O. W. HOLMES
P. S. Of course I am speaking only of economics not of political or sentimental considerations—both very real, but as to which all that one can say is, if you are sure that you want to go to the show and have money enough to buy a ticket, go ahead, but don’t delude yourself with the notion that you are doing an economic act. I make the only return I can in the form of the single speech I have made for the last nine years.
TO OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT
Washington, March 20, 1912
My dear Mr. Justice,—I sincerely thank you for the warmth and generosity of your comment on my Virginia speech. Your economic philosophy is fundamentally, I think, the same as mine—that the wealth produced is a social product. And men may honestly differ as to how best that stream of foods and other satisfactions may be increased in volume, or more widely distributed. May I carry your figure of the stream further by suggesting that the riparian owner in England has the superior right, but in an arid country the common law rule is abandoned because under new conditions it does not make for the greatest public good? The land adjoining feels the need of the water, and society takes from one to give to the other.
The last century was devoted to steaming up in production. This century, it appears to me, will devote itself more definitely to distribution. It is nonsense, of course, to say that because the rich grow richer the poor grow poorer; but the poor are not the same poor, they, too, have found new desires. Civilization has given them new wants. Those desires will not be satisfied with largesse, and with the machinery of government in their hands the people are bound to experiment along economic lines. They will certainly find that they get most when they preserve the captain of industry, but may it not be that his imagination and forethought may be commanded by society at a lower share of the gross than he has heretofore received, or in exchange for something of a different, perhaps of a sentimental nature? ... Please pardon this typewritten note, but my own hand, unlike your copper-plate, is absolutely illegible. I have been raised in a typewriter age.