Hence it is that when some of those who question the right of capital to its reward, do so on the ground that capital is often acquired by questionable means, they are barking up the wrong tree. Capital can only be acquired by selling something to you and me. If you and I had more sense in the matter of what we buy, capital could not be acquired by questionable means. By our greed and wastefulness we give fortunes to bookmakers, market-riggers and money-lenders. By our preference for "brilliant" investments, with a high rate of interest and bad security, we invite the floating of rotten companies and waterlogged loans. By our readiness to be deafened by the clamour of the advertiser into buying things that we do not want, we hand industry over to the hands of the loudest shouter, and by our half-educated laziness in our selection of what we read and of the entertainments that we frequent, we open the way to opulence through the debauching of our taste and opinions. It is our fault and ours only. As soon as we have learnt and resolved to buy and enjoy only what is worth having, the sellers of rubbish may put up their shutters and burn their wares.
Capital, then, is stored up work, work that has been paid for by society. Those who did the work and took its reward, turned the proceeds of it into making something more instead of into pleasure and gratification for themselves. By a striking metaphor capital is often described as the seed corn of industry. Seed corn is the grain that the farmer, instead of making it into bread for his own table, or selling it to turn it into picture-palace tickets, or beer, or other forms of short-lived comfort, keeps to sow in the earth so that he may reap his harvest next year. If the whole world's crop were eaten, there would be no seed corn and no harvest. So it is with industry. If its whole product were turned into goods for immediate consumption, there could be no further development of industry, and no maintenance of its existing plant, which would soon wear out and perish. The man who spends less than he earns and puts his margin into industry, keeps industry alive.
From the point of view of the worker—by whom I mean the man who has little or no capital of his own, and has only, or chiefly, his skill, of head or of hand, to earn his living with—those who are prepared to save and put capital at the disposal of industry ought to be given every possible encouragement to do so. For since capital is essential to industry, all those who want to earn a living in the workshops or in the countinghouse, or in the manager's office, will most of all, if they are well advised, want to see as much capital saved as possible. The more there is of it, the more demand there will be for the brains and muscles of the workers, and the better the bargain these latter will be able to make for the use of their brains and muscles. If capital is so scarce and timid that it can only be tempted by the offer of high rates for its use, organizers of industry will think twice about expanding works or opening new ones, and there will be a check to the demand for workers. If so many people are saving that capital is a drug in the market, anyone who has an enterprise in his head will put it in hand, and workers will be wanted, first for construction then for operation.
It is to the interest of workers that there should be as many capitalists as possible offering as much capital as possible to industry, so that industry shall be in a state of chronic glut of capital and scarcity of workers. Roughly, it is true that the product of industry is divided between the workers who carry it on, and the savers who, out of the product of past work, have built the workshop, put in the plant and advanced the money to pay the workers until the new product is marketed. The workers and the savers are at once partners and rivals. They are partners because one cannot do without the other; rivals because they compete continually concerning their share of the profit realized. If the workers are to succeed in this competition and secure for themselves an ever-increasing share of the profit of industry—and from the point of view of humanity, civilization, nationality, and common sense it is most desirable that this should be so—then this is most likely to happen if the savers are so numerous that they will be weak in bargaining and unable to stand out against the demands of the workers. If there were innumerable millions of workers and only one saver with money enough to start one factory, the one saver would be able to name his own terms in arranging his wages bill, and the salaries of his managers and clerks. If the wind were on the other cheek, and a crowd of capitalists with countless millions of money were eager to set the wheels of industry going, and could not find enough workers to man and organize and manage their workshops, then the workers would have the whip hand. To bring this state of things about it would seem to be good policy not to damn the capitalist with bell and with book and frighten him till he is so scarce that he is master of the situation, but to give him every encouragement to save his money and put it into industry. For the more plentiful he is, the stronger is the position of the workers.
In fact the saver is so essential that it is nowadays fashionable to contend that the saving business ought not to be left to the whims of private individuals, but should be carried out by the State in the public interest; and there are some innocent folk who imagine that, if this were done, the fee that is now paid to the saver for the use of the capital that he has saved, would somehow or other be avoided. In fact the Government would have to tax the community to produce the capital required. Capital would be still, as before, the proceeds of work done. And the result would be that the taxpayers as a whole would have to pay for capital by providing it. This might be a more equitable arrangement, but as capital can only be produced by work, the taxpayers would have to do a certain amount of work with the prospect of not being allowed to keep the proceeds, but of being forced to hand it over to Government. Whether such a plan would be likely to be effective in keeping industry supplied with capital is a question which need not be debated until the possibility of such a system becomes a matter of practical politics.
For our present purpose it is enough to have shown that the capital, which is the stock-in-trade of finance, is not a fraudulent claim to take toll of the product of industry, but an essential part of the foundation on which industry is built. A man can only become a capitalist by rendering services for which he receives payment, and spending part of his pay not on his immediate enjoyment, but in establishing industry either on his own account or through the agency of someone else to whom be lends the necessary capital. Before any industry can start there must be tools and a fund out of which the workers can be paid until the work that they do begins to bring in its returns. The fund to buy these tools and pay the workers can only be found out of the proceeds of work done or services rendered. Moreover, there is always a risk to be run. As soon as the primitive savage left off making everything for himself and took to doing some special work, such as arrow making, in the hope that his skill, got from concentration on one particular employment, would be rewarded by the rest of the tribe who took his arrows and gave him food and clothes in return, he began to run the risk that his customers might not want his product, if they happened to take to fishing for their food instead of shooting it. This risk is still present with the organizers of industry and it falls first on the capitalist. If an industry fails the workers cease to be employed by it; but as long as they work for it their wages are a first charge which has to be paid before capital gets a penny of interest or profit, and if the failure of the industry is complete the capital sunk in it will be gone.