Ethics of Democracy

Part 5, Politico-Economic Principles
Chap. 3, The Laborer and His Hire

The basic principle of Economics, of the art of ordering the social relations of mankind, may then be summed up in the one word Justice.

- Lewis H. Berens, in "Toward the Light"

Are there no slaves to-day? While we sit here at play,
Have we no brothers in adversity?

None sorry nor oppressed, who without hope or rest
Must toil and have no pleasure in their toil?

These are your slaves and mine. Where is the right divine
Of idlers to encumber God's good soil?

There is no man alive, however he may strive,
Allowed to own the work of his own hands.

Landlords and water lords at all the roads and fords,
Taking their toll, imposing their commands.

- Bliss Carman

Not ermine clad, nor clothed in state,
Their title deeds not yet made plain;

But waking early, toiling late,
The heirs of all the earth remain.

Some day, by laws as fixed and fair
As guide the planets in their sweep,

The children of each outcast heir
The harvest fruits of time shall reap.

Some day without a trumpet's call,
This news shall o'er the earth be blown:

The heritage comes back to all;
The myriad monarchs take their own.

- Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Grimly the same spirit looks into the law of Property, and accuses men of driving a trade in the great boundless Providence which had given the air, the water, and the land to men to use and not to fence in and monopolize. ("The Times.") I cannot occupy the bleakest crag of the White Hills or the Allegheny Range, but some man or corporation steps up to me to show me that it is his. ("The Conservative.") Touch any wood, or field, or house lot on your peril; but you may come and work in ours for us, and we will give you a piece of bread. ("The Conservative.") Of course, whilst another man has no land, my title to mine, your title to yours, is at once vitiated. ("Man the Reformer.")

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Properly speaking, the land belongs to these two: To the Almighty God; and to all his Children of Men that have ever worked well on it, or that shall ever work well on it. No generation of men can or could, with never such solemnity and effort, sell Land on any other principle: it is not the property of any generation.

- Thomas Carlyle, in "Past and Present," Book III, Chapter VIII.

To any plain understanding the right of property is very simple. It is the right of man to possess, enjoy, and transfer, the substance and use of whatever he has himself created. This title is good against the world; and it is the sole and only title by which a valid right of absolute private property can possibly vest. But no man can plead any such title to a right of property in the substance of the soil.

- James Fintan Lalor, in "The Irish Felon," July 8, 1848.

It is easy to persuade the masses that the good things of this
world are unjustly divided - especially when it happens to be the
exact truth.

- Froude's "Caesar."

To affirm that a man can rightfully claim exclusive ownership in his own labor when embodied in material things, is to deny that any one can rightfully claim exclusive ownership in land. -("Progress and Poverty," Book VII, Ch. I.) So far from the recognition of private property in land being necessary to the proper use of land, the contrary is the case. Treating land as private property stands in the way of its proper use. Were land treated as public property it would be used and improved as soon as there was need for its use or improvement, but being treated as private property, the individual owner is permitted to prevent others from using or improving what he cannot or will not use or improve himself. -(Same, Book VIII, Ch. I.) We should satisfy the law of justice, we should meet all economic requirements, by at one stroke abolishing all private titles, declaring all land public property, and letting it out to the highest bidders in lots to suit, under such conditions as would sacredly guard the private right to improvements.... But such a plan, though perfectly feasible, does not seem to me the best. Or rather I propose to accomplish the same thing in a simpler, easier, and quieter way, than that of formally confiscating all the land and formally letting it out to the highest bidders.... We already take some rent in taxation. We have only to make some changes in our modes of taxation to take it all. What I, therefore, propose... is - to appropriate rent by taxation.... Now, inasmuch as the taxation of rent, or land values, must necessarily be increased just as we abolish other taxes, we may put the proposition into practical form by proposing - to abolish all taxation save that upon land values. (Same, Book VIII, Ch. II.)

- Henry George

Hither, ye blind, from your futile banding!
Know the rights and the rights are won.

Wrong shall die with the understanding,
One truth clear, and the work is done.

