Dr. and Mrs. Leete were evidently not a little startled to learn, when
they presently appeared, that I had been all over the city alone that
morning, and it was apparent that they were agreeably surprised to see
that I seemed so little agitated after the experience.
"Your stroll could scarcely have failed to be a very interesting one,"
said Mrs. Leete, as we sat down to table soon after. "You must have
seen a good many new things."
"I saw very little that was not new," I replied. "But I think what
surprised me as much as anything was not to find any stores on
Washington Street, or any banks on State. What have you done with the
merchants and bankers? Hung them all, perhaps, as the anarchists
wanted to do in my day?"
"Not so bad as that," replied Dr. Leete. "We have simply dispensed
with them. Their functions are obsolete in the modern world."
"Who sells you things when you want to buy them?" I inquired.
"There is neither selling nor buying nowadays; the distribution of
goods is effected in another way. As to the bankers, having no money
we have no use for those gentry."
"Miss Leete," said I, turning to Edith, "I am afraid that your father
is making sport of me. I don't blame him, for the temptation my
innocence offers must be extraordinary. But, really, there are limits
to my credulity as to possible alterations in the social system."
"Father has no idea of jesting, I am sure," she replied, with a
The conversation took another turn then, the point of ladies' fashions
in the nineteenth century being raised, if I remember rightly, by Mrs.
Leete, and it was not till after breakfast, when the doctor had
invited me up to the house-top, which appeared to be a favorite resort
of his, that he recurred to the subject.
"You were surprised," he said, "at my saying that we got along without
money or trade, but a moment's reflection will show that trade existed
and money was needed in your day simply because the business of
production was left in private hands, and that, consequently, they are
"I do not at once see how that follows," I replied.
"It is very simple," said Dr. Leete. "When innumerable different and
independent persons produced the various things needful to life and
comfort, endless exchanges between individuals were requisite in
order that they might supply themselves with what they desired. These
exchanges constituted trade, and money was essential as their medium.
But as soon as the nation became the sole producer of all sorts of
commodities, there was no need of exchanges between individuals that
they might get what they required. Everything was procurable from one
source, and nothing could be procured anywhere else. A system of
direct distribution from the national storehouses took the place of
trade, and for this money was unnecessary."
"How is this distribution managed?" I asked.
"On the simplest possible plan," replied Dr. Leete. "A credit
corresponding to his share of the annual product of the nation is
given to every citizen on the public books at the beginning of each
year, and a credit card issued him with which he procures at the
public storehouses, found in every community, whatever he desires
whenever he desires it. This arrangement, you will see, totally
obviates the necessity for business transactions of any sort between
individuals and consumers. Perhaps you would like to see what our
credit-cards are like.
"You observe," he pursued as I was curiously examining the piece of
pasteboard he gave me, "that this card is issued for a certain number
of dollars. We have kept the old word, but not the substance. The
term, as we use it, answers to no real thing, but merely serves as an
algebraical symbol for comparing the values of products with one
another. For this purpose they are all priced in dollars and cents,
just as in your day. The value of what I procure on this card is
checked off by the clerk, who pricks out of these tiers of squares the
price of what I order."
"If you wanted to buy something of your neighbor, could you transfer
part of your credit to him as consideration?" I inquired.
"In the first place," replied Dr. Leete, "our neighbors have nothing
to sell us, but in any event our credit would not be transferable,
being strictly personal. Before the nation could even think of
honoring any such transfer as you speak of, it would be bound to
inquire into all the circumstances of the transaction, so as to be
able to guarantee its absolute equity. It would have been reason
enough, had there been no other, for abolishing money, that its
possession was no indication of rightful title to it. In the hands of
the man who had stolen it or murdered for it, it was as good as in
those which had earned it by industry. People nowadays interchange
gifts and favors out of friendship, but buying and selling is
considered absolutely inconsistent with the mutual benevolence and
disinterestedness which should prevail between citizens and the sense
of community of interest which supports our social system. According
to our ideas, buying and selling is essentially anti-social in all
its tendencies. It is an education in self-seeking at the expense of
others, and no society whose citizens are trained in such a school can
possibly rise above a very low grade of civilization."
"What if you have to spend more than your card in any one year?" I
"The provision is so ample that we are more likely not to spend it
all," replied Dr. Leete. "But if extraordinary expenses should exhaust
it, we can obtain a limited advance on the next year's credit, though
this practice is not encouraged, and a heavy discount is charged to
check it. Of course if a man showed himself a reckless spendthrift he
would receive his allowance monthly or weekly instead of yearly, or if
necessary not be permitted to handle it all."
"If you don't spend your allowance, I suppose it accumulates?"
"That is also permitted to a certain extent when a special outlay is
anticipated. But unless notice to the contrary is given, it is
presumed that the citizen who does not fully expend his credit did not
have occasion to do so, and the balance is turned into the general
"Such a system does not encourage saving habits on the part of
citizens," I said.
