If every capitalist only got income from the product of his own work in the past, which he had spent, as in this case, on developing industry, his claim to a return on it would hardly need stating. He would have saved his ten thousand dollars or two thousand pounds, and instead of spending it on two thousand pounds' worth of amusement or pleasure for himself he would have preferred to put it at the disposal of those who are in need of capital for industry and promise to pay him 5 per cent. or L100 a year for the use of it. By so doing he increases the demand for labour, not momentarily as he would have done if he had spent his money on goods and services immediately consumed, but for all time, as long as the railway that he helps to build is running and earning an income by rendering services. He is a benefactor to humanity as long as his capital is invested in a really useful enterprise, and especially to the workers who cannot get work unless the organizers of industry are supplied with plenty of cheap capital. In fact, the more plentiful and cheap is capital, the keener will be the demand for the labour of the workers.
But when Dr. Nearing points out that the income of the ten thousand dollars would be equally secure if the owner of them had them left him by his father or given him by his uncle, then at last he smites capital on a weak point in its armour. There, is, without question, much to be said for the view that it is unfair that a man who has worked and saved should thereby be able to hand over to his son or nephew, who has never worked or saved, this right to an income which is derived from work done by somebody else. It seems unfair to all of us, who were not blessed with equally industrious and provident fathers and uncles, and it is often bad for the man who gets the income as a reward for no effort of his own, because it gives him a false start in life and sometimes tends to make him a futile waster, who can only justify his existence and his command over other people's work, by pointing to the efforts of his deceased sire or uncle. Further, unless he is very lucky, he is likely to grow up with the notion that, just because he has been left or given a certain income, he is somehow a superior person, and that it is part of the scheme of the universe that others should work for his benefit, and that any attempt on the part of other people to get a larger share, at his expense, of the good things of the earth is an attempt at robbery. He is, by being born to a competence, out of touch with the law of nature, which says that all living things must work for their living, or die, and his whole point of view is likely to be warped and narrowed by his unfortunate good fortune.
These evils that spring from hereditary property are obvious. But it may be questioned whether they outweigh the advantages that arise from it. The desire to possess is a strong stimulus to activity in production, because possession is the mark of success in it, and all healthy-minded men like to feel that they have succeeded; and almost equally strong is the desire to hand on to children or heirs the possessions that the worker's energy has got for him. In fact it may almost be said that in most men's minds the motive of possession implies that of being able to hand on; they would not feel that they owned property which they were bound to surrender to the State at their deaths. If and when society is ever so organized that it can produce what it needs without spurring the citizen to work with the inducement supplied by possession, and the power to hand on property, then it may be possible to abolish the inequities that hereditary property carries with it. As things are at present arranged it seems that we are bound to put up with them if the community is to be fed and kept alive. At least we can console ourselves with the thought that property does not come into existence by magic. Except in the case of the owners of land who may be enriched without any effort by the discovery of minerals or by the growth of a city, capital can only have been created by services rendered; and even in the case of owners of land, they, and those from whom they derived it, must have done something in order to get the land.