Saturday, July 14, 2012

Republican Government


William Graham Sumner

Chicago Tribune January 01 1877 

A republican government is a form of self-government in which the authority of the state is conferred for limited terms upon officers designated by election. 

I beg leave here to emphasize the distinction between a democracy and a republic because the people of the United States, living in a democratic republic, almost universally confuse the two elements of their system. Each, however, must stand or fall by itself. Louis Napoleon gave the French democracy, under his own despotism.
If the principle of equality is what we aim at we can probably get it — we can all be equally slaves together. If we want majority rule, we can have it — the majority can pass a plébiscite conferring permanent power on a despot. A republic is quite another thing. It is a form of self-government, and its first aim is not equality but civil liberty. It keeps the people active in public functions and public duties; it requires their activity at stated periods when the power of the state has to be re-conferred on new agents. It breaks the continuity of power to guard against its abuse, and it abhors as much the irresponsible power of the many as of the one. It surrounds the individual with safeguards by its permanent constitutional provisions, and by no means leaves the individual or the state a prey to the determination of a numerical majority. In our system the guarantees to liberty and the practical machinery of self-government all come from the constitutional republic; the dangers chiefly from democracy. Democracy teaches dogmas of absolute and sweeping application, while, in truth, there are no absolute doctrines in politics. Its spirit is fierce, intolerant, and despotic. It frets and chafes at constitutional restraints which seem to balk the people of its will and it threatens all institutions, precedents, and traditions which, for the moment, stand in the way. When the future historian comes to critizise our time, he will probably say that it was marked by a great tendency toward democratic equality. He will perhaps have to mention more than one nation which, in chasing this chimaera, lost liberty. 

Government by interests produces no statesmen, but only attorneys.

It is evident that the republican system, especially in a democratic republic, demands on the part of the citizen extraordinary independence, power to resist false appeals and fallacies, sound and original judgment, far-sighted patriotism, and patient reflection...this is plainly impossible unless he is well informed as to some great principles of political science, knows something of history and of experiments made elsewhere, and also understands the great principles of civil liberty...that he will exercise his political power conscientiously and faithfully... the citizen will sacrifice time, interest, and attention, in no slight degree, to his public duty. In short, it comes to this: the franchise is a prerogative act; it is the act of a sovereign; it is performed without any responsibility whatever except responsibility to one's judgment and one's own conscience. And furthermore, although we are fond of boasting that every citizen is a sovereign, let us not forget that if every one is a sovereign every one is also a subject. The citizen must know how to obey before he is fit to command, and the only man who is fit to help govern the community is the man who can govern himself.
What Social Classes Owe to Each Other 

William Graham Sumner - 1883

The discussion of "the relations of labor and capital" has not hitherto been very fruitful. It has been confused by ambiguous definitions, and it has been based upon assumptions about the rights and duties of social classes which are, to say the least, open to serious question as regards their truth and justice. If, then, we correct and limit the definitions, and if we test the assumptions, we shall find out whether there is anything to discuss about the relations of "labor and capital," and, if anything, what it is.

Let us first examine the terms.

1. Labor means properly, toil, irksome exertion, expenditure of productive energy.

2. The term is used, secondly, by a figure of speech, and in a collective sense, to designate the body of _persons_ who, having neither capital nor land, come into the industrial organization offering productive services in exchange for means of subsistence. These persons are united by community of interest into a group, or class, or interest, and, when interests come to be adjusted, the interests of this group will undoubtedly be limited by those of other groups.

3. The term labor is used, thirdly, in a more restricted, very popular and current, but very ill-defined way, to designate a limited sub-group among those who live by contributing productive efforts to the work of society. Every one is a laborer who is not a person of leisure. Public men, or other workers, if any, who labor but receive no pay, might be excluded from the category, and we should immediately pass, by such a restriction, from a broad and philosophical to a technical definition of the labor class. But merchants, bankers, professional men, and all whose labor is, to an important degree, mental as well as manual, are excluded from this third use of the term labor. The result is, that the word is used, in a sense at once loosely popular and strictly technical, to designate a group of laborers who separate their interests from those of other laborers. Whether farmers are included under "labor" in this third sense or not I have not been able to determine. It seems that they are or are not, as the interest of the disputants may require.

1. Capital is any product of labor which is used to assist production.

2. This term also is used, by a figure of speech, and in a collective sense, for the persons who possess capital, and who come into the industrial organization to get their living by using capital for profit. To do this they need to exchange capital for productive services. These persons constitute an interest, group, or class, although they are not united by any such community of interest as laborers, and, in the adjustment of interests, the interests of the owners of capital must be limited by the interests of other groups.

3. Capital, however, is also used in a vague and popular sense which it is hard to define. In general it is used, and in this sense, to mean employers of laborers, but it seems to be restricted to those who are employers on a large scale. It does not seem to include those who employ only domestic servants. Those also are excluded who own capital and lend it, but do not directly employ people to use it.

It is evident that if we take for discussion "capital and labor," if each of the terms has three definitions, and if one definition of each is loose and doubtful, we have everything prepared for a discussion which shall be interminable and fruitless, which shall offer every attraction to undisciplined thinkers, and repel everybody else.

