1902 Encyclopedia > Johann Karl Rodbertus

Johann Karl Rodbertus
(often known as: Karl Rodbertus)
German economist and socialist


RODBERTUS, KARL JOHANN (1805-1875), by some considered to be the founder of scientific socialism, was Gottingen and Berlin, thereafter engaging in various legal Meyer and of Hasenclevet, a prominent follower of Lassalle; but no progress was made in this. Rodbertus was neither disposed nor qualified to be an agitator, being a man of a quiet and critical temperament, who believed that society could not be improved by violent changes, but by a long any political party, enjoining them to be a "social party " pure and simple. He died on 8th December 1875.

The general position of Rodbertus was "social, monarchical, and national." With his entire soul he held the purely economic part of the creed of the German social-democratic party, but he did not agree with their methods, and had no liking for the productive associations with state help of Lassalle. He regarded a socialistic republic as a possible thing, but he cordially accepted the monarchic institution in his own country and hoped that a German emperor might undertake the ride of a social emperor. He was also a trae patriot and was proud and hopeful of the career that lay before the regenerated empire of Germany. The basis of the economic teach-ing of Rodbertus is the principle laid down by Adam Smith and Ricardo and insisted on by all the later socialists, that labour is the source and measure of value. In connexion with this he developed the position that rent, profit, and wages are all parts of a national income produced by the united organic labour of the workers of the community. Consequently there can be no talk of the wages of labour being paid out of capital ; wages is only that part of tho national income which is received by the workmen, of a national income which they have themselves entirely produced. The wages fund theory is thus summarily disposed of. But the most important result of the theory is his position that the possession of land and capital enables the landhoMers and capitalists to compel the workmen to divide the product of their labour with those non-working classes, and in such a proportion that the workers only obtain as much as can support them in life. Thus the iron law of wages is established. Hence also Rodbertus deduces his theory of commercial crises and of pauperism, and in the following way. In spite of the increasing productivity of labour, the workers obtain in general only sufficient to support their class, and therefore a smaller relative share of the national income. But the producers form also the large mass of consumers, and, with the decline of their relative share in the national income, must decline the relative purchasing power of this large class of the people. The growing production is not mct by a correspondingly growing consumption ; expansion is succeeded by contraction of production, by a scarcity of employ-ment, and a further decline in purchasing power on the part of the workers. Thus we have a commercial crisis bringing with it pau-perism as a necessary result. In the meantime the purchasing power of the non-producing capitalists and landholders continues relatively to increase ; but, as they have already had enough to buy all the comforts of life, they spend the more in the purchase of luxuries, the production of which increases.

A fundamental part of the teaching of Rodbertus is his theory of social development. He recognized three stages in the economic progress of mankind : (1) the ancient heathen period in which property in human beings was the rule ; (2) the peiiod of private property in land and capital ; (3) the period, still remote, of pro-perty as dependent on service or desert. The goal of the human race is to be one society organized on a communistic basis ; only in that way can the principle that every man be rewarded accord-ing to his work be realized. In this communistic or socialistic state of the future land and capital will be national property, and the entire national production will be under national control ; and means will be taken so to estimate the labour of each citizen that he shall be rewarded according to its precise amount. An immense staff of state officials will be required. for this function. As we have already said, Rodbertus believed that this stage of social develop-ment is yet far distant ; he thought that five centuries will need to pass away before the ethical force of the people can be equal to it.

From temperament, culture, and social position Rodbertus was averse to agitation as a means of hastening the new era ; and, in the measures which he recommends for making the transition towards it he showed a scrupulous regard for the existing interests of the capitalists and landholders. He proposed that those two classes should be left in full possession of their present share of the national income, but that the workers should reap the benefit of the increasing production. To secure them this increment of pro-duction he proposed that the state should fix a " normal working day " for the various trades, a normal day's work, and a legal wage, the amount of which should be revised periodically, and raised according to the increase of production, the better workman receiv-ing a better wage. By measures such as these carried out by the state in order to correct the evils of competition would Rodbertus seek to make the transition into the socialistic era.

The economic work of Rodbertus is therefore an attempt made in a temperate and scientific spirit to elucidate the evil tendencies inherent in the competitive system, especially as exemplified in the operation of the iron law of wages. The remedy he proposes is a state management of production and distribution, which shall extend more and more, till we arrive at a complete and universal socialism, - and all based on the principle that as labour is the source of value so to the labourer should all wealth belong. It is therefore an atteinpt to place socialism on a scientific basis ; and he is certainly entitled to be regarded as one of the founders of " scientific socialism " (see SocIALism).

The following are the most important works of Rodbertus : - Zur Erkenntniss unserer staatswirthschaftitchen Zustiincle (1842); Soziale BrWe an von Kirchmann (1850); Creditn.oth des Grundbesitzes (2d ed., 1876); " Der Normal-Arbeitstag," in Tiib. Zeitschrift (1878) o Letters to A. Wagner, &c., Tiib. Zeitschrift (1878-79); Letters to Rudolf Meyer (1882). Within recent years Rodbertus has received great attention in Germany, especially from Adolf Wagner (Tii.b. Zeitschrift, 1878); see also Kozak's work on Ttodbertus (1882), and an excellent monograph by G. Adler (Leipsic, 1884). -

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