In various places throughout these lectures I have had to allude to the distinction between productive and unproductive labour, and between true and false wealth. I shall here endeavour, as clearly as I can, to explain the distinction I mean.
Two Kinds Of Property
Property may be divided generally into two kinds; that which produces life, and that which produces the objects of life. That which produces or maintains life consists of food, in so far as it is nourishing; of furniture and clothing, in so far as they are protective or cherishing; of fuel; and of all land, instruments, or materials, necessary to produce food, houses, clothes and fuel. It is specially and rightly called called useful property.
The property which produces the objects of life consists of all that gives pleasure or suggests and preserves thought: of food, furniture, and land, in so far as they are pleasing to the appetite or the eye, of luxurious dress; and all other kinds of luxuries; of books, pictures, and architecture. But the modes of connection of certain minor forms of property with human labour render it desirable to arrange them under more than these two heads. Property may therefore be conveniently considered as of five kinds.
lst. Property necessary to life, but not producible by labour, and therefore belonging of right, in a due measure, to every human being as soon as he is born, and morally unalienable. As, for instance, his proper share of the atmosphere, without which he cannot breathe, and of water, which he needs to quench his thirst. As much land as he needs to feed from is also inalienable; but in well regulated communities this quantity of land may often be represented by other possessions, or its need supplied by wages and privileges.
2. Property necessary to life, but only producible by labour, and of which the possession is morally connected with labour, so that no person capable of doing the work necessary for its production has a right to it until he has done that work: — "he that will not work, neither should he eat". It consists of simple food, clothing, and habitation, with their seeds and materials, or instruments and machinery, and animals used for necessary draught or locomotion, etc. It is to be observed of this kind of property, that its increase cannot usually be carried beyond a certain point, because it depends not on labour only, but on things of which the supply is limited by nature. The possible accumulation of corn depends on the quantity of corn-growing land possessed or commercially accessible; and that of steel, similarly, on the accessible quantity of coal and ironstone. It follows from this natural limitation of supply that the accumulation of property of this kind in large masses at one point, or in one person's hands, commonly involves, more or less, the scarcity of it at another point and in other persons' hands; so that the accidents or energies which may enable one man to procure a great deal of it, may, and in all likelihood will partially prevent other men procuring a sufficiency of it, however willing they may be to work for it; therefore, the modes of its accumulation and distribution need to be in some degree regulated by law and by national treaties, in order to secure justice to all men.
Another point requiring notice respecting this sort of property is, that no work can be wasted in producing it, provided only the kind of it produced be preservable and distributable, since for every grain of such commodities we produce we are rendering so much more life possible on earth. But though we are sure, thus, that we are employing people well, we cannot be sure we might not have employed them better; for it is possible to direct labour to the production of life, until little or none is left for that of the objects of life, and thus to increase population at the expense of civilization, learning, and morality: on the other hand, it is just as possible — and the error is one to which the world is, on the whole, more liable — to direct labour to the objects of life till too little is left for life, and thus to increase luxury or learning at the expense of population. Right political economy holds its aim poised justly between the two extremes, desiring neither to crowd its dominions with a race of savages, nor to found courts and colleges in the midst of a desert.
3. The third kind of property is that which conduces to bodily pleasures and conveniences, without directly tending to sustain life; perhaps sometimes indirectly tending to destroy it. All dainty (as distinguished from nourishing) food, and means of producing it; all scents not needed for health; substances valued only for their appearance and rarity (as gold and jewels); flowers of difficult culture; animals used for delight (as horses for racing), and such like, form property of this class; to which the term "luxury, or luxuries", ought exclusively to belong.
Respecting which we have to note first, that all such property is of doubtful advantage even to its possessor. Furniture tempting to indolence, sweet odours, and luscious food, are more or less injurious to health: while jewels, liveries, and other such common belongings of wealthy people, certainly convey no pleasure to their owners proportionate to their cost.
Farther, such property, for the most part, perishes in the using. Jewels form a great exception — but rich food, fine dresses, horses and carriages, are consumed by the owner's use. It ought much oftener to be brought to the notice of rich men what sums of interest of money they are paying towards the close of their lives, for luxuries consumed in the middle of them. It would be very interesting, for instance, to know the exact sum which the money spent in London for ices, at its desserts and balls, during the last twenty years, had it been saved and put out at compound interest, would at this moment have furnished for useful purposes.
Also, in most cases, the enjoyment of such property is wholly selfish, and limited to its possessor. Splendid dress and equipage, however, when so arranged as to produce real beauty of effect, may often be rather a generous than a selfish channel of expenditure. They will, however, necessarilv in such case involve some of the arts of design; and therefore take their place in a higher category than that of luxuries merely.
