Vol. IX.
<No. 38.>


“For always in thine eyes, O Liberty!

Shines that high light whereby the world is saved;

And though thou slay us, we will trust in thee.”

John Hay.

Problems of Anarchism.


2. — On the Law of Labor and How to Discover It.

The abstract nature of the conceptions of liberty and property we have already recognized, and, while noting that existing conditions do not conform to our ideal principles, we saw that the tendency of social evolution lay in that direction. In this lies the virtue of such generalizations, for, while affirming only tendencies, they serve as a guide in the investigation of the facts of social science. To find the causes that stand in the way of realizing the abstract law or ideal conception in the realities of social life becomes the main object of our inquiry. The labor problem may be elucidated by a generalization which, while embodying our ideal as to the true aim a justice, will harmonize with the principles already established. At the same time we must carefully avoid the mistake made by all the classic economists, who, after setting up abstractions, drew conclusions therefrom and deemed it unnecessary to compare them with actual conditions or to seek the causes of disagreement, but, instead, put forward their unverified results as “laws” to explain phenomena on which they were not originally based and hence could not explain.

In order to simplify our conception, let us imagine that equal liberty actually prevails, society no longer displaying an ordered series of exceptions to the law; assume that each individual realizes the benefits of his own activities, property rights conforming to the principle by which we have agreed to represent justice: we thus eliminate privilege and monopoly, and suppose freedom of exchange and contract the only basis of relations in industrial as in till other affairs between men. What under these circumstances would be the law of labor? No new idea is involved in the answer, for but one deduction from the hypothesis is logically possible. The reward of labor would equal the product of labor. And the social value of the service would measure its price. Exchange would be in reality what it is now only in theory, — a return of service for service: not, however, as erroneously believed by Warren and the early Individualist reformers on the one hand, and Marx and his followers on the other, who, in measuring service against service, projected the time-measure of comparison, a standard based on the time theory of value. For services and commodities of like kinds are not exchanged, but only those which are unlike: and though a time-measure is unobjectionable as a standard for quantities of the same service or commodity, — as, for example, at cost that takes six hours to make will be of like value to a similar garment made in the same time because the labor is of like kind, — yet for labor or commodities of different kinds, which alone originate exchange, such a standard is inadequate, useless, and misleading. So that, while postulating the principle that labor should be remunerated with the value of its product, or that service should repay service, I feel it necessary to distinguish against the notion that value is measured by labor-time, or that labor is under all circumstances the measure of value, but in doing so I do not give up the idea that the cost of labor, though not measured in hours, is the chief determining factor in exchange value. Returning from this digression on value, which will turn up again in its own place, let us see what the above generalization is worth in regard to the wages question.

Did labor obtain in wages the value of the product, no theory would be required as at present to determine how much of the product should go to the producer, and what proportion to the landlord, the capitalist, and the tax-gatherer; the only question to determine being the causes operating to raise or lower the exchange value of the product, the whole of which would constitute the wages of labor. For there is no reason to believe that we shall ever reach a stage wherein the proportions in which commodities will exchange for each other will cease to fluctuate, and, while any variation is possible, exchange value must vary accordingly. With ultimate questions of this acme we need not, however, concern ourselves.

Having established a principle in harmony with our earlier generalizations, which will serve as the ideal law of labor, the theories that are concerned with temporary phases may be studied and compared. Marx’s great theory of wages, the explanation of capitalism by the conception of surplus value, pocketed by the employer in the form of profits representing simply unpaid labor, is found on close scrutiny to rest on some erroneous assumptions that once formed the stock in trade of the economists. The wage-fund theory, which undoubtedly at one time answered a purpose and for want of a more comprehensive formula served to express the economic relations existing in a transitional stage, is an accepted dogma underlying Marx’s most important arguments in support of his position. Then the labor-time theory of value adopted by Ricardo and fully accepted by Marx, combined with the wage-fund idea, naturally gave rise to the conception of the “iron law” of wages, a belief in which was essential to the Marxism exposition of capital and the surplus value theory of labor. Now, if Marx were scientifically sound in this train of reasoning, the condemnation of capitalism, as the individualistic system of production, which the tentative and inadequate generalizations of political economy rendered easy on the part of Socialists, would still rest on the same grounds, and no economic system embodying private ownership of capital, competition, and the wage system could offer the slightest hope to the laboring class. A social system based on individualism or the law of equal liberty would always present the evils now accompanying capitalism, and common ownership of the means of production would scent the sole and inevitable way of escape for the wage-worker.

