Finance, in the sense in which it will be used in this book, means the machinery of money dealing. That is, the machinery by which money which you and I save is put together and lent out to people who want to borrow it. Finance becomes international when our money is lent to borrowers in other countries, or when people in England, who want to start an enterprise, get some or all of the money that they need, in order to do so, from lenders oversea. The biggest borrowers of money, in most countries, are the Governments, and so international finance is largely concerned with lending by the citizens of one country to the Governments of others, for the purpose of developing their wealth, building railways and harbours or otherwise increasing their power to produce.

Money thus saved and lent is capital. So finance is the machinery that handles capital, collects it from those who save it and lends it to those who want to use it and will pay a price for the loan of it. This price is called the rate of interest, or profit. The borrower offers this price because he hopes to be able, after paying it, to benefit himself out of what he is going to make or grow or get with its help, or if it is a Government because it hopes to improve the country's wealth by its use. Sometimes borrowers want money because they have been spending more than they have been getting, and try to tide over a difficulty by paying one set of creditors with the help of another, instead of cutting down their spending. This path, if followed far enough, leads to bankruptcy for the borrower and loss to the lender.

If no price were offered for capital, we should none of us save, or if we saved we should not risk our money by lending it, but hide it in a hole, or lock it up in a strong room, and so there could be no new industry.

Since capital thus seems to be the subject-matter of finance and it is the object of this book to make plain what finance does, and how, it will be better to begin with clear understanding of the function of capital. All the more because capital is nowadays the object of a good deal of abuse, which it only deserves when it is misused. When it is misused, let us abuse it as heartily as we like, and take any possible measures to punish it. But let us recognize that capital, when well and fairly used, is far from being a sinister and suspicious weapon in the hands of those who have somehow managed to seize it; but is in fact so necessary to all kinds of industry, that those who have amassed it, and placed it at the disposal of industry render a service to society without which society could not be kept alive.

For capital, as has been said, is money saved and lent to, or employed in, industry. By being lent to, or employed in, industry it earns its rate of interest or profit. There are nowadays many wise and earnest people who think that this interest or profit taken by capital is not earned at all but is wrung out of the workers by a process of extortion. If this view is correct then all finance, international and other, is organized robbery, and instead of writing and reading books about it, we ought to be putting financiers into prison and making a bonfire of their bonds and shares and stock certificates. But, with all deference to those who hold this view, it is based on a complete misapprehension of the nature and origin of capital.

Capital has been described above as money put to certain purposes. This was done for the sake of clearness and because this definition fits in with the facts as they usually happen in these days. Economists define capital as wealth reserved for production, and we must always remember that money is only a claim for, or a right to, a certain amount of goods or a certain amount of other people's work. Money is only a title to wealth, because if I have a sovereign or a one-pound note in my pocket, I thereby have the power of buying a pound's worth of goods or of hiring a doctor to cure me or a parson to bury me or anybody else to do anything that I want, up to the buying power of that sovereign. This is the power that money carries with it. When the owner of this power, instead of exercising it in providing himself with luxuries or amusements, uses it by lending it to someone who wants to build a factory, and employ workers, then, because the owner of the money receives his rate of interest he is said to be exploiting labour, because, so it is alleged, the workers work and he, the capitalist, sits in idleness and lives on their labour.

And so, in fact, he does. But we have not yet found out how he got the money that he lent. That money can only have been got by work done or services rendered, for which other people were ready to pay. Capital, looked at from this point of view, is simply stored up work, and entitled to its reward just as much as the work done yesterday. The capitalist lives on the work of others, but he can only do so because he has wrought himself in days gone by or because someone else has wrought and handed on to him the fruits of his labour. Let us take the case of a shopkeeper who has saved a hundred pounds. This is his pay for work done and risk taken (that the goods which he buys may not appeal to his customers) during the years in which he has saved it. He might spend his hundred pounds on a motor cycle and a side-car, or on furniture, or a piano, and nobody would deny his right to do so. On the contrary he would probably be applauded for giving employment to makers of the articles that he bought. Instead of thus consuming the fruit of his work on his own amusement, and the embellishment of his home, he prefers to make provision for his old age. He invests his hundred pounds in the 5 per cent. debenture stock of a company being formed to extend a boot factory. Thereby he gives employment to the people who build the extension and provide the machinery, and thereafter to the men and women who work in the factory, and moreover he is helping to supply other people with boots. He sets people to work to supply other people's wants instead of his own, and he receives as the price, of his service five pounds a year. But it is his work, that he did in the years in which he was saving, that is earning him this reward.

