I have given the political economists too much credit in saying this. Actually, while these sheets are passing through the press, the blunt, broad, unmitigated fallacy is enunciated, formally and precisely, by the Common Councilmen of New York, in their report on the present commercial crisis. Here is their collective opinion, published in the Times of November 23rd, 1857 : —
"Another erroneous idea is that luxurious living, extravagant dressing, splendid turn outs and fine houses, are the cause of distress to a nation. No more erroneous impression could exist. Every extravagance that the man of 100,000 or 1,000,000 dollars indulges in adds to the means, the support, the wealth of ten or a hundred who had little or nothing else but their labour, their intellect, or their taste. If a man of 1,000,000 dollars spends principal and interest in ten years, and finds himself beggared at the end of that time, he has actually made a hundred who have catered to his extravagance, employers or employed, so much richer by the division of his wealth. He may be ruined, but the nation is better off and richer, for one hundred minds and hands, with 10,000 dollars apiece, are far more productive than one with the whole."
Yes, gentlemen of the Common Council! but what has been doing in the time of the transfer? The spending of the fortune has taken a certain number of years (suppose ten), and during that time 1,000,000 dollars' worth of work has been done by the people, who have been paid that sum for it. Where is the product of that work? By your own statement, wholly consumed; for the man for whom it has been done is now a beggar. You have given, therefore, as a nation, 1,000,000 dollars' worth of work, and ten years of time, and you have produced, as ultimate result, one beggar! Excellent economy, gentlemen! and sure to conduce, in due sequence, to the production of more than one beggar. Perhaps the matter may be made clearer to you, however, by a more familiar instance. If a schoolboy goes out in the morning with five shillings in his pocket, and comes home at night penniless, having spent his all in tarts; principal and interest are gone, and fruiterer and baker are enriched. So far so good. But suppose the schoolboy, instead, has bought, a book and a knife; principal and interest are gone, and bookseller and cutler are enriched. But the schoolboy is enriched also, and may help his schoolfellows next day with knife and book, instead of lying in bed and incurring a debt to the doctor.