Capitalist Economics (continued)

“ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF ECONOMICS” by Richard T. Ely and George Ray Wicker (America). Revised and adapted for English Students by L. L. Price, M.A. London: Macmillan & Co. 4s. 6d,

A sufficient sketch of the matters of Credit and Banking is given, but in the chapter on “International Trade and Exchanges” technical terms are introduced too soon in the discussion for the elementary students, who would find some difficulty, from this cause, in following the arguments.

In the chapter on Distribution the old nonsense of sharing the product among the three factors, “land, labour, and capital.” is repeated, though a few lines further on it is admitted that “when we are discussing the share of the annual produce that falls to the land (sic) we are at the same time explaining the principles which determine the size of the rent income of the landlord.” (Page 275, italics mine.) Obviously the land and the landlord are not one and the same thing—except in orthodox economics.

On the share of the product called wages we are met with a curious fact. The old factors supply and demand are still used, but we are now told they are too general to be of much use. A description of the conditions forming the “standard of life” or “standard of comfort” is given as being a “very real and powerful force in the determination of wages,” and it is further stated that :

Even from the standpoint of employers as a class the policy of depressing the labourer’s standard of life stands condemned. Labour, to attain its highest efficiency, must have character and intelligence, as well as mere animal strength.(Page 296, italics mine.)

And, I may say, let them only add correct knowledge, and the day of the employers will be over.

The purpose of our authors’ last-quoted statement is shown a few lines further on, where we read :

If the labourers in seeking higher wages enforce demands which would rob the capitalist of the interest that is his due . . . then in a short time the capital will cease to be saved (!) and the unprofitable business will be discontinued. (Page 297, italics mine.)

How are the mighty fallen ! The great god Supply and Demand, and even “marginal” supply and “marginal” demand, must descend from its throne when the labour market is under consideration. Here stern necessity, tempered a little, perhaps, by a “standard of comfort” which makes for the cheapness called “efficiency,” is to be the ruling deity, and before it we of the “lower orders” must humbly bow.

For are we not told on the same page that “it is not easily conceivable that under present conditions of industry the labour can for long get more than it actually produces” ? That particular conceivability is entirely reserved for the capitalist, who not only produces nothing, but enjoys the best of that produced.

Bohm-Bawerk’s much-boomed “theory of interest” is trotted out to explain why interest is paid, but as no attempt is made to discover whence this interest comes, the theory does not take us far. The writers say (p. 321):

Interest is, in fact, a payment for postponement of enjoyment, and such ‘postponement’ furnishes an expression less open to abuse or misunderstanding than the expression ‘abstinence.’

Think of the enjoyment a Rockefeller or Rothschild “postpones” when investing his capital in a fresh line of industry. With what joy can he look forward to the repayment that will enable him to have an extra kipper for tea or—hush—another “arf-a-pint” to go to bed !

That a whole chapter in an elementary textbook should be devoted to Socialism is certainly encouraging to ourselves. The general description of Socialism is marred by the absurdity (apparently borrowed from the capitalist notions of the I.L.P.) that we “desire to socialise capital,” though we are correctly described as wishing “to abolish capitalists as a distinct class.” It will doubtless astonish the and Clarionette to read that municipal ownership of gas-works, electric lighting works or other “natural” monopolies are not Socialistic. Moreover, by separating “frankly and rationally the private from the public industrial sphere we lay firmly the strongest possible foundation for the existing order, instead of allowing men. to drift haphazard into Socialism or chaos,” (Page 343.)

When we come to the ”arguments” against Socialism we are led once more into the region of hope. “We may derive hope from the fact that men everywhere are coming now to recognise the social obligations resting on the individual” we are told, while Dr. Frazer, late Bishop of Manchester, is quoted as saying :

Some of us, however, have inherited or received money in some way without a return on our part. We are placed by God on our honour. (Page 345, italics mine.)

Note how they receive money “in some way,” and how strong their “honour,” as religious associations and as individuals, must be when it allows them to draw rents and profits from brothels, slums, and breweries.

In referring to the so-called “Weakness of Socialism” we are asked how we are to deal with agriculture, “which has hitherto resisted all efforts at centralisation.” And this from people in the land of the Bonanza Farm, the Grain Elevator Trust, and hugh cattle ranches ! The differences here are no greater than in many another industry, of which a good example is the “chain-store” system, where the units are comparatively small but the ownership and control are centralised.

And the hoary “herculean task” of apportioning work “without engendering a universal discontent that would be fatal to the plan” is once more brought from its retreat. Blissfully ignorant, of course, are our authors that these tasks are done to-day with misery as a reward and a gulf before them that “few men can hope to cross.” Note that few men can even “hope” to leave the ranks of the working class.

Yet without even the “hope” the authors are so fond of referring to no difficulty is experienced in obtaining the labour-power to carry out this work. How much more readily will it be done when a full share of the good things and enjoyments of life are taken as a result of doing a share of the work of society !

Another “objection” to Socialism is that the “danger to personal freedom . . . seems very real.” Fancy ! We poor wage-slaves might lose our “freedom” to starve in the midst of plenty that we enjoy to day ; we might have to forego the liberty of remaining cold while plenty of fuel was at hand ; we might find ourselves faced with the “very real danger” of no longer requiring to tramp the streets for weary weeks vainly seeking the job that seems farther off each day ; we might have to give up the “freedom” of keeping to the road when on tramp and take to the woods and parks and beauty spots now so seldom open to us. It looks as though it would be almost worth risking.

“Finally,” we are told, “we may lay down the general rule that the domination of a single industrial principle is dangerous to civilisation.” As this is exactly what is happening to-day where Science, Art, Literature, Poetry, and Music, as well as production of wealth, are all under the domination of capitalism, our authors appear to have made a mistake in their reference. Under Socialism, where the maximum of diversity consistent with the general well-being would be the rule, this “objection” obviously does not apply.

The suggestion that “What is needed is a coordination of the two principles—the principle of private and of public business,” is rather late, as most of the “public” business to day is conceived and carried on in the interests of the master class, who have arranged the “co-ordination” to a fair degree of efficiency.

When such acute agents of the masters can find no better objections to Socialism than these we can realise how strong our case really is. Not a single essential point of that case is refuted, nor is any real error shown ; and the so-called points are in each instance far more strongly applicable to the present system than to any other.

As stated in the reviewer’s opening remarks, the admissions of our opponents show how far our ideas and education are spreading in all lands. When a sufficient number of the workers grasp the truth of the Socialist case and decide to take control of the means of life for themselves, they will look back with amusement upon the laboured and befogging efforts of the capitalist economists to explain the system of wealth production and distribution, and with still more amusement to the feeble objections and difficulties now urged against Socialism.

J. F.

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