Source: “The Cure for High Prices: Burn Bradbury”, The Call, 4 December 1919, p.5, (1,536 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Chris Clayton
Copyleft: John MacLean Internet Archive (www.marx.org) 2007. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
The British Government must have taken a paralytic fit, for only paralysis (or funk) can explain the drop of 10s. on the ton of coal. What induced this paralysis (or funk)? That must be very difficult to guess even for Cabinet members. It may have been the Bolshevik triumph in Russia, the Socialist election victories in Belgium, France, and Italy, the seeming financial collapse of Germany, or the refusal of America to sign the (British) Peace Treaty. Most probably it was the coming special Trades’ Union Congress, at which the Miners’ Federation intends to raise the whole question of the alarmingly high cost of living.
I trust the Government has again miscalculated if it imagines that a 10s, drop in the ton price of coal will buy off the miners’ attempt to get a united Labour attack on the shameful cost of living. Supposing the average family burns two cwt. of coal a week, the saving is only 1s. — a mere trifle these days. In fact, the Government’s secret haste betrays the epileptic’s fears and the size of the drop proves its criminal guilt in robbing the miner or the consumer, or both; and consequently the miners and the other organised workers ought to be emboldened to the very point of a general strike to force prices down to at least their pre-war level. That would still leave the capitalist class with tremendous loads of wealth taken from Labour without recompense or return of any kind.
Let us again see how prices have risen. If we take the Board, of Trade’s index numbers for the retail prices of twenty-three articles of food, we find that the number for the year 1896 was about 92, and for July, 1911, about 117. The November issue of “The Labour Gazette” tells us that food prices in large cities were 136 per cent. higher than in July, 1914; in small towns and villages 127 per cent.; or an average for the United Kingdom of 131 per cent. The 136 drops to about 130 per cent., if we take in other outlays, such as on the dwelling, clothes, and household utensils. So says the Board of Trade. Were inferior quality taken into consideration the average increase would far exceed 130 per cent.
As, however, we are but meantime tracing the index number for food prices alone, the number in October, 1919, for larger towns works out at about 276, and the general average at about 269.
The ratio of 92 to 276 is the same as £1 to £3, so that on food alone we have to spend to-day £3 for every pound in 1896. In 1904 the Board of Trade examined the food budget of 1,900 families, and found the average outlay to be 22s. 6d. per week. That was the same as 20s. 2d. in 1896. These families ought now to be spending at least £3 to get the same quantity of food (the quality camouflaged, of course).
The percentage spent in food out of the weekly outlay was about 67 per cent. in 1904. If we make it 75 per cent. to-day, then the family outlay would require to be at least £4 per week.
This squares with estimates made by Rowntree in his book, “The Human Needs of Labour,” issued in 1918. He calculates that in July, 1914, a family of five on a most rigid scale of economy, without lowering physical efficiency, would require to spend 35s. 3d. a week, made up thus:— Food, 15s. 1d.; rent, 6s.; clothing,; fuel, 2s. 6d.; household sundries, 1s. 8d.; personal sundries, se. The personal sundries include insurance, trade union dues, trams to work, tobacco, a daily paper, stamps, and other necessary trifles.
A similar outlay to-day would amount to over 81s. A deduction of from 6d. to 1s., owing to the drop in the price of coal makes no tangible difference. The situation for the working-class is made most galling when we realise that the Government is saving more by dropping the unemployment dole than it is losing on the reduced price of household coal.
It becomes a vast tragedy when we realise that less than half the working-class families have an aggregate income of £4 a week.
It ought to be remembered that Rowntree’s family consists of a man, his wife, and three children, none of whom is at work. The older each child grows the costlier it becomes; so that in all calculations we ought to remember that 81s. is the rock bottom to which must be added extra outlay the older the children become. This but adds to the sorry plight of the working-class.
If Labour does not take steps to reduce prices then the cost of living will still rise rapidly. In October prices rose 9 per cent. on the July, 1914, level, and it is a rule that during winter prices usually go up under normal conditions. The American exchanges are going more and more against Britain and that means paying more for American goods. A pound ought to buy 4 dollars 86 cents worth of goods, but to-day it can only buy about 4 dollars’ worth. And America still provides us with a large part of our imports. The rise in the price of silver means that we must pay over 2s. 2d. for a rupee now instead of 1s. 4d. That means we can get fewer rupees worth of goods from India; or, otherwise, we must pay more for goods coming from India and other silver-money countries.
As we have no control over the world price of silver or the exchange with America, we are powerless to prevent these tending to send prices up. But we can grapple with the main cause of rising prices, the flood of Bradburys.
The report of the Committee on Currency and Foreign Exchange tells us that on June 30th, 1914, the legal tender money in circulation or in the banks amounted to nearly £180 millions, of which £123 millions were gold coins; and on July 10th, 1918, the total was nearly £383 millions, of which only £40 millions consisted of gold. In the latter year £28 millions of Bradburys were covered by gold, and £230 millions uncovered.
In the “Quarterly Review,” October, 1919, Mr, Edgar Crammond states that in December, 1918, the paper money totalled about £421 millions, whereas the gold in the Bank of England amounted to about £ 108 millions; thus leaving about £313 millions paper money uncovered.
The total paper in use at present is about £444 millions, of which about £340 millions are Bradburys, the total gold backing being about £90 millions. Roughly, about £350 millions of paper money are in use without any gold to redeem them, (See “The Statist” or “The Economist.”)
These £350 millions are about double the money used as currency in June, 1914, so that there are in use about three times as much money as circulated in 1914. That essentially explains why prices are so high to-day.
To lower prices the obvious course is to withdraw the Bradburys from circulation, and return to a gold money system. Therefore, I suggest the slogan of Labour should be: “Burn Bradbury”; that is to say, the Bradbury Treasury one pound and ten shilling notes.
Let that be the cry at the special Trades’ Union Congress; let that be the cry at your Trade Union branch meeting; let that be the cry at all public meetings; in fact, let that be the cry from the housetops, nay from your very aeroplanes — “Burn Bradbury.”
In support I quote the letter of Dr. Edwin Cannan, the distinguished Oxford economist, sent to the Oxford Profiteering Committee, on November 14th, and reproduced in “Common Sense,” November 22nd:—
“I hereby complain, of a commodity which costs less than a penny to produce, being sold by retailers in this city and elsewhere at £1.
“The retailers are the banks, and the manufacturer is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the commodity is the one pound currency note.
“…. The more plentiful a currency is …. the higher will prices and the cost of living be.
“If you regard the case as outside your scope, I suggest that you should resign, seeing that in trying to mop up a high price here and there without making any attempt to cut off one of the sources of the supply of paper-money, which is devastating Europe, and threatening the whole mundane civilisation, you will only be imitating Mrs. Partington.”
The writer in “The Times Trade Supplement,” November 22nd, says quite pointedly: “The remedy for currency depreciation, resultant high prices, and adverse exchanges, lies in the stoppage of Government created credit, the funding of the floating debts of the different Governments, and increased exports. Currency expansion for trade purposes is legitimate; currency inflation for the purpose of enabling a Government to finance the excess of expenditure over revenue is contrary to sound finance and is illegitimate.”
From our point of view, too, the Bradburys are illegitimate, so therefore let them be withdrawn and burnt. Another heave, comrades, and Napoleon Churchill and his Cabinet platoon are on the run.