This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
We mistake, if we attribute luxuries to the rich alone. It is estimated, on the best authority, that of the taxes paid by the laboring poor of England, out of every twenty-one shillings, eleven shillings and four pence were paid for what was, in the economic view, not necessary, and, in the sanitary view, not beneficial. If we estimate the amount expended for luxuries by the corresponding class in our own country, we shall find it as much greater as nature is more liberal, labor more free, taxes lighter, and the working-man more ambitious and sanguine; while, if we turn to France, we find the proportion much smaller; yet even here the laborer has his holiday, and his theatre or fair.
Paradoxical as it may sound, it may be said that a certain amount of luxuries forms a part of the necessary wages of the laborer in these countries. Indeed, it is true of all countries; for the human mind and the human body will have rest and recreation in some form. Man is not all laborer. Some indulgence is the demand of that part of his nature which looks out on another field than production and accumulation. And in this light we see the vast importance of such social and moral influences as shall determine the laboring classes to those relaxations and amusements which really refresh both mind and body, and elevate the whole tone of being. If we mistake not, a mighty industrial revolution, that promises effects more searching and permanent than many illustrious victories in arms, is now being accomplished by the divergence in taste and amusements of two nations. Great Britain has, thus far, maintained supremacy in useful and ponderous manufactures; while the artisans of France have been almost alone in the department of elegant and delicate fabrics. But the signs are clear that France is rapidly rising into superiority in the former class of industries, and may yet attain the primacy throughout - the world. The French workman is so economical, not only in his personal habits, but, in handling materials and tools, has such generally correct and wholesome tastes, and is so simple in his wants, that his work is cheap as well as efficient. On the contrary, the English laborer seeks more and more the delusive relief of strong and impure liquors, and, by this, adds so much to his expenses, and takes so much from his power in production, as to place him at a real and increasing disadvantage. It hardly admits of question, that, if the present causes operate for twenty years to come, the close of that period will find the most mercurial and sensitive people of the world enjoying the supremacy of its weighty and useful manufactures.
National taste determines, in a great measure, the de-. mands of wages. It is only required, by our present object, that we take a good look at the luxuries of the poor; not by any means grudgingly. Indeed, we may ask why laborers are not everywhere allowed more time and means for enjoyment, outside the dull routine of work and the dry subsistence of life. It is a wise and Christian statesmanship that seeks to enlarge the simple pleasures of the poor. It is a capital charge against despotism in every form, that it breaks down the power of the humbler classes, to claim them. As the intelligence of laborers increases, and their political franchises extend, they will assert a larger share of the products of industry; and very much of this will go into what we call, not invidiously, luxuries.
But it is with regard to the richer classes that the question of luxuries becomes especially important. The amount of wealth directed to these objects can hardly be overestimated.
The excise and customs authorities of Great Britain recently made an attempt to ascertain the shares of certain articles consumed, severally, by three classes into which they divided the population of the kingdom. The result is shown in the following table: * —
Class. Persons. Tea consumed. Sugar consumed.
In these simple articles, which are almost included in the strict necessaries of life, we see the great excess of the expenditure of the upper classes. When we rise to take in services of plate and sets of jewelry, galleries of pictures and parks of deer, studs of horses and packs of hounds, we shall be impressed with the immensity of outlay devoted to the luxuries of society.
We are not surprised to hear that at Rome "almost any profession, either liberal or mechanical, might be found in the household of an opulent senator;"that one thousand barbers, one thousand cooks, and one thousand cup-bearers were employed in the imperial service of Constantinople, while the chief cook had a retinue of twenty menials; that the baggage of a Persian monarch was carried by twenty thousand camels, even in campaign; that Zingis Khan maintained seven thousand huntsmen and seven thousand falconers; that the revenue of two thousand villages supported the temple of Sournat; that four cities were allowed for the personal expenses of the dogs of a royal establishment; that the household of Philip II numbered one thousand five hundred, while the queen was attended by four physicians.
* Levi on Taxation. Gibbon.