Page:Cournot Theory of Wealth (1838).djvu/29

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15
OF THE THEORY OF WEALTH

affect the subdivision between the members of society of the gifts of nature and the rewards of labour.

This subject is still far too vast to be properly grasped by any one man. It affords inexhaustible material for unripe systems and slow investigations. How can we abstract the moral influences which enter into all these questions and which are entirely incapable of measurement? How are we to compare what may be called the material welfare of the Alpine shepherd with that of the Spanish idler or of the Manchester workingman; the convent alms with the poor-rates; the drudgery of the farm with that of the workshop; the pleasures and expenditures of a Norman noble in his feudal manor, with the pleasures and expenditures of his far-away descendant in a house in London or on a tour through Europe?

If we compare one nation with another, by what invariable tokens shall we determine the progress or decay of their prosperity? Shall it be according to population? In that case China would far excel Europe. According to the abundance of coin? The example of Spain, mistress of the Peruvian mines, turned the world away from this gross error long ago, and, in fact, before even the first crude notions of the true rôle of coin were developed. According to business activity? Then inland peoples would be very unfortunate compared with those whom proximity to the sea invites to a mercantile career. According to the high price of goods or of wages? Then some miserable island would surpass the most smiling and fertile countries. According to the pecuniary value of what economists call the annual product? A year when this value increases greatly may easily be one of great distress for the greatest number.