But if the generalization of the “iron law” of wages is unscientific and incapable of resuming the widest truths of economics, the foundation disappears from the conception of surplus value, and we shall still be able to accept the sociological laws traversed by the Marxian dogmas. Economists of the present day discard the theories of wages accepted almost without question a generation ago. And the system of Marx, which was built upon them, is rejected in many important particulars by some of the leading men who accept his general scheme of Socialism. Francis A. Walker’s theory of wages, for want of a better, is currently accepted by the professors as a masterly statement of the labor question. But perhaps its only value lies in the fact that it is not a law of wages, not a comprehensive résumé of the phenomena, but simply an intelligible restatement of the data which we need a scientific law to elucidate and resume. Walker’s theory does not increase our knowledge of the causes which produce and maintain the present arrangement in the division of the product. Wages, he affirms, consist of the value of what is produced, less rent and interest, with an allowance (taxes) to the governing authority. But to tell the wage-worker who groans beneath the load of landlord, capitalist, and tax-grabber that he has really nothing to complain of, for all he produces returns to him as wages, except the trifling slice that these sources justly and necessarily absorb, is not to console him for the hardship of his lot, but only to apologize for the plunderers.

In examining the labor problem a truth should be kept in view that has an important bearing on the further elucidation of the points at issue. Rent and interest must be recognized as economic facts naturally arising out of present economic conditions, and there is no means of lessening or eliminating their burden except by such a modification of those conditions as will naturally result in their diminution and extinction. In other words, the laborer must be prepared to pay, as be is now forced to pay, both landlord and capitalist’s share out of the product of industry, which share will continue to be fixed by supply and demand, until he is ready to adopt or to obtain such a change in social and political institutions as will result in an economic state wherein this share will grow less and less, leaving more and more of the product to the producer. Now, the first thing to do is to be sure about the way in which the present system works, to find out how the wage-worker’s share is at present determined, to do which we must eliminate from the discussion both rent and interest by assuming them either as fixed or absent. And after separately arriving at a conclusion as to the manner in which the wages of labor are determined, the effect of competition, where it is inoperative, the meaning of value in relation to labor and price, and the way the wage system as a whole acts in giving the laborer more or less of his product, then we take up the problem of capital and the factors which determine interest, leaving out rent as before, and knowing already just how wages are determined and how under conditions ideally free they would be fixed, thus investigating in each case from known and actual conditions and finally comparing the separate results obtained. Rent would next demand our study, and, whether or not any conditions can be found that would modify or reduce it, the conclusions in the other cases would be unchanged. And if it is possible to demonstrate that the laws of interest and rent are such that means may be adopted to reduce the proportion of the total product that either can demand, we shall have formulated the means of securing to the worker higher wages, a larger share of the product, and so approach our ideal law, which demands the wages of labor to be the full value of the product of labor. Wm. Bailie.

We Label Mr. Ford an Idiot.

Another letter has been received at this office from a member of the glorious constituency of simpletons enjoyed by “Lucifer.” It should be read in connection with the first letter, printed in Liberty, No. 263. This poor man is really an object of pity. If his brain is softening, it is not his fault. Lillie D. White is the responsible party.

To the Editor of Liberty:

Under the head of “Wanted” in “Lucifer” of February 3 you call for men and women who wish to be properly catalogued, etc., etc. Please inform me of your plan, and what you propose, and oblige

Yours respectfully,

Harry Ford.

Lyndon, Kansas, MAY 3, 1893.

“In abolishing rent and interest, the last vestiges of old-time slavery, the Revolution abolishes at one stroke the sword of the executioner, the seal of the magistrate, the club of the policeman, the gunge of the exciseman, the erasing-knife of the department clerk, all those insignia of Politics, which young Liberty grinds beneath her heel.” — Proudhon.

The appearance in the editorial column of articles over other signatures than the editor’s initial indicates that the editor approves their central purpose and general tenor, though he does not hold himself responsible for every phrase or word. But the appearance in other parts of the paper of articles by the same or other writers by no means indicates that he disapproves them in any respect, such disposition of them being governed largely by motives of convenience.