The real collision of interest, which is the centre of the dispute, is that of employers and employed; and the first condition of successful study of the question, or of successful investigation to see if there is any question, is to throw aside the technical economic terms, and to look at the subject in its true meaning, expressed in untechnical language. We will use the terms "capital" and "labor" only in their strict economic significance, viz., the first definition given above under each term, and we will use the terms "laborers" and "capitalists" when we mean the persons described in the second definition under each term.

It is a common assertion that the interests of employers and employed are identical, that they are partners in an enterprise, etc. These sayings spring from a disposition, which may often be noticed, to find consoling and encouraging observations in the facts of sociology, and to refute, if possible, any unpleasant observations. If we try to learn what is true, we shall both do what is alone right, and we shall do the best for ourselves in the end. The interests of employers and employed as parties to a contract are antagonistic in certain respects and united in others, as in the case wherever supply and demand operate. If John gives cloth to James in exchange for wheat, John's interest is that cloth be good and attractive but not plentiful, but that wheat be good and plentiful; James' interest is that wheat be good and attractive but not plentiful, but that cloth be good and plentiful. All men have a common interest that all things be good, and that all things but the one which each produces be plentiful. The employer is interested that capital be good but rare, and productive energy good and plentiful; the employe is interested that capital be good and plentiful, but that productive energy be good and rare. When one man alone can do a service, and he can do it very well, he represents the laborer's ideal. To say that employers and employed are partners in an enterprise is only a delusive figure of speech. It is plainly based on no facts in the industrial system.

Employers and employed make contracts on the best terms which they can agree upon, like buyers and sellers, renters and hirers, borrowers and lenders. Their relations are, therefore, controlled by the universal law of supply and demand. The employer assumes the direction of the business, and takes all the risk, for the capital must be consumed in the industrial process, and whether it will be found again in the product or not depends upon the good judgment and foresight with which the capital and labor have been applied. Under the wages system the employer and the employé contract for time. The employé fulfills the contract if he obeys orders during the time, and treats the capital as he is told to treat it. Hence he is free from all responsibility, risk, and speculation. That this is the most advantageous arrangement for him, on the whole and in the great majority of cases, is very certain. Salaried men and wage-receivers are in precisely the same circumstances, except that the former, by custom and usage, are those who have special skill or training, which is almost always an investment of capital, and which narrows the range of competition in their case. Physicians, lawyers, and others paid by fees are workers by the piece. To the capital in existence all must come for their subsistence and their tools.

Friday, July 13, 2012

What Social Classes Owe to Each Other 

 William Graham Sumner - 1883 

Capital is only formed by self-denial, and if the possession of it did not secure advantages and superiorities of a high order men would never submit to what is necessary to get it. The first accumulation costs by far the most, and the rate of increase by profits at first seems pitiful. Among the metaphors which partially illustrate capital--all of which, however, are imperfect and inadequate--the snow-ball is useful to show some facts about capital. Its first accumulation is slow, but as it proceeds the accumulation becomes rapid in a high ratio, and the element of self-denial declines. This fact, also, is favorable to the accumulation of capital, for if the self-denial continued to be as great per unit when the accumulation had become great, there would speedily come a point at which further accumulation would not pay. The man who has capital has secured his future, won leisure which he can employ in winning secondary objects of necessity and advantage, and emancipated himself from those things in life which are gross and belittling. The possession of capital is, therefore, an indispensable prerequisite of educational, scientific, and moral goods. This is not saying that a man in the narrowest circumstances may not be a good man. It is saying that the extension and elevation of all the moral and metaphysical interests of the race are conditioned on that extension of civilization of which capital is the prerequisite, and that he who has capital can participate in and move along with the highest developments of his time. Hence it appears that the man who has his self-denial before him, however good may be his intention, cannot be as the man who has his self-denial behind him. Some seem to think that this is very unjust, but they get their notions of justice from some occult source of inspiration, not from observing the facts of this world as it has been made and exists.

The maxim, or injunction, to which a study of capital leads us is; get capital. In a community where the standard of living is high, and the conditions of production are favorable, there is a wide margin within which an individual may practice self-denial and win capital without suffering, if he has not the charge of a family. That it requires energy, courage, perseverance, and prudence is not to be denied. Any one who believes that any good thing on this earth can be got without those virtues may believe in the philosopher's stone or the fountain of youth. If there were any Utopia its inhabitants would certainly be very insipid and characterless.

No instance has yet been seen of a society composed of a class of great capitalists and a class of laborers who had fallen into a caste of permanent drudges. Probably no such thing is possible, so long as society continues to develop strong classes of merchants, financiers, professional men, and other classes. If it were conceivable that non capitalist laborers should give up struggling to become capitalists, should give way to vulgar enjoyments and passions, should recklessly increase their numbers, and should become a permanent caste, they might with some justice be called proletarians. The name has been adopted by some professed labor leaders, but it really should be considered insulting. If there were such a proletariat it would be [mired] hopelessly in the hands of a body of plutocratic capitalists, and a society so organized would, no doubt, be far worse than a society composed only of nobles and serfs, which is the worst society the world has seen in modern times.