Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 3: GOODS AND PSYCHIC INCOME - Economics, vol. 1: Economic Principles
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CHAPTER 3: GOODS AND PSYCHIC INCOME - Frank A. Fetter, Economics, vol. 1: Economic Principles 
Economics, vol. 1: Economic Principles, (New York: The Century Co., 1915).
Part of: Economics, 2 vols.
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GOODS AND PSYCHIC INCOME
§ 1. Inherent physical nature of things. § 2. Free goods and economic goods. § 3. Harmful objects. § 4. Value and true welfare. § 5. Gratification of desire. § 6. The idea of income. § 7. Psychic income. § 8. Motivating force of psychic income. § 9. The personal equation in psychic income. § 10. Desire streams and income streams. § 11. Goods of direct use. § 12. Directness of use defined.
§ 1. Inherent physical nature of things. Man has to take the physical nature of things as he finds it. He can, to be sure, make certain changes in the relative positions of particles or masses of matter. He can decompose a chemical compound into its elements; he can change iron into steel, and with this construct elaborate machinery; he can make clothing of vegetable fiber; he can cut a canal through an isthmus that united two continents. He can, in short, make many changes in his physical environment and, within limits, he can adjust it to his liking. But the physical and chemical forces of the world, acting in ways which we express as natural laws, are beyond the power of man to change. He may rise above the earth in a balloon, or even travel through the air in a heavier-than-air machine. But the force of gravitation is acting upon him during every moment of his flight. Material things differ in their specific gravity, in their power to reflect rays of light, or to absorb or transmit heat. They differ also in their chemical qualities. Niter, charcoal, and saltpeter, combined in certain proportions, form an explosive. Other proportions give other results. Solids combine to form gases and liquids unite to form solids, and these qualities and reactions of material things are for men ultimate truths of chemistry. Sunshine acts on living bodies, whether plant, animal, or man, in certain ways. Some plants are nourishing food for animals, others are poisonous. If man were not living on the earth, things would, so far as we can conclude, have the same physical and chemical qualities, and mechanical laws would be the same as at present. They are not governed by the will of man. Man can, however—and does—slowly learn the nature of things, and as he does so he makes choices among them, uses them for his purposes, combines, separates, and adapts them so that he may better bring about the results he desires. The fitness of things for accomplishing man’s desires is what makes them objects of choice.
§ 2. Free goods and economic goods. We have already seen that some things, even such as are indispensable to existence, may yet, because of their abundance, fail to be objects of desire and of choice. Such things are called free goods. They have no value in the sense in which the economist uses that term. Free goods are things which exist in superfluity; that is, in quantities sufficient not only to gratify but also to satisfy all the desires which may depend upon them. The air about us is ordinarily a good of this kind. Water, too, tho in certain places and at certain times where it is scarce it takes on a value, is in many places so abundant that it falls in the category of free goods. The same is true at certain times and places of firewood, fruits, and other things, when there chances to be a surplus, relative to the desires of men. In such cases both the portions which are used and the other portions are without value—are free goods.
There is always something puzzling about this as one begins to think about it. It seems unreasonable to say that diamonds, laces, cigarettes, have value, and air and water have not. But the explanation is simple. Tho we must have air to live, and tho every breath we draw is to supply this need, our attention need not ordinarily be given to the matter of the supply of air at all. So long as it is present in abundance, the desire for it has no chance to rise to noticeable intensity, and remains constantly at the zero point. Men do not concern themselves about that which they have in superfluity—unless indeed the excess causes them some discomfort. It is well that they do not, for a wise direction of effort can take place only when men think mainly of the things that are lacking and direct their efforts toward securing them.
Most kinds of enjoyable things are constantly being used up before every use dependent on them can be made. Our stocks of such things become therefore the objects of our choice. We strive to use them with some care and attention. Such goods are called economic goods, being the goods which have value and therefore must be economized. As we have already seen, a certain thing may be a free good at one time because of its abundance and at another time it may be an economic good because of its scarcity.
§ 3. Harmful objects. Beyond the boundary of economic goods and of free goods there lies an anti-economic environment, the harmful: destructive lightning, floods, poisons, vermin, pests of locusts, disease-breeding swamps, wild beasts, human enemies, and many other ills of earth. While some water continues to be “a good,” other water may be “an ill,” flooding one’s cellar, or soaking one’s clothes on a cold day, or breaking through the walls of a mountain reservoir and carrying death and destruction in its path. Pure air may come as a tornado, fire may destroy our dwelling, growing woods may cover the fields needed for tillage, iron may crush the foot or cut the hand. And so, anything may become harmful, while in turn the “harmful” may become useful. Poison helps rid the house of vermin, disease germs may be made to serve as antitoxins, noxious weeds may, by the discovery of some new process, be worked into useful forms, tho they may still continue to be harmful in many a farmer’s field.
