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Political sciences afford few subjects of meditation more extensive, more complicated, more instructive, and more productive of important consequences, than the problem of the moral and political advantages and inconveniences of Wealth ; a subject which has been so frequently discussed, and so variously resolved in every treatise on morals and politics. When we consider how little, in this respect, men have been anxious to make their opinions agree with their practice, their principles with their conduct, and their morality with their actions; the solution of the problem becomes still more difficult: men appear to have prescribed duties for themselves merely for the purpose of transgressing them, or, at least, to have imagined that to transgress them was allowable as often as it might prove useful. Let it not be supposed, however, that this inconsistency is peculiar te some individuals, some classes, or corporations, certain times and certain countries ; it is common to all men, to all nations, and all times. Though despised by the wise, condemned by religious tenets, accused by moralists and publicists of the perversity of individuals, the depravity of manners, the decline of nations, and the fall of empires, Wealth is yet every where the object of the ambition of individuals and nations; the cause of their quarrels and contentions, and but too often the reward of violence, of fraud and injustice, and of the infraction of all laws human and divine. Every where poverty, though praised, commended, and ranked among the virtues most honourable to humanity, is regarded as a misfortune, sometimes as a disgrace, and almost always as a symptom of vice, or of an inferiority of either physical or intellectual faculties. To reconcile this singular contradiction, to develope its causes, and decide between the passions and the instructors of mankind, is certainly no easy task. It ought, however, to be less difficult, now that political economy indicates pure and salutary sources of wealth, the abundance of which may be increased by means conformable to reason, justice, and morality; equally beneficial to the rich and poor, and as lawful as honourable in their application. Yet, by a strange fatality, this precious discovery has not cured public opinion of its prejudice against riches; and to write in behalf of wealth, is still as rash, as it is rare to see poverty honoured in a drawing-room. If political economy has hitherto been unable to make men relinquish their erroneous notions concern
ing wealth, or to convince them of its being morally and politically beneficial, it is to be feared that the same fatal prejudice will be extended to the theory of Wealth, and that mankind will not feel greatly disposed to patronize a science, the object of which is little valued. There is, at least, no hope that it will be diligently studied, successfully cultivated, and eagerly diffused among the enlightened classes of the community, on whose patronage alone the progress of science depends, and without whose co-operation the solitary efforts of a few courageous partisans, who have to struggle against the torrent of general indifference, must always prove unavailing. It is, therefore, of the utmost importance for the success of Political Economy, that the mysterious veil, which has hitherto concealed the true nature of wealth, should be removed. The origin of a prejudice so ancient against riches, and the source of the charms which wealth, in despite of this prejudice, constantly possesses in the eyes of individuals and nations, must be investigated. It must be known whether the disastrous effects of which wealth is accused, spring from its nature or from extraneous causes. It must, in fine, be ascertained whether wealth has been the parent of more virtues than vices; whether it deteriorates more than it improves the condition of nations; and whether it has been nrore prejudicial to the duration and safety of empires, than favourable to their elevation and grandeur. Wealth is now performing so great a part in all domestic, mational, and foreign concerns, and in every public and private transaction, that it is a matter of C
much importance not to mistake its essence, its origin, its effects, and the universal application of which it is susceptible. The indifference which has proved so fatal to the theory of wealth, cannot be persevered in without endangering the social bonds of modern nations. At a time when Europe, shaken in her very foundations, is about to be re-established on a new basis, and when it is at length acknowledged that true politics ought no longer to separate the power of governments from the welfare of the people, it particularly behoves us to form correct motions of wealth, and to be acquainted both with the benefits which we are to expect from it, and the calamities which follow in its train. If wealth be useful, its advantages will be the greater for being more justly appreciated ; if prejudicial, its disastrous effects will be better avoided or prevented by being known. Though truth be not always certain to please, it is yet sure of a favourable reception whenever it is beneficial to mankind. Wealth, in the simplest and most general acceptation of the term, consists in the surplus of produce above consumption, or of income above expenditure. The extent both of public and private wealth depends on the accumulation of this surplus, and on the manner in which it is managed and applied.* The passion for wealth is general, universal, and, as it were, inhererent in mankind. The history of man and civil society shows it always active and enterprising. It is the spring of every private action, the principle and end of all public resolutions. In every country, in every nation, among the Scythian or Tartar hordes, among the tribes of Arabia or the savages of America, among the ancients and moderns, at all times and under all governments, the desire of riches exercises the same influence; whether mankind live insulated or collected in societies, whether they be governed by instinct or obedient to reason, this desire never varies but in its direction and its means. The passion for wealth is not peculiar to mankind exclusively : vestiges of it are even found among some species of the brute creation. Several animals reserve the surplus of their provisions for future wants. By this reservation, they indicate the instinct of riches; and it is extremely remarkable, that these economical and provident classes of creatures happen also to be the most laborious of the animal kind. But, in the brute creation, this propensity is limited ; in men, it is without bounds. It has not influenced animals to proceed a step beyond the instinct for their own preservation ; while, in men, it has been the principle and promoter of intellectual faculties, of liberal and mechanical talents, of ingenious and active industry: it has afforded mankind ample means and vast resources; secured them against want, procured them conveniencies, comforts, and enjoyments the most exquisite; and extended, as it were, the domain which nature destined for man, so that the distance which separates mankind from the
* When individuals, hordes, tribes, and nations, have not enough to supply their wants, they are poor: when their means are adequate to their wants, they are equally removed from poverty and wealth : when they have a surplus left after having supplied all
their wants, this surplus constitutes their wealth.