THE INFLUENCE OF SOCIETY UPON TRADE ENTERPRISE.
[TO THE EDITOR OP THE "SPECTATOR."l
Sta,—Among the many reasons, good or bad, that have been suggested as the causes of the alleged decline of British trade, one at least has perhaps received less attention than it deserves. Lack of technical education, want of enterprise, and the hostile action of Trade-Unions may all, in varying degree, have contributed to hamper the expansion of British commerce, but the influence which is exerted by social ambition is by no means to be ignored when the peculiar opportunities offered by English society, and the free- dom with which they are taken advantage of, are remembered. Society is to-day a vast association of people of luxurious habits into whose ranks the possession of wealth secures a man immediate admittance. But the ease with which the prize can be obtained does not make it the less coveted by the vast majority of men, for their sons if not for themselves. Too often the attainment of this social ambition results in the neglect of the business by which the wealth has been obtained. Directly, it leads to the diverting of money needed to strengthen and enlarge the capacity of the existing trade connection; indirectly, it results in the withdrawal from a personal supervision of the business of the younger and more active members of the firm. That much might be said on the other side on behalf of the exist- ing catholic nature of .English society is of course true, but it is as well that some attention should be drawn to the effect that social ambition; in a way peculiar to this country, has here upon commercial development. The question is well raised by Mr. Kipling in his "Anthony Glo'ster," but suf- ficient attention has never been paid to a source of weak- ness that seems almost peculiar to this country.. Elsewhere, as particularly in the United States, the acquisition of wealth does not, as a rule, distract its possessor from the same careful supervision of his workmen that he had exercised before; the expansion of his business remains the first and greatest interest of his life. On this side of the Atlantic there seems reason to fear that the lack of enthusiasm that may, in part at least, be attributed to the counter-attractions of society has not been without its influence upon the attitude of the workmen also. It is now admitted that the British worker. under the new regime to which the supineness of his master has undoubtedly con- tributed, though as capable and skilful as his fellow-workman in America, does not work so long or so well, except under the spur of commercial depression; and that class distinctions, artificially fostered in this country by a general raising of the standard of luxury in all classes, are in some measure to blame is shown by the radically different attitude taken up in the States by workmen who have reasonable hope of eventually reaching the position of masters themselves. It may be reasonably doubted whether our trade is as seriously jeopardised as we fear. Because other nations become richer we do not on that account become poorer, and we do not expect to retain an absolute commercial supremacy when, to take the case of the United States alone, we are competing with a united population of over seventy millions of people possessed of vast natural wealth. So long as the standard of living of the bulk of our people is not lowered, nor the increase of the population seriously lessened, we have secure hold of the two main essentials of national prosperitY. The two chief factors of our success hitherto have lain in the industrious character of our race, and in the advanta„ees resulting from our iron and coal fields. These latter advan- tages may be exceeded in other countries, but our in In' trious habits we can retain. Men eminent in the industrial world on either side of the Atlantic who have spoken publicly have laid stress on the character of the individual as of importance greater than technical education or any otter consideration. The gist of this letter, then, is that the well- to-do classes should occupy themselves with industrial and commercial pursuits as well as mere financial operations, and that the artisan should regard his work not as a mere servi- tude, but as the means of raising himself to a higher social level by the fullest application of his powers. It should perhaps be remembered that if we find ourselves hard pressed in the commercial struggle, we should do well to consider whether there may not be some more deep-seated cause of injury than can be removed by hasty legislation, and whether we should not rather blame a society that as a whole is now a plutocracy without the.ambition to be an aristocracy in the best and truest sense of the word.—I am, Sir, &c.,