Does Price Fixing Destroy Liberty?/Final Summary
The foregoing detailed discussion has failed of useful purpose, if we have not reached a result that can be clearly and succinctly stated for ascertained truth must always tend to succinctness and simplicity of statement.
The "discovered" constitutional truths, may, therefore, be condensed to the following propositions, now fully established by the Supreme Court:
1st. That "Liberty is the greatest of all rights," and that it cannot exist without "Life," "the pursuit of happiness," and its resulting private property, and its legitimate fruits and profits. These have, consequently, always been "unalienable" constitutional rights of every free man living under and helping to govern our free Republican nation. That property, to this extent, at least, becomes and is a synonym for "Liberty," so that wherever arbitrary governmental impairment of the "value" of private property is found, by "price fixing" or other despotic ukase or decree, property and constitutional liberty have been invaded—and Communistic slavery has, to that extent, been substituted for the Republican Government of free men under constitutional protection.
2nd. That all men naturally love freedom, however ignorant they may be of that eternal vigilance and the necessary measures to preserve it, and where their folly has caused them to lose it, always try to return to it. Liberty destroying price fixing, of necessity, an invasion of property and thus of its synonym "Liberty," never can long continue without an application of the unmitigated terror established in the French Revolution, that so completely annihilated every principle of constitutional right.
3rd. That the "just compensation" of the Constitution consists simply "of full and perfect equivalency of value," the meaning of that "value" must be definitely determined before "just compensation" can be properly understood and applied; and that that determination has, happily, been attained in a series of unvarying decisions of the Supreme Court, that absolutely settle the matters now under discussion in favor of the principles necessary to protect our Constitutional Liberty.
4th. That the "value" of ordinary commodities can only be determined by the results of free competition, in a free government, conducted by free men. "Value," being not at all the result of any one citizen's view, desire or decree, but is that of all men, acting in a free market in free competition, in untrammeled freedom; and it is, therefore, always a matter of ascertainable fact; never of mere guess or surmise; it is a fact of the existing world; of existing conditions; never of imaginary worlds or conditions, or imaginary ideas. It is always the result, like contract, of a meeting,—an agreement of minds; not the view of one, unaccepted by another, but a result regulated solely by "the relative intensity of the desires of the whole community." "Value" deals only with the actual, never with imaginary conditions other than the facts. Its ascertainment is not to be compelled by peril of indictment and through guesses as to what the community would have given, but only by what it actually does give. Its ultimate determination always finally rests upon what men are willing to give for a commodity, rather than incur the exertion necessary to create it for themselves. Value, therefore, can no more be defined, or known than a contract can, until an actual and accomplished meeting of more than one mind! It is, therefore, impossible of ascertainment until that has taken place.
5th. That "free competition" thus becomes a necessary constitutional, "unalienable" right of all mankind, as through it alone their other "unalienable" rights can be ascertained, protected or enforced. For men can neither measure "just compensation" nor reach that certain definition or "standard" upon which to act, without which criminal punishment can neither be just nor constitutional. And since they are entitled constitutionally to "perfect equality of value" for property taken, and clarity of "standard," if charged with crime, their property cannot possibly be taken, or their Liberty destroyed by imprisonment, through the device of forcing them on behalf of a prosecuting government to guess what they and others might agree upon; their only constitutional right and guide being what has been actually and as a fact agreed upon by free men, acting in a free market and through "free competition." "What value determines is not how much a thing is desired, but how much any one is willing to give for it. * * * Thus it is that there is no measure of value among men save competition or the higgling of the market, a matter that might be worth the consideration of those amiable reformers who so lightly propose to abolish competition. It is never the amount of labor that has been exerted into bringing a thing into being that determines its value, but always the amount of labor that would be rendered in exchange for it. * * * It is not the exertion that a thing has cost in past times, that gives it value, but the exertion that its possession will in future time dispense with, for even the immediate is in strictness future. * * * The point of real value, or actual equivalence, we speak of as market value, from the old idea of the market or meeting place of those who wish to make exchanges, where competition or the higgling of the market brings out the highest bidding or the lowest offering in action of exchange. And when we wish to ascertain the exact value of a thing we offer it at auction or in some other way subject it to competitive offers. * * *"
