There is also a possibility that some people may recognise that saving money and applying it to the re-equipment of the world for peace industry is a patriotically praiseworthy object not less than saving in time of war for the equipment of the Army. It may be that the benefit conferred by those who save, in increasing the output of mankind, will be more generally recognised, and that the supply of capital may, when the war is over, be increased on patriotic grounds, or on grounds even wider than mere patriotism—a desire to help a great stride forward in the material welfare of mankind.
Capital is a very tender plant, and it will be very easy, if mistakes are made, to frighten those who see the benefits of accumulation for themselves and others. Labour troubles and industrial unrest are extremely likely to have the effect of destroying capital by preventing it coming into existence. If we remember that capital can only be created by being saved, it becomes evident that if those who save are threatened with too deep an inroad into their reward for so doing, on the part of labour, they will hesitate to save; and if the action of labour has this effect, labour will be sawing off the bough on which it sits. For it is new capital that sets new industry going, and it is only by a continual supply of new industry that a continual demand for fresh labour can be maintained.
There is also at present much mischievous talk about a great tax on capital for the purpose of redeeming, or hastening the redemption of, war debt. It is clear at once that it is not possible to tax capital if we remember that capital consists of the tools and equipment of industry, or even, in the wider sense of the word, of accumulated assets which have not been consumed. Unless the Government is prepared to take payment in factory chimneys, railway sleepers, houses and fields, or the securities and mortgages that are claims on their product, it is not possible to tax capital. The only thing that the Government can tax is the output, that is to say, the annual income of the people. In other words, a tax on capital is simply a form of income tax assessed, not according to a man’s income, but according to the assets of which he is possessed. The effect of such a tax would be that he who has spent everything that he has earned on his own enjoyment would go scot free in the matter of the capital tax, and would be rewarded for his improvidence by being asked to make no sacrifice; while his thrifty brother who, out of a smaller income, has set aside a certain proportion during the last twenty or thirty years, would have to hand over a portion of his current income assessed upon the value of the assets into which he has put his savings. Incidentally, it may be remarked that it would take years to make this necessary valuation, and that it would probably be done in a very inequitable manner by untrained and incompetent officials. But the important point is this, that if the Government shows a tendency to take the possession of assets as a basis for taxation it will be directly encouraging those who spend their whole income in riotous living and frivolous amusement, and discouraging those who help to increase mankind’s output by adding to the capital available.