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ABC of Economics (1933), Part 3

[1]2,115 words

Part 3 of 5

Chapter I


I don’t quite see how anyone is going to dodge (for ever) the Major’s [C. H. Douglas’] equations.

There are various verbal manifestations and various terminologies and various approaches to the problem.

I have begun with distribution of work. A point at which the Douglasites dislike to begin. I have gone on to the demand for justice in the distribution of credit slips, but that does not invalidate the Major’s contention that under the present system there are never enough credit slips to deal with the product; to distribute the product; to purchase the product; to conjugate ANY of the necessary verbs of sane economics or of a decent and agreeable life.

The Major has pointed out the superstition in the computation of costs. The reader can look up the details in a number of contemporary works.

He will not find a simpler statement than Douglas’s: You pay for the tree every time you buy a bit of the fruit.

Obviously the tree has to be maintained, some fraction over and above the worth of the fruit must be added, but the computation of the faction can and should be free from gross error.

Gross error here could undoubtedly undo the good effects of a short working day. As a patient may easily die of one disease after you have cured him of another.

The requirements so far on our list are:

(1) ‘Money’ as certificate of work done.

(2) ‘Work done’ to be in a sense ‘inside a system’, that is to say, it must be ‘necessary’ or at any rate it must be work that someone WANTS done. The product must be what someone lacks. Sic—I lack half a loaf of bread daily or thereabouts. I lack a few suits of clothes per annum, etc.

(3) There must be some way for everyone to get enough money or common-carrier to satisfy a reasonable number of lacks.

The simplest road is via work, and I suspect any other. This is also the first instinctive outcry. It is empirically observable that the first thing men ask for is work; and only after refusal do they cry out for free food. If this statement indicates a great naïve trust in humanity I am willing to stand the charge.

(4) Fairness in the issuance of certificates. (I think the various Douglas plans fall mainly under this heading.)

Chapter II

Time is Not Money

Time is not money, but is nearly everything else. That is to say . . . It is not money, food, raw materials, women or various fundamental necessities which I cannot at the moment remember, including possibly health, but it is a very important lever to most of them.

‘Nobody, but socialists’, read Marx, and there is consequently little enlightened discussion of either his history or his ‘errors’.

I have never, so far as I can recall, seen a contemporary recognition of the plain fact that a man with a lot of spare time can get a great deal more out of life with a very little money, than an overworked man with a great deal. I mean apart from polyana.

Leisure is not gained by simply being out of work. Leisure is spare time free from anxiety.

Any spare time not absolutely obsessed by worry can be made the means to a ‘better life’.

Marx deals with goods in the shop window or the shop basement. The minute I cook my own dinner or make the chair that I sit on I escape from the whole cycle of Marxian economics. In consideration of which fact I remain a Jeffersonian republican, and I believe the present troubles, or at any rate the present U.S. American or English troubles, can be treated from a Jeffersonian angle.

You can throw in Confucius and Van Buren, but you must distinguish between 1820 and 1930, you must bring your Jefferson up to date. T. J. had already seen that agriculture would in great measure give way to manufacturing, etc.

All American and republican principles were lost during the damnable reign of the infamous Woodrow, but even Woodrow did not favor the XVIIIth amendment (prohibition, since repealed). Despite ‘liberty unions’, etc., it is almost impossible to discover any sense of American principles in contemporary American writing, apart from editorials in one or two newspapers which naturally are not read by highbrows.

One commissioner of labor whose name I have forgotten, did definitely advocate a shorter working day. No one has raised any coherent or even publicly avowable objection.

No one has ventured to say that a shorter day would not decrease the number of totally unemployed.

No one has claimed that it would lead to the creation of more ‘bureaus’ and more bureaucrats, and more sassy typists to take notes of vacuous commissioners and sit on their obese laps in government offices.

Naturally there is no very clear outcry for shorter hours from the workmen themselves. The labor party in America is not rich in economist. You can’t arouse any very fiery passion on the bare plea of less work. It spells less pay to most hearers.

By simple extensions of credit (paper credit) it would probably be possible to leave the nominal pay exactly where it is, but it requires an almost transcendent comprehension of credit to understand this.

The plain man cannot in any way comprehend that the accelerated movement of money when everybody has a little means greater comfort than the constipated state of things when a lot of people have none.

The fiery laborite wants the unemployed paid out of the rich man’s pocket. The rich man’s pocket happens to be a mere pipe and not an inexhaustible upspringing fountain.

Naturally all men desire to pass the buck. The immediate effect of distributing work, under the present system, means that working men would have to divide with working men. It cannot, therefore, be a very popular cause.

The benefits of a shorter day would be diffused, everyone would in a few months REceive them, but it would take probably longer to PERceive them. Annoyances strike more quickly than comforts.

Tell any man that he can live better on 40 shillings a week and an extra two hours per day to himself, than he can on 50 shillings without the two hours and see how little he believes you.

