Chapter 14: Economic Social Value (continued)
Benjamin McAlester Anderson Jr.
BACK to the concrete whole, then, of social-mental life. The abstract elements with which the Austrians and the pain-abstinence cost school undertook to solve the value problem, have their place in this whole. The "utility" of goods to individuals, growing out of the nature of their wants, depends very largely on social causes. Mode, fashion, custom - how powerfully they mould our wants. And individual "cost," likewise: a university athlete could dig a ditch far more easily, so far as bodily pain is concerned, than could an aged negro, and yet would suffer much more in doing it than would the negro. A social standard would bring a feeling of shame to him which the negro would not share. If we abstract from the concrete forms which individual wants and "costs" take, and define them in their lowest physical terms, we might leave out a social reference. But men do not desire raw meat, and the skins of beasts, and eaves in which to live. Their food they wish to eat in accordance with the conventions of their class, and of a sort that their fellows eat. their water, of late, they wish free from germs, their houses
(149) and clothing must be "in style," -facts well enough recognized, though not in themselves enough for a theory of "social value." These individual "utilities" and "costs" have little meaning till we know the social ranking of the men who feel them, till we know how much the men who have them count for in the scale of fundamental human values. And their effect on " supply price" and "demand price" - the money measures of infinitely complex social forces, to which the entrepreneur immediately looks for his 6 " cue" - has absolutely no constant relation to their intensity. The wants of slaves may count for little. The utterly unattractive and inefficient man may starve. The gilded parasite of a prerevolutionary French monarch may command untold resources, while the useful and productive millions may barely exist. On the other hand, with a changed set of legal and moral values, we may have men of social influence and power striving constantly to increase the incomes and relieve the sufferings of the poor and helpless. Our legislatures may be busy with laws shortening the hours of all labor, laws prohibiting child labor, laws restricting the labor of women, laws for the protection of miners, laws relating to the conditions of pay for labor and to compensation for accidents - which promptly reflect themselves in the values of the goods produced in the industries affected, and in the increased values through increased " demand -of the goods consumed by these classes.
The ideal of "no pay without function" may
(150) attain - as I think it is to-day attaining - a value of increasing power. And it may lead men to strive for the abolition of monopoly incomes, and the correction of the gross inequalities in the distribution of wealth. If it do not succeed - and it does not by any means succeed - it is because opposing values check it. At any given moment, there is an equilibrium, usually unstable, between the forces tending to correct, and to perpetuate, these inequalities. And it need not be an evil force that is the real obstacle to the realization of greater justice in distribution. The legal value of private property - one of those social "absolute values" which do not readily lend themselves to the "marginal process " - checks at an early stage many of our well-meant, but badly planned, efforts at justice. Glad as most of us would be to deprive plutocratic pirates of what they have not earned, we still do not care to upset the fundamentals of our social system in the process. But the conflict between these values brings them both into clearer light. We see, and feel, the significance, the "presuppositions," the "funded meanings," of each. And while, for the present, there is a "mechanical haul and strain"' between them, which, if no more light comes, may ultimately lead to the triumph of one and the complete defeat of the other, still, we may hope to get a result like that which often comes in the case of conflicts between values in the individual psychology - a fuller appreciation of the significance of both values, which will get us away from the
(151)"absoluteness" of each, and effect a marginal equilibrium between them, or, perhaps, get a new value which will comprehend them both.
Of course, the thing is not so simple as this. It is not a conflict simply between two values, both of which the same man may participate" in. Our plutocrats are also parts of the social will. They count! The economic value they control may bribe lawmakers, may corrupt judges, may seduce writers and preachers and teachers and others who have to do with the making of public sentiment and the shaping of social values. And, in subtler ways, through the social prestige which their mere wealth too often gives, through the ideals which they themselves honestly feel, and communicate to those about them, do they create values opposing the values making for a juster distribution of wealth. Infinitely complex is the situation, many and varied are the values, which reinforce each other, oppose each other, and come into equilibrium with each other, in a given moment in the social will.
Older egoistic theories of political economy, which assumed perfect freedom of competition, and gloried in the "harmonies" which result therefrom, whereby the interests of the individuals and of society converge, and the maximum of social welfare is attained by the individual's attaining his own interests -these theories have been much attacked of late by those who accept the premise -of egoism, but reject the premise of freedom. To them economic "friction " means simply an opportunity for the strong to prey upon
(152) the weak, and the social outlook is gloomy indeed. The harmonies are shattered and gone. If we reject the other premise also, however, as necessarily a dominant principle, the outlook is changed or may be changed. It is true that there are ignorance, helplessness, and passions among men, and that wolves prey. But it is also true that there are forces of righteousness alert and militant in the world, not merely in the pulpit and cloister and missionary field. And the struggle between these contending forces is pregnant with implications for value theory. An astute corporation lawyer argues before a court; an honest attorney-general defends the rights of the people; and the ticker on 'Change records whether right or wrong has prevailed. Prices are big with the moral tidings they would speak - shall we read in them only mathematical ratios between quantities of physical objects?
It is by turning, then, to the concrete whole of social-mental life, and especially to the moral and legal values of distribution, that we break the circle  of our economic values. Economics
(153) has failed to profit by the example of the other social sciences here. Ethics has frankly recognized the tremendous import of economic values for ethical values. Jurisprudence has frankly accepted the fact that law grows, in large part, out of economic needs - even though it remains behind the needs of the present economic situation. But economic theory has sought to make itself too much a thing apart, to isolate its phenomena from other phases of social life, and has busied itself exclusively with " utility " and " cost" and "prices," and the like. And where the economist has consented to consider the relations between his own field and adjacent fields, he has done so with a preconception of the priority of his own phenomena, and his results have been an "economic" interpretation of history, ethics, jurisprudence, etc. That the economic interpretation of the other fields has much to commend it is certain, but it is equally certain that law and morality react on economic values, especially in the higher stages of civilization. This has been so fully and convincingly stated by Professor Seligman, in his Economic Interpretation of History, that I forego further elaboration here. One comment is necessary however: even though we might grant Marx and Buckle that the physical environment and the progress of
(154) economic technique are of ultimate ruling significance for the direction of social progress, it is still a far cry from that doctrine to the doctrine that the "utilities" and "costs" directly connected with the production and consumption of economic goods, in the minds of individual men, are an adequate explanation of anything.
Were we interested in ethical and political values for their own sake, it would be easy to show that our conception of the nature of society and of social values has a similar significance for politics and ethics. There is no one distinctive emotion, as fear, or the love of domination, that lies at the basis of the state; there is no one emotion, as sympathy, or the love of pleasure, which constitutes the essence of the moral values, nor is there any single type of mental activity, as imitation, or consciousness of kind, which furnishes the peculiar theme of sociology. Social life is not in water-tight compartments. It is one whole, of which the different sciences study different aspects. And the principle of division of labor among the social sciences is not that one science shall offer one theory of society and another science another theory, but rather, that each science shall take as its problem a phase of society, and explain it by reference to a general set of facts which all have in common. The differentiation comes not in the explanation phenomena - no science has
(155)any monopoly on any set of forces which may be used for the purpose of explanation - but in the phenomena to be explained, in the problem phenomena.