The Society of To-morrow: A Forecast of Its Political and Economic Organisation
Part II, Chapter V
Free Constitution of Governments and Their Natural Functions (continued)
Governments, possessed, under the old system, of an unlimited power over the goods and persons of the subject, were naturally tempted to abuse this power for their own immediate advantage, or for that of the political and warlike society whose mandate they held. These motives might lead them to make large increases in the charges and obligations of the subject masses, but never to annex those industries which supported that body and consequently themselves. This was a natural consequence of the self-imposed limitation which confined the oligarchical owners of the State to the functions of government, military or civil. Their body had no motive for appropriating industrial occupations, at that period of human development both reputedly and actually inferior, but influenced government solely for the purpose of inducing armed acquisition of new territories and new subjects, consequently of increasing its peculiar spheres of activity. Hence governments of the old order seldom trespassed on the domain of private enterprise. If they did reserve a monopoly in certain classes of production—in the mintage of money, the manufacture of salt or tobacco—it was from purely fiscal considerations. Even these monopolies were not exercised directly, but farmed, with most other taxes, experience showing that a "farm" gave better returns than direct governmental monopolies.
The advance of production and trade consequent on extended security has changed this by erecting a numerous and powerful middle class, which claims a share in government, and has even obtained paramount influence in the more advanced States. The rivals for political office are chiefly recruited among the members of this class, and it has been observed that such of the old proprietary oligarchies as maintain a preponderance in their States, and continue to supply a majority in the personnel of the political, military, and administrative services, tend to a similar modification of interests, and to identify their cause with that of this middle class. The reason for this revolution is that progress which has reduced the emoluments of the proprietary class by enlarging the costs of war, reducing its frequency, and curtailing its profits. This loss compelled the class to seek compensation by increasing the returns derivable from landed property, and by undertaking functions hitherto despised. Political parties, containing members of both classes, could only obtain, and maintain, power by serving the actual or supposed interests of their constituents. The landed and industrial vote was purchased by protection and subvention—bounties—or by the provision of civil and military offices for such of its younger members as lacked the necessary character or energy to create a position for themselves. This is the explanation of those enormous and ever-increasing burdens with which militaryism, policy, and protection overwhelm the masses whose labour provides their cost.
If we now attempt to estimate the burden occasioned by the degree to which government has abused its unlimited power over individual life and property for the benefit of those classes on which it depends, an analysis of the budgets of most civilised States yields the startling fact that the two services of the army and the public debt absorb two-thirds of the entire revenue. A State of War does, doubtless, necessitate individual insurance against external aggressions, but the consequent premium seems altogether disproportionate to the risks assured. There can be small doubt that the enormous strength of European armies is due to the advantageous careers offered by the service to sons of influential aristocratic and middle-class families, or that the majority of the wars which have wasted the world for no good purpose during the past century were not undertaken at the mandate of the masses. Yet, willing or unwilling, it is they who furnish the necessary blood and treasure. Nor is this the only account. Society is heavily taxed in the increased costs which follow governmental appropriation of products and services naturally belonging to the sphere of private enterprise, such as posts, telephones, telegraphs, and railways. Add to this the price of a policy protecting the rents of the landed interest or the dividends of the investor and business element, and it is a fair calculation that the governmental bill of costs, direct and indirect, absorbs at least half the income of those masses who depend upon the wage of daily toil. The serf owed his lord three days' labour in seven; modern governments, and their privileged dependents, require an equivalent amount, but the value of the services rendered in return is barely equal to the labour of one half-day.
Each step in the eternal march of international rivalry increases pressure upon every part of the world's markets, and with it the urgent need of setting a term to the resultant rise in costs. Nations must either succumb and perish, or there must be a general agreement to replace the present system of expansion by one which will reduce the attributions of the State. Government must confine itself to the naturally collective functions of providing external and internal security. These services, the sphere of government proper, connect with those which attach to provincial and local systems. Like the central government, and impelled by identical considerations, local administration continually enlarges its attributes by trespass on the domain of private enterprise, and local budgets add their burdens to that of the State. These administrations do not possess unlimited rights over the goods and persons of the individual, but, with no precise definition of powers, their claims are solely, and never more than partially, restrained by the veto of the central system which maintains them in various degrees of dependence. This veto is not put in motion until a central government considers that its rights have been actually infringed, and what may be called "local autonomy" is the latitude enjoyed by local administrations in limiting the freedom, and taxing the property, of the individual. The actual duties thus appertaining to local systems are by no means numerous. They include little more than a small number of naturally collective services, building and maintaining sewers, paving, lighting, scavenging, &c. Police systems are, properly, a part of the central machine. Yet, minor as are these local services, it cannot be doubted that, in common with the great departmental undertakings of the central government, they could be better and more economically performed by the employment of a private, specialised agency.*12
Notes for this chapter
Compare "Les Lois Naturelles de l'Economie Politique," chap. xiv: La Constitution Naturelle des Gouvernements; la Commune, la Province, l'Etat.
End of Notes
Return to top