§ 4. Value and true welfare. It will be noticed that the things that are valued, the things that we call economic goods, are things that have a relation to the choices or desires of men. It must not be thought, however, that they are of necessity conducive to real welfare, either generally or permanently, as the term “good” might seem to imply. In many cases they may be so, but what shall we say of the pistol which the highwayman points at his victim, or of the poison with which the lunatic kills his friend, or of the opium for which the miserable victim would give his birthright, or of the whisky which is ruining the happiness of the drinker and of his family? For the individual these things, being the objects of choice and desire, have value, and the term “economic goods” has been extended to cover things of this sort. The economist, however, must not overlook the injurious results of such uses, and in his final judgments on economic welfare must endeavor to see a larger good than that of the moment and of the individual desire.
The term utility properly expresses the idea of this fitness (a quality) of things to conduce to real welfare quite apart from the subject’s knowledge at the time or of his choice. This is in accord with usage as well in biology (for example, in discussing the utility of certain organs) as in the moral sciences (for example, in studying the utility of certain institutions). We should beware of the very frequent confusion of the terms value and utility, and throughout we shall connect the idea of value with choice and not with utility. Later, in considering the more lasting effects that wealth has, either upon the individual or upon society, utility has its place.
§ 5. Gratification of desire. We have already seen that there is in our desires for things an impulsive or an instinctive element. But with our growth through childhood into maturity, experience accumulates, and our choices among things and our desires for things come to have in them elements of memory, calculation, imagination, and reason. We desire an article of food partially because we have already tasted it and imagination recalls the sensation which it gave us. We desire a plow because our reasoning powers tell us that the plow will assist us in growing the crop which is to serve as food. So as we develop intellectually it comes about that judgment dominates our desires to a very considerable degree. Now if we have a desire for a thing, and succeed in securing it, a change takes place in our desire. This change we call gratification. (Or if the desire is completely met, we speak of the change as the satisfaction of the desire.) It is the sensation (feeling) which accompanies the getting of the thing desired.1
§ 6. The idea of income. Desire is a mental reaching out for things. The fulfilment of desire involves the securing of the objects of desire, and this brings us to the idea of income. We find the term used in a number of different senses. Income may consist of certain concrete goods which come in to a person during a given period—such as bread, butter, meat, clothing, etc., the quantity of which is expressed in physical units, such as bushels, pounds, yards, etc. A stream of goods of this sort is sometimes called “real” income in contrast with monetary (or pecuniary) income, which is a certain sum of money—or its equivalent in credit—received by a person within the period under consideration. If this terminology seems to imply that monetary income is less “real” than an income consisting of food, clothing, etc., the explanation is that a money income is but a means to an end. It is likely to be used to purchase all sorts of concrete goods—such as food and clothing—which are the real objects of desire. However, in the commercial world, and in ordinary life, we are very much in the habit of expressing income as a sum of money accruing within a period. This is perhaps the sense in which the term is most frequently used.
§ 7. Psychic income. A closer consideration, however, discloses the fact that there are many desirable results which cannot be included either under “real” or under “monetary” income. Many choices made by men are not directed to securing material objects. The term real income can hardly be strained to include the services of the hired laborer, the man’s own direct services to himself, the valued social esteem which leads one to take a lower salary for harder work, etc. It is difficult to estimate such things in monetary terms or in terms of other concrete goods, and often the attempt to do so is not made. For we are dealing here with things which are in the realm of feeling. We may call them psychic income, and we may define the term psychic income as desirable results produced in the realm of feeling by valuable objects or by valuable changes in the environment which accrue to or affect an economic subject within a given period.
We have here reached something fundamental in our analysis. It is not merely that many items of income take this form and this form only—not being embodied in any tangible shape. But concrete, tangible objects (monetary or non-monetary), are regarded as income, as something desirable, just because their ultimate effect is to bring about such changes in the realm of feeling as we are now discussing. The food that we eat banishes the sensation of hunger. Clothing protects us from the cold, gives the feeling of being well-dressed, etc. The musical instrument creates, through our nerves of hearing, the pleasurable feelings of harmony. The beautiful picture, the automobile, the pleasure yacht—all the many kinds of concrete goods which man desires—are objects of desire to him because of their capacity to affect the sensory system, and, through that, his mental life. It is clear, therefore, that any adequate enumeration of the group of things which we call income must take careful account of these psychic elements. The estimate of a man’s income merely in dollars may leave out items which are of the greatest significance to him. A man will work for a certain salary in an occupation that he enjoys who might refuse several times the amount in a less enjoyable or actually disagreeable line of work. A family may choose to live in a small house in a particular neighborhood, rather than in a larger house with greater physical comforts in a less attractive neighborhood. A girl who can live at home may accept what would otherwise be an inadequate wage—an income which would not support her if she lived elsewhere.
