Chapter 1a

The Objects and Origins of Political Economy

by Sismondi

Political economy is an important division of the science of government. The object of government is the happiness of men, united in society.

But man is a complex being. He experiences moral and physical wants. Therefore his happiness has moral and physical aspects.

Moral Happiness

The moral happiness of man, so far as it depends on his government, is intimately connected with the improvement of that government. It is the object of civil policy.

Civil policy should not seek what suits one man or one class of men, but what may impart most happiness to all the men living under its laws.

Physical Happiness

The aim of Political Economy is the physical well-being of man, so far as it can be produced by his government.


  • satisfies all the physical wants of man.
  • lets him command labour


  • purchases respectful service and procures all that man has accumulated for use or pleasure.

Government is instituted for its citizens.

  • It should the people’s advantage perpetually in view

Civil policy should:

  • extend to every citizen the benefits of liberty, virtue, and knowledge.
  • watch over all the advantages of the national fortune.

Government’s aim is not to accumulate wealth in the state, but to make every citizen participate in those enjoyments, as represented by wealth.

  • Government is called to:
    • second the work of providence
    • augment the mass of felicity on earth
    • prevent the multiplication of its citizens faster than it can multiply their chances of happiness.

Wealth and population are not absolute signs of prosperity in a state.

  • They are only so in relation to each other.
  • Wealth is a blessing when it spreads comfort over all classes.
  • Population is an advantage when every man is sure of gaining an honest subsistence by his labour.

But a country may be wretched if:

  • only a few citizens are amassing colossal fortunes
  • its population, like that of China, are more numerous than its food supply
    • This causes the people to:
      • live on the refuse of animals
      • be incessantly threatened with famine
    • This is a calamity, and not an object of envy.

The improvement of social order is generally advantageous both to the poor and the rich.

Political economy points out how to preserve this order by correction.

Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations gave the most precise definition of that science.

The title given by Adam Smith to his immortal work, on the science we are now engaged with, ‘The Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations’ forms at the same

Currently, economy means preserving, administering, and managing property.

This leads to political economy for the management of the national fortune.

From the time when men first formed societies, they occupied themselves with the common interests originating in their wealth.

  • A portion of the public wealth was set apart to provide for the public wants.

Finance is the levying and management of this national revenue.

Private fortunes, on the other hand, made the interests of each citizen more complex.

These were exposed to fraud and had to be defended by the public authority, according to the principle of the social contract.

This social contract combined the strength of individuals to protect each other.

The rights and rules over property led to civil jurisprudence.

But our ancestors had no inquiry on the nature and causes of national wealth.

  • They did not combine finance and civil jurisprudence.
  • They gave the development of public wealth to individuals, without examining their nature

In this way, property accumulated silently in each society by the labour of each artisan to procure his own subsistence.

The ancient philosophers:

  • taught that riches are useless for happiness
  • did not teach the laws to increase those riches

Philosophers started thinking about national wealth through:

  • the requisitions of states, and
  • the poverty of the people.

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