12 MARCH 1892, Page 12


WE publish this week a letter on American wealth which has greatly interested us fromthe peculiarity of its point of view. The writer, an American who has returned to his country after long residence in Europe, has been struck by the growing number of the millionaires, has inquired into their position, and has decided that the class to which they belong will continue to exist. Everything, from the settlement of immigrants to the manufacture of sugar, is being managed by a huge combination, and the " Combines " breed vast wealth which tends to fall into single hands. It may even become hereditary, for Mr. Horace Smith sees no tendency to the dispersion of great fortunes, and perceives in the great "Trusts," or, as our forefathers would have called them, Monopolies, which are growing within the Union on all sides, means of permanent investment without sacrificing the large interest derivable from business. The millionaires, in short, to employ his own expressive idiom, have "come to stay." That prospect shocked him a little at first—we fancy the writer is, or was, a Quaker—but he is an American ; he believes America must be the best of all possible worlds, and he is therefore at no loss to find a reason why the millionaire, though a personage who was not expected when the States were declared independent, must be a beneficial arrival. He is, says Mr. Smith, a product of intellect. "He does not grab land and take toll like a British landlord or a German Baron," but "creates wealth under the highest brain- pressure "—of which, we may remark in passing, he usually dies—" wealth that is reproductive, wealth that cannot stay its hand and lie back indolently. It is wealth that must push on to greater conquests in the interest of humanity." Why ? The sentence sounds pleasantly enough, but where is its justification ? That is to say, where is the reason why a " Combine " should not accumulate wealth against the in- terests of humanity ? Suppose the Trust—for:really " Com- bine " is a little too barbaric a word—which monopolises school-books should succeed in making them dear : would that be for the benefit of humanity ? Or suppose the Emigrant Trusts skin the emigrants until they stop emi- gration: will that be for the advantage either of America, which still needs labour, or of an overcrowded elder world? Or suppose that Messrs. Armour, aided by two or three other firms of equal means and intellect, succeed in buying all the " hog-products " in existence or to come for five years, settling all prices for such products, and in limiting the production of hogsflesh and skins : would that be for the happiness of a world which demands pork, and saddles, and bristles, with a certain eagerness of need ? We should say that reasonably reflective men, warned by history and by many transactions they see around them, would regard "Com- bines," alias "Trusts," otherwise Monopolies, with a certain suspicion, would look askance at wealth, however vast, if so "created," or rather scraped together out of consumers' necessities, and would fear that the resulting millionaires had made their millions by diminishing the total sum of human comfort or enjoyment. Of course the fear would be unfounded in many cases, for distribution from large reservoirs instead of small puddles is often—as in the case of water—a real service to human beings ; but it need not be so always, and very often, as in the instance of the frequent " Combines " to buy up quinine and other necessary drugs, the operation is a definite act of hostility directed against a suffering section of the human race. Nor can we see in the least why in such dealings the element of " grab " must be considered left out. Grant that the German Baron and the English landlord originally "grabbed" their land from its owners—as the Americans originally " grabbed " their vast estate from the Red Indians—and now take toll of it, why is that toll more immoral than the toll taken by the Trusts ? Tenants are not more entitled to pity than consumers of necessaries, are indeed, less so, for while tenants are a limited class, consumers of necessaries include all humanity, and especially its feeblest sections. The toll which an Emigrant Trust takes of emigrants is surely as oppressive as any toll taken by a land- lord from those to whom he lets his land. And, to ask our last question in advance, where does the superior intellect -come in with such certainty that we are to assume its -existence without question P Does Mr. H. Smith imagine that the successful soldiers of the past were really, the cen- tury being considered, the inferiors in intellect of successful modern jobbers ; that a man like Wallenstein, for example— the largest landgrabber we can at this moment think of—or a man like William Cecil, also very successful in that line, was really the intellectual inferior of Mr. Jay Gould or Mr. Armour P or the gentleman, we are ashamed to have for- gotten his name, who sits enthroned upon a sort of Pelion of sugar ? We cannot prove our case, of course, for we cannot open the brains either of the dead or the living, but Mr. Smith must allow us to doubt whether the recorded evidence would Is held by any competent Judges to establish so extraordinary an assumption. The great properties of the world have for the most part, or perhaps in all cases, been founded by intel- lectual force of one sort or another; and we doubt, if all 'facts were considered impartially, whether the balance of un- -scrupulousness would be found to weigh heavily against the soldier, while the balance of manliness was emphatically on his side. He gave his conscience very often for his gains, but he also gave his life ; while the modern speculator as often only gives his conscience and ten years of his ease.

These, however, are only queries provoked by a certain _gratulation obvious in Mr. Smith's letter. Our main -objection is not to his facts, but to his deduction from his -facts. We entirely concede that a rich class has grown up in Republican America, and that it has probably "come to stay." We see nothing likely to destroy it. The Federal Constitution protects the billionaire as no other system does, for he can buy a Legislature and an army of private police, .and is then as free from assault by mob or elector, as any other Sovereign. Nobody can make him distribute his millions—they are not distributed even in France or Holland, under laws intended for that end, laws which lia.ve not touched the great financing families—and if he _pleases to increase them, he can, no man with thousands having in business a chance against the man with millions. And we will concede for argument's sake, though we entirely disbelieve it, that making money in millions takes more intellect than organising armies, or " conquering " tracts of inhabited

land, or persuading a King to part with a share of some huge dacoity like the plunder of the monasteries. What we contend .against is the assumption obviously underlying the whole of Mr.

