Building Associations

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Joshua King Ingalls

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These organizations are becoming quite common, as may be judged from the reports found in various papers, throughout the country. And, while they supply a want, they teach men the importance of united efforts. We are fret to confess, however, that to us, some things about them are a little inexplicable; others, certainly, objectionable. We are not acquainted with any rule of arithmetic which will enable us to multiply $250 by any given number, and dividing by the same, realize $600. The greater share of this quotient must have resulted from some source not laid down in the proposition. There is but one alchemy by which such transmutation can take place ; that of the broker and the banker, who, by a legalized process, coin sweat said tears and blood into gold. If these associations are conducted on just principles, they will give back ultimately to each what has been contributed. Justice does not recognize the taking from one and bestowing on another. It is difficult to see the right of building even a Home, from the products of another man's labor, whether it result as forfeiture, or premium, extorted by existing inequalities, monopoly of the soil and the currency.

Besides, let not poor mechanics think, that a machinery which will give such results, will be left in their hands by "Wall street." These unions will become a staff in the hands of capital to extort from labor this hundred and forty per cent in some half dozen years; for who can prevent men, who add "house to house and field to field," from putting their capital into these institutions? Were there not most unjust relations between capital and labor already, they would be uncalled for. How shall we remedy these conditions by extending them! If we have realized this great per centage, it must have been from some persons more unfortunate than ourselves. Ye who complain of oppression, and organize to escape it, beware how you tamper with the " thirty pieces of silver " for which your brother is sold; lest, in emancipating yourself, you have enslaved him. It may be said that the increase is saved in rent; and that the premium will correspond to the rate of rents and usance Now if this were absolutely the case, and none who joined the organization used their increase as new outlay to realize again and again their one hundred and forty per cent, but only to build dwellings for themselves, the objection would have less weight; but even then, it might be inquired, why not use the true and equal method, in preference to the unjust one with the pretence that it will produce the same results!

There are two distinct objects to be attended to by the Association -—providing the members with dwellings, and the equalizing of the burden of rent, under which at present they unjustly suffer. To secure these desirable ends, let any given number of homeless individuals associate themselves, and agree to raise so much, yearly, monthly, or weekly, towards building houses for all. When enough is raised to build a home, let it be given by seniority, lot, or some other method previously agreed upon, to one of the members, he paying no premium, but a rent equitably adjusted as may be. This will accelerate the increase, or lessen the amount of contribution, as the body may decide. Thus one after another will be supplied with homes, and feel no heart-yearnings against each other in consequence of advantage gained through management, or the possession of ready money. But suppose some are unable to go on with their contributions, should they therefore forfeit their means, which have been actually paid in ? Certainly, no! This is no guarantee association, and all contributions, whether small or great, should be refunded ultimately, with utmost strictness, though not with increase. The reason why the first one occupying should be required to pay no premium, but only rent, is that by the time others shall be provided, his house will need repair, and if he share equally with them the burden under which they suffer, till the time of their deliverance, it is all justice can require of him.

Suppose, for instance, a dozen mechanics associate. Their average rent is a hundred dollars a year. The average cost of their houses is one thousand dollars. They pay, in weekly or monthly dues, an average of one hundred dollars a year •, each paying in proportion to the value of the house he wishes to secure. In a year they may have a house reared, and some two hundred dollars in the treasury. A. moves into this house, and pays a hundred dollars a year, no longer to a landlord, but to the general fund. At the end of the second year, they will have two houses, and five hundred dollars. In six months more, the contributions and rents will raise it to twelve hundred, giving three houses. In a little more than three years the fourth ho be finished, and A. B. C. and D. provided 1 In four years and three months, six houses may be reared. In five years, seven. In six years, nine. And in seven years and four months, the whole number may be emancipated from the thraldom they have so long suffered under. This is a mere mental approximation, computed as the pen has been flying, bat will be found nearly correct; enough so to illustrate the working of the thing. But suppose, they should not feel able to keep up so large a contribution for that length of time, but might make it for one or two years. Then, let the rent on the houses go to diminish the contribution. The second year it would be but ninety dollars, &c. On the sixth year, only fifty dollars. On the tenth year, it would only be some ten dollars, at the end of which each one would be furnished with a house, as by the other plan, with less actual outlay, though in longer time, in which, of course, the balance is paid to landlords for rent.

The benefit of the organization consists chiefly in this, that it enables us to use the weapons of an unjust system to emancipate ourselves from it. Not being able, alone, to provide ourselves with shelter, at once, and ground down by a system which, by its onerous exactions, forever keeps us unable, we may nt the same time by combination of means, elevate one from the condition, and make him assist us out of it; the power growing stronger to raise us, and that weaker which would keep us down, with the elevation of every member, until the whole body is redeemed. So praiseworthy an object is heaven-wide from that grovelling spirit which only asks, of every movement, " how much can be made out of it V So for forth, it is most just; carried one step farther, to be used as an investment for income or speculation, and it stands upon the same basis with all other schemes which put in one man's pocket the product of another man's toil, without equivalent. To use arms for the purpose of self-emancipation, is one thing; to use the same arms, when freed, to subject others to wrong and slavery, is quite a different thing. The advantage is to be regarded entirely of organization, and nothing referred to any supposed power of increase in the capital employed; for mark! how much greater the advantage, was capital once denied this murderous power I In that case, each man would have in ten years or less a house of his own, simply for the amount which he now pays in rent; so that he is actually compelled by existing conditions to build, every ten years of his life, a house as good as the one he occupies, and give it to the landlord, who uses that again as a new investment, for extracting from the products of labor, other and other houses, in duplicate ratio.

If we would flee from any evil, let the nature and basis of it be well investigated, and the natural remedy applied. Let wrong be overcome by right, not a more cunningly devised wrong. It W easy to conceive how an association might work to better advantage for some, on the basis, we suppose, generally adopted ; but not how it may work without wrong to any. Let this be remembered, that just forms are always most simple, and that it is only fraud which seeks to mystify, by formulas and arbitrary involutions, the real operation of a plan. Human right and brotherhood dwell not in labored schemes, in political or social or financial jugglery. He that runs may read. The veriest dolt can feel the wrong ; how few can trace the process, mystified and legalized to the popular eye, by which it is inflicted .' 0, could we infuse more faith into the souls of men, more trust in the right, equal, true, and natural, the regeneration of the world were complete. They new prefer to trust in institutions they do not understand, and set those up for wise men and rulers, who have cunning enough to turn them to account, and throw around them the garb of false learning, and influence of renowned "talent for expedients." But "figures will not lie," after all; and those who believe, and allow themselves to be governed, according to these fallacies, must even " foot the bill " Hard indeed, does it come on the laborer and the suffering poor ; but will they, otherwise, ever come to leave their faith in Mammon and Imposture, and believe in God and Nature!


  • Joshua King Ingalls, “Building Associations,” Univercoelum and Spiritual Philosopher 4, no. 5 (June 30, 1849): 72-73.