Frederick Soddy was “the father of nuclear fission,” winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1921, discoverer of the existence of isotopes (in general, not of a specific isotope), discoverer of the cause of radioactivity, a professor of chemistry at Oxford University, and a Fellow of England’s most prestigious scientific organization, the Royal Society. Without Soddy’s discoveries, we would never have developed nuclear power. All of these accomplishments pale in comparison to Soddy’s economic and monetary discoveries. After winning the Nobel Prize, Soddy went on to invent a scientific monetary system and the new science of National Economy – the science of wealth. With these inventions, Soddy forever solved the problem of poverty and paved the way to national prosperity. Soddy’s inventions and discoveries make it possible for everyone to work less and have more, to forever get out and stay out of debt, and to live better and longer lives. Today, Frederick Soddy is little remembered. When he is remembered, it is for his contributions to chemistry. His greatest achievements are almost completely unknown.
Shining Star: The Heart of Frederick Soddy
by Arian Forrest Nevin, J.D.
Speak the truth though the heavens fall. –Frederick Soddy, 1935
We differ from the ancients notably in only two ways, one our science and the other our system of fictitious credits. –Frederick Soddy, 1940
I have never understood the claim of economics to be independent of ethics and morality, except in an extremely narrow sense that no amount of good intentions or benevolence will excuse or bolster up a physically impossible or naturally ridiculous system of economics. –Frederick Soddy, 1937
Straightforward problems described by cork-screw terms demand for their apprehension cork-screw minds, whereas if described in plain terms they are hardly problems at all. There is today no problem in real economics unsolved. –Frederick Soddy, 1937
We live in a world of potential abundance beyond our unscientific ancestors’ powers of foreseeing, and we have invented a method of keeping the people in poverty by juggling tricks with money on a par with tampering with weights and measures and cheating at cards. But it could not have succeeded but for the cooperation of the verbally educated economist and his imaginary “economic laws” arising from the inverted importance he has given to money. –Frederick Soddy, 1940
Behind and aloof from the jostling of the individual members of the community, each intent on his own affairs, there exists an almost unknown science of national economics. –Frederick Soddy, 1926
Nobel laureate Frederick Soddy spent years researching the causes of economic crises and how the prosperity of a nation could be increased. In his book Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt he came to the conclusion that: “With adequate knowledge of the physical realities that dominate the economic affairs of peoples, the road is clear for unlimited progress and the attainment of universal peace and prosperity. The evils in the past that have paralyzed the very heart of nations lie patent and beyond concealment.”
The evil Soddy speaks of is the private money system which has usurped the national money system and caused the nation to sink into indebtedness and recession. The road “for unlimited progress” he speaks of is the fruit of science and technology, which we are frustrated from fully grasping by the private money system.
Frederick Soddy: The Early Years
Frederick Soddy was born September 2nd, 1877 in Eastbourne, Sussex, England. Soddy was the youngest son of Benjamin Soddy, a retired London corn merchant, who had seven children – one daughter and two sons by his first wife, and four sons by his second. Soddy’s father was 55 years old when Frederick was born. Hannah Soddy, his mother, died when he was only eight months old. As a result of his childhood, Soddy said he became “very self-sufficient and indifferent to his social surroundings.”
Frederick Soddy began attending Eastbourne College at age 15. He was trained by the Science Master, R.E. Hughes. Soddy published his first chemistry paper in 1894. It was co-authored by Hughes and published in Chemical News. Soddy wished to obtain the Merton College Open Science Postmastership. Because of his youth, it was decided that a year at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth would be helpful prior to attending Oxford. He stayed at Aberystwyth for four terms, which was one more than planned. Soddy had to repeat a Latin course. At age 18, one year after starting at Aberystwyth, he was awarded a science scholarship to Merton College, Oxford. For the next two years, Soddy studied chemistry and graduated with first-class honors in natural science (chemistry) in 1898. His external examiner was Sir William Ramsay, who Soddy later collaborated with. Upon graduation, Soddy spent two years conducting independent chemical research at Oxford.
In 1900, Frederick Soddy learned that the Chair of Chemistry at the University of Toronto, Dr. Pike, was vacating his position. Soddy applied by mail and, without waiting to hear the response, set off for Canada. Soddy did not receive the professorship, but was offered and accepted a position as Demonstrator in the Macdonald Chemistry Laboratory at McGill University in Montreal.
A Revolution in Scientific Thought: The Disintegration Theory
It was at McGill that Soddy met Ernest Rutherford. The two collaborated for 18 months and published nine papers. Together they developed the disintegration theory of radioactivity. Alexander Fleck described their work thusly: “Their ideas were based on two basic facts – the experimental curves for growth and decay as measured in an electroscope and the repeated assertion that the phenomena were atomic or sub-atomic and not molecular.” As Soddy put it, “We (that is, Rutherford and Soddy) could claim, I think, that we discovered what atomic energy is.” Rutherford was later awarded a Nobel Prize for this work.
Following his collaboration with Rutherford, Soddy returned to England where he worked with William Ramsay in London at University College. Soddy studied the emanations of radium and demonstrated spectroscopically the production of helium from radium. This had been predicted by Soddy and Rutherford and was the first clear experimental proof of elements transmuting naturally. The results of their study were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society in 1903. Soddy’s research at University College laid the foundations for his later discoveries regarding isotopes.
