Home page and where to get Shonin Risa's books: https://sites.google.com/view/risabear

It may be that lifestyle overshoot will prevent my dream of an egalitarian agrarian society from arising from the empire's ashes. But
I hold that behaving as if a better life could happen is still the right thing to do. Therefore this blog focuses on a decent and humane
way to live. Survival links post here.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

The unlimited accumulation of wealth

Guest post by Plato (428-438 BCE approx., The Republic, Book II, Jowett tr. Emphases added).

[Socrates] .... let us then consider, first of all, what will be their way of life, now that we have thus established them. Will they not produce corn, and wine, and clothes, and shoes, and build houses for themselves? And when they are housed, they will work, in summer, commonly, stripped and barefoot, but in winter substantially clothed and shod. They will feed on barley-meal and flour of wheat, baking and kneading them, making noble cakes and loaves; these they will serve up on a mat of reeds or on clean leaves, themselves reclining the while upon beds strewn with yew or myrtle. And they and their children will feast, drinking of the wine which they have made, wearing garlands on their heads, and hymning the praises of the gods, in happy converse with one another. And they will take care that their families do not exceed their means ....

[Glaucon] Yes, Socrates, he said, and if you were providing for a city of pigs, how else would you feed the beasts?

But what would you have, Glaucon? I replied.

Why, he said, you should give them the ordinary conveniences of life. People who are to be comfortable are accustomed to lie on sofas, and dine off tables, and they should have sauces and sweets in the modern style.

Yes, I said, now I understand: the question which you would have me consider is, not only how a State, but how a luxurious State is created; and possibly there is no harm in this, for in such a State we shall be more likely to see how justice and injustice originate. In my opinion the true and healthy constitution of the State is the one which I have described. But if you wish also to see a State at fever heat, I have no objection. For I suspect that many will not be satisfied with the simpler way. They will be for adding sofas, and tables, and other furniture; also dainties, and perfumes, and incense, and courtesans, and cakes, all these not of one sort only, but in every variety; we must go beyond the necessaries of which I was at first speaking, such as houses, and clothes, and shoes: the arts of the painter and the embroiderer will have to be set in motion, and gold and ivory and all sorts of materials must be procured.

True, he said.

Then we must enlarge our borders; for the original healthy State is no longer sufficient. Now will the city have to fill and swell with a multitude of callings which are not required by any natural want; such as the whole tribe of hunters and actors, of whom one large class have to do with forms and colours; another will be the votaries of music --poets and their attendant train of rhapsodists, players, dancers, contractors; also makers of divers kinds of articles, including women's dresses. And we shall want more servants. Will not tutors be also in request, and nurses wet and dry, tirewomen and barbers, as well as confectioners and cooks; and swineherds, too, who were not needed and therefore had no place in the former edition of our State, but are needed now? They must not be forgotten: and there will be animals of many other kinds, if people eat them.


And living in this way we shall have much greater need of physicians than before?

Much greater.

And the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now, and not enough?

Quite true.

Then a slice of our neighbours' land will be wanted by us for pasture and tillage, and they will want a slice of ours, if, like ourselves, they exceed the limit of necessity, and give themselves up to the unlimited accumulation of wealth?

That, Socrates, will be inevitable.

And so we shall go to war, Glaucon. Shall we not?


This year’s crop isn’t ripe yet.
Last year’s grain’s all gone.
So out I go to beg a peck;
outside the gate, I was on one foot, then the other.
The husband came out and said, “Best ask my wife.”
The wife came out and said, “Ask the old man.”
Hearts hard as that . . .
Wealth itself is a great misfortune.

-- Han Shan (Cold Mountain, Tr. Seaton)


  1. la plus la change, la plus la meme chose! You point out the necessity to study history and ohilosophy - none of our contemporary concerns are unique to our age, but rather, of constant subject of query throughout the ages. What constitutes the just and fair life? The answer always seems to be the same. Want little, use no more than your small share, consider meeting your basic needs and no more. GEM

  2. Anonymous10:24 AM

    My son asked me recently when I thought the economy would turn around. All I asked him in return was how he thinks an economy based on eternal growth can continue to grow when we live on a finite planet?

    What is it about us humans that enough is never enough for all too many of us?

  3. Anonymous2:19 PM

    this is a bad translation because "corn" is anachronistic. maybe this is a british english translation using "corn" in the sense of "grain-grass type plant". But still.

  4. It is indeed a Britishism, and, yes, they still use it. The worldwide equivalent of the U.S. "corn" is "maize" -- or so they tell me ... ;)

    This sort of thing happens with grabbing public domain texts as Jowett worked in the nineteenth century. But hopefully we get the gist.

  5. In the British Isles, corn=wheat. In Plato's time maize had not yet reached Europe.

  6. Anonymous7:04 PM

    I got the gist Risa, enjoyable:)

  7. Addendum: the things we need for our journey are not things. https://www.lionsroar.com/things-you-need-for-your-journey/


Stony Run Farm: Life on One Acre

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