The Library of Original Sources - Vol. 10

The Library of Original Sources - Vol. 10

Read FREE!

The Library of Original Sources - Vol. 10

The Library of Original Sources - Vol. 10

Read FREE!

Excerpt

SOCIAL MOVEMENTS

PROBABLY the most important social movement of the present time springs from a conception of the state as a social organism in opposition to the Adam Smith conception of it as economically merely a conglomeration of individuals. On the latter theory each individual should be left to himself, competition should be uncontrolled, the government should keep out of economic affairs. On the former basis, the state is an organism which should control all its parts for the good of the whole.

Such attempts by government to control trade are not new, but the object would seldom be “for the good of the whole” except where was acknowledged the sovereignty of the people. It is interesting to glance back over such attempts to control industry made by governments, and at the same time compare the efforts made by individuals or classes to control it for their own benefit,

In Greece, Sparta by its peculiar laws made itself an agricultural aristocracy with the work done by serfs. Trade was practically annihilated. In Athens all were free to come and trade. The government, however, fixed a maximum price on olives, grain, barley meal, bread; saw that the food was kept pure, and the measures correct; and prevented a “corner” on grain by compelling two-thirds of that imported to be put on the market. Here, too, as in Sparta, the traders were foreigners and not a respected class. The manual work was done by slaves.

In Italy the land fell into the hands of large slave-holders, who used it for grazing purposes. The government sold imported grain for less than the small Italian farmers could raise it, and thus ruined the small farmer for the benefit of the population at Rome. The Roman senator was forbidden from entering into any speculative trade venture, e. g., commerce, or the farming of the revenue; but this law was often avoided by joining an association. Almost all large businesses at Rome were carried on by incorporated associations. A man was advised to send out fifty ships with forty-nine other merchants rather than to send out one on his own account. It gave him the benefit of the law of averages,—acted as now does insurance, which was unknown in those days.

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