TO THE EDITOR. When I questioned Mr O’Regan’s contentions I naturally was not so simple as to imagine that he would admit that my arguments were sound and to the point. To have admitted this would have been to surrender his claims and make his position untenable. Mr O’Regan, therefore, very naturally adopts the only course available under the circumstances—namely, of distorting my arguments so as to make them appear ridiculous, and then, with an expression of astonishment, he colors his reasonings with expletives—the stock phrases of the supernatant politician. This, of course, takes on with the unthinking, and are the tactics usually employed in order to divert attention from the main issue when pointedly pressed for a reply. So far as Mr O’Regan’s utterances in reference to myself are concerned, let me say that I am coated with a’paohyderm quite impervious to all personal flagellations, I have, therefore, no objection to expletives, as they neither hurt me nor make
any converts to the single tax. It will be admitted that before anyone can remedy any defect a complete knowledge is required of the subject to be dealt with. For example, no man can repair a machine unless he knows the purpose for which the machine is intended.
Mr O’Regan next proceeds to localise the defects, aud having done this he devises the remedy. Precisely, this is what our politicians must do. All are agreed that the flaw in our industrial organism is the absence of an equitable system of distribution, but all are not agreed upon any scheme for the removal of this defect. To determine the superiority of one proposal above that of another requires therefore primarily a thorough knowledge of the economic working of our system of production and distribution. Without this knowledge it becomes impossible for anyone to determine how far the single tax will act towards a solution. Under these circumstances it is fortunate for. me that the utterances of our modern legislators have degenerated to such an extent as to be indistinguishable from the ordinary plebeian. Had it been otherwise I should perhaps have felt, after reading Mr O’Regan’s reply, that a literary duel with an M.H.R. would leave me with very little hope of impressing spectators, who might consider the position of an adversary a proof of mental superiority. Happily, such delusions do not now predominate. Sensible people prefer to remain neutral on subjects they do not fully understand, and unless one’s argument appeals direct to their understanding small chance remains of making converts indeed. Looking at our industrial machinery just as it stands in full operation, we see that the income of all who are directly employed in the production of wealth is determined by an economic law (not a natural law), which is termed the law of supply and demand ; indeed, every ihdi-, vidual who earns his own “ living comes within this category, but some, and especially primary producers, much more so than others. Forexpmple, the Civil servants.are much less exposed to the influence of supply, and demand than the farm laborer, or the artisan, hence the remuneration oUthe Civil servant is usually higher and less subject to reduction than the wages of the productive laborer, who is continually exposed--to-the full force of competition. But leaving aside the variation which exists in* the inoomes of individuals,- competition is the arid dominant factor in determining rent, interest, and wages. ~ All' other influences which are brought to bear' as ’a check to competition are only of temporary 1 duration (vide _ political economy). This being ■ an established axiom, we see that the single tax- must accomplish a change as yet not described by Ms O’Regsn os
Henry decree. The new reform must either subvert competition ot control it insuch'a manner that the desire! object boh" be; obtained, . :>
It may be presumptuous on my parfcth. BU ggest that the most effective method pf describing for public enlightenment,, this (the moat interesting part of the subject) would be by some comprehensive example. However, that is Mr O’Regan’s concern and not-mine. The fact that competition, which is a terra synonymous with supply and demand, is controlling the distribution of -'weaith^ahoultfcremfnd^ailvlaboF^reforiiiers that so long as this system remains the' determining factor of value so long will the remuneration of labor remain a bare subsistence. The science "of political economy, has clearly revealed to us-, this fact. If we look back _o ver the history of economics we observe that while rent and interest have continually fluctuated yet they are slowly falling towards gratuity. But it is not so with the subject of wages. This, in all periods of . commercial history, keeps oscillating, sometimes above and sometimes below the average '■ standard of comfort which rules amongst the workers. By this is meant that whatever amount of wages (in money) is required to purchase the absolute necessaries of life that amount will be the centre around which the wages of the. workers will oscillate, falling or rising according to the supply of labor available becoming scarce or plentiful. Now, if we bear this in mind and go -back to Mr O’flegau’a contentions, we find that he is quite right when he states that the removal of all. Customs dues ■ and other burdensome taxations will be an immediate benefit- I —a real rise in the workers’ wages. But, as we have seen, competition is increasingly beatiug against the workero’ income, forever endeavoring to press it down to a level bordering.upon semi-starvation. It is therefore only a question of time when this increased margin will disappear, and the same relative position which existed previous to the abolition of the single tax will again dominate. I therefore reiterate that a reduction in rent and taxation is not a solution of the question of determining the true value of labor.
Tiic evil to be remedied ia the fact that, while the productiveness of labor may double, treble, or quadruple, as we see it has done during the last century, the remuneration cannot possibly increase much beyond the average standard of comfort. In proportion as our acquaintance with the ramification of qur present system increases so will we become more conscious that the remedy which is to cure must deal with the determinent factor of value, which is the seat of the evil. The solution of this problem, it is hardly necessary'to add, will require the united efforts of the two factions, which so far have been at loggerheads in our political arena. Bub to enter upon this phase of the .question is going outside the subject before us.
In conclusion, it is unnecessary for me to repeat the arguments which Mr O’Regan declares to be “illogical,” “untenable,” etc. To anyone acquainted with the terms of political economy my statements would be clear, and I have, therefore, no anxiety on that score. After all, reflective people are the moat impressible, and while the art of true depiction may be a rare gift —perhaps possessed by none—yet the mass of the people generally perceive when a description approaches to correctness. To the public, therefore, must be left the verdict. It is for them to approve or disapprove of all reformatory measures, and with the advancing flood of knowledge it becomes more and more difficult to induce them to believe in proposals that have not been properly explained. I therefore hope that MrO’Regan will enlighten usbyexplaining how the single tax surmounts the difficulties I have mentioned.—l am, etc., W. Sivebtses. Dunedin, September 9.
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“INDUSTRIAL WAR.”, Evening Star, Issue 10417, 11 September 1897, Supplement