Nature is higher than Progress or Knowledge
Whose need is ninety enslaved for ten.

My word shall stand against mart and college:
The planet belongs to its living men!

- "Liberty," by John Boyle O'Reilly

Saving Communities

Bringing prosperity through freedom,
equality, local autonomy and respect for the commons.

The Ethics of Democracy

by Louis F. Post

Part 5, Politico-Economic Principles
Chapter 3, The Laborer and His Hire

ALONG with the notion that competition is selfish, goes the feeling that there is something wrong about taking pay for rendering service. This feeling is quite general with reference to altruistic work. It is very common, for instance, to suppose that there is something sordid about preaching for pay. The allusion, though usually to preachers of conventional religion, is directed at all apostles of vital truth. In its more general form this condemnation of preachers of truth who exact pay for preaching, rests upon the theory that the truth should be free, and that he who charges for preaching it thereby discredits both himself and his cause. Is it, then, the duty of preachers of truth to preach without pay?

In making this inquiry, the difference between preaching truth and making truth known, must be distinguished. It is one thing to conceal truth as occasion for imparting it occurs, and quite a different thing to devote persistent labor to its exposition and propagation.

A blacksmith, for instance, who had awakened to a consciousness of some moral or economic or religious truth, the acceptance of which would augment the happiness of mankind, might be censurable if he refused to make it known. In fact there would be no danger of his refusing. The impulses of his nature would make him proclaim it. His neighbors would need no thumbscrews to force him to deliver his message, though they might at times wish for a lockjaw to make him hold his peace. As with the blacksmith, so with men of all vocations. We may at once concede that it is the duty of everyone freely to make known the truths that come to him; and, for the sake at least of directness of inquiry, that it is a duty which if neglected entitles others to complain of the breach. In a word, we may agree that the revelation of truth without money or price is a universal duty; at the same time protesting, however, that the point is unimportant, since human nature is so constituted that this duty is self-executing.

But it does not follow that he who sees a truth must quit his regular vocation, or even trench upon its demands, to devote himself to teaching and preaching without pay. He is under no obligation, for the breach of which others may justly complain, even to surrender his leisure hours to this work. That he may make such work his play, refusing remuneration, is too obviously true to call for more than passing mention. It is also true that he may be under a spiritual obligation to the great Revealer of all truth, who has intrusted him with a message to the world, to drop his nets and become an unpaid fisher of men. But, clearly, if he has any duty to work without pay for the propagation of his truth, it is not a duty in any such sense as involves a corresponding right on the part of his fellow men to complain if he refuses to do the work or if he exacts pay for doing it. And that is the determining point. When we criticize preachers for exacting pay for preaching, we imply not that they are false to their direct personal obligations to God (for this is none of our business), but that they are false to their obligations to us.

It will hardly be insisted that any such obligation really exists, and we may pass on to other considerations. By dint of a little probing we shall find that no one really expects preachers of truth to devote themselves to their cause literally without pay. It would be absurd to expect this, whether as a matter of duty or otherwise. Even preachers of truth must have food and clothing and shelter. And if the truths they proclaim are to gain listening audiences, preachers must live as well as their auditors are accustomed to live. The question is not whether they shall preach for pay. It will be acknowledged that they must have pay. The real question is whether they shall exact pay for their work, as other men do for theirs, or shall subsist precariously upon the proceeds of miscellaneous beggary - that is, upon what is given them as charity for their support, as distinguished from what is paid to them as hire for their work.

The right of preachers to adopt the beggary plan, no one is at liberty to dispute. One may express doubts of its effectiveness in this age, may refuse to drop pennies into the outstretched hat, or may hold aloof from all that pertains to it. But preachers are at liberty to do it if they wish to. Only as it is commended as something which all of us ought as preachers to adopt or as supporters of preachers to approve, has anybody the right to protest. When it is so commended, then there is occasion for an exercise on the part of some of the rest of us of that self-executing duty which consists in proclaiming truth freely. We must strenuously insist that no one is bound to preach without pay.

