Front Page Titles (by Subject) Chapter V.: THE PHILOSOPHY OF BARGAINING. - Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4
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Chapter V.: THE PHILOSOPHY OF BARGAINING. - Harriet Martineau, Illustrations of Political Economy, vol. 4 
Illustrations of Political Economy (3rd ed) in 9 vols. (London: Charles Fox, 1834). Vol. 4.
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THE PHILOSOPHY OF BARGAINING.
The people carried away all the prisoners on their shoulders, intending to make them tell their stories in the coffee-houses of Paris; but Steele could not bear to see his countryman,—such a mere wreek of humanity as he was,—thus exhibited. He thankfully accepted his friend Charles's invitation to bring him first to his house, and try whether the intellects of the sufferer could be restored by any method of treatment—treatment which was more likely to be efficacious if administered by one who could speak his own language than by strangers. Fired as Steele had been in the achievement of the great work of the day, he now left the completion of it to others. While the mayor and executive were sending forth their popular decrees,—while the king was informed for the first time that his realm was in a state of revolution,—while the helpless ministry looked in one another's dismayed faces,—while the city architects were employed under a regular commission to make a perfect blank where the Bastille had stood, Steele was watching over his released countryman, fondly hoping that he traced an hourly growing resemblance to manhood, not only in external appearance, but in thought and action. He tried to make him vary his posture, and to walk;—an exercise to which he was as much averse as one who has taken laudanum. The next thing was to induce him to speak, which proved less difficult, provided he was permitted to mix up French and English after his own fashion. There was sometimes more and sometimes less sense in what he said, and it was occasionally interrupted by fits of impotent passion, for which no immediate cause could be assigned. These, however, came on only after his new way of life had continued for some time, and were indeed stages in the growth of the unmanageable madness which sent him, after all remedial means had been tried, to end his days in the lunatic asylum at Charenton.
Before these had become terrifying to Charles's children, they did not shrink from talking to him, and were encouraged to do so, as he spoke more, and more sensibly to them than to any one else.
“Why are you so very fond of water, I wonder?” exclaimed Julien, one day, laughing, when White held out his hand to snatch some which looked cool and clear in the boy's hand. “0 yes, you may have it. I can get plenty more. Why do you want so much water?”
“I drink water. And my rat—Where is my rat?”
None of the family could make out why he looked about him for a rat: but Steele's conjecture was that such an animal might have found its way out of the moat of the prison into the cell where no other living thing could enter but the silent turnkey. On inquiry, this was found to be the case; and the circumstances were touching in the extreme to those who had never known what it was to want such a resource. It was observed that White was as greedy of bread as of water, though not always for the purpose of eating it. Nothing could tempt him from it when there was any in the room; and whatever was offered in exchange for a crust, however delicate to the taste, or glittering to the eye, was rejected. “Bread, bread. Water, water,” was for ever his cry.
“He likes to play on my bird-organ,” observed Julien, “and I told him he might keep it: but he thrust it back upon me for a piece of bread. He sold it much cheaper, papa,—for far less bread,—than the people that made it. I think that is very silly.”
“It depends upon the value he puts upon what he has in exchange,” answered papa.
“Well, you told me how much bread was worth this organ; and it was much more than I gave him.”
“Yes; but you might happen to be shut up, as he has been, where one loaf of bread would be more useful to you than ten such at home.”
“Why more useful? I can but eat bread anywhere.”
“Yes; you can give it away,” interposed mamma. “If you were shut up for several years in a silent and nearly dark place, where nobody ever came to you, and were to hear a noise one day, and to see something moving, and to find out that it was a rat which had made its way to your cell; and if you wished that the rat should come again, and learn to know you, and feed tamely out of your hand, would you not desire to have some food to give it?”
“O yes: I would give it part of my dinner.”
“But if you had very little dinner, scarcely enough to satisfy your own hunger, you would buy more bread for your rat if you could. If your jailer asked you much more than the bread would be worth out of prison, you would give it him rather than your rat should not come and play with you. You would pay him first all your copper, and then all your silver, and then all your gold.”
“Yes, because I could not play with money so pleasantly as with a live animal, and there would be nothing else that I could buy in such a place. I had rather have the company of my rat than a pocket full of gold.”
“So White thought,” observed Marguerite, “and he gave the turnkey every thing he had left for bread, till his buttons, and his pencil case, and even his watch were all gone. It was a long time before he could bring himself to part with his watch; for the moving of the wheels was something to look at, and the ticking kept his ears awake, and made him feel less desolate: but when it came to giving up his watch or his rat, he thought he could least spare his live companion: so he carefully observed for some time the shifting of the glimmering light upon the wall, as the the morning passed into noon, and noon into afternoon and evening, and then he thought this sort of dial might serve him instead of a watch, and he gave it to the turnkey on condition of having an ounce more bread every day for a year.”
“He must have been pleased to have made his bargain for a whole year.”
“His pleasure lasted a very short while. The turnkey came earlier than usual one day when the rat was there, and twisted its neck before White could stop him.”
Juhen stamped with grief and anger when he heard this; but presently supposed the turnkey was honest enough to restore the watch. Charles shook his head in answer, and told his little son that poor White had been quite crazy since that day, and had talked about nothing but a rat, and shown no desire for any thing but bread and water since, though it was six years ago that his misfortune had happened.
“Did you ever hear of paying for water, Julien; or for air?”
