This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
1st, Of the rightfulness of such laws.
In the order of nature, no man brings with him into the world a store of wealth for his subsistence and support through life, or finds it waiting especially for him. His means of livelihood are to depend on the inborn faculties of appropriation, on the store of wealth already existing from which these may draw, and on the natural agencies of production which they may employ. But if the latter conditions are removed, and the man is forbidden access to the fields of labor, he is condemned to be destitute, in a greater or less degree, no matter how well endowed, or how fully he obeys all economic laws. With these open to him, he is certain of success. It hinders not at all, that all the wealth of the world is now taken up, that every inch of ground is possessed. Though utterly without legal claim, he is yet, in his faculties of industry and appropriation, sure to become the owner of some part of it, at least sufficient for his wants.
The tiny tree pushes its way through the matted sod. It comes out, one little stem, two little leaves. The squirrel looks disdainfully over it. The ant can gnaw its trunk. Pounds of atmospheric weight are already on its fluttering expanse. Yet it stands. The world and the air are now absolutely full, present not one inch of vacant space. The universe seems to have no room for the little stranger. Yet it grows. Simply confiding that the world had need of it, the seed broke its shell, and crept upward to the light. And in the same unshrinking faith of a mission and of room that shall be provided, it grows, atom by atom, till the biparted leaf has become the giant tree, and takes its place in the crowded universe, with always room to grow, and never an inch to spare.
So, in the state of nature, man enters on life, feeble and destitute, but with powers of absorption and assimilation as evident as those of the tiny tree. These, not human charity or human justice, award the world's wealth, and sustain the lives for wise purposes created. But, if the tree is planted in a pot, its capacity of growth is dwarfed to the dimensions of the place in which it finds itself. It cannot enlarge; not because its vital germ is deficient, but because it is placed in a false position, and deprived of natural aliment. If the confines are too close, the tree starves and dies.
This is precisely the injustice and mischief done by laws of primogeniture and entail. So far as they operate, they shut off the industry of the world (and the wants which that industry must supply) from its proper field. We have said that the liability of wealth to dissipate is the property of the poor. It is so. A man entering the world may have no claim to any share of its previous gains; but he has a claim to a chance at them. This is the provision nature has made for his maintenance. This is his inheritance. He has a right, at least as complete as the plant, to get his growth and his support out of the soil about him. There is nothing in this view agrarian or communistic. It admits that property should be sacred; but it asserts that it should be alienable. The right of property does not include the right of the wise to get wealth, and of fools to keep it. To shut up any part of the world, for the benefit of one, is to rob all others, not of it, but of their chance to acquire it lawfully. A system of entail dwarfs all existing industry, so far as it operates. It has even proceeded to beggar an entire people. There is, therefore, no economic censure too severe for it.
2d, But, besides the general objections to such a system on the grounds of justice, we meet certain considerations of expediency that deserve notice.
(1) The capital thus kept together by laws forbidding alienation is often so large that it cannot be managed by individuals for the best economic advantage. Of course, a government might provide for the preservation of properties not excessive. But it is not such that have been made perpetual; and there can be no occasion to lock up, in this way, moderate estates. Great accumulations will be made under any free and peaceful government; and it is neither the right of government, nor the interest of society, to interfere to scatter them. The sacredness of property makes a greater demand than the mere productiveness of capital. Besides, this has been collected, and is kept together, by economic virtues, which should ever receive their natural reward. But it is not in the order of things that such mountains of wealth should remain. They will be rent asunder, or worn away, in the lapse of comparatively few years.
Many reasons might be given why wealth, in such aggregations, is never so efficiently managed; but the assertion hardly requires proof. We find, in certain countries, extensive systems of polygamy; but it is notorious that population does not advance as with those people where the Christian law of marriage is observed. Monopoly of wealth no more tends to reproduction than monopoly of wives. All this is true, even if the desire of increase remained the same; but, —
(2) Such aggregations of wealth destroy, in great part, the desires which lie at the root of all activity. The spring of industry is want. Let us take into calculation the sum of one million of dollars. It cannot be doubted, that this, as a reproductive agency, would be quickened by more desires if in the hands of one thousand men, than if in the hands of only one hundred. Without an attempt at mathematical accuracy, it is certainly true that the machinery of reproduction would be set in motion by a deeper and broader stream of human wants. It is evident, that the impulse of the mass, the one thousand, will be greater; but it may be questioned whether the impulse of each one is not greater in the former than in the latter case. Certainly the necessities of each will be more pressing: why not his activities more aroused? How much mightier, then, the current of energy with which the greater body moves on to its object!
On the other hand, if we suppose the sum to be vested in the possession of one person, we shall have the desires greatly weakened. This is not the man who, "from the rising of the lark to the lodging of the lamb," toils with unrelaxed nerve; to whom every gain is needful bread; from whom every saving removes a pain.
Erskine, as his courage sank in dismay on his first pleading, seemed "to feel his children pulling at his gown," and so took heart to go on. Everywhere it is the hands of the little ones, plucking at the sleeve, that elevates labor into heroism.
(3) Such aggregations draw off an undue proportion of wealth into luxuries. This is the necessary consequence of what has just been exhibited; while its own results will appear more specially in the department of "Consumption." When the stern pressure of necessity is removed from human activities, they bound into a thousand sports and caprices.
(4) Such aggregations of wealth often come to men not competent to administer them, either in use or enjoyment. This appears in the very necessity of a law of entail.
Under a free system, capital is sure to go into the hands best fitted to manage it for the highest economic good. It may pass through strange experiences, and take on many doubtful forms; but it never, for a moment, escapes from the grasp of economic laws, and must, at the last, reach and rest upon true economic desert.