The idea that prices would come down sounds like a pipe dream. Prices have always adjusted themselves to the current spending powers of the general public, but that again is a general idea.

Two hours more per day to loaf, to think, to keep fit by exercise of a different set of muscles, as distinct from overwork and the spectacle of several millions in idleness. . . . !

I am an expert. I have lived nearly all my life, at any rate all my adult life, among the unemployed. All the arts have been unemployed in my time.

Chapter III

Free Trade

Free Trade might be possible between two countries if they had for each other a full and wholly enlightened good will, provided they had first attained an almost perfect adjustment of their own internal affairs.

It need hardly be said that for the last century or more, the practice of governments has been to neglect internal economy; to commit every conceivable villainy, devilry, and idiocy and to employ foreign affairs, conquests, dumpings, exploitations as a means of distracting attention from conditions at home, or to use the spoils of savages as palliatives to domestic sores or in producing an eyewash of ‘prosperity’. In the sense that such prosperity is useful as ‘bait’; as spectacular fortunes; as ‘the chance’ of getting rich.

Chapter IV


In practice it has been shown that families who do not overproduce, that is, who beget no more children than they can support, have been able to maintain decent standards of living, and that other families do not.

It is probably useless to propound theories of perfect government or of perfect economics for human beings who are too demnition stupid and too ignorant to acquire so rudimentary a perception of cause and effect.

Objections to this system are raised and are conceivably raisable on the score of national greatness, etc. . . . Nevertheless we are told that Holland has maintained decent standards of living, etc., by not over populating herself. The system is supposed (for wholly arcane reasons) to work for a small nation and not for a large.

It would work. The only objection to it is that curtailment of the philoprogenitive instinct may not be necessary. Or possibly on practical grounds, that the present state of bigotry and idiocy prevent the curtailment, and that the inadequate progress of education is not able to achieve it. Yet sparely populated districts are not necessarily the most prosperous. The remedy is to be recommended only at close range for the individual family living in a bad economic system. It cannot be made the backbone of enlightened economics on the grand scale. Such economics, now, being little more than a study of how we can USE our resources, not how we can refrain from employing them.

Until we have decent economics the sane man will refuse to overbreed. And pity for the large poor family will continue to be pity for idiotic lack of prevision.

It may be that all, or most, sciences start from suffering or from pity; but once a science is started these emotions have no place in that science.

Give a people an almost perfect government, and in two generations they will let it run to rot from sheer laziness (vide the U.S.A. where not one person in ten exercises his rights and not one person in ten thousand has the faintest idea of the aims and ambitions of the country’s great founders and lawmakers. Their dung has covered their heads.).

It is nevertheless one’s duty to try to think out a sane economics, and to try to enforce it by that most violent of all means, the attempting to make people think.

Proof of this last statement is very obscure. I suppose the only warrant for it is the capacity to think and the sense of obligation thereby conferred.

Chapter V


The foregoing is not mere nihilism, or mere in-vain-ism or mere quietism, nor is it so far off the subject as it might seem; the point is that NO ONE in any society has the right to blame his troubles on any one else. Liberals and liberal thought so-called have been a mess of mush because of this unacknowledged assumption, and a tendency to breed this state of mind.

The law of nature is that the animal must either adapt itself to environment or overcome that environment—soft life and decadence.

Decline of the American type, often bewailed! First the pioneer, then the boob and the soft-head! Flooding of peasant type, without peasant perseverance and peasant patience in face of low return!

Ability to think, part of the adaptation to environment!

Laziness of whole generations! All the back-bone of Jefferson’s thought and of Van Buren’s forgotten! Benefits of the latter, lost in civil war and post civil war finance!

All of which is not wholly alien to my subject.

All questions of how measures can be taken, how enforced, are questions of politics.

ECONOMICS is concerned with determining WHAT financial measures, what methods or regulations of trade, etc., must be taken, or can most advantageously be taken of decreed by government whatever its nature, or by whatever elected or haphazard or private or dictatorial bodies or individuals control trade, credit, money, etc.

Certain things are wise, let us say, for the governors of the Bank of England (a private corporation) and wise for the U.S. Federal Reserve Board, appointed by an elected president, and would be equally wise or equally foolish for a body directly elected by the people.

England, as we have remarked, gave herself to a gang of bankers ages ago. No one remembers why. It is no concern of a foreigner. The British wished it or at least some British wished it, and now the rest don’t, apparently, mind.

All these things are part of politics. Economics is concerned with what should be done, not with how you are going to get a controlling group of men to carry out an idea; but with the idea, with the proper equations. As you might say the Baldwin Locomotive Works are concerned with making engines that will pull trains, not with which direction they are to run.

Good economics are as sound for Russia as for the U.S.A.

There may even be several economic solutions to any problem. Gasoline and coal both serve as fuel.