On Picket Duty.

On Picket Duty.

The outcry against middlemen is senseless. As E. H. Heywood puts it, Middlemen are as important as end men. And they are as truly producers. Distribution is a part of production. Nothing is wholly produced until it is ready for use, and nothing is ready for use until it has reached the place where it is to be used. Whoever brings it to that place is a producer, and as such entitled to charge for his work. The trouble with middlemen is that they charge consumers not only for their work, but for the use of their invested capital. As it is, they are useful members of society. Eliminate usury from their methods, and they will become respectable members also.—Liberty, October 1, 1881.(98 ¶ 1)

Those who would have the usurer rewarded for rendering a service always find it convenient to forget that the usurer’s victims would not need his service were it not that the laws made at his bidding prevent them from serving themselves.—Liberty, October 15, 1881.(98 ¶ 2)

Of the absolute correctness of the principle, and advisability of the policy, of free trade there can be no reasonable doubt; but it must be thorough-going free trade,—no such half-way arrangement as that which the so-called free traders would have us adopt. David A. Wells, Professor Perry, and all the economists of the Manchester school are fond of clamoring for free trade; but an examination of their position always shows them the most ardent advocates of monopoly in the manufacture of money,—the bitterest opponents of free trade in credit. They agree and insist that it is nothing less than tyranny for government to clip a large slice out of the foreign product which any one chooses to import, but are unable to detect any violation of freedom in the exclusive license given by the government to a conspiracy of note-shaving corporations called national banks, which are enabled by this monopoly to clip anywhere from three to fifteen per cent. out of the credit which the people are compelled to buy of them. Such free trade as this is the most palpable sham to any one who really looks into it. It makes gold a privileged product, the king of commodities. And as long as this royalty of gold exists, the protectionists who make so much of the theory of the balance of trade will occupy an invulnerable position. While gold is king, the nation which absorbs it—that is, the nation whose exports largely exceed its imports—will surely govern the world. But dethrone this worst of despots, and that country will be the most powerful which succeeds to the largest extent in getting rid of its gold in exchange for products more useful. In other words, the republicanization of specie must precede the freedom of trade.—Liberty, March 18, 1892.(98 ¶ 3)

Some nincompoop, writing to the Detroit Spectator in opposition to cheap money, says: If low interest insured high wages, during times of business depression wages would be high, for then interest reaches its minimum. Another man unable to see below the surface of things and distinguish association from causation! The friends of cheap money do not claim that low interest insures high wages. What they claim is that free competition in currency-issuing and the consequent activity of capital insure both low interest and high wages. They do not deny that low interest sometimes results from other causes and unaccompanied by any increase in wages. When the money monopolists through their privilege have bled the producers nearly all they can, hard times set in, business becomes very insecure, no one dares to venture in new directions or proceed much further in old directions, there is no demand for capital, and therefore interest falls; but, there being a decrease in the volume of business, wages fall also. Suppose, now, that great leveller, bankruptcy, steps in to wipe out all existing claims, and economic life begins over again under a system of free banking. What happens then? All capital is at once made available by the abundance of the currency, and the supply is so great that interest is kept very low; but confidence being restored and the way being clear for all sorts of new enterprises, there is also a great demand for capital, and the consequent increase in the volume of business causes wages to rise to a very high point. When people are afraid to borrow, interest is low and wages are low; when people are anxious to borrow, but can find only a very little available capital in the market, interest is high and wages are low; when people are both anxious to borrow and can readily do so, interest is low and wages are high, the only exception being that, when from some special cause labor is extraordinarily productive (as was the case in the early days of California), interest temporarily is high also.—Liberty, November 22, 1884.(98 ¶ 4)

To produce wealth in the shape of coal, says Henry George, nothing is needed but a bed of coal and a man. Yes, one thing else is needed,—a pick-axe. This neglect of the pick-axe and of the means of obtaining it is a vital flaw in Mr. George’s economy. It leads him to say that what hinders the production of wealth is not the lack of money to pay wages with, but the inability of men who are willing to work to obtain access to natural opportunities. That this lack of access, in the proportion that it exists, is a hinderance to production is indisputable, but in this country it is but a molehill in labor’s path compared with the mountain that confronts labor in consequence of the lack of money. In fact, the lack of access is largely due to the lack of money.—Liberty, July 30, 1887.(98 ¶ 5)

