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The pres

THE

QUARTERLY JOURNAL

OF

ECONOMICS

MAY, 1908

CAPITAL, INTEREST, AND DIMINISHING

RETURNS.

SUMMARY.

I. The Ricardian view as a starting-point: advances to laborers, 334.- Are there advances ? Clark's view considered, 336.-Do capital goods reproduce themselves, and does their maintenance involve abstinence? Advances to laborers in a complex society, 339.II. The law of diminishing returns as applied to capital by Carver, 348; by Clark, 350; by Böhm-Bawerk, 352.-Criticism of this view, 353.–Static and dynamic conditions, 356.—The law of diminishing returns and the law of diminishing utility not the same, 360.—Conclu

362.

sion,

The debate carried on in the columns of this Journal between Professors Böhm-Bawerk and Clark has raised once again the fundamental questions as to the nature and cause of the return on capital, and its relation to the return for labor. Some phases of these questions I propose still further to consider.

That an increase of capital—the number of laborers and the state of the arts remaining the same-lowers

See the articles by these scholars in the issues for November, 1906, and February, May, and November, 1907. I would add that my own article was completed and put into type before the receipt of that by Professor Veblen in the last issue (February, 1908).

interest and raises wages has been laid down by all economists since the days of Adam Smith and Ricardo. The unsettled problems are as to the mechanism by which these results are brought about, the rate at which the decline in interest takes place, the extent to which capital can continue to increase and still get a return, the conditions on which the past and future of interest depend. There is another problem even more important, and no less unsettled, in the background,—the grounds on which the receipt of interest can be defended as part of the social order. To some of these unsettled problems I propose to give attention.

I.

I will begin by recalling the older view, as outlined by Ricardo himself, and as stated more explicitly by Mill and other followers. According to this, all the operations of capitalists are resolvable into a succession of advances to laborers. Profits or interest (practically the same thing was meant in the earlier terminology by these words) arose from an excess of what the laborers produced over and above what was turned over to them. As we all know, this mode of treating the problem was associated with the wages-fund doctrine. It is not material to the fundamental proposition here under consideration whether the wages-fund doctrine be rejected in toto with contempt or whether some elements of truth in it be admitted. The things which are supposed to be advanced to the laborers may or may not be dubbed a “fund 'wages-fund”; and they may or may not be conceived as predetermined in amount. The essential things are

1

1 These matters I have considered in my volume on Wages and Capital (1896). The substantive conclusions there reached I have seen little occasion to change. On one point, however, not unimportant, I should make a modification. The term "wages-fund” ought to be discarded. Possibly a "wages-flow"might be spoken of without causing misconception; but even this is of doubtful serviceableness, since it suggests a flow of wages distinct from the flow of social income in general.

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