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The Consumption of Goods

finally, supposed, limitations, time, inquire and welfare

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THE CONSUMPTION OF GOODS It is not until we reach that part of eco nomics which treats of the consumption, or use, of goods that we come into direct contact with the central fact of the science, viz., the relation between the economic environment and man's welfare. If we can imagine a complete cessa tion of all economic activity for an instant, with man left in possession of the goods already created, and if those goods are supposed to be in sufficient quantities to satisfy all possible human desires for a brief period, as for one day, there will then be removed one of the chief limitations upon consumption, at least for that day, viz., the labor involved in the making of the goods. Are there any other limitations that would remain ? Each consumer would find that the quantity of any given article which he could use would be limited, first, by the feeling of satiety that 73 would follow its uninterrupted consumption ; secondly, by the time at his disposal if he is to derive any benefit from other goods; thirdly, by the fadt that its consumption may be incompat ible in kind with other pleasures from different sources ; and, finally, in the case of some com modities, by the pain and inconvenience in volved in the act of consumption. If all these limitations could be successively removed, as that of cost is removed in the supposed case, we should finally have a consumer who would not need to consider the quantity of goods at his disposal, for there would always be suffi cient to supply his wants ; nor the relative pleasure to be derived from different sources, for there would be time for all ; nor the har mony to be established by judicious choice and grouping of goods, for no one would be dis cordant or incompatible with the others ; nor the effect upon welfare, for the consumption would not be accompanied by inconvenience or evil consequences ; nor, finally, the cost of goods, for they are supposed to be supplied without exertion. Such a consumer would not only have at his command infinite resources, but would be freed from all present limitations upon their utilization in the satisfaction of wants.

The case supposed indicates the manifold character of the relation between man and goods. It may be said vaguely that all human beings desire all good things, and that if no cost were attached to them every one would enjoy them in unlimited degree. But besides the limitation of cost, and the others which have been enumerated and which spring from the very nature of consumption, the statement as made requires further limitation. It pre supposes complete knowledge of the infinite variety of satisfactions which the environment is capable of yielding, and of the steps necessary to secure them. It assumes knowledge of the best combinations to be made among want satisfying commodities, knowledge of the order in which they should be consumed to derive the maximum of pleasure, and the possession of a nature capable of enjoying the higher pleasures without sacrifice of the lower.

From these considerations it appears that we must undertake an independent survey of consumption and learn something of its prin ciples. It will not answer to take it for granted that good things are desired, and to confine our inquiries to the processes by which they are brought into being. We must inquire what things are desired, in what order, in what rela tive degree, and with what effect upon human welfare. We must inquire how people come to attach more importance to some goods than to others, and more to certain quantities of any given article than to additional quantities ; why the order in which goods are estimated is different at one time from the order which prevails earlier or later; and why this order is sometimes subject to violent fluctuations. Finally we must inquire, whether social prog ress is attained primarily by a modification in the character and order of man's wants, or by a modification in the character and intensity of his activities, or by an admixture of the two.

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