Page images

or a deposit of coal or iron ore, to bring it into production to prevent the carrying charges from eating up its value. Once brought into production, the compulsion to continue to produce is even stronger, for to the increased tax assessment are added carrying charges on invested capital and also the fact that machinery deteriorates no matter whether it is used or not. When profits vanish, it is better to earn part of these overhead charges than to earn nothing, so that the road of uncontrolled production and unrestricted competition in industry leads inevitably toward no return on the capital and an unduly low wage for the workers.

A former labor leader, in describing the working of these forces in the coal industry before the era of wage contracts, pictures a coal-mine operator calling in his men and showing them his books to prove that his production cost is, say, ten cents above the current market price for coal and that this margin cannot be overcome by mechanical improvements, and suggesting that they agree to a sufficient wage reduction to permit him to continue to operate and thus afford them work. The proposal is agreed to, and the operator receives orders for coal at a slightly lower price than that at which some other operator has been furnishing it. The operator who loses the orders has no recourse except to propose a wage reduction to his men. The wage level that results from such a stepping-down process will inevitably be one where only those men will work at coal mining who cannot find some other occupation, while their capacity as consumers of other products will be reduced to a minimum. The undesirability of such a tendency in the economic structure needs no elaboration.

Control of production to stabilize prices is not a theoretical concept in

the interest of a vague general public, but a much-needed practical procedure to benefit the individuals, in all lines of industry, who collectively constitute the general public.


Someone will surely here interject that control of production to stabilize prices means that the consumer will no longer benefit by having prices of raw material move toward an irreducible minimum. The answer to this is that consumers do not, as a group and in the long run, benefit by reductions in price that result from any cause other than the producing of what is needed with less expenditure of energy.

An often-quoted English schoolboy story is that the inhabitants of the Scilly Isles make a meagre living by doing each other's washing. In our present highly coöperative society we all make a living by doing each other's washing, printing, news gathering, and a thousand other forms of service, such as the production of raw materials like coal, wheat, and cotton.

It is important to notice that it would not make any difference to the inhabitants of the Scilly Isles what the price per dozen for doing washing was, so long as their system provided for an equitable exchange of services. Nor does it matter in our system what the general price level of commodities is, so long as it is equitably adjusted. The consumer of raw materials likes, if possible, to buy at a little below the general market average, but after one consumer has bought at two per cent below the average, another at three, and another at four per cent, they are all thrown into confusion if the market average drops ten per cent. If the decline is because someone has found out how to produce with ten per cent less expenditure of effort, the resultant loss

to other producers, until they also can find out how to cut their costs ten per cent, is a burden industry has to bear; but if the reduction is because someone who has to sell prefers to take a ten-percent loss in order to get out, nobody is the gainer.

That nobody is the gainer may be hard to accept, but it is inescapable. If the farmer cannot make an adequate living growing wheat and cotton, he cannot buy freely from all the other people who have things to sell to him, and the same rule applies to everybody who produces and sells things. The scaling down of prices to the irreducible minimum benefits nobody when they are adjusted on the minimum level, and the process of reduction is accompanied by terrible hardship. I should temporarily benefit, of course, if the prices of clothes and shoes were suddenly reduced to half what they are now, but, unless that reduction came from their being produced at half their present cost, I should inevitably eventually feel the reaction. No industry can suffer losses without affecting the whole of industry, which in time affects all the consumers.


The distinction between price reduction as a result of lowering of production cost and price reduction through unrestricted competition cannot be made too clear, because they are often interwoven in actual experience. Take the whole population of a town whose principal industry is shoe manufacturing as a concrete example. If the manufacturer is able to cut his price per pair in half because he has found out how to make a pair at half the cost, he will commonly let a number of his men go, because reduction in production cost usually results from substituting cheap mechanical energy for expensive

human energy. These people will normally find other employment. The workmen who remain employed usually earn more in dollars than they did before, and in spending it give employment where there was less employment before.

