THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Economic Emancipation, III: Why NOT Capital Homesteading?

Yesterday we looked at some of the positive baggage loaded on to the term “Capital Homesteading.”  Yes, we know that “baggage” is often used in a pejorative sense, but try and travel anywhere without it for any length of time.

Anyway, let’s continue with the list of advantages of using the term.  The original Homestead Act:

Own, or Be Owned
Gave ordinary people the chance to become owners of landed capital on easy terms.  This made the Midwest and the West the center of political power at a crucial time, although it has also means that today’s Department of Agriculture wields influence and power far beyond what you would expect.  (Mike Espy, when he was Secretary of Agriculture, understood the importance of extending the land homestead concept to industry and commerce, but was marginalized by the Clinton administration before he could do more than start discussions.)

The guy doesn't look like Turner, but the quote is his.
The 1890s, when the “free” land available under the Homestead Act to all intents and purposes ran out, marked a watershed in U.S. history.  As Frederick Jackson Turner noted in a paper he delivered at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, the end of “free” land under the Homestead Act meant the end of democracy.

The very next year in response to the Great Depression of 1893-1898 “Coxey’s Army” descended upon Washington to demand that the government go into debt to create jobs rebuilding infrastructure and inflate the currency to stimulate growth.  Bumper crops of wheat in 1897 and 1898, and crop failures in Europe brought the country out of the depression, but nothing replaced the land frontier as a source of capital ownership on easy terms for ordinary people.

Judge Peter Stengar Grosscup, presiding justice of the United States Seventh Court of Appeals in Chicago wrote a series of articles advocating the “people-ization” of large corporations, but because he relied on past savings to finance expanded share ownership, nothing came of it.

Grosscup served on a committee investigating monopolies and trusts with Archbishop John Ireland in 1907; Ireland made great efforts to get landed capital into the hands of Irish immigrants to Minnesota, and seems to have been investigating the potential of commercial and industrial capital, but again, locked into past savings, nothing could be done on a broad scale.

Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum, which the agrarian socialist Henry George believed was directed at him personally as a result of his attacks on Catholic social teaching, specifically pointed out that human beings have a natural right to own all forms of capital, “whether the property consist of land or chattels.”  (Rerum Novarum, § 5.)

Pope Leo XIII
Given Leo XIII’s focus on the American Church and the general situation in America, as evidenced by contemporary newspaper accounts that we have collected (Leo XIII, to the surprise of many people today, was very popular in the United States with both Catholics and non-Catholics), was strongly advocating widespread ownership of industrial and commercial capital in addition to land, seemingly using the American success with the Homestead Act as an example of the benefits that expanded ownership brings.  As he said,

“We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.

“Many excellent results will follow from this; and, first of all, property will certainly become more equitably divided. For, the result of civil change and revolution has been to divide cities into two classes separated by a wide chasm. On the one side there is the party which holds power because it holds wealth; which has in its grasp the whole of labor and trade; which manipulates for its own benefit and its own purposes all the sources of supply, and which is not without influence even in the administration of the commonwealth. On the other side there is the needy and powerless multitude, sick and sore in spirit and ever ready for disturbance. If working people can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land, the consequence will be that the gulf between vast wealth and sheer poverty will be bridged over, and the respective classes will be brought nearer to one another. A further consequence will result in the great abundance of the fruits of the earth. Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them; nay, they learn to love the very soil that yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of good things for themselves and those that are dear to them. That such a spirit of willing labor would add to the produce of the earth and to the wealth of the community is self evident. And a third advantage would spring from this: men would cling to the country in which they were born, for no one would exchange his country for a foreign land if his own afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life. These three important benefits, however, can be reckoned on only provided that a man's means be not drained and exhausted by excessive taxation. The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair.”  (Rerum Novarum, §§ 46-47.)