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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/697

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MORALS OF LUXURY.

wealth of the country. When the ballroom lights were put out, what was left? Nothing but rumpled vanities, deranged stomachs, and overtaxed nerves. The capital of society has been twice diminished: in the expenditure of money and the waste of human force. On the other hand, when the useful enterprises which have given as much work are finished, there remain a field better drained and manured and bearing more grain, a better planted forest furnishing more wood, a new factory turning out more goods, and a new railway line. The country is enriched and produces more. In the next year the workmen are better provided for, their expenses are lessened, more hands are needed to keep the increased capital employed, and wages are raised. A profit has accrued on both sides. The application of means to the production of necessary and useful objects has the additional advantage that the demand for such objects is more stable, that they are not so readily dispensed with in times of retrenchment, and are not so subject to the changes and caprices of fashion.

It is further pleaded that luxury makes money circulate. This, also, is unsound. Circulation of itself brings no profit. Money nowhere circulates faster than on the green cloth of the roulette-table. Some lose, others gain, millions; but what is the profit to the country? Money is all the time in circulation, unless it is buried in a pot. The important matter is, whether in passing from hand to hand it commands permanent ameliorations and satisfies the real wants of men, or whether it is wasted upon the futilities that minister to pride and ostentation.

The crowd approve the letting off of expensive fireworks, and believe that the money they cost is still in the country, and that nothing is lost. But there were in the country two capitals: one of money, the other represented by powder, which might have been employed in extracting coal and minerals from the earth, or in works for railways. The second capital has vanished in smoke, and only the money is left. Consumption is always destruction; it is important to see that for this destruction is returned as compensation some satisfaction of real wants, or the creation of some new means of production. Consumption is in reality a barter. We give up an existing value; if we receive in return something to strengthen the body and exalt the soul, we have done well; if something to stimulate pride and vanity, it is worse than nothing, and we have done ill.

We may regard luxury, in the third place, from the juridical side, and ask if it is compatible with right and justice. All Christian tradition answers the question in the negative. The Scriptures abound in passages condemning the egotistical and unregulated employment of riches. The fathers of the Church insisted upon a kind of equality of right, and urged that those who have a superfluity can not legitimately dispose of it for themselves, but ought to share it with those who are in want of necessaries. The Church has indicated alms as the