The Nature of Wealth

The Nature of Wealth

The search for those things which support life and give it meaning has ever been the quest of mankind. Not every age has considered the same things important in this respect, however. Consequently, each age may differ as to the focus of its greatest efforts and the center of its attention. Yet, in spite of the differences, wealth in one form or another has held a more or less prominent place in the history of every civilization. It has brought ease of life, prestige among one's fellows, and power. Naturally it has been much sought after, and such an important factor in social life has received great attention from philosophers, religious leaders, and rulers of the people, as well as economists.

However, our concern is primarily with the views of the economists.
The systematic treatment of wealth as an economic matter begins in the great age of discovery and exploration, roughly during the 15th century. Whatever may have been the incentive, the period was marked by voyages of discovery to the new world of the west by men whose chief interest was the search for silver and gold. Thus was started a chain of events which led to the formation of an economic theory called Mercantilism.


Europe, during the period known as the Middle Ages, was a loose conglomeration of cities and feudal estates with vague lines of authority binding together the dukes, barons, freemen, and serfs of the same language or the same area. Central government as we know it today did not exist. Whatever unifying force existed was exercised by the Church. As commerce and trade increased in scope, political units expanded in size and the heads of states acquired more power, usually at the expense of lesser nobles and the Church. This process was not a simple one, for it was accompanied by such complex movements in history as the Reformation, the Commercial Revolution, and the birth of new political philosophies. The end result, however, was the rise of the great states with absolute monarchs whose courts were the most extravagant in the Christian era. The demands of the latter were the prods of necessity which played no little part in stimulating the more comprehensive study of economic life made by the Mercantilists. They were concerned with the ways and means by which nations could become wealthy.