Puslapio vaizdai

large-scale and mechanical organisation, the ownership of the works has also progressively been changing character; so that today, in the large and leading industries, the place of the personal employer-owner is taken by a composite business concern which represents a combination of owners, no one of whom is individually responsible for the concern's transactions. So true is this, that even where the ownership of a given industrial establishment still vests wholly or mainly in a single person, it has commonly been found expedient to throw the ownership into the corporate form, with limited liability.

The personal employer-owner has virtually disappeared from the great industries. His place is now filled by a list of corporation securities and a staff of corporation officials and employees who exercise a limited discretion. The personal note is no longer to be had in the wage relation, except in those backward, obscure and subsidiary industries in which the mechanical reorganisation of the new order has not taken effect. So, even that contractual arrangement which defines the workman's relation to the establishment in which he is employed, and to the anonymous corporate ownership by which he is employed, now takes the shape of a statistical reckoning, in which virtually no trace of the relation of man to man is to be found. Yet the principles of the modern point of view governing this contractual relation, in current law and custom, are drawn on the assumption that wages and conditions of work are arranged for by free bargaining between man and man on a footing of personal understanding and equal opportunity.

That the facts of the New Order have in this way departed from the ground on which the constituent principles of the modern point of view are based, and on which therefore the votaries of the established system take their stand,— this state of things can not be charged to anyone's personal account and made a subject of recrimination. In fact, it is not a case for personal discretion and responsibility in detail, but rather for concerted action looking to some practicable working arrangement.

The personal equation is no longer a material factor in the situation. Ownership, too, has been caught in the net of the New Order and has been depersonalised to a degree beyond what would have been conceivable a hundred years ago, especially so far as it has to do with the use of material resources and man power in the greater industries. Ownership has been " denatured" by the course of events; so that it no longer carries its earlier duties and responsibilities. It used to be true that personally responsible discretion in all details was the chief and abiding power conferred by ownership; but wherever it has to do with the machine industry and large-scale organisation, ownership now has virtually lost this essential part of its ordinary functions. It has taken the shape of an absentee ownership of anonymous corporate capital, and in the ordinary management of this corporate capital the greater proportion of the owners have no voice.

This impersonal corporate capital, which is taking the place of the personal employer-owner of earlier times, is the outcome of a mutation of the scheme of things in business enterprise, scarcely less

profound than the change which has overtaken the material equipment in the shift from handicraft methods to the machine technology. In practical fact today, corporate capital is the capitalised earning capacity of the corporation considered as a going business concern; and the ownership of this capital therefore foots up to a claim on the earnings of the corporation.

Corporate capital of this kind is impersonal in more than one sense: it may be transferred piecemeal from one owner to another without visibly affecting the management or the rating of the concern whose securities change hands in this way; and the personal identity of the owner of any given block of this capital need not be known even to the concern itself, to its administrative officers, or to those persons whose daily work and needs are bound up with the daily transactions of the concern. For most purposes and as regards the greater proportion of the investors who in this way own the corporation's capital, these owners are, in effect, anonymous creditors, whose sole effectual relation to the enterprise is that of a fixed " overhead charge" on its operations. Such is the case even in point of form as regards the investors in corporate bonds and preferred stock. The ordinary investor is, in effect, an anonymous pensioner on the enterprise; his relation to industry is in the nature of a liability, and his share in the conduct of this industry is much like the share which the Old Man of the Sea once had in the promenades of Sinbad.

No doubt, any reasonably skilful economist any certified accountant of economic theory — could

[ocr errors][merged small]

successfully question the goodness of this characterisation of corporate capital. It is, in fact, not such a description as is commonly met with in those theories of ownership and investment that trace back to the formal definitions of Ricardo and Adam Smith. Nor is this description of latterday facts here set down as a formal definition of corporate capital and its uses; nor is it designed to fit into that traditional scheme of conceptions that still holds the attention of the certified economists. Its aim is the less ambitious one of describing, in a loose and informal way, what is the nature and uses of this corporate capital and its ownership, in the apprehension of the common man out of doors. He is not so familiar with the recondite wisdom of the past, or with subtle definitions, other than the latterday subtleties of the market, the crop season, the blast-furnace and refinery, the internal-combustion engine, and such like hard and fast matters with which he is required to get along from day to day. The purpose here is only to bring out, without undue precision, what these interesting phenonema of capital, investment, fixed charges, and the like, may be expected to foot up to in terms of tangible performance, in the unschooled reflections of the common man, who always comes in as "the party of the second part" in all these manoeuvres of corporation finance. He commonly has no more than a slender and sliding grasp of those honorable principles of certified make-believe that distinguish the modern point of view in all that relates to property and its uses; but he has had the benefit of some exacting experience in the ways of the new order and its

standards of reckoning. By consequence of much untempered experience the common man is beginning to see these things in the glaring though fitful light of that mechanistic conception that rates men and things on grounds of tangible performance,without much afterthought. As seen in this light, and without much afterthought, very much of the established system of obligations, earnings, perquisites and emoluments, appears to rest on a network of make-believe.

Now, it may be deplorable, perhaps inexcusable, that the New Order in industry should engender habits of thought of this unprofitable kind; but then, after all, regrets and excuses do not make the outcome, and with sufficient reason attention today centers on the outcome.

To the common man who has taken to reckoning in terms of tangible performance, in terms of man power and material resources, these returns on investment that rest on productive enterprise as an overhead charge are beginning to look like unearned income. Indeed, the same unsympathetic preconception has lately come in for a degree of official recognition. High officials who are presumed to speak with authority, discretion and an unbiassed mind have lately spoken of incomes from investments as "unearned incomes," and have even entertained a project for subjecting such incomes to a differential rate of taxation above what should fairly be imposed on earned incomes." All this may, of course, be nothing more than an unseasonable lapse of circumspection on the part of the officials, who

« AnkstesnisTęsti »