During this time, Soddy gave many lectures about his discoveries, wrote articles for magazines, and published a popular book. He even traveled as far as Australia to give a series of lectures.
Isotopes and the Displacement Law
Starting in 1904, Frederick Soddy was for ten years Lecturer in Physical Chemistry and Radioactivity at the University of Glasgow, Scotland. During this time, Soddy published The Chemistry of the Radioelements. It was the clearest presentation of the new subject of radiochemistry at the time.
Soddy had a number of research students. H. Hyman worked on determining the atomic weight of lead from thorium materials; A.J. Cranston worked on the parent of actinium; Ruth Pirret worked on uranium radium ratios; A.J. Berry studied rarefied gasses; and A.S. Russell worked on gamma rays.
Most of Soddy’s research work at Glasgow came from the extension of ideas inherent in the disintegration theory. He worked primarily on the chemistry of radioactive change, which led to the first recognition of isotopes, elements of slightly different mass with identical chemical properties. As Otto Hahn put it: “It is not the atomic weight of an element, but its nuclear charge which determines its place in the ‘periodic table.'” The Greek term “isotope” was suggested by the medical doctor and distinguished writer Margaret Todd. She proposed the term during a discussion Soddy had at his father-in-law Sir George Beilby’s house. Prior to this time, Soddy and his students used the term “radio elements chemically non-separable” to refer to isotopes.
In 1913, Soddy published the displacement law of radioactive change. Fleck states the displacement law as: “Each alpha expelled causes a shift of two places in the direction of diminishing mass and diminishing valence, and each beta ray expelled causes a shift of one place in the opposite direction.” Fleck contributed greatly to the research, and as he put it, “It was towards the end of 1911 that Soddy asked me to examine systematically as many as possible of the radio elements whose chemical characteristics had not then been determined. The series of results were published in 1912 and 1913 and included uranium X and thorium, radio actinium and thorium and, what was probably most important of all, they established the identity of thorium beta and lead.”
On March 27, 1908, Frederick Soddy married Winifred Moller Beilby. Alexander Fleck described her as “a woman with sound judgment of character and much common sense.” Their marriage was a happy one and lasted for over twenty years, until Winifred’s premature death from a thrombosis in 1936. The only unhappy aspect of their marriage was the lack of children. Soddy believed he was the cause of this. In those days, no safety precautions to protect from radiation were taken, and Soddy believed his work with radium had made him sterile.
Leonard Wise describes another achievement of Frederick Soddy: “At Aberdeen with J.A. Cranston in 1918 he discovered Element No. 91, between uranium and thorium, now called protactinium and known to be the product of the uranium isotope of mass 235 (which made the atomic bomb a practical possibility) and the parent of actinium in its natural radioactive change.”
Frederick Soddy at Oxford
In 1919, the Dr. Lee’s Readership at Christ Church was converted to a Dr. Lee’s Chair of Chemistry, and it was to this Chair that Soddy was elected. The electors were divided about the merits of two possible candidates, both Oxford Tutors. Unable to choose between the two, they accepted the suggestion for a third candidate, Frederick Soddy, which, of course, resulted in the hostile reception of his tenure by some faculty.
The college laboratories were out of date and ill-equipped, and Soddy requested they be replaced with modern, fully equipped laboratories. His requests were denied. But as soon as he retired, all of his requests were put into place. Dr. F.M. Brewer, MBE said this: “Although prevented from building proper laboratories, Soddy set himself to improve the one which he had been given and, acting as his own architect, engineer, and builder, he reconstructed the whole interior of the Old Chemistry Department and did this so effectively that it has been possible to retain it in use and to add a modern extension, with very little difficulty.” He retired from his position at Oxford in 1936, primarily because of the death of his wife.
Other Activities, Awards, and Positions
Frederick Soddy became a Fellow of the Chemical Society in 1899. He was, in 1910, elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, England’s oldest and most prestigious scientific organization. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1921. He was awarded the Cannizzaro Prize in 1923 in Rome. He was awarded an honorary LLD by the University of Aberdeen in 1936. He was a foreign member of the Italian, Russian, and Swedish Academies of Science. He was President of the New Europe Group. He was Vice-President and a founding member (1936) of the Economic Reform Club and Institute. He was President of the Institute of Atomic Information for the Layman. He invented a machine for solving the cubic equation with three real roots.
