Chapter 1

What is Wealth? Icon

September 30, 2015

Wealth is anything that is Useful and Beneficial

Socrates= “Economy” is the name of a particular kind of knowledge or science, just like the words “medicine,” “carpentry,” “building,” “smithying,” “metal-working,” etc.

In the case of the arts just named, we can state the proper work or function of each, can we (similarly) state the proper work and function of economy?

Critobulus A good economist at any rate must be able to manage his own house or estate well.

Socrates= If another man’s house is entrusted to him, he would be able to manage it as skilfully as his own. A skilled carpenter can work as well for another as for himself. So should a good economist.

Then an economist, even if he does not possess wealth of his own, should be paid a salary for managing a house just as he might be paid for building one.

He should get a large salary if, after paying the necessary expenses of the estate entrusted to him, he can create a surplus and improve the property.
What does the word “house” mean? Is it merely a domicile, or should we include all a man’s possessions outside the actual dwelling-place?
Critobulus I think that all of a man’s possessions forms part of his estate even if some part of it may be in another part of the world.

A wealthy man may have many enemies. A man’s estate is his useful or advantageous possessions.

The things that injure him are a loss instead of a wealth.

  • If a man purchases a horse and does not know how to handle him, but each time he mounts he is thrown and sustains injuries, then the horse is not part of his wealth.
  • Likewise, if land itself is no wealth to a man who so works it that his tillage only brings him loss.

Mother earth is not a source of wealth to us if she helps us to starve instead of helping us to live.

  • Sheep and cattle may fail of being wealth if they bring loss from the ignorance of their treatment.

Wealth is defined by its benefit and usefulness.

  • A flute may be wealth to him who is sufficiently skilled to play upon it.
  • But it is useless to one who is does not know how to play it, unless he sells it.

But as possessions not for sale, they are not wealth at all.

Things which benefit are wealth. The flutes that are unsold are not wealth, being good for nothing. To become wealth they must be sold.

If he sold them for something which he does not know how to use, the mere selling will not transform them into wealth

Critobulus Are you saying that that the money of a man who does not know how to use it is not wealth?

Yes, wealth is only that which benefits a man.

But if a man used his money to buy himself a mistress, to the grave detriment of his body, soul, whole estate, how can that particular money benefit him now and what good will he extract from it?

Critobulus None, unless we admit that hyoscyamus is wealth – it is a poison that drives those who take it mad.

If a man does not know how to use money wisely, then money should be banished to the remote corners of the earth rather than be reckoned as wealth.

But what about friends? If a man knows how to use his friends so as to be benefited by them?

Critobulus They are wealth indisputably, and in a deeper sense than cattle are, since they are likely to be of more benefit to a man than cattle.

It seems that the even the foes of a man’s own household may be wealth to him, if he knows how to benefit from them.

Then a good economist must know how to deal with his own or his employer’s foes so as to get profit out of them.

Many private persons owe the increase of their estates to war.


But what can we do about it?

What about the people who know and were blessed with the capital required to enhance their fortunes?

They can create benefit by working with their capital. But this is the one thing they will not do. This makes their knowledge and accomplishments useless.

Surely this leads to the conclusion that neither their knowledge nor possessions are wealth.

Ah, do you wish to direct the discussion to the topic of slaves?
Critobulus No, I want to talk about some persons from noble families to do them justice.

These are the people gifted with martial or civil accomplishments, which, however, they refuse to exercise because they are superior in them already with no masters over them.

How can they have no masters over them if, in spite of their prayers for prosperity and their desire to do what will bring them good, they are still so sorely hindered in the exercise of their wills by those that lord it over them?

Critobulus Crit= Who are these lords that rule them and yet remain unseen?

Their masters are very visible.

They are the basest of the base if you believe idleness, effeminacy, and reckless negligence to be baseness. There are other treacherous hags giving themselves out to be innocent pleasures such as profitless associations among men.

In time, these appear and show themselves to be pains tricked out and decked with pleasures. These have the dominion over the noble people and hinder them from every good and useful work.

But there are others who are not indolent.

On the contrary, they have the most ardent disposition to exert themselves and increase their revenues.

But in spite of all, they wear out their substance and are involved in endless difficulties because of the lack of means.


Yes, for they too are slaves, but to luxury and lechery, intemperance, and the wine-cup along with many a fond and ruinous ambition.

These passions so cruelly belord it over the poor soul, that so long as he is in the heyday of health and strong to labour, they compel him to fetch and carry and lay at their feet the fruit of his toils, and to spend it on their own heart’s lusts. But as soon as he gets old, they leave him to his gray hairs and misery, and turn to seize on other victims.

Ah! Critobulus, against these must we wage ceaseless war, for very freedom’s sake, no less than if they were armed warriors endeavouring to make us their slaves.

Nay, foemen in war, it must be granted, especially when of fair and noble type, have many times ere now proved benefactors to those they have enslaved.

