Read Chapter XXXII - Ax at root of the tree of Usury A Scriptural‚ Ethical and Economic View , free online book, by Calvin Elliott, on

It is easier to cut down an evil tree than to climb up and lop off it branches; besides the branches will grow again if the stock is left undisturbed. It is easier to destroy the mother of vipers than it is to chase after, catch and kill her poisonous progeny. The reptiles will not become extinct while the mother is left to breed without restraint. There are a large number of industrial and financial evils that derive their strength from usury, which have received the close attention of benevolent reformers, but they have not exposed the cause, nor have they suggested a sufficient remedy. That the evils exist is apparent to them all, but they seem too high to reach or too swift to be caught.

It is only possible to hint at the prevailing evils in one chapter. It would require a volume to discuss them in detail and to apply the remedy.

1. There is a tendency to divergence in the material and financial conditions of men. Some are growing richer, while others are growing poorer.

The prayer of Agur, “Give me neither poverty nor riches,” is the prayer we should offer and the prayer we should try ourselves to answer. We are to seek freedom from poverty on the one hand and from ensnaring riches on the other. This is the condition we should try to secure in the community and in the commonwealth. We should discourage excess of riches and we should endeavor to relieve all of distressing poverty. We should hedge about accumulation with such conditions as to make it very difficult to gain great wealth, and at the same time we should so ease the conditions of accumulation that only gross indolence or great misfortune could cause dependent poverty.

The so called middle class are those who neither have great riches nor yet are they in fear of want. The great mass of our people belonged to this class until very recent times. Now we find the excessively rich have multiplied and a vast number of our industrious, honest and virtuous population are struggling for life’s necessities. The middle class is less numerous while both those in opulence and those in poverty have been increasing.

We should level up and level down to the medium which is best for the development of the highest manhood and best also for the strength and perpetuity of our republican institutions.

The rich should be limited in their accretions while the poor are lifted out of their poverty; but how can this be accomplished without interfering with individual liberty and our personal rights? The problem is not easily solved. While usury remains, which is an ever active centralizing force adding wealth to wealth, no remedy can be found. Do away with usury, and the evil is overcome.

(a) When it is recognized that vital energy alone produces all wealth, no great fortune can be gathered in the life time of one man. The earnings of any life, however long, or the earnings of a succession of industrious, energetic ancestors, could not amass a fortune to interfere with the rights and activities of others.

One may inherit a large fortune from wealthy kindred; he may discover a fortune; he may draw a grand prize in a lottery; he may as a Turk seize the properties of others and then bribe the courts to confirm his claims; or a people may be “held up” by law and one, selfish and conscienceless as a ghoul, may jump at the opportunity and appropriate their earnings and their property and yet the robber keep out of the penitentiary; but no one, however great his skill or brilliant his genius, can earn one million dollars, nor the tenth of it, in his natural life. To gain one million dollars one must earn twenty thousand dollars each year for fifty years and save it all. He must spend nothing for pleasure nor benevolence. He must spend nothing for food nor for clothes.

(b) Wealth decays unless cared for and preserved. As wealth increases, the task of protecting and preserving it increases. There comes a time when production must cease, and all energy will be required to preserve that already gained. When others preserve and pay a price for the privilege, as in usury, the vital energy can continue production, indefinitely.

(c) Abolish usury and the instant one ceases to produce he begins to consume that which he has earned. He can not live upon the increase of his earnings, but he must begin at once to diminish the supply. Exacting usury he may consume only the increase and preserve the principal untouched. He may not consume all the increase and add the remainder to his capital and thus grow richer in decrepit age. Many of those who have not inherited wealth, have not been wealthy until advanced age. It came to them by the accretions of interest after the productive period of life was past.

(d) It is not possible to secure perfect equality of conditions. If all wealth was equally distributed today differences would begin to appear tomorrow. This has seemed to some disheartening and they abandon all hope of correcting the evil. They should look deeper and promote the natural and God-ordained remedy.

The natural force for the preservation of the level of the ocean is gravity. But the surface is seldom smooth. The winds lash it into fury and pile high its waves, but gravity pulling upon every drop of water tends to draw it back to its place and smooth down the surface again. The wind cannot build permanently a mountain of water in the ocean.

The consumption and decay of wealth tends unendingly to equalize the conditions of men. In the wild rush of the struggle for supremacy and gain, like a whirlwind in the affairs of men, with their diverse gifts and tastes and plans, there will be inequalities appearing, but consumption and inevitable decay are ever present leveling powers. Usury suspends this beneficent law and aggravates the evil, making the differences in condition permanent and increasing them.

Do away with usury and there is a natural limitation to riches. The rich will find that he can not grow constantly richer; not because he is by statute deprived of any personal rights, but he is hindered by the natural law embedded in things by the Creator.

