Four Articles From
The Social Future
Capital and Credit
have expressed the opinion that all questions concerning money are so
complicated that they are almost impossible to grasp in clear, precise
view can be taken regarding many questions of modern social life. At
the same time, we should consider the consequences that must follow if
we allow our social dealings to be guided by impulses rooted in imprecise
thoughts, or at any rate in thoughts that are very hard to define. Such
thoughts do not merely signify a lack of insight and a confusion in
theory; they are potent forces in actual life. Their vagueness lives
on in the institutions they inspire; these, in turn, result in impossible
under which we live in modern civilization arise from just such
chaotic thinking. This will have to be acknowledged if a healthy insight
into the social question is to be attained. We first become aware of
the social question when our eyes are opened to the straits in
which we find ourselves. But there is far too little inclination to
follow objectively the path that leads from a mere perception of these
troubles to the human thoughts that underlie them. It is too easy to
dismiss as impractical idealism any attempt to proceed from bread-and-butter
issues to ideas. People do not see how impractical their accustomed
way of life is, how it is based on unviable thoughts. Such thoughts
are deeply rooted within present-day social life. If we try to get at
the root of the “social question,” we are bound to see that
at present even the most material demands of life can be mastered
only by proceeding to the thoughts that underlie the cooperation of
people in a community.
To be sure, many such thoughts have been pointed out within specific
contexts. For example, people whose activity is closely connected with
the land have indicated how, under the influence of modern economic
forces, the buying and selling of land has reduced it to a mere commodity.
They believe this is harmful to society. Yet opinions such as these
do not lead to practical results, for because of their own interests,
those in other spheres of life do not admit that these opinions are
It is from an unflinching perception of such facts that the impetus
should come to guide and direct any attempt to solve “the social
question.” For such a perception can show that one who opposes
justified social demands because they require a way of thinking opposed
to his own particular interests, is in the long run undermining
the very foundations on which his own interests are built.
Such an observation can be made when considering the social significance
of land. First we must take into account how the purely capitalist tendency
in economic life affects the valuation of land. As a result of this
purely capitalist tendency, capital creates the laws of its own increase;
and in certain spheres of life these laws are no longer consistent with
the principles that determine the increase of capital along sound lines.
especially evident in the case of land. Certain conditions may very
well make it necessary for a district to be cultivated in a particular
way. Such conditions may be of a moral nature; they may be founded on
spiritual and cultural peculiarities. However, it is entirely possible
that the fulfillment of these conditions would result in a smaller interest
on capital than would investment in some other undertaking. As a consequence
of the purely capitalist tendency, the land will then be exploited,
not in accordance with these spiritual or cultural viewpoints (which
are not purely capitalist in character), but in such a way that the
resulting interest on capital will equal the interest resulting from
other undertakings. Thus values that may be very necessary to a real
civilization are left undeveloped. Under the influence of this purely
capitalist orientation, the estimation of economic values becomes
one-sided; it is no longer rooted in the living connection we must have
with nature and with cultural life, if nature and spiritual life are
to give us satisfaction in body and in soul.
easy to jump to the conclusion that for this reason capitalism must
be abandoned. The question is whether in so doing we would not also
be abandoning the very foundations of modern civilization. Anyone who
thinks the capitalist orientation a mere intruder into modern economic
life will demand its removal. However, he who sees that division of
labor and social function are the essence of modern life, will only
consider how best to exclude from social life the disadvantages that
arise as a byproduct of this capitalist tendency. He will clearly perceive
that the capitalist method of production is a consequence of modern
life, and that its disadvantages can make themselves felt only as long
as increase of capital is made the sole criterion of economic value.
is to work towards a social structure in which the criterion of capital
increase will no longer be the only power to which production is subjected.
In an appropriate social structure, increase of capital should rather
serve as an indicator that the economic life, by taking into account
all the requirements of our bodily and spiritual nature, is correctly
formed and organized.
who allows his thought to be determined by the one-sided point of view
of capital increase or of a rise in wages will fail to gain clear and
direct insight into the effects of the various specific branches of
production in the economy. If the object is to gain an increase in capital
or a rise in wages, it is immaterial through what branch of production
the result is achieved. The natural and sensible relation of people
to what they produce is thereby undermined. For the mere quantity of
a capital sum, it is of no account whether it is used to acquire one
kind of commodity or another. Nor does it matter if one considers only
the amount of a wage whether it is earned through one kind of work or
is precisely insofar as they can be bought and sold for sums of capital
in which their specific nature cannot find expression, that economic
values become “commodities.” Their commodity-nature is suited,
however, only to those goods or values meant for immediate human consumption;
for the valuation of these, we have an immediate standard in our physical
and spiritual needs. There is no such standard in the case of land or
artificially created means of production. The valuation of these things
depends on many factors that become apparent only when one takes into
account the entire social structure of human life.
interests demand that a certain district be put to economic uses that,
from the viewpoint of capital, seem to yield a lower return than other
industries, the lower return will not in the long run harm the community.
