Front Page Titles (by Subject) 6: Property and Plunder * - Selected Essays on Political Economy
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6: Property and Plunder * - Frédéric Bastiat, Selected Essays on Political Economy 
Selected Essays on Political Economy, trans. Seymour Cain, ed. George B. de Huszar, introduction by F.A. Hayek (Irvington-on-Hudson: Foundation for Economic Education, 1995).
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Property and Plunder*
The National Assembly now has before it an immense problem whose solution affects in the highest degree the prosperity and tranquillity of France. A new right clamors for entry into the Constitution: the right to employment. It does not merely ask for a place of its own; it lays claim wholly or partly to the place now held by the right to property.
M. Louis Blanc has already provisionally proclaimed this new right, and we know with what success.
M. Proudhon demands it in order to abolish property rights entirely.
M. Considérant does so in order to render the right to property more secure by legitimizing it.
Thus, according to these political theorists, there is in property something unjust and false, a deadly germ. I propose to demonstrate that property is truth and justice itself, and that what it has within it is the principle of progress and life.
They seem to think that in the struggle that is going to take place, the poor have a stake in the triumph of the right to employment, and the rich, in the defense of the right to property. I believe that I can prove that the right to property is essentially democratic, and that all that denies or violates it is basically aristocratic and anarchistic.
I hesitated to ask for space in a newspaper for a dissertation on political economy. Here is what may justify this attempt.
First, the seriousness and the immediacy of the subject.
Next, Messrs. Louis Blanc, Considérant, and Proudhon are not only political theorists; they are also leaders of schools of thought, and they have behind them numerous and ardent followers, as evidenced by their presence in the National Assembly. Their doctrines exercise at present a considerable influence—harmful, in my opinion—in the business world, and, what cannot but be a matter of grave concern, their point of view can be supported by concessions made to it by the orthodox masters of economics.
Finally—why not admit it?—something deep within my consciousness tells me that in the midst of this heated controversy it will perhaps be possible for me to shed an unexpected ray of light upon the problem in an area in which the reconciliation of divergent schools of thought can sometimes be effected.
This is enough, I hope, for these letters to find favor among my readers.
I should first set forth the criticism that is directed against property.
Here it is, in short, as M. Considérant expounds it. I do not believe I have altered his theory in condensing it.2
Every man legitimately possesses what his labor has produced. He can consume it, give it away, exchange it, or bequeath it, without anyone, not even society as a whole, having anything to say about it.
The landowner, then, legitimately possesses not only the products of the soil that he has produced, but, besides, the additional value that he has given to the soil itself by cultivating it.
But there is one thing that he has not created, that is not the fruit of any labor: the virgin soil, the primordial capital, the productive power of natural resources. Now, the landowner has taken possession of this capital. This is usurpation, confiscation, injustice, permanent wrongdoing.
The human race has been placed on this earth in order to live and to prosper here. The whole of mankind, then, is the usufructuary of the surface of the earth. But now that surface has been appropriated by the few, to the exclusion of the many.
It is true that this appropriation is inevitable; for how cultivate the land if every man could exercise at random and at will his natural rights, that is, the rights of a savage?
Property, then, must not be destroyed, but it must be legitimized. How? By the recognition of the right to employment.
Actually, primitive peoples exercise their four rights (hunting, fishing, food-gathering, and pasturing) only on condition that they engage in labor; it is, then, on the same condition that society owes to the proletarians the equivalent of the usufruct of which it has deprived them.
In short, society owes to all members of the human race, on condition that they work, a wage that puts them on a footing that compares favorably with that of savages.
Then property will be legitimized in all respects, and a reconciliation will be effected between the rich and the poor.
That is all there is to the theory of M. Considérant.3 He asserts that this question of property is one of the simplest, that it requires only a little common sense to solve it, and that, nevertheless, no one before him has understood it at all.
The compliment is hardly flattering to the human race; but, on the other hand, I can only marvel at the extreme modesty of the author's conclusions.
What does he, in fact, ask of society?
That it recognize the right to employment as the equivalent of the usufruct of the virgin soil, for the profit of the whole of mankind.
And how much does he estimate that equivalent is worth?
What the virgin soil can afford as a living to savages.
As this is barely sufficient to support one inhabitant in five square miles, the landowners of France can certainly legitimize their usurpation very cheaply. They have only to promise to raise the standard of living of thirty to forty thousand landless workers all the way up to that of the Eskimos.
But what am I saying? Why speak of France? In this system there is no longer any France, there is no longer any national property, since the usufruct of the land belongs by natural right to the whole human race, to mankind.
But I do not intend to examine M. Considérant's theory in detail. That would lead me too far. I want to deal only with what is important and serious in the basis of this theory: I mean the question of land rent. The system of M. Considérant may be summarized thus: An agricultural product exists by virtue of the co-operation of two actions: the action of man, or labor, which prepares the way for the right to property; and the action of Nature, which should be free of charge, and which the landowners turn unjustly to their profit. This is what constitutes usurpation of the rights of the human race.
If, then, I succeed in proving that men, in their business transactions, pay one another only for their labor, that they do not include in the price of the things exchanged the action of Nature, M. Considérant should deem himself completely satisfied.
The complaints of M. Proudhon against property are absolutely the same. “Property,” he says, “will cease to be illegitimate when services are reciprocal.” Then, if I demonstrate that men exchange only services with one another, without ever charging one another a centime for the use of those forces of Nature that God has given free of charge to all men, M. Proudhon, for his part, will have to agree that his utopia has been attained.
These two political theorists will then have no further basis for demanding the right to employment. It is of little consequence that this famous right is viewed by them from such diametrically opposite positions that, according to M. Considérant, it should legitimize property, whereas, according to M. Proudhon, it should abolish it. The fact remains that it can no longer be an issue, provided that it is clearly proved that, under the system of private ownership, men exchange labor for labor, effort for effort, work for work, service for service, the contribution of Nature always being something given without charge, into the bargain; so that the forces of Nature, which were designed to be free of charge, remain so throughout all human transactions.
Obviously, what is at issue here is the legitimacy of land rent, because it is assumed that it is, wholly or partly, an unjust payment that the consumer makes to the landowner, not for a personal service, but for the gratuitous gifts of Nature.
I have said that our modern reformers could find some support in the opinions expressed by the principal economists.4
In fact, Adam Smith says that rent is often a reasonable interest on the capital expended for the improvement of the land, but that this interest is also often only a part of the rent.
McCulloch* makes this positive declaration about it:
What is properly termed rent is the sum paid for the use of the natural and inherent powers of the soil. It is entirely distinct from the sum paid for the use of buildings, enclosures, roads, or other improvements. Rent, then, is always a monopoly.
Buchanan† goes so far as to say:
Rent is a part of the income of the consumers that passes into the pocket of the landowner.
A portion of the rent represents the interest on the capital which had been employed in improving the land, and in erecting .... buildings, .... etc.; the rest is paid for the use of the original and indestructible powers of the soil.
The value of land and its power of yielding rent are due to two circumstances: first, the appropriation of its natural powers; second, the labor applied to its improvement. Under the first of these relations, rent is a monopoly. It restricts the usufruct of the gifts that God has given to men for the satisfaction of their wants. This restriction is just only in so far as it is necessary for the common good.
The instruments of production are labour and natural agents. Natural agents having been appropriated, proprietors charge for their use under the form of rent, which is the recompense for no sacrifice whatever and is received by those who have neither laboured nor put by, but who merely hold out their hands to accept the offerings of the rest of the community.
After having said that a part of the land rent corresponds to the interest on capital, Senior adds:
The surplus is taken by the proprietor of the natural agents and is his reward, not for having laboured or abstained, but simply for not having withheld when he was able to withhold, for having permitted the gifts of Nature to be accepted.
Certainly, at the moment of entering upon a struggle with men who proclaim a doctrine plausible in itself, apt to arouse hopes and to evoke a sympathetic response among the suffering classes, and basing itself on such authorities, it will not do to close one's eyes to the seriousness of the situation or to contemn our opponents as mere dreamers, utopians, madmen, or even revolutionaries. We must study and resolve this question once and for all. It is well worth a moment of tedium.
I believe that the question will be resolved in a manner satisfactory to all if I prove that the landowner not only leaves the gratuitous usufruct of natural resources to what are called the proletarians, but also increases that usufruct ten and a hundred times. I venture to hope that from this demonstration a clear view will emerge of certain harmonies able to satisfy the understanding and to meet the demands of all schools of thought: political economists, socialists, and even communists.5
How inflexible is the power of logic!
