Page:Rise and Fall of Society.djvu/64
"Easy Come, Easy Go"
the delight of one woman who comes into possession of a washing machine, or the revulsion of a "career woman" at the thought of it. Why people want what, why their esteem of the same thing varies from time to time, why they prefer one thing to another, are questions that cannot be answered mathematically. When we look to the taproot of value we come to an enigma of life. And yet, like so many phenomena that defy analysis, value as a function is quite understandable, and as a function it explains the market place, which is the alter ego of Society.
The essence of value is the human capacity of measuring intensity of desire. When the two frontiersmen bartered their respective abundances, their desires were limited to the necessaries. As increasing population makes for a greater subdivision of labor, and therefore for a greater variety of goods and services, this problem of evaluating desires and of exerting one's will in favor of this or that satisfaction becomes correspondingly more intricate. When the choice lay between a bear skin and going naked, the problem of raiment was readily resolved. But now the matter involves a choice between a two-button and a three-button suit, between blue and gray, to say nothing of the quality of workmanship or correctness of size; also, population has brought a new influence to bear upon the evaluation, that of public opinion, and style becomes a consideration. Antecedent to the clothing problem, moreover, a decision must be made between clothing and a harness for the horse or a set of books for the children. The desires are many. What constriction, in the nature of things, compels a decision in favor of one gratification over another? What is the true measure of intensity of desire? The answer that man gives to this question is a ratio between variables: that gratification which, taking into con-