Equitable Commerce (Varney)
FOR THE INVESTIGATOR
ASSOCIATION WITHOUT COMBINATION.
Having had the experience for the last two and a half years, in a community of common property, which has been a school of observation to me, and which was entered into at first as an experiment, I propose to give the result of this experiment, at least upon my own mind. The final result may be given in a few words—the idea of combination in any form is fully exploded;—and I think I now see clearly the rock on which all combinations of interest must split.
Amid the universal confusion—the breaking up of old philosophies and systems—the uncertainty of the thousand new theories—the constant revolutions and general chaos—I have no wish to establish a set of opinions,—saying to myself, “thus far shalt thou go, and no farther;” but would always be open to reason and conviction, being responsible neither for the sentiments of yesterday nor to-morrow—neither abiding by way-marks for the future, nor squaring present thoughts to yesterday’s constitution. In an article published in the first number of the Communitist, I said,—“We bind ourselves to no new set of opinions; what are our sentiments to-day, may not be our sentiments to-morrow.” I find myself to-day embracing the same feeling, although some of my opinions are very much changed. Amid this universe of change, I covet not that individual’s lot who boasts that he changes not. If such boasting be true, it is a most certain evidence, either of invincible stupidity, or hopeless bigotry., There are very few things indeed which we really know to be true. The principle of philosophical necessity comes as near certainty in our minds, as, perhaps, any one of the abstract theories now preached.
I have believed, most thoroughly and ardently, that a union of interests was to be the grand panacea for all the woes of civilization. I now think the opposite of this: to wit, entire isolation will bring about the desired result. Every since commencing the community life, there have been a thousand inconveniences and jarring, which a determination that the experiment should succeed caused me to overlook, or to attribute to other causes than a defect in the principle: such, for instance, as the infancy and inexperience of the institutions; its great poverty, or bad management. Such things seemed to account for the difficulties for the time being, all of which evils I looked to time to remove. But, alas! for hopes and anticipations, and exertions expended upon a combination of interests! They are in vain, except as experiments to prove themselves false in principle. And here I will attempt to give a sort of synopsis of the defects in the principle of combination.
Laboring men find themselves constantly more and more oppressed. They have toiled century after century, with the iron of oppression drinking still deeper and deeper in to their heart’s core, without knowing the cause of their sufferings. Every labor-saving machine that makes its appearance in society, inflicts a new wound upon their already lacerated spirits. They look around, and son every side behold their equal brother living in splendor and idleness. they are the producers, and their idle neighbors the consumers. They groan in spirit, but see no remedy. Every vessel from the heaving ocean, and every steam car that that comes puffing through the land, are but signs to them that their ears are to be stunned with the report of the invention of some new labor-saving machine, which is to shorten their scanty pittance, lengthen our their hours or dreary toil, or throw them our of the means of living altogether. Looking upon society with tits poverty and abundance, and with its inequalities of every kind—with its antagonisms, its cannibal or clashing interests, and a constant tendency to a worse condition—they concluded that isolated interests must necessarily clash,—and that there could be no way to make those interests cooperate without combining them. They therefore threw all together in one pile, hoping thereby to obtain relief from their miseries and wrongs. This they have attempted in several instances, in all of which they have failed, or will fail. I am aware that a thousand excuses for these failures may be urged: such, for instance, as poverty and bad management; and Heaven knows that in some instances there two were sufficient in themselves. But there lies an evil back of these, that works the same in all: it is a defect in the principle. We will just examine the workings of them; for they all have the same difficulties, as nearly as I have been informed.