Ruthless conquerors divide up an island; they live on rents in leisure and pomp, in the midst of the poor, hard-working conquered people. There is, then, says economic science, a source of values other than labor.
Then it sets about analyzing land rent and announces this theory to the world:
“Rent is, in part, the interest on capital expended. The other part is the monopoly of natural resources which have been usurped and confiscated.”
Very soon this political economy of the English school crosses the Channel. Socialist logic gets hold of it and says to the workers: “Beware! Three elements enter into the price of the bread that you eat. There is the work of the farmer—which you are obliged to pay for; there is the work of the landowner—for which you are obliged to pay as well; and there is the work of Nature—for which you do not owe anybody anything. What is taken from you on this ground is a monopoly, as Scrope says; it is a tax deducted from the gifts that God gave you, as Senior says.”
Economic science sees the danger of its distinction. Still, it does not retract it, but explains it: “It is true,” it says, “that the role of the landowner in the social mechanism is agreeable, but it is indispensable. People work for him, and he pays them with the warmth of the sun and the freshness of the dew. Things have to be this way, because otherwise the soil would never be tilled.”
“Never mind that,” logic replies. “I have a thousand organizations in reserve to wipe out injustice. We do not have to put up with it.”
Thus, thanks to a false principle, picked up in the English school, logic attacks landed property. Will it stop there? Don't you believe it. It would not be logic if it did.
As it has already said to the farmer: “The laws of plant life cannot be private property and yield you a profit"; so it will say to the manufacturer of cloth: “The law of gravitation cannot be private property and yield you a profit"; to the manufacturer of linen: “The law of the expansion of steam cannot be private property and yield you a profit"; to the ironmaster: “The laws of combustion cannot be private property and yield you a profit"; to the shipowner: “The laws of hydrostatics cannot be private property and yield you a profit"; to the carpenter, to the joiner, to the woodcutter: “You use saws, axes, and hammers; thus, you make your work depend on the hardness of bodies and the resistance of materials. These laws belong to everyone and should not give rise to a profit.”
Yes, logic will go that far, at the risk of overthrowing the whole of society. After having rejected landed property, it will deny the productivity of capital, always basing itself on the assumption that the landowner and the capitalist are paid for the use of the forces of Nature. For this reason it is important to prove that this logic starts from a false premise, that it is not true in any art, in any profession, in any industry, that the forces of Nature are charged for, and that in this respect agriculture is no exception.
There are things that are useful without requiring the intervention of labor: land, air, water, the light and the warmth of the sun—the raw materials and the forces that Nature provides us with.
There are others that become useful only because labor is exerted on raw materials and takes advantage of these forces.
Utility, then, is sometimes due to Nature alone, sometimes to labor alone, but nearly always to the combined action of both labor and Nature.
Let others lose themselves in definitions. For my part, I understand by utility what everyone understands by this word, whose etymology indicates its meaning very exactly. All that is serviceable, whether it be by nature, by labor, or by both, is useful.
I call value only that portion of utility that labor imparts or adds to things, so that two things have value when those who have labored over them exchange them freely for one another. Here are my reasons:
What makes a man refuse an exchange? It is his knowledge that to produce the thing that is offered to him would require less labor from him than what is demanded of him for it. It would be futile to tell him: “I have worked less than you, but gravitation helped me and I have included its value in my reckoning.” He will reply: “I too can make use of gravitation, with labor equal to your own.”
When two men are isolated, if they work, it is in order to render service to themselves; if exchange intervenes, each renders service to the other and receives an equivalent service from him. If one of them has the aid of a natural resource that is also at the disposition of the other, that natural resource will not count in the price. The right to refuse renders such a consideration impossible.
Robinson Crusoe hunts, and Friday fishes. It is clear that the quantity of fish exchanged for game will be determined by the labor involved. If Robinson said to Friday: “Nature takes greater pains to make a bird than to make a fish; hence, give me more of your labor than I give you of mine, since I am turning over to you, in compensation, a greater effort on the part of Nature,” Friday would not fail to reply: “It is not given to you, any more than to me, to evaluate the efforts of Nature. What must be compared is your labor against mine, and if you want to establish our relations on such a footing that I shall always have to work more than you, I am going to take up hunting, and you may fish, if you like.”
We see that Nature's bounty, on this hypothesis, cannot become a monopoly save by violence. We see further that, if it counts for a great deal in utility, it counts for nothing in value.
I have elsewhere pointed to the metaphor as an enemy of political economy; now I accuse metonymy of the same crime.6
Are we using very precise language when we say: “Water is worth two sous"?
It is said that a famous astronomer could not bring himself to say: “Ah, what a beautiful sunset!” Even in the presence of ladies he cried out, in his strange enthusiasm: “Ah, what a beautiful spectacle is the rotation of the earth when the rays of the sun strike it at a tangent!”
That astronomer was precise, but ridiculous. An economist would be no less so who said. “The labor that it takes to fetch water from the spring is worth two sous.”
However, the oddness of the circumlocution does not detract from its exactness.
In point of fact, the water is worth nothing. It does not have value, although it has utility. If we all always had a spring right at our feet, evidently water would not have any value, since there would be no occasion to exchange it. But if it is half a mile away, we must go and get it; that is work, and there is the origin of its value. If it is a mile away, that is double work, and hence double value, although the utility remains the same. Water for me is a gratuitous gift of Nature, on condition that I go and get it. If I do so myself, I render myself a service by taking some pains. If I entrust this task to another, I put him to some trouble and owe him a service. Thus, there are two pains, two services, to compare and discuss. The gift of Nature always remains free of charge. In fact, it seems to me that the value resides in the labor, and not in the water, and that it is just as much by metonymy that we say, “Water is worth two sous,” as that we say, “I have drunk a bottle.”
Air is a gratuitous gift of Nature; it has no value. The economists say, “It does not have value in exchange, but it has value in use.” What language! Oh, sirs, are you deliberately trying to make economics boring? Why not simply say, “It has no value, but it has utility”? It has utility because it is useful. It does not have value because Nature has done everything and labor nothing. If labor counts for nothing here, then no one has to render, receive, or remunerate any service in this regard. No one has to go to any trouble or to make an exchange; there is nothing to compare; there is no value.
But if you enter a diving bell and have a man send down air to you with a pump for two hours, he will be put to some trouble; he will render you a service; you will have to repay him. Will you pay for the air? No, for the labor. Has the air, then, acquired value? You can say so, if you want to be brief, but do not forget that this mode of speech is an example of metonymy, that the air remains free of charge; that no value can be assigned to it; that, if it has any value, this is measured by the pains taken, compared with what is given in exchange.
A laundryman is obliged to dry linen in a large establishment by the heat of a fire. Another is content to expose it to the sun. The latter takes less pains; he cannot and does not demand as much. He does not, then, charge me for the warmth of the sun's rays, and it is I, the consumer, who benefit from it.
Thus, the great economic law is this:
Services are exchanged for services.
Do ut des; do ut facias; facio ut des; facio ut facias. Do this for me, and I will do that for you. It is very trivial, very commonplace; it is, nonetheless, the beginning, the middle, and the end of economic science.7
We may draw from these three examples this general conclusion: The consumer pays for all the services that are rendered him, all the trouble that he is spared, all the labor that he occasions; but he enjoys, without paying for them, the gratuitous gifts of Nature as well as the forces of Nature that the producer has put to work.
These three men put at my disposal air, water, and heat, without charging me for anything except their pains.
What, then, can lead us to believe that the farmer, who also makes use of air, water, and heat, charges me for the so-called intrinsic value of these natural resources? That he presents me with a bill for created and uncreated utility? That, for example, the price of wheat sold at 18 francs is broken down thus:
Why do all the economists of the English school believe that this latter element has been covertly introduced into the value of wheat?
Services are exchanged for services. I have to constrain myself to resist the temptation to show how simple, true, and fruitful this axiom is.
Once this axiom is clearly understood, what becomes of such subtle distinctions as use-value and exchange-value, material products and immaterial products, productive classes and unproductive classes? Manufacturers, lawyers, doctors, civil servants, bankers, merchants, sailors, soldiers, artists, workers, all of us, such as we are, except for the exploiters, render and receive services. Now, since these reciprocal services alone are commensurable with one another, it is in them alone that value resides, and not in the gratuitous raw materials and in the gratuitous natural resources that they put to work. Let it not be said, then, as is customary nowadays, that the merchant is a parasitic middleman. Does he or does he not take pains? Does he or does he not spare us labor? Does he or does he not render services? If he renders services, he, as well as the manufacturer, creates value.8
Just as the manufacturer, by means of the steam engine, takes advantage of the weight of the atmosphere and the expansibility of gases to make his spindles turn, so the merchant makes use of the direction of the winds and the fluidity of water to transport his goods. But neither the one nor the other charges us for these forces of Nature; for the more they are assisted by these forces, the more they are compelled to lower their prices. These forces, then, remain what God willed that they should be, a gratuitous gift, on condition that labor be applied to them, for all mankind.
