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leads us immediately to an understanding of the manner in
“With many a weary step and many a groan,
Thunders impetuous down, and smokes along the ground.”
indeed throughout the civilized world, as would have been created by another battle of Waterloo, or by the reappearance of Napoleon from the tomb. The story proved to be well founded; and the consequence was, that within six months tens of thousands of our enterprising countrymen were either wending their toilsome way over the great steppes of our Western desert, and through the frightful passes of the Sierra Nevada, where the route was strewed with the whitened bones of their predecessors who had perished of starvation, or were encountering the manifold perils of a four months' voyage round Cape Horn, in the hope of making their fortunes in this new El Dorado. Did it ever occur to one of them, that their hopes would be just as much frustrated by finding that the precious metal there was too plentiful, as by ascertaining that it was not to be found at all? But suppose that the most exaggerated reports had been correct, - that all the rocks of the Sierra Nevada itself were composed in great part of gold, — that there were gold mountains in California, just as there are iron mountains in Missouri. Is it not certain, that the value of gold all over the world, almost at once, would sink to about the same point with iron? Then carry the supposition one step farther, - the last step that I have spoken of. Imagine that it is not necessary to go to California for this metal, but that our own streets are paved and our gutters lined with gold, which also, in lumps, strews the whole face of the country. Is it not evident, that it would instantly become as valueless as the stones and dirt which now cover our streets and roads?
How vain, then, is it to expect that wealth can ever be created without labor, which is its natural and necessary price! Gold is now so precious precisely because so much labor is required to obtain it. What a pity it is that the old alchemists, many of whom were the most learned men of their times, and who wasted fortune and life in their vain pursuit, could not have foreseen that the philosopher's stone, when discovered, would be as worthless as another stone, which should have the property of turning everything it touched into granite!
The useful metals, generally, possess value just in proportion to the fewness and unproductiveness of the mines whence they are obtained, and to the labor required for bringing them to market and giving them the forms and qualities that fit them
Iron in this country owes nearly all its value to the labor expended in extracting it from the ore and manufacturing it; for iron ore is so plentiful, that, except in a few favorable localities, where fuel is abundant and transportation easy, an acre of ground with iron ore for its surface is worth hardly as much as the same extent of fertile land. Yet fine steel cutlery and watch-springs, which are only iron in a highly finished state, sell at a high price by the ounce. Copper, again, being more rare, and the mines of it less productive, owes its value chiefly to its scarcity, or the labor required for finding it and bringing it from a distance. The chief fear for our copper miners on the shores of Lake Superior is, lest they should find the metal too abundant. Yet it is so natural an illusion to believe that the high value of these metals in their manufactured state attaches to them also when they are in the ore, that a mining mania is more easily excited in the community than any other speculative bubble. The dupes are satisfied by the full proof which is offered them, that the ore is very abundant. They had better also count the cost of the labor required for extracting it and bringing it to market. The most productive mine which a man can work is situated on his own farm.
What I have called the paradox of political economy, like the hydrostatic paradox, is really very simple, and admits of an easy explanation. In proportion as the labor required for obtaining any useful article is diminished, and the article itself consequently becomes very common, in that proportion it approximates the character of those invaluable gifts of Providence, the air, the water, and the sunlight, which, because they are common and inexhaustible, have natural, but no exchangeable, value. They become natural wealth, they cease to be artificial wealth. Man does not, in the economical sense, value them, or consider them as wealth, because he is not able to exchange them for other things which can only be procured by labor; or in other words, he cannot purchase labor with them. The possession of them conveys no distinction, does not exalt one above his fellows, gives no power over other men. Each of them satisfies one imperative want, and in this respect is truly invaluable; but it does not possess that quality which is characteristic of all articles that are usually considered as wealth ;— any one of these may be bartered for more or less
of any article or product whatsoever that the possessor may desire. We are wont to consider money as the universal medium of exchange, though it is only a contrivance for facilitating it; this is a consequence of the popular delusion which confounds money with wealth. Any portion of wealth, any article of value, is, like Fortunatus's wishing-cap, a means of obtaining, to the extent of its value, whatever other article we may desire ; — the contrivance of money rendering the process of obtaining it by exchange a very simple one. This Protean character of wealth, this capability of satisfying whatever want or whim the heart of man can conceive, is, like the ductility of gold, its most peculiar and attractive quality.
And here we perceive the explanation of the fact which has so often been a topic of complaint, that the pecuniary wages or earnings of scientific and literary men are, with a few rare exceptions, very inconsiderable. “ Had the taste for study," as McCulloch remarks, “ depended only on the pecuniary emoluments which it brings along with it, it may well be doubted whether it would ever have found a single votary; and we should have been deprived, not only of very many of our most valuable and important discoveries in the arts, as well as in philosophy and legislation, but of much that refines and exalts the character, and supplies the best species of amusement." The inadequacy of the pecuniary compensation of these persons 6 arises from a variety of causes; but principally, perhaps, from the indestructibility, if we may so term it, and rapid circulation, of their works and inventions. The cloth of the manufacturer and the corn of the agriculturist are speedily consumed, and there is therefore a continual demand for fresh supplies of the same articles. Such, however, is not the case with new inventions, new theories, or new literary works. They may be universally made use of, but they cannot be consumed. The moment that the invention of logarithms, the mode of spinning by rollers, and the discovery of the cow-pox had been published, they were rendered imperishable, and every one was in a condition to profit by them. It was no longer necessary to resort to their authors. The results of their researches had become public property, had conferred new powers on every individual, and might be applied by any one.” As they can no longer be appropriated, the difficulty of attainment, which is a necessary element of artificial wealth, is entirely removed; they therefore cease to possess exchangeable value, and become a part of what we have called the natural wealth of mankind.
Observe, moreover, that it is in the highest departments of literature and science that labor is most imperfectly remunerated; in those of a lower rank, in adapting to popular comprehension and purposes of practical utility the ideas and discoveries of others, tact and industry may often reap a considerable pecuniary reward. Hence, invention is usually more profitable than discovery; a new machine may create a fortune for its inventor, whilst the discoverer of those abstract principles of science, or general laws of nature, which are applied in the mechanical improvement, or are presupposed in the construction of it, can obtain no compensation but the fame of his labors and the gratitude of posterity. No one thinks of rewarding the heirs of Franklin and Ersted for those discoveries in electricity and electro-magnetism to which we are primarily indebted for the lightning-rod, the electrotype, and the magnetic telegraph. Ideas cannot be patented, or ex. clusively appropriated; but machines may be. So also in authorship, as McCulloch observes, " though a work should have the greatest influence over the legislation of the country or the state of the arts, it may redound but little to the advantage of the author. It is not so much on the depth, originality, and importance of its views, as on the circumstance of its being agreeable to the public taste, that the success, and consequently the productiveness of a book to its author, must depend. Many a middling novel has produced more money than the · Principia' or the · Wealth of Nations'; and in this respect, the · Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' has been far inferior to the Arabian Nights.”
The conversion of artificial into natural wealth, an apparent loss in exchangeable value being a real gain to the whole community, may be further illustrated by an example borrowed from Mr. Senior. “If the climate of England could be suddenly changed to that of Bogotá, and the warmth which we extract imperfectly and expensively from fuel were supplied by the sun, fuel would cease to be useful, except as one of the productive instruments employed by art; [that is, in metal