Silvio Gesell: The Natural Economic Order
Part 1: Distribution


5. INFLUENCE OF SOCIAL CONDITIONS ON RENT AND WAGES

Rail and shipping costs are not of course the only factor influencing the proceeds of labour of the settler on freeland, and consequently the wages of the German farm-labourer. Man does not live by bread alone, so the proceeds of labour are not the sole cause of his decision for or against emigration. The national aid social life of the country which the emigrant is to leave, and of the country he is going to, have often a strong and determining influence, and many a man is satisfied with smaller proceeds of labour at home, finding compensation for the loss in the possession of a laurel wreath for rabbit-breeding or in the song of the chaffinches, which in his opinion is nowhere so beautiful as in the home country. These attractive or repelling forces fluctuate, sometimes stimulating and sometimes restraining emigration. Many German farmers, for instance, are again emigrating from Russia, not in hope of higher proceeds of labour, but because conditions there are no longer quite to their taste. All these factors counteract to some extent the forces tending to level the purely material proceeds of labour of the emigrant and of the farm-labourer left behind. Let us suppose, for example, that we resolve to render life pleasanter for German workers, the means to be derived from the prohibition of alcoholic drink. Prohibition itself would enrich the lives of the workers, and especially those of their wives; and the millions which alcohol directly and indirectly costs the people might be employed for an effective endowment of motherhood in the shape of a monthly State subsidy to cover the expense of bringing up each child. Or for better schools, for public reading-rooms, theatres or churches, or free treats at pastry shops, popular festivals, assembly-rooms etc. The question whether a man was going to emigrate would not then be settled solely by an estimate of the material proceeds of his labour; many wives would induce their husbands to stay, and many emigrants would return. The effect on wages and rent is obvious. The landowners would raise their demands until the restraining influence of prohibition on the would-be emigrant had been compensated. The cakes given gratis to the women in the national pastry shops would be abstracted from their husband's wages in the form of an increase of rent.

Thus every advantage which Germany offers for professional, intellectual and social life is confiscated by rent on land. Rent is poetry, science, art and religion capitalised. Rent converts everything into hard cash: Cologne Cathedral, the brooks of the Eiffel, the twitter of birds among the beech-leaves. Rent levies a toll on Thomas Kempis, on the relics at Kevelaar, on Goethe and Schiller, on the incorruptibility of our officials, on our dreams for a happier future, in a word, on anything and everything; a toll which it forces up to the point at which the worker asks himself: Shall I remain and pay - or shall I emigrate and renounce it all ? The workers are always at the gold-point. (In foreign trade the gold-point is that state in the balance of payments at which merchants are uncertain whether it is more profitable to pay in bills of exchange or in gold. The cost of transportating gold is the billbroker's "rent".) The more pleased a man is with his country and his fellow citizens, the higher the price charged by the landlord for this pleasure. The tears of the departing emigrant are pearls of great price for the landlord. For this reason city landlords often organise improvement societies and other institutions intended to render town life attractive, in order to restrain departure and stimulate arrival and so to raise the rents on their building sites. Homesickness is the tap-root of rent on land.

But if the German farm labourer does not live by bread alone, neither does the settler on freeland. The material proceeds of labour are only part of what man needs to make life worth living. The emigrant had to struggle to overcome the emotional forces binding him to his native land, and similarly in his new home he finds many things to attract or to repel him. The attractions tend to make the proceeds of labour appear sufficient to him (just as everyone is prepared to do agreeable work for a smaller remuneration), whereas the repellent features diminish them. If the repellent circumstances preponderate (climate, insecurity of life and property, vermin and so forth) the proceeds of labour must be correspondingly larger, if the emigrant is to stay on and encourage those who remained at home to follow his example. Everything that influences the life and happiness of the settler on freeland has a direct influence on the contentment of the German worker and affects his wage demands. This influence begins with the account of the journey. If the voyage passed off without sea-sickness, if life on board and the food were tolerable, those left behind will be encouraged. If the settler tells of liberty he is enjoying, of hunting and riding, of great hauls of salmon and herds of buffaloes, of his right of disposing freely of the riches of nature, of his being treated everywhere as a free citizen and not as a serf and beggar, the labourer at home will of course hold his head higher during the wage negotiations than if his brother writes of the inroads of Red Indians, of rattlesnakes, vermin and hard work.

All this is known to the landowners, so if a letter of lament arrives, the most is made of it; it is published in the Press which is given to understand that it must on the other hand carefully exclude any reports that might prove attractive and encouraging. The organisation which is set up to advertise the attractions of the home country is also entrusted with the task of reviling freeland. Every snake-bite, every scalp taken, every swarm of locusts, every shipwreck, by making the workers less likely to emigrate and more amenable, is converted into hard cash for the landowners.

 

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