Is it otherwise in agriculture? This is what I have to examine.
Imagine an immense island inhabited by a few savages. One of them conceives the idea of devoting himself to the cultivation of the soil. He prepares for it for a long time, for he knows that the enterprise will require many days' labor before yielding the slightest compensation. He accumulates provisions; he makes a few crude instruments. Finally, he is ready; he encloses and clears a piece of land.
This raises two questions:
Does this savage infringe upon the rights of the community?
Does he hurt its interests?
Since there is a hundred thousand times more land than the community could cultivate, he does no more injury to its rights than I do to those of my fellow countrymen when I take a glass of water out of the Seine to drink, or a cubic foot of air from the atmosphere to breathe.
Neither does he hurt its interests. Quite the contrary. Since he either quits hunting or hunts less, his companions have proportionately more hunting space; besides, if he produces more food than he can consume, there remains a surplus for him to exchange.
In that exchange, does he exercise the least coercion over his fellow men? No, since they are free to accept or to refuse.
Does he charge for the contribution of the land, the sun, and the rain? No, since everyone can resort, as he has, to these gratuitous means of production.
If he wants to sell his piece of land, what will he get for it? The equivalent of his labor, and that is all. If he said: “Give me first as much of your time as I have devoted to the working of the land, and then another portion of your time for the value of the virgin soil,” the reply would be: “There is virgin soil next to yours. I can compensate you only for your time; since, if I devoted an equal amount of time to the same task, nothing would prevent me from putting myself on the same footing as you.” It is exactly the same reply that we should make to a water carrier who would ask two sous of us for the value of his services and two more for the value of the water. Hence, it is evident that the land and the water have this in common, that both have great utility, and that neither has value.
If our savage wanted to rent out his field, he would still get nothing but compensation for his labor in another form. A demand for anything more would always be met with this inexorable reply: “There is farm land on the island,” a reply carrying greater finality than that of the miller of Sans-Souci: “There are judges in Berlin.”*9
Thus, originally, at least, the landowner, whether he sells the products of his land or his land itself, or whether he rents it, does nothing but render and receive services on an equal footing. It is these services which are compared and, consequently, which have value, value being attributed to the soil only by abbreviation or metonymy.
Let us see what happens as the island becomes populated and cultivated.
It is clearly evident that it becomes easier for everyone to procure raw materials, provisions, and labor, without special privileges for anyone, as is seen in the United States. There it is absolutely impossible for the landowners to put themselves in a more favorable position than other workers, since, because of the abundance of land, everyone has the choice of resorting to agriculture if it becomes more profitable than other vocations. This freedom suffices to maintain the equivalence of services. It also suffices to insure that the forces of Nature, which are used in a great number of industries as well as in agriculture, do not profit the producers as such, but the consuming public.
Two brothers separate. One goes whale fishing; the other goes to open up land in the Far West. Then they exchange whale oil for wheat. Does this mean that for one of the parties to the transaction the value of the soil counts for more than the value of the whale counts for the other? Comparison can be made only of services received and rendered. Hence, these services alone have value.
This is so true that if Nature has been very generous to the land, that is, if the harvest is abundant, the price of wheat drops, and it is the fisherman who profits from it. If Nature has been generous to the ocean, in other words, if the fishing has been good, it is the whale oil that is cheap, to the profit of the farmer. Nothing proves better that the gratuitous gift of Nature, although put to work by the producer, always remains free of charge for the consumers, on the sole condition that they pay him for putting it to work, that is, for his service.
Hence, as long as there is an abundance of uncultivated land in a country, the balance between reciprocal services will be maintained, and the landowners will be unable to enjoy any exceptional advantage.
It would not be thus if the landowners succeeded in forbidding all new land-clearing. In that case, it is quite clear that they would be in a position to impose their own terms on the rest of the community. As the population grew and the need for food made itself felt more and more insistently, it is clear that the landowners would be in a position to charge more dearly for their services, a fact which ordinary language expresses thus, by metonymy: The soil has more value. But the proof that this iniquitous privilege would confer an artificial value, not on raw materials, but on services, is to be found in France and in Paris itself. By a process similar to that which we have just described, the law limits the number of brokers, dealers in government bonds, solicitors, and butchers; and what is the result? In placing them in a position to put a high price on their services, the law creates in their favor a kind of capital that is not embodied in any material form. For the sake of brevity we say: “This practice, this office, this license, is worth so much,” and the metonymy is evident. The same is true of the soil.
Finally, we come to the last hypothesis, in which the soil of the whole island is individually owned and cultivated.
Here it seems that the relative position of the two classes is going to change.
In fact, the population continues to increase; it crowds into all fields of endeavor, except the one that has already been preempted. The landowner, then, will be in a position to set the terms of exchange. What limits the value of a service is never the will of the one who renders it. It is limited when the one to whom it is offered can forgo it or do it for himself or deal with others. The proletarian no longer has any of these alternatives. Formerly he could say to the landowner: “If you ask of me more than the remuneration for your labor, I will cultivate the land myself,” and the landowner was forced to submit. Today the landowner has this retort: “There is no more open land in the country.” Thus, whether value is ascribed to things or to services, the cultivator of the soil will profit from the absence of all competition; and as the landowners will be in a position to impose their terms on the tenant farmers and the farm laborers, they will, in effect, impose them on everyone.
This new situation evidently has as its sole cause the fact that the landless can no longer restrain the demands of the landowners by saying, “There is still uncleared land to be had.”
What must, then, happen for the equivalence of services to be maintained, for the existing situation to revert immediately to that which previously prevailed? Only one thing: that a second island emerge beside our island, or, better yet, whole continents not entirely given over to cultivation.
In that case, labor would continue to develop, distributing itself in proper proportions between agriculture and other industries, without any oppression being possible from one side or the other; since, if the landowner said to the artisan: “I will sell my wheat at a price above the normal remuneration of labor,” the latter would be quick to reply: “I will work for the landowners on the continent, who cannot make such demands.”
When that time comes, the true security of the masses consists in freedom of exchange, in the right to employment in the proper sense of the term.10
The right to employment consists in freedom, the right to own property. The artisan is the owner of the product of his labor, of his services, or of the price that he gets for them, just as much as the landowner. As long as, in virtue of this right, he can exchange them all over the world for agricultural products, he necessarily keeps the landowner in that position of equality which I have previously described, in which services are exchanged for services, without the possession of the soil conferring by itself an advantage independent of labor any greater than the possession of a steam engine or of the simplest tool.
But if, usurping the legislative power, the landowners prevent the proletarians from working for outsiders, then the balance of services is destroyed. Out of respect for scientific precision, I will not say that they thereby artificially raise the value of the soil or of the forces of Nature; but I will say that they artificially raise the value of their services. With less labor they pay for more labor. They oppress others. They do what all licensed monopolists do, and as the landowners who prohibited new clearings did: they introduce into society a cause of inequality and poverty; they pervert the ideas of justice and property; they dig an abyss under their own feet.11
But what relief can the landless find in the proclamation of the right to employment? In what respect will this new right increase the amount of food or the number of jobs available to the masses? Is not all capital employed in giving them work? Will it increase by passing through the public treasury? By taking it away through taxation, does not the state close at least as many sources of employment on one side as it opens on another?
And then, in whose favor do you establish this right? According to your theory, this would be in favor of whoever no longer has his share of the usufruct of the virgin soil. But bankers, merchants, manufacturers, lawyers, doctors, government officials, artists, and artisans are not landowners. Do you mean that the landowners are to be responsible for assuring employment for all these citizens? But all of them create job opportunities for one another. Do you mean only that the rich, whether landowners or not, should come to the aid of the poor? Then you are talking about the dole, and not about a right having its source in the ownership of land.
The right that must be demanded, because it is incontestable, inviolate, and sacred, is the right to employment in the true sense of the term, i.e., freedom, the right to ownership, not of the soil only, but of one's labor, one's intelligence, one's faculties, one's person—a right that is violated if one class can forbid to other classes the free exchange of their services whether abroad or at home. In so far as this freedom exists, landed property is not a privilege; it is, like any other freedom, only man's right to the fruits of his own labor.
It remains for me to draw a few conclusions from this doctrine.
