This section of the book is from the "A Man and His Money" book, by Harvey Reeves Calkins , published in 1915.
Since the Jewish people were scattered no other nation has ever attempted to incorporate in its constitution and laws the theistic doctrine of ownership. During all the Christian centuries pagan ideas both of ownership and possession have permeated the social order. The Christian Church has protested from the beginning, though sometimes weakly, against this heathen domination; but, it is to be feared, her own unhappy luxury and greed robbed her protest of its moral value during those very centuries when heathen notions were becoming fixed in Christian institutions. What these notions were, and how fundamentally they differed from the teaching of the Christian Scriptures, will appear as we glance into a modern heathen city, for the heart of heathenism does not change.
During the fierce famine of 1906 the value of wheat throughout northern India became, like the gold of Ophir, "exceeding precious." Often during the cold season of that year the writer stood doling it out by handfuls to a waiting line of famished men. They would receive their portion in dull listlessness, and then stand for literal minutes fondling the grains in their fingers, as a child plays with shining sand. The purchase money had come from generous men, on the other side of the sea, to feed a starving people.
Was there no wheat in India during those terrible months? Plenty of wheat—the granaries were full. Hindu merchants sat at the doors of their wheat-bins and laughed for gladness. The consecrated money that came from England and America, much of it the sacrificial offerings of the poor, flowed into the coffers of heathen merchants whose cheeks puffed out with fatness. Those were great days for the grain merchants! But did not this money feed the starving people? Most certainly. That is just what we are saying. Hindu merchants furnished the grain and Christian philanthropists furnished the price, and a good stiff price it was. For that is what makes a famine—high prices. In other centuries famines came because there was actually no food to be obtained. But, except in rare instances, all that is past. In this age of the world high prices is the only thing that can cause a famine of bread. The world is a great neighborhood. There is never a universal lack, and ships or swift carriers are at every door. There may be scarcity of food in the valley, but there will be abundance across the range. The wheat fields of Argentina may wither, but the wide acres of Winnipeg will stretch for golden miles. And grain will flow to the depressed area, if the price is there, as water flows into a hollow rock.
During the India famine of 1898 corn in bulk was contributed by large-hearted American farmers, and a shipload sent to the port of Calcutta for distribution up-country. It was kind but quixotic. The value of the corn could have been cabled to Calcutta in less than an hour and thousands of starving men could have been fed while the ship was taking cargo in New York. For there were stores of grain in Calcutta, and other Indian cities, as there are always stores of grain in all the great world markets, in Liverpool, Chicago, Buenos Ayres, and a hundred other centers. But the food of the people was locked up with silver keys. The monsoon rains had failed, and this had caused a failure of the crops in northern India. Local scarcity lifted local prices, and the famine was on.
When food prices rise the rich are not affected, the prosperous are annoyed, the poor suffer. But for the very poor there is no recourse; unless strong hands succor them, they perish from the earth. Yet it is never for an actual failure in the supply of food. The food is there, within a hand's reach, heaped up in golden mounds. One day the missionary and his helpers stood feeding the people in Kalpi, a sacred town on the Jumna River. The humble mission house stands near a heathen temple whose high tower commands the country for miles around. Within the temple rooms wheat was heaped to the very ceilings, guarded by the priests. When the missionary pointed to the starving people and rebuked the priests for hoarding precious grain, the holy men of India shrugged their shoulders and replied that it had been placed there by the merchants, and could not be disturbed.
And so, though the crops had failed, the undiminished stores were still sufficient for the millions. But if the millions could not furnish the price, that was their misfortune; the wheat would flow into other channels. As a matter of fact, during those same bitter months when famine stretched down the Gangetic plain, Hindu merchants were actually exporting wheat from the port of Karachi, and the famine lifted Liverpool prices, as well as Lucknow prices, to the great joy of the Punjabi farmers.