In disposing with his usual cleverness of the economists’ apologists for interest G. Bernard Shaw takes a position upon the money question not at all in harmony with the State Socialism toward which he usually inclines. He would be taken, in fact, for a first-class Anarchist. Speaking of the tax which the banker who has a monopoly levies upon all commerce, he says: Only by the freedom of other financiers to adopt his system and tempt his customers by offering to share the advantage with them, can that advantage eventually be distributed throughout the community. Only, observe. No other method will do it. Government monopoly will not do it. Nothing but laissez-faire, free competition, free money, in shrot, as far as it goes, pure Anarchism, can abolish interest on money. When Mr. Shaw shall apply this principle in all directions, he and Liberty will stand on the same platform.—Liberty, September 24, 1887.(98 ¶ 6)

It is a common saying of George, McGlynn, Redpath, and their allies that they, as distinguished from the State Socialists, want less government instead of more, and that it is no part of the function of government to interfere with production and distribution except to the extent of assuming control of the bounties of nature and of such industries as are naturally and necessarily monopolies,—that is, such as are, in the nature of things, beyond the reach of competition’s influence. In the latter category they place the conduct of railroads and telegraphs and the issue of money. Now, inasmuch as it takes an enormous capital to build a railroad, and as strips of land three thousand miles long by thirty feet wide are not to be picked up every day, I can see some shadow of justification for the claim that railroads are necessarily exempt to a marked extent from competition, although I do not think on that account that it will be necessary to hand them over to the government in order to secure their benefits for the people. Still, if I were to accept Mr. George’s premise that industries which are necessarily monopolies should be managed by the State, I might possibly conclude that railroads and some other enterprises belong under that head. But how his premise is related to the issue of money I do not understand at all. That the issue of money is at present a monopoly I admit and insist, but it such only because the State has laid violent hands upon it, either to hold for itself or to farm out as a privilege. If left free, there is nothing in its nature that necessarily exempts it from competition. It takes little or no capital to start a bank of issue whose operations may become worldwide, and, if a thousand banks should prove necessary to the prevention of exorbitant rates, it is as feasible to have them as to have one. Why, then, is the issue necessarily a monopoly, and as such to be entrusted exclusively to the State? I have asked Mr. George a great many question in the last half-dozen years, not one of which he has ever condescended to answer. Therefore I scarcely dare hope that he will vouchsafe the important information which I now beg of him.—Liberty, October 8, 1887.(98 ¶ 7)

The different uses of the word free lead to many misunderstandings. For instance, a writer in the Denver Arbitrator gives the preference to free trade and free land over free money and free transportation on the ground that the former are natural rights while the latter are privileges that can be conferred only by society. Here free money is evidently taken to mean the supply of money to the people free of cost by some external power. But it no more means that than free rum means the supply of rum free of cost. It means freedom to manufacture money and offer it in the market, and is a part of free trade itself. One may look upon free money and free trade as privileges, or as rights, or as simple equalities recognized by contract; that is a matter of ethics and politics. But whichever way one views them, he must view both alike, for economically they are the same in principle. There is no possible justification for calling one a right and the other a privilege, and giving a preference to one or the other on the basis of that distinction.—Liberty, September 29, 1888.(98 ¶ 8)

A right theory of the functions of money, writes Robert Ellis Thompson in the Irish World, is of the first necessity for understanding the controversy between protection and free trade. This is an important truth, first expressed, I think, by Proudhon. It is precisely because Mr. Thompson does not understand the money question that he is a protectionist. Supposing that State control of money is a foregone conclusion, he sees as a logical result of this false premise that the State must also control the balance of trade. That his premise may be doubted does not seem to have occurred to him. The most extreme free trader, he says, opposes free trade in money. Evidently he is unaware that the extremity of free trade is not to be found in the New York Evening Post. The Anarchists are the extreme free traders; and they, to a man, favor free trade in money,—most of them, in fact, recognizing it as a necessary condition of free trade in products. For, as Mr. Thompson truly says, it is the height of folly for a country to exchange industrial power for industrial products. In the absence of a tariff, the tendency would be to just that sort of exchange, provided the State should continue to deprive all products, save one or two, of the monetary function, and therefore of industrial power. Mr. Thompson, supposing this restriction of the monetary function to be necessary and wise, clings very sensibly to the tariff. He would have the State hem in industrial power and bar out industrial products. Of two wrongs he tries to make a right. The simpler way, involving no wrong at all, is to give industrial power to industrial products by endowing them with the monetary function, and then strike down all commercial barriers whatsoever.—Liberty, February 2, 1889.(98 ¶ 9)