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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/691

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ORIGIN OF THE RIGHTS OF PROPERTY.

some material things, such as lands, houses, money, corn, cattle, etc. But that is not the true and original meaning of the word property.

"Property, in its true and original meaning, is not any material substance, but the absolute right to something."

It is in the same sense that the socialists use the word. When they demand the abolition of property they do not mean the abolition of lands, houses, etc. They are as anxious as anybody that wealth shall be increased. But they want it to be ours, not mine or thine. Wealth which belongs to the whole people is not property in the economic sense of the term. It is conceivable, though not practically ascertainable, that property might be totally abolished without any diminution of wealth. So property may be increased without any increase of wealth. There would be just as much land-surface on the earth if nobody owned a rood of it. There were as many negroes after as before the abolition of property in man. The abolition proclamation did not obliterate a single acre of land, a house, a shred of clothing, or a mouthful of food. But it did obliterate a vast amount of property; so does a commercial panic. "And yet," says Prof. Newcomb, using the panic of 1837 as an illustration, "if we look at the case from a common-sense point of view, we shall see that no wealth was destroyed. There were just as many suits of clothes in the country the day after the crisis as there were before, and they were just as well fitted for wearing. The mills and factories were all in as good order, the farms as fertile, and the crops as large after the supposed hurricane as before. The houses remained standing, the wood was in the wood-sheds ready for burning, and the food in the larder ready for cooking, just as it had been left. In a word, every appliance for the continued enjoyment of the fruits of labor remained as perfect as it ever was."

Prof. F. A. Walker, in calling attention to the distinction between wealth and property, says that "the neglect of this distinction has caused great confusion." But he soon dismisses the subject with the remark that "we might say that 'property' is not a word with which the political economist has anything to do. It is legal, not economical, in its significance." I can not concur in that opinion. I think the socialistic theory, which relates primarily to the institution of property, is an economic theory, as truly as monometalism, or free trade, or Malthusianism. The whole subject of distribution, to which Prof. Walker devotes a hundred pages, and which is certainly one of the most important in this or any other science, is a question of whose shall be the wealth produced; that is, it is a question of the distribution of property in the wealth, rather than of the wealth itself. Whether two fishermen jointly carve out a partnership boat, or whether one furnishes