A blupete Essay

Wealth, Part 9 to blupete's Essay
"An Essay On Government"

Bentham used the expression, "national wealth," and, we might ask: What is it? Simply, to beg the question, it is the sum of all the individual wealth in the nation. Carlyle thought that power is wealth.14 But, power itself is not wealth but rather the route to it. Henry George (1839-97) gave a practical definition to the concept: wealth, according to George, "is all material things produced by human labour, having exchange value."15 A more ethereal meaning to wealth was given by John Ruskin when he declared what to him was a great fact, to be clearly stated -- "there is no wealth but life."16 After a short consultation with the OED, I came to the view, from the standpoint of the individual experiencing it, that wealth is the condition of being happy and prosperous. Note, that in its primary meaning, it, wealth, is a human feeling, a feeling of well-being; in its secondary meaning it connotes things in which material riches consist, goods and/or possessions. While it is by no means beyond controversy, it is in this last sense, the same sense taken by Henry George, that the "science" of economics takes its meaning of the word, wealth; that is to say, most economists use the word as a collective term for those things, the abundant possession of which, by individuals, constitute the riches and/or prosperity of a community.

But the most fruitful examination of the idea of wealth comes about when one focuses on what John Stuart Mill had to say about the matter (it is always fruitful to look to the writings of John Stuart Mill). Mill defines wealth as all things which possess exchangeable value. The objects which represent wealth need not necessarily be things which in themselves be useful or agreeable to the possessor, as long as the possessor thinks his goods are tradeable for such other goods as he thinks will bring him direct pleasure, or use; then, for him, such "useless" possessions are wealth. As any study of the notion will show, certain things can only have wealth to its possessor, such as those things which are gratuitously afforded by nature.17

"Wealth, then, may be defined, as all useful or agreeable things which possess exchangeable value; or in other words, all useful or agreeable things except those which can be obtained, in the quantity desired, without labour or sacrifice.
... To an individual, anything is wealth, which, though useless in itself, enables him to claim from others a part of their stock of things useful or pleasant." (Mill.)
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