The Fruits of Civilization – John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill

The general tendency of things throughout the world is to render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind. ~ John Stuart Mill

English politician, political economist, and philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), like Adam Smith, favored a largely unfettered market.

Mill’s first-published impression of equality may be summed up by his opposition to progressive taxation, which he termed “a mild form of robbery,” by penalizing those who, he supposed, worked harder and saved more. His later views took a more socialist bent: Mill even advocated a cooperative wage system. His ideas on taxes evolved to advise taking more from those who lived on “unearned” incomes as contrasted to those who actually worked for a living.

It is not the fortunes which are earned, but those which are unearned, that it is for the public good to place under limitation. ~ John Stuart Mill

In contrast to Mill’s evolution on income taxes, his stance on inheritance taxes was steady. He wanted to eliminate the silver spoon, so as to not give the offspring of the wealthy a head start. Mill went as far as wanting to tax the rich for flaunting their wealth. Mill straddled 2 social worlds, in mixing with the upper crust while recognizing the plight of the working class.

The normal state of human beings is of struggling to get on. ~ John Stuart Mill

Mill’s take on welfare was cautious: he feared that an easy dole would create generations who were weaned of the work ethic. Mill further worried that providing welfare payments which amounted to a living wage would promote higher birth rates.

Mill was a classical liberal: a libertarian in favoring individual freedoms, as well as minimizing government intervention in business affairs, except to avoid the “certain evil” of excessive exploitation. He was a strong advocate of social reforms to help working people. Mill was the first person in the history of Parliament to call for giving women the right to vote.

Mill advocated public education for paupers. Besides the 3 R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic), Mill thought it good to inculcate capitalist values as well as moral education.

It appears to me impossible but that the increase of intelligence, of education, and of love of independence among the working classes, must be attended with the corresponding growth of the good sense which manifests itself in provident habits of conduct. ~ John Stuart Mill

Mill had an idealistic streak: he yearned for an age when humans would care more about dignity, integrity, and justice than struggling to earn a living.

I am not charmed with the ideal of life held out by those who think that the normal state of human beings is that of struggling to get on; that the trampling, crushing, elbowing, and treading on each other’s heels, which form the existing type of social life, are the most desirable lot of human kind, or anything but the disagreeable symptoms of one of the phases of industrial progress. ~ John Stuart Mill

Mill decried the United States, where he thought poverty had been eliminated, but that “the life of one sex is devoted to dollar hunting, and of the other to breeding dollar hunters.”

Mill was prescient in anticipating the environmental destruction and attendant decline in quality of life that capitalism has wrought in its quest for unlimited growth.

If the Earth must lose that great portion of its pleasantness which it owes to things that the unlimited increase of wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger, but not a better or a happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compel them to it. ~ John Stuart Mill

Mill subscribed to the Malthusian theory of population growth, though he was concerned only with the number of workers, so that they might enjoy the fruits of technological progress and capital accumulation, rather than falling wages from an oversupply of labor. By this rationale he favored birth control.