Essays in Social Justice

By Thomas Carver Nixon | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE ULTIMATE BASIS OF SOCIAL CONFLICT1

SINCE justice has been defined as a principle for the adjustment of conflicting interests among men, our first problem is to examine the nature of this conflict of interests and inquire into its ultimate source. The thesis which we shall try to expand in this chapter is that the ultimate basis of all social conflict is found in economic scarcity of one form or another. Around this fact of economic scarcity with its inevitable conflict of interests are grouped practically all our moral ideals, our social, political, and legal institutions. Moreover, it is the basis of all real values whether they be classified as economic, moral or aesthetic.

Whatever else it may mean in art or morals there is no doubt whatever that in economics the word value means power in exchange. Be it understood that power in exchange is not the same as a ratio of exchange. Power in exchange implies motivation, control over human conduct, the ability to call forth expenditures of energy, -- to direct human enterprise, to influence human choices. Value is the power which an article or a service possesses of commanding other desirable things in peaceful and voluntary exchange. Why a thing has this power is the first problem in the study of economic value.

Whether it be universally agreed to or not, it is none the less true that utility and scarcity, and these alone, are

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1
The substance of this chapter has previously appeared in an article in the Harvard Theological Review, vol. i, no. 1.

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