Chapter 5 — Protection and Producers

all protectionist arguments runs the notion that transporters and traders are non-producers, whose support lessens the amount of wealth which other classes can enjoy. This is a short-sighted view. In the full sense of the term transporters and traders are as truly producers as are miners, farmers, or manufacturers, since the transporting of things and the exchanging of things are as necessary to the enjoyment of things as is extracting, growing, or making. There are some operations conducted under the forms of trade that are in reality gambling or blackmailing, but this does not alter the fact that real trade, which consists in exchanging and transporting commodities, is a part of production — a part so necessary and so important that without it the other operations of production could only be carried on in the most primitive manner and with the most niggard results.

And not least important of the functions of the trader is that of holding things in stock, so that those who wish to use them may be able to get them at such times and places, and in such quantities, as are most convenient. The profits of traders and "middlemen" may sometimes be excessive (and anything which hampers trade and increases the capital necessary to carry it on tends to make them excessive), but they are in reality based upon the performance of services in holding and distributing things as well as in transporting things.

If each consumer had to go to the producer for the small quantities individually demanded, the producer would have to charge a higher price on account of the greater labor and expense of attending to such small transactions. On the other hand, the going to the producer direct would involve an enormous increase of cost and trouble to the consumer, even when such a method of obtaining things would not be utterly impossible. What "middlemen" do is to save to both parties this trouble and expense.

And further than this, these middlemen between producer and consumer effect an enormous economy in the amount of commodities that it is necessary to keep in stock to provide for a given consumption, and consequently vastly lessen the loss from deterioration and decay. Let anyone consider what amount of stores would be needed to keep in their accustomed supply, even for a month, a family used to easy access to those handy magazines of commodities which retail dealers maintain. He will see at once that there are a number of things such as fresh meat, fish, fruits, etc., which it is impossible to keep on hand, so as to be sure of having them when needed. And of the things that would keep longer, such as flour, sugar, oil, etc., he will see that but for the retail dealer it would be necessary that much greater quantities should be kept in each house, with a much greater liability to loss from decay or accident. But it is when he comes to things not constantly needed, but which, when needed, though it may not be once a year or once a lifetime, may be needed very badly — that he will realize fully how the much-abused "middleman" economizes the capital of society and increases the opportunities of its members.

That in civilized society today there seem to be too many storekeepers and other distributors is quite true. But so there seem to be too many professional men, too many mechanics, too many farmers, and too many laborers. What may be the cause of this most curious state of things it may hereafter lie in our way to inquire, but at present I am only concerned in pointing out that the trader is not a mere "useless exchanger," who "adds nothing to the real wealth of society," but that the transporting, storing, and exchanging of things are as necessary a part of the work of supplying human needs as is growing, extracting, or making.

Nor should it be forgotten that the investigator, the philosopher, the teacher, the artist, the poet, the priest, though not engaged in the production of wealth, are not only engaged in the production of utilities and satisfactions to which the production of wealth is only a means, but by acquiring and diffusing knowledge, stimulating mental powers and elevating the moral sense, may greatly increase the ability to produce wealth. For man does not live by bread alone.

He who by any exertion of mind or body adds to the aggregate of enjoyable wealth, increases the sum of human knowledge or gives to human life higher elevation or greater fullness — he is in the large meaning of the words, a "producer," a "working man," a "laborer," and is honestly earning honest wages. But he who, without doing aught to make mankind richer, wiser, better, happier, lives on the toil of others — he, no matter by what name of honor he may be called, or how lustily the priests of Mammon may swing their censers before him, is in the last analysis but a beggarman or a thief.