A Rural Minister Insists that Money Talks
APRIL 01, 1959 by CARLTON WILLIAMS
The Reverend Mr. Williams of
The phrase, "money talks," is a commonplace saying, used chiefly in a facetious sense, indicating that if you have the money, you can buy almost anything, or, if there’s enough money in it, a man will undertake to do what he otherwise would not think of doing.
Certainly, this is not the meaning in which the words are used here. Instead, I propose the old phrase as a sort of sounding board to emphasize certain thoughts which I hope may echo and re-echo in our minds.
If money actually does talk, what—in heaven’s name—is it trying to say to us?
I believe sincerely that if we can hear and understand what our money is actually saying, it is vastly more important than anything that any man, however gifted or however wise, can possibly say to us.
If money does talk, what it says to us is of vast importance because it tells us some blunt truths of economics and of the economic welfare that conditions the whole life of every individual. The natural ambition of everyone is to improve his own condition. We all want better things. We want happiness. We want peace in the world and stability in our own communities—which can come only from more dependable, moral, and spiritual relationships among men. And above all, we want economic justice. Economic justice is, indeed, the cornerstone of human progress the world over. That is true because where there is no economic justice there is no freedom, and when people are not free there can be no real progress.
This is not to reduce the vastly complicated interests of human affairs to economics. But the sober fact remains that if there are no physical and material supports for life, there can be no life.
A starving musician is more concerned with food than he is with a Beethoven sonata; and a poverty stricken philosopher is probably more concerned with the problem of how he is going to pay the rent, so that he will have a place to live, than he is with categorical panaceas for the salvation of the world.
But give this musician and philosopher the physical things they need, and you liberate their talents for greater production.
It follows, then, that material blessings are among our first and most important needs; and for this reason all human welfare is directly and inseparably connected with money.
But money is nothing more than an expression of value—a mutually recognized symbol of property. It is the property which constitutes the real wealth. Hence, when the right of private property is denied, the value of money, its symbol, is gone. When money talks, it says, above all things: "Look well to your property, for when you have lost that, you have lost everything."
We profess to believe that the right of private property is, inalienable. Yet within the brief span of memory of most of us, the property of untold millions of people in the world, from
"Need" Always Exceeds Supply
It would be a most comfortable situation if the needs of everyone could be met automatically by some super power. "To each according to his need!" That is a teaching which is being accepted by millions. But the other part of the equation goes with it: "From each according to his ability." The fallacy in that socialistic philosophy is that the second part cannot possibly equal the first part. The "from each according to his ability" cannot satisfy the "to each according to his need." For the need is always greater than the supply. The only way it can be done is for all of us to supply our own needs with our own labor, frugality, and ingenuity, and then lend a helping hand where it is most needed.
Now, it is not my purpose to question claims or to judge the relative merit of human needs, for our economic fortunes or misfortunes have a profound influence on all other relationships. There can be no doubt that economic prosperity breeds personal satisfaction as well as a high degree of spiritual well-being, while poverty is a festering cesspool of disease, maladjustments, discontent, social unrest, and crime.
But for the most part, the way out of poverty lies in the fruit of our own efforts, for we live in a universe of natural law.
Nothing in this universe can or will succeed which is not in harmony with the universe. Eventual success in any enterprise, be it personal or governmental, depends upon and is conditioned by its essential harmony with the irrefutable facts of the universe. This is as true in the realm of economics as in the field of science. Our fortunes or misfortunes, of whatever nature, reach deep into the basic laws which govern the entire universe.
Basic Laws of the Universe
To illustrate, let me relate two very dissimilar incidents in my own experience.
1. As a child some five years of age, I discovered it was fun, or so I thought at the time, to wet matches with my tongue or soak them in my mouth, then rub them on my fingers so that they glowed with a fascinating and beautiful phosphorescent fire. This I did, not knowing what might happen. But it happened! From the time I was six until I was 14, I was a complete invalid, not knowing whether I would live or die; the poison went through practically every bone in my body—finally settling in the tibia of my right leg. My body is scarred from abscesses and operations caused by infected bone.
