The Power to Exact Wages from Labor
Royal E.S. Hayes
[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, March-April
A friend tells me of an incident which occurred when natural gas was
piped into his town. A widow complained to a morning newspaper that
her landlord raised her house rent on the ground that she could pay
more because of the saving in her fuel bill. "You did not supply
the natural gas," she said. "What difference does that make,"
he retorted, "it's my house."
The significance of the incident is not that it was striking. It is
that the same condition and cause, though less obvious, affects every
person in the civilized world. Government through law ignorantly
stifles normal competition. It gives landownership license to hold
labor off the land for a price. This limits the use of land. It keeps
enterprise down as well as competition. It causes high prices in
general. It makes labor compete against itself. In other words, it
permits the greater part of wages to disappear in the price of land.
The point in theory that I would discuss is in the comment which my
friend made on the affair. He said, "When will people wake up to
the fact that ground rent is a social value and belongs in the social
fund?" This provokes a few other questions which I would like to
ask. Is all of present ground rent a social value? Is that which the
landlord extracted from the widow a social value and does it
rightfully belong in the social fund? (What moral right has government
to legalize such "hyjacking?" What right to collect from the
landlord that which he clubs from widows or others? Is it a fine thing
for government to be a receiver of stolen goods? Is this something to
work and pray for? If so, count me out of both.
The fact is, it is not George's proposal at all. He would starve in
the streets again before he would favor such a plan. He would say that
which the landlord took from the widow was her wages; that no man,
official or otherwise, has a moral right to this part of her
subsistence. When the landlord got the extra rent from the widow it
took the form of monopoly and speculative rent. As George said, "Over
and above the economic rent there is the power that comes by monopoly,
which may be called monopoly rent. The power to exact that monopoly
rent comes from the power to keep labor off the land."
It is clear then, that wages and its security to labor is a definite
factor to reckon with in distribution. It is by all means the most
important factor in livelihood. Let us therefore wake up thoroughly to
the fact that as a matter of distribution, except at first to get a
start, government is to collect the economic increment only, leaving
the monopoly and speculative quantity in the pockets of labor as
wages. Let us think more about wages and worry less about the "social
fund" and "social services." Let us envision wages for
what it is, not only a definite factor in distribution but the
greatest and grandest economic provision of nature on earth. The
fullness of life can come only through WAGES, gained through the
handiwork, craftsmanship and thoughtful care of man himself, through
his labor with hand and brain.
Wages! World wide and universal! What depth of human implications
here! What a subject for writers, thinkers, leaders everywhere! This
wisdom of George will be listened to when men have gone through the
lower depths of the coming decade. The world strafing which will
result from the blind struggle to escape the consequences and to
overcome the legal advantages which men have built up against each
other, will give us the opportunity of the age.
This light must come! But it will have to come from the original
spiritual insight and fire which since George's time has dulled down
to a spark. Let us fan the true spark into a great illumination! But
we shall have the breath and power for that only by returning to the
original purpose of George, to elevate wages through a just
distribution of wealth.
George's factual wisdom and Utopian vision must be brought to all
sorts and orders of people, especially to those who have suffered most
from economic injustice. Let us return to the original purpose and
plan. Then society will put aside the universal robbery, the exactions
of legal advantages. A flood of wages will then flow over the earth so
that, as George said, "The industrious will be the rich people of
the future. ...That all may have leisure, comfort and abundance, not
merely the necessities of life, but even of that which are now
esteemed the elegancies and luxuries of life." Let us give our
best thought to the problem of labor and its wages. The social fund
will then almost take care of itself.