The phrases productive labour, and productive consumption, have been employed by some writers on political economy with very great latitude. They have considered, and classed, as productive labour and productive consumption, all labour which serves any useful purpose—all consumption which is not waste. Mr. M’Culloch has asserted, totidem verbis, that the labour of Madame Pasta was as well entitled to be called productive labour as that of a cotton spinner.
Employed in this sense, the words productive and unproductive are superfluous, since the words useful and agreeable on the one hand, useless and worthless on the other, are quite sufficient to express all the ideas to which the words productive and unproductive are here applied.
This use of the terms, therefore, is subversive of the ends of language.
Those writers who have employed the words in a more limited sense, have usually understood by productive or unproductive labour, labour which is productive of wealth, or unproductive of wealth. But what is wealth? And here the words productive and unproductive have been affected with additional ambiguities, corresponding to the different extension which different writers have given to the term wealth.
Some have given the name of wealth to all things which tend to the use or enjoyment of mankind, and which possess exchangeable value. This last clause is added to exclude air, the light of the sun, and any other things which can be obtained in unlimited quantity without labour or sacrifice; together with all such things as, though produced by labour, are not held in sufficient general estimation to command any price in the market.
But when this definition came to be explained, many persons were disposed to interpret “all things which tend to the use or enjoyment of man,” as implying only all material things. Immaterial products they refused to consider as wealth; and labour or expenditure which yielded nothing but immaterial products, they characterised as unproductive labour and unproductive expenditure.
To this it was, or might have been, answered, that according to this classification, a carpenter’s labour at his trade is productive labour, but the same individual’s labour in learning his trade was unproductive labour. Yet it is obvious that, on both occasions, his labour tended exclusively to what is allowed to be production: the one was equally indispensable with the other, to the ultimate result. Further, if we adopted the above definition, we should be obliged to say that a nation whose artisans were twice as skilful as those of another nation, was not, ceteris paribus, more wealthy; although it is evident that every one of the results of wealth, and everything for the sake of which wealth is desired, would be possessed by the former country in a higher degree than by the latter.
Every classification according to which a basket of cherries, gathered and eaten the next minute, are called wealth, while that title is denied to the acquired skill of those who are acknowledged to be productive labourers, is a purely arbitrary division, and does not conduce to the ends for which classification and nomenclature are designed.
In order to get over all difficulties, some political economists seem disposed to make the terms express a distinction sufficiently definite indeed, but more completely arbitrary, and having less foundation in nature, than any of the former. They will not allow to any labour or to any expenditure the name of productive, unless the produce which it yields returns into the hands of the very person who made the outlay. Hedging and ditching they term productive labour, though those operations conduce to production only indirectly, by protecting the produce from destruction; but the necessary expenses incurred by a government for the protection of property are, they insist upon it, consumed unproductively: though, as has been well pointed out by Mr. M’Culloch, these expenses, in their relation to the national wealth, are exactly analogous to the wages of a hedger or a ditcher. The only difference is, that the farmer, who pays for the hedging and ditching, is the person to whom the consequent increase of production accrues, while the government, which is at the expense of police officers and courts of justice, does not, as a necessary consequence, get back into its own coffers the increase of the national wealth resulting from the security of property.
It would be endless to point out the oddities and incongruities which result from this classification. Whether we take the words wealth and production in the largest, or in the most restricted sense in which they have ever yet been employed, nobody will dispute that roads, bridges, and canals, contribute in an eminent degree, and in a very direct manner, to the increase of production and wealth. The labour and pecuniary resources employed in their construction would, according to the above theory, be considered productive, if every occupier of land were compelled by law to construct so much of the road, or canal, as passes through his own farm. If, instead of this, the government makes the road, and throws it open to the public toll-free, the labour and expenditure would be, on the above system, clearly unproductive. But if the government, or an association of individuals, made the road, and imposed a toll to defray the expense, we do not see how these writers could refuse to the outlay the title of productive expenditure. It would follow, that the very same labour and expense, if given gratuitously, must be called unproductive, which, if a charge had been made for it, would have been called productive.
When these consequences of the purely arbitrary classification to which we allude have been pointed out and complained of, the only answer which we have ever seen made to the objection is, that the line of demarcation must be drawn somewhere, and that in every classification there are intermediate cases, which might have been included, with almost equal propriety, either in the one class or in the other.
This answer appears to us to indicate the want of a sufficiently accurate and discriminating perception, what is the kind of inaccuracy which generally cannot be avoided in a classification, and what is that other kind of inaccuracy, from which it always may be, and should be, exempt.
The classes themselves may be, mentally speaking, perfectly definite, though it may not always be easy to say to which of them a particular object belongs. When it is uncertain in which of two classes an object should be placed, if the classification be properly made, and properly expressed, the uncertainty can turn only upon a matter of fact. It is uncertain to which class the object belongs, because it is doubtful whether it possesses in a greater degree the characteristics of the one class or those of the other. But the characteristics themselves may be defined and distinguished with the nicest exactness, and always ought to be so. Especially ought they in a case like the present, because here it is only the distinction between the ideas which is of any importance. That we should be able with ease to portion out all employments between the two classes, does not happen to be of any particular consequence.
It is frequently said that classification is a mere affair of convenience. This assertion is true in one sense, but not if its meaning be, that the most proper classification is that in which it is easiest to say whether an object belongs to one class or to the other. The use of classification is, to fix attention upon the distinctions which exist among things; and that is the best classification, which is founded upon the most important distinctions, whatever be the facilities which it may afford of ticketing and arranging the different objects which exist in nature. In fixing, therefore, the meaning of the words productive and unproductive, we ought to endeavour to render them significative of the most important distinctions which, without too glaring a violation of received usage, they can be made to express.
We ought further, when we are restricted to the employment of old words, to endeavour as far as possible that it shall not be necessary to struggle against the old associations with those words. We should, if possible, give the words such a meaning, that the propositions in which people are accustomed to use them, shall as far as possible still be true; and that the feelings habitually excited by them, shall be such as the things to which we mean to appropriate them ought to excite.
We shall endeavour to unite these conditions in the result of the following enquiry.
In whatever manner political economists may have settled the definition of productive and unproductive labour or consumption, the consequences which they have drawn from the definition are nearly the same. In proportion to the amount of the productive labour and consumption of a country, the country, they all allow, is enriched: in proportion to the amount of the unproductive labour and consumption, the country is impoverished. Productive expenditure they are accustomed to view as a gain; unproductive expenditure, however useful, as a sacrifice. Unproductive expenditure of what was destined to be expended productively, they always characterise as a squandering of resources, and call it profusion and prodigality. The productive expenditure of that which might, without encroaching upon capital, be expended unproductively, is called saving, economy, frugality. Want, misery, and starvation, are described as the lot of a nation which annually employs less and less of its labour and resources in production; growing comfort and opulence as the result of an annual increase in the quantity of wealth so employed.
Let us then examine what qualities in expenditure, and in the employment of labour, are those from which all the consequences above mentioned really flow.
The end to which all labour and all expenditure are directed, is twofold. Sometimes it is enjoyment immediately; the fulfilment of those desires, the gratification of which is wished for on its own account. Whenever labour or expense is not incurred immediately for the sake of enjoyment, and is yet not absolutely wasted, it must be incurred for the purpose of enjoyment indirectly or mediately; by either repairing and perpetuating, or adding, to the permanent sources of enjoyment.
Sources of enjoyment may be accumulated and stored up; enjoyment itself cannot. The wealth of a country consists of the sum total of the permanent sources of enjoyment, whether material or immaterial, contained in it: and labour or expenditure which tends to augment or to keep up these permanent sources, should, we conceive, be termed productive.
Labour which is employed for the purpose of directly affording enjoyment, such as the labour of a performer on a musical instrument, we term unproductive labour. Whatever is consumed by such a performer, we consider as unproductively consumed: the accumulated total of the sources of enjoyment which the nation possesses, is diminished by the amount of what he has consumed: whereas, if it had been given to him in exchange for his services in producing food or clothing, the total of the permanent sources of enjoyment in the country might have been not diminished but increased.
The performer on the musical instrument then is, so far as respects that act, not a productive, but an unproductive labourer. But what shall we say of the workman who made the musical instrument? He, most persons would say, is a productive labourer; and with reason; because the musical instrument is a permanent source of enjoyment, which does not begin and end with the enjoying, and therefore admits of being accumulated.
But the skill of the musician is a permanent source of enjoyment, as well as the instrument which he plays upon: and although skill is not a material object, but a quality of an object, viz., of the hands and mind of the performer; nevertheless skill possesses exchangeable value, is acquired by labour and capital, and is capable of being stored and accumulated. Skill, therefore, must be considered as wealth; and the labour and funds employed in acquiring skill in anything tending to the advantage or pleasure of mankind, must be considered to be productively employed and expended.
The skill of a productive labourer is analogous to the machinery he works with: neither of them is enjoyment, nor conduces directly to it, but both conduce indirectly to it, and both in the same way. If a spinning-jenny be wealth, the spinner’s skill is also wealth. If the mechanic who made the spinning-jenny laboured productively, the spinner also laboured productively when he was learning his trade: and what they both consumed was consumed productively, that is to say, its consumption did not tend to diminish, but to increase the sum of the permanent sources of enjoyment in the country, by effecting a new creation of those sources, more than equal to the amount of the consumption.
The skill of a tailor, and the implements he employs, contribute in the same way to the convenience of him who wears the coat, namely, a remote way: it is the coat itself which contributes immediately. The skill of Madame Pasta, and the building and decorations which aid the effect of her performance, contribute in the same way to the enjoyment of the audience, namely, an immediate way, without any intermediate instrumentality. The building and decorations are consumed unproductively, and Madame Pasta labours and consumes unproductively; for the building is used and worn out, and Madame Pasta performs, immediately for the spectators’ enjoyment, and without leaving, as a consequence of the performance, any permanent result possessing exchangeable value: consequently the epithet unproductive must be equally applied to the gradual wearing out of the bricks and mortar, the nightly consumption of the more perishable “properties” of the theatre, the labour of Madame Pasta in acting, and of the orchestra in playing. But notwithstanding this, the architect who built the theatre was a productive labourer; so were the producers of the perishable articles; so were those who constructed the musical instruments; and so, we must be permitted to add, were those who instructed the musicians, and all persons who, by the instructions which they may have given to Madame Pasta, contributed to the formation of her talent. All these persons contributed to the enjoyment of the audience in the same way, and that a remote way, viz., by the production of a permanent source of enjoyment.
The difference between this case, and the case of the cotton spinner already adverted to, is this. The spinning-jenny, and the skill of the cotton spinner, are not only the result of productive labour, but are themselves productively consumed. The musical instrument and the skill of the musician are equally the result of productive labour, but are themselves unproductively consumed.
Let us now consider what kinds of labour, and of consumption or expenditure, will be classed as productive, and what as unproductive, according to this rule.
The following are always productive:
Labour and expenditure, of which the direct object or effect is the creation of some material product useful or agreeable to mankind.
Labour and expenditure, of which the direct effect and object are, to endow human or other animated beings with faculties or qualities useful or agreeable to mankind, and possessing exchangeable value.
Labour and expenditure, which without having for their direct object the creation of any useful material product or bodily or mental faculty or quality, yet tend indirectly to promote one or other of those ends, and are exerted or incurred solely for that purpose.
The following are partly productive and partly unproductive, and cannot with propriety be ranged decidedly with either class:
Labour or expenditure which does indeed create, or promote the creation of, some useful material product or bodily or mental faculty or quality, but which is not incurred or exerted for that sole end; having also for another, and perhaps its principal end, enjoyment, or the promotion of enjoyment.
Such are the labour of the judge, the legislator, the police-officer, the soldier; and the expenditure incurred for their support. These functionaries protect and secure mankind in the exclusive possession of such material products or acquired faculties as belong to them; and by the security which they so confer, they indirectly increase production in a degree far more than equivalent to the expense which is necessary for their maintenance. But this is not the only purpose for which they exist; they protect mankind, not merely in the possession of their permanent resources, but also in their actual enjoyments; and so far, although highly useful, they cannot, conformably to the distinction which we have attempted to lay down, be considered productive labourers.
