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Wealth And Its Origin








The creation and the use of wealth are everywhere governed by natural
laws, and these, as discovered and stated, constitute the science of
Economics. Some of them come into operation only when men live in more
or less civilized societies and work in an organized way, while others
are operative wherever men work at all. Every man who lives must have
something that can be called wealth, and, unless it is given to him,
he must do something in order to get it. A solitary hunter, living in
a cave, eating the flesh of animals and clothing himself in their
skins, would create wealth and use it; but he would not take part in a
social kind of industry. What he does could not be described as a bit
of "social," "national," or "political" economy. Yet the gaining of
his living would be an economic operation and would involve a creating
and using of wealth. A statement of the laws governing the processes
by which such a man makes the earth yield to him means of support and
comfort would constitute a Science of the Economy of Isolated Life,
which is a part of the general Science of Economics.

Primitive Capital

If an isolated man hunts with good implements,
he gets more game than he would have done if he had not used some of
his time in making such implements. It pays such a man to interrupt
his hunting long enough to make a spear or a bow and arrows. This
amounts to saying that it is an advantage to him to become, in a
simple way, a capitalist as well as a laborer; for the primitive
implements of the chase are forms of productive wealth, or capital.
Moreover, if he possesses foresight, he will keep enough food within
reach to tide him over periods when game is not to be had, and such a
store is another form of capital.

The Field of General Economics

The economy of a man who works only
for himself is subject to laws that are based on his own nature and
the character of his material environment. Because he is what he is
and because nature is what it is there is a certain way in which he
must proceed, if he will live at all, and there are certain conditions
which must exist, if he is to live well. The inherent productive power
of labor and of capital is of vital concern to him, since he is both a
laborer and a capitalist; but he is in no way interested in what we
commonly call the relations of labor and capital, since that
expression always suggests the dealings of one class of men, who
labor, with another class, who own or control productive wealth. The
study of such relations takes us at once into the domain of Social
Economy; but we can study certain universal laws of wealth without at
all entering that domain. When we speak of the power that resides in a
bow and arrow, we refer to a truth of General Economics and one
which illustrates the inherent power of capital, though we may be far
from thinking of lenders and borrowers in a modern "money market" or
of dealings of any one class of men with any other.

The Field of Social Economics

The moment that we begin to examine
economic relations that different classes of men sustain to each
other, we enter the realm of Social Economics; and we do this
whenever we study modern business dealings. Even our hunter would take
part in a social economy if he began to sell some of his game; and
from that time on his income would depend, not wholly on his relation
to material nature, but partly on his relation to other men. A good
market for his game would come to be of the greatest importance to
him; and a market for anything implies a social method of securing
wealth.

Fundamental Facts Common to Primitive Life and Social Life

The
relations which men sustain to each other in civilized industry are
thrown into the foreground in the science of Social or "Political"
Economy.[1] It is an organized system of industry in which we are
engaged, and it is that which we care most to understand. Until
recently we have had a far less satisfactory understanding of the
social element in industry--that is, of the relations that men who are
producing wealth sustain to each other--than we have had of such
general facts as a primitive producer needs to know. We have had, for
example, much information concerning the materials which the earth
contains and the way to make them useful. We have had a practical
knowledge of what wealth is and of the mode of creating it, and we
have been able to identify it as we have seen it either in the raw or
the finished state. We have known what labor is, how it proceeds and
what helps it needs to enable it to make clothing, to prepare food,
etc. We have not known as much about the way in which the modern
market for such products is regulated, and how a modern tailor or
baker shares gains with the man who employs him and provides him with
materials and tools, and the main purpose of studying Economics is to
get an understanding of such social facts; but this cannot be done
without first bringing before the mind the more general facts
concerning the inherent nature of wealth itself and of the activities
that are always necessary--in uncivilized life as well as in
civilized--for creating and using it.

[1] Past usage renders the somewhat misleading term
Political Economy more available than the more accurately
descriptive term Social Economics, as the title of the
science which treats of the creation and use of wealth by an
organized society. Either title implies the existence of such
an organization, but the word political calls attention to
the fact that it is under a government. The fact that, in a
study of wealth, is most important is that the exchanges of
products which spontaneously take place create an industrial
society whose activities, going on as they do under a
government, constitute the subject of the studies which are
properly indicated by the traditional term, Political
Economy. Government as such is not the subject of those
studies.

