On Profit and Property

President Coolidge confronted the same impulse in his time to remove ownership and eradicate profit in the name of “equality” that is prevalent today. The egalitarianism of the French and Russian Revolutions, still lauded by those who were new to America, failed to produce the results of the earlier Revolution of 1776 not because of incompetence or inferior people. It was because the American Revolution was rooted in more ancient principles and timeless truths of work, law, ownership and reward. The experiment in discarding property and profit had been tried in America, in its earliest settlement by William Bradford and the brave souls who disembarked at Plymouth Rock in 1620. As Bradford records in his Journals, they nearly starved to death under that “communal” experiment. This trial-run in socialism was found incapable of producing the moral or material results which a system that protects ownership of property and profit for work done accomplishes whenever and wherever observed (“Of Plymouth Plantation” pp.115-6).

President Coolidge, well-aware of that experience among the pilgrims, knew of its value in whatever age one lives. In an address right before the 1924 election, he explains the wisdom of ownership and profit, “When service is performed, the individual performing it is entitled to the compensation for it. His creation becomes a part of himself. It is his property. To attempt to deal with persons or with property in a communistic or socialistic way is to deny what seems to me to be this plain fact. Liberty and equality require that equal compensation shall be paid for equal service to the individual who performs it. Socialism and communism cannot be reconciled with the principles which our institutions represent. They are entirely foreign, entirely un-American. We stand wholly committed to the policy that what the individual produces belongs entirely to him to be used by him for the benefit of himself, to provide for his own family and to enable him to serve his fellow men.” The notion that an individual has an entitlement to own the reward of his own effort, not the work of another is increasingly a foreign concept. It is no less valid a truth.

As Coolidge understood what seems lost to our day, the compensation of profit and ownership goes to the one who earns it. It is not the entitlement of the state to claim ownership of an individual’s property, redistributing to the idle in the name of “equality.” Such is an insult to the hard-working. The principle of service obligates a person to love his neighbor, providing from what he owns to help others. It is not the role of government to dispense favors with the property of individuals. As Coolidge would say again on other occasions, “There is just one condition on which men can secure employment and a living, nourishing, profitable wage, for whatever they contribute to the enterprise, be it labor or capital, and that condition is that someone make a profit by it…When you deny the right to profit, you deny the right of a reward to thrift and industry.”

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