Wangling Versus Horse Trading

CIVILIZED man appears to be much concerned at the moment about the nature of the economic structure under which he lives. It is a new preoccupation. For most of the preceding century he was concerned about the political structure under which he lived. During the greater part of the century before that he was concerned about the ecclesiastical structure under which he lived. In the first of these three periods he was anxious about his salvation; in the second about his liberty; and now he is anxious about his prosperity.

Enormous quantities of books were written some two hundred years ago about how men could be saved. Still more enormous quantities of books were written one hundred years ago about how men could be made free. Both kinds of books are now, with very few exceptions, entirely unreadable.

Enormous quantities of books are being written to-day about how men can be made prosperous — by Communism, by Fascism, or by Individualism. One hundred years from now, and indeed much sooner, these works will be just as unreadable as their predecessors.

The truth is that these discussions never settle the question of how man is to be saved or made free or made prosperous. They merely bring forward a lot of different views on the subject that is being considered, and men, or rather communities, adopt those views about it which are most congenial to their temperament and mode of life. It is highly improbable, then, that the relative merits of Communism, Fascism, and Individualism will be settled by talking about them. Why bother our heads, therefore, about what these relative merits are? The thing that matters about a political or economic system is not what its merits are, but how congenial it is to our temperament and mode of life. I propose to examine briefly the all-important question: Which of the three — Communism, Fascism, or Individualism — is the most convenient structure of economic society for me to live under? This is a problem which is never discussed in any of the books — partly, perhaps, because the authors do not know me and my peculiar temperament. But, obviously, for me it is the whole thing.

The first question which I put to myself — the first question which any reasonable individual should put to himself, and which the authors of these books never do put to themselves or to anybody — is: How am I likely to get on under Communism, or under Fascism or Individualism, as the case may be ? For every economic system has its own special technique for getting on, and the technique which is useful under capitalistic Individualism is of no use whatever under Communism or Fascism.

There is no difficulty about this inquiry. The method of getting on under capitalistic Individualism — and by getting on I mean Getting On, not just making a living — is perfectly well known, and perfectly simple. It consists in exchanging things of less value for things of more value. It does not matter whether you make a few exchanges, each with a great increase in value, or a great many exchanges -with only a small increase. It does not matter whether you promote a merger or operate a ten-cent store. All that does matter is the total increment.

This method of Getting On requires great powers of judgment, great gifts of persuasion, and a great deal of courage, enterprise, and tenacity — and success is sometimes considerably aided by an elastic conscience. The archetype of the method is the ancient and honorable American business of horse trading, which involves all these qualities in a high degree. It seems to me, therefore, that we may reasonably designate the prevalent way of Getting On in a modern, individualistic society by the symbolic name of Horse Trading.

The methods of Getting On under Communism or Fascism are entirely different; they are much more like one another than either of them is like Horse Trading. Under Individualism one gets what one wants out of other property owners. Under Communism there are no property owners except the state; and under Fascism the powers of property owners over their own property are severely limited by state control. In these systems, therefore, one gets what one wants (usually the control or use of something rather than the ownership of it) out of the functionaries who exercise the powers of the state — because the abstraction which we call the state is obviously incapable of exercising them itself.

The average inhabitant of the North American continent is not wholly unacquainted with the methods of getting what one wants out of functionaries. Indeed, this process was so extensively practised even among individualistic nations during the war, when the functionaries took over the administration of almost everything, that it acquired a special name, or rather several of them. Selecting that one which I think is the most widely recognized, and the most accurately suggestive of the nature of the process, I make no apology for designating that process as Wangling.

The essence of Wangling is that it is a method of getting some article, or the use of some article, or the enjoyment of some power or privilege, out of somebody who does not himself own it, and who is not supposed to exchange or grant or allocate it for his own benefit, and who is administering it as a trustee for its real owner, the community at large.

The technique of Wangling no more needs description than the technique of Horse Trading. It occupies a large place in the literature of military life, of clerical life, and of any other phase of human society in which authority is more important than property rights. Mr. Kipling has dealt with it with a keen sense of its picturesque qualities. Every company commander in the late war who ever got or failed to get his men more tins of jam, more ammunition, more leave, more decorations, or more delousing equipment than his colleagues knows all about it. But it is not by any means confined to the military sphere. It is the chief and most permanent occupation in every capital city where the business of the state is large enough to necessitate the leaving of any great portion of it to functionaries.

There being no property owners in the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics except the state itself, it naturally follows that Horse Trading, except between the state and outsiders, has practically ceased, and that Wangling is the sole means of personal or communal advancement. A friend of mine, recently returned from that country, tells me of an incident which came to his attention there. The authorities of the Union, it appears, imported a large number of American tractor ploughs. They were faced with the problem of distributing these ploughs among the agricultural communes — vastly more numerous than the ploughs — which applied for them. After mature deliberation, the Soviet, or the Commissar, or whoever it was that had charge of the matter, decided that the ploughs should be allotted to those communes which undertook to do the largest mileage of ploughing with them. Tenders — in terms of plough mileage — were promptly called for. The Soviet, or the Commissar, was a bit surprised at the imposing figures submitted by certain of the communes; but there was nothing for it but to carry out the plan and send the ploughs to the highest tenderers. Later in the season the Soviet, or the Commissar, conceived the suspicion that some of the communes might not be living up to their obligations; and investigators were accordingly sent around to report. They came back with the news that every commune was scrupulously performing its promised mileage; but that several of the communes had so little arable land that they were compelled to plough the same furrows four, five, or six times in the season.

This, I submit, is Wangling of the nobler sort. It consists in getting things out of a functionary in strict accordance with the terms of his function, but without any real claim to them in fact. It leaves everybody satisfied (except perhaps the communes which did not get any ploughs) — the functionary because he has done his duty, the Wangler because he has got what he wanted, the community because the principles of the Bolshevist Revolution are being maintained and property and profits are at an end, and the outside spectator, like myself, because the resourcefulness of the human mind is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.

I expect, before I die, to witness a great increase in Wangling, even on the North American continent, and a corresponding decrease in Horse Trading. But I do not welcome it. I was never any use at Wangling, whereas I was taught to Horse Trade from my youth up. It is too late for me to learn the new technique, and I shall die in the last ditch in defense of Individualism. But I am having all my children taught to Wangle.