In time the lower return of the one branch of production will affect
other branches such that the prices of their products will also be lowered.
Only a viewpoint that deals with momentary gain of the most narrow and
egotistical kind can fail to see this connection. Where there is simply
a market relationship — where supply and demand are the determining
factors—only the egotistic type of value can be considered. The
“market” relationship must be superseded by associations that
regulate the exchange and production of goods through an intelligent
consideration of human needs. Such associations can replace mere supply
and demand by contracts and negotiations between groups of producers
and consumers, and between different groups of producers. Excluding
on principle one person's making himself a judge of another's legitimate
needs, these negotiations will be based solely on the possibilities
afforded by natural resources and by human abilities.
this basis is impossible so long as the economic cycle is governed by
the consideration of capital and wages alone. As a result of this orientation,
land, means of production and commodities for human use —
things for which there is in reality no common standard of comparison—
are exchanged for one another. Even human labor power and the use of
our spiritual and intellectual faculties are made dependent on the abstract
standard of capital and wages — a standard that eliminates, both
in human judgment and in our practical activity, our natural, sensible
relationship to our work.
life, there is no possibility of preserving the relationship to economic
values that was still possible under the old system of barter, nor even
the relationship still possible under a simpler monetary system. The
division of labor and of social function that has become necessary in
modern times separates the laborer from the recipient of the product
of his work. There is no changing this fact without undermining the
conditions of modern civilization; nor is there any way of escaping
its consequence — the weakening of one's immediate interest in
one's work. The loss of this interest must be accepted as a result of
modern life. Yet we must not allow this interest to disappear without
finding other kinds to take its place, for human beings cannot live
and work indifferently in the community.
from the cultural and the political spheres, as they are made independent,
that the necessary new interests will arise. From these two independent
spheres will come impulses involving viewpoints other than those of
mere increase of capital or wages. A free spiritual-cultural life creates
interests that dwell in the depths of the human being, and imbue one's
work and all one's action with a living aim and meaning for social life.
Developing and nurturing human faculties for the sake of their own inherent
value, such a cultural life will call forth a consciousness that our
talents and our place in life have real meaning. Molded by individuals
whose faculties have been developed in this spirit, society will continually
adapt itself to the free expression of human abilities. The legal
life and economic life will take on a form in keeping with the human
abilities that have been allowed to develop.
The deep inner interests of individuals cannot unfold fully and freely
within a cultural life that is regulated by politics, or that develops
and uses human faculties merely according to their economic utility.
This sort of cultural life may provide people with artistic and scientific
movements as “idealistic” adjuncts to life, or it may offer
them comfort and consolation in religion or philosophy. Yet all these
things only lead out of the sphere of social realities into regions
more or less remote from everyday affairs. Only a free cultural life
can permeate the everyday affairs of the community, for it is only a
free cultural life that can set its own stamp on them as they take shape.
In my book,
Toward Social Renewal,
I tried to show how a free cultural
life will, among other things, provide the motives and impulses for
a healthy social administration of capital. The fruitful administration
of a certain amount of capital is possible only through a person or
a group that has the abilities to perform the particular work or social
service for which the capital is used. Therefore, it is necessary for
such a person or group to administer the capital only as long as they
are able to carry on the work of management themselves by virtue of
their own abilities. As soon as this ceases to be true, the capital
must be transferred to others who have the requisite abilities. Since
under a free cultural life faculties are developed purely out of the
impulses of the cultural life itself, the administration of capital
in the economic sphere will be a result of the unfolding of spiritual
powers; the latter will carry into the economic life all those interests
that are born within its own sphere.
legal life will create mutual relationships between people living in
a community. Through these relationships, they will have an incentive
to work for one another, even when the individual is unable to have
an immediate, creative interest in the product of his work. This interest
becomes transformed into the interest that he can have in working for
the human community whose legal life he helps build. Thus the part one
plays in the independent legal life can become the basis for a special
impulse to live and work apart from economic and cultural interests.
One can look away from one's work and the product of one's work to the
human community, where one stands in relation to his fellows purely
and simply as an adult human being, without regard to one's particular
mental abilities, and without this relation being affected by one's
particular station in economic life. When one considers how it serves
the community with which one has this direct and intimate human relationship,
the product of one's work will appear valuable, and this value will
extend to the work itself.
but an independent legal and political life can bring about this intimate
human relationship because it is only in this sphere that each human
being can meet every other with equal and undivided interest. All the
other spheres of social life must, by their very nature, create distinctions
and divisions according to individual talents or kinds of work. This
sphere bridges all differences.
