Chapter 1

What is Wealth?

by Xenophon Icon

Wealth is anything that is Useful and Beneficial


“Economy” is the name of a particular kind of knowledge or science, just like the words “medicine,” “carpentry,” “building,” “smithying,” “metal-working,” etc.

In the case of the arts just named, we can state the proper work or function of each, can we (similarly) state the proper work and function of economy?

Critobulus A good economist at any rate must be able to manage his own house or estate well.

If another man’s house is entrusted to him, he would be able to manage it as skilfully as his own. A skilled carpenter can work as well for another as for himself. So should a good economist.

Then an economist, even if he does not possess wealth of his own, should be paid a salary for managing a house just as he might be paid for building one.

He should get a large salary if, after paying the necessary expenses of the estate entrusted to him, he can create a surplus and improve the property.
Socrates What does the word “house” mean? Is it merely a domicile, or should we include all a man’s possessions outside the actual dwelling-place?
Critobulus I think that all of a man’s possessions forms part of his estate even if some part of it may be in another part of the world.

A wealthy man may have many enemies. A man’s estate is his useful or advantageous possessions.

The things that injure him are a loss instead of a wealth.

  • If a man purchases a horse and does not know how to handle him, but each time he mounts he is thrown and sustains injuries, then the horse is not part of his wealth.
  • Likewise, if land itself is no wealth to a man who so works it that his tillage only brings him loss.

Mother earth is not a source of wealth to us if she helps us to starve instead of helping us to live.

  • Sheep and cattle may fail of being wealth if they bring loss from the ignorance of their treatment.

Wealth is defined by its benefit and usefulness.

  • A flute may be wealth to him who is sufficiently skilled to play upon it.
  • But it is useless to one who is does not know how to play it, unless he sells it.

But as possessions not for sale, they are not wealth at all.

Things which benefit are wealth. The flutes that are unsold are not wealth, being good for nothing. To become wealth they must be sold.

If he sold them for something which he does not know how to use, the mere selling will not transform them into wealth

Critobulus Are you saying that that the money of a man who does not know how to use it is not wealth?

Yes, wealth is only that which benefits a man.

But if a man used his money to buy himself a mistress, to the grave detriment of his body, soul, whole estate, how can that particular money benefit him now and what good will he extract from it?

Critobulus None, unless we admit that hyoscyamus is wealth – it is a poison that drives those who take it mad.

If a man does not know how to use money wisely, then money should be banished to the remote corners of the earth rather than be reckoned as wealth.

But what about friends? If a man knows how to use his friends so as to be benefited by them?

Critobulus They are wealth indisputably, and in a deeper sense than cattle are, since they are likely to be of more benefit to a man than cattle.

It seems that the even the foes of a man’s own household may be wealth to him, if he knows how to benefit from them.

Then a good economist must know how to deal with his own or his employer’s foes so as to get profit out of them.

Many private persons owe the increase of their estates to war.


But what can we do about it?

What about the people who know and were blessed with the capital required to enhance their fortunes?

They can create benefit by working with their capital. But this is the one thing they will not do. This makes their knowledge and accomplishments useless.

Surely this leads to the conclusion that neither their knowledge nor possessions are wealth.

Socrates Ah, do you wish to direct the discussion to the topic of slaves?
Critobulus No, I want to talk about some persons from noble families to do them justice.

These are the people gifted with martial or civil accomplishments, which, however, they refuse to exercise because they are superior in them already with no masters over them.

How can they have no masters over them if, in spite of their prayers for prosperity and their desire to do what will bring them good, they are still so sorely hindered in the exercise of their wills by those that lord it over them?

Critobulus Crit= Who are these lords that rule them and yet remain unseen?

Their masters are very visible.

They are the basest of the base if you believe idleness, effeminacy, and reckless negligence to be baseness. There are other treacherous hags giving themselves out to be innocent pleasures such as profitless associations among men.

In time, these appear and show themselves to be pains tricked out and decked with pleasures. These have the dominion over the noble people and hinder them from every good and useful work.

But there are others who are not indolent.

On the contrary, they have the most ardent disposition to exert themselves and increase their revenues.

But in spite of all, they wear out their substance and are involved in endless difficulties because of the lack of means.


Yes, for they too are slaves, but to luxury and lechery, intemperance, and the wine-cup along with many a fond and ruinous ambition.

These passions so cruelly belord it over the poor soul, that so long as he is in the heyday of health and strong to labour, they compel him to fetch and carry and lay at their feet the fruit of his toils, and to spend it on their own heart’s lusts. But as soon as he gets old, they leave him to his gray hairs and misery, and turn to seize on other victims.


Ah! Critobulus, against these must we wage ceaseless war, for very freedom’s sake, no less than if they were armed warriors endeavouring to make us their slaves.

Nay, foemen in war, it must be granted, especially when of fair and noble type, have many times ere now proved benefactors to those they have enslaved.

By dint of chastening, they have forced the vanquished to become better men and to lead more tranquil lives in future.

But these despotic queens never cease to plague and torment their victims in body and soul and substance until their sway is ended.


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