Such, also, are the labour and the wages of domestic servants. Such persons are entertained mainly as subservient to mere enjoyment; but most of them occasionally, and some habitually, render services which must be considered as of a productive nature; such as that of cookery, the last stage in the manufacture of food; or gardening, a branch of agriculture.
The following are wholly unproductive:
Labour exerted, and expenditure incurred, directly and exclusively for the purpose of enjoyment, and not calling into existence anything, whether substance or quality, but such as begins and perishes in the enjoyment.
Labour exerted and expenditure incurred uselessly, or in pure waste, and yielding neither direct enjoyment nor permanent sources of enjoyment.
It may be objected, that expenditure incurred even for pure enjoyment promotes production indirectly, by inciting to exertion. Thus the view of the splendour of a rich establishment is supposed by some writers to produce upon the mind of an indigent spectator an earnest desire of enjoying the same luxuries, and a consequent purpose of working with vigour and diligence, and saving from his earnings, thus increasing the productive capital of the country.
It is true that mankind are, for the most part, excited to productive industry solely by the desire of subsequently consuming the result of their labour and accumulation. The consumption called unproductive, viz., that of which the direct result is enjoyment, is in reality the end, to which production is only the means; and a desire for the end, is what alone impels any one to have recourse to the means.
But, notwithstanding this, it is of the greatest importance to mark the distinction between the labour and the consumption which have enjoyment for their immediate end, and the labour and the consumption of which the immediate end is reproduction. Though the sight of the former may still further stimulate that desire for the enjoyments afforded by wealth, which the mere knowledge, without the immediate view, would suffice to excite (and without dwelling on the consideration that if the example of a large expenditure excites one individual to accumulation, it encourages two to prodigal expense); still, if we look only to the effects which are intended, or to those which immediately follow from the consumption, and whose connexion with it can be distinctly traced, it evidently renders a country poorer in the permanent sources of enjoyment; while reproductive consumption leaves the country richer in these same sources. Besides, if what is spent for mere pleasure promotes indirectly the increase of wealth, it can only be by inducing others not to expend on mere pleasure.
Before quitting the subject, one more observation should be added. It must not be supposed that what is expended upon unproductive labourers is necessarily, the whole of it, unproductively consumed. The unproductive labourers may save part of their wages, and invest them in a productive employment.
It is not unusual to speak of what is paid in wages to a labourer as being thereby consumed, as if all profit and loss to the nation were to be seen in the capitalist’s account-book. What is paid for productive labour is said to be productively consumed; what is paid for unproductive labour is said to be consumed unproductively. It would be proper to say, not that it is productively or unproductively consumed, but productively or unproductively expended; otherwise, we shall be obliged to say that it is consumed twice over; the first time unproductively, perhaps, and the second, it may be, productively.
To pronounce in which way the wages of the labourer are consumed, we must follow them into the labourer’s own hands. As much as is necessary to keep the productive labourer in perfect health and fitness for his employment, may be said to be consumed productively. To this should be added what he expends in rearing children to the age at which they become capable of productive industry. If the state of the market for labour be such as to afford him more, this he may either save, or, as the common expression is, he may spend it. If he saves any portion, this (unless it be merely hoarded) he intends to employ productively, and it will be productively consumed. If he spends it, the consumption is for enjoyment immediately, and is therefore unproductive.
This suggests another correction in the established language. Political economists generally define the ‘net produce’ to be that portion of the gross annual produce of a country which remains after replacing the capital annually consumed. This, as they proceed to explain, consists of profits and rent; wages being included in the other portion of the gross produce, that which goes to replace capital. After this definition, they usually proceed to tell us that the net produce, and that alone, constitutes the fund from which a nation can accumulate, and add to its capital, as also that which it can, without retrograding in wealth, expend unproductively, or for enjoyment. Now, it is impossible that both the above propositions can be true. If the net produce is that which remains after replacing capital, then net produce is not the only fund out of which accumulation may be made: for accumulation may be made from wages; this is in all countries one of the great sources, and in countries like America perhaps the greatest source of accumulation. If, on the other hand, it is desirable to reserve the name of net produce to denote the fund available for accumulation or for unproductive consumption, we must define net produce differently. The definition which appears the best adapted to render the ordinary doctrines relating to net produce true, would be this:
The net produce of a country is whatever is annually produced beyond what is necessary for maintaining the stock of materials and implements unimpaired, for keeping all productive labourers alive and in condition for work, and for just keeping up their numbers without increase. What is required for these purposes, or, in other words, for keeping up the productive resources of the country, cannot be diverted from its destination without rendering the nation as a whole poorer. But all which is produced beyond this, whether it be in the hands of the labourer, of the capitalist, or of any of the numerous varieties of rent-owners, may be taken for immediate enjoyment, without prejudice to the productive resources of the community; and whatever part of it is not so taken, constitutes a clear addition to the national capital, or to the permanent sources of enjoyment. …
The profits of stock are the surplus which remains to the capitalist after replacing his capital: and the ratio which that surplus bears to the capital itself, is the rate of profit.
This being the definition of profits, it might seem natural to adopt, as a sufficient theory in regard to the rate of profit, that it depends upon the productive power of capital. Some countries are favoured beyond others, either by nature or art, in the means of production. If the powers of the soil, or of machinery, enable capital to produce what is necessary for replacing itself, and twenty per cent more, profits will be twenty per cent; and so on.
This, accordingly, is a popular mode of speaking on the subject of profits; but it has only the semblance, not the reality, of an explanation. The ‘productive power of capital,’ though a common, and, for some purposes, a convenient expression, is a delusive one. Capital, strictly speaking, has no productive power. The only productive power is that of labour; assisted, no doubt, by tools, and acting upon materials. That portion of capital which consists of tools and materials, may be said, perhaps, without any great impropriety, to have a productive power, because they contribute, along with labour, to the accomplishment of production. But that portion of capital which consists of wages, has no productive power of its own. Wages have no productive power; they are the price of a productive power. Wages do not contribute, along with labour, to the production of commodities, no more than the price of tools contributes along with the tools themselves. If labour could be had without purchase, wages might be dispensed with. That portion of capital which is expended in the wages of labour, is only the means by which the capitalist procures to himself, in the way of purchase, the use of that labour in which the power of production really resides.
The proper view of capital is, that anything whatever, which a person possesses, constitutes his capital, provided he is able, and intends, to employ it, not in consumption for the purpose of enjoyment, but in possessing himself of the means of production, with the intention of employing those means productively. Now the means of production are labour, implements, and materials. The only productive power which anywhere exists, is the productive power of labour, implements, and materials.
We need not, on this account, altogether proscribe the expression, “productive power of capital;” but we should carefully note, that it can only mean the quantity of real productive power which the capitalist, by means of his capital, can command. This may change, though the productive power of labour remains the same. Wages, for example, may rise; and then, although all the circumstances of production remain exactly as they were before, the same capital will yield a less return, because it will set in motion a less quantity of productive labour.
We may, therefore, consider the capital of a producer as measured by the means which he has of possessing himself of the different essentials of production: namely, labour, and the various articles which labour requires as materials, or of which it avails itself as aids.
The ratio between the price which he has to pay for these means of production, and the produce which they enable him to raise, is the rate of his profit. If he must give for labour and tools four-fifths of what they will produce, the remaining fifth will constitute his profit, and will give him a rate of one in four, or twenty-five per cent, on his outlay.
It is necessary here to remark, what cannot indeed by any possibility be misunderstood, but might possibly be overlooked in cases where attention to it is indispensable, viz., that we are speaking now of the rate of profit, not the gross profit. If the capital of the country is very great, a profit of only five per cent upon it may be much more ample, may support a much larger number of capitalists and their families in much greater affluence, than a profit of twenty-five per cent on the comparatively small capital of a poor country. The gross profit of a country is the actual amount of necessaries, conveniences, and luxuries, which are divided among its capitalists: but whether this be large or small, the rate of profit may be just the same. The rate of profit is the proportion which the profit bears to the capital; which the surplus produce after replacing the outlay, bears to the outlay. In short, if we compare the price paid for labour and tools with what that labour and those tools will produce, from this ratio we may calculate the rate of profit.
As the gross profit may be very different though the rate of profit be the same; so also may the absolute price paid for labour and tools be very different, and yet the proportion between the price paid and the produce obtained may be just the same. For greater clearness, let us omit, for the present, the consideration of tools, materials, &c, and conceive production as the result solely of labour. In a certain country, let us suppose, the wages of each labourer are one quarter of wheat per year, and 100 men can produce, in one year, 120 quarters. Here the price paid for labour is to the produce of that labour as 100 to 120, and profits are 20 per cent. Suppose now that, in another country, wages are just double what they are in the country before supposed; namely, two quarters of wheat per year, for each labourer. But suppose, likewise, that the productive power of labour is double what it is in the first country; that by the greater fertility of the soil, 100 men can produce 240 quarters, instead of 120 as before. Here it is obvious, that the real price paid for labour is twice as great in the one country as in the other; but the produce being also twice as great, the ratio between the price of labour and the produce of labour is still exactly the same: an outlay of 200 quarters gives a return of 240 quarters, and profits, as before, are 20 per cent.
Profits, then (meaning not gross profits, but the rate of profit), depend (not upon the price of labour, tools, and materials—but) upon the ratio between the price of labour, tools, and materials, and the produce of them: upon the proportionate share of the produce of industry which it is necessary to offer, in order to purchase that industry and the means of setting it in motion.
We have hitherto spoken of tools, buildings, and materials, as essentials of production, co-ordinate with labour, and equally indispensable with it. This is true; but it is also true that tools, buildings, and materials, are themselves the produce of labour; and that the only cause (cases of monopoly excepted) of their having any value, is the labour which is required for their production.
If tools, buildings, and materials were the spontaneous gifts of nature, requiring no labour either in order to produce or to appropriate them; and if they were thus bestowed upon mankind in indefinite quantity, and without the possibility of being monopolized; they would still be as useful, as indispensable as they now are; but since they could, like air and the light of the sun, be obtained without cost or sacrifice, they would form no part of the expenses of production, and no portion of the produce would be required to be set aside in order to replace the outlay made for these purposes. The whole produce, therefore, after replacing the wages of labour, would be clear profit to the capitalist.
Labour alone is the primary means of production; “the original purchase-money which has been paid for everything.” Tools and materials, like other things, have originally cost nothing but labour; and have a value in the market only because wages have been paid for them. The labour employed in making the tools and materials being added to the labour afterwards employed in working up the materials by aid of the tools, the sum total gives the whole of the labour employed in the production of the completed commodity. In the ultimate analysis, therefore, labour appears to be the only essential of production. To replace capital, is to replace nothing but the wages of the labour employed. Consequently, the whole of the surplus, after replacing wages, is profits. From this it seems to follow, that the ratio between the wages of labour and the produce of that labour gives the rate of profit. And thus we arrive at Mr. Ricardo’s principle, that profits depend upon wages; rising as wages fall, and falling as wages rise.
To protect this proposition (the most perfect form in which the law of profits seems to have been yet exhibited) against misapprehension, one or two explanatory remarks are required.
If by wages, be meant what constitutes the real affluence of the labourer, the quantity of produce which he receives in exchange for his labour; the proposition that profits vary inversely as wages, will be obviously false. The rate of profit (as has been already observed and exemplified) does not depend upon the price of labour, but upon the proportion between the price of labour and the produce of it. If the produce of labour is large, the price of labour may also be large without any diminution of the rate of profit: and, in fact, the rate of profit is highest in those countries (as, for instance, North America) where the labourer is most largely remunerated. For the wages of labour, though so large, bear a less proportion to the abundant produce of labour, there than elsewhere.
But this does not affect the truth of Mr. Ricardo’s principle as he himself understood it; because an increase of the labourer’s real comforts was not considered by him as a rise of wages. In his language wages were only said to rise, when they rose not in mere quantity but in value. To the labourer himself (he would have said) the quantity of his remuneration is the important circumstance: but its value is the only thing of importance to the person who purchases his labour.
The rate of profits depends not upon absolute or real wages, but upon the value of wages.
