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whether things give more pleasure or prevent more pain ; dinner saves us from the pain of hunger and gives us the pleasure of eating good things. There is utility so far as pleasure is increased and pain decreased; nor does it matter, as far as political economy is concerned, what is the nature of the pleasure.
Then, again, we need not be particular as to whether things directly produce pleasure, like the clothes we wear, or whether they indirectly do so, as in the cases of the machines employed to make the clothes. Things are indirectly useful when, like tools, machines, materials, &c., they are only wanted to make other things, which shall be actually consumed and enjoyed by some person.
The carriage in which a person takes a pleasant drive is directly useful; the baker's cart which brings him food is indirectly useful. But sometimes we can hardly distinguish. Shall we say that the meat put into the mouth is directly, but the fork which puts it in is indirectly, useful?
9. Commodity. We now know exactly what is wealth ; but instead of speaking continually of wealth, it will often be convenient to speak of commodities, or goods. A commodity is any portion of wealth-anything, therefore, which is useful, and transferable, and limited in supply. Wool, cotton, iron, tea, books, boots, pianos, &c., are all commodities in certain circumstances, but not in all circum:stances. Wool on a stray sheep lost in the mountains is not a commodity, nor iron in a mine which cannot be worked. A commodity, in short, is anything which is really useful and wanted, so that people will buy or sell it. But, instead of the long word commodity, I shall often use the shorter word goods, and the reader should remember that
goods = commodities = portion of wealth.
10. Our Wants are various. After a little reflection, we shall see that we generally want but little of any one kind of commodity, and prefer to have a portion of one kind and a portion of another kind. Nobody likes to make his dinner off potatoes only, or bread only, or even beef only; he prefers to have some beef, some bread, some potatoes, besides, perhaps, beer, pudding, &c. Similarly, a man would not care to have many suits of clothes all alike; he may wish to have several suits, no doubt, but then some should be warmer, others thinner; some for evening dress, others for travelling, and so on. A library all made of copies of the same book would be absurd; to keep several exact duplicates of any work would be generally useless. A collector of engravings would not care to have many identical copies of the same engraving. In all these, and many other cases, we learn that human wants tend towards variety; each separate want is soon satisfied, or made full (Latin, satis, enough, and facere, to make), and then some other want begins to be felt. This was called by Senior the law or variety, and it is the most important law in the whole of political economy.
It is easy to see, too, that there is a natural order in which our wants follow each other as regards importance; we must have food to eat, and if we cannot get anything else we are glad to get bread; next we want meat, vegetables, fruit, and other delicacies. Clothing is not on the whole as necessary as food; but, when a man has plenty to eat, he begins to think of dressing himself well. Next comes the question of a house to live in; a mere cabin is better than nothing, but the richer a man is the larger the house
he likes to have. When he has got a good house he wants to fill it with furniture, books, pictures, musical instruments, articles of vertu, and so forth. Thus we can lay down very roughly a law of succession of wants, somewhat in this order : air, food, clothing, lodging, literature, articles of adornment and amusement.
It is very important to observe that there is no end nor limit to the number of various things which a rich man will like to have, if he can get them. He who has got one good house begins to wish for another : he likes to have one house in town, another in the country. Some dukes and other very rich people have four, five, or more houses. From these observations we learn that there can never be, among civilised nations, so much wealth, that people would cease to wish for any more. However much we manage to produce, there are still many other things which we want to acquire. When people are well fed, they begin to want good clothing; when they are well clothed, they want good houses, and furniture, and objects of art. If, then, too much wealth were ever produced, it would be too much of one sort, not too much of all sorts. Farmers might be ruined if they grew so much corn that nobody could eat it all; then, instead of producing so much corn, they ought to produce more beef and milk. Thus there is no fear that, by machinery or other improvements, things will be made so plentifully that workmen would be thrown out of employment, and not wanted any more. If men were not required at one trade, they would only need to learn a new trade.
11. When things are useful. The chief question to consider, then, is when things are useful and when they are not. This entirely depends upon whether we want them or not. Most things about us, the air, rain water, stones, soil, &c., are not wealth, because we do not want them, or want so little that we can readily get what we need. Let us consider carefully whether we can say that water is useful, or in what sense we may say so.
It is common to hear people say that water is the most useful substance in the world, and so it is—in the right place, and at the right time. But if water is too plentiful and flows into your cellars, it is not useful there; if it soaks through the walls and produces rheumatism, it is hurtful, not useful. If a man wanting pure good water, digs a well and the water comes, it is useful. But if, in digging a coal pit, water rushes in and prevents the miners reaching the coal seam, it is clear that the water is the opposite of useful. In some countries rain comes very irregularly and uncertainly. In Australia the droughts last for one or two or even three years, and in the interior of the continent the rivers sometimes dry up altogether. The dirtiest pools then become very valuable for keeping the flocks of sheep alive. In New South Wales water has been sold for three shillings a bucketful. When a drought breaks up, sudden floods come down the rivers, destroying the dams and bridges, sweeping away houses, and often drowning men and animals. It is quite plain that we cannot say water is always useful ; it is often so hurtful as to ruin and drown people. All that we can really say is that water is useful when and where we want it, and in such quantity as we want, and not otherwise. We must not say that all water is useful, but only that such water is useful as we can actually use.
It is now easy to see why things, in order to be wealth, must be limited in supply; for we never want an unlimited quantity of anything. A man cannot drink more than two or three quarts of water in the day, nor eat more than a few pounds of food. Thus we can understand why in South America, where there are great herds of cattle, the best beef is not wealth, namely, because there is so much that there
are not people enough to eat it. The beef which is eaten there is just as useful in nourishing people as beef eaten in England, but it is not so valuable because there is plenty of beef to spare, that is, plenty of beef not wanted by the people.
12. What we must aim at. Now we can see precisely what it is that we have to learn in political economy. It is how to supply our various wants as fully as possible. To do this we must, first of all, ascertain what things are wanted. There is no use making things unless, when made, they are useful, and the quantities of things must be proportioned to what are wanted. The cabinetmaker must not make a great many tables, and few chairs; he must make some tables and more chairs. Similarly, every kind of commodity must be supplied when it is most wanted ; and nothing must be over-supplied, that is manufactured in such large quantities that it would have been better to spend the labour in manufacturing other things.
Secondly, we must always try to produce things with the least possible labour; for labour is painful exertion, and we wish to undergo as little pain and trouble as we can. Thus, as Professor Hearn, of the University of Melbourne, well described it, political economy
is the science of efforts to satisfy wants; it teaches us how to find the shortest way to what we wish for. The object which we aim at is to obtain the most riches at the cost of the least labour.
13. When to consume wealth. To consume a commodity is to destroy its utility, as when coal is burnt, or bread eaten, or a jug broken, or a piano worn out. Things lose their utility in various ways, as when they go bad, like meat and fish; when the fashion changes, as with ladies' attire; or when they merely grow old, as in the case of an almanack, or a directory. Again, houses fall into bad repair ; ricks of corn may be burnt down; ships may founder. In