This section of the book is from the "A Man and His Money" book, by Harvey Reeves Calkins , published in 1915.
Our thought has now reached a point where it can be stated very briefly. We have noted that property does not consist of material and inert things, but is a fine and immaterial element, called value; that is to say, a merchant does not care for fifty barrels of sugar for itself; it is the "value" of the sugar that interests him. We have further noted that value is not in property, any more than electricity is in a dynamo; but value proceeds from property (somewhat as electricity proceeds from a dynamo), like a hidden and impalpable force, and influences the mind, causing the merchant to say, "This sugar will be a benefit, an advantage, to me." And, finally, we have noted that this hidden force called value, although it cannot be fully defined nor wholly described, can nevertheless be measured (as the mysterious force called electricity can be measured), and the instrument which measures it is money; the merchant says, "The value of this sugar is five dollars per hundredweight." In a word, the meaning of property is value, and the measurement of value is money.
Three propositions become immediately evident. The first is this: Property and wealth, labor and wages, salary and income cannot be recognized except in terms of money. When a man says, "I have a hundred acres of land," it may be interesting as a matter of information, but from the standpoint of property it is meaningless. Many questions at once arise. Where is the land? how near is it to the railway? is it farm-land or woodland? improved or unimproved? barren or productive? These and a dozen other considerations, near and remote, must determine the value of the hundred acres. Then follow other questions as to title. Is the farm mortgaged? Are there other debts? What equity remains, if any? When the value test is applied and the value-force is measured, the dial-plate registers nil; a man with a hundred acres of land is actually in straits. On the other hand, a man with ten acres of land receives the value test, and the dial-plate registers a comfortable figure. He is prosperous. One hundred acres and ten acres had each to be turned from land into value, and the value of each measured by the same instrument, money, before the actual "property" of these two men could be judged.
Or, again, a carpenter works on a building for one week. At the end of that time he has handled so many hundred feet of lumber, he has finished and nailed so many casings, he has fitted and hung so many doors. The result of his work remains in the building after he has gone, and may be pointed out and described. Yet the only way by which the value of his work can be recognized and measured is in terms of money: What wages did he receive? It is the same instrument that measured the value of the hundred acres and the ten acres. As we look at the dial-plate of value, we can thus compare the actual prosperity of these three men, the carpenter and the two farmers.
In rural communities where a country doctor sometimes receives payment for professional services, or a country minister subscriptions on his salary, "in kind," it is well understood that hay, meat, and other produce are turned over as so much "value." It is surely excellent value, and may even be generous value, but it is unmeasured value, and therefore is not wholly appreciated. It is as though a tailor should wrap his customer in generous yards of excellent cloth, like a Brahman's winter chadar; it is good material and sufficiently warm, but most men prefer a coat that will fit. Money would measure the value of hay or meat or other produce, and make it "fit" both doctor and minister to a hair!
It is for this same reason that farmers so commonly underrate their own actual income. Poultry, eggs, milk, meat, and all other farm produce that supplies food for the family are so much "value." But this is often unrecognized because these things raised on the farm for the market, yet consumed in the home, are not measured in terms of money. This measurement must be made if the farmer would understand his real income.
The carpenter and the banker are compelled to measure this farm produce in terms of money before they dare use any of it. There can be no just comparison of incomes, as between the farmer and the carpenter, or the farmer and the banker, unless the value of one's "living" is measured by each of them in the same way, using the same instrument of measurement, that is, money. The scales must be equal.
