More details about the
collective North & South watch
1st / 2nd / 3rd of June, 2012(e.g. times and preparations) can be found on her specially created blog ArmitageWatch.
When I read Servetus' analysis, I wondered, why I agreed in so many aspects and often even in points which were determined by personal experience or background.
So I was quite surprised to discover that I disagree in a whole part of her interpretation of North & South, when I did go along for all the other parts, so far.
As I made such a lot of notes, when reading Servetus interpretation, I just did not want to take over her blog with my unending discussion and points and so decided to do an own blog-post, as I already planned to write something about North & South to remind everyone of the coming group watch on 1st/2nd/3rd of June, 2012.
But now, with part 4 a-2, I seem to have a separate interpretation, which is certainly coloured by my individual experiences, which in so many aspects are so similar to Mr. Thornton's.
(I will not reveal all too many comparisons to my own experiences, because I don't want to bore you with my business. Just may it be sufficient here to say, that his way, his struggle between personal interest and risk management, care for his surrounding, his moral values and his place in society, all in all seem very similar to the struggles I went through the last years and am still fighting. To clarify, I don't do 'idiot money schemes'. I can't and I won't and even if it means my going under, which by the way is quite likely anyway.
What I also should warn you about before I start with my post is, that I will eventually be more political or better politically inconvenient than I normally am here on this blog.)
Why I interpret Mr. Thornton and his economic decisions differently to Servetus:
Risky money schemes, especially since about 100 years earlier through the South Sea Bubble, had a very bad reputation in England. Cautious estimations see less than 10% of offered speculations, some even less than 5% indeed win the money back which was invested and in addition being able to pay out success rates.
So by standard comparison, I would say that Mr. Thornton in the common opinion of his time is certainly doing the 'right' thing.
Speculation, especially a risky speculation likely to give him the needed capital, would be very risky and playing with the misfortune of others. Normal investments give slow growing income rates, but those won't help Mr. Thornton in his dire situation, as the one thing he does not have due to the strike, is time.
His contracts with customers, if he can't meet the agreed upon delivery time, and a previously agreed upon delay period, will have the option to chose another producer and most likely will never do business with him again - without asking questions or any chance that they will accept his reasons as sufficient explanation. They want delivery fast, cheap and without problems. Mr. Thornton risks to loose everything (not only money, but also his business reputation) because of the delay caused by the strike.
I don't condemn Mr. Thornton for not wanting to do money schemes as much as Servetus does, especially considering a 10/1 or in case of Margaret's winning investment initiated by Mr. Bell, who invested in the speculation of Fanny's husband, 20/1 investment payout.
Such margins are not realistic and mostly were results of highly speculative and unlikely railway or mine speculations in South America, where lots of people lost all their invested money in the first half of the 19th century, because their well meant investments for supposedly realistic projects were well spent by the money collectors and not in any way connected to a realistic project, which in good time would refund and pay back the investment.
As Mr. Thornton already has a banker, I think a 'normal' way of investing his earnings is already part of his managing of the mills.
Also binding the money in machinery from his viewpoint is a sensible, as well as morally sound decision.
- It is the only way that allows him to regain income, as he sees machinery as a means to produce, whereas his banker sees it as an investment not directly gaining money, a holdup, binding and annihilating money. Only if used and his products well sold, Mr. Thornton's machinery earns money and this normal course is prevented by the strike.
- But I also see the new machinery as a morally valuable decision of Mr. Thornton, as it means, he can employ more workers (compensate the burned down mill, eventually get jobs for the new workers from Ireland, though he mentions that most left and went back to Ireland, and still take on large parts of his old workers after the strike.
Though from the banker's perspective, it has the opposite effect to Mr. Thornton's finances. He does not only have to pay for the burdensome machinery, but also for more workers, this way speeding up his own process of slipping into bankruptcy, though it also is the only way he might have a chance to keep his signed contracts in place. He takes a risky decision, which, under the circumstances of the time, was a sensible and sound decision, as his contract book was full. This he states, when the banker draws his decision into question. Mr. Thornton is right, he made a sound decision, only he could not predict the future and the strike, which changed the outcome of his decision.
In Mr. Thornton's case, even the full order book is a means to get him faster into bankruptcy, as it necessitates him to do large investments to get the products manufactured, while he gets paid long after the products are delivered and his work is done. (Though I think this economic phenomenon that a successful company can go down because of its own success, was only discovered in the 20th century.)
While the contracts and Mr. Thornton's sticking to them, once again shows his morally high standards. He wants to be as good as his word/signature under the contracts, though his circumstances prevent him to be.
The bank in contrast can patiently wait for the sure payment, as his production and money basis is secure every step of the way. Only the peak of production investment and delivery delay escalate at a bad timing, as the strike prevents a continuous manufacturing and fulfilment of the signed contracts.
