The Acquisitive Society


The Acquisitive Society was written by R. H. Tawney and published in 1920. Tawney herein criticizes the selfish individualism of modern industrial societies. He argues that capitalism corrupts via the promotion of economic self-interest, leading to aimless production in response to greed and insatiable acquisitiveness, and hence to perversions of industrialism. He attests further that, by extension, nationalism leads to the perversion of imperialism and to a necessarily failed balance of power strategy, resulting in unnecessary wars. The following quotes are taken from the 1920 edition, published by Harcourt, Brace and Company.

QuotesEdit

I IntroductoryEdit

  • Most generations, it might be said, walk in a path which they neither make, nor discover, but accept; the main thing is that they should march.
    • p.1
  • The blinkers worn by Englishmen enable them to trot all the more steadily along the beaten road, without being disturbed by curiosity as to their destination.
    • p.1-2
  • The practical thing for a traveller who is uncertain of his path is not to proceed with the utmost rapidity in the wrong direction: it is to consider how to find the right one.
    • p.2
  • The practical thing for a nation which has stumbled upon one of the turning-points of history is not to behave as though nothing very important were involved, as if it did not matter whether it turned to the right or to the left, went up hill or down dale, provided that it continued doing with a little more energy what it has done hitherto; but to consider whether what it has done hitherto is wise, and if it is not wise, to alter it.
    • p.2
  • If it [a nation] is to make a decision which will wear, it must travel beyond the philosophy momentarily in favour with the proprietors of its newspapers.
    • p.2
  • Unless it [a nation] is to move with the energetic futility of a squirrel in a revolving cage, it must have a clear apprehension both of the deficiency of what is, and of the character of what ought to be. ...It must, in short, have recourse to Principles.
    • p.2-3
  • Social institutions are the visible expression of the scale of moral values which rules the minds of individuals, and it is impossible to alter institutions without altering that moral valuation.
    • p.3
  • Parliament, industrial organizations, the whole complex machinery through which society expresses itself, is a mill which grinds only what is put into it, and when nothing is put into it, grinds air.
    • p.3
  • There are many, of course, who desire no alteration, and who, when it is attempted, will oppose it. They have found the existing economic order profitable in the past... They... ask, like the French farmer-general: "When everything goes so happily, why trouble to change it?" Such persons are to be pitied, for they lack the social quality which is proper to man. But they do not need argument; for Heaven has denied them one of the faculties required to apprehend it.
    • p.3-4
  • Increased productivity is the one characteristic achievement of the age before the war, as religion was of the Middle Ages or art of classical Athens, and that it is precisely in the century which has seen the greatest increase in productivity since the fall of the Roman Empire that economic discontent has been most acute.
    • p.4-5
  • Poverty, being the opposite of the riches which they value most, seems to them the most terrible of human afflictions. They do not understand that poverty is a symptom and a consequence of social disorder... and that the quality in their social life which causes it to demoralize a few by excessive riches, is also the quality which causes it to demoralize many by excessive poverty.
    • p.5
  • The world "continues in scarcity," because it is too grasping and too short-sighted to seek that "which maketh men to be of one mind in a house."
    • p.5
  • All the time the principles upon which industry should be based are simple, however difficult it may be to apply them; and if they are overlooked it is not because they are difficult, but because they are elementary. They are simple because industry is simple.
    • p.6
  • An industry, when all is said, is, in its essence, nothing more mysterious than a body of men associated, in various degrees of competition and co-operation, to win their living by providing the community with some service which it requires. ...its function is service, its method is association.
    • p.6
  • Because its function is service, an industry as a whole has rights and duties towards the community, the abrogation of which involves privilege. Because its method is association, the different parties within it have rights and duties towards each other; and the neglect or perversion of these involves oppression.
    • p.6
  • The conditions of a right organization of industry are... permanent, unchanging, and capable of being apprehended by the most elementary intelligence, provided it will read the nature of its countrymen in the large outlines of history, not in the bloodless abstractions of experts.
    • p.6-7
  • The first [condition of a right organization of industry is that it should be subordinated to the community in such a way as to render the best service technically possible, that those who render no service should not be paid at all, because it is of the essence of a function that it should find its meaning in the satisfaction, not of itself, but of the end which it serves.
    • p.7
  • The second [condition of a right organisation of industry] is that its direction and government should be in the hands of persons who are responsible to those who are directed and governed, because it is the condition of economic freedom that men should not be ruled by an authority which they cannot control.
    • p.7

