility is concerned, the last person to acquire it, the one who ultimately receives the satisfaction, is placed, by way of exchange, in exactly the position of the first worker. The latter happened to come upon the gratuitous utility and went to the trouble of taking possession of it; the ultimate consumer remunerates him by taking an equivalent amount of pains for him in return and thus substitutes his right of possession for the original owner's; the utility becomes his under the same terms, that is to say, gratis, provided he takes the necessary pains. In all this there is neither in semblance nor in fact a usurpation of the gifts of God.
Hence, I confidently advance this proposition as incontrovertible:
In their relation to one another, men are owners only of value, and value represents only services that are compared and voluntarily rendered and received.
I have already shown that, on the one hand, this is the true meaning of the word value; and that, on the other, men never are, never can be, owners of anything except value, a conclusion to be drawn from logic as well as from experience. From logic: for why should I buy from a man, using my pains as payment, what I can obtain from Nature, either without pains or with fewer pains? From universal experience, which is a weighty argument, since nothing can give more support to a theory than the expressed and tacit consent of all men of all times and all places: now, I affirm that universal agreement accepts and approves the meaning that I give here to the word “property.” When a public official makes an inventory following a death, or orders one to be made; when a businessman, a manufacturer, a farmer, makes a similar appraisal on his own initiative; or when the receivers in a bankruptcy case are requested to make one; what is inscribed on the stamped pages of the inventory as each item is presented? Is it the item's utility, its intrinsic worth? No, it is its value; that is, the equivalent amount of effort that any potential purchaser would have to exert in order to obtain a similar item. Do the appraisers concern themselves with deciding whether a given object is more useful than another? Do they take into account the satisfactions that these objects can give? Do they rate a hammer above a piece of bric-a-brac because the hammer can admirably turn the law of gravity to the advantage of its owner? Or do they rate a glass of water above a diamond, because, objectively speaking, the water can render more tangible service? Or a volume of Say above a volume of Fourier, because Say gives more lasting pleasure and solid instruction? No; they evaluate, they seek out the value, rigorously following, please note, my definition. Or rather, my definition follows their practice. They take into account, not the natural advantages, or the gratuitous utility, contained in each item, but the services that anyone acquiring it would have to perform himself or have another perform for him in order to obtain it. They do not appraise—please pardon the rather flip expression—the trouble God went to, but the pains that the purchaser would have to take to obtain it. And when the appraisal is finished, when the public knows the total amount of value listed in the inventory, all say with one voice: This is what the heir owns.
Since property includes only value, and since value indicates only relationships, it follows that property is itself a relation.
When people, on comparing two inventories, declare one man to be richer than another, they do not mean that this comparison applies necessarily to the amounts of absolute wealth or material well-being enjoyed by the two. In satisfactions, in absolute well-being, there is an element of common utility that can greatly affect this ratio. All men, in point of fact, are equal in their access to the light of day, the air they breathe, the warmth of the sun; and any inequality between the two inventories—expressed by the difference in property or value—can apply only to the amount of onerous utility.
And so, as I have already said many times and shall doubtless say many times more (for it is the greatest, the most admirable, and perhaps the most misunderstood of all the social harmonies, since it encompasses all the others), it is characteristic of progress (and, indeed, this is what we mean by progress) to transform onerous utility into gratuitous utility; to decrease value without decreasing utility; and to enable all men, for fewer pains or at smaller cost, to obtain the same satisfactions. Thus, the total number of things owned in common is constantly increased; and their enjoyment, distributed more uniformly to all, gradually eliminates inequalities resulting from differences in the amount of property owned.
Let us never weary of analyzing the result of this social mechanism.
How many times, when considering the phenomena of the social order, have I not had cause to appreciate how profoundly right Rousseau was when he said, “It takes a great deal of scientific insight to observe what we see every day”! Thus it is that habit, that veil which is spread before the eyes of the ordinary man, which even the attentive observer does not always succeed in casting aside, prevents us from seeing the most marvelous of all social phenomena: real wealth constantly passing from the domain of private property into the communal domain.
Let us try, nevertheless, to establish the fact that this democratic evolution does take place, and, if possible, to plot its course.
I have said elsewhere that, if we wished to compare two different eras of a nation's history from the point of view of their actual prosperity, we should have to resort to man-hours of unskilled labor as our measure, asking ourselves this question: What is the difference in the amount of satisfaction that could be obtained in this society, at different stages of its progress, by a given amount, say one day, of unskilled labor?
This question implies two others:
What was, at the dawn of civilization, the ratio between satisfactions and the simplest kind of labor?
What is this ratio today?
The difference in the two will measure the increase in gratuitous utility in relation to the amount of onerous utility, i.e., the extent of the communal domain in relation to that of private property.
I do not believe that a man interested in public affairs can apply himself to any more interesting or instructive problem. I ask the reader's indulgence if I seem to cite a tediously long list of examples before reaching a satisfactory solution.
At the beginning of this book I made a kind of table of the most general human wants: breathing, food, clothing, shelter, transportation, education, amusement, etc.
Let us follow this list and see what satisfactions a common laborer could obtain for a certain number of days' work at the dawn of society and what he can obtain now.
Here the satisfaction is gratis and common to all from the very beginning. Nature, having taken care of everything, leaves us nothing to do. No efforts, services, value, property, progress are possible. From the point of view of utility, Diogenes is as rich as Alexander; from the point of view of value, Alexander is as poor as Diogenes.