There communities are generally made up of the honest laboring poor, and the devoted philanthropist. Hence, therefore, they have the very best material in society. They come together with enthusiasm, believing they have finally discovered the remedy for all the woes that affect the human family; that which is to restore their inalienable rights, a perfect equality, not only of possession, but of all that goes to make up life. For a while, this enthusiasm to accomplish the object makes every one yielding, and ready to submit to any inconvenience. The object to be attained is so absorbing in its nature that no sacrifice seems too great for its accomplishment. They can endure any fatigue, can labor under the scorching rays of a July sun, or in the Iceland breezes of a stout north-wester. From the refined circles of warm-hearted friends, they are willing to go into the rough-and-tumble of a pioneer life, amid all sorts of people, with all sorts of habits, and under all sorts of circumstances. Indeed, while their faith lasts in the enterprise, it may be said of them as of the Indians,—“they shrink from no danger, and they fear no hardship.” From wishing and determining that they will succeed, they are made to believe that they certainly shall succeed. Sometimes, even in their very worst state, their extreme desire to succeed throws a veil over the real facts in the case, and they blindly suppose they are sailing along nicely, under auspicious skies. This is just as likely to be the case on the very eve of dissolution as at any other time.
They come together with their hundred different organizations, educations, and interests; they have been in the habit of managing each their own interest separately. Now that it is combined it still must be managed. What is to be done? They have come together with the idea of the largest liberty. Their natural feelings of independence are aroused—they have no idea of being ground! each man must have his say, for all are equal, and equally interested. Of course, they must be democratic in their business. To this end, when any kind of business is to be transacted, all must be called together to talk the matter over; which generally ends, etiher with talk, or with adopting some one’s proposition, by which every other man was obliged to yield his opinion of what was best. In this way they jog along, every thing being every one’s business and no one’s care. After awhile they find this won’t do; they must have some system, for they find that combined interests must have some system, for they find that combined interests want managing as much as isolated interests. Well, they get up system after system, and constitution after constitution; but all amounts to nothing. After a long experience in this way, legislating, legislating! LEGISLATING!!—squandering property, alienating friends, and souring their own tempers,—after warring and struggling along in this way, trying by all that lies in their power to preserve their independence, they begin to see that it will not go; they must yield up their liberty, or go to destruction at once. They yield;—they select one man to govern ALL the interests, physical and mental, of some hundreds of different organizations. Of course, there must be two parties; the majority rules, and the man is selected for the office while a large minority think him unfit; perhaps they think he lacks skill in business; perhaps they doubt his honesty; or whatever be his faults, they are dissatisfied, and deeply so, for it is ALL of their interests that is committed to his charge. He knows their minds by their votes, and, consequently, a repulsive atmosphere is created, suspicion is busy in imagining faults, until those who, a few days before, were moral heroes, become selfish and cowardly persons, and this repulsion continues until the atmosphere becomes unbearable, and the disaffected party leaves, or they spread their disaffection in the ranks until they become the majority:—then the head man must be changed, and the other party becomes disaffected, and leave, perhaps one by one, until there are not enough left to sing the funeral requiem. Still, so intent are they on carrying out their object, and so sure are they that they are on the right road to felicity, that amid all these, and thousand other difficulties, they never once suspect that they arise from any defect in principle. Having the advantage of association, their social nature is gratified, and they therefore conclude that the whole matter must be right,—not once thinking it possible to obtain these social advantages by other means. Some who are thus associated have been unfortunate in business, either through a lack of worldly tact, or from excessive benevolence: these hate the very name of business; the idea of trade is horrible to them. But they find themselves still in a wrong position. What is the matter? I cannot better answer this question than by introducing a plan of society proposed by Mr. JOSIAH WARREN, of New Harmony, Indiana. I shall not expect to do this subject justice, both on account of its complexity and my want of thorough acquaintance with it. I very much fear to speak of it at all in the brief manner I shall be compelled to do, lest some will get a very indefinite idea of it, and therefore misunderstand the whole subject.
MARIA L. VARNEY.
[Remainder next week.]
