Utopia & Utopian Literature By Sir Thomas More Summary and Analysis Book II: The Discourse on Utopia: The Economy

Summary

Utopians make sure that they will produce an abundance of goods and provisions for the needs of the whole nation, and any shortage in one region is supplied without charge by another that is well stocked. They further arrange to store sufficient surplus to supply the country for two years, as a precaution against a crop failure. Any stocks beyond those requirements are traded abroad. Because the Utopians are virtually self-sufficient, they need no imports except iron; consequently, most of what they ship to other countries is exchanged for gold and silver, to be used only in times of war, mainly for hiring mercenaries.

The precious metals thus acquired are the property of the state, but to avoid accumulating a great quantity of treasure, they put them to humble or degrading uses. They make their chamber pots of gold and the chains for their slaves of gold or silver, so that the natives will come to despise those metals. As for jewels, they are given to children for ornaments and playthings with the knowledge that the children, as they grow up, will put them aside as foolish baubles.

An amusing situation is described in which a group of foreign dignitaries, paying a state visit, appeared wearing silk robes and ornaments of gold and gems. Children and even adult Utopians were amused by the display which seemed to them to reveal a simple-mindedness that enjoys childish playthings.

Analysis

The Utopians have not only eliminated money from their economy, they have devised psychological methods to teach their people to despise those precious metals that are used for money in other countries.

In commenting on this passage, Hythloday notes some of the absurdities in attitudes found in countries where certain people are admired, almost revered, because they have a large store of gold, even though they may be poorly endowed with judgment or generosity.

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