In our investigation of the laws governing human requirements, we have reached the result that the existence of requirements for goods of higher order is dependent: (1) on our having requirements for the corresponding goods of lower order, and also (2) on these requirements for goods of lower order being not already provided for, or at least not completely provided for. We have defined an economic good as a good whose available quantity does not meet requirements completely, and thus we have the principle that the existence of requirements for goods of higher order is dependent upon the corresponding goods of lower order having economic character.
In places where pure and healthy drinking water is present in quantities exceeding the requirements of the population, and where this good therefore does not exhibit economic character, requirements for the various implements or means of transportation serving exclusively for carrying or piping and filtering drinking water cannot arise. And in regions in which there is a natural superabundance of firewood (trees, to be exact), and in which, as a result, this good has non-economic character, obviously all requirements for goods of higher order suitable exclusively for the production of firewood are absent from the very beginning. In regions, on the other hand, where firewood or drinking water have economic character, requirements for the corresponding goods of higher order will certainly exist.
But if it has now been established that human requirements for goods of higher order are determined by the economic character of the corresponding goods of lower order, and that requirements for goods of higher order cannot arise at all if they are not applicable to the production of economic goods, it follows that requirements for goods of higher order can never, in this event, become larger than their available quantities, however small, and hence that it is impossible from the very beginning for them to attain economic character.
From this we derive the general principle that the economic character of goods of higher order depends upon the economic character of the goods of lower order for whose production they serve. In other words, no good of higher order can attain economic character or maintain it unless it is suitable for the production of some economic good of lower order.
If, therefore, goods of lower order displaying economic character are under consideration, and if the question arises as to the ultimate causes of their economic character, it would be a complete reversal of the true relationship, if one were to assume that they are economic goods because the goods employed in producing them displayed economic character before the production process was undertaken. Such a supposition would contradict, in the first place, all experience, which teaches us that, from goods of higher order whose economic character is beyond all doubt, completely useless things may be produced, and in consequence of economic ignorance, actually are produced—things that do not even have goods-character let alone economic character. Moreover, cases can be conceived where, from economic goods of higher order, things can be produced that have goods-character but not economic character. By way of illustration, one need only imagine persons using costly economic goods to produce timber in virgin forests, to store up drinking water in regions abounding in freshwater springs, or to make air, etc.!
The economic character of a good thus cannot be a consequence of the circumstance that it has been produced from economic goods of higher order, and this explanation would have to be rejected in any case, even if it were not involved in a further internal contradiction. The explanation of the economic character of goods of lower order by that of goods of higher order is only a pseudo-explanation, and apart from being incorrect and in contradiction with all experience, it does not even fulfill the formal conditions for the explanation of a phenomenon. If we explain the economic character of goods of first order by that of goods of second order, the latter by the economic character of goods of third order, this again by the economic character of goods of fourth order, and so on, the solution of the problem is not advanced fundamentally by a single step, since the question as to the last and true cause of the economic character of goods always still remains unanswered.
Our previous explanation, however, demonstrates that man, with his needs and his command of the means to satisfy them, is himself the point at which human economic life both begins and ends. Initially, man experiences needs for goods of first order, and makes those whose available quantities are smaller than his requirements the objects of his economic activity (that is, he treats them as economic goods) while he finds no practical inducement to bring the other goods into the sphere of his economic activity.
Later, thought and experience lead men to ever deeper insights into the causal connections between things, and especially into the relations between things and their welfare. They learn to use goods of second, third, and higher orders. But with these goods, as with goods of first order, they find that some are available in quantities exceeding their requirements while the opposite relationship prevails with others. Hence they divide goods of higher order also into one group that they include in the sphere of their economic activity, and another group that they do not feel any practical necessity to treat in this way. This is the origin of the economic character of goods of higher order.