Work and Wealth
by the Thaxted Catechists.
Thaxted, Church Publishing Co., n.d.
Introductory Note. .
EVERYBODY admits that there are a great number of people who are overworked and underpaid, and therefore unable to buy sufficient food or to live in comfortable houses, and that from time to time the work ceases altogether and that then they are worse off than ever. Everybody admits that this is a bad state of affairs for them. Everybody admits that there are other people who do little or no work and are yet very wealthy. Everybody admits that this state of affairs is bad for their digestions and for their morals. Of course, if this state of affairs cannot be altered, don't let's waste our time in trying to do the impossible. If on the other hand it can be altered, who is there with any pretension to decency or commonsense or kindliness who would not feel himself bound to try and alter it? But how can you know whether it can be altered or not until you know the cause of it? To know the cause of it, read this tract.
What is Wealth?
Some people are very poor and others are wealthy. What do we mean by wealthy people? We mean those who possess a great deal of wealth. Wealth is raw material worked up by labour. Raw material is the earth and its natural products, that is, things naturally produced by the earth. The Bible calls this "the earth and the fullness thereof." Labour is work either of hand or of mind. Labour works raw material into such forms as people want, and when this is done it has become wealth. (Wealth has sometimes a larger meaning, e.g., a sunset, or a field of buttercups, but will be used in the narrower sense in this tract. ) Earth, air and water in their different forms, e.g., clay, coal, wild fruit, trees, etc., are examples of raw material. Labour applied to a clay pit produces wealth called clay, which in its turn is worked by labour into bricks and pottery, which are more finished forms of wealth. Labour applied to a coal mine produces wealth called coal, which again is worked by labour into heat, or motive power. which are more finished forms of wealth. Labour applied to a forest produces wealth called timber, which again is worked by labour into houses, furniture, etc.
What is Money?
Money is a measure of wealth and a claim on wealth. But money is not wealth. The hands of a clock are riot the time, but a measure of the time. A pint mug is not the beer it contains, but the measure of the beer. So money is not coals, food, or dress, but a measure of these things. Money is a measure of Exchange. Money consists of a token agreed upon by the Society in which one lives. It may be coins, cheques, bank notes, paper money. In early societies it was (and is sometimes to this day) shells, gold dust, oxen, or a leather token with an ox stamped on it. A man would take an ox to a distant market to exchange it for food, clothes, etc., but as an ox is a troublesome thing to drag about, the leather token was invented and taken to the food-seller, Who could at any time claim with it the value of the ox. Money is the measure of so much raw material worked up by labour into so much wealth. Money is a. claim. If you took a pint jug into a dairy for a pint of milk and had no other claim upon the dairyman, he would not give it you. Your jug measures how much you want, but does not entitle you to receive it. But if you took 2d. with you, the money measures the amount you want and is a claim on that amount, The wealthy people are those who have got a large claim on wealth, that is, have a lot of money. The poor people are those who have only a small claim on wealth, that is, have very little money.
Just and Unjust arrangements of Society
A just arrangement of Society is one in which those who produce the wealth can claim the wealth they produce, i.e., get in return for their labour sufficient money to do so. An unjust arrangement of Society is one in which the workers are deprived of the wealth they produce by being paid low wages (that is, by being deprived of the money by which alone they can claim the wealth) and in which the money that should have come to them goes into the pockets of people who have not produced wealth. England, like most other countries now-a-days, is a country in which things are so arranged that the people who produce the wealth are not in possession of the money, and the people who do not produce it are. Are the producers being robbed? They are. Let us see how.
