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Review of Society of the Future
by Gustave de Molinari (1899)


by Charles Gide (1847-1932)


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De Molinari, Outline of the Political and Economic Organisation of the Society of the Future.
[= The Society of Tomorrow] Paris, GUILLAUMIN, 1899.

GM-SF.1 M. de Molinari perpetually rewrites the same book; but since he does it well, and always returns to the highest problems, not only of political economy but of human destiny, it is always a pleasure to read it again.
GM-SF.2 One must also admire the lovely hardiness of this scientific life which appears never to have been touched by doubt. At the end of this volume, the author reproduces an appeal dated to 1848 and addressed by him to the socialists, in which he expressed himself as follows: “If we prove to you that all the evils which you attribute to free competition have their origin not in liberty but in monopoly, in servitude; if we prove to you that a society of perfect freedom, a society disencumbered of every restriction, of every fetter, such as has never been seen in history, would be exempted from the greatest part of the miseries of the present regime; if we prove to you that the organisation of such a society would be the most just, the best, the most favourable to advancement in production and equality in distribution; if we should prove all this, I ask, what would be your response?” And in the more than half-century since M. de Molinari wrote these words, he has not ceased, in all his books, his attempts to produce and reproduce this demonstration.
GM-SF.3 In the society of the future which he once again envisions for us, all the obstacles that at present hinder the free play of competition (or of supply and demand, which is the same thing), legal monopolies resulting from the imperfection of means of transportation, from insufficient knowledge of the market, even from the timidity of speculation, will be abolished. The result of this will be that the prices of all goods will coincide more and more exactly with their cost, and this cost itself will be at a minimum; that the equilibrium between production and consumption will, by a necessary consequence, be more and more perfect; that the distribution of wealth will be a simple phenomenon of exchange with capital and labour being exchanged like products against products, on the same market and in accordance with the same laws, that is to say, in accordance with the costs necessary for producing the capital and for producing the manpower, every question of justice being reduced to a natural necessity.
GM-SF.4 Yet these natural laws will, in great measure, completely satisfy socialist demands, inasmuch as they ensure the continuous increase in salaries and likewise the continuous lowering of interest. The price of labour must rise, because intensive production requires high-quality labour, and “as the quality of labour rises, so the costs of production increase.” The rate of interest must fall, because the elements necessary to its remuneration, namely the deprivation and risks incurred by the lender, are diminishing. In this connection the author makes the very just remark that, “thanks to the possibility of realising immediately those values known as ‘movable’, the deprivation resulting from the immobility and unavailability, for a greater or lesser period, of capital invested has disappeared.” And he foresees the day when “the remuneration of this productive agent will fall to the utmost minimum possible, that is to say, nearly zero.”
GM-SF.5 All of this is already familiar, and constitutes the program of optimistic political economy of which it so happens that M. de Molinari is, after Bastiat, the principal author, and which tends to be taken up again today under a not very different form by the hedonistic school, with the exception that the latter eliminates all concern with final purpose.
GM-SF.6 But what is unique to M. de Molinari is the same program transposed into the political order, all public services, roads and transportation, education, administration of justice, even security, entrusted to large companies subjected to the regime of free competition, and which in consequence will carry them on at the lowest possible price and in the best interests of the consumers. Indeed, as regards the police for example (it is not M. de Molinari who cites the fact, but he could do so), doesn’t the Pinkerton agency in the United States undertake to provide security to anyone who requires it, by furnishing them with police agents? And in this way all taxes will be eliminated, or at least transformed into simple subscriptions rigorously proportional to the service rendered, insurance premiums of the same nature as, but much more economical than, those paid to insurance companies today.
GM-SF.7 War too will disappear, because it will no longer bring any profit, nor even repay its costs. But in connection with the author’s previous book, The Greatness and Decline of War, we have attempted to demonstrate here, on the contrary, that when it succeeds, war has been, alas! a magnificent industrial operation.
GM-SF.8 In short, military warfare, which is simply one of the forms of destructive competition, will disappear, in order to be replaced by industrial warfare, which is simply one of the forms of productive competition, and which, unlike the former, assures victory to him who serves the best interest of all.
GM-SF.9 Such is this city of the future. It appears scarcely less utopian than that of Salento or Icaria; [Online editor’s note: The sites of imaginary communities depicted in the Adventures of Telemachus (1699) by François Fénelon (1651-1715) and the Voyage to Icaria (1840) by Étienne Cabet (1788-1856), respectively. – RTL] and it seems to us, all in all, less attractive, perhaps because we do not see in it sufficiently clear differences from the one in which we are living, and because in the final analysis it lacks an ideal. It seems that the author himself senses this, for this so optimistic book ends with a melancholy phrase, and one ill-suited to offer much inspiration. He asks himself what, in the final analysis, constitutes the goal of economic evolution: “And this goal is the growth in power of the human species for the sake of a destination unknown to us.”

Ch. GIDE.

Review of Political Economy (Dec. 1899, no. 12), pp. 1041-42.




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