“Boundless Wealth”—Money and the Volume of Trade—The Quantity Theory—The Gold Standard—How is the Volume of Paper to be regulated?—Mr Kitson’s Ideal.
In the November Trade Supplement an endeavour was made to answer Mr Kitson’s rather vague and general insinuations and charges against our bankers concerning the manner in which they do their business. Now let us examine the larger and more interesting problem raised by his criticism of our currency system.
In his article in the June Supplement he told us that “if the British public had any grasp of the fundamental truths of economic science they would know that a future of boundless wealth and prosperity is theirs.” This is a cheery and encouraging view and, let us hope, a true one. But, that boundless wealth can only be got if we work for it in the right way. Can Mr Kitson show it to us, and what are these “fundamental truths of economic science”? It is easier to talk about them than to find any two economists who would give an exactly—or even nearly—similar list of them. Mr Kitson glances “at a few elementary truths.” “Wealth,” he says, “is the product of two prime factors, man and Nature, generally termed labour and land. With an unlimited, or practically unlimited, supply of these two factors, how is it that wealth is and has been hitherto so comparatively scarce?” But is the supply of “man” unlimited in the sense of man able, willing, and properly trained to work? And is the supply of “Nature” unlimited in the sense of land, mines, and factories fully equipped with the right machinery and served and supplied by adequate means of transport? Surely the failure In production on which Mr Kitson so rightly lays stress is due, at least partly, to lack of good workers, good organisers, good machinery, and good transport facilities. Workers who restrict output, employers who despise science and cling to antiquated methods, the opposition of both classes to new and efficient equipment, and large tracts, even of our own land, still without reasonable transport facilities, have something to do with it. And lack of capital—this answer to the question Mr Kitson flouts because, he says, “since capital is wealth,” to say that “wealth is scarce because capital is scarce is the same as saying that wealth is scarce because it is scarce.” But is it not a “fundamental truth of economic science” that capital is wealth applied to production? Wealth and capital are by no means identical. When a well-known shipbuilding magnate laid waste several Surrey farms to make himself a deer-park, the ground that he thus abused was still wealth, but it is no longer capital because it has ceased to produce good food and is merely a pleasant lounging-place for his lordship. May not the failure of production be partly due to the fact that, owing to the extravagant and stupid expenditure of so many of the rich, too much work is put into providing luxuries—of which the above-mentioned deer-park is an example—and too little into the equipment of industry with the plant that it needs for its due expansion?