General Facts First in the Natural Order of Study

The primitive
and general facts concerning industry, which, in a broad sense, is the
creating of wealth, need to be known before the social facts can
profitably be studied; and a statement of the principles of Political
Economy should therefore begin by presenting a body of truth which is
independent of politics and sociology and so general that it is
illustrated even in that simplest of all conditions, in which no
market exists and every man makes by his own labor all the goods that
he uses. The wealth of a Crusoe, that of a solitary Esquimau, and that
of a pygmy in equatorial Africa have laws as well as that of a
European or American employer or bondholder. The qualities in matter
which make a share of it important for promoting the welfare of its
possessor can be detected in the simplest commodities that are
anywhere used. All kinds of industrial products have a common origin.
Labor and capital act together in making a birch canoe as truly as
they do in producing a transatlantic liner; and the productive power
of each of these two agents is everywhere governed by certain general
laws. Before ascertaining what is true of wealth when capital has
become complex and when laborers have become specialists, each
producing one particular part of one product and securing many
finished goods in exchange for it, it is well to state some facts
relating to wealth which are so general that they appear in all stages
of civilization.

The Nature of Wealth

The old English word weal describes a
condition of life. It is the state of being "well off," or of having
one's wants amply supplied. Well-being in a broad sense of the term
may depend largely on a man's state of health, his temperament, his
conscience, or his relation to his friends; but the weal that is so
secured is not described as a state of wealth. That depends on the
possession of useful and material things, and the rich man has more of
them than other men. The term wealth, which originally signified the
state of being rich, afterwards came to be applied to the things which
make a man rich, and it is thus that the term is used in the science
of Economics.

What Things constitute Wealth

It is clear that useful things, like
air, which are at hand in unlimited quantity, do not make any one
rich in this comparative sense, for they benefit all alike; and, in so
far as they are concerned, all men are on the same level of welfare.
Moreover, since they are so abundant as to shower benefits everywhere
in profusion, the quantity of them that a man has at his disposal may
be lost or thrown away with entire impunity. He would only have to
help himself again from the abounding supply which nature thrusts on
him in order to be as well off as he was before. A bucketful of water
on the shore of Lake Superior is of no importance to the man who has
it. If it were spilled on the sand, the man would have only to dip up
another bucketful, with an expenditure of effort that would be too
small to take account of. If, however, fresh water were scarce, every
bucketful would have its importance, and the loss of that quantity
would make a distinct impression on the man's well-being. Whenever
each particular part of the supply has this power to make a possessor
better off than he would be without it, the substance is a form of
wealth. The quality of being specifically important is, therefore,
the essential attribute of all the concrete forms of wealth. Sand by
the seashore does not have any specific importance, since it is so
abundant that the gain or loss of a wheelbarrow load would not make a
man better off or worse off; but a pile of sand by the side of an
unfinished building has this quality. There every barrow load is of
consequence, for the available quantity is so small that diminutions
reduce and additions increase the wealth of the possessor. Sand on the
shore has the inherent power to help make mortar, and water in Lake
Superior has the power to quench thirst, but neither of them has the
attribute which would make it a form of wealth, namely, specific
importance. Particular parts of the supply may be lost with impunity.

Varieties of Utility

We have used the term importance, rather
than usefulness or utility, to describe the quality which, if it
exists in every particular bit of a substance, makes it all a form of
wealth. With due care we may use the term utility. In a way even a
cup of water dipped by a fisherman from the lake is useful, for it
renders a service. Though the man might lose it and be no poorer, he
cannot say that the thing has no utility of any kind. He can say that
it has no importance. What it has we may call absolute utility, or
the power to do for a man something which he wishes to have done. When
the fisherman is thirsty the water will do him good. It has an
absolute service-rendering power; and yet this cupful makes the owner
no better off than he would be without it, since the service which it
is capable of rendering would be rendered whether the man had it or
not. Absolute utility in an article is the power to render any service
whatever, regardless of the question whether it would be rendered
equally well if the article were absent. If conditions were such that
the man would have to go thirsty in case he spilled his cupful of
water, then this little supply would have what we may term effective
utility, and this means that the presence of the particular bit is a
positive element in conducing to the man's welfare. Usable things have
absolute utility even when they are superabundant, but they have
effective utility only when the quantity of them is so limited that
every particular bit of it is of some importance. Absolute utility
and limitation of supply insure to them this quality; and this
principle holds true in the economy of the most primitive state as
well as in that of a civilized one.

