James Champlin’s Lessons on Political Economy
James Tift Champlin (1811-1882) was born in Colchester, Connecticut. He enrolled in Brown University in 1830 where the president, Francis Wayland, greatly impressed him.
Wayland was a staunch defender of private property, the free market, and classical liberalism. His book The Elements of Political Economy (1837) is based on sound and insightful economic principles with an emphasis on human action.
After graduating in 1834 and trying his hand at teaching, James Champlin returned to Brown University as a resident graduate and was appointed a tutor in the university in 1835. In 1841, he was elected professor of ancient languages at Waterville College in Waterville, Maine, which is still in existence today as Colby College. In 1857, Champlin became the college’s president and professor of moral and intellectual philosophy.
Champlin published books on philosophy, ethics, and, most notably, Lessons on Political Economy (1868), from which the following selections are taken.
Men do not generally work for the good of others, but for their own.
Political economy assumes as its basis in human nature that men in their business affairs are governed by selfishness; that every man will aim so to dispose of his labor and its products as to promote in the highest degree the objects of his desire, and will endeavor to attain any end with the least possible amount of irksome labor. Upon this principle, which is most unquestionably true, the whole science is built. From it follow the laws of value and price, and on it rest our whole monetary and industrial fabric. Thus, though many ethical principles may be defended on economical grounds,—as, when we say that honesty is the best policy,—and many economic principles on ethical grounds; yet Ethics and Political Economy are essentially distinct sciences. Ethics treats of right, Political Economy of gain. Ethics lays down the rules of conduct in our intercourse with others which are dictated by an enlightened sense of duty; Political Economy, the rules of action, dictated by an enlightened self-love. Ethics regards the good of others ; political economy our own good alone, but always within the limits of the rights of others. Hence it can not be expected that business will be conducted upon benevolent principles, though it should always be conducted upon honest principles. And yet, a man may all the time have a benevolent purpose in acquiring his property—meaning to use it, and actually using it, as he goes along, for the good of his race—and may thus be truly a benevolent man.
Now, in making exchanges, men are governed wholly by a sense of interest. From this it follows, that if we wish to obtain money or other articles from men, we must offer them something which they regard as an equivalent. It is of no use to tell them that they ought to consider it an equivalent, if they do not actually so consider it. Men will be their own judges in these matters.
Wealth is anything costing labor which contributes to the gratification of any of our desires. Wealth is any article of value, or what avails us for any purpose or use. And the real value of an article of wealth—what is commonly called its intrinsic value—depends entirely upon the nature and urgency of the desire which it is fitted to gratify. The foundation of wealth, therefore, lies partly in the nature of objects and partly in the nature of man. There is a world without and a world within, and wealth is the result of the correspondence between these two worlds. No variety or kind of qualities in an object would constitute it an article of wealth, without desires in man which they are fitted to gratif
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