If, however, by value, Mr. Ricardo had meant exchangeable value, his proposition would still have been remote from the truth. Profits depend no more upon the exchangeable value of the labourer’s remuneration, than upon its quantity. The truth is, that by the exchangeable value is meant the quantity of commodities which the labourer can purchase with his wages; so that when we say the exchangeable value of wages, we say their quantity, under another name.
Mr. Ricardo, however, did not use the word value in the sense of exchangeable value.
Occasionally, in his writings, he could not avoid using the word as other people use it, to denote value in exchange. But he more frequently employed it in a sense peculiar to himself, to denote cost of production; in other words, the quantity of labour required to produce the article; that being his criterion of cost of production. Thus, if a hat could be made with ten days’ labour in France and with five days’ labour in England, he said that the value of a hat was double in France of what it was in England. If a quarter of corn could be produced a century ago with half as much labour as is necessary at present, Mr. Ricardo said that the value of a quarter of corn had doubled.
Mr. Ricardo, therefore, would not have said that wages had risen, because a labourer could obtain two pecks of flour instead of one, for a day’s labour; but if last year he received, for a day’s labour, something which required eight hours’ labour to produce it, and this year something which requires nine hours, then Mr. Ricardo would say that wages had risen. A rise of wages, with Mr. Ricardo, meant an increase in the cost of production of wages; an increase in the number of hours’ labour which go to produce the wages of a day’s labour; an increase in the proportion of the fruits of labour which the labourer receives for his own share; an increase in the ratio between the wages of his labour and the produce of it. This is the theory: the reasoning, of which it is the result, has been given in the preceding paragraphs.
Some of Mr. Ricardo’s followers, or more properly, of those who have adopted in most particulars the views of political economy which his genius was the first to open up, have given explanations of Mr. Ricardo’s doctrine to nearly the same effect as the above, but in rather different terms. They have said that profits depend not on absolute, but on proportionalwages: which they expounded to mean the proportion which the labourers en masse receive of the total produce of the country.
It seems, however, to be rather an unusual and inconvenient use of language to speak of anything as depending upon the wages of labour, and then to explain that by wages of labour you do not mean the wages of an individual labourer, but of all the labourers in the country collectively. Mankind will never agree to call anything a rise of wages, except a rise of the wages of individual labourers, and it is therefore preferable to employ language tending to fix attention upon the wages of the individual. The wages, however, on which profits are said to depend, are undoubtedly proportional wages, namely, the proportional wages of one labourer: that is, the ratio between the wages of one labourer, and (not the whole produce of the country, but) the amount of what one labourer can produce; the amount of that portion of the collective produce of the industry of the country, which may be considered as corresponding to the labour of one single labourer. Proportional wages, thus understood, may be concisely termed the cost of production of wages; or, more concisely still, the cost of wages, meaning their cost in the “original purchase money,” labour.
We have now arrived at a distinct conception of Mr. Ricardo’s theory of profits in its most perfect state. And this theory we conceive to be the basis of the true theory of profits. All that remains to do is to clear it from certain difficulties which still surround it, and which, though in a greater degree apparent than real, are not to be put aside as wholly imaginary.
Though it is true that tools, materials, and buildings (it is to be wished that there were some compact designation for all these essentials of production taken together,) are themselves the produce of labour, and are only on that account to be ranked among the expenses of production; yet the whole of their value is not resolvable into the wages of the labourers by whom they were produced. The wages of those labourers were paid by a capitalist, and that capitalist must have the same profit upon his advances as any other capitalist; when, therefore, he sells the tools or materials, he must receive from the purchaser not only the reimbursement of the wages he has paid, but also as much more as will afford him the ordinary rate of profit. And when the producer, after buying the tools and employing them in his own occupation, comes to estimate his gains, he must set aside a portion of the produce to replace not only the wages paid both by himself and by the tool-maker, but also the profits of the tool-maker, advanced by himself out of his own capital.
It is not correct, therefore, to state that all which the capitalist retains after replacing wages forms his profit. It is true the whole return to capital is either wages or profits; but profits do not compose merely the surplus after replacing the outlay; they also enter into the outlay itself. Capital is expended partly in paying or reimbursing wages, and partly in paying the profits of other capitalists, whose concurrence was necessary in order to bring together the means of production.
If any contrivance, therefore, were devised by which that part of the outlay which consists of previous profits could be either wholly or partially dispensed with, it is evident that more would remain as the profit of the immediate producer; while, as the quantity of labour necessary to produce a given quantity of the commodity would be unaltered, as well as the quantity of produce paid for that labour, it seems that the ratio between the price of labour and its produce would be the same as before; that the cost of production of wages would be the same, proportional wages the same, and yet profits different.
To illustrate this by a simple instance, let it be supposed that one-third of the produce is sufficient to replace the wages of the labourers who have been immediately instrumental in the production; that another third is necessary to replace the materials used and the fixed capital worn out in the process; while the remaining third is clear gain, being a profit of 50 per cent. Suppose, for example, that 60 agricultural labourers, receiving 60 quarters of corn for their wages, consume fixed capital and seed amounting to the value of 60 quarters more, and that the result of their operations is a produce of 180 quarters. When we analyse the price of the seed and tools into its elements, we find that they must have been the produce of the labour of 40 men: for the wages of those 40, together with profit at the rate previously supposed (50 per cent) make up 60 quarters. The produce, therefore, consisting of 180 quarters is the result of the labour altogether of 100 men: namely, the 60 first mentioned, and the 40 by whose labour the fixed capital and the seed were produced.
Let us now suppose, by way of an extreme case, that some contrivance is discovered, whereby the purposes to which the second third of the produce had been devoted, may be dispensed with altogether: that some means are invented by which the same amount of produce may be procured without the assistance of any fixed capital, or the consumption of any seed or material sufficiently valuable to be worth calculating. Let us, however, suppose that this cannot be done without taking on a number of additional labourers, equal to those required for producing the seed and fixed capital; so that the saving shall be only in the profits of the previous capitalists. Let us, in conformity with this supposition, assume that in dispensing with the fixed capital and seed, value 60 quarters, it is necessary to take on 40 additional labourers, receiving a quarter of corn each, as before.
The rate of profit has evidently risen. It has increased from 50 per cent to 60 per cent. A return of 180 quarters could not before be obtained but by an outlay of 120 quarters; it can now be obtained by an outlay of no more than 100.
Here, therefore, is an undeniable rise of profits. Have wages, in the sense above attached to them, fallen or not? It would seem not.
The produce (180 quarters) is still the result of the same quantity of labour as before, namely, the labour of 100 men. A quarter of corn, therefore, is still, as before, the produce of 10/18 of a man’s labour for a year. Each labourer receives, as before, one quarter of corn; each, therefore, receives the produce of 10\18 of a year’s labour of one man, that is, the same cost of production; each receives 10/18 of the produce of his own labour, that is, the same proportional wages; and the labourers collectively still receive the same proportion, namely 10/18, of the whole produce.
The conclusion, then, cannot be resisted, that Mr. Ricardo’s theory is defective: that the rate of profits does not exclusively depend upon the value of wages, in his sense, namely, the quantity of labour of which the wages of a labourer are the produce; that it does not exclusively depend upon proportional wages, that is, upon the proportion which the labourers collectively receive of the whole produce, or the ratio which the wages of an individual labourer bear to the produce of his individual labour.
Those political economists, therefore, who have always dissented from Mr. Ricardo’s doctrine, or who, having at first admitted, ended by discarding it, were so far in the right; but they committed a serious error in this, that, with the usual one-sidedness of disputants, they knew no medium between admitting absolutely and dismissing entirely; and saw no other course than utterly to reject what it would have been sufficient to modify.
It is remarkable how very slight a modification will suffice to render Mr. Ricardo’s doctrine completely true. It is even doubtful whether he himself, if called upon to adapt his expressions to this peculiar case, would not have so explained his doctrine as to render it entirely unobjectionable.
It is perfectly true, that, in the example already made use of, a rise of profits takes place, while wages, considered in respect to the quantity of labour of which they are the produce, have not varied at all. But though wages are still the produce of the same quantity of labour as before, the cost of production of wages has nevertheless fallen; for into cost of production there enters another element besides labour.
We have already remarked (and the very example out of which the difficulty arose presupposes it) that the cost of production of an article consists generally of two parts,—the wages of the labour employed, and the profits of those who, in any antecedent stage of the production, have advanced any portion of those wages. An article, therefore, may be the produce of the same quantity of labour as before, and yet, if any portion of the profits which the last producer has to make good to previous producers can be economized, the cost of production of the article is diminished.
Now, in our example, a diminution of this sort is supposed to have taken place in the cost of production of corn. The production of that article has become less costly, in the ratio of six to five. A quantity of corn, the means of producing which could not previously have been secured but at an expense of 120 quarters, can now be produced by means which 100 quarters are sufficient to purchase.
But the labourer is supposed to receive the same quantity of corn as before. He receives one quarter. The cost of production of wages has, therefore, fallen one-sixth. A quarter of corn, which is the remuneration of a single labourer, is indeed the produce of the same quantity of labour as before; but its cost of production is nevertheless diminished. It is now the produce of 10/18 of a man’s labour, and nothing else; whereas formerly it required for its production the conjunction of that quantity of labour with an expenditure, in the form of reimbursement of profit, amounting to one-fifth more.
If the cost of production of wages had remained the same as before, profits could not have risen. Each labourer received one quarter of corn; but one quarter of corn at that time was the result of the same cost of production, as 1 1/5 quarter now. In order, therefore, that each labourer should receive the same cost of production, each must now receive one quarter of corn,plus one-fifth. The labour of 100 men could not be purchased at this price for less than 120 quarters; and the produce, 180 quarters, would yield only 50 per cent, as first supposed .
It is, therefore, strictly true, that the rate of profits varies inversely as the cost of production of wages. Profits cannot rise, unless the cost of production of wages falls exactly as much; nor fall, unless it rises.
The proof of this position has been stated in figures, and in a particular case: we shall now state it in general terms, and for all cases.
We have supposed, for simplicity, that wages are paid in the finished commodity. The agricultural labourers, in our example, were paid in corn, and if we had called them weavers, we should have supposed them to be paid in cloth. This supposition is allowable, for it is obviously of no consequence, in a question of value, or cost of production, what precise article we assume as the medium of exchange. The supposition has, besides, the recommendation of being conformable to the most ordinary state of the facts; for it is by the sale of his own finished article that each capitalist obtains the means of hiring labourers to renew the production; which is virtually the same thing as if, instead of selling the article for money and giving the money to his labourers, he gave the article itself to the labourers, and they sold it for their daily bread.
Assuming, therefore, that the labourer is paid in the very article he produces, it is evident that, when any saving of expense takes place in the production of that article, if the labourer still receives the same cost of production as before, he must receive an increased quantity, in the very same ratio in which the productive power of capital has been increased. But, if so, the outlay of the capitalist will bear exactly the same proportion to the return as it did before; and profits will not rise.
The variations, therefore, in the rate of profits, and those in the cost of production of wages, go hand in hand, and are inseparable. Mr. Ricardo’s principle, that profits cannot rise unless wages fall, is strictly true, if by low wages be meant not merely wages which are the produce of a smaller quantity of labour, but wages which are produced at less cost, reckoning labour and previous profits together. But the interpretation which some economists have put upon Mr. Ricardo’s doctrine, when they explain it to mean that profits depend upon the proportion which the labourers collectively receive of the aggregate produce, will not hold at all; for that, in our first example, remained the same, and yet profits rose.
The only expression of the law of profits, which seems to be correct, is, that they depend upon the cost of production of wages. This must be received as the ultimate principle.
From this may be deduced all the corollaries which Mr. Ricardo and others have drawn from his theory of profits as expounded by himself. The cost of production of the wages of one labourer for a year, is the result of two concurrent elements or factors,—viz., 1st, the quantity of commodities which the state of the labour market affords to him; 2ndly, the cost of production of each of those commodities. It follows, that the rate of profits can never rise but in conjunction with one or other of two changes,—1st, a diminished remuneration of the labourer; or, 2ndly, an improvement in production, or an extension of commerce, by which any of the articles habitually consumed by the labourer may be obtained at smaller cost. (If the improvement be in any article which is not consumed by the labourer, it merely lowers the price of that article, and thereby benefits capitalists and all other people so far as they are consumers of that particular article, and may be said to increase gross profit, but not the rate of profit.)
