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We may represent in the above diagram the results of the author's long inquiry. The large circle represents the entire material wealth of society. The outer band marked L is land, or all natural agents. Representing this in another way, we have the following classification:—. What judgment now is to be passed on this reading of the capital concept?

We must be struck by the fact that in the matter of simplicity the results of the author's study are not ideal. Logically, it is unassailable. In the other portions of the subject [he seems to mean Edition: current; Page: [ 37 ] the concept of capital] I was able, at least on the whole, to follow in the footsteps of previous theorists.

The immediate reception of this portion of the author's work largely justified his hopes.

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His careful restatement of the concept and the authority of his name undoubtedly added to the prestige it already enjoyed. The more usual point of attack on the author has been his interest theory, not his capital concept, which has been far less questioned, 12 in fact, has usually been accepted as flawless. Some protests, however, have already been raised against it; and, although it is still the dominant concept, discontent with this and other features of the older economic thought has been spreading.

The earnest teacher, using the available text-books, and attempting to correct their treatment in accord with recent criticisms, is in despair. This part of the Austrian writer's work, especially, was attacked by Professor John B. Clark, 13 who defends the productivity theory of interest, though that point we need not raise in this paper. His own views had been published 14 at the same time as the German edition of the Positive Theory of Capital; but more attention was attracted to them, it is probable, as a result of this controversy than at their first publication. I shall not enter into the merits of the discussion as a whole.

It was carried on with great skill, with some later confessed misunderstandings, and at times, perhaps, with an over-subtlety which makes it exceedingly difficult to follow. I shall simply try to state the issue involved as to the capital concept. In every-day speech and in the writings of economists there have been, since before the time of Adam Smith, two broadly marked ways of thinking of capital: one views it as concrete goods, such as tools and machines; the other, as the money expression, or market value, of the goods.

It is probable that no writer has long kept from the use of the term in both these ways, no matter what his formal definition. Frequently both uses will be found on the same page.

A few writers only have chosen to frame their capital concept in accord with the second of these ways of thinking. Clark declares this to be an error, and defines capital in harmony with the second way of thinking of it. True capital What becomes of the elaborate analysis of the roundabout method of production? A word as to the relation of these two views. It is to be noted that both parties agree that economists must study wealth under both these aspects.

The point against him is that, while framing his concept and basing his argument as to interest on the first, he introduces the second view, in some ways inconsistent, without recognizing the shift of concept.


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For certain purposes they have to be studied. The conception championed by Clark is of great significance; and, before going further, it is important to consider some peculiarities and difficulties in Clark's way of setting it forth. Clark gains thus a distinct tactical advantage over his opponent in upholding the productivity theory of interest, though that is not of immediate importance to us here.

In this respect the concept evidently needs addition or correction. Land used productively—for example, a farm, a waterfall, a mine, any rare and useful natural agent—is capital according to his definition. In his earlier utterances, such things are in plain words included. The whole logic of the argument is against it.


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  8. There certainly would be no attempt to evade the real question by assuming that the dollars that bought the mine had been saved; for the mine may not have been sold, and, if so, it is irrelevant to the issue. If the definition adopted by Clark is consistently applied, there are necessarily many things forming a part of capital which never have been saved, and which never have called for abstinence, as Clark employs that term. An addition to the social fund of perpetual capital is brought into existence.

    Now this evidently does not apply at all to the author's quasi-capitalist, who saves to spend later.

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    Either such savings are capital in which case why quasi? The author, after stating that a part of the accumulation of capital is due to these quasi-capitalists, proceeds as if there were none such. If better or more tools and larger stocks were accumulated, and were then allowed to deteriorate while in use without being replaced, our author must certainly call them capital while they lasted; and, if so, the element of permanency is no essential part of the capital concept. Indeed, if a fund of productive wealth must be permanent to be capital, we cannot be sure that there is any such a thing; for we have not the gift of prophecy, and all human interests are fleeting.

    There is a valid thought in his contention, but it is not that capital is in its nature perpetual. A part of capital may perish while the total amount of capital is preserved or even increased. But what of the cases where the total value is not preserved? The zeal of his attack carries him to an extreme and untenable expression, and makes him insist upon an unessential. The expression chosen appears to say merely that these things express the present market value of the laborer's services; that is, it is a roundabout and somewhat whimisical way of stating the truism that they are the man's wages.

    But in the case of the laborer receiving food and clothing for digging a canal or working on a marble palace, it is straining the point further to use the expression. No matter how large a stock of capital in the form of machines, buildings, and raw materials may be on hand, if there be no stock of finished goods, labor and its results are not synchronized.

