Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/697

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ORIGIN OF THE RIGHTS OF PROPERTY.

influenced by the labor agitators, who base their arguments on the unguarded utterances of the great thinkers quoted above.

It is all as plain as day. What the wage-worker acquires by his work is not a proprietary interest in the thing he has worked on, but a right of action against the person who employed him to work on it. It is not a, jus in re, but a jus in personam. It is a claim against his employer. It is not a claim for any particular chattel or product, but for legal-tender money of a certain total amount. This amount is determined, not, or at any rate not directly, by the value of the thing produced, nor yet by the value that his work added to it, but by the demand and supply of his kind of labor. The legal claim itself is a subject of property. It can be bought and sold. The community stands ready to enforce it, and thus gives it all its value. Property in this claim, or right of action at law is just as truly property as is property in the material product, and it is often more reliable; for it lives on, even though the capitalist's property in his factory and its unsold products is wholly destroyed by fire, or its value partially destroyed by a tumble in the market.

The theory we started out to combat consists, in fact, of four propositions, and we have refuted three of them. We have proved that it is not true that every man owns himself; that it is not true that every man owns his products, or the things with which he has mixed his labor, nor that he gets thereby any proprietary interest in them; and that not the affirmative but the negative of these propositions has been most generally accepted by mankind as the true and natural state of the case. So much for what is. It remains to inquire what ought to be? What would be absolute justice in the matter? Would it be universal private ownership of self and of the products of the labor of one's self? To any such question as this there are three possible answers. There is the answer "Yes," there is the answer "No," and there is the answer that it makes no practical difference what is absolutely just, since absolute justice is unattainable or undesirable. If justice, like perpetual motion, is beyond our reach, the most economical thing to do is to find that out and cease to hope and struggle for it. Meantime economy of motion or of force is an approach toward perpetual motion, and so we may find something, or conclude we want nothing, that will be an approach toward absolute justice.

Now, justice, like property, is an undefined, and quite likely undefinable, term. Our ideas of it change from age to age. It is related to the term and the thing "equality," and this we can all understand. When it is said that two things equal each other, we know exactly what is meant. The proposition that all men ought to be equally rich and happy is perfectly clear. That would be absolute equality. The idea of justice bears about the same rela-