Forty million dollars is a goodly sum of money even in these days when the memory of war-time finance still lingers as an arithmetic nightmare. A man who can afford to give such an amount to education naturally attracts the fickle public eye, and for a moment his every opinion commands a wide attention. So with Mr. James Duke. For the student of American life and thought this event is most fortunate.
In an interview granted to the New York Times Mr. Duke has disclosed his theories of economics and government; and doubtless they represent those of a large class of excellent business men. It is not surprising to road that he is unalterably opposed to the League of Nations; it is more surprising to know that he is opposed to huge family legacies. What is astonishing is to recognize his economic theories as those which were exploded in the middle of the nineteenth century.
In the first place, Mr. Duke declares that "a man who spends a lot of money in building a fine residence is benefiting a great many persons," and cites his $15,000,000 home as an example. The way to prosperity is through extravagance! The clear logic of John Stuart Mill is hardly necessary to point, out the fallacy in such an idea. What would really benefit other people is to put that money as capital into the industries which produce the food and shelter and transportation of the masses. The men employed in building a fine residence for one man would do far more service, by building stations, and factories, and railroads for all.
Again, Mr. Duke declares that: "The trusts built up America. They doubled wages and brought prosperity." Largely because of the tariff these huge businesses "were able to pay high wages and to meet competition in foreign markets." Now it is an elementary fact in political economy that prosperity results from efficiency; and it is generally recognized that monopoly is not conducive to such efficiency. In so far as the tariff gives a monopoly privilege to business, just so far can it be lax and inefficient. What have "built up America" are the wealth of resources, the industry and ingenuity of her people, the general efficiency of business management. Trusts have been baleful except in so far as they have been efficient; and even then they have benefited not the people as a whole, but the holders of monopolistic power; witness Mr. Duke's vast fortune.
That such ideas should continue to hold the allegiance of very intelligent men is distressing. Reform in the economic policies of the government cannot come about if such notions persistently prevail. Education is the only remedy; and the most promising aspect of the whole matter is that Mr. Duke's fortune will go to help dispel just such ideas as his. But neither in the schools which he is aiding nor in any others endowed by "big business men" will the truth soon conquer if the opinions of the endowers are allowed to control the academic machinery. "Capitalists" advance the cause of education by contributing their millions, but they defeat its very aim by assuming its direction.