But when Dr. Nearing points out that the income of the ten thousand dollars would be equally secure if the owner of them had them left him by his father or given him by his uncle, then at last he smites capital on a weak point in its armour. There, is, without question, much to be said for the view that it is unfair that a man who has worked and saved should thereby be able to hand over to his son or nephew, who has never worked or saved, this right to an income which is derived from work done by somebody else. It seems unfair to all of us, who were not blessed with equally industrious and provident fathers and uncles, and it is often bad for the man who gets the income as a reward for no effort of his own, because it gives him a false start in life and sometimes tends to make him a futile waster, who can only justify his existence and his command over other people's work, by pointing to the efforts of his deceased sire or uncle. Further, unless he is very lucky, he is likely to grow up with the notion that, just because he has been left or given a certain income, he is somehow a superior person, and that it is part of the scheme of the universe that others should work for his benefit, and that any attempt on the part of other people to get a larger share, at his expense, of the good things of the earth is an attempt at robbery. He is, by being born to a competence, out of touch with the law of nature, which says that all living things must work for their living, or die, and his whole point of view is likely to be warped and narrowed by his unfortunate good fortune.
These evils that spring from hereditary property are obvious. But it may be questioned whether they outweigh the advantages that arise from it. The desire to possess is a strong stimulus to activity in production, because possession is the mark of success in it, and all healthy-minded men like to feel that they have succeeded; and almost equally strong is the desire to hand on to children or heirs the possessions that the worker's energy has got for him. In fact it may almost be said that in most men's minds the motive of possession implies that of being able to hand on; they would not feel that they owned property which they were bound to surrender to the State at their deaths. If and when society is ever so organized that it can produce what it needs without spurring the citizen to work with the inducement supplied by possession, and the power to hand on property, then it may be possible to abolish the inequities that hereditary property carries with it. As things are at present arranged it seems that we are bound to put up with them if the community is to be fed and kept alive. At least we can console ourselves with the thought that property does not come into existence by magic. Except in the case of the owners of land who may be enriched without any effort by the discovery of minerals or by the growth of a city, capital can only have been created by services rendered; and even in the case of owners of land, they, and those from whom they derived it, must have done something in order to get the land.
It is, of course, quite possible that the something which was done was a service which would not now be looked on as meriting reward. In the medieval days mailclad robbers used to get (quite honestly and rightly according to the notions then current) large grants of land because they had ridden by the side of their feudal chiefs when they went on marauding forays. In later times, as in the days of our Merry Monarch, attractive ladies were able to found ducal families by placing their charms at the service of a royal debauchee. But the rewards of the freebooters have in almost all cases long ago passed into the hands of those who purchased them with the proceeds of effort with some approach to economic justification; and though some of Charles the Second's dukedoms are still extant, it will hardly be contended that it is possible to trace the origin of everybody's property and confiscate any that cannot show a reasonable title, granted for some true economic service.
What we can do, and ought to do, if economic progress is to move along right lines, is to try to make sure that we are not, in these days of alleged enlightenment, committing out of mere stupidity and thoughtlessness, the crime which Charles the Second perpetrated for his own amusement. He gave large tracts of England to his mistresses because they pleased his roving fancy. Now the power to dispense wealth has passed into the hands of the people, who buy the goods and services produced, and so decide what goods and services will find a market, and so will enrich their producers. Are we making much better use of it? On the whole, much better; but we still make far too many mistakes. The people to whom nowadays we give big fortunes, though they include a large number of organizers of useful industry, also number within their ranks a crowd of hangers on such as bookmakers, sharepushers, and vendors of patent pills or bad stuff to read. These folk, and others, live on our vices and stupidities, and it is our fault that they can do so. Because a large section of the public likes to gamble away its money on the Stock Exchange, substantial fortunes have been founded by those who have provided the public with this means of amusement. Because the public likes to be persuaded by the clamour of cheapjack advertisement that its inside wants certain medicines, and that these medicines are worth buying at a price that makes the vendor a millionaire, there he is with his million. Some people say that he has swindled the public. The public has swindled itself by allowing him to foist stuff down its throat on terms which give him, and his heirs and assigns after him, all the control over the work and wealth of the world that is implied by the possession of a million. When we buy rubbish we do not only waste our money to our own harm, but, under the conditions of modern society, we put the sellers of rubbish in command of the world, as far as the money power commands it, which is a good deal further than is pleasing.