Conversations on Political Economy
I do not pretend to deny that wealth, like almost every other human good, is liable to abuse; and the Greeks and Romans may, perhaps, in a great measure, owe their degradation to the ill use which they made of their ill-gotten wealth; for it should be observed, that their riches were obtained by rapine and plunder, and did not arise from the gradual and natural growth of industry, in which case alone they spread happiness around, creating new desires by offering new gratifications. But history acquaints us more with the sovereign than with the people. In order to be able to form a just estimate of the morals and manners of a country, we must avail ourselves also of the information of travellers, and from their account we shall generally find, that the poorer societies of mankind are proportionally miserable in their condition, ferocious in their manners, and vicious in their morals.
That wealth is not sufficient to constitute the happiness of a people I most readily admit; it is but one among a number of causes which conduce to it. Social happiness is the result of a pure religion, good morals, a wise government, and a general diffusion of knowledge; without such advantages wealth can never be enjoyed. But these are subjects upon which we can touch only incidentally; they constitute the science of general politics and legislation, and our attention is to be particularly directed to political economy, which is but a branch of it, and treats especially of the means of promoting social happiness so far as relates to the acquisition, possession, and use of the objects which constitute wealth. Do you think that the labouring classes possess a sufficiency of these objects; and if not, is it not our duty to study how they may get more? For without increasing the general wealth of the community the state of the lower classes cannot be improved. Besides, poverty but too frequently leads to crime. Theft is never so prevalent as in a season of scarcity and distress; an increase of wealth, therefore, among the lower classes must be considered as tending to improve their moral character, as well as to increase their physical comforts. Then, so far from exciting illiberal feelings, political economy tends to moderate all unjustifiable ambition, by showing that the surest means of increasing national prosperity are peace, security, and justice; that jealousy between nations is as prejudicial as between individuals; that each finds its advantage in reciprocal benefits; and that far from growing rich at each other's expense, they mutually assist each other by a liberal system of commerce. Political economy is particularly inimical to the envious, jealous and malignant passions; and if ever peace and moderation should flourish in the world, it is to enlightened views of this science that we should be indebted for the miracle.