Chapter 14 — Why Political Economy Considers Only Wealth
Political economy has been defined, and I think sufficiently, as "the science which treats of the nature of wealth and the laws of its production and distribution." The object-noun or subject-matter of political economy is therefore wealth. Now, as we have already seen, wealth is not the only result of human exertion, nor is it indeed the final cause of human exertion. That is not reached until wealth is spent or consumed in satisfaction of desire. Wealth itself is in fact only a halting-place or storehouse on the way between prompting desire and final satisfaction; a point at which exertion, journeying towards the satisfaction of desire, remains for a time stored up in concrete form, and from whence it may be called forth to yield the satisfaction which is its ultimate aim. And there are exertions aiming at the satisfaction of desire which do not pass through the form of wealth at all.
Why then should political economy concern itself merely with the production and distribution of wealth? Is not the proper object of the science the production and distribution of human satisfactions, and would not this definition, while including wealth, as material satisfactions through material services, also include services that do not take concrete form? My answer is that a consideration of the production and distribution of wealth will include all that there is any practical use of considering of the production and distribution of satisfactions. While wealth does not include the sum of all exertions for the satisfaction of material desires, it does include what in a highly civilized society are the far greater part of them, and is, as it were, the exchange point or clearing-house where the transfer of services devoted not to the production of wealth, but to the direct procurement of satisfactions, is made.
The barber, the singer, the physician, and the actor do not produce wealth, but direct satisfactions. But not only are their efforts which are expended in this way mainly devoted to the procurement of wealth, which they get in exchange for their services, but any exchange between themselves of services for services takes place through the medium of wealth. To this we may add that the laws which govern the production and distribution of services are essentially the same as those which govern the production and distribution of wealth. Thus we see that all the ends of political economy may be reached if its inquiry be an inquiry into the nature of wealth and the laws that govern its production and distribution.
Political economy has a duty and a province of its own. It is not and it cannot be the science of everything; for the day in which any one scheme can include the whole province of human knowledge has long past, and must with the increase of human knowledge further recede. Even today the science of politics, though closely related, is, as I conceive it, clearly distinct from the science of political economy, to say nothing of the almost numberless other schemes which treat of man's relations to other individuals and to the relations with which he is brought in contact.