The physiocrats* used to say: Only land is productive.
Certain political economists have said: Labor alone is productive.
When we see the plowman bending over the furrow and watering it with the sweat of his brow, we can hardly deny his contribution to the work of production. But Nature, too, is tireless. And the sunlight that pierces the cloud, and the cloud that is driven by the wind, and the wind that brings the rain, and the rain that dissolves the substances that fertilize the soil, and the forces that unfold the mystery of life in the young plant—all the known and unknown forces of Nature—prepare the harvest while the plowman seeks in sleep a respite from his labors.
It is, then, impossible not to recognize the fact that Nature and human labor co-operate to accomplish the phenomenon of production. Utility, by which the human race lives, is the result of this co-operation, and this is as true of virtually all industries as it is of agriculture.
But in the exchanges that men carry on with one another there is only one thing that is and can be compared, namely, human labor, by which I mean services rendered and received. These services alone are commensurable with one another; they alone are remunerable; it is in them alone that value resides; and it is altogether accurate to say that man is essentially the owner only of his own work.
As for the portion of utility that is due to the contribution of Nature, although quite real and immensely greater than all that man could accomplish, it is a gratuitous gift; it is transferred from hand to hand without charge; it is without value, properly so called. Who could estimate, measure, or determine the value of the laws of Nature that, from the beginning of the world, have responded whenever man's labor called them into action? To what are they to be compared? How are we to evaluate them? If they had a value, they would figure in our accounts and our inventories; we should charge for their use. And how should we arrive at a value, since they are at the disposal of all, on the same condition, namely, that labor be applied to put them to work?12
Thus, all useful production is the work of Nature, which acts gratis, and of labor, which is remunerated.
But, for the production of a given utility, these two factors, human labor and the forces of Nature, do not stand in fixed and immutable relations to each other. Far from it! Progress consists in constantly increasing Nature's contribution, thereby proportionately decreasing the contribution of human labor. In other words, for a given quantity of utility, the gratuitous co-operation of Nature tends to replace more and more the onerous co-operation of labor. The common share increases at the expense of the remunerable, appropriated share.
If you had to transport a hundredweight load from Paris to Lille without the aid of any of the forces of Nature, that is, on a man's back, it would take you a month's hard work. If, instead of undertaking this task yourself, you entrusted it to another, you would have to repay him with equal labor. Otherwise he would not do it. With the advent of the sleigh, the cart, and the railroad, with each advance, a part of the work is entrusted to the forces of Nature, and there is a corresponding decrease in the labor that needs to be performed or to be remunerated. Now, every payment that is eliminated evidently represents a victory, not for the one who renders the service, but for the one who receives it, that is, for mankind.
Before the invention of printing, a scribe could not copy a Bible in less than a year, and that was the measure of the remuneration that he had a right to demand. Today one can buy a Bible for five francs, which hardly requires a day's work. The gratuitous force of Nature, then, replaces two hundred ninety-nine three-hundredths of the remunerable labor of man. One part represents the human service and remains private property; two hundred and ninety-nine parts represent the contribution of Nature, are no longer paid for, and consequently fall into the domain of what is free of charge and common to all.
There is not a tool, an implement, or a machine that has not resulted in a decrease in the contribution of human labor, that is, either in the value of the product or in the factor that constitutes the basis of property.
This observation, which, I agree, is quite imperfectly set forth here, ought, it seems to me, to rally on the common ground of property and liberty the schools of thought that today share in holding such an unfortunate sway over public opinion.
Each of these schools of thought may be summed up in an axiom.
Economist axiom: Let things alone. (Laissez faire, laissez passer.)
Egalitarian axiom: Reciprocity of services.
Saint-Simonian axiom: To each according to his capacity, to each capacity according to its production.
Socialist axiom: Equitable distribution among capital, talent, and labor.
Communist axiom: Community of goods.
I am going to indicate (for I cannot do anything more than that here) how the doctrine set forth in the preceding lines satisfies the demands of all these programs.
It is hardly necessary to prove that the economists should accept a doctrine that is evidently derived from the teachings of Smith and of Say,* and represents nothing but a consequence of the general laws that they discovered. Let things alone—that is what the word freedom means essentially, and I question whether it is possible even to conceive of the notion of property without freedom. Am I the owner of my productive capacities, of my labor, and of the products of my labor, if I cannot use them to render services voluntarily accepted? Should I not be free either to work by myself, which involves the necessity of exchange, or to join forces with my fellow men, which is association, or another form of exchange?
And if freedom is restricted, is not an injury done to property itself? Besides, how will reciprocal services receive their just relative value if they are not exchanged freely, if the law forbids human labor to perform the services that are the most highly remunerated? Property, justice, equality, and the balancing of services evidently can result only from freedom. Moreover, it is freedom that renders the contribution of the forces of Nature free of charge and common to all; for as long as legal privilege confers upon me the exclusive fight to the exploitation of any of the forces of Nature, I charge not only for my labor, but for the use of that force. I know how fashionable it is nowadays to sneer at freedom. The age seems to have taken seriously the ironic refrain of our great song-writer:*
For my part, even as I have always loved it instinctively, so shall I never cease to defend it rationally.
The reciprocity of services to which they aspire is exactly what results from the system of private ownership.
Apparently, man is the owner of the whole of what he possesses, of all the utility that it includes. In reality, he is the owner only of its value, of that portion of utility contributed by labor; since, in selling it, he can be remunerated only for the service that he renders. The representative of the egalitarians recently condemned property, restricting the word to what he calls usury, the use of soil, of money, of houses, of credit, etc. But this kind of usury is and cannot but be derived from labor. To receive a service implies the obligation to render it. This is what the reciprocity of services consists in. When I lend a thing which I have produced with the sweat of my brow, and which I may turn to my own account, I render a service to the borrower, who also owes me a service in return. He would not render me any if he limited himself to restoring the thing at the end of the year. During that period he would have profited from my labor to my detriment. If I were remunerated for something other than for my labor, the objection of the egalitarians would be plausible. But it is nothing of the sort. Once, then, they are assured of the truth of the theory set forth in these articles, if they are consistent, they will join with us in our effort to safeguard the right to property and to demand what is needed to complete it, or rather what constitutes it, namely, liberty.
To each according to his capacity, to each capacity according to its production.
This too is accomplished by the system of private ownership.
We render each other reciprocal services; but these services are not proportionate to the duration or the intensity of our labor. They are not measured by a dynamometer or by a chronometer. Whether I have worked an hour or a day matters little to the one to whom I offer my service. What he is interested in is, not the pains I take, but the pains I spare him.13 In order to save labor and time, I try to make use of one of the forces of Nature. In so far as no one except me knows how to turn this force to account, I render to others more services than they can render to themselves in the same time. I am well remunerated, and I enrich myself without harming anyone. The force of Nature in this case redounds to my profit alone; my capacity is recompensed: To each according to his capacity. But very soon my secret is divulged. My technique is imitated; competition forces me to reduce my demands. The price of the product falls until my labor receives no more than the normal remuneration of all labor of the same kind. The force of Nature is not lost thereby; it escapes me, but it is acquired by all mankind, which henceforth procures an equal satisfaction with less labor. Whoever exploits that force for his own use takes less trouble than formerly and, hence, whoever exploits it for others is due a lesser remuneration. If he wants to increase his wealth, he is left no other recourse than to increase his labor. To each capacity according to its production. Essentially, it is a matter of working better or of working more, and this is precisely what the Saint-Simonian axiom means.
Equitable distribution among talent, capital, and labor.
Equity in distribution results from the law: Services are exchanged for services, provided that these exchanges are free, that is, provided that the right to property is recognized and respected.
It is quite clear, in the first place, that the one who has more talent renders more services for equal pains; from which it follows that he is voluntarily granted a greater remuneration.
As for capital and labor, that is a subject on which I regret not being able to expatiate here, for there is none which has been presented to the public under a falser and more dangerous light.
Capital is often represented as a devouring monster, as the enemy of labor. Thus, a sort of irrational antagonism has been set up between two powers, which, at bottom, have the same origin and the same nature, which co-operate with and aid each other, and which cannot do without each other. When I see labor angry at capital, I seem to see hunger rejecting food.
I define capital thus: raw materials, implements, and provisions, of which the use is free of charge, let us not forget, in so far as Nature has contributed to produce them, and of which only the value, the product of labor, is charged for.
To accomplish anything useful, raw materials are necessary; however simple it may be, it requires implements; however short a time it takes, provisions are needed. For example: for a railroad to be built, society must set aside enough to keep thousands of men alive for several years.
