The essence of capitalism at a mining company shareholders’ meeting

A summary of events leading to the excerpt that will follow:

Two years before this general shareholders’ meeting, there had been a catastrophic explosion in the mine. The company’s highly valued superintendent had been at the disaster and had been deeply affected by it. (We would now call his condition post-traumatic stress disorder.)

Six weeks before the meeting, the superintendent had killed himself.

The Chairman of the Board has entered a proposal into the annual accounts that a generous amount be settled on the dead man’s wife and children. Several shareholders object. Some think the amount should be reduced, one thinks it should be raised.

One shareholder rises to speak:

“I deprecate the proposal altogether. We are expected to give charity to this man’s wife and children, who, you tell us, were dependent on him. They may have been; I do not care whether they were or not. I object to the whole thing on principle. It is high time a stand was made against this sentimental humanitarianism. The country is eaten up with it. I object to my money being paid to these people of whom I know nothing, who have done nothing to earn it. I object in toto; it is not business. I now move that the report and accounts be put back, and amended by striking out the grant altogether.”

[The Chairman] had remained standing while the strong, silent man was speaking. The speech awoke an echo in all hearts, voicing, as it did, the worship of strong men, the movement against generosity which had at that time already commenced among the saner members of the community.

From John Galsworthy’s A Man of Property, published in 1906. The above scene, though, was set in the 1880s. I have ever reason to believe Galsworthy intended this as bitter satire.

The perfect description of capitalism, isn’t it?

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