Private Spending Money for Productive Investment: A Comment by Economists: To the Editor of the Times/Spending and Saving Public Works from Rates: To the Editor of the Times

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The Times, Monday, October 17, 1932 (p. 13)*

Private Spending Money for Productive Investment

A Comment by Economists

To the Editor of The Times

Sir,- On October 10 you gave prominence in your columns to a letter inviting the opinion of economists on the problem of private spending. There are a large number of economists in this country, and nobody can claim to speak for all of them. The signatories of this letter have, however, in various capacities, devoted many years to the consideration of economic problems. We do not think that many of our colleagues would disagree with what we are about to say.

In the period of the War it was a patriotic duty for private citizens to cut their expenditure on the purchase of consumable goods and services to the limit of their power. Some sorts of private economy were, indeed, more in the national interest than others. But, in some degree, all sorts of economy set free resources-man-power, machine-power, shipping-power-for use by the Government directly or indirectly in the conduct of the War. Private economy implied the handing over of these resources for a vital national purpose. At the present time, the conditions are entirely different. If a person with an income of £1,000, the whole of which he would normally spend, decides instead to save £500 of it, the labour and capital that he sets free are not passed over to an insatiable war machine. Nor is there any assurance that they will find their way into investment in new capital construction by public or private concerns. In certain cases, of course, they will do this A landowner who spends £500 less than usual in festivities and devotes the £500 to building a bam or a cottage, or a business man who stints himself of luxuries so that he can put new machinery into his mill, is simply transferring productive resources from one use to another. But, when a man economizes in consumption, and lets the fruit of his economy pile up in bank balances or even in the purchase of existing securities, the released real resources do not find a new home waiting for them. In the present conditions their entry into investment is blocked by lack of confidence. Moreover, private economy intensifies the block. For it further discourages all those forms of investment-factories, machinery, and so on-whose ultimate purpose is to make consumption goods. Consequently, in present conditions, private economy does not transfer from consumption to investment part of an unchanged national real income. On the contrary, it cuts down the national income by nearly as much as it cuts down consumption. Instead of enabling labour-power, machine-power, and shippingpower to be turned to a different and more important use, it throws them into idleness.

Conduct in the matter of economy, as of most other things, is governed by a complex of motives. Some people, no doubt, are stinting their consumption because their incomes have diminished and they cannot spend so much as usual; others because their incomes are expected to diminish and they dare not do so. What it is in any individual's private interest to do and what weight he ought to assign to that private interest as against the public interest, when the two conflict, it is not for us to judge. But one thing is, in our opinion, clear. The public interest in present conditions does not point towards private economy; to spend less money than we should like to do is not patriotic.

Moreover, what is true of individuals acting singly is equally true of groups of individuals acting through local authorities. If the citizens of a town wish to build a swimming-bath, or a library, or a museum, they will not, by refraining from doing this, promote a wider national interest. They will be "martyrs by mistake" and, in their martyrdom, will be injuring others as well as themselves. Through their misdirected good will the mounting wave of unemployment will be lifted still higher.

We are your obethent servants,

D. …