One cannot help being astonished when one sees how much the affairs of this world are conducted against the meaning. It is natural to imagine that the interest of a small number of individuals should yield to the general interest. But people put in their business much more application, activity and skill than the public puts to his; so that the general interest is very often sacrificed to the particular interest. The understanding of The Way to Wealth comes perfectly now.
Suppose we understand, in the definition of luxury, all unnecessary expenses. Let us next consider whether it is possible to enforce, in an extensive country, the laws which oppose these expenses; and if, by executing them, the inhabitants of this country must be happier, or even richer.
- In our commercial cities, located along the sea, the inhabitants get richer from time to time. Some of those who acquire good, are cautious, live with the economy and keep what they have earned to leave it to their children. But others, flattered to parade their wealth, are extravagant and ruin themselves. The laws cannot prevent it, maybe it’s not bad for the public. A schilling lavished by a madman is picked up by a wise man, who knows better how to make use of it and consequently, he is not lost.
It is, indeed, cases, where some fashions invented by luxury can become a public evil, as it is itself a particular evil. For example, if a country exports its beef and canvas to pay for the importation of Bordeaux wine and to carry it, while some of its inhabitants live only potatoes and have no shirts, this does not Does not it look like a madman who lets his family go hungry and sells his clothes to buy something to get drunk on? Our American trade is, I admit, a bit like that. We give the West Indies flour and meat, to procure rum and sugar; that is, the things most needed for life for superfluities.
In spite of this, we live well, and we are even in abundance; but if we were soberer, we could be richer.
The immense amount of land covered with wood, which we still have to prepare for cultivation, will make our nation long laborious and frugal. If we judge of the character and morals of the Americans, by what we see along the coasts, we are very much mistaken. The inhabitants of the trading cities may be rich and addicted to luxury, while those of the country has all the virtues which contribute to happiness and public prosperity. These shopping towns are not very considered by countrymen. They scarcely regard them as an essential part of the state; and the experience of the last war proved, that when they were in the power of the enemy, they did not entail the subjection of the rest of the country, which continued valiantly to defend its liberty and independence.
Some political calculators have reckoned that if all individuals of both sexes wanted to work for four hours a day on something useful, this work would be enough for them to procure the most necessary things and the amenities of life; need and misery would be banished from the world, and the rest of the twenty-four hours could be devoted to rest and pleasure.