Once the cultural life has been made self-subsistent, mere increase
of capital will no longer be an immediate and driving motive. Increase
of capital will result only as a natural consequence of other motives;
these other motives will proceed from the proper connection of human
faculties with the several spheres of economic activity.
only from such viewpoints — viewpoints that lie outside the purely
capitalist orientation — that society can be constructed in a
way that will bring about a satisfactory balance between human work
and its return. And so it is with other matters where modern life has
alienated us from the natural basis of life.
the independence of the cultural and legal-political spheres, the means
of production, land and human labor power will be divested of their
present commodity character. (The reader will find a more exact description
of the way this will come about in my book,
Toward Social Renewal.)
The motives and impulses that shall determine the transference of land and
of the means of production when these are no longer treated as marketable
commodities shall be rooted in the independent spheres of rights and
cultural life, as shall the motives that will inspire human labor.
this way, forms of social cooperation suited to the conditions of
modern life will be created. It is only from these forms that the greatest
possible satisfaction of human needs can come. In a community organized
purely on a basis of capital and wages, the individual can apply his
powers and talents only insofar as they find an equivalent in monetary
gain. Consider, moreover, the confidence with which one individual will
place his forces at the disposal of another in order to enable the latter
to accomplish certain work. In a capitalist community, this confidence
must be based on a purely capitalist point of view.
in confidence of the achievements of others is the social basis of credit.
In older civilizations there was a transition from barter to the monetary
system; similarly, as a result of the complications of modern life,
a transformation has recently occurred from the simpler monetary
system to working on a credit basis. In our age, life makes it necessary
for one man to work with the means that are entrusted to him by another,
or by a community, in confidence of his power to achieve a result.
Under capitalism, however, the credit system involves a complete loss
of any real and satisfying human relationship to the conditions of one's
life and work. Credit is given when there is a prospect of an increase
of capital that seems to justify it; one's work is constantly overshadowed
by the need to justify it in capitalist terms. These are the motives
underlying the giving and taking of credit. And what is the result of
all this? Human beings are subjected to the power of a financial sphere
remote from life. The moment people become fully conscious of this fact,
they feel it to be unworthy of their human dignity.
case of credit on land. In a healthy social life, an individual or a
group possessing the necessary abilities may be given credit on land,
enabling them to develop it by establishing some kind of production.
It must be a development that seems justified on that land in light
of all the cultural conditions involved. If credit is given on land
from the purely capitalist viewpoint, in the effort to give it a commodity
value corresponding to the credit provided, use of the land which would
otherwise be the most desirable is possibly prevented.
system of giving credit presupposes a social structure that enables
economic values to be estimated by their relation to the satisfaction
of people's bodily and spiritual needs. Independent cultural and legal-political
spheres will lead to a vital recognition of this relation and make it
a guiding force. People's economic dealings will be shaped by it. Production
will be considered from the viewpoint of human needs; it will no longer
be governed by processes that obscure concrete needs through an abstract
scale of capital and wages.
The economic life in a threefold social order is built up by the cooperation
of associations arising out of the needs of producers and the interests
of consumers. These associations will have to decide on the giving
and taking of credit. In their mutual dealings the impulses and perspectives
that enter economic life from the cultural and legal spheres will play
a decisive part. These associations will not be bound to a purely capitalist
point of view. One association will deal directly with another; thus
the one-sided interests of one branch of production will be regulated
and balanced by those of the other.
for the giving and taking of credit will thus be left to the associations.
This will not impair the scope and activity of individuals with special
faculties; on the contrary, only this method will give individual faculties
full scope. The individual is responsible to his or her association
for achieving the best possible results. The association is responsible
to other associations for making good use of these individual abilities.
Such a division of responsibility will ensure that the whole activity
of production is guided by complementary and mutually corrective points
of view. The individual's desire for profit will no longer impose production
on the life of the community; production will be regulated by the community's
needs, which will make themselves felt in a real and objective way.
The need one association establishes will be the occasion for the
granting of credit by another.
who depend on their accustomed lines of thought will say, “These
are very fine ideas, but how are we to make the transition from present
conditions to the threefold system?” It is important to see that
what has been proposed here can be put into practice without delay.
One need only begin by forming such associations. Surely no one who
has a healthy sense of reality can deny this is immediately possible.
Associations based on the idea of the threefold social order can be
formed just as readily as companies and consortia were formed along
the old lines. Moreover, all kinds of dealings and transactions are
possible between the new associations and the old forms of business.
There is no question of the old having to be destroyed and replaced
artificially by the new. The new simply takes its place beside the old;
the new will then have to justify itself and prove its inherent power,
while the old will gradually crumble away.
