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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 81

II — The Force that makes the Wheels go Round

page 17


The Force that makes the Wheels go Round

Dear Mr.—,—,—I want to try and put to you yet another series of arguments in regard to Socialism—arguments which show, in my opinion, that working men, quite as much as those who are more richly endowed with the world's goods, should not be Socialists. Believe me, it is not because Socialists are innovators or agitators, or preach things contrary to the established order of society, or, indeed, are this or that or the other, that I am opposed to them and their doctrines, but simply and solely because I believe that Socialism is utterly impracticable, and that any attempt to bring it about must plunge the country into untold misery.

Let me try to put my reasons in the simplest form possible,—the form which is sometimes patronisingly called suitable for children, but which in reality is the form in which every one reasons out a subject in his own mind, the form of question and answer.

Should those who desire, above all things, an page 18 improvement in the conditions of the labourer become Socialists?


Why not?

Because Socialism, if carried out, would injure instead of benefiting the labourer.

Why would Socialism injure the labourer?

For the following reason:—If the condition of the labourers is to be improved—that is, if they are to have more food, more room in their houses, more clothes, more firing, more of everything they desire—it is evident that there must be more wealth, for these things make up wealth. But in order that there shall be more wealth, more of the things men need and desire, more must be produced. If ten men have only five loaves between them, and need one each, the only way they can get their wants satisfied is somehow or other to get five more loaves. It follows, therefore, that nothing which decreases the total wealth of the world—which diminishes the corn grown, the wool clipped, the houses built, the cotton spun, or the coal dug—can improve the condition of the poor.

If, then, Socialism would diminish the production of the things needed by mankind, it must be injurious.

But would it diminish the wealth of the world, and so make less to go round?



page 19

In this way. The great stimulus to the production of wealth of all kinds is self-interest. Canadian farmers who increase the wheat-supply of the world by working hard throughout the year do not do so out of a pure and disinterested love of their fellows, but because they want to get rich and be able to spend money in the manner most pleasing to themselves. In the same way, the man who throws up a life of ease and works from morning to night till he has made an invention which will enable the manufacturer to turn out double the amount of, say, woollen cloth without increased expenditure does so because he has the incentive of self-interest before his eyes—the incentive of knowing that success will be rewarded by the fulfilment of his desires. Throughout the world the motive-power of the machinery which produces wealth, the force that makes the wheels go round, is self-interest,—not self-interest, remember, in a bad sense, but the natural and legitimate desire for reward and enjoyment which we all experience, and which I for one am not in the least ashamed of. Destroy this motive-force, give men no rewards to strive for, and each individual, unless compelled, will do no more than is necessary to keep himself from starvation. But this is exactly what the Socialist intends to do. He proposes to take away the incentive under the influence of which more and more wealth is added to the world's store. The page 20 Socialist would confiscate private property, and dole out to each individual a subsistence portion. But in order that there shall be something to dole out, the inhabitants of the Socialistic State will be compelled to work. Compulsion, in a word, will become the ultimate motive-force of the machinery of production under Socialism, just as under our present system it is self-interest. Which is likely to be the more successful? Which will have the larger product? Who is the better workman, the slave or the labourer at weekly wages? All experience shows that compulsion produces the lesser output. Convict labour, slave labour, pauper labour, and forced labour all the world over mean waste and inefficiency.

Socialism, then, based as it must be on compulsion, would diminish the wealth of the world. But if the total wealth of the world is diminished there will be less to go round, and therefore the share of each person must be less. That is, Socialism would injure instead of benefiting the poor. You will never be able to give every man on a hot day a bigger drink of water if you begin by stopping up the pipe that feeds the cistern.1—Yours very sincerely,

J. St. L. S.

1 Professor Smart, the distinguished Economist, objected, and rightly objected, to my use of the word self-interest in this letter. It should, he urged, have been qualified by the reminder that the self of the vast majority of men means a circle of five and a fraction. Professor Smart's point expanded is that for the majority of men self-interest in the economic sense is not selfishness, but the very reverse—care for the family, for the wife and the children and all others dependent on them.