I AM writing these pages on the shore of Long
Island, where the Bay of New York contracts to what is
called the Narrows, nearly opposite the point where our
legalized robbers, the Custom-House officers, board incoming
steamers to ask strangers to take their first American
swear, and where, if false oaths really colored the
atmosphere the air would be bluer than is the sky on this
gracious day. I turn from my writing-machine to the window,
and drink in, with a pleasure that never seems to pall, the
"What do you see?" If in ordinary talk I were asked this, I should of course say, "I see land and water and sky, ships and houses, and light clouds, and the sun drawing to its setting over the low green hills of Staten Island and illuminating all."
But if the question refer to the terms of political economy, I should say, "I see land and wealth." Land, which is the natural factor of production; and wealth, which is the natural factor so changed by the exertion of the human factor, labor, as to fit it for the satisfaction of human desires. For water and clouds, sky and sun, and the stars that will appear when the sun is sunk, are, in the terminology of political economy, as much land as is the dry surface of the earth to which we narrow the meaning of the word in ordinary talk. And the window through which I look; the flowers in the garden; the planted trees of the orchard; the cow that is browsing beneath them; the Shore Road under the window; the vessels that lie at anchor near the bank, and the little pier that juts out from it; the trans-Atlantic liner steaming through the channel; the crowded pleasure-steamers passing by; the puffing tug with its line of mud-scows; the fort and dwellings on the opposite side of the Narrows; the lighthouse that will soon begin to cast its far-gleaming eye from Sandy Hook; the big wooden elephant of Coney Island; and the graceful sweep of the Brooklyn Bridge, that may be discovered from a little higher up; all alike fall into the economic term wealth — land modified by labor so as to afford satisfaction to human desires. All in this panorama that was before man came here, and would remain were he to go, belongs to the economic category land; while all that has been produced by labor belongs to the economic category wealth, so long as it retains its quality of ministering to human desire.
But on the hither shore, in view from the window, is a little rectangular piece of dry surface, evidently reclaimed from the line of water by filling in with rocks and earth. What is that? In ordinary speech it is land, as distinguished from water, and I should intelligibly indicate its origin by speaking of it as "made land." But in the categories of political economy there is no place for such a term as "made land." For the term land refers only and exclusively to productive powers derived wholly from nature and not at all from industry, and whatever is, and in so far as it is, derived from land by the exertion of labor, is wealth. This bit of dry surface raised above the level of the water by filling in stones and soil, is, in the economic category, not land but wealth. It has land below it and around it, and the material of which it is composed has been drawn from land; but in itself it is, in the proper speech of political economy, wealth; just as truly as the ships I behold are not land but wealth, though they too have land below them and around them and are composed of material drawn from land.
— The Science of Political Economy