MR GRADGRIND REFUTED.* THERE has always been something a little
reluctant, a little forced, in the assent which the ordinary man has given to the relentless logic of Manchester School economists. Yet their arguments appeared incontrovertible. Even in the work of that most charming of economic writers, Bastiat, many of us have felt a vague dissatisfaction. The Englishman wonders uneasily why, if the laws of supply and demand and of free exchange are so clear and simple, do things not work out just as M. Bastiat would have us believe they must, provided only that we live under a system of free exchange. It was all very well for a Frenchman who lived under a tariff to assert—nay, to prove—that life under a system of free trade must be a kind of opulent Eden. In vain he gave us the delightful tale of the new Robinson Crusoe, a parable which was finally to do away with the theory of " The Right to Work."
Perhaps we may remind our readers that in that charming perversion he takes us through the whole story of Robinson Crusoe, who is now supposed to be a convinced Protectionist, fearful of " dumping " and jealous of his right to work. When a plank floats ashore from the wreck the new Crusoe hurls it back into the sea in indignation, because—as he justly says— the plank will deprive him of work. It would take him many hours to hack and saw such a plank out of one of the palm trees now casting its agreeable shade upon the beach. As labour is the source of wealth he will be, by the value of so many hours of work, the poorer. The story (if our memory serves) ends with his erection of a tariff wall wherewith to combat Man Friday's insidious desires for the exchange of luscious tropical fruits against buttons.
We were eager to acknowledge with Bastiat that it was not work that man desired but the fruits of work ; but when we began to reflect how happy and content must be the tropical islander—child of the bread fruit, the coconut, and the kindly sun—our uneasiness began to take more definite shape, for if man wanted nothing but the fruits of labour, why was not the distant savage or the nearer pauper in fact happy ? Thus we
• Argonauts of the Western Pacific. By lkonislaw MalinowskL London : George Routledge and Sons. 1218.]
gradually came to see the "if " in the materialistic theory and the laws of supply and demand. Perhaps it was not, after all, opulence that man desired. For certainly he did seem to demand work, as well as the fruits of work, and that with a muddle-headed perseverance that was remarkable ! Could this pressing of the right to work be in fact a mis-statement of some real demand, some real need ? A closer scrutiny of human existence, whether displayed in seal trapping expeditions under the cold, unearthly glimmer of the Northern Lights, in the steaming noonday gloom of the jungle, or in the lean shimmer- ing stretches of the desert, seemed to show a strange picture to the bewildered student of Adam Smith ; mankind as often as not busying, nay, exhausting, himself in making his life not easier but more difficult. The noble and ingenuous savage, far from living free and untrammelled in a wise simplicity, was found to surround himself with an elaborate system of cere- monial family relationships, ridiculous magical observances, or gratuitous wars, which made his life one exasperating struggle from swaddling band to funeral pyre. Regard civilized European life the least bit too closely and all kinds of elements highly disturbing to the proper working of the laws of supply and demand were to be seen. Indeed, there seemed to be a choice of conclusions—either man was mad and incapable of working consistently for five minutes towards the simplest end, or ho did not on the whole desire affluence and material good. And there the matter rested for some time ! Economics, from being a fascinating, became an abhorred subject !
And all the while, flourishing with the fantastic luxuriance, the wandering, untrammelled, beautiful inconsequence of the tropics, was a supremely illuminating economic microcosm. The working of the system, known as Kula, has been seen by many missionaries and many travellers. It remained for Dr. Malinowski to perceive and regard it. It will be for the economists of the future to take its absurd lessons to heart. We shall here make no attempt to apply them, save to point out with a sort of pride that the Spectator's long championing of free trade was justified by more than logical and material considerations. A Tariff wall may keep out the Meditations of Confucius along with the humble crop of the paddy field.
East of New Guinea, between that island and the Solomon Islands, lies an archipelago inhabited by natives of Melanesian stock—there.is Woodlark Island, the Trobriand Islands, Roma Island, and so forth. Certain of these islands are united together by the system known as Kula. It is a system of trade
which is in the main sentimental, not commercial, the most prized articles of barter being arm-shells and necklaces. Usually the bracelets are too small to be worn, and we can best describe the Melanesians' interest in them as analogous to our own in the Crown Jewels or in sporting cups or shields. They have no owners and pass from man to man. In the ring of the Kula these objects are constantly circulating in opposite directions— clockwise the long necklaces of red shell are passed from hand to hand—in the opposite direction go the bracelets of white shell. Necklaces and bracelets are exchanged for one another:
" Every movement of the Kula articles, every detail of the transactions is fixed and regulated by a set of traditional rules and conventions, and most acts of the Kula aro accompanied by an elaborate magical ritual and publics ceremonies. On every island and in every village, a more or less limited number of men take part in the Kula—that is to say, receive the goods, hold them for a short time, and then pass them on. Therefore every man who is in the Kula, periodically though not regu- larly, receives one or several small: (arm-shells), or a soulava (necklace of red shell discs), and then has to hand it on to one of his partners, from whom he receives the opposite commodity in exchange. Thus no man ever keeps any of the articles for any length of time in his possession."
