This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
It cannot be denied that these are vital questions, and that as they are answered will the economical character of each people be taken on. But we here enter rather the field of the statesman, the moralist, and the philosopher, than of the economist. The science of wealth, of course, cannot reasonably object to the pursuit and acquisition of wealth in any degree; yet it may also recognize that, as man has other than economical relations, so he may have other obli-gations, and may rightfully yield to them. These, while it does not discuss, it respects. It is for the philosopher, the moralist, the statesman, to decide, if they can, how far the public or individual welfare, looking at all interests and duties, will be subserved by the increasing production of wealth, by heaping store on store, gathered from the bounty of nature; by pushing up the fabric of industry to its mightiest proportions; or, on the other hand, by resting satisfied with a moderate and primitive competence, and working for quite other objects than wealth.
So that we have no great occasion here to discuss these questions, while yet two or three observations may set them in their proper relation to our science.
(1) In a normal and healthful condition of society, there will be as little reason to ask such questions, for practical purposes, as to inquire how much centrifugal or centripetal force the universe needs. All that is determined in the constitution of things. The desire to gain and the desire to spend are both manifestly in the original appointment of our minds; constant, abiding forces; and no more benefit can be derived from destroying or weakening either, than from loosening or tightening the bands of the universe. It is just right as it is. The two forces, by their antagonism, bring out the best order.
But human institutions and human actions can affect these forces in wealth. The course of things may be such that the possession of property shall be made undesirable by violence; or the springs of industry fail, in the loss of ambition and hope; or bodily and mental vigor be sapped by vice or self-indulgence. On the other hand, the tendencies of personal character and social condition may bring out the desires of gain in such a degree as no moralist, no lover of his kind, can approve; all arts, all interests, all duties, may be forgotten in the universal haste to be rich; avarice may grow into a passion, may spring into crimes; all that is good or holy, all benevolent ministries, all noble aspirations, may be drowned in the fast-rising waters of greed.
These are the limits, on the one hand and the other, of our economical condition. It will not be denied that the subject has all the interest that belongs to human welfare. But, we repeat, this is the province of other sciences than that of wealth. Let the statesman, the moralist, the religious teacher, instruct and persuade men to the true wisdom of life. Political economy can only regard them as the producers of wealth.
(2) We may be permitted to remark, however, that the degree of reproductive consumption which is desirable will be determined somewhat by the geographical position and political relations of a people. A nation that has, or aspires to have, international power and influence, has need of greater resources than one which is content with the simple pursuits of internal comfort and tranquillity. There is a marked difference in the degrees of wealth necessary, as a people thrusts itself into the arena where commercial advantages, colonial acquisition, territorial conquests, military glory, and continental supremacy, are contended for; or retires to the development, of its own soil, and the care of its domestic happiness.
But, still further, we find that one controlling reason for production, even in the least ambitious nations, has been the general and distant apprehension that it may at some time be called on to defend itself. The world over, statesmen, in all ages, have felt the necessity of securing economical power as the means of national security. Here, again, we see that as a country is isolated or open to attack, is naturally fortified or easy to be overrun, so the reasons for obtaining a large production will be less or more urgent. Many such considerations will influence the founder or governor of a state, in determining whether the reproductive agencies shall be pressed to their extreme, and the influence of law be thrown on the side of acquisition and accumulation, or all shall be left to individual taste or caprice.
(3) It is unquestionably true, that, all other things equal, the desires to spend or to gain will be differently developed in different people, according to the individual genius. Peace and liberty will not inspire some races with a high economical ambition; nor can the utmost violence of persecution, disorder, and corruption wholly suppress the mighty instincts of acquisition in others. And between these extremes every degree will be met. Just as some plants are born for beauty, grace, and fragrance; others with homely virtues and for un-romantic uses, — so men bring with them impulses, ideal or practical, that determine them to their several courses, all the way from the serenest speculations in ontology to the maddest speculations in oil.