Rent, Interest & Profit

The Individualists opposed "usury" — manifested in rent (on real property), interest (on money), and profit (in exchange) — as tantamount to theft, the product of coercive privileges granted to capital by the State. The Individualists argued that capital was able to command tribute in the form of rent, interest, and profit because it was allowed to monopolize wealth by the power of the State. Limits on genuine competition constricted the natural opportunities for ordinary, productive people to such a degree that they had no choice but to bargain and exchange with the owners of wealth on desperately unequal terms. With the deck thus stacked for those who could manipulate the machinery of State authority, the rich could effectively steal from working people much of the value they had created in the economy; the unequal exchanges between the owning classes and the working classes were indeed theft — precisely to the extent that they were the result, not of free and open competition, but of violent and arbitrary offenses against liberty. Nevertheless, rather than proposing to ban or outlaw usury in all its forms, to realize the economic ideal through authority (the very means they opposed), the Individuals contended that equal exchange on the Cost Principle would be the natural and ineluctable result of the law of equal liberty and the sovereignty of the individual. They therefore inveighed against the State Socialists, a group beguiled by the notion that the State, always the protector of the ruling class, could be harnessed to create equitable economic conditions within society. Here are the Individualist in their own words...

"Under this law all individuals have a right to do anything and everything which they may choose voluntarily to do at their own cost. Make this law universal, and keep the hands of Church, State, and every other arbitrary, coercive despot away from it, and perfect Liberty will result as naturally as all other things finds their level in nature. The practice of usury is a sacred and inviolable prerogative of individuals who choose to contract for its payment. If the cost, in practice, ultimately falls upon the innocent and toiling masses, it is because this prerogative is forbidden to these proscribed slaves by the machine known as the State. . . . [I]f the power to take usury were extended to all men, usury would devour itself, in its very nature. But this is exactly one of the chief purposes of the State,—namely, to cut off a great part of the race from the practice of usury, and confine it to the few, so that they may live in luxury on the toil of their artificially-created slaves." - Benjamin R. Tucker

“We have seen that the whole device of income without work is fraudulent and without the least justification in ethics or economics; that it vitiates all exchanges with which it is connected, since what is produced by labor cannot be brought into any exchangeable relation whatever with that which it requires no labor to produce; that all exchanges which involve pure profit, rent, and interest, to the extent that they involve them are no economic exchanges whatever, but the fraudulent or hazardous obtaining of something for nothing.” – Joshua King Ingalls

"Interest for the use of money, or increase without service, is an unscientific savagism, widely prevalent, but which the light of reason will dispel. Value is a perishable (as well as stealable) quality; property decays, interest increases—the two drawing in opposite directions. If you loan me value, and I defend it from decay and thieves, ought I not to be paid for the service? The idea that interest is the loaner's share of the profits is a denial of the right of property; for, since there can be no wealth without service, he who gets profit without work is a thief." - Ezra Heywood

"[T]he State . . . gives idle capital the power of increase, and, through interest, rent, profit, and taxes, robs industrious labor of its products." - Benjamin R. Tucker 

"When it is seen that one form of exploitation, rent, is due to the monopoly in land sustained by the State in the interest of the landlord; that another form of exploitation, interest, is the result of monopoly of credit, a monopoly which limits the demand of labor and deprives capitalists and laborers of the opportunity of engaging in industrial and commercial enterprises; that profits are the result of the monopoly of industry and commerce, concentrated in fewer and fewer hands,—the conclusion is inevitable that the abolition of all these monopolies rather than the abolition of private enterprises, that the extension of freedom rather than the suppression of the competitive system, is the remedy and the solution . . . ." - Victor Yarros

"But when producers increase in numbers there arises competition in offering articles in exchange to benefit by the decrease of effort due to the division of labor. And presupposing enough producers of each commodity to satisfy the respective demands for them, competition will tend to make them exchange on a basis of labor time or effort necessary to overcome the obstacles of production.

"For, should the demand for any article be more than the supply of this article offered for exchange, the probability is that a rise in the price or value will ensue. And presupposing a number of marginal workers, that is, producers whose aptitude in producing different articles is approximately equal, there will be an influx of capital and labor into the production of the article which has increased in exchange value.

"So it may be said that, granting free competition, that is, free and equal access to the means of production, to the raw materials, and to an unrestricted market, the price of all article will always tend to be measured by the effort necessary for their production. In other words, labor as a factor in measuring value will become predominant.

"Should there be any restrictions, however, to these phases necessary to free competition, the desire or utility factor will tend to become more prominent as a factor in the exchange value of those things to which artificial hindrances to production have been applied.