Raw materials, implements, and provisions are themselves the products of previous labor, which has not yet been remunerated. Hence, when previous labor and present labor are combined for a single end, in a common enterprise, they remunerate each other; there is an exchange of labor, an exchange of services, on mutually agreed-upon terms. Which of the two parties will obtain the better terms? The one that has less need of the other. We are here confronted with the inexorable law of supply and demand; to complain of it is childish and self-contradictory. To say that labor should be well remunerated when the workers are numerous and capital scarce is tantamount to saying that the scarcer the provisions, the better fed everyone should be.
For labor to be in demand and well paid, there must, then, be plenty of raw materials, implements, and provisions—in other words, capital—in the country.
It follows from this that it is in the basic interest of the workers that capital be built up rapidly; that, as a result of their expeditious accumulation, raw materials, implements, and provisions be in active competition with one another. It is only this that can improve the lot of the workers. And what is the essential condition for the formation of capital? It is that everyone be sure of really being the owner, in the full sense of the word, of his labor and his savings. Property, security, liberty, order, peace, economy—these are what interest everyone, but especially and in the highest degree, the proletarians.
In all ages, we find men of upright and benevolent character—men like Thomas More,* Harrington,† and Fénelon—who, shocked by the spectacle of human suffering and the inequalities of wealth, have sought refuge in a communist utopia.
However strange this may appear, I assert that the system of private ownership tends, right under our eyes, to make such a utopia more and more nearly a reality. It is for this reason that I said at the beginning that property is essentially democratic.
What makes it possible for mankind to live and develop? Everything that serves it, everything that is useful. Among useful things there are some that human labor has nothing to do in producing—air, water, sunlight; these are completely free of charge and common to all. There are others that become useful only by virtue of the co-operation of labor and Nature. Their utility, therefore, is analyzable into two parts. One part is due to labor, and it alone is remunerable, has value, and constitutes property. The other part is put there by natural resources, and this remains free of charge and common to all.
Now, of these two forces which contribute to produce utility, the second, that which is free of charge and common to all, constantly replaces the first, which is onerous and hence remunerable. This is the law of progress. There is not a man on earth who does not seek help from the forces of Nature; and when he has found it, he immediately makes it possible for all mankind to enjoy it by lowering proportionally the price of the product.
Thus, in each given product, the part of utility that is free of charge gradually replaces the other part that remains onerous.
The share common and available to all, then, tends to exceed in indefinite proportions the appropriated share, and one may say that for mankind the domain of what is common and available to all is constantly increasing.
Furthermore, it is clear that, where there is liberty, the part of utility that remains remunerable or appropriable tends to be distributed in a manner, if not strictly equal, at least proportional to the services rendered, since these services themselves are the measure of the remuneration.
Thus, we see with what irresistible power the right to private property tends to produce equality among men. First, it sets up a common fund, which each advance constantly increases, and in regard to which equality is perfect; for all men are equal in respect to the value that has been abolished, a utility that has ceased to be remunerable. All men are equal in respect to that part of the price of books that printing has eliminated.
Consequently, as regards the part of utility that corresponds to human labor, to pains taken or skill required, competition tends to establish a balance among remunerations; and the only inequality remaining is that which is justified by the inequality of efforts, of pains, of labor, of skill—in a word, of services rendered; and, aside from the fact that such an inequality will be eternally just, who does not understand that without it all effort would at once come to a halt?
I can imagine what the objection will be. “There,” it will be said, “is the optimism of the political economists for you! They are so wrapped up in their theories that they never deign to look the facts in the face. Where, in fact, are these egalitarian tendencies? Does not the whole world present the lamentable spectacle of opulence side by side with poverty, of luxury jeering at destitution, of idleness and toil, of satiety and starvation?”
I do not deny this inequality, this distress, this suffering. And who could deny them? But I say: Far from being endangered by the right to private property, they are to be imputed to its opposite, the principle of plunder.
This is what it remains for me to demonstrate.
No, political economists do not think, as they are often accused of thinking, that we live in the best of all possible worlds. They do not close their eyes to the evils of society or their ears to the groans of those who suffer. But they seek the causes of these woes, and they believe they have discovered that among those with which society can deal, there is none more active and more widespread than injustice. That is why they demand universal justice above everything else.
Man wants to improve his lot. This is the first law of his nature. For this improvement to be effected, he must first engage in some labor or undergo some pain. The same consideration that impels man to seek to improve his well-being also leads him to avoid the pain that constitutes the means of doing so. Before resorting to his own labor, he too often has recourse to the labor of others.
One may, then, apply to self-interest what Aesop said of the tongue: Nothing in the world has done more good or more harm. Self-interest creates everything by which mankind lives and develops: it stimulates labor; it engenders property. But at the same time it brings into the world all kinds of injustice. Each kind has been given a different name, but they can all be summed up in the one word, plunder.
Property and plunder, sisters born of the same father, salvation and scourge of society, good genius and evil genius, powers that have struggled since the beginning for control over the destiny of the world!
The fact that property and plunder have this common origin makes readily understandable the ease with which Rousseau and his modern disciples have been able to defame and disturb the social order. It sufficed to show only one of the aspects of self-interest.
We have seen that men are, by nature, the owners of the products of their labor, and that, in exchanging this property among themselves, they render reciprocal services.
Now, the general character of plunder consists in employing force or deceit to upset this equivalence of services to our own profit.
The different schemes devised for committing plunder are as inexhaustible as the resources of human ingenuity. Two conditions are necessary for the services that are exchanged to be considered legitimately equivalent. The first is that the judgment of one of the parties to the transaction not be misled by some misrepresentation on the part of the other. The second is that the transaction be free and voluntary. If a man succeeds in extorting from his fellow man a real service by making him believe that what is given him in return is also a real service, while it is only an illusory service, this is a case of plunder, and the more so by far if the despoiler resorts to force.
We are at first inclined to think that the only form of plunder is the thefts defined and punished by the penal code. If this were the case, I should indeed be giving too great a social importance to a number of exceptional facts that the public conscience reproves and the law represses. But, alas! There is the plunder that is committed with the consent of the law, through the operation of the law, with the assent and often with the approval of society. It is only this kind of plunder that can assume enormous proportions, enough to alter the distribution of wealth in society, paralyze for a long time the leveling tendencies that liberty promotes, create permanent social and economic inequalities, open the abyss of poverty, and pour forth on the world that deluge of evils that superficial minds attribute to property. This is the kind of plunder I mean when I say that it has contended with the opposite principle from the beginning for control of the world. Let us briefly mention a few of its manifestations.
First, what is war, especially as it was understood in antiquity? Some men joined together to form a nation, but they disdained to apply their productive powers to the exploitation of Nature to obtain the means of existence. Waiting, instead, until other nations had accumulated property, they attacked them with fire and sword and despoiled them periodically. To the victors, then, went not only the spoils, but the glory, the songs of the poets, the plaudits of the women, the thanks of a grateful nation, and the admiration of posterity! Certainly the general acceptance of such ideas and such a system could not fail to inflict many tortures and much suffering and to lead to a great inequality among men. Was this the fault of property?
Later the despoilers refined their methods. They came to see that putting the vanquished to the sword amounted to destroying a treasure. To seize only men's property was transitory plunder; to seize the men along with the things they possessed was to put plunder on a permanent footing. Hence slavery, which is plunder pushed to its logical extreme, since it despoils the vanquished of all present property and of all future property, of his labor and its products, of his intelligence, of his productive capacities, of his affections, of his whole personality. It may be summed up thus: to require of a man all the services that force can wrest from him, and to render none to him. Such was the state of the world up to a time not very far removed from our own. Such it was particularly at Athens, at Sparta, and at Rome; and it is sad to reflect that it is the manners, the customs, and the ideas of these republics that our teachers hold up for our admiration and with which they imbue us in our youth. We are like those plants into which the horitculturist injects colored fluids, and which thus acquire an indelible artificial hue. And we are astonished that generations so instructed cannot establish a decent republic! In any case, it will be agreed that here is a cause of inequality that is certainly not imputable to the system of private property, as it has been defined in the preceding sections.
I will pass over serfdom, the feudal system, and what followed it until 1789. But I cannot refrain from mentioning the plunder that has so long been practiced by the abuse of religious authority. To receive from men positive services and to render them in return only imaginary, fraudulent, illusory, and ridiculous services is to plunder them. Even though it is done with their consent, this only aggravates the crime, since it implies that the plunderer has begun by perverting the very source of all progress, man's judgment. I need not dwell on this point any further. Everyone knows that the exploitation of the public's credulity, by the abuse of true or false religions, has set up a gulf between the priesthood and the laity in India, Egypt, Italy, and Spain. Is this also the fault of property?