The Great Illusion
Nothing is more common than to hear people defend the present system on the ground that the rich keep the poor. The truth is exactly the other way about. Do the wealthy idlers support the poor workers? Picture to yourself two men. (The term' man' is a convenient one to use throughout, is of course to be taken as including woman.) One is poor and starving and owns nothing. The other is wealthy and owns a mine, a factory, or a farm. The poor man must live, and also must keep his wife and children. He cannot live without food and clothing and shelter, and without money he cannot get these. What happens? The wealthy man says to the poor man, "Come and work in my mine or in my factory, or on my farm; come and work up the raw material that I own into wealth for me, and I will pay you wages so that you can buy food and other necessaries." What can the poor man do but accept these terms? He owns no raw material, and without raw material no wealth can be produced. So he goes and works for the wealthy man, and the wealthy man pays him wages. Now, how can the wealthy man pay the poor man this money? He can pay it because the poor man by his work has produced a great deal of wealth, which the employer changes into money. And it is part of this money, which is the result of the poor man' s work, that the wealthy man pays the poor man in wages. The rest of the money the poor man has produced by is labour is called profits, and the employer keeps this for himself, and so grows rich. Put a wealthy man, with all his money, his mine, or factory, or farm, on :In island by himself, without any poor men to work .for him. Will he grow rich then? You know he will not. The poor workers keep the wealthy. The wealthy take advantage of the necessity of the poor and the competition among them for jobs to pay as low wages as possible, and so get rich quicker.
The vast majority of the wealthy do practically no work. 'They live out out the profits made on the labour of the workers, who have to work all the harder to keep the idle rich, their relatives, and their servants. .It will be said that the rich man, in addition to paying wages (which are now seen to be taken from the poor), spends his money generously on things which have to be produced, and so gives further employment, and consequent wages, to the poor. Well, no doubt Dick Turpin spent his money generously on things which gave employment to some of the people he robbed. It is of course much better that the rich man should spend the money rather than tie it up in a stocking. But the poor people, whose money really is would be quite as able to spend it themselves, and would give just as much employment as the rich man's spending of it does. They would spend it just as well as he does. He does no good at all with it that the poor could not do themselves. Do not make any mistake. the rich cannot be rich except by living on the poor. They are rich because they do live on the poor.
Look at these figures : In the British Isles to-day there are 44,500,000 people. The yearly income of the 1,400,000 rich people is £634,000,000. The yearly income of the 4,100,000 comfortably off people is £275,000,000. The yearly income of the 39,000,000 poor people is £935,000,000. That is to say, the rich class get an average income of £453 per year each (every man, woman and child). The middle class get an average of £67 per year each (every man, woman and child). The poor get an average of only £24 per year each (every man, woman and child). These figures are only averages. Many of the rich get much more. Many of the poor get much less, especially in country districts.
Do you think the difference between the incomes of these classes is caused by the fact that the rich work so much harder and produce so much more wealth? Do you think the rich work nineteen times as hard as the poor? No. The rich are rich because they rob the poor. But, you say, often the mine owner, or factory owner, or farmer, himself works and superintends the management. Is he not entitled to something for himself? Of course he is. He is entitled to a fair wage for the work he does. But if he only took this fair wage he would never get rich. He would be comfortably off. He gets rich because he takes more than a fair wage. That is, in addition to his own wages, he takes for himself a large part of the wealth that should have gone in wages to others. That is, he robs the others.
These are the facts. Now what has our religion to say about. them?
What the Christian religion teaches.
The religion of our Church teaches us that the raw material belongs to God. "The earth is the Lord's. and the fulness thereof." (Psalm 24, I.) But He has given it to mankind (Psalm 115, 16) under certain conditions. For we have seen that raw material does not supply man's needs apart from labour.
God's conditions are:
What this means
We covet or desire other men's goods when we do not work ourselves, but live on the labours of others. But, people will say, has not God ordained different states of life, and called some men to be rich employers or men of leisure and others to poverty and to labour? Sometimes they quote the verse:
The rich man in his castle,Nothing could be more untrue. God has indeed ordained certain states of life, but He has neither ordained extreme poverty or extreme wealth as states of life. A state or station of life means a calling to some kind of honest work. For instance, the work of a carpenter, tradesman, inventor, priest, artist, blacksmith, tailor, miner, doctor, agricultural labourer, teacher, or any other honest vocation which ministers to our fellows is a state of life. You each have a special talent. This special talent is the thing you like best and are able to do best, whether it be carpentering, teaching, ploughing, writing, or sewing, etc. This ability in you is God-gjven, and is the thing by which you will best serve other people and by which you will live the fullest and happiest life. It is the station of life to which God is calling you.
The poor man at his gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.
