Rent: Parting Words
Rent: Parting Words.
The terminology employed by me in the preceding number of Liberty needs no defence, as I have used common words in their usual sense without regard to the technicalities of schoolmen.
My admission that payments by a tenant beyond restoration of all values removed by crops, and during the years of culture, should justly be reckoned as purchase money, ha* nothing to do with terminology; it employs no words in an unusual sense. Therein consists, however, my radical accord with Proudhon and other modern socialists, and it cuts to t hi root of the tribute paid to idle landlords. The rent on real estate in cities has a compound basis, for, in addition to the equivalent for repairs and taxes common between it and agricultural rent, it includes an increment that may or may no; have been earned by the owner and which is generally due to the concurrence of many individuals actuated by commercial and other social interests. A vortex, the site of which is determined by some local advantage, sucks in the population and resources of a large area.
The ethical title to the unearned increment of market values in real estate reverts to the municipal autonomy (1), bat its legal title is now vested with individuals, and is the unjust basis of fortunes, like that of the Asters in New York city. Such titles carry with them at least hygienic duties, and certain tenement blocks are fairly indictable under existing laws as public nuisances.
Market gardens near cities partake of this compound basis of values, but for agricultural lands generally labor is the only factor of value and title of rent. "Reduction to Procrustean codes of law of these relations between past and present labor which constitute capital in the soil" is an arehonistic vice which I do not attribute to Mr. Tucker, but I perceive in his reply some twinges of conscience which accuse bis semi-allegiance to " Pantarcliatv " doctrines. One of these he brings forward in the formula of exchange of labor, hour for hour; an arrangement the feasibility of which is narrowly limited in practice, and which, even when feasible, must be subordinate to personal contracts under individual sovereignty.(2) The pretension to generalize it is purely conventional and foreign to economic science.(S)
Aiming at equalitarian justice in labor exchange, Marx takes from statistical tables the average life of laborers in each department, including even the manipulation of poisons; then, if the span of life in these is reduced to, say five years, while in farm work it is sixty, he makes one hour of the latter exchange for twelve of the former.
Is it necessary to expose the puerility of such speculative views? With a despotic capitalism will cease the necessity for murderous industries. Honest labor owns no fealty to the royalty of gold; hence will abandon the quicksilver works of the Rothschilds, which have for their chief object the extraction of gold, to be kept in vaults as the basis of currency. The Labor and Produce Exchange Bank annihilates at one blow the industrial and the financial slavery.
Honest labor has no use for those paralyzing paints which are compounded with white lead. It will forge its plows as they were forged before capitalism dictated that sharpening process, to the dust of which so many lives are sacrificed by artificial phthisis. I make bold to declare that not a single murderous function will remain after the emancipation from the prejudice of government, for the political and the economic despotisms are Siamese twins. But that will not equalize exchanges, hour for hour, a system whose occasional feasibility cannot go behind personal contracts, and for Anarchists must be optional with individual sovereignty. It is a rickety chiUl of the "Pantarchate," that needs to be bolstered with half a dozen ifs. Not only is it incalculable for exchanges between the simpler forms of labor and those requiring years of previous study, or a costly preparation; (4) but even in agriculture or mechanics, labor is little more than the 0 that gives value to judgment and skill, without which its intervention is not only worthless, but often detrimental.(5) A mere plowman in my orchard may ruin my fruit crop by a day's faithful work, or a surgeon cripple me for life by an operation however well intended, and, mechanically, well performed.(G) The employer is naturally and ethically the appraiser of work, and what he wants to know is, not the cost in time or pains, but the probable value of the result, before proposing terms to labor.(7) Then the estimate of costs enters into the laborer's answer, but, as he must often accept work the unforeseen costs of which exceed the compensation, it is unjust to restrict him from indemnifying himself on other occasions, by computing the value of his work to the employer.(8)
The " cost limit of price " doctrine is another economic fantasy (9) that flouts practical expediency, and, while qualifying particular estimates, can never become a general law.
The ethical validity of investment of past labor as the basis of rent does not need to lean upon the broken reed that Mr'. Tucker supplies in his " if its result would remain intact, the field lying idle," etc. He knows it could not remain intact, for such field would grow up in grubs and the fences would decay during idleness, but it does not follow that the field would lie idle because not rented, nor would my loss in that case be a just reason why I should not share in the fructification of my past labor by another man's actual labor.(10) My illustration of the mechanism and conditions of the productivity of capital stands for itself and by itself; it is not a gloss or commentary upon Proudhon. His ideas and mine both harmonize with the facts of the case; that is our agreement, it is not an affair of mere verbiage.
The field in question owed its whole productivity to my previous labor. Other land contiguous was free to my tenant's occupation and use, but, though of equal original capacities, was rejected by him as a non-value. This is true of most agricultural land. Only by contiguity to cities, or in certain exceptional sites, has laud any appreciable value independent of labor, in this country.
I stated that, in making a crop upon the basis of values accumulated in the soil by my previous labor, the tenant, paying one-fourth, profited three times as much by my previous labor as I did. This is the conventional award to his season's labor; it may be more or less than relative justice, but conventional rules or customs are infinitely preferable to arithmetical computations of a balance by the hours of labor. Farmers are not apt to be monomaniacs of book-keeping. Instead of profited, I might have written shared. The term profit touches a hyperaesthetic spot in the socialist brain, and makes thought fly off at a tangent.(11) Mr. Tucker's commentary here is to me a mere muddle of phrases which it does not appear profitable 1o analyze.