We come now to the nineteenth century, after those great social injustices that have left such a deep impression on our land; and who can deny that time will be needed for that impression to be erased, even if we make the right to property, which is only liberty, or the expression of universal justice, prevail henceforth in all our laws and in all our relations? Let us recall that serfdom covers in our day half of Europe; that in France it is hardly half a century since feudalism received its deathblow; that it still exists in all its splendor in England; that all nations are making unprecedented efforts to maintain powerful standing armies, which implies either that they threaten one another's territory, or that these armies are themselves but examples of plunder on a grand scale. Let us recall that all nations are sinking under the burden of debts whose origin must be connected with past follies; let us not forget that we ourselves are paying millions annually to prolong artificially the life of enslaved colonies, other millions to prevent the slave trade on the coasts of Africa (which has involved us in one of our greatest diplomatic difficulties), and that we are on the point of handing over 100 million francs to the planters to crown the sacrifices that this type of plunder has inflicted on us in so many forms.
Thus, the past has hold of us, whatever we may say. We are disengaging ourselves from it only gradually. Is it surprising that there should be inequality among men, when the egalitarian principle, the right to property, has been so little respected up to now? Whence will come the leveling of classes which is the ardent desire of our era, and which is one of its most honorable characteristics? It will come from simple justice, from the fulfillment of this law: Service for service. For two services to be exchanged according to their real value, two things are required of the parties to the transaction: clarity of judgment and freedom of exchange. If the judgment is not clear, in return for real services, sham services will be accepted, even freely. It is still worse if force intervenes in the transaction.
This much being granted, and admitting that there is an inequality among men of which the causes are historical and can disappear only with the passage of time, let us see whether at least our century, in making justice prevail everywhere, will finally banish force and deceit from human affairs, allow the equivalence of services to be naturally established, and bring about the triumph of the democratic and egalitarian cause of property rights.
Alas! I find here so many nascent abuses, so many exceptions, so many direct or indirect deviations, appearing on the horizon of the new social order, that I do not know where to begin.
We have, first of all, licenses of all kinds. No one can become a barrister, a physician, a teacher, a broker, a dealer in government bonds, a solicitor, an attorney, a pharmacist, a printer, a butcher, or a baker without encountering legal restrictions. Each one of these represents a service that is forbidden by law, and hence those to whom authorization is granted raise their prices to such a point that the mere possession of the license, without the service, often has great value. What I am complaining about here is not that guarantees are required of those who render these services, although, to tell the truth, the most efficacious guarantee is to be found in those who accept the services and pay for them. But still these guarantees should have nothing exclusive about them. All right, require of me that I know what must be known to be a solicitor or a physician; but do not require that I should have learned it in such and such a city, or in a given number of years, etc.
Next comes the attempt to set an artificial price, to receive a supplementary value, by levying tariffs, for the most part on necessities: wheat, meat, cloth, iron, tools, etc. This is evidently an effort to destroy the equivalence of services, a forcible violation of the most sacred of all property rights, that to the fruits of one's labor and productive capacities. As I have previously demonstrated, when all the land in a country has been finally appropriated, if the working population continues to increase, it has the right to set a limit on the demands of the landowner by working for export and importing its food from abroad. The workers have only their labor to offer in exchange for commodities; and it is clear that if the first term in the equation, labor, increases constantly, while the second remains unchanged, more labor must be given in exchange for fewer commodities. This effect is manifested in the lowering of wages, the greatest of disasters when it is due to natural causes, the greatest of crimes when it arises from the operation of the law.
Next comes taxation. It has become a much sought-after means of livelihood. We know that the number of government jobs has been increasing steadily, and that the number of applicants is increasing still more rapidly than the number of jobs. Now, does any one of these applicants ever ask himself whether he will render to the public services equivalent to those which he expects to receive? Is this scourge about to come to an end? How can we believe it, when we see that public opinion itself wants to have everything done by that fictitious being, the state, which signifies a collection of salaried bureaucrats? After having judged all men without exception as capable of governing the country, we declare them incapable of governing themselves. Very soon there will be two or three of these bureaucrats around every Frenchman, one to prevent him from working too much, another to give him an education, a third to furnish him credit, a fourth to interfere with his business transactions, etc., etc. Where will we be led by the illusion that impels us to believe that the state is a person who has an inexhaustible fortune independent of ours?
People are beginning to realize that the apparatus of government is costly. But what they do not know is that the burden falls inevitably on them. They have been led to believe that if their share has been heavy until now, the Republic has a means, while increasing the general burden, of shifting at least the larger part of it onto the shoulders of the rich. Fatal illusion! No doubt the tax collector may happen to solicit one person rather than another and may receive the actual cash from the hands of the rich. But once the tax has been paid, all is not over. It has a further action on society. There are reactions on the respective values of services, and it is impossible to prevent the burden from being borne ultimately by everyone, including the poor. Their true interest, then, is not that one class be hard hit, but that all classes be treated with respect, because of the community of interest that binds them all together.
Now, does anything indicate that the time has come when taxes are going to be decreased?
I say frankly: I believe that we are entering on a path in which plunder, under very gentle, very subtle, very ingenious forms, embellished with the beautiful names of solidarity and fraternity, is going to assume proportions the extent of which the imagination hardly dares to measure. Here is how it will be done: Under the name of the state the citizens taken collectively are considered as a real being, having its own life, its own wealth, independently of the lives and the wealth of the citizens themselves; and then each addresses this fictitious being, some to obtain from it education, others employment, others credit, others food, etc., etc. Now the state can give nothing to the citizens that it has not first taken from them. The only effects of its intermediation are, first, a great dispersion of forces, and then, the complete destruction of the equivalence of services; for everyone will try to turn over as little as possible to the public treasury and to take as much as possible out of it. In other words, the public treasury will be pillaged. And do we not see something similar happening today? What class does not solicit the favors of the state? It would seem as if the principle of life resided in it. Aside from the innumerable horde of its own agents, agriculture, manufacturing, commerce, the arts, the theatre, the colonies, and the shipping industry expect everything from it. They want it to clear and irrigate land, to colonize, to teach, and even to amuse. Each begs a bounty, a subsidy, an incentive, and especially the gratuitous gift of certain services, such as education and credit. And why not ask the state for the gratuitous gift of all services? Why not require the state to provide all the citizens with food, drink, clothing, and shelter free of charge?
One class remained aloof from these mad demands,
It was the people properly so called, the innumerable working class. But now it too is asking for a “handout.” It contributes a great amount to the treasury; in all justice, in virtue of the principle of equality, it has the same rights to this universal embezzlement for which the other classes have given it the cue. It is deeply to be regretted that on the day on which it made its voice heard, it was to demand a share in the pillage, and not to bring the pillage to an end. But could this class be more enlightened than the others? Is it not to be excused for being duped by the illusion that is misleading all of us?
However, if only because of the number of petitioners, which is today equal to the number of citizens, the error that I have pointed out here cannot be of long duration; and the time will come very soon, I hope, when only services within its competence will be asked of the state, such as justice, national defense, public works, etc.
We are confronted with still another cause of inequality, more active perhaps than all the others: the war against capital. The proletariat can be freed in only one way, by an increase in capital. When capital increases more rapidly than the population, two unfailing effects follow, both of which contribute toward improving the lot of the worker: lower-priced products and higher wages. But, for capital to increase, it requires above all security. If it is afraid, it hides, secludes itself, and is dissipated and destroyed. It is then that labor is unemployed and is offered at the lowest price. The greatest of all evils for the working class is, then, to let itself be drawn by flatterers into a war against capital as absurd as it is disastrous. This is a constant threat of plunder, worse than plunder itself.
Finally, if it is true, as I have tried to demonstrate, that liberty—by which I mean the right to dispose of one's property as one wishes, and consequently the supreme affirmation of the right to property—if it is true, I say, that liberty tends inevitably to lead to the just equivalence of services, to bring about greater and greater equality, to raise all men up to the same, constantly rising standard of living, then it is not property that we should blame for the sad spectacle of grievous inequality that the world once again offers us, but the opposite principle, plunder, which has unleashed on our planet wars, slavery, serfdom, feudalism, the exploitation of public ignorance and credulity, privileges, monopolies, trade restrictions, public loans, commercial frauds, excessive taxes, and, lastly, the war against capital and the absurd demand of everyone to live and to develop at the expense of everyone else.
