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OF THE PAST
Fish will not live where the water is
too clear. But if there is duckweed or
something, the fish will hide under its shadow and thrive. Thus, the people will live in tranquility if
certain matters are a bit overlooked or left unheard. -Yamamoto, Hagakure
Ruskin Revisited, Part II
Munera Pulveris (Gifts of Dust, 1872) derives from
articles originally published in 1862-63 as a sequel to Unto This Last. Both series of articles had been the object
of violent outcry and had their publication suspended. Munera Pulveris, Ruskin tells us, was
really only the Preface to a work he intended to write.
In the preface to the
Preface, Ruskin repeats and reinforces his definition of value from Unto
This Last. Value is first of all
intrinsic, use-value. A thing is of
value as it "avails towards life."
Value is not determined by exchange:
The most dull economist would perceive,
and admit, that a gentleman who had a fine stud of horses was absolutely richer
than one who had only ill-bred and broken-winded ones. He would instinctively feel, though his
pseudo-science never taught him, that the price paid for the animals, in either
case, did not alter the fact of their worth. . . . [Yet] no economist has
endeavoured to state the general principles of the National Economy, even with
regard to the horse or the ass, [much less with regard to works of art]. The first specialty of the following treatise
consists in its giving at the outset, and maintaining as the foundation of all
subsequent reasoning, a definition of Intrinsic Value, and Intrinsic
As an example of the
viciousness of the pseudo-science based on a false concept of value, Ruskin cites
its results in the promulgation of war in a piece of sarcasm that could have
been penned by Douglas:
Capitalists, when they do not know what to
do with their money, persuade the peasants, in various countries, that the said
peasants want guns to shoot each other with.
The peasants accordingly borrow guns, out of the manufacture of which
the capitalists get a percentage, and men of science much amusement and
credit. Then the peasants shoot a
certain number of each other, until they get tired; and burn each other's homes
down in various places. . . . And then the capitalists tax both, annually, ever
afterwards, to pay interest on the loan of the guns and gunpowder. (19)
regulates [the acts and habits] of a
society or State, with reference to the means of its maintenance. . . . By the
"maintenance" of a State is to be understood the support of its
population in healthy and happy life; and the increase of their numbers, so far
as that increase is consistent with their happiness. (1f.)
the life-giving power of anything.
. . . But in order that this value . . . may become effectual, a certain state
is necessary in the recipient of it. . . . The production of effectual
value, therefore, always involves two needs:
first, the production of a thing essentially useful; then the production
of the capacity to use it. Where the
intrinsic value and acceptant capacity come together there is Effectual value,
or wealth. (14)
a documentary expression of legal
claim. It is not wealth, but a
documentary claim to wealth, being the sign of the relative quantities of it, or
of the labour producing it, to which, at a given time, persons, or societies, are entitled. . . . Money is, therefore,
correspondent in its nature to the title-deed of an estate. (21, my italics)
This is an improvement on Unto This Last, in which
Ruskin had defined money as a claim on labor, a difference from Douglas. Now he
anticipates Douglas's understanding of money as ticket system. For this reason he also anticipates Douglas
in repudiating the gold standard:
"The use of substances of intrinsic value as the materials of a
currency, is a barbarism." (25).
Given this nature of
money as a ticket or title-deed, it follows that "so long as the existing
wealth or available labour is not fully represented by the currency, the
currency may be increased without diminution of the assigned worth of its
pieces" (23). This concept becomes
very important for social credit.
"is a relative term, expressing the magnitude of the possessions of one
person or society as compared with those of other persons or societies"
(11). This is not objectionable in
itself, for there are good and bad inequalities, or good and bad riches. The economist will want to know what brought
about the inequalities: What made the
one society or the one person relatively rich, the other relatively poor? Then he will want to know how to assure that
riches will be in hands that will order things that are good for life, direct
labor justly, and provide for the future farsightedly. This is the essence of mastership (see
below). These considerations all stem
from the definition of effective value above.