Whilst the writer would be proud beyond measure had these immutable principles been mere original thoughts of his own, all this, most fortunately for our country, has, on the contrary, been pointed out, contended for,—even fought for, and actually achieved at least since Magna Charta, and nowhere better than by our Supreme tribunal in Monongahela, Harvester and Collins cases, as well as the others that have already been referred to. We thus have a complete explanation of why restraints of trade and monopolies have always been said to be so pernicious; for what makes things more difficult to obtain in trade, necessarily enhances their value, and all these impediments to free trading, of necessity, increases the cost and difficulty of maintaining our life. But the remedy is not to be found by arbitrary and unconstitutional additional discouragement and impediments to trade, but solely keeping it under the spur that its regulation by free competition always best supplies. Not by making them Communistic slaves, not by the injustice of giving unequivalent return for what is taken, but by the encouragement, that perhaps more encourages production than anything else, of knowing that they will not be unjustly treated as to the results of their toil when created.
It will thus be seen that neither seller nor any jury acting subsequently can constitutionally fix "value," nor be criminally punished for failure to satisfactorily perform forced attempts beyond the power of human minds. It can be clearly seen why the doctrine of "free competition" has always been so safeguarded, for, without it, men can never properly ascertain their constitutional rights as to their property and Liberty. It must also be understood why the Supreme Court has always insisted upon the right of both those desiring to sell and those wishing to purchase, to fix freely and in their own untrammeled discretion both what the one is willing to take and the other is willing to give, for, without this right, "free competition" cannot exist, nor a correct ascertainment of "value" be found.
All this, perhaps, may be but an instance of the adage that "Truth lies at the bottom of the well." But, nevertheless, this is the truth, and truth ascertained and declared by the Supreme Court itself. And for the purposes of interpretation, ascertained before the passage of the Lever Act, and, therefore, definitely determining the terms therein involved. It cannot be believed that these provisions will ever be departed from, much less that even, if so, men will be punished for having loyally followed and been guided by them whilst they remained in full and self-vindicating determination. If any one questions all or any of this, he is earnestly requested to show a single decision of the Supreme Court that in anywise does or has ever departed from it.
It, therefore, is not correct to say that arbitrary price fixing leads to slavery or Communism—for it is established slavery and Communism! No matter how popular such offenses against Liberty may occasionally be in times of stress, they always are, of necessity, a creation of unjust privilege of some classes against others, for they never have been, or can be, of equal application. They are in fact but a selling of our birthright of Freedom for a mess of pottage, which in turn is withdrawn as a necessary economic effect of them; are always an offense against Liberty, which, therefore, makes it impossible that we should be too grateful to those patriots who devised the Supreme Court of the United States, that has saved us from such danger throughout all the years of the Constitution.
The answer, therefore, to our title is not that price fixing endangers Liberty; but that it absolutely obliterates it.
For these and so many other reasons it cannot, therefore, be believed that a statute can be found that can, by any possibility be construed to violate more principles of "discovered"—that is, as has been pointed out, eternal law, protected by our Constitution, than the Lever Act thus improperly construed; nor, indeed, that any Act or any conspiracy could so fatally restrain trade, and insure continued scarcity. Is it not, therefore, still safe to believe that "Impius et crudelis judicandus est, qui libertati non favet. Angliae jura in omni casu libertati dant favorem?"
- Monongahela Navigation Company vs. United States, 148 U. S. 312. 1893.
- International Harvester Company of America vs. Kentucky, 234 U. S. 216. 1914.
- Collins vs. Kentucky, 234 U. S. 634. 1914.