Poetical essay on the existing state of things online
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The ordinary politician is not as consistent as the land nationalizer; the land nationalizer is not as consistent as the state socialist. The politician steals with two or three fingers, and thinks it would be wrong to steal with the whole hand; the land nationalizer steals with one hand, and thinks it would be wrong to steal with both hands; the state socialist steals with both hands, and boldly glorifies the whole business. If you steal pence, why not steal pounds, we ask the politician? If you steal the land, we ask the land nationalizer, why not steal all that grows upon and comes from the land—all wool, cotton, grain, fruit and animals? In the name of reason, let us either leave stealing altogether alone, or else preach the whole gospel of stealing, pure and undefiled! The land nationalizer would take from men one of their greatest and deepest sources of happiness. He says to them: “You shall never possess your own home. You shall never possess as your own one single square yard of soil. You shall plant nothing on the face of the earth, which shall be truly yours; you shall plant no tree, and in planting it know that the fruit it bears shall belong to you and those who come after you, so long as such tree has life in it; you shall be only as a nomad race, encamped for a season, as long as it pleases those who govern, to leave you in your hired houses.” Why? On what grounds does the land nationalizer venture to cut off this great source of human enjoyment from the human race? Simply, because he has not yet cleared his mental vision; simply, because he does not see, first, that if the land of the country really belongs to the whole nation, it cannot belong to that mere part of it, called a majority, and that no majority, therefore, can be competent to deal with it; and second, that if John Smith cannot morally own land, then ten million John Smiths cannot morally own land. The land nationalizer has not yet discovered that a government or state can only possess exactly the same moral rights of possessing and enjoying as the individuals who create it. Land nationalizers also forget that happiness of life largely depends upon security of conditions. They forget that under land nationalism we shall all be merely as tenants at will. At present, if we do not wish to own land, we can make such agreements for a term of months or years, or for life, as we may arrange with our landlord, and we have the protection of the courts as regards these agreements; but with government as our landlord, we should only occupy at the pleasure of those who constitute the government. No agreements bind governments. What one administration creates today, another administration a few years hence will undo and repeal. Under land nationalization it would be the constant amusement of governments to reorganize the existing system of land tenure. No question would open up such pretty opportunities for the quarrels of our politicians, or for their courageous experiments with what does not belong to them.
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Remember, also, as another great and vital interest, to keep a free and open market in everything. Only so again can you get the fullest return of your labor. High wages are of little profit, when prices rule high, and production becomes a dull monopoly, benumbing the best energies of the producers. Under a monopoly we all grow stupid, unperceiving, apathetic, given up to routine. Leave all traders free to bring to your door the best articles that the world produces at the lowest cost. If they are better and cheaper than what you produce, they will be the truest incentive for greater exertions both on your part and on the capitalist's part. It is only the coward's policy to kneel down in the dust, and wail, and confess inferiority, as regards the producers of other nations. Take up the challenge bravely, from whatever quarter it comes; improve method and process and machinery—above all improve the relations between capital and labor; on that, more perhaps than on anything else, industrial victory depends. Be willing to learn from all, of any country, who have anything useful to teach. Never be tempted to build Chinese walls for your protection, and to go indolently to sleep behind them. Your system of free trade is another great world trust placed in your hands. You stand before all nations holding a bright and shining light, that if you are true to the great destiny of our country you will never allow to be dimmed or extinguished. Mr. Cobden spoke the truth when he said that you would convert the other nations to your own brave way of competition; only he did not allow enough for all the reactionary influences, the narrow unenlightened so-called patriotism, the timidities of some traders and their desire to take their ease comfortably, and not to overexert themselves, so long as they could compel the public to buy at their own price, and to accept their own standard of good workmanship, the warlike emperors, the chauvinists of all countries, the extravagant spendings with the resulting difficulties of getting blood from a stone, and the temptation of scraping revenue together in any mischievous fashion that offered itself, the party intrigues, the effort to discover something that would serve as an attractive policy, the unavowed