Soddy’s Science: National Economy
“The scientific age had the misfortune to be born under an evil star. For the year in which James Watt, a humble Glasgow mechanic, perfected the steam-engine which was to inaugurate it, witnessed also the birth in this country of the ‘science’ of political economy as set forth in the magnum opus of Adam Smith, the world-renowned Professor of Moral Philosophy of the University of that same city. On the one hand, we had an epoch-making invention in the science of wealth, which was to lead swiftly to a fundamental change in the mode of livelihood of the whole world. It became no longer necessary for men to derive the energy they need for the purposes of living entirely through their own bodies or through those of slaves or draught cattle. Increasingly they became able to tap at will the almost unlimited energy of the inanimate world, stored in coal, oil and other fuel. On the other hand, we have the learned moral philosophy professor of Glasgow, from the study of how earlier and more primitive peoples and civilizations, founded on slave labour, had continued to live, and from sundry pawky investigations into how the local gentry derived their livelihood at Kirkcaldy, founding the science of the Wealth of Nations. Upon foundations little more fundamental, his successors have appropriated the science of wealth, and of late, apparently, have adopted the attitude that what they did not know about it was not knowledge. So that for two centuries we have had the spectacle of a world bursting forth into new wealth of every description, which is produced almost by the word of command by the inanimate giants that science had harnessed to the chariot of life, getting deeper and deeper into debt, all in the strictest accordance with the inexorable laws of their political economy.” –Frederick Soddy, 1927
What was it that drew a radiochemist to study economics? As a man of science, Soddy knew that because of modern science and technology, there was no longer any physical reason that poverty should exist in the West. We had plenty of men, materials, and energy to create all that we needed. And this potential abundance Soddy ascribed to science, because it was modern science that allowed man to harness the great stores of inanimate energy to do his work. Before, man had to rely on animal energy, and this necessarily limited his production. But with the harnessing of inanimate energy, first with the steam engine, this restriction had been lifted.
However, Soddy saw that this abundance remained potential rather than actual. What was it that was preventing this abundance from emerging? Soddy zeroed in on the cause: the monetary system, and inverted and false economic ideas. Thaddeus Trenn wrote a history of Soddy and Rutherford’s collaboration. He believes Soddy viewed “the monetary system as preventing modern Western civilization from distributing its scientific and technological abundance by peaceful means.” Or as Soddy put it, “My main conclusion … was that it was entirely due to the fictitious money system which arose contemporaneously with the birth of the scientific civilization and that now was being purposefully and consciously used to frustrate it and to preserve the earlier civilizations founded on slavery.”
Soddy developed both a new science and solutions for our economic problems. During the earlier period of his economic activity, he emphasized his science more, and focused later on his solutions. For his science, Soddy set the goal of maximizing the wealth of the nation rather than the wealth of an individual. To accomplish this, Soddy studied how the economic system as a whole worked physically, rather than paying attention to property ownership and accumulation as orthodox economists do. From this standpoint, Soddy then deduced how the economic system and the monetary system needed to function in order for a nation to produce at the maximum level physically possible.
There were two products of Soddy’s economic work: (1) what ought to be done to solve our economic problems (the solution), and (2) why that should be done (the science). Soddy called the economic science he developed by various names. The first name he used was “Cartesian Economics,” followed by “National Economics,” “National Economy,” “The Science of Wealth,” “The New Economics,” and he often did not use any name at all to refer to the study he created. He initially had no name for the solution he proposed, and later gave it the name of the “Pound for Pound System.” Of the terms used by Soddy to describe his science, the term National Economy is the most representative of what he studied, and is used to refer to the science Soddy invented herein.
The basis of National Economy is a physical definition of wealth. In the foreword to Soddy’s magnum opus Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt, he says, “This inquiry commenced with the attempt to obtain a physical conception of wealth that would obey the physical laws of conservation.” Thus, Soddy defined wealth solely as physical things that contribute to human life. Thus, houses, food, clothes, factories, and gasoline are wealth; while stocks, bonds, money, and debt are not. This is not to say that, from the perspective of the owners of stocks and money, what they possess is not wealth; but from the purely physical perspective taken by Soddy, stocks and money do not constitute wealth and are rather legal fictions or products of the human imagination, as they have no physical existence.
What is the significance of this distinction? Property which is not wealth, such as debt or money, can be created by the human will. A ten trillion dollar bill can be printed, or Bob can promise Sally $10,000 and thus create $10,000 of debt. However, physical wealth cannot be created by the human will. Congress can pass a law stating 10,000 cars are to be instantly created by its passage, but such a law will not create any cars. The important distinction is that wealth must be physically produced. It is our capability to produce wealth that fundamentally limits our prosperity, and not human systems such as money or debt. However, unsound systems can artificially restrict our production below the level of what is physically possible.
The Cause: Dishonest Money
Soddy believed the monetary system to be the primary and artificial cause of restricted production and prosperity. Banks are the primary creators of money today. Banks once created money at the stroke of a pen, and today create money at the press of a key. We have a double-money system, in which money exists as cash and also as intangible electronic money in bank computers. The amount of cash is insignificant relative to electronic money. Soddy was telling the world that banks actually create money, long before banks admitted this was true. While today banks acknowledge they create money, when Soddy first started writing about economics, they strenuously denied they created money.
Integral to Soddy’s solution was an absolute prohibition on private money creation, and the restoration of the issuance of money to the national government. “It is clear that the issue and withdrawal of money should be restored to the nation for the general good and should entirely cease from providing a source of livelihood to private corporations. Money should not bear interest because of its existence, but only when genuinely lent by an owner who gives it up to the borrower.” In reference to this statement, Soddy’s friend and colleague Edward Holloway said, “This statement of Soddy’s challenges the whole concept of money as we now know it, and there are powerful forces who are quite determined that these ideas shall never be implemented.” It challenged the “whole concept of money as we now know it” because money was, and still is today, solely issued for private profit by banks when they make loans. It is not issued as needed and in proper amount by the government for the common good. The “powerful forces” opposed to this concept of issuing money as needed in proper amounts are the banks and the whole financial sector. Their livelihood depends on private money creation. Restoring the creation of money to the state would destroy their livelihood, and thus they oppose such reforms.
