Front Page Titles (by Subject) 7: How Needs, in Multiplying, Give Birth to the Arts, and How the Arts Increase the Mass of Wealth - Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
7: How Needs, in Multiplying, Give Birth to the Arts, and How the Arts Increase the Mass of Wealth - Étienne Bonnot, Abbé de Condillac, Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship 
Commerce and Government Considered in their Mutual Relationship, translated by Shelagh Eltis, with an Introduction to His Life and Contribution to Economics by Shelagh Eltis and Walter Eltis (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This book was originally published by Edward Elgar Publishing in 1997, copyright 1997 by Shelagh Eltis and Walter Eltis. Reprinted by permission of Edward Elgar Publishing.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
How Needs, in Multiplying, Give Birth to the Arts, and How the Arts Increase the Mass of Wealth
Just as I have distinguished natural needs and artificial needs, I shall also distinguish two kinds of necessary things; the first of primary need, which I shall refer back to natural needs; and the others of secondary need, which I shall refer back to artificial needs.
Such fruits as the land produces through fecundity alone are of prime necessity for a savage, because he needs them as a consequence of his makeup; and our wines, our brandies would be of secondary need for him, if, in trading with us, he acquired a taste for these drinks.
For our tribe, settled in the fields which it cultivates, corn is a thing of prime need, because it is necessary to it, as a result of the formation of a society which would not subsist without this aid. We must however place, among things of secondary need, all those which it could do without, while not ceasing to be a settled, agrarian society.
Observe the tribe while it is limited to things of prime need. This is the state where, without being poor, it has the least wealth. I say, without being poor, because there is only poverty where essential needs are not met, and it is not being poor to lack a type of wealth of which one has not acquired a need, and which one does not even know.
Therefore it is not in a state of poverty, it is rather in a state of lacking. Please allow me this word: that of privation would not convey my thought. For we deprive ourselves of those things which we have, or which we might have, and with which we are familiar; whereas we do not have those which we lack, often we do not even know of their existence.
In this state it is enough for our tribe not to be exposed to a lack of food, to shelter itself from the force of the elements, and to have the means of de-fence against its enemies. Its food, its clothing, its dwellings, its weapons are all rough and lack artistry. It only uses the commonest objects for its various tasks, and so it is sure not to lack them.
While lacking a host of things we appreciate, it is plentifully supplied with all those which it needs.
Nothing is expensive in the tribe. Just as in all the goods it uses there is nothing too choice, so there is also nothing too rare.
Currency would be useless to it, and it has none. Each person exchanges his surplus, and no one perceives a need to use metals, or anything else to that end.
Let us move to a time when it begins to enjoy goods of secondary need, and when these goods are none the less still of a kind to be able to be common to all. Then the tribe introduces higher quality into its food, its clothing, its dwellings, its weapons; it has more needs, more wealth. However, there are no poor people among it; since I still only include in the goods of secondary need common goods which all can partake of more or less, and of which no one is entirely deprived.
In this position it is impossible for each person to provide by himself for all his needs. The farmer, busy in the fields, would not have the time free to make himself a coat, to build a house, to forge weapons, and he would not have the aptitude because these jobs require knowledge and a skill he does not possess.
Several groups will therefore form. Besides that of the farmers there will be tailors, architects, armourers. The three latter groups could not subsist on their own. It is the first group that will provide for their subsistence, and it will in addition provide the raw material for the arts.
When I distinguish four classes it is because we must choose a number. The tribe may and even must have many more. They will multiply in proportion as the arts come into being, and make progress.
All the groups, each busy with its own tasks, come together in competition to increase the mass of wealth, or the abundance of goods which have value. Because, if we have seen that primary wealth consists uniquely in the products of the land, we have also seen that these products only have value, and their abundance is only wealth, in so far as they are useful, or as they meet some of our needs.
It is the farmer who provides all the primary material. But such primary material, as would be useless and without value in his hands, becomes useful and obtains value when the artisan has found the way to make it serve the needs of society.
With each skill that begins, with each advance it makes, the farmer thus acquires new wealth, because he finds value in a product which previously had none.
This product, given value by the artisan, gives a fresh spur to commerce for which it is a new stock in trade; and it becomes a new source of wealth for the farmer because, as each product acquires value, he makes new consumption for himself.
Thus it is that all, farmers, merchants, artisans, come together to increase the mass of wealth.
If one compares the state of deprivation our tribe is in, when, without artisans, without merchants, it is confined to goods of prime need, with the state of plenty in which it finds itself, when, through the hard work of artisans and merchants, it enjoys goods of secondary need, that is, of a host of things that habit turns into needs for it; one will understand that the work of artisans and merchants is as much a source of wealth for it as the very work of the farmers.
Indeed, if on the one hand we have seen that the land is the source of products, and hence of wealth; we see on the other hand that industry gives value to a number of products, which otherwise would have none. It is therefore proved that in the final analysis industry is also a source of wealth. We shall expand on this matter some day soon. It has been much obscured by some writers.