Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Slavery of Past Savings, Part IV: Get Real

Let's suppose (just for the sake of argument) that we have the right, on our own authority, to punish those whom we believe are guilty of breaking God's law. Yeah, we know — we should have enough to keep us busy just trying to get human law to reflect some modicum of justice, even reason, but this guy God, you know, He's getting on in years, and He clearly needs our help in running the universe — or so those who want to punish others for every infraction of God's law, real or (more often) imagined, seem to believe. Didn't that Chesterton chap (to insert a little alliteration) put together a collection of stories, Four Faultless Felons (1930) about people whom others believed to be guilty of particularly heinous offenses, but who were, in reality, exercising heroic virtue?

Yes, yes, don't confuse us with common sense.

Let's get down to the issue here. Be realistic. No, really. Use your brain. Even if "the rich" stole every cent from the workers and consumers for the past two hundred years, there would not have been sufficient savings to finance a fraction of a hundredth part of today's vast accumulation of capital, regardless of the Keynesian delusion. As Harold Moulton pointed out in The Formation of Capital, as long as the financing for new capital formation relied on cutting consumption and accumulating money savings, new capital could only be formed at an agonizingly slow rate.

The rebirth of the science of finance in the 16th and 17th centuries and the invention of commercial banking, however, freed capital formation from the necessity of having to accumulate savings before financing capital. By drawing bills of exchange and either discounting and rediscounting the bills with other merchants or at the new commercial (mercantile) banks, new capital formation could be financed out of future savings instead of past savings.

To oversimplify, the old way of investing was first to cut consumption, accumulate money savings, and then invest. The restoration of bills of exchange to an important role in the economy was revolutionary. It was now possible first to create money by drawing a bill on the present value of a project, then invest, and redeem the bill out of profits generated by the new capital itself: "future savings." The sequence for investing became, 1) develop a plan for a financially feasible capital investment, 2) draw a bill on the present value of the proposed investment, 3) either use the bill itself as money, or exchange it at one of the new commercial banks for another form of money, 4) invest in the new capital, 5) make the capital profitable by increasing consumption of the marketable goods and services produced by the capital, and 6) redeem the bill out of the profits realized (saving), thereafter taking the profits as income. In other words, instead of cutting consumption to accumulate savings, the savings were now realized by increasing consumption, thereby generating profits.

As should be obvious, past savings are not only unnecessary as anything other than collateral to secure the creditworthiness of the bills drawn (and which function can be filled by capital credit insurance, thereby removing the necessity for past savings completely from the system), the belief that capital can only be financed by cutting consumption and accumulating money savings actually inhibits, and in many cases prevents financially feasible capital from being formed.

For "financial feasibility" is the key to understanding how to free humanity from the slavery of past savings — and to do away with all the doubtful fun of hating others and blaming them for flaws in the system. In theory — and often in practice — it is not necessary for someone to own anything at all before investing in new capital. It is only necessary that the reasonable projections of future profitability equal or exceed the cost of the capital. When that is the case, the investor can draw up a contract — "draw a bill" — on the present value of the future projected profits, use the contract as money (either directly or by exchanging it for money in another form at a bank), buy the capital, make it profitable, and then make good on the promise in the contract by taking some of the profits and redeeming the bill.

It doesn't matter if the capital costs a thousand dollars, or a thousand trillion dollars. It is only necessary that the capital generate sufficient profits to redeem the bill and provide the owner with enough income to make the whole endeavor worthwhile. It thereby becomes possible to accumulate — and accumulate honestly, without taking one cent from anyone else that isn't earned by providing a marketable good or service at a fair price — incredible amounts of wealth.

If there's any "crime" being committed, it's the maintenance of barriers that exist the prevent everyone else from doing the same thing. That is something for which the rich can justly be condemned, not the fact of their wealth. Even the wealthy and powerful have to admit the justice of the demand to allow others to do what they've been doing for generations. They don't have to admit the claims of the poor and needy to the wealth of the rich.

Except in cases of extreme need, redistribution doesn't come under human law in any event (Rerum Novarum, § 22) — and it's a dangerous precedent to set even then — see the Summa: "Human law cannot punish or forbid all evil deeds: since while aiming at doing away with all evils, it would do away with many good things, and would hinder the advance of the common good, which is necessary for human intercourse." (Ia IIae q. 91, a. 4.)

The evils of coercive redistribution of existing wealth are too well-known to go into at any length here, although the "entitlement mentality" and a permanent condition of dependency — welfare slavery — forced on recipients come immediately to mind, as well as the vitriol and hate directed at anyone attempting to defend natural rights such as liberty (contract/freedom of association) and property. As Heinrich Rommen, the noted student of Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J., explained,

A person may "debunk" the freedom of property and of contract as a detestable device for capitalist exploitation and think he must do away with both, but that does not destroy the meaning of these freedoms, that they are the outgrowth and, as far as they are working principles, the guaranty of the dignity of the human person. The essential element of democracy, that is, government by open discussion, persuasion, and consent, rests on the moral idea of solidarity and loyalty to one another. Thus it is these essentially moral ideas that are meant with democracy. (Heinrich Rommen, The State in Catholic Thought. St. Louis, Missouri: B. Herder Book Company, 1947, 479)

No, the right response to today's great disparities in wealth is not redistribution, except in emergencies (and be careful even then), but to make it possible for everyone to acquire wealth using the same techniques. It's also far more politically feasible, since the currently wealthy stand only to lose their virtual monopoly on future wealth that doesn't even exist yet, leaving them with their current accumulations intact, or nearly so.

Thus we have the rather obvious response to those who waste their time hating the rich because the rich have evidently done something that seems impossible: used future savings generated by capital, rather than past savings generated by human labor to accumulate astonishingly huge amounts of capital.

That's how things stand now, and why, in this 50th anniversary year of the publication of Kelso and Adler's The New Capitalists we need to take a closer look at and start understanding the subtitle: "A Proposal to Free Economic Growth from the Slavery of [Past] Savings."

Of course, if you still insist on going after the rich and prosecuting them for Crimes Against Humanity (as determined by you), and Breaking God's Law (as enforced by you), may we see your credentials, please? And that little matter of proof? Not your hysterical opinion — proof. Otherwise you're in the "Caiaphas Club," in which the principal membership criterion is to believe that one person or small group, guilty or innocent, should be sacrificed so that (your vision of) the nation might survive or come to pass.


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