For all regular work, adequate pay should be regularly exacted. This is a natural social law which cannot be systematically violated without disturbing the social equilibrium. Systematic violation by means of force, produces slavery; systematic violation by means of generosity, produces beggary. Either impoverishes the worker and pampers the idler, thereby doing an injury to both.

There is no difference, in the economics of it, between the preacher's vocation and other useful employments. If it were a duty of preachers to work without regular and adequate pay, then it would be a duty of choirs to sing and of organists to play without regular and adequate pay. It would also, in that case, be the duty of the sexton to care for the church without regular and adequate pay. And, going back of these examples, it would be the duty of religious masons and carpenters to build churches, of religious lumbermen and quarrymen and miners to furnish materials, and of religious transporters to carry them - all without definite or adequate pay. For these workers are in those connections but coadjutors of the preachers in the labor of propagating such truths as churches have to offer.

Precisely so with preachers of other than ecclesiastical truths. When they devote themselves to the exposition and dissemination of such truths, they become, literally in the economic sense, laborers in that field. They are workingmen as truly as a blacksmith is; and the problem of their livelihood is precisely the problem of his: to get an equivalent for what they give, and to give an equivalent for what they get. The fact that blacksmiths embody one variety of truth in horseshoes, while preachers embody other varieties in sermons, or essays, or books, or lectures, or speeches, or poems, or pictures, or songs, makes no economic difference. The laborer who devotes himself to writing useful books or essays or poems, to delivering useful sermons, lectures or speeches, to painting useful pictures, or to making harmonious music, is as worthy of his hire as are the laborers who manufacture the paper and ink and type of which books are constructed, the buildings in which lectures and speeches are delivered, the canvas and pigments that make paintings possible, or the instruments from which the musician evolves his harmonies. All this work is cooperative, and one of the cooperators can no more justly or wisely be relegated to mendicancy than the others.

There is a difference, to be sure, between exacting pay for work, and working for the purpose of exacting pay. The preacher or writer, including teachers of all kinds - and including, for that matter, the workers in every field-who works merely for the sake of pay, is not a true workman. He lives for himself alone, and for the lower part of himself at that. Useful work is, as the adjective implies, work which on the whole is done not only for the sake of the worker but also for the sake of others. But this question of being a worker merely for the pay, brings up only the individual motive, and, therefore, concerns only the individual. Another has no right to judge him. The motives of his actions may raise an issue between himself and his Creator; they raise none between himself and his fellow men.

The strong feeling against exaction of pay for preaching truth, which prevails among the more ethereal agitators for social regeneration, may well proceed from the disordered conditions that legalized monopolies engender. From confusing exaction of pay for privileges with exaction of pay for work, to advocating the total abnegation of pay, is an easy transition of thought. The abolition of pay for preaching naturally stands out prominently in this programme of communism. But all exactions of pay are regarded by the communist as sordid, unbrotherly, and spiritually degrading; and consistently so, for if it is sordid to exact pay for any kind of regular service, it is sordid to exact pay for any other kind.

Whether or not the idea that exacting pay for service is unbrotherly really results from considering social conditions without discriminating between the effects of monopoly and those of competition, it certainly is no result of any balanced inquiry into the nature of things.

Reflect a moment upon it:

Exchange of work is the law of social existence. This is a proposition which no one will dispute.

If exchange becomes unbalanced, so that some get more than they earn while others are forced to earn more than they get, society falls into disorder. Neither is that proposition open to controversy.

The social problem, therefore, is how to secure a practical equilibrium of exchange at which the work that each does for others shall be approximately equal in usefulness to the work that others do for him.

Obviously, that equilibrium cannot be approached by means of slavery. Slavery takes forcibly from workers for the benefit of idlers. Neither can it be approached by creating legal privilege, which is essentially a form of slavery - a subtle form, but slavery none the less.