An ugly disease—chronic osteomyelitis. And there’s no known cure except to cut out the diseased bone with literal hammer and chisel, hoping to stop the infection before the whole bone becomes necrotic. Now, no matter how ignorant the child, his disobedience of natural law caused the man to be a virtual cripple all the days of his life.
2. The second illustration is more pleasant. About twenty years ago, when recovering from the periodic bone surgery which has been the rule rather than the exception during my life, on crutches most of the time, incapacitated and unable to follow my profession, I locked myself in my study and wrote a couple of novels. Then my wife inherited a little money from her father’s estate, and we set out to buy a farm. We didn’t have enough money, and no one with a good farm for sale thought a crippled preacher was too good a risk; the farm mortgage people felt the same way. But finally we bought 380 acres of about the poorest land in
There you have it, a thin farm on a very thin shoestring and a heavy mortgage. Perhaps I didn’t know enough about it to be scared. We even got the local Production Credit Association to loan us money to buy feeder cattle. They finally got their money back—but take my advice: Don’t ever loan anybody money to buy cattle if he knows nothing about how to feed them!
Part of our 380-acre tract was too sandy to plow, and more than one-third of it too wet. We have now planted nearly 150,000 pine trees on the sandy land for Christmas tree production, and dug ditches and built dykes in the slough land. We even bought 120 acres more of the stuff at the fabulous price of $17.50 an acre. Then we threw a couple of carloads of muriate of potash on the peaty loam and changed the value of the land from $17.50 per acre to—you name it!—let us say conservatively, $300.00.
In the first instance, calamity followed disobedience. In the second, all the success my family and I have achieved has come as reward for obedience to economic and physical laws. This was a personal and a family struggle, the success of which was guaranteed by no one. In the light of this experience I am convinced that such struggle is a blessing, not a curse.
Strength Through Struggle
No people ever became greater than the difficulties they had to overcome. Strength comes from exercise, work, struggle. It is in effort that physical and mental health is born.
These are days of terrific tension. The lines of our problems seem to be drawn almost to the breaking point. Perhaps we need to remember that there is no music in a violin with loose strings. The strings of a fiddle have to be stretched almost to the breaking point to bring it in tune, and only then can a musician play upon it. I have faith to believe that something great, perhaps divine, will eventually come out of the staggering tension which now grips the world. For great problems produce great men as well as great events.
Still, there are plenty of people who plead for subsidies, hoping to benefit from federal aid without suffering the hardship of federal control. But that is a false hope. Controls are inseparable from grants. The mess agriculture is in today, the staggering government supports, and the creeping paralysis of government control of agricultural markets as well as the attempted control of production, puts every farmer deeper and deeper in subjection, and more and more dependent on the caprice of bureaucratic dictation. How can we be naive enough to think that the government can give us anything which it does not first take away from us?
Think of it as we will, argue about it as we wish, habitual federal aid is indicative of a vast transformation from a free economy to a planned economy. And may we never forget, when we no longer have a free economy, we are no longer a free people. And that is the dynamic and didactic thing our money is trying to say to us today.
I have a neighbor who has done exceedingly well in the farming business, yet he consistently takes from the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Committee (ASC) every dollar he can get, not because he needs it, but because he argues that if you can get it, you’re a fool if you don’t take it. He said to me: "Why not? I figure those fellows in
Now a man like that can’t convince me that he is in favor of government economy so long as he eagerly grabs government payments, money which has come out of the pockets of other people who owe him nothing.
Character Will Stand
In the last analysis, our salvation will not come out of
Money talks! It is saying to us with all its power: "Economic wrong-doing and economic falsehood lead eventually to economic poverty and human slavery. Economic rightness which is in harmony with eternal truth alone will lead us to economic prosperity and human freedom."