"It is not intended to," was the reply. "The nation is rich, and does
not wish the people to deprive themselves of any good thing. In your
day, men were bound to lay up goods and money against coming failure
of the means of support and for their children. This necessity made
parsimony a virtue. But now it would have no such laudable object,
and, having lost its utility, it has ceased to be regarded as a
virtue. No man any more has any care for the morrow, either for
himself or his children, for the nation guarantees the nurture,
education, and comfortable maintenance of every citizen from the
cradle to the grave."
"That is a sweeping guarantee!" I said. "What certainty can there be
that the value of a man's labor will recompense the nation for its
outlay on him? On the whole, society may be able to support all its
members, but some must earn less than enough for their support, and
others more; and that brings us back once more to the wages question,
on which you have hitherto said nothing. It was at just this point, if
you remember, that our talk ended last evening; and I say again, as I
did then, that here I should suppose a national industrial system like
yours would find its main difficulty. How, I ask once more, can you
adjust satisfactorily the comparative wages or remuneration of the
multitude of avocations, so unlike and so incommensurable, which are
necessary for the service of society? In our day the market rate
determined the price of labor of all sorts, as well as of goods. The
employer paid as little as he could, and the worker got as much. It
was not a pretty system ethically, I admit; but it did, at least,
furnish us a rough and ready formula for settling a question which
must be settled ten thousand times a day if the world was ever going
to get forward. There seemed to us no other practicable way of doing
"Yes," replied Dr. Leete, "it was the only practicable way under a
system which made the interests of every individual antagonistic to
those of every other; but it would have been a pity if humanity could
never have devised a better plan, for yours was simply the application
to the mutual relations of men of the devil's maxim, 'Your necessity
is my opportunity.' The reward of any service depended not upon its
difficulty, danger, or hardship, for throughout the world it seems
that the most perilous, severe, and repulsive labor was done by the
worst paid classes; but solely upon the strait of those who needed the
"All that is conceded," I said. "But, with all its defects, the plan
of settling prices by the market rate was a practical plan; and I
cannot conceive what satisfactory substitute you can have devised for
it. The government being the only possible employer, there is of
course no labor market or market rate. Wages of all sorts must be
arbitrarily fixed by the government. I cannot imagine a more complex
and delicate function than that must be, or one, however performed,
more certain to breed universal dissatisfaction."
"I beg your pardon," replied Dr. Leete, "but I think you exaggerate
the difficulty. Suppose a board of fairly sensible men were charged
with settling the wages for all sorts of trades under a system which,
like ours, guaranteed employment to all, while permitting the choice
of avocations. Don't you see that, however unsatisfactory the first
adjustment might be, the mistakes would soon correct themselves? The
favored trades would have too many volunteers, and those discriminated
against would lack them till the errors were set right. But this is
aside from the purpose, for, though this plan would, I fancy, be
practicable enough, it is no part of our system."
"How, then, do you regulate wages?" I once more asked.
Dr. Leete did not reply till after several moments of meditative
silence. "I know, of course," he finally said, "enough of the old
order of things to understand just what you mean by that question; and
yet the present order is so utterly different at this point that I am
a little at loss how to answer you best. You ask me how we regulate
wages; I can only reply that there is no idea in the modern social
economy which at all corresponds with what was meant by wages in your
"I suppose you mean that you have no money to pay wages in," said I.
"But the credit given the worker at the government storehouse answers
to his wages with us. How is the amount of the credit given
respectively to the workers in different lines determined? By what
title does the individual claim his particular share? What is the
basis of allotment?"
"His title," replied Dr. Leete, "is his humanity. The basis of his
claim is the fact that he is a man."
"The fact that he is a man!" I repeated, incredulously. "Do you
possibly mean that all have the same share?"
The readers of this book never having practically known any other
arrangement, or perhaps very carefully considered the historical
accounts of former epochs in which a very different system prevailed,
cannot be expected to appreciate the stupor of amazement into which
Dr. Leete's simple statement plunged me.
"You see," he said, smiling, "that it is not merely that we have no
money to pay wages in, but, as I said, we have nothing at all
answering to your idea of wages."
By this time I had pulled myself together sufficiently to voice some
of the criticisms which, man of the nineteenth century as I was, came
uppermost in my mind, upon this to me astounding arrangement. "Some
men do twice the work of others!" I exclaimed. "Are the clever workmen
content with a plan that ranks them with the indifferent?"
"We leave no possible ground for any complaint of injustice," replied
Dr. Leete, "by requiring precisely the same measure of service from
"How can you do that, I should like to know, when no two men's powers
are the same?"
"Nothing could be simpler," was Dr. Leete's reply. "We require of each
that he shall make the same effort; that is, we demand of him the best
service it is in his power to give."