Mr. Warren proposes just the opposite of combination, to wit: a perfect isolation of interests, which shall still cooperate. His first proposition is:—
COMPLETE INDIVIDUALITY OF ALL INTERESTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES.—Nothing can be more clear than that, as we all have different organizations and educations, we must have different likes and dislikes—one will necessarily be pleased with that which displeases another. And if their interests are combined, and managed by one individual, the rest must all the while be yielding their judgment, their taste; and this is unnatural. One is made happy by the very means which makes another unhappy. This is a necessary consequence of combination. Yet we are social beings, and like to live in a social capacity. Now what does our nature demand? Just this:—Association without Combination; or in other words, Isolated, Cooperating interests. Every one naturally feels that what he produces, being the expenditure of his own vital stamina, a part of himself, belongs to him, and to no one else. We feel that we belong to ourselves, individually—that we have an equal right in the natural wealth of the earth;—and hence, when our vital energy is expended in bringing some of this natural wealth into form, it is still our own. His second proposition is:—
THE PRESERVATION, AT ALL TIMES, OF INDIVIDUAL SOVEREIGNTY.—This proposition is, in reality, included in the first, that of “strict individuality of all interests and responsibilities.” Civilized man has been governed to death; and as he progresses, and comes to a better understanding of his own nature, the tendency is directly and invariably, to throw off the restraints of government. For, brutalized as low as he has ever been, his nature has ever told him it was wrong to submit to be governed by another. If the present era is peculiar for any one thing more than for its confusion, it is for the tendency every where to throw off the restraints of government. The progress of knowledge is directly favorable to this result; hence, one of the first thoughts, in coming into these combinations is, to avoid all government. The very name is opprobrious—they can put up with any inconvenience, but they must have no government:—and hence they struggle on, as I have shown in the first part of this articles—striving every way to avoid it, and at the same time entirely overlooking the cause of all government. Here is a thought worthy to be treasured by all who are seeking for a better social state—All governments originate in amalgamated interests.
When men’s interests become entirely disunited, governments will have nothing to do. But how is it in a community of interests? State, counties, town, &c., require laws, because a part of men’s interests are united. But when their interests are ALL united, as in community, “the very maximum of government is required.” It is perfectly plain, that if we keep our interests entirely separate, we are left the only sovereign of our own person, time, and property; and this we cannot be if our interests are at all combined;—for an individual who governs my time and property, governs me. Hence no union of interests can take place without the sacrifice of individual liberty;—not even the partnership of two persons, for in this case, the one or the other is compelled to yield his opinions constantly—and every one feels this to be an unnatural position. It is the nature of man to be independent; his thirst for liberty is, perhaps, the strongest feeling of his nature. What has not been accomplished with the name of liberty fastened to a banner? and yet all is but for the name. For LIBERTY has no existence in any institution in the world. She lives only in name; and why? It is because man’s interests are combined more or less in every form of society. The solitary hermit alone can say,
“My right there is none to dispute.”
Then he, having his entire liberty, find he has a social nature that demands gratification. He finds that, as he cannot produce of every kind, it is very convenient to have neighbors to exchange his products with; and if he does this, it becomes absolutely necessary that they have some standard by which to estimate their labor. In this case, what would naturally be the first thought? He would say at once,—give me as much of your labor as I have put in my article. Hence Mr. Warren’s third proposition:—
COST, THE LIMIT OF PRICE.—This needs but to be stated for every one to see and acknowledge its justice. Yet in society as now constituted, this principle is totally disregarded. The price which an article will fetch, becomes the standard of right. This opens a field for wholesale swindling. If a man discovers that his neighbor’s wheat crops are cut off, he buys up all the wheat in that region, and then, taking advantage of his neighbor’s necessities, he puts the price up just as high as he thinks will possibly be borne by those who are suffering for want of the wheat. This is but a specimen of every other transaction of trade, under this principle of charging for an article whatever it will fetch, without any regard to the cost of producing it. To carry out the principle, one might charge his famishing neighbor the services of his whole life for a single meal! It is no matter of how much real value the article which I produce is to my neighbor; all that I have any right to charge, is the amount of labor I have expended in producing it, added to the cost of the raw material. For instance,—if a certain kind of shoes costs ten hours of labor, and a hat costs twenty hours of equally disagreeable labor, then it is plain that two pairs of shoes should be exchanged for a hat, provided that the raw material in both cases costs the same. Each one is to be his own judge of the cost of his own labor per hour, compared with the production of some article to which al look as a standard or yard-stick, to measure the cost of their own labor. The production of wheat, for instance, might be regarded as one; in the same way that the chemist regards water in weighing liquors and metals. Every one is left free to make his own estimate; and if he estimate above the real cost, competition is in favor of his honest neighbor; hence competition, under this principle, compels men to be honest. By this means of labor-exchange, all opportunity for speculation is cut off, and the laborer gets the products of his own labor. How is it in society now? Does the laborer get what he produces? For otherwise. What is wealth? It is the product of labor—nothing more nor less. Whence comes all the wealth of the millionaire? If the laborers got what they produce, he would be left to starve. Who, then, produces all the wealth we now see squandered by the thousand idlers of our cities and villages? Why, the laboring men and women—the mechanic, the farmer, the seamstress, who have themselves but a bare pittance of what they produce. What would be the consequence of exchanging labor for labor? Why, every man and woman would get what they produce, and every working class would become very wealthy, provided they worked as much as they now do; while the idlers would got to work, or starve. We can just suppose the effect, by taking all the wealth of our cities, and dividing among the producers only, leaving the present owners without a copper that they did not produce.