The Social Responsibility of a Scientist
Soddy felt very strongly about the social responsibility of scientists and the purpose of science. He did not see scientists as isolated investigators merely studying the natural world. Soddy saw scientists as the servants of humanity and the greater good, who were building a better future. Soddy described the purpose of science thusly: “The real use of science to humanity is so to increase the means of livelihood as to diminish the physical struggle for existence of society, not to increase it, to lengthen the hours for leisure, recreation and the cultivation of the graces and refinements of life, not to concentrate in the hands of a few all the leisure and put upon the backs of the many all the hard work.”
Soddy’s studies of radioactivity naturally led to economics. Radioactive materials represented a hitherto unknown store of energy. “By 1903 they [Rutherford and Soddy] established that the magnitude of this energy was more than a million times that of any previously known terrestrial source, and that it was stored within the atoms of matter. … Soddy believed that human control over this new-found source of energy was merely a function of time and scientific ingenuity.” (Trenn) By harnessing atomic energy, man could rise to a new level of prosperity.
Professor F.A. Paneth, FRS also spoke of Soddy’s social conscience: “Science was never the only concern in Soddy’s life. He had a deep interest in social questions, and whenever he suspected injustice was being done to a certain group, or that something was wrong in the social structure, he fought it in the most uncompromising way.” Though Soddy had long been interested in economics and the monetary system, starting in 1918 and going forward, he was primarily occupied with discovering and resolving “why, so far, the progress of science has proved as much a curse as a blessing to humanity.”
Leonard Wise has described how Soddy was led to the study of money: “Soddy was first attracted to the study of money in early youth by the successive waves of economic prosperity which followed the discovery of the gold fields of California, South Africa and Australasia. His interest in the subject was much stimulated by reading Arthur Kitson’s book Corner in Gold, which led to a warm personal acquaintance and friendship with that pioneer among money reformers, so that he followed with close attention the monetary acrobatics during and after the First World War.”
Soddy has also cited the death of British scientist Henry Moseley during World War I as a cause for his turning to economics. “I think that something snapped in my brain – something which divorced the present from the past. I felt that governments and politicians, or man in general, was not fitted to use science – which obviously he did not comprehend. My mind turned from scientific research to finding out the reason for the failure of science to benefit mankind and bring peace and plenty.”
Quoting from Leonard Wise again: “A serious study of economics and money followed a long controversial correspondence with a Marxian communist economist, proselytizing ‘dialectical materialism,’ which to him appeared a dreary and unprofitable example of meaningless word-spinning. From this resulted two lectures to the students of Birkbeck College and the London School of Economics, entitled ‘Cartesian Economics,’ published as a pamphlet in 1922, which represents his starting point as accurately today as when it was written a quarter of a century ago.”
Soddy’s two primary economic influences were Arthur Kitson and John Ruskin. Soddy dedicated his first economic book, also his magnum opus – Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt – to Arthur Kitson. Kitson in turn dedicated his magnum opus, which was his last published work before his death – A Modern Pilgrim’s Progress – to Frederick Soddy.
In his day, Soddy was ridiculed. He was called a “currency crank” and “professor porcupine.” The mockery of Soddy continues to this very day. He was recently called “quixotic” and “eccentric” in The New York Times. The higher you fly, the smaller you look to those below; or, as Ernest Hello said, “The intelligent man raises his head to admire and adore; the mediocre man raises his head to mock; everything above him is ridiculous to him, and to him the infinite is a void.” And thus, Soddy becomes “quixotic” and “eccentric.”
Soddy believed science could do away with all debt and replace poverty with prosperity. However, he felt that science was not being used for this purpose, and the public was not benefiting from the increased wealth created by science. “All this increment in wealth has not benefited its creators nor the public at large. Science has come to be for the people little better than a bye-word for commercialism, materialism and greed, for millionaires and slums, polluted rivers, smoky cities and desecrated landscapes, the economic submergence of the unfit, concentration of political power in the hands of the corrupt, an agency for working alternatively on the fears and cupidity of nations, its creative promise prostituted to the work of destruction, and the whole of the wealth accumulated by its exploitation flung like a gambler’s stake into the furnace of war. The hope of the world rests with warm hearts and clear heads, hearts that beat in sympathy with the mass of its workers, and heads that are illumined with the light of science – the science which, pursued solely in the single-eyed service of truth, nevertheless has put within the reach of men the power to re-mould their destinies nearer to the heart’s desire.”
The Old Civilization and the New Scientific Civilization
“The public, by their supineness and lack of responsibility, have now got into the grip of people without principles, without knowledge and without morals. It is a race against time whether they can throw off that control before it is too late.” –Frederick Soddy
Soddy asked: “Of what use are the discoveries of scientific men into new modes and more ample ways of living, so long as the laws of human nature turn all the difficultly won wealth into increased power of the few over the lives and labors of the many?” In Soddy’s view, there are two distinct civilizations co-existing: one is based on scarcity, and the other on abundance. All the civilizations in history prior to the advent of modern science and the harnessing of inanimate energy were necessarily scarcity-based. Modern science has created a new scientific civilization where material abundance is possible. It is prevented from flowering by the ideas and ideals of the scarcity-based civilization and by the actions of those who benefit from the old mode of living and do not wish for a new mode, which would deprive them of their power “over the lives and labors” of others, to emerge. John Strachey explained the conflict this way: “If science were to make everyone well off, the present source of the unearned income of the rich would be completely dried up.”
