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wealth. The discovery of a mine has made many a poor man rich in a day. Petroleum wells have accomplished the same result. Useful inventions have poured money into the pockets of men who were wise enough and fortunate enough to take advantage of the patent laws. The unusual demands created by the late war were a means of bringing wealth to not a few. And so it has often happened that men of no extraordinary ability have, by seizing some great opportunity, leaped at one bound from poverty to luxury in a most unexpected manner and without unusual exertion on their own part.
Whenever a fortune is thus suddenly acquired the spirit of emulation is aroused. Hundreds of onlookers become dissatisfied with the ordinary, slow processes of acquisition. The industry, the unremitting toil, the constant care, and the patient waiting necessary to gain even a moderate competence are scorned in view of the chance to make a fortune in a day. The question arises in every mind—“One man has done it, why may not all do the same ?” With the question comes the determination. In their eagerness they entirely forget the important relation of quid pro quo, and see only the fortune acquired without labor or waiting. If natural opportunities for acquisition are wanting, they create artificial opportunities. If they cannot make themselves rich by enriching others, they will do it by impoverishing others. In other words—they speculate.
Wealth is legitimately gained only by means of production in some form. The discoverer of a mine or of an oil well brings within the reach of men vast stores of wealth which were before unknown and therefore useless; hence he is in reality a great producer and the fortune which he acquires is only a fair return to him for the increase of wealth which he has given to the world. The inventor has become an indirect producer by increasing the producing power of others, if his invention has any real value; hence he also receives only a just return for what he has given to men. The inventor of the mowing machine immeasurably increased the productive power of agricultural laborers, and thus fairly earned all the wealth he may have derived from his invention. The same element of productiveness underlies all legitimate trade. A farmer in the west raises ten thousand bushels of corn. If he finds no market
for it, the greater portion must go to waste. But if another man buys nine thousand bushels and carries it to eastern consumers, he has become a producer as really as though he had himself raised nine thousand bushels of corn. The railroad men and all who took a necessary part in conveying the corn from its original producer to the consumer are indirectly producers, for although of themselves they have produced nothing, they have saved the production of the farmer from perishing and thus being lost to the world. The man who actually buys railroad stocks as a permanent investment becomes a partial owner of the road and the profit which he derives from its regular dividends is legitimate gain, since he makes an equivalent return to society in the productive work of the road. In this way the labor of merchants, bankers and countless other classes of society is accounted productive because it forms a necessary link between producer and consumer and thus adds to the wealth of the world. The result of all truly productive labor is to increase the aggregate wealth of society, and any labor that does not increase or save from loss either the actual wealth or the wealth-producing power of mankind is not in any sense productive. Speculation does neither, but only consumes the wealth of society without replacing a dollar.
Again, all legitimate trade is based upon a voluntary exchange of equal values. This implies first of all that both of the immediate parties to the exchange shall derive an equal advantage from it. This is not all, however, for many exchanges affect not the immediate parties alone, but the community as a whole; and it is just as essential that we leave the treasury of society undisturbed as it is that we deal honestly with a single individual.
A man may derive large profits from purely speculative trade while the individual with whom he trades apparently loses nothing. In fact there may be an extended circle of speculative trade in which all parties directly concerned seem to be about equally profited. This is often the case in land speculation. One individual may buy a lot of land at a moderate price and sell it almost immediately at a great advance. The buyer may sell again also at an advance; and so the selling may continue till one buys it at a high price for permanent pos
session, and even the last buyer may feel perfectly satisfied with his bargain, for he may still use the land profitably. There has been no loss but rather a direct gain to each individual having a part in the complex transaction, but in every such case society at large is the loser.
Speculation knows no law of fair or equal exchange. It is not exchange at all. It is merely disguised and legalized robbery. Its working is wholly in one direction. On one side it is all gain; on the other side it is all loss. Every dollar that the speculator gains represents a dollar or more of loss to someone, it may be to the other parties directly concerned in the transaction, it may be to others indirectly concerned, it may be the entire community.
The paper contracts of the Exchanges are perhaps the most extensive of all speculative transactions. These contracts represent no exchange whatever. They are wholly independent of the element of production. Their fulfilment implies merely the payment of a certain sum of money from one speculator to another for which nothing is given in return.