Mining companies that initiate considerable enterprises in foreign lands where the economic level is low, and where most of the people are busily but inefficiently engaged in raising enough food to support themselves and their families, often find themselves confronted with an acute labor problem. If any considerable number of workers leave the land to work in and about the mines, those left on the land cannot raise enough food to keep them all unless they are taught better methods of agriculture and provided with equipment that will enable them to produce more with less expenditure of effort. Add to this the fact that managers commonly find that the 'natives,' as our British cousins designate them, usually need more food, and a betterbalanced diet, than they have been accustomed to in order to show anything above the lowest order of efficiency in industrial work, and it is clear that to make a new industry possible in what may be termed an economic province involves increasing the productivity, not only of those who are employed in it, but of the whole social group.

It has already been pointed out that the employment of large numbers of men in automobile manufacture is only possible because the others have increased their productivity enough to turn out everything else that is needed without the help of the automobile workers.

This gives the clue to what is needed in modern industry. When a person is ill a physician normally prescribes two things: certain medicines to produce an

immediate but temporary effect, and such modifications in the patient's way of living as will increase his physical vigor and avoid a recurrence of the bad condition. That the medicines should apply to the disease, and not its symptoms, goes without saying, but the collapse of all the various schemes of price regulation (such as the British one for rubber, and the easily predictable failure of various schemes proposed to benefit the farmer) is due to a failure to distinguish between symptoms and disease. Where the trouble arises from the production of commodities in amounts that are greater than needed, the only medicine to apply is control of production. Not only the American people, but the people of the world, seem mentally unprepared to take this medicine, and prefer to rely on the mysterious magic of price-fixing schemes. Carlyle, in his French Revolution, keeps reiterating that anything that is not fundamentally sound cannot long endure. No price-fixing schemes have long endured, because they all encourage rather than discourage overproduction.


The hygiene to be applied to the condition described must be reasonably clear from what has been said. The present tendency is to invest large amounts of capital for the purpose of lowering production cost of commodities that are already being produced in sufficient amount. The inevitable result of this is to cause the loss of considerable amounts of capital previously invested in production. A good example of this is the shifting of the cotton textile industry from New England to the South. The mill owners of New England failed to equip their mills with mechanisms and methods that would produce more with less effort, largely because the workers, obsessed with the

mediæval delusion that increase of productivity throws workers out of employment, would not consent to their introduction. So the modern mills were erected in communities where the workers had no such delusions. The rest of the story is known to most people and may be inferred from what has been said above. The general public would have been as well served by a much smaller investment of capital in improving New England methods and equipment, and it is at least doubtful whether theadvantages reaped by the South counterbalance the losses in New England. The idle New England equipment does not go out of existence, as theoretical economics presupposes, but remains to plague the industry and to work against the general welfare.

What is needed, therefore, is the investment of capital in the production of things that are not now being produced, or else being produced so inefficiently that their price is unduly high and their consumption restricted. Perhaps the most stupid misuse of words to-day is the phrase 'luxury equipment' as applied to automobiles, phonographs, radio sets, and a variety of other things that have only recently been brought within the reach of the ordinary man. The word 'luxury' has a penumbra of immorality about it, and is entirely out of place in this connection. Such things extend the mental and physical horizons of men and, except when they are misused (as all good things may be misused), they are worthy of respect and admiration. It is time that we thoroughly dissipated the delusion, inherited from our European forbears, that it is not good for the common people to have much.

