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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72

Chapter III. — A Loafer

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Chapter III.

A Loafer.

The next instant I found myself seated in my audience chamber, with the whole crowd pressing in upon me, each eager to be first. Foremost among them was a man whom, for brevity' sake, I will describe as a Loafer. The guards tried to push him back to make room for others more respectably dressed. But I interposed, saying, "Under the New Constitution all have equal rights by virtue of their citizenship, and nor, by virtue of the kind of coat they wear. First come, first served."

With this it seemed as if I had recovered a little of my loss ground. The man himself seemed delighted, and thanked me warmly.

"You are the true working man's friend, after all," he said "I have come, governor, for my bit of land."

"Explain yourself," I replied. "To what bit of land do you refer?"

"Well, I mean my share of the division."

"But there is to be no division, neither of land nor anything else. The Constitution says nothing of division."

"No, but it does speak of equal opportunities; and how can I have equal opportunities with the Duke owning his thousands of acres and I having none?"

"You have equal opportunities with any Duke. For every penny that accrues to them by virtue of the mere ownership of land, they have to hand over to the State. If you owned it you would have to hand it over. The real owner, therefore, is the community, of which Dukes and yourself are equal citizens."

"Then you still allow Dukes to own land?"

"Certainly, if they like to. What does it matter to you who has possession of the land, provided that your share of the land values, or rent, is secured to you?"

"All right; hand me over my share of the rent."

"Not quite so quickly, if you please. You have equal rights with every other citizen, but also equal duties, and therefore have to pay taxes the same as everyone else. Your share of the rent is appropriated by the State as your share of the taxes."

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"What good do I get out of that?"

"Every good that a well-organized State can secure you. You will receive every facility to produce wealth, and the fullest protection for what you do produce; together with all such conveniences, in the shape of roads, railways, facilities for education, etc., as are best provided by the State."

"But did you not say that we should all have equal access to land

"Oh! if it is merely access to land you want, you can be easily supplied. See here, the columns of the Times are already full of 'Lands to let.' So you can make your choice."

"And pay rent to them, I suppose, as before."

"No, you'll pay rent to the State; for whatever the ground value is, you would have to pay the State in any case, whether you were the nominal owner of it or not."

"Oh, that's fine talk. If there is no advantage in owning land, then why do not these people who don't want the land for their own use give it up altogether?"

"Because they have improvements upon it, which are theirs. Whatever is paid for the use of these will go to the owner, the rest goes to the State. If you want land without any improvements upon it, we have now plenty belonging to the State, which the former owners have relinquished rather than pay the tax for land which to them was useless. Among these lands are some very fine deer parks; that is, which formerly were deer parks. You can pick and choose where you like, and take as much of it as you please."

The applicant's face brightened. "And would it be mine, then?"

"Yours as long as you care to keep it. Your children's after you, or to whomsoever you may choose to transfer your rights of possession."

"And what have I to pay for it?"

"If there are no improvements on it belonging to former owners, nothing at all."

"And as much as I like?"

"As much as you care to take, subject to paying its annual value to the State."

"Oh, that's all right! I don't mind that; because, you see, I shall let it to tenants at a higher rate, and so make at last a comfortable living. It is right that the working man should at last have his turn."

"Stop, you are under a misapprehension," I said. "If you take land with such an intention it will be of little use to you, since all the rent would accrue to the State, leaving you only the trouble of collecting it, and the responsibilities connected therewith. It is for this very reason that its former possessors page 12 have relinquished it, because they did not care to incur risk and trouble for land for which they had no use."

"Yes, but I intend to put the tax on to my tenants in addition to the rent."

"That will help you but very little, as the tax is not a fixed sum, but twenty shillings in the pound on its annual rental value. If you can let the land at a higher value than it was let formerly, this of course would show that it is worth more, and you would still have to hand over to the State fully twenty shillings for every pound you receive."

The applicant pulled a long face. "What good is the land to me, then?"

"It gives you free access to the opportunities of Nature; and whatsoever you can make it yield is yours. Whatsoever others your tenants, as you say, can make it yield is theirs. This is the spirit of the Constitution."

"So this is the kind of working men's friend you are, is it?"

"Yes, I am a working men's friend, but not the friend of those who wish to live by the labor of others," I replied. "You can have land in plenty, together with every opportunity and facility to labor, and full security of the fruits of your toil, sacred not only as against every fellow-citizen, but sacred even against the power of the State. It is yours exclusively and absolutely. You are free from all manner of taxation and all vexatious laws and restrictions that formerly used to hamper trade and industry. In short, you have now every inducement offered to become a working man, if you really wish to work."

