Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER 16: HUMAN BEINGS AND THEIR ECONOMIC SERVICES - Economics, vol. 1: Economic Principles
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CHAPTER 16: HUMAN BEINGS AND THEIR ECONOMIC SERVICES - 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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HUMAN BEINGS AND THEIR ECONOMIC SERVICES
§ 1. Man and wealth as economic agents. § 2. Labor as contributing to income. § 3. Psychic income gained in play. § 4. Play- and labormotives mingled. § 5. Disagreeable labor. § 6. Physical differences among men. § 7. Comparative strength of men and women. § 8. Differences in natural intelligence. § 9. Talent and training as factors of efficiency. § 10. Moral qualities required in industry. § 11. Necessary combination of qualities. § 12. Inequality of talents shown by biologic studies.
§ 1. Man and wealth as economic agents. The whole stock of economic agents in a community at any moment may be classified as wealth and men, objective goods and human beings. In our study thus far of value and price, we have limited our illustrations to objective commodities, and to the uses of the objective (non-human) agencies of production. Little has been said about the other great class of economic agents, human beings. Yet everything that has been said as to the fundamental principles of value and price, applies fully to the uses (services) of men. Indeed it is only by an abstract method of treatment of wealth that the services of men have appeared to be left out of consideration. In truth the presence of men is always, and must always be, implied and understood in any study of the value of wealth. This means not merely that man is the evaluater, the chooser of goods (for of course a world without mankind would be a world where value was nonexistent); this means also that man is the doer of acts that themselves have value and the doing of which profoundly affects the whole economic situation in which objective goods are valued. Labor is a complementary agent, some portion of which is indispensable to the use of wealth. Within limits man’s efforts and goods may be mutually substituted. Each act a man performs, expressing, as it does, a choice, implies some economic valuation in relation to his other acts and to wealth. In applying his own labor to producing goods for his own use, or in selling his goods or his labor to others, his labor is being constantly valued and, only less often, priced.
Man’s labor is valued or priced because, like other agents (non-human agents), it is serving for the gratification of desires. In the process of gratifying human desires the man is correlative with the machine. Both have within them the capacity of yielding services or uses, and the services of the man are valued in the same way as the uses of the machine. The labors of the physician, of the blacksmith, or of the day laborer are bought just as is the use of the rented house or of the hired taxicab. This parallelism is somewhat obscured by the ambiguity of the term “labor” which is used to mean not merely the service (labor), but the people (laborers) who render the service. In such phrases, for example, as “labor and capital,” or “land and labor,” the term “labor” is used of the persons who perform the labor.
§ 2. Labor as contributing to income. In the processes of production and of valuation man plays a dual rôle. He is first the economic subject—the being who has desires and makes choices—but also he is an economic agent, an instrumentality in the gratification of desires—his own as well as those of other people. This is quite simple in the case of chattel slavery. To the master, his slave is on the same economic plane with his horse, his machinery, or his land—each is valued simply for the use it yields. The free man, however, is his own master, a person whose desires and choices are the starting point in the study of value; and at the same time he is an agent in the gratification of his own desires, directly and indirectly. Not only do other people by their services contribute toward the gratification of our desires, but we actually render many services to ourselves in such acts as dressing, shaving, polishing shoes, cooking, making clothes, etc., which form a very considerable part of most persons’ incomes.
Human efforts have the same relation to desires that the uses of material goods have. Labor contributes to income either directly (psychic) or indirectly in the changes it causes in material goods. To be an economic good human effort must meet either a desire in the laborer himself, or a demand from some other person. Many services afford an income directly which is immediately enjoyed. A tropical potentate has an attendant to fan him, another to carry an umbrella, and a third to beat a tom-tom; a humble American citizen is shaved, doctored, sung to and played for, or is his own barber, doctor, and entertainer. The income in such cases is directly enjoyed in personal comfort, in the consciousness of heightened beauty, in the feeling of self-esteem. Something of value is thus created but takes no material form apart from the consumer (who may be the laborer himself).
