to the supply of things of this class which men by labor can acquire, if the land, which is the source of supply, be not monopolized. By concentrated effort particular species of the class may be temporarily exhausted, but only temporarily, and not all species at the same time. Moreover, it is beyond human power to separate permanently from the general stock the matter of which things of this class are composed. Consider, the water which you dip from a spring is not lost or destroyed: sooner or later it evaporates, or, if you drink it, it leaves your body in forms which you are constituted by nature to loathe and reject, and you would not keep it if you could. So it is generally. No form in which nature presents matter, no form which men by their labor give to matter, is stable; even iron rusts and gold abrades; and when the form changes the matter escapes. Light, heat, winds, rain, frost, moths, worms, and other forces are pulling down as fast as the same and other natural forces, including those of man, are building up. Human powers can dam or turn the stream of change long enough to satisfy human wants, and not much longer. In short, though one man or many take what they can of things of this class, and keep what they take as long as they can, the equal right of other men to exert their faculties in the same manner is not thereby appreciably, if at all, interfered with.
The fact that the supply of material things which are adapted to the satisfaction of human wants is practically unlimited, is the sole justification for permitting them to be acquired and held without restriction. If the supply were limited, there would have to be restriction. Do we not all concede this in unusual cases when locally or temporarily the supply is short, as in a shipwreck or polar expedition? On the other hand, the fact that the land, being the source of all things that minister to human wants, is strictly limited in quantity, and varies greatly in desirableness, is itself a sufficient reason for asserting that it cannot rightfully be appropriated absolutely and in perpetuity.
It may be said (and it is surprising to find so acute a man as Mr. Mallock perplexed by the thought) that nature knows nothing of “countries,” “states,” “communities,” and “governments;” that the phrases “right to life” and “right to land” express relations which each man bears to the whole human race, and not to the people of a particular country or under a particular
- “Poverty and Progress,” pp. 111–126.