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ABC of Economics (1933), Part 2

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Part 2 of 5

Chapter I

On Volition

It will be objected that I am trying to base a system on will, not on intellect. And that is one of the main reasons for my writing this treatise.

The criminal classes have no intellectual interests. In proportion as people are without intellectual interests they approach the criminal classes, and approach criminal psychology.

No economic system is worth a hoot without ‘good will’. No intellectual system of economics will function unless people are prepared to act on their understanding.

People indifferent to the definition of liberty as ‘le droit de faire tout ce qui ne nuit pas aux autres’ [the right to do anything that does not injure others — Ed.] will not DO anything about their economic knowledge, whatever be the degree of that knowledge.

People with no sense of responsibility fall under despotism, and they deserve all the possible castigations and afflictions that the worst forms of despotism provide.

No economic system can be effective until a reasonable number of people are interested in economics; interested, I should say, in economics as part of the problem: what does and what does not injure others. That the answer to this is probably identical with the answer to: what is the most enlightened form of egotism, does not affect the matter.

No egoist has the energy to attain the maximum of egoistic enlightenment.

Chapter II

Marx has aroused interest far less than the importance of his thought might seem to have warranted. He knew, but forgot or at any rate failed to make clear, the limits of his economics. That is to say, Marxian economics deals with goods for sale, goods in the shop. The minute I cook my own dinner or nail four boards together into a chair, I escape from the whole cycle of Marxian economics.

‘Can’t move ’em with a cold thing like economics’, said Mr. Griffith, the inventor of Sinn Fein.

Not one man in a thousand can be aroused to an interest in economics until he definitely suffers from the effects of an evil system. I know no subject in which it is harder to arouse any interest whatsoever. The cost of things which really interest human beings has nothing whatever to do with their quality. A pleasant woman cost no more than an unpleasant one, in fact, she probably costs infinitely less.

It costs no more to cook a dinner well than to cook it badly. You can, I admit, probably pay more for a good dinner than for a bad one, but what you get is due to your knowledge and not to the category of the hotel.

The arts of commerce are built on personal application of the laws of value (Marxian metaphysics and the ‘psychology’ of American business ballyhoo).

You will get not further with economics ‘as a science’ until you are ready to mark out the scope of that science, as you do in the study of chemistry, physics, mathematics.

Goods in the window are worth more than the goods in the basement.

The art of commerce whereby the proprietor of one café acquires a clientele and his neighbour does not.

The luxury of the poor, the luxuriousness of the poor which has for ages sanctioned the small shop and the middleman. The saving of steps, I buy my coffee at my front door, not at the large shop 40 yards off. The same applies to my tailor (?), cobbler and butter merchant.

Over a decade ago, Major Douglas admitted that I had made a contribution to the subject when I pointed out that my grandfather had built a railroad probably less from a desire to make money or an illusion that he could make more that way than some other, than from inherent activity, artist’s desire to MAKE something, the fun of constructing and the play of outwitting and overcoming obstruction.

Very well, I am not proceeding according to Aristotelian logic but according to the ideogramic method of first heaping together the necessary components of thought.

None of these ‘incoherent’ or contradictory facts can be omitted. A problem in the resolution of forces can only be solved when all the forces are taken count of. If there be any of them whose variants we cannot reduce to an equation, that one must remain at least temporarily outside our ‘science’.

If I remember it correctly my ‘Part One’ was concerned mainly with science.

The science of economics will not get very far until it grants the existence of will as a component; i.e. will toward order, will toward ‘justice’ or fairness, desire for civilization, amenities included. The intensity of that will is definitely a component in any solution.

Chapter III


(Cf. Part I, Chapter III)

The certificate of work done must equal that work


when it is certified that too much corn has been grown the certificates of its growth, or orders to deliver it, will be less prized. That is to say, the ticket for some particular substance depreciates in relation to the general ticket (money). The finance of financiers is largely the juggling of general tickets against specific tickets. As, per example, decline of price in the wheat pit. All of which would seem to have been worked out and to be fairly familiar.

When the certificate is not ‘money’ or common carrier, but a particularized certificate, it is ‘just’ in the sense that the order to deliver so many bushels already ‘paid for’ implies so many bushels.

A certificate made out in ‘common carrier’ will not automatically stabilized currency or produce justice, unless some common sense is used in the production of goods (food, etc.). Hence the cries for planning, etc. I mean to say all the objections, etc., to my main thesis lead us back into familiar phenomena.

Either the individual must use his intelligence, or some congeries of individuals (state or whatever) must persuade or foresee or advise or control.

Nature overproduces. Overproduction does no harm until you over-market (dump).

In politics the problem of our time is to find the border between public and private affairs.

In economics: to find a means whereby the common-carrier may be in such way kept in circulation that the individual’s demand, or at any rate his necessary requirement, shall not exceed the amount of common-carrier in his pocket at any moment, or at his proximate disposal.

A new school of economists says it should be put into his pocket (every week, every morning, every six months???).

An old type of mentality asks whether this would maintain the said individual’s sense of responsibility, and answers the question very emphatically in the negative.