But the results of most labor may be seen to rest, at least temporarily, in some material form. Effort is put upon a material thing to be used later. The work of the waiter in spreading and arranging the table is not an immediate service, for it is embodied in material form an hour or two before the meal. The service of cook, no less than that of gardener and butcher, is put into material form before it comes to the consumer. The woodman fells, cuts up, and splits a tree, and piles it at the door, putting his labor into a good to be consumed months afterward. But whether labor is embodied or is not embodied in material form, its economic significance lies in the fact that, like wealth, it provides valuable uses (services) to men; that is, it contributes to income.1
§ 3. Psychic income gained in play. When we consider the fact that this income may be directly in psychic form, it becomes difficult to justify on economic grounds the contrast usually supposed to exist between labor and play. Play—that seems to our modern commercial minds the very negation of economics. Work, work, to fill the granaries fuller, to build larger houses, to produce more material goods, to increase the bank accounts! But is not such a view mere miserliness in disguise? The aim of all human effort, whether work or play, is psychic income. The life of man is a constant adjustment of his own desires and capacities to the outer world, partly by changing objects in creating wealth, partly by changing himself through the use of wealth and of his own faculties. Normal and healthy human beings find a keen pleasure in the putting forth of those powers that develop and preserve strength, activity, and health. This is the purpose of most of the sports, games, and pastimes found in every land and time. In the mere putting forth of the powers of mind and muscle there is a joy felt by children and men of all races, and this is heightened by companionship, emulation, and even by a spice of danger. We may call labor any human effort having as its motive something outside of the gratification in the action itself. Actions which have no objective aim, no purpose (except of course making the points of the game, e.g., crossing the goal) outside the pleasure of the mere doing, are play. Play is not dependent on a useful objective result later to be enjoyed, but, like beauty, is its own excuse for being. The distinction, therefore, between work and play is one as to the superficial form of expressing human energy, rather than as to the fundamental economic result as it has usually been considered. The nerve-tired student goes out-of-doors to bat the tennis ball, making no change in the material world, except to wear out his shoes and to lose the ball, but finding that hour rich in the joy of life. When the patient fisherman sitting in his boat, was asked, “What luck?” he answered cheerily, as he threw out another line, “Just the luck of a good time.”
If properly chosen, play strengthens and vivifies both soul and body, leaving an afterglow of health and happiness. Such play is directly resultant in psychic income, necessarily involves a personal valuation, and if taken with due regard to present duties and to future needs (aye, there ’s the rub!) is worthy of a place in the scale of the socially productive. The choice of sports and temperance in their pursuit are among the surest tests of wisdom in men and in societies. Not to know how to play, and how to live joyously in the hours free from business cares, is just as surely a cause of real poverty as not to know how to work. For real poverty is lack of psychic income. Some persons can work effectively, others can play effectively (which does not always mean great expertness). A rich life, truly successful, is possible only to those who can combine the abilities both to work and to play. A love of vigorous play no less than the power of sustained work, marks the dominant and progressive peoples of the earth.
§ 4. Play- and labor-motives mingled. Actions of a second kind are those pleasurable in themselves and at the same time leaving an objective result. The hunter enjoys the day better if he returns with well-filled bags of game. In extreme cases the distinction between the sportsman and the “pot-hunter” is not hard to find. It is a matter of emphasis; the one has his chief joy in the sport, the other in the material results of the sport. But always the motives are somewhat mingled. The study of primitive peoples shows that all of the more important industrial activities were first of the nature of play. The primitive man did only the things he liked to do, unless driven by the direst want. The whole tribe danced and sang, went through intricate dramatic ceremonials before going upon a hunt or planting corn, made a tournament of the hunt itself, and even of hoeing and reaping the crops, and concluded with festivals in celebration of the successful hunt and of the bountiful harvest, to the delight of every member of the tribe. Thus were men gradually habituated to actions having an object outside and beyond themselves.
