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VIII

THE VESTED INTERESTS AND THE

COMMON MAN

IN the eighteenth century certain principles of enlightened common sense were thrown into formal shape and adopted by the civilised peoples of that time to govern the system of law and order, use and wont, under which they chose to live. So far as concerns economic relations the principles which so became incorporated into the system of civilised law and custom at that time were the principles of equal opportunity, self-determination, and self-help. Chief among the specific rights by which this civilised scheme of equal opportunity and self-help were to be safeguarded were the rights of free contract and security of property. These make up the substantial core of that system of principles which is called the modern point of view, in so far as concerns trade, industry, investment, credit obligations, and whatever else may properly be spoken of as economic institutions. And these still stand over today, paramount among the inalienable rights of all free citizens in all free countries; they are the groundwork of the economic system as it runs today, and this existing system can undergo no material change of character so long as these paramount rights of civilised men continue to be inalienable.

Any move to set these rights aside would be subversive of the modern economic order; whereas no revision or alteration of established rights and usages will amount to a revolutionary move, so long as it does not disallow these paramount economic rights. When the constituent principles of the modern point of view were accepted and the modern scheme of civilised life was therewith endorsed by the civilised peoples, in the eighteenth century, these rights of self-direction and self-help were counted on as the particular and sufficient safeguard of equity and industry in any civilised country. They were counted on to establish equality among men in all their economic relations and to maintain the industrial system at the highest practicable degree of productive efficiency. They were counted on to give enduring effect to the rule of Live and Let Live. And such is still the value ascribed to these rights in the esteem of modern men. The maintenance of law and order still means primarily and chiefly the maintenance of these rights of ownership and pecuniary obligation.

But things have changed since that time in such a way that the rule of Live and Let Live is no longer completely safeguarded by maintaining these rights in the shape given them in the eighteenth century, or at least there are large sections of the people in these civilised countries who are beginning to think so, which is just as good for practical purposes. Things have changed in such a way since that time, that the ownership of property in large holdings now controls the nation's industry, and therefore it controls the conditions of life for those

who are or wish to be engaged in industry; at the same time that the same ownership of large wealth controls the markets and thereby controls the conditions of life for those who have to resort to the markets to sell or to buy. In other words, it has come to pass with the change of circumstances that the rule of Live and Let Live now waits on the discretion of the owners of large wealth. In fact, those thoughtful men in the eighteenth century who made so much of these constituent principles of the modern point of view did not contemplate anything like the system of large wealth, large-scale industry, and large-scale commerce and credit which prevails today. They did not foresee the new order in industry and business, and the system of rights and obligations which they installed, therefore, made no provision for the new order of things that has come on since their time.

The new order has brought the machine industry, corporation finance, big business, and the world market. Under this new order in business and industry, business controls industry. Invested wealth in large holdings controls the country's industrial system, directly by ownership of the plant, as in the mechanical industries, or indirectly through the market, as in farming. So that the population of these civilised countries now falls into two main classes: those who own wealth invested in large holdings and who thereby control the conditions of life for the rest; and those who do not own wealth in sufficiently large holdings, and whose conditions of life are therefore controlled by these others. It is a division, not between those who have something and

those who have nothing - as many socialists would be inclined to describe it - but between those who own wealth enough to make it count, and those who do not.

And all the while the scale on which the control of industry and the market is exercised goes on increasing; from which it follows that what was large enough for assured independence yesterday is no longer large enough for tomorrow. Seen from an

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other direction, it is at the same time a division between those who live on free income and those who live by work, a division between the kept classes and the underlying community from which their keep is drawn. It is sometimes spoken of in this bearing particularly by certain socialists as a division between those who do no useful work and those who do; but this would be a hasty generalisation, since not a few of those persons who have no assured free income also do no work that is of material use, as e. g., menial servants. But the gravest significance of this cleavage that so runs through the population of the advanced industrial countries lies in the fact that it is a division between the vested interests and the common man. It is a division between those who control the conditions of work and the rate and volume of output and to whom the net output of industry goes as free income, on the one hand, and those others who have the work to do and to whom a livelihood is allowed by these persons in control, on the other hand. In point of numbers it is a very uneven division, of course.

A vested interest is a legitimate right to get something for nothing, usually a prescriptive right to an

income which is secured by controlling the traffic at one point or another. The owners of such a prescriptive right are also spoken of as a vested interest. Such persons make up what are called the kept classes. But the kept classes also comprise many persons who are entitled to a free income on other grounds than their ownership and control of industry or the market, as, e. g., landlords and other persons classed as "gentry," the clergy, the Crown

where there is a Crown—and its agents, civil and military. Contrasted with these classes who make up the vested interests, and who derive an income from the established order of ownership and privilege, is the common man. He is common in the respect that he is not vested with such a prescriptive right to get something for nothing. And he is called common because such is the common lot of men under the new order of business and industry; and such will continue (increasingly) to be the common lot so long as the enlightened principles of secure ownership and self-help handed down from the eighteenth century continue to rule human affairs by help of the new order of industry.

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The kept classes, whose free income is secured to them by the legitimate rights of the vested interests, are less numerous than the common man - less numerous by some ninety-five per cent or thereabouts and less serviceable to the community at large in perhaps the same proportion, so far as regards any conceivable use for any material purpose. In this sense they are uncommon. But it is not usual to speak of the kept classes as the uncommon classes, inasmuch they personally differ from the common run

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