Daniel De Leon editorial : The Consumer

The Consumer
by Daniel De Leon
from The Daily People, May 22, 1909

By the time the debate on the tariff is ended, there sill be one English word left so mauled and maimed that it will be hard to tell what it stands for - the "consumer."

It was Senator Bailey - the eloquent, the erudite, the keen Senator Bailey of Texas - who took the latest whack at the fated word. The senator's policy, so he announced, was "to lift the burden from the consumer and lay it upon those who do not need to work."

By all systems of reasoning, in a sentence so constructed, the words "consumer" and "those who do not need to work" must stand for opposites. If "those who do not need to work" are the opposite of the "consumer", it would follow that "those who do not need to work" do not "consume." The ultimate conclusion from Senator Bailey's sentence is that there exists a set of people, a class, an order of beings, a genus, or whatever you may call it, that can live without consuming - an arrant piece of nonsense.

How comes it that one illustrious senator after another perpetuates the same offense? How comes it that, one after another, they tug at the word "consumer" in such utterly idiotic fashion? The answer is obvious.

Society is not divided between "consumers" and "nonconsumers"; everybody consumes.

Society is divided between "producers" and "nonproducers," "workers" and "nonworkers."

A serious consequence flows from this division. The workers consume least, the nonworkers consume most. If the quantity of consumption were taken as the determining factor, and a division were to be made along the line of "consumption," then the preeminent "consumer" and "those who do not need to work" would coincide.

It is this fact that accounts for the senatorial tangle on the "consumer." One and all, the senators seek to escape the ugly fact that the nonworkers are consumers, as well as the workers, in fact, more so. One and all, the senators, being the political agents of the nonworkers, seek to protect these; and, realizing that it would be self-incriminating to demand protection from burdens for nonworkers, are driven to the maneuvering of making it appear as if their thoughts were bent exclusively in the interest of the workers. The calling of these "consumers" seems to offer a ready way out of the trouble. But it happens in this as in all such instances. A trouble that cannot be escaped only tangles hopelessly those who attempt the impossible feat.

He who unravels the senatorial tangle on the "consumer" sees clearly that the consumer whom the senators with to unburden is he who consumes without working.