Social industry, or, The sole source of increase

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Joshua King Ingalls

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[The following chapters are introductory to a series of Essays under the title of "SOCIAL INDUSTRY." The first of this Series will appear in the May number of FAIR PLAY. The March and April numbers will contain Mr. Ingalls' Address on "The Unrevealed Religion." EDITOR FAIR PLAY.]



The real question, between those who work and those who exploit their earnings, is the existing disparity of wages. All production of wealth is co-operative, directly, or through exchange. The natural wages of labor, the entire wealth produced, are now divided between the landholder, capitalist and worker. In order to obtain what even an orthodox political economist calls "a rude kind of equity," any exchange of equivalents, assumes freedom from restraint, on the part of either party, intellectual responsibility, general acquaintance with values, and tolerable honesty of purpose.

Now the man who exchanges the product of his labor, for the privilege of doing it, is paying tribute to privilege, and the price of no service or thing, for we must never lose sight of the fact that one's person, place and opportunity belong to himself, are really his property as much as the product of his labor. For they are a part of the universe which his vitality has moved and utilized as truly as the commodity he has produced. The soil he tills, the place and home where he dwells and works, "belongs to him in usufruct," as truly even as the muscular tissues he employs in labor, of which he owns the temporary use only. If his brain and muscle are property, which no other can claim, so is his home and physical environment. The province of exchange then is limited to those things which his ability has created outside of himself, and which can be transferred without destroying his personality or depriving himself of opportunity.

Between property in occupied land and property in vacant land, between voluntary and involuntary service, between persistent and variable values, the distinction is so wide and marked that it can be ignored only at the peril of all social well being.

Inequality in the wages of men existed before land monopoly or even slavery, which was yet older. Both of these barbaric dominations were devised to render perpetual such inequalities as at first normally arose between ignorant and inexperienced parties, but which left to themselves would have been self-corrective, through a series of alternations, tending constantly to equilibrium.

The abolition of slavery has set free these tendencies, so far as they were affected by ownership of the persons of other men. Abolition of the dominion over another's land (vacant land ownership ) would do vastly more to equalize the wages of mankind, but it is only as man shall grow in the exact knowledge of economical and ethical law, that the monstrous inequalities of social and industrial life will rapidly recede till they become lost in those gentle undulations necessary to prevent utter stagnation and inactivity.

I desire to get this general subject before the thinking workers, and to direct their attention to matters illustrating the tendency of exact economic law, in the absence of unjust class legislation, to reduce all unearned wages, now paid to landlord, banker or speculator, to a vanishing point.


Taking a look beyond the confusing polemics of social or political science and its bewildering terminology, let us institute an inquiry into the actual facts of wealth production, and carefully note what takes place as a result of associated industrial effort.

Given the two factors, "Man and the Land," we find that the active agent is only able to labor while the waste of his system in such labor is sustained by necessary food, raiment and shelter, and that the land is only able to yield as its elements are returned to it. It is also necessary that the man should be able to rear a family, so that the industrial force may not decline for want of new workers to take the place of those whose powers fail from age or other causes.

Now it is a well attested fact that where the land is free, or comparatively so, and not subject to the payment of rent, the early settler with little capital other than his trained hands is able not only to sustain his life but to produce in a single season enough to support him for several seasons. It is also an established fact that the average worker under such conditions produces enough to support himself with the average family, and have left at the end of the year quite as much as he has consumed. This surplus then is the economic increase due to labor which under the different names of profit, interest or rent, is now exploited through various pretences and devices, by the landlord and other legally privileged orders from the ignorance and defenseless position of the laborer.

It must be remembered, however, that this surplus product is in part owing to reciprocal aids received and returned between himself and neighbors, and in more general circulation to facilities for exchanging and transporting his commodities for other needed things produced by others; for his labor however isolated then becomes social and cooperative, and so more effective.

Upon this excess produced by labor over cost of support depended in past generations the very existence of chattel slavery. Had the cost of slave labor at any time exceeded or even equalled the gross product, that form of slavery must have ceased from the direct operation of economic law. That it was approaching that state when abolished at the behest of moral sentiment, or rather to meet the exigencies of the State or the military necessity, is probable, for it was hard pressed by the more effective wages system of labor, made indirectly compulsory by class ownership of the other, the passive factor of production, the land. It is well known that in all slave countries the land rapidly loses fertility.

