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World Economy
GA 340

Lecture VI

29 July 1922, Dornach

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You know, perhaps, that in my Threefold Commonwealth I endeavoured to express in a formula how we may arrive at a conception of “true price” (as we will call it to begin with) in the whole economic process. Needless to say—to begin with, such a formula is only an abstraction. And it is the object of these lectures (which, I believe, in spite of the shortness of the time, will really form a whole)—it is our very object in these lectures to work the whole science of Economics, at any rate in outline, into this abstraction.

The formula which I gave in my Threefold Commonwealth was as follows: “A ‘true price’ is forthcoming when a man receives, as counter-value for the product he has made, sufficient to enable him to satisfy the whole of his needs, including of course the needs of his dependants, until he will again have completed a like product.” Abstract as it is, this formula is none the less exhaustive. In setting up a formula it is always necessary that it should contain all the concrete details. I do believe, for the domain of economics, this formula is no less exhaustive than, say, the Theorem of Pythagoras is for all right-angled triangles. But the point is—just as we have to introduce into the Theorem of Pythagoras the varying proportions of the sides, so shall we have to introduce many, very many more variables into this formula. Economic Science is precisely an understanding of how the whole economic process can be included in this formula.

Today I intend to start from one essential feature of the formula. It is this. The formula does not point to what is past but to what is going to happen in the future, for I say in it, of set purpose, “the counter-value must satisfy the man's needs in the future—namely, until he will have made a like product again.” This is an absolutely essential feature of the formula. If we were to demand a counter-value, literally, for the product which the man has already finished—if we expected this to be true to the real economic facts—it might well happen that he would receive a value which would only satisfy his needs, say, for five-sixths of the time which he will take in finishing the new product. For the economic facts alter from the past into the future. He who imagines that he can draw up any kind of table from the past, will invariably go wrong in economics. Economic or business life essentially consists in setting future processes in motion with the help of what went before. But where past processes are thus used to set future ones in motion, it inevitably happens in some cases that the values are considerably shifted. Indeed they are constantly shifting. Hence in this formula it is essential to say: “If someone makes a pair of boots, the time he took to make them is not the determining factor in the economic sense. The determining factor is the time he will take to make the next pair of boots.” That is the point, and we must now try to understand its fuller implications within the whole economic process.

Yesterday we brought before our minds this cycle (see Diagram 3): Nature, Labour, Capital—that is, Capital endued with value by the Spirit. At this point I might just as well write (instead of “Capital”) “Spirit.” To begin with we followed out the economic process in this direction, counter-clockwise, and we found that at this point congestion must not be allowed to occur. On the contrary only so much must be allowed to go through as will act as a kind of seed to carry on the process. A state of economic congestion must not be allowed to arise through a fixation of Capital in ground rents. Now, as I said, fundamentally speaking, the return for land when it is sold—i.e., when land is given a value in the economic process—works in direct opposition to the interests of a person engaged in the manufacture of valuable goods. For if a man wishes to manufacture valuable goods with the help of Capital, it is to his interest that the rate of interest should be low. Having less interest to pay, he will be less hampered in his use of the Capital he has borrowed. The landowner, on the other hand (I may go fully into these things, as they are of economic significance), the landowner, or anyone who has an interest in the land becoming dearer, will be able to make it dearer simply by a reduction in the rate of interest. If he has a low rate of interest to pay, the value of his land will grow, it will become dearer and dearer. Whereas a man engaged in the manufacture of valuable commodities will be able to make them cheaper because of a low rate of interest. Commodities, therefore, which depend mainly on manufacture, become cheaper when the rate of interest is low. Land, on the other hand, which gives a yield without first having to be manufactured, becomes dearer when the rate of interest is low. You can easily work it out. It is an economic fact.

