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PROBLEMS OF THE AGE
Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.
By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner
XXXIV. – Business Life
Credit System. – Is there no end to credit? One hundred and twenty billion! That is the present indebtedness of the nations at war. The actual gold reserves which back up those obligations are insignificantly small. Running in debt is a simple thing. We all know what debt means. Its shifting processes make and unmake men by hundreds of thousands annually. Debts weaken, too often, the moral status of man. They embitter him, convert him into a pessimist, and often drive him to court anarchy openly or secretly; more often secretly. How much anarchy there is in the world can hardly be surmised. It is only when violence manifests itself and gains the upper hand that its great recruits pour in. The shifting of financial advantages from one country to another operates to depress individuals as it does nations.
Money is one of the most powerful agents in the world. Its disintegrating spirit spells all sorts of ruin, worse in this age than any other because there is more dependence upon it. What a money mart Syria was in the days of Croesus! how the proud Phoenicians gathered the treasures of the world int heir ports on the Mediterranean! In Spain money talked to all the world. Money in all ages spelled ruin. What will it spell in ours? Conditions are different; that is true, but the modern financial world is more sensitive to its disturbance than the ancient or medieval. Money which is so much coveted is dangerous alike to the nations that get it as well as to those that lose it, for the one that has lends to the one that needs, and money scarcity is felt everywhere. We have learned already how a disturbance in the money market affects every class of business, how depositors rush to the bank and draw out their millions. Great money disturbances are certain to come, and it will tax the wisdom of the world more than it ever has in the past. We may look for crises.
Shifting the Money Market. – The money centre of the world has been shifted from London to New York, and England is therefore sure to feel the pinch of the loss of its monetary standing. This is the picture drawn by the great paper, the London Statist:
The main cause, of course, of the trouble in which we find ourselves is the refusal of governments of all parties to prepare, though they were fully and clearly warned by the enemy himself. But we must add that the government was to some extent misled by the London bankers, who, for a quarter of a century previously, had refused, in spite of all warnings and all pressure brought to bear upon them, to increase adequately their reserves. The main cause, however, of the predicament in which we now find ourselves, is that we, the public of all classes and all conditions, have allowed the idle rich and the mere talking professional classes to monopolize the government of the empire. Consequently, we must frankly admit that a good deal of the discredit rests upon the great public itself. Will they waken up at last, and recognize that men who cannot dress themselves of a morning without the help of servants, cannot be expected to do anything that entails a little trouble, however simple it may be, and that gentlemen whose business in life is to talk and to interpret an uninterpretable law, are not likely to be good guides in the days of danger and distress.
Dangers of Chaos. – It may be that we have very few men in Congress who are unable to dress themselves mornings, but we have a good majority of talking professionals whose business training quite unfits them for the grave responsibility of financial legislation beyond getting appropriations. The raids on our national treasury are often scandalous. The business men of the United States have withheld themselves from political life, and employed their talents in private enterprise. The United States will require its most competent men when it faces the payment of twenty billions and much more. Capital is a most capricious thing and holds in its keeping the employment of millions of men and women whose daily bread depends upon the working machinery of our industrial life. This machinery will become more sensitive as the big future financial problems confront us. Any displacement or break-up would lead to the most disastrous results. But if we are to become the financial centre of the world shall we not have plenty of money for mistakes and extravagance? The trouble is that we are likely to lose our hold on what we get. The nations of Europe will enter into a fierce competition for the recapture of it. Government operation must be on a scale heretofore unknown to us. If we deal as wastefully with billions as we once dealt with millions, and graft is not replaced by more conservative and honorable methods, the results may prove most disastrous.
End of Great Fortunes. – In an interview with William Guggenheim, published in McClure’s for October, he is reported as saying:
I believe the end of this war will mark the end of huge fortunes. After Mr. Rockefeller, it is likely the world will never again see an accumulation of a thousand million dollars in the hands of one person. War is making us accustomed to profit control. More and more people are asking, “Why should anybody get more than a certain reasonable profit out of any enterprise?” As a matter of fact, why should they?
Of the incentive to work, he further remarked:
All men, whether poor or rich, need some encouragement, some stimulation of ambition to make them put forth their best efforts, but remember, it is not to accumulate further millions indefinitely that rich men work. As soon as a man has fifty or sixty thousand a year to spend, he has about all that money can give him. What he wants after that is power. He continues to work for the joy he gets in the exercise of power. In the future our able rich men will find joy in power by associating themselves with the government, for government is power.