II Rights and FunctionsEdit

  • The purpose of industry is obvious. It is to supply man with things which are necessary, useful or beautiful, and thus to bring life to body or spirit. In so far as it is governed by this end, it is among the most important of human activities. In so far as it is diverted from it, it may be harmless, amusing, or even exhilarating to those who carry it on, but it possesses no more social significance than the orderly business of ants and bees, the strutting of peacocks, or the struggles of carnivorous animals over carrion.
    • p.8
  • The rise of modern economic relations, which may be dated in England from the latter half of the seventeenth century, was coincident with the growth of a political theory which replaced the conception of purpose by that of mechanism.
    • p.10
  • In the eighteenth century both the State and the Church had abdicated that part of the sphere which had consisted in the maintenance of a common body of social ethics; what was left of it was repression of a class, not the discipline of a nation. ...government passed into the lethargic hand of classes who wielded the power of the State in the interests of an irresponsible aristocracy. ...what was Christian in Christianity had largely disappeared.
    • p.11
  • The conception of men as united to each other, and of all mankind as united to God, by mutual obligations arising from their relation to a common end, which vaguely conceived and imperfectly realized, had been the keystone holding together the social fabric, ceased to be impressed upon men's minds, when Church and State withdrew from the centre of social life to its circumference. What remained... was private rights and private interests, the materials of a society rather than a society itself.
    • p.12-13
  • The most obvious and fundamental of all rights was property—property absolute and unconditioned—and those who possessed it were regarded as the natural governors of those who did not.
    • p.13
  • Society assumed something of the appearance of a great joint-stock company, in which political power and the receipt of dividends were justly assigned to those who held the most numerous shares.
    • p.13
  • The eighteenth century found, in the beneficence of natural instincts, a substitute for the God whom it had expelled... and did not hesitate to identify them. "Thus God and nature planned the general frame And bade self-love and social be the same."
    • p.14
  • Society... was ruled by law, not by the caprice of Governments, but which recognized no moral limitation on the pursuit by individuals of their economic self-interest.
    • p.14
  • In the world of thought... a political philosophy... made rights the foundation of the social order... The first famous exponent of this philosophy was Locke, in whom the dominant conception is the indefeasibility of private rights, not the pre-ordained harmony between private rights and public welfare.
    • p.14
  • In the great French writers who prepared the way for the Revolution... there is an almost equal emphasis upon the sanctity of rights and upon the infallibility of the alchemy by which the pursuit of private ends is transmuted into the attainment of public good. ...The attempt to refound society upon rights... springing... from the very nature of man himself, was at once the triumph and the limitation of the Revolution.
    • p.14-15
  • English practical men... had scanty sympathy with the absolute affirmations of France. Adam Smith and his precursors... showed how the mechanism of economic life converted "as with an invisible hand," the exercise of individual rights into the instrument of public good. Bentham, who... thought the Declaration of the Rights of Man as absurd as any other dogmatic religion, completed the new orientation by supplying... the principle of Utility.
    • p.15-16
  • The change is significant. It is the difference between the universal and equal citizenship of France... and the organized inequality of England established solidly upon class... the descent from hope to resignation, from the fire and passion... to the monotonous beat of the factory engine, from Turgot and Condorcet to the melancholy mathematical creed of Bentham and Ricardo and James Mill.
  • Mankind has... this superiority over its philosophers... great movements spring from the heart and embody a faith; not the nice adjustments of the hedonistic calculus.
    • p.16
  • The magnificent formulæ in which a society of farmers and master craftsmen enshrined its philosophy of freedom are in danger of becoming fetters used by an Anglo-Saxon business aristocracy to bind insurgent movements on the part of an immigrant and semi-servile proletariat.
    • p.18-19

III The Acquisitive SocietyEdit

  • This doctrine... implies... that the individual enters the world equipped with rights to the free disposal of his property and the pursuit of his economic self-interest, and that these rights are anterior to, and independent of, any service which he may render. True, the service of society will, in fact, it is assumed, result from their exercise. But it is not the primary motive and criterion of industry, but a secondary consequence... It is not the end at which economic activity aims, or the standard by which it is judged, but a by-product, as coal-tar is.
    • p.20
  • That conception is written large over the history of the nineteenth century... The doctrine which it inherited was that property was held by an absolute right on an individual basis, and to this fundamental it added another... which grew to its full stature only after the rise of capitalist industry, that societies act both unfairly and unwisely when they limit opportunities of economic enterprise. ...private rights... are thought to be primary and absolute, and public interests secondary and contingent.
    • p.22
  • During the greater part of the nineteenth century the significance of the opposition between the two principles of individual rights and social functions was masked by the doctrine of the inevitable harmony between private interests and public good. Competition, it was argued, was an effective substitute for honesty. Today... few now would profess adherence to the compound of economic optimism and moral bankruptcy which led a nineteenth century economist to say: "Greed is held in check by greed, and the desire for gain sets limits to itself."
    • p.27
  • Economic egotism is still worshipped. ...economic rights remain, whether economic functions are performed or not.
    • p.27-28
  • Revolutions, as a long and bitter experience reveals, are apt to take their colour from the régime which they overthrow. Is it any wonder that the creed which affirms the absolute rights of property should sometimes be met with a counter-affirmation of the absolute rights of labour, less anti-social, indeed, and inhuman, but almost as dogmatic, almost as intolerant and thoughtless as itself?
    • p.28
  • A society which aimed at making the acquisition of wealth contingent upon the discharge of social obligations, which sought to proportion remuneration to service and denied it to those by whom no service was performed, which inquired first not what men possess but what they can make or create or achieve, might be called a Functional Society, because in such a society the main subject of social emphasis would be the performance of functions. But such a society does not exist, even as a remote ideal, in the modern world.
    • p.29
  • Modern societies aim at protecting economic rights, while leaving economic functions, except in moments of abnormal emergency, to fulfil themselves.
    • p.29
  • The motive... is not the attempt to secure the fulfilment of tasks undertaken for the public service, but to increase the opportunities open to individuals of attaining the objects which they conceive to be advantageous to themselves.
    • p.29
  • Such societies may be called Acquisitive Societies, because their whole tendency and interest and preoccupation is to promote the acquisition of wealth. The appeal of this conception... has laid the whole modern world under its spell. ...It is an invitation to men to use the powers... without inquiring whether there is any principle by which their exercise should be limited.
    • p.30
  • By fixing men's minds, not upon the discharge of social obligations, which restricts their energy, because it defines the goal to which it should be directed, but upon the exercise of the right to pursue their own self-interest, it offers unlimited scope for the acquisition of riches... To the strong it promises unfettered freedom... to the weak the hope that they too one day may be strong. Before the eyes of both it suspends a golden prize... the enchanting vision of infinite expansion. It assures men that there are no ends other than their ends, no law other than their desires, no limit... Thus it makes the individual the centre of his own universe, and dissolves moral principles into a choice of expediences. And it... relieves... the necessity of discriminating between... enterprise and avarice, energy and unscrupulous greed, property which is legitimate and property which is theft, the just enjoyment of the fruits of labour and the idle parasitism of birth or fortune... and suggests that excess or defect, waste or superfluity, require no conscious effort of the social will to avert them, but are corrected almost automatically by the mechanical play of economic forces.
    • p.30-31
  • Under the impulse of such ideas [upon which an Acquisitive Society is based] men do not become religious or wise or artistic; for religion and wisdom and art imply the acceptance of limitations. But they become powerful and rich. They inherit the earth and change the face of nature, if they do not possess their own souls; and they have that appearance of freedom which consists in the absence of obstacles between opportunities for self-advancement and those whom birth or wealth or talent or good fortune has placed in a position to seize them.
    • p.31
  • It is not difficult either for individuals or for societies to achieve their object, if that object be sufficiently limited and immediate, and if they are not distracted from its pursuit by other considerations. The temper... dedicates itself to the cultivation of opportunities, and leaves obligations to take care of themselves... The eighteenth century defined it. The twentieth century has very largely attained it.
    • p.31-32

