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“You say I am free? And yet I cannot even live save by your leave! You say I am free? All your laws proclaim it, it is my proudest boast; yet I may not possess the thing which I make with my own labor! You say I am free? Yet the hours in which I am to work, and the conditions under which I have to work are imposed upon me by others. You say I am free? Yet the product of my labor does not belong to me, it belongs to another, for whose advantage I am constrained to drudgery. You say I am free? Yet I cannot choose what I will consume save within very narrow limits. I must take what is presented to me by a system of production which I did not create and which is indifferent to my desires. You say I am free and equal with my fellows? But in practice I am in thrall to those who hold that whereby men live; machines and the soil and the raw material and the necessary reserves of food and clothing and the rest which men, called my equals, have in their control and which I have not.”
Almost in living memory the mass of modern men lived in houses which were their own, produced food and clothing and the rest from land which was their own, possessed the fruits of their toil, decided what they would produce and what they would consume. Within living memory there still remained so large a proportion of men whose political freedom corresponded to an economic freedom that the old tradition survived. A society in which free men owned their farms, their stores, their blacksmith’s forges, their fishing craft, their carpenter shops and the rest, still continued though it was threatened and diminishing. Today the disproportion between the men economically free and the men economically unfree, has grown so hugely as to throw the whole State out of balance. To restore the balance is the chief task before us.
“Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.”
The ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the general populace, rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state socialism) or a few large businesses or wealthy private individuals (plutarchic capitalism).