In his day, Soddy saw society as having declined to the point where “workpeople have become degraded and physically herded in foul slums, their livelihood rendered increasingly precarious by competition with mechanical labor-saving appliances of every description, periodically condemned, as now, to long periods of forced unemployment and destitution, able and willing – never more so – to make almost any conceivable sort of wealth humanity can desire and not allowed to make enough to keep the wolf from their own door.” This largely describes our present situation, where there are millions thrown out of work by the economic crisis. They are not allowed to earn a livelihood, though they are willing to work.
To Soddy, the antagonist preventing abundance from emerging – or at the very least, preventing us from producing, and thus employing people to the level physically possible – was the monetary system. “The monetary system is actually based on the very error to the point-blank denial of which Western civilization owes its greatness. It serves only the convenience of a parasitic and upstart plutocracy practicing a worldly wisdom the exact opposite of which is the foundation of the age. It prefers the dark in times when all men seek the light, and is sowing the seeds of hatred and war in a world weary to death of strife. It is poisoning the wells of Western civilization, and science must turn from the conquest of Nature to deal with a more sinister antagonist, or lose all it has won.”
Leonard Wise described the situation thusly: “Soddy’s concrete proposals for reform were simple, but as the nation alone would benefit by them and the private interests battening on the creation and destruction of money would be destroyed, they are politically impracticable under democracy.”
The Test of Time
“In conclusion and vindication I invoke the judgment of posterity whether in this year 1936 there is not already sufficient known, and established beyond doubt to every one of open mind, to avert the impending break up of the great scientific civilization of the West. I do so in a world pretending to be anxiously seeking the cause and remedy, but even more anxious lest it become too generally known, a world glorying in the freedom of thought and the power of the human reason in any and every sphere except that which touches the pocket, owing its greatness to the sciences that create its wealth but resenting their intrusion as regards money that effects its distribution. Fire, lightning, the changeful earth and the remote regions of the universe yield up to man their secret, but the mystery of money must alone be preserved from too searching investigation, and protected from the rude invasions of modern thought. The giant forces of Nature against which man used to be powerless have been tamed by reason and their powers for evil turned to good. But the dread powers of money have been loosed in their stead. For good and evil they are now wielded without national control or constitutional sanction and its manufacture left to private enterprise by irresponsible minters who have assumed these supreme functions. We are told it is too dangerous a social force for the ignorant public to meddle with and that it is safe only in the hands of bankers, who alone can be trusted really to understand it. If not for ourselves, then surely for such as shall survive, there is a limit to the debauchment of the general intelligence beyond even the powers of the private mint.”
Towards the end of his life, Soddy became pessimistic about the future. “There was a cloud upon Frederick Soddy’s life at the end of his days, due to the conviction that the folly of mankind would cause the work he and others had done upon the atom to be used for the destruction of the race; and also that men were so foolish that they would not take the necessary action to make certain that money would be made sound, to prevent the destruction of their economy. He kept saying that nothing would be done.” –C.B. Purdom. Whether anything will be done remains to be seen.
Frederick Soddy died on September 22, 1956, just a few weeks after his seventy-ninth birthday. Since his death, his economic works have been all but forgotten. Over the past 30 years, the standard of living in America has steadily declined. There is nothing to point to a change in this trend. The American people continue to sink deeper and deeper into debt, and we have a worsening economic crisis.
Arian Forrest Nevin has taken up where Soddy left off. Soddy’s works can be difficult to understand, and Nevin has systematized and expanded National Economy, making it easily understandable for the first time. Not only can one understand how national economics works and why we have a crisis, but one can also learn about a simple solution to our economic problems. Over 80 years later, it’s time we finally listened.
“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your tears wash out a Word of it.” –Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883) in The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam
The finger writes a record of our actions; the past forever remains the past. There is no chance to change it. Soddy did his best to point the way to a better tomorrow. Though Soddy died over 50 years ago, his actions remain. His works and ideas stand the test of time.
What People Had to Say About Frederick Soddy
Lord Dainton of Hallam Moors had this to say about Soddy: “There were also Soddy’s face and gait; the former being finely chiselled with very steady eyes betokening a man of high principles unwilling to compromise truth as he saw it at whatever cost to personal relations; his gait and bearing suggesting also a very fit man, confident of his own powers and afraid of no man.”
H.G. Wells: “We can represent Professor Soddy as saying on behalf of physical science: ‘We men of science have abolished toil and people are still toiling; we have created plenty, and everywhere there is want. What has got between us and them?’ And then sharply: ‘What the devil are you money-fakers up to?’ These are not his words, but that is his manifest temper.”
Gertrude M. Coogan, author of The Money Creators, which was largely based on Frederick Soddy’s writings: “Professor Soddy is a world-famous chemist, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1921. He observed, however, that while science and industry removed the natural obstacles to a greater enjoyment of material civilization, something else seemed to raise an unnatural and still greater obstacle, which prevented the attainment of what seemed well within reach.
“What was this mysterious something which, apparently, laid a curse upon man’s apparent conquest of nature? Was science accursed?