Again: the greatest pecuniary advantage, perhaps, would arise from the use of labor-saving machinery. At present, this lever which is to overturn the world, is in the hands of a few capitalists, and made to play directly against the interest of the laborer. There is, without doubt, sufficient labor-saving machinery to produce all the comforts and luxuries of life to all the inhabitants thereof, provided every individual worked three hours at some useful employment every day. Franklin estimated it at four hours; but there has been labor-saving machinery enough introduced since his time to reduce it to, at least, three hours. Now, with the experience which I have had, in these glorious realms of terrestrial bliss, as pictured on paper, I would be satisfied to adopt any system which would actually throw the control of machinery into the hands of the masses, and still preserve individual freedom. Any system that will do this, will revolutionalize society. Mr. Warren’s system proposes this; for the man who works the machine gets pay only for his own labor, and wear of the machinery, added to the const of the time of inventing. So that the man who invents a machine that will make fifty pairs of shoes in the time that it now takes to make one pair, will make shoes forty-nine-fiftieths cheaper to all with whom he deals. Hence, it becomes the direct advantage of all that machinery is invented, as it works for them, instead of against them, as now. At present, it is the greatest curse the laborer has to fear. Mr. Warren’s third [fourth] proposition is:—
A CIRCULATING MEDIUM, OR LABOR NOTE.—What is the use of a circulating medium? Chiefly to “represent the difference in unequal exchanges of property.” For instance: I exchange a table for a bureau; the bureau costs more than the table; then it is convenient to have a labor note, which shall represent as much labor as the cost of the bureau exceeds that of the table; so that the table and the article which it will bring, will equal the cost of the bureau. Then the exchange is equal. Money, as a circulating medium, has no value. To-day, a dollar represents a bushel of grain—to-morrow, it represents but half a bushel; consequently it cannot be depended upon. A poor laborer, who family depend upon his daily earnings for subsistence, cannot know how much money he ought to demand for his labor; for to-day his fifty cents buys him a half-bushel of wheat—to-morrow it will purchase but a peck, although he has performed the same amount of labor. It is clear, as before stated, that money has no value as a circulating medium. We must, therefore, adopt some medium which will always represent a certain quantity of labor, or produce, and which can be depended upon. The medium proposed is, that of each man’s issuing his labor notes, payable on demand—each note representing a certain number of hours or minutes of labor, at a certain rate per hour. The fifth and last proposition is:—
ADAPTING THE SUPPLY TO THE DEMAND, IN ALL THINGS.—The difficulties arising from the entire neglect of this principle in common society are immense. Hence the rise and fall in the market—at one time lean and destitute—at another glutted and running over; and at all time as unstable as the waves of the ocean. The only remedy for this is regulating the supply to the demand. This can be done in a self-supporting village, by having hung in some public place, a roll, on which each individual writes down what he has for market, under the column headed SUPPLY, and what he wishes in return, under the column headed DEMAND. On looking over the list of supplies, one sees advertised, with the name and address of the owner, an article which he wishes to secure. He knows where to go for what he wishes, but perhaps he wants an article he does not see advertised: he then writes down his demand, and another neighbor seeing it, and having the article to spare, immediately advertises, and then the former knows at once where his demand can be supplied. We will suppose he wants ten bushels of wheat; he turns to the column of demand and writes the number of bushels of wheat of a certain quality that he wishes to purchase, with his name and address; his neighbor seeing this demand, and having the wheat on hand, knows just where to find a market for it.