It would appear then to be necessary to arrange for two different rates of interest: We ought to have a rate of interest as low as possible for the installation of works for the production of valuable commodities; and a rate of interest as high as possible for everything that falls under the heading of “land.” This follows directly from what we said before. We want a rate of interest as high as possible for all that comes under the heading of “land.” But that is a thing which cannot easily be carried out in practice. A slightly higher rate of interest for Capital advanced on land might be practicable, but this would be of little help. A considerably higher rate of interest—say, for instance, the rate of interest which would keep the land at an ever constant value, namely, 100%—would be extremely difficult to realise in practice without taking additional steps. 100% interest for money borrowed on land would mend matters at once, but it cannot be carried out in practice. In all such cases, the first point is to see with full clarity into the economic process. When we do so, we soon realise that the life of Associations is the only thing that can make it healthy. Rightly to see the economic process will lead to our being able rightly to direct it.

In the economic process we must speak, as I indicated yesterday, of Production and Consumption. We must observe the producing and the consuming process. This contrast has played a great part recently in various much-canvassed economic theories which in due course have been used for purposes of agitation. There has especially been much dispute upon the question, whether spiritual or intellectual work, as such, is in any way value-creating in the economic sphere.

The spiritual worker is certainly a consumer. Whether he is also a producer in the economic sense is a question which has been much discussed. The extreme Marxists, for example, have again and again cited that luckless fellow, the Indian book-keeper, who has to keep the accounts for his village community. He does not till the fields or do any other productive work; he merely registers the productive work done by others. The Marxists deny him the faculty of producing anything. They declare that he is simply and solely maintained out of the surplus value which the productive workers create. This worthy book-keeper is worked as hard in Economics as Caius is in the formal Logic which we did at college. Caius's job is proving the mortality of man. You remember: “All men are mortal, Caius is a man, therefore Caius is mortal.” His everlasting function of proving the mortality of man has made him immortal in the world of Logic. The same thing has happened in Marxian literature to the Indian bookkeeper who is maintained simply by the surplus value of the productive workers. He has become a classic.

This question is, if I may say so, extraordinarily full of “snags,” in which we very easily get caught when we try to work it out economically. I mean the question: How far (if at all) spiritual work is economically productive? Now here it is especially important to distinguish between the past and the future. For if you consider, if you reflect statistically on, the past only, with respect to the past and to all that is only the unbroken continuation of the past, you will be able to prove that spiritual work is unproductive. From the past into the future within the material sphere, only purely material work and its effects can be held to be productive in the economic process. It is quite a different matter when you turn your eye to the future. And, as we said, to be engaged in economics is to be working from the past into the future.

You need only think of this simple instance. Assume that in some village a craftsman, who manufactures this or that, falls ill. Under certain given circumstances—let us say, if he falls into the hands of an unskilful doctor—he will have to lie in bed for three weeks, during which time he will be able to do nothing. He will disturb the economic process to no small extent. If he is a cobbler, for three weeks long the boots and shoes will not be brought to market—taking the word “market” in the widest sense. But now suppose he gets a very skilful doctor who makes him well in a week. He can go back to work again in a week. In all seriousness you can now decide the question: Who made the boots for the remaining 14 days, the cobbler or the doctor? In reality it was the doctor. And now the thing is altogether clear. As soon as you take into account the future from any given moment onward—towards the future—you can no longer call the Spiritual unproductive. In relation to the past, the Spiritual—or rather, those human beings who work in the spiritual sphere—are consumers only. In relation to the future they are decidedly productive, indeed they are the producers, for they transform the whole process of production and make it pronouncedly different for the economic life. You can see this from the example of the tunnel. What happens when tunnels are built nowadays? They could

not be built unless the differential calculus had been discovered. To this day, therefore, Leibnitz is helping to build all tunnels. The way prices work out in this case has really been determined by that exertion of his spiritual forces. You can never answer these questions in Economics if you consider the past in the same way as the future. But, ladies and gentlemen, life does not move towards the past, nor does it even prolong the past; it goes on into the future.

