This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
The wants of man, in which are all the springs of wealth, are various, and change their place and form with times and circumstances. But they arise from his nature. They are a certain and constantly operating force. They commence with man's existence, and terminate only with his life: and, when all the desires of the individual are satisfied in the grave, and his labor paralyzed, the wealth he lays down in death becomes the possession of other men, with full strength and fresh desires; and so the creation of wealth goes on in ever-increasing circles, expanded by the central force,—the wants of man. While the individual awakens but slowly to the consciousness of his needs, gradually exhausts his activity in supplying them, and finally resigns all as he passes from life, we find that the sum of such wants and energies experiences no diminution by an atom, no suspension for an instant. Differing as these do in the individual, they are, in the world, as well ascertained and determinate as the facts on which any other science rests.
While the one element of wants or desires is secured in the constitution of man's being, the other element — viz., the relation of effort or labor to them — is fixed in the constancy of nature, and the permanence we attribute to the created world, — a foundation sure enough to build upon.
If, on the one hand, man's being were so constituted that his wants should cease, or be intermitted without any reason at the time, and without any assurance of return, or prove too weak to move the activities towards their satisfaction ; or, on the other, nature were so disposed that labor had no guaranty of reward, resulting indifferently in good to the laborer, or in nothingness, or in positive injury to him who performs it,—we could have no science of political economy.
But, as man's being and nature's laws are found in experience, political economy is to be regarded as a positive science. Nothing in its fundamental principles is hypothetical or problematic. None of its methods are whimsical or accidental. Each thing is susceptible of clear demonstration. All its parts are calculable.
"Political economy plainly belongs to the same class of sciences with mechanics, astronomy, optics, chemistry, electricity, and, in general, all those physical sciences which have reached the inductive stage. Its premises are not arbitrary figments of the mind, formed without reference to concrete existences, like those of mathematics; nor are its conclusions mere generalized statements of observed facts, like those of the purely inductive natural sciences." *
* Logical Method of Political Economy, by Professor Cairnes, p. 38.
In his efforts to supply his wants, we have said, man avails himself of the powers of nature, the fertility of the earth, the stimulating quality of the sun's rays, the agencies of wind, water, and steam,—all the dynamical forces and mechanical supports at his hand. He must, therefore, recognize these, and know the laws by which they are governed. But such inquiries do not come within the field of the political economist. He takes them from the hands of the physical philosopher, furnished to his own use.
Let us say, then, that human nature in its wants, the physical laws which supply them, and the statistics of human industry in all its manifestations, are the material of our science.
Political economy is a science whose laws may be disturbed in their operation, or made perplexing to observation, by the legislation of the state. No enactment could affect the movements of the planets, nor could the utmost tyranny of his age obscure the eye of the philosopher who looked on the revolution of the earth. So far as political economy, as a science, is physical, depending on the forces and agencies of nature, it is above legislation. So far as it is moral, depending on human nature, it can be hindered or deflected by laws not its own. The desires of man may be influenced by enactments, not made to cease, not brought into being; for they are all in his nature: they have been created, and they are indestructible. But the force of the state, while it is impotent to present man with a single new motive, or to erase one from his mind, can yet modify and control what already exist. Practically, this is the great disturbing force which political economy has encountered in all the past. Wealth is the constant subject of legislation often in direct antagonism to its own laws.
The express purpose of much legislation has been to reform human morals by an external pressure on man's desires, or, at least, to reform human manners by denying all gratification of such desires; and this, not in the interest of religion, or for the safety of the state, but in matters of dress and equipage. Other legislation has sought to supply supposed deficiencies in human intelligence, and has substituted blind laws for the keen sight of personal interest and business experience. Institutions have been created, or have grown up, whose actual effect at the present time, if not their avowed design, is to counteract the operation of the natural laws of wealth; and with these institutions vast interests have become allied in such a manner as to influence the material welfare of a great portion of the people. Hence the laws of political economy are not only contravened by direct legislation, but are obstructed or perverted in many ways by false social and political opinions.
It will be easily recognized as a part of that human nature of which we have spoken, that the promulgation of principles whose legitimate operation threatens the overthrow of long-established abuses, or which interfere with existing customs, should excite prejudice and opposition. This is one of the chief difficulties the science has had to encounter from the first. Here we have the reason why it has made comparatively little progress, and is the only science that cannot obtain a candid and impartial examination from the mass of mankind. It is a long time since chemistry was considered a diabolical art, since geology and archaeology were excommunicated as infidel, since the doctrine of gravitation was an offence in the nostrils of the Church; but prejudices and ignorance and partial interests never opposed economical truths more vehemently than today.
" A science that comes in contact with the interests of men, which lies in the region of daily action and desire, will find its theories more frequently questioned, and its proofs more severely tried, than one which has to do with the relations of abstract ideas, or the facts of the external world. Political economy is not a science varying with climate and country. There is not an English and an American political economy distinct from each other, and, in a measure, the reverse of each other. The forces of human nature, the agents of production, the arithmetic of gains, are the same everywhere, and lead to the same principles of economic action."—Bascom's Political Economy.
Of the advantage of a knowledge of political economy, the same writer thus speaks: " The knowledge which it imparts is of an important and—if we choose to make that the test — of a most practical character. Wealth underlies all civilization, and ultimately, therefore, in a large measure, both knowledge and religion. It is among the lowest, but also the first, steps to social worth and national strength. We are not to value wealth for that which it is in itself, but for that to which it can be made to minister. In its retinue come, or rather may come, all intellectual, social, and religious advantages."