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WEALTH AND ITS TRANSMUTATIONS.
The most obvious, though certainly not the most important, difference between a civilized community and a nation of savages consists in the vastly greater abundance, possessed by the former, of all the means of comfort and enjoyment. These means, including the necessaries, conveniences, and luxuries of life, are chiefly material objects, — such as manufactured goods, articles of food and clothing, ships and buildings, the useful and the precious metals, tools and machines, and ornaments, or things designed to gratify the taste and the senses. Some, however, are immaterial, and yet are just as much objects of desire, just as much objects of barter and sale, as cloth and bread. The legal knowledge and acumen of a lawyer, for instance, the vocal powers of a remarkable singer, the mimetic talent of an actor, the practised hand of an ingenious and thoroughly-trained artisan, all command a price in the market quite as readily as any goods in a shop. When an occasion arises, we buy the services of a lawyer or a physician, just as we buy a ticket to a concert, or an instrument of music for a drawing-room.*
Many Political Economists exclade immaterial products from their definition of wealth, because the labor which is devoted to such products "ends in immediate enjoyment, without any increase of the accumulated stock of permanent means of
Now, the aggregate of all these things, whether material or immaterial, which contribute to comfort and enjoyment, and which are objects of frequent barter and sale, is what we usually call WEALTH ; and individuals or nations are denominated rich or poor, according to the abundance or scarcity of these articles which they possess, or have at their immediate disposal.
Two questions, we are told, may be asked respecting the production of these articles:- 1. By what mechanical processes are they manufactured or obtained ? To answer this query, is the business of a man of practical science or an artisan, - of a chemist, a mechanic, or a farmer; as Political Economists, we have nothing to do with it. But (2.) we may ask, On what principles do men readily exchange these articles for each other, and what motives, what general laws, regulate their production, distribution, and consumption ? Political Economy undertakes to answer this question, and is therefore properly considered as one of the Moral Sciences. It depends, quite as much as Politics and Ethics, upon the principles of the human mind. It is quite as possible to reduce to general laws the habits and dispositions of men, so far as they are manifested in their efforts for the acquisition of wealth, as it is to develop, from observation and consciousness, the laws of our moral constitution. Political Economy begins with the supposition, that man is disposed to accumulate wealth beyond what is necessary for the immediate gratification of his wants, and that this disposition, in the great majority of cases, is in fact unbounded; that man's inclination to labor is mainly controlled by this desire; that he is constantly competing with his fellows in this attempt to gain wealth; and that he is sagacious enough to see what branches of industry are most profitable, and eager enough to engage in them, so that competition regularly tends to bring wages, profits, and prices to a level. The science, then, is more closely allied with the Philosophy of Mind, than with Natural History, or the physical sciences. It has been called Catallactics, or “the Science of Exchanges”; and, agreeably to this notion, man himself has been defined to be, an animal that makes exchanges; “as no other, even of those animals which, in other points, make the nearest approach to rationality, has, to all appearance, the least notion of bartering, or in any way exchanging one object for another.”'
enjoyment." The man who makes a fiddle, they say, is a productive laborer, because his work remains as a permanent addition to the stock of things from which men derive pleasure ; but he who only plays upon the fiddle, though, like Paganini, he earns £1,000 in a single evening, adds nothing to the wealth of the community. We answer, that the characteristic of all wealth is, directly or indirectly, to satisfy some want or gratify some desire. The fiddle is but an indirect means to this end; it would gratify nobody, - it would not increase our store of valuables, if the skill of the practised musician could not extract sweet sounds from it. The time during which the pleasure endures, or the number of occasions on which it may be repeated, is a point of no importance, except so far as it may determine the amount, or quantity, of the wealth which has been created. Food which is ready to be eaten is wealth, just as much as the knives and forks with which we eat it; though the former is devoured at once, and there is an end of it, while the latter may remain in daily use for a year or more.
“When a tailor makes a coat and sells it," argues Mr. J. S. Mill, "there is a transfer of the price from the customer to the tailor, and a coat besides, which did not previously exist; but what is gained by an actor is a mere transfer from the spectator's funds to his, leaving no article of wealth for the spectator's indemnification.” We reply, that the purchaser obtains only a gratification of desire in either
From the coat, he has moderate enjoyment prolonged for some months ; but he might do without it, and work in his shirt-sleeves. From the theatre, he has keen enjoyment, that lasts only a few hours; and he may prefer such pleasure to the luxury of additional clothing. It is inconsistent to give the name of wealth to what pleases our palates for a moment, and deny it to what gives keener pleasure to our ears.