In the present state of things, the value of a hundred liters of wheat is worth, in France, fifteen to twenty days of the most unskilled kind of labor. This is a fact and, whether known or not, is worth noting. We can state, therefore, that today humanity, as represented by its most backward element, the day laborer, obtains the satisfactions represented by a hundred liters of wheat for fifteen days of the most unskilled kind of labor. It is estimated that it takes three hundred liters of wheat to feed one man for a year. The unskilled laborer produces, therefore, if not his actual subsistence, at least (what amounts to the same thing) the value of his subsistence with forty-five to sixty days out of his year's labor. If we represent by one the standard of value (which for us is one day of unskilled labor), the value of a hundred liters of wheat is represented by 15, 18, or 20, depending on the yearly fluctuations. The ratio of these two values is one to fifteen.
In order to determine whether or not progress has been achieved and, if so, to measure it, we must ask ourselves what this same ratio was on the day that men first made their appearance. In truth, I would not dare hazard a figure; but there is a way of establishing the unknown x of this equation. When you hear someone declaiming against the social order, against private ownership of the land, against rent, against machines, take him to a virgin forest or confront him with a fetid swamp. Say to him: I wish to free you from the yoke that you complain of; I wish to rescue you from the atrocious struggles of anarchistic competition, from the conflicts of antagonistic interests, from the selfishness of wealth, from the tyranny of property, from the crushing rivalry of machines, from the stifling atmosphere of society. Here is land like that encountered by the men who first cleared the forests and drained the swamps. Take as much of it as you want by tens or hundreds of acres. Cultivate it yourself. All that you make it produce is yours. There is only one condition: you must have no recourse to society, which, you say, has victimized you.
This man, please note, would find himself in the same position, in respect to the land, as mankind itself was originally in. Now, I declare without fear of contradiction that he would not raise one hundred liters of wheat every two years. Therefore, the ratio is fifteen to six hundred.
Thus, progress can be measured. As far as wheat is concerned, and despite the fact that he is obliged to pay rent on his land, interest on capital, and the cost of hiring his tools—or rather, because he does pay for these things—a day laborer obtains for fifteen days' work what he could hardly have secured in six hundred days. The value of wheat, measured in terms of the most unskilled labor, has therefore fallen from six hundred to fifteen, or from forty to one. A hundred liters of wheat has for man exactly the same utility that it would have had the day after the Flood; it contains the same amount of nourishment; it satisfies the same want and to the same degree. It represents the same absolute wealth; it does not represent the same relative wealth. Its production has in large measure been turned over to Nature. It is obtained for less expenditure of human effort; less service is performed as it passes from hand to hand; it has less value; in a word, it has become gratis, not completely, but in the ratio of forty to one.
And it has not only become gratis, but common to all by the same ratio. It is not to the profit of the producer that thirty-nine fortieths of the total effort have been eliminated; but it is to the consumer's profit, whatever may be his own line of work.
The same phenomenon occurs in the case of clothing. An ordinary day laborer goes into one of the Marais∗ warehouses and gets a suit that corresponds to twenty days of his work, assumed to be of the most unskilled variety. He could not make the suit himself even if he spent his whole life at it. In the time of Henry IV it would have cost him three or four hundred days' work to buy a similar suit. What has happened to the materials in these two suits to make such a difference in their value in terms of man-hours of unskilled labor? It has been annihilated, because gratuitous forces of Nature have taken over the job; and the annihilation is to the advantage of all mankind.
For we must never lose sight of this fact: every man owes to his fellows services equivalent to those that he receives. If the weaver's art had made no progress, if his work were not now done in part by gratuitous forces of Nature, it would take the weaver two or three hundred days to weave the cloth, and our laborer would have to contribute two or three hundred days of his own labor to obtain it. And, since the weaver cannot, however much he might like to do so, persuade society to pay him two or three hundred days' labor for what is done for nothing by the forces of Nature, that is, to pay him for the progress that mankind has made, it is quite accurate to say that this progress has worked to the advantage of the purchaser, of the consumer, and to the better satisfaction of mankind as a whole.
Before the time when any progress had been made, when the human race was still reduced, like our hypothetical day laborer, to primitive and unskilled labor, if a man wanted to have a hundred-pound load transported from Paris to Bayonne, he would have had only this choice: either to put it on his own shoulders and carry it over hill and dale to its destination, which would have taken over a year of slow plodding; or to get someone else to do this hard chore for him. Since, given the conditions we have outlined, the new carrier would have used the same means and required the same time, he would have demanded a year's labor in return. At this period in history, therefore, representing the value of unskilled labor as one, transportation was worth three hundred per hundred-pound weight carried a distance of four hundred fifty miles.
Things have certainly changed. In fact, there is no day laborer in Paris who could not obtain the same result at a cost of two days' labor. The choice is still the same. Either one must do the job oneself or have it done by others and pay them for it. If our laborer does it himself, it will still cost him a year of hard plodding; but if he turns to professional haulers, he will find twenty, any one of whom would be willing to do it for him for three or four francs, that is, for the equivalent of two days' worth of unskilled labor. Thus, the value of unskilled labor being represented as one, transportation that was worth three hundred is now worth only two.
