Beginnings of Capital

Capital is labor applied as a renunciation of the present in favor of the future. Savings represent a form of maintenance and survival insurance. Food hoarding developed self-control and created the first problems of capital and labor. The man who had food, provided he could protect it from robbers, had a distinct advantage over the man who had no food.

The early banker was the valorous man of the tribe. He held the group treasures on deposit, while the entire clan would defend his hut in event of attack. Thus the accumulation of individual capital and group wealth immediately led to military organization. At first such precautions were designed to defend property against foreign raiders, but later on it became the custom to keep the military organization in practice by inaugurating raids on the property and wealth of neighboring tribes.

The basic urges which led to the accumulation of capital were:

1. Hunger — associated with foresight. Food saving and preservation meant power and comfort for those who possessed sufficient foresight thus to provide for future needs. Food storage was adequate insurance against famine and disaster. And the entire body of primitive mores was really designed to help man subordinate the present to the future.

2. Love of family — desire to provide for their wants. Capital represents the saving of property in spite of the pressure of the wants of today in order to insure against the demands of the future. A part of this future need may have to do with one’s posterity.

3. Vanity — longing to display one’s property accumulations. Extra clothing was one of the first badges of distinction. Collection vanity early appealed to the pride of man.

4. Position — eagerness to buy social and political prestige. There early sprang up a commercialized nobility, admission to which depended on the performance of some special service to royalty or was granted frankly for the payment of money.

5. Power — the craving to be master. Treasure lending was carried on as a means of enslavement, one hundred per cent a year being the loan rate of these ancient times. The moneylenders made themselves kings by creating a standing army of debtors. Bond servants were among the earliest form of property to be accumulated, and in olden days debt slavery extended even to the control of the body after death.

6. Fear of the ghosts of the dead — priest fees for protection. Men early began to give death presents to the priests with a view to having their property used to facilitate their progress through the next life. The priesthoods thus became very rich; they were chief among ancient capitalists.

7. Sex urge — the desire to buy one or more wives. Man’s first form of trading was woman exchange; it long preceded horse trading. But never did the barter in sex slaves advance society; such traffic was and is a racial disgrace, for at one and the same time it hindered the development of family life and polluted the biologic fitness of superior peoples.

8. Numerous forms of self-gratification. Some sought wealth because it conferred power; others toiled for property because it meant ease. Early man (and some later-day ones) tended to squander his resources on luxury. Intoxicants and drugs intrigued the primitive races.

As civilization developed, men acquired new incentives for saving; new wants were rapidly added to the original food hunger. Poverty became so abhorred that only the rich were supposed to go direct to heaven when they died. Property became so highly valued that to give a pretentious feast would wipe a dishonor from one’s name.

Accumulations of wealth early became the badge of social distinction. Individuals in certain tribes would accumulate property for years just to create an impression by burning it up on some holiday or by freely distributing it to fellow tribesmen. This made them great men. Even modern peoples revel in the lavish distribution of Christmas gifts, while rich men endow great institutions of philanthropy and learning. Man’s technique varies, but his disposition remains quite unchanged.

But it is only fair to record that many an ancient rich man distributed much of his fortune because of the fear of being killed by those who coveted his treasures. Wealthy men commonly sacrificed scores of slaves to show disdain for wealth.

Though capital has tended to liberate man, it has greatly complicated his social and industrial organization. The abuse of capital by unfair capitalists does not destroy the fact that it is the basis of modern industrial society. Through capital and invention the present generation enjoys a higher degree of freedom than any that ever preceded it on earth. This is placed on record as a fact and not in justification of the many misuses of capital by thoughtless and selfish custodians.


Urantia Book. (1955). Beginnings of Capital. Chicago, IL: Urantia Foundation.

Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them (Matt 7:20).

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