An interesting book has lately appeared in America, called "Income," in which the writer, Dr. Scott Nearing, of the University of Pennsylvania, draws a very sharp distinction between service income and property income, implying, if I read him aright, that property income is an unjust extortion. This is how he states his case:

"The individual whose effort creates values for which society pays receives service income. His reward is a reward for his personality, his time, his strength. Railroad president and roadmender devote themselves to activities which satisfy the wants of their fellows. Their service is direct. In return for their hours of time and their calories of energy, they receive a share of the product which they have helped to produce.

"The individual who receives a return because of his property ownership, receives a property income. This man has a title deed to a piece of unimproved land lying in the centre of a newly developing town. A storekeeper offers him a thousand dollars a year for the privilege of placing a store on the land. The owner of the land need make no exertion. He simply holds his title. Here a man has labored for twenty years and saved ten thousand dollars by denying himself the necessaries of life. He invests the money in railroad bonds, and someone insists he thereby serves society. In one sense he does serve. In another, and a larger sense, he expects the products of his past service (the twenty years of labor), to yield him an income. From the day when he makes his investment he need never lift a finger to serve his fellows. Because he has the investment, he has income. The same would hold true if the ten thousand dollars had been left him by his father or given to him by his uncle.... The fact of possession is sufficient to yield him an income."

Now, in all these cases of property income which Dr. Nearing seems to regard as examples of income received in return for no effort, there must have been an effort once, on the part of somebody, which put the maker of it in possession of the property which now yields an income to himself, or those to whom he has left or given it. First there is the case of the man who has a title deed to a piece of land. How did he get it? Either he was a pioneer who came and cleared it and settled on it, or he had worked and saved and with the product of his work had bought this piece of land, or he had inherited it from the man who had cleared or bought the land. The ownership of the land implies work and saving and so is entitled to its reward. Then there is the case of the man who has saved ten thousand dollars by labouring for twenty years and denying himself the necessaries of life. Dr. Nearing admits that this man has worked in order to get his dollars; he even goes so far as to add that he had denied himself the necessaries of life in order to save. Incidentally one may wonder how a man who has denied himself the necessaries of life for twenty years can be alive at the end of them. This man has worked for his dollars, and, instead of spending them on immediate enjoyment, lends them to people who are building a railway, and so is quickening and cheapening intercourse and trade. Dr. Nearing seems to admit grudgingly that in a sense he thereby renders a service, but he complains because his imaginary investor expects without further exertion to get an income from the product of his past service. If he could not get an income from it, why should he save? And if he and millions of others did not save how could railways or factories be built? And if there were no railways or factories how could workers find employment?

If every capitalist only got income from the product of his own work in the past, which he had spent, as in this case, on developing industry, his claim to a return on it would hardly need stating. He would have saved his ten thousand dollars or two thousand pounds, and instead of spending it on two thousand pounds' worth of amusement or pleasure for himself he would have preferred to put it at the disposal of those who are in need of capital for industry and promise to pay him 5 per cent. or £100 a year for the use of it. By so doing he increases the demand for labour, not momentarily as he would have done if he had spent his money on goods and services immediately consumed, but for all time, as long as the railway that he helps to build is running and earning an income by rendering services. He is a benefactor to humanity as long as his capital is invested in a really useful enterprise, and especially to the workers who cannot get work unless the organizers of industry are supplied with plenty of cheap capital. In fact, the more plentiful and cheap is capital, the keener will be the demand for the labour of the workers.

But when Dr. Nearing points out that the income of the ten thousand dollars would be equally secure if the owner of them had them left him by his father or given him by his uncle, then at last he smites capital on a weak point in its armour. There, is, without question, much to be said for the view that it is unfair that a man who has worked and saved should thereby be able to hand over to his son or nephew, who has never worked or saved, this right to an income which is derived from work done by somebody else. It seems unfair to all of us, who were not blessed with equally industrious and provident fathers and uncles, and it is often bad for the man who gets the income as a reward for no effort of his own, because it gives him a false start in life and sometimes tends to make him a futile waster, who can only justify his existence and his command over other people's work, by pointing to the efforts of his deceased sire or uncle. Further, unless he is very lucky, he is likely to grow up with the notion that, just because he has been left or given a certain income, he is somehow a superior person, and that it is part of the scheme of the universe that others should work for his benefit, and that any attempt on the part of other people to get a larger share, at his expense, of the good things of the earth is an attempt at robbery. He is, by being born to a competence, out of touch with the law of nature, which says that all living things must work for their living, or die, and his whole point of view is likely to be warped and narrowed by his unfortunate good fortune.