IV The Nemesis of IndustrialismEdit

  • What gives meaning to economic activity... is... the purpose to which it is directed. But the faith... that riches are not a means but an end, implies that all economic activity is equally estimable, whether it is subordinated to a social purpose or not.
    • p.33
  • Wealth in modern societies is distributed according to opportunity; and while opportunity depends partly upon talent and energy, it depends still more upon birth, social position, access to education and inherited wealth; in a word, upon property. For... property... is the sleeping partner who draws the dividends which the firm produces, the residuary legatee who always claims his share in the estate.
    • p.33-34
  • In all societies which have accepted industrialism there is an upper layer which claims the enjoyment of social life, while it repudiates its responsibilities. ...and a whole world of rising bourgeoisie eager to imitate them... The second consequence is the degradation of those who labour, but who do not... command large rewards; that is, of the great majority of mankind.
    • p.34-35
  • When.. the meaning of industry is the service of man, all who labour appear... honourable, because all who labour serve, and the distinction which separates those who serve from those who merely spend is so crucial and fundamental as to obliterate all minor distinctions based on differences of income.
    • p.35
  • An Acquisitive Society reverences the possession of wealth, as a Functional Society would honour, even in the person of the humblest and most laborious craftsman, the arts of creation.
    • p.35
  • To escape such inequality it is necessary to recognize that there is some principle which ought to limit the gains of particular classes and particular individuals, because gains drawn from certain sources or exceeding certain amounts are illegitimate. But such a limitation implies a standard of discrimination, which is inconsistent with the assumption that each man has a right to what he can get, irrespective of any service rendered for it.
    • p.37
  • Property and inherited wealth and the apparatus of class institutions have made opportunities unequal. Inequality... leads to the mis-direction of production.
    • p.37
  • Part of the goods which are annually produced, and which are called wealth, is, strictly speaking, waste, because it consists of articles which... either should not have been produced until other articles had already been produced in sufficient abundance, or should not have been produced at all. And some part of the population is employed in making goods which no man can make with happiness, or indeed without loss of self-respect, because he knows that they had much better not be made; and that his life is wasted in making them.
    • p.37-38
  • As long as a minority has so large an income that part of it, if spent at all, must be spent on trivialities, so long will part of the human energy and mechanical equipment of the nation be diverted from serious work, which enriches it, to making trivialities, which impoverishes it.
    • p.38
  • So to those who clamor, as many now do, "Produce! Produce!" one simple question may be addressed:—"Produce what?" ...What can be more childish than to urge the necessity that productive power should be increased, if part of the productive power which exists already is misapplied? Is not less production of futilities as important as, indeed a condition of, more production of things of moment?... Yet this result of inequality... cannot be prevented, or checked, or even recognized by a society which excludes the idea of purpose from its social arrangements and industrial activity.
    • p.39
  • The true cause of industrial warfare is as simple as the true cause of international warfare. It is that if men recognize no law superior to their desires, then they must fight when their desires collide. For though groups or nations which are at issue with each other may be willing to submit to a principle which is superior to them both, there is no reason why they should submit to each other.
    • p.42
  • It is true... of all classes in a society which conducts its affairs on the principle that wealth, instead of being proportioned to function, belongs to those who can get it: They are never satisfied... for as they make that principle the guide of their individual lives and of their social order, nothing short of infinity could bring them satisfaction.
    • p.43
  • The prevalent insistence upon rights, and prevalent neglect of functions, brings men into a vicious circle which they cannot escape, without escaping from the false philosophy which dominates them. But it does something more. It makes that philosophy itself seem plausible and exhilarating... not only for industry... but for politics and culture and religion and the whole compass of social life.
    • p.43
  • The possibility that one aspect of human life may be so exaggerated as to overshadow and... atrophy every other, has been made familiar... by... "Prussian militarism." ...political institutions and social arrangements and intellect and morality and religion are crushed into a mould made to fit one activity, which in a sane society is a subordinate activity... but which in a militarist state is a kind of mystical epitome of society itself.
    • p.43-44
  • Militarism... is fetish worship. It is the prostration of men's souls before, and the laceration of their bodies to appease, an idol. ...Reverence for economic activity and industry and what is called business is also fetish worship, and in their devotion to that idol they torture themselves as needlessly, and indulge in the same meaningless antics.
    • p.44
  • Industrialism is no more a necessary characteristic of an economically developed society than militarism is a necessary characteristic of a nation which maintains military forces. ...the idea that it is something inevitable... is itself a product of the perversion of mind which industrialism produces.
    • p.45
  • Men may use what mechanical instruments they please and be none the worse for their use. What kills their souls is when they allow their instruments to use them.
    • p.45
  • The essence of industrialism, in short, is not any particular method of industry, but a particular estimate of the importance of industry, which results in it being thought the only thing that is important at all, so that it is elevated from the subordinate place which it should occupy among human interests and activities into being the standard by which all other interests and activities are judged.
    • p.45
  • When a Cabinet Minister declares that the greatness of this country depends upon the volume of its exports, so that France, with exports comparatively little, and Elizabethan England, which exported next to nothing, are presumably to be pitied as altogether inferior civilizations, that is Industrialism. ...When the Press clamours that the one thing needed to make this island an Arcadia is productivity, and more productivity, and yet more productivity, that is Industrialism. It is the confusion of means with ends.
    • p.45-46
  • It is the social purpose of industry which gives it meaning and makes it worth while to carry it on at all.
    • p.46
  • They destroy religion and art and morality... and having destroyed these, which are the end, for the sake of industry, which is a means, they make their industry itself what they make their cities, a desert of unnatural dreariness, which only forgetfulness can make endurable, and which only excitement can enable them to forget.
    • p.47
  • To what can one compare such a society but to the international world, which also has been called a society and which also is social in nothing but name?
    • p.47
  • It is not a chance that the last two centuries, which saw the new growth of a new system of industry, saw also the growth of the system of international politics... Both... are the expression of the same spirit and move in obedience to similar laws. The... former was the repudiation of any authority superior to the individual reason. It left men free to follow their own interests or ambitions or appetites.... The... latter was the repudiation of any authority superior to the sovereign state.
    • p.47-48
  • Nationalism is... the counterpart among nations of what individualism is within them. ...emphasis on the rights of separate units, not on their subordination to common obligations. ...it appeals to the self-assertive instincts, to which it promises opportunities of unlimited expansion. And.... pushed to its logical conclusion, it is self-destructive. ...condoning the subjection of the majority of men to the few.
    • p.48-49
  • They [nationalism and individualism] rose together. It is probable that, if ever they decline, they will decline together.
    • p.49
  • The world reaps in war what it sows in peace.
    • p.49
  • To expect that international rivalry can be exorcised as long as the industrial order within each nation is such as to give success to those whose existence is a struggle for self-aggrandizement, is a dream which has not even the merit of being beautiful.
    • p.49
  • The perversion of nationalism is imperialism, as the perversion of individualism is industrialism. ...because the principle is defective and reveals its defects as it reveals its power. For it asserts that the rights of nations and individuals are absolute, which is false. ...their sphere itself is contingent upon the part which they play in the community of nations and individuals... It constrains them to a career of indefinite expansion, in which they devour continents and oceans, law, morality and religion, and last of all their own souls, in an attempt to attain infinity by the addition to themselves of all that is finite.
    • p.49
  • A balance of power... whether in international politics or in industry, is unstable, because it reposes not on the common recognition of a principle by which... nations and individuals are limited, but on an attempt to find an equipoise... without adjuring the assertion of unlimited claims. Thus... on this plane, there is no solution.
    • p.50
  • We have been witnessing... both in international affairs and in industry... the breakdown of the organization of society on the basis of rights divorced from obligations.
    • p.50
  • A right should not be absolute for the same reason that a power should not be absolute.
    • p.50
  • It was the reaction against the abuses of absolute power by the State which led in the eighteenth century to the declaration of the absolute rights of individuals. ... Because Governments and the relics of feudalism had encroached upon the property of individuals it was affirmed that the right of property was absolute; because they had strangled enterprise, it was affirmed that every man had a natural right to conduct his business as he pleased.
    • p.50
  • All rights... are conditional and derivative, because all power should be conditional and derivative. They are derived from the end or purpose of the society in which they exist.
    • p.51
  • If society is to be healthy, men must regard themselves not as the owners of rights, but as trustees for the discharge of functions and the instruments of a social purpose.
    • p.51