My first visitor, being disappointed in his expectations, assumed a defiant attitude.

"But I don't wish to work. I have not been used to work for so long that I don't care to take to it now."

"Then I fear you will have to starve."

"I can beg, can't I?"

"Yes, you are at perfect liberty to do so; but you will be disappointed, I fear. So long as people were starving from necessity, and from no fault of their own, there were always kindly-disposed people—to the honor of mankind be it said—who were willing to assist their unfortunate brethren. But even then these kindly people endeavored to discriminate between the loafer and the necessitous. But as it was difficult to discriminate, the former often participated in what was intended for the honest poor. In the present state this difficulty no longer exists. Everybody knows that whosever is willing to work can do so equally with everybody else. Under these circumstances no one will be disposed to support idleness and foster vice."

I delivered these words with deliberation and emphasis, and I could see that their meaning was not lost upon my applicant. page 13 He saw at once how difficult it would be for him to practice in future his former habits, and half-plaintively asked me to give him an order for the workhouse.

"There are none," I replied. "Those disgraceful institutions have been closed, and this blot on humanity and civilization has at last been wiped out."

"What! actually turned all the poor helpless folks out into the street?"

"Not so. Most of its occupants were there because they had no home to go to—old helpless folks or cripples. But now that their children and other relatives can earn good livings and have comfortable homes, they would no longer tolerate those dear to them branded as State paupers, but took them home—now no longer a burthen to them, but a source of pleasure. Some few there were helpless and friendless, victims of former social conditions. To these we have granted pensions to enable them to live where they like and as they like—as Citizens of the State, not as its paupers."

"Can't you grant me a pension?"

"Certainly not; you are not helpless."

"No, I am not helpless. You are right," he said defiantly. "If you have closed your workhouses you have not yet closed your prisons. I shall find ways and means to get there, and then you will have to keep me."

"If you do violence to the liberty or property of your fellow-citizens, of course it will be my duty to protect them; and if you cannot otherwise be prevailed upon to keep the peace and respect the equal rights of others, we shall have to restrain you. But you will not be cast into prison and fed at the expense of your fellow-men. You will find a nice clean cottage ready for you, comfortably furnished, with a garden plot and spade, or a workshop and such other tools by which you may prefer to earn your living, but isolated from the rest of the community, so that you cannot interfere with their liberties. You will be charged a certain rent for the house and tools supplied you, and you will have to pay, of course, the Ground Tax just the same as the others; in addition to which you would have to pay your share of the salaries of the Governor, Guardians, and Doctors, whom the State would have to employ to watch you and others like yourself."

"Doctors?" he asked.

"Yes, Doctors. We have replaced Lawyers by Doctors, because such cases as your own do not call for quibbles about precedents and abstraction, but demand medical skill and judgment. Our Judges only decide whether there is any necessity to put people under restraint or not. In this they are guided by the fact whether the accused's being at large would interfere with the liberties of other citizens. For how long this page 14 restraint is to last is for medical men to decide, and not for lawyers."

"Then would you treat me as if I were insane?"

"What else is a man who has every opportunity offered to be free, independent, and happy, and yet prefers to work harder and be deprived of his liberty? For while under restraint you would have to work for your living as if you were free, and, in addition to that, would have to pay the expenses of officials."

"But I tell you I am not going to work."

"In that case, of course you will starve while under restrain; and if you do not pay the rent of the cottage provided for you, you will be turned out of it and allowed to starve in the fields.

"What! and would you actually let me starve?"

"If you choose to, why not? I do not see in what manner I have a right to interfere with your liberties; and, truth to tell if you would rather starve than be an honest man, I think it would be a blessing for mankind to be rid of such as you."

My visitor stared at me with profound astonishment, and for some time seemed as if he could not find speech. I watched him carefully, as if studying the effect of a drastic remedy on a patient. At last he said:

"I have, it seems, to work or to starve. The only choice you give me is to do either of these two things as a prisoner or as a tree man. If prisoner, I have not only to work for myself, but also for your police-troopers and doctors, and besides am stigmatized as a lunatic. Under these circumstances, it will pay me much better to become an honest man."

Here a deep sigh followed. "I can see through your plan," he continued. "Circumstances made a Loafer of me, and yon now wish to employ the same means to make me honest again Sir, I may be bad and wicked, but I am not a fool. Your methods are very drastic, but I think your plan is good. You shall hear of me again, but no more as a Loafer. I shall try and retrieve my lost dignity and manhood, and see whether I cannot be as good a citizen as I might have been had society but allowed me."