Saturday, May 12, 2007

How NOT to Read Josiah Warren

[The following note comes from David Ames, Robinson Crusoe's Money (1876, pages 59-60). I include in here for the specimen notes, both of which were new to me, and for the hints about E. D. Linton's scheme, but it can also stand as a textbook failure to read Josiah Warren's actual proposals. Those who have just read William Pare's "Equitable Villages in America" will get a chuckle at the differences between the two accounts.]

* If to any it may seem puerile and unnecessary to enter into such explanations, it may be well to remind them that one of the schemes for a new currency, which has of late found some earnest advocates in the United States, is that of Josiah Warren, of Ohio, who proposed that currency “should be issued by those men, women, and children who perform useful service “—i. e., grow corn, mine coal, catch cod-fish, pick up chestnuts and the like—” but by nobody else;“ such results of service being deposited in safe receptacles, and having receipts of deposit issued against them to serve as “equitable money.” A further axiom of Mr. Warren was, “that the most disagreeable labor” (not the most useful) “is entitled to the highest compensation;” and, therefore, inferentially entitled to issue the most money. A specimen of this equitable money before the writer reads as follows:Of course, to make this money equitable, and its issue, as claimed, “the satisfactory solution of the great problem of labor and capital,” there must be some presupposed equitable relation between eight hours of shoe-making and a hundred pounds of corn. But one hundred pounds of corn in Illinois are the result of only a quarter as much labor as a hundred pounds in New England; and what comparison is there between eight hours’ work of a skilled mechanic and that of a more cobbler in making shoes? or of the man who performs a disagreeable, slavish piece of work, and of the genius who invents or makes a machine that makes this disagreeable work unnecessary?

E. D. Linton, of Boston, one of Warren’s most eminent disciples, improves on Warren’s ideas, and proposes that the United States Government should prepare and issue a currency, which should read as follows:

And the same inferentially in respect to pigs, coal, shoes, and the services of doctors, lawyers, and cooks. So, then, if the note in not to be on its face a lie, and the promise in to be actually performed on demand, the necessity will be absolute on the part of the Government of the United States to have store -houses for wheat at Chicago, pig-pens at Peoria, coal-mines or dépôts at Pottsville, and trained professionals ready on call to plead a case, preach a sermon, cure a cold, and cook a dinner; and all of these last must take their pay in pigs if required. But as a pig has one value at Peoria, and another value at almost every other place, the dollar’s worth of pig which the United States would pay might be a whole pig in one place, a half in another, and possibly only the snout in another.

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