So, on the other hand, the rate of profit cannot fall, unless concurrently with one of two events: 1st, an improvement in the labourer’s condition; or, 2ndly, an increased difficulty of producing or importing some article which the labourer habitually consumes. The progress of population and cultivation has a tendency to lower profits through the latter of these two channels, owing to the well known law of the application of capital to land, that a double capital does not caeteris paribusyield a double produce. There is, therefore, a tendency in the rate of profits to fall with the progress of society. But there is also an antagonist tendency of profits to rise, by the successive introduction of improvements in agriculture, and in the production of those manufactured articles which the labourers consume. Supposing, therefore, that the actual comforts of the labourer remain the same, profits will fall or rise, according as population, or improvements in the production of food and other necessaries, advance fastest.
The rate of profits, therefore, tends to fall from the following causes:—1. An increase of capital beyond population, producing increased competition for labour; 2. An increase of population, occasioning a demand for an increased quantity of food, which must be produced at a greater cost. The rate of profits tends to rise from the following causes:—1. An increase of population beyond capital, producing increased competition for employment; 2. Improvements producing increased cheapness of necessaries, and other articles habitually consumed by the labourer.
The circumstances which regulate the rate of interest have usually been treated, even by professed writers on political economy, in a vague, loose, and unscientific manner. It has, however, been felt that there is some connexion between the rate of interest and the rate of profit; that (to use the words of Adam Smith) much will be given for money, when much can be made of it. It has been felt, also, that the fluctuations in the market-rate of interest from day to day, are determined, like other matters of bargain and sale, by demand and supply. It has, therefore, been considered as an established principle, that the rate of interest varies from day to day according to the quantity of capital offered or called for on loan; but conforms on the average of years to a standard determined by the rate of profits, and bearing some proportion to that rate—but a proportion which few attempts have been made to define.
In consequence of these views, it has been customary to judge of the general rate of profits at any time or place, by the rate of interest at that time and place: it being supposed that the rate of interest, though liable to temporary fluctuations, can never vary for any long period of time unless profits vary; a notion which appears to us to be erroneous.
It was observed by Adam Smith, that profits may be considered as divided into two parts, of which one may properly be considered as the remuneration for the use of the capital itself, the other as the reward of the labour of superintending its employment; and that the former of these will correspond with the rate of interest. The producer who borrows capital to employ it in his business, will consent to pay, for the use of it, all that remains of the profits he can make by it, after reserving what he considers reasonable remuneration for the trouble and risk which he incurs by borrowing and employing it.
This remark is just; but it seems necessary to give greater precision to the ideas which it involves.
The difference between the profit which can be made by the use of capital, and the interest which will be paid for it, is rightly characterized as wages of superintendance. But to infer from this that it is regulated by entirely the same principles as other wages, would be to push the analogy too far. It is wages, but wages paid by a commission upon the capital employed. If the general rate of profit is 10 per cent, and the rate of interest 5 per cent, the wages of superintendance will be 5 per cent; and though one borrower employ a capital of 100,000l., another no more than 100l., the labour of both will be rewarded with the same per centage, though, in the one ease, this symbol will represent an income of 5l., in the other case, of 5000l. Yet it cannot be pretended that the labour of the two borrowers differs in this proportion. The rule, therefore, that equal quantities of labour of equal hardness and skill are equally remunerated, does not hold of this kind of labour. The wages of any other labour are here an inapplicable criterion.
The wages of superintendance are distinguished from ordinary wages by another peculiarity, that they are not paid in advance out of capital, like the wages of all other labourers, but merge in the profit, and are not realized until the production is completed. This takes them entirely out of the ordinary law of wages. The wages of labourers who are paid in advance, are regulated by the number of competitors compared with the amount of capital; the labourers can consume no more than what has been previously accumulated. But there is no such limit to the remuneration of a kind of labour which is not paid for out of wealth previously accumulated, but out of that produce which it is itself employed in calling into existence.
When these circumstances are duly weighed, it will be perceived, that although profit may be correctly analyzed into interest and wages of superintendance, we ought not to lay it down as the law of interest, that it is profits minus the wages of superintendance. Of the two expressions, it would be decidedly the more correct, that the wages of superintendance are regulated by the rate of interest, or are equal to profits minus interest. In strict, propriety, neither expression would be allowable. Interest, and the wages of superintendance, can scarcely be said to depend upon one another. They are to one another in the same relation as wages and profits are. They are like two buckets in a well: when one rises, the other descends, but neither of the two motions is the cause of the other; both are simultaneous effects of the same cause, the turning of the windlass.
There are among the capitalists of every country a considerable number who are habitually, and almost necessarily, lenders; to whom scarcely any difference between what they could receive for their money and what could be made by it, would be an equivalent for incurring the risk and labour of carrying on business. In this predicament is the property of widows and orphans; of many public bodies; of charitable institutions; most property which is vested in trustees; and the property of a great number of persons unused to business, and who have a distaste for it, or whose other occupations prevent their engaging in it. How large a proportion of the property lent to the nation comes under this description, has been pointed out in Mr. Tooke’s Considerations on the State of the Currency.
There is another large class, consisting of bankers, bill-brokers, and others, who are money-lenders by profession; who enter into that profession with the intention of making such gains as it will yield them, and who would not be induced to change their business by any but a very strong pecuniary inducement.
There is, therefore, a large class of persons who are habitually lenders. On the other hand, all persons in business may be considered as habitually borrowers. Except in times of stagnation, they are all desirous of extending their business beyond their own capital, and are never desirous of lending any portion of their capital except for very short periods, during which they cannot advantageously invest it in their own trade.
There is, in short, a productive class, and there is, besides, a class technically styled the monied class, who live upon the interest of their capital, without engaging personally in the work of production.
The class of borrowers may be considered as unlimited. There is no quantity of capital that could be offered to be lent, which the productive classes would not be willing to borrow, at any rate of interest which would afford them the slightest excess of profit above a bare equivalent for the additional risk, incurred by that transaction, of the evils attendant on insolvency. The only assignable limit to the inclination to borrow, is the power of giving security: the producers would find it difficult to borrow more than an amount equal to their own capital. If more than half the capital of the country were in the hands of persons who preferred lending it to engaging personally in business, and if the surplus were greater than could be invested in loans to Government, or in mortgages upon the property of unproductive consumers; the competition of lenders would force down the rate of interest very low. A certain portion of the monied class would be obliged either to sacrifice their predilections by engaging in business, or to lend on inferior security; and they would accordingly accept, where they could obtain good security, an abatement of interest equivalent to the difference of risk.
This is an extreme case. Let us put an extreme case of a contrary kind. Suppose that the wealthy people of any country, not relishing an idle life, and having a strong taste for gainful labour, were generally indisposed to accept of a smaller income in order to be relieved from the labour and anxiety of business. Every producer in flourishing circumstances would be eager to borrow, and few willing to lend. Under these circumstances the rate of interest would differ very little from the rate of profit. The trouble of managing a business is not proportionally increased by an increase of the magnitude of the business; and a very small surplus profit above the rate of interest, would therefore be a sufficient inducement to capitalists to borrow.
We may even conceive a people whose habits were such, that in order to induce them to lend, it might be necessary to offer them a rate of interest fully equal to the ordinary rate of profit. In that case, of course, the productive classes would scarcely ever borrow. But government, and the unproductive classes, who do not borrow in order to make a profit by the loan, but from the pressure of a real or supposed necessity, might still be ready to borrow at this high rate.
Although the inclination to borrow has no fixed or necessary limit except the power of giving security, yet it always, in point of fact, stops short of this; from the uncertainty of the prospects of any individual producer, which generally indisposes him to involve himself to the full extent of his means of payment. There is never any permanent want of market for things in general; but there may be so for the commodity which any one individual is producing; and even if there is a demand for the commodity, people may not buy it of him but of some other. There are, consequently, never more than a portion of the producers, the state of whose business encourages them to add to their capital by borrowing; and even these are disposed to borrow only as much as they see an immediate prospect of profitably employing. There is, therefore, a practical limit to the demands of borrowers at any given instant; and when these demands are all satisfied, any additional capital offered on loan can find an investment only by a reduction of the rate of interest.
The amount of borrowers being given, (and by the amount of borrowers is here meant the aggregate sum which people are willing to borrow at some given rate,) the rate of interest will depend upon the quantity of capital owned by people who are unwilling or unable to engage in trade. The circumstances which determine this, are, on the one hand, the degree in which a taste for business, or an aversion to it, happens to be prevalent among the classes possessed of property; and on the other hand, the amount of the annual accumulation from the earnings of labour. Those who accumulate from their wages, fees, or salaries, have, of course, (speaking generally) no means of investing their savings except by lending them to others: their occupations prevent them from personally superintending any employment.
Upon these circumstances, then, the rate of interest depends, the amount of borrowers being given. And the counter-proposition equally holds, that, the above circumstances being given, the rate of interest depends upon the amount of borrowers.
Suppose, for example, that when the rate of interest has adjusted itself to the existing state of the circumstances which affect the disposition to borrow and to lend, a war breaks out, which induces government, for a series of years, to borrow annually a large sum of money. During the whole of this period, the rate of interest will remain considerably above what it was before, and what it will be afterwards.
Before the commencement of the supposed war, all persons who were disposed to lend at the then rate of interest, had found borrowers, and their capital was invested. This may be assumed; for if any capital had been seeking for a borrower at the existing rate of interest, and unable to find one, its owner would have offered it at a rate slightly below the existing rate. He would, for instance, have bought into the funds, at a slight advance of price; and thus set at liberty the capital of some fundholder, who, the funds yielding a lower interest, would have been obliged to accept a lower interest from individuals.
Since, then, all who were willing to lend their capital at the market rate, have already lent it, Government will not be able to borrow unless by offering higher interest. Though, with the existing habits of the possessors of disposable capital, an increased number cannot be found who are willing to lend at the existing rate, there are doubtless some who will be induced to lend by the temptation of a higher rate. The same temptation will also induce some persons to invest, in the purchase of the new stock, what they would otherwise have expended unproductively in increasing their establishments, or productively, in improving their estates. The rate of interest will rise just sufficiently to call forth an increase of lenders to the amount required.
This we apprehend to be the cause why the rate of interest in this country was so high as it is well known to have been during the last war. It is, therefore, by no means to be inferred, as some have done, that the general rate of profits was unusually high during the same period, because interest was so. Supposing the rate of profits to have been precisely the same during the war, as before or after it, the rate of interest would nevertheless have risen, from the causes and in the manner above described.
The practical use of the preceding investigation is, to moderate the confidence with which inferences are frequently drawn with respect to the rate of profit from evidence regarding the rate of interest; and to shew that although the rate of profit is one of the elements which combine to determine the rate of interest, the latter is also acted upon by causes peculiar to itself, and may either rise or fall, both temporarily and permanently, while the general rate of profits remains unchanged.
The introduction of banks, which perform the function of lenders and loan-brokers, with or without that of issuers of paper-money, produces some further anomalies in the rate of interest, which have not, so far as we are aware, been hitherto brought within the pale of exact science.
If bankers were merely a class of middlemen between the lender and the borrower; if they merely received deposits of capital from those who had it lying unemployed in their hands, and lent this, together with their own capital, to the productive classes, receiving interest for it, and paying interest in their turn to those who had placed capital in their hands; the effect of the operations of banking on the rate of interest would be to lower it in some slight degree. The banker receives and collects together sums of money much too small, when taken individually, to render it worth while for the owners to look out for an investment, but which in the aggregate form a considerable amount. This amount may be considered a clear addition to the productive capital of the country; at least, to the capital in activity at any moment. And as this addition to the capital accrues wholly to that part of it which is not employed by the owners, but lent to other producers, the natural effect is a diminution of the rate of interest.
