Some observations by Charlie Keil on a text by Ruskin.
From John Ruskin’s Ad Valorem
“Ad Valorem” is the third essay from the work ‘Unto This Last’: Four essays on the first principles of Political Economy.
. . . it matters, so far as the labourer’s immediate profit is concerned, not an iron filing whether I employ him in growing a peach, or forging a bombshell; but my probable mode of consumption of those articles matters seriously. Admit that it is to be in both cases “unselfish,” and the difference, to him, is final, whether when his child is ill, I walk into his cottage and give it the peach, or drop the shell down his chimney, and blow his roof off.
The Aim Of Consumption
The worst of it, for the peasant, is, that the capitalist’s consumption of the peach is apt to be selfish, and of the shell, distributive; but, in all cases, this is the broad and general fact, that on due catallactic commercial principles, somebody’s roof must go off in fulfillment of the bomb’s destiny. You may grow for your neighbour, at your liking, grapes or grapeshot; he will also, catallactically, grow grapes or grapeshot for you, and you will each reap what you have sown. It is, therefore, the manner and issue of consumption which are the real tests of production. Production does not consist in things laboriously made, but in things serviceably consumable; and the question for the nation is not how much labour it employs, but how much life it produces. For as consumption is the end and aim of production, so life is the end and aim of consumption.
There Is No Wealth But Life
I left this question to the reader’s thought two months ago, choosing rather that he should work it out for himself than have it sharply stated to him. . . . . I desire, in closing the series of introductory papers, to leave this one great fact clearly stated. There Is No Wealth But Life. Life, including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others.
We have spent over a trillion dollars on “bombs” in Iraq and Afghanistan. A million dollars a year for each troop in Afghanistan. The troop gets about $66,000 of that, and you can imagine where the other $944,000 goes. The bombs, drones, murder and mayhem are supposed to control the situation while we persuade people to love democracy, be our friends, give us their oil, become allies and trading partners. It’s not working very well. We don’t know the many languages spoken in those two countries. We can’t identify friends or enemies very clearly. Many years pass, situations deteriorate, we keep dropping bombs down chimneys because that’s what we invest in and produce. Ruskin is very relevant.
What if we had spent a trillion dollars on peaches and grapes rather than on bombs and grapeshot? Would every single citizen have peach trees bearing peaches, and grape arbors filled with grapes? Would the parents have peaches and grapes for their children? Would they like us more for supplying their gardens and orchards with the best varieties? Making a start on permaculturing the barren mountain slopes? Could they be exporting food instead of opium today in Afghanistan? Would Iraq be famous for its gardens once again?
– Charlie K.