    The picture of labor continuously flowing into the reservoir of capital and consumption goods at the same time flowing out 41 is not satisfactory as applied to products; for it implies that the inflow of a quantity of labor forces out consumption goods whose quantity is determined or measured by the quantity of inflowing labor. The value of consumption goods flowing out, however, is greater in varying degrees than the value of labor flowing in; and it is only through their values that we can compare at all the quantities of the two streams.

    Further, it is not a happy figure; for it suggests that all the goods that are a part of capital will eventually become consumption goods, whereas in many cases this is not expected nor desired. He ignores machines and durable goods. It is only in the gradual passing on of their value, as they are used up, to the things that are made by them, that machines and more durable agents can be said to ripen at all.

    If we consider not merely capital in the form of products more or less fitted for consumption, but, as his concept requires, durable natural agents also, the phrases we are criticizing appear hardly short of absurd. They pass away, and are replaced. If there is any synchronizing, it is done not by this, but by some other part of capital, and is, therefore, not an essential mark of the capital concept. No doubt the author attaches great weight to the constrast he draws between true capital and capital goods, which it might seem I had neglected.

    The reply is a criticism stronger, perhaps, than any of the foregoing against Clark's capital concept. There is in his mode of thinking of this contrast an over-abstraction that is neither expedient nor logical; and there results in his presentation some inconsistency of thought and statement. In some passages, capital is said to be as concrete a thing as can be. It is not an abstraction, and it is not a force independently of matter. It has substance.

    But the development that follows of the paradoxical contrasts between capital goods and true capital appears to be mischievous subtlety. But the author says not, unless those goods are net additions to the stock; that is, more than replace the capital destroyed in the same time.

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    That is creating capital. Renewing an old one is only preserving capital. And what would be the circle within which the balance must be struck? Would it be the individual, the national, or the world economy? If John builds a machine while his neighbor lets one decay, then has John created no capital? The striking antithesis of the goods that make up capital with the capital itself appears thus to be over-abstraction and unreality.

    To sum up the objections to Clark's conception of capital: It can be affirmed, even figuratively, only of the part of produced goods that is to be at once consumed, and is quite meaningless as applied to the durable natural agents which are a part of his capital concept.

    We now turn to the notable contribution of Professor Irving Fisher. Finally, the attempt is made to show how it could be employed in the discussion of various economic questions. To grasp more fully the import of this radical proposal in economic terminology, let us note in what regards it differs from the conceptions we have been considering.

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    Clark appears at first to include all natural agents, though excluding all consumption goods, then treats capital as if it originated only in labor, and did not include natural agents, and finally mystifies us by his contrast of capital goods and pure capital, leaving us in doubt whether he would include any concrete things as such. Fisher's concept takes them all in, sweeps down the wall between the old concept of capital and consumption goods on the one hand and natural agents on the other.

    To my mind this suggestion is the most fertile part of Fisher's discussion. Objects of capital are antecedent to the value of those objects Wheat must be measured in bushels before it is measured in dollars.

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    One will not value as highly a small apple as a large one, a sour as a sweet one, a rotten as a sound one. We could thus say that apples must be measured in sweetness before being measured in value. But an inventory of all possible measurable qualities, while helpful in estimating, would not itself express the amount of capital, for the things might after all have no value at all. A capital account in which five pounds of feathers were added to a bushel of wheat and a yard of cloth would give a curious total.

    This, again, implies that all things of value originate in labor, and are on their way towards the goal of consumption goods: whereas many things, standing where they are, may be made to push other things towards that goal, though never getting nearer to it themselves; e. They never have been made for consumption, and never will be fitted for consumption. Fisher anticipates this objection, and recognizing its validity, if the fact be true, defends by saying that wealth presents the two aspects of income and stock capital ,—differences important enough to merit separate terms.

    This defence fails, if the point made in the preceding paragraph is sound. Wealth and capital thus are synonymous, while income differs from them not merely as an Edition: current; Page: [ 49 ] aspect, but in the group of goods which composes it. The concept under discussion is credited in part to Professor Simon Newcomb, is indorsed in the main by Mr.

    Edwin Cannan, and has received the approval of Professor Hadley in his Economics. Its merits and the ability of its presentation by Fisher have surely attracted other followers to one or another feature of it. It has therefore a worthy standing among the competing conceptions. Some portions of the presentation are most illuminating, and must be looked upon as distinct contributions to economic theory. Careful distinction between a stock of capital regularly employed, the turn-over in a business, and the income from a business have not always been made; and confusion has resulted.


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    8. But this difficulty is not such as to call for the construction of the capital concept with that distinction as the central thought.