The banker, to the extent of his own private capital, (the expenses of his business being first paid,) is a lender at interest. But, being subject to risk and trouble fully equal to that which belongs to most other employments, he cannot be satisfied with the mere interest even of his whole capital: he must have the ordinary profits of stock, or he will not engage in the business: the state of banking must be such as to hold out to him the prospect of adding, to the interest of what remains of his own capital after paying the expenses of his business, interest upon capital deposited with him, in sufficient amount to make up, after paying the expenses, the ordinary profit which could be derived from his own capital in any productive employment. This will be accomplished in one of two ways.
1. If the circumstances of society are such as to furnish a ready investment of disposable capital; (as for instance in London, where the public funds and other securities, of undoubted stability, and affording great advantages for receiving the interest without trouble and realizing the principal without difficulty when required, tempt all persons who have sums of importance lying idle, to invest them on their own account without the intervention of any middleman;) the deposits with bankers consist chiefly of small sums likely to be wanted in a very short period for current expenses, and the interest on which would seldom be worth the trouble of calculating it. Bankers, therefore, do not allow any interest on their deposits. After paying the expenses of their business, all the rest of the interest they receive is clear gain. But as the circumstances of banking, as of all other modes of employing capital, will on the average be such as to afford to a person entering into the business a prospect of realizing the ordinary, and no more than the ordinary, profits upon his own capital; the gains of each banker by the investment of his deposits, will not on the average exceed what is necessary to make up his gains on his own capital to the ordinary rate. It is, of course, competition, which brings about this limitation. Whether competition operates by lowering the rate of interest, or by dividing the business among a larger number, it is difficult to decide. Probably it operates in both ways; but it is by no means impossible that it may operate in the latter way alone: just as an increase in the number of physicians does not lower the fees, though it diminishes an average competitor’s chance of obtaining them.
It is not impossible that the disposition of the lenders might be such, that they would cease to lend rather than acquiesce in any reduction of the rate of interest. If so, the arrival of a new lender, in the person of a banker of deposit, would not lower the rate of interest in any considerable degree. A slight fall would take place, and with that exception things would be as before, except that the capital in the hands of the banker would have put itself into the place of an equal portion of capital belonging to other lenders, who would themselves have engaged in business (e.g., by subscribing to some joint-stock company, or entering into commandite). Bankers’ profits would then be limited to the ordinary rate chiefly by the division of the business among many banks, so that each on the average would receive no more interest on his deposits than would suffice to make up the interest on his own capital to the ordinary rate of profit after paying all expenses.
2. But if the circumstances of society render it difficult and inconvenient for persons who wish to live upon the interest of their money, to seek an investment for themselves, the bankers become agents for this specific purpose: large as well as small sums are deposited with them, and they allow interest to their customers. Such is the practice of the Scotch banks, and of most of the country banks in England. Their customers, not living at any of the great seats of money transactions, prefer entrusting their capital to somebody on the spot, whom they know, and in whom they confide. He invests their money on the best terms he can, and pays to them such interest as he can afford to give; retaining a compensation for his own risk and trouble. This compensation is fixed by the competition of the market. The rate of interest is no further lowered by this operation, than inasmuch as it brings together the lender and the borrower in a safe and expeditious manner. The lender incurs less risk, and a larger proportion, therefore, of the holders of capital are willing to be lenders.
When a banker, in addition to his other functions, is also an issuer of paper money, he gains an advantage similar to that which the London bankers derive from their deposits. To the extent to which he can put forth his notes, he has so much the more to lend, without himself having to pay any interest for it.
If the paper is convertible, it cannot get into circulation permanently without displacing specie, which goes abroad and brings back an equivalent value. To the extent of this value, there is an increase of the capital of the country; and the increase accrues solely to that part of the capital which is employed in loans.
If the paper is inconvertible, and instead of displacing specie depreciates the currency, the banker by issuing it levies a tax on every person who has money in his hands or due to him. He thus appropriates to himself a portion of the capital of other people, and a portion of their revenue. The capital might have been intended to be lent, or it might have been intended to be employed by the owner: such part of it as was intended to be employed by the owner now changes its destination, and is lent. The revenue was either intended to be accumulated, in which case it had already become capital, or it was intended to be spent: in this last case, revenue is converted into capital: and thus, strange as it may appear, the depreciation of the currency, when effected in this way, operates to a certain extent as a forced accumulation. This, indeed, is no palliation of its iniquity. Though A might have spent his property unproductively, B ought not to be permitted to rob him of it because B will expend it on productive labour.
In any supposable case, however, the issue of paper money by bankers increases the proportion of the whole capital of the country which is destined to be lent. The rate of interest must therefore fall, until some of the lenders give over lending, or until the increase of borrowers absorbs the whole.
But a fall of the rate of interest, sufficient to enable the money market to absorb the whole of the paper-loans, may not be sufficient to reduce the profits of a lender who lends what costs him nothing, to the ordinary rate of profit upon his capital. Here, therefore, competition will operate chiefly by dividing the business. The notes of each bank will be confined within so narrow a district, or will divide the supply of a district with so many other banks, that on the average each will receive no larger amount of interest on his notes than will make up the interest on his own capital to the ordinary rate of profit.
Even in this way, however, the competition has the effect, to a certain limited extent, of lowering the rate of interest; for the power of bankers to receive interest on more than their capital attracts a greater amount of capital into the banking business than would otherwise flow into it; and this greater capital being all lent, interest will fall in consequence.” John Stuart Mill, Essays on Some Unsettled Questions in Political Economy; Essays Three & Four, “On the Words Productive and Unproductive” & “On Profits, and Interest,” 1844
The head-master made a sign to us to sit down. Then, turning to the class-master, he said to him in a low voice—
“Monsieur Roger, here is a pupil whom I recommend to your care; he’ll be in the second. If his work and conduct are satisfactory, he will go into one of the upper classes, as becomes his age.”
The “new fellow,” standing in the corner behind the door so that he could hardly be seen, was a country lad of about fifteen, and taller than any of us. His hair was cut square on his forehead like a village chorister’s; he looked reliable, but very ill at ease. Although he was not broad-shouldered, his short school jacket of green cloth with black buttons must have been tight about the arm-holes, and showed at the opening of the cuffs red wrists accustomed to being bare. His legs, in blue stockings, looked out from beneath yellow trousers, drawn tight by braces, He wore stout, ill-cleaned, hob-nailed boots.
We began repeating the lesson. He listened with all his ears, as attentive as if at a sermon, not daring even to cross his legs or lean on his elbow; and when at two o’clock the bell rang, the master was obliged to tell him to fall into line with the rest of us.
When we came back to work, we were in the habit of throwing our caps on the ground so as to have our hands more free; we used from the door to toss them under the form, so that they hit against the wall and made a lot of dust: it was “the thing.”
But, whether he had not noticed the trick, or did not dare to attempt it, the “new fellow,” was still holding his cap on his knees even after prayers were over. It was one of those head-gears of composite order, in which we can find traces of the bearskin, shako, billycock hat, sealskin cap, and cotton night-cap; one of those poor things, in fine, whose dumb ugliness has depths of expression, like an imbecile’s face. Oval, stiffened with whalebone, it began with three round knobs; then came in succession lozenges of velvet and rabbit-skin separated by a red band; after that a sort of bag that ended in a cardboard polygon covered with complicated braiding, from which hung, at the end of a long thin cord, small twisted gold threads in the manner of a tassel. The cap was new; its peak shone.
“Rise,” said the master.
He stood up; his cap fell. The whole class began to laugh. He stooped to pick it up. A neighbor knocked it down again with his elbow; he picked it up once more.
“Get rid of your helmet,” said the master, who was a bit of a wag.
There was a burst of laughter from the boys, which so thoroughly put the poor lad out of countenance that he did not know whether to keep his cap in his hand, leave it on the ground, or put it on his head. He sat down again and placed it on his knee.
“Rise,” repeated the master, “and tell me your name.”
The new boy articulated in a stammering voice an unintelligible name.
The same sputtering of syllables was heard, drowned by the tittering of the class.
“Louder!” cried the master; “louder!”
The “new fellow” then took a supreme resolution, opened an inordinately large mouth, and shouted at the top of his voice as if calling someone in the word “Charbovari.”
A hubbub broke out, rose in crescendo with bursts of shrill voices (they yelled, barked, stamped, repeated “Charbovari! Charbovari”), then died away into single notes, growing quieter only with great difficulty, and now and again suddenly recommencing along the line of a form whence rose here and there, like a damp cracker going off, a stifled laugh.
However, amid a rain of impositions, order was gradually re-established in the class; and the master having succeeded in catching the name of “Charles Bovary,” having had it dictated to him, spelt out, and re-read, at once ordered the poor devil to go and sit down on the punishment form at the foot of the master’s desk. He got up, but before going hesitated.
“What are you looking for?” asked the master.
“My c-a-p,” timidly said the “new fellow,” casting troubled looks round him.
“Five hundred lines for all the class!” shouted in a furious voice stopped, like the Quos ego*, a fresh outburst. “Silence!” continued the master indignantly, wiping his brow with his handkerchief, which he had just taken from his cap. “As to you, ‘new boy,’ you will conjugate ‘ridiculus sum’ ** twenty times.”
Then, in a gentler tone, “Come, you’ll find your cap again; it hasn’t been stolen.”
*A quotation from the Aeneid signifying a threat. **I am ridiculous.
Quiet was restored. Heads bent over desks, and the “new fellow” remained for two hours in an exemplary attitude, although from time to time some paper pellet flipped from the tip of a pen came bang in his face. But he wiped his face with one hand and continued motionless, his eyes lowered.
In the evening, at preparation, he pulled out his pens from his desk, arranged his small belongings, and carefully ruled his paper. We saw him working conscientiously, looking up every word in the dictionary, and taking the greatest pains. Thanks, no doubt, to the willingness he showed, he had not to go down to the class below. But though he knew his rules passably, he had little finish in composition. It was the cure of his village who had taught him his first Latin; his parents, from motives of economy, having sent him to school as late as possible.
His father, Monsieur Charles Denis Bartolome Bovary, retired assistant-surgeon-major, compromised about 1812 in certain conscription scandals, and forced at this time to leave the service, had taken advantage of his fine figure to get hold of a dowry of sixty thousand francs that offered in the person of a hosier’s daughter who had fallen in love with his good looks. A fine man, a great talker, making his spurs ring as he walked, wearing whiskers that ran into his moustache, his fingers always garnished with rings and dressed in loud colours, he had the dash of a military man with the easy go of a commercial traveller.
Once married, he lived for three or four years on his wife’s fortune, dining well, rising late, smoking long porcelain pipes, not coming in at night till after the theatre, and haunting cafes. The father-in-law died, leaving little; he was indignant at this, “went in for the business,” lost some money in it, then retired to the country, where he thought he would make money.
But, as he knew no more about farming than calico, as he rode his horses instead of sending them to plough, drank his cider in bottle instead of selling it in cask, ate the finest poultry in his farmyard, and greased his hunting-boots with the fat of his pigs, he was not long in finding out that he would do better to give up all speculation.
For two hundred francs a year he managed to live on the border of the provinces of Caux and Picardy, in a kind of place half farm, half private house; and here, soured, eaten up with regrets, cursing his luck, jealous of everyone, he shut himself up at the age of forty-five, sick of men, he said, and determined to live at peace.
His wife had adored him once on a time; she had bored him with a thousand servilities that had only estranged him the more. Lively once, expansive and affectionate, in growing older she had become (after the fashion of wine that, exposed to air, turns to vinegar) ill-tempered, grumbling, irritable. She had suffered so much without complaint at first, until she had seem him going after all the village drabs, and until a score of bad houses sent him back to her at night, weary, stinking drunk. Then her pride revolted. After that she was silent, burying her anger in a dumb stoicism that she maintained till her death. She was constantly going about looking after business matters. She called on the lawyers, the president, remembered when bills fell due, got them renewed, and at home ironed, sewed, washed, looked after the workmen, paid the accounts, while he, troubling himself about nothing, eternally besotted in sleepy sulkiness, whence he only roused himself to say disagreeable things to her, sat smoking by the fire and spitting into the cinders.
