HIRSCH, Max (c. 1852-1909)

HIRSCH, Max (c. 1852-1909)
was born at Cologne, Prussia, on 21 September 1852. (Argus, Melbourne, 5 March 1909. The biography prefixed to his memorial volume The Problem of Wealth, however, states that he was born in September 1853.) His father was a writer on economic subjects, and a member of the Reichstag who came in conflict with the German authorities on account of his democratic principles. The boy was educated at a high school and also did some work at the university of Berlin, but at 19 years of age began a career as a commercial traveller. Before he was 20 he was sent to Persia to buy carpets and obtained many fine old specimens. These were brought to London by way of Russia. Hirsch spent some time in Italy studying art, and taking up his travelling again became a representative of British linen manufacturers. He visited Australia in 1879, and in the following year returned to Germany. He next went to Ceylon and engaged in coffee planting and was also for some time a member of the civil service. While in Ceylon he found that the rice tax was driving native cultivators off the land. His sympathies were aroused and he wrote several pamphlets on the question, which led to the removal of the tax.
In 1890 Hirsch settled at Melbourne, and two years later gave up business and devoted himself to the fight for free-trade and land-values taxation. In 1895 he published The Fiscal Superstion, and in the following year Economic Principles, A Manual of Political Economy. In 1901 was published Social Conditions. Materials for Comparisons between New South Wales and Victoria, Great Britain, The United States and Foreign Countries. His most important work Democracy versus Socialism was published at London in the same year.
Hirsch made more than one attempt to enter political life without success, but in 1902 was elected to the legislative assembly for Mandurang. He resigned this seat in November 1903 to contest the Wimmera constituency in the federal house of representatives as the fiscal question was now purely a federal matter. He was defeated by 160 votes. He had become the recognized leader of the single tax movement, and his ability in both handling this question in public debates and in his writings brought him many followers. In his fight for free trade, then a live question in Australia, he met with much hostility from vested interests, and his opponents did not forget to remind the public that he was German and a Jew. It was even suggested that he was opposed to reasonable wages being paid to the workers. This was quite contrary to the facts, as Hirsch was essentially democratic in his outlook, and held strongly that the higher the wages paid the better for trade. In 1906 he again failed to win the election for Wimmera. In October 1908 he left Melbourne on a business mission to Siberia. His health had not been good and it was hoped that the sea voyage would benefit him. He died at Vladivostock after a short illness on 4 March 1909. He never married. In 1910 his admirers published his Land Values Taxation in Practice, and in 1911 his The Problem of Wealth and Other Essays was published as a memorial volume.
The friends of Hirsch considered that had he given himself entirely to business he would have become a rich man. He was, however, devoted to his ideals, and preferred to work for causes which could bring him little personal reward but which would be for the good of the people. He was a clear and vigorous writer and speaker, keenly logical, careful of his facts, and always prepared to meet the difficulties of his case. He was no revolutionist, and stated on one occasion that if he were appointed dictator he would bring in the single tax system gradually, so that people who had acquired property under the present system should not be unfairly treated. His most important book Democracy versus Socialism went into a second edition in England in 1924. The vitality of this work is shown by the fact that when the third American edition appeared in 1940 a well-known writer stated in the Atlantic Monthly:—"Of the innumerable books on economics . . . published in the last seven years the one which is most important at just this moment . . . is a reprint of Democracy versus Socialism by Max Hirsch . . . it presents the complete case against every known form and shade of state collectivism, from Marxism . . . to the New Deal."
The Argus, Melbourne, 5 March 1909; Memoir prefixed to The Problem of Wealth and Other Essays; A. J. Nock, The Atlantic Monthly, June 1940.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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