Social Reform, No. I
John Adams, "Social Reform, No. I.," The Boston Investigator, XXIV, 24 (October 11, 1854), 1.
For the Boston Investigator.
Mr. Editor:—As the friends of Social Reform occasionally speak through your columns, allow me, if you think worthy, to utter a few thoughts upon the question. The object oaf all social reformers, is the establishment of justice in the relation which each individual man sustains toward his brother man. The cause of the present injustice and discord is in the fact that the present organization of society is founded in the false relation which capital sustains towards labor. Society says, that capital is entitled to a share of the products of labor; whereas truth and justice say, that labor is entitled to the whole of its production.
The adjustments of this issue will remedy the existing evils of society. To M. Proudhon belongs the honor of developing the true idea which must soon revolutionize society. Says M. Proudhon, "Labor is productive; capital is not." A house, a bushel of wheat, or a yard of cloth, is capital or past labor, neither of which will reproduce itself; a house cannot reproduce itself, nor the wheat itself, consequently they are fit only to be consumed as used, and whoever consumes or uses them other than the producer, will be required by strict just to restore the same and now more. Society, as at present, says, the he should restore more than he has consumed.
The two Opposing principles cannot always exist; one of which now lives in the actual world cursing and destroying the happiness of man, while the other lives only in the ideal, but is yet to bless and save. It is a true saying, that the ideal always produces the actual. The key-stone in the present social edifice which holds it together and builds it up, is the limited basis of the present currency used by mankind to exchange their productions. Our currency is based upon the precious metals which the world has fixed upon, on account of their value in the arts, their compactness, and their indestructibility. Because of their limited quantity, it follows that whoever can monopolize them can charge a premium for the use of the same as money. Therefore, whoever issues the bank note based upon specie, can also by taking advantage of men's necessitates compel them also to pay a premium for the same. Thus society justifies the present banking institutions of the world, and mankind exclaim in their wonted ignorance that we cannot live without banks, which is equivalent to saying society cannot live without injustice, which is true enough in the present order of things.
We would not object to the basis of our currency, but we would make it more extensive; even we would extend it to all the productions of man. A gold or silver dollar has cost past labor, and its very existence presents evidence that some one has toiled in its production, so also has a house, a farm, a bushel of wheat, or a yard of cloth. When we see either of these articles, we know that some one ha toiled in their production. Gold and silver shelter, feed, and clothe no man, while the other productions which we have name do all of these. Then why may we not justly extend the basis of the currency to other really useful productions of man as well as to confine it to the productions of a small class of men called miners? The evils of the present narrow basis of a currency, no man can calculate. The toiling men and women of Massachusetts are paying to-day for the use of a currency at the rate of over $5,000,000 per annum to the bankers of the Commonwealth, for a currency based upon $3,000,000 of specie. Sometimes our politicians shudder at the idea of taxing the inhabitants of the State the comparatively small sum of $3,000,000, but if they were to swell the tax to the cost of our currency, some of them, especially the patriotic ones, would soon faint in their extreme lover which they bear for the dear people.
But the evil does not stop here. The various railroads of the State declare dividends of late years of about 8 per cent, and the amount of capital invested in the same is not far from $40,000,000, the dividends upon which must amount to $3,000,000, the whole of which is a tax upon labor. There are "business corporations" whose capital amounts to over $100,000,000, which must also declare dividends of over $7,000,000 more, for you know that shrewd business men do not invest their money unless it pays more than 6 per cent. Thus do the toilers of our State pay to these classes of corporations the enormous sum of $15,000,000 annually in the shape of dividends to capitalists. It is evident that this vast sum of money is the labor of one class of men paid directly to the pockets of another class of men "who neither toil nor spin." Add to this the sums of money which the same class are paying to capital in the shape of rents, interest on bonds and mortgages, and the amount would be incredible—the exact amount of which we have at present mo means of computing. To make an estimate is impossible.
We know that landlordism is common wherever it is profitable, and that the larger part of the property of our cities and villages is in the hands of landlords whose profits are derived form the mechanic, the trader, and the artisan. A statement went the rounds of the papers a few years ago that two-thirds of the farms in some of the agricultural counties of the State were covered by mortgage, which statement if it approximates towards the truth, would astonish the natives in the amount of burden under which the agricultural districts groan.—The very fact that our State produces less quantities of the staple agricultural productions, at the present time (as the census returns show) than at former periods, must exhibit evidence to every reflecting mind that there is something "rotten in Denmark." Under the light of agricultural science the State should increase her productions, but facts show the reverse to be true.—If we can break down landlordism and the banking institutions of the State, and substitute a system in its stead whereby a currency can be furnished at a tenth part of its present cost equally and more safe for the holders of the same, we shall have accomplished the great work of Social Reform. (To be continued.)
Brookfield, (Mass,) Sept. 25th, 1854.