When she had a child, it had to be sent out to nurse. When he came home, the lad was spoilt as if he were a prince. His mother stuffed him with jam; his father let him run about barefoot, and, playing the philosopher, even said he might as well go about quite naked like the young of animals. As opposed to the maternal ideas, he had a certain virile idea of childhood on which he sought to mould his son, wishing him to be brought up hardily, like a Spartan, to give him a strong constitution. He sent him to bed without any fire, taught him to drink off large draughts of rum and to jeer at religious processions. But, peaceable by nature, the lad answered only poorly to his notions. His mother always kept him near her; she cut out cardboard for him, told him tales, entertained him with endless monologues full of melancholy gaiety and charming nonsense. In her life’s isolation she centered on the child’s head all her shattered, broken little vanities. She dreamed of high station; she already saw him, tall, handsome, clever, settled as an engineer or in the law. She taught him to read, and even, on an old piano, she had taught him two or three little songs. But to all this Monsieur Bovary, caring little for letters, said, “It was not worth while. Would they ever have the means to send him to a public school, to buy him a practice, or start him in business? Besides, with cheek a man always gets on in the world.” Madame Bovary bit her lips, and the child knocked about the village.
He went after the labourers, drove away with clods of earth the ravens that were flying about. He ate blackberries along the hedges, minded the geese with a long switch, went haymaking during harvest, ran about in the woods, played hop-scotch under the church porch on rainy days, and at great fetes begged the beadle to let him toll the bells, that he might hang all his weight on the long rope and feel himself borne upward by it in its swing. Meanwhile he grew like an oak; he was strong on hand, fresh of colour.
When he was twelve years old his mother had her own way; he began lessons. The cure took him in hand; but the lessons were so short and irregular that they could not be of much use. They were given at spare moments in the sacristy, standing up, hurriedly, between a baptism and a burial; or else the cure, if he had not to go out, sent for his pupil after the Angelus*. They went up to his room and settled down; the flies and moths fluttered round the candle. It was close, the child fell asleep, and the good man, beginning to doze with his hands on his stomach, was soon snoring with his mouth wide open. On other occasions, when Monsieur le Cure, on his way back after administering the viaticum to some sick person in the neighbourhood, caught sight of Charles playing about the fields, he called him, lectured him for a quarter of an hour and took advantage of the occasion to make him conjugate his verb at the foot of a tree. The rain interrupted them or an acquaintance passed. All the same he was always pleased with him, and even said the “young man” had a very good memory.
*A devotion said at morning, noon, and evening, at the sound of a bell. Here, the evening prayer.
Charles could not go on like this. Madame Bovary took strong steps. Ashamed, or rather tired out, Monsieur Bovary gave in without a struggle, and they waited one year longer, so that the lad should take his first communion.
Six months more passed, and the year after Charles was finally sent to school at Rouen, where his father took him towards the end of October, at the time of the St. Romain fair.
It would now be impossible for any of us to remember anything about him. He was a youth of even temperament, who played in playtime, worked in school-hours, was attentive in class, slept well in the dormitory, and ate well in the refectory. He had in loco parentis* a wholesale ironmonger in the Rue Ganterie, who took him out once a month on Sundays after his shop was shut, sent him for a walk on the quay to look at the boats, and then brought him back to college at seven o’clockbefore supper. Every Thursday evening he wrote a long letter to his mother with red ink and three wafers; then he went over his history note-books, or read an old volume of “Anarchasis” that was knocking about the study. When he went for walks he talked to the servant, who, like himself, came from the country.
*In place of a parent.
By dint of hard work he kept always about the middle of the class; once even he got a certificate in natural history. But at the end of his third year his parents withdrew him from the school to make him study medicine, convinced that he could even take his degree by himself.
His mother chose a room for him on the fourth floor of a dyer’s she knew, overlooking the Eau-de-Robec. She made arrangements for his board, got him furniture, table and two chairs, sent home for an old cherry-tree bedstead, and bought besides a small cast-iron stove with the supply of wood that was to warm the poor child.
Then at the end of a week she departed, after a thousand injunctions to be good now that he was going to be left to himself.
The syllabus that he read on the notice-board stunned him; lectures on anatomy, lectures on pathology, lectures on physiology, lectures on pharmacy, lectures on botany and clinical medicine, and therapeutics, without counting hygiene and materia medica—all names of whose etymologies he was ignorant, and that were to him as so many doors to sanctuaries filled with magnificent darkness.
He understood nothing of it all; it was all very well to listen—he did not follow. Still he worked; he had bound note-books, he attended all the courses, never missed a single lecture. He did his little daily task like a mill-horse, who goes round and round with his eyes bandaged, not knowing what work he is doing.
To spare him expense his mother sent him every week by the carrier a piece of veal baked in the oven, with which he lunched when he came back from the hospital, while he sat kicking his feet against the wall. After this he had to run off to lectures, to the operation-room, to the hospital, and return to his home at the other end of the town. In the evening, after the poor dinner of his landlord, he went back to his room and set to work again in his wet clothes, which smoked as he sat in front of the hot stove.
On the fine summer evenings, at the time when the close streets are empty, when the servants are playing shuttle-cock at the doors, he opened his window and leaned out. The river, that makes of this quarter of Rouen a wretched little Venice, flowed beneath him, between the bridges and the railings, yellow, violet, or blue. Working men, kneeling on the banks, washed their bare arms in the water. On poles projecting from the attics, skeins of cotton were drying in the air. Opposite, beyond the roots spread the pure heaven with the red sun setting. How pleasant it must be at home! How fresh under the beech-tree! And he expanded his nostrils to breathe in the sweet odours of the country which did not reach him.
He grew thin, his figure became taller, his face took a saddened look that made it nearly interesting. Naturally, through indifference, he abandoned all the resolutions he had made. Once he missed a lecture; the next day all the lectures; and, enjoying his idleness, little by little, he gave up work altogether. He got into the habit of going to the public-house, and had a passion for dominoes. To shut himself up every evening in the dirty public room, to push about on marble tables the small sheep bones with black dots, seemed to him a fine proof of his freedom, which raised him in his own esteem. It was beginning to see life, the sweetness of stolen pleasures; and when he entered, he put his hand on the door-handle with a joy almost sensual. Then many things hidden within him came out; he learnt couplets by heart and sang them to his boon companions, became enthusiastic about Beranger, learnt how to make punch, and, finally, how to make love.
Thanks to these preparatory labours, he failed completely in his examination for an ordinary degree. He was expected home the same night to celebrate his success. He started on foot, stopped at the beginning of the village, sent for his mother, and told her all. She excused him, threw the blame of his failure on the injustice of the examiners, encouraged him a little, and took upon herself to set matters straight. It was only five years later that Monsieur Bovary knew the truth; it was old then, and he accepted it. Moreover, he could not believe that a man born of him could be a fool.
So Charles set to work again and crammed for his examination, ceaselessly learning all the old questions by heart. He passed pretty well. What a happy day for his mother! They gave a grand dinner.
Where should he go to practice? To Tostes, where there was only one old doctor. For a long time Madame Bovary had been on the look-out for his death, and the old fellow had barely been packed off when Charles was installed, opposite his place, as his successor.
But it was not everything to have brought up a son, to have had him taught medicine, and discovered Tostes, where he could practice it; he must have a wife. She found him one—the widow of a bailiff at Dieppe—who was forty-five and had an income of twelve hundred francs. Though she was ugly, as dry as a bone, her face with as many pimples as the spring has buds, Madame Dubuc had no lack of suitors. To attain her ends Madame Bovary had to oust them all, and she even succeeded in very cleverly baffling the intrigues of a port-butcher backed up by the priests.
Charles had seen in marriage the advent of an easier life, thinking he would be more free to do as he liked with himself and his money. But his wife was master; he had to say this and not say that in company, to fast every Friday, dress as she liked, harass at her bidding those patients who did not pay. She opened his letter, watched his comings and goings, and listened at the partition-wall when women came to consult him in his surgery.
She must have her chocolate every morning, attentions without end. She constantly complained of her nerves, her chest, her liver. The noise of footsteps made her ill; when people left her, solitude became odious to her; if they came back, it was doubtless to see her die. When Charles returned in the evening, she stretched forth two long thin arms from beneath the sheets, put them round his neck, and having made him sit down on the edge of the bed, began to talk to him of her troubles: he was neglecting her, he loved another. She had been warned she would be unhappy; and she ended by asking him for a dose of medicine and a little more love.
One night towards eleven o’clock they were awakened by the noise of a horse pulling up outside their door. The servant opened the garret-window and parleyed for some time with a man in the street below. He came for the doctor, had a letter for him. Natasie came downstairs shivering and undid the bars and bolts one after the other. The man left his horse, and, following the servant, suddenly came in behind her. He pulled out from his wool cap with grey top-knots a letter wrapped up in a rag and presented it gingerly to Charles, who rested on his elbow on the pillow to read it. Natasie, standing near the bed, held the light. Madame in modesty had turned to the wall and showed only her back.
This letter, sealed with a small seal in blue wax, begged Monsieur Bovary to come immediately to the farm of the Bertaux to set a broken leg. Now from Tostes to the Bertaux was a good eighteen miles across country by way of Longueville and Saint-Victor. It was a dark night; Madame Bovary junior was afraid of accidents for her husband. So it was decided the stable-boy should go on first; Charles would start three hours later when the moon rose. A boy was to be sent to meet him, and show him the way to the farm, and open the gates for him.
Towards four o’clock in the morning, Charles, well wrapped up in his cloak, set out for the Bertaux. Still sleepy from the warmth of his bed, he let himself be lulled by the quiet trot of his horse. When it stopped of its own accord in front of those holes surrounded with thorns that are dug on the margin of furrows, Charles awoke with a start, suddenly remembered the broken leg, and tried to call to mind all the fractures he knew. The rain had stopped, day was breaking, and on the branches of the leafless trees birds roosted motionless, their little feathers bristling in the cold morning wind. The flat country stretched as far as eye could see, and the tufts of trees round the farms at long intervals seemed like dark violet stains on the cast grey surface, that on the horizon faded into the gloom of the sky.
Charles from time to time opened his eyes, his mind grew weary, and, sleep coming upon him, he soon fell into a doze wherein, his recent sensations blending with memories, he became conscious of a double self, at once student and married man, lying in his bed as but now, and crossing the operation theatre as of old. The warm smell of poultices mingled in his brain with the fresh odour of dew; he heard the iron rings rattling along the curtain-rods of the bed and saw his wife sleeping. As he passed Vassonville he came upon a boy sitting on the grass at the edge of a ditch.
“Are you the doctor?” asked the child.
And on Charles’s answer he took his wooden shoes in his hands and ran on in front of him.
The general practitioner, riding along, gathered from his guide’s talk that Monsieur Rouault must be one of the well-to-do farmers.
He had broken his leg the evening before on his way home from a Twelfth-night feast at a neighbour’s. His wife had been dead for two years. There was with him only his daughter, who helped him to keep house.
The ruts were becoming deeper; they were approaching the Bertaux.
The little lad, slipping through a hole in the hedge, disappeared; then he came back to the end of a courtyard to open the gate. The horse slipped on the wet grass; Charles had to stoop to pass under the branches. The watchdogs in their kennels barked, dragging at their chains. As he entered the Bertaux, the horse took fright and stumbled.
It was a substantial-looking farm. In the stables, over the top of the open doors, one could see great cart-horses quietly feeding from new racks. Right along the outbuildings extended a large dunghill, from which manure liquid oozed, while amidst fowls and turkeys, five or six peacocks, a luxury in Chauchois farmyards, were foraging on the top of it. The sheepfold was long, the barn high, with walls smooth as your hand. Under the cart-shed were two large carts and four ploughs, with their whips, shafts and harnesses complete, whose fleeces of blue wool were getting soiled by the fine dust that fell from the granaries. The courtyard sloped upwards, planted with trees set out symmetrically, and the chattering noise of a flock of geese was heard near the pond.
A young woman in a blue merino dress with three flounces came to the threshold of the door to receive Monsieur Bovary, whom she led to the kitchen, where a large fire was blazing. The servant’s breakfast was boiling beside it in small pots of all sizes. Some damp clothes were drying inside the chimney-corner. The shovel, tongs, and the nozzle of the bellows, all of colossal size, shone like polished steel, while along the walls hung many pots and pans in which the clear flame of the hearth, mingling with the first rays of the sun coming in through the window, was mirrored fitfully.