purpose of some politicians, living for party, and keen for power, to bind a large part of the people by the worst of bonds to their side by means of a huge and corrupt money interest. But the consequences of protection are fighting their battle everywhere on the side of free trade—as the consequences of folly and blindness always fight on the side of the better things; and if we remain faithful to our great trust will in their due time fulfill Mr. Cobden's words. The high prices and dear living, the harassing interferences with trade, the rings and corners, the trickeries and corruption, that all tread so close on the heels of protection, the wild extravagance, the domineering insolent attitude of the state-made monopolists, the ever-growing power of the governments to go their own way, where they can gather vast sums of money so easily through their unseen tax collectors, the ever-spreading socialism, that is only protection made universal—all these things are preaching their eloquent lesson, and slowly preparing the way in other countries for free trade. Sooner or later the world after years of bitter experience learns to unmask all the impostor systems that have traded in its hopes and passions and fears. The thin coating wears off, and the baser metal betrays itself underneath. So it will fare with the protection, that asks you to be credulous enough to tie up your left hand in order that your right hand may work more profitably. It is true that in protected countries the wages of the workers may be pushed up higher than in the case of free trade countries, but life will remain harder and more difficult. Why? Because, as we have said, prices rule so high; corners and combinations flourish; trickery and corruption find their opportunity; more vultures of every kind flock to the feast; and with the feast of the vultures the burden of rates and taxes becomes intolerable. The whole thing hangs together. Establish freedom and open competition in everything, and all forms of trade and enterprise, all relations of men to each other, tend to become healthy and vigorous, pure and clean. The better and more efficient forms—as they do throughout nature's world—slowly displacing the inefficient forms. It must be so; for in the fair open fight the good always tend to win over the bad, if only you restrain all interferences of force. It is so with freedom everywhere and in all things. Freedom begets the conflict; the conflict begets the good and helpful qualities; and the good and helpful qualities win their own victory. They must do so; for they are in themselves stronger, more energetic, more efficient, than the forces—the trickeries, the corruptions, the timidities, the selfishness—to which they are opposed. The same truth rules our good and bad habits. Only keep the field open and allow the fair fight, and the bad at last must yield to the good. Sooner or later the time comes when the clearer sighted, the more rightly judging few denounce some evil habit that exists; gradually their influence and example act on others in ever-widening circles, until many men grow ashamed of what they have so long done, and the habit is abandoned. Such is the universal law of progress, which prevails in everything, so long as we allow the free open fight between all good and evil. But in order that the good may prevail there must be life and vigor in the people, and this can only be where freedom exists. If freedom does not exist, if life and vigor have died, then protection—whatever its form—cannot prevent, it can only put off for a short time the inevitable ruin and disaster. Nations only continue to exist as long as they keep in themselves the great simple virtues. As we have seen again and again, they go to pieces, and yield their places to others when once the fatal corruption takes root in their character; corruption can only be fought by liberty with its strengthening, raising, purifying influences. Protection, that is artificial in its nature, protection that rests on force, always means, if long enough continued, failure and death in the end; for it prevents our developing the qualities which can alone enable us to keep our place in a world that never stands still. As Mr. Darwin pointed out so clearly, those races of plants and animals, which for a time were protected by mountains or desert or an arm of the sea, were doomed to fail when at last they came into competition with the unprotected forms. So is it with us men. If you wish to understand the deadly influences of protection, if you wish for a practical example, look carefully at all the distorted and perverted growths of trade enterprise that exist in some protected countries, the unwholesome combinations, the universal selfish scramble, the poisonous mixture of politics and trade influences, the use of the state power to watch over and favor great moneyed monopolies, the long endurance of the public that tolerates the vilest things at the hands of its politicians, and you will realize how deadly is every form of protection, that resting on force sends us to sleep, and how vital is the liberty that forever fights the evil by opposing it to the good, that never sleeps, that is always stirring us into new forms of doing and resisting, and forever tends to make the better take the place of the good. There is only one true form of protection, and that is universal liberty with its ceaseless striving and effort.