V Property and Creative WorkEdit

  • The general note of what may conveniently be called the Socialist criticism of property is what the word Socialism itself implies. ...that the economic evils of society are primarily due to the unregulated operation, under modern conditions of industrial organization, of the institution of private property.
    • p.53
  • In most discussions of property the opposing theorists have usually been discussing different things.
    • p.53
  • Property... covers a multitude of rights which have nothing in common except that they are exercised by persons and enforced by the State.
    • p.53
  • It is idle... to present a case for or against private property without specifying the particular forms of property to which reference is made, and the journalist who says that "private property is the foundation of civilization" agrees with Proudhon, who said it was theft, in this respect at least that, without further definition, the words of both are meaningless.
    • p.54
  • The course of wisdom is neither to attack private property in general nor to defend it in general; for things are not similar in quality, merely because they are identical in name. It is to discriminate between the various concrete embodiments of what, in itself, is, after all, little more than an abstraction.
    • p.54
  • Property, it is argued, is a moral right, and not merely a legal right, because it insures that the producer will not be deprived by violence of the result of his efforts. The period from which that doctrine was inherited differed from our own in three obvious, but significant, respects.
    • p.55
  • Before the rise of capitalist agriculture and capitalist industry, the ownership, or at any rate the secure and effective occupation, of land and tools by those who used them, was a condition precedent to effective work in the field or in the workshop. ...The interference... involved the sacrifice of those who carried on useful labour to those who did not. To resist... was to protect not only property but industry, which was indissolubly connected with it.
    • p.55
  • The English Parliamentarians and the French philosophers who made the inviolability of property rights the centre of their political theory, when they defended those who owned, were incidentally, if sometimes unintentionally, defending those who laboured.
    • p.56
  • The doctrine which found the justification of private property in the fact that it enabled the industrious man to reap where he had sown, was not a paradox, but, as far as the mass of the population was concerned, almost a truism.
    • p.56
  • Property was defended as the most sacred of rights. ...a right which was not only widely exercised, but... indispensable to... providing food and clothing. For it consisted predominantly of... land or tools which were used by the owner for the purpose of production, and personal possessions which were the necessities or amenities of civilized existence.
    • p.56
  • The typical workman was not a labourer but a peasant or small master... the moral justification of the title to property was self-evident. It was obviously, what theorists said that it was, and plain men knew it to be, the labour spent in producing, acquiring and administering it. Such property was not a burden upon society, but a condition of its health and efficiency, and indeed, of its continued existence. To protect it was to maintain the organization through which public necessities were supplied.
    • p.57
  • Before the rise of a commercial civilization, it was the mark of statesmanship... to cherish the small property-owner even to the point of offending the great.... Popular sentiment idealized the yeoman—"the Joseph of the country who keeps the poor from starving"... [and] cursed the usurer who took advantage of his neighbour's necessities to live without labour.
    • p.57-58
  • When Bacon, who commended Henry VII for protecting the tenant right of the small farmer, and pleaded in the House of Commons for more drastic land legislation, wrote "Wealth is like muck. It is not good but if it be spread," he was expressing in an epigram that was the commonplace of every writer on politics from Fortescue at the end of the fifteenth century to Harrington in the middle of the seventeenth.
  • It is not merely that the ownership of any substantial share in the national wealth is concentrated today in the hands of a few... and that at the end of an age which began with an affirmation of the rights of property, proprietary rights are, in fact, far from being widely distributed. Nor is it merely that what makes property insecure today is not the arbitrary taxation... or the privileges of an idle noblesse, but the insatiable expansion and aggregation of property itself, which menaces with absorption all property less than the greatest, the small master, the little shopkeeper, the country bank, and has turned the mass of mankind into a proletariat working under the agents and for the profit of those who own.
    • p.61
  • The characteristic fact, which differentiates most modern property from that of the pre-industrial age, and which turns against it the very reasoning by which formerly it was supported, is that in modern economic conditions ownership is not active, but passive, that to most of those who own property today it is not a means of work but an instrument for the acquisition of gain or the exercise of power, and that there is no guarantee that gain bears any relation to service, or power to responsibility.
    • p.61-62
  • In modern industrial societies the great mass of property consists, as the annual review of wealth passing at death reveals, neither of personal acquisitions such as household furniture, nor of the owner's stock-in-trade, but of rights of various kinds, such as royalties, ground-rents, and, above all, of course shares in industrial undertakings which yield an income irrespective of any personal service rendered by their owners.
    • p.62
  • Ownership and use are normally divorced. The greater part of modern property... is normally valued precisely because it relieves the owner from any obligation to perform a positive or constructive function. Such property may be called passive property, or property for acquisition, for exploitation, or for power.
    • p.62
  • It is questionable... whether economists shall call it "Property" at all, and not rather, as Mr. Hobson has suggested, "Improperty."
    • p.63; refer to John A. Hobson, Property and Improperty (1937)
  • In [parts of] the United States... the population of peasant proprietors and small masters of the early nineteenth century were replaced in three generations by a propertyless proletariat and a capitalist plutocracy.
    • p.65
  • The abolition of the economic privileges of agrarian feudalism, which, under the name of equality, was the driving force of the French Revolution, and which has taken place... in all countries touched by its influence, has been largely counter-balanced since 1800 by the growth of the inequalities springing from Industrialism.
    • p.65
  • The general tendency for the ownership and administration of property to be separated, the general refinement of property into a claim on goods produced by an unknown worker, is as unmistakable as the growth of capitalist industry and urban civilization themselves.
    • p.65-66
  • It is probable that war, which in barbarous ages used to be blamed as destructive of property, has recently created more titles to property than almost all other causes put together.
    • p.66
  • What nature demands is work: few working aristocracies, however tyrannical, have fallen; few functionless aristocracies have survived. In society, as in the world of organic life, atrophy is but one stage removed from death.
    • p.67
  • In reality... the greater part of modern property, whether, like mineral rights and urban ground-rents, it is merely a form of private taxation which the law allows certain persons to levy on the industry of others, or whether, like property in capital, it consists of rights to payment for instruments which the capitalist cannot himself use but puts at the disposal of those who can, has as its essential feature that it confers upon its owners income unaccompanied by personal service.
    • p.68
  • Land and capital are equally investments... possess the common characteristic of yielding income without labour... and though their significance as economic categories may be different, their effect as social institutions is the same. It is to separate property from creative ability, and to divide society into two classes, of which one has its primary interest in passive ownership, while the other is mainly dependent upon active work.
    • p.68-69
  • Precisely in proportion as it is important to preserve the property which a man has in the results of his own efforts, is it important to abolish that which he has in the results of the efforts of some one else.
    • p.70
  • The considerations which justify ownership as a function are those which condemn it as a tax.
    • p.70
  • Property is not theft, but a good deal of theft becomes property.
    • p.70
  • The owner of royalties who, when asked why he should be paid... from minerals which he has neither discovered nor developed nor worked but only owned, replies "But it's Property!"... His claim is to be allowed to continue to reap what another has sown.
    • p.70
  • To build on a foundation of rights and of rights alone is to build on a quicksand.
    • p.77
  • From the point of view of social health and economic efficiency, society should obtain its material equipment at the cheapest price possible, and after providing for depreciation and expansion should distribute the whole product to its working members and their dependants. What happens at present, however, is that its workers are hired at the cheapest price which the market (as modified by organization) allows, and that the surplus, somewhat diminished by taxation, is distributed to the owners of property.
    • p.78
  • The real economic cleavage is not... between employers and employed, but between all who do constructive work, from scientist to labourer, on the one hand, and all whose main interest is the preservation of existing proprietary rights upon the other, irrespective of whether they contribute to constructive work or not.
    • p.79
  • There is no more fatal obstacle to efficiency than the revelation that idleness has the same privileges as industry, and that for every additional blow with the pick or hammer an additional profit will be distributed among shareholders who wield neither.
    • p.81
  • Functionless property is the greatest enemy of legitimate property itself. It is the parasite which kills the organism that produced it. ... It values neither culture nor beauty, but only the power which belongs to wealth and the ostentation which is the symbol of it.
    • p.82
  • Those who dread these qualities, energy and thought and the creative spirit... will not discriminate... between different types and kinds of property... They will endeavour to preserve all private property, even in its most degenerate forms. And those who value those [qualities]... will not desire to establish any visionary communism, for... the free disposal of a sufficiency of personal possessions is the condition of a healthy and self-respecting life, and will seek to distribute more widely the property rights which make them today the privilege of a minority. ...They will insist that property is moral and healthy only when it is used as a condition not of idleness but of activity, and when it involves the discharge of definite personal obligations. They will endeavour, in short, to base it upon the principle of function.
    • p.82

