Read Chapter XX - Wealth is barren of Usury A Scriptural‚ Ethical and Economic View , free online book, by Calvin Elliott, on

That wealth can produce wealth is the assumption of Shylock.

Shylock “When Jacob grazed his Uncle Laban’s sheep
This Jacob from our holy Abraham was
The third possessor; ay, he was the third.”

Antonio “And what of him? Did he take interest?”

Shylock “No, not take interest; not as you would say,
Directly interest. Mark what Jacob did.

Antonio “This was a venture, sir, that Jacob served for;
A thing not in his power to bring to pass
But swayed and fashioned by the hand of Heaven.
Was this inserted to make interest good?
Or is your gold and silver, ewes and rams?”

Shylock “I can not tell; I make them breed as fast.”

Merchant of Venice.

It is only intelligent energy that can produce wealth. Even the natural resources must be subdued and shaped by intelligent energy to be of service to man. Trees do not betake themselves into the form of houses. Land does not transform itself into farms and gardens. Coal does not come to our fires without hands. Ore is not iron, nor is clay pottery. They must be carefully manipulated by the intelligent laborer.

Nothing man can make has the power of self propagation. All wealth is as barren as silver and gold, though Shylock claimed he could make them breed like ewes and rams. Life alone is productive, and the secrets of life man has not touched.

A tree or animal grows by the life that is in it, but the accretions of wealth are from the efforts of intelligent energy outside of itself. Wealth is an effect, a result. The vital energy of a person, of “a willing intelligent being” produces wealth, but it does not follow that it has the qualities of its cause. It has no intelligence, nor has it self-determining power, nor is it vital, nor has it energy, it has not in itself the force to overcome its inertia, the energy must be applied. It has no power to increase or grow. A fortune is built, as a building is built, brick after brick is added by intelligent hands.

All wealth must have the living hands applied to cause it to increase even the smallest amount. There is no such thing as “productive” capital. It is so called when it is used to gather and appropriate the earnings of others, but wealth in none of its forms has the quality or power of producing.

Money, the most familiar form, is barren. A bag of dollars stored for ages will not have increased a single coin. No one holds or handles money on the assumption that it will increase in his hands. Money is a care, and the broker who holds or handles it relies for his compensation, not on the increase of the dollars in his hands, but on the increase from some producer to whom he lends it. If there is no borrower he takes a direct commission from the amount itself, as trustee or administrator or custodian.

Money is readily exchanged for any other property. Money has a number of functions but in exchange it is a medium by which the value of articles is conveyed. It takes the place of the bags which conveyed the wheat, of the crates which contained the potatoes, of the baskets which carried the peaches, and the wrapping which held the cotton or the wool.

Col. Irish, who was chief of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing at Washington, when he died, and under whose administration the present building was erected, at one time sent to the wife of the writer a ten dollar bill, wrapped up so that it looked like a picture, cabinet size; this was accompanied by a note, to be opened first. In this note he said he took pleasure in sending her an excellent likeness of our late lamented president, which he would be pleased to have her accept. If she should prefer it in some other form, it was a peculiarity of this likeness that it would change instantly at the will of the holder into any form desired; that this was the peculiarity that troubled him, as he had been unable to decide what would please her best, and had finally decided to send it in this form, and let her change it into any other she might like better.

Money is a peculiar medium which will hold and carry the value of anything. You pour in your wheat and take it to the merchant, who empties your wheat and fills it with clothes, he carries it to the dealer in any article needed and the vessel is instantly emptied and refilled.

The values of the products of laborers in the various occupations of life or the products of the various climates are thus readily exchanged by money, but the gain is not in the money. The art in trade is to study and know the products and needs of the laborers of one class or country, and the varied products and needs of the producers of another class or local community. The skill in trade is in supplying the needs of one from the products of the other.