The Origin of Wealth

Some of the things that have this kind[2] of
utility have been given to man by nature. She has furnished some
materials that are useful and has not furnished them in quantities
sufficient to prevent them from being specifically important. On
account of the comparatively niggardly way in which she has doled them
out to man, every bit of the supply has a power to benefit him; and if
he gains some portions, he goes upward in the scale of well-being, and
if he loses some, he goes downward. Wild fruits and fruit trees come
in this category; and a savage who should build his hut in a small
grove of banana trees, if he could keep other people out of it, would
be, by so much, better off than they. The grove and its fruits would
constitute their owner's wealth.

[2] The term final utility is used with much the same
significance as specific importance. It is the utility of the
last and least important part of the supply, and the use of
the term requires us to think of the supply as offered to
users unit by unit till the whole amount is in their hands.
The first unit, when it stands alone, is more important than
any later one will be. The second is of less consequence, and
the last is the least important of all. When, however, all
have been supplied and are together available for use, one is
as important as another. Each one has an effective utility
which is measured by the service rendered by the last one.
The term specific indicates that we measure the importance
of the supply of an article not in its entirety, but bit by
bit, while the term effective is the antithesis of
absolute and means that each bit of the supply not only
renders an absolute service, but renders one which would not
be gratuitously rendered by some other part of the supply in
case this portion were removed or destroyed. We do not here
think of the supply as built up from nothing to its present
size bit by bit, but look at it as it stands and measure the
importance of any particular quantity. When we speak of final
utility, we think of a series of "increments" supplied one
after another, and in this case the successive increments
become less and less important, since, after some have been
supplied, the want of the kind of good that they represent is
less keenly felt. The conception of the series of units is
merely a means of isolating one unit from a total number and
obtaining a mental measurement of its importance which
corresponds with the effective importance of any unit in the
entire quantity.

Land an Original Form of Wealth

Land is the original gift of
nature to humanity, and wherever there are people enough to make the
possession of a particular piece of it important, it becomes a form of
wealth. It can be valueless only when population is very sparse; and
then an increase in the number of people dwelling on it gives to it
early the attribute of specific importance. The land that is
accessible to a growing population cannot long be superabundant.

Forms of Wealth produced by Labor

Few useful goods are presented
to man by nature in a finished state, and it is therefore necessary
for man to exert himself in order to get the goods that he needs in
the condition in which he can use them. He must make raw substances
more useful than they naturally are, and as he does this the things
become partly products of his labor. Of course the supply of them is
limited, since labor is so.

Labor a Wealth Creator

Labor is a wealth-creating effort, and
there is no labor that is successful in attaining its purpose that
does not help to bring into a serviceable condition something that can
be identified as an economic good or a form of wealth. Some effort,
indeed, fails in what it attempts to do and therefore produces
nothing. We may build a machine that will not work, or make a product
that no one wants; but labor that attains a rational purpose is always
economically productive.

Protective Labor and the Attribute it imparts to Useful
Matter

Labor may be classed according to the particular result that
it accomplishes. In saying that the banana grove in our illustration
is wealth to the savage who resides in it, we had to insert the
proviso that he is able to keep other persons out of it. Exclusive
possession or ownership is necessary in order that things may continue
to be effectively useful to any particular person or persons. If they
are superabundant, as we have seen, no part of the supply is
important; but it is also true that if they are scarce and a man is
not able to keep any of them, they will not serve him. In order that
an economic good may be effective, it must be appropriable, and where
claimants are numerous and lawless it may take much of the owner's
time and effort to keep the article in his possession. The savage must
personally protect his goods, and to some extent the civilized man
must do so; for however well policed a city may be, it will not
do to leave purses or portable goods by the wayside. Protective
labor is necessary in all stages of social advancement. In civilized
life, indeed, we delegate much of it to a special class of
persons,--policemen, judges, lawyers, and legislators,--and this is
the most fundamental division of labor that civilization entails; but
the work has to be done in any stage of social evolution. Crusoe's
goods would have been worth nothing to him if he could not have kept
them from the savages who, in time, appeared on his island; and they
would have been worth little if he had been forced to spend most of
his time in guarding them.