“He laid aside his chemistry and, bringing into play that capacity for pure research which had been sharpened under the great Lord Rutherford, and which had enabled him to delve deep into the nature of radio-activity and the structure of the atom, he delved into economics and immediately found, to his surprise and puzzlement, that not one examination of the subject could be found which treated economics as a pure science.
“Every text book differed from the next. There were no scientific fundamentals. Not one treatise dealt with the essence of the matter, which is Money, in such a way as to tell whence it comes, and where it goes; every other science treats its subject matter in this manner.
“When Professor Soddy finished with the subject, it had been reduced to a science. Anyone familiar with his book, and fully understanding it, is thence forth his own economist, and need no more examine every new book on the subject, hoping for daylight, as has been the case up to now.”
Major-General J.F.C. Fuller, CB, CBE, DSO said this of Soddy: “I always looked forward to meeting and listening to him; not only because his knowledge of the subjects dear to him was profound, but because one felt oneself to be in the presence of a completely fearless and honest man.”
Sir Alliot Verdon-Roe said this of Soddy: “I think Professor Soddy attached more importance to his monetary reform ideas than to his scientific discoveries.”
Jacques Duboin said this of Soddy: “And what a magnificent example was that of Professor Soddy, winner of the Nobel Prize, for so many other scientists who shut themselves up jealously in their own scientific specialty and completely wash their hands of the Res Publica! … Soddy was a great scientist who was in addition a man of courage and a man of heart.”
Naoum Glasberg: “On re-reading his article ‘Some Recent Advances in Radioactivity’ (1903), I came to the following conclusions: Soddy was not sure that radioactive power could ever be used for the good of humanity, yet he believed that a man of science had a duty to serve humanity, and to achieve this he turned his attention to finance.”
Sir E. John Russell, FRS: “He held tenaciously to views and ideas which he believed to be firmly grounded, and was unperturbed if they happened to clash with official or accepted views: his ideas on the banking and monetary systems were not accepted by economists, but he believed they were right and he continued to hold them in spite of all criticism.”
Lewis Mumford: “By his example, yes even by his ‘failure,’ he has become one of the heralds of a new age, whose coming awaits a whole generation of Soddys.”
Niall MacDermot, OBE, MP: “Perhaps the outstanding feature of Professor Soddy’s approach to economics, was that he brought to his study of the subject not only a scientific mind of the first caliber, but a very strong moral fervor and sense of the true values of economics. The orthodox economists found this moral attitude a limiting factor in his work. To others, however, the fact that this was the basis and inspiration of his ideas may make his conclusions all the more convincing.”
Edward Holloway, Chairman of the Economic Reform Club: “I can recall one occasion when, during the war, we organized a conference. The general title was ‘The World We Want,’ and a number of very distinguished people took part. One of the events was a dinner at which an eminent politician made a speech which was typical of the ‘sitting on the fence’ attitude of many politicians to questions of monetary and economic policy. Professor Soddy was called upon to speak immediately afterwards, and I have never heard, in public, such an onslaught on the insincerity of politicians and all their works. I shall never forget the look on the faces of those round the table, but some of us enjoyed the experience!”
“He had a brilliant mind, was one of the most sincere and upright men you could meet, and had ideas which, if acted upon, would have saved the world much suffering and agony. Yet his monetary views were largely ignored, and his scientific achievements were not given anything like the prominence they rightly deserved.”
“Frederick Soddy’s achievements in the world of science certainly entitle him to a place with the really great men of our time. Equally, his contribution to sane economics will stand the test of time, and he will one day be recognised as one of the few courageous and disinterested men who, casting personal recognition on one side, carried on a ceaseless fight against the preposterous humbug of finance.”
“I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that had Frederick Soddy’s economic views been listened to and his ideas acted upon, instead of being ignored, the Second World War could have been avoided with all its destruction and loss of life.”
Sir Reginald Rowe in his book The Root of All Evil: “Soddy’s delight is in battle. He is a born fighter against anything he thinks unfair or stupid (unreasoning stupidity being above all things anathema to him), and to such a man war to the knife comes more easily and is more enjoyable than passionless persuasion. In this matter, however, he would dispassionately claim that you can no more compromise about the principles of a monetary system than you can with the law of gravitation, and to attempt to do so is to court ignominious failure. His mind is so active and clear to itself that I think he sometimes fails to make his argument clear to an ordinary intelligence.”
National Economy Books by Frederick Soddy, MA, LLD, FRS
Wealth, Virtual Wealth, and Debt: The Solution of the Economic Paradox, 1926
Money Versus Man: A Statement of the World Problem from the Standpoint of the New Economics, 1931
The Role of Money: What It Should Be, Contrasted with What It Has Become, 1934
Pamphlets, Booklets, Chapters, and Lectures on Economic and Monetary Reform by Frederick Soddy
“Economic ‘Science’ from the Standpoint of Science”; The Guildsman, No. 43, July 1920, 3 ff.