"Shall call" not "has called"
The Church Catechism is sometimes quoted wrongly, as if it said "that state of life unto which it has pleased God to call me." Whereas it says "shall please God to call me." If the Church Catechism said 'has called' you might think that any calling or profession you happen to find yourself in was the one God wanted you to be in. But that is not always so. In our muddled world children must often be put to work anywhere they can get work, whether it's the work they would be best at or not, whether it's the work God calls them to or not. God may have called a child to be a doctor, but through poverty the parents may have had to make him an errand boy with no time or opportunity for medical training. In that case the child is labouring in a state of life to which it has not pleased God to call him. He must do his best, but if opportunity offers it is right for him to get out of it and into a state more pleasing to God because more helpful to his fellows. And it is the duty of everyone so to rearrange the world that all may have a good chance to use their God-given talents and to follow the right callings. Only those who are labouring truly to get their own living, or are being educated with that object in view, are living as just and Christian people. Our 'betters,' therefore, are those who work, and we ought to honour the worker and those who honestly desire to work and despise the shirker, whether he be rich or poor.
How then can we be Christians if we are rich?
There is only one way by which the rich man can be a Christian. He must stop robbing the poor. Where he is a direct employer, he must pay better and just wages, and live more simply himself. Where he is not a direct employer, but a shareholder, he must use all the power at his command to see that the companies his money is invested in pay better wages and give better conditions of work to the employees. If he is unable to alter things through circumstances over which he has no control, or in cases where it is inadvisable in the interest of the public good to immediately abandon the taking of profit, rent or interest, and in all cases where it is impossible to return it to the proper persons, the rich man must spend the money in endeavouring to set up a just order of society in place of the present unjust one. There are many ways in which he can do this, and it is at the certain risk of the damnation of his soul that he neglects to do so.
What must the poor man do?
Many people seem to think that the poor can do nothing. This is not so. In many cases the poor are just as grasping as the rich, only they haven't the same opportunities to show it; but when the opportunity comes and they get out of their class, with some splendid exceptions, they are even worse than the rich. The poor must fight down this grasping spirit in themselves just as the rich man must fight it down. They must have courage to fight oppression, they must be loyal one to another. The poor man who, to get an advantage for himself, breaks a strike against 'sweaters' is as much an oppressor of his fellows as are the sweaters themselves, although he may have more excuse. It is often as dangerous for the poor man to fight oppression as it is difficult for the rich man in some cases to cease oppression. But this does not excuse either rich or poor. The Christian religion is not a religion of comfort and cowardice, but means hardship and battle for God's Kingdom: and let no one anger God by calling himself a Christian who is not prepared to take the risks.
The Golden Age of God's Kingdom
The Christian religion does not only teach rich and poor to destroy a wrong system of Society, but to construct a right system. In the New Testament you often see the terms 'this world' and' the world to come.' Many people have been deceived into thinking that 'this world' means 'this earth,' and that 'the world to come' means a world you can only reach when you die. By this deception the Devil has been able to side-track God's purposes for centuries. But in the New Testament 'this world' means 'this age' and the system which belongs to this age. People in our Lord's time and in our time are living in an age or world of selfishness, and strife, and muddle, produced by our sins and ignorances.
Christ has told us about the life of the world to come, or the Kingdom of Heaven to be brought about on earth, the Golden Age which it is our duty to bring about; when all shall live together as God's kindly family, worshipping Him in the service of each other. In this Golden age all would be able to serve God in a state of life pleasing to Him by all working and producing together. By proper organization the earth would bring forth a hundredfold more than it does at present, and even the material wealth of each would be enormously increased because of this increase of kindliness and wisdom, loyalty to God and mankind. That is why we are commanded to put the Golden Age before everything else. " Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His justice."
The only non-workers in the Golden Age would be the children (who would be learning) the sick (and there would be far fewer of these) and the aged. All able-bodied and able-brained people would work, and would have leisure to enjoy all the good things of the earth. "All these things (i.e., what we eat, what we drink, what we put on, see St. Matthew 6, 31) shall be added unto you."
The Golden Age, or as the Creed calls it "The Life of the world to come," or as we sometimes call it "The Good Time Coming," is not the world as man has muddled it, but as God has planned it -- a world in which all who are able will work together as brothers and sisters and live for each other instead of on each other. This is the age for which we pray "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven."