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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 70

Political Economy, Class Legislation and Civil Liberty. — V

Political Economy, Class Legislation and Civil Liberty.


The fifth and last plank in the platform is: "To promote sound political economy, and oppose class legislation and all undue interference with individual rights and liberty." Each of those three objects is of great importance to every colonist.

Few technical terms have a wider meaning, and few sciences have been more neglected or misapplied than political economy. Some members of Parliament are culpably ignorant of it, although most of the laws they pass have some direct or indirect bearing on money, exchange, taxation, land, labour, capital, and those other factors in political economy, which affect man's material and social welfare. A book-keeper, surgeon, lawyer, chemist, auditor, or blacksmith, who was no better qualified for his duty than many paid members of Parliament are for theirs, would be locked up for obtaining money under false pretences if he took fees or wages for work he could not do properly. If a surgeon or chemist killed a man through ignorance he would be imprisoned for manslaughter, but an ignorant member of Parliament can mar the happiness, injure citizens and nearly ruin the body politic at the price of £150 for three months and get off scot free. An examination would demonstrate that many M.H.R.'s have not mastered the rudiments of political economy—are culpably ignorant of those laws which govern supply and demand, and the page 20 creation and distribution of wealth. Some of them need, quite as much as the masses do, reliable information and definite opinions about the true relations between land, labour, and capital. If they had them they could not with clear consciences inculcate the lying delusion that land, labour, and capital are antagonistic, for they are mutually dependent one on the other.


With free trade in land, and free education there is nothing to prevent New Zealand from enjoying the economic peace and progress witnessed in Switzerland, France, and Saxony, if men will only be wise; but political economy must be better learnt Pamphlets, the platform, and the Press must be used to that end.

That such knowledge is desirable is evident to all who notice the mischievous meddlesomeness of many persons who delude the unthinking multitude with the belief that the State is almost omnipotent, and has only to pass laws that people may become rich and contented, whereas legislation may so disturb trade and injure the people as to raise a general outcry for its repeal. To go no further back than last session of Parliament; it is complained of in many quarters that the restrictions imposed on boy labour prevent widows with children getting from the elder boys the needful help to keep the wolf from the door, that the restrictions on women's labour have curtailed the labour of men: that the regulations respecting work in their homes have prevented some women from getting any labour at all, because they cannot leave their children to go and work in shops or factories; and that the Factory and other Acts are detrimental to both labour and capital. Even the best intentioned legislation frequently does more harm than good through ignorance of political economy on the part of legislators.

State Interference.

Witness protective laws. Our attempts to force, through Customs duties, the progress of industries in New Zealand for which the Colony is not so well suited as other places, have sadly failed, and the people have been compelled to pay more for their goods than was necessary. It has been just as bad in Victoria. Trades there which have been protected for twenty years need protecting still as much as ever. Let anyone see the New Zealand Trade Review, December 31, 1891, and "Liberty and Liberalism," p. 341. Victorians imposed a heavy duty on our New Zealand oats. We grow 2873 bushels to the acre, and Victorians grow only 22.25 bushels, because we have better soil and climate; but the citizens there are not allowed to spend their own money in buying oats where they please, but are compelled to buy where the Parliament dictates, even though they pay more and get worse served. But to benefit farmers they ruined cabmen, page 21 carriers, and 'bus owners. Similarly many departments of trade and labour are being injured through ignorance of true political economy. We tax Victorian cloth and leather to benefit our manufacturers, and Victorians retaliate by taxing our fanners and excluding their oats from their market. True political economy is such an adjustment of economic affairs as will benefit all alike, not one class at the expense of another class.

Class Legislation.

There is a danger of that here. The Auckland Evening Star, November 18th, 1891, says:—"In New Zealand it (i.e., the Labour party) has kept a Government in power, in New South Wales it has turned out a Government, and yet in neither case have the Labour representatives been much more than one-fifth of the members of Parliament. Under such conditions there is undoubtedly ground for apprehending a resort to class legislation which may prove quite as pernicious as that which has been overthrown."

Now I am opposed to all class legislation, and always contend for one equal law for rich and poor alike. We do not want one law for Protestants, another for Roman Catholics, another for Irishmen, and another for Scotchmen. Before the law all should be equal, and all should equally help to pay for good government, according to benefits enjoyed and ability to pay taxes. That is a fundamental principle of our constitution. I believe in Catholic and Jewish emancipation, civil and religious freedom, and equal opportunities for all.

Assaults on Land.

Consequently I oppose the subtle and persistent attempts now being carried on here by disciples of Henry George to nationalise land, and make its owners pay all the taxation of the Colony. That done, without fair compensation, and as an absolute necessity of State, like the taking of land for forts and roads, would violate the 29th chapter of Magna Charta, which provides that "No freeman shall be . . . . deprived of his freehold" etc., etc. Single taxers say, "We will not take the land, but only the using value, or unearned increment;" but that means the same thing, and they only put it that way because the plain truth would arouse freeholders to resist the premeditated robbery. But while I would prevent the landless from confiscating to the State the using value or unearned increment of the land, I would give landlords no advantage over tenants. Now if a retail grocer, butcher, or bookseller, or other trader supplies goods to his landlord worth, say, £20, he can only sue for recovery of the debt, page 22 and if the landlord fail before his creditor gets paid, he must accept a dividend like the rest. But the landlord can distrain or assert a preference over other creditors. That does not seem to me to be fair and equal, and is a relic of those times when landlords could legislate as they pleased.

The Best Security.

We must have equal laws, giving equal opportunities to all; and he is an enemy of his race, be he Liberal or Conservative, who will truckle to one class by legislating against another class. I think the National Association is right in its resolve to oppose class legislation, but "what can we expect from M.H.R.'s who try to secure for their own wages better legal protection than they accord to working men's wages? And what a reprehensible piece of class bias it is which puts all the machinery of the State in motion to procure work for only a particular section of the unemployed. If some men are sent from place to place at the public expense, and found work, why should not all men who need work be treated the same? And why not the unemployed women? especially widows with families. Clerks, broken-down traders, and some others, cannot break stones or do navvy work; but, if the State finds work for the horny-handed, why not for clerks and others? Is it because the one-man-one-vote gives a section the power to make and unmake Governments or Parliaments, and therefore, that section must be provided for? This class bias will work much mischief, and the perpetrators of it will be execrated some day. The taxpayer is now literally forced to pay for State aid in getting work for a mere section of the unemployed, while other sections of it are ignored.

Undue Interference.

What is undue interference with our rights and liberty? I would lay down this general principle and venture to hope that the National Association will endorse it, that when any proposed legislative interference with men's rights and liberty is unnecessary for the common good, or is unequal in its bearing on the whole people, it should be resisted. Equal opportunities for all should be the test principle, and if any favour towards or bias against any particular individual or class be attempted, that should be resisted.

Note.—For reasons against Land Nationalisation and Single Tax, see my letters to the" New Zealand Herald," in its issues dated May 17, and 26, 1892.