Hence no economic thought is real which does not reckon with what is done by spiritual work, if we may call it so, that is to say, fundamentally by thinking. But spiritual work is not an easy thing to grasp. It has its own peculiar properties which are not at all easy to grasp in economic terms. Spiritual work begins the moment work itself—that is to say, Labour—is organised. The organising work of thinking begins the very moment Labour itself is organised and divided. Thenceforward, it grows more and more independent. Consider the spiritual work of one who directs some undertaking within the material sphere. You will see that he applies an immense amount of spiritual work. Nevertheless he is still working with the resources with which the economic process provides him as from the past. But even on quite practical grounds you cannot get around the fact that the sphere of spiritual activity (if I may now call it “activity” instead of work or labour) also includes the entirely free kind of activity. When a man invents the differential calculus, and even more so when he paints a picture, there we have a case of entirely free spiritual activity. At any rate, relatively speaking, we can call it free. For whatever materials are derived from the past—the paints and the like—they no longer have the same significance in relation to the eventual products as do the raw products, for example, purchased for material manufacture.

Passing into this region, therefore (see Diagram 4), we come into the sphere of the completely free spiritual life. In this sphere we find, above all things, teaching and education. Those who have to teach and educate stand undoubtedly within the sphere of the completely free spiritual life. For the purely material economic process, it is especially the free spiritual workers who are, in relation to the past, absolutely and exclusively consumers. Of course, you may say, they produce something, and, if they are painters, for example, they are even paid something for what they have produced. In appearance, therefore, the economic process is the same as when I manufacture a table and sell it. And yet the process is essentially different as soon as we cease to consider the buying and selling of the individual and turn our attention to the economic organism as a whole—and this is what we must do in the present advanced stage of division of Labour.

Now there are also pure consumers of another kind within a social organism, namely, the young and the very old. Up to a certain age, the young are pure consumers; and those who have been pensioned off are again pure consumers. A very little reflection will suffice to convince you that if there were no pure consumers in the economic process—mere consumers who are not producers at all—the thing could not go forward at all. For if everyone were producing, all that is produced could not be consumed if the economic process were to go forward at all. It is so at any rate as human life is, and human life is not purely economics; it must be taken as a whole. The real advancement of the economic process is only possible if it includes pure consumers.

But I must now illumine from a different angle this fact: that we have pure consumers within the economic process.

You see, this circle (in the diagram) can be made very instructive. We can endow it with all manner of properties, and the question will always be, how to bring the several economic processes and facts into this circle, which represents for us the cycle of the economic process. Something very important happens when, in buying and selling in the market, I pay on the spot for what I get. The point is not that I pay for it with money; I might equally well barter it for a corresponding commodity which the other person was willing to accept. The point is that I pay at once. Indeed it is this that constitutes “paying” in the proper sense of the word. Now here once more we must pass from the ordinary, everyday conception to the true economic conception. For in the economic life the several concepts constantly play into one another. The total phenomenon, the total fact, results from the interplay of the most diverse factors. You may say: “It is conceivable that some regulation should be made, so that no one need ever pay cash down; then there would be no such thing as ‘paying at once’; one would only pay after a month or after some other interval of time.” But the point is this: We are forming our concepts altogether wrongly when we say: “Some-one hands me a suit of clothes and I pay for it after a month.” The fact is that after a month I no longer pay for this suit of clothes alone. In that moment I am paying for something quite different. I am paying for something which circumstances, by raising or lowering prices, may have made quite different. I am paying for an ideal element in addition. In fact, we cannot do without the concept of “immediate payment.” This is the concept which holds good in cases of simple purchase. Nay more, a thing becomes a commodity on the market through the very fact that it is paid for at once. This is generally the case with those commodities which are “Nature transformed by Labour.” For such commodities I pay. Here payment plays the essential part. There must be such payment. I pay at the very moment when I open my purse and give away my money; and the value is determined in the very moment at which I give away the money, or exchange my commodity for another. That is payment. That is one thing there must be in the economic process.

