E. Belfort Bax

The Law of Maximum

(24 January 1918)

E. Belfort Bax, Law of the Maximum, Justice, 24th January 1918, p.8. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).

Dear Comrade, – “Tattler” has recently challenged me to show the margin of profit of retail prices over cost of production. The figures for this I am unable to give on an adequate scale for the moment, but here is an item I have just come across which may serve him to go on with: – Rice costs fr.15 per 100 kilogrammes in Indo-China; freight costs approximately fr.15; the wholesale price in France ranges about fr.180 per 100 kilos, while the retail price is from fr.220 to Fr.260.

As regards present war prices, a friend of mine was relating to me the other day a conversation he had recently had with a general importer in a large way of business at Marseilles who, on the subject of the high prices, smiled amiably at the idea of people being surprised at the state of affairs. He expressed himself facetiously as inclined to think that common instincts of human nature lay at the bottom of the trouble, the present time being an unusual opportunity for middlemen to turn to their advantage and one to which it was scarcely to be expected the average business man would close his eyes.

Now “Tattler” will hardly deny that even in normal times the “average business man” has precisely the same instincts as he has in war time, though maybe without such a rich field to gratify them. What I contend then is that, short of the elimination of the possibility of gratifying this instinct by the complete transformation of the capitalist into the Socialist system of production, distribution, etc., the only means of effectively curbing this instinct of the “average business man” whether wholesaler or retailer, is the application of a drastic Law of Maximum along the whole gamut of intermediaries between production and consumption, with severe penal sanctions for its infringement. The course of events during the last three years has more than ever confirmed me in this view which I have always held.

I cannot help suspecting that those who squirm at the notion of coercing the “business man” by a generally applied Law of Maximum are consciously or unconsciously influenced by their bondage to the ideas of John Bright and the Manchester school of the last century anent the wickedness and futility of laying a sacrilegious hand on the sacrosanctity of industrial and commercial profiteering. – Yours fraternally,


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 28.5.2007