The Lucky Three.

Below is given the result of the tenth award of books under Liberty’s plan of giving away three books a week:

Edwin B. Hill, 432 Fourth Ave., Detroit, Mich. — “Grey Days and Gold,” by William Winter.

W. G. Scott, Cincinnati, O. — “Instead of a Book,” by Benj. R. Tucker

Julia A. J. Perkins, Baldwinsville, Onondaga Co., N. Y. — “Field-Farings,” by Martha M. Williams.

So few persons take part in the book competition that it is not worth while to continue it. The books mentioned above are the last that will be awarded.

Spencer and George. — III.

In some instances George allows his desire to criticise Spencer such rein that he does not give full consideration to the propositions of the latter. For instance, on page 51 of “A Perplexed Philosopher” he refers to Spencer’s observation in “Justice” on weapons, instruments, dress, and decorations as being, with food, things in which property is first recognized, and quotes: “When with such articles we join huts, which, however, being commonly made by the help of fellow-men who receive reciprocal aid, are thus less distinctly products of an individual’s labor, we have named about all the things in which, at first, the worth given by effort is great in comparison with the inherent worth.” George introduces a severe criticism on Spencer’s use of the term value with the phrase: “Passing the queer notion that things made by two or more men are less distinctly products of an individual’s labor than things made by one man.” So far from the notion being queer, everybody but George will agree that community aid in building a hut leaves the individual possessor much less distinctly the owner than he is of the things which he has made without such aid. Such a point may serve as a test of George’s reach and circumspection as a critic.

One should not expect entire consistency in the author of “Social Statics,” since his principle led him to assert that the settler may be justly expelled; yet he says not without payment for improvements. When, therefore, we reach sec. 9, chap. 9, which George labors over as an “incongruous passage,” would it not be better to assume, as it seems to show, that a further fact had made its impress on Spencer’s mind than to try with George to remove the incongruity by reading into the passage words that are not there? George calls the section a “weak and confusing spot,” the reason for which view on his part will become plain. The section is as follows:

§ 9. No doubt great difficulties must attend the resumption, by mankind at large, of their rights to the soil. The question of compensation to existing proprietors is a complicated one, — one that perhaps cannot be settled in a strictly equitable manner. Had we to deal with the parties who originally robbed the human race of its heritage, we might make short work of the matter. But, unfortunately, most of our present landowners are men who have either mediately or immediately — either by their own acts or by the acts of their ancestors — given for their estates equivalents of honestly-earned wealth, believing that they were investing their savings in a legitimate manner. To justly estimate and liquidate the claims of such is one of the most intricate problems society will one day have to solve.

Unwilling to admit the obvious fact, — that Spencer has here stated and admitted a distinctive claim against Society, based on its encouragement of investments, — and in the teeth of Spencer’s declaration that the question of compensation is a complicated one, George proposes to remove the complexity by reading into the passage, after “compensation,” the words, “for their improvements,” and after “estates,” the words, “which include many inseparable improvements.” Now, it cannot be denied that, when one pays his money on the faith of law and public policy for an unimproved estate, one has parted with value just as truly as when one pays it for an improved estate. Moreover, if the matter referred to were not this investment feature, why should Spencer say that it makes such difference that the present landholders are not the original ones? Compensation for improvements, he had said, would be due to the original holders. Something more, he says, is due to “most of our present landowners.” He has in fact come across the same principle as investment in government bonds or any other act of confidence in the political sovereignty; but George refuses to follow and attempts to keep the land question from that complication. George holding Spencer by the coat-tail becomes farcical. For the Single Taxer, who puts the government forward as the practical equivalent of all mankind for the purpose of collecting the rent, would be horrified to perceive that the government acting as the same equivalent had bargained and sold the interest of all living mankind in a particular estate. Is its authority so easily assumed without evidence of delegation for the purpose of collecting annually, but not for the purpose of selling, hypothecating, or leasing for “longer term than one year”?

If the settler has not obtained an authorization from all mankind, neither has any existing government obtained it. If we have bought of a government, we have a question to raise when that agency assumes to represent “all mankind.” Either it is their agent or it is not. Mr. George can take either horn of the dilemma. If it is their true representative, we will hold them to its conveyances. If it is not their true agent, we protest against paying it the rent which by the hypothesis belongs to them.

