Economics for self educators

Advertisement runs to absurd lengths in the marketing of patent medicines to cure physical infirmities, and in the sale of popular educators to cure poverty. The “New Harmsworth Self Educator” heralds its publication with the ridi­culous statement that: “The man with this bock in his head has whatever he likes in his pocket,”—as though the possessor of any form of labour-power were in a position to name his own price.

The book itself contains a smattering of general knowledge, together with an amount of detailed information of a number of occupations where vacancies are rare and already there is much competition for them. When the cost of the necessary education is reduced to seven-pence a fortnight it will not be lessened, though doubtless salaries will.

The so called business men who—no doubt with a shareholder’s interest—recommend the mental swallowing of the book, like to pose as self made men who have risen to affluence by the exercise of exceptional ability. But the world knows that their success has been due to the possession of capital, and their consequent power to exploit members of the working-class.

One section in this marvellous self educator is devoted to economics—possibly to give would-be labour-leaders an elementary acquaintance with some of the most popular economic twists and fallacies.

The best exponent of capitalist economics that the Conservative Harmsworth can find, is the Liberal politician and figure expert, Mr. Chiozza Money. A Liberal exponent in the columns of a Conservative journal should repre­sent the economic ideals held by both political parties, i.e., the capitalist-class.

Our Liberal-Tory exponent defines his subject as: “The science which concerns itself with the wealth of nations.” No doubt the wealth of nations is anybody’s concern but that of the cosmopolitan crowd that make up the capitalist class. For there is not one of them that cares a rap whether his nation is first or last so long as his dividends are not reduced.

Mr. Money dilates upon the width and breadth of his subject. He says: “the field of its en­quiry is as wide as the lives of men in all their activities,” and then takes his stand inside one system, ignoring every system that has preceded it, and every principle that has been generally accepted, though not established. He says that the economists who have given men sane views of the trade exchanges between nations have done good work, while those who have failed are those who have sought to restrain govern­ments from regulating the conditions of wealth production. Those who have assisted the representatives of the governing class to adapt them­selves to the ever-changing economic conditions have done well, from Mr. Money’s point of view. It is easy to see that his wishes are the parents of his ideas.

Then Mr. Money goes on to point the differ­ence between studying economics and astro­nomy, and says: “Particularly let us observe how and why it is the uncertainties of economics are of a different order from those of astronomy.” Rapidly we scan the next few lines for an approximation of the following truth-—that those who possess wealth to-day would make things extremely unpleasant for any responsible (to them) economist or politician who exposed the true nature of their system, or called in question the basic principles of that system. Astronomical laws, when discovered, are accepted to-day because they do not conflict with the vital principles of capitalism. In the days of Galileo they were hotly disputed because they seemed to undermine the power of society’s wealthiest institution—the Catholic Church, with its fear-inspiring Inquisition.

Our friend escapes the temptation to impart this obvious truth, but permits an equally obvious untruth to escape from him : “econo­mics is a study of human development, while astronomy is a study of unalterable fact.” It is easy to see that even here he is imprisoned within the narrow walls of his own petty system. According to him astronomy is the handmaiden of commerce ; it guides the mariner, and enables the capitalist to poisin and corrupt the pure atmosphere of uncivilised countries with cheap, adulterated goods.

The Pole Star or the Southern Cross by night, and the sun by day, are essential and unalterable facts to the capitalist, they are the finger-posts to foreign markets. In comparison with their fleeting system they appear to be fixed ; but they are not : they have a process just as society has. The greater includes the less ; the life of the individual is a fraction of the social period of which he is a unit, while a social system is the product of geological conditions, and, in its turn, is included in, and forms but a spasm of, the cosmic process. It is to learn this process that the real astronomer strives, in order that he and bis fellow-man may no longer be the slaves of unworthy superstitions and beliefs.

Next Messrs. Harmsworth’s Money sets out to define wealth. He dare not confine himself to the normal conditions of capitalist production, but, like all the university crowd, croaks about the accidents and the freaks, “The trashy print that satisfies a want, albeit a depraved want . . . . fresh air ard sunshine that have no value in exchange” and such-like nonsense, in order to shirk the real issues. In his haste, however, he blunders hopelessly ; with careless audacity he asserts that fresh air and sunshine are unlimited in supply. Fresh air is a thing almost unknown to nearly two-thirds of the working-class ; while as for sunshine, it is so scarce that sea side towns keep records of the number of hours of sunshine they experience, and advertise them to induce visitors to patronise them.

