Conversions Ii Pound And Economic Reform

Pound's recommendations for post-war civilization were strikingly different from Eliot's call for a return to Christian values. Like many in Britain's depressed post-war period, Pound believed the answer lay in economic reform, specifically the Social Credit proposals of C.H. Douglas (1879—1952), an engineer-turned-economist he had met in the office of The New Age in 1918. Douglas was one of a number of economists during the early twentieth century who criticized orthodox capitalism and classical economics from an underconsumptionist standpoint. Douglas argued that, despite the industrial expansion of the last century, the majority of producers and consumers were not better off than before: wealth was becoming ever more concentrated in a small number of pockets. The key problem was not with the production of wealth, but with its circulation. The majority of people could not afford to buy their share of the nation's produce, and the wealthy had no desire to buy up the shortfall. Instead, the wealthy either saved their money, withdrawing it from circulation, or invested it to finance further production, increasing the surplus of products and, as they were paid back on their investments, their own wealth. One category of the wealthy which came under particular scrutiny during this period was that of banks and financiers who, by extending credit to producers (including the State) at interest, could potentially exert more control over the economy than could the State (Douglas 1920a: 22, 1920b: 30, 77; Redman 1991: 52—53, 59).

From Pound's point of view, one of Douglas's most important insights concerned the 'cultural heritage' of society: everyone should share in the world's wealth because it is not produced by individuals or individual businesses in isolation, but rather by an accumulation of knowledge and invention over centuries. Douglas proposed to increase the consumption of products, and therefore the circulation of wealth, by two methods. First he advocated that the State distribute a national dividend to employed and unemployed alike: wages alone would never enable adequate consumption because prices were set to cover the cost of paying wages and the cost of production. Douglas's second proposal was that the State determine a fixed 'just price' for each product, calculated to limit profit (Douglas 1920b: 113—14, 134; Redman 1991: 64—65).

Douglas's proposals were not adopted in Britain, though his under-consumptionist critique played a part in the revolution of economics launched by John Maynard Keynes (1883—1946) in the 1930s. Pound, however, advocated Social Credit in his journalism, in specialist tracts, in letters to people he believed might influence government policy, and in his poetry. In the mid-1930s he came across the work of the

Underconsumptionist economics. Explains economic stagnation and depression as caused by the inability of consumer demand to keep pace with production.

German economist Silvio Gesell (1862-1930), whose practical proposals for monetary reform seemed to provide a way of putting Social Credit ideas into action. Gesell proposed a system of paper money, 'stamp scrip', whose value depreciated over time, and therefore discouraged hoarding and financial speculation and compelled circulation and the transformation of money into material wealth. From this point Pound advanced economic policies that were a synthesis of Social Credit's general analysis of the relationship between the economy and society, and Gesell's theory of money.

Pound writes his economic beliefs into The Cantos both literally and figuratively. They appear literally in the form of passages of theoretical explanation, such as the description of Douglas's 'A + B theorem' in Canto 38, and in accounts of economic history, for example, in Cantos 42 to 44, in which Pound presents his research into the founding of the seventeenth-century Sienese bank, the Monte dei Paschi, and Cantos 88 and 89, where he discusses the US Bank War of the 1830s. Pound's aim is to educate his readers in the background to the contemporary economic situation, which he had come to believe was the major cause of the First World War: 'no one can understand history without understanding economics', he wrote (1935: 5).

One critic has described the 'central drama' of The Cantos as 'the historical struggle between abundance and scarcity' (Marsh 1998: 117), which succinctly describes how Pound uses economics more figuratively in the poem. The equations he draws between economic practice and much broader issues are most clearly articulated in Canto 45, known as the 'Usura Canto'. Here, usury (lending money at interest) is represented as the source of all social and cultural problems: it stifles creativity ('no picture is made to endure nor to live with / but it is made to sell and sell quickly / with usura'), devalues individual labour ('Stonecutter is kept from his stone / weaver is kept from his loom / WITH USURA), and prioritizes international profit over local produce ('wool comes not to market / sheep bringeth no gain with usura') (1994: 229-30). Above all, usury is a 'sin against nature' and Pound associates it with unnatural excess: it changes values at will and blurs the correct relationships between things. Nature, by contrast, is associated with the values he had been promoting since his imagist days: order, balance and precise definitions, or in Pound's Chinese shorthand, 'ching ming': 'right name' (1994: 252, 333, 382, 400).

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