Page images
PDF
EPUB

applied, as far as feasible, to all appropriations. Why should the principle be utterly ignored in the rest of the four billions of government expenditures? Finally, the bill is concerned solely with periods of depression; but if it is sound public policy to alleviate depressions by regulation of government expenditures, it is equally sound policy to seek to prevent depressions by preventing inflation.

This shows how far the Jones Bill comes from laying down an economic programme based on the right flow of money to consumers as the essential condition of sustained production and employment. Yet this bill is the nearest thing to such a programme that Congress has even considered. And it is fully as much as appears to-day in the resolutions of either party.

Nevertheless, the flow of money to consumers is one of the causes of prosperity which is absolutely subject to political control. Indeed, the Government plays a part in this control whether or not it wishes to do so. Inevitably. The only question is whether it plays that part intelligently.

The Government cannot play its part intelligently without uprooting and casting aside the fallacious automaticproduction-consumption theory; the theory under which it has always confused the forces which are, and the forces which are not, subject to political control; under which, naturally enough, the Government has done those things which it ought not to have done, and

left undone those things which it ought to have done; first helping along the vicious spiral of inflation, and then doing little or nothing to prevent the even more vicious spiral of deflation.

Once the Government had rejected that paralyzing theory, it could proceed to gather information, more promptly, more accurately, more comprehensively, than ever before, especially indexes of unemployment and retail prices and projected capital expenditures, — upon which to determine whether, at any given time, the influence of the Government should be brought to bear toward increasing or decreasing the flow of money to consumers. For all its economic activities the Government would then have a unifying principle. It is now the largest consumer the greatest spender in the world, and doubtless will continue to be, whether or not it spends with a view to keeping the country prosperous. Its expenditures are always in addition to the total of private expenditures. Now there are times when private expenditures are too great, other times when they are too small. The Government might regulate its own spending accordingly, thus making the balance right, without exercising any control over private spending.

Meantime, any political party, using such a principle and all that it involves as the underlying structure of its policy, could make a miscellaneous collection of planks into a platform.

THE CONTRIBUTORS' CLUB

INSOUCIANCE

My balcony is on the east side of the hotel, and my neighbors on the right are a Frenchman, white-haired, and his white-haired wife; my neighbors on the left are two little white-haired English ladies. And we are all mortally shy of one another. When I peep out of my room in the morning and see the matronly French lady in a purple silk wrapper standing like the captain on the bridge surveying the morning, I pop in again before she can see me. And whenever I emerge during the day I am aware of the two little white-haired ladies popping back like two white rabbits, so that literally I see only the whisk of their skirt hems.

This afternoon being hot and thundery, I woke up suddenly and went out on the balcony barefoot. There I sat serenely contemplating the world, and ignoring the two bundles of feet of the two little ladies which protruded from their open doorways, upon the end of the two chaises longues. A hot, still afternoon- the lake shining rather glassy away below, the mountains rather sulky, the greenness very green, all a little silent and lurid, and two mowers mowing with scythes downhill just near. Slush! slush! sound the scythe strokes.

The two little ladies become aware of my presence. I become aware of a certain agitation in the two bundles of feet wrapped in two discreet steamer rugs and protruding on the end of two chaises longues from the pair of doorways upon the balcony next me. One bundle of fect suddenly disappears; so does the other. Silence!

Then lo! with odd, sliding suddenness a little white-haired lady in gray silk, with round blue eyes, emerges and looks straight at me, and remarks that it is pleasant now. A little cooler, say I, with false amiability. She quite agrees, and we speak of the men mowing: how plainly one hears the long breaths of the scythes! By now, we are tête-à-tête. We speak of cherries, strawberries, and the promise of the vine crop. This somehow leads to Italy, and the Signor Mussolini. Before I know where I am, the little white-haired lady has swept me off my balcony, away from the glassy lake, the veiled mountains, the men mowing, and the cherry trees, away into the troubled ether of international politics.

I am not allowed to sit like a dandelion on my own stem. The little lady in a breath blows me abroad. And I was so pleasantly musing over the two men mowing: the young one, with long legs in bright blue cotton trousers and with bare black head, swinging so lightly downhill, and the other, in black trousers, rather stout in front, and wearing a new straw hat of the boater variety, coming rather stiffly after, crunching the end of his stroke with a certain violent effort. I was watching the curiously different motions of the two men, the young thin one in bright blue trousers, the elderly fat one in shabby black trousers that stick out in front, the different amount of effort in their mowing, the lack of grace in the elderly one, his jerky advance, the unpleasant effect of the new boater on his head — and I tried to interest the little lady.