Appropriability is, therefore, a further essential attribute of the
things which can make particular men richer by reason of their
presence. When such things are actually brought into ownership, their
utilities become available, as they would not otherwise be. Effort
expended in protecting property is wealth-creating, since it causes
those service-rendering powers which otherwise would be only potential
in goods to become active. In other words, it gives to things which
are otherwise in a condition to be effectively useful a further
quality which they require in order that they may actually promote an
owner's well-being.

Industrial Labor

Industrial labor is the antithesis of protective
labor, and it invariably changes the qualities of material objects in
such a way as to make them useful; that is to say, it directly creates
utilities.[3] These utilities are of different kinds, and the labor
may be classified according to the kind it creates.

[3] The term create is here used in a somewhat loose
sense and does not imply that the man originates matter or
even that he always transforms it without calling in, as an
aid, the forces of nature. The farmer must depend on vital
forces in soil and air in order to raise a crop. What he and
other laborers do is to cause the product in some way to come
into existence, and he and they may in this sense be said to
create the products which would not appear without them.

Elementary Utility

An elementary utility is created when a
substance is either dug out of the ground, as is done in mining, or
when it is secured through the vital forces of the earth, as is done
in agriculture. Hunting, fishing, and stock raising should be classed
with agriculture, since they use the resources of animate nature to
secure for mankind new raw products on which labor will confer further
useful qualities. This utility has to be created by men in every stage
of industrial development, from that of a tropical savage to that of
men in the most advanced civilization.[4]

[4] The distinction between elementary utility and others
does not need to be applied with the utmost strictness, for
mining creates form utility by breaking up masses of ore, and
place utility by making them accessible. Agriculture shapes
its products and moves them to places of storage. It is
convenient in practice to adhere to the more general
classification suggested in the text.

Form Utility

A form utility is created when a raw material is
fashioned into a new shape, subdivided, or combined with other
materials, as is done in manufacturing and, in a certain way, in
commerce. Buying goods in bulk and selling them in small quantities is
the creating of form utilities and makes an addition to total wealth.
Oil in small cans is worth far more for consumption than it would be
if each consumer were forced to buy a tankful. Sugar is worth more to
a consumer when it is doled out to him in paper sacks than it would be
if it were to be had only in hogsheads. Merchants are not mere
exchangers, for they make positive additions to the utility of goods.
In primitive life no such class exists; and yet form utilities of
every kind are created, since men make for themselves the goods that
they use and adapt them in shape and in quantity to their current
needs.

Place Utility

Carrying things to places where they become more
useful creates place utilities. In primitive life men do their own
carrying; but in civilized states the common carrier does most of it,
and so imparts place utility to matter on the most extensive scale.
All useful transportation creates this quality, which is a general
attribute of wealth; and the operation of so moving matter as to
create place utility is one of the general functions of labor.[5]

[5] In a way all kinds of production may be analyzed into the
moving of matter. In cutting up raw materials a manufacturer
moves waste portions away from those that are to be utilized,
while combining materials, of course, moves them toward each
other. Neither of these operations creates place utility.
This quality consists in a relation, not between some
materials and others, but between goods and the persons who
are to use them. Bringing things to us from a distance
changes their local relation to us, and in this is the
essence of place utility, and every article that we use must
have acquired this quality. The service-rendering power which
it possesses is only potential until it reaches a place where
the power can be exercised.

Time Utility

There is, moreover, a kind of utility which depends
on the existence of a good at the time when it is needed. Ice in the
warm season, a plow in the spring or the fall, a pleasure boat in
summer, and anything which, by the aid of capital, is presented to a
user when he needs it, illustrate this quality. We may call it time
utility, and creating it is a function of capital. We shall see how
capital assists in the production of the other utilities; but the
creation of time utility it accomplishes without assistance.

