A NEWSPAPER MAN, with glasses and long hair and a tragic brow, called on Dad at his hotel one evening, and said he would like to have a few words with him.
Dad glared at him.
“You’ve been a successful man on the land?” the scribe commenced, seating himself confidently opposite Dad, and producing his note-book.
“Middlin’,” was Dad’s answer.
“At all events, you have made money, acquired property, and all that; done better than most?”
“May be . . . perhaps.”
“Have you any opinions on socialism, Mr. Rudd?”
“I have—plenty,” Dad said aggressively.
“Well, do you believe in socialism?”
“No!” And Dad gave his head a violent shake.
“Because I don’t want to become a savage, that is why.”
The newspaper man smiled, as if he pitied Dad, and said:
“Doesn’t it ever occur to you that there would be more happiness in the country if there was a system under which every person born in it would be sure of getting what he required, instead of being compelled to struggle for existence in the midst of poverty and distress and disappointment?”
“No!” (with great violence) “I do not! God bless my soul, man, if you had such a system you might as well be dead. You would wipe out all the happiness that ever was in the country. What on earth use or pleasure would a man’s feelings be to him? ’Tis the thought, the hope, of getting on that puts go into a man—if he is a man; if he isn’t it doesn’t matter—and encourages him to work and use his head and do his level best. And ’tis the wish that is in his heart to succeed and make money, and own property, that takes the dulness and the pain and the sting out of his hard toil; ’tis the hope he have, man, that he will overcome, and get to the top, that makes the way easier and interesting for him; and as he finds himself getting on, his happiness gets greater and greater. It isn’t the man who have not a penny or a stick of property that is badly off—he is not the one to be pitied—’tis the poor devil who have never a wish—who have not the determination to get out of his own way and wade into things, and gain for himself a bit of property.”
“Then you don’t believe that the equal distribution of property—that is, wealth—would bring universal happiness?”
“No!” (wildly). “I do not believe such non-sense. ’Twould bring universal unhappiness and misery. ’Twould do away with rivalry, man. There wouldn’t be any industry worth speaking about, because there could be no encouragement for a man to produce any more than he required. We would be on a level with the wild blacks. There would be no inducement for one man to outdo or win the race from another. There would be no reward for the plodding, industrious man—he would be no better off than the fellow who sat in the shade of the fence all day talking about the colour of his cattle pup, or the cove who put in his time shooting at jam-tins on a post—with someone else’s gun and ammunition. And the end of it all would be that there wouldn’t be a particle of property anywhere—’twould disappear altogether, and we would get back to where we started. We would be a homeless lot of savages without a rag to our backs, and holding children’s and old women’s ideas about the history of the piles of bricks that would be left to mark the ruins of Parliament House and the ‘Courier’ Building, and we would be tomahawking one another from behind, and thieving and stealing one another’s bit of kangaroo and ’possum out of the ashes! ’Tis the pain that a man feels from the want of a thing that puts courage—that puts devil into him, and gets him out of bed to strike out for himself, and when he gets out and gets bustled, he thinks, and uses his head and his hands, and sets his teeth, and gathers money. Equal distribution of people’s property, man, could pan out in nothing but the equal division of the poverty and misery of a country!”
There was a pause.
“But under socialism the law would give to every person so much property, and compel everyone to work?” the interviewer said.
“The law!” Dad growled. “What have the law to do with a man’s property? You talk nonsense! The law is only a servant—the policeman that protects a man’s property for him. It never had, and could never have, the giving of property to anyone. The law was born in the same cradle as property, and when property disappears the law will be as dead as the man they hanged in the gaol last year.”
“But doesn’t the law, now, provide work for people?”
“Well, you are a simple man,” Dad answered irritably. “That is what the law don’t do, and never did do. It could never say to a farmer, ‘Work on that selection there, and I’ll give you 3s. 6d. a bushel for your corn.’ But it could say, and does say to him every day: ‘Grow corn, and I will see that it is yours, Anderson, and that you get paid for it when you sell it.’ Can you not see the difference, man?”
“That’s right enough,” the newspaper man said reflectively.
