Ranking Capitals by Perry Mann


I owe the inspiration and a good deal of the material of this article to Donella Meadows[1], adjunct professor at Dartmouth College and a columnist whose work appears regularly in the Charleston Gazette and is just as regularly read by me. In her column of 11-27-00, she list the kinds of capital and gives her opinion as to the relative value of each. The kinds are money capital, physical productive capital, human capital, social capital, and natural capital.

Money capital is the cash in one’s pockets, his credits in a bank, his stock, bonds and so forth, all of which are valueless without the wealth behind and underneath them. It is this capital that some of Americans are awash in and the kind that has been increasing notably among a small percentage of the population since Reagan tilted the playing field to the advantage of the already rich.

Physical productive capital is the actual man-made material wealth of the nation: its roads, bridges, dams, railroads, machines, factories, buildings; that is, all of what is called infrastructure. It is this capital that America has allowed to deteriorate and has failed to appropriate enough tax revenue to keep it   renovated and adequate to serve the nation.

Human capital is the people and the level of their health, training and education. It is this capital that America has neglected woefully. Million of children do not have access to medical care as well as millions of young and middle-aged adults.[2] Also, considering the amount of this nation’s money capital relative to its expenditure on the education of its children and the remuneration of its teachers, one can only conclude that this nation is egregiously tight-fisted and mindlessly myopic .

Social capital is government and all its agencies, the social contract, the constitution, the laws, institutions, families, traditions, and the hearts of its people. It is this capital that also is decreasing almost directly proportionally to the increase of money capital.

Then there is natural capital. It is the sine qua non of capital. And it is the capital that America has squandered with a profligacy unprecedented in the story of mankind — a profligate   binge akin to that which would ensue if some hedonistic and rapacious vandals breached the walls of a fabulously rich city in which there were seemingly inexhaustible stores of all that dreams and prayers could conjure up.

Most people are aware only of money capital. They believe, without giving thought to the matter, that money has an intrinsic value. But it doesn’t. Money can be inflated into worthless paper. It is the value of all the other capitals only that gives value to money. If the other capitals fall in value so does the value of money. So the wise nation spends a reasonable portion of its money capital to enhance the other capitals in order to increase and make stable its money capital. It is suicidal financially to think only in terms, as do the conservatives, of increasing money capital at the expense of all other capitals.

Human capital is second only to natural capital in importance. Yet this nation has a poor record of investing in its human capital. Today, there is a crying need for the construction and renovation of schools and for better equipment and better teachers with higher pay. There is as well a crying need for health care for all the citizens of this nation. It is an outrage that 40 million of this nation’s people do not have health insurance, particularly it is an inexcusable outrage that millions of children have none. Not to provide national preventive health care is not only socially irresponsible it is financially expedient, leading to much greater costs later. Expediency is the name of game of capitalism.

Social capital is in a poor state. Excess of money capital is subversive of social capital. Money capital subverts communalism and cooperation and give impetus to individualism and competition and is a solvent of familial cohesion. Once a family was a unit whose very survival depended upon cohesion, cooperation and neighborliness but the increase of money capital has all but unglued the family and the nation.

Man is so infatuated with his marvelous creations, with his cities, his art, his science and his technology that he has forgotten that all of his creations are but nothing without the food of the fields, the air of the atmosphere, and the water of the lakes and streams and that his creations are of very little significance relative to the beauties and glories of nature and her incredible economies, creations, charms and her inexorable and even-handed exactions from those who ignore her laws. Man does not live by bread alone. But it is for certain that he must have bread to live and that his bread comes from the soil and no where else. Thus, he must not let his hubris grow to the point that he forgets that the people who cultivate the crops and furnish the grain are indispensable to the life of the most exalted personage, regardless of the extent of his power and pelf and the range of his writ and the reach of his grasp.

And he must remind himself, while in comfort in a commercial tower reveling over the high close of his stocks, that all of what is the cause of his rejoicing is dependent upon the hinterland and the extent of its productivity, upon the forests, the waters and the air. Further, he needs to recognize that the permanency of his comfort and pleasure and   wealth — his money capital — is only secure to the extent that the other capitals   are enhanced commensurate with his and others’ money capital.

I am a liberal because I believe that liberals have a better understanding of the relative values of the different kinds of capital than do conservatives. And liberals reflect their understanding in their politics. It is the liberals who are the environmentalists, who work and vote for universal health care, who work and vote for better schools, who work and vote for minimum wage, and for progressive taxation. It is the liberals that know that without a healthy environment and a healthy and educated nation, without modern infrastructure, without social and economic justice, the nation is in a state of decay and dissolution.

Nations come and go and the succession is to a great extent the result of their ignorance and machinations with regard to the rank and importance that they give to the their various capitals.

[1] Donella Meadows died February 20, 2001

[2] This article was written before the Affordable Care Act. Perry  later wrote that “I am happy that Obama got as far as he has to increase coverage for millions, even if the insurance companies are still in existence. I hope in another ten or twenty year we can sack the companies and save 300 billions they rake off.”

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to Amazon.com to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (wvhighlands.org), and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation (ksff.org). I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at martinjul@aol.com or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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