In my next paper I purpose going further into the subject of compensation, and exposing a huge inconsistency and fallacy on the part of George on that subject. Tak Kak.

Two Men of Straw.

I trust that Mr. Bailie will not suspect me of a desire to harass him in his elucidation of economic problems. If my criticisms are frequent, it is because I feel the necessity of maintaining a close scrutiny upon anything offered as a systematic presentation of Anarchism in compensation for the necessarily scrappy character of Liberty’s editorial demonstrations. It is important to be systematic and thorough; it is still more important to be sound.

At the present moment my complaint against Mr. Bailie is that his remarks upon the iron law of wages and the wage-fund theory are too vague to be intelligently weighed. It would have been well if, before attacking these two economic theories, be had accurately formulated them. Then we should have been able to judge of the validity of his objections. As he has failed to do so, I shall attempt to supply the deficiency.

What is the iron law of wages?

I state it thus: Given the causes that operate to keep the supply of labor in excess of the demand, — that is, the causes that sustain interest and rent, the tendency of wages is toward a level with the cost of bare subsistence. This proposition is truly iron. It cannot be successfully disputed. If Mr. Bailie thinks it can be, I hope to see him try it. It is not possible to deny the iron law of wages except by eliminating the qualifying clause and treating the law as an absolute statement that the tendency of wages is toward a level with the cost of bare subsistence. Now, neither Marx nor any one else ever looked upon this as the law, as becomes obvious, so far as Marx is concerned, when we remember that he expected that under State Socialism the laborer’s wages — or, what is the same thing, the amount which the laborer would receive from the State for his labor — would equal his product. If Mr. Bailie assumes the iron law of wages to be the unqualified proposition above referred to, then be is assailing a man of straw.

Again, what is the wage-fund theory?

Simply the iron law of wages stated in another form, which is as follows: Wages, being usually paid out of accumulated capital, are dependent upon the available amount thereof. This is equivalent to the iron law of wages, because the influences which keep the supply of labor in excess of the demand work through a restriction of the amount of available capital. The attempt is made to overthrow the wage-fund theory by assuming it to be a denial of the manifest truth that labor is paid out of the products of labor. Another man of straw. Nobody was ever insane enough to suppose that labor could be paid otherwise. But, true as this is, it is equally true that the laborer is rarely paid out of the products of his own labor. He is generally paid out of the products of the labor of other men who labored before him. In otter words, he is generally paid out of accumulated capital. This capital is usually in the shape of monetary titles, owned by the employer, to merchandise and services offered in the market for sale, and the amount paid to employees depends upon the ratio of their own number to the amount of these exchangeable titles in the hands of would-be employers bidding for their services. Francis A. Walker has never shaken this truth a hair. In fact, there is nothing in the literature of political economy that has been more overrated than Walker’s fancied demolition of the wage-fund theory, which was never less demolished than it is today and never will be. T.

Not Comforting to Gary.

There is a good deal of significant admission and cautious but clear criticism in the following notice of the article on the “Anarchist Trial” contributed by Judge Gary to the “Century” for April. It is taken from the columns of the New York “Evening Post.” It is very gratifying to those who know how to read between the lines. With the aid of italics, it can be easily shown that the “Post” practically sustains every point that was ever made by the friends of the Chicago revolutionists against the trial and the verdict.

The story, he thinks, is not sufficiently understood by the people at large, nor the fundamental reason why the Anarchists were found guilty sufficiently appreciated. He has no difficulty in showing that the leaders preached revolutionary violence, and had entered into an organization with such violence in view as the ultimate means of bringing about their ends. His citations are voluminous to this effect; but the weight of his argument, so far as the sentence is concerned, rests on the phases of the law of conspiracy which rendered these men technically and morally guilty for the act of the unidentified bomb-thrower by which the death of the policeman was caused. It is, perhaps, unfortunate that Judge Gary does not unfold more lucidly the cumulative and narrowing trend of the facts firing special responsibility on the defendants, instead of dwelling on the general responsibility of “the whole body of conspirators” to such an extent as to imply that Judge Gary holds that all the Anarchists were equally responsible under the law, independently of any question of their degree of nearness to the particular crime charged. But he has performed a public service by setting forth the facts and the law, as these lie in his mind, and submitting to the judgment of that “common sense” which he invoked the question in issue. At the outset he states his own point of interest in declaring that the question is not whether the Anarchists deserved death, but whether they were convicted in accordance with law, and, secondly, that they were convicted not as Anarchists but as murderers. The paper might well occasion further examination of the present justice of the lane of conspiracy as affecting responsibility for death in a riot, and also of the nature of treason in our form of the State; for it is evident that what distrust of the verdict, on the legal side, exists in intelligent minds, proceeds from something obscure, something possibly antiquated, in these conceptions.