The second proposition which now becomes evident is this: The content of money is essentially spiritual. Value, as we have already noted, is, in its final analysis, a spiritual force; that is, it makes its final appeal to the whole man's sense of "rightness" or "fitness." Now, the measure of value is money. But the unit or instrument of measurement must be related to the thing measured. To measure length we must use a unit of length, to measure weight, a unit of weight. If we were set to measure the length of a ship, we would not use a quart cup, nor a bushel basket, nor a pound weight. We would use a two-foot rule or a fifty-foot chain, or some other standard of length. In the same way, "Value measures value as length measures length." Value is a subtle and hidden force. Money, therefore, the instrument which measures it, must be like the thing which it measures; that is, money also is a subtle and hidden force. And, in very truth, money is the most significant and potent force given into the hands of men, the most sought after and the most feared. The mere covetous love of it is the root of all evil, and the wise, unselfish use of it is the fruitage of all goodness. But the hidden power of this mysterious instrument, money, can be called forth and set in motion only by a man. As a chair or table is a mere thing, and does not become "value" until it is related to a human mind, so a minted coin does not become "money" until it also is related in the same way.
The truth of this is one of the common miracles of human society. Take a silver dollar. Place it in the hand of a chemist and ask him to tell you what it contains. He will presently report to you that the coin is made up of "metal," which, on being dissolved at the laboratory, is found to contain silver, lead, and zinc, besides a small residuum of phosphates and tin. Apparently, this exhausts the contents of the coin, for the chemist says there is nothing more in it. But there is another test. Place the coin in the hand of a poor widow and ask her to tell you what it contains. Tomorrow she will report that it is made up of "value," which on being dissolved or released at the store, is found to contain meat, fruit, and vegetables, together with a very large supply of consolation and hope. Value as well as metal was stored in that minted coin, but the former could not be released in the laboratory of the chemist The fine spiritual force of money can be reached only by the mind and spirit of a man. It can be released and set to work only in the wide laboratory of human society.
But spiritual force may easily become an instrument of destruction. There is spiritual wickedness as well as spiritual goodness. When a godly widow released the value of a dollar it turned into streams of blessing; had her spendthrift son laid hands upon it, the hidden power within it would have been released at gaming and turned into bitterness and cursing. Money in the hands of a gambler becomes a mental frenzy, in the hands of a physician it becomes a healing rest. The distiller uses money, and ignorance like night settles over a community; the missionary uses it, and darkened minds behold the light. A nation's money may become weak and vitiated, like blood in an anaemic body, making trade and industry a prey to every ill; happy indeed is the government that understands well the principles of a sound and healthy currency. Money is a madness, it is a balm; it is a curse and a benediction. To-day money "is set on fire of hell," to-morrow, like sweet mercy, "it drops as the gentle dew from heaven." What does it all signify but this—that the content of money is essentially spiritual? The impalpable yet vital force which it contains acts in the economic and social world as electricity in the material world. It becomes a messenger of life or an instrument of death. With unerring swiftness it obeys the hand that releases and directs it.
The third evident proposition is a conclusion which grips the mind and the conscience. It is this: The pursuit of money is and ought to be a spiritual calling. I do not use the word "spiritual" as a close theological term, but, rather, as a broad and inclusive synonym for all those finer elements of the man that pertain to the intellectual and the moral. Men are not accustomed to think of "money-making" as an appeal to the higher nature of a man, but, rather, as an appeal to his somewhat sordid instinct for gain. There is a general impression that "mere money-makers" are compelled to sacrifice some of those high spiritual ideals which ministers, physicians, teachers, and other professional men may carry into their daily work; or, if they do breathe the fine air of the higher life, it is because they are able to rise above the petty things of "mere money." While this may be more or less correct, as an interpretation of modern business, it is certainly a misinterpretation of the actual basis of life.
