This section of the book is from the "A Man and His Money" book, by Harvey Reeves Calkins , published in 1915.
We have been thinking of value—what it is, and how it is measured. Our question now is this: Who owns it?
On putting the question to one's own mind, the first impression is that this is a misuse of words. Value is an immaterial influence, or force, without substance, and without location. How can an intangible element be "owned"? In the common use of the word one can "own" a piano, or a lamp, or a garden of roses, for these have form, and substance, and location; they are material things. But how can one "own" music, or light, or sweet garden fragrance? These are impalpably diffused in the air, and anyone who happens to be near may enjoy them to the full. Who can "own" the mystic strains of a Beethoven sonata! In the same way one can "own" a field or a house, for these are real property; they can be located and looked upon, they are there! But value—that imperceptible and elusive influence which no man can define, how can value be "owned"? Surely, this is a misuse of words.
But, as we hold our thought steady for a moment, the mental haze disappears, and we recognize clearly the bearing of the question. We remember the meaning of "ownership." The old Roman law expressed it by the Latin "dominium," and that is the exact word which is preserved in our modern jurisprudence. Ownership means absolute control, sovereign authority, supreme dominion. The misuse of words was in saying that a man can "own" a piano, or a field, or any other dead material substance. In earlier chapters of this volume the subject of "ownership" is treated with some degree of fullness. We there say: "The law grants a title to possession, but possession and ownership are not interchangeable terms. The two ideas are closely related, but they can never become identified. If no syllable of the Christian Scriptures had ever been written, nevertheless it is inscribed in the very constitution of theism itself, 'The earth is the Lord's; unto you is it given for a possession.' " l God owns things, men possess them. And, because men can possess things, they can therefore, within human limits, order the use of the things which they possess. Hence it is perfectly correct, although not customary, to say that a man can "own" music and light and perfume; that is, he can control them. If a man rightfully possesses a piano, he can decide whether it shall give forth "the mystic strains of a Beethoven sonata," or the latest piece of music-hall "rag-time." If he possesses a lamp, he can determine whether it shall burn dimly or brightly, whether the light shall be concentrated or diffused. If he possesses a garden, it is for him to say whether the air shall be filled with the sweet breath of roses or the penetrating perfume of mignonette. A hundred may indeed enjoy these impalpable influences, but he alone has power to control them.
Our perplexity is removed at once. Not only can a man "own" value, but value is the only attribute of property that a man can own. For consider: Ownership means control. But what is it in property that a man can "control"? Is it the actual substance, or matter? Not at all. These are necessary elements which are not subject to his control; they inhere in the thing itself. If these elements should be changed, the thing itself, as it now is, would cease to exist; it would become something else. A man can remodel a house, or enlarge it, or tear it down and destroy it altogether; but he cannot "control" it; he cannot change the substance of it from wood into stone, and he cannot cause it to mount and fly into the air. When a man is said to "control" a stream of water, we do not mean that he has power to alter the constituent elements of the water itself, that is, to change the proportion of hydrogen and oxygen which exists in water. The suggestion is absurd. But he has power to control the "movement" of the water. He can decide whether it shall be used to run a mill, to irrigate a field, or to beautify a park. More particularly he can legally control the actions of other people with reference to the water, whether or not they shall fish in it or swim in it or use it for other purposes.
So also an engineer "controls" his locomotive, a captain his ship, or a general his army. We do not mean that these men have power to change the physical constitution of the things themselves, so that a locomotive becomes a vegetable garden, a ship becomes a shot tower, and an army becomes a herd of short-horned cattle! We are not writing of the "black art," but of very ordinary human facts. The word "control" cannot refer to material things themselves, but is the word used when we think of some force that can be restrained or let loose, increased or diminished.
The ownership, that is, the control, of value now becomes apparent. Value, as we have so often written, is like a hidden force proceeding from some object or action into the mind of a man. Evidently, therefore, value, like other forces, can be controlled. A farmer can fertilize, improve, and stock his farm so that the property is worth a third more to-day than it was worth ten years ago. By industry and the use of proper means he has increased the value-force of his farm, just as a stoker can increase the steam force, or pressure, of a boiler. It is the same farm and the same boiler, but the "power" has been increased. In both cases, if attention is relaxed, the power will vanish; the boiler will grow cool and the farm will deteriorate. Most emphatically, then, value can be controlled; that is, it can be "owned."
Two considerations now become apparent. First, the holding of some material possession means the possible ownership of value. We say "possible ownership," for a man may possess some material thing from which proceeds no value-force whatsoever, in which case there is, of course, no value that can be "owned," or controlled. For instance, a man may have possession of fifty acres of swamp land which he has inherited, yet he owns not one cent of value proceeding from it. He cannot cultivate the land, no one will purchase it, and no one will rent it. It is dead property. Nevertheless, if he has sufficient intelligence, patience, and industry to drain the land and bring it under profitable cultivation, what is now a mere dead possession may enable him to become the owner or director of living value. The ownership or control of this living force, either in large or small measure, is always possible to a man who holds some material possession.
Second, and this is but the completion of what we have just written, the rightful ownership of value is in the hands of those who rightfully hold possession of the material thing from which such value proceeds. The Commonwealth Edison Company, of Chicago, has legal and, presumably, rightful possession of immense power-plants together with a network of mains and conduits in the heart of the city; therefore this company has the rightful "ownership," that is, the rightful control of the electric energy which supplies light and power to many of the great office buildings and department stores. If the municipal Council of Chicago should determine to assume control of this electric current, and the city itself supply these great buildings with light and power, it would be necessary first to take over physical possession of the company's property. In the same way a man who has rightful possession of a field or a house is the rightful "owner" or controller of the value which proceeds from it. He cannot be justly restrained from exercising this control so long as he maintains rightful possession of the property itself. In a word, the possession of things and the ownership of value are necessarily related. The first implies the second. Up to this point our thought has concerned itself only with those principles of property and value which are daily evident in the business world. We are now prepared to recognize how those principles are founded upon one central and eternal law.