Now if the system of chattelism were impossible when labor under it yielded no surplus, so the entire capitalistic incomes of rent, interest and profits must cease, the moment the employment of labor ceases to be productive beyond the cost of its support, and all our legalized machinery and class institutions will become then as useless as a vacuum pump in a dry well. In the field of more independent self-employment, the truth of this position is quite as apparent. Were the worker alone in the world, a single failure to meet the necessities of his existence would end in the extinction of the man and of his type. Is not then the increase of wealth in every form dependent on this single fact that labor applied to land or to things derived from the land is able to exceed in production what such labor absorbs in consumption?

All matters involved in superintendence, in distribution and in exchange, come under the head of labor, and are subject to the same economic law, as other aids in co-operative production. Unless such labor adds to production more than it takes away, it could not economically survive, in any department except where favored by cunning class rule enforcing predatory contributions. And this must be true of every occupation or calling of men, whatever; whether of mere muscular toil, of skilled or artistic work, of director's function, management of domain, of plant, of merchandise, or of money and exchange. As to the ownership of this increase no ethical or economic concept can be logically admitted, except on the assumption that each possesses that share of the increase which his services over cost have earned. In any civil or moral determination of the questions involved in trade, or general laws of business, priority must be given to the question of ownership. To whom does the profits of social industry belong? After the cost of the keep of the laborer is deducted, (which we see must be done under any system of slavery, serfdom or capitalism) the "lord of the land" enters his claim: "The increase is mine as owner of the domain and (if also a slaveholder) the laborer." And by law the land is his and the rent is his under law and under law alone. Next comes the speculative trader: "I have assisted in this production, by promoting exchange. After the cost of labor is paid, and the landlord gets his rent there is still a surplus left. That belongs to me." "But stop," says the money lender: "Your ability to work your 'racket' is altogether due to the money I lent you to corner the market with. I must have my interest." And so political economists, to make a show of equalness to all parties have divided the productions of labor into four distinct parts: "'Wages," (living cost while working ), "Rent, Interest and Profit." They thus unceremoniously quarter upon unconscious labor three nearly useless classes, as prime factors. It does not need to mention the various devices to increase the spoil, through tariffs, patent rights, etc. All profits however named are found, in the last analysis, to depend wholly upon the ability of the worker to produce more than his cost of living.

Now as regards any actual, useful service any of these parties may render to the co-operative work, in production, distribution or exchange, they are justly entitled to share. But under our class laws, the shares going to the exploiters are not for services of this kind but of an opposite character; to prevent production, defeat distribution and interrupt the circulations of exchange, which in the absence of discriminating laws would go smoothly on, each renderer of service receiving his proper share of the general increase of wealth.

When the landholder keeps his soil up to the economic requirement by expenditure of labor in returning the fertile elements and yields full opportunity to labor; should he inherit or have rightfully secured the occupation of land of superior quality, and wisely employed himself in promoting production, not only a comfortable support during the time employed but a proportionate share of the products of the industry are rightfully his. And it does not matter whether this share is termed wages or is called profits or interest or rent; it is all the same thing, the surplus of wages. The ethical and economic requirements are the same, being based on the ground of the greatest social good. Whatever defeats these ends violates both morals and economy.

At present, the whole surplus of agricultural production, over a precarious living for the laborer, is taken by the landlord, and those who hold under him, as sub-tenants or farmers. The money holder, through loans on mortgages, or by direct purchase of land buys into this legalized privilege, and so shares in pirating the natural profits. The ability to do this greatly strengthens and extends the capitalistic power of money over the surplus in all other forms of industry and exchange; so that the lords of land and of money absorb more than one-half of the entire products of all social industry, the competitive wages of labor, superintendence and general management and the decay and wear of plant have to be paid from the remainder. Superintendence and much skilled labor, necessarily are paid a just proportion and often more than that, but as a consequence the wages of the agriculturalist, and of most employes of whom little skill is required, are correspondingly reduced far below any rational conception of "a comfortable living," while many quite willing to work are left to involuntary idleness and consequent suffering, degeneracy and crime.

No logical solution can ever be arrived at in any department of social science unless there be first recognized a single source to all increase in social wealth, viz., the product which labor effects above what it consumes. It appears also equally necessary to admit that where increase naturally arises under economic law, it is simply the wages of labor and needs no legislation to establish or regulate it. For if in connection with superior fertility of soil, or of favorable location for exchange, or shrewd interpretation of supply and demand, of superior strength or skill, these wages may appear at times very unequal --inevitable and constantly occurring changes and a general freedom to engage in new and varied industries will reduce these disparities to a minimum, as may hereafter be more fully shown and illustrated.