Executive and Directive Labor

Labor involves the whole man,
physical, mental, and moral. No labor is so simple that it is not
better done when intelligence is used in the performance of it. The
savage's hut, his canoe, his bows and arrows, etc., vary in their
efficiency and value, not merely according to the time and muscular
effort spent in making them, but also according to the efficiency of
the thought by which those efforts are guided. There is here the germ
of the difference between the executive labor of the modern employee
and the directive labor of the manager. Yet no manager directs in more
than a general way the muscular movements of his subordinates, and
their own intelligence must still be trusted to do much of the
directing. The mental labor that guides and controls the physical is
universal in industry, but becomes more and more a distinct and
dominant factor as civilization increases.

Fidelity as affecting the Productivity of Labor

The fact that all
workmen are largely their own directors brings fidelity into the
foreground as an element in determining men's earning power; but this
element counts for much more in the civilized state than it does in
the primitive one, for here fidelity in directive laborers of the
highest type is most important and difficult to secure. One of the
greatest problems of modern business is how to make directors and
executive officers of corporations faithful to the stockholders who
employ them. In the primitive state these problems do not arise. When
a man is working for himself, mere interest largely takes the place of
fidelity. If to-day any one secures a good house of his own to live
in, it is because he employs contractors, overseers, and artisans all
of whom are, in the main, faithful to his interests and see that the
work of building is properly done. A savage looks after his own
interests as his personal work proceeds; and yet even in his case
there is the germ of that enthronement of character in the supreme
place which is the prominent feature of highly organized industry. In
building a hut to shelter his family, a savage puts into his work
conscience and affection as well as muscular effort; and when the
mother of the family does this work, the altruistic element in it is
still more conspicuous. As society becomes highly organized the
importance of the moral element in all labor increases till the
further progress, or even the existence, of the social order may be
said to depend on it. In the world of business there is now distrust
and turmoil, and revolutions are feared, because of the unfaithfulness
of a class of men to trusts committed to them.[6]

[6] On the ground of convenience, we may classify labor as
physical or mental, according as the work of muscle or of
brain is especially prominent. Digging a ditch requires more
than an average amount of strength and not even an average
amount of intelligence, and it is, therefore, physical labor
rather than mental; while writing a brief or arguing a case
in court requires much power of thought and only a small
amount of muscular strength, and is typically mental labor.
Managing an estate for an absent owner is more largely a
moral function, since the value of the service depends
chiefly on the fidelity of the man who renders it; but
physical and intellectual labor are also involved. These
three types of personal effort are exerted wherever wealth is
created.

The Requisites of Production

If we start with nothing but the
earth in its natural state, inhabited by empty-handed men, and seek to
know what is necessary in order that some wealth may be created, we
find that nothing is absolutely necessary except labor. By working for
a few minutes it is possible to get something that will minister
directly to wants. Yet if men begin operations in a state of such
poverty that they have only their bare hands to apply to the elements
about them, they do not commonly get the usable goods immediately. If
a savage wants fish and makes the rudest net with which to catch them,
he makes what is a capital good. This is wanted only for the sake of
the consumers' wealth which it will help to produce. The end in view
has all the while been fish; but the man works first on an instrument
for catching them. He makes the net by mere labor, but he catches the
fish by means of labor and the net. Without such instruments to aid in
production a dense population could not live at all, and a very sparse
one could live only in a meager and precarious way. If the instruments
are artificially made, or if they are furnished by nature in limited
amounts, they are forms of wealth, or goods; but as their function is
not to minister directly to consumers' wants, but to help in making
things which do this, we distinguish them by the name "producers'
goods" or "capital goods." In contrast with them those commodities
which directly minister to wants may be called "consumers' goods."

