The Positive Theory of Capital

By Eugen Von Böhm-Bawerk; William Smart | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
NATURE AND ORIGIN OF SUBJECTIVE VALUE

ALL goods without exception -- indeed according to the very conception of them as "good" -- possess a certain relation to human wellbeing. There are, however, two essentially distinct I grades of this relation. A good belongs to the lower grade when it possesses the general capacity to subserve human weal. The higher grade, on the other hand, demands that a good should be more than merely a sufficient cause; it must be an indispensable condition of human wellbeing -- a condition of such a kind that some gratification stands or falls with the having or wanting of the good. In the expressive vocabulary of everyday life we find a separate designation for these grades. The lower is called Usefulness, the higher Value. This distinction, already recognised in common speech, we must try to make as clear and well-marked as its fundamental importance for the whole theory of value deserves.

A man dwells beside a bubbling spring of water. He has filled his cup, and the spring goes on pouring out enough to fill a hundred other cups every minute. Another man is travelling in the desert. A long day's journey over glowing sand still divides him from the nearest oasis, and he has come to his last cup of water. What is the relation in each case between the cup of water and the wellbeing of its owner?

A single glance shows us that the relation is very dissimilar; but wherein lies the difference? Simply that, in the former case, we have only the lower grade of the relation we call wellbeing, that of usefulness; in the latter case we have the higher grade as well. In the first case, just as in the

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