Judge Gary’s apology will prove a boomerang. Every unbiased reader must see that no better case is made out against the convicted men than might be made out against hundreds of revolutionists in and out of Chicago equally concerned in the riots and bomb-throwing. And this conclusion inevitably discloses the monstrous and revolting injustice of the verdict. V. Y.

Tak Kak, in this week’s instalment of his serial review of George’s “A Perplexed Philosopher,” says that all save George will admit that an individual is much less distinctly the owner of that which he acquires by exchange of services than of that which he acquires by his own unaided effort. If Tak Kak here is simply sustaining the position taken in the passage which he quotes from Spencer, it is probable that by a slip he has used the word owner instead of producer. If, however, he intentionally goes farther than Spencer, it seems to me that his statement needs further explanation. In the latter case I take him to mean that a title to wealth that has been exchanged is less distinct than a title to wealth that has been produced simply, because opinion is farther from unanimity as to the former than as to the latter, there being a large number of people, of whom J. K. Ingalls is a type, who hold that in enforcing contracts the equity thereof should be considered. I do not infer from Tak Kak’s statement that possession acquired by exchange is less distinctly ownership in the eyes of Tak Kak himself. At any rate it is not less distinctly ownership to me. If it were, I should have to admit the claim of the Communists that in the complex society of today private property is impossible, since nothing is produced without more or less coöperation.

The enforcement of contracts is a matter of expediency. Certainly it is not incumbent upon any voluntary association for defence to enforce any and all contracts that may be made. Such an association will very properly decide in advance what classes of contracts it is worth its while to enforce. It may decide to collect rents, but not gaming debts; or, on the other hand, it may decide to protect the gambler, but to let the landlord take care of himself. In either case its decision is legitimate; it is within its right. But having decided to enforce a certain class of contracts, its business then is to enforce the actual contract when called upon to do so in a given case; it has no business to decide that the contract ought to have been something else and then to enforce what it ought to have been instead of what it is. If such a course were to be followed, it would take all the virtue out of contract. The chief benefit of freedom of contract resides in the fact that it enables the contracting parties to determine for themselves what is equitable. If anybody else may determine this for them, then freedom of contract is a sham. It is precisely that kind of liberty which allows a man to do just as he pleases as long as he pleases to do what others think is right. In other words, it is not liberty at all, but authority.

It may be remembered that I recently paid my respects to William Holmes and J. W. Sullivan on account of a false and miserable innuendo which the former wrote for “Lucifer” and the latter copied therefrom. Mr. Sullivan disclaimed any knowledge of the real significance of the sentence which he reprinted in the “Twentieth Century,” but I declined to accept his disclaimer. It was difficult, very difficult, for me to believe that a man of Mr. Sullivan’s careful habits as an editor could have failed to perceive the insult which the passage in question contained and which was so evident to every one at all familiar with Liberty. But one or two facts have come to my knowledge which seem to show that his share in the offence was the result of pure carelessness. Therefore, without retracting any other adverse criticisms that I may have passed upon Mr. Sullivan, I now withdraw all that I have said against him regarding the matter in question, and tender him my sincere apology. If he does not accept it, I shall not blame him, for an apology is but poor compensation for such an error. But then — what else have I to give?

