There is, however, another, and a less elevated, but not fallacious point of view, from which the apparent injustice of Unionism to the non-united classes of labourers may be morally vindicated to the conscience of an intelligent Unionist. This is the Malthusian point of view, so blindly decried as hostile and odious, above all, to the labouring classes. The ignorant and untrained part of the poorer classes (such Unionists may say) will people up to the point which will keep their wages at that miserable rate which the low scale of their ideas and habits makes endurable to them. As long as their minds remain in their present state, our preventing them from competing with us for employment does them no real injury; it only saves ourselves from being brought down to their level. Those whom we exclude are a morally inferior class of labourers to us; their labour is worth less, and their want of prudence and self-restraint makes them much more active in adding to the population. We do them no wrong by intrenching ourselves behind a barrier, to exclude those whose competition would bring down our wages, without more than momentarily raising theirs, but only adding to the total numbers in existence. This is the practical justification, as things now are, of some of the exclusive regulations of Trades’ Unions. If the majority of their members look upon this state of things, so far as the excluded labourers are concerned, with indifference, and think it enough for the Unions to take care of their own members, this is not more culpable in them than is the same indifference in classes far more powerful and more privileged by society. But it is a strong indication of a better spirit among them, that the operatives and artisans throughout the country form the main strength of the demand, rapidly becoming irresistible, for universal and compulsory education. The brutish ignorance of the lowest order of unskilled labourers has no more determined enemies, none more earnest in insisting that it be cured, than the comparatively educated workmen who direct the Unions.
This prospect may appear too remote, and even visionary, to be an actuating motive with any considerable number of Unionists; but it is certainly not beyond the aspirations of the intelligent leaders of Unionism, and what is more, some great steps have already been made in the direction of its realisation. A generation ago all Unions were local, and in those days strikes were much more frequent, much oftener unreasonable, and much oftener attended with criminal excesses, than is the case at present. Since then, a number of the most important trades have been formed into Amalgamated Societies extending to the whole country, and a central council decides with a view to the interests of the entire trade, what conditions shall be imposed on employers, and in what cases strikes shall take place. And it is admitted that the rules of these Amalgamated Societies are much less objectionable than those of the local unions previously were, and that the central body prevents many more strikes than it sanctions. The immediate motive to the amalgamations was, of course, the experience that attempts in one town to obtain a rise of wages, only caused the transfer of the business to another. Concert having been at length substituted for competition between different towns, the Unions now aim at effecting the same substitution between different countries: and within the last few years there is a commencement of International Congresses of working people, to prevent the efforts made in one country from being frustrated for want of a common understanding with other countries. And there can be little doubt that these attempts to lay the foundation of an alliance among the artisans of competing countries, have already produced some effect, and will acquire increasing importance.
First among existing social evils may be mentioned the evil of Poverty. The institution of Property is upheld and commended principally as being the means by which labour and frugality are insured their reward, and mankind enabled to emerge from indigence. It may be so; most Socialists allow that it has been so in earlier periods of history. But if the institution can do nothing more or better in this respect than it has hitherto done, its capabilities, they affirm, are very insignificant. What proportion of the population, in the most civilised countries of Europe, enjoy in their own persons anything worth naming of the benefits of property? It may be said, that but for property in the hands of their employers they would be without daily bread; but, though this be conceded, at least their daily bread is all that they have; and that often in insufficient quantity; almost always of inferior quality; and with no assurance of continuing to have it at all; an immense proportion of the industrious classes being at some period or other of their lives (and all being liable to become) dependent, at least temporarily, on legal or voluntary charity. Any attempt to depict the miseries of indigence, or to estimate the proportion of mankind who in the most advanced countries are habitually given up during their whole existence to its physical and moral sufferings, would be superfluous here. This may be left to philanthropists, who have painted these miseries in colours sufficiently strong. Suffice it to say that the condition of numbers in civilised Europe, and even in England and France, is more wretched than that of most tribes of savages who are known to us.
The first part of our task is by no means difficult; since it consists only in an enumeration of existing evils. Of these there is no scarcity, and most of them are by no means obscure or mysterious. Many of them are the veriest commonplaces of moralists, though the roots even of these lie deeper than moralists usually attempt to penetrate. So various are they that the only difficulty is to make any approach to an exhaustive catalogue. We shall content ourselves for the present with mentioning a few of the principal. And let one thing be remembered by the reader. When item after item of the enumeration passes before him, and he finds one fact after another which he has been accustomed to include among the necessities of nature urged as an accusation against social institutions, he is not entitled to cry unfairness, and to protest that the evils complained of are inherent in Man and Society, and are such as no arrangements can remedy. To assert this would be to beg the very question at issue. No one is more ready than Socialists to admit—they affirm it indeed much more decidedly than truth warrants—that the evils they complain of are irremediable in the present constitution of society. They propose to consider whether some other form of society may be devised which would not be liable to those evils, or would be liable to them in a much less degree. Those who object to the present order of society, considered as a whole, and who accept as an alternative the possibility of a total change, have a right to set down all the evils which at present exist in society as part of their case, whether these are apparently attributable to social arrangements or not, provided they do not flow from physical laws which human power is not adequate, or human knowledge has not yet learned, to counteract. Moral evils, and such physical evils as would be remedied if all persons did as they ought, are fairly chargeable against the state of society which admits of them; and are valid as arguments until it is shown that any other state of society would involve an equal or greater amount of such evils. In the opinion of Socialists, the present arrangements of society in respect to Property and the Production and Distribution of Wealth, are, as means to the general good, a total failure. They say that there is an enormous mass of evil which these arrangements do not succeed in preventing; that the good, either moral or physical, which they realise is wretchedly small compared with the amount of exertion employed, and that even this small amount of good is brought about by means which are full of pernicious consequences, moral and physical.