Protest of M. Considérant and Reply of F. Bastiat.14
In serious public discussions concerning the social question, I am determined not to permit opinions that are not mine to be imputed to me or to allow my actual opinions to be presented in a light that misrepresents and distorts them.
I have not defended the right to property for twenty years against the Saint-Simonians, who deny the right of inheritance, against Babouvists, Owenists, and all varieties of Communists, in order to agree to my being placed among the adversaries of the right to property. I believe I have established the logical legitimacy of that right on foundations very difficult to destroy.
I have not fought, at the Luxembourg, the doctrines of M. Louis Blanc, I have not been many times attacked by M. Proudhon as one of the most tenacious defenders of property, in order to allow M. Bastiat, without protest on my part, to make me figure in your minds, with those two socialists, in a sort of anti-property triumvirate.
As I should not want to be forced to ask you to print, out of fairness, any very considerable specimens of my prose in your columns, and as you must be in agreement with my desire in this matter, I request of you permission to address to M. Bastiat, before he goes any further, certain observations designed to shorten greatly the replies that he may compel me to make to him and perhaps even spare me them entirely.
1. I do not want M. Bastiat, even when he believes he is analyzing my thought quite faithfully, to present within quotation marks, and as if they were textual citations from my pamphlet on the right to property and the right to employment, or from any other writings of mine, phrases which are his own, even though, notably in the next to the last of those that he attributes to me, they do render my ideas very exactly. This procedure is not a happy one and can lead the one who employs it very much further than he would want to go himself. Condense and analyze as you like—that is your right; but do not give the character of a textual citation to your analytic abbreviation.
2. M. Bastiat says: “They [the three socialists among whom I figure] seem to think that in the struggle that is going to take place, the poor have a stake in the triumph of the right to employment and the rich in the defense of the right to property.” I, for my part, do not believe, and I do not even believe that I seem to believe, anything of the kind. I believe, on the contrary, that the rich today have a greater stake than the poor in the recognition of the right to employment. That thought has dominated all my writing and was published for the first time, not today, but ten years ago, in an effort to give the government and property owners a salutary warning, and, at the same time, to defend property against the formidable logic of its adversaries. I believe, further, that the right to property is just as much in the interest of the poor as in that of the rich; for I regard the denial of this right as the denial of the principle of individuality; and its suppression, in any state of society whatever, would appear to me as the indication of a return to the state of savagery, of which I have never, to my knowledge, shown myself very partisan.
3. Finally, M. Bastiat expresses himself thus:
“But I do not intend to examine M. Considérant's theory in detail..... I want to deal only with what is important and serious in the basis of this theory: I mean the question of land rent. The system of M. Considérant may be summarized thus: An agricultural product exists by virtue of the co-operation of two actions: the action of man, or labor, which prepares the way for the right to property; and the action of Nature, which should be free of charge, and which the landowners turn unjustly to their profit. This is what constitutes usurpation of the rights of the human race.”
I demand a thousand pardons of M. Bastiat, but there is not a word in my pamphlet that authorizes him to attribute to me the opinions that he ascribes to me quite gratuitously here. In general I disguise my thought very little, and when I mean “noon,” I am not in the habit of saying “2:00 P.M.” Let M. Bastiat, then, if he wants to do me the honor of attacking my pamphlet, direct his criticism against what I have set down there, and not against what he has put into it. I did not write a word against land rent there; the question of land rent, which I am aware of as everyone else is, is not touched on there even remotely, either in substance or even in appearance; and when M. Bastiat has me say, “that the action of Nature.... should be free of charge,” and that the landowners turn it “unjustly to their profit,” and “this is what constitutes,” according to me, “usurpation of the rights of the human race,” he remains still and always in a realm of ideas very far from any that I have ever held; he attributes to me an opinion which I consider absurd, and which is even diametrically opposed to my whole doctrine. I do not, in fact, complain at all that the landowners profit from the action of Nature; I demand for those who do not profit from it the right to an employment that will permit them, along with the landowners, to be able to create products and to live by their labor when property (agricultural or industrial) does not offer them the means.
For the rest, sir, I will not make so bold as to demand the right, in opposition to M. Bastiat, to set forth my opinions in your columns. It is a favor and an honor to which I am not entitled. Let M. Bastiat, then, make what he will of my system: I believe I have the right to claim your hospitality for a rebuttal only in so far as it is necessary to correct misunderstandings occasioned by his attributing to me doctrines of which I have in no wise assumed the responsibility. I know quite well that it is often easy to win an argument by representing one's opponent as saying what one wants him to have said instead of what he actually said; I know too that it is easier to win a triumph over the socialists when one attacks them en masse than when one criticizes the particular proposals of each of them; but, rightly or wrongly, I hold myself accountable for none but my own.
The discussion that M. Bastiat has undertaken in your columns bears, Mr. Editor, on such very delicate and such very serious subjects that, in this respect at least, you must be of my opinion. Hence, I am quite certain that you will approve the justice of my reaction and that, in all fairness, you will give my protest a visible and prominent place in your columns.
July 24, 1848
M. Considérant complains that I have misrepresented or distorted his opinion on property. If I have committed this error, it is quite involuntarily, and to correct it I can do no better than to cite the texts.
After having established that there are two sorts of rights—natural rights, whic which are the expression of the relations resulting from the very nature of things, and conventional or legal rights, which exist only on condition that artificial relations be in force—M. Considérant continues thus:
This much being granted, we say flatly that property, as it has generally been constituted among all industrial peoples up to our day, is tainted with illegitimacy and sins.... against human rights..... The human race has been put upon this earth in order to live and develop there. The human race is, then, the usufructuary of the surface of the earth.....
Now, under the system of property established in all civilized nations, the common basis on which the human race has full rights to the usufruct has been trespassed upon; it is confiscated by the few to the exclusion of the many. Indeed, even if only one man were deprived of his rights, that deprivation would constitute in itself alone a violation of human rights, and the system of private property that consecrates it would certainly be unjust and illegitimate.
Could not every man who comes into the world in a civilized society, possessing nothing, and finding the land appropriated all around him, say to those who preach to him respect for the existing system of private property: “My friends, let us understand one another and make a few distinctions: I am a strong partisan of the right to property and am disposed to respect it in regard to others, on the sole condition that others respect it in regard to me. Now, in so far as I am a member of the human race, I have the right to the usufruct of the land, which is the common property of mankind, and which Nature has not, as far as I know, given to some at the expense of others. In virtue of the system of private property which I find established on arriving here, the common land has been appropriated and is very well guarded. Your system of private property is, then, founded on the theft of my right to the usufruct. Do not confuse the right to property with the particular system of property that I find established by your artificial right.”
The present system of property is, then, illegitimate, and rests basically on plunder.
M. Considérant finally gets around to formulating the basic principle of the right to property in these terms:
Every man legitimately possesses what his labor, his intelligence, or, more generally, his industry has produced.
To demonstrate the implication of this principle, he imagines a first generation cultivating an isolated island. The results of the work of this generation are divided into two categories.
The first comprises the products of the soil that belong to this first generation in its usufructuary capacity, increased, refined, and developed by its labor and industry: these raw or manufactured products consist either of consumers' goods or of tools of production. It is clear that these products belong, as fully legitimate property, to those who have produced them by their industry.....
Not only has this generation produced the aforementioned products, .... but it has added an extra value to the original value of the soil by cultivation, by construction, by all the work that it has performed on the land and the buildings erected on it.
This additional value evidently itself constitutes a product, a value due to the industry of the first generation.
M. Considérant recognizes that this second value is also a legitimate form of property. Then he adds:
We can, then, perfectly well realize that, when the second generation arrives, it will find two kinds of capital on the land:
A. The original or natural capital, which was not created by the men of the first generation, that is, the value of the virgin soil.
B. The capital created by the first generation, comprising, first, the products, commodities, and implements not consumed and used by the first generation; second, the extra value that the labor of the first generation will have added to the value of the virgin soil.
It is, then, evident and results clearly and necessarily from the basic principle of the right to property just established 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 capital, to the capital created by the first generation. Each individual of the latter can, then, dispose of his share of the created capital in favor of such individuals of the second generation as he pleases to select—children, friends, etc.
Thus, in this second generation there are two kinds of individuals, those who inherit created capital and those who do not. There are also two kinds of capital, the original or natural capital, and the created capital. The latter belongs legitimately to the inheritors, but the first belongs legitimately to everyone. Each individual of the second generation has an equal right to the original capital. Now, it has happened that the inheritors of the created capital have also taken possession of the noncreated capital, have encroached upon it, usurped it, appropriated it. That is why the present system of property is illegitimate, contrary to justice, and rests basically on plunder.