I am sorry to see Mr. Bailie, in a treatise not only as pretentious but as generally excellent as that which is running through these columns, write of things with which he has not familiarized himself, and, as a result, misstate them. He certainly cannot have read the writings of Josiah Warren. Else he never would have committed the egregious error of attributing to that economist the doctrine that time is properly the sole element to be considered in the estimation of value. No man ever held more strenuously than Josiah Warren that the reward of labor should be determined largely by the kind of labor performed. Equitable exchange, in his view, meant an assumption of equal burdens, thereby excluding an hour-for-hour exchange of tasks unequally arduous. Mr. Bailie has obtained his information at second hand and from an unreliable source.

Two Object Lessons in Equity.

In the one Mr. Yarros “thinks mit the court,” in the other he deems “the decision queer, indeed.” The general grounds upon which he forms his conclusions seem in both instances unsatisfactory.

In the Ibsen case it was clearly the intent of the lecturer to trade upon the reputation of the author. He had a legal right to use the same name, if it honestly belonged to him, but not to avail himself of the other’s repute. I know a case where a man without credit or integrity had his note discounted on the reputation of a well-known financier of the same name. In what respect were the two cases different? Somebody’s rights and pockets were invaded in either case.

In the case of the actress, he assumes that she was competent to make a contract. Perhaps the court did not think so. When parties apply to courts or comrades to help enforce contracts, the equity of the contract, as well as the fact of its violation, in justice should be enquired into, or arbitration be refused. All contracts under our inequitable social and economic relations are to a greater or less extent under duress. The earliest form of contract was the agreement to fight to see which party should have power over the person and property of the other. Such contract was enforced by the jurisprudence of those times, and continued to be down to the last half of this century, in civilized courts; when at last the exigencies of our civil war, and the development of our public sense of equity, refused it longer recognition. Contract figures in all forms of gaming, so that Anarchists deem any attempt to suppress it an invasion of equal freedom. But no court of equity would enforce collection of a debt made under such contract. Would Anarchists do so? Will they align themselves rather with collective than with self-rule?

Freedom of Contract is a taking phrase, but, like equity and justice, it is qualified at any period by the degree in which evolution has raised the current thought and sentiment of the public mind. J. K. Ingalls.

The Modern Jonah!

I judge the world! I judge it

By the light that burns within me.

My judgment — it is merciless;

And like an earthquake

Shakes the pillars of conservatism.

I tear the mask from virtue,

Revealing vice in loathsome form

I vivisect religion,

Baring, with the scalpel keen,

Superstition’s gangrened faith;

Commerce unfolds extortion;

And capital — misnomered thief —

(Wealth that is born of labor)

Is labor’s highwayman.

While true capital, the fruitful earth,

Man’s birthright, is monopolized.

And then, my coward soul,

Affrighted at the judgment,

Like Jonah, turns from Nineveh,

For truth refusing battle.

Restless I wander land and sea,

Until the whale of conscience

Swallows, then ejects me Dutywards.

Still hesitates my soul,

And Nineveh, that might be saved,

Rushes to perdition.

Wm. A. Whittick.

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Liberty’s Library

Leonard E. Read: Accent On The Right: To Frederic Bastiat (1801–1850), who sought for truth rather than outcome and never witnessed the fruits his labor bore. Obedience to conscience was his first rule; we witness the results.

Leonard E. Read: Anything That’s Peaceful: Many favor peace but not many favor the things that make for peace. — Thomas à Kempis

Leonard E. Read: Awake for Freedom’s Sake: Finally, share with others. Forget about “reforming” them! The more we share, the more we learn. This is in the interest of self and freedom!

Leonard E. Read: Castles in the Air: If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; there is where they should be. Now put foundations under them. — Henry David Thoreau

Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State: Political philosophy is dominated by a myth, the myth of the necessity of the state. The state is considered necessary for the provision of many things, but primarily for peace and security. In this provocative book, Gerard Casey argues that social order can be spontaneously generated, that such spontaneous order is the norm in human society and that deviations from the ordered norms can be dealt with without recourse to the coercive power of the state.

Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers: Murray Rothbard: Murray Rothbard (1926–1995) was an economist, historian, philosopher, and legal theoretician. His work was unified by a passionate and resolute commitment to a libertarianism that may be characterized as ‘anarcho-capitalism’ and which implied a belief that even the legal system may be provided privately without the need for a coercive collective authority. Hence, anarcho-capitalists envisage a society where the traditional role of government is wholly subsumed by private, profit-making enterprises and all social relationships are ultimately founded upon consent.