Do away with usury and the problem of poverty is solved. If we credit vital energy with the increase of wealth and give the laborer all he earns, he has a fair and equal chance, and equity requires no more. It is justice and opportunity, a fair chance, that the poor need, not pity and gifts of charity.

2. Great combines of capital in business and especially in industrial trusts are receiving the closest attention of the thoughtful. Some regard them as the necessary result of successful and enlarging business. Many others regard them as hostile to the public good and are anxiously seeking a means of restraining their great and increasing power.

These were at the first associations of manufacturers who co-operated to maintain prices. In the competitive system there is a constant pressure on the part of the consumer for lower prices. The manufacturer who is conscientious and a model employer, seeking to maintain prices sufficiently high to afford him a profit and living wages for his employes, must ever be resisting this pressure. They united for this purpose and were benevolent and just in their design. But the manufacturers were paying tribute on borrowed capital. They must meet the demands of interest on their debts and also the wages of their workmen. Between these two they struggled to secure for themselves comfortable wages. The capitalists, seeing the advantage of this co-operation and the resultant profits, undertook and accomplished the combination of their capital to secure for themselves the profits at first sought for the operators and their employes.

These great combines are the natural result of successful business with the practice of usury. They threaten evil.

The purpose and plan of the present trust is to increase the increase of the capital; to make the capital more productive; to bring larger returns for the wealth invested.

(a) They are not organized for the benefit of the laborer. The object is to decrease the cost by producing with less labor. The less the labor, other things being equal, the greater the returns for the capital invested.

(b) They are not organized for the benefit of the consumer. When they do favor the consumer it is only incidental and generally temporary to meet competition. They make no pretence of being benevolent in their purposes. They are organized for the purpose of business gain.

(c) These capitalists combine their interests because they can thereby secure a greater return from their investments than they can by operating separately. They combine that they may mutually increase the rate of interest or dividends on their capital. This is the motive that draws them into cooeperation.

The learned and benevolent statesmen, teachers of economy and reformers, have not suggested an adequate remedy. The remedy is not far to find. Do away with usury and they will fall apart like balls of sand; the cohesive power will be gone; the centralization will cease and the wealth will speedily return to the various individuals from whom it was gathered. This remedy may seem heroic, but it is a specific and is the simplest of all possible methods.

3. How to secure a just distribution of the great advantages from improved machinery, new inventions and new discoveries, is a problem that is engaging the best thought of many of the wise and good. That the present distribution is inequitable and unfair; that it gives the capitalist an undue advantage over the laborer; that it aggravates the difference in conditions, seems generally admitted.

An improved machine, owned by a capitalist, enables one man to do the work that formerly required ten. One man is employed and the nine are in competition for his place and there is no advance over the wages before the machine was introduced. The owner of the machine secures the gain. His wealth is greatly increased while the laborer plods on with his old wages. With the new machine the one man produces what ten men did before, but the product of the nine are credited to the machine and becomes the capitalist’s gain.

(a) The falsehood on which this claim rests must be seen and rejected before the evil can be overcome; that the machine is productive. It is but a tool in the hands of the one man, who now with it produces as much as ten men did without it. If one does the work of ten he earns the reward of ten. Because by this machine he multiplies his strength, and adds to his efficiency, he can not justly be deprived of his full reward.

(b) “But the machine is owned by another.” His not owning the machine does not change its nature and make it a productive force. Whether it belongs to him or to another, it is his intelligent vital energy that produces all that is produced. The machine is but his tool with which he works.

(c) “But the machine must be paid for.” Certainly, the inventors and skilled mechanics, who produced this wonderful tool, should be fully compensated, but once paid they have no claim upon it or on what another may produce with it. No honest workman objects to paying a good price for good tools. It is not the purchase of tools by one set of workmen of another that causes the unequal conditions.

(d) It is the usurer or interest taker that perverts the conditions.

He lays hold of those great inventions and discoveries, like railroads and telegraphs and telephones, and demands a perpetual compensation. He asks that the laborer shall be forever buying his tool, yet it shall be never bought, that the public shall be forever paying for privileges and the obligation remain forever unmet. This is but one of the forms of usury, by which wealth is heaped from the earnings of the many.

4. The difficulties between employers and their laborers do not cease. The continued strikes and lock-outs show how general and deep the trouble is. Laborers organize into unions to protect themselves from discharge and to promote their interests. They ask for better wages and shorter hours. They urge their petition with forceful arguments; they make demands with an implied threat; they stop work or “strike.” Then follows a test of strength and endurance in which both parties greatly suffer and both are embittered and neither is satisfied.

The correction of this common evil has received close study from those who have the welfare of all classes at heart and wish to be benefactors of the race. The remedies have not been thorough but superficial, and the benefits temporary. The branches have been cut off but they grow again.

