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The Standard of Living

utility, surplus, income, articles, consumption, economic and food

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THE STANDARD OF LIVING The standard of living is a collective term for the necessaries, comforts, and luxuries which are within reach at a given time, and which are so related to each other that none can be dropped without lessening the amount of pleas ure to be obtained from the others and so checking general prosperity. The standard of living directly determines, not only wages in the narrower sense, but all forms of personal income, except those which, like interest on inherited capital, are fixed almost solely by causes external to man's personal activity. The income of an individual producer is deter mined in some instances by the standard of the class of producers to which he belongs, rather than by his own personal standard. This is particularly true in the case of pro ducers who have no capacity for initiating new enterprises and for acting independently of 143 the cooperation of their fellows. Without entering further into questions of distribution, it may be admitted that other causes unite with the standard of living to cause high or low wages, though there is no other influence so powerful or direct in determining whether income shall be great or small ; and it may be admitted that the effects of the standard of living are more immediate and obvious in the case of the more intelligent and energetic producers, though a modification of the stand ard is essential to any permanent improvement in the economic condition of even the most helpless and degraded classes.

If to the standard of living is to be assigned so important a function as is implied in class ing it foremost among the influences which determine income, and thus determine what degree of prosperity is to be enjoyed, it be comes a clear duty to ascertain how the stand ard itself is determined. The standard is high if it includes a relatively great variety of com modities; if these commodities satisfy intense wants so that their utility is relatively great ; if the relations established among the commod ities have become so intricate, and the bonds connecting them to each other so numerous, that every commodity is held in the standard by the greatest possible number of separate associations. But what conditions are favor

able to this greater variety, higher utility, and more intimate association ? The answer is found in certain of the primary laws of con sumption already developed.

All those commodities will be included in the standard of living which have as great a surplus of utility over cost as the original food supply has at the same time. If we crave an object as the hungry man craves food, we are equally sure to get it. Commodities are chosen in the order of their surplus utility. Even in the earliest stages of social development several articles of food will be chosen because they are imperatively demanded by the system. The beginning will be made with those articles which can be produced at the lowest cost. Utility is uniform because the tastes are not sufficiently developed to permit any great pref erence for one commodity over another, while differences in cost are so marked that the relative amount of surplus utility is determined almost solely by these differences. In cold countries one or two articles of clothing will be urgently desired for similar reasons. The standard includes simply the few articles of food and clothing that have the highest surplus utility. The standard will be low, i.e., but few necessaries, scarcely any comforts, and no lux uries will be enjoyed, because in the economic order of consumption there are a few commodi ties which have a large surplus, all other com modities having little or no' surplus, because of their low utility, or more frequently because of their high cost. The first imperative condition, therefore, of an improvement in the standard of living is a modification of the economic order of consumption.

In the propositions concerning consumption,' the different methods in which the economic order of consumption is modified were indi cated. The method which would obviously come earliest into operation is the one first enumerated, a change in the relative cost of producing different commodities. Any change 1 Chapter VI.

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