"THE POSITION OF WILLIAM."
[From Ruskin's Letters to British Workmen.]
What you call "wages," practically, is the quantity of food which the possessor of the land gives you to work for him. There is, finally, no "capital" but that. If all the money of all the capitalists in the whole world were destroyed—the notes and bills burnt, the gold irrecoverably buried, and all the machines and apparatus of manufactures crushed, by a mistake in signals, in one catastrophe—and nothing remained but the land, with its animals and vegetables, and buildings for shelter—the poorer population would be very little worse off than they are at this instant; and their labor, instead of being "limited" by the destruction, would be greatly stimulated. They would feed themselves from the animals and growing crop; heap here and there a few tons of ironstone together, build rough walls round them to get a blast, and in a fortnight they would have iron tools again, and be ploughing and fighting, just as usual. It is only we who had the capital who would suffer; we should not be able to live idle, as we do now, and many of us—I, for instance—should starve at once; but you, though little the worse, would none of you be the better eventually for our loss—or starvation. The removal of superfluous mouths would indeed benefit you somewhat for a time; but you would soon replace them with hungrier ones; and there are many of us who are quite worth our meat to you in different ways, which I will explain in due place; also I will show you that our money is really likely to be useful to you in its accumulated form (besides that, in the instances when it has been won by work, it justly belongs to us), so only that you are careful never to let us persuade you into borrowing it and paying us interest for it. You will find a very amusing story, explaining your position in that case, at the one hundred and seventeenth page of the "Manual of Political Economy," published this year at Cambridge, for your early instruction, in an almost devotionally catechetical form, by Messrs. Macmillan.
Perhaps I had better quote it to you entire; it is taken by the author "from the French."
"There was once in a village a poor carpenter who worked hard from morning till night. One day James thought to himself, 'With my hatchet, saw, and hammer I can only make coarse furniture, and can only get the pay for such. If I had a plane, I should please my customers more, and they would pay me more. Yes, I am resolved I will make myself a plane.' At the end of ten days James had in his possession an admirable plane which he valued all the more for having made it himself. Whilst he was reckoning all the profits which he expected to derive from the use of it, he was interrupted by William, a carpenter in the neighboring village. William, having admired the plane, was struck with the advantages which might be gained from it. He said to James:
"'You must do me a service; lend me the plane for a year.' As might be expected, James cried out, 'How can you think of such a thing, William? Well, if I do you this service, what will you do for me in return?'
" W. 'Nothing. Don't you know that a loan ought to be gratuitous?'