How has this amazing revolution come about? It took many a century. Certain animals had to be tamed, mountains tunneled, valleys filled in, rivers spanned. First sledges were used, then wheels; obstacles that had represented labor, services, value, were lessened; in a word, man reached the point where he could do, for pains equal to two, what originally he could do only for pains equal to three hundred. All this progress was achieved by men who were concerned only with their own self-interest. And yet today who reaps the reward? Our poor day laborer and, along with him, everyone else.
Let no one say that this is not an example of common ownership. I maintain that this is common ownership in the strictest sense of the word. Originally this particular satisfaction was balanced on the scales of the general economy by three hundred days' worth of unskilled labor or by a smaller, but proportional, amount of more highly skilled labor. Now two hundred ninety-eight out of three hundred parts of this effort have been taken over by Nature, and humanity has been correspondingly relieved of it. Now, obviously, all men are equal as regards those obstacles that have been removed, the distance that has been annihilated, the toil that has been eliminated, the value that has been destroyed, since they all enjoy the result without paying for it. They pay only for the quantity of human effort still required, amounting to two, with unskilled labor as the measure. In other words, for the man who is unskilled and has only his physical strength to offer, two days of labor are still required to obtain the satisfaction desired. All other men obtain it for less work than that: a Paris lawyer, earning thirty thousand francs a year, for one twenty-fifth part of a day, etc. By this reasoning, then, we see that men are equal as regards the value that has been destroyed, and that what inequality remains falls within the domain of the surviving value, that is, within the domain of private property.
For political economy, proceeding by way of example can mean walking on dangerous ground. The reader is always inclined to believe that the general phenomenon that it is the author's intention to describe holds true only in the particular case cited. But it is clear that what has been said of wheat, clothing, transportation, is true of everything else. When the author generalizes, it is for the reader to make the concrete application; and when the author performs the dull and uninspiring task of analysis, it is asking little enough that the reader give himself the pleasure of making the synthesis for himself.
Essentially, the basic law can be stated thus:
Value, which is social property, is created by effort and obstacles.
As obstacles decrease, effort and value, or the domain of private property, decreases proportionally.
As satisfactions are achieved, the domain of private property constantly decreases and the communal domain steadily increases.
Must we conclude, as M. Proudhon does, that private property is destined to disappear? Granted that for each specific result obtained, each satisfaction achieved, its role grows less, as the extent of the communal domain increases; does this mean that private property will eventually be completely absorbed and destroyed?
To draw such a conclusion is to misunderstand entirely the very nature of man. We encounter here a fallacy similar to the one that we have already refuted concerning interest on capital. Interest rates tend to fall, it was said; hence, interest is ultimately bound to disappear altogether. Value and the domain of private property decrease, it is now said; therefore, they are ultimately bound to be eliminated entirely.
The whole fallacy consists in overlooking the significance of these three crucial words: for each specific result. Yes, it is quite true that men obtain specific results with less effort. It is because they have this faculty that they are perfectible and capable of progress; and because of this faculty we can state that the relative domain of private property grows smaller and smaller, if we consider its role in achieving a given satisfaction.
But it is not true that the potential results that are still to be obtained are ever exhausted, and therefore it is absurd to think that the absolute domain of private property is impaired by the laws of progress.
We have said many times and in every conceivable way: Every effort, in time, can lead to a greater total amount of gratuitous utility, without justifying us in concluding that men will ever stop making efforts. All that we have the right to conclude is that, as their energies are freed, they will be turned against new obstacles and will achieve, for the same effort, new and hitherto unheard-of satisfactions.
I emphasize this idea the more, in that we must, in times like the present, be permitted to leave no room for fallacious interpretations when we use the terrible words, “private property" and “the communal domain.”
At any given moment in his life man in a state of isolation has only a limited amount of effort at his disposal. This is true also of society.
When man in a state of isolation achieves progress in some field by making the forces of Nature co-operate with his own labor, he reduces correspondingly the total amount of his efforts in relation to the useful effect sought for. He would also reduce his efforts in an absolute sense, if, content with his present lot, he converted his progress into increased leisure, refusing to apply his newly released energies toward procuring other satisfactions. But this assumes that ambition, desire, aspirations, are strictly limited forces; that the human heart is not infinitely capable of experiencing new impulses. Such, of course, is not the case. Hardly has Robinson Crusoe been able to make Nature do part of his work for him when he turns to new projects. The total amount of effort he expends remains the same; but he puts it to better, more fruitful, more productive use, because he avails himself of more of Nature's gratuitous collaboration; and the same thing occurs in society.
Because the plow, the harrow, the hammer, the saw, oxen and horses, the sail, water power, and steam have successively liberated man from a tremendous amount of effort he once had to expend, it does not necessarily follow that the energies thus made available are allowed to atrophy. Let us recall what was said about the indefinite elasticity of human wants and desires. Let us look about us, and we shall not hesitate to admit that every time man has succeeded in overcoming an obstacle by making use of the forces of Nature, he has turned his own powers against new obstacles. We print more easily now than we used to, but we do more printing. Every book represents less human effort, less value, less property; but there are more books, and, in the total reckoning, just as much effort and as much value and property. I could say the same thing for clothing, housing, railroads—for all human commodities. It is not a case of a decrease in the total value, but of an increase in the total utility. The absolute domain of private property has not shrunk, but the absolute domain of what is gratis and common to all has grown larger. Progress has not paralyzed labor; it has distributed prosperity more widely.