The second thing, which plays a similar part to payment, is the thing to which I drew attention yesterday. It is Lending. This, as I said, does not interfere with the concept of payment as such. Lending, once more, is an altogether different fact, a fact which simply exists. If I have money lent me, I can apply my Spirit to this loaned Capital. I become a debtor; but I also become a producer. In this way, lending plays a real economic part. If I have intellectual or spiritual capacities in some direction, it must be possible for me to obtain loaned Capital. No matter where I get it from, I must have it. Thus in addition to payment there must be loan (see >Diagram 4). Here then we have two very important factors in the economic process: Payment and Loan.

And now by a simple deduction—we must verify it here (see diagram)—by a very simple deduction you can find the third. You will not doubt for a moment what the third thing is. We have had Payment and Loan. The third thing is Gift. Payment, Loan and Gift—this is a real trinity of concepts, essential to a healthy economy. There is a prevailing disinclination to include “free gift ” in the economic process as such, but, ladies and gentlemen, if there is not a giving somewhere, the economic process cannot go on at all. Imagine for a moment what we should make of our children if we gave them nothing. We are constantly making free gifts to the children. If we consider the economic process as a whole—as a process that goes on and on continuously—Gift is part of it. There is no escaping the fact. It is wrong to regard the transfer of values from hand to hand, representing a process of free gift, as something inadmissible in the economic process as such. Precisely this one of the three is found—with horror by some people—worked out in my book, The Threefold Commonwealth, where it is shown how values are to be transferred, how means of production, for instance, are to be transferred, by a process really identical with giving, to one who has the faculties necessary for managing them further. Provision must, of course, be made that the giving is not done in a haphazard way. But in the economic sense they are none the less free gifts, and such gifts are absolutely necessary.

You will find it more and more to be an economic necessity. The trinity of payment, loan and gift is there in the economic process. Consider the matter thoroughly and you will say: In every economic process this must be contained. Otherwise it would be no economic process; it would lead to absurdities at every point.

People may rebel against these things for a time; but we must remember that economic wisdom is today not very great. Those especially who want to teach it should be under no illusions on this point. Modern economic knowledge is by no means great. People are little inclined to go into the real economic relationships. This is an obvious fact, so obvious that if you look in today's Basler Nachrichten you will find curiously enough a reflection on this very fact. Neither Governments nor private people nowadays, it says, are inclined to evolve real economic thinking. I think we may take it that anything expounded in the Basler Nachrichten is likely to be obvious. It is indeed a palpable fact and it is interesting to find it discussed in this way. The article is interesting, inasmuch as it endeavours to set in a glaring light the absolute impotence which prevails in the economic sphere; interesting, too, because it says that these things must be changed—it is time Governments and individuals began to think differently. But there the matter ends. How they are to think differently—on this you will, of course, find nothing in the Basler Nachrichten—which is also interesting!

Now it is possible to interfere in the economic process in a disturbing way, if one does not rightly relate the one thing with the other in this trinity. Many people today are enthusiastically demanding the taxation of legacies (which, of course, are also gifts), Such proposals have no deep economic significance. For we do not lessen the value of the inheritance if, say, it has a value V and we divide the value V into two parts, V1 and V2 giving V2 to some other party and leaving the legatee with V1 alone. All it means is that the two together will now do business with the original value V, and the question will be whether he who receives V2 will husband it as advantageously for the economic life as would the original legatee who would otherwise have received V1 and V2 together. Everyone of course may settle this question for himself according to his taste, whether a single clever man, receiving the whole legacy, will husband it better, or whether it will be better for one to receive only part while the State receives the other part, so that the individual is obliged to do business in conjunction with the State.