§ 5. Disagreeable labor. Actions of a third kind are those disagreeable in themselves, but performed by force of will, because leading to some desired result. A large part of what is called labor to-day is of this kind, either like taking medicine—positively disagreeable but endured for the hope of ulterior benefits—or in the milder cases only relatively undesirable, being not what one would most prefer to do at the time. The end sought is an objective good resulting from the labor.
The social ideal clearly is that all labor should be made desirable. Social dreamers love to picture a day when all shall find for effort a full reward in the mere doing—the reward of the artist, of the scholar, of the saint—in addition to the objective result in economic wealth. In some occupations possibly we are slowly nearing this ideal. Not only in the professions and in the esthetic arts, but in commerce, in mechanics, and in the humblest walks of life are found men free from envy, rejoicing in their daily tasks. Such is the normal feeling of the healthy optimist. And yet in every serious occupation there are numberless moments and occasions when the spirit flags and only hard necessity holds men to their tasks. The complicated and often long-continued tasks of modern industry can not be accomplished by mere play; neither can they by labor done only with immediate pleasure. The dilettante does not go far or long or steadily; the real tasks of the world are done by men that labor, now with joy, now wearily, but unfailingly. A large part of the heavy monotonous hand-labor is an evil just because it yields so little of the joy of workmanship and is so purely drudgery endured for the day’s wage at the end.
§ 6. Physical differences among men. As material things differ in their uses and fitness to yield economic uses, so do men differ in their powers of labor. The most obvious difference is in physical strength, which varies with age, individual, race, and sex. Differences due to age are the most obvious. The child, at first weak, grows toward his maximum of physical strength, which he attains before his fullest intellectual capacity.2 The period of maximum physical working power lasts fifteen to twenty-five years according to the individual and to the kind of work, and then gradually declines as the old worker approaches again the inefficiency of the child. Families and strains of stock differ notably in physical powers; one excels in stature, another in development of muscle. The differences within families are inexplicable; sometimes one brother excelling in one thing, the other in another. The physically perfect man is a rare product. Among three thousand students are but twoscore endowed with the remarkable combination of lungs, heart, muscle, nerve, and character, that makes possible the finest athletes. The natural dexterity of some workers marvelously surpasses that of the average man, and seemingly is due not to special training, but to natural qualities of sight, touch, nervous reaction, or muscular energy. The national and racial differences in working power, even in the simplest tasks, are marked, but are difficult to explain, as so many influences, customs, habits of life, and varieties of diet modify the result. We can not tell how much of the Englishman’s great superiority over the East Indiaman is due to individual native differences of mind and body, how much to the social environments in which they have lived. Certainly tho, the difference is not mainly one in size; in the Boxer War the little brown men of Japan outmarched all the others. Certainly fiber counts for more than bulk, and character for more than muscle.
§ 7. Comparative strength of men and women. A difference in the physical strength of the sexes is found in some degree throughout the world, but it would appear to be far more marked in civilized than in savage communities. The records made at the field-games in the women’s colleges are improving; but still fall far short of the men’s records in any leading college: in the hundred-yard dash, thirteen seconds as against nine and a fraction; in the high jump, fifty-two inches as against six feet and over. The muscular force of American college women as tested in various gymnasiums (average of all students in college) is little more than one third that of men. The average strength of back for women is 35 per cent that of men, the average strength of legs, 41 per cent, and the average strength of right forearm, 38 per cent. This is an abnormal difference. The natural and possible strength is more nearly attained by men than by women under our social conditions. Women escape the physical toil which strengthens, but not the mental strain which kills. Men carry more of the wood, but the women not less of the worries. A fairer test is applied among peasants in field-work in France and Germany, where the strength of women is found to be about two thirds that of men. American women should do and will do more to attain their natural strength as we attain sounder ideas of education and saner modes of living.