“Money”, a lecture delivered to the Oxford City Labour Party in Ruskin College, 21st January 1923
Cartesian Economics: The Bearing of Physical Science on State Stewardship, two lectures to the Student Union, Birkbeck College and London School of Economics, 10 and 17 November 1921; Henderson’s, May and October 1922 and March 1924
The Inversion of Science and a Scheme of Scientific Reformation, based on lectures given in 1923; Henderson’s, 1924 (two editions) and 1927
The Wrecking of a Scientific Age, terminal lecture to the students of the University of South Wales and Monmouthshire, Cardiff, 22nd January 1927; Henderson’s, 1927
The Impact of Science Upon an Old Civilisation, inaugural address to the students of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, 19th October 1927; Henderson’s, 1928
“What I Think of Socialism”; Socialist Review, August 1928, pp. 28-30
“Unemployment and Hope”; Nature, 1930
Poverty Old and New, lecture to the New Europe Group, London; published by The Search Publishing Co. Ltd., 1932
“A Physical Theory of Money”, paper to the Liverpool Engineering Society; Transactions of the Liverpool Engineering Society, 56, 1934 “The Role of Money”; The Oxford Magazine, June 7, 1934 “The New Britain Movement”; supplement to New Britain, June 20, 1934
“Money as Nothing for Something”; Garvin’s Gazette, March 1935
“The Gold Standard Snare”; Garvin’s Gazette, July 1935
Foreword to The Frustration of Science, Sir Daniel Hall (editor), G. Allen and Unwin, 1935
The “Pound for Pound” System of Scientific National Monetary Reform, in Montgomery Butchart’s (editor) To-morrow’s Money; Stanley Nott, 1936
“Is Science a Failure?”; Radiography, July 2, 1936
“Money and the Constitution: Report of the Prosperity Campaign Conference”, Digswell Park, August 1936
Credit, Usury, Capital, Christianity, and Chameleons; The Economic Reform Club, 1937
The Budget, synopsis in one hundred verses of the author’s “Reformed Scientific National Monetary System”, Knapp, Enstone, Oxon, 1938
Money and the Constitution; Knapp, Enstone, Oxon, 1938
Social Relations of Science; Nature, 141, 784-5, 1938
Abolish Private Money, or Drown in Debt: Two Amended Addresses to Our Bosses, by Walter Crick and Frederick Soddy, 1939
“Finance and War”, address to members of the Parliamentary Labour Party at the House of Commons; Nature, 147, 449, 1940
Some Replies to a Question the Brains Trust Did Not Answer; Economic Reform Club and Institute, 1941
“Qui s’accuse s’acquitte”, review of Prof. Hardy’s “A Mathematician’s Apology”; Nature, 4th January 1941
“The Arch-Enemy of Economic Freedom: what banking is, what first it was, and again should be”, a reply to the Rt. Hon. R. McKenna’s “What is Banking?”, published by the author; Knapp, Enstone, Oxon, 1943
“Demand for Monetary Reform in England”, a letter sent to the Archbishop of Canterbury and nine other clerical authorities, signed by thirty-two monetary reformers, authored by Soddy and Norman A. Thompson, 1943
“Present Outlook: A Warning – debasement of the currency, deflation, and unemployment”, for local administration authorities, September 1944
“The Moving Finger Writes…”; Cavalcade, 18 August 1945, 8-9
“The Atomic Age”; The Scottish Field, October 1945, 225
“The Evil Genius of the Modern World”; Management and Human Relations in Industry, Vol. 1, Industrial Relations Publishing Corporation, New York, 1947
“An independent scientist’s views on the economic and political possibilities of Atomic Energy for the Future”, address to the British Constitutional Research Association, 1947
“Can a Nation Be Saved by Budgets and Ever Increasing Taxation?”; The Torch of Truth, 1948
“Frederick Soddy Calling All Tax Payers”, account of High Court proceedings, 28th March 1950, and defendant’s affidavit re non-payment of taxes; Economic Research Council, 1950
“Money Reform as the Preliminary to All Reform”, address to the Birmingham Paint, Varnish & Lacquer Club, January 12th, 1950
“Dishonest money; or why a larger pay-packet now buys less than it did”, New Boadicea Club, 1950
“The Constitutional Justification for Resisting Tax-payments”, Economics Reform Club and Institute, 1951
“Democracy’s Other War”, reprint of articles in Cavalcade, with foreword by the Editor, L. B. Powell; published by Cavalcade
Biographies of Frederick Soddy
Atomic Transmutation: The Greatest Discovery Ever Made; Muriel Howorth, 1953
Pioneer Research on the Atom: The Life Story of Frederick Soddy; Muriel Howorth, 1958
The World Made New: Frederick Soddy, Science, Politics, and Environment; Linda Merricks, 1996
Other Books by Frederick Soddy
Radioactivity: an elementary treatise from the standpoint of the Disintegration Theory; The Electrician Publishing Co., 1904; German translation, J. A. Barth, Leipzig
The Interpretation of Radium, popular lectures in Glasgow; John Murray, 1909; J. A. Barth, Leipzig
Translation of “Brownian Movements and Molecular Reality”, by Prof. Jean Perrin; Taylor and Francis, 1910
Chemistry of the Radio-Elements; Monographs on Inorganic and Physical Chemistry, edited by Prof. Findlay; Longmans, Green & Co., 1910; J. A. Barth, Leipzig
Matter and Energy; Home University Library series; Williams and Norgate, 1912
Science and Life; Murray, 1919
Collected papers on the production of radium from uranium, 1902-1931
Interpretations of the Atom; Murray, 1932
The Story of Atomic Energy; New Atlantis, 1949
Patents Held by Frederick Soddy
No. 25,504, 3rd November 1910 (date of approval). Separation of mesothorium from monazite (short title).