These evils that spring from hereditary property are obvious. But it may be questioned whether they outweigh the advantages that arise from it. The desire to possess is a strong stimulus to activity in production, because possession is the mark of success in it, and all healthy-minded men like to feel that they have succeeded; and almost equally strong is the desire to hand on to children or heirs the possessions that the worker's energy has got for him. In fact it may almost be said that in most men's minds the motive of possession implies that of being able to hand on; they would not feel that they owned property which they were bound to surrender to the State at their deaths. If and when society is ever so organized that it can produce what it needs without spurring the citizen to work with the inducement supplied by possession, and the power to hand on property, then it may be possible to abolish the inequities that hereditary property carries with it. As things are at present arranged it seems that we are bound to put up with them if the community is to be fed and kept alive. At least we can console ourselves with the thought that property does not come into existence by magic. Except in the case of the owners of land who may be enriched without any effort by the discovery of minerals or by the growth of a city, capital can only have been created by services rendered; and even in the case of owners of land, they, and those from whom they derived it, must have done something in order to get the land.

It is, of course, quite possible that the something which was done was a service which would not now be looked on as meriting reward. In the medieval days mailclad robbers used to get (quite honestly and rightly according to the notions then current) large grants of land because they had ridden by the side of their feudal chiefs when they went on marauding forays. In later times, as in the days of our Merry Monarch, attractive ladies were able to found ducal families by placing their charms at the service of a royal debauchee. But the rewards of the freebooters have in almost all cases long ago passed into the hands of those who purchased them with the proceeds of effort with some approach to economic justification; and though some of Charles the Second's dukedoms are still extant, it will hardly be contended that it is possible to trace the origin of everybody's property and confiscate any that cannot show a reasonable title, granted for some true economic service.

What we can do, and ought to do, if economic progress is to move along right lines, is to try to make sure that we are not, in these days of alleged enlightenment, committing out of mere stupidity and thoughtlessness, the crime which Charles the Second perpetrated for his own amusement. He gave large tracts of England to his mistresses because they pleased his roving fancy. Now the power to dispense wealth has passed into the hands of the people, who buy the goods and services produced, and so decide what goods and services will find a market, and so will enrich their producers. Are we making much better use of it? On the whole, much better; but we still make far too many mistakes. The people to whom nowadays we give big fortunes, though they include a large number of organizers of useful industry, also number within their ranks a crowd of hangers on such as bookmakers, sharepushers, and vendors of patent pills or bad stuff to read. These folk, and others, live on our vices and stupidities, and it is our fault that they can do so. Because a large section of the public likes to gamble away its money on the Stock Exchange, substantial fortunes have been founded by those who have provided the public with this means of amusement. Because the public likes to be persuaded by the clamour of cheapjack advertisement that its inside wants certain medicines, and that these medicines are worth buying at a price that makes the vendor a millionaire, there he is with his million. Some people say that he has swindled the public. The public has swindled itself by allowing him to foist stuff down its throat on terms which give him, and his heirs and assigns after him, all the control over the work and wealth of the world that is implied by the possession of a million. When we buy rubbish we do not only waste our money to our own harm, but, under the conditions of modern society, we put the sellers of rubbish in command of the world, as far as the money power commands it, which is a good deal further than is pleasing.

Hence it is that when some of those who question the right of capital to its reward, do so on the ground that capital is often acquired by questionable means, they are barking up the wrong tree. Capital can only be acquired by selling something to you and me. If you and I had more sense in the matter of what we buy, capital could not be acquired by questionable means. By our greed and wastefulness we give fortunes to bookmakers, market-riggers and money-lenders. By our preference for "brilliant" investments, with a high rate of interest and bad security, we invite the floating of rotten companies and waterlogged loans. By our readiness to be deafened by the clamour of the advertiser into buying things that we do not want, we hand industry over to the hands of the loudest shouter, and by our half-educated laziness in our selection of what we read and of the entertainments that we frequent, we open the way to opulence through the debauching of our taste and opinions. It is our fault and ours only. As soon as we have learnt and resolved to buy and enjoy only what is worth having, the sellers of rubbish may put up their shutters and burn their wares.

Capital, then, is stored up work, work that has been paid for by society. Those who did the work and took its reward, turned the proceeds of it into making something more instead of into pleasure and gratification for themselves. By a striking metaphor capital is often described as the seed corn of industry. Seed corn is the grain that the farmer, instead of making it into bread for his own table, or selling it to turn it into picture-palace tickets, or beer, or other forms of short-lived comfort, keeps to sow in the earth so that he may reap his harvest next year. If the whole world's crop were eaten, there would be no seed corn and no harvest. So it is with industry. If its whole product were turned into goods for immediate consumption, there could be no further development of industry, and no maintenance of its existing plant, which would soon wear out and perish. The man who spends less than he earns and puts his margin into industry, keeps industry alive.

