Four Minute Essays, Volume 2 ©1919
The Dog In The Manger
WE don't do things for reasons; we do things for the ghosts of dead reasons.
We don't act according to our intelligence; we act according to the way somebody else acted before.
We are creatures of imitation, not of reason.
We are not automobiles, steered by hand, eye, and brain ; we are locomotives, running on a track.
The very law of our land is built on precedent. Our morals are the customs of preceding generations.
We live in ruts, do business in ruts, think in ruts, feel in ruts, talk in ruts.
Just now we are raising a hullabaloo about starvation. Europe is starving. Pretty soon, the experts say, we will be starving. There aren't enough foodstuffs being raised.
Now, exercise your intelligence a little, if any. Strip the whole problem of its complications. Reduce it to its simplest form.
Don't ask what we have been doing, nor what the law will let us do, nor what has been our traditional method of procedure since time began.
Just lay out the factors of the problem thus:
We need food. All food comes from land. We have plenty of land and plenty of folks to work it.
What's the answer?
Foolish question number ninety-six!
Plainly, the answer is: Go to it. Till the land. Raise the food.
Why don't you do it?
Answer: It is illegal. The law will not permit the men who want to work to use the land, because it belongs to other men who don't want to work and don't have to.
Wouldn't simple, every-day, United States horse-sense dictate that if a man won't use his land it ought to be taken from him and given to the man who will work it?
There are 200,000,000 acres of idle land in this country-enough to feed the world, enough for a farm of ten acres for every American family.
"I own 2,000 acres of Texas land," says Dr. C. C. Higgins of San Antonio. "It is good land. If it were put in cultivation it would furnish employment for 100 men. It would feed 2,000 soldiers. The nation needs my land.
"It would cost $10 an acre to put my land in cultivation. I haven't $20,000. If I had it I wouldn't spend it in improving my land. I would lend it at eight per cent. I would thus get rich. And the nation would still need my land.
"The truth is," he concludes, "that I have no moral right to own land I do not use. I am a dog in the manger."
Now, wouldn't the obvious thing to do be to take the 200,000,000 idle acres in the United States away from the owners and give them to any persons who would make them productive?
But that is confiscation!
Granted. But all taxation is confiscation; it is a government's act of taking away a man's property, or part of it, by force.
Also, we are confiscating men, taking human lives to throw into the trenches and the sea to save our country. Haven't we the right to take land?
If we need the fodder, why not get the dog out of the manger?