What we now need, therefore, is the imagination to see how the discoveries of science can be applied in the production of new things, or a greater

abundance of things, that will serve the needs of everyone. If Mr. Ford had put his mental and physical energy into the coal industry or the textile industry he would not have bettered existing conditions, and perhaps would have only made them worse. He chose instead to apply it to new lines of endeavor, and has greatly benefited us all. With more

such ideas, and adequate capital backing for them, the workers, released from the production of present commodities through the increase of productivity per man, will find satisfactory employment in the production of new things to enlarge the common life, and the production-control problem will solve





I DOUBT Whether the American novel exists, as a phenomenon separate from the English - just as I doubt whether the English novel exists, as a phenomenon separate from the American. The same tradition prevails for both literatures; the attempt to get novelty and emancipation is in both literatures similar; and, broadly speaking, both literatures have the same gods and the same devils. It may not always be so. It may soon cease to be so. The field of the novel far wider than any other field of inquiry for the literary critic — is so immense that many corners of it are bound to be overlooked. Nobody can cover the ground. Nobody can keep pace with the growth and change. Somewhere, in America or in Britain, there may be at this moment the beginning of a new tradition tell. The survey is bound to be perfunctory; the conclusions are likely to be false. But in general one may say that the art of the story is still the old story, and the new schools are still at school.

one cannot

Go back to the influence of Henry James. It was shed impartially on the two sides of the Atlantic. It is still felt. But all that was peculiarly Jamesian has fallen away from it. All that accumulation of mannerism, with which the later James disguised the fact that he could tell a story, counts now for nothing. There is little trace of it in those writers in whom his influence is most apparent and most beneficial. They have learned from him something of his psychological concern; they have largely discarded his verbal tortuosities. They do not when they are most successful so much follow the master as get on with the story. When they suffer themselves to be diverted into labyrinths, they fail. The history is typical. You can reënforce the interest of the novel if you accept the fact that first and foremost it is a story. Forget or deny that, and there is no interest to be reënforced. Complications presuppose the original and central simplicity.

The same moral can be drawn from any other trail we choose to trace. Mr. Theodore Dreiser, still insufficiently

known in England, has exercised an enormous influence in the United States. Like Henry James, he has moulded writers rather than readers; but he has moulded readers through writers. The younger American novelists have learned from him courage in approach, augustness of vision, patience in elaboration of detail. That is to say, they have learned from him exactly what they have learned from any other grand-scale story-teller they happen to have read. Another generation, younger still, seems to have learned from him nothing but the resolution to put in print those things which, when he was first writing, were in many quarters pusillanimously regarded as unprintable. It is a pity; for speaking out, like listening in, is nothing meritorious in itself. All depends on what there is to listen to, and what to speak.

On this question of what to say and what to leave unsaid turns the main method of modernity. All is whether the artist is content with the soul or prefers the outside of the cup and the platter. The Pharisees thought it important to make the cup and the platter clean; many of our young men and women think it important to make them surprising - the error is the same. It is the exaltation of the empty form over the living spirit. It is the preoccupation with the irrelevant, with the inexpressive. It is the error called psychological. Blake said the last word about it in his injunction to get down to essentials:

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower:
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.


Mr. James Joyce is an Irishman, Mr. D. H. Lawrence an Englishman, but I

[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

There is, in these American books, the child's delight at being ‘naughty.' The barriers are down, and we break into the hidden places not with the painful inquisitiveness of the psychological adult, but with the shy, assertive boisterousness of the excited immature.

There is this paradox at the heart of the neopsychological attack - the deeper it goes, the more superficial it remains. Feverishly it cuts, hacks, probes and does not notice that it is experimenting on a corpse. Did it think the soul dwelt between the sinews? Alas, it apparently did, and will not admit its error.

[ocr errors]

I wrote some years ago, in my English Novel of To-day, some words about modern methods, with particular reference to verse:

Loosen the ties of art and scrap its limitations! it is what our young poets are always inviting us to do. Rhyme, they say, is a fetter; strike it off! But it is not a fetter: it is a form. You cannot merely strike it off; you must replace it. Anybody can be negative, anybody can be reactionary. If art progresses, it must be in the direction of greater coherence; the control of the conscious mind increases; rebel chaos yields to the form conceived of God. But this modern movement is backwards towards fear and night.

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »