Thought for the Month:
“Ruskin's comment is that "metaphysical nicety, we assuredly do not need; but physical nicety and logical accuracy, with respect to a physical subject, we as assuredly do."
Ruskin scarcely meant to assert that wealth and life were interchangeable terms, e.g., in the statement that a man in danger of his wealth escaped from captivity among Cossacks, leaving all that remained of his life among them. Ruskin went on to say that "that country is richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings."”
“Elements of Social Credit”
Tutor: Dr. Tudor Jones. 1946 Revision
John Ruskin, in the preface to "Unto this Last ", wrote that the real gist of these papers, their central meaning and aim, is to give, as I believe for the first time in plain English, . . . a logical definition of WEALTH: such definition being absolutely needed for a basis of Economical Science," He went on to quote J. S. Mill, who, after saying that writers on political economy professed to teach or to investigate the nature of wealth, gave his opinion that "everyone has a notion, sufficiently correct for common purposes, of what is meant by wealth", and further protected himself by asserting that it was no part of the design of his treatise (Principles of Political Economy) to aim at "metaphysical nicety of definition ". Ruskin's comment is that "metaphysical nicety, we assuredly do not need; but physical nicety and logical accuracy, with respect to a physical subject, we as assuredly do." Such a need for "physical nicety and logical accuracy" was met in Ruskin's opinion by the statement that "there is no Wealth but Life. Life, including all its powers of love, joy and admiration."
This is doubtless an admirable definition to those who know the work in which the words appear, but open to some misunderstanding by others. Ruskin scarcely meant to assert that wealth and life were interchangeable terms, e.g., in the statement that a man in danger of his wealth escaped from captivity among Cossacks, leaving all that remained of his life among them. Ruskin went on to say that "that country is richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings."
It does not matter much here whether the riches lie in the number,
the nobility or the happiness. The people of a country can hardly
be numerous, as well as noble and happy, without something to nourish
their numbers, nobility and happiness upon. And so Ruskin understood it: and bringing the matter thus down to various kinds of
nourishment it is at once brought down from the abstract to the
Indistinguishable in respect of technique- i.e., in respect of the
associations yielding the increment - is the production of goods which
themselves are not consumable: the fittings of the butcher's shop,
his instruments, and so on. These wear out and have to be replaced;
they never reach the consumer. On the other hand, the wealth he consumes would not be forthcoming were it not for them. It is true that collectively the community consumes them in the sense
they are used up in its service; but this consideration must not
tempt us from our definition which has this merit, that it concentrates attention upon the production of the result intended, which is the nourishment, not the means of possible nourishment.
At various stages short of the actual fruition of the production system
wealth (as defined) there are goods (and, it may be added, services,
which differ from goods only in respect of the function of the individual
which they increase or maintain, e.g., the organised communication to the individual of some part or other of his cultural inheritance is effected
by supplying him with goods which result from this inheritance - at
in part - but also by instruction, which is a service). Commonly such goods are designated.
Further, not only as items of capital but as things self-consumed for exercise of some power (action) they may be regarded as being; tat different stages of their individual lives, half-made, or made; and all the time as being in process of consuming themselves. In other words they appear at every stage of wealth production and are themselves wealth. It is curious that economic orthodoxy, which tends to restrict the meaning of wealth to cover everything but the wealth actually appreciated by man, nevertheless accords man a place among the things to make things with and sets a "value" upon him as though he were "worth" something, to make things for nothing.
The relative importance to individuals of various forms of wealth differs from individual to individual within wide limits, without affecting the necessity of some forms of wealth to all people, e.g., a sufficiency of food, air, water, sunlight, clothing, is necessary to all individuals at all ages, while such things as tennis racquets and the printed- scores of orchestral music may occupy relatively very different positions, if any, in different individuals' lists of wealth items arranged in order of their importance.
Indeed, such a list, if it could ever be
compiled for even a single individual would never be strictly applicable
to his life at any given moment and would tend to change from hour to
hour. This fact, which very little examination of the subject is needed
to verify, is itself a demonstration of the soundness of our rule that
wealth only discloses itself in consumption, for consumable goods
capable of being converted by consumption into wealth at one moment
of the life of an individual are quite incapable of realising any wealth
Notions of utility, likewise, arise from confusion concerning the
nature of wealth. The usefulness of wealth lies in the fact of its being
wealth and how useful it is can no more be assessed than how valuable
Many people in the community seem to associate matter more prominently with, that particular form of it which we call mud than with any other, and the same people show sometimes a strong inclination to disregard the fact that wealth which they are willing to interpret in the broadest terms has usually a lowly origin. Thus the greatest poetry is usually printed on ordinary paper with ordinary ink and cannot become wealth but through the medium of the printed book.
Similarly the greatest music cannot become wealth but through the medium of a large variety of material instruments made of steel, brass, silver, copper, wood, gut, horse-hair, ivory, etc. Stone, linen, oils, paints and varnishes are items in the medium for conveying wealth through the visual sense, and spiritual wealth is characteristically associated with special and elaborate buildings, mural and other decorations, and other things of a material kind. It will be observed that the wealth made available through such media is relatively intangible, and that the vehicles are either relatively permanent, like some of the instruments of production, or are transient, like the sound music, if the sound be regarded as a source of wealth. Such considerations, however, only drive us back to the consideration that the availability of wealth is dependent upon the establishment of kinds of association we have considered in previous lectures.
Examined minutely every instance of wealth (which observe is essentially individual in its nature) is traceable to a number of antecedent associations; the cultural heritage, industry and process, mental association, mass association, the agreement associations, material associations, all yielding their characteristic increments (some of which decrements). Throughout, each effective element in association has been effective in its own way.
The peculiar associations between the seed and the soil, the growing plant and sunlight have resulted in a redistribution of energy (the total energy of the universe is not believed to be susceptible of increase or decrease). Man makes arrangements for this natural event to occur at times and places advantageously to himself. The capacity for work released by providing the conditions in which energy may be released from stores, and, by the use of mechanical associations inherent in the properties of motion, this capacity is directed into useful channels.
The knowledge of how things can be done embodies a conservative force which results in their continuing to be done as it is known they can be done and the result is constantly accelerating power to do things.
There is no other ingredient in wealth-production.
In a modem community the tools assume great prominence, i.e., capital is prominent. Thus Ruskin said:
Clearly, a society that knows no difference between an apple in a
barrel and an apple in its mouth, between the soil from which the
apple-tree grew and the human being enriched by eating an apple,
can hardly distinguish the bulb and the flower.
"Economic Democracy" is published by the Australian League of Rights, Box 1052. G.P.O. Melbourne 3001.