4. The fourth kind of property is that which bestows intellectual or emotional pleasure, consisting of land set apart for purposes of delight more than for agriculture, of books, works of art, and objects of natural history. It is, of course, impossible to fix an accurate limit between property of the last class and of this class, since things which are a mere luxury to one person are a means of intellectual occupation to another. Flowers in a London ball-room are a luxury; in a botanical garden, a delight of the intellect; and in their native fields, both; while the most noble works of art are continually made material of vulgar luxury or of criminal pride; but, when rightly used, property of this fourth class is the only kind which deserves the name of real property; it is the only kind which a man can truly be said to "possess". What a man eats, or drinks, or wears, so long as it is only what is needful for life, can no more be thought of as his possession than the air he breathes. The air is as needful to him as the food; but we do not talk of a man's wealth of air; and what food or clothing a man possesses more than he himself requires, must be for others to use (and, to him, therefore, not a real property in itself, but only a means of obtaining some real property in exchange for it). Whereas the things that give intellectual or emotional enjoyment may be accumulated and do not perish in using; but continually supply new pleasures and new powers of giving pleasures to others. And these, therefore, are the only things which can rightly be thought of as giving "wealth" or "well being". Food conduces only to "being", but these to "well being". And there is not any broader general distinction between lower and higher orders of men than rests on their possession of this real property. The human race may be properly divided by zoologists into "men who have gardens, libraries, or works of art; and who have none"; and the former class will include all noble persons, except only a few who make the world their garden or museum; while the people who have not, or, which is the same thing, do not care for gardens or libraries, but care for nothing but money or luxuries, will include none but ignoble persons: only it is necessary to understand that I mean by the term "garden" as much the Carthusian's plot of ground fifteen feet square between his monastery buttresses, as I do the grounds of Chatsworth or Kew; and I mean by the term "art" as much the old sailor's print of the Arethusa bearing up to engage the Belle Poule, as I do Raphael's "Disputa", and even rather more; for when abundant, beautiful possessions of this kind are almost always associated with vulgar luxury, and become then anything but indicative of noble character in their possessors. The ideal of human life is a union of Spartan simplicity of manners with Athenian sensibility and imagination, but in actual results, we are continually mistaking ignorance for simplicity, and sensuality for refinement.
5. The fifth kind of property is representative property, consisting of documents or money, or rather documents only, for money itself is only a transferable document, current among societies of men, giving claim, at sight, to some definite benefit or advantage, most commonly to a certain share of real property existing in those societies. The money is only genuine when the property it gives claim to is real, or the advantages it gives claim to certain; otherwise, it is false money, and may be considered as much "forged" when issued by a government, or a bank, as when by an individual. Thus, if a dozen of men, cast ashore on a desert island, pick up a number of stones, put a red spot on each stone, and pass a law that every stone marked. with a red spot shall give claim to a peck of wheat; — so long as no wheat exists, or can exist, on the island, the stones are not money. But the moment as much wheat exists as shall render it possible for the society always to give a peck for every spotted stone, the spotted stones would become money, and might be exchanged by their possessors for whatever other commodities they chose, to the value of the peck of wheat which the stones represented. If more stones were issued than the quantity of wheat could answer the demand of, the value of the stone coinage would be depreciated, in proportion to its increase above the quantity needed to answer it.
Again, supposing a certain number of the men so cast ashore were set aside by lot, or any other convention, to do the rougher labour necessary for the whole society, they themselves being maintained by the daily allotment of a certain quantity of food, clothing, etc. Then, if it were agreed that the stones spotted with red should be signs of a Government order for the labour of these men; and that any person presenting a spotted stone at the office of the labourers, should be entitled to a man's work for a week or a day, the red stones would be money; and might — probably would — immediately pass current in the island for as much food, or clothing, or iron, or any other article as a man's work for the period secured by the stone was worth. But if the Government issued so many spotted stones that it was impossible for the body of men they employed to comply with the orders; as, suppose, if they only employed twelve men, and issued eighteen spotted stones daily, ordering a day's work each, then the six extra stones would be forged or false money; and the effect of this forgery would be the depreciation of the value of the whole coinage by one-third, that being the period of shortcoming which would, on the average, necessarily ensue in the execution of each order. Much occasional work may be done in a state or society, by help of an issue of false money (or false promises) by way of stimulants; and the fruit of this work, if it comes into the promiser's hands, may sometimes enable the false promises at last to be fulfilled: hence the frequent issue of false money by governments and banks, and the not unfrequent escapes from the natural and proper consequences of such false issues, so as to cause a confused conception in most people's minds of what money really is. I am not sure whether some quantity of such false issue may not really, be permissible in a nation, accurately proportioned to the minimum average produce of the labour it excites; but all such procedures are more or less unsound; and the notion of unlimited issue of currency is simply one of the absurdest and most monstrous that ever came into disjointed human wits.
