- Yg. 1920, No. 30 -
We stand at the grave of the big capitalist epoch. High capitalism is over, not capital. That will outlive us all for a long time, regardless of whether as state or personal capital. But high capitalism as a world movement is - although it has not yet reached its highest peak in the West - a dead colossus. We are allowed to give him his eulogy and say: He has achieved an enormous amount. It was one of the greatest movements in the world, it achieved more technology and traffic in a century than Egypt and Babylon, than Phenicia and Carthage in millennia. What he created was pioneering. Wherever he reached was virgin land. Here he reached into the field of inventions, here into the field of mass activity; every day a new opportunity, a new direction, a new development. He grabbed stretches of land, forests, streams, mines, straits, and ports, and created enterprises. A pioneering work that made the world arable, not in the sense of agriculture, but of industry. And this tremendous work, led by strong people, has transformed the world so that it has been able to feed the billions of today's inhabitants instead of scanty millions.
Now we have to differentiate between two things: on the one hand, as clearing work, as squatter work, capitalism had to operate from the full; he had to draw in large draws, he didn’t stick to the little thing. It was quite irrelevant whether billions were incidentally, whether infinite materials, infinite quantities of labor were devastated: he could achieve more in one day than ten years of frugality would have brought him.
So he drew deeply from the full. He wasted along the lines of carefree nature. But he did not waste in everything; he was thrifty on one point, and that point must be kept sharp. He was infinitely economical in administration. Wasteful in operation, economical in administration! Is that possible? That is very possible. It is true that he accumulated the riches that he created in the possession of his people, his companies or his descendants. But time and again they were put into operation; of all these riches he had nothing more than the title of ownership written on paper. He wanted power and for its sake renounced pleasure in case of doubt. Nor could he waste too much on enjoyment, for the number of conquering people was far too small to be able to waste the infinite yield of the world. Certainly, the worker is right to say that he disgusts when he strolls through rich street districts, sees large gardens, parks and villas there and imagines what is going on behind these bars and walls. But when the bill is done, everything that is wasted behind these bars is a relatively cheap administrative burden. [...]
The future form of the economy and its management will be very expensive; most of the labor that has been collected so far will be consumed. More than that. It will be extremely difficult to maintain the vast economic park that we have inherited and that we believe to be indestructible. At that time we created this park of machines, buildings, facilities, and means of transport from the full; now it has to be supplemented and renewed because of the lack; For the time being it still holds, except for the oil paint and the carpets. [...]
That's not all. We speak of Spaa, of war indemnity, as of an everyday matter: “We have already been through so much, so we'll go through that too.” It is easy to pronounce billions, but not difficult to print. In an economy that has not yet become stationary, which essentially still feeds on the past, in a transition period, the abnormalities are accepted almost imperceptibly. That is why we talk comfortably about the billions that we are supposed to pay, and again it says in one corner of our consciousness: "We will get out." We will not come out, we will pay! For there is no doubt that the open wound of Europe must close. How far right, statute, or moral obligation compel us is not decisive. It will be restored! And this restoration will worry us endlessly in the severely depressed state of our economy. Because even if I disregard the French figures entirely, I would ask you to consider: Every billion gold annually means a sum of 10 million marks of paper that has to be printed here and somehow brought up; every billion gold means 15 million tons of coal at foreign prices, 50 million at home prices. We mustn't forget these things. We must not believe, because four weeks have been passable again and perhaps four weeks a little worse again, that such a constant state has arisen.
If we now ask: what is the future and how are we going to get over these things? The answer is the same as we get when it comes to a collapsed company that has operated beyond its means, a bank, a Shipping company or factory. Everyone has the word "save" on their lips. No, it is not saving in the common sense, sparse saving only wrecks people if it is pushed beyond a certain level. We cannot feed people worse than what is happening and what has happened; the task is to organize and order!
It is not It is possible that in an economy, in a future like the one we have before us, things can continue to run anarchically, inorganically, in disorder. We will no longer live in an inorganic, delusional economic mechanism driven solely by individualism and personal self-interest, but in a structured organism in which everyone who leads the economy or offices is equally responsible to himself and the community. Our task and salvation means: To produce twice and three times what we have produced so far with the same number of people, reduced mineral resources, and the same work performance. If we are to manage expensively, we must - in reverse of the old economy - operate all the more economically. To most of them this seems bold and impossible because they do not know the process of producing goods. Anyone who knows him knows that today half the work done and the amount of goods are wasted uselessly. The entire process of our production is childlike, primitive, left to whim, selfishness, chance. It is comparable to agriculture a hundred years ago, which lacked rational processing and hardly provided a fourth part of today's yield.
Through slogans, this idea has apparently taken away its inspiring power; by intermingling with official measures, they have been given the appearance of mechanisms that they are not. No, in these thoughts lies the deepest ethics of which we are technically, economically, politically and socially capable. It is the ethics of each person's responsibility and the idea of community.
1920, 30 · Walther Rathenau