Free Trade and the Single Tax vs. Imperialism:

A Letter to Andrew Carnegie

Joseph Fels

[December 1910]

You have given ten million dollars to an international peace fund. The object is worthy. The donor's intentions are good. But a worthy object and a good intention cannot alone make a gift a real benefaction. Donations, no matter how large, to suppress evils, no matter how great, can accomplish nothing unless they should be used to remove the fundamental cause of the evils.

Aggressive warfare is always the result of what appears to be an economic necessity. The last great war, that between Russia and Japan, will serve as an illustration. Those two nations fought over the possession of Korea. Russia wanted Korea because she feels the need of a seaport accessible all the year round, that she may be able to export and import merchandise freely without being bothered with any tariff restrictions other than those of her own making. Japan felt that her independence would be threatened -- that is, she realized that her refusal to trade freely with the rest of the world would create a temptation for other nations sufficiently strong to deprive her of independence.

If conditions of absolute free trade had prevailed, Russia would no more have felt the lack of an accessible seaport than does the State of Ohio. If Japan maintained no custom houses, the power that would try to rob her of her independence would have nothing to gain and very little to lose. Henry George made this clear in his Protection or Free Trade.

"What," he wrote, "are the real substantial advantages of this Union of ours? Are they not summed up in the absolute freedom of trade which it secures, and the community of interests that grows out of this freedom? If our states were fighting each other with hostile tariffs and a citizen could not cross a state boundary without having his baggage searched, or a book printed in New York could not be sent across the river to New Jersey until duty was paid, how long would our Union last, or what would it be worth? The true benefits of our Union, the true basis of the interstate peace it secures, is that it has prevented the establishment of state tariffs, and given us free trade over the better part of a continent."

The "need of foreign markets" which is so frequently used as an argument to justify wars of criminal aggression is a "need" that would not be felt if the aggressing nation enforced justice at home. Our own war in the Philippines would not have received popular endorsement but for the false hopes of "new foreign markets" held out to commercial interests. This bait was held out and was swallowed, in spite of the fact that potential new markets exist here at home.

The unemployed and partially employed population and the underpaid workers form a potential market far greater than any war of conquest could secure. To secure this new market, labor need but be given access to the natural resources now withheld by private monopolists. The vacant and the partially used city lots, and the valuable mining and agricultural lands held out of use for speculation, are causing poverty, unemployment, and low wages. The result is under-consumption of manufactured products, which manufacturers and merchants are bamboozled into believing can be relieved by forcing the people of weaker nations to purchase.

Then again, the interests which dragged the United States into the disgraceful Philippine adventure would not and could not have succeeded in doing so, had not the existence of land monopoly at home made it evident that the same institution would surely be continued by our government in the Philippines.

Will the Carnegie Fund be used to any extent in abolishing land monopoly, thus checking any possible repetition of successful appeals to commercial cupidity in support of land-grabbing schemes abroad? Hardly.

A gift of ten millions to secure relief from malaria in a swampy district, which could not be used to secure the draining of the swamps, or the destruction of the mosquitoes would be just as effective as your peace donation.