VI The Functional SocietyEdit

  • One of the uses of industry is to provide the wealth which may make possible better education.
    • p.85
  • The course of wisdom in the affairs of industry... above all it is to insist that all industries shall be conducted in complete publicity as to costs and profits, because publicity ought to be the antiseptic both of economic and political abuses, and no man can have confidence in his neighbour unless both work in the light.
    • p.85
  • It is not private ownership, but private ownership divorced from work, which is corrupting to the principle of industry; and the idea of some socialists that private property in land or capital is necessarily mischievous is a piece of scholastic pedantry as absurd as that of those conservatives who would invest all property with some kind of mysterious sanctity.
    • p.86
  • There is no inconsistency between encouraging simultaneously a multiplication of peasant farmers and small masters who own their own farms or shops, and the abolition of private ownership in those industries... in which the private owner is an absentee shareholder.
    • p.86
  • If by "Property" is meant the personal possessions which the word suggests to nine-tenths of the population, the object of socialists is not to undermine property but to protect and increase it.
    • p.87
  • The fundamental issue... is not between different scales of ownership, but between ownership of different kinds, not between the large farmer or master and the small, but between property which is used for work and property which yields income without it.
    • p.87
  • The first step... is to abolish those types of private property in return for which no function is performed.
    • p.87
  • "The reasons which form the justification... of property in land," wrote Mill in 1848, "are valid only in so far as the proprietor of land is its improver.... In no sound theory of private property was it ever contemplated that the proprietor of land should be merely a sinecurist quartered on it."
  • We shall close these channels through which wealth leaks away by resuming the ownership of minerals and of urban land... We shall secure that such large accumulations as remain, change hands at least once in every generation, by increasing our taxes on inheritance till what passes to the heir is little more than personal possessions, not the right to a tribute from industry which, though qualified by death-duties, is what the son of a rich man inherits today.
    • p.90
  • We shall treat mineral owners and land-owners... as Plato would have treated the poets, whom in their ability to make something out of nothing and to bewitch mankind with words they a little resemble, and crown them with flowers and usher them politely out of the State.
    • p.90