Charles went up the first floor to see the patient. He found him in his bed, sweating under his bed-clothes, having thrown his cotton nightcap right away from him. He was a fat little man of fifty, with white skin and blue eyes, the forepart of his head bald, and he wore earrings. By his side on a chair stood a large decanter of brandy, whence he poured himself a little from time to time to keep up his spirits; but as soon as he caught sight of the doctor his elation subsided, and instead of swearing, as he had been doing for the last twelve hours, began to groan freely.
The fracture was a simple one, without any kind of complication.
Charles could not have hoped for an easier case. Then calling to mind the devices of his masters at the bedsides of patients, he comforted the sufferer with all sorts of kindly remarks, those caresses of the surgeon that are like the oil they put on bistouries. In order to make some splints a bundle of laths was brought up from the cart-house. Charles selected one, cut it into two pieces and planed it with a fragment of windowpane, while the servant tore up sheets to make bandages, and Mademoiselle Emma tried to sew some pads. As she was a long time before she found her work-case, her father grew impatient; she did not answer, but as she sewed she pricked her fingers, which she then put to her mouth to suck them. Charles was surprised at the whiteness of her nails. They were shiny, delicate at the tips, more polished than the ivory of Dieppe, and almond-shaped. Yet her hand was not beautiful, perhaps not white enough, and a little hard at the knuckles; besides, it was too long, with no soft inflections in the outlines. Her real beauty was in her eyes. Although brown, they seemed black because of the lashes, and her look came at you frankly, with a candid boldness.
The bandaging over, the doctor was invited by Monsieur Rouault himself to “pick a bit” before he left.
Charles went down into the room on the ground floor. Knives and forks and silver goblets were laid for two on a little table at the foot of a huge bed that had a canopy of printed cotton with figures representing Turks. There was an odour of iris-root and damp sheets that escaped from a large oak chest opposite the window. On the floor in corners were sacks of flour stuck upright in rows. These were the overflow from the neighbouring granary, to which three stone steps led. By way of decoration for the apartment, hanging to a nail in the middle of the wall, whose green paint scaled off from the effects of the saltpetre, was a crayon head of Minerva in gold frame, underneath which was written in Gothic letters “To dear Papa.”
First they spoke of the patient, then of the weather, of the great cold, of the wolves that infested the fields at night.
Mademoiselle Rouault did not at all like the country, especially now that she had to look after the farm almost alone. As the room was chilly, she shivered as she ate. This showed something of her full lips, that she had a habit of biting when silent.
Her neck stood out from a white turned-down collar. Her hair, whose two black folds seemed each of a single piece, so smooth were they, was parted in the middle by a delicate line that curved slightly with the curve of the head; and, just showing the tip of the ear, it was joined behind in a thick chignon, with a wavy movement at the temples that the country doctor saw now for the first time in his life. The upper part of her cheek was rose-coloured. She had, like a man, thrust in between two buttons of her bodice a tortoise-shell eyeglass.
When Charles, after bidding farewell to old Rouault, returned to the room before leaving, he found her standing, her forehead against the window, looking into the garden, where the bean props had been knocked down by the wind. She turned round. “Are you looking for anything?” she asked.
“My whip, if you please,” he answered.
He began rummaging on the bed, behind the doors, under the chairs. It had fallen to the floor, between the sacks and the wall. Mademoiselle Emma saw it, and bent over the flour sacks.
Charles out of politeness made a dash also, and as he stretched out his arm, at the same moment felt his breast brush against the back of the young girl bending beneath him. She drew herself up, scarlet, and looked at him over her shoulder as she handed him his whip.
Instead of returning to the Bertaux in three days as he had promised, he went back the very next day, then regularly twice a week, without counting the visits he paid now and then as if by accident.
Everything, moreover, went well; the patient progressed favourably; and when, at the end of forty-six days, old Rouault was seen trying to walk alone in his “den,” Monsieur Bovary began to be looked upon as a man of great capacity. Old Rouault said that he could not have been cured better by the first doctor of Yvetot, or even of Rouen.
As to Charles, he did not stop to ask himself why it was a pleasure to him to go to the Bertaux. Had he done so, he would, no doubt, have attributed his zeal to the importance of the case, or perhaps to the money he hoped to make by it. Was it for this, however, that his visits to the farm formed a delightful exception to the meagre occupations of his life? On these days he rose early, set off at a gallop, urging on his horse, then got down to wipe his boots in the grass and put on black gloves before entering. He liked going into the courtyard, and noticing the gate turn against his shoulder, the cock crow on the wall, the lads run to meet him. He liked the granary and the stables; he liked old Rouault, who pressed his hand and called him his saviour; he liked the small wooden shoes of Mademoiselle Emma on the scoured flags of the kitchen—her high heels made her a little taller; and when she walked in front of him, the wooden soles springing up quickly struck with a sharp sound against the leather of her boots.
She always accompanied him to the first step of the stairs. When his horse had not yet been brought round she stayed there. They had said “Good-bye”; there was no more talking. The open air wrapped her round, playing with the soft down on the back of her neck, or blew to and fro on her hips the apron-strings, that fluttered like streamers. Once, during a thaw the bark of the trees in the yard was oozing, the snow on the roofs of the outbuildings was melting; she stood on the threshold, and went to fetch her sunshade and opened it. The sunshade of silk of the colour of pigeons’ breasts, through which the sun shone, lighted up with shifting hues the white skin of her face. She smiled under the tender warmth, and drops of water could be heard falling one by one on the stretched silk.
During the first period of Charles’s visits to the Bertaux, Madame Bovary junior never failed to inquire after the invalid, and she had even chosen in the book that she kept on a system of double entry a clean blank page for Monsieur Rouault. But when she heard he had a daughter, she began to make inquiries, and she learnt the Mademoiselle Rouault, brought up at the Ursuline Convent, had received what is called “a good education”; and so knew dancing, geography, drawing, how to embroider and play the piano. That was the last straw.
“So it is for this,” she said to herself, “that his face beams when he goes to see her, and that he puts on his new waistcoat at the risk of spoiling it with the rain. Ah! that woman! That woman!”
And she detested her instinctively. At first she solaced herself by allusions that Charles did not understand, then by casual observations that he let pass for fear of a storm, finally by open apostrophes to which he knew not what to answer. “Why did he go back to the Bertaux now that Monsieur Rouault was cured and that these folks hadn’t paid yet? Ah! it was because a young lady was there, some one who know how to talk, to embroider, to be witty. That was what he cared about; he wanted town misses.” And she went on—
“The daughter of old Rouault a town miss! Get out! Their grandfather was a shepherd, and they have a cousin who was almost had up at the assizes for a nasty blow in a quarrel. It is not worth while making such a fuss, or showing herself at church on Sundays in a silk gown like a countess. Besides, the poor old chap, if it hadn’t been for the colza last year, would have had much ado to pay up his arrears.”
For very weariness Charles left off going to the Bertaux. Heloise made him swear, his hand on the prayer-book, that he would go there no more after much sobbing and many kisses, in a great outburst of love. He obeyed then, but the strength of his desire protested against the servility of his conduct; and he thought, with a kind of naive hypocrisy, that his interdict to see her gave him a sort of right to love her. And then the widow was thin; she had long teeth; wore in all weathers a little black shawl, the edge of which hung down between her shoulder-blades; her bony figure was sheathed in her clothes as if they were a scabbard; they were too short, and displayed her ankles with the laces of her large boots crossed over grey stockings.
Charles’s mother came to see them from time to time, but after a few days the daughter-in-law seemed to put her own edge on her, and then, like two knives, they scarified him with their reflections and observations. It was wrong of him to eat so much.
Why did he always offer a glass of something to everyone who came? What obstinacy not to wear flannels! In the spring it came about that a notary at Ingouville, the holder of the widow Dubuc’s property, one fine day went off, taking with him all the money in his office. Heloise, it is true, still possessed, besides a share in a boat valued at six thousand francs, her house in the Rue St. Francois; and yet, with all this fortune that had been so trumpeted abroad, nothing, excepting perhaps a little furniture and a few clothes, had appeared in the household. The matter had to be gone into. The house at Dieppe was found to be eaten up with mortgages to its foundations; what she had placed with the notary God only knew, and her share in the boat did not exceed one thousand crowns. She had lied, the good lady! In his exasperation, Monsieur Bovary the elder, smashing a chair on the flags, accused his wife of having caused misfortune to the son by harnessing him to such a harridan, whose harness wasn’t worth her hide. They came to Tostes. Explanations followed. There were scenes. Heloise in tears, throwing her arms about her husband, implored him to defend her from his parents.
Charles tried to speak up for her. They grew angry and left the house.
But ‘the blow had struck home.’ A week after, as she was hanging up some washing in her yard, she was seized with a spitting of blood, and the next day, while Charles had his back turned to her drawing the window-curtain, she said, ‘O God!’ gave a sigh, and fainted. She was dead! What a surprise! When all was over at the cemetery Charles went home. He found no one downstairs; he went up to the first floor to their room; saw her dress still hanging at the foot of the alcove; then, leaning against the writing-table, he stayed until the evening, buried in a sorrowful reverie. She had loved him after all!” Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary; Chapters One & Two, 1857
As a youth growing up in the Pacific Northwest, with questions of ecological and social justice on my mind, casting about as we do for philosophies to learn about, one of the religions I came upon was Buddhism. At the same time, I was studying Taoism and engaged with Native American spirituality in the Northwest.
The clear lyrics of Chinese poetry— the powerful imagery and the leaps of the mind in Japanese haiku—the exuberant devotionalism of Buddhist poetry in India: all these have touched me and are reflected in my work.
But another aspect of my work has been frankly ecological, for which I get more heat from critics than I do about the more ‘poetic’ work. The literary/ critical mind in the United States is shy of providing any value-based position, and particularly shy of taking a critical stance, even if poetic and sardonic. So what I am talking about is not always considered my best poetry.
It has been for me a deep personal choice to try to have other realms speak through my poetry. To call out a flicker, to call out a watershed, if it might be done. I have a little poem called ‘The Flickers:’
sharp clear call
in the cool pine breeze
Letting the flickers speak that way for us, as they always do—that is an ecological poem. So a large part of my poetic work has been the evocation of natural systems, and of human beings— myself, my friends, and my family— moving through the natural world and being as much a part of it as they can.
I might have been such a poet had I never stumbled onto the dharma, or Buddhist teaching, but I doubt it. In fact, I doubt that I would be any sort of poet at all without the dharma, because the dharma was a great help in keeping me from “irritably grasping after reason.” It has constantly reminded me to accept my ignorance and to live in “not-knowing,” which is where you have to live to be a poet, as distinguished, say, from a journalist.
In recent years, my political and poetic direction has been to turn the question for Americans away from who we are, to where we are. The two questions aren’t separate—they are the same question, just from a different angle.
Zen master Dogen says, “When you find your place, practice begins.” The population on this continent will become grounded, will find their place, by a slight change of mind that says, “I’m here.”
This has not yet happened for the American population. This is a homeless nation; the whole population of North America is homeless. This is not to take away from the reality and the pain of actual homelessness, but with the exception of the Native Americans, who have been displaced in a different way, we are all homeless.
We are not yet here, we have not yet found our place, so we cannot yet begin our practice.
Yet we are almost here. That has been part of my poetic practice, although it still takes the form of nerdy-sounding public level language, talking about “watersheds” or “eco-systems.” If I can find the language that goes past that, I sure will use it. I’m looking for it right now.
I’d like to ask you about that sense of homelessness and how it contributes to our confusion and social collapse.
We’re playing on different senses of the word homeless. There is the traditional Buddhist sense in which it is proposed with a positive meaning—”the homeless brothers and sisters”—and is taken to mean those who have entered into the monastic sangha, or community. Homelessness in that context means leaving the ordinary bonds and obligations of caste, kin and society, and entering into another context of obligations and associations, which is the work with the dharma. So that kind of homelessness means stepping outside of the usual obligations of your society.
Another sense of the term homelessness is the larger metaphor of being “unplaced”—without a place. It’s my sense that Americans are more displaced, more homeless, than they realize. They live in that condition without being conscious of it, and yet it profoundly affects their psychological and social life.