Undoubtedly this general impression has its origin in the pagan doctrine of "ownership," and in that other pagan doctrine of "asceticism." The teaching of the Christian Scriptures concerning property and wealth is continuously misconstrued, so that to this day, "wealth is still the synonym for worldliness, and poverty remains the privilege of piety." The unhappy effect is apparent in the artificial life of our generation. Fundamental human facts are distorted, and false estimates of a man's work and worth are currently accepted. For instance, an astronomer stretches every faculty within him and devotes his whole time and strength to observations of the heavenly bodies and to calculations and conclusions pertaining thereto, and men say, "What devotion!" On the other hand, an iron merchant devotes the whole strength of his life to the development of trade and the accumulation of a fortune, and men say, "What shrewdness!" Concerning an astute and successful business man how often do we hear it spoken, "What an eminent jurist he might have been!" or, "How masterful he would have been in a professor's chair!" —as though a commercial career were something less than these. It is all a miserable misconception. It is a travesty on sound learning and obscures the real substance of life. To subjugate the soil, to find the fine ore of the mountains and fashion it for human use, to extend the benefits of trade to the remotest hamlet—how shall achievements such as these be rated less than the highest? Money-making is not a sordid business, unless it be made so by sordid men. By the same mark, the practice of medicine becomes a malevolent art whenever malevolent men engage in it. To "make money" is to create value, and value among men is a high and lasting good. Economic science, both abstract and applied, deals with the hidden force that pulses at the heart of the nation. To know this in any of its branches is mental mastery, and honorably to practice it, however obscurely, is a noble human service.
If it must be said that to "make money" is not always to create value, but is often the appropriation of values which others have created, and if it be true that one can "make money" and render no service (but even disservice), this is a dreary reminder that our human kind is still a bundle of perversity, but it is no least reflection upon the vocation of the money-maker. Savants, no less than shopkeepers, engage in unseemly strife, explorers seek personal glory more than scientific advance, literature is a bid for popular applause, and art is too often a dip into pruriency. If the "money-maker" is not also a "value-maker," it is himself, and not his calling, that should be impeached.
The earning of wages and the accumulation of property must be rated with the so-called "higher" avocations. Those fine-drawn distinctions between the "trades" and the "professions" are futile imaginings. They are futile, not because the dignity of trade is undervalued, though this was formerly the case, but because the very meaning of value is itself confused. Professor B. M. Anderson, of Columbia University, in discussing what he calls "the psychology of value," writes thus: "Economic value is a species of the genus value. Ethical and aesthetic values may constantly reenforce economic values, economic values reenforce ethical values."
The lawyer who judges that the value of his professional service is in a different plane— frankly, a higher plane—from that of the wage-earner's toil has misconstrued his case. This is not because he undervalues labor; it is because he fails to note that the economic value created by labor and the ethical value upheld by law must inevitably fuse together. The musician and the merchant, the scientist and the capitalist, the professor in the college and the plodder in the mills—they all belong to the aristocracy of world's workers because they all are engaged in creating value. The aesthetic value of music and painting, the ethical value of all true science, the economic value of property and money, and, if there be any other value arising from human service—they all flow together in that perfect value which, Saint James tells us, "cometh down from the Father of lights." Though we may speak familiarly of "high value" and "low value," yet these, in truth, may not be divided, for value, like life itself, is an undivided whole. Value moves in tiny rivulets or in sweeping Amazons, for men differ vastly both in their ability and in their opportunity to create it, but it flows in one resistless movement to the same encircling sea.
Now, money, the measure of this mystic life energy, must be reckoned among the puissant spiritual forces of the world. Money-makers, whether great or small, can be no other than directors of this hidden power. Is such power to pass through the hands of men without let or hindrance? Upon what terms and conditions is it granted? To whom are men responsible for its use? The engineer who would store up or let loose the power of lightning must pass most rigid tests as to intellectual and moral stability; witness the electric ordinances of any city. Shall the man who would store up or let loose the almost infinite power of money expect that he shall be held to no moral accounting?
Whether it be the workman receiving his daily wage, or the clerk his weekly stipend, or the professional man his fee or salary, whether it be the farmer gathering in the products of the earth or the financier checking up his yearly balance, every "money-maker" must meet this plain interrogation : On what conditions may men of honor permit themselves to control economic value, and measure it in terms of money? We have reached the heart of our subject.