To persist in a wrong, to refuse to undo it, is always to become involved
in other wrongs. Those who defend private property in land, and thereby
deny the first and most important of all human rights, the equal right
to the material substratum of life, are compelled to one of two courses.
Either they must, as do those whose gospel is “Devil take the hindermost,” deny
the equal right to life, and by some theory like that to which the English
clergyman Malthus has given his name, assert that nature (they do not venture
to say God) brings into the world more men than there is provision for;
or, they must, as do the socialists, assert as rights what in themselves
Your Holiness in the Encyclical gives an example of this. Denying
the equality of right to the material basis of life, and yet conscious
that there is a right to live, you assert the right of laborers to
employment and their right to receive from their employers a certain
indefinite wage. No such rights exist. No one has a right to demand
employment of another, or to demand higher wages than the other is
willing to give, or in any way to put pressure on another to make him
raise such wages against his will. There can be no better moral justification
for such demands on employers by working-men than there would be for
employers demanding that working-men shall be compelled to work for
them when they do not want to and to accept wages lower than they are
willing to take. Any seeming justification springs from a prior wrong,
the denial to working-men of their natural rights, and can in the last
analysis rest only on that supreme dictate of self-preservation that
under extraordinary circumstances makes pardonable what in itself is
theft, or sacrilege or even murder.
A fugitive slave with the bloodhounds of his pursuers baying at his
heels would in true Christian morals be held blameless if he seized
the first horse he came across, even though to take it he had to knock
down the rider. But this is not to justify horse-stealing as an ordinary
means of traveling.
When his disciples were hungry Christ permitted them to pluck corn
on the Sabbath day. But he never denied the sanctity of the Sabbath
by asserting that it was under ordinary circumstances a proper time
to gather corn.
He justified David, who when pressed by hunger committed what ordinarily
would be sacrilege, by taking from the temple the loaves of proposition.
But in this he was far from saying that the robbing of temples was
a proper way of getting a living.
In the Encyclical however you commend the application to the ordinary
relations of life, under normal conditions, of principles that in ethics
are only to be tolerated under extraordinary conditions. You are driven
to this assertion of false rights by your denial of true rights. The
natural right which each man has is not that of demanding employment
or wages from another man; but that of employing himself — that
of applying by his own labor to the inexhaustible storehouse which
the Creator has in the land provided for all men. Were that storehouse
open, as by the single tax we would open it, the natural demand for
labor would keep pace with the supply, the man who sold labor and the
man who bought it would become free exchangers for mutual advantage,
and all cause for dispute between workman and employer would be gone.
For then, all being free to employ themselves, the mere opportunity
to labor would cease to seem a boon; and since no one would work for
another for less, all things considered, than he could earn by working
for himself, wages would necessarily rise to their full value, and
the relations of workman and employer be regulated by mutual interest
This is the only way in which they can be satisfactorily regulated.
Your Holiness seems to assume that there is some just rate of wages
that employers ought to be willing to pay and that laborers should
be content to receive, and to imagine that if this were secured there
would be an end of strife. This rate you evidently think of as that
which will give working-men a frugal living, and perhaps enable them
by hard work and strict economy to lay by a little something.
But how can a just rate of wages be fixed without the “higgling
of the market” any more than the just price of corn or pigs or
ships or paintings can be so fixed? And would not arbitrary regulation
in the one case as in the other check that interplay that most effectively
promotes the economical adjustment of productive forces? Why should
buyers of labor, any more than buyers of commodities, be called on
to pay higher prices than in a free market they are compelled to pay?
Why should the sellers of labor be content with anything less than
in a free market they can obtain? Why should working-men be content
with frugal fare when the world is so rich? Why should they be satisfied
with a lifetime of toil and stinting, when the world is so beautiful?
Why should not they also desire to gratify the higher instincts, the
finer tastes? Why should they be forever content to travel in the steerage
when others find the cabin more enjoyable? ... read
the whole letter