But it meant nothing to her. The

mowers, the mountains, the cherry trees, the lake, all the things that were actually there, she did n't care about. They even seemed to scare her off the balcony. But she held her ground, and, instead of herself being scared away, she snatched me up like some ogress, and swept me off into the empty desert spaces of right and wrong, politics, Fascism, and the rest.

The worst ogress could n't have treated me more villainously. I don't care about right and wrong, politics, Fascism, abstract liberty, or anything else of the sort. I want to look at the mowers, and wonder why fatness, elderliness, and black trousers should inevitably wear a new straw hat of the boater variety, move in stiff jerks, shove the end of the scythe stroke with a certain violence, and win my hearty disapproval, as contrasted with young long thinness, bright blue cotton trousers, a bare black head, and a pretty, lifting movement at the end of the scythe stroke.

Why do modern people almost invariably ignore the things that are actually present to them? Why, having come out from England to find mountains, lakes, scythe mowers, and cherry trees, does the little blue-eyed lady resolutely close her blue eyes to them all, now she's got them, and gaze away to Signor Mussolini, whom she has n't got, and to Fascism, which is invisible anyhow? Why is n't she content to be where she is? Why can't she be happy with what she's got? Why must she care?

I see now why her round blue eyes are so round, so noticeably round. It is because she cares. She is haunted by that mysterious bugbear of caring. For everything on earth that does n't concern her she cares. She cares terribly because far-off, invisible hypothetical Italians wear black shirts, but she does n't care a rap that one

elderly mower whose stroke she can hear wears black trousers, instead of bright blue cotton ones. Now if she would descend from the balcony and climb the grassy slope and say to the fat mower, Cher monsieur, pourquoi portez-vous les pantalons noirs? Why, oh why, do you wear black trousers? then I should say, What an on-the-spot little lady! But since she only torments me with international politics, I can only remark, What a tiresome, off-thespot old woman!

They care! They simply are eaten up with caring. They are so busy caring about Fascism, or Leagues of Nations, or whether France is right, or whether marriage is threatened, that they never know where they are. They certainly never live on the spot where they are. They inhabit abstract space, the desert void of politics, principles, right and wrong, and so forth. They are doomed to be abstract. Talking to them is like trying to have a human relationship with the letter x in algebra.

There simply is a deadly breach between actual living and this abstract caring. What is actual living? It is a question mostly of direct contact. There was a direct sensuous contact between me, the lake, mountains, cherry trees, mowers, and a certain invisible but noisy chaffinch in a clipped lime tree. All this was cut off by the fatal shears of that abstract word, 'Fascism,' and the little old lady next door was the Atropos who cut the thread of my actual life this afternoon.

She beheaded me, and flung my head into abstract space. Then we are supposed to love our neighbors!

When it comes to living, we live through our instincts and our intuitions. Instinct makes me run from little overearnest ladies, instinct makes me sniff the lime blossom and reach for the darkest cherry. But it is

intuition which makes me feel the uncanny glassiness of the lake this afternoon, the sulkiness of the mountains, the vividness of near green in thunder sun, the young man in bright blue trousers lightly tossing the grass from the scythe, the elderly man in a boater stiffly shoving his scythe strokes, both of them sweating in the silence of the intense light.

HOSTS

HAVING retired from active business with something considerably less than a competence, and having purchased a small place in the country in which to pass the sunset years of my life, I turned my jaded mind from the contemplation of the eccentricities of the stock market to the equally mysterious processes of nature.

One of my silent aspirations when I took up my abode on my Sabine Farm was that it might become the Mecca of city friends, who would be tempted by its peace and quiet to visit me, and if possible to break bread with me and pass a night under the protection of my many-gabled roof.

So, when some minor repairs had been completed, I issued a somewhat general invitation to my more intimate friends to drop in when motoring by. It was my practice to engage in the less exacting agricultural duties in the morning; then lunch and a brief siesta, and I was ready for company. While waiting for their enthusiastic arrival I contrived to add picturesque bucolic touches to my environment. I made my toilet with nice attention to the requirements of my new character, and arranged to have the quarters of the pigs, the poultry, and my other humble possessions worthy of minute inspection.