I can certainly be mistaken; but it seems to me that this doctrine reproduces exactly, although in other terms, that of Buchanan, McCulloch, and Senior on land rent. They, too, recognize the legitimacy of property produced by labor. But they regard as illegitimate the usurpation of what M. Considérant calls the value of the virgin soil, and what they call the productive powers of the soil.
Let us see now how this injustice can be remedied.
Savages living in forest and plain enjoy four natural rights: hunting, fishing, food-gathering, and pasturing. Such is the form of man's original rights.
In all civilized societies, the man of the people, the proletarian who inherits nothing and possesses nothing, is purely and simply robbed of these rights. It cannot, then, be said that the original right has here changed its form, since it no longer exists. The form has disappeared with the land.
Now, what would be the form in which this right could be reconciled with the conditions of an industrial society? The answer is easy. In the primitive state, in order to make use of his right, man is obliged to act. The labors of fishing, hunting, food-gathering, and pasturing constitute the conditions under which his right can be exercised. The original right, then, is only the right to these kinds of labor.
In that case an industrial society which has taken possession of the land, and which has taken from man the faculty of exercising at will and in freedom his four natural rights on the surface of the land, is obliged to recognize, on behalf of the individual, in compensation for these rights of which it has robbed him, the right to employment. Then, in principle, and save for a suitable application, the individual will have nothing more to complain about. In fact, his original right was the right to labor performed in a poor workshop, or in the wilds of Nature; his present right would be the same right exercised in a workshop better and more richly equipped, where individual industry would be more productive.
The condition sine qua non for the legitimacy of property is, then, that society grant the proletarian the right to employment, and that it assure him at least as much of a livelihood in return for a given amount of labor as it would procure for him if he were living the life of a savage.
Now I leave it to the reader to judge whether I have misrepresented or distorted the opinions of M. Considérant.
M. Considérant believes himself to be a tenacious defender of the right to property. Undoubtedly he defends that right as he understands it, but he understands it in his own way, and the question is whether it is the right way. In any case, it is not everybody's way.
He himself says that, although only a small dose of common sense would be required to solve the question of property, it has never been understood. I do not agree with this condemnation of human intelligence.
It is not only theory that M. Considérant condemns. This much I should grant him, agreeing with him that in this matter, as in many others, it often goes astray.
But he also condemns universal practice. He says flatly:
Property, as it has generally been constituted among all industrial nations up to our day, is tainted with illegitimacy and sins in a singular manner against human rights.
If, then, M. Considérant is a tenacious defender of property, it is at least of a concept of property different from that which has been recognized and maintained among men since the beginning of the world.
I am quite convinced that M. Louis Blanc and M. Proudhon also call themselves defenders of property as they understand it.
For my part, I make no other claim than to have given an explanation of property which I believe true, and which perhaps is false.
I believe that landed property, as it is naturally formed, is always the fruit of labor; that it rests, consequently, on the very principle established by M. Considérant; that it does not exclude the proletarians from the usufruct of the virgin soil; that, on the contrary, it increases that usufruct for them tenfold and a hundredfold; that it is, then, not tainted with illegitimacy; and that everything that undermines it in our actions and in our convictions is as much a calamity for those who do not own land as it is for those who do.
This is what I should like to try to demonstrate in so far as it can be done in the columns of a newspaper.
[*][In French, la spoliation. While the English cognate “spoliation" has exactly the same meaning of “theft by force or fraud,” it is so infrequently used that the word “plunder" is substituted in these pages as coming closer to the emotional connotations of la spoliation.—Translator.]
[*][John Ramsay McCulloch (1789–1864), British economist and statistician and author of Principles of Political Economy (1825).—Translator.]
[†][David Buchanan, the younger (1779–1848), journalist and author on economic subjects, editor of Adam Smith's works in 1814.—Translator.]
[‡][David Ricardo (1772–1823), English economist of the classical school.—Translator.]
[§][George Poulett Scrope (1797–1876), English economist and geologist, prolific writer of pamphlets, particularly in refutation of the Malthusian theory.—Translator.]
[*][Nassau William Senior (1790–1864), English economist and first professor of political economy at Oxford.—Translator.]
[*][This is an allusion to an anecdote, The Miller of Sans-Souci (Le Meunier de Sans-Souci), recounted by Andrieux, an eighteenth-century wit, poet, and playwright. When Frederick the Great was making plans to construct his estate of Sans-Souci, he discovered that the view of one of the proposed avenues was blocked by a mill. He summoned the owner and offered to purchase the offending mill at a good price. The miller stubbornly refused to sell at any price. Becoming angry, Frederick said, “Don't you know that if I wanted to, I could take your mill away from you by force and not pay you anthing?”
[*][Members of an eighteenth-century philosophic and economic school founded by François Quesnay (1694–1774). Since they believed in a natural law (the jus naturae) governing all human relations as well as the physical universe, they were opposed to any man-made interference, particularly in agriculture and industry. The phrases, laisser faire, laisser passer, were coined by them to epitomize their doctrine. They also regarded all wealth as derived from the powers of Nature and therefore declared the latter to be the only legitimate sources of public finance. Because of the heavy, labored style of their writings, they were held up to ridicule by Voltaire and others, but their doctrines were accepted in part by Adam Smith and J. B. Say.—Translator.]
[*][Jean-Baptiste Say (1767–1832), French professor of political economy, champion of free trade. His views influenced Bastiat greatly.—Translator.]
[*][Pierre Jean de Béranger (1780–1857). The song in question, named simply La Liberté, was written in 1822 in protest against the suppression of free speech under the Restoration. The original French words cited by Bastiat are:
[*][Sir Thomas More (1478–1535), whose Utopia, published in Latin in 1516 and later in English, satirized the government and society of his day by comparing them with a fictitious island commonwealth, modeled on Platonic principles, in which goods would be owned in common.—Translator.]
[†][James Harrington (1611–1677), English political philosopher, whose work on the ideal state, entitled Commonwealth of Oceana, emphasizing a written constitution, indirect election of the president, the secret ballot, and rotation in office, is believed to have influenced political thought in the United States and other democracies.—Translator.]
[*][Chrysale, the sensible husband in Molière's Femmes savantes ("The Highbrow Ladies"), says this about his household. Following his wife's example, all his servants, save one, have gone in for “culchah" to the neglect of their household duties.—Translator.]
[1.]See the little volume published by M. Considérant under the title, Théorie du droit de propriété et du droit au travail (Theory of the Right to Property and of the Right to Employment).
[3.]M. Considérant is not the only one who holds it, as witness the following passage, taken from The Wandering Jew of Eugène Sue:
[4.][This proposition is more fully developed in chap. 5 and chap. 9 of Economic Harmonies.—Editor.]
[5.][See at the end of this pamphlet the protest that this first letter provoked from M. Considérant, and the reply of Bastiat.—Editor.]
[6.][See the Conclusion to the first series of Economic Sophisms.—Editor.]
[7.]“It is not enough that value does not reside in matter or in the forces of Nature. It is not enough that it resides exclusively in services. It is also necessary that the services themselves should not have an exaggerated value. For what does it matter to a wretched worker who pays dearly for wheat whether the landowner is being paid for the productive powers of the soil or is being paid inordinately for his own industry?
[8.][On the question of middlemen, see section 2 of the pamphlet, “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen" (chap. 1 of this volume), and the beginning of chap. 16 of Economic Harmonies.—Editor.]
[9.]We have recently heard it said that land rent is an illegitimate form of income. Without going that far, many people find it hard to understand why capital should yield a perpetual revenue in the form of interest. “How,” they say, “can capital, once formed, yield a perpetual revenue?” Here is the explanation of this perpetuity and of its legitimacy, illustrated by an example:
[10.][This hypothesis was examined anew by the author in the last part of his letter to M. Thiers. See (in chap. 7 of this volume) the last twelve pages of “Protectionism and Communism.”—Editor.]
[11.][On landed property, see chap. 9 and chap. 13 of Economic Harmonies. See also, in Vol. II (of the French edition), the second parable in the speech delivered September 29, 1846, at Montesquieu Hall.—Editor.]
[12.][On the objection based on the so-called monopoly of natural resources, see, in Vol. V (of the French edition), the twenty-fourth letter on “Interest-free Credit,” and, in Economic Sophisms, First Series, the two last pages of chap. 14.—Editor.]
[13.][On spared effort, considered as the most important element of value, see chap. 5 of Economic Harmonies.—Editor.]
[14.][Published by the Journal des débats, July 28, 1848.—Editor.]