In the foregoing I have attempted some first idea of the principles which Mr. Warren proposes to introduce, by commencing a “Self-Supporting Village,” which may be called a village of equity. I have much fear that in this brief way of speaking of these principles, they will be misunderstood or misapplied. If I have failed to give them correctly, I have at least given them as I understand them. The very nature of man seem to demand some such principles as the above named. His individuality and sovereignty are necessary to him as a whole human being. In this plan they are preserved to him. Making cost the limit of price, is going back to first principles of equity, when men must have first commenced to exchange with one another. It is in fact reducing the land to common property, no interest or usury being paid by the cultivator. Man has a social nature, which calls for gratification. This plan proposes to him all the advantages of combination without any of its disadvantages, by isolated cooperating interests; and will eventually reduce labor to a mere pastime. When this is the case, as there is no cost, there will be no price; and therefore the results are the same as those anticipated by Communities and Associations—the only difference being that they begin at the wrong end of the matter; they undertake a community of property at first, whereas, they should begin with individual interest.
In a future number of the Investigator, these principles will be illustrated by showing their application to society. A periodical, principally devoted to this subject, will soon be published.
MARIA L. VARNEY.
Perhaps there is no subject which more deeply interests mankind than those of the re-organization of the social system. That some thing of the kind is necessary, no argument is required to convince any one. We have only to look about us—on every hand we behold the most utter destitution and squalid want, in the very midst of every thing that could be designed to make man happy. On the one hand, we behold the idle, non-producing drone, rolling in wealth and luxury—on the other hand, hundreds of hard working, industrious poor, suffering for the absolute necessaries of life. No wonder that man should begin to inquire into the causes of all this—no wonder that a general feeling of dissatisfaction should every where pervade the human mind. That our present social system is the offspring of ignorance, and that it will be changed for a better as soon as knowledge shows to mankind what the better system is, no one can doubt. Many theories for reforming society have already been given to the world, and many experiments have been tried; but as yet, none have succeeded, nor are they like to succeed—and it is quite evident that all plans as yet proposed are impracticable, as a means of reforming society;—they are evidently not founded in the true laws of our nature, and, of course, contain within themselves the seeds of their own destruction.
Yet, after the great amount of intellect and talent which has been expended in the solution of the social problem, it would look presumptuous in any one to assert that he had solved this great problem. It is doubtless true, that any theory will have but little effect on the public mind, unless accompanied with a practical experiment, which shall illustrate and prove to the world the practicability of such theory. This will account for the reason that the subject of “Equitable Commerce”—on which an article recently appeared in this paper, has not been given to the world ere this:—the author, Mr. J. WARREN, felt that mere theory without practical proof, would amount to little or nothing.
But as an experiment will soon be commenced, it may not be improper to give to the public all the information that it is possible to give on the subject without practical illustration. The proposition of Mr. Warren, which lies at the foundation of his system, is in direct opposition to all theories for reforming society by means of combination, or united interests. He says, “Strict Individuality must be preserved in all cases,” as “no two minds are formed alike,” of course, any system, when it becomes necessary for all to think alike, must be impracticable. In the words of Mr. Warren, “Society, to be harmonious, must be so formed, that every individual shall be supreme sovereign of his or her Person, Time, and Property.”