§ 8. Differences in natural intelligence. Mental qualities are not easily distinguishable from physical qualities, if in the physical are included keenness of eye, quickness of nerve, and even superior judgment of materials, tools, methods, etc. Moreover, mental ability is a very complex idea. It may refer to one of the many different qualities of mind, to quickness of observation, talent for color, form, harmony, to memory or imagination, to readiness in speech, to systematic habits of thought, to power of intense and prolonged mental application, to mathematical power in various directions, to philosophical capacity, that is, a capacity to discover the more farreaching causes of things. These qualities unite in unending combinations to produce that kaleidoscopic variety of personality which makes the world so interesting. Some men the world calls geniuses have lacked some of these qualities almost entirely. Others who in most respects are either feeble-minded or insane (called idiot savants) have shown an uncanny talent in music, or in mathematics, the very subject which is the stumbling block for many otherwise bright minds.
Each of these natural mental traits has its peculiar part in fitting the man for some kind of work, and the absence or weakness of any one of them increases the difficulty of qualifying as an efficient worker in some occupations. Native intelligence shortens the time needed for preparation in any calling, hastens new methods, decreases the cost of supervision, saves materials, tools, and time, diminishes loss from breakage, makes possible the use of finer machinery and better appliances, and imparts those subtler qualities that distinguish the best from the mediocre products. It is impossible to measure these factors of native ability exactly, tho the psychological tests recently devised are giving remarkable results. But in every school children in all their activities show marked differences in traits, which, we all believe, are inherited in certain families. Mental capacity of the higher order develops more slowly and longer than do the physical powers and the senses. Judgment and wisdom are the fruits only of a life rich in experience.
§ 9. Talent and training as factors of efficiency. It is impossible to measure exactly the parts that natural talent and acquired ability play in determining any person’s efficiency. Two men sitting side by side in an examination, get the same grade; one of them has had excellent preparation from childhood, and all the opportunities that money, travel, and cultured associates can give; the other, under great difficulties, has prepared in a country district school with a little coaching now and then, and struggling against great odds, has at last entered college. The same grade does not mean either that in their natural ability or in their training in this particular subject, they are equal. Yet the grade is the best expression to be had of their efficiency in the particular work.
One person with great natural musical ability may have lacked alike good opportunities of study and the health and industry to gain skill by long practice; while another with less natural ability but more favored in health and in education will attain to a much greater success both artistically and economically as composer, performer, or director of music.
Similarly the net economic quality of an artizan, an engineer, a lawyer, a business man, a worker of any kind, is a resultant of education and native talent, which along a broad zone are interchangeable, each in some degree indispensable, each supplementing the other. Any ability may be helped by education in the broad and true sense, tho a fool cannot be made wise by training, and tho many a potential genius doubtless has been dwarfed in dusty schoolrooms by stupid teachers. Education increases adaptability and enables a trained mind to outstrip an untrained mind of greater natural power. Education makes direction easier, fits for higher tasks, and decreases the difficulty of coöperation.
By education in this connection should be understood not merely knowledge gained in schoolrooms and by the aid of books and teachers, but every sort of experience and activity of mind and body which helps the natural capacities of the man to grow and strengthen. The subjective conditions, the eager mind and the strong character, most often bred of necessity and deprivation, are more valuable equipments for life’s work than is unheeded or half-comprehended schoolroom instruction. Hence the business man’s usual skepticism of the practical benefits of “higher education” in the more limited sense as applied to pampered youth with indolent minds.
§ 10. The moral qualities required in industry. The moral qualities of the worker are increasingly important as society grows more complex. But the need of a particular moral quality is relative to the special task in hand. Honesty is needed in the bank teller, but he need not spoil a good story. The champion bronco-buster of Arizona is not a Sunday-school superintendent. So, discipline, obedience, self-control, regularity, and punctuality are needed, for more and more in these days business is run by the watch. Confidence, patience, good temper, in fact all the virtues in the calendar are necessary at some time and place, and most of them are needed all the time in business. Places may be found in our developed society for those who are deficient in some of these qualities (it is fortunate that it is so), but these are the poorer places. Many men fail to recognize all the qualities necessary for success, and few are able to understand the cause of their own failures. Blind to their own faults, many are, for lack perhaps of one trait which to themselves seems insignificant, dropped down one notch after another in the scale of industry, and equally blind to the true cause of success in their rivals, they rail against the unjust fates.