With regard to the articles that constitute wealth, we observe that far the larger portion of them are perishable, or quickly consumable. Some of them, like the immaterial products, are consumed at the instant that they are produced ; others, like articles of food, last a little longer, but perish if not quickly used. The fashion and the fabric of manufactured goods soon decay and pass away, the former being often more short-lived than the latter. Tools and machinery wear out; houses and other buildings need constant repair, and, at stated intervals, must be wholly renewed. Hardly anything but the solid land itself - the great God-given, food-producing machine — is permanent; and the exchangeable value even of the land, (the only quality of it which we have to consider in this science,) quickly diminishes, and almost wholly disappears, if it be not kept up by the constant application of labor and capital, or by the continued prosperity of the community who live upon it. The best situated land in a populous city may be worth $ 30 or $40 a square foot; but if the other articles
which constitute the wealth of that city — the ships in her harbor and the goods in her shops — were not perpetually renewed, the land would deteriorate in value with great rapidity; and if the city should become, in respect to population and business, a small and decaying village, the land might not be worth $ 40 an acre.
Wealth, then, - and we may crave attention to the proposition, for it is an important one, - wealth must be perpetually renewed, or it quickly disappears. The stock of national wealth is like the flesh, blood, and bones of a man's body, which are in a state of constant flux and renovation. Physiologists tell us that our bodies are entirely renewed about once in seven years; but the riches of an opulent community are not so long-lived even as this. Let labor universally cease, let every man, woman, and child rest with folded arms, or do nothing but eat, drink, and be merry, and those riches would melt and waste like snow under a July sun. National wealth, then, may be more fitly compared to a given portion or section of the waters of a running stream, bounded by a few rods in length of the opposite banks. The water is always changing, yet in one sense is always the same, so long as the supply from above is maintained; but if the springs in the upper country should be suddenly dried up, the efflux below would drain the channel in an hour.
And here is one striking proof, among a thousand others, of the inordinate folly and ignorance of those who cry out against the institution of property, and call for an equal distribution of all the wealth of a community among all its members. “ Riches have wings” in a far more immediate and practical sense than these people are at all aware of. They always talk as if the national wealth was a fixed and imperishable quantity, like the land, the sunlight, and the air; but as if, unlike these, it was monopolized by a few, though really sufficient for the wants of all. Their blunder is quite as great as would be that of an ignorant rustic, who, after visiting the well-furnished market of a populous city on the Mondays of two successive weeks, and observing that the stalls presented almost precisely the same array of meats and vegetables, in the same order, should conclude that there had been no change, and that, as here was a permanent stock of food enough for all, while some
families in the city were suffering from hunger, a general and equal distribution of this stock, without compensation to the owners, should be ordered, under the idea that it would make any future want of provision impossible. The possibility that this great store might all be consumed in one day, that the dealers, deterred by this spoliation, might not supply the market at all on the next day, and that many indigent families, suddenly finding all their wants supplied without any effort on their part, would give up labor altogether, would never occur to him.*
“ This perpetual consumption and reproduction of capital,” says Mr. J. S. Mill, “affords the explanation of what has so often excited wonder, - the great rapidity with which countries recover from a state of devastation; the disappearance, in a short time, of all traces of the mischiefs done by earth
* This point was admirably illustrated by the late Marshal Bugeaud, in an article published in the Revue des deur Mondes, soon after the French Revolution of 1848, when theories of Communism and Socialism were so rife, and were urged with so much violence, at Paris, as to menace the very existence of society. I borrow a few paragraphs from this admirable essay.
“ The philanthropic dreamers, the demagogues of every age and every country, have seemed to believe that there existed somewhere a great amount of riches given by God, which might suffice for all the world, if a few aristocrats had not, with merciless selfishness, obtained possession of them. This idea is, unwittingly perhaps, the basis of all their systems, all their declamations. ....
“It is matter of astonishment that all eyes are not struck by the truth written, as it were, over the whole surface of the soil, - that there are no riches but those which are produced by the industry of every day, of every year; that the riches already produced, the fruit of labor also, are almost infinitely small in comparison with the wants of a society of thirty-six millions of souls; that even if they should be taken from those who have them to be distributed to those who have nothing, or but a little, the condition of the latter would not be ameliorated; far from that, they would be impoverished. The land alone, being created by God, might appear, at first sight, as wealth existing previously to labor, and belonging to all the world. This idea was true at the moment of creation, except that the land is not, in itself, wealth in the proper acceptation of the word; it is only a vast arena for the labor of civilized man. In its primitive state, it can support only a few savages upon the fruits and roots of the forests. The value which it now has is what labor has given to it. How many ages, how much capital, how much toil, had to be buried in its bosom to produce that which we now see! ..... The most experienced agriculturists say, that 'the land is nothing but a matrix, a mould, or an instrument of labor. If we were to calculate all that landed estates have cost to bring them into cultivation, not ever since man has labored upon them, but during only the last two centuries, we should find that the sum was much greater than the present value of those estates. We refer now only to the extraordinary costs, such as those of clearing the ground, draining the marshes, carrying off the rocks and stones, transport