A thing I own but lack the capacity to use is not wealth, it is
"nothing more than a cumbrous form of bank-note, of doubtful or slow
convertibility" (36). True possession
"is in use only," and how much any individual can use is necessarily
limited: "He cannot live in two
houses at once; a few bales of silk or wool will suffice for the fabric of all
the clothes he can ever wear" (37, a sentence that could have come from
what we can personally use, "we have but the power of administering, or mal-administering,
wealth. . . . And with multitudes of rich men administration degenerates into
curatorship," that is, one amasses money and goods beyond one's ability to
use them, with the purpose of bequeathing them (37). So for that person's lifetime, they are
wasted - they might as well not exist.
They are wasted in that they don't avail for life all that time. If then the heir does the same, they are
wasted even longer; and if they are not wasted by neglect, they are wasted by
being squandered by sons who never had an example of wise use set before them.
capitalist suffers from a similar disease, spending money to make more money,
but ignorant of how to recognize a good thing or get the life-nourishment out
of it. It is but "bulb issuing in
bulb, never in tulip" (Unto This Last 73).
It follows from this
definition of wealth that
the sum of wealth held by the nation,
instead of being constant or calculable, varies hourly, nay, momentarily, with
the number and character of its holders!
and that in changing hands, it changes in quantity. And farther, since the worth of the currency
is proportioned to the sum of material wealth which is represents, if the sum
of the wealth changes, the worth of the currency changes. (39)
People bring the
product of their labors to the national store, receiving, in exchange, an order
for the return of the thing or its equivalent in other things. Such an order is, in a word, money. This assumes that the administrators of the
store merely preserve the goods received.
If, however, they employ the wealth received resulting in
increase, then they are "enabled, for every order presented, to return a
quantity of wealth greater than the order was written for, according to the fructification
obtained in the interim" (41) - in other words, pay a dividend.
Thus, to ascertain
the wealth of the nation, we need to put two questions: "What store has it?" and "Who
are the holders of the store?" (46).
Both questions involve the currency, that is, the relation of store to
currency and the relation of holders of store to holders of currency.
Money, recall, is a
claim on either goods or labor.
The former is a fairly simple relationship; but the latter very complex,
involving, as it does, the relation
of the magnitude of the store to the mind
of the population, . . . to their will for labour. . . . The
worth of the piece of money which claims a given quantity of the store is, in
exchange, less or greater according to the facility of obtaining the same
quantity of the same thing without having recourse to the store [i.e., by
having it made]. In other words, it
depends on the immediate Cost and Price of the thing. . . . All cost and price
are counted in labour. (58f.)
"the suffering in effort"; and the cost of a thing is
"the quantity of labour necessary to obtain it." "The object of Political Economy,"
Ruskin observes, "is not to buy or sell labour, but to spare it"
(59f. and n.). It is, in other words, a
Cost (in labor,
negative) and value (for life, positive) are objective qualities. Price, in contrast, is dependent on
the human will expressed in an "estimate of desirableness," or demand. However, on the assumption that the demand is
constant, "the relative prices of things [i.e., what quantity of one
article will be accepted for what quantity of another] are as their costs
[i.e., as the labor that went into each]" (62f.). This, labor for labor, was the standard for
the just price established in Unto This Last.
the real working power or worth of the
currency is founded on the entire sum of the relative estimates formed by the
population of its possessions; a change in this estimate in any direction (and
therefore every change in the national character), instantly alters the value
of the money, in its second great function of commanding labour. . . . A
currency is true or false, in proportion to the security with which it
gives claim to the possession of land, house, horse, or picture; but a currency
is strong or weak . . . in proportion to the degree of estimate in which
the nation holds the house, horse, or picture.
Currency is, by
definition, "a claim to goods which are not possessed." (Douglas recognizes this obvious fact in his
national balance sheet, when he puts things on one side as assets and money
on the other as a liability.) Its
quantity reflects the volume and complexity of claims in relation to actual
possession. If a cattle breeder
is content to live with his household
chiefly on meat and milk, . . . and the wives and daughters of families weave
and spin the clothing of the household, . . . [the nation] has little occasion
for circulating media. . . . The store belongs to the people in whose hands it
is found, and money is little needed. . . . But in proportion as the habits of
the nation become complex and fantastic, . . . its circulating medium must
increase in proportion to its store.
