An Economist on the Future Society (1904)

by S. R.

GM-SF.1 M. G. de Molinari, the editor of “Le Journal des Economistes” and one of the leading political economists of Europe, would doubtless be astonished to learn that his new book, “The Society of To-Morrow: A Forecast of Its Political and Economic Organization,” has made it impossible for him to emigrate to, settle in, or even visit the great republic of the west, the United States of America – that is, if Roosevelt, who does not propose to run amuck among the corporations, whatever the law may say, does propose to run amuck among those to whom the anti-Anarchist clause of the immigration act is applicable. yet such is the fact. Were M. de Molinari to arrive in one of our ports, he would run the risk of arrest, detention in a cage, and subsequent deportation. He may be a respected, “sane and safe” author and teacher in France. He may be perfectly free to travel in Russia ad Turkey, in Persia and Morocco, but in the United States he would be treated as a dangerous person, an enemy of law and order.
GM-SF.2 For, whether he knows it or not, he is an Anarchist. He disbelieves in organized government, even in a government of and by Roosevelt. According to him, in the society of to-morrow there will be no government in the present sense of the term.
GM-SF.3 With Spencer and others, de Molinari holds that war, once a cause of social consolidation and progress, is now a source of evil, waste, and reaction. It has become harmful, he says, and no longer fulfills any useful purpose. Why, then, does the state of war continue? Why do not the civilized nations abolish it as the duel has been abolished (or practically abolished as a means of enforcing justice between man and man), and settle their differences by arbitration? The answer given in the book is as follows:

Governments are enterprises – in commercial language, concerns – which perform certain services, the chief of which are internal and external security. The directors of these enterprises, the civil and military chiefs and their staffs, are naturally interested in their aggrandizement on account of the material and moral benefits which such aggrandizement secures to themselves. Their home policy is therefore to augment their own functions within the State by arrogating ground properly belonging to other enterprises; abroad, they enlarge their domination by a policy of territorial expansion. It is nothing to them if these undertakings do not prove remunerative, since all costs, whether of their services or of their conquests, are borne by the nations which they direct.
GM-SF.4 De Molinari proceeds to point out that the relation of State and people as producer and consumer, respectively, of services connected with security and order, is not one of free contract. Government not only brooks no competition, but imposes its alleged services on willing and unwilling alike. The people have no choice. They must pay taxes and obey the laws which infringe upon their equal freedom, whether they need or desire the governmental services, or stand ready to dispense with them. The reforms and revolutions of the past have not touched this fundamental evil – an evil which political progress has not even indirectly tended to correct. Indeed, de Molinari easily shows that the governments of to-day are less interested than were their forerunners to refrain from abusing their powers and wasting national life and treasure.
GM-SF.5 The purpose of this article does not require an elaborate summary of the anti-war and pro-arbitration argument of the book under notice. Suffice it to say that, in the author’s opinion, a radical change is inevitable, since government does not pay. The “economic man” is bound to revolt sooner or later against a condition which is as ruinous as it is unreasonable. He is bound to demand the abolition of war and the reduction of the expenses of government. International arbitration under a collective guarantee will be forced on the jingo politicians, and then disarmament will become possible.
GM-SF.6 But this is not all the reform which the society of to-morrow will realize. A permanent state of peace involves further and – in principle – more revolutionary changes. It is in forecasting these that de Molinari discloses his unconscious Anarchism.
GM-SF.7 Experience, he says, having demonstrated the inferiority and inefficiency of the State even in rendering what has been considered its primary functions, it is probable that nations will prefer to contract with firms or companies offering the most certain guarantees of the supply of the commodity most needful, security. Competition will probably enter this field, with the usual result – better service at lower cost. For instance, the insuring society will undertake to indemnify the insured if attacked in life or property. Justice will also be a competitive article. “The assurer and the body of the assured will be jointly interested in maintaining an impartial and enlightened judiciary for adjudicating on crimes and delicts. Adam Smith has long since shown [in reference to court fees, originally the chief support of the English courts] how competition solves this problem, and there can be little doubt that competition between fully independent judicial ‘companies’ will hereafter repeat the same solution.”
GM-SF.8 Whatever men need and cannot secure profitably as individuals will be matter for bargain between agents of the associated consumers and those of the company undertaking risks of the particular class. One more direct quotation:

Like the central government, and impelled by identical considerations, local administration continually enlarges its attributes by trespass on the domain of private enterprise and local budgets add their burdens to that of the State. ... The actual duties appertaining to local systems are by no means numerous. They include little more than a small number of naturally collective services – building and maintaining sewers, paving, lighting, etc. Police systems are properly a part of the central machine. Yet, minor as are these local services, it cannot be doubted that, in common with the great departmental undertakings of the central government, they could be better and more economically performed by the employment of a private specialized agency.
GM-SF.9 Readers of Liberty will find the whole book delightful and refreshing, if rather naďve in certain places. Its leading ideas are not new in these pages, but de Molinari seems to have reached them in a different way from that of the philosophical Anarchist. To him the question is simply and severely economic. Government is too wasteful; it is destroying industrial society, not aiding or protecting it. The waste is inseparable from monopoly, and the remedy is – competition.
GM-SF.10 De Molinari does not touch upon the status of the non-aggressive individual who chooses to ignore the defensive association and to forego its benefits. He would do away with taxes and have premiums and contributions in their stead. But are these to be absolutely voluntary? This point is not treated. However, the burden and spirit of the book are plainly Anarchistic, and, if this distinguished economist should wish to come to the United States for the purpose of explaining and amplifying his views, he would be informed that he would render himself liable to detention and deportation along with criminals, diseased persons and other undesirable arrivals. Oh, this is a land of free and brave people!

S. R.

Liberty 14, no. 23 (whole no. 385 – September 1904), p. 2.

[Online editor’s note: While the identity of “S. R.” is unknown, S. H. Randall has been suggested as a possible candidate; see Morgan Edwards, “Neither Bombs Nor Ballots: Liberty and the Strategy of Anarchism,” p. 90n., in Michael E. Coughlin, Charles H. Hamilton, and Mark A. Sullivan, eds., Benjamin R. Tucker and the Champions of Liberty: A Centenary Anthology (St. Paul MN: Michael E. Coughlin, 1987), pp. 65-91. (Incidentally, S. R. seems to be unaware of Molinari’s earlier, far more anarchistic writings.) This article appears in the editorial section of Liberty, a section that Benjamin Tucker introduces thus:

The appearance in the editorial column of article over other signatures than the editor’s initial indicates that the editor approves their central purpose and general tenor, though he does not hold himself responsible for every phrase or word. But the appearance in other parts of the paper of articles by the same or other writers by no means indicates that he disapproves of them in any respect, such disposition of them being governed largely by motives of convenience.

Thus we may reasonably conclude that Tucker shares S.R.’s view of Molinari, probably including the characterisation of Molinari as an anarchist (a title he was likewise willing to extend to Wordsworth Donisthorpe and Auberon Herbert). – RTL]

[See also the Political Science Quarterly review]

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