The use of objects of real or supposed value for currency, as gold, jewellery, etc., is barbarous; and it always expresses either the measure of the distrust in the society of its own government, or the proportion of distrustful or barbarous nations with whom it has to deal. A metal not easily corroded or imitated, is a desirable medium of currency for the sake of cleanliness and convenience, but were it possible to prevent forgery, the more worthless the metal itself, the better. The use of worthless media, unrestrained by the use of valuable media, has always hitherto involved, and is therefore supposed to involve necessarily, unlimited, or at least improperly extended, issue; but we might as well suppose that a man must necessarily issue unlimited promises because his words cost nothing. Intercourse with foreign nations must, indeed, for ages yet to come, at the world's present rate of progress, be carried on by valuable currencies; but such transactions are nothing more than forms of barter. The gold used at present as a currency is not, in point of fact, currency at all, but the real property which the currency gives claim to, stamped to measure its quantity, and mingling with the real currency occasionally by barter.
The evils necessarily resulting from the use of baseless currencies have been terribly illustrated while these sheets have been passing through the press; I have not had time to examine the various conditions of dishonest or absurd trading which have led to the late "panic" in America and England; this only I know, that no merchant deserving the name ought to be more liable to "panic" than a soldier should; for his name should never be on more paper than he can at any instant meet the call of, happen what will. I do not say this without feeling at the same time how difficult it is to mark, in existing commerce, the just limits between the spirit of enterprise and of speculation. Something of the same temper which makes the English soldier do always all that is possible, and attempt more than is possible, joins its influence with that of mere avarice in tempting the English merchant into risks which he cannot justify, and efforts which he cannot sustain; and the same passion for adventure which our travellers gratify every summer on perilous snow wreaths, and cloud-encompassed precipices, surrounds with a romantic fascination the glittering of a hollow investment, and gilds the clouds that curl round gulfs of ruin. Nay, a higher and a more serious feeling frequently mingles in the motley temptation; and men apply themselves to the task of growing rich, as to a labour of providential appointment, from which they cannot pause without culpability, nor retire without dishonour. Our large trading cities bear to me very nearly the aspect of monastic establishments in which the roar of the mill-wheel and the crane takes the place of other devotional music; and in which the worship of Mammon or Moloch is conducted with a tender reverence and an exact propriety; the merchant rising to his Mammon matins with the self-denial of an anchorite, and expiating the frivolities into which he may be beguiled in the course of the day by late attendance at Mammon vespers. But, with every allowance that can be made for these conscientious and romantic persons, the fact remains the same, that by far the greater number of the transactions which lead to these times of commercial embarrassment may be ranged simply under two great heads, — gambling and stealing; and both of these in their most culpable form, namely, gambling with money which is not ours, and stealing from those who trust us. I have sometimes thought a day might come, when the nation would perceive that a well-educated man who steals a hundred thousand pounds, involving the entire means of subsistence of a hundred families, deserves, on the whole, as severe a punishment as an ill-educated man who steals a purse from a pocket, or a mug from a pantry. But without hoping for this excess of clear-sightedness, we may at least labour for a system of greater honesty and kindness in the minor commerce of our daily life; since the great dishonesty of the great buyers and sellers is nothing more than the natural growth and outcome from the little dishonesty of the little buyers and sellers. Every person who tries to buy an article for less than its proper value, or who tries to sell it at more than its proper value — every consumer who keeps a tradesman waiting for his money, and every tradesman who bribes a consumer to extravagance by credit, is helping forward, according to his own measure of power, a system of baseless and dishonourable commerce, and forcing his country down into poverty and shame. And people of moderate means and average powers of mind would do far more real good by merely carrying out stern principles of justice and honesty in common matters of trade, than by the most ingenious schemes of extended philanthropy, or vociferous declarations of theological doctrine. There are three weighty matters of the law — justice, mercy, and truth; and of these the teacher puts truth last, because that cannot be known but by course of acts of justice and love. But men put, in all their efforts, truth first, because they mean by it their own opinions; and thus, while the world has many people who would suffer martyrdom in he cause of what they call truth, it has few who will suffer even a little inconvenience, in that of justice and mercy.