The avowal of this doctrine by a public newspaper, the organ of an association ( published at Neuchâtel), is one of the most curious signs of the times. The leaders of the English working men—whose delegates at the congresses of Geneva and Bâle contributed much the greatest part of such practical common sense as was shown there—are not likely to begin deliberately by anarchy, without having formed any opinion as to what form of society should be established in the room of the old. But it is evident that whatever they do propose can only be properly judged, and the grounds of the judgment made convincing to the general mind, on the basis of a previous survey of the two rival theories, that of private property and that of Socialism, one or other of which must necessarily furnish most of the premises in the discussion. Before, therefore, we can usefully discuss this class of questions in detail, it will be advisable to examine from their foundations the general questions raised by Socialism. And this examination should be made without any hostile prejudice. However irrefutable the arguments in favour of the laws of property may appear to those to whom they have the double prestige of immemorial custom and of personal interest, nothing is more natural than that a working man who has begun to speculate on politics, should regard them in a very different light. Having, after long struggles, attained in some countries, and nearly attained in others, the point at which for them, at least, there is no further progress to make in the department of purely political rights, is it possible that the less fortunate classes among the “adult males” should not ask themselves whether progress ought to stop there? Notwithstanding all that has been done, and all that seems likely to be done, in the extension of franchises, a few are born to great riches, and the many to a penury, made only more grating by contrast. No longer enslaved or made dependent by force of law, the great majority are so by force of poverty; they are still chained to a place, to an occupation, and to conformity with the will of an employer, and debarred by the accident of birth both from the enjoyments, and from the mental and moral advantages, which others inherit without exertion and independently of desert. That this is an evil equal to almost any of those against which mankind have hitherto struggled, the poor are not wrong in believing. Is it a necessary evil? They are told so by those who do not feel it—by those who have gained the prizes in the lottery of life. But it was also said that slavery, that despotism, that all the privileges of oligarchy were necessary. All the successive steps that have been made by the poorer classes, partly won from the better feelings of the powerful, partly extorted from their fears, and partly bought with money, or attained in exchange for support given to one section of the powerful in its quarrels with another, had the strongest prejudices opposed to them beforehand; but their acquisition was a sign of power gained by the subordinate classes, a means to those classes of acquiring more; it consequently drew to those classes a certain share of the respect accorded to power, and produced a corresponding modification in the creed of society respecting them; whatever advantages they succeeded in acquiring came to be considered their due, while, of those which they had not yet attained, they continued to be deemed unworthy. The classes, therefore, which the system of society makes subordinate, have little reason to put faith in any of the maxims which the same system of society may have established as principles. Considering that the opinions of mankind have been found so wonderfully flexible, have always tended to consecrate existing facts, and to declare what did not yet exist, either pernicious or impracticable, what assurance have those classes that the distinction of rich and poor is grounded on a more imperative necessity than those other ancient and long-established facts, which, having been abolished, are now condemned even by those who formerly profited by them? This cannot be taken on the word of an interested party. The working classes are entitled to claim that the whole field of social institutions should be re-examined, and every question considered as if it now arose for the first time; with the idea constantly in view that the persons who are to be convinced are not those who owe their ease and importance to the present system, but persons who have no other interest in the matter than abstract justice and the general good of the community. It should be the object to ascertain what institutions of property would be established by an unprejudiced legislator, absolutely impartial between the possessors of property and the non-possessors; and to defend and justify them by the reasons which would really influence such a legislator, and not by such as have the appearance of being got up to make out a case for what already exists. Such rights or privileges of property as will not stand this test will, sooner or later, have to be given up. An impartial hearing ought, moreover, to be given to all objections against property itself. All evils and inconveniences attaching to the institution in its best form ought to be frankly admitted, and the best remedies or palliatives applied which human intelligence is able to devise. And all plans proposed by social reformers, under whatever name designated, for the purpose of attaining the benefits aimed at by the institution of property without its inconveniences, should be examined with the same candour, not prejudged as absurd or impracticable.