The profit in trade is the gain from securing for an article a greater portion of the product of those whose needs are supplied, than was given to those who produced it. The harvester cost the manufacturer twenty days’ work. The farmer, who needs and purchases it, pays forty days’ work for it. The farmer may produce one hundred bushels of wheat with twenty-five days’ work, but the mechanics in the city, who need it for bread, may give twice that amount of labor for that quantity of wheat. There is a wide field for skill and profit in trade, when the products and needs of all classes and all lands are considered. But money does not add to wealth in trade. There is nothing produced by it in trade. It is but the tool by which values are conveyed, and no more productive than baskets or crates or sacks. Intelligent energy produces all the profits that are secured by trading.

Modern apologists for usury, knowing that money is unproductive itself, call it a tool for production, and as it can be readily transformed into any tool, they try to avoid the logical conclusion that the taking of interest on money is unjust and oppressive to the producer.

But no tool is productive. All tools are but the reaching out of man for the better control and mastery of material things.

The tool is but dead matter; the productive efficiency is in the vital energy of the intelligent laborer. The most complicated and ingenious tool ever made is useless without the operator. It is as helpless as the wire without the electric current; as helpless as the body without its life, for the body is but man’s tool, preserved, and kept efficient, and made productive, by the living energy alone.

Tools are but the reaching out of the vital energy beyond the body. Tools are but the means, invented and constructed, by which the man can overcome his physical limitations and accomplish wonders, the impossible to a creature wanting in his intelligence.

These glasses enable dim eyes to see clearly. There is no ability in the glasses to see; they would be of no use on blind eyes. I see, these spectacles cannot see. Enlarge and so place these lenses that I can see bacteria, or the mountains of the moon, yet this microscope or this telescope has no more life nor sight than this single lens. I, with it, see the minute creation or examine the distant planet. It is but the extension of my eye.

This pen and paper and this book are but the means by which I reach and reason with my fellow-men. They are but my tools to convey my thought. I am reasoning with you, not this paper and ink.

My hand is the natural tool with which I labor. I may work in the garden and plant the seed and destroy the weeds with my hand alone, and there is no dispute but that I do the work. I take a small weeder in my hand and greatly increase my efficiency. I take a hoe and reach out further and greatly add to my efficiency. I am the efficient agent. There is no power in the weeder or the hoe. I take my plow, as my tool, and I tear up the soil and prepare it for my harvest. I take the complicated harvester and gather it into my barn. In every part of that process the tool is but the reaching out of my energy beyond my body. There is no place where that tool becomes vitalized and productive.

I am a porter, I carry packages in my hands. To increase my efficiency I build me a cart, and smooth a roadway, by which I am able to carry more and heavier packages with ease. I construct a roadway across the continent, and with the power which I employ I carry the commerce of the nation. I build ships and direct them from continent to continent and handle the commerce of the world. Now there is no place from this simple carriage in the hand, to the complicated and stupendous system of transportation, where the tool is not wholly dependent on the vital intelligent energy.

When the vital principle leaves this body, then hands, eyes and the whole body is helpless. Withdraw the vital energy from these means by which man extends his power beyond the body, and all the implements of agriculture will not produce a harvest, and the wheels of commerce on land and sea would instantly stop.

There is no place in the most complicated machine where it begins to produce. The machine may show the greatest ingenuity in its invention and the perfection of skill in its construction, and the intelligence necessary to its operation may be reduced to the minimum, yet no where and at no time can it produce of itself.

When a criminal is arraigned in court the responsibility is placed upon the person, the intelligent energy, always. It matters not by what tools the burglary or other criminal act was committed. The man who handled the tools is held accountable for the results. His tools may show the greatest ingenuity and the highest skill in their construction but they do not share his guilt. He is the efficient and responsible cause. If this were not so justice could be so perverted that the preservation of the order and the security of society would be impossible.