In other words, the
requirements for money depend not on how much goods there are absolutely but
how much goods are on the market.1
This brings us to the second key question to ascertain a nation's
wealth, "Who are the holders of the store (and what is their relation to
the holders of the currency)?"
"The currency of any country consists of every document
acknowledging debt, which is transferable in the country." By "debt" Ruskin means the debt of goods
that the store, as debtor, owes to the holder of the money, as
creditor: "I do not mean the demand
of the holder of a five-pound note for five pounds, but the demand of the
holder of a pound for a pound's worth of something" (69 and n.).
It is undesirable to
have one's currency based on a commodity subject to volatile demand like
gold. It would be better to select a
commodity of enduring value for life, like bread. Or perhaps a tripod of three
commodities. In other words, make the
unit of currency a legal claim to so much of one to three commodities of
guaranteed quality, and the prices of all other things will find their natural
level in comparison.
Healthy people know
that wealth consists of good things and good use of them and rightly see money
as a mere adjunct to goods. They measure
money by what goods it will buy. Unhealthy
people imagine the reverse and measure their goods by the amount of money they
could bring. To the extent a nation's
citizens appreciate what true wealth consists of, good things will be produced
in the nation, find their way into valiant hands, and become wealth.
"A True Government Set to True Work"
A common feature of official governments is that they are
suppose it should thus turn out, finally,
that a true government set to true work, instead of being a costly
engine, was a paying one? that your
government, rightly organised, instead of itself subsisting by an income-tax,
would produce its subjects some subsistence in the shape of an income dividend?
– police, and judges duly paid besides. (129)
What is true work?
The way to produce more food is mainly to
bring in fresh ground, and increase facilities of carriage; – to break rock,
exchange earth, drain the moist, and water the dry, to mend roads and build
harbours of refuge. Taxation thus spent
will annihilate taxation. The way to
produce house-room is to apply your force first to the humblest dwellings. When your bricklayers are out of employ, do
not build splendid new streets, but better the old ones; send your paviours and
slaters to the poorest villages, and see that your poor are healthily lodged,
before you try your hand on stately architecture. . . . The way to get more
clothes is – not, necessarily, to get more cotton. [In the words of Carlyle:] "Bare backs were never more numerous
among us. Let inventive men cease to
spend their existence incessantly contriving how cotton can be made cheaper
[for export]; and try to invent, a little, how cotton at its present cheapness
could be somewhat justlier divided among us.". . . [As for fuel,] we don't
want to produce more fuel just now, but much less; and to use what we get for
cooking and warming ourselves, instead of for running from place to place. (157-59 and n.)
And what is a true government?
Government doesn't necessarily mean the official government, it can be a
body of private persons.2 The
essence of government is command over labor, or mastership. Just as there are good and bad inequalities
in wealth, there is good and bad mastership.
We cannot ask to do away with mastership. What we can and must ask for is what Ruskin
calls the merchant as hero; Ferguson, the public man of business; and Douglas,
the aristocracy of producers.
"But nothing of this work will
pay?" No; no more than it pays to
dust your rooms, or wash your doorsteps.
It will pay; not at first in currency, but in that which is the end and
the source of currency, – in life. (160)
The final part of this essay will see what contribution the
above may make to our understanding of social credit.
"Exchange, or commerce, in itself, is always costly; the sum
of the value of the goods being diminished by the cost of their conveyance, and
by the maintenance of the persons employed in it; so that it is only when there
is advantage to both producers (in getting the one thing for the other) greater
than the loss in conveyance, that the exchange is expedient. And it can only be justly conducted when the
porters kept by the producers (commonly called merchants) expect mere pay, not
profit" (98) -- that is, due reward for labor or skill, as opposed to gain
from taking advantage of ignorance or the state of the market.
includes "even any body of private persons, entrusted with the practical
management of public interests," for good or for ill, such as those who
administer the national store (App. 4).
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