- The loss of the mill caused production delays, not only a loss of workers, which Mr. Thornton from a moral standpoint mourns, as he reacts emotionally and not economically calculating to the loss of his workers, though he has to fight the economic consequences.
- The strike comes at a time when his contract books are full and he already struggles to produce fast enough to fulfil orders in time. He additionally invested in machinery, so he is at a money low, which alone and under normal circumstances would not cause a crisis, considering his full order book, but combined with the strike does.
Company forms with limited risks mostly are of later dates anyway and would not have helped Mr. Thornton. So I must admit, I don't see the moral standards violated in this case. He does not have any other option or any means to prevent the disaster that even can go so far as to lose his and his mother's home.
He saves Fanny in the only way possible, by extracting her form his own household by marrying her off. Otherwise even her fortune/dowry would have been part of the compensation for the bank, which gets its payment without risk, as loans only go as far as securities can be given or they expect to easily get hold of money.
I do see Mr. Thornton follow his principles, though I don't see them at a breaking point at that time. His investments were necessary to fulfil his work as well as his moral obligations. Though a banker would not follow him on a work-fulfilment nor on a moral justification basis. A banker only would see his full order book, which is the main argument Mr. Thornton gives in the only language a banker understands, money and orders mean payment and money.
I think Margaret's comment at the breakfast table in London gives the essential hint for the interpretation of Mr. Thornton. She would rather honestly earn money by her hands work than by speculation. And that in my opinion is the moral guideline, as speculation in all cases leaves losers on the way to the success of a few. Money never comes from nowhere, but from another's pockets, though bankers mostly don't make the connection (sorry if I offend someone with this - I know quite some bankers). Risky speculation robs someone who might not be immediately obvious, but in the end still is there and losing.
(Even the successful risky 'adventures' were projects where someone lost. e.g. as a very famous example the pirating projects of Queen Elizabeth were financially few of the very successful ones'. I would think Spain, Portugal and France might look at them quite differently ;o)
I even see the film version of "North & South" as quite a modern point of critique to the money market, though compared to the first half of the 19th century, some security measures are in place for some.
Some aspects still continue unchanged. The honest worker, who can't survive from his day's work, because of risky speculations and bankers only interested in large margins which have nothing to do with what work can realistically earn or gain, is a very contemporary problem, not only 19th century nostalgia.
Bankers as well as companies are speculating with the misfortune of others. Nothing has changed in that regard since the 19th century.
Mr. Thornton took risks, though he surely is no gambler and trusting friend like his father was. (Does he even have close friends? I think he understandably has a trust issue, where even his sister partially is not included in his inner circle of trust, but only his mother. And Margaret has a hard time to prove she is worthy to enter this close knit circle.)
Even in this aspect I feel closely connected to Mr. Thornton, as my 'friend' base suffered greatly through taking up a business, as people know you as long as they think they can get an advantage from a connection with you.
In a way, it is the comparison between the party of the Thorntons and the situation when Mr. Thornton sits alone with his mother when news breaks that the risky venture of Fanny's husband succeeded and Mr. Thornton still is deep in his financial troubles. Nobody of the party even thinks about visiting him in his problematic situation.
I know that my interpretation is much more guided by circumstances and historic background of Mr. Thornton and his decisions, so I am not sure if it can give more argument to Servetus' own inerpretation or defence, but I hope at least to open a consoling option.
As much as I see Mr. Thornton betraying his principles for Margaret Hale, I don't see him doing the same or even struggling with his principles in this case. He follows his principles as far as he can, he does not want praise for his efforts, but is his only judge. He tries to do his duty and to fulfil his moral obligations. When all his duties collide, he for himself does not allow himself to expand his moral sense and allow himself more options to act. His main interest is to prevent hurting others any more than absolutely necessary.
Servetus, certainly brings out the radical in me ;o)
As my situation in a lot of aspects is very similar to the one of Mr. Thornton, it makes me more likely to defend him. But after all, I don't see him at fault in his economic decisions.
I don't see it as a sticking to principle which causes his downfall. He goes through these problems which he cannot prevent with his principles intact and not even put into question. The only thing one could accuse Mr. Thornton of is, that he is out of luck, but nobody can predict or guarantee his own luck. That strikes become a certainty one has to calculate into economic decisions, is not yet a thing Mr. Thornton seems to realise, though during the strike, he seems to have won that experience, as his comment at the Exhibition in London shows that he expects strikes to remain.
After my year 2011, I can very much sympathise with the out-of-luck aspect of Mr. Thornton ;o)
I wish all readers lots of luck with all their decisions, as care and planning is good, but luck with them is even better ;o)