That this proposition is founded in truth and justice, needs no very lengthy argument to prove, or deep reflection to convince any one. We have but to appeal to our own feelings to satisfy ourselves, whether we naturally prefer to be our own sovereign, or to yield ourselves to the management of some one else. Again: it will be perceived, that if this proposition can be carried out, poverty will disappear—no idle drones can live on the labor of the industrious. But that all may realize and enjoy their rights, as set forth in this proposition, a principle of action must be drawn from it, but which to regulate our necessary transactions of business, or exchange of commodities, “Cost must be the limit of Price”—or, in other words, Labor shall always be given for equal amounts of labor.
It will be perceived that this is a deduction from the first proposition: for it a man is supreme sovereign of his own property, or the product of his own labor, it is evident that in exchanging it for the product of another, the only just mode is, labor for equal amounts of labor. It is universally admitted by all political economists, that there is no wealth but labor or its products, (except natural wealth, to which every human being evidently has an equal right;)—hence it follows, that those who perform the greatest amount of labor, produce the greatest amount of wealth; and society will never be right until it secures to every individual the products of his labor.
In regulating our exchanges by this true proposition of Mr. Warren, we shall evidently bring about the desired result:—for it A wishes to exchange an article with B that cost ten hours’ labor, he demands the same amount of equally disagreeable labor of B, and why should he not have it?—I should like to have some lawyer tell me why. To prove the above propositions requires no argument: they are self-evident, and must be readily admitted by any one. But to proceed: it will be seen that to facilitate our exchanges, a circulating medium is necessary; for instance,—suppose A is a hatter—he wishes to procure an article produced by B—he gives B a hat, and receives an article of equal cost. B does not want the hat for his own use; he exchanges it with C for its cost in some article of C’s production; C keeps the hat for his own use, and the exchange is at an end,—all parties have their rights, and all have been accommodated. But this would be inconvenient and impracticable, for many articles could not be transferred from hand to hand;—hence it become necessary to have a representative of property. and here comes in Mr. Warren’s fourth proposition,—“A Circulating Medium, representing Property according to the labor it cost.”
If every member of community could exchange the articles of his production for the articles he required, and the exchanges be equal and complete, there would be no necessity for any representative of property; but as this cannot be the case, it will be seen that the amount of the circulating medium should be in amount, “the same as the unadjusted balances;”—and that said representative of unadjusted balances should not be created by one man for another, nor by any company of men, but by the individual from whom the balance is due. If I exchange an article that cost ten hours’ labor, for an article that cost thirty hours’ labor, some thing is wanted to represent the twenty hours’ difference. For this purpose let a note be given, printed in the manner of a bank bill, for twenty hours’ labor on demand, signed by the one from who it is due. This becomes a medium of exchange, and passes from one man to another, until it is redeemed. This is, beyond a doubt, the most ingenious and philosophical plan for a circulating medium ever invented by man. It is founded on the very best bottom,—LABOR—always represents something positive, and naturally regulates itself as to amount.
The last proposition of Mr. Warren for the regulation of society, is, in all things, to “Regulate the Supply to the Demand,” That this proposition is one of great importance, must be evident to any one who has observed the workings of our present system. Let us suppose a Self-Supporting village of 500 inhabitants—it is certain there would be required a given amount of shoes, hats, clothing, etc. If a greater amount was required, it is evident it would be to the injury of the producer,—and the only rational mode would be, to first ascertain the demand, and then supply it. For this purpose, Mr. Warren proposes to have Journals kept in some public place, where each person could write their demands, and what they could supply. From self-interest people would resort to this place, and the supply would naturally regulate itself to the demand.
Above is a brief explanation of the principles of Me. Warren for reorganizing society. The effect of these principle, in practice, will, by deep reflection, be seen previous to the experiment. I wish, however, to notice some of the results which I think must flow from them. It will be seen at a glance, that under a system of this kind, and under no other, we can live without that accursed abomination, Government;—for if we are supreme sovereign of our own person, time, and property, no Government but Self-Government should exist: the moment we yield this natural right, some one else assumes it. This right must, of necessity, be yielded, the moment we unite, combine, or amalgamate our interests. At this point, Freedom ceases, and Government and Slavery commence. Even in the simplest form, that of two persons conducting business in co-partnership—neither party is free, but must be continually yielding their opinions. If we increase the partners to any extent, it becomes impossible to do business in any way, except by the many yielding to the few. A prudent manager, agent, or leader must be appointed, who individual mind must govern the affairs of the rest. All this is the necessary result of the circumstances.
