MUTUALISM IN THE SERVICE OF CAPITAL.
[Liberty, July 16, 1887.]
In a long reply to Edward Atkinson's recent address before the Boston Labor Lyceum, Henry George's Standard impairs the effect of much sound and effective criticism by the following careless statement:
Mr. Atkinson does not even know the nature of his own business. He told his audience that his "regular work is to stop the cotton and woollen mills from being burned up." This is a grave blunder. Fire insurance companies are engaged in distributing losses by fire among the insured. As a statistician he knows that statistics show that in New Hampshire, when that State was boycotted by the insurance companies, the number of fires was reduced by thirty per cent. He does not save buildings from fire.
This is a gross slander of one of the most admirable institutions in America,—none the less admirable in essence because it happens in this instance to exist for the benefit of the capitalists. Mr. George unwarrantably assumes that Mr. Atkinson is engaged in an insurance business of the every-day sort. This is far from true. He is the president of an insurance company doing business on a principle which, if it should be adopted in the banking business, would do more to abolish poverty than all the nostrums imagine'd or imaginable, including the taxation of land values. This principle is the mutualistic, or cost, principle.
Some time ago a number of mill-owners decided that they would pay no more profits to insurance companies, inasmuch as they could insure themselves much more advantageously. So they formed a company of their own, into the treasury of which each mill pays annually a sum proportional to the amount for which it wishes to insure, receiving it back at the end of the year minus its proportion of the year's losses by fire paid by the company and of the cost of maintaining the company. It is obvious that by the adoption of this plan the mills would have saved largely, even if fires had continued to occur in them as frequently as before. But this is not all. By mutual agreement the mills place themselves, so far as protection against fire is concerned, under the supervision of the insurance company, which keeps inspectors to see that each mill avails itself of all the best means of preventing and extinguishing fire, and uses the utmost care in the matter. As a
consequence the number of fires and the aggregate damage