The last sentence is a forecast of our government as a great business agency in the operation of railroads, telegraph lines, steamships, telephones, and other public utilities. How will it work out on the question of capital and labor? The government will derive its power from labor and it will be also the capitalist. Such a condition is anomalous, and its workings no man can foresee, except the endless controversy and bitterness that will be sure to arise out of it. It, like a hundred other problems, will be a new one, charged heavily for good or evil.
The important thing to remember is that such future conditions, to bring peace, must be based upon a high state of morality and religion. As things now stand in the world, the new age will be subject to explosive violence of the most destructive kind,. Is there nothing but danger in the world, nothing but violence to hope for? Look about you and see. Is it not an age of explosives, an age of destruction? if present conditions keep on long we shall witness more destruction in the war now going on than has been witnessed in all the wars from the beginning of time down to the year 1914. But will not wealth insure us? Wealth is not a preservation of any kind. It is laden with danger. The greatest wealth of all time has demonstrated how horribly destructive it can be, destructive in both life and property. We say it is the “sinews of war.” It is likewise the death-rattle of war.
Rivalry. – What will be the position of the United States financially after the war? Read further from the London Statist:
In every direction competitors are growing up. But there are two who are specially dangerous. First our kinsman across the Atlantic. They are considerably more than twice as numerous as we are in these islands. They are among the very best business men the world holds today. And they are in possession of soil which is capable of maintaining five times the population it has at present. They have therefore illimitable room to spread and to multiply, and they have resources which, with the exception of China, no other country possesses. Under any circumstances, therefore, they would distance us in the long run. As it is, three short years of war have suddenly deprived us of our financial primacy, and threaten to land us in a position in which we shall be dependent upon the lending powers of others, and incapable of lending ourselves.
The second really formidable competitor is Japan. Her people are far less numerous than our American kinsmen, and her soil is in no sense equal to theirs. On the other hand, she has a wide territory now, and she has a people as capable as perhaps any country upon earth. Her trade is growing at a rapid rate, her credit is rising surprisingly well; and above all and as a proof of all, she has been able to lend to Russia, to France, and to ourselves, while she has supplied Russia with a very large proportion of the munitions which have enabled Russia to make such fight as she has made up to the present. There is no scarcity, then, of competent communities to take our place.
Dangers of Money. – Money is, and always has been, the firebrand of war. Two things are necessary for a conflagration: one, proximity; the other, competition. American and Japanese possessions are interlaced. Both nations are proud and avaricious. Can they maintain peace between themselves? We have witnessed Japan’s sensitiveness over her people in our Pacific States, and we have felt her resentment when our country sent to China the innocent hope that the Chinese might settle peacefully their difficulties. Both countries will be rich an equipped for any emergencies. The latent dangers between them cannot be concealed. Japan has established a sort of Monroe Doctrine with respect to China; but unlike us, she interfered with the government and resources of China in a way we would not think of doing in South America. There are now serious difficulties between us, difficulties which the war is postponing. Later they must be adjusted. Besides, China is the coming country for the exploitation of trade. Two money powers, two financial centers, are already staring each other in the face. Neither is exhausted or likely to be exhausted by the present war. The heavens, the earth, and the sea are filled with explosives. Whenever explosives have been piled up, something or somebody has touched them off. They are not very comforting to contemplation nor to personal relation. You say such pictures are very, very dark. Very well, then, you draw a bright one. The trenches are not all in France. Capital and labor are entrenched, the forces of evil everywhere are entrenched,. It is a world of antagonisms. The money markets of the world are face to face in the trenches. Mammon aspires to unrighteous dominion. Men take desperate chances to get money, and so do the nations. There is a national life moved by the same motives that actuate individuals.
We shall be proud to see the money center of the world transferred to our own great financial metropolis. Ninety per cent of all the trouble in the world has its root in money. It creates, wherever it is abundant, social, moral, and business trouble. And it is the one thing almost universally craved, notwithstanding its evil associates. Is there no hope? Yes, there is one hope, and only one, and that is that some day God will bring light to this old earth as he did to its creation.
Revelation. – “And all things shall be in commotion; and surely men’s hearts shall fail them; for fear shall come upon all people” (Doc. and Cov. 88:91; read also Secs. 70 and 72, Doc. and Cov.)