From the point of view of the worker—by whom I mean the man who has little or no capital of his own, and has only, or chiefly, his skill, of head or of hand, to earn his living with—those who are prepared to save and put capital at the disposal of industry ought to be given every possible encouragement to do so. For since capital is essential to industry, all those who want to earn a living in the workshops or in the countinghouse, or in the manager's office, will most of all, if they are well advised, want to see as much capital saved as possible. The more there is of it, the more demand there will be for the brains and muscles of the workers, and the better the bargain these latter will be able to make for the use of their brains and muscles. If capital is so scarce and timid that it can only be tempted by the offer of high rates for its use, organizers of industry will think twice about expanding works or opening new ones, and there will be a check to the demand for workers. If so many people are saving that capital is a drug in the market, anyone who has an enterprise in his head will put it in hand, and workers will be wanted, first for construction then for operation.

It is to the interest of workers that there should be as many capitalists as possible offering as much capital as possible to industry, so that industry shall be in a state of chronic glut of capital and scarcity of workers. Roughly, it is true that the product of industry is divided between the workers who carry it on, and the savers who, out of the product of past work, have built the workshop, put in the plant and advanced the money to pay the workers until the new product is marketed. The workers and the savers are at once partners and rivals. They are partners because one cannot do without the other; rivals because they compete continually concerning their share of the profit realized. If the workers are to succeed in this competition and secure for themselves an ever-increasing share of the profit of industry—and from the point of view of humanity, civilization, nationality, and common sense it is most desirable that this should be so—then this is most likely to happen if the savers are so numerous that they will be weak in bargaining and unable to stand out against the demands of the workers. If there were innumerable millions of workers and only one saver with money enough to start one factory, the one saver would be able to name his own terms in arranging his wages bill, and the salaries of his managers and clerks. If the wind were on the other cheek, and a crowd of capitalists with countless millions of money were eager to set the wheels of industry going, and could not find enough workers to man and organize and manage their workshops, then the workers would have the whip hand. To bring this state of things about it would seem to be good policy not to damn the capitalist with bell and with book and frighten him till he is so scarce that he is master of the situation, but to give him every encouragement to save his money and put it into industry. For the more plentiful he is, the stronger is the position of the workers.

In fact the saver is so essential that it is nowadays fashionable to contend that the saving business ought not to be left to the whims of private individuals, but should be carried out by the State in the public interest; and there are some innocent folk who imagine that, if this were done, the fee that is now paid to the saver for the use of the capital that he has saved, would somehow or other be avoided. In fact the Government would have to tax the community to produce the capital required. Capital would be still, as before, the proceeds of work done. And the result would be that the taxpayers as a whole would have to pay for capital by providing it. This might be a more equitable arrangement, but as capital can only be produced by work, the taxpayers would have to do a certain amount of work with the prospect of not being allowed to keep the proceeds, but of being forced to hand it over to Government. Whether such a plan would be likely to be effective in keeping industry supplied with capital is a question which need not be debated until the possibility of such a system becomes a matter of practical politics.

For our present purpose it is enough to have shown that the capital, which is the stock-in-trade of finance, is not a fraudulent claim to take toll of the product of industry, but an essential part of the foundation on which industry is built. A man can only become a capitalist by rendering services for which he receives payment, and spending part of his pay not on his immediate enjoyment, but in establishing industry either on his own account or through the agency of someone else to whom be lends the necessary capital. Before any industry can start there must be tools and a fund out of which the workers can be paid until the work that they do begins to bring in its returns. The fund to buy these tools and pay the workers can only be found out of the proceeds of work done or services rendered. Moreover, there is always a risk to be run. As soon as the primitive savage left off making everything for himself and took to doing some special work, such as arrow making, in the hope that his skill, got from concentration on one particular employment, would be rewarded by the rest of the tribe who took his arrows and gave him food and clothes in return, he began to run the risk that his customers might not want his product, if they happened to take to fishing for their food instead of shooting it. This risk is still present with the organizers of industry and it falls first on the capitalist. If an industry fails the workers cease to be employed by it; but as long as they work for it their wages are a first charge which has to be paid before capital gets a penny of interest or profit, and if the failure of the industry is complete the capital sunk in it will be gone.