§ 8. Motivating force of psychic income. It may be seen that (anticipated) total psychic income is what motivates our economic activity—at least as far as this activity is determined by conscious purpose. There are men holding public office to whom the salary received is an insignificant consideration. They are paid largely in public esteem, or in their own consciousness of duty well performed. And in as far as men work for material rewards—money or goods—their ultimate ends are not material. They are in the realm of the psychic. Except to the miser, money is not an end in itself (if it is even in that case). Nor are stocks and bonds, or real estate, or even clothing and food, ends in themselves. Man’s psychic life is the thing which is of ultimate concern to him, and all these things appeal to him because of their relation to that complex of sensations and feelings of which his psychic life is composed.
§ 9. The personal equation in psychic income. The magnitude of the stream of psychic income depends in large measure on the natural temperament, on acquired habits of life and thought, and on the state of health of the individual. One person gets delight from small things; another is miserable in the midst of luxury. In 1913 the richest man and wife in Switzerland committed suicide together because they felt that they had nothing to live for; whereas the mass of the hardworking Swiss with their scanty material incomes, are as joyous and contented as any people in the world. Nothing can equalize these subjective differences between individuals, but each individual, in his choice, compares things with reference to their psychic income-value to himself; he does not judge them merely by their physical or by their pecuniary measurements. But when in moralizing strain, we say that the source of happiness is within oneself, we speak within limits. For the most joyous and optimistic of persons must have some of “this world’s goods” or life itself becomes impossible.
§ 10. Desire-streams and income-streams. It is not enough, however, that we should have a supply of goods at a given time; we need an “income stream.” Our desires are nearly all recurrent. Hunger, tho fully satisfied, returns again. One circus does not last the boy a lifetime. New clothing quickly becomes old. We weather one storm only to feel an equal need of shelter from the next. To meet this series of desires and wants we require a pretty regular flow of goods and services.
We may liken man’s life to a journey in which the supplies of food and of other goods are got at the daily stations. If any one of these supplies fails, the traveler suffers the pangs of hunger, and if two or three supplies are at one point, they do not serve his needs so well as if distributed along the way. This almost unbroken inflow of certain kinds of goods is a necessity of existence. The savage dimly understands this need. Even the birds and the beasts adjust their lives to it by toil and by travel. The spring and autumn migrations to new feeding grounds are the attempts of the bird to secure this income. The ant, the bee, and the squirrel anticipate, and work to fill their storehouses against the days of need. Man has to take thought to provide the much more complex series of goods upon which his desires are directed.
§ 11. Goods of direct, present use. These goods are of many kinds, but we may give our first attention to the goods of present, direct use to secure psychic income. Such is food to the primitive man, a skin to wear over his shoulders, a club to defend himself against his enemies. Such, to-day, is the cup of coffee on the table, the fire on the hearth, the furniture, the house, the land used for playground, tennis court, park, the clothing we wear, and countless other objects in daily use. Thus in every case that a desire is gratified, whether of child or of man, of poor or of rich, the relationship may be traced between psychic income and goods of direct use. Warmth is to be had by the use of clothing, shelter, and fire; light is given by the candle, the lamp, and the electric light. All around men are things just ready to serve the final use of yielding enjoyment, or just on the point of “ripening” or becoming fitted to serve this end. These goods of present, direct use are the first and almost the only concern of the animal, of the child, or of the savage. To man in developed economic conditions these goods are still the immediate objective conditions to the creation of his psychic income.
§ 12. Directness of use defined. Directness of use is that quality a good has of yielding to its possessor its ultimate economic use (psychic income) without the physical intervention of any other agent (between itself and the user). Examples of goods having direct uses are food ready to eat, fuel to give warmth to the body, the candle to give light, a beautiful picture, a riding horse, clothing, ornaments, furniture, dwelling houses, general services of all kinds, such as the musician’s song, the services of actor, teacher, lecturer, preacher, physician. When these uses and services produce psychic income directly (without the aid of any intervening agent), they are direct uses.2
[1 ]This is the sense in which we should regularly use the term in relation to valuation. But sometimes the word gratification is used to denote the pleasure of the senses which accompanies not the mere getting of the thing, but the using of it after it is secured—for example, the sensation which accompanies the eating of food, the listening to a musical instrument, or the looking at a picture. The gratification of desire at the moment of attaining a good reflects a provisional adjustment of choice, which is subject to correction by experience. As far as practice and judgment guide our desires, the ultimate use of a thing and the sensations which accompany that use, may be deemed to be the explanation of the desire. This does not mean that our processes of valuation are a cold calculation of the sensual gratifications to be obtained from goods. But it does mean that the anticipated use of a thing enters into our desire for it. And it means also that judgment, foresight, and calculation play their part along with instinct and impulse in our desires and our evaluations.
[2 ]The directness here considered must not be confused with immediateness in time. Directness here refers to the number of steps or processes that separate the good from the final use to the owner. It is the quality which an object has when it gives the sensual stimulus which results in psychic income. Time-value is the special subject of Part IV.