How Much Is Enough?
By Richard Girard
"The world was not created once and for all time for each of us individually. There are added to it in the course of our life things of which we have never had any suspicion."
Marcel Proust (1871--1922), French novelist. Remembrance of Things Past, volume 11, "The Sweet Cheat Gone," chapter 1 (1925; tr. by Scott Monkrieff, 1930).
"Cash-payment never was, or could except for a few years be, the union-bond of man to man. Cash never yet paid one man fully his deserts to another; nor could it, nor can it, now or henceforth to the end of the world."
Thomas Carlyle (1795--1881), Scottish essayist, historian. Past and Present, book. 3, chapter 10 (1843).
"That's all I can stands, 'cuz I can't stands no more!"--Popeye the Sailor-man; innumerable short animated cartoons and comic strips since 1929.
To whom does the world belong?
Does it belong to the rich, to those who can--under the laws of property or by their ability to coerce--lay claim to the world's largest pieces? Or does it belong to humanity as a whole, now and in the future, a gift held in trust for us all?
What is the value of a clear mountain stream, lush grasslands, forests that act as pillars for the heavens, the song of a meadowlark in the early morning sun, the sight of a fox running through the brush, or salmon swimming up the Columbia River to spawn? How about a sunset over the front range of Colorado, or a starlit night at the foot of Long's Peak?
To quote the television commercial: Priceless.
Our ownership of land--and the mineral and water rights that comes with it--has been part of the argument over wealth and the fairness of its distribution that has existed since the rise of civilization.
For many years, land was the only recognized basis for true wealth. Gold, silver, and all of the other things which we sometimes think of as wealth in our modern era were, prior to the rise of mercantilism in Europe in the Sixteenth Century (which happened to coincide with the arrival of the Spanish Treasure Fleets from the New World), a commodity of exchange for trade between nations and merchants in both classical and feudal Europe, but not wealth itself. This was the reason that the Jews were not permitted to own land in most Western European nations until after the rise of mercantilism.
With the arrival of the Spanish treasure galleons, all of this changed.
Suddenly, nations were able to raise and maintain much larger armies, often times by renting out parts of their armies as mercenaries to wealthier (those with larger supplies of bullion) nations. The Swiss, the Scots, the Hessians: all of them became famous for the mercenaries they provided to the warring nations of Europe during the wars of the Protestant Reformation (1525-1648), Louis XIV (1660-1715), and the First British Empire (1721-1783). Spain, Holland, Austria, France, The Papal States, Venice, Sweden, and Great Britain made use of these and other mercenaries at various points in those 258 years.
This time period also saw the rise of the great banking houses, the first national banks, including the Bank of England, and a number of speculative ventures, some successful (the British East India Company, Lloyd's of London), and some not (The Great South Sea Bubble).