In all cases where there is Government, there is a combination of interests—where there is no combination of interests, there is no Government but Self-Government.
Had the proposed plans of Community or Association been presented to us stripped of all their ornaments and paintings,—for instance, had the inhabitants of a village who were living under the present clashing system, proposed a general co-partnership of all their citizens—proposed to combine all their interests into one general concern, in which all should be equal partners,—it is probable that the most common intellects would have foreseen that they could not succeed, from the fact that they could not agree in their views. Here has been the great mistake of social reformers: seeing that our present system of individual interest clashed in all its parts,—and seeing that cooperation was necessary to secure the greatest amount of happiness, they have vainly endeavored to bring it about by a union of interests, not perceiving that such a system contained the very seeds of discord and confusion.
The system of Mr. Warren is the very opposite extreme of combination—being founded upon the strictest individuality,—and yet it results in all the advantages anticipated from Community or Association. Let us apply these principles to society. We will begin at the first commencement of a village, and suppose a man commences farming in some suitable place to form a village. He is willing to exchange the products of his labor for an equal amount of the labor of any other person who produces articles which he requires; perhaps he wishes to build a house. This makes a demand for a saw-mill; a suitable person is procured to supply the demand, who is also willing to exchange on the cost principle. These two families make still further demands,—perhaps for a shoemaker and a blacksmith, which will still further increase the demand,—perhaps for a tailor, carpenter, wheelwright, &c. Perhaps by this time, there is a sufficient demand for a store, which being opened on the cost principle, necessarily draws all the surrounding neighbors there to trade from self-interest. These in their turn, exchanging the products of their labor, become in realities parties in the affair; the neighboring stores must either come down to the cost principle, or be used up. So, also, with mechanics of all kinds, farmers, lawyers, doctors, &c., &c., competition would do the work, and none could escape.
But we must not look for any magical change in human nature. We must not expect that men will become changed from extreme selfishness to extreme generosity. On the contrary, when labor shall be re-organized as capital, we must look for all kinds of schemes and devices by which to secure as much labor as possible;—hence, if we have not some moral check upon the perverted dispositions of men, we may still look for an accumulation of the capital in the hands of the more cunning. But whenever labor shall receive its rights, we have a most perfect regulator and leveller in competition. So powerful and efficient will this agent become, that the moral and virtuous class of society will have the most complete control over all designing and dishonest individuals.
Suppose a man should establish a store in one of our present villages, where there was already half a dozen stores—and that he should sell goods on the cost principle,—that is, for just the amount of money he paid for them, and an equal amount of labor for the labor expended in buying and selling? Who cannot see that competition would compel every merchant to come down to his standard? Should a mechanic adopt the same rule, and same effect would follow. In this way, a very few honest individuals could compel the whole village to come to the standard of honesty. Was society established on these principles, the average amount of labor which it took to produce an article, would soon be known through the medium of competition; and as the amount of labor required to produce an article to-day, would produce the same to-morrow, there could be no possible chance for a man to get an exorbitant price for an article, as the general knowledge on the subject would not allow it.
But the most beautiful feature of Mr. Warren’s system consists in the fac that, notwithstanding there is no combination or union of interests, by which one is compelled to yield his individual opinions on any occasion, yet from the very nature of the circumstances, the most perfect cooperation takes place, and for the best of all reasons,—self-interest. The moment that society is established on the just and true principle of labor for labor, it becomes the interest of every one to promote the interest of his neighbor, inasmuch as that which conduces to his neighbor’s interest, promotes his own. For instance: if my shoes cost me ten hours’ labor per pair, it becomes my immediate interest to throw every facility in the way of the manufacturer, to enable him to make them in less time.