“Of course, it is right enough,” Dad went on forcibly, “because ’tis sense, and the wish or the yearning, or whatever you like to call it, to be industrious and useful to himself came from the man’s own heart, and if you strangle that wish in him he will do nothing, he will produce nothing, and will be idle and as useless as a wooden man; and there will be no wealth, there will be no property of any kind, unless it is a yamstick or a stone tomahawk or something.”
“Now, look here, Mr. Rudd, do you think that God or Nature ever intended that poverty and starvation should exist in the midst of luxury? Is it a just law that allows such a state of things?”
“Good heavens, man, don’t I tell you that the law have nothing whatever in the wide, wide world to do with making people either poor or rich? The law doesn’t keep a man poor; it helps to make him rich. To be poor as a rat or a piece of paling is the first, the real, the natural state of us all—the same as it is for the howling bush at the back of my place to be covered with trees and scrub and dead timber. And the man who is contented to mope and crawl about, and look on and drag himself lazily along from sunrise to sunset, from one day to another, is the most natural man in the world—he is the savage. And it’s back to his d—— level that you, with your equal distribution of people’s property, want to drag everybody!”
“But if, as you maintain, poverty is the primitive state of everyone, how is a poor man to raise or better himself under the present system?”
“In the same way that he would if he was in an uncivilised country—by work; by the sweat of his brow. But not bein’ in an uncivilised country, but in one where there’s stacks of money and property around him, he starts with this advantage of having a chance of success, and is filled with the hope of succeeding, and he knows if he do succeed he will enjoy what he gets. The law makes him sure of that, and that’s what the law is for; and I tell you^ as we live now, there is so much raised, so much produced, that fortune is possible to any poor man; and it doesn’t matter how poor he is, the very fact that he is a worker puts him among the candidates for success. And the hope of reaching the goal gives him pleasure. If it didn’t, no one would try; every man-jack of us would sit down on our haunches and play mumbleth-peg or throw stones at someone’s dog till our stomachs pinched us and compelled us to look around and hunt for a wallaby or something for the dinner.”
“But a man born in poverty has a long way to go before he reaches the land of plenty.”
“Of course he have; but it depends upon the road he takes and the way he takes it; and dun’t you know that every poor man who starts out along that road is in a tearing divil’s own hurry. He is restless and eager to enjoy things speedily—and, if he can, to enjoy them without putting in any work. And isn’t it this eagerness of the poor man which is dreadful—don’t I know it? And doesn’t it make everyone of them who haven’t anything feel inclined to get up in arms against them who have something?”
Dad paused for breath.
“Having been poor yourself,” the newspaper man asked, “do you think it just that one man should be in possession of thousands and thousands of pounds—money that he himself never did a day’s work to earn, that became his by inheritance—while other poor wretches not twenty yards from him are starving?”
“Why should it not be just, man?” Dad shouted.
“Isn’t it a satisfaction and a pleasure to a poor man to know that if he succeed he will be in a position to leave some property to those to whom we have most affection, and who have affection for him? Isn’t it a triumph for him to feel that by his own labour and intelligence he was able to save them from going through the struggle he went through himself? It’s one of the rewards he gets for all his labour and industry, man; and it’s one of the values he puts on his property.”
“Don’t you think that all men are equal, and should be paid the same wage for their work?”
“What are you talking about?” roared Dad, “All men paid the same wage for their work? Do you think I could get a man to build my wheat stacks every year for the same wage I pay the scarecrow of a fellow who pokes about the slop buckets and feeds my pigs? And do you think, Andy Purcell, who shears two hundred of my sheep a day, would be content with the same money I give Tom Brown for tomahawking fifty or sixty of them in two days for me? Why, sir, you have no more brains than a bandicoot. I would never get my shearing done at all; it would drag along like a donkey race, and I would see d—— little of my wool, neither; ’twould be all in the paddocks. Before the shed would be cut out at the rate they would shear, the sheep there would be nothing but a mob of bare-bellies and rosellas. To the devil with you, man! Get out of here. Be off with your d—— socialism, and do something!”
The interviewer left.