'Smith's letter, that the new wealth will be so much better used than the old. The old wealth was used to found families which -devoted themselves to arms, statesmanship, and the patronage .of the arts, three of the greatest services which, if well directed, can be performed for a community. What will the new wealth do ? Go on working, replies Mr. Smith, at industrial enterprise, and so enrich the community as well as its posses. -sore. It must do so, he adds, for if the wealthy give over -such work, their wealth will of necessity vanish away. There is not the smallest proof of that compulsion. Nobody in America buys arable land in vast blocks for permanent in- vestment, because as everybody can attain a freehold, tenancy

-is not popular; but the billionaire can invest in houses if he 'likes, and as landlord of New York, Philadelphia, or Chicago,

-can go comfortably to sleep, or to Europe. Mr. Vanderbilt can put all his millions in Consols, if he pleases, or United States 'Threes, and be much more indolent than any German Baron --or English landlord, who, if he is to get an income at all, must look after his estate very sharply indeed. Mr. Smith should buy ten thousand English acres, insist on getting 3 per cent. -out of them, and see how much leisure he has, either for luxury, or reflection, or accumulation by business. Moreover, in a -generation or two the new wealthy will go out of busi- ness, even if they have to settle in Europe to do it. No family will endure for centuries, or even many genera- tions, the strain which colossal " business " imposes on brain and energy, or will go on heaping up the money

which they cannot use for any enjoyment, except perhaps a purposeless and, we should say, intolerably wearisome osten- tation. Or if they do go on, they will develop into " cranks " or "cretins," or those mad spendthrifts who, in every great European family except the Grosvenors, appear periodically, and have to be crushed, either, as in England, by the Bank- ruptcy Courts, or as in France and Austria, by conseils de famine, or as in Russia, by orders to reside for a generation on remote estates, where expenditure is next to impossible. If American doctors may be trusted, American millionaires have no more immunity against disorders of the nerves than German Barons, and much less than English land- lords, who often when overtaxed show that they have learned the greatest of medical secrets, how an exhausted family may vegetate for a generation or two, and recover vigour again. There is much in industry to keep a race physically wholesome, but nothing in industrial speculation. The majority of hereditary millionaires will resign business, as the Fuggers did, and as some of the ablest of the Rothschilds have done, and go in for the ordinary life and pursuits of exceedingly wealthy men, pursuits which may be made just as beneficial as those of great nobles like the last Duke of Northumberland, but do not essentially differ from them. There is nothing in the new wealth to make its possessors free from mental fatigue, or from the wish to reflect, or collect, or succeed in the world in some career other than heaping money. Are there not rumours of one American millionaire at least who would prefer great literary success to all his millions, and of a wealthy English Peer who said he would rather sell a picture of his own than double his estates ? The lot Mr. Smith predicts for the heirs of those who have suc- ceeded in " Combines " is one they will themselves reject ; but grant for a moment that he is right, and that something in American air compels the grandson of a plutocrat to continue drudging, where is the particular good of that to the community ? That is to say, what is the mighty work which a millionaire can do for gain, and an associa- tion of little people cannot do? The greatest industrial enterprise on this planet, the supply of daily food to man- kind, is done, as far as we know, and done successfully, by a huge multitude of very little people, who are seldom posssesed of a hundred pounds each, who are not organised at all, and who make, we should say, the smallest per-centage in return for their labour yielded by any great business in the world. The Vanderbilt of the peasants is still to seek. Grant, however, as a mere truism, that there are under- takings, such as railways, which can only be successful through organisation, and which of them cannot be managed by associations of small men ? A hundred thousand pounds in ordinary shares is considered here a large stake for one individual in any one railway ; but what has Mr. Vanderbilt as Railway King done for the American community which our unnoticed Boards of Directors have not done for us ? Be it understood we are not objecting to the great capitalist of any kind in the smallest degree. If he gets his millions honestly, he has as much right to them as any workman to his furniture, and this whether he toils like a bee or sleeps like a dormouse—both of them creatures of Allah—

and we can point out, have pointed out, functions in which such a capitalist may be of the highest utility ; but in industrial enterprise we hardly see it. He may be, if he is in advance of his time in recognising scientific possi- bilities, or if he is comparatively indifferent to great risks, but he certainly is not a necessity ; and as to his being a benefactor merely by the fact of his wealth, just imagine the railways of England or America owned by one man. Yet, if Mr. Smith's thesis is true, that huge " Combine " would be the very best thing for English or American mankind. No; there will be, probably for ages, an immensely wealthy class in America, as on every other continent ; but, as on every other continent, its effects will be partly beneficial, partly injurious, —beneficial by keeping up the standard of civilisation, in- jurious in making luxury too much of an ideal. In none of them will the millionaires help on industrial progress half as much as the unnoticed and usually poverty-stricken thinkers of industry will do. It is Fultons the world wants for in- dustrial progress, not Jay Goulds ; and there is more to be gained for the community, in the industrial way, out of one Wheatstone than out of a hundred billionaires.