I’ve discussed similar type quotes before, namely with Robinson Crusoe & the Subjective Theory of Value, so I won’t add too much today besides an additional quote from Henry Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines.
Then the irony of the situation forced itself upon me. There around us lay treasures enough to pay off a moderate national debt, or to build a fleet of ironclads, and yet we would have bartered them all gladly for the faintest chance of escape. Soon, doubtless, we should be rejoiced to exchange them for a bit of food or a cup of water, and, after that, even for the privilege of a speedy close to our sufferings. Truly wealth, which men spend their lives in acquiring, is a valueless thing at the last.
Something worth discussing on this subject without reiterating past ideas is the last line. “Truly wealth, which men spend their lives in acquiring, is a valueless thing at the last.” One bent on disparaging capital accumulation may take this as a confirmation of his ideas, but one an economical and engineering eye sees this as proper realization that wealth, isn’t quite what men seek when they acquire it if it is valueless in the end.
According to praxeology, man seeks to remove dissatisfaction from his life. If he is hungry, then he eats. If he can’t afford an iPad and really, really wants one then he seeks money to afford an iPad. The assumption that some may have in a statement such as the above is that all wealth should be treated as useless if you can’t take use it past death, however wealth helps make the life lived better and longer.
When man seeks wealth, is he seeking trinkets and paper for trinkets and paper’s self? No, because they are useless to him. Money is the premier medium of exchange. Man seeks money because he seeks to exchange it for something else. If a man is accumulating wealth without exchanging it, it is because he seeks to exchange it for something, he just doesn’t know yet what it is. He may seek to postpone consuming now, in order to consume more later – and it has to be “more” later otherwise there is no reason to wait.
What most men really seek is for more quantity and better quality of time; of one’s life. Deliberately avoiding the spiritual angle, wealth accumulation mixed with intelligent consumption has been historically the best method of attaining these ends. So the sad side to the above quote is that Wealth suitable to make his life easy and long, which the main character Allan Quatermain had sought his entire life, was finally attainable; but that with death already nigh it was only a valueless thing.
This post is the start of a short series of commentary based on quotes pulled from King Solomon’s Mines by Henry Rider Haggard. Haggard wrote a fantastic book in an amazingly short time-frame. Here are some quick links to posts related to this book: Short review of the book itself, all the quotes in one place, and a list of other commentary like this one.