The injustice of the present tax as it affects permanent and temporary incomes, and fixed and precarious incomes, seems to me to result from this: that incomes which are nominally equal, are not equal for the purpose of expenditure. Those whose income is either temporary or precarious are under obligations, or necessities, one may say, which others are not under, to save a portion of their income; and that I conceive to be the only claim in equity that there is to any remission of taxation in the case of temporary incomes. The plan of capitalising incomes and taxing them on their value as capital, I confess, seems to me to be not merely impracticable, but, even if it were practicable, thoroughly unjust and unequal, and to involve such arithmetical fallacies, that it is to me a matter of astonishment that good arithmeticians should have fallen into them. But what I should lay down as a perfectly unexceptionable and just principle of income tax, if it were capable of being practically realised, would be to exempt all savings; that the portion of an income which was saved, and converted into capital, should be untaxed. I would leave this untaxed, because otherwise, as it pays income tax again after being invested, as it pays income tax on its produce after having paid it on the capital, it really pays twice, whereas the portion of income, which is devoted to personal expenditure, pays only once. By the adoption (if it were practicable) of the principle of not taxing savings, all the claims of justice towards individuals would be included and covered. Inasmuch as the only claim which any income has to be taxed more lightly than others consists in the greater necessity for saving; if you could exempt from taxation what any person does save, you would have done him full justice in that respect, and if he does not actually save it, he has no claim to any exemption. I am laying this down merely as the theory of a perfectly just income tax. I am quite aware that it cannot be fully carried out; that you cannot consider individual cases, and you are therefore obliged to consider, not what people actually do save, but what are their necessities and obligations to save; with merely a general consideration whether, on the average, it is practically the fact that as a class they do it, or not.
Perhaps I had better begin with the one of the two cases which will take the shortest time to state, and that is the allowance due to small incomes. It seems to be admitted that a just income tax ought never to fall on necessaries; and accordingly all income taxes fix a certain minimum up to which no tax is paid. That I think perfectly right; but the present income tax taxes incomes which exceed that minimum on their full amount, and that seems to me not just. Justice, I conceive, requires that any income exceeding the minimum should be taxed only on the excess, and not on the whole amount; because otherwise those who are immediately above the minimum are placed in a worse position than if they were at the minimum. The rule of equality and of fair proportion seems to me to be that people should be taxed in an equal ratio on their superfluities; necessaries being untaxed, and surplus paying in all cases an equal percentage. This satisfies entirely the small amount of justice that there is in the theory of a graduated income tax, which appears to me to be otherwise an entirely unjust mode of taxation, and in fact, a graduated robbery. What gives it plausibility is the fact, that at present the lowest incomes which are taxed at all are overtaxed. If an income above 100 a year, supposing that to be the minimum, as at present, were only taxed upon the excess above 100 a year, I think everybody would see that the ratio was in that case fair, and that the lower incomes were exempted as much as they had any just right to be.
Yes. In principle, and as a general rule, I would exempt merely life incomes from a portion of the tax, by taxing them only on a part of their gross amount. But in some cases, I do not think that they possess this claim for exemption: particularly in cases of life incomes derived from settled property. There are a number of interests, which are life interests, one may say, only in name, and in a sense which is quite consistent with the tenant in possession being able to spend the whole of the income without imprudence. For instance, a tenant in possession of settled property, though he may be only a tenant for life, has, I should say, no claim to exemption, because the reason on which I would give an exemption in other cases does not apply to him. It may be fairly presumed that if he has any person whom he is bound to provide for, that is, if he has any children, for that is the only case that can be laid down as a case of obligation, they are probably provided for by the same settlement under which he is a tenant for life. The same reason applies to the next heir, the person who, under the settlement, will come in next. He may have an allowance by the settlement, which is of course liable to income tax, and I do not think that he has any claim to be taxed on less than its entire amount; because as he is to come into the whole property ultimately, he is not obliged to save out of his income, the amount of which, probably, has been adapted to his present needs and expenditure, and nothing else. I do not undertake to say positively how far the exceptions to the rule of partially exempting life incomes should extend. For instance, the case of a widow’s jointure is a case in which doubt might arise. But upon the whole, I should say that a widow’s jointure is not entitled to any exemption; because in almost every case in which a jointure is settled on a widow, either she has no children, or if she has, they are provided for by the same settlement; and therefore, generally speaking (of course you cannot allow for individual cases) she is under no extraordinary obligation to save anything for children from her jointure. Therefore, taking cases in classes, and without considering individual cases, these are life interests, and yet have no claim. I do not think that the same reasons apply to collaterals. I think that charges for younger children, for instance, though they have not quite so strong a claim as industrial incomes, still have a claim to exemption to a certain extent.
The only way which has occurred to me (but it is possible that better ways may occur to others) is, that all incomes which are for life, or for terms of years, shall be entitled to exemption, except an enumerated list. The list of exceptions would perhaps comprise three-fourths of all those which are nominally life tenures. For instance; if it were enacted that the case of a tenant in possession of settled property, the case of the future possessor, and the case of widows’ jointures, should be excepted cases, to which no exemption should be allowed, these alone would cover, I imagine, the great mass of the nominal life interests in property. Thus a very small list of exceptions would include such a mass of incomes as would make it comparatively unimportant, whether or not you specified all the exceptions that might be with justice made. If you except those great classes of cases in which there could be no claim to exemption, I think an exemption might be allowed in all unmentioned and unenumerated cases of temporary incomes.