A Letter from Arden

by Mike Curtis

When I walk around Arden on a summer evening and see the lightning bugs, and later the katydids, I’m reminded of how much I like our little village. Nonetheless, I wish there was something I could point to that would suggest a success beyond the health and happiness of the residents, which it certainly enjoys.

In 1900 the country was shifting from first to second gear in the industrial revolution. Productivity was exploding, yet wages were actually falling. Those with the least education and skill were paid an amount that tended toward a bare subsistence. Workers had no safety or workman’s compensation, and the government had no welfare programs. It’s easy to see why the church was so important to people. Unemployment was devastating — as was TB and the flu. This is a time when the hard life of a poor, land-owning family farmer was the envy of every miner and industrial worker in the country.

Somehow Arden was going to change all this. You couldn’t raise wages by eliminating land speculation within 160 acres, when there were 700,000 square miles of habitable land in the country. But, if this little village could demonstrate the virtues of Common Opportunity and exclusive rights to the products of labor, then other communities would surely adopt the same philosophy. Soon these policies would be adopted throughout the country. Land speculation would stop, unemployment would end, wages would rise, and the surplus would provide for those unable to take care of themselves and the future needs of society. Today they would include national health care, medical research, clean energy and so on. Justice would prevail.

Ardentown and Ardencroft were not established by the power of demonstration, but by the same people and movement that established Arden. In one hundred and eight years not a single other community has adopted the concept of people contributing to the community according to the benefits received from the community, as distinguished from the traditional system of contributing according to the perception or measure of one’s ability to pay.

Every enhancement in the American worker’s standard of living since 1900 has come from an intervention in the free market. They have been laws requiring employers to do what consenting adults did not, or confiscations of wealth based on Ability to Pay and redistribution to those in need. F.H.A. and other government assisted mortgages that put resident homeowners at an advantage over investors may have been the single most important factor in the high standard of living among American workers. I am grateful for all these measures, but they do not prevent recessions. And it should be kept in mind that the policies of the Federal Reserve aimed at ameliorating unemployment rob honest working people of their savings every time interest rates are lowered and every time inflation diminishes the buying power of their savings.

Arden is a great community, but as a seed for social change I am sorry to say it has never germinated.

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