Economic Fallacies

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Edgeworth [M. E. Lazarus], "Economic Fallacies," Liberty, 3, 20 (December 26, 1885), 8.

Economic Fallacies.

Mr. J. K. Ingalls, in the introduction to his "Social Wealth," deals a few socdologers to economic sophisms. He does the economists, whose proper title would be, the apologists of capitalism, the justice to consider that, in explaining how the producer is crushed under production, justice is nowise in question, they not being responsible for its absence from matters of fact. The title, "Social Ethics," would better characterize the aim of Mr. Ingalls’s work. He exposes the hypocrisy of defending the actual business world by laws of tendency, as it were, in a vacuum; while ignoring the continual intervention of circumstances, end especially of government,—i. e., of arbitrary wills,—to frustrate them. Warmly espousing the cause of oppressed labor, he shows how "opportunity is wanting for play of that free competition," which is with economists the excuse for every iniquity. What pretension, indeed, to the name of science can a system have which

Treats "values" indiscriminately, whether increased or diminished by supply and demand, or by the interference of executive or legislative will; by scarcity of a season, or the cornering of a market, or by any speculative conspiracy; by the natural laws of trade, or by the subjecting to the rule of the market "by act of parliament" and "force of arms," things foreign to Its away; and whether relating to the commodities which may be increased indefinitely, or to the buyer and seller, the men themselves, or to the land, of which no increased supply is possible.

The proper Illustration of this single paragraph would make a useful book, although the potential suicide of liberty in free competition or in any other mode is complete, when government controls at once taxation and the currency; for a simple contraction of the one is equivalent to Increase of the other, while enrolling as partisans, by the cohesive force of plunder, the whole creditor class, against labor. Later the author says:

Not only does this assumed law of supply and demand utterly fall in its salutary effect upon labor denied the use of the land while exerting to the full the baneful effects of a forced competition in Its operation, but upon land treated as property or capital it has an opposite effect. Increased demand not only, as with commodities, begets a temporary rise of price, but a continuous rise. Demand does not, as with commodities, beget an increased, or any supply whatever no protection [of land] being possible or conceivable, except in regard to lands transferred from a general to a specific use.

Let us analyze this paragraph, which in its spirit is a protest against injustice, but is faulty in its several propositions. There is no occasion here to pick a quarrel with the "law of supply and demand," which is the economic translation of "Ask and ye shall receive." Who shall ask, what shall they ask for? Row shall they ask it, and of whom? Answer: The laborers unemployed shall ask for the sell; they shall ask corporately, through theft organized unions (Knights of Labor, etc.); they shall ask it of the States or General Government, or of the railroad companies, to whom it has transferred the natural inheritance and sustenance of fifty millions.

But the labor corps must first prove, not only their need, but their ability to cultivate, and earnest intention, by devoting to farm settlements theft union funds, hitherto wasted in strikes, which only provoke the hostility of their employers, and cause the importation of cheaper labor. No use talking about abstract rights and Justice. We are dealing with selfish, greedy powers, and Labor is not prepared to right itself by force.

Mr. Ingalls sympathetically appreciates the fatality of forced competition upon laborers cut off from the use of the soil. But in the spheres of manufacturing labor, which have distracted them from agricultural ideas, aims, and habits, an ever-increasing competition for employment inevitably results from industrial progress with machinery. This machinery and the science which invents it and controls it is the property of capitalists. Laborers, unintelligent and demoralized, are bribed in guard it for capital, against theft brothers in labor.

But suppose it were otherwise; suppose cooperation in joint stock partnership, supplanting hireling labor; still, with the aid of machinery, a small part of the number of artisans formerly employed, and even of the operatives now employed, fully suffice for all needed production. If the rest are to live by their own labor, it can only be by a return to agricultural habits. Otherwise, the giant Antæus, held aloof from the soil by the Hercules of capital, must be strangled. To induce the laborer to demand the use of the soil ought to be the aim of his friends. The real limitation in question is not, as Mr. Ingalls contends, that of the soil, but of the laborer’s demand on the one side, and, on the other, of the manufacturers demand for labor. Irrespective of the great tracts of alluvion redeemed by labor from the waters of irrigated deserts, or of that oceanica which the coral polyp builds on its pedestal atolls, land is being constantly reproduced, by manure, which is more than equivalent to extension of area, because a large crop on an acre does not cost, after manuring, much more than a small one. The difference is only in manipulating the harvest, and a big ear is gathered as easy as a small ear. All improvement of the soil, all increase of productivity, increases the possibilities of life. This can be averred of no other industry, comparatively.

Under the hireling system liberty is lost; but production may be increased and cheapened to meet the needs of any population known, even In China, and without the aid of machinery.

The fall of political governments would, in annulling monopolist tenures, restore the soil to labor; but Government, under the sense of danger, may render speculation in the immediate products of the soil a penitentiary crime, and tax unimproved tracts into use.


  • Edgeworth [M. E. Lazarus], "Economic Fallacies," Liberty 3 no. 20 (Dec 26, 1885): 8.