Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/692

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
668
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

the capital and the other the labor, the boat is not "distributed"; but the ownership of it is, and presumably according to economic principles. So there may often be distribution of property more or less than commensurate with the distribution of wealth; and it is the distribution of property which, in fact, most concerns the economist.

A great deal has been written about this subject of private property. The world is filling with people, and it is filling with good things which these people like and want. Shall the people as a body own the goods in a lump, or shall the ownership and enjoyment of the goods be divided among the human beings in proportion to the ability of each to get hold of them by hard work, or skillful work, or monopoly, or trickery, or any good or bad superiority which helps to constitute him one of the "fittest" and most likely to survive in such a contest? Shall even the planet itself, crowding with the less fit, be parceled out among these good and bad "fittest"? Can there be a more momentous question than this? Can there be one which more deeply concerns the economist as such? On the very day on which I write, four men are to hang for committing murder in answer to this question. The mere presence in the community of a considerable and clamorous element which denies the right of property has its grave economic effects, and hence is a matter of great moment to the economist. Hanging four men, or a hundred men, will not silence that element.

This, however, is not the only aspect of the question that concerns us, though most writers seem to have thought so. The orthodox have been content to prove, or perhaps only assert, that the right of property is the greatest of all the stimuli to labor and frugality, just as Proudhon, on the other hand, was content to show that property is robbery. If any distinction has been made as to the comparative validity of titles to different kinds of property, it has usually been thought sufficient to distinguish between owning the earth and owning its products. But it is not so simple a matter as this. Our great danger is not the theoretical denial of the right of property in general. We are daily called upon to defend it against attack in detail. Bastiat saw this half a century ago, when he was in the thick of the hottest battle that has ever raged about the citadel of property. And now that the contest has broken out in that quarter again, and under the inspiration of being interrupted in the midst of this very sentence by a bulletin announcing that the condemned anarchists have just been hanged, it would be easy to write a book from the following text, which is to be found in the eighth chapter of the "Harmonies of Economies":

"A mere theoretical war against property is by no means the