VII Industry as a ProfessionEdit

  • The application to industry of the principle of purpose is simple... is to turn it into a Profession... defined most simply as a trade which is organized... for the performance of function. ...It is a body of men who carry on their work in accordance with rules designed to enforce certain standards both for the better protection of its members and for the better service of the public. ...it deliberately prohibits certain kinds of conduct on the ground that, though they may be profitable to the individual, they are calculated to bring into disrepute the organization to which he belongs. While some of its rules are trade union regulations... to prevent the economic standards... being lowered by unscrupulous competition, others... secure that no member... shall have any but a purely professional interest in his work, by excluding the incentive of speculative profit.
    • p.93
  • The conception implied in the words "unprofessional conduct" is... the exact opposite of the theory and practice which assume that the service of the public is best secured by the unrestricted pursuit, on the part of rival traders, of their pecuniary self-interest.
    • p.93
  • The difference between industry... and a profession is... simple and unmistakable. The essence of the former is... the financial return which it offers to its shareholders. The essence of the latter, is... the service which they perform, not the gains which they amass. ...they do not consider that any conduct which increases their income is on that account good.
    • p.94
  • If they are doctors... there are certain kinds of conduct which cannot be practised, however large the fee... because they are unprofessional; if scholars and teachers, that it is wrong to make money by deliberately deceiving the public, as is done by makers of patent medicines, however much the public may clamour to be deceived; if judges or public servants, that they must not increase their incomes by selling justice for money; if soldiers, that the service comes first, and their private inclinations, even the reasonable preference of life to death, second.
    • p.94-95
  • There is all the difference between maintaining a standard which is occasionally abandoned, and affirming as the central truth of existence that there is no standard to maintain.
    • p.95
  • The meaning of a profession is that it makes the traitors the exception, not as they are in industry, the rule. ...subordinating the inclination, appetites and ambitions of individuals to the rules of an organization which has as its object to promote the performance of function.
    • p.95
  • A hundred years ago the trade of teaching, which to-day is on the whole an honourable public service, was rather a vulgar speculation upon public credulity. ...It is conceivable... that some branches of medicine might have developed on the lines of industrial capitalism, with hospitals as factories, doctors hired at competitive wages as their "hands," large dividends paid to shareholders by catering for the rich, and the poor, who do not offer a profitable market, supplied with an inferior service or with no service at all.
    • p.95-96
  • The work of making boots or building a house is in itself no more degrading than that of curing the sick or teaching the ignorant. It is as necessary and therefore as honourable. It should be at least equally bound by rules which have as their object to maintain the standards of professional service. It should be at least equally free from the vulgar subordination of moral standards to financial interests.
    • p.96
  • If industry is to be organized as a profession, two changes are requisite, one negative and one positive. The first, is that it should cease to be conducted by the agents of property-owners for the advantage of property-owners, and should be carried on, instead, for the service of the public. The second, is that, subject to rigorous public supervision, the responsibility for the maintenance of the service should rest upon the shoulders of those, from organizer and scientist to labourer, by whom, in effect, the work is conducted.
    • p.96-97
  • The conduct of industry for the public advantage is impossible as long as the ultimate authority over its management is vested in those whose only connection with it, and interest in it, is the pursuit of gain. ...to that element in it which has least to do with its success. ...their obligation to their employers is to provide dividends not to provide service.
    • p.97
  • Since work and ownership are increasingly separated, the efficient use of the tools is not dependent on the maintenance of the proprietary rights exercised over them.
    • p.97
  • A society is rich when material goods, including capital, are cheap, and human beings dear: indeed the word "riches" has no other meaning.
    • p.98
  • The interest of those who own the property used in industry... is that their capital should be dear and human beings cheap.
    • p.98
  • The... surplus normally passes neither to the managers, nor to the other employees, nor to the public, but to the shareholders. Such an arrangement is preposterous in the literal sense of being the reverse of that which would be established by considerations of equity and common sense, and gives rise (among other things) to what is called "the struggle between labour and capital."
    • p.98
  • To deplore "ill-feeling" or to advocate "harmony" between "labour and capital" is as rational as to lament the bitterness between carpenters and hammers or to promote a mission for restoring amity between mankind and its boots.
    • p.99
  • The only significance of these clichés is that their repetition tends to muffle their inanity, even to the point of persuading sensible men that capital "employs" labour, much as our pagan ancestors imagined that the other pieces of wood and iron, which they deified in their day, sent their crops and won their battles.
    • p.99
  • When men have gone so far as to talk as though their idols have come to life, it is time that some one broke them. Labour consists of persons, capital of things. The only use of things is to be applied to the service of persons. The business of persons is to see that they are there to use, and that no more than need be is paid for using them.
    • p.99
  • What gives unity to any activity, what alone can reconcile the conflicting claims of the different groups engaged in it, is the purpose for which it is carried on.
    • p.99
  • If men have no common goal it is no wonder that they should fall out by the way, nor are they likely to be reconciled by a redistribution of their provisions.
    • p.99
  • While an equilibrium between worker and manager is possible, because both are workers, that which it is sought to establish between worker and owner is not. Their proposals may be excellent: but it is not evident why they are where they are, or how, since they do not contribute to production, they come to be putting forward proposals at all. As long as they are in territory where they have no business to be, their excellence as individuals will be overlooked.
    • p.100
  • One way of solving the problem of the conflict of rights in industry is not to base rights on functions, as we propose, but to base them on force. It is to re-establish in some veiled and decorous form the institution of slavery, by making labour compulsory. In nearly all countries, a concerted refusal to work has been made, at one time or another, a criminal offence.
