To George Sturgis
Hotel Miramonti
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. July 11, 1933

Dear George

If you are not happy together, and not inclined to regard life as essentially a penance, perhaps it is as well that you should separate: but what is to become of the boys? Does the Court decide this vital point, or have you made an amicable arrangement in this respect also? If you are to keep them, as I partly infer, you will have to provide an adopted mother for them, in some capacity, at least until they are old enough to go to boarding school. This is rather an ominous complication. It is wise and chivalrous of you not to wish to make any accusations against Rosamond; but I can’t help asking myself whether she is pursuing positive happiness (I mean, what she expects to be happiness) or merely fleeing from boredom. It makes a difference. But without demanding any indiscreet confidences on your part, I shall await developments with interest.

Thank you for telling me about my income for this last half-year. It is just what I wanted to know, to reassure me in the midst of this financial confusion. If the dollar comes down to 50 cents (and that I believe is about the Mexican or silver standard to which the Democrats have always looked with envy) I shall be deprived, practically, of half my income: but as I spent less than half, I shall still have enough. What Roosevelt says and thinks (to judge by what I have read of his in the papers) seems to me rubbish. He talks like a professor of economics with a bee in his bonnet.

What is a “dollar in harmony with the needs of production” (or something of that nature? Any dollar, any agreed value or coin, if it is worth anything in itself and moderately steady in value, is equally harmonious with the values of other things and equally good as a common denominator and nominal medium of exchange. What is the use, then, of changing from one sort of dollar, or one weight of gold, to another? There is a use: and though I laugh at what Roosevelt says, I see a very clear reason for what he does. By halving the value of the dollar he will not only make prices go up (double them, in fact, other things being equal)—which is pure foolishness, since things will remain really of exactly the same intrinsic and relative and exchange value–but he will halve the government expenditure for pensions, salaries, and interest on the debt—unless these payments are expressly increased by law: and at the same time he will halve the real income of idle persons like myself, living on the interest of floating capital. So that, whether Roosevelt means it or not, he is driving a nail into the coffin of capitalism; and at the same time (what is strangely undemocratic) diminishing enormously the purchasing power of wages, pensions, and all incomes fixed in quantity of money.

But I see a possible complication and mitigation of this result. In so far as my property, for instance, includes definite objects–land, factories, merchandise–its value expressed in dollars will rise at the same time that the purchasing power of the interest diminishes. To this extent, the change will be just as futile in killing capitalism (I mean especially, in killing this system of living on mere money out at interest) as it is futile in “harmonizing” currency with real values.

Cortina is pleasant, as usual, and I am passing the time quite contentedly and doing a little work on the novel—saving, too, because this excellent hotel is cheaper than the Bristol. It is true I have no sitting room.

Yours affly


From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Five, 1933–1936.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.
Location of manuscript: The Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge MA.