Things that are available without cost and are common to all constitute the domain of the forces of Nature, and this domain is steadily growing. This truth is supported by both reason and experience.
Value and private property constitute the domain of human efforts, of reciprocal services; and this domain is growing constantly smaller in relation to any particular satisfaction obtained, but not in relation to the sum total of all satisfactions, because the number of potential satisfactions open to mankind is limitless.
It is as true, therefore, to say that relative property constantly gives way before communal wealth as it is false to say that absolute property tends to disappear entirely. Property, like a pioneer, accomplishes its mission in one area, and then moves on to another. For it to disappear entirely, it would be necessary that there be no more obstacles to challenge human labor; that all effort become vain; that men no longer have need to exchange, to render one another services; that everything be produced spontaneously; that desire be immediately followed by satisfaction; that we all become the equals of the gods. Then, it is true, everything would be gratis and common to all. Effort, service, value, property—none of the things that bear witness to our innate infirmity would have any reason for existence.
But however high man may rise, he is still as far as ever from omnipotence. What does it matter what particular rung is his perch on the ladder of infinity? What characterizes God, so far as it is given us to understand Him, is that no barrier stands between His will and its accomplishment: Fiat lux, et lux facta est.∗ And even this is evidence of man's inability to understand God's omnipotence, for Moses could not avoid placing two words, which had to be pronounced, as an obstacle between the divine will and the coming of the light. But whatever progress is in store for man because of his perfectibility, we can affirm that his progress will never be so complete as to clear away every obstacle on the road to infinite prosperity and to render completely useless the work of his hands and his mind.
The reason is simple enough: as rapidly as certain obstacles are overcome, new desires appear that encounter new obstacles requiring new efforts. We shall always, then, have labor to perform, to exchange, to evaluate. Property will therefore exist until the end of time, always growing in its total amount, as men become more active and more numerous, although each effort, each service, each value, each unit of property, will, in passing from hand to hand, serve as the vehicle of an increasing proportion of gratuitous and common utility.
The reader will note that we use the word “property” in a very extended, but nonetheless exact, sense. Property is the right to enjoy for oneself the fruits of one's own efforts or to surrender them to another only on the condition of equivalent efforts in return. The distinction between property owner and proletarian is therefore fundamentally erroneous, unless we assert that there is a class of men who perform no work or have no rights over their own efforts or over the services that they render or over those that they receive in exchange.
It is erroneous to restrict the term “property” to one of its special forms, like capital or land, something that produces interest or rent; and it is this erroneous definition that is used to divide men into two hostile classes. Analysis shows that interest and rent are the fruit of services rendered and have the same origin, the same nature, and the same rights as manual labor.
The world is a vast workshop upon which Providence has lavished raw materials and forces. Human labor applies itself to these materials and forces. Past efforts, present efforts, and even future efforts or promises of future efforts are exchanged. Their relative worth, established by exchange and independently of raw materials and the gratuitous forces of Nature, determines value; and every man is the owner of the value he has produced.
It may be objected: What difference does it make that a man is the owner, as you say, only of the value or of the acknowledged worth of his service? Ownership of the value carries with it ownership of its concomitant utility. John has two sacks of wheat; Peter, only one. John, you say, is twice as rich in value. Very well, then! He is also twice as rich in utility, and even in natural utility. He can eat twice as much.
True enough, but has he not performed double the amount of work?
But let us get at the roots of the objection.
Actual, absolute wealth, as we have already said, resides in utility. This is what the word itself means. Only utility renders service (uti, “to serve”). Only utility is related to our wants, and man has only utility in mind when he works. At least this is his specific goal; for things do not satisfy our hunger or our thirst because they contain value, but because they contain utility.
But note how this works in society.
In isolation man seeks to obtain utility, with never a thought for value, which, in fact, he could not even conceive of.
In society, on the other hand, man seeks to obtain value, with never a thought for utility. The thing he produces is not intended to satisfy his own wants. Hence, he has little concern with how useful it may be. The person desiring it must be the judge on that score. As far as he, the producer, is concerned, all that counts is that, when it is bargained for, as great a value as possible be assigned to it, for he is sure that the more value he is credited with contributing, the more utility he will receive in return.
The division of labor has brought about a situation in which each one produces what he will not consume and consumes what he has not produced. As producers we are concerned with value; as consumers, with utility. Such is the universal experience. The person who polishes a diamond, embroiders lace, distills brandy, or raises poppies, does not ask himself whether their consumption is reasonable or unreasonable. He does his work, and, provided his work brings him value in return, he is content.
And, we may note in passing, this state of affairs proves that morality or immorality resides not in the work of the producer of a commodity, but in the desire of the consumer; and that the improvement of society, therefore, depends on the morality of the consumer, not of the producer. How often have we cried out against the English for raising opium in India with the express purpose, it was said, of poisoning the Chinese! Such an accusation reveals an ignorance of the nature and scope of morality. Never shall we succeed in preventing the production of something that, since it is in demand, has value. It behooves the person seeking a satisfaction to reckon the effect it will have, and the attempt to separate foresight from responsibility will always be a vain one. Our winegrowers make wine and always will make it as long as it has value, without bothering to find out whether or not it makes people drunk in France or leads them to commit suicide in America. It is the judgment that men pass on their wants and their satisfactions that determines the direction of labor. This is true even in isolation; and if a foolish vanity had spoken more loudly to Robinson Crusoe than hunger, instead of spending his time in hunting, he would have spent it arranging feathers in his headdress. Similarly, a serious population encourages serious industries; and a frivolous population, frivolous industries.1
But, to return to our subject, I make this statement:
The man who works for himself has utility as his objective.