I fall back on a profession of faith. The simplest starting-point appears to me to be the individual’s willingness to work four hours a day between the ages of twenty and forty.

There are doubtless, in modern industry, various directive jobs, etc., that need more prolonged attention, but very few in which an equivalent stint would not serve. Ten years at eight hours a day, as proportionate.

Counting money as certificate of work done, the simplest means of keeping money distributed (in legal-tender credit-slips) sis to keep work distributed. I do not say it is the only conceivable means, but I definitely assert that it is the most available means, the simplest, the one requiring least bureaucracy and supervision and interference.

As for over-time.

Let it mean over-time. Let the man work four hours for pay, and if he still wants to work after that, let him work as any artist or poet works, let him embellish his home or his garden, or stretch his legs in some form of exercise, or crook his back over a pool-table or sit on his rump and smoke. He would get a great deal more out of life, and, supposing him to have any rudiments of intelligence, he would be infinitely more likely to use it and let it grow, and in any case he would ‘get a great deal more for his money’.

I know, not from theory but from practice, that you can live infinitely better with a very little money and a lot of spare time, than with more money and less time. Time in not money, but it is almost everything else.

Even suppose that the wage for a four-hour day should be ‘cut’ to half the wage of an eight-hour day (which is for various simple reasons unnecessary—vide infra, Chap. IV), but even supposing it were necessary and were done. The man on that wage, once he were assured of its continuance, once he had ‘arranged his life’ in accordance, and organized his other four hours for private activity, could have a damn sigh better life than he now gets.

Chapter IV

I say ‘which is for various reasons unnecessary’ because the ‘wage’ is now measured in currency which is merely a convention, and a bit of paper with 10 on it is no more difficult to provide than a bit of paper with 5 or with 20.

There are various credit schemes which could take care of the problem of leaving the figure 10 on the bit of paper, even though the day’s work were cut in half.

Douglas would pass out slips to the middleman. I have outlined a scheme for passing them out via the factory. Neither scheme is necessary. A few months ago the German government proposed an inflation without, apparently, any control.

The ‘need’ of such a scheme is possibly due more to the strength of habits of mind, to conventionality in the populace’s thoughts about money, than to anything else.

Freedom from worry, inherent in the reasonable certainty of keeping one’s job, must be worth at least 25% of ANY income.

NOTE that this reasonable certainty can only exist when the necessity of progressively shortening the working day, pari passu with mechanical invention, is generally recognized.

No arbitrary number of hours set for 1933 will be valid in 1987, let alone 2043.

Over and above which we come upon Major Douglas’s equations re—superstition in costing.



  1. rhondda
    Posted December 7, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    I am appreciating this man more and more. A shorter work week is a good idea. There was a recent poll in Canada about money or vacation and the majority of people chose vacation. We had a party in BC which was called the work less party. They had some good ideas about employment and job sharing and stuff people who are too busy earning money,just don’t think about. There are better ways to do things than kill yourself at a job you hate.

    • me
      Posted December 7, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

      Or a fewer hours of work per day. This way parents will get to spend more time with kids.

      In fact, in medieval England, all one had to do is to work a few months of the year to feed the family. From the Sept/Oct issue of The Barnes Review (page 6):

      The average laborer worked only 14 weeks a year and enjoyed 160 to 180 holidays.

      This was after England expelled the jews in 1290.

      • me
        Posted December 7, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        Sept/Oct 2012 issue (forgot to put the year).

      • rhondda
        Posted December 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        I do agree, but it is also about creativity. Ezra Pound is also talking about the time one has to something beyond the practical considerations of putting food on the table. Relating to one’s children is just one part of that. However, when I read Wordsworth’s poem ” my heart leaps up” in which he says the child is father to the man, I know exactly what he means. Their innocence and total unawareness of the prevailing morality is an inspiration to me. Kids say such delightful things and their observations of the world is so without guile that sometimes they are the greatest philosophers. I know that my own kids have made me readjust my attitudes. I just had to tell them where the roadblocks were and that that could be overcome with creative persistence. (not that I succeeded in that, but that is their destiny, not mine). I do believe that the parent’s role is to become redundant to them. As my computer wise son told me ‘redundant is the default mom’. Love that kid.

    • SRP
      Posted November 25, 2020 at 8:52 am | Permalink

      The intelligent and creative fraction of a population will put their off-time to constructive use. But a large fraction of any population are comprised of dullards, box-stacker, broom-pushers and clock-watchers, and they will spend their “leisure time” in degenerate activity such as substance abuse.

      Their new-found “leisure time” will simply corrupt whatever discipline or motivation they have, and then they will not want to return to work. Such people are already cannon-fodder for the Left, and more “leisure” would only make things worse.

      Work is life. Better to keep people busy than idle. Charity, welfare, giveaways always corrupt the human spirit and result in indolence and resentment.

      As a remedy for society’s ills, there is no substitute for full employment at a living wage. If some variant on Pound and Douglas’s theories can get us to that condition, I am all for it.

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