Tuesday, June 26

Finding the Funds

By Art Cashin

On this day in 1635 (give or take a decade or two), the British merchant fleet learned yet one more thing from their Dutch antecedents. 

As you will recall from fourth grade (yes, Sister, I promise I'm listening, put down dat ruler please!), at about this time, the Brits, French and Spanish were busy fussing about things like primogeniture and feudal  estates or 30 year wars (give or take a decade or two).  Meanwhile, the Dutch were trading the astrolabes off everybody. While most nations were taxing, taking, shooting and sinking other folks, the Dutch were building ships for merchandise not munitions.  In addition to promoting free trade, free ports and building ships designed to minimize labor and increase cargo, the wooden shoe crew knew they needed accountability…..and that meant accounting. 

Each ship sailed with enough of an allowance to provide for the needs of the ship, the officers and the crew during the voyage as well as for the purchase of the goods to be brought back.  Unless you are an MBA, you may have already realized that having the most money available for purchase of goods for cargo might make you a very wealthy captain when and if you got home safely and when and if the ship's owners whacked the profit up with you.

Now even if you are an MBA, you may already realize that this might lead captains not to be too free with money, fresh fruit and grog with the crew.  In fact, the crew had little control over anything except what they ate....er; rather how much they ate of what was served.  (Don't get tired we're almost to the point.) 

Anyway, the English sailors introduced an entrepreneurial and democratic spin on the rules laid down by the accountants.  Since their main compensation was not set till the end of each voyage and then only by the random price for cargo in the port when they arrived, the sailors tried to find a way to match their efforts to their ship’s success. 

Their provisions were mostly beans and salt pork.  If you didn't eat all the salt pork on your plate, the cook could rend the scraps down to a kind of tallow which on board ship was called slosh or slush.  The slush was used to make candles to fuel lanterns, or to grease capstans, masts or blocks.  But sailors found that some ports into which they sailed lacked animals and thus those folks had little tallow or slush to make their own candles, etc......so they would pay a premium for the slush.  The money that was gained from the sale was used by the crew for needed repairs that the bean counters either didn't envision or wouldn't pay for.  

And thus, on this day (give or take a decade or two), the special account from the slush or the "slush fund" was established. 


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