A Treatise on Political Economy, Or, the Production, Distribution, and Consumption of Wealth

By Jean-Baptiste Say; Clement C. Biddle et al. | Go to book overview

according to the degrees of estimation in the mind of the valuer. If valued at 20,000 fr. the house is reckoned to be equivalent to so many pieces of silver coin of the weight of 5 grammes, with a mixture of 1-10 alloy; if at 22,000 fr. or l8,000 fr. it is but a variation of the quantity of the commodity, that is the specific point of comparison. So likewise, if that point be wheat, the variable quantity of that commodity would express the degree of value.

Valuation is vague and arbitrary, when there is no assurance that it will be generally acquiesced in by others. The owner of the house may reckon it worth 22,000 fr. while an indifferent person would value it at no more than 18,000 fr., and probably neither would be right. But if another, or a dozen other persons be willing to give for it a specific amount of other commodities, say 20,000 fr. 1000 hectol. of wheat, we may conclude the estimate to be a correct one. A house that will fetch 20,000 fr. in the market is worth that sum.*--But if one bidder only will give that price, and he is unable to re-sell it without loss, he will give more than it is worth. The only fair criterion of the value of an object is, the quantity of other commodities at large, that can be readily obtained for it in exchange, whenever the owner wishes to part with it; and this, in all commercial dealings, and in all money valuations, is called the current price.

What is it, then, that determines this current price of commodities?

The want or desire of any particular object depends upon the physical and moral constitution of man, the climate he may live in, the laws, customs, and manners of the particular society, in which he may happen to be enrolled. He has wants, both corporeal and intellectual, social and individual; wants for himself and for his family. His bear-skin and reindeer are articles of the first necessity to the Laplander; wilst their very name is

____________________
*
My brother, Louis Say, of Nantes, has attacked this position in a short tract, entitled, Principales Causes de la Richesse et de la Misère des Pieuples et des Particuliérs, 8vo. Paris. Déterville. He lays down the maxim, that objects are items of wealth, solely in respect of their actual utility, and not of their admitted or recognised utility. In the eye of reason, his position is certainly correct; but, in this science, relative value is the only guide. Unless the degree of utility be measured by the scale of comparison, it is left quite indefinite and vague, and, even at the same time and place, at the mercy of individual caprice. The positive nature of value was to be established, before political economy could pretend to the character of a science, whose province it is to investigate its origin, and the consequences of its existence.
In the earlier editions of this work, I had described the measure of value to be the value of the other product, that was the point of comparison, which was incorrect. The quantity and not the value of that other product, is the measure of value in the object of valuation. This mistake gave rise to much ambiguity of demonstration, which the severity of criticism, both fair and unfair has taught me to correct. Fas est et ab hoste doceri.

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