JOHN LAW ...did develop a new technique of money getting. He did not invent, but he did perceive, the possibilities of two instrumentalities that have been at once the blessing and the curse of the modern world. The art of accumulating great wealth had consisted in sharing in a fraction of the labor product of a large number of people.
The monarch had taken his by taxes; the politicians had taken theirs by intercepting the flow of taxes to and from the state; the slave owner had taken his by brute force; the landlord had taken his by owning the land that was the source of wealth drawn from it by many workers; the merchant had taken his by gathering into his hands the product of many small producers, finding a market, and taking a toll on each sale. The moneylender had got his portion because his loans enabled him to participate in the profits of many farmers, merchants, and producers. The wealth was drawn out of the current income of many people. But Law, by means of speculation in corporate securities, found the means of extracting from many men a part or all of their savings.
He exploited the eagerness of men to grow rich by making their profit, not in producing goods or creating utilities, but gambling on the changes in the price of investment certificates. He perceived also the uses of the bank as an instrument for creating an immense reservoir of savings funds as well as an instrument for actually manufacturing money—bank credit.
It would be a long time before the full possibilities of these weapons would be realized by the acquisitive man. Indeed it would not be until our own time that this would be done. But it has been done, and this civilization will not find its way to peace and grace until it learns how to get these implements out of the hands of the acquisitive enemies of society. Oddly, two hundred years after John Law, the gambler-philosopher, wrought upon society, one may see everywhere the good and the evil fruits of his brief adventure permeating our whole economic edifice. One may say of him as of Christopher Wren—if you would see his monument, look about you.