"And supposing all do the best they can," I answered, "the amount of
the product resulting is twice greater from one man than from
"Very true," replied Dr. Leete; "but the amount of the resulting
product has nothing whatever to do with the question, which is one of
desert. Desert is a moral question, and the amount of the product a
material quantity. It would be an extraordinary sort of logic which
should try to determine a moral question by a material standard. The
amount of the effort alone is pertinent to the question of desert. All
men who do their best, do the same. A man's endowments, however
godlike, merely fix the measure of his duty. The man of great
endowments who does not do all he might, though he may do more than a
man of small endowments who does his best, is deemed a less deserving
worker than the latter, and dies a debtor to his fellows. The Creator
sets men's tasks for them by the faculties he gives them; we simply
exact their fulfillment."
"No doubt that is very fine philosophy," I said; "nevertheless it
seems hard that the man who produces twice as much as another, even if
both do their best, should have only the same share."
"Does it, indeed, seem so to you?" responded Dr. Leete. "Now, do you
know, that seems very curious to me? The way it strikes people
nowadays is, that a man who can produce twice as much as another with
the same effort, instead of being rewarded for doing so, ought to be
punished if he does not do so. In the nineteenth century, when a horse
pulled a heavier load than a goat, I suppose you rewarded him. Now, we
should have whipped him soundly if he had not, on the ground that,
being much stronger, he ought to. It is singular how ethical standards
change." The doctor said this with such a twinkle in his eye that I
was obliged to laugh.
"I suppose," I said, "that the real reason that we rewarded men for
their endowments, while we considered those of horses and goats merely
as fixing the service to be severally required of them, was that the
animals, not being reasoning beings, naturally did the best they
could, whereas men could only be induced to do so by rewarding them
according to the amount of their product. That brings me to ask why,
unless human nature has mightily changed in a hundred years, you are
not under the same necessity."
"We are," replied Dr. Leete. "I don't think there has been any change
in human nature in that respect since your day. It is still so
constituted that special incentives in the form of prizes, and
advantages to be gained, are requisite to call out the best endeavors
of the average man in any direction."
"But what inducement," I asked, "can a man have to put forth his best
endeavors when, however much or little he accomplishes, his income
remains the same? High characters may be moved by devotion to the
common welfare under such a system, but does not the average man tend
to rest back on his oar, reasoning that it is of no use to make a
special effort, since the effort will not increase his income, nor its
withholding diminish it?"
"Does it then really seem to you," answered my companion, "that human
nature is insensible to any motives save fear of want and love of
luxury, that you should expect security and equality of livelihood to
leave them without possible incentives to effort? Your contemporaries
did not really think so, though they might fancy they did. When it was
a question of the grandest class of efforts, the most absolute
self-devotion, they depended on quite other incentives. Not higher
wages, but honor and the hope of men's gratitude, patriotism and the
inspiration of duty, were the motives which they set before their
soldiers when it was a question of dying for the nation, and never
was there an age of the world when those motives did not call out what
is best and noblest in men. And not only this, but when you come to
analyze the love of money which was the general impulse to effort in
your day, you find that the dread of want and desire of luxury was but
one of several motives which the pursuit of money represented; the
others, and with many the more influential, being desire of power, of
social position, and reputation for ability and success. So you see
that though we have abolished poverty and the fear of it, and
inordinate luxury with the hope of it, we have not touched the greater
part of the motives which underlay the love of money in former times,
or any of those which prompted the supremer sorts of effort. The
coarser motives, which no longer move us, have been replaced by higher
motives wholly unknown to the mere wage earners of your age. Now that
industry of whatever sort is no longer self-service, but service of
the nation, patriotism, passion for humanity, impel the worker as in
your day they did the soldier. The army of industry is an army, not
alone by virtue of its perfect organization, but by reason also of the
ardor of self-devotion which animates its members.
"But as you used to supplement the motives of patriotism with the love
of glory, in order to stimulate the valor of your soldiers, so do we.
Based as our industrial system is on the principle of requiring the
same unit of effort from every man, that is, the best he can do, you
will see that the means by which we spur the workers to do their best
must be a very essential part of our scheme. With us, diligence in the
national service is the sole and certain way to public repute, social
distinction, and official power. The value of a man's services to
society fixes his rank in it. Compared with the effect of our social
arrangements in impelling men to be zealous in business, we deem the
object-lessons of biting poverty and wanton luxury on which you
depended a device as weak and uncertain as it was barbaric. The lust
of honor even in your sordid day notoriously impelled men to more
desperate effort than the love of money could."
"I should be extremely interested," I said, "to learn something of
what these social arrangements are."
"The scheme in its details," replied the doctor, "is of course very
elaborate, for it underlies the entire organization of our industrial
army; but a few words will give you a general idea of it."
At this moment our talk was charmingly interrupted by the emergence
upon the aerial platform where we sat of Edith Leete. She was dressed
for the street, and had come to speak to her father about some
commission she was to do for him.
"By the way, Edith," he exclaimed, as she was about to leave us to
ourselves, "I wonder if Mr. West would not be interested in visiting
the store with you? I have been telling him something about our system
of distribution, and perhaps he might like to see it in practical
"My daughter," he added, turning to me, "is an indefatigable shopper,
and can tell you more about the stores than I can."
The proposition was naturally very agreeable to me, and Edith being
good enough to say that she should be glad to have my company, we left
the house together.