Owen opened his dinner basket and took from it two slices of bread, but, as these were not sufficient, he requested anyone who had some bread left to give it to him. They gave him several pieces, which he placed in a heap on a clean piece of paper, and, having borrowed the pocketknives they used to cut and eat their dinners with from Easton, Harlow, and Philpot, he addressed them as follows:
“These pieces of bread represent the raw materials which exist naturally in and on the earth for the use of mankind; they were not made by any human being, but were created by the Great Spirit for the benefit and sustenance of all, as were the air and the light of the sun.”
“But, how is money the principal cause of poverty?” asked Easton.
Owen continued “Now, I represent the landlord and capitalist class; all these raw materials belong to me. You three represent the working classes; you have nothing. For my part, I have these raw materials that are of no use to me; I need the things that can be made out of these raw materials. But, as I am too lazy to work myself, I have invented the money trick to make you work for me.
“These three knives represent all the machinery of production: the factories, tools, railways, and so forth, without which the necessaries of life cannot be produced in abundance. These three coins (taking three half-pennies from his pocket) represent money-capital, “As you are all in need of employment, and as I am the kind-hearted capitalist, I am going to invest my money in various industries so as to give you plenty of work. I shall pay each of you one pound per week; three of these square blocks [of bread] represent a week’s work.”
The working class accordingly set to work, and the capitalist class sat down and watched them. As soon as they had finished, they passed the nine little blocks of bread to Owen, who placed them on a piece of paper by his side and paid the workers their wages.
“These blocks represent the necessaries of life. You can’t live without some of these things, but, as they belong to me, you will have to buy them from me. My price for these blocks is one pound each.”
As the working classes were in need of the necessaries of life, and, as they could not eat, drink, or wear the useless money, they were compelled to agree to the kind capitalist’s terms. They each bought back and at once consumed one-third of the produce of their labor. The capitalist class also devoured two of the square blocks, and so the net result of the week’s work was that the kind capitalist had consumed two pounds worth of the things produced by the labor of the others, and, reckoning the squares at their market value of one pound each, he had more than doubled his capital, for he still possessed the three pounds in money and, in addition, four pounds’ worth of goods. As for the working classes, Philpot, Harlow, and Easton, having each consumed the pound’s worth of necessaries they had bought with their wages, they were again in precisely the same condition as when they started work—they had nothing.
This process was repeated several times: for each week’s work the producers were paid their wages. They kept on working and spending their earnings. The kind-hearted capitalist consumed twice as much as anyone of them and his pile of wealth continually increased. In a little while, reckoning the little squares at their market value of one pound each, he was worth about one hundred pounds, and the working classes were in the same condition as when they began, and were still tearing into their work as if their lives depended upon it—which they did.
After a while the rest of the crowd began to laugh, and their merriment increased when the kind-hearted capitalist, just after having sold a pound’s worth of necessaries to each of his workers, suddenly took their tools—the machinery of production—the knives—away from them, and informed them that as, owing to over-production, all his storehouses were glutted with the necessaries of life, he had decided to close down the works.
“Well, and wot the bloody ‘ell are we to do now?” demanded Philpot.
“That’s not my business,” replied the kind-hearted capitalist. “I’ve paid you your wages, and I have no more work for you at present…If it were not for foreign competition, I should be able to sell these things that you have made, and then I should be able to give you plenty of work again.”
The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressall 1914