Whether England realises her vast dream remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: No man can watch France in the supreme Test of War without catching the thrill of her heroic endeavour, or feeling the influence of that immense and unconquerable serenity with which she has faced Triumph and Disaster. They proclaim the deathlessness of her democracy, the hope of a new world leadership in art and craft.
She will be a worthy trade ally.
By making patriotism profitable, England has enlisted an Army of Savers and launched the greatest of all Campaigns of Conservation. No contrast in the greatest of all conflicts is so marked as this flowering of thrift amid the ruins of a mighty extravagance. The story of Britain’s “Economy First” campaign is a chapter of regeneration through destruction that is full of interest and significance for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Through self-denial a complete revolution in national habits has begun. Out of colossal evil has come some good.
It has taken a desperate disease to invoke a desperate remedy. The average American, firm in his belief that he holds a monopoly on world waste, has had, almost without his knowledge, a formidable rival in England these past years. Whether the visiting Yankee tourist helped to set the pace or not, the fact remains that when the war broke over England she was as extravagant as she was unprepared.
The Englishman, like his American brother, though unlike the Scotch, is not thrifty by instinct. He regards thrift as a vice. He prefers to let the tax gatherer do his saving for him. He believes with his great compatriot Gladstone that “it is more difficult to save a shilling than to spend a million.”
Contrasting the Englishman and the Frenchman in the matter of economy, you find this interesting parallel: With the Frenchman the first question that attends income is “How much can I save?” Saving is the supreme thing. With the Briton, however, it becomes a matter of “How much can I spend?” Saving is incidental.
To associate thrift with the British workingman is to conceive a miracle. To be sure, he seldom had anything to save before the war. But with the speeding-up of industry to meet the insatiate hunger for munitions and the corresponding increase of from thirty to fifty per cent, even more, in wages, he suddenly began to revel in a wealth that he never dreamed was possible. The more he made the more he spent. He squandered his financial substance on fine cigars, expensive clothes, and excessive drinks, while his wife bedecked herself in gaudy finery and installed pianos or phonographs in her house. No one thought of To-morrow.
Just as it took the shock of a long succession of military reverses to rouse the English mind to the consciousness that the war would be long and bitter, so did the abuse of all this temporary and inflated war time prosperity bring to far-seeing men throughout England the realisation that the British people, and more especially those who worked with their hands, were booked for serious social and economic trouble when peace came, unless they saw the error of their wasteful ways.