The threefold idea is not a program or system for society as a whole,
requiring the old system to cease suddenly and everything to be “set
up” anew. The threefold idea can make a start with individual undertakings
in society. The transformation of the whole will then follow through
the ever-widening life of these individual institutions. Because it
is able to work this way, the threefold idea is not utopian. It is a
force adequate to the realities of modern life.
thing is that the idea of a threefold order shall stimulate a real social
intelligence in the people of the community. The economic viewpoint
shall be properly fructified by the impulses that come from the independent
cultural and political spheres. The individual shall contribute in a
very definite sense to the achievements of the community as a whole.
Through the role the individual plays in the independent cultural life,
through the interests that arise in the political and legal sphere,
and through the mutual relations of the economic associations,
his or her contribution shall be realized.
the influence of the threefold idea, the operation of social life will
in a certain sense be reversed. Presently, one must look to the increase
of one's capital or wages as a sign that one is playing a satisfactory
part in the life of the community. In the threefold social order, the
greatest possible efficiency of common work will result because individual
faculties work in harmony with the human relationships founded in the
legal sphere, and with the production, circulation and consumption regulated
by the economic associations. Increase of capital, and a proper
adjustment of work and the return upon work, shall appear as a final
consequence of these social institutions and their activities.
The threefold idea would guide our transforming and constructive power
from mere attempts at reform of social effects into the sphere of social
causes. Whether one rejects this idea or makes it one's own will depend
on summoning the will and energy to work one's way through to the realm
of causes. If one does this, one will cease considering only external
institutions; instead, one's attention will be guided to the human beings
who make the institutions. Modern life has brought about a division
of labor in many spheres, for outer methods and institutions demand
it. The effects of division of labor must be balanced by vital mutual
relations among people in the community. Division of labor separates
people; the forces that come to them from the three spheres of social
life, once these are made independent, will draw them together again.
This division of society has reached its zenith. This is a fact of experience,
and it gives our modern social life its stamp. Once we recognize it,
we realize the imperative demand of the age: to find and follow
the path that leads to reunion.
demand of the times is vividly illustrated by such concrete facts of
economic life as the continued intensification of the credit system.
The stronger the tendency toward a capitalist point of view, the more
highly organized the financial system and the more intense the spirit
of enterprise becomes the more the credit system develops.
to a healthy way of thinking the growth of the credit system must drive
home the urgent need to permeate it with a vital sense of the economic
realities — the production of commodities and the people's needs
for particular commodities. In the long run, credit cannot work in a
healthy way unless the giver of credit feels himself responsible for
all that is brought about thereby. The recipient of credit, through
his connection with the whole economic sphere (that is, through the
associations), must give grounds to justify his taking this responsibility.
For a healthy national economy, it is important not merely that
credit should further the spirit of enterprise as such, but that the
right methods and institutions should exist to enable the spirit of
enterprise to work in a socially useful way.
Theoretically, no one will want to deny that a larger sense of responsibility
is necessary in the present-day world of business and economic affairs.
To this end, associations must be created that will work to confront
individuals with the wider social effects of all their actions.
whose task it is to be farmers and who have experience in agriculture,
very rightly declare that those administering land must not regard it
as an ordinary commodity, and that land credit must be considered differently
from commodity credit. Yet it is impossible for such insight to come
into practical effect in the modern economy until the individual is
backed up by the associations. Guided by the real connections between
the several spheres of economic life, the associations will set a different
stamp on agricultural economy and on the other branches of production.
easily understand that some reply to these arguments: “What is
the point of it all? When all is said and done, it is human need that
rules over production, and no one can give or receive credit unless
there is a demand somewhere or other to justify it.” Someone might
even say, “After all, these social institutions and methods you
have in mind amount to nothing more than a conscious arrangement
of the very things that ‘supply and demand’ will surely regulate
automatically.” It will be clear to one who looks more closely
that this is not the point. The social thoughts that originate in the
threefold idea do not aim at replacing the free business dealings governed
by supply and demand with a command economy. Their aim is to realize
the true relative values of commodities, with the underlying idea that
the product of an individual's labor should be of a value equal to all
the other commodities consumed in the time spent producing it.
the capitalist system, demand may determine whether someone will undertake
the production of a certain commodity. Yet demand alone can never determine
whether it will be possible to produce it at a price corresponding to
its value in the sense defined above. This can be determined only through
methods and institutions whereby society, in all its aspects, will bring
about a sensible valuation of the different commodities. Anyone who
doubts that such methods and institutions are worth striving for lacks
vision; he does not see that, under the exclusive rule of supply and
demand, needs whose satisfaction would upgrade the life of the community
are being starved. He has no feeling for the necessity of trying to
include the satisfaction of such needs among the practical incentives
of an organized community. The essential aim of the threefold social
order is to create a just balance between human needs and the value
of the products of human work.
1 E.g. the English finance theorist Hartley
Withers in his treatise on Money and Credit.