No: Julien thought that God had given both so freely that it would be a sin to sell them. His father thought this not a good reason; for it seemed to him fair that men should buy and sell whenever one wanted something that another person had too much of; as much air and water as corn and flax, which were also given by God.
“Ah, but, papa, it costs men a great deal of trouble to prepare corn and flax.”
“True; and now you have hit upon the right reason. If corn and flax grew of themselves on land which belonged to nobody, would you pay for them, or just gather them without paying?”
“I should be very silly to pay when I might have them without.”
“So I think: but would corn and flax be less valuable then than now, when we have to pay very dear for them?”
“The corn would be just as good to eat, and the flax to make linen of: but they would not to change away.”
“No more than the air, which is very useful in breathing, or water which we could not do without, and which yet would be a very poor thing to carry to market. Now, would you call water a valuable thing or not, Julien?”
“No, not at all, because it will buy nothing ——O yes, but it is though; because we could not do without it.—Mamma, is water valuable or not?”
“Very valuable in use, but not usually in exchange. When things are valuable in exchange, it is either because they cost labour before they could be used, or because they are very scarce.”
“So,” observed Charles, “if a mine should ever be dug so deep that the air is not fresh at the bottom where the miners work, the owner of the mine would be very glad to buy air of any one who could convey it down by a machine. Such an one would be wise to charge so much a gallon for the fresh air he supplied, to pay for the labour and expense of his machine, and for the trouble of working it.”
Marguerite then mentioned that she once staid in a small country town during a drought. There was no reservoir of water, and all the pumps and cisterns were dry. The poor people went out by night into the neighbouring country, and watched the springs; and any one who was fortunate enough to obtain a gallon of fresh water was well paid for it. The price rose every day, till at last one woman gave a calf for a pailfull of water, hoping to save her cow, it being certain that both must die without this supply.
“And did she save her cow?”
“Yes. While the woman was anxiously sitting up in bed, planning what she should change away next, she fancied there was a different feel in the air; and on looking out of the window, she found the sky covered with black clouds; and before morning, the trade in water was over. There was nobody to give a doit for a cistern-full.”
“It was just so with me,” observed Charles, “when I was besieged in the cellar. I was parched with thirst, and would have given a pipe of my best wine to any one who would have let me down a quart of water through the trapdoor. Three hours after, I myself threw hundreds of gallons on the fire at the guard houses, when the order was given to take them down in an orderly way; and I did not consider such use of the water any waste. So much for the value which is given by scarcity.”
“But, papa, though things are more valuable to people when there is a scarcity of them, the people are less rich than they were before. That seems to me very odd.”
“Because you have been accustomed to consider value and wealth as the same things, which they are not. Our wealth consists in whatever is valuable in use as well as in exchange. Owing to the storm of last year, I have less wealth in my possession now than I had then, though what I have may, perhaps, exchange for more wealth still I have as much furniture, and as many clothes and luxuries, and as much money; but I have fewer growing vines, and much less wine. If I were to use up my own grapes and wine instead of selling them, they would last a much shorter time than my stock of the former year would have lasted. So I have less wealth in possession. But the value of wine has risen so high, in consequence of scarcity, that I can get as much now of other things in exchange for a pint, as I could, fourteen months ago, in exchange for a gallon.”
“But that is partly because the wine is older. Mr. Steele is very particular about the wine being old, and he pays you much more, he told me, the longer it has been kept.”
“And it is very fair he should, for reasons which you can hardly understand yet.”
“Try him,” said Marguerite.
“It is impossible, my dear. I refer to the charges I am at for the rent of my cellar, the wear of my casks, and the loss of interest upon the capital locked up in the wine. All this must be paid out of the improvement in the quality of the article; and all this, Julien mutt wait a few years to understand.
“Now tell me, my boy, whether you think it a good thing or not that there should be a scarcity of wine?”
“Why, papa, as we do not want to drink all you have ourselves, and as people will give you as much for it as they would for twice as much, I do not think it signifies to you; but it must be a bad tiling for the people of Paris that there is so little wine to be had. At least you said so about the bread.”
“But if my wine should be as dear next year, and I should have no more losses from storms, and no more expense than in common years, in growing my wine, would the high price be a good thing for me or not?”
“It would be good for you, and bad for your customers; only I think they would not give you so much for your wine. They would remember that there had been no more storms, and they would find people that had cheaper wine to sell, and then they would leave off buying of you.”
“And they would be very right, if there was anybody to sell cheaper; as there would be, if labourers had less wages, and so made it less expensive to grow and prepare wine. But if some way was found of making more wine than ever, in a cheaper way than ever, who would be the better for that?”
“The people that buy of you, because I suppose you would let them have it cheaper.”
“And papa too,” said Marguerite, “for many people would buy wine who cannot afford it now.”
“Therefore,” concluded Charles, “a high exchangeable value is not at all a good thing for everybody, though it may be for a time to some few. Aud a low exchangeable value is a very good tiling to everybody, if it arises from the only cause which can render it permanent,—a diminution of the cost of production.”
“But if this happened with every article,” pursued Marguerite, “there would be an end of the cheapness, though not of the plenty. As many of one thing would exchange for a certain number of other things as before.”
“True; but less labour would purchase them all; and this is the grand consideration. As less labour will now purchase a deal table than was once necessary to procure a rough hewn log in its place, less labour still may hereafter buy a mahogany one; and this is a desirable thing for the purchasers of tables, and no less for the makers, who will then sell a hundred times the number they can dispose of now.”