Wealth Mr. Money describes as all desirable things which have value in exchange, because they are (1) limited in supply, (2) transferable. Last year a wealthy New Yorker had a portion of someone else’s nose grafted on to his own, for which he paid a good round sum. Under Mr. Money’s definition all noses are economic wealth, because they are limited in supply and trans­ferable.
From wealth we pass to value, but we must remember that terms are interchangeable with the bourgeois economist, and value, wealth, price, and exchange value may mean the same unless otherwise stated. We are told that “the term ‘value’ is purely relative . . . it is the relation of one thing to another that we speak of when we use the word.” As to why there should be any relation at all, or what is responsible for the presence of value in com­modities, Mr. Money is silent. Instead we find him again floundering among the freaks of his own system, pretending bewilderment at trivial inconsistencies, and serving up worn out plati­tudes. “A man building a house on one site may have to excavate soil and be glad to pay people to take it away, while on another site a man may be gJad to pay to obtain soil.” Ap­parently a riddle that cannot be solved by the best capitalist quacks. Or again, “A man may spend years of arduous labour on the production of a commodity and yet find it without value on the market ; while another man may hit upon a clever idea which costs him very little labour and he commandsa ready market.” How strange that competition and anarchy should produce such results !

“Cameo broaches, too, found a ready market a generation ago ; for some reason they went out of fashion and it became almost impossible to sell them.” We begin to wonder why such trivialities find place in a serious treatise on economics by such an exponent. Then we read: “the keen business man endeavours to forecast such changes and even to create them.” What profound and enduring wisdom ! Truly, “the man with this book in his head has whatever he likes in his pocket.”

Mr. Money sees what, indeed, everyone sees, that value exists in different quantities in all commodities. The value embodied in a box of matches is less than the value crystallised in a suit of clothes or a bicycle. It is surely something more than a coincidence that the relative value in each commodity corresponds so closely with the relative quantity of labour-power worked up in each. This fact is so widely recognised that most of the time-servers pretend to deal with it. Mr. Money dodges it like this:

“The price an article will fetch on the market is not determined by cost of production or by the amount of labour that went to the making of the article. We may put it that the cost of production is essentially an important factor in supply, but it does not of itself determine value. In practice, however, cost of production is usually a deciding factor, since no producer will continue working unless he can make a profit.”

In other words, no it doesn’t ; yes it does.

Once again our friend commences a paragraph in a manner which raises anticipations. He refers to the “common fallacy that if wages are raised prices are raised correspondingly.” He then sets out to explain the fallacy by “a very simple arithmetical consideration.” “Suppose that wages were raised 10 per cent. all round, and that no extra efficiency were produced either in employers or wage-earners. Even so prices would not rise by 10 per cent., as wages are only one item in the cost of production ” Our capitalists’ man is thinking of raw material fuel, machinery, etc., but this hypothetical rise refers to the whole of the working-class, and the producers of these other items have received their 10 per cent. increase which has been added to the price of these things. Ultimately and regarding production as a concrete whole all economic wealth is produced by the appli­cation of human labour-power to the nature-given material. Consequently it is only the “single capitalist concern” that has “other items.” In the real economic sense they do not exist. Mr. Money has tried to explode one fallacy with another, his simple arithmetical consider­ation is a mental aberration. While it is quite true that if the workers’ wages were raised 10 per cent. and the rise added to prices, prices would not rise 10 per cent., it is not for the reason Mr. Money states, but because 10 per cent. on what the labourer consumes would be only 2½ per cent. on what he produces, if he produces four times as much as he consumes. It would not, of course, suit a capitalist econo­mist at all to put it in this brutal way.

In his next passage Mr. Money reaches the heart of his subject. “The requisites of wealth production are land, labour, and capital.” But capital itself is wealth and has been produced by labour-power applied to land ; the word capital in the definition would therefore appear to be redundant. But let the oracle explain what he means by capital.

“In the beginning primitive men, superior to the animal world from which they had risen by virtue of godlike intellectual powers, wrested the means of living from unwilling nature. In the very truest sense they applied labour to land. . . . To fashion a club or a spear is to set oneself not to the immediate getting of food, but to the storage of intelligent labour in a material form with the object of obtaining a means to hunt or fish, with greater efficiency in the future.”

So now we have it on Liberal-Tory authority, in a serious and carefully thought out article, designed for educational purposes. The first capitalist concern was the club or spear of primitive man ; and the naked savage was evidently capitalist, wage slave, and general public in one holy trinity—he must have bean nearly as con­ceited as the geologist that dug up an ancient club with capital on it.

It is waste of valuable space to give serious consideration to such obvious twaddle. The whole section is a stringing together of non-essentials with fallacies and partisan shibbo­leths ; a mere travesty of economics. It is not worthy the name; ; it is Shavian and shallow. Every definition as it follows the previous one, exhibits the sordid nature that panders to established power, aud fences with the truth, with the deliberate purpose of bewildering and confusing those who try to learn.

F. F.

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