The man who works for others has value as his objective.
Now, property, as I have defined it, is based on value; and, since value is only a relative term, property itself is only a relative term.
If there were only one man on earth, the idea of property would never occur to him. Since he would be free to dispose as he wished of all the utilities about him and would never be confronted with others' rights limiting his own, how could it enter his mind to say: This is mine? These words presuppose the correlative: This isnot mine, or This belongs to another. Mine and thine are inseparable; and the word “property,” or “ownership,” necessarily implies a relationship, since it indicates with equal clarity both that a thing is owned by one person, and that it is not owned by another.∗
“The first man, who, having put a fence around a piece of land,” said Rousseau, “took it into his head to say, ‘This is mine,’ was the true founder of civil society.”†
What does this fencing off express except an idea of exclusion and consequently of a relation existing between the owner and others? If its sole purpose were to protect the land from animals, it would be a precaution, not a sign of property; a boundary marker, on the other hand, is a sign of property, and not of precaution.
Thus, men are in reality owners only in relation to one another; and, once this is granted, of what are they owners? Of value, as is clearly evidenced in the exchanges they make with one another.
Let us give, as is our custom, a very simple illustration.
Nature has been at work, through all eternity perhaps, in putting into spring water the qualities that enable it to quench our thirst and, from our point of view, to give it utility. This is certainly not my work, since the process has been completed without my participation or knowledge. In this respect, I can say that water, for me, is a gratuitous gift from God. What is my own is the effort I exerted in order to provide myself with a day's supply of water.
By this act of mine, of what have I become the owner?
In respect to myself, I am the owner, if I may use that term, of all the utility that Nature has placed in this water. I can turn it to my benefit in any way I see fit. It is, indeed, for no other reason that I have gone to the trouble of going after it. To challenge my right to it would be to say that, although men must drink to live, they do not have the right to drink the water they have procured by their own labor. I do not believe that the communists, although they go very far, would go quite that far; and even under the system proposed by Cabet, the lambs of Icaria will be permitted, when they are thirsty, to drink from its streams of pure water.
But in respect to other men, presumably free to do as I have done, I am not, and cannot be, owner of anything more than what, by metonymy, is called the value of the water, that is, the value of the service I render by letting others have it. Since my right to drink it is recognized, it is impossible to contest my right to turn it over to someone else. And since his right to go to the spring to get it, as I did, is recognized, it is impossible to contest his right to accept the water that I fetched. If one man has the right to offer and another to accept, for a price that has been freely arrived at, the former is the owner, as far as the latter is concerned. It is truly discouraging to be writing in an age when it is impossible to take a step in the field of political economy without having to stop for such childishly obvious demonstrations.
But on what basis shall the arrangement be made? This is what, above everything else, we must know if we are to evaluate fully the social significance of this word “property,” so distressing to the partisans of pseudodemocratic sentimentality.
But to continue my illustration: It is clear, since both I and the man who wishes to purchase the water I secured are free, that we shall take into consideration the trouble I went to and the trouble that he will be spared, as well as all other circumstances that create value. We shall haggle over the terms; and, if the bargain is concluded, it can be said without exaggeration or undue subtlety that my neighbor will have acquired gratis, or, if you will, as nearly gratis as I did, all the natural utility of the water. Is any further proof required that human effort, and not intrinsic utility, determines the degree to which the conditions of the transaction are onerous? It will be granted that the utility of this water remains constant, whether the spring be near at hand or far away. It is the pains taken or to be taken that constitute the variable, depending on the distance, and since the remuneration varies accordingly, it is in the pains, and not in the utility, that we find the principle of relative value, i.e., of property.
It is therefore certain that, in relation to others, I am not and cannot be owner of anything except my own efforts and my own services. These have nothing in common with the mysterious and unknown processes by which Nature has communicated utility to the things that I use to render my services. In spite of all further claims I might make, my property will never actually go beyond this limit; for, if I demand more for my service than its value, my neighbor will perform it for himself. This limit is absolute, definite, and impassable. It explains and completely justifies property, which is necessarily restricted to the very natural right of demanding a service in exchange for a service. It makes it evident that to speak of the enjoyment of natural utilities as “property” is to use the word in a very loose and purely nominal sense; that to use expressions like, “The property in an acre of land, in a hundredweight of iron, in a hundred liters of wheat, in a meter of cloth,” is mere metonymy, like the “value” of water, iron, etc.; that, in so far as Nature has placed these things within men's reach, they are enjoyed gratis and by all; that, in a word, the idea of a gratuitous communal domain can be harmoniously reconciled with the idea of private property, since the gifts of God fall into the first category, and human services alone form the legitimate domain of the second.
