In the two preceding sections we have seen how separate individuals, as well as the inhabitants of whole countries and groups of countries united by trade, attempt to form a judgment on the one hand about their requirements for future time periods and, on the other, about the quantities of goods available to them for meeting these requirements, in order to gain in this way the indispensable foundation for activity directed to the satisfaction of their needs. The task to which we now turn is to show how men, on the basis of this knowledge, direct the available quantities of goods (consumption goods and means of production) to the greatest possible satisfaction of their needs.
An investigation of the requirements for, and available quantities of, a good may establish the existence of any one of the three following relationships:
(a) that requirements are larger than the available quantity.
(b) that requirements are smaller than the available quantity.
(c) that requirements and the available quantity are equal.
We can regularly observe the first of these relationships—where a part of the needs for a good must necessarily remain unsatisfied—with by far the greater number of goods. I do not refer here to articles of luxury since, with them, this relationship seems self-evident. But even the coarsest pieces of clothing, the most ordinary living accommodations and furnishings, the most common foods, etc., are goods of this kind. Even earth, stones, and the most insignificant kinds of scrap are, as a rule, not available to us in such great quantities that we could not employ still greater quantities of them.
Wherever this relationship appears with respect to a given time period—that is, wherever men recognize that the requirements for a good are greater than its available quantity—they achieve the further insight that no part of the available quantity, in any way practically significant, may lose its useful properties or be removed from human control without causing some concrete human needs, previously provided for, to remain unsatisfied, or without causing these needs now to be satisfied less completely than before.
The first effects of this insight upon the activity of men intent to satisfy their needs as completely as possible are that they strive: (1) to maintain at their disposal every unit of a good standing in this quantitative relationship, and (2) to conserve its useful properties.
A further effect of knowledge of this relationship between requirements and available quantities is that men become aware, on the one hand, that under all circumstances a part of their needs for the good in question will remain unsatisfied and, on the other hand, that any inappropriate employment of partial quantities of this good must necessarily result in part of the needs that would be provided for by appropriate employment of the available quantity remaining unsatisfied.
Accordingly, with respect to a good subject to the relationship under discussion, men endeavor, in provident activity directed to the satisfaction of their needs: (3) to make a choice between their more important needs, which they will satisfy with the available quantity of the good in question, and needs that they must leave unsatisfied, and (4) to obtain the greatest possible result with a given quantity of the good or a given result with the smallest possible quantity—or in other words, to direct the quantities of consumers’ goods available to them, and particularly the available quantities of the means of production, to the satisfaction of their needs in the most appropriate manner.
The complex of human activities directed to these four objectives is called economizing, and goods standing in the quantitative relationship involved in the preceding discussion are the exclusive objects of it. These goods are economic goods in contrast to such goods as men find no practical necessity of economizing—for reasons which, as we shall see later, can be traced to quantitative relationships accessible to exact measurement, just as this has been shown to be possible in the case of economic goods.9
But before we proceed to demonstrate these relationships and the phenomena of life ultimately determined by them, we will consider a phenomenon of social life which has assumed immeasurable significance for human welfare and which, in its ultimate causes, springs from the same quantitative relationship that we became acquainted with earlier in this section.
So far we have presented the phenomena of life that result from the fact that the requirements of men for many goods are greater than the quantities available to them in a very general way, and without special regard to the social organization of men. What has been said to this point therefore applies equally to an isolated individual and to a whole society, however it may be organized. But the social life of men, pursuing their individual interests even as members of society, brings to view a special phenomenon in the case of all goods whose available quantities are less than the requirements for them. An account of this phenomenon may find its place here.
If the quantitative relationship under discussion occurs in a society (that is, if the requirements of a society for a good are larger than its available quantity), it is impossible, in accordance with what was said earlier, for the respective needs of all individuals composing the society to be completely satisfied. On the contrary, nothing is more certain than that the needs of some members of this society will be satisfied either not at all or, at any rate, only in an incomplete fashion. Here human self-interest finds an incentive to make itself felt, and where the available quantity does not suffice for all, every individual will attempt to secure his own requirements as completely as possible to the exclusion of others.
In this struggle, the various individuals will attain very different degrees of success. But whatever the manner in which goods subject to this quantitative relationship are divided, the requirements of some members of the society will not be met at all, or will be met only incompletely. These persons will therefore have interests opposed to those of the present possessors with respect to each portion of the available quantity of goods. But with this Opposition of interest, it becomes necessary for society to protect the various individuals in the possession of goods subject to this relationship against all possible acts of force. In this way, then, we arrive at the economic origin of our present legal order, and especially of the so-called protection of ownership, the basis of property.
Thus human economy and property have a joint economic origin since both have, as the ultimate reason for their existence, the fact that goods exist whose available quantities are smaller than the requirements of men. Property, therefore, like human economy, is not an arbitrary invention but rather the only practically possible solution of the problem that is, in the nature of things, imposed upon us by the disparity between requirements for, and available quantities of, all economic goods.
As a result, it is impossible to abolish the institution of property without removing the causes that of necessity bring it about—that is, without simultaneously increasing the available quantities of all economic goods to such an extent that the requirements of all members of society can be met completely, or without reducing the needs of men far enough to make the available goods suffice for the complete satisfaction of their needs. Without establishing such an equilibrium between requirements and available amounts, a new social order could indeed ensure that the available quantities of economic goods would be used for the satisfaction of the needs of different persons than at present. But by such a redistribution it could never surmount the fact that there would be persons whose requirements for economic goods would either not be met at all, or met only incompletely, and against whose potential acts of force, the possessors of economic goods would have to be protected. Property, in this sense, is therefore inseparable from human economy in its social form, and all plans of social reform can reasonably be directed only toward an appropriate distribution of economic goods but never to the abolition of the institution of property itself.