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deductive economist. But the principles of currency, for example, are less truly described as hypothetical than the principles of commercial value, and we feel the want of some distinction like that of Rodbertus between historical and theoretical categories, which embraces distribution and production alike. Mill's admission even of a hypothetical exactness in the field of distribution would forbid us to say that distribution is arbitrary, and production is not so. The laws of Exchange are not of "human institution," or at least not “solely." On the other hand, the law of Population, which is ranked under Production, is not a physical law unmodifiable by man, though it appears under Production. Mill has himself said of Malthus again and again that in expounding it he had not shut the gate of progress, but really for the first time opened it. Mill's recognition of fixed economical laws and his recognition at the same time of man's power to turn them, as he turns any other laws, to his own uses are among the most distinctive features of his treatise ; and the two features are found together in the book on Production as well as in the book on Distribution.
But the modification of economical tendencies is made to occupy a far larger place under Distribution than under Production. The modifications actual, possible, and contemplated, are described at length. We are told of the influence of Custom in preventing rents from being rack-rents, wages from being the lowest possible, or highest possible, prices from being in the retail trade what competition makes them in wholesale dealings. We are confronted with the experience of countries where competition hardly exists. We are led to examine the various schemes, prominently before the public at the end of the first half of the 19th century, for toning down or altogether abolishing the severities of competition in modern societies.
The whole book (II., on Distribution) may be regarded as an introduction to the next one (III., on Exchange), for the author is really discussing how far the social and legal conditions, which the Ricardian principles of exchange assume to be existing, really do exist in the world generally, and how far, where they do exist, they can possibly be modified or entirely supplanted by deliberate contrivance. First and foremost stands the institution of private Property. Mill clearly recognises (as against the theories of Locke and others) that historically, the legal recognition of private property was not based on any philosophical theory of its public utility, economical or otherwise. But “social philosophy” (he says, II. 1., § 2) may consider what would be the view taken by a society of men, say a body of colonists now, if they were to consider whether they should conduct their production on the principle of common ownership or of individual property. Common ownership of the land and the instruments of production is the feature of all Socialism; Communism is a species of it which insists on absolute equality in the distribution of the comforts of life. Such schemes are, he says, not à priori impracticable. To say that under Communism the individual would have no interest in doing good work is to forget that the greater part of the work of our present society is done by wage-earners for a master, and therefore without any “interest" on the part of the worker. Besides, “mankind are capable of a far greater amount of public spirit than the present age is accustomed to suppose possible,” and a communist society would excite an esprit de corps that might be as efficacious as competition. Emulation in the public service. would not be discouraged. Reckless increase of families would be condemned by public opinion. A real difficulty, however, is the apportionment of work, and the appraisement of different kinds of it, apart from the standards of competitive trading. But “human intelligence, guided by a sense of justice,” might be equal to the task.
1 Diss., II. (“ Claims of Labour," 1845), 183, etc., etc. So Thomas Chalmers in his Pol. Econ. (1832), I. 44.
If, therefore, we had to choose between private property as it is now, and Communism, we might elect for the latter in spite of its difficulties. But it is a rule of good criticism to compare the best form of one theory with the best form of its rival ; and we should take private property not as it is, but as it might be. “The principle of private property has never yet had a fair trial in any country. The laws regarding it have never
anywhere conformed to the principles that justify its existence; they have converted into private property what could not justifiably become so (in sanctioning slavery); and they have recognised absolute property where there could only be a very modified right (in the matter of the land). They have been so framed as to increase inequality rather than to diminish it. But these abuses have no necessary connection with the principle of private property itself. The guarantee to every individual of the fruits of his labour and abstinence is the essential feature with which (if individual property is to be fairly tested) nothing inconsistent should be established. In addition we must assume two conditions which are the conditions of all reforms, Socialistic or otherwise, -universal education and restraint on population. “ With these, there could be no poverty even under the present social institutions.” Socialism is therefore not our sole refuge, but simply one of two alternatives, the comparative merits of which are hard to determine. “We are too ignorant either of what individual agency in its best form, or Socialism in its best form, can accomplish, to be qualified to decide which of the two will be the ultimate form of human society.” It will probably be that one which is most consistent with the greatest amount of liberty and spontaneity. For, next to food and clothing, liberty is the great necessary of human life. Socialism might give more of it than the great body of the people have now; but Mill clearly fears that, under it, the will and the opinion of the majority might leave even less room for “eccentricity” than they do now. After touching on the St. Simonians, and the experiment of the Jesuits in Paraguay,' he goes with more detail into Fourierism, which takes into account capital and talent as well as labour in distribution. In reference to the claim made by Fourier to make labour "attractive,” he notes that “scarcely any labour, however severe, undergone by human beings for the sake of sub
He says this was “of short duration.” But it lasted 150 years. There are reasons to believe that it was built on primitive native communism. See Letourneau, Property, its Origin and Development (1892), pp. 42 seq.