    • p.100
  • A State which, in the name of peace, should make the concerted cessation of work a legal offence would be guilty of a... betrayal of freedom. It would be solving the conflict of rights between those who own and those who work by abolishing the rights of those who work.
    • p.101-102
  • What is the purpose for which capital is used, what is its function... it is not an end but a means to an end, and... its function is to serve and assist the labour of human beings, [it is] not the function of human beings to serve those who happen to own it.
    • p.102
  • Since capital is a thing, which ought to be used to help industry... it ought... to be employed on the cheapest terms possible. ...those who own it should no more control production than a man who lets a house controls the meals which shall be cooked in the kitchen
    • p.102
  • There are, in theory, five ways by which the control of industry by the agents of private property-owners can be terminated. They may be expropriated without compensation. They may voluntarily surrender it. They may be frozen out by action on the part of the working personnel, which itself undertakes such functions... Their proprietary interest may be limited or attenuated to such a degree that they become mere rentiers... but who receive no profits and bear no responsibility for the organization of industry. They may be bought out.
    • p.103
  • "Nationalization"... which is sometimes advanced as the only method of extinguishing proprietary rights, is merely one species of a considerable genus. ...there are some industries... in which nationalization is not necessary... and... when other methods are possible, other methods should be used.
    • p.104
  • Nationalization is a means to an end, not an end in itself. Properly conceived its object is... to remove the dead hand of private ownership, when the private owner has ceased to perform any positive function.
    • p.104
  • Ownership is not a right, but a bundle of rights, and it is possible to strip them off piecemeal as well as to strike them off simultaneously. The ownership of capital involves..., three main claims; the right to interest as the price of capital, the right to profits, and the right to control, in virtue of which managers and workmen are the servants of shareholders.
    • p.104-105
  • The ingenuity of financiers long ago devised methods of grading stock... All are property, but not all carry proprietary rights of the same degree.
    • p.105
  • As long as the private ownership of industrial capital remains, the object of reformers should be to attenuate its influence by insisting that it shall be paid not more than a rate of interest fixed in advance, and that it should carry with it no right of control.
    • p.105
  • "Capital" is not to "employ labour." Labour, which includes managerial labour, is to employ capital; and to employ it at the cheapest rate at which, in the circumstances of the trade, it can be got.
    • p.108
  • Had the movement against the control of production by property taken place before the rise of limited companies, in which ownership is separated from management, the transition to the organization of industry as a profession might also have taken place, as the employers and workmen in the building trade propose that it should, by limiting the rights of private ownership without abolishing it.
    • p.109
  • The master builder, who owns the capital used, can be included, not qua capitalist, but qua builder, if he surrenders some of the rights of ownership.
    • p.110
  • Joint administration of the shareholders' property by a body representing shareholders and workmen is impossible, because there is no purpose in common between them. For the only purpose which could unite all persons engaged in industry, and overrule their particular and divergent interests, is the provision of service. And the object of shareholders, the whole significance and métier of industry to them, is not the provision of service but the provision of dividends.
    • p.112
  • The merits of nationalization do not stand or fall with the efficiency or inefficiency of existing state departments as administrators of industry.
    • p.115
  • Nationalization, which means public ownership, is compatible with several different types of management... The problem is... of a familiar, though difficult, order. It is one of constitution-making.
    • p.115-116
  • The administrative systems obtaining in a society which has nationalized its foundation industries will... be as various as in one that resigns them to private ownership. ...when the question of ownership has been settled the question of administration remains for solution.
    • p.116
  • The object in purchasing land is to establish small holders, not to set up farms administered by state officials; and the object of nationalizing mining or railways or the manufacture of steel should not be to establish any particular form of state management, but to release those who do constructive work from the control of those whose sole interest is pecuniary gain, in order that they may be free to apply their energies to the true purpose of industry, which is the provision of service, not the provision of dividends.
    • p.117-118
  • The first [stage] is to free it [industry] from subordination to the pecuniary interests of the owners of property, because they are the magnetic pole which sets all the compasses wrong, and which causes industry, however swiftly it may progress, to progress in the wrong direction.
    • p.118
  • The phraseology of political controversy continues to reproduce the conventional antitheses of the early nineteenth century; "private enterprise" and "public ownership" are still contrasted with each other as light with darkness or darkness with light. But, in reality, behind the formal shell of the traditional legal system the elements of a new body of relationship have already been prepared, and find piece-meal application through policies devised, not by socialists, but by men who repeat the formulæ of individualism, at the very moment when they are undermining it.
    • p.118
  • The objection to public ownership, in so far as it is intelligent, is in reality largely an objection to over-centralization. But the remedy for over-centralization, is not the maintenance of functionless property in private hands, but the decentralized ownership of public property.
    • p.121
  • These things should be done steadily and continuously... not in order to establish a single form of bureaucratic management, but in order to release the industry from the domination of proprietary interests... vicious in principle, because they divert it from the performance of function to the acquisition of gain. If at the same time private ownership is shaken... by action on the part of particular groups of workers, so much the better. There are more ways of killing a cat than drowning it in cream... But the two methods are complementary, not alternative, and the attempt to found rival schools on an imaginary incompatibility between them is a bad case of the odium sociologicum [sociology of hatred] which afflicts reformers.
    • p.121-122

