Power & Market

A “New” Book of Essays by William Graham Sumner


Part of our mission at the Mises Institute is preserving and promoting underrated and great radical liberals and libertarians of the past. One of these is the great Yale sociologist William Graham Sumner. Longtime mises.org readers will be familiar with this as the author of “What Social Classes Owe to Each Other,” “The Forgotten Man,” and “The Conquest of the United States by Spain.” The latter essay is perhaps the most important as the US continues its drive toward starting World War III. 

We have now posted a “new” collection of essays by Sumner called “Earth-Hunger and Other Essays.“ This was first published in 1914, and is only “new” in the sense that the book is new to mises.org. Our readers may be most interested in the final section titled “Democracy” in which Sumner wrestles with the problem of interest groups committed to harnessing the power of the state to enrich themselves and impoverish others. Several of the articles cover the topic of plutocracy, and Sumner observes that the plutocrat is

a man who, having the possession of capital, and having the power of it at his disposal, uses it, not industrially, but politically; instead of employing laborers, he enlists lobbyists. Instead of applying capital to land, he operates upon the market by legislation, by artificial monopoly, by legislative privileges; he creates jobs, and erects combinations, which are half political and half industrial.”

Throughout it all, Sumner understands the power and the danger of the state, noting: 

“The state is the greatest monopoly of all; it can brook no rival or colleague in its domain; it is necessarily sole and supreme. If the state is purely a civil organization this monopoly character of it is beneficial; if, however, the state enters as an agent into the industrial or social relations of its own subjects, it becomes the greatest and worst of all monopolies, the one best worth having under one’s control, the best prize of base struggles, and the most powerful engine by which some men may exploit others.”

You can read the whole thing in the Mises Library. 

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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