By dint of chastening, they have forced the vanquished to become better men and to lead more tranquil lives in future.

But these despotic queens never cease to plague and torment their victims in body and soul and substance until their sway is ended.


I myself have sufficient continence and self-command in those respects. So that if you will only advise me on what I am to do to improve my estate, I flatter myself I shall not be hindered by those despotic dames, as you call them.

Come, do not hesitate; only tender me what good advice you can, and trust me I will follow it.

But perhaps, Socrates, you have already passed sentence on us—we are rich enough already, and not in need of any further wealth?

Socrates= I am rich enough already. But you, Critobulus, are poor, and at times I feel a downright compassion for you in my soul.
Critobulus Critobulus laughing= How much do you suppose our respective properties would fetch in the market?
If I could find a good purchaser, I suppose the whole of my effects, including my house might be worth five minae [20 guineas]. Yours, I am certain, would be less than 100 times that sum.
Critobulus Crit. And with this estimate of our respective fortunes, can you still maintain that you have no need of further wealth, but it is I who am to be pitied for my poverty?

Yes, for my property is enough to meet my wants. Whereas you, considering the parade you are fenced about with, and the reputation that you must live up to, would be barely well off, if what you have already were multiplied by three.

You must:

  • offer many costly sacrifices – without them, neither gods nor men would tolerate you.
  • welcome numerous foreigners as guests and to entertain them handsomely.
  • feast your fellow-citizens and ply them with all sorts of kindness, or else be cut adrift from your supporters.

Furthermore, I perceive that even at present the state enjoins upon you various large contributions, such as the rearing of studs, (3) the training of choruses, the superintendence of gymnastic schools, or consular duties, (4) as patron of resident aliens, and so forth;

During war, you must pay pay to carry on the triearchy, ship money, and war taxes so onerous.

Remissness in respect of any of these charges will be visited upon you by the good citizens of Athens no less strictly than if they caught you stealing their own property.

But worse than all, I see you fondling the notion that you are rich. Without a thought or care how to increase your revenue, your fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, (7) as if you had some special license to amuse yourself.

That is why I pity you, fearing lest some irremediable mischief overtake you, and you find yourself in desperate straits. As for me, if I ever stood in need of anything, I am sure you know I have friends who would assist me.

They would make some trifling contribution—trifling to themselves, I mean—and deluge my humble living with a flood of plenty. But your friends, albeit far better off than yourself, considering your respective styles of living, persist in looking to you for assistance.

Critobulus Critobulus= I cannot gainsay what you have spoken, Socrates, it is indeed high time that you were constituted my patronus, or I shall become in very truth a pitiable object.

Why, you yourself must surely be astonished at the part you are now playing.

Just now, when I said that I was rich, you laughed at me as if I had no idea what riches were. You were not happy till you had cross-examined me and forced me to confess that I do not possess 1% of what you have. Now you are imploring me to be your patron, and to save you from becoming absolutely and truthfully a pauper.

Critobulus Yes, Socrates, for I see that you are skilled in one lucrative operation at all events—the art of creating a surplus.

I hope, therefore, that a man who can make so much out of so little will not have the slightest difficulty in creating an ample surplus out of an abundance.

If a man did not know how to handle horses, then horses were not wealth to him at any rate. Likewise, land, sheep, money, or anything else would not be wealth if he did not know how to use them.

Yet these are the very sources of revenue from which incomes are derived. How do you expect me to know the use of any of them if I never had a single one of them ever?

Critobulus Yes, but we agreed that, however little a man may be blessed with wealth himself, a science of economy exists. So what hinders you from being its professor?

The same thing that hinders a man from knowing how to play the flute if he had never had a flute or never could borrow one. This is my case with regard to economy. I had never possessed wealth, which is the instrument of the science of economy. Nor has anyone let me manage his wealth.

You, in fact, are the first person to make so generous an offer. A learner of the harp is apt to break and spoil the instrument. So if I learn the art of economy on your estate, I shall ruin it outright.

Critobulus Critobulus retorted= I see you are doing your very best to escape an irksome task. you would rather not, if you can help it, stretch out so much as your little finger to help me to bear my necessary burthens more easily.

No, I am not trying to escape.

If you had come to me for water, and I had none in my house, you would not blame me for sending you where you might get it.

If you desired to be taught music by me, and I pointed you to a far more skilful teacher than myself, you would accept my behaviour. There are others cleverer than myself about those matters. I have made it long my study to discover who among our fellow-citizens are the greatest adepts in the various branches of knowledge.

I had been amazed at how a set of people are engaged in identical operations. Half of them are in absolute poverty. The other half roll in wealth. I thought that the history of the matter was worth investigation. I found that it all happened very naturally.

Those who carried on their affairs in a haphazard manner I saw were punished by their losses. Those who kept their wits upon the stretch and paid attention I soon perceived to be rewarded by the greater ease and profit of their undertakings. You should learn from them and then you will become as clever a man of business as one might hope to see.


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