Rutherforth on Locke, the Penultimate Episode

I’ve broken up the inordinately long final para., to help bring this epic to a digestible conclusion:

To strengthen this opinion concerning the introduction of property, and to answer an objection, which has been hinted at already, Mr. Lock compares the value of labour with the value of the land, with which it is so mixed.

“Nor is it, says he, so strange, as perhaps before consideration may appear, that the property of labour should be able to balance the community of land. For it is labour indeed, that puts the difference of value on every thing; and let any one consider what the difference is between an acre of land planted with tobacco, or sugar, sown with wheat or barley; and an acre of the same land lying in common, without any husbandry upon it, and he will find, that the improvement of labour makes the far greater part of the value. I think, as he goes on, it will be but a very modest computation to say, that of the products of the earth, useful to the life of man, nine [p.59] tenths are the effects of labour: nay if we will rightly estimate things, as they come to our use, and cast up the several expences about them, what in them is purely owing to nature and what to labour, we shall find, that in most of them ninety nine parts in a hundred are wholly to be put on the account of labour.”

But we may ask in return, what the value of pure labour is, when considered merely as the personal act of the labourer? If neither the timber of his plough, nor the horses that draw it, nor the meat, which they eat, nor the manure, which he lays upon his land, nor the grain, with which he sows it, are his own, what will you rate his labour at? Certainly you rate it much too high, if upon comparing it with the value of the land, you set it at ninety nine parts in a hundred, or even at nine parts in ten. But you will suppose all these materials to be his own. I ask therefore how he gained property in them? You answer, by his labour, and explane this labour to be only the act of taking them or separating them from the common stock. Now this labour is of little or no value at all; and consequently you cannot say, in this instance, that the common right of mankind is overbalanced by the labour of the occupant. And if, in one instance, a labour, which is worth nothing, when compared with the thing acquired, will give the occupant property; then we can have no reason to imagine, that it is the high rate of labour, when compared with the value of land, which so overbalances to the common right of mankind to the land, as to give the labourer an exclusive right to it. You have only dazzled our eyes with this high account of the value of labour; since you must, in order to give it so high a value, suppose property to have been introduced before- [p.60] hand by a labour, which is of little or no value at all.

The end is nigh…

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