Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/506

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found convenient in keeping accounts, and has no analogue in the accumulations of a community. The word capital, as used by Prof. Price and economists generally, means the nation's accumulated stock of food, clothing, and the other necessaries of life. So long as these commodities remain unconsumed, they are called free capital; when they are employed to sustain laborers engaged in building a warehouse, a bridge, or a railway, the capital is said to become "fixed," or sunk in such enterprise. If the investment is a paying one, returning the cost with interest, the capital is in time released; if it loses money, ultimately becoming worthless, then the capital is fixed forever, or lost. And the true cost of these works to the community is correctly expressed by the price paid for them, Mr. Bunco to the contrary notwithstanding; for, traced to its ultimate source, the cost of the material used is simply the amount of labor that has been put upon it. Of the vast amount of labor which has been so misapplied, not one stroke can be considered as "released energy—labor not otherwise required." It was labor that was needed elsewhere, as is plainly proved, if proof were needed, by the sharp competition and high wages paid for it. But the assertion that there is no labor that could not be put to better use than to throw it away, needs no proof. "But," he asks, triumphantly, "how is it if the savings of a country have been impaired that capital, at the same moment, should be seeking investment at any rate of interest, that all financial circles are choked with an excess of money?"

"When I use a word," said Humpty Dumpty, scornfully, to Alice in Wonderland, "it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less." It is only by attributing a similar mental attitude to Mr. Bunco that the confusion of terms which marks his article is to be explained. Capital has been already defined; money, it may be simply said, is a measure of value, a medium, a commodity, at times a transient representative for capital, when there is capital to represent, but either may exist without the other. The reader will excuse these elementary definitions, as they seem to be called for. Savings, capital, money, it is hardly necessary to say, are not convertible terms; and it requires no profound reasoning to show that idle "money"—undoubtedly the immediate result of lessened trade—may find its ultimate cause in impaired savings. It is because savings have been impaired that economy and retrenchment are enforced; it is because people cannot save, and at the same time go on consuming high-priced commodities with the old recklessness, that prices fall and trade operations become restricted and less profitable; it is because commerce no longer offers high-paying investments, that money accumulates in business centres, and is offered, like other commodities, at low prices. And in view of the fact that it is the cost and not the amount of production that needs to be lowered in order to renew the activities of trade, this is a most cheering sign.

As has been said, the cause of our trouble, as assigned by Mr. Bunco, is over-production. That is to say, too much labor has been usefully employed, too much machinery has been put in motion, too much cotton has been spun, too much leather made—in short, not to particularize, the wants of the people have been too freely supplied. The economist will, of course, admit, as Mr. Bunco says, that there may be over-production of certain things, but the ill effects resulting from undue production of certain things would be partial and localized, and would tend rapidly to correct themselves. Nothing short of general overproduction would account for general depression. And so we are brought face to face with the proposition that there is an unhealthy excess of industrial energy in the world, and that it produces more of the necessaries of life than the workers can profitably assimilate!

A few words as to the proposed remedy. Of course, if it be admitted that over-production is the cause, the cure is obvious: it is to check production, and Mr. Bunco does not hesitate to recommend a coöperation of producers for that purpose. The adjustment of industrial activity cannot be left to natural laws, but combinations must be formed which shall see to it that the forge-fires are not relit, and that the idle operative shall remain idle. With millions of laborers waiting for work, this seems like heroic treatment, but there is no way to limit production but to limit the amount of labor employed. And now we begin to see how "peculiarly erroneous" have been the commonly accepted views. The man who makes two blades of grass grow where one grew before; the inventor who, by machinery, increases and cheapens the aggregate of things made; the industrious and frugal operative, who works long hours and saves his earnings—have hitherto been regarded as useful members of society. But this is all wrong; the "tramp" is your true conservator of public welfare. He takes a share in that destruction which leads to abundance, and he at least cannot be charged with contributing to the evil of over-production.

Regarding the example of France, Prof. Price attributes the successful payment of the indemnity to the fact that France had "saved"—accumulated. It would perhaps have been better to say it was because she