The Economics of Consumption

By Charles S. Wyand | Go to book overview

is a difference between the product that can satisfy the consumer's desires, however trivial they might be; and the product that proposes to appease these desires and never does so. The consumer may harbor aspirations that appear ridiculous; nonetheless, his attempts to gratify them are reasonable. But the merchant who uses these aspirations as a selling point for goods that never could yield the consumer the results he has been led to hope for has contributed nothing to the consumer's welfare in exchange for the price paid. In fact, the consumer is worse off than he was before. Not only has he wasted his purchasing power, but the "pain" resulting from the disappointment of dashed hopes leaves him more miserable than he would have been had his "illusion" not been "encouraged" or the "rightness of his benighted yearnings" confirmed. The commercial creation of desires can be and frequently is legitimate. But to establish and encourage aspirations impossible of satisfaction affects the pleasure-pain balance only by increasing the latter.


Summary

Wants are the first broad and general reactions of the organism to the stimuli about it. They originate in the physiological and social needs of life and are characterized by a feeling of incompleteness on the part of the individual, which usually leads to attempts to supply that which is missing. Desires arise when the organism focuses its attention upon an object capable of appeasing the want in question. Since desires are infinite and wealth typically restricted, the most effective use of available wealth calls for a careful selection of those goods capable of yielding maximum economic welfare. This process of selection we know as choice.

Choice-making involves the three preliminary steps of valuation, elimination, and evaluation, and the final selection of that object capable of yielding the greatest possible pleasure for the sacrifice involved. The choice made is the only one possible and is determined by the factors creating the utility of the goods under consideration. In all cases, choice is reasonable because it involves the selection of what the consumer believes to be the maximum possible utility at the time.

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