A letter was sent me by a friend in America, from a writer who, commenting on my late addresses in that country, said that in the main he entirely agreed with my arguments, as against socialism; but that he could not divest himself of the belief that labour as a whole got less than it produced, and was thus as a whole suffering a chronic wrong. He suggested, however, a method, fundamentally analogous to that set forth in the text, of computing what labour, as such, does produce in reality. He gave his own opinion as to actual facts, as an impression merely; but how misleading impressions may be can be seen from his statements “that all very great fortunes, at all events, must be derived from the underpayment of labour.” Had he only considered the case in detail, he would have seen that labour received the highest wages from some of the richest employers. According to his theory the wages of labour, in such cases, would touch the minimum.
INTEREST AND ABSTRACT JUSTICE
The essential feature of interest, as distinct from the income due to active ability, is that while the latter ceases as soon as the able man ceases to exert himself, the former continues to replenish the recipient’s pockets, though for his part he does nothing, or need do nothing, in return for it. Since, then, the possession of this particular form of income is admittedly unconnected with any concurrent exertion on the part of those possessing it (such is the argument of the objectors) the whole portion of the national wealth which, in the form of interest, is at present appropriated by the presumably or the possibly idle, might obviously be appropriated by the state, and applied to public purposes, without lessening in any way even the highest of those rewards which are due to, and are needed to stimulate any active ability whatsoever, and hence without lessening the efficiency of the wealth-producing process as a whole. If we adopt the programme which this argument suggests, it will be possible, so its advocates say, to satisfy the demands of labour by a shorter and more direct method than that of committing ourselves to an estimate of what labour actually produces, and endeavouring to secure that the total which is paid to labour shall accord with it.
Now, this programme raises two separate questions. One question is whether the proposed confiscation of interest is in reality, as its advocates maintain it to be, practicable in the sense that the disturbances which it would necessarily cause would not interfere with the production of the fund which it is desired to distribute, and so perhaps leave all classes poorer and not richer than they are. The other question is whether such a confiscation would be just. To some people this second question will possibly seem superfluous. If it can be shown, they will say, that a policy, the avowed object of which is the