I followed this line of procedure for several weeks, but it was totally lacking

in results. I spent long afternoons with ears attentive to the sound of an approaching motor, but they whirled by my gateway with arrogant disdain. I decided that there was something wrong with my invitations. A general invitation is, after all, no invitation. After careful thought I selected friends who, I decided, were most in need of the recuperative effect of country quiet, and issued to them definite invitations for specific days and hours. The result of this was a long series of telephone calls, at inconvenient hours, expressing regret that exacting social duties elsewhere prevented their coming, much as they desired to do so. It seemed indelicate to press the matter, so I selected another group of less intimate friends and tried again. For some reason this group was less responsive than the first. From some of them I never heard at all. Then I saw my mistake. This sort of thing must grow naturally. My rural retreat must acquire a reputation for charming and unostentatious hospitality. Little by little its fame would spread, and then the tide would turn toward me. When this comforting reflection came to me I could hear the enraptured comments of friends. ‘Have you, by any chance,' they would say, 'been out to Jackson's little place in the country? No? Oh, you must go. Just drop in at any time. He will be delighted to see you. Don't wait for a formal invitation. He does not do things that way. That's the charm of it.'

With these comforting words ringing in my ears, I settled myself to await developments. Meanwhile I was not bereft of all visitors. I was called upon by a taciturn gentleman who wished to sell me brushes, a pensive youth who offered me a correspondence course in the raising of poultry, and a young woman whose educational future seemed to depend upon my subscribing

to a number of multicolored magazines. The visitor, however, who really stirred me was a young man who descended upon me and threatened to change the whole face of nature. He came with awe-inspiring credentials from the State Bureau of Agriculture. His mission seemed to be to discover just how far I was disregarding the agricultural ethics of the community. He desired to make a minute inspection of all growing things on the place. In half an hour he had reduced me to a state of groveling humiliation.

His discoveries were appalling. I had every sort of growing thing which no right-minded man would have. His face blanched when he beheld my gooseberry bed, and, pointing a trembling finger at the fruit-laden bushes, he uttered one word in a sepulchral whisper: 'Hosts!'

My currant bushes filled him with anguish, and even my beloved lilacs were pronounced to be 'hosts,' and he urged their immediate destruction. He then inspected my ancient fruit trees, and his mood became more and more tragic. He would lay his hand upon trunk after trunk as we made our rounds and, looking mournfully at me, would whisper, 'Doomed.' In vain I tried to explain to him that I was not a fruit farmer, that these ancient trees were kept for their beauty and the shade they afforded. He shook his head sadly. Such things could not be. I took him to the garden and tried the effect of a cool drink and a cigar. Nothing could assuage his grief, and his conviction that I was either a knave or a fool was strengthened as I talked.

[blocks in formation]

and destruction to others. I pointed out that none of the things affected by these parasites grew on my place, and, what was more, I did not care if they did. Very kindly but firmly he would reply, 'But they are hosts.' We had a long and melancholy interview. He evidently had no intention of leaving until he had wrung from me a promise to denude my entire estate. I finally said I would follow his advice as far as possible, for I did not know with what authority the young man was invested, and I had visions of an army of axemen appearing and, under the proud ægis of the Commonwealth, stripping my few acres, while I languished behind prison bars.

After he left me my mood changed to one of exaltation. My trees and shrubs took on a new and beautiful significance. They were not merely dumb growing things. They were 'hosts,' for 'he himself had said it.' Amid their leaves and branches myriad living things find asylum, and there enjoy the charming and unostentatious hospitality for which my country retreat is justly famous.

As I spend long, languorous afternoons listening to the hum of passing motors, I am no longer vexed that none pause at my gate. The callous inattention of erstwhile friends does not pain me. The world may pass me by, for I know that my currants, my gooseberries, my lilacs, in fact everything growing on my place is dispensing prodigal hospitality to millions of tiny and appreciative guests, who, though they may be so minute as to be well-nigh invisible, are after all brothers of mine in the great scheme of things.

But if ever again a blue convertible coupé with the arms of the Commonwealth on the door stops at my gate, I shall retire to my root cellar and remain there until it has departed to visit other hosts elsewhere.

« PreviousContinue »