THE SOCIAL CONDITIONS OF AN ECONOMIC SOCIETY It was said at the opening of the preceding chapter that the environment is partly physical and partly social. Having outlined the physi cal environment, we may next consider the social conditions of our economic life.
Family life, education, religion, government, property, law, rebellion, riot, race antagonisms, and the desire for association, are less tangible than the features of the physical environment, but they are not less real or less important. Social institutions, and the social nature of man from which they grow, are fundamental facts of economics.
Association with one's kind is the beginning of social evolution. There is no society of any sort until individuals are able to compare expe riences. There is no advance in economic ac tivity until, as a result of association, men are able to compare the results of different actions 45 with relation to the quantity and quality of the goods which those actions produce. Desire for association is itself one of the most powerful of the influences which determine man's actions. It furnishes the incentive to much of his indus trial activity. It modifies the form of that activity at every stage.
When we speak of the desire for association as one of the influences which determine man's action, we do not refer exclusively to such desire for association as appears in well-de veloped society and finds expression in various kinds of social institutions. We include also those instinctive tendencies for association which characterize primitive man and gregari ous animals in general.
Economic discussions, strictly speaking, take account only of those activities which result from conscious balancing of motives and re wards. But there are countless activities in which there is no such conscious act of judg ment, but only an immediate reaction to some impulse springing from the physical environ ment or from man's mental mechanism.
We are at present considering these prelimi nary conditions of the economic order. It is impossible to form any just idea of the facts of man's economic Life until we recognize clearly that this economic life is only a fragment of his complete existence. As a result of physical and spiritual forces, operating through many ages, man has become a creature with given instincts, desires, and capacities. Before we can understand what would happen under given economic conditions we must consider the nature of man as a whole, and form some estimate of the relative strength of the eco nomic motive as compared with the social and physical influences to which he has been sub jected. It is on this account that we preface
our statement of economic principles with some account of the physical and social environment in the midst of which man's economic activity takes place.
Association might be made prominent in a list of economic motives strictly so called, but its present importance for us is more fundamen tal; for it is one of the first and most necessary social conditions of any such economic life as now exists upon the earth.
The Institution of the Family may be placed second among these social conditions. It is not necessary to enter upon an elaborate investiga tion of the form of the primitive family. What concerns us is not the order of social evolution, but the social conditions of our present eco nomic life. Among these the family takes a very high rank. Examples of a society in which the family does not hold any such posi tion are abundant. Primitive peoples even now exist in which the tribe rather than the family is the unit in the consumption of acquired wealth. The reward of the chase and the booty of conquest are shared, if not equally, at least with reference chiefly to the relation which the individual bears to the tribe. Where the guild and apprenticeship system prevailed, ap prentices lived frequently with the master-work man. For many purposes the unit for the enjoyment and consumption of wealth then included a large number of persons. Now, however, in all countries of more advanced civilization the unit is the family. This fact is of the greatest significance in determining the character of the production of wealth. It stands in the way of any industrial organiza tion of society framed with the sole design of seeking the largest industrial product. Simi larly in the political organization of ancient Sparta, designed to secure the highest military efficiency, it was necessary virtually to abandon the family organization. The family, on the other hand, furnishes a new motive to exertion, and, if steadiness of production be taken into account, a far stronger motive to efficient pro duction than is supplied by the desire for mere personal welfare.