"From the Anarchist standpoint, these artificial hindrances which are the cause of three main forms of usury—interest, profit, and rent, are, in the order of their importance, monopoly in the control of the circulating medium—money and credit, private property in land not based on occupancy and use, patent rights and copyrights, and tariffs." - Laurance Labadie

"Whatever contributes to production is entitled to an equitable share in the distribution! Wrong! Whoever contributes to production is alone so entitled. What has no rights that Who is bound to respect. What is a thing. Who is a person. Things have no claims; they exist only to be claimed. The possession of a right cannot be predicated of dead material, but only of a living person. In the production of a loaf of bread, the plough performs an important service, and equitably comes in for a share of the loaf. Absurd! A plough cannot own bread, and, if it could, would be unable to eat it. A plough is a What, one of those things above mentioned, to which no rights are attributable." - Benjamin R. Tucker

"Since labor is the source of wealth, interest, or increase without work, invades the fundamental right to property. Since all equitable exchange is simply exchange of services, interest being a monopoly price of money, should be an out-law in economical science." - Ezra Heywood

"[Henry] George gets into difficulty in discussing this question of the increase of capital simply because he continually loses sight of the fact that competition lowers prices to the cost of production and thereby distributes this so-called product of capital among the whole people. He does not see that capital in the hands of labor is but the utilization of a natural force or opportunity, just as land is in the hands of labor, and that it is as proper in the one case as in the other that the benefits of such utilization of natural forces should be enjoyed by the whole body of consumers." - Benjamin R. Tucker

"Does liberty exist where rent, interest, and profit hold the employee in economic subjection to the legalized possessor of the means of life? To plead for individual liberty under the present social conditions, to refuse to abate one jot of the control that legalized capital has over individual labor, and to assert that the demand for restrictive or class legislation comes only from the voluntary associations of workmen is not alone the height of impudence, but a barefaced jugglery of words. . . . Capital itself is man's best friend, the true saviour that opens the march of progress and that has transformed society into peaceable pursuits. But under the blasting hand of legislation, where privilege sits entrenched and mocks at penury and want, its mission is thwarted." - Dyer D. Lum

"[T]he poverty of working people, caused not by their lack of skill or thrift, is a condition imposed on creative Service by the stealthy greed of capitalists who, monopolizing land, currency, and other means of production and exchange, make advantage-taking not Service, the basis of business, force unnatural increase to favor a few cunning players of the game and render the progressive inequality of wealth inevitable. Property in land, which begets rent, and credit monopoly, which makes usury possible, are the chief means by which Capital, holding labor in lucrative vassalage, hinders and spoliates Enterprise to enrich a privileged few." - Ezra Heywood

"If the cost principle of value cannot be realized otherwise than by compulsion, then it had better not be realized. For my part, I do not believe that it is possible or highly important to realize it absolutely and completely. But it is both possible and highly important to effect its approximate realization. So much can be effected without compulsion,—in fact, can only be effected by at least partial abolition of compulsion,—and so much will be sufficient. By far the larger part of the violations of the cost principle—probably nine-tenths—result from artificial, law-made inequalities; only a small portion arise from natural inequalities. Abolish the artificial monopolies of money and land, and interest, profit, and the rent of buildings will almost entirely disappear . . . ." - Benjamin R. Tucker 

"Economists treat rent, interest, and profit as if solely embraced within the principles of exchange. Moral, and, generally, religious reformers have classed them with the tribute-gathering of despotic power. Now from neither of those suppositions alone can any satisfactory conclusion be deduced, because the terms embrace wholly contradictory and incompatible things under the same name." - Joshua K. Ingalls

"The right to do a thing and the abstract right of a thing involve two essentially different principles. For instance, we have defended the right of individuals to make contracts stipulating the payment of usury, and should strike at the very essence of Liberty if we did not; but this defence of individual right by no means carries with it the defence of usury as an equitable transaction per se. . . . The only way even to approximately solve the right and wrong of human acts is to leave every individual free to make such contracts with his fellows as to them seem good. The fact of how far given transactions are executed at the cost of others will soon be made evident in every case by the protest of those on whom the cost unjustly falls. If every individual is left free to make contracts and ever free to enter an effectual protest against transactions where the cost falls upon his shoulders without his consent, the consequent adjustments will reach the nearest possible approach to absolutely justice. . . . Liberty, therefore, must defend the right of individuals to make contracts involving usury, rum, marriage, prostitution, and many other things which it believes to be wrong in principle and opposed to human well-being. The right to do wrong involves the essence of all rights. Perfect liberty to contract for what is wrong is the shortest and surest way to abolish that wrong, provided that the State can be made to step down and out and leave the wrong to its merits in a fair fight with no favors." - Benjamin R. Tucker