Can it, then, be approached by some voluntary mode of working regularly and mutually for one another without exacting regular and fair exchanges? Possibly. Whoever denies this assumes a power of fore-knowledge which no human mind possesses. A world is conceivable where each would work faithfully to help fill up a common storehouse, drawing from the storehouse only what he needs. In such a world, though some would get more than they earned and others earn more than they got, each would act voluntarily and none could complain. But if it is an unwarranted assumption of fore-knowledge to deny such a possibility, it is still more unwarranted to assert it. So far as human experience throws any light upon the question, a fair adjustment of work under such communistic conditions is possible only in societies where each is bound to all by religious inspiration and obligation. A single bull in that china shop would raise havoc with the adjustment.

It is consequently reasonable to infer that the communistic method of distribution will not secure an approximately equitable adjustment of work-exchange, in society at large, unless each member of society comes under the influence of the religious impulse of the impulse, that is, which obliges him to love his neighbor equally with himself. There is a possibility, of course, that this condition, too, would result from communism. But at the present stage of development, he who denies it has the better of the issue, upon the circumstantial evidence.

Now, when we consider the effectiveness in maintaining a just equilibrium of distribution, which the exaction of pay for work produces to the extent that its operation is undisturbed by legalized monopoly, we may fairly ask an explanation, a more rational one than has yet been put forth, of the necessity, in the interest of equity and brotherhood, of trying to adopt a method which cannot operate justly unless all whose interests it involves become just. To work without exacting pay is to refer the question of equity in distribution to only one of the parties concerned. What equitable necessity is there for that? None at all. The principle of exacting pay for work is incalculably better. For this principle refers the question of equity in each case to the mutual agreement of both parties concerned. It refers it to the two persons who are necessary to any exchange, and who are the only persons capable of judging its equities. They must agree or there is no trade. If, therefore, the trade would be beneficial to both, they will agree. And if they are economically equal, they will agree equitably.

To the fair operation of that principle of exchange only one thing is necessary. It is the abolition of monopoly, the abolition of every privilege created by law which directly or indirectly gives to one party to a trade an advantage over the other.

To urge communistic ideals regarding obligations to work without exacting pay, instead of urging the abolition of monopoly, is therefore very like dreaming away the hours when active and sane agitation is imperatively needed, as if they were the listless hours of that drowsy place where it is always afternoon. Whatever ideal of social reform may be ultimately realized, the first rational movement must be the clearing away of obstructions to the exchange of work upon the basis of exacting pay. Though the time may come when each will put into a common store-house according to his abilities and withdraw from it according to his needs, he being himself the judge of both, the time that now is demands that each shall put into the store-house the equivalent of what he takes out.

New Pages


We Provide

How You Can Help

  • Research
  • Outreach
  • Transcribing Documents
  • Donating Money
  • Training for Responsibility

Our Constituents

  • Public Officials
  • Small Businesses
  • Family Farms
  • Organic Farms
  • Vegetarians
  • Labor
  • Real Estate Leaders
  • Innovative Land Speculators
  • Homeowners
  • Tenants
  • Ethnic Minorities
  • Ideological Groups

Fundamental Principles

  • Decentralism and Freedom
  • Focusing on Local Reform
  • Government as Referee
  • Government as Public Servant
  • Earth as a Commons
  • Money as a Common Medium
  • Property Derives from Labor

Derivative Issues

  • Wealth Concentration
  • Corruption
  • Bureaucracy
  • Authorities
  • Privatization
  • Centralization
  • Globalization and Trade
  • Economic Stagnation
  • Boom-Bust Cycles
  • Development Subsidies
  • Sprawl
  • Gentrification
  • Pollution and Depletion
  • Public Services
  • Transportation
  • Education
  • Health Care
  • Retirement
  • Wages
  • Zoning
  • Parks
  • Shared Services

Blinding Misconceptions

  • Orwellian Economics
  • Corporate Efficiency
  • Democracy vs. Elections
  • Big Government Solutions
  • Founding Fathers
  • Politics of Fear
  • Politics of Least Resistance
  • Radical vs. Militant
  • Left vs. Right
  • Common vs. Collective
  • Analysis vs. Vilification
  • Influence vs. Power

Saving Communities
631 Melwood Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
United States