(a) The complaint of too small wages implies that more is earned than is received; but there is no standard recognized by which what a man does earn can be measured. The capitalist claims the output as the earnings of his capital and his claim is allowed by the workmen. The workmen may claim that wages are too small for a comfortable living. This is not a plea of free workmen, but of slaves begging to be better fed.

(b) They may complain of too many hours of labor; but the number of hours of labor is arbitrarily fixed. There is no valid constant reason why one should wish to work less. In the management of one’s own work, and the collection of his own earnings, there are times when long hours, of the strain of labor, are necessary, and there are other times when ease can be taken. With no standard of earnings or time, it is impossible to arrive at a just and satisfactory settlement.

The reasons given sound to the employers like the pleadings of servants for richer food and more play.

(c) The laborer should find a solid basal reason for his demands. That will be found only in the utter rejection of the theory and practice of usury.

The selfishness of human nature will remain; conflicts between men in all conditions and all businesses will remain; feuds and rivalries will remain; but when employer and employe are enabled to see that capital is dead, and decaying, and that all the earnings above its preservation belong to the laborers, there will be a recognized and true basis upon which the rightful claims of each can be adjusted.

(d) In a co-operative shop, where the workmen are the owners, each receives his share of the gains. With usury done away it is possible for workmen, who are poor, to ultimately become the owners, by the accumulation of earnings, but under the pull of the usurers, continually appropriating the earnings, they are doomed to hopeless poverty.

5. There is a widespread determination to overcome the evil of war. Non-combatants are numerous and peace societies are organized in all lands. Their literature is widely distributed and their petitions, for the preservation of peace, are poured upon every “power” that is thought to have an occasion, or a disposition, to engage in warfare. The waste of treasure and blood, the cruelties and suffering that are a military necessity, are pleaded in favor of peace. The shame of intelligent rational men settling differences with brute force is presented.

The unchristian spirit, that in this age of light and saving grace should be so wanting in brotherly love as to wish to destroy those who harm us, is deprecated.

When differences do arise between nations, they urge a just settlement or mutual concessions. Or if one is found to be unreasonable, unjust and oppressive, it is better and more christian-like, they claim, to endure hardness, submitting under protest, than by force, which the Master forbade, attempt to establish righteousness.

Rulers of the greatest nations on the earth have become conscious of the cruel burdens upon their people, in the support of their great armaments. On the invitation of the Czar of Russia, peace commissioners from many nations recently met in The Hague, to devise means by which the burdens of armaments might be diminished and actual warfare avoided. This peace council advised that differences be submitted to arbitration, but while it was yet speaking two Christian powers, began open war, without having so “decent a regard to the opinions of mankind” as to make known to the world the cause of their conflict. Wars continue, and among the most highly civilized and enlightened and christianized, in the face of the arguments and advice and pleadings of non-combatants and peace societies and peace commissions.

Mammon, a sordid greed of gain, is now on the world’s throne and directs the movements of the nations in peace or war.

His purposes may be often accomplished in peace by purchases of territory for which interest bearing bonds are issued. The irritation or hurts between peoples may be molified and healed by indemnities, which also serve his purpose because they necessitate the incurring of a bonded debt, interest bearing. But the history of the world for centuries proves that a condition of war is Mammon’s opportunity to foist a debt upon a free people and to increase the burden of those whose bonds he already holds.

His ears are deaf to advice and reason, when material and commercial advantages are to be secured. He cares not for human suffering and shed blood, if riches can be increased. When concessions can be secured, and mortgages placed, and a people exploited with profit, the cry of suffering, the pleading for pity and the call for justice are all in vain.

To stop these modern wars they must be made unprofitable to Mammon. When they are made to deplete his treasury and to waste his wealth, instead of increasing it, he will call a halt in strife, and the gentle spirit of peace will be permitted to hover over the nations.

Away with national debts and interest bearing bonds, which are the delight of the usurers. Make present wealth bear the burden of present duty. Try the patriotism of the usurers by making war a real sacrifice of their wealth, while the blood of others is being poured upon the field. Do not permit war to be an advantage to the rich to increase his riches. A patriot’s life is given and it goes out forever, let wealth be no more sacred than life; let it not be borrowed but consumed. Let the rich grow poorer as the war goes on, let there be a facing of utter poverty, as the patriot faces death on the field.

While Mammon is permitted this usury, his chief tool, he will use it for the oppression of the world. He will direct the movements among the nations to further his ends, although it may require a conflict between the most christianized and enlightened of the earth. The nations will be directed in peace or put in motion in war to make wealth increase.

Give wealth its true place as a perishable thing, instead of a productive life, and wars will cease in all the earth. The holders of the wealth of the world will never urge nor encourage war, when the property destroyed is their own and not to be replaced. When wars are no longer the usurer’s opportunity, but the consumption of his wealth, Mammon himself will beg that swords may be beaten into plow-shares and spears into pruning-hooks.