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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter XXXIX. — The Tyranny of Capital

page 346

Chapter XXXIX.
The Tyranny of Capital.

Heretical but true.—Jews, the ancient Capitalists.—The modern Shylcck.—Company Capital.—Malthusian theory destroyed by the Century of Inventions.—Over-production, not over­population, the difficulty.—Nostrums of Political Economists need revising.—The famine Spectre.—The Factory system.—Mammon worship.—Factories and Companies.—Cities enlarging, Land going out of cultivation.—Palaces of the Rich.—Hovels of the Poor.—Capital become King, the people Slaves.—What is the remedy?—Not the 'limited liability' system, which has stimulated production, and destroyed Individualism.—American Combinations:—'Rings" and ' Corners?—Their result.—' Am I my Brother's Keeper f—-The Millionaires and the Millions.—England following American example.—' Trustsy:—Results; to limit produc­tion, lessen employment and increase prices.—A Millionaire a High Priest.—Servile Worship.—Purple and Gold.—Rags and Crumbs.—The Image of Gold with Feet of Clay.—The Stone of Right.

In Nation Making, many agencies in past ages, have been at work; Kings, Aristocracies, Military Chiefs, Republics, Democracies and Despots. In our own times all these, in one way or another, are still in active operation. In this and the following Chapters, I propose to notice a Despotism chiefly characteristic of our own day.

page 347

If one were asked to name the modern type of despot, the Emperor of Russia would probably be at once selected. And yet, neither the tyranny of the Czar, nor any other European master of armed millions can for a moment be compared with Capital, the modern despot, more powerful, more far-reaching, and more unscrupulous than any dynastic tyrant.

This statement may be termed heresy, but it is true.

In former times, the Jews were the Capitalists of Europe. To-day, though the Rothschilds and many other Jews control an enormous capital, the Shylocks who wear neither gabardines nor phylacteries are legion.

When money is accumulated and controlled by one man, whether the amount be large or small, he may have many sins to answer for, 'for the love of money is the root of much evil,' but, it is to—what I may term—Company capital, that we must look for its most powerful, most dangerous, and most merciless developements.

Ninety years ago, Malthus feared that man would increase faster than his food, but he entirely failed to recognize the new forces of production called into existence a few years before he published his famous 'Essay on population.'

Watt, Arkwright, Cartwright and Hargreaves by their great discoveries of the steam engine, and of machinery for spinning and weaving, succeeded in enabling one man to do the work of a hundred or a page 348thousand in producing clothing. The application, seventy years later, of invention to agriculture, in like manner has increased the power to produce food a hundred fold. Therefore, it has come to pass, within the first century during which these new powers of production have been fairly at work, that the Malthusian dilemma has not appeared, but that the difficulty has arisen, to find bodies to clothe and feed, sufficient to keep the producing machinery of the world in profitable operation. Greatly as population has increased, food and clothing have increased in a far greater ratio.

In our times, there are more clothes than backs, more food than mouths, or to put it another way—more than the majority of the owners of the backs and mouths can pay for.

In consequence, the producers of both clothing and food are suffering from the low values of their productions, to an extent never before known, during the century under consideration.

Amongst the causes assigned for the bad trade of the last ten years, over-production is entitled to the chief place. The Malthusian cry to limit the population, has given place to the demand, to limit the production of almost every article in general consumption.

It is becoming abundantly manifest, that the hard and fast lines laid down by Political Economists, are not so applicable to every possible developement of social life and industrial energy, as it was at one time page 349the fashion to believe. To suggest that such 'Articles' of economic faith, as,

'Buy in the cheapest market, and sell in the dearest,' 'Competition is the soul of trade,' might possibly need revision and correction was, and is, rank heresy. But now, when we have purchased wheat in the cheap American market, and ruined our own wheat producers by the operation, there is looming before England the 'famine spectre.' In case of war with a maritime power, we are finding it necessary—as sailors say—to 'correct our reckoning,' in some respects at least.

These nostrums have led England to develope the 'factory system' enormously, with the result of diminishing the country population, and dangerously increasing that of the cities.

To say that the particular form of 'Mammon worship' as practised in its more prominent temples—Factories, Companies and Trusts—needs to be checked, will naturally cause a strife of tongues akin to the clatter in the theatre at Ephesus, raised by the craftsmen of old, and for the same reason, 'Our craft is in danger,' only to be quelled by our modern political economists crying out at the top of their voices,

'Who does not know that we are worshippers of Capital, and that by this we increase our wealth? Seeing then, that these things cannot be spoken against, ye ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly.'

And so, the English Nation is quiet, and does nothing rashly, but goes on building its cities bigger, letting its lands go out of cultivation; making the palaces of the rich more splendid; the homes of the page 350poor more wretched; increasing the wealth of the few; deepening the poverty of the many.

This is the Nation, which for the last half century, England has been Making. Capital has become Kind, large numbers of the English people little better than slaves. Removed—lured—from the free, fresh air of the country to the close, unwholesome atmosphere of the factory and the town, the very size of the common people is diminishing, their strength decaying, whilst the eyes of the revellers in wealth and luxury 'stand out with fatness.'

Well may we quote Goldsmith's lines,

Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,

Where wealth accumulates and men decay.

Is this Nation Making? Is it not unmaking the Nation?

What is the remedy? Is it in building our cities bigger, in making more calico and selling it within a shade of nothing, in keeping up the long hours of the toiler and reducing his pay? In a word, is the remedy to be found in producing more, and producing it for less?

