The Economics of Welfare

Pigou, Arthur C.
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First Pub. Date
London: Macmillan and Co.
Pub. Date
4th edition.


Part I, Chapter I


§ 1. WHEN a man sets out upon any course of inquiry, the object of his search may be either light or fruit—either knowledge for its own sake or knowledge for the sake of good things to which it leads. In various fields of study these two ideals play parts of varying importance. In the appeal made to our interest by nearly all the great modern sciences some stress is laid both upon the light-bearing and upon the fruit-bearing quality, but the proportions of the blend are different in different sciences. At one end of the scale stands the most general science of all, metaphysics, the science of reality. Of the student of that science it is, indeed, true that "he yet may bring some worthy thing for waiting souls to see"; but it must be light alone, it can hardly be fruit that he brings. Most nearly akin to the metaphysician is the student of the ultimate problems of physics. The corpuscular theory of matter is, hitherto, a bearer of light alone. Here, however, the other aspect is present in promise; for speculations about the structure of the atom may lead one day to the discovery of practical means for dissociating matter and for rendering available to human use the overwhelming resources of intra-atomic energy. In the science of biology the fruit-bearing aspect is more prominent. Recent studies upon heredity have, indeed, the highest theoretical interest; but no one can reflect upon that without at the same time reflecting upon the striking practical results to which they have already led in the culture of wheat, and upon the far-reaching, if hesitating, promise that they are beginning to offer for the better culture of mankind. In the sciences whose subject-matter is man as an individual there is the same variation of blending as in the natural sciences proper. In psychology the theoretic interest is dominant—particularly on that side of it which gives data to metaphysics; but psychology is also valued in some measure as a basis for the practical art of education. In human physiology, on the other hand, the theoretic interest, though present, is subordinate, and the science has long been valued mainly as a basis for the art of medicine. Last of all we come to those sciences that deal, not with individual men, but with groups of men; that body of infant sciences which some writers call sociology. Light on the laws that lie behind development in history, even light upon particular facts, has, in the opinion of many, high value for its own sake. But there will, I think, be general agreement that in the sciences of human society, be their appeal as bearers of light never so high, it is the promise of fruit and not of light that chiefly merits our regard. There is a celebrated, if somewhat too strenuous, passage in Macaulay's Essay on History: "No past event has any intrinsic importance. The knowledge of it is valuable, only as it leads us to form just calculations with regard to the future. A history which does not serve this purpose, though it may be filled with battles, treaties and commotions, is as useless as the series of turnpike tickets collected by Sir Matthew Mite." That paradox is partly true. If it were not for the hope that a scientific study of men's social actions may lead, not necessarily directly or immediately, but at some time and in some way, to practical results in social improvement, not a few students of these actions would regard the time devoted to their study as time misspent. That is true of all social sciences, but especially true of economics. For economics "is a study of mankind in the ordinary business of life"; and it is not in the ordinary business of life that mankind is most interesting or inspiring. One who desired knowledge of man apart from the fruits of knowledge would seek it in the history of religious enthusiasm, of martyrdom, or of love; he would not seek it in the market-place. When we elect to watch the play of human motives that are ordinary—that are sometimes mean and dismal and ignoble—our impulse is not the philosopher's impulse, knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but rather the physiologist's, knowledge for the healing that knowledge may help to bring. Wonder, Carlyle declared, is the beginning of philosophy. It is not wonder, but rather the social enthusiasm which revolts from the sordidness of mean streets and the joylessness of withered lives, that is the beginning of economic science. Here, if in no other field, Comte's great phrase holds good: "It is for the heart to suggest our problems; it is for the intellect to solve them.... The only position for which the intellect is primarily adapted is to be the servant of the social sympathies."


