> -----Original Message-----
> From: brin-l-bounces@... [mailto:brin-l-bounces@...] On
> Behalf Of David Hobby
> Sent: Friday, December 12, 2008 7:11 PM
> To: Killer Bs (David Brin et al) Discussion
> Subject: Re: What is wealth?
> Dan M wrote:
> >> O.K., let me try. There is such a thing as "concrete" wealth.
> >> Wealth lets an individual do things that they want to do. So
> >> a person's individual wealth would be roughly defined relative
> >> to some standard as the ratio of the utility of what they can
> >> do to what they could do in the standard state.
> > I think this is closest to what I think. But, I think that this is a
> > fundamental and difficult enough concept to start slowly with some
> > examples.
> > First, I was think of and will focus on the wealth of nations,
> > the world, more than individual wealth.
> > So, historically, a richer nation would have vast areas of fertile
> > that could be harvested year after year to provide food for people.
> > wealth could be stolen by force, but absent of that, the wealth existed
> > there. So, Italy was far wealthier than a corresponding area in
> > because far more food could be grown.
> > involved) is somewhat arbitrary. But, the availability of human effort
> > expended in something other than subsistence farming is not subjective;
> > can be objectively measured.
> O.K., you agreed mostly agreed with me, and I
> mostly agree with you. Some of it is a matter
> of interpretation: We're both taking the usual
> meaning of "wealth", and trying to clarify it.
> I had planned to get the total wealth of a
> country but adding up the individual wealth
> of its inhabitants (and of its institutions,
> too?). So starting with individual wealth
> made sense to me. Do you think that the wealth
> of a (inhabited) country would be different
> than the sum of the wealths of its inhabitants?
Well, there is always the wealth in the publicly owned infrastructure, oil
and mineral wealth on public lands that need to be added. But, my argument
for looking at the state instead of the individual was mostly the same as
Plato's reasons for writing the Republic as he did.
> I think that a country that has more than enough
> food for its people may be wealthier than a country
> where everybody has just enough. Even if they
> can produce the same total amount of food. Sure,
> people can be a source of a country's wealth. But
> starving peasants may not be worth that much, wealth-wise.
> So there's more to it then just food production?
Yes, definitely. But, I think the first step is the ability for the average
workers to produce more food than is needed to feed their family unit. If,
for example, it takes 100 families working to feed 105 families, then there
is only 5 families that can be engaged in any trade except subsistence
farming. If, as it is true in the US, less than 1% of the labor force is
required to produce food, then the rest of the labor force is able to
produce other things. Clearly, the US is far wealthier when it has a 5%
surplus harvest than a country that produced a 5% surplus harvest because
there was war the previous year, and a lot of townspeople died.
(An interesting site on this is
Particularly the table farm household income by source. Here you see most
farm households farm part-time, and have most of their income come from
other sources...like friends of mine who have 50 head of cattle on their
ranch, but live in town 5 days a week and hold two jobs).
> Unless you want to define "free wealth" and
> "bound wealth". The free wealth of a land of
> starving peasants may be almost zero. Most of
> it being bound up in maintaining the large number
> of inhabitants. A suitable plague could release
> the bound wealth of the country by reducing the
There are several terms that are typically used. They are national income,
national per capita income, and disposable/discretionary income. Clearly,
Monaco, although its citizens are wealthy, has far less economic clout than
the US. But, clearly, the average Chinese citizen is far poorer than the
average Australian, even though China has 4x the GDP of Australia.
Then, we have to consider disposable income. Since China has so many
people, a significant fraction of the country is still barely above
subsistence, even with the increased GDP. Indeed China is particularly
susceptible to global recessions because its income is so tied to exports
(only 35% of Chinese GDP is domestic consumption vs. 70% for the US).
Before the Great Depression, the US was by far the biggest exporter, as well
as the biggest holder of world debt. It was the hardest hit country in the
Great Depression. I've been reading articles that hint that there is
causality here, and that China (and to a lesser extent Germany and Japan)
are particularly susceptible to downturns. The US hoped to export its way
out of the Great Depression (at least until '33. That didn't work. It
looks as though that's China's and Germany's first thought, but recent
articles (like today) indicate that the reality of the situation may be
dawning on their leaders.