Again: if I were boarding at a boarding-house kept on the cost principle, I should have to pay the keeper the same amount of money that he paid out for food, and an equal amount of labor for the labor performed in cooking, &c.;—hence, it becomes my interest to inform the keeper of every cheap article of food, and to procure for him all the boarders I can, as I thereby reduce my own expenses.
By a moment’s reflection, we shall easily perceive that this just principle necessarily operates through all the ramifications of society, and that it would be impossible to injure our neighbor without injuring ourselves. Again: this system most completely throws into the hands of the mass, the benefits of labor-saving machinery. If a hat cost twenty-four hours’ labor, and a machine is invented by which they are produced in one hour, I, of course, get my hats for one hour’s labor, instead of twenty-four, allowing something for the wear of the machinery. The capitalist will not be then, as now, the only one benefited by machinery, and that, too, at the expense of the laborer; but every member of society will be equally benefited. Of course, all will feel an equal interest in them, and this will tend to draw out all the incentive power that exists. Skill and talent of all kinds will also be dran out through the influence of competitions. It is evident that an awkward, unskillful mechanic could not get twelve hours’ labor for producing an article that one more skilful could produce in eight hours. Yet the influence of competition would only bring things to their true and natural level. Like the regulator of machinery, it only acts when the machine runs too fast or too slow.
The idea may come in here, that those who are the least skilful may suffer by the competition of the more skilful. At first view, this appears unjust. But on reflection, we find it to be not only the strictest justice, but the strongest possible stimulant to improvement and progression; for it is evident that competition would never bring an article lower than the labor it cost an average workman to produce it:—the supply being regulated by the demand in things, it would never be necessary for a man to work under price for the sake of getting work to do. Hence, when we consider that it takes no more labor for one man to produce an article than another,—for the same number of threads drawn and pegs driven will always produce the same kind of a shoe,—of course, if a man is awkward and unskillful, and cannot produce an article in the usual time, it argues that his is in the wrong place, and others ought not to be the sufferers. But, after all, this nicety is unnecessary;—for when society is so arranged that men shall receive the whole products of their labor, the most unskillful can produce, with comparatively little exertion, all they require.
Another beautiful feature of this system is, that it puts the earth, and all natural wealth into the hands of the mass. It requires no argument to prove that the earth belongs equally to all its inhabitants; and any system of society which will redeem natural wealth and the soil for the benefit of the producers, will have, at least, one strong recommendation. It will be seen that this can be accomplished simply and effectually by Mr. Warren’s theory. Suppose a man owned a farm in an “Equitable Commerce” village, where all the exchanges are made on the principle of labor for labor—what profit would his farm be to him if he did not labor? and if he did labor, he would be just as much benefited by it without a farm, as with it. It would be the same if he wished to sell it. Like the honey which the bee has laid up for the winter, it will support him until he has eaten up the amount of its cost, and no longer. Unless a man was a skilful farmer, there would be less inducement for him to cultivate his own land, even, than to labor at some other occupation. If a neighbor took me into his field to see a fine crop of grain, or into his orchard to see rich trees bending under the weight of rich fruit, I should be equally delighted with the owner, for the best of all reasons,—I should be equally interest; for the cheaper the crop, the less labor would they cost per bushel. Were the crops cut off, I should necessarily sympathize with the farmers, for I should be equally the loser.
So through all the ramifications of society, every member being just as much interested in every other department as his own, a natural cooperation of the most perfect kind necessarily takes place. With this universal interest and sympathy extending through all the departments of society, and binding its members together with the strong cords of self-love, those envious, jealous, and discordant feelings which now every where exist, would disappear, and in their place would arise confidence, love, and harmony. Every man being placed in a condition to exercise his inalienable rights, the right of being sovereign of his own “person, time, and property,” he would naturally respect those rights in others,—and then might we see practised the golden rule, of “doing unto others as we would that others should do unto us.”
SOURCE: The Boston Investigator. April 8, April 15, and May 6, 1846.