§ 2. If this conception of the motive behind economic study is accepted, it follows that the type of science that the economist will endeavour to develop must be one adapted to form the basis of an art. It will not, indeed, itself be an art, or directly enunciate precepts of government. It is a positive science of what is and tends to be, not a normative science of what ought to be. Nor will it limit itself to those fields of positive scientific inquiry which have an obvious relevance to immediate practical problems. This course would hamper thorough investigation and shut out inquiries that might ultimately bear fruit. For, as has been well said, "in our most theoretical moods we may be nearest to our most practical applications."*1 But, though wholly independent in its tactics and its strategy, it will be guided in general direction by practical interest. This decides its choice of essential form. For there are two main types of positive science. One the one side are the sciences of formal logic and pure mathematics, whose function it is to discover implications. On the other side are the realistic sciences, such as physics, chemistry and biology, which are concerned with actualities. The distinction is drawn out in Mr. Russell's Principles of Mathematics. "Since the growth of non-Euclidean Geometry, it has appeared that pure mathematics has no concern with the question whether the axioms and propositions of Euclid hold of actual space or not: this is a question for realistic mathematics, to be decided, so far as any decision is possible, by experiment and observation. What pure mathematics asserts is merely that the Euclidean propositions follow from the Euclidean axioms, i.e. it asserts an implication: any space which has such and such properties has also such and such other properties. Thus, as dealt with in pure mathematics, the Euclidean and non-Euclidean Geometries are equally true: in each nothing is affirmed except implications. All propositions as to what actually exists, like the space we live in belong to experimental or empirical science, not to mathematics."*2 This distinction is applicable to the field of economic investigation. It is open to us to construct an economic science either of the pure type represented by pure mathematics or of the realistic type represented by experimental physics. Pure economics in this sense—an unaccustomed sense, no doubt—would study equilibria and disturbances of equilibria among groups of persons actuated by any set of motives x Under it, among innumerable other subdivisions, would be included at once an Adam-Smithian political economy, in which x is given the value of the motives assigned to the economic man—or to the normal man—and a non-Adam- Smithian political economy, corresponding to the geometry of Lobatschewsky, under which x consists of love of work and hatred of earnings. For pure economics both these political economies would be equally true; it would not be relevant to inquire what the value of x is among the actual men who are living in the world now. Contrasted with this pure science stands realistic economies, the interest of which is concentrated upon the world known in experience, and in nowise extends to the commercial doings of a community of angels. Now, if our end is practice, it is obvious that a political economy that did so extend would be for us merely an amusing toy. Hence it must be the realistic, and not the pure, type of science that constitutes the object of our search. We shall endeavour to elucidate, not any generalised system of possible worlds, but the actual world of men and women as they are found in experience to be.


§ 3. But, if it is plain that a science of the pure type will not serve our purpose, it is equally plain that realism, in the sense of a mere descriptive catalogue of observed facts, will not serve it either. Infinite narration by itself can never enable forecasts to be made, and it is, of course, capacity to make forecasts that practice requires. Before this capacity can be obtained facts must be passed upon by reason. Besides the brute facts, there must be what Browning calls, "something of mine, which, mixed up with the mass, made it bear hammer and be firm to file." It is just the presence of this something which is essential to a realistic science as distinguished from mere description. In realistic science facts are not simply brought together; they are compelled by thought to speak. As M. Poincaré well writes: "Science is built up of facts as a house is built of stones; but an accumulation of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house."*3 Astronomical physics is not merely a catalogue of the positions which certain stars have been observed to occupy on various occasions. Biology is not merely a list of the results of a number of experiments in breeding. Rather, every science, through examination and cross-examination of the particular facts which it is able to ascertain, seeks to discover the general laws of whose operation these particular facts are instances. The motions of the heavenly bodies are exhibited in the light of the laws of Newton; the breeding of the blue Andalusian fowl in the light of that of Mendel. These laws, furthermore, are not merely summaries of the observed facts re-stated in a shorthand form. They are generalisations, and, as such, extend our knowledge to facts that have not been observed, maybe, that have not as yet even occurred. On what philosophical basis generalisations of this sort rest we are not here concerned to inquire. It is enough that in every realistic science they are made. As Mr. Whetham, speaking of physics, puts it, any such science "seeks to establish general rules which describe the sequence of phenomena in all cases."*4 It is only by reference to these general rules that the forecasts, which practice needs, are rendered possible. It is in their fundamental aspect as an organon of laws, and not in their superficial aspect as a description of facts, that the realistic sciences have bearing upon the conduct of affairs. The establishment of such an organon adapted and ready for application to particular problems is the ideal at which they aim.


