Can Economic Factors Be Exchanged?

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Joshua King Ingalls

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  • Joshua King Ingalls, “Can Economic Factors Be Exchanged?,” The Twentieth Century 12, no. 1 (January 4, 1894): 8-9.




Some years ago the question was raised in the TWENTIETH CENTURY whether, land monopoly being abolished, there would be sufficient first-class opportunities for all, so that economic rent would disappear? And if not, whether the single tax would be the best way to distribute it? I contended that if any rent remained after abolishing property in vacant land it would still be unnecessary to adjust its inequalities since such rent would promote industrial development by encouraging the use of the best land and the application of the special capacities of men to the callings best suited to them, and in a manner to benefit all.

The obvious distinctions between economic rent and monopolistic rent has since then been repeatedly stated and illustrated They have been profoundly ignored, and not alone by single taxers, who mostly follow their great teacher by making a distinction in terms without a difference in fact, treating the terms as identical. So late as November 30, in answer to Mr. Frank McLees, who thinks that capital, like labor, "earns wages," I find the editor of the TWENTIETH CENTURY classing economic rent, interest and profits among the items which go to make "the capitalist system of exploitation of labor," and which he proposes "to remove down to the roots." Can this be done? As to the "earnings of capital," when the term applies to anything other than land and labor, the question admits of no logical statement. "Ducats do not breed" like sheep or swine. Mr. Herbert Foster’s paper, in number of November 23, contains a "sample brick" from the capitalistic house, especially illustrating that foolishness in which many Socialists and single taxers still indulge. His position is, that when a worker earns a dollar a day more by "Using my wheelbarrow that dollar belongs to me." Thus a wheelbarrow, which has cost Mr. Foster a day’s labor, becomes entitled to the same wages as the man, as long as both shall remain able to work. But, in fact, when the man has worked two days and repaid from his extra earnings the day’s labor of Mr. Foster, the equity is concluded. The deduction is to be made once, and not, as Mr. Foster Supposes, every alternate day as long as worker and wheelbarrow shall last.

I call to mind a German tinner, who worked for a firm in Cliff Street, New York city. Like one of Mrs. Dietrick’s capitalistic workers, or of Mr. Foster’s "saviors of society," he was industrious and frugal. A friend with the same trade came over without other acquaintance or the least knowledge of English. Hans quit work for a day to find his friend employment, but finding nothing better, at last secured work for him with his own employers. When pay day came he told the pay clerk that he was to receive his friend’s wages, as the friend did not understand English or know the value of our money. After awhile it was learned by the proprietors that he was taking, a la Foster, quite one half of his friend’s wages, which his wheelbarrow had earned (i. e., his day’s service in securing the job). I am informed that many Italians and other foreigners work this capitalistic business quite adroitly, and so become conspicuous as working capitalists.

But the broader question needs solution. Can economic rent, interest and profits be rooted out? I am certain they cannot, and that no good would be done if they could be and were. Economic rent arises alone from these sources, qualities of soil and the varying estimates of individuals for a certain soil or location. "Whoever holds land better than the poorest cultivated holds rent." If the holder also occupies and works the land, it makes no difference, it is his profit, interest, or rent, and cannot be eliminated. If the cooperative commonwealth were established there would still be sections of land more desirable than others, and also superior locations, where greater facilities would be enjoyed than every community could have. The pure economic rent, interest or profit would be persistent, yet alternately plus and minus profit and loss. This, as I have heretofore elaborately shown, would exist in any system of production under a state of equal freedom. It exists in spite of the speculative regime itself. Inversion alone constitutes the force of capitalistic exploitation through class laws. Interest and profit are but various forms of rent. Ability of the worker to use unoccupied land, to co-operate with other workers, with past labor and with future labor, through credits, increases the productivity of present labor, but capitalism when the forms of chattelism and feudalism expired, Cunningly preserved the obstructions in the path of human industry and social happiness, by reducing the land to a merchantable commodity, by exclusive Privileges in production, in emission of money, and in making the "standard of value" a legal tender in payment of debts, and by establishing numerous privileges from which the industrious poor are excluded.

Had there been no economic increase (profit, interest, rent) in primitive labor over actual support of the laborer, there could have been no place for plutocratic parasites, or any surplus for them to absorb. Had there then been increase at all, it would pot have belonged to labor, but to capitalist, landlord, trader, or some other party contributing to the values. Because labor will produce more on one quality of lands than on others, the difference gave an opportunity to the despotic ruler to single them out for taxation to meet his need and gratify his desires. Hence rack rent. The despot or his favorites gathered the taxes and then assumed ownership of the lands altogether. Solely from farming out the tax monopolistic rent arose. Monopoly does not create the economic but the monopolistic rent. Usury does not derive its gains from economic causes, but from monopolistic. There can be no "unearned increment" in economics. By its very terms it is self-acknowledged to be without relation to any economic quantity If it have any intelligible significance whatever it means a fund unrelated to past labor, simply without consideration constituting a lien, a mortgage upon all increase of future labor forever.

Capitalistic co-operation is thus able to divide with labor on the following principle: To the laborer all the work, with a bare subsistence; to the capitalist all the profits, or increase, with a power to sequester and pile up the unearned increment or increase of all future labor, and to deny all opportunity for self-employment to the end of time. Will mankind ever learn that it is not economic law or natural monopoly which distresses them, or even their own "natural cussedness," but the barbaric usurping edicts, decrees and statutes of the tyrannous past, and of more recent legislation in the interest of scheming lobbyists who control the making, interpreting and execution of our laws? These alone endanger our property, wrong labor, or prevent voluntary co-operation in production, or substantial equity in division. No increase from production can exist without co-operation. Mutuality in division can only be prevented through positive injustice on the part of the government, and by the ignorant or cowardly supine submission of the worker himself.