Next to the great discoveries of Watt and his fellow inventors, one of the most potential forces in developing this state of things, has doubtless been the introduction and monstrous extension of the 'Limited Liability system.' This new form of Company organization has attracted enormous amounts of capital page 351from all quarters, and concentrated them in the hands of men practically irresponsible. It has well-nigh completed the destruction of the old kindred feeling, formerly existing between master and man, which the 'Factory system' had begun to weaken. It has enormously stimulated production. It has made Capital more potent for evil than any King of ancient or modern times. When the 'Limited Liability system' was applied to Banks-it intensified the power of Capital, and increased the recklessness with which it was wielded.

For a quarter of a century, this despotic force has had the fullest scope, until its combinations and ramifications bid fair to control and destroy individual energy. Having stimulated productive energy beyond the requirements of consumptive power, it is getting towards the end of its tether. It is making more goods than it can sell at paying prices, and it seeks a remedy.

It has found one. America was the first to apply it What Free Trade and Limited Liability have done for England, Protection has done for the United States. American manufacturers have found that they have produced more than they can sell within the limits of their own country, and being shut out of foreign markets by reason of the high cost of their productions caused by Protection, with the promptitude incidental to new countries, they quickly felt the pinch and applied a remedy.

They diminished production. They formed 'rings' page 352and 'corners' of the masters of factories making any particular article. That is, they formed, say, all the 'shoe factories' in the shoe centres, into gigantic companies; valuing the 'plants' of each manufactory, and putting the whole under one management; closed a third or more or less of the factories; discharged all surplus workmen; and, so limiting production, kept up prices at a paying level; 'pooled' the results, and divided profits rateably to the 'valuation' capital in each factory.

The mode of operation of these 'rings' or 'corners,' with some of the results, will be seen from the following extract from a recent American magazine:—

The combined steel industries of the country pay the Vulcan Steel Works of St. Louis 400,000 dols to stand idle, thus throwing its workmen out of employ! The Waverly Stone Ring pays quarries thousands of dollars—in one instance, 4,500 dols. per year—to do nothing. The saltworks along the Kanawha were bought up by the American Salt Manufacturers' Association, and have never employed a man since. Thus is American labour protected! The Standard Oil company buys up competitors and dismantles their works. The tack manufacturers buy out a refractory fellow who would not join the pool, and not a wheel has turned since. The Western Lead and Shot Association buys the shot-tower at Dubuque, Iowa, to keep men from working there. A leading politician and prominent office-holder of Illinois goes to Washington to prevent the tariff reduction on jute bagging proposed by the Mills bill, and pleads manfully for the poor American working-man, though his own bagging mill has been idle for three years, while he draws a dividend from the pool for 'limiting production,' page 353greater than he could realize by running his works. It doth not yet appear that his idle workmen have shared in the profits he derives from their idleness.

From the point of view of the 'rings,' this is a very satisfactory state of things. But what of the discharged and idle workmen? Capital, if it troubled itself at all about them, promptly settled the matter by saying, like one of old,

' Am I my brother's keeper?'

The millionaires of the 'rings' rolled along as before in their equipages, dwelt as before in their mansions, and diamonds flashed as before on the attire of the ladies of the 'rings.' But the 'Millions'—the discharged workmen—what became of them? To migrate, find some other work, or starve.

That was their lot.

The Egyptian tyrant of old built up his pyramid of stone at the cost of untold misery and suffering to millions of toilers; offered sacrifices to his gods on the summit, looking down contemptuously on the victims of his greed, heedless of their sufferings and groans; strutted his brief day, and then, dropped into the tomb he had built up at such a cost; and with a grim irony, his stuffed mummy, after a brief repose in stony grandeur, was carried away to an unknown grave.

In Republican America—the country which will not have a King to rule over it—it has become possible for monetary despots to build up their golden pyramids page 354of hundreds of millions of dollars, and to seat themselves on the summits of their 'piles,' though they may have been built up by the robbery of millions of victims.

It is said that some of these Kings of Dollars commenced their careers by keeping drinking saloons or selling mousetraps. They have continued their vocation by setting mantraps in Stock Exchanges and elsewhere.

The time is coming, when such men will be proclaimed robbers, and restitution demanded.

And yet America claims to be a free country, ruled by universal suffrage.

England is now following the example set by the United States, but under another name, for the old American term 'ring' being too expressive, too notorious, the term 'Trust' has been adopted as being just as effectual, more respectable, and sounding better The objects of both forms of organization are similar, their heartlessness the same. They are intended to control and reduce production, in order to advance prices, callous to the sufferings of discharged workmen, and regardless of the increased cost of their products to the people at large. Limited Liability with Unlimited profit, on one side, with hard toil and Unlimited suffering on the other. Did the cynical Robert Lowe ever use more bitter irony, than when he chose the title of his famous Act?

Notwithstanding the disastrous collapse of the page 355Parisian 'Copper syndicate,' Trusts' are being launched every day in England to control the production, and raise the price, of almost every article in common use.

To-day, in the latest phase of Nation Making, a millionaire is a high priest in the Temple of Mammon, and wields as much power as many a high priest of old, with this difference—that whilst the old-time priest directed the worship to others—our millionaire priest arrogates it to himself. And though the steps by which he may have ascended his monetary eminence, may have been over broken hearts and ruined lives, the groans and curses of his victims are drowned in the acclamations of the servile crowds who grovel at his feet.

The colossal accumulations of many of the millionaires, are too often a monstrous mixture of money and wrongs; are too often the monuments of the greed of one, of the unrequited toil and unheeded sufferings of the many. They are the results of the Tyranny of Capital, which gives the purple and gold to the millionaires, the rags and crumbs to the millions.

Nevertheless, every wrongful accumulation, like the image of gold with the feet of clay, will be smitten by the stone of right and justice, wielded, one of these days, by the Divinity which, more and more, is being evolved from Humanity.