Page:Cournot Theory of Wealth (1838).djvu/23

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9
OF THE THEORY OF WEALTH

wealth; and to form an intelligible theory we ought to absolutely identify the sense of the word wealth with that which is presented to us by the words exchangeable values.

Under this conception, wealth has doubtless only an abstract existence; for, strictly speaking, of all the things on which we set a price, or to which we attribute a value in exchange, there are none always exchangeable at will for any other commodity of equal price or value. In the act of exchange, as in the transmission of power by machinery, there is friction to be overcome, losses which must be borne, and limits which cannot be exceeded. The proprietor of a great forest is only rich on condition of managing his lumbering with prudence, and of not glutting the market with his lumber; the owner of a valuable picture gallery may spend his life in the vain attempt to find purchasers; while, on the other hand, in the neighbourhood of a city the conversion of a sack of grain into money will only require the time necessary to carry it to the grain market; and at great commercial centres a stock of coffee can always be sold on the exchange.

The extension of commerce and the development of commercial facihties tend to bring the actual condition of affairs nearer and nearer to this order of abstract conceptions, on which alone theoretical calculations can be based, in the same way as the skilful engineer approaches nearer to theoretical conditions by diminishing friction through polished bearings and accurate gearing. In this way nations are said to make progress in the commercial or mercantile system. These two expressions are etymologically equivalent, but one is now taken in a good and the other in a bad sense, as is generally the case, according to Bentham, with the names of things that involve advantages and evils of a moral order.