No. 125,253, 8th May 1918 (date of approval). Stripping of illuminants from coal gas by charcoal.
No. 13,259, 5th May 1928. Imp. in Hooke’s joints and universal couplings. (This was never completed: typewritten copy.)
No. 358,128, 19th February 1931. Imp. relating to epicyclic gearing.
No. 361,015, 19th February 1931. Imp. relating to epicyclic gearing.
No. 474,743, 16th December 1935. Imp. in buildings and building components.
No. 572,411, 28th November 1940. Imp. in the separation of thorium of the rare-earth groups from minerals.
No. 13,337/52, 26th May 1952. A steam power plant of improved thermodynamic efficiency and capacity to service overloads, based on the steamboiler using as the working fluid a concentrated solution of a non-volatile substance such as the caustic alkalis.
Excerpts from article “The Crisis”, by Herman Daly (November 12, 2008 | Adbusters)
After winning the Nobel Prize for chemistry, Frederick Soddy decided he could do greater good for humanity by turning his talents to economics, a field he felt lacked a connection to biophysical reality. In his 1926 book Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt: The Solution of the Economic Paradox (a book that presaged the market crash of 1929), Soddy pointed out the fundamental difference between real wealth – buildings, machinery, oil, pigs – and virtual wealth, in the form of money and debt.
Soddy wrote that real wealth was subject to the inescapable entropy law of thermodynamics and would rot, rust, or wear out with age, while money and debt – as accounting devices invented by humans – were subject only to the laws of mathematics. Rather than decaying, virtual wealth, in the form of debt, compounding at the rate of interest, actually grows without bounds.
The problem that we’re seeing in the US has arisen because the amount of real wealth is not a sufficient lien to guarantee the staggering outstanding debt which has exploded as a result of banks’ ability to create loans – financing, among other things, the US government’s war and bailouts deficit.
Real wealth is concrete. Financial assets are abstractions. Existing real wealth serves as a lien on future debt. For example, the 100 dollars of virtual wealth that I carry in my wallet are a lien on real wealth, in that those dollars enable me to buy pork at the store.
A farmer who raises pigs faces biophysical limits on how many pigs he can take to market. But if that pig farmer took on debt – a promise to repay at a future date – he would in effect be issuing a claim or lien on his future production of pigs. If he borrowed the equivalent value of 100 pigs, he could represent the loan on his balance sheet as “-100 pigs.”
While debt as the farmer’s accounting entry is negative, negative pigs do not really exist. If the farmer should suffer a series of lean years and be unable to pay the interest, he might soon owe more pigs than could be raised on his farm. After a year, with interest looming, he’d show “-110 pigs”; in 5 years, “-161”; in 40 (assuming a patient bank), “-4526.” When the bank finally came to call on the pig farmer to collect repayment of its loan, it could well find that most of the virtual wealth that had grown so appealingly on its books had to be written off as a loss.
The conventional wisdom is that when faced with the threat of recession and business failure, the solution is to grow the economy so we can grow our way out of the crisis. But because the wrong diagnosis is made, namely that businesses are in trouble because access to loan credit has tightened, the wrong solution is proposed.
To keep up the illusion that growth is making us richer, we deferred costs by issuing financial assets almost without limit, conveniently forgetting that these so-called assets are, for society as a whole, debts to be paid back out of future growth of real wealth. That future growth is very doubtful, given the deferred real costs, while the debt continues to compound to absurd levels.
“Exactly as taxation is a forced levy on the community’s money, so the issue of new money is a forced levy in kind on the wealth-on-sale in the community’s marts. Just as it is unthinkable that private people should have power to levy taxes, so it is preposterous that the banks, in the teeth of all constitutional safeguards against it, should by a mere trick usurp the function of Congress and, without any authority whatever, make forced levies on the community’s wealth. But no one can pay taxes or, in a monetary civilization, discharge any obligation or debt at all until there is money. The provision of the correct quantity of money should be the first and most important duty of the State.” –Frederick Soddy
No single volume of C. H. Douglas or Arthur Kitson spells out the economic case for populism as does Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt by Frederick Soddy. Here is holy fire to overcome the enveloping darkness. Pay special attention to Chapter 7. The people cannot reform a crooked monetary system unless they know: 1) how the cheating is accomplished, 2) under the protection of what grand deceptions, and 3) what system and principles to replace it with.
Dick Eastman (email@example.com)
Frederick Soddy’s Wealth, Virtual Wealth and Debt (1926): Dedicated to Arthur Kitson – The British Pioneer of the New Economics, to whose writings the author owes his initial interest in the fascinating problems of wealth and currency
Read Wealth, Virtual Wealth, and Debt online
Read The Role of Money online
The Bradbury Pound and the Greenback Dollar – Debt-Free, Interest-Free Treasury Notes – Collapsing the City of London’s Secretive Network of Criminals and Traitors – Creating a Benign and Benevolent Financial System
They Own It All (Including You!) by Means of Toxic Currency
Everything the citizen must know to reform money and finance for the good of all
More Time for Leisure – National Dividend: Cultural Inheritance of Society – C.H. Douglas’s “Practical Christianity” – Individual Creative Freedom
The Dangers of Internationalism