There is no squint in our use of the word Anarchy. There is a squint in employing it as a synonym with confusion. (12)
(l)This smacks of Henry George. If the municipality is an organization to which even- person residing within a given territory must belong and pay tribute, it is not a bit more defensible than the State itself,—in fact, is nothing but a small State, — and to vest in it a title to any part of the value of real estate is simply land nationalization on a small scale, which no Anarchist can look upon with favor. If the municipality is a voluntary organization, it can have no titles except what it gets from the individuals composing it. If they choose to transfer their "unearned increments" to the municipality, well and good; but any individual not choosing to do so ought to be able to hold his "unearned increment" against the world. If it is unearned, certainly his neighbors did not earn it. The advent of Liberty will reduce all unearned increments to a harmless minimum.
(2) There it is again. After admitting that I do not want to impose this principle of exchange, why does Edgeworth remind me that it must be "subordinate," etc.? When forced to a direct answer, he allows that I am not in favor of legal regulation, but immediately he proceeds with his argument as if I were. Logic commands him for a moment; then he lapses back into his instinctive inability to distinguish between a scientific principle and statute law.
(3) Who pretends to generalize it? Certainly no Anarchist. The pretension is that it will generalize itself as soon as monopoly is struck down. This generalization, far from being conventional, depends upon the abolition of conventions. Instead of being narrowly limited in practice, the labor measure of exchange will become, through Liberty, an almost universal fact.
(4) Why incalculable V Suppose a boy begins farm labor at fifteen years of age with a prospect of fifty years of work before him at one thousand dollars a year. Suppose another boy of the same age spends ten years and ten thousand dollars in studying medicine, and begins practice at twenty-five years of age with a prospect of forty years of work before him. Is it such a difficult mathematical problem to find out'how great a percentage the latter must add to his prices in order to get in forty years as much as the farmer gets in fifty, and ten thousand dollars besides? Any schoolboy could solve it. Of course, labor cannot be estimated with the same degree of accuracy under all circumstances, but with the cost principle as a guide a sufficient approximation to equity is secured, while without it there is nothing but hap-hazard, scramble, and extortion. Edgeworth is mistaken, by the way, regarding the paternity of this principle. It is not a child of the "Pantarchate," or at any rate only an adopted child, its real father having been Josiah Warren, who hated the "Pantarchate " most cordially.
(r>) I have never maintained that judgment and skill are less important than labor; I have only maintained that neither judgment nor skill can be charged for in equity except so far as they have been acquired. Even then the payment is not for the judgment or skill, but for the labor of acquiring, and, in estimating the price, one hour of labor in acquiring judgment is to be considered equal — not, as now, to one day, or week, or perhaps year of manual toil—but to one hour of manual toil. The claim for judgment and skill is usually a mere pretext made to deceive the people into paying exorbitant prices, and will not bear analysis for a moment.
(ti) What has this to do with the price of labor? Imagine Edgeworth or any other sensible man employing an incompetent surgeon because his services could be had for a dollar a day less than those of one»more competent! The course for sensible and just men to follow is this: Employ the best workmen you can find; whomsoever you employ, pay them equitably; if they damage you, insist that they shall make the damage good, so far as possible; but do not dock their wages on the supposition that they may damage you.
(7) On the contrary, the employee, the one who does the work, is naturally and ethically the appraiser of work, and all that the employer has to say is whether he will pay the price or not. Into his answer enters
tin.- estimate of the value of the result. Under the present system he offers less than cost, and the employee is forced to accept. But Liberty and competition will create such an enormous market for labor that no workman will be forced by his incompetency to work for less than cost, as he will always be in a position to resort to some simpler work for which he is competent and can obtain adequate pay.
(8) The old excuse: to pay Paul I must rob Peter.
(9) No, not another; the same old fantasy, if it be a fantasy. The fact that Edgeworth supposes the exchange of labor for labor to be a different thing from the "cost limit of price" doctrine shows how little he understands it.
(10) Edgeworth admitted in his previous article that he could ask nothing more than that his field should 1« restored to him intact, and that anything his tenant might pay in addition should be regarded as purchase money; now he not only wants his field restored intact, but insists on sharing in the results of his tenant's labor. I can follow in no such devious path as this.
(11) It would have made no difference to me, had Edgeworth said "shared" instead of "profited." In that case I should simply have said that neither landlords nor tenants as such (where there is freedom of competition) share in the results of-the extra fertility of soil due to preparatory labor, but that those results go to the consumers. And Edgeworth's reply would have been the same, — that my remarks were a "muddle of phrases." Such a reply admits of no discussion Only our readers can judge of its justice. One of the most intelligent of them does so judge in the brief communication following this article. In saying that "farmers are not apt to be monomaniacs of bookkeeping," Edgeworth is probably not aware that he is calling Proudhon (with whom he so obstinately insists that he is in accord) hard names. The statement occurs over and over again in Proudhon's works that book-keeping is the final arbiter in all economical discussion. He never tires of sounding its praises. And this great writer, whose "radical accord" with Edgeworth "is not a matter of mere verbiage," was one of the most persistent champions of the cost principle and the exchange of labor hour for hour.
(12) I presume I am entirely safe in saying that the word Anarchy Ls used in the sense of confusion a thousand times where it is used once in the sense of Liberty. Therefore Edgeworth's closing assertion that "there is no squint in our use of the word Anarchy" and that "there is a squint in employing it as a synonym with confusion" shows how much reliance can be placed upon his opening assertion that in this discussion he has "used common words in their usual sense."
- Marx Edgeworth Lazarus and Benjamin R. Tucker, “Rent: Parting Words,” Liberty 4, no. 19 (December 12, 1885): 3.