§ 11. Necessary combination of qualities. Skill and capacity in industrial tasks is a resultant of many qualities. The simplest task calls for a combination of physical force and of judgment—even the digging of a ditch or the fitting of a stovepipe. For most industrial tasks rarer combinations of qualities are required. The retail salesman must be neat, punctual, polite, and long suffering. A confidential clerk must have discretion, judgment, and other moral qualities in an unusual combination. The substitution of qualities is possible within limits; a rare quality may make amends for the lack of a commoner one, and a man may, because of peculiar fitness in some regards, continue to hold a position for which in other ways he is little fitted. The rarest and most valued worker is one uniting many good qualities and fitted to deal with emergencies. The economic efficiency of the worker often is no stronger than its weakest link. A most frequent use for training is found in the fact that strengthening some one weak quality may raise the total efficiency in a remarkable degree.
§ 12. Inequality of talents shown by biologic studies. The political philosophy of the eighteenth century was based on the idea of natural rights and natural equality. Even so shrewd an observer as Adam Smith, misled by the prevailing view, discussed wages on the assumption that all men had equal natural ability. It is still a favorite assumption of radical social reformers that the natural ability of all men is equal, and that all the differences in success result from political injustice. The study of biology of late has made patent the unending differences that prevail throughout the animate world. No two members of the same family or species are just alike; no two pigeons have wings of just the same length. Nature by numberless devices is experimenting constantly with variations on either side of the established mean. The accepted fact of biologic evolution rests on the foundation of inequality, in structure and powers, selected, adapted and transmitted by heredity. In all life there is inequality, and the whole drama of human history as well as that of biologic evolution must be meaningless or illusory to one who does not see this truth. Accustomed now to this point of view, we as inevitably think of the natural inequalities in men as did Adam Smith of their equality. Inequality of talents is a continuing fact. Men in all their qualities of mind and body display this kaleidoscopic variety.
This does not mean that industrial inequality as it exists to-day, the great disparity of incomes, correctly or justly reflects the degree of difference in men’s qualities, either native or acquired. It does not follow that a thousand-dollar income represents ten times the ability of a hundred-dollar one—far from it. But to those who ignore the inequality of men, the whole problem of industrial remuneration must remain a mystery. The differences in human capacity, in respect to the rendering of services of value, is one of the fundamental factors entering into the determination of labor-incomes.
[1 ]Formerly the productiveness of labor was said to depend upon this condition of embodiment in abiding material form. According to the view in question, the bartender mixing drinks which would be quaffed a moment later was to be called a productive laborer because his services were embodied in material form; whereas the lecturer, the singer, the teacher, and the judge were regarded as unproductive laborers because the results of their labors were not embodied in material form, but went at once into psychic income. Whether or not the service has for a moment embodied itself in material form is not of the most essential economic import. The presence of the waiter is as essential to the well-served dinner as are the polished silver and china, or as the well-cooked food. The distinction in question is not now made by most economists. But a similar distinction is inconsistently preserved by many writers who call unproductive the goods yielding direct enjoyment (houses, carriages, etc.) and call only those material agents productive (as tools, machines, etc.) whose product is embodied for a time in material form. If a distinction is to be made between productive and unproductive labor it will have to be found in the occasional contradiction between value and utility; that is, in the result of labor as regards social welfare. (See ch. 39.)
[2 ]In 1910 there were nearly 2,000,000 children of the age-group between ten and fifteen years reported as engaged in gainful occupations in the United States, most of them in agriculture. Two-thirds of the total number were boys, those occupied being one-fourth of all boys of that age-group. In the South, however (comprising the three southern geographical divisions in the census), nearly half the boys of that age-group were in gainful occupations, while in the North only one-eighth were.