VIII The "Vicious Circle"Edit

  • The organization of industry as a profession does not involve only the abolition of functionless property, and the maintenance of publicity as the indispensable condition of a standard of professional honor. It implies also that that those who perform its work should undertake that its work is performed effectively. ...that they should treat the discharge of professional responsibilities as an obligation attaching not only to a small élite of intellectuals, managers or "bosses,"... but as implied by the... corporate consent and initiative of the rank and file of workers.
    • p.126-127
  • It is precisely, indeed, in the degree to which that obligation [of professional responsibilities] is interpreted as attaching to all workers, and not merely to a select class, that the difference between the existing industrial order, collectivism and the organization of industry as a profession resides. The first involves the utilization of human beings for the purpose of private gain; the second their utilization for the purpose of public service; the third the association in the service of the public of their professional pride, solidarity and organization.
    • p.127
  • It is this collective liability for the maintenance of a certain quality of service which is... the distinguishing feature of a profession. It is compatible with several different kinds of government, or indeed, when the unit of production is not a group, but an individual, with hardly any government at all. What it does involve is that the individual, merely by entering the profession should have committed himself to certain obligations in respect of its conduct, and that the professional organization, whatever it may be, should have sufficient power to enable it to maintain them.
    • p.128
  • The control of a large works does... confer a kind of private jurisdiction in matters concerning the life and livelihood of the workers... described as "industrial feudalism." It is not easy to understand how the traditional liberties... are compatible with an organization of industry which... permits populations almost as large as those of some famous cities... to be controlled... in their work, economic opportunities, and social life by... half-a-dozen Directors.
    • p.129
  • The most conservative thinkers recognize that the present organization of industry is intolerable in the sacrifice of liberty which it entails upon the producer. But each effort which he makes to emancipate himself is met by a protest that... .efficient service is threatened by movements which aim at placing a greater measure of industrial control in the hands of the workers.
    • p.129
  • The owners of mines and minerals, in their new role as protectors of the poor, lament the "selfishness" of the miners, as though nothing but pure philanthropy had hitherto caused profits and royalties to be reluctantly accepted by themselves.
    • p.130
  • Industry, it is thought, moves in a vicious circle of shorter hours and higher wages and less production, which in time must mean longer hours and lower wages; and every one receives less, because every one demands more. The picture is plausible, but it is fallacious. It is fallacious not merely in its crude assumption that a rise in wages necessarily involves an increase in costs, but for another and more fundamental reason. ...what the worker foregoes the general body of consumers does not necessarily gain, and what the consumer pays the general body of workers does not necessarily receive. If the circle is vicious, its vice is not that it is closed, but that it is always half open, so that part of production leaks away in consumption which adds nothing to productive energies.
    • p.130-131
  • The grievance, of which the Press makes so much, that some workers may be taking too large a share compared with others, is masked by the much greater grievance, of which it says nothing whatever, that some idlers take any share at all.
    • p.133
  • It is useless either for property-owners or for Governments to lament the mote in the eye of the trade unions as long as, by insisting on the maintenance of functionless property, they decline to remove the beam in their own.
    • p.133
  • The first step to preventing the exploitation of the consumer by the producer is simple. It is to turn all men into producers.
    • p.133
  • The procedure by which, whenever any section of workers advance demands which are regarded as inconvenient by their masters, they are denounced as a band of anarchists who are preying on the public may be a convenient weapon in an emergency, but... is logically self-destructive.
    • p.134
  • Those to whom a leisure class is part of an immutable order without which civilization is inconceivable, dare not admit, even to themselves, that the world is poorer, not richer, because of its existence.
    • p.136
  • If to-day the miner or any other workman produces more, he has no guarantee that the result will be lower prices rather than higher dividends and larger royalties, any more than, as a workman, he can determine the quality of the wares which his employer supplies to customers, or the price at which they are sold. Nor, as long as he is directly the servant of a profit-making company, and only indirectly the servant of the community, can any such guarantee be offered him.
    • p.137
  • It [the workman's guarantee of lower prices and higher quality] can be offered only in so far as he stands in an immediate and direct relation to the public for whom industry is carried on, so that, when all costs have been met, any surplus will pass to it, and not to private individuals. It will be accepted only in so far as the workers in each industry are not merely servants executing orders, but themselves have a collective responsibility for the character of the service, and can use their organizations not merely to protect themselves against exploitation, but to make positive contributions to the administration and development of their industry.
    • p.137-138

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Last modified on 16 April 2014, at 17:52