50 Years Ago: Why Workers Save

In the early days of capitalism it was possible for the man with small capital to set up in business with some chance of climbing to the top, and in consequence saving ranked high among the capitalist virtues. Out of this developed the silly theory that the possession of wealth in the modern world denotes “abstinence” and “self-denial” on the part of the possessing class. It was effectively answered by the late Sir William Ashley, economic adviser to the Conservative Party. In his Economic Organisation of England he says: –

  Phrases like these have occasioned no little mirth; it is hard to discover self-denial or parsimony as the world understands these words, in the processes by which modern capital is most largely accumulated.

Capitalist savings result mainly, not from self-denial, but from having incomes so large that it is difficult not to save. Knowing this, and overlooking the fact that the position of the workers is essentially different from their own. it is a common error for wealthy bankers and Cabinet Ministers to assume that the accumulation of funds in savings banks indicates property among the workers.

Every worker appreciates only too well that the necessity of putting something by, out of wages already inadequate for decent comfort, is the result, not of prosperity, but of the insecurity of his existence. It is therefore interesting to see that Major-General J E B Seely, Chairman of the National Savings Committee, has realised this. In a speech at Leeds on December 12th he said that in November 1928 more Savings Certificates had been sold than in any November since 1921.

  As unemployment and distress grow, savings have increased. The reason is that the British people, when they are up against something, are determined to lay something up against the dangers looming ahead. Households now living on 30/- a week are saving more than they did when they were earning £7 or £8 a week.

(Daily Mail 13 December)

And what a commentary on capitalism. Here we have one of the wealthiest ruling classes known to history financing a huge national organisation in order to persuade its wage-slaves, starving on 30/- a week, that they ought to save.

(From The Socialist Standard, January 1929)