§4. To say this without saying something more would, however, by very misleading. It is not pretended that, at the present stage of its development, economic science is able to provide an organon even remotely approaching to what it imagines for itself as its ideal. Full guidance for practice requires, to borrow Marshall's phrase, capacity to carry out quantitative, not merely qualitative, analysis. "Qualitative analysis tells the ironmaster that there is some sulphur in his ore, but it does not enable him to decide whether it is worth while to smelt the ore at all, and, if it is, then by what process. For that purpose he needs quantitative analysis, which will tell him how much sulphur there is in the ore."*5 Capacity to provide information of this kind economic science at present almost entirely lacks. Before the application of general laws to particular problems can yield quantitative results, these laws themselves must be susceptible of quantitative statement. The law is the major premises and the particular facts of any problem the minor. When the statement of the law lacks precision, the conclusion must generally suffer from the same defect; and, unfortunately, the task of setting out economic laws in precise form has scarcely been begun. For this there are three reasons. First, the relations which have to be determined are extremely numerous. In physics the fundamental thing, the gravitation constant, expressing the relation between distance and attractive force, is the same for all sorts of matter. But the fundamental thing, in the economic world—the schedules expressing the desires or aversions of groups of people for different sorts of commodities and services—are not thus simple and uniform. We are in the position in which the physicist would be if tin attracted iron in the inverse ratio of the cube of its distance, lead in that of the square of its distance, and copper in some other ratio. We cannot say, as he can of his attractions, that the amount offered or required of every several commodity is one and the same specified function of the price. All that we can say in this general way is that it is some one of a specified large family of functions of the price. Hence, in economics there is not, as in dynamics, one fundamental law of general application, but a great number of laws, all expressible, as it were, in equations of similar form but with different constants. On account of this multiplicity, the determination of those constants, or to put the matter broadly, the measurement of the elasticities of demand and supply of the various commodities in which economics is interested, is a very large task. Secondly, this task is one in attacking which the principal weapon employed by other sciences in their inquiries cannot be fully used. "Theory," said Leonardo da Vinci, "is the general; experiments are the soldiers." Economic science has already well-trained generals, but, because of the nature of the material in which it works, the soldiers are hard to obtain. "The surgeon dissects a dead body before he operates on a living one, and operates upon an animal before he operates upon a human being; the mechanic makes a working model and tests it before he builds the full-sized machine. Every step is, whenever possible, tested by experiments in these matters before risks are run. In this way the unknown is robbed of most of its terrors."*6 In economics, for the simple reason that its subject-matter is living and free men, direct experiment under conditions adequately controlled is hardly ever feasible. But there is a third and even more serious difficulty. Even if the constants which economists wish to determine were less numerous, and the method of experiment more accessible, we should still be faced with the fact that the constants themselves are different at different times. The gravitation constant is the same always. But the economic constants—these elasticities of demand and supply—depending, as they do, upon human consciousness, are liable to vary. The constitution of the atom, as it were, and not merely its position, changes under the influence of environment. Thus the real injury done to Ireland by the earlier English administration of that country was not the destruction of specific industries or even the sweeping of its commerce from the seas. "The real grievance lies in the fact that something had been taken from our industrial character which could not be remedied by the mere removal of the restrictions. Not only had the tree been stripped, but the roots had been destroyed."*7 This malleability in the actual substance with which economic study deals means that the goal sought is itself perpetually shifting, so that, even if it were possible by experiment exactly to determine the values of the economic constants to-day, we could not say with confidence that this determination would hold good also of to-morrow. Hence the inevitable shortcomings of our science. We can, indeed, by a careful study of all relevant facts, learn something about the elasticities of demand and supply for a good number of things, but we cannot ascertain their magnitude with any degree of exactness. In other words, our fundamental laws, and, therefore, inferences from these laws in particular conditions, cannot at present be thrown into any quantitatively precise form. The result is that, when, as often happens, a practical issue turns upon the balancing of opposing considerations, even though these considerations are wholly economic, economic science must almost always speak with an uncertain voice.


§ 5. The preceding paragraph has been somewhat of a digression. It has now to be added that, just as the motive and purpose of our inquiry govern its form, so also they control its scope. The goal sought is to make more easy practical measures to promote welfare—practical measures which statesmen may build upon the work of the economist, just as Marconi, the inventor, built upon the discoveries of Hertz. Welfare, however, is a thing of very wide range. There is no need here to enter upon a general discussion of its content. It will be sufficient to lay down more or less dogmatically two propositions; first, that the elements of welfare are states of consciousness and, perhaps, their relations; secondly, that welfare can be brought under the category of greater and less. A general investigation of all the groups of causes by which welfare thus conceived may be affected would constitute a task so enormous and complicated as to be quite impracticable. It is, therefore, necessary to limit our subject-matter. In doing this we are naturally attracted towards that portion of the field in which the methods of science seem likely to work at best advantage. This they can clearly do when there is present something measurable, on which analytical machinery can get a firm grip. The one obvious instrument of measurement available in social life is money. Hence, the range of our inquiry becomes restricted to that part of social welfare that can be brought directly or indirectly into relation with the measuring-rod of money. This part of welfare may be called economic welfare. It is not, indeed, possible to separate it in any rigid way from other parts, for the part which can be brought into relation with a money measure will be different according as we mean by can, "can easily" or "can with mild straining" or "can with violent straining." The outline of our territory is, therefore, necessarily vague. Professor Cannan has well observed: "We must face, and face boldly, the fact that there is no precise line between economic and non-economic satisfactions, and, therefore, the province of economics cannot be marked out by a row of posts or a fence, like a political territory or a landed property. We can proceed from the undoubtedly economic at the other end without finding anywhere a fence to climb or a ditch to cross."*8 Nevertheless, though no precise boundary between economic and non-economic welfare exists, yet the test of accessibility to a money measure serves well enough to set up a rough distinction. Economic welfare, as loosely defined by this test, is the subject-matter of economic science. The purpose of this volume is to study certain important groups of causes that affect economic welfare in actual modern societies.


§6. At first glance this programme, if somewhat ambitious, appears, at all events, a legitimate one. But reflection soon shows that the proposal to treat in isolation the