Merely because I have chosen a very simple illustration to show the line of demarcation between the communal domain and that of private property, we should not hastily conclude that this line is blurred or effaced in more complex transactions. On the contrary; it remains clearly visible and is always to be observed in any free transaction. Going to the spring for water is admittedly a very simple act; but the act of growing wheat, if we consider it carefully, is no more complex, except that it includes a whole series of equally simple acts, in any one of which Nature's contribution and man's are combined. Therefore, the example I chose is completely typical. In the case of water, wheat, dry goods, books, transportation, painting, dance, music, certain circumstances, as we have admitted, can give great value to certain services, but no man can ever claim payment for anything else, and especially for Nature's aid, as long as one of the contracting parties can say to the other: If you ask me more than your service is worth, I shall look elsewhere, or I shall perform it for myself.
Not content with justifying the idea of private property, I should like to make it appealing even to the most rabid partisans of public ownership. To that end what must we do? We must describe its contribution to democracy, progress, and equality; we must make clear, not only that it does not give a monopoly on the gifts of God to a few individuals, but also that its special function is to increase steadily the extent of the communal domain. In this respect, it is far more ingenious than the plans thought up by Plato, More,∗ Fénelon, or Cabet.
That there are certain things that men avail themselves of gratis and on a footing of perfect equality, that there is in the social order, underlying private property, a very real communal domain, is a fact that no one disputes. Whether we are economists or socialists, we have only to open our eyes to see that this is so. In certain respects all of the children of God are treated alike. All are equal before the law of gravitation, which holds them to the earth, and in respect to the air they breathe, the light of day, the rushing water of the torrent. This vast and immeasurable store of common possessions, which has nothing to do with value or property, is called natural wealth by Say, in contrast to social wealth; by Proudhon, natural possessions, as against acquired possessions; by Considérant, natural capital, as against created capital; by Saint-Chamans, consumers' wealth, as against value wealth; we ourselves have called it gratuitous utility, as against onerous utility. Name it what you will, the important thing is that it exists, that we are justified in saying that there exists among men a common store of gratuitous and equal satisfactions.
And though social wealth, acquired wealth, created wealth, onerous wealth, value wealth—in a word, property—may be unevenly distributed, we cannot say that it is unjustly distributed, since every man's share of it is proportional to his own services, for it is based on them and receives its evaluation from them. Furthermore, it is evident that this inequality is lessened by the existence of the common store of gratuitous utility, in virtue of the following law of mathematics: The relative difference between two unequal numbers is lessened if the same number is added to each. If, then, our inventories show that one man is twice as rich as another, we cannot consider this proportion as accurate when we take into account both men's share of the common gratuitous utility; and even what inequality we do discover would steadily grow less if the common store steadily increased.
The question, therefore, is whether this common store is a fixed and invariable quantity, vouchsafed once and for all to man by Providence at the beginning of time, on which is superimposed a stratum of private property, in such a way that no connection or interaction exists between the two phenomena.
Economists have concluded that the social order has no influence on this natural and common fund of wealth and for that reason have excluded it from the study of political economy.
The socialists go further. They believe that the social order tends to transfer to the domain of private property what is rightfully part of the common store, that it sanctions the usurpation of what belongs to all for the profit of the few; and for that reason they attack political economists for being unaware of this disastrous tendency, and society for passively submitting to it.
In fact, the socialists tax the economists with being inconsistent on this point, and with some reason; for the economists, after declaring that there was no connection between the communal domain and that of private property, went on to weaken their own assertion and open the way for the socialists' grievances when, confusing value with utility, they declared that the forces of Nature, that is, the gifts of God, had intrinsic value, value on their own account, for value always and necessarily connotes private property. On the day the economists made this error they lost the right and the means to justify logically the right to private property.
What I now say, what I declare with conviction as an absolute certainty in my own mind, is this: Yes, there is constant interaction between private property and the communal domain; and in this respect the first assertion, that of the economists, is wrong. But the second assertion, amplified and exploited by the socialists, is even more dangerously erroneous; for this interaction does not cause any part of the communal domain to be appropriated into the domain of private property, but, on the contrary, constantly extends the former at the expense of the latter. Private property, inherently just and legitimate, because it always is proportional to services, tends to convert onerous utility into gratuitous utility. It is the spur that impels the human intellect to realize the latent potential of the forces of Nature. It attacks, to its own profit admittedly, the obstacles that stand in the way of gratuitous utility. And when the obstacle is surmounted to any degree, we find that it results in corresponding benefit to all. Then, tirelessly, property attacks new obstacles, and this process continues with never an interruption, steadily raising the standard of living, bringing the great family of man nearer and nearer the goals of community and equality.
In this consists the truly marvelous harmony of the natural social order. Unfortunately, I cannot describe this harmony without combatting old objections that are always cropping up or without becoming tiresomely repetitious. No matter; I shall set myself to the task, and I beg the reader also to exert himself to some degree.
We must grasp fully this fundamental idea: When no obstacle between desire and satisfaction exists for anyone (for example, there is no obstacle between our eyes and the light of day), there is no effort to be made, no service to be performed for oneself or for others; no value, no property is possible. But when an obstacle exists, the whole series is constituted. First, we find effort coming into play; then, the voluntary exchange of efforts and services; then, the comparative appraisal of services, or value; and finally, the right of each one to enjoy the utilities contained in these values, or property.
If, in this struggle against equal obstacles, the contribution made by Nature and by labor always remained in the same proportion, private property and the communal domain would follow parallel lines with no change in their relative proportions.