The money may go in either direction with equal propriety, since it is wholly unearned. The direction in which it goes is arbitrarily determined by the fluctuations of the market.
The same is true of stock speculation. So far as the principle is concerned it makes no difference whether speculation is in whole stocks or in margins. The broker who buys a thousand shares of stock in some good railway at par and sells them a week later at five per cent. advance because of a forced rise in the market has no moral right to the profit received. The real value of the stock as represented by the condition and traffic of the railroad remains unchanged. He has not earned the money thus gained. If he has derived a profit of five thousand dollars someone has lost just five thousand dollars plus the waste which inevitably accompanies all such transactions. Again, if I place five hundred dollars in the hands of a broker to be invested in margins, when the transaction is closed if I find that I have gained a hundred dollars, then I know that someone has lost a hundred dollars in addition to various brokers' fees and other expenses.
When the Bulls and Bears have a skirmish on Wall street and the victors win a million
When money is
dollars, it does not always follow that their immediate opponents lose a million dollars, but it does follow that somebody has lost it. Usually the loss may be reckoned in small sums invested in margins by traders, clerks, mechanics, and others throughout the country.
In its essential nature and mode of operation speculation in all these forms is identical with the lottery and ordinary gambling, only that it is if possible less honest. When taken from one individual and given to another, not because he has earned it, but because chance has decreed it, what difference does it make whether the chance is determined by a throw of the dice or the choice of a lucky number, or a movement of the stock market? Is not the moral character of the transaction the same in either case? In the case of the great speculators they are themselves the forces that move the market and determine the loss or gain. Their whole effort and ingenuity is given to the work of circulating false impressions and misleading their opponents as to their real intentions and the actual state of the market. Their action is precisely that of experienced and unscrupulous gamblers trying to outwit each other in the keenness of their cheating.
What a moral spectacle was presented to the world when, a few years ago, a father and son, both prominent speculators, measured swords in the arena of the stock market. Never were deadly enemies more anxious to deceive one another regarding their movements and intentions. Each taxed his strategic powers to the utmost, and the youth proved a more apt pupil in the art of dissembling than even his doting parent could wish, for he at length succeeded in bleeding the old gentleman to the extent of many thousand dollars.
Again, take the case of the land speculator. His business is of the same moral character as that of his brother in the stock market. It depends for success upon an artificial disturbance of the natural laws of trade. He aims not to supply an existing demand, but to create a fictitious demand which he may use for his own profit. He goes to some quiet town, buys up a large tract of land in some eligible locality, and then, by a process well known to speculators, creates a “boom” and attracts buyers. In a very short time he sells enough of the land to
give him a rich profit on his investment. Or it may be that he prefers to go to a place where the boom has already been started, and he merely steps into the current and, by skilful purchases and sales, causes to pass rapidly through his hands a number of desirable lots by which process he gains many thousands of dollars.
Now what right has he to the money thus accumulated ? He has not earned it. He has added nothing to the wealth of the community. The land is just as it was when he bought it. He may have laid out streets and made some slight improvements, but they are trifling in comparison with the profit derived. He has taken several thousand dollars from the community for which he has made no return. This is obviously unjust, no matter by what process it has been accomplished. He may say that he has cheated no one, for the purchasers have all done as well as himself. They bought the land freely and without any manner of compulsion; therefore the trade is in every way a case of fair exchange. So it seems if we consider only the immediate parties to the transaction. But let us look a little further. I buy a lot of land to-day for a thousand dollars. By dividing it into small lots and booming it I sell it next week for two thousand dollars. What have I done? I have taken advantage of an artificially created demand for land to extort from society a thousand dollars for -nothing. The individuals to whom I sold the lots may fancy that they made good bargains, and so they may as compared with others; but the community is just one thousand dollars poorer for my transaction. I have drawn a thousand dollars from the world's store of wealth without returning a cent.
Many an American town is suffering to-day from the fearful drain that has been made upon its resources under pretence of stimulating its early growth. Speculation of this sort affects the prosperity of a town much as alcohol affects a sick man, giving an unnatural vitality at the time which must be paid for with interest in the future. Many people fancy that our country is being vastly benefited by the work of speculators in developing our great West and in building up new towns on the frontier. But if a balance sheet could be accurately drawn, it would appear that every dollar of gain from these speculations