One effect is that nobody lives in one place long enough to take a serious interest in local politics or local community. That’s why we have such a low turnout at elections. If people lived in a place long enough to feel a sense of obligation and commitment to it, like a marriage, then even if they didn’t believe in national scale politics, they would sure as hell know that local scale politics accomplishes something.
That’s at a simple level, but it resonates through the school system and the kind of ecological work that can only be done by local people. That’s essential, because the Sierra Club is not going to come and save your local marsh from a Safeway supermarket parking lot. You’ve got to do it yourself or nobody will.
The larger metaphor is the lack of communication with the non-human community, the profound nature-illiteracy of educated Americans, who think that knowing the names of birds and wild plants is something only high school teachers and boy scouts need to do. Whereas that should be part of every cultured person’s response to their world. It shouldn’t be something just for nature freaks; it should be part of everyone’s literacy. In exercising such literacy in a particular place, we begin to fulfill, right there, some of the implications of the first Buddhist precept, which is to cause less harm, including less harm to non-human entities.
One could pursue this a little farther and ask what this pervasive sense of homelessness has done—mythically, poetically, and artistically—to our still formative society. My wife and I and a few friends have a project in mind to help Cambodians, Hmongs, and other Southeast Asian immigrants discover the American wilderness. They’re all so hard-bent on learning about the constitution and getting their citizenship; we’re hard-bent on showing them there’s another citizenship that is far more profound. We would say to them, “We want to help you become citizens of North America. Let us take you to the mountain, the desert and go walking together.”
Paradoxically, the United States—as I have proposed it, a homeless and displaced society—is vigorously engaged in displacing everybody else in the world as well. That’s what happens when you fund the “development” of the Third World: you make everybody else on the planet homeless.
Straight Creek—Great Burn for Tom and Martha Birch
Lightly, in the April mountains—Straight Creek, dry grass freed again of snow & the chickadees are pecking last fall’s seeds
fluffing tail in chilly wind,
Avalanche piled up cross the creek and chunked-froze solid— water sluicing under; spills out
rock lip pool, bends over, braided, white, foaming, returns to trembling
Creek boulders show the flow-wear lines in shapes the same as running blood carves in the heart’s main valve,
Early spring dry. Dry snow flurries;
walk on crusty high snow slopes —grand dead burn pine—
chartreuse lichen as adornment (a dye for wool) angled tumbled talus rock of geosyncline warm sea bottom yes, so long ago.
“Once on a time.”
Far light on the Bitteroots;
scrabble down willow slide changing clouds above, shapes on glowing sun-ball
reaching out against eternal azure—
us resting on dry fern and watching
Shining Heaven change his feather garments overhead.
A whoosh of birds swoops up and round tilts back
almost always flying all apart and yet hangs on! together;
never a leader, all of one swift
They arc and loop & then their flight is done, they settle down, end of poem.
What you are saying makes me think about the phrase from The Lotus Sutra that enlightened the Sixth Patriarch of Zen: “Abiding no place.”
Keeping in mind that the medicine was always prescribed according to the disease, we must remember that the language of non-abiding and homelessness was used in traditional Asia in relationship to very deeply settled, very conventional societies. There were Asian societies where people needed to be able to say to themselves, “You can step out of this—you can go away and look back at it, and liberate yourself from it.” Whereas in America the situation is wholly reversed; nobody knows where they came from or has a sense of place.
Instead of “abide nowhere,” you could say, just as easily and just as to the point, “Be at home right now, right here. Right now, be at home.” And start being at home from that instant. Buddhist practice shows us that’s a possibility.
Forty years ago, when the influence of Buddhism started to be felt in America, there was a lot of concern about living by what we called “slender means.” Gradually I’ve seen that fade into the background, but if we’re going to do something about saving the planet, we’ve got to live not only in compassion but also as cleanly and simply as possible.
Not to answer directly, let me say that I think poetry does that every day. In poetry and the other arts, there is an ongoing presentation of an alternative set of values, an ongoing presentation of the vivid experience of living in the moment, of valuing the ordinary that is before us. It is implicitly unmaterialistic; it implicitly argues that we do not lead a quality life by the accumulation of consumer items. We lead a quality life by the quality of our perception and the quality of our consciousness.
Is there still a “here” to be at? If the wilderness is mapped, is this talk of “home” just a pointless nostalgia?
Pristine nature, or wilderness, is not the question. The question is not what was here, or what might be here. The question is, what is here? What is here is a lot more than we know, a lot more than we’re aware of, a lot more than we see.
For instance, what is here at this particular place, Manhattan, is the confluence of a river that reaches deep into the mountains; the old wetlands of the Newark Basin; the southern and northern Atlantic waters; the Eastern Atlantic Flyway, and some very wonderful bedrock which this city is on. The air is full of seed-fluff, of wild plants going eve*y which direction.
The flows of these natural forces have not stopped.
So the natural world is here and it has enormous durability. I would say it’s not nostalgic, it’s ever-present, and it’s always more than we think it is. Years ago, an architect friend of mine pointed out that downtown skyscrapers are riverbeds stood on end. This is a river bed from somewhere in the watershed, just temporarily moved over here. Now that is poetic language; that is what poets do.
I Went into The Maverick Bar
I went into the Maverick Bar
In Farmington, New Mexico.
And drank double shots of bourbon
backed with beer.
My long hair was tucked up under a cap I’d left the earring in the car.
Two cowboys did horseplay by the pool tables,
A waitress asked us
where are you from? a country-and-western band began to play ‘We don’t smoke Marijuana in Muskokie.’ And with the next song, a couple began to dance.
They held each other like in High School dances in the fifties;
I recalled when I worked in the woods
and the bars of Madras, Oregon. That short-haired joy and roughness— America—your stupidity.
I could almost love you again.
We left—onto the freeway shoulders— under the tough old stars—
In the shadow of bluffs
I came back to myself.
To the real work, to
‘What is to be done.'” Gary Snyder, “Not Here Yet;” Lion’s Roar Remarks, 1994: https://www.lionsroar.com/not-
Then, on September 11, 1973, Chile’s government was overthrown in a bloody, CIA-backed coup led by General Augusto Pinochet. This shattering event left Allende dead in the smoldering presidential palace and Letelier and other ‘VIP prisoners’ banished to a remote labor camp in the Strait of Magellan.
After a powerful international campaign lobbied for Letelier’s release, the junta finally allowed him to go into exile. The 44-year-old former ambassador moved to Washington, DC; in 1976, when his Nation essay appeared, he was working at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a left-wing think tank. Haunted by thoughts of his colleagues and friends still behind bars, many facing gruesome torture, Letelier used his newly recovered freedom to expose Pinochet’s crimes and to defend Allende’s record against the CIA propaganda machine.
This kind of activism was having an effect. Pinochet faced universal condemnation for his human-rights rec ord, which became impossible to ignore: the mass disappearances and executions of leftists (more than 3,200 dead by the end of the junta’s rule); the imprisonment of tens of thousands of people; the complete bans on political protest and dissenting political activity; the murder of beloved artists like Víctor Jara; the roughly 200,000 people forced into exile.
What frustrated Letelier, a trained economist, was that, even as the world gasped in horror at reports of summary executions in the national stadium and the pervasive use of electroshock in prisons, most critics were silent when it came to Chile’s economic shock therapy—the brutal methods used by the “Chicago Boys” to turn Chile into the very first laboratory for Milton Friedman’s fundamentalist version of capitalism. Indeed, many who condemned Pinochet’s human-rights record heaped praise on the dictator for his bold embrace of free-market fundamentals, which included rapid-fire privatization, the elimination of price controls on staples like bread, and attacks on trade unions.
Letelier set out to explode this comfortable elite consensus with a litany of factual evidence and persuasive rhetoric. He argued that the junta wasn’t pursuing two separate, easily compartmentalized projects—one a visionary experiment in economic transformation, the other a grisly system of torture and terror. There was, in fact, only one project, in which terror was the central tool of the free-market transformation. “Repression for the majorities and ‘economic freedom’ for small privileged groups are in Chile two sides of the same coin,” Letelier wrote.
He went further still, arguing that Friedman, the famed US economist who served as “the intellectual architect and unofficial adviser for the team of economists now running the Chilean economy,” shared responsibility for Pinochet’s crimes. (Friedman’s name comes up in the essay 19 times.)
Letelier dismissed Friedman’s claim that urging Pinochet to introduce economic “shock treatment” (as the Chicago economist put it at the time) was merely “technical” advice, unrelated to the human-rights abuses. On the contrary, Letelier insisted that Pinochet’s political violence was what made his economic violence possible. Indeed, only by murdering and imprisoning left leaders, and by terrorizing the wider society, could Pinochet force the same nation that had democratically elected Allende a few years earlier to accept this savage clawback of social gains. As the late Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano would put it a decade later: “How can this inequality be maintained if not through jolts of electric shock?”
* * *
Letelier’s essay was so bold and persuasive that it had an immediate impact, provoking debate and defensive responses. Yet much of why we’re still reading it today has to do with what happened next. On September 21, 1976, less than one month after the article’s publication, Letelier was murdered—assassinated in a car bombing in the embassy district of Washington, DC. His 25-year-old IPS colleague Ronni Moffitt was in the car and also died in the attack, which took place exactly 40 years ago this week.
An FBI investigation revealed that the bombing had been the work of Michael Townley, a special operative for Pinochet’s secret police, who later pleaded guilty to the crime in a US federal court. The assassins had tried to enter the country using false passports earlier that summer, an incident brought to the attention of the CIA by the State Department. Recently declassified documents contain persuasive evidence that Pinochet himself ordered this defiant act of terror.
To reread Letelier 40 years later is to be reminded of how much—and how little—has changed. Chile is led today by a center-left government headed by Michelle Bachelet, herself a survivor of Pinochet’s torture camps. But in other Latin American nations—from Brazil to Honduras—popular democratic victories are once again under siege.
In North America and Europe, meanwhile, the intellectual myopia that Letelier condemned so ferociously continues to restrict the perimeters of far too many of our public debates. As in Letelier’s time, our loudest establishment voices generally have no trouble condemning repression by foreign dictatorships or the rise of neofascism within our borders—some will even admit that there is a crisis of police violence. But very rarely are the dots connected between such troubling phenomena and the celebrated free-market policies for which Chile, under the Chicago Boys, was the earliest and purest laboratory.
And yet the connections are screaming to be made. There is a reason, for instance, why authoritarian China has become the sweatshop for the world: As in Chile in the ’70s, its suppression of democracy, restrictions on information, and brutal repression of dissidents create the required conditions to keep wages down and workers under control.
Similarly, there is a clear reason why mass incarceration exploded in the United States in the midst of the neoliberal economic revolution, when the welfare system has been radically eroded and the public funding of virtually all social services is under attack. It isn’t a grand conspiracy, but the economic exclusion of huge swaths of the population required some parallel strategy of escalated repression and containment (the drug war was awfully handy that way). There are connections, too, between the imposition of brutal austerity and corporate-friendly trade deals and the frightening rise of far-right parties in Europe and the United States. And yet, too often, we imagine that these forces can be defeated without substantive shifts in policy.
The good news is that social movements are weaving their own histories, filled with intuitive connections between the political, social, economic, and ecological. Most notably, ‘A Vision for Black Lives,’ the sweeping policy platform released this past summer, puts to rest any notion that the state violence visited on black bodies can be treated as a narrow human-rights issue, fixable with a simple set of police reforms. Instead, the platform places that violence in the context of an economic project that has waged war on black and brown communities, putting them first in line for lost jobs, hacked-back social services, and environmental pollution. The result has been huge numbers of people exiled from the formal economy, allowing them to be preyed upon by increasingly militarized police and privatized prisons.
‘High levels of unemployment and decades of disinvestment in black communities have led to dangerous interactions with police,’ explains Dorian T. Warren, one of the authors of the Movement for Black Lives’ economic platform and board chair of the Center for Community Change. Or as Letelier put it all those years ago: ‘The economic plan has had to be enforced.'” Naomi Klein, “40 Years Ago, a Chilean Exile Warned Us About the Shock Doctrine–Then He Was Assassinated;” The Nation, 2016