But such is not the case. The goal of all men, in all their activities, is to reduce the amount of effort in relation to the end desired and, in order to accomplish this end, to incorporate in their labor a constantly increasing proportion of the forces of Nature. This is the constant preoccupation of every farmer, manufacturer, businessman, workman, shipowner, and artist on earth. All their faculties are directed toward this end; for this reason they invent tools or machines, they enlist the chemical and mechanical forces of the elements, they divide their labors, and they unite their efforts. How to do more with less, is the eternal question asked in all times, in all places, in all situations, in all things. Certainly they are motivated by self-interest; who can deny it? What other stimulant would urge them forward with the same degree of energy? Since every man here below bears the responsibility for his own existence and progress, how could he possibly have within him any lasting motive force except self-interest? You cry out in protest; but bear with me until the end, and you will see that, though each man thinks of himself alone, God is mindful of all.
Our constant concern is, therefore, to decrease our effort in relation to the end we seek. But when effort is diminished—whether by the removal of the obstacle or by the use of machines, the division of labor, joint activity, the harnessing of a force of Nature, etc.—this decreased effort is assigned a proportionately lower rating in relation to other services. We render a smaller service when we perform it for someone else; it has less value, and it is quite accurate to say that the domain of private property has receded. Has the utility of the end result been lost on that account? No, nor can it be by the very nature of our hypothesis. What, then, has happened to the utility? It has passed into the communal domain. As for that part of human effort which is no longer required, it does not on that account become sterile; it is directed toward other conquests. Enough obstacles appear and always will appear to thwart the satisfaction of our ever new and increasing physical, intellectual, and moral wants, so that our labor, when freed in one area, will always find something to challenge it in another. And so, since the domain of private property always remains the same, the communal domain increases like a circle whose radius is constantly lengthened.
Otherwise how could we explain progress and civilization, however imperfect the latter may be? Let us look upon ourselves and consider our weakness; let us compare our strength and our knowledge with the vigor and the knowledge that are presupposed by the countless satisfactions we are privileged to derive from society. Certainly we shall be convinced that, if we were reduced to our own efforts, we should not enjoy one hundred thousandth part of these satisfactions, even though each one of us had millions of acres of uncultivated land at his disposal. It is therefore certain that a given amount of human effort achieves immeasurably greater results today than in the time of the Druids. If this were true of only one individual, the natural inference would be that he lives and prospers at others' expense. But since the same thing happens for all members of the human family, we are led to the comforting conclusion that something outside ourselves has come to our aid; that the gratuitous co-operation of Nature has been progressively added to our own efforts, and that, throughout all our transactions, it has remained gratuitous; for if it were not gratuitous, it would explain nothing.
From the preceding considerations we may deduce the following propositions:
All property is value; all value is property.
What has no value is gratuitous; what is gratuitous is common to all.
A decline in value implies a greater amount of gratuitous utility.
A greater amount of gratuitous utility implies a partial realization of common ownership.
There are times in our history when we cannot utter certain words without running the risk of being misinterpreted. There will be no dearth of people ready to cry out, in praise or in condemnation, according to their economic persuasion: The author speaks of a communal domain; therefore he is a communist. I anticipate it, and I am resigned to it. But though resigned, I cannot refrain from seeking to avoid the imputation.
The reader must indeed have been inattentive (and it is for this reason that the readers most to be feared are those who do not read) if he has not discerned the great divide between the communal domain and communism. These two ideas are separated not only by the great expanse of private property but also by that of law, liberty, justice, and even of human personality.
By the communal domain is meant those things that we enjoy in common, by the design of Providence, without the need of any effort to apply them to our use. They can therefore give rise to no service, no transaction, no property. Property is based on our right to render services to ourselves or to render them to others for a remuneration. What the communist proposes to make common to all is not the gratuitous gifts of God, but human effort, or service. He proposes that each one turn over the fruit of his toil to the common fund and then make the authorities responsible for this fund's equitable distribution.
Now, one of two things will be done: either the distribution will be based on each man's contribution, or it will be made on some other basis.
In the first case, the communist hopes, as far as the result is concerned, to reproduce the existing order, contenting himself with substituting the arbitrary decision of a single individual for the free consent of all.
In the second case, on what basis will the distribution be made? Communism answers: On the basis of equality. What! Equality without reference to any difference in pains taken? We shall all have an equal share, whether we have worked six hours or twelve, mechanically or intellectually! But of all possible types of inequality this is the most shocking; and furthermore, it means the destruction of all initiative, liberty, dignity, and prudence. You propose to kill competition, but take care; you are only redirecting it. Under present conditions we compete to see who works most and best. Under your regime we shall compete to see who works worst and least.
Communism fails to understand even man's nature. Effort is of itself painful. What disposes us to exert it? It can only be a sensation more painful still, a want to be satisfied, a suffering to be avoided, a good thing to be enjoyed. Our motive force is, therefore, self-interest. When we ask communism what it proposes as a substitute, it answers in the words of Louis Blanc: honor, and in the words of M. Cabet: brotherhood. In that case you must at least make me feel other people's sensations, so that I may know to what end I should direct my labor.
And then just what is this code of honor and this sense of brotherhood that is to be put to work in all mankind at the instigation and under the watchful eyes of Messrs. Louis Blanc and Cabet? But it is not necessary for me to refute communism here. All that I desire to state is that it is the exact opposite in every particular of the system that I have sought to establish.