sistence exceeds in intensity that which other human beings, whose subsistence is already provided for, are found ready and even eager to undergo for pleasure." We must not therefore (he says) dismiss such schemes as impracticable, and the experiment should be tried. However till we have more experience to guide us we may expect that for some time to come the conditions of social existence and progress will include private property and individual competition, and our aim must be to make these institutions work for the full advantage of the community. In other words we must in the first place make the best of things as they are.
Mill tries to be faithful to the inductive and à posteriori method in social reform as distinguished from political economy. On the other hand, in dealing with the law of Inheritance, he reasons directly from first principles, without waiting for experiment. Land, so far as it is not improved by its possessor, should not be counted his private property as a chattel should be. Later in life he proposed that all the “increment" in the value of land that was “unearned ” should be taken by the State in taxes. The basis of property is labour, and that is absent in the possessor of the unearned increment. Again, he argues (in the Political Economy) that bequest might be limited to an amount that would give sufficiency, not luxury, to the heir, and that (as Bentham urged) in intestacy, failing direct heirs, the crown should inherit. Elsewhere he had pleaded strongly for the desirability of turning old endowments to public uses when the times had so changed that to carry out the intentions of the founder was no longer to confer the public benefit intended by the founder.3 His arguments against Turgot, in favour of liberty to found Endowments, are largely drawn from the observation that progress often begins in the “eccentricities” of individuals (cf. Liberty, I. 33), ideas that are not at first popular, but must create a demand for themselves slowly and gradually. There is in fact hardly any case in which Mill would say that a priori an alteration of present arrangements is absolutely forbidden. He is consistent with his general Utilitarian position, and rejects certain schemes (e.g. nationalization of land and capital) on grounds of expediency and experience. Though he believes firmly in the relativity of all institutions, economical as well as political, and in some few passages traces the growth of an idea (like that of property) from ancient forms to modern, he can hardly be said to look for guidance to any idea of development. He recognises the fact of it, and thinks that it will lead us to some form of associated industry; but he makes no attempt to forecast in detail the steps by which the change will be produced, and he regards competition in some form or other as indispensable to progress (Pol. Econ., IV. vii., $ 7).
1 Pol. Econ., II. I., $ 4.
3 Diss. and Disc. I. i seq.: Corporation and Church Property. IV. I seg.: Endowments.
Mill is an optimist so far as he allows that society has on the whole been becoming better. The reign of brute force is over, and the reign of reason begun. Even in the matter of the distribution of wealth there is progress. The working classes, as things are, have gained and are gaining ground. The pressure of population has not increased but diminished. “The permanent causes all operate in the direction of improvement."3 The Socialists who have done service by pointing out the evils of competition, have not themselves realized the advantages of competition. “There are many things which free trade does passably; there are none which it does absolutely well, for competition is as rife in the career of fraud as in that of real excellence.”+ But the evils of privilege are greater still, and to be protected against competition is to be protected in idleness and mental dulness.
We may therefore regard Mill as taking up the ab
1 See posthumous papers on Socialism, Fortnightly Review, April, 1879, p. 525. 2 Subj. of Women, p 10.
Papers on Socialism, Fortnightly Review, March, 1879, pp. 373 seq. It should be noted that the often quoted passage in Pol. Econ., IV. VI., § 2, about the failure of machinery to benefit the working classes is really a protest against over-population.
4 Diss., IV. (Endowments, 1869), p. 13. 5 Pol. Econ., IV. VII., $ 7.