The Production of Intermediate Goods

All economic goods are means
to an end. Wealth is always mediate. It is usually a connecting link
between man's labor and the satisfaction of his wants. Man, the
worker, first spends himself on nature, and then nature in turn spends
itself on him. In production nature is the recipient, but in
consumption the recipient is man. This is saying that man serves
himself by means of some element in nature which, under his
manipulation, becomes a form of wealth. He thrusts a bit of natural
matter between himself as a producer and himself as a consumer. All
kinds of wealth, then, stand in an intermediate position between
original labor and the gratification that ultimately results from it.
Some goods, however, are means in the special sense of standing
between labor and other goods. Instruments help to make consumers'
goods and these add to man's pleasure. Using a tool is not generally
agreeable. The tool stands not only between the effort and the
gratification that will ultimately follow, but between the effort and
the further material good that will directly produce gratification.
The hatchet intervenes between the labor that makes it and the
firewood it will cut, while the wood acts directly on the man and
keeps him warm. Capital goods are in this special sense mediate. They
are not wanted for their own sake, but for the sake of something else
that is directly useful.[7]

[7] For an elaboration of the conception of mediate goods the
reader is referred to Von Boehm-Bawerk's work on "Positive
Theory of Capital" and to John Rae's work on "The
Sociological Theory of Capital."

All Labor immediately Productive of Wealth

When a savage abandons
the plan of fishing from the shore and gives his labor for a fortnight
to making a canoe with which to fish more effectively, he interposes
an interval of time between his labor and its ultimate fruits, the
consumers' goods. There is no such interval between the labor and the
kind of wealth that it first creates, namely, the canoe. This
immediate product of labor is itself a form of wealth and at once
rewards the laborer, since it is what he needs, though he does not
need it for consumption. Industry always pays as it goes and tolerates
no hiatus between labor and wealth in some form.

Organized Industry immediately Productive of Consumers' Goods

If
one man were keeping the stock of canoes of a few fishermen in repair
and taking as his pay a share of each day's catch, he would not have
to wait for his food any longer than the fishermen themselves. This
mode of conducting the industry, however, involves organization. If
each fisherman had to make his first canoe, it would be necessary for
him to wait for fish; but as soon as a stock of canoes has been
obtained and a special set of men assigned to the work of keeping this
stock intact in number and quality, that necessity entirely ceases.
Five men may do nothing but fish while a sixth keeps their stock of
canoes intact by repairing old ones left on the shore and making new
ones to replace such as are beyond repairing. Fishing and boat
building may go on simultaneously, and all the men may go share and
share in each day's catch.[8] This is a type of what goes on in modern
industry, where a complex stock of capital goods always exists and is
kept intact by the action of a class of persons who share the returns
that come from using the stock. None of these persons has to wait for
food, although some of them devote themselves exclusively to the
production of tools. This fact shows that the necessity for waiting,
as well as working, wherever instruments are in the process of
manufacture, is not among the universal phenomena of economics, and
that it is not present in that organized industry which we chiefly
study. Such a permanent stock of capital goods as the fishing
community of our illustration possesses would enable it to get its
food, the fish, day by day, by working in different ways and using the
permanent stock. If we call this permanent supply of canoes, etc.,
capital, it is, in a causal way, mediate wealth, though it is not
so in point of time. Some labor is spent each day on it, and itself
creates each day some consumers' wealth. These two operations go on
simultaneously, and the men who work to maintain the stock and those
who use it get their returns together. In very primitive life the work
spent on capital goods and that spent on consumers' goods are not
always synchronous, but organization and the acquiring of a permanent
fund of capital make them so. Work to-day and you eat to-day food that
is a consequence of the working. In point of time the canoe makers are
fed as promptly as the fishermen, and this fact is duplicated in every
part of the industrial system. We shall later see more fully what this
signifies, but it is clear that any study of this phenomenon--the
synchronizing of labor and its reward--takes us out of the field of
Universal Economics, since it does not appear in the industry of
primitive beginnings, but is the fruit of organization.[9]

[8] One man might be employed in guarding canoes and fish
against theft, which is doing protective rather than
industrial labor; and economic forces would tend to give him
a share as large as each of the others receives, provided, of
course, that the men are of equal capacity as workers.

[9] The conception of capital goods as always putting
enjoyments into the future has crept into economic science
because in certain illustrations taken from primitive life
they seem to have that effect. We shall see that they do not
have it at all in static social industry, and that they
have it only in a limited way in dynamic social industry,
or that which is carried on by a society undergoing organic
change.





Next: Varieties Of Economic Goods




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