The Riches of the Working Class !!
The newspapers have discovered that the workers are capitalists. Since March 18th, when Mr. Runciman, the Liberal Capitalist, made his speech on “The Distribution of Wealth,” the Press has waxed eloquent about the “enormous” number of capitalists and the wealth of the workers.
Figures such as Mr. Runciman gave are similar in kind to those supplied for many years to attempt to show that the mass of the people are not propertyless.
In his speech before the United Kingdom Provident Institution, Mr. Runciman said that the amount of the Post Office Savings Bank deposits was 280 million pounds at the end of 1924. This sum was held by 12,300,000 people. A simple sum in division will show that the vast savings of these 12 million people amount to about £23 per head. So that these lucky people with a bank book have amassed the enormous wealth of £23 as their life savings.
Assuming them to be workers, these “savings” are insufficient to tide over one of the periods of sickness or unemployment to which workers and their families are subject. To call these paltry sums “investments,” as Mr. Runciman does, is a capitalist joke. The fact that the sum per head in the Post Office Bank is so small is in itself an indictment of the system. The paltry amount “saved” by the industrious would not pay for an employer’s “night out.”
Mr. Runciman gave further figures showing that about 2 millions had £40 per head in the Trustee Savings Banks. This Liberal statesman omitted to state that both in the Post Office and Trustee Savings Bank there were a large number of depositors who were petty tradesmen and shopkeepers and not members of the working class.
In order to pile up the figures, Mr. Runciman took the total amount of Government War Stock issued by the Post Office since 1914, amounting to 239 million pounds. The fact is well known that a very large number of the original holders of War Stock have been compelled to sell it, so that a large amount, of it is owned now by banks and other companies. After making other “estimates” and “conjectures,” our figure juggler arrived at the conclusion that 15 millions had a grand total of savings in these banks, etc., amounting to 777 millions. These “fifteen million capitalists,” as Mr. Runciman called them, had therefore an average of about £52 “saved ” !
A week before, one of the leading Conservative papers (the “Evening Standard,” March 11th, 1925) presented some facts which dispel the ”rosy dreams ” inspired by Mr. Runciman’s figures.
Mr. Lort-Williams, K.C., late Tory M. P. for Rotherhithe, and now Recorder of West Bromwich, is the writer of the article, from which we quote the following extracts :—
One-and-a-half millions of willing, able-bodied working people cannot earn the means to live. The law forbids them to work. They may not build themselves houses, nor grow their own food, nor make their tools, nor clothe themselves. They may not even anticipate death. The only right which the law gives them is a claim to a charitable dole just sufficient to sustain life, but in a country teeming with wealth no part of it is theirs. A further two million people are dependent on the Poor Law, and one million are qualified by poverty to draw the pittance of an old age pension. According to Professor Henry Clay, 2½ million people out of a population of 47½ millions own the entire wealth of the country.
Ten years ago the national income was £2,000 million. One million persons had incomes over £160 per annum, and their aggregate income was £1,000 million, or half the entire national income. Half the land of the British Isles is owned by 2,500 persons. Out of £300 million left at death in one year 4,400 persons owned £212 million. Out of 670,000 persons who died, 594,000 left nothing or under £100. To-day these monstrous discrepancies of fortune are even worse. If a future Labour Government’ orders a Capital Levy on estates over £1,000, 95 per cent, of the electorate will be untouched by such taxation.
This supporter of the Tory Government makes admissions which show the intense exploitation of the producers of wealth. But we will not rely on the evidence of this politician alone. We quote below an extract from Professor Clay, who holds the Chair of Political Economy at Manchester University. This Professor wrote to The Times,” objecting to Mr. Runciman’s figure juggling :—
The figures given by Mr. Runciman in his address of March 18 hardly justify either the inferences drawn from them or the complacent attitude towards the existing distribution of capital that they have encouraged. They give the amount of certain investments in the hands of the poor; the inferences drawn are that the distribution of capital is wider than it used to be, and that the alleged concentration of wealth in few hands is no longer in fact the case.
Before such inferences can be safely drawn, we require to know, not only the amount of a particular investment by a section of the nation, but the amount of all accumulated wealth in the hands of all classes; and, further, to know its distribution, both at the present time .and in the previous age with which the present is so favourably contrasted. Mr. Runciman did not attempt to give us this information and, in the absence of it, it is difficult to accept his claim that the distribution is “better than at any period in our history.” The distribution of property is closely connected with the form of economic organisation of a country; and 18th century England, with its small farmers and master-craftsmen, must have shown a much wider distribution of capital than England today—just as contemporary France and Ireland do.
Whether the tendency is in the direction of greater equality of distribution or not, progress in that direction has not been great. What Mr. Runciman calls “the stupendous total of £777,834,000″ is not more than 5 per cent of the national capital—not a large proportion to be held by ‘‘15 million capitalists.” On the other hand, allowing a considerable margin for error, it is probably safe to say that over two-thirds of the national capital is held by less than 2 per cent. of the people.—The Times, March 24, 1925.
In the middle of 1923 it is probably true that a considerable proportion of wage earners are earning less, money’s worth for money’s worth, than they did in 1913.