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Texte à méditer :  Ceux qui brûlent des livres finissent tôt ou tard par brûler des hommes.  Heinrich Heine
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Hors des sentiers battus
La relativité de la richesse / pauvreté

  "Même ceux qui ne sont pas directement aiguillonnés par cette lutte intense pour la richesse et les honneurs le sont quand même indirectement. Car cette lutte a notamment pour effet d'augmenter le niveau de vie et d'entraîner à terme une hausse du taux moyen de dépenses pour tous. Ceux qui font fortune aiment à se distinguer par leurs habitudes luxueuses, en partie par plaisir, mais avant tout pour susciter l'admiration des autres. Plus ils sont nombreux, plus la concur­rence est vive pour essayer d'obtenir le type d'atten­tion publique réservé à ceux qui se rendent visibles par leurs dépenses ostentatoires. La compétition gagne peu à peu les couches sociales inférieures jusqu'à ce que, pour être « respectables", ceux qui ont relativement peu de moyens se sentent obligés de dépenser davantage pour le logement, les meubles les vêtements et la nourriture, et soient contraints de travailler de plus en plus dur pour obtenir des rev­enus plus élevés".

 

Herbert Spencer, Discours donné à l'occasion d'un dîner à New York, le 9 novembre 1882, tr. fr. Léa Drouet.

 

  "Even those who are not directly spurred on by this intensified struggle for wealth and honour, are indirectly spurred on by it. For one of its effects is to raise the standard of living, and eventually to increase the average rate of expenditure for all. Partly for personal enjoyment, but much more for the display which brings admiration, those who acquire fortunes distinguish themselves by luxurious habits. The more numerous they become, the keener becomes the competition for that kind of public attention given to those who make themselves conspicuous by great expenditure. The competition spreads downwards step by step; until, to be “respectable,” those having relatively small means feel obliged to spend more on houses, furniture, dress, and food; and are obliged to work the harder to get the requisite larger income. This process of causation is manifest enough among ourselves; and it is still more manifest in America, where the extravagance in style of living is greater than here.
  Thus, though it seems beyond doubt that the removal of all political and social barriers, and the giving to each man an unimpeded career, must be purely beneficial; yet there is (at first) a considerable set-off from the benefits. Among those who in older communities have by laborious lives gained distinction, some may be heard privately to confess that “the game is not worth the candle;” and when they hear of others who wish to tread in their steps, shake their heads and say—“If they only knew!” Without accepting in full so pessimistic an estimate of success, we must still say that very generally the cost of the candle deducts largely from the gain of the game. That which in these exceptional cases holds among ourselves, holds more generally in America. An intensified life, which may be summed up as—great labour, great profit, great expenditure—has for its concomitant a wear and tear which considerably diminishes in one direction the good gained in another. Added together, the daily strain through many hours and the anxieties occupying many other hours—the occupation of consciousness by feelings that are either indifferent or painful, leaving relatively little time for occupation of it by pleasurable feelings—tend to lower its level more than its level is raised by the gratifications of achievement and the accompanying benefits. So that it may, and in many cases does, result that diminished happiness goes along with increased prosperity. Unquestionably, as long as order is fairly maintained, that absence of political and social restraints which gives free scope to the struggles for profit and honour, conduces greatly to material advance of the society—develops the industrial arts, extends and improves the business organizations, augments the wealth; but that it raises the value of individual life, as measured by the average state of its feeling, by no means follows. That it will do so eventually, is certain; but that it does so now seems, to say the least, very doubtful."

 

Herbert Spencer, A Speech:  Delivered on the occasion of a Complimentary Dinner in New York, on November 9, 1882, in Essays: Scientific, Political, and Speculative, vol. III, London, Williams & Norgate, 1891.

 

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