Page:Rise and Fall of Society.djvu/65

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"Easy Come, Easy Go"

sideration all the factors of inclination, environment, and necessity, will yield him the most satisfaction, according to his lights, in return for the least amount of effort that must be given up to acquire it. For it is written in the book of life that the cost of every "good" is that undesirable thing called effort.

Thus labor, in juxtaposition to desire, is the ultimate determinant of value. Let us keep in mind, however, that it is not the labor invested in producing the "good" which fixes its value—not the "cost of production"—but the labor one must give up as the price of possession.[1] The fisherman was not unaware of the effort expended in getting the fish, effort he might have put into growing potatoes, and the other frontiersman knows how much time he invested in his tubers. This awareness of labor cost bears heavily on their respective evaluations of their desires for the things offered in trade; therefore, the cost of production (or the cost of reproduction) tends to approximate the price of gratification.

It would not serve the purposes of this essay—which is concerned with the economic forces that underlie social institutions—to delve into the theory, or theories, of value, or the related subject of price. It is enough to point out that were it not for this human capacity to make evaluations there would be no market place, and if there were no market place there would be no Society. Despite all the recondite thought that has been put into this subject, no definition of value offered is quite as definitive as the popular phrase "easy come, easy go." What one acquires with little effort one has

  1. The theory that the value of a thing is determined by the labor spent in producing it falls flat when we reflect on the things of value that cannot be produced—that have no "cost of production"—such as land sites, patents, monopoly privileges, or heirlooms.