Literature Week 15 Mandeville on Economics

Prompt: “In what way did Mandeville lay the foundation for Darwinism?”

Bernard Mandeville was an 18th century philosopher, and writer of the mock-epic poem Fable of the Bees. In this poem he compared society to a beehive, and used this analogy to describe what he thought would be the most beneficial to the economy. First he described vices, as in alcohol, drugs, casinos etc. He clearly was no fan of these lively temptations, but he explained that they played a drastic role in the circulation of wealth. People are creatures of convenience and pleasure, and no matter how hard you fight this lust for joy people will always find a way to get their fix. So, Mandeville explains, its better that we keep these vices legal and reap the financial benefit. Its better the producer of these can legally sell his goods and recirculate the benefits rather than hiding or hoarding them.

Speaking of hoarding, Mandeville had some very strong opinions on this topic. Avarice, or greed, Mandeville said is an enormous stick in the gears of economics. Financially successful people often find themselves battling with greed, and if they submit to the sin they may begin to find themselves hoarding their wealth. In Mandeville’s eyes this is the worst thing you can do with your money, as instead of that wealth being recirculated back into the economy its simply left alone to rot. Mandeville feels so strongly on this topic that he compares it to thievery, and actually says that if a thief were to steal from a hoarder they’d be more in the right than the victim of the theft. As the victim wasn’t using their wealth, only collecting more and more wealth for them to sit on. Although the thief does acquire the wealth illegally, he uses it to his personal benefit and recirculates it back into society.

The big idea of the poem is what people should use their money for if they want to make economics prosper, and Mandeville actually argues that prodigality and overspending is the way to go. He says that people should focus on having a consumer mindset. If consumers continuously spend on the most expensive items they can afford, then the  producers of these items will grow their wealth and spend it on the best they can afford. The producers become the consumers and buy expensive items from other producers, who then do the same and yada yada the economics wheel keeps turning.

This, though vaguely, does connect to Darwin’s theory of natural selection. As animals evolve they consume, perhaps not the material items we consume but an animal equivalent to them. The animals also have to fight to gain resources, similar to how we have to work to gain resources. The animal that wins gets to reap in the benefits. Because it won the fight it now has access to a high quality food source, and it and its offspring will grow stronger than their cousins who lost the fight. The cousins die off, and only the strongest animal with the best quality resources gets to continue its legacy. This is similar to what Mandeville believed, the only difference being he spoke of economics and luxury as opposed to nature and survival.

 

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