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HOW IT ALL FITS TOGETHER
AN APOLOGY TO SUNDRY READERS
It is with no little trepidation that I venture to launch this frail barque upon the stormy seas of public criticism.
The cargo comprises nothing new. All that it contains has been handled, not once but many times, by writers of distinction and by scientific thinkers with whom I have no thought of setting myself in rivalry. Usually, however, the products of their workshops have appeared in the shape of ponderous tomes, filled through and through with technicalities of phrasing and illustrated by amazing diagrams which do not seem, to the busy everyday reader, to enliven the subject matter, or indeed to serve any useful end. The professional student realises the great value, for him, of the seemingly pedantic phraseology and all the accompanying technical paraphernalia. He knows that by their aid he, at least, can walk with surer tread through the intricate mazes of that enthralling “study of mankind in the ordinary business of life," 1 which I propose, for the benefit of another type of reader, here to handle afresh. For not many of us have the time, or the courage, to master the technicalities in which economic literature abounds; and so most of us.
1 Professor Marshall's definition of Economics.
overlook, or leave unread, the fascinating volumes that pour forth perennially to satisfy the Gargantuan appetites of our ever-thirsty professional students.
But though I find myself atremble at every fresh period of my voyage, as I tack back and forth from paragraph to paragraph on my path to my goal, never knowing from behind which rocky headland may appear of a sudden the black flag, the skull and cross-bones of General Criticism ; yet of the professional student, sailing under the recognised flag of the regular forces, I have no special fear. I trust that in my book he will find nothing but what he will feel to be but old familiar truisms, stripped indeed of their academic garb, but still merely the old identical ideas, clad, for the nonce, in the sober dress of everyday citizens, in place of the professorial cap and gown.
“I talk of common things-
And the ware the merchant brings.” And to the best of my belief (O Economist) I carry no contraband of war.
The general reader will not, I know, quarrel with me on the score of the absence of difficult technicalities. But I have fears that I shall irritate him in another way.
I am attempting to set forth (not as a new discovery of mine own) how the parts of the business world, in which we all live and move and have our being, fit in together. But I must set it forth in my own way; and my own way is to attempt to simplify everything down so that it can be expressed, if not in " words of one syllable," at least in what may be described as “ideas of one syllable." All my readers, however, are necessarily taking part
“in the ordinary business of life," and each therefore will of necessity know some portion or other of our subject far better than the writer can know itbecause he, the reader, is living itand this may well bring it about that my clumsy efforts to re-state those facts of life that he knows best should appear to him either as a childish waste of ink and time, or else (what I should dread still more) as a humiliating attempt, on the part of one who imagines himself to be dwelling on lofty mountain-heights of philosophic thought, to talk down to the low levels of the common mind. Lest the succeeding chapters should stir any resentment of this type, I wish to make confession first, that this is the only way in which I can, for my own ends, think things clearly and safely out; in no other way can I make, for myself, the crooked straight and the rough places plain; unless I can analyse down my reasoning so that a school-boy should be able to follow it, I cannot feel more than a shaky half-confidence in my own conclusions. And unless we all thus simplify everything down when studying the game of life, as played in the market-place or played with in parliaments, we are always liable to ignore underlying difficulties, and so fail to perceive how such things as capital and labour, buying and selling, spending and saving really do fit in together; and when politicians or voters, journalists or philanthropists, are led to ignore such difficulties very uncomfortable results sometimes happen.
We have all heard of that ingenuous young Society lady who, when three grave scientists in her drawing-room were discussing how the new electric lighting system worked, burst into their conversation with the impatient comment that nothing could be simpler: '“ You just press the button and it lights up at once.” The reader who feels that this dainty damsel was as right as she felt, and the disconcerted scientists as foolish as they looked, need come with me no further. I prefer to put him ashore before we leave port.
But the business of ordinary life supplies material for endless questions that may be " answered," and are habitually“ answered,” as our young lady dealt with the problem of the electric light. Let us, to take a simple instance, ask ourselves how we send a few pounds sterling to a friend in South Africa (or, if the reader prefers it on a larger scale, how the capitalists of an old country like England, outraged by iniquities of democratic legislation, propose to punish labour by“ sending their capital abroad "'). Our young Society acquaintance will doubtless bubble over with merriment at our unpractical attitude; "you just call in at the post office round the corner and buy a money order." Perhaps, not satisfied with this as a complete solution of the problem we had in mind, we proceed (in a lull of office business) to question the highly efficient clerk who sells us the order. Surely he will be able to solve our difficulties; for this is the part of the game of life that he is actually playing, the portion of the ordinary business of life that he is living. If he has time, and is obliging, he may tell us a good deal about various book-entries, vouchers, and crosscommunications between office and office, and feel that he has supplied us with all that a rational mortal could want. But has he answered our question ? How does the
money really get out there ? He has, indeed, supplied us with something