Labor the Only Ground of Price

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Josiah Warren

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Josiah Warren. "Labor the Only Ground of Price." The Index. 5 (May 28, 1874), 260-1.



It is folly to expect that men will prefer starved, ragged, insulted labor, however useful it may be, rather than an easy situation with a sufficient income and the respect of their fellow-men. It is not surprising that the ranks of the respected pursuits are crowded till their followers are tempted to live by fraud—that we are overrun with speculators, thieves, defaulters, counterfeiters, burglars, robbers, murderers, incendiaries, rapacious officials, and other vagabonds; or that the Bible is tortured into the defence of slavery and poverty by those who are revelling in idleness and luxury; or that, when the opportunities for speculations and office-holding opened by one war are all filled, the next step is to appeal to "patriotism" to get up another war. This pandemonium of ours miscalled society will continue, in spite of all conscience, all preaching, and all law-making, as long as men are tempted to live by profitable crimes rather than to starve in useful pursuits.

The immense advantages derived from the division and exchange of labor are so overwhelming that they have almost extinguished the idea of people in the midst of them making everything that they use, we depend on buying all our supplies with money from those who can produce them to better advantage. Hence money is the all-in-all—the pivot upon which everything and everybody turns. So we return to money.

Money should be a representative, and nothing but a representative, of property or wealth. Let us see what kind of property it should represent. Sunshine

the air we breathe, the water in a river, are wealth of great value; but, not being the product of any one's labor, they are not legitimate subjects of price, even if it were possible to command a price for them.

The man who should stumble upon a coal mine without having taken any pains or trouble to find it would not be equitably entitled to any compensation for that accident. His true ground of price begins when he commences to take trouble to make it known or to get it out. If he only superintends or gives directions, if this function is not as disagreeable (all things considered) as that of digging and wheeling the coal, his compensation would not be as great, on the principle of equivalents, as that of the humblest coal-digger.

With regard to the ownership of the mine, like the water in the river, nobody owns it—everybody owns it. It is equitably the inheritance of all mankind and it makes no difference who undertakes to work it if the price of the coal is simply compensation for the labor of the mind and the hand in superintending, digging, delivering, and all other contingent costs. If the men were obliged to work in water six inches deep, their pay, to compensate them, must be more than if there were no water, and more in cold weather in the water than in warm weather.

It would be the same with any other mines, whether of lead, copper, gold, silver, or any other natural wealth,—such as land, stone, wood, spontaneous fruits, etc.; there is no just ground for price till labor comes to be bestowed upon them

If one should accidentally see a good site for a city he is not equitably entitled to pay for a discovery which has cost him nothing. If he undertakes to lay it out into lots, and to sell them, he is equitably entitled to pay according to the costs of his labor compared with other labors, and all contingent expenses; and these being paid, there is no just ground for any further price or compensation.

If an acre in that city would make a desirable home for a nabob, he should give for it only as much of his own labor as it has cost. If some other one wishes to possess it after the nabob has fixed his mind upon it, and prefers it to any other situation, he can equitably consider what would compensate him for the cost or sacrifice he might incur in parting with it; but he cannot equitably have any reference to the value of the lot to the applicant, or what he might extort from the "demand" or necessities of the purchaser.

Thus far, then, we have found no equitable ground of price, except labor, or costs incurred.

  • Josiah Warren, “Labor the Only Ground of Price,” The Index 5, no. 231 (May 28, 1874): 260-261.