A chief, perhaps, may have several hundred Kula partners ; a commoner a dozen or so, some in his own village, some perhaps 100 miles away in a distant island and belonging to a foreign tribe :— " But side by side with the ritual exchange of arm-shells and necklaces, the natives carry on ordinary trade, bartering from one island to another a great number of utilities, often unpro- curable in the district to which they are imported, and indis- pensable there. . . . The Kula is thus an extremely big and complex institution, both in its geographical extent and m the manifoldness of its component pursuits. It welds together a considerable number of tribes, and it embraces a vast complex of activities, inter-connected, and playing into one another, so as to form one organic whole.
The tribesmen live for the Kula. They cannot read or
write ; their wants are easily supplied ; but through the Kula a genuine culture is possible.
" In the Introduction we called the Kula a ' form of trade,' and we ranged it alongside other systems of barter. This is quite correct, if we give the word ' trade' a sufficiently wide Interpretation, and mean by it any exchange of goods. But the word trade ' is used in current Ethnography and economic literature with so many different implications that a whole lot of misleading, preconceived ideas have to be brushed aside in order to grasp the facts correctly. Thus the aprioric current notion of primitive trade would be that of an exchange of indis- pensable or useful articles, done without much ceremony or regulation, under stress of dearth or need, in spasmodic, irregular intervals—and this done either by direct barter, everyone looking out sharply not to be done out of his due, or, if the savages were too timid and distrustful to face one another, by some customary arrangement, securing by means of heavy penalties compliance in the obligations mcurred or imposed. Waiving for the present the question how far this conception is valid or not in general—in my opinion it is quite misleading —we have to realise clearly that the Kula contradicts in almost every point the above definition of ' savage trade.' It shows to us primitive exchange in an entirely different light. . . . All its transactions are public and ceremonial, and carried out according to definite rules. . . . Sociologically, though transacted between tribes differing in language, culture, and probably even in race, it is based on a fixed and permanent status, on a partnership which binds into couples some thousands of individuals. This partnership is a lifelong relationship, it implies various mutual duties and privileges, and constitutes a type of inter-tribal relationship on an enormous scale. As to the economic mechanism of the transactions, this is based on a specific form of credit, which implies a high degree of mutual trust and commercial honour—and this refers also to the subsidiary, minor trade which accompanies the Kula proper. Finally, the Kula is not done under stress of any need, since its main aim is to exchange articles which are of no practical use."
The fact that Kula partners often live in the same village leads to anomalies which would have delighted the heart of Bastiat, and here Kula is further complicated by the peculiar family relationships. The care of the children of a marriage falls not to the father, but to the mother's brother. The father is almost grudgingly allowed a sentimental interest in his off- spring, he is kind to them on the sly, but the burden of their support falls upon the maternal uncle, in army language they are " attached to him for rations and discipline," the father in his turn, of course, supporting his sister's children. The cultiva- tion of yams in little gardens is one of the main sources of food. A man cultivating his garden may, because of this curious system,
Prat of all have to make over his yams to his sister and brother- in-law, who perhaps live some miles away at the other side of the island and who also grow yams. But they will often not
consume these, but will make a Kula exchange of them with a partner who possibly lives at a village at a yet greater distance.
Therefore the yams will not be consumed till after two exchanges, and after perhaps having been conveyed a great many miles by canoe or porterage. We can hardly suppose if an economic policy were their object that these amiable and capable people would not have been able to see how much better it would be for each family to consume its own yams. A little reflection, however, will show how very much more limited would be the state of society if this apparently commonsense method were adopted.
The Kula ceremonies are conducted with the utmost relish, the exchanges being the islanders' chief subject of conversation, indeed the chief object of life, and the distant expeditions ensuring not only against the mental stagnation of tribes living in tiny isolated islands, but against undesirable inbreeding.
We commend this book to all those whose mental bent inclines them to enjoy every additional proof that " man cannot live by bread alone." He will here have a charmingly fantastic example of the sublimation and subordination of trade to intellectual and even spiritual ends. But not only ethnographers and economists will delight in Dr. Malinowski's book. Every stage of the Kula ceremonial—the display of the yams and the pigs, the dancing on the seashore, the packing and the launching of the canoes, the adorning of the person, and the polished politeness of the actual exchange—has a running accompani- ment of traditional magic. Everything is accomplished with the help of a spell, and Dr. Malinowaki has given these spells in full, together with a literal translation. The book is, therefore, of remarkable interest for students of symbolism, especially of poetic symbolism. For Dr. Malinowski'a infinitely careful,
scientific method makes the material which he has collected so completely trustworthy that it is possible to use it for all sorts of
purposes for which it was not directly intended. The spells to ensure the beauty of a man or the swiftness of a canoe arc often
extraordinarily convincing even in translation, and their use of the true poetic devices of rhythm, compression, associative backgrounds and symbolism provides parallels with European lyric verse which will prove of great interest to the student of poetic psychology.