"Some oppose usury, or what they term high rates of interest, but defend low rates; yet the difference is in degree, not in kind; for the labor and risk involved being paid, all beyond that is extortion. As well argue that chattel slavery was wrong in ten states, but right and constitutional in two or three. Hence, as an invasion of abstract justice, interest must be adjudged crime in the court of conscience; and the right to meddle with it, carries with it the right to abolish it altogether." - Ezra Heywood

"To say that the sovereignty of the individual is conditioned by Liberty is simply another way of saying that it is conditioned by itself. To condition it by the cost principle is equivalent to instituting the cost principle by authority,—an attempted fusion of Anarchism with State Socialism . . . ." - Benjamin R. Tucker

"By making all unused and unoccupied land free for anybody to use, monopoly rent would disappear, and monopoly price, the speculative price at which vacant land is held, which is equivalent to rent, which is, in fact, monopoly rent capitalized, could no longer exist. . . .

"The tendency of economic rent [in contrast to monopoly rent] is always to reduce itself to a minimum; because the inherent advantages of land are variable. That is, a disadvantage for one sort of use is often an advantage for another." - John Beverley Robinson

"The free-trade idea, logically applied, will abolish usury; and with usury will disappear the chief bone of contention between labor and capital. But, just at this point, free-traders go over to the enemy; and many writers on political economy, in flat contradiction of the essential principles of that science, have made elaborate arguments to prove self-government in finance, impossible! What shall we think of men who, having dethroned kings, demolished popes, destroyed slave oligarchies and assailed tariff monopoly, advise submission to the most oppressive and dishonest of despotisms, Usury?" - Ezra Heywood

"It is overlooked that a large proportion of the exchanges which take place in the world are in nowise affected by the rule of the market, that each one shall get the most he can for what he parts with, while giving the least possible for what he requires. Indeed but a small proportion of the transfers in social life are subject to competitive offers at all; and besides, in those transfers which are so subject, one party must yield to the other in each transaction all the profit which is realized by the other; otherwise the exchange would be reciprocal, no matter what the nominal profit, and the benefit being mutual, no inequality could result." – Joshua K. Ingalls

"Who pretends to generalize it [i.e., the Cost Principle]? Certainly no Anarchist. The pretension is that it will generalize itself as soon as monopoly is struck down. This generalization, far from being conventional, depends upon the abolition of conventions. Instead of being narrowly limited in practice, the labor measure of exchange will become, through Liberty, an almost universal fact." - Benjamin R. Tucker

"But what, according to your opinion, is to determine the value of labor?

"Its utility in free competition, which will determine its value of itself. All fixing of value by authority is unjust and nonsensical." - John Henry Mackay

"How to create want, how supply can 'corner' demand, by legislative or commercial devices, so as to 'make' money without earning it by personal service, is the impelling force of much that is called 'business,' but which is, really, repressive advantage-taking for speculative increase. The fact of labor's artificial subjection and impoverishment by capital is so apparent to unbiased observers, that argument to show it would be superfluous, did not recognized exponents of thought gravely assert that, whatever there may be in other and older countries, there is no tyranny of capital in America; that laborers in our cities and manufacturing districts who would not be 'crowded out of existence by the mere fact of their numbers' need not, and should not, contest the case with capitalists, but should quietly withdraw and 'Go West.' It is said that capital exercises no real tyranny, because labor is free to accept or reject the terms offered. But bound by subtler chains than of old, labor is enslaved and defrauded by conditions and devices which capital creates and administers. Through the morally indefensible claim to profits; through the control of land, water-courses, steam, railways, currencies, and governments, — capital, by sheer compulsive power, is master of the situation; can bide its time, and starve labor into submission. What whips, revolvers, and bloodhounds were to chattel bondage, usurped control of raw materials and the means of exchange, whereby want and destitution are produced to order, is to the profit system." - Ezra Heywood

"I find everywhere, among my socialist friends, men who have for so long insisted that the only way to remedy unmerited poverty is to nationalize the means of production, that they now advocate nationalization for its own sake, and condemn competition, 'private profit', and individual ownership, as things pernicious in themselves. Among these men has grown up an entire philosophy of history, setting up nationalization of industry as the consummation of a tendency discovered by them in social progress of all times." - Henry Meulen