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

product consumed is a value lost to all the world and to all eternity; but the further consequence, that may follow, will depend upon the circumstances and nature of the consumption.

If the consumption be unproductive, there usually results the gratification of some want, but no reproduction of value whatever; if productive, there results the satisfaction of no want,but a creation of new value, equal, inferior, or superior in amount to that consumed, and profitable or unprofitable to the adventurer accordingly.*

Thus, consumption may be regarded as an act of barter, wherein the owner of the value consumed gives up that value on the one hand, and receives in return, either the satisfaction of a personal want, or a fresh value, equivalent to the value consumed.

It may be proper here to remark, that consumption, productive of nothing beyond a present gratification, requires no skill or talent in the consumer. It requires neither labour nor ingenuity to eat a good dinner, or dress in fine clothes. On the contrary, productive consumption, besides yielding no immediate or present gratification, requires an exertion of combined labour and skill, or, of what has all along been denominated, industry.

When the owner of a product ready for consumption has himself no industrious faculty, and wishes, but knows not how, to consume it productively, he lends it to some one more industrious than himself, who commences by destroying it, but in such a way, as to reproduce another, and thereby enable himself to make a full restitution to the lender, after retaining the profit of his own skill and labour. The value returned consists of different objects from that lent, it is true: indeed, the condition of a loan is in substance this; to replace the value lent, of whatever amount, say, of 10,000 fr., at a time specified, by other

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*
This may be illustrated by the burning of fuel in a grate or furnace. The fuel burnt serves, either to give warmth, or to cook victuals, boil dyeing ingredients, and the like, and thereby to increase their value. There is no utility in the mere gratuitous act of burning, except inasmuch as it tends to satisfy some human want, that of warmth for instance; in which case, the consumption is unproductive; or inasmuch as it confers upon a substance submitted to its action, a value, that may replace the value of the fuel consumed; in which case the consumption is productive.

If the fuel, burnt for the sake of warmth, produce either no warmth at all or very little; or that burnt to give value to a substance give it no value, or a less value, than the value consumed in fuel, the consumption will be ill-judged and improvident.

There is unquestionably a sort of talent requisite in the expenditure of a large income with credit to the proprietor, so as to gratify personal taste, without awakening the self-love of others; to oblige without the sense of humiliation; to labour for the public good, without alarming individual interests. But this kind of talent is referable rather to the head of practical, while its influence upon the rest of mankind falls within the province of theoretical, morality.

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