What is this human wonder?—multitudes starving within sight of food! The thing could not be possible among the lower animals; how is it possible among men? The answer is very simple. The Hindu baniya (grain merchant) is the owner of the stores of wheat and rice and millet that lie heaped up behind strong walls of brick and stone. Hindu law recognizes this ownership, and the British policy of occupation, in dealing with Hindu subjects, recognizes the Hindu civil code. The grain is his. He has purchased it from the village farmers during the preceding months and years. This is his business, for his father before him was a baniya. He intends to sell the grain in due time and make a profit for himself. If the rains are seasonable, and crops are abundant, he will sell but little, for the price is low. He will, rather, build new bins and increase his stores. But when the rains fail and grain is scarce, then prices will begin to rise. He will make an offering to Ram, the god of merchants, for the days are propitious and it will be a year of gladness. When the starving poor stand round his grain-shop and stretch out gaunt hands to him he will feed them twice or thrice as becomes a merchant of his wealth and dignity, for charity is honorable in all nations and in all religions. But when they press him on the fourth day and the fifth, he will say to them: "Begone! Bring me silver and I will give you grain." And when they will not go, but throng his doorway, and annoy his wealthy customers who have silver in their purses, he will call for the officers of the law to clear the street of them. If they wander into the fields and perish of hunger, what is that to him? They are not of his caste; let those care for them who may. Such is Hindu custom, and such is Hindu law.
Now it is folly to rail against this Hindu merchant, who is a very respectable and law-abiding man. The grain is his, his very own. He has been storing it for such a time as this, and shall not a man do what he will with his own? Nor will it avail to criticize the British government which permits Hindu merchants to carry on their business, and protects them, according to the law.
Certain estimable farmers in southern Kansas were indignant when they learned that Indian farmers were permitted to export Indian wheat during those months of the famine, when American farmers were being importuned to send relief. "They should have been compelled to hold their wheat in India to feed the starving people," they said. This question was put to them: "If there should be a crop failure in southern Kansas, and some of you had a thousand bushels in store, what would you do? Would you sell your wheat to your unfortunate neighbors, who needed it for seed, but could not possibly pay you more than forty cents a bushel, or would you haul your wheat to the nearest shipping point where the market price was one dollar?" One of them replied: "Well, I reckon a man has to look out for his own business!" This grows interesting; it is exactly what our heathen baniya said all during the famine. Our Kansas friends were not asked what they would do if the federal or State government should seek to force them to sell at forty cents, or at least keep their wheat in the county for the benefit of their impoverished neighbors. They were Kansans! And yet the men of Kansas speak like the men of Kanpur; and the men of Kanpur are Hindus, and the men of Kansas are Christians. Thus they speak: "Shall not a man do what he will with his own? And shall not the machinery of government protect him in the administering of his own estate?"
The appeal is to the very derivation of English words. Property is "propria." It is that which is "proper" to me, like my own proper name. It is mine exclusively. I am absolute owner of my property, and who shall hinder me in my lordship over my own affairs, so long as I obey the law, and respect the property of other men ? This is the language of ownership, of exclusive proprietorship. This was the familiar language of the men in Water Street, Chicago, in the winter of 1910, when they carried a trainload of potatoes across the Indiana State line and destroyed them, that they might truthfully report potatoes were scarce, and prices must be maintained—and the children of Chicago's poor were crying for food. Marry and forsooth! I have seen the people starve while Hindu merchants sat at the doors of their granaries, pitiless as the stones of their wheat-bins, but I never dreamed that ownership was capable of expressing such exquisite villainy, until I saw the working of it in the hands of Western men.
It is quite beside the mark to say that bad men become bad owners and good men are always good owners. It booted nothing that many good men held slaves; the thing itself was iniquitous, and good men could not change it. We are not discussing good folks nor bad folks, and we are not analyzing either good actions or bad actions. We are writing of a doctrine of ethics which cannot be both good and evil, which, like a fountain, cannot send forth both sweet water and bitter. The doctrine of absolute ownership, which so perfectly expresses the moral code of heathenism, how came it in the jurisprudence of Christian countries? Let us approach this thing more closely.