Tuesday, 15 October 2013

The Great Money Trick from 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists'

To be performed by the illustrious Spaniel in the Works Theatre Company at the esteemed Prince Albert on the centenary of publication of 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists', April 26th 2014. There will also be, ladies and gentlemen, for your profit and pleasure, readings, more theatre, and a  book sale, as well as Sam Clark-Stone's disco- nickelodeon.
What more could you ask for?

“Money is the real cause of poverty,” said Owen.
“Prove it,” repeated Philpot.
“Money is the cause of poverty because it is the device by which those who are too lazy to work are enabled to rob the workers of the fruits of their labour.”
“Prove it,” said Philpot.
Owen slowly folded up the piece of newspaper he had been reading and put it in his pocket.
“All right,” he replied. “I’ll show you how the Great Money Trick is worked.”
Owen opened his dinner basket and took from it two slices of bread, but as these were not sufficient, he requested that anyone who had some bread left should give it to him. They gave him several pieces, which he placed in a heap on a clean piece of paper, and, having borrowed the pocket knives of Easton, Harlow and Philpot, he addressed them, as follows:
“These pieces of bread represent the raw materials which exist naturally in and on the earth for the use of mankind; they were not made by any human being, but were created for the benefit and sustenance of all, the same as were the air and the light of the sun.”
“Now,” continued Owen, “I am a capitalist; or rather I represent the landlord and capitalist class. That is to say, all these raw materials belong to me. It does not matter for our present argument how I obtained possession of them, the only thing that matters now is the admitted fact that all the raw materials which are necessary for the production of the necessaries of life are now the property of the landlord and capitalist class. I am that class; all these raw materials belong to me.”
“Now you three represent the working class. You have nothing, and, for my part, although I have these raw materials, they are of no use to me. What I need is the things that can be made out of these raw materials by work; but I am too lazy to work for me. But first I must explain that I possess something else beside the raw materials. These three knives represent all the machinery of production; the factories, tools, railways, and so forth, without which the necessaries of life cannot be produced in abundance. And these three coins” - taking three half pennies from his pocket - “represent my money, capital.” “But before we go any further,” said Owen, interrupting himself, “it is important to remember that I am not supposed to be merely a capitalist. I represent the whole capitalist class. You are not supposed to be just three workers, you represent the whole working class.”
Owen proceeded to cut up one of the slices of bread into a number of little square blocks.
“These represent the things which are produced by labour, aided by machinery, from the raw materials. We will suppose that three of these blocks represent a week’s work. We will suppose that a week’s work is worth one pound.”
Owen now addressed himself to the working class as represented by Philpot, Harlow and Easton.
“You say that you are all in need of employment, and as I am the kind-hearted capitalist class I am going to invest all my money in various industries, so as to give you plenty of work. I shall pay each of you one pound per week, and a week’s work is that you must each produce three of these square blocks. For doing this work you will each receive your wages; the money will be your own, to do as you like with, and the things you produce will of course be mine to do as I like with. You will each take one of these machines and as soon as you have done a week’s work, you shall have your money.”
The working classes accordingly set to work, and the capitalist class sat down and watched them. As soon as they had finished, they passed the nine little blocks to Owen, who placed them on a piece of paper by his side and paid the workers their wages.
“These blocks represent the necessaries of life. You can’t live without some of these things, but as they belong to me, you will have to buy them from me: my price for these blocks is, one pound each.”
As the working classes were in need of the necessaries of life and as they could not eat, drink or wear the useless money, they were compelled to agree to the capitalist’s terms. They each bought back, and at once consumed, one-third of the produce of their labour. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks, and so the net result of the week’s work was that the kind capitalist had consumed two pounds worth of things produced by the labour of others, and reckoning the squares at their market value of one pound each, he had more than doubled his capital, for he still possessed the three pounds in money and in addition four pounds worth of goods. As for the working classes, Philpot, Harlow and Easton, having each consumed the pound’s worth of necessaries they had bought with their wages, they were again in precisely the same condition as when they had started work - they had nothing.
This process was repeated several times; for each week’s work the producers were paid their wages. They kept on working and spending all their earnings. The kind-hearted capitalist consumed twice as much as any one of them and his pool of wealth continually increased. In a little while, reckoning the little squares at their market value of one pound each, he was worth about one hundred pounds, and the working classes were still in the same condition as when they began, and were still tearing into their work as if their lives depended on it.
After a while the rest of the crowd began to laugh, and their merriment increased when the kind-hearted capitalist, just after having sold a pound’s worth of necessaries to each of his workers, suddenly took their tools, the machinery of production, the knives, away from them, and informed them that owing to over-production all his store-houses were glutted with the necessaries of life, he had decided to close down the works.
“Well, and wot the bloody ‘ell are we to do now?” demanded Philpot.
“That’s not my business,” replied the kind-hearted capitalist. “I’ve paid your wages, and provided you with plenty of work for a long time past. I have no more work for you to do at the present. Come round again in a few months time and I’ll see what I can do.”
“But what about the necessaries of life?” demanded Philpot. “we must have something to eat.”
“Of course you must,” replied the capitalist, affably; “and I shall be very pleased to sell you some.”
“But we ain’t got no bloody money!”  said Philpot
“Well, you can’t expect me to give you my goods for nothing! You didn’t work for nothing, you know. I paid you for your work and you should have saved something: you should have been thrifty like me. Look how I have got on by being thrifty!”
The unemployed looked blankly at each other, but the rest of the crowd only laughed…


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I read this when I was an economics student many years ago and have just read it again. It makes no sense to me at all.

    The problem highlighted is not money at all but the fact that the capitalist owns everything to start with. Given that, and given that he is only interested in preserving his wealth, then, yes, he will only pay subsistence wages and will keep all the wealth to himself. That isn't an insight, it's utterly obvious and I am sure the working class understood that all along.

    Consider this real life example. I have an apple tree with more fruit than I can use. A friend offers to take the surplus fruit, make some cider and give me half. Sounds like the 'money trick'? Sure does, but money plays no part. Am I am evil capitalist? Don't think so, seems like a fair deal.

    The illustration merely complicates a simple proposition. Where it breaks down in reality is that ownership of wealth is not really in one person's hands and there is therefore competition between employers for skilled labour which serves to bid up wages. That is why I own my own house and have private pension (which in turn is an owner of the means of production) despite never having been given any capital and not being especially talented.