We recognize the right of every man to perform services for himself or to serve others according to conditions arrived at through free bargaining. Communism denies this right, since it places all services in the hands of an arbitrary, central authority.
Our doctrine is based on private property. Communism is based on systematic plunder, since it consists in handing over to one man, without compensation, the labor of another. If it distributed to each one according to his labor, it would, in fact, recognize private property and would no longer be communism.
Our doctrine is based on liberty. In fact, private property and liberty, in our eyes are one and the same; for man is made the owner of his own services by his right and his ability to dispose of them as he sees fit. Communism destroys liberty, for it permits no one to dispose freely of his own labor.
Our doctrine is founded on justice; communism, on injustice. This is the necessary conclusion from what we have just said.
There is, therefore, only one point of contact between the communists and ourselves: a certain similarity in the syllables composing the words “communism” and the “communal” domain.
But I trust that this similarity will not lead the reader astray. Whereas communism is the denial of private property, we see in our doctrine of the communal domain the most explicit affirmation and the most compelling demonstration that can be given in support of private property.
For, if the legitimacy of private property has appeared doubtful and inexplicable, even to those who were not communists, it seemed so because they felt that it concentrated in the hands of some, to the exclusion of others, the gifts of God originally belonging to all. We believe that we have completely dispelled this doubt by proving that what was, by decree of Providence, common to all, remains common in the course of all human transactions, since the domain of private property can never extend beyond the limits of value, beyond the rights laboriously acquired through services rendered.
And, when it is expressed in these terms, who can deny the right to private property? Who but a fool could assert that men have no rights over their own labor, that they may not rightfully receive voluntary services from those to whom they have rendered voluntary services?
There is another expression that requires explanation, for in recent times it has been strangely misused, viz., “gratuitous utility.” Do I need to say that I mean by “gratuitous,” not something that does not cost one man anything because he has taken it from another, but what does not cost anybody anything?
When Diogenes warmed himself in the sun, it could be said that he warmed himself gratis, for he received from the divine bounty a satisfaction that required no labor either from himself or from any of his contemporaries. I may add that this warmth from solar radiation remains gratuitous when a landowner uses it to ripen his wheat and his grapes, since, of course, when he sells his grapes and wheat, he is paid for his own services and not for the sun's. This interpretation may perhaps be fallacious (and if it is, there is nothing left to do but turn communist); but, in any case, such is the sense that the expression “gratuitous utility" obviously has and the sense in which I use it.
Since the establishment of the Republic∗ people have been talking a great deal about interest-free credit and education free of charge. But it is clear that they include a terrible fallacy in this word. Can the state make instruction shine down, like the light of day, on every corner of the land without requiring any effort from anybody? Can it cover France with schools and teachers who do not require payment in any form? All that the state can do is this: Instead of allowing each individual to seek out and pay for services of this type that he wants, the state can, by taxation, forcibly exact this remuneration from the citizens and then distribute the type of instruction it prefers without asking them for a second payment. In this case those who do not learn pay for those who do; those who learn little for those who learn much; those who are preparing for trades for those who will enter the professions. This is communism applied to one branch of human activity. Under this regime, on which I do not propose to pass judgment at this time, one may say, one must say: Education is common to all; but it would be ridiculous to say: Education is free of charge. Free of charge! Yes, for some of those who receive it, but not for those who pay out the money for it, if not to the teacher, at least to the tax collector.
There is nothing that the state cannot give gratis if we follow this line of reasoning; and if this word were not mere hocus-pocus, gratuitous education would not be the only thing we should ask of the state, but gratuitous food as well, and gratuitous clothing, and gratuitous housing, etc. Let us beware. The great mass of our citizens have almost reached this point; at least there is no dearth of agitators demanding, in the name of the common people, interest-free credit, gratuitous tools of production, etc., etc. Deceived by the meaning of a word, we have taken a step toward communism; why should we not take a second, then a third, until all liberty, all property, all justice have passed away? Will it be alleged that education is so universally necessary that we are permitted for its sake to compromise with justice and our principles? But is not food even more important. Primo vivere, deinde philosophari,∗ the common people will say, and, in all truth, I do not know what answer can be given them.
Who knows? Those inclined to accuse me of communistic leanings because I have noted the providential community of God's gifts will perhaps be the very ones to violate the right to learn and to teach, that is, to violate in its essence the right to property. These inconsistencies are more surprising than unusual.
[∗][This is the famous and controversial answer Proudhon gave to his own question, What is Property? which is the title of his first published work (1840).—Translator.]
[∗][An old quarter of Paris where low-priced goods are sold.—Translator.]
[∗][“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” Genesis, I, 3.—Translator.]
[∗][In the original French: propriété ... exprime ... qu'une chose est propre à une personne ... qu'elle n'est propre à aucune autre.”—Translator.]
[†][This famous statement is the opening sentence of the Second Part of the Discourse on the Origin of the Inequality among Men.—Translator.]
[∗][Sir Thomas More (1478–1535), whose Utopia, published first in Latin in 1516 and later in English is a satire on the government and society of his day, which are compared with a fictitious island commonwealth, modeled on Platonic principles, where goods are owned in common.—Translator.]
[∗][The reference here is to the Second Republic of 1848 (cf. chap. 3, p. 37).—Translator.]
[∗][“Let us concern ourselves first with gaining a living; afterwards we may philosophize.” A common adage of antiquity.—Translator.]
[1.]See chap. 11.