Companion and consort to The Book of the Fair is this Book of Wealth, one marking the progress and recording the achievements of the human race as exemplified in the Columbian Exposition, the other unfolding the motive power by which they have been accomplished. In the Exposition of 1893 were displayed in brilliant array, as in an enchanting dream, specimens of all the greatest and best that man has thus far wrought out for himself; and in this connection in the study of this display is ever-increasing profit and delight. In this connection, an inquiry into the creation and concentration of power and property, coeval and co-existent with progress, and without which accumulation the world and its belongings would be little other than a primeval wilderness, seems eminently fitting as the final years of the century are closing upon us. With gratification as vivid as that with which were witnessed the highest results of human endeavor may we now pass in review, from first to last, throughout all ages and among all nations, the origin, influence, and operation of a mighty force which has wrought inestimable benefits to the human race.
Wealth in its nobler aspect is not an unworthy theme. There is nothing desirable or honorable in penury; nothing praiseworthy or attractive in want and dependence. Indigence leads not to intellectual culture or to a lofty standard of morality. Purity is not the offspring of poverty, but comes of that cleanliness of soul which is akin to godliness. If, as is written, it is hard for the rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, it may be a still more difficult task for the poor man. If the love of money is the root of all evil, the enjoyment and proper use of money, not for itself but for what it brings, is among God's choicest blessings. Riches in the main tend toward good: poverty is the emblem, and too often the cause of ills.
The term wealth is relative, having a widely different application in different times and places. Originally the word signified weal or well-being, and was applied to eternal as well as to temporal welfare; later it was used in the sense of large possessions, or of what seemed large to those who had little. Wealth pre-supposes something more than food, raiment, and shelter; there is the gratification, the position, and prestige it affords to the owner, with a certain mental serenity and satisfaction superior by far to merely physical comfort, which may be purchased, all that the world has to give, at a hundredth part of the rich man's income. The desire for a competency in regard to this world's goods lies at the root of all ambition, and without ambition, without aspirations, life is not worth the living. Honor and fame are never made sweeter by the presence of poverty; love and duty must have bread to eat; learning and culture have their necessities; the arts no less than the industries require sustenance. Most noble of all is independence, but independence cuts a sorry figure apart from some provision against destitution. Old age comes on apace, and old age and poverty, though often united, are not agreeable companions.
The gods delight in power, and on earth riches are one of the embodiments of power, intellectual or physical, at some time exercised by the possessor or his predecessors. As intellect withdraws itself from animalism, it requires support, and this is better funded in some form than left to chance provision. Like steam and electricity, wealth is a vital force, and one of the greatest of forces, because in a measure it dominates everywhere, exercising an influence on mind and matter, and governing in moral as well as in social and material things. In the wealth of the world we behold the accumulated power of civilization, gathered and garnered since the dawn of human intelligence-the measure of human progress and possibility.
The moving force called capital, the basis and impulse to all industry, is for the most part what may be termed stored labor, reserved from consumption to be used in facilitating further labor and for the creation of further capital. Intellectual culture, increase of knowledge, and the refinement of manners which follow in their train are among the chief concerns of progressive man. and these could not exist without wealth, for where there are no storehouses of wealth there can be no storehouses of knowledge.
Men long for wealth; why should they not? Why should they not desire money as well as learning love, health, honor, or other blessings? If riches are a good thing, if they lead to enjoyment, power, independence, satisfying first the physical and then the intellectual well-being, how can the love of them be evil, unless it develops into greed, when it becomes detestable, just as any good may become detestable when carried to an extreme? Why then apply the term greed only to the love of worldly possessions, which in one form or other is a principle inherent in the human race? The desire for riches is by no means the sordid craving that some would have us believe; and here it may be said that if Mammon's votaries are as numerous as ever, there are fewer of those who make pretense of spurning the pursuit of wealth, and while loving it affect to despise it. However contemptuously men of letters, science, and art may pretend to regard what they term the Philistinism of wealth, there is ever present in these, as in all others, the preponderating influence of "Believe not much," said Bacon, "them that seem to despise riches.
If in some instances the desire for riches develops into avarice, this detracts not from the laudable aspiration for independence. The miser is not the friend but the enemy of wealth, since riches have no actual value save in their use, and merely to hoard is a crime against property and progress no less than against society. Not he who lays away, but he who spends freely and judiciously, is respected for his wealth, with the power and position which it brings; for money unemployed tends not to wealth but to poverty. Nor is there here any plea for the spendthrift, who squanders the inheritance earned by the toil of others, who willfully throws away what might be of so much benefit to himself and his fellow men.
The subject of wealth is treated in this work in historic rather than in scientific vein. It is no part of the author s purpose to enter the domain of political economy, or to discuss the various theories of labor, capital, values, exchange, and the rest. Economists of the present day are even less satisfied as to the fundamental laws of their science than were those of the days of John Stuart Mill. Not only are values ever changing in adapting themselves to changing conditions, but standards and measurements of value lose their force and significance when times and places are compared one with another. Fashion and caprice have much to do with it, as well as questions of utility, of abundance and scarcity, of supply and demand. Nor does this remark apply only to the present age; for just as to the millionaire his marble palace represents good value for the money, so to a Pharaoh a pyramid when finished was worth to him its cost. It is the work of economists, among whom since the time of Adam Smith there have been many sound logicians and able exponents, to explain the nature of wealth, tell us what it is, and expound the laws of its incomings and out-goings. But the economists themselves do not find their work always and altogether easy; for wealth springs from a variety of causes, and acts and is acted upon by a multitude of conditions. Science however, like theology, is freeing itself from superstition; and in economic science the fallacy has long since been exploded that money alone is wealth, since indeed it is about the only thing that men handle which is not wealth.
The Ricardo school of economists hold that utility is essential to value; possessing which, commodities derive their exchangeable worth from scarcity and the labor required to obtain them. Senior, on the contrary, who declares Ricardo to be the most incorrect writer who ever attained to philosophical eminence," defines wealth, or objects of value, as those things which are transferable, limited in supply, and productive of pleasure or preventive of pain. Jevons says that prevailing opinion makes labor the origin of value, but for himself he believes that value depends upon utility. Labor often develops or determines value but of what value is labor in the absence of utility? Other teachers assert that wealth means value, and value power, which brings us back to the old maxim spoken many times before and since the days of Hobbes, that wealth is power, a proposition somewhat qualified by modern economists, who define wealth as power in exchange; that to be wealth, whatever one possesses must be something which can be exchanged.
As in all things else, there is less pleasure in the possession than in the pursuit and anticipation of wealth; in the toiling for it, the self-denials, the constant sacrifice of other pleasures, the cheerful acceptance of deprivation that greater privation may be escaped. Hearn opens his treatise on plutology with the nature of wants impelling man to exertion. Without want there is no gratification; without pain there is no pleasure; without poverty no relative wealth. The unequal distribution of wealth is complained of by a certain class; but did it ever occur to these persons that unless property were unequally distributed there could be no such thing as wealth, and that if equal distribution were made without the possibility of unmaking it by men of superior ability and energy, material progress would be at an end? Nothing great can be accomplished by the unaided of forts of a single person, and the help of others must be purchased in one way or another.
Wealth as a rule implies work at some period, usually in the years gone by, work by the wage-earner or the wealth-owner, who toil with hand or head. Labor has been called a curse but is in reality a blessing the greatest of all civilizing agencies; and for this at least let us be thankful that there is always the work of the world to be done and that it was never so great as in these closing years of the nineteenth century.