This sort of thing definitely leads us away from pure economic thinking. It is a thinking based on resentment, on feeling. People envy the rich heir. There may be reason for it, but we cannot look at it only from this point of view if we claim to be thinking in an economic sense. The point is, how must the thing be conceived in the economic sense, for whatever else has to be done must take its start from this. You can, of course, conceive a social organism becoming diseased through the fact that payment is not working together in an organic way with loan and gift, since one or the other is being obstructed and one or the other fostered. But they will still go on working together in some way. If you abolish giving on one side, you merely effect a redistribution, and the question to be decided is not whether this ought to be done, but whether it is necessarily advantageous. Whether the individual heir alone should receive the inheritance, or whether he must share it with the State, is a question which must first be settled on economic grounds. Which is more advantageous? That is the point.

The important thing is this: Free spiritual life arises almost of necessity out of the entry of the Spirit into the economic life. As a result of this free spiritual life, as I said just now, there will be pure consumers so far as the past is concerned. But what of the free spiritual life in relation to the future? Here it is productive—indirectly it is true—but none the less extraordinarily productive. Imagine the free spiritual life in the social organism really freed, so that the individual faculties were always able to evolve to the full. Then the free spiritual life will be able to exert an extremely fertilising influence on the half-free spiritual life—i.e., on that spiritual life which enters into the processes of material production. Considered in this light, the thing takes on a decidedly economic complexion.

Anyone who can observe life with an unbiased mind will say to himself that it is by no means a matter of indifference whether in a given region all who are active in the free spiritual life are exterminated (for instance, if they got nothing to consume, the right to live being admitted only for those who work directly into the material process) or whether really free spirits are allowed to exist within the social organism. For the free spirits have the peculiar property of loosening and liberating the spirituality, the “gumption” of the others. They make their thinking more mobile, and these others are thus able to work into the material process more effectively. But it is important to remember that the free spirits are living men. You must not try to refute me by pointing to Italy and saying: There is a great deal of free spiritual life there, yet the economic processes which proceed from spirit have not been stimulated to any unusual degree. Granted, it is a free spiritual life. But it is a free spiritual life handed down from the past. There are statues, museums and the like; but they do not have this effect. Only what is living is effectual—that is to say, what proceeds from the free spirit and passes on to other spiritual producers. This is what works as a productive factor into the future, even in the economic sense. It is certainly possible to exert a healing influence on the economic process by giving a free field of action to free spiritual workers.

Suppose now that we have a healthy Associative life in a community. The task of the Associations will be to arrange production in such a way that when too many people are working in any sphere they can be transferred to some other work. It is this vital dealing with men, this allowing the whole social order to originate from the insight of the Associations that matters. And when one day the Associations begin to understand something of the influence of free spiritual life on the economic process, we can give them a very good means of regulating the economic circuit. I mentioned this in my Threefold Commonwealth. The Associations will find that when free spiritual life declines, too little is being given freely; they will grasp the connection. They will see the connection between too little giving and too little free spiritual work. When there is not enough free spiritual work, they will realise that too little is being given. When too little is being given, they will notice a decline in free spiritual work.

There is then a very definite possibility of driving the rate of interest on Nature-property right up to 100% by transmitting as much Nature-property as possible in the shape of free gifts to those who are spiritually productive. In this way you can bring the Land question into direct connection with what works particularly into the future. In other words, the Capital which presses to be invested, the Capital which tends to march into mortgages and stay there, must be given an outlet into free spiritual institutions. That is the practical aspect. Let the Associations see to it that the money which tends to get tied up in mortgages finds its way into free spiritual institutions. There you have the connection of the Associative life with the general social life. Only when you try to penetrate the realities of economic life does it begin to dawn on you what must be done in the one case or in the other. I do not by any means wish to agitate that this or that must be done. I only wish to point out what is. And this is undoubtedly true: What we can never attain by legislative measures—namely, to keep the excess Capital away from Nature—we can attain by the life and system of Associations, diverting the Capital into free spiritual institutions. I only say: If the one thing happens, the other will happen too. Science, after all, has only to indicate the conditions under which things are connected.