Every tool is itself produced, and its maker must be rewarded or paid once, but there the claim for the tool ends. The laborer who constructs the machine cannot demand repayment over and over. The skilled mechanic who produced this pair of lenses must be paid, but he has no claim for second payment. To secure repayment he must make another pair. The maker of this pen and this paper must be paid, but that ends his claim. The maker of the hoe or cart or engine must have the reward he has earned, but can prefer no second claim.

There is no question when the laborer makes and owns his own tool. The labor of constructing the tool must be rewarded as well as the laborer in its operation.

When the tools are complicated and require the skill of many, the makers of the machine are usually different persons from the laborers who operate it. In this case the payment of all must come from the finished product. Those who constructed the machine and those who operate it must be paid by the consumers.

If the shoe plant is built and operated, then from the shoes produced must come the payment for all. The workmen who built the plant and the engines and machinery for the manufacture of the different parts of the shoe, must be paid by the consumer of shoes. The workmen who built the plant must be as fully compensated as those who operate it, but being compensated, they have no claim for recompensation for the same work. To be paid again they must build a new plant. The operators must be compensated for every shoe they make, but they can not reclaim payment over and over again. To receive more pay they must make more shoes.

Both classes of laborers have a right to full compensation for all the labor performed. Neither party has a right to demand a second payment for the same labor.

It would be manifestly as unjust for the constructors of the plant to compel the operators to pay them over and over again, as it would be for the operators of the machine, having supplied the community with shoes, to demand payment over and over without making another shoe. The shoes will wear out, so will the machines. It is as unreasonable for the first class of laborers to compel the operators of their machinery to keep the same in repair, as for the operators to compel their customers to keep their shoes in perfect condition. For the first laborers to receive a new payment they must build a new plant, and for the operators to receive a new payment they must make new shoes.

The confusion of ideas comes in when there intervenes a third party between these two classes of laborers. This third party meets the demands of the class of laborers who build the plant and machines, from hoarded wealth, and then exacts payment from those who operate it. This is then called productive capital, but it is no more productive than the money in the bank vault. The producing, so called, is but the exacting of a part of that which the operators produce. It is the exacting of payment that never pays. The operators are compelled to be forever buying, yet the plant is never bought. The capitalist is forever selling, yet the plant is never sold.

Usually, the usurer is a fourth party that stands yet behind the third party, taking no risks, demanding complete security for his loan and also an increase out of the products of the operators. The third party assumes all care and guarantees against all losses and depends for his compensation on a portion of the product after the demands of the fourth party are satisfied. This third party may be an active producer. All that he receives may be fully earned in care, oversight and management of the business of the plant.

But the fourth party can have no claim for his services, he has no part in the production. The absurdity, the figment that his capital is productive, is introduced to cover the evident fraud of appropriating, without compensation, a portion of the products of the operators. He has no more claim to an increase of his capital year by year and a doubling in a term of years, than the laborers who built it have to the same plant, perfect and unworn at the end of a term, and in addition, another plant equal in every respect. They built but one, they have no claim upon a second. For the usurer, who takes their place, to double his wealth, and yet the debt be undischarged, is a flagrant fraud.

The underlying falsehood is that wealth changes its nature when put in the hands of a live man and becomes productive. It is acknowledged that wealth lying in the vault is barren and at the same time it is claimed that it produces in the hands of an intelligent agent. But it is the same dead, helpless, barren thing wherever it may be found and whatever form it may be made to take. The dollar taken from the vault and exchanged for a hoe does not receive this new quality. The hoe is as dead as the dollar. When this hoe is in the hands of the workman it is the same barren thing is was before he picked it up. These glasses are precisely the same when astride my nose as when lying on the table. It is not true that wealth in any form, though it be that of a useful tool, takes on this new quality or attribute when in the hands of a live man.

A man’s labor is more productive with suitable tools than without them. The same energy will secure far greater returns. If it were not so he would not trouble to make tools or use them. But to call tools productive agents and so reward them is to rob intelligent energy, skill and inventive genius of that which they alone can produce. This degrades the man to the level of the tool or exalts the tool to the height of its maker.