Go to now, you rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come on you.…
"A day of slaughter!" What "day of slaughter"? Who are slaughtered? The answer is in the context. The poor are slaughtered. The labourers whose hire is kept back by fraud. The luxury of the few is always obtained by the slaughter of the many. The few cannot live delicately on the earth without directly or indirectly keeping back by fraud the hire of the labourer. In a word, we ate all so tightly bound together in the bundle of life that extravagant expenditure anywhere always involves starvation somewhere else. Prodigality at one end of the scale must mean pauperism at the other end. What pestiferous delusion is more widely accepted than the notion that the extravagant expenditure of the rich is good for trade? How often have I heard people condemn the Queen of England because she does not spend more time in London holding costly leyden and drawing-rooms and concerts. Now, there is no doubt that if she wasted her money as most monarchs do, she would bring a great deal of temporal prosperity to some of our West-end tradesmen. But when we think of it, that temporary prosperity of the comparative few would be a great loss to the nation as a whole. Let me take a concrete example of this. The Queen holds a drawing-room. A young lady of high rank and of great wealth is to be "presented." For this purpose she procures a court dress, which, with all its finery and lace and jewellery, is worth, say, £400. That sum of money has been calculated by a great authority to be the equivalent of 50,000 hours of labour — labour of the most tedious kind and fatal to the eyes. What is the advantage of expenditure of that luxurious sort? This poor, vain child wears it once or twice, and then the fruits of all that arduous toil is thrown away. Now, suppose the dressmakers and others had spent those 50,000 hours in making cheap, warm, and beautiful dresses for the half-clad and starving poor. Would they not have added a deal more to the sum of human health and happiness? Let us take another example. Some time ago a friend of mine was in the provinces, and was driving along the road near one of the great provincial palaces which belong to the British nobility. He began to speak of the aristocratic family who owned that estate. "Ah," said the man who was driving him, "we used to have a great deal of aristocratic company coming down here, and much money was spent on dinner-parties and wines. There was plenty of amusement. But now that the property has fallen into the hands of the heir, there is no more of that, and everything is going to the bad." Now, from this man's narrow point of view it appeared a dreadful matter that the old state of things was not continued. But look at the other side of the picture. The owner of that estate had also a very large property, inhabited by the poor, in one of the most miserable parts of London, full of public houses and hovels where the people were living in abject misery. The estate had been neglected for generations. Now, in the old time, when a handful of the rural tradesman were making money out of the prodigality and extravagance of the owner of the property, this London estate was utterly' neglected, and thousands of the poor were suffering untold agonies. But the present owner having a conscience and being a Christian, instead of using the revenue for the purpose of diffusing a little trade among a handful of people in the country, is living a quiet life in a very simple home, and is using all the resources of her property to blot out the liquor-shops and the houses of infamy, and to build proper dwellings for the poor, where for generations they have been occupying hovels. Although a handful of people in a remote part of the provinces may suffer a certain amount of loss, it is an untold gain to thousands of people and to the human race that the wealth of that great property is no longer wasted in the old way. It is impossible to waste and save at the same time. Luxury and economy are as diametrically opposed as darkness and light. Luxury is any expenditure that is both costly and superfluous. I do not say a word about any little superfluity that does not cost much and which may give as much pleasure as it is worth. But when the superfluity is a very costly one, then it becomes a luxury, and must be denounced by every Christian and by every lover of the human race. It is astonishing what ingenious arguments have been used from time to time in defence of luxury. It has been argued, for example, that luxury is necessary to keep machinery at work. But, as Laveleye says, the object of machinery is to give us more leisure as well as more products. It is quite clear that in the better times which are coming we must not only give fair wages for every piece of work done, but we must also give men leisure to spend with their families, and to cultivate the higher aims of life. But there is another reply to this argument, and it is this. The money which is saved from luxury will give much more employment to machinery in other and healthier directions than it now gives in doubtful ways. It is very important in this particular discussion to remember that money is not hoarded now. If a man happens to have a good deal of money he does not bury it; that money is saved. When economy has saved money it is spent in employing labour. That is always a great gain to the human race. This brings us to the point from which we started, and is a fresh refutation of the delusion that luxury is good for trade. A distinguished French economist tells a good anecdote about himself, and shows how he discovered that prodigality was not an advantage to the human race; that it was an absolute and total delusion; and that the human race has no deadlier enemy than the spendthrift. On one occasion, when M. Say was a young man, he went to dine with his uncle, who produced some exceeding beautiful wineglasses, which he subsequently broke into pieces. He justified this extraordinary conduct by saying that every one must get a living, and he thought that by destroying his wineglasses he was a benefactor of the human race. That is a very simple illustration, but it precisely illustrates a widespread delusion which exists in West London, that waste and extravagance and destruction are beneficial and make trade. It was, of course, a matter of fact that if he broke six wineglasses it was to the benefit of some one in the neighbourhood, for he sent a servant the next day to buy some more. This incident set young Say thinking. "If my uncle is really doing good, he had better proceed to smash all his crockery, and then to smash all his furniture, and then all the glass in the windows of his house; for glaziers, painters, and carpenters would be employed; and from this point of view his destructiveness would be a great benefit." When the argument is worked out, every one sees that there must be some delusion in it. If waste is for the good of trade, those Communists who set fire to many of the finest buildings in Paris were great benefactors. It has employed thousands of masons and painters to replace those buildings. Yes, but when you reflect, the answer is this: If none of this destruction had taken place, the money that has been used by the French Government to restore the public monuments, schools, and museums that were burnt would still be at their disposal, and might have been used to pay for other monuments, schools, railways, and museums. They would have retained their old property and had other property as well. Money is never well spent except, first, when it satisfies real human wants, and secondly, when it makes permanent improvements.
(H. P. Hughes, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you.