This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
There is a production, and there is a destruction, of wealth; but the latter is not the subject of scientific inquiry. Its phenomena may, at times, be prodigious, terrific; its effects may be most baneful and grievous; but there is no philosophy of it. It is all either unintelligent or malicious. Science is only of what is good, or may be made good; and of what is amenable to laws, either of human direction or of human comprehension. The flood that drowns a thousand farms, the storm that whelms a fleet, the earthquake that shakes a city to the ground, are not so important to the eye of philosophy as the difference between yesterday's leaf and to-day's.
It is not, therefore, with wealth, as disposed of in destruction, but in consumption, that we have to speak.
Consumption is the use of wealth. It is precisely the converse of production. If production were, on the one hand, the creation of an article, consumption would be its annihilation. But as human labor cannot bring one atom into existence, so neither can it return one to nothingness. Since man's efforts expend themselves in arranging matter into certain desirable forms, so man's satisfactions do, directly or indirectly, soon or late, exhaust those properties  or peculiarities of form that have been imposed on matter; and leave it, in the act and for the time, vacant of the elements of value. This result is reached in the consumption of wealth.
There can be no use of wealth, without this change of form; while the merest change of form oftentimes answers all the conditions of consumption. This consumption may be for any purpose, — for luxury, wastefulness, or reproduction; may be within any time, — from the slow wear of the precious metals to a perishing that is almost simultaneous with the making; may be in any degree, — from a total disappearance, as when wood is burned, to a change which the most practised eye can hardly detect.
In the economical sense, iron ore is consumed when it is wrought into chains and bars. These, again, are consumed when they are arranged into a bridge, though each may still retain its single shape. And, when the bridge has been worn out in time, it is said to be consumed, though it still remains as an element in all articles which have received value by carriage over it.
Each one of these changes is an act of consumption; and at each the character of the change determines the new state, and the result, both in individual or national wealth. At each, there is an application to a new purpose, and a new economical direction is imposed.
While the iron remained in bars, it was liable to be wrought into a bridge, as it was; or into ploughs, for the tillage of the earth; or into weapons, for the destruction of man. When it was directed to one of these, a new object was produced: it was consumed; not annihilated, but changed in its form and purpose. It is evident that the effects on society and on industry would be vastly different, as one or the other of these directions should be taken. The bridge itself might be used for facilitating commerce, or for transporting armies; and, in each case, the new application would be a consumption of the article, the new product and the new result in wealth being determined in the choice of uses to which it should be put.
The seed is consumed when it is planted in the ground to bring forth one hundred-fold. The cigar is consumed when it goes off in smoke.
Such consumption of wealth is constantly taking place in industrial society; and in this light we see the great importance of the principles which govern in this department: what momentous decisions are made at each change of the form imposed by labor on matter; how the wealth of the world goes up or down, with the new direction given it. Although such consumption comes far more slowly in some instances than in others, and seems at times to be indefi-nitely delayed, yet it is true that wealth has its generations, like the race of man; that, in so long a time, all the present accumulations of labor will have expended themselves; and that upon the provision made for reproduction will depend the condition of the future. The world might be stocked fall of useful and precious goods, yet become seedy in ten years, and beggarly within the life of man. And not only is the change of form and the new direction of vital importance; but it is made so frequently, in such multitudinous ways, often so silently and unobserved, always with so much of complication and uncertainty, that the principles which should control it have an interest at once, and a difficulty beyond those which belong to any other part of political economy.
It would be impossible to give a catalogue of all the distinct acts of consumption that take place in the narrowest field and in the shortest time. It might be even impossible to decide distinctly when any one of them actually began or ended; so that, if the science depended on determining them accurately, we should be forced to close our inquiries at once, as useless. No eye can detect their processes; no thought can reach down to the real spring of economical life. But we can find in the general results, as they come out in national or individual experience, enough for practical instruction and guidance.
We cannot* see the grain grow, or fix its daily increments; yet we know the fact of its growth, and can study the conditions of its best development. So we cannot mark the periods of wealth, or note its phases; yet in its great harvests we can see the kindness or unkindness of the soil, the refreshing of the showers, or the parching of the drouth.
To employ a figure: Exchange and distribution form the trunk of the tree, between the two branching worlds, above and below. Through that narrow compact body passes all that the intricate web of roots has to give, the product of their silent, humble work; all that the interlacing limbs and boughs, more fortunate and conspicuous, have to spend. Below is the world of production, where myriad agencies appropriate and assimilate the properties of the soil. Above is the world of consumption, where is given off, in every variety of foliage and flower and fruit, of use and beauty, what has been long and patiently gathered.
The consumption of wealth may be regarded as of four kinds,—mistaken, luxurious, public, and reproductive. We shall speak of them in that order.