The following is an excerpt from Voltaire’s essay “On Trade” from Letters Concerning the English Nation, a key work from the Enlightenment period. Known for his sharp wit, the observations of the satirical polemicist are just as provocative and relevant in the 21st century as they were in the 18th.
In France the Title of Marquis is given gratis to any one who will accept of it; and whosoever arrives at Paris from the midst of the most remote Provinces with Money in his Purse, and a Name terminating in ac or ille, may strut about, and cry, Such a Man as I! A Man of my Rank and Figure! And may look down upon a Trader with sovereign Contempt, whilst the Trader on the other Side, by thus often hearing his Profession treated so disdainfully, is Fool enough to blush at it. However, I cannot say which is most useful to a Nation; a Lord, powder’d in the tip of the Mode who knows exactly at what Clock a King rises and goes to bed; and who gives himself Airs of Grandeur and State, at the same Time that he is acting the Slave in the Anti-chamber of a prime Minister; or a Merchant, who enriches his Country, dispatches Orders from his Compting-House to Surat and Grand Cairo, and contributes to the felicity of the world.