Wednesday, January 04, 2017
The Capitalist is a frequently misunderstood person. He is often portrayed in something less than glowing terms. Not that his clothing is shoddy. Usually it is shown to be carefully tailored and made of costly materials. But he is offered to us as a smirking, pear-shaped specimen, lips folded over a fat cigar, whose weight is mainly encompassed by his belt. Sometimes he appears as a banker, a big bad banker, who has corralled all the money and won't let the rest of us have any except at impossible rates of interest. Sometimes he turns up as a munition maker who plots to keep the world at war so that he may sell his guns and tanks and other wares and keep the profits flowing in. Then, again, he may be a landlord whose girth is gained from high rents on slum dwellings inhabited by poor people.
He may be found in any of these categories, or he may be found in any of a number of other categories equally distasteful. Indignant people are the ones who portray him in these terms. People who believe that more of the good things of life could come to those in need if more money or cheaper money were made available, or that wars could be reduced in number or intensity if profits were removed from the sale of arms, or that better or cheaper housing would be possible if curbs were placed on his bad habits. Indignant people, rebellious people, people who see wrongs in society that must be righted, and who see in the capitalist the source of so many of these wrongs.
Then there are other people who portray the capitalist differently. They see in him a public benefactor, a philanthropist, a captain of industry, a financial genius, an all-round fine fellow. Press reporters and politicians often tell of his benefactions and sterling qualities. Preachers and elderly ladies dote on his philanthropies. Educators discourse on his industrial and financial greatness.
In the eyes of these good people he brings grace, goodness and distinction to a society which, with all its faults, already scintillates with fine features. The way people look upon society has much to do with the way they look upon the capitalist. Those who see evils about them tend to place these evils at his door.
Those who observe instead blessings in modern life tend to credit him with these blessings. He is truly the object of much attention.
And most of it is undeserved. It is unquestionably true that he picks up a dollar here and there through colourful banking operations, the sale of guns, the renting of rat traps and other indiscreet activities. And it is equally true that his industries provide jobs for people, that he contributes generously to churches and charities, that he gives his support to all kinds of groups engaged in social uplifting and public improvement, activities widely conceded to be of worth. But he is really not much different from the rest of us. There may not be patches on his britches or holes in his socks, or callouses where ours are. He may have better clothing, a finer home, a more attractive bank balance. But he could walk along the road with any of us - and who could determine which one owned the alarm clock?
The thing that makes him a capitalist is not the thing that makes him good or bad in people's eyes. Most people don't even give a thought to the thing that makes him a capitalist. They content themselves with some particular feature of his activities and judge him accordingly.
He is a wicked banker, a blood-stained munitions maker, a thieving landlord. Or else he is the embodiment of many virtues.
The most important thing to note about the capitalist is that he is a member of an economic category. He belongs to a class in society - the capitalist class. As such he shares with his fellow capitalists in the ownership of the mills, mines, factories, in fact, all the means that exist in society for producing and distributing the food, clothing, shelter and other things needed for the preservation and enjoyment of human life. He and his kind own all these things: the rest of society don't own them. It is this fact of ownership that determines in the long run what he thinks and does and how he lives, and how the rest of us live.
Consider the position of the capitalist and his factory. Into the factory go raw materials and workers and out of it come products that are sold in the market places to bring him a profit. The profit does not originate in the market places. People who manipulate wealth in market places do not in that way create profit; they simply shuffle it around in such a way that some capitalists benefit at the expense of others. The profit is created by the workers in the factory. It exists in that portion of the wealth which the workers produce in excess of their own wages.
Not all of it is profit but there is no profit to be found elsewhere. To increase the amount of his profit the capitalist must improve the methods of production, or he must induce the workers to work longer hours or at greater speed, or to accept lower wages. And unless he is prepared to sweat in the factory beside the workers, a thought that is usually repellent to him, there is not much else he can personally do about the profit except spend it. This he does with all the assurance of one who is entitled to it.
The capitalist is a parasite. He lives without working. He lives on the results of other men's toil and he is able to do this because he owns the means of production and distribution, a condition that is neither necessary nor desirable but is allowed to continue because people have not yet seen in it the source of most of the harm in modem society. For even those who rise indignantly to condemn the capitalists, in most cases condemn only the 'wicked' ones.
To replace wicked capitalists with worthy ones will not end the exploitation of labour. The workers will continue to live in need, in insecurity, in fear of the future, no matter what may be the quality of those who occupy the high places.
What is wrong in society is not the wickedness of the capitalists but the wickedness of the capitalist system; and until this system is replaced by one in which there are no capitalists, society can have no hope for a better life. It is not proposed here to imprison or exterminate the capitalist; it is proposed simply to put him in overalls and make him a useful member of the community.
(Adapted from the pamphlet
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