Looking for the phrase "I am for men" (see an earlier post, below) I came across a 1906 book by August Cirkel (circa 1870-1946), of Chicago, entitled "Looking Forward." His prefatory note is as follows:
A passage in the middle of "Looking Forward" caught my eye, and I added the preceding ones for setting the scene. In this age of "too big to fail" and 10% of our households having over 70% of the aggregate net worth, a lot still rings true after 100 years:
An apology is, peradventure, due the memory of Edward Bellamy for the semi-plagiarism in the title of this book. It is true that "Looking Backward" suggested the name I have given it. The ideally happy condition of all the people, that Mr. Bellamy pictured as resulting from socialism, I look forward to as a result of a higher development of individualism.
The variety of topics considered may make the work seem presumptuous. But though the subjects are various, the same strain runs through all. Like the Irishman with his shillalah at the county fair, wherever I have seen a monopoly head, I have taken a whack at it. If there are any sore pates or broken craniums on account of my impartial and promiscuous blows, I shall know that I have not labored in vain.
We have one concern controlling far more than half the oil, another more than half the iron, another half the coal, another forming to control much more than half the copper, a few combinations working towards ownership of all the railroads and steamship lines; another, meat; in our large cities, the public service corporations are one by one being gobbled up by the same group of capitalists who control these other companies. It is probably safe to say that the so-called trust crowd now controls at least forty percent of the business and wealth of the country; moreover, the portion so controlled is organized on such a basis that the profits exacted each year reach the public with almost the directness of a tax. Without exception each one of these gigantic monopolies makes millions in the way of earnings disbursed to pay interest on bonds and dividends on stocks.
The profits of the Standard Oil Company have averaged forty percent per annum for many years; others of these companies are nearly as successful. In ordinary business only the very few after a period of twenty or thirty years can show a larger capital than they had at starting, and many fall by the wayside; but each, and every one, of these giant corporations makes tremendous gains. The public seems to have acquiesced in their right to fix the tribute that they will levy each year, and has grown so accustomed to their demands as not to analyze this right.
A few years ago Henry George tried to stir the people to a realization of the wrongs contained in the private ownership of land; but excepting the few Single-tax Leaguers who still try to keep alive the fires he kindled, few have given serious consideration to this matter, and many think him to be a vain dreamer of impossible conditions.
His theory as to the manner of applying a remedy has doubtless estranged many who accede to the correctness of his views as to existing wrongs. His argument as to the natural right of all mankind to the earth, the air, and the waters on the earth or underneath it, cannot well be refuted.
Let us suppose ten families occupy an island, and that this island constitutes all the land on the earth. Now, assume that they organize a regular government, the rights of each and all being fully considered and agreed to by every one, and, further, that every individual is perfectly satisfied that justice has been done him. Suppose that they agree to divide the island into ten equal parts, giving each family an equal portion, for which a patent is issued by the government, each soul on the island being satisfied that the division is fair and also satisfied with his allotment. There being no one on earth except the ten families, and as they are all content and happy, at first blush it might appear that they had a right to make this apportionment, and that there is no element of wrong concealed anywhere in the transaction. In doing this they certainly would be doing no more than has been done by nearly every people in history, and on a much more equitable basis. They overlooked, however, the changes to be wrought by time. After the apportionment, let us say that the islanders, being ordinary human men and women, went about their vocations in the usual manner, and led their lives as humankind generally does; let us say that there existed among them the same differences in capacity and temperament and habit of life that commonly prevail among people — some being thrifty and industrious, others improvident and idle, as men have been, are now, and perhaps always will be. What would probably happen? In a short space of time possibly fifty percent of the population would sell their share in the island to the provident class, and in the course of time twenty-five percent might come to hold absolute title to all the land. In consequence, the children born of the families that sold their holdings would have no land. The children born to the twenty-five percent would own it all.
If the laws of the island were based on the same principles as now obtain in the laws of the United States, it would be perfectly lawful for the twenty-five percent to say to the seventy-five percent that they might work the land on shares, giving the landlords half of the product of their labor. As there would be no possibility of procuring a livelihood otherwise, this offer would have to be accepted, if the laws were obeyed.
Normally, it is hard enough for a laborer to gain his living by the sweat of his brow, though he gets the full product of his labor. How much more difficult the situation when half of all he produces must be handed to another! In Ireland the situation was parallel to this; the poor Irish tenants tilled the soil of their native land, but instead of getting the full product of their labor, a large portion was pitilessly exacted by alien landlords. In lesser degree in nearly every country on earth the situation is comparable to this, the burden being disguised in various ways.
We, then, have seventy-five percent of the islanders giving up to the twenty-five percent one half of the product of their labor. Assuming that the original ten families that organized the government and apportioned the island have all died, by what God-given principle should the seventy-five percent of the population be required to give half of the fruits of their efforts to the twenty-five percent? Yet under our own laws would this not be possible, yea, natural? Without doing anything whatever, the twenty-five percent would be getting a revenue one and a half times as great as they could produce if working on an equal basis with the others. Because their fathers had got possession of the island, these few without toil get half again as much as they could produce if toiling, while the rest, though constantly laboring, get only half of the results of their labor. There are doubtless those who will say that the thrift of the original provident islanders should entitle them to transmit their gain to their children. Very good, but how about the thrift of the seventy-five percent now? The twenty-five percent may be compared with the original spendthrifts, as they squander without toiling, and by a just continuance of the rule, the children of the thrifty toilers should get back the island. On the face of the proposition this would manifestly be impossible. Let us go a step farther. Suppose the twenty-five percent, grown haughty with power, exercise it so arbitrarily that the others object, would it not be possible under laws like the laws of the United States, for the minority to refuse the majority employment except on the terms of the minority? What must be the consequence? Either submission to slavery by the seventy-five percent or starvation, if the laws are obeyed, or revolution and rebellion, if they are not. It cannot be an answer to the argument to hold that the ordinary principles of morality would restrain the minority in their exactions. History has not demonstrated that those who grow great with power never grow greedy. Then, if there is no justice in requiring the seventy-five percent to give up half their labor, is there justice in a situation or in laws which compel this result?
In the United States we have not even been as fair as the islanders, no equal division ever having been made, nor has every person been satisfied that his share is just; yet most of the land has been passed to the possession of private owners by patent from the government, and the average man has always thought, and the average man now thinks, that as a general proposition this was just, although knowing and admitting the possibility of minor wrongs. People have had the notion of private ownership of land so thoroughly grounded by long custom, that it seems the natural, rather than the artificial, manner of holding. Community of interest is repugnant to most minds. Socialism is believed to be a theory that might answer the requirements of angels, but finds small space for application among the wingless crowd on earth. Yet if the principle of private ownership is wrong as applied to the island, is it not equally wrong with us?
A few years back, owing to financial stress in the business world, vast numbers of men were idle from inability to find employment. Coxey gathered together a tatterdemalion army of the riffraff, tramps, and bums of the country, and marched them to Washington to emphasize to Congress the hardship of the situation, and to beg relief. He was derided and jeered at every hand. The public looked upon the idea as one of a crank, laughed at it, and dismissed it from their minds. Yet out of this army of thousands, how many possibly were sincerely desirous of a chance to earn an honest livelihood? The country at that time was infested with tramps, but since times improved the majority of them have gone to work again, and Coxey is forgotten. But way down deep, unperceived by the casual thinker and busy every-day man, some elemental principle had been violated, and in consequence the deplorable condition resulted. These men had a right to live. They had a right to labor. They had as good a right as any one of us to use God's soil, and to breathe God's air, and pity for them on our part by no means fulfilled our duty towards them. Somehow, little they knew how; somewhere, little they knew where; some time, little they knew when,— they had been cheated of the rights that are due to every human being that comes upon this earth.
The Declaration of Independence holds it to be a self-evident truth, that all men are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What a grim sardonic joke this would be, if read some Fourth of July to a ragged army of a hundred thousand starving men, women, and children, willing to labor, but with naught to lay their hands to! Hollow, indeed, would it sound, and the mockery would be so apparent to the multitude that I doubt not they would feel that somehow a terrible injustice had been done them.
When the ten families divided the island they allotted what belonged to God, and not to themselves, except as a blessing flowing from Him. They had no right to alienate the title from the whole community. The island belongs to every child who is born upon it, and each has as good a right to its benefits as every other. The ten families deeded away what they had no right to. Posterity was not considered, but the child then unborn owed no duty to the agreements made adverse to his interests by incompetent, reckless, luckless, or improvident ancestors, who bartered away his birthright. It was not theirs to give.
We must all, high and low, rich and poor, young and old, somehow or other, directly or indirectly, get our living from the earth. Necessity compels every one to eat to live. How fulfill this necessity except by application to Nature? What right has any government so to shape its laws that one single human being is debarred from his God-given right to labor in order to sustain his life? Organize society as you will, if provision is not fully made to protect the unborn souls to come, an injury is done, a seed is planted that will grow and bear suffering.
Henry George's theory is correct. The land belongs to all, the air and the water belong to all. If we are on earth for a purpose, and the God of chance is not ruling our destiny, as no man who thinks deeply can believe, it behooves us to conform to Nature's laws. The rules of conduct prescribed by people hundreds of years ago should have no binding force upon us today against our reason. Because people have always divided the land, it is not proof positive that their methods have been correct. Humanity has not reached the acme of advancement by any means. Some things are done vastly better today than ever before in history. It seems as if progress is being made. The world seems to be growing better. Yet how would this be possible but by the correction of previous wrong conceptions? Progress can never be made contrary to Nature's law; the decay of the nations of history proves the inexorableness of her workings. Conformity to her decrees, through principles of justice, of liberty, of equality, has ever led to advancement at a tremendous pace; but selfish interests have always injected into the laws of the nations the virus of destruction; decay ensues, the people become enfeebled, corruption reigns, and dissolution follows through the onslaughts of vigorous, lusty races that have grown strong through meting out the justice which the older nations had forgotten.
No government is good that does not give the greatest consideration to its lowliest citizens.
Let's talk about "our lowliest citizens." Recall that 10% of us have title to 71.5% of the aggregate net worth. The bottom 75% of us have an amazing 12.7% of the aggregate net worth. A slightly different 10% of us receive 47.2% of the before-tax income, and 20% of us get 61.0% of the pre-tax income. The bottom 60% of us share -- are you ready? -- 20.9% of the pretax income -- and most economists agree that we're paying 15% of that in social insurance taxes on our wages, plus federal and state income taxes, sales taxes, taxes on our buildings and on our land (if we own any). (Remember Leona Helmsley's observation about who pays taxes.)
Looking forward ... to more of the same? To a society which doesn't automatically enrich a small segment of us at the expense of the rest, who, most of us would agree, work equally hard, even if we're not in privileged categories of the real estate, finance, insurance or natural resources sectors, or otherwise endowed with a monopoly which feeds them so abundantly at the expense of others.
In many fast examinations of the Gilded Age, Edward Bellamy's book on socialism, "Looking Backward" is mentioned in the same sentence with Henry George's book best-selling "Progress & Poverty." The former book seems to be more widely assigned reading, in courses which bring in original sources. This is a shame.