In "The Veins of Wealth," an essay appearing in Unto this Last, a collection of essays on political economy in England, John Ruskin likens the machinations of riches in a nation to blood circulating in the body. With this analogy, he is trying to show how it is in everyone's best interest to work cooperatively, instead of selfishly, so that the "body" stays healthy.

Thus the circulation of wealth in a nation resembles that of blood in the natural body. There is one quickness of the current which comes of cheerful emotion or wholesome exercise; and another which comes of shame or fever. There is a flush of the body which is full of warmth and life; and another which will pass into putrefaction.

The analogy will hold down even to minute particulars. For as diseased local determination of the blood involves depression of the general health of the system, all morbid local action of riches will be found ultimately to involve a weakening of the resources of the body politic.

He then goes on to give examples of highly simplified situations in which selfishness on the part of one citizen leads to a lower standard of living for all.


1. By stating "The analogy will hold down even to minute particulars," Ruskin calls the reader's attention to his metaphor. What is the effect of this?

2. In my opinion, it shows that he is very confident. But does his metaphor stand up? Can you think of ways in which the metaphor doesn't work?

3. Does his statement that "The analogy will hold down even to minute particulars" convince you that this is, in fact, the case, or does it invite you to challenge his ideas?

4. Do his examples involving sailors on a desert island help in explaining his principles, or do they seem ludicrously over-simplified?

Last modified 1 October 2003

6 May 2019