What is wealth? Where does wealth come from?
How do we get it?
History gives us a confusing answer: the wealth of ancient Egypt, ancient Persia, Alexander the Great, the Roman Empire, the Muslim empires, the empires of China, the empires of the Mayans, Incas, Aztecs, and the other tribes in the Americas prior to the arrival Columbus in 1492, Spain’s American empire, the empires of India, (exemplified by the Taj Mahal), the Mongolian empire (the largest in history) – all of these are touted as “great” empires with great wealth.
But who held that wealth? How did they get it?
The answer in all those cases is the same: with rare exceptions, the wealth was taken from others; seized as part of the conquest of other people. Wealth was viewed as gold, valuables – and slaves. Invade a land, sack its cities; take away anything your soldiers could carry or load onto horse-drawn carts. Kill the men or take them as slaves, and take the women as property, to be used and disposed of as chattel for the enjoyment of your soldiers. As the conquering commander, your portion was the greatest of all.
With each conquest, the wealth of the conquered was destroyed. Their lives ended in death, despair, and misery.
But where has America’s wealth come from? The answer is very different: the wealth enjoyed by Americans does not come from conquest. No American army has ever returned from conquest, triumphantly carrying seized goods and enslaved women and men, to be paraded through the streets of American cities to the thrill of cheering throngs.
Where then? There is undisputedly more wealth in the U.S. now than twenty years ago. There was more wealth twenty years ago than a hundred years ago; more a hundred years ago than in 1776; more in 1776 than in 1607, when the first colonists arrived in Jamestown.
What is true of America is true of only four other countries in history: the Phoenicians of 1300-800BC, the Greeks of 600-350BC, the Venetian Republic of 500-1700, and the British since 1600 (arguably, since about 1200).
Wealth for America and the other four was created by its citizens, for their own use, and for trade – for the mutually-beneficial exchange of goods created by others. That trade, as we know, is a huge personal incentive to create more trade, and earn more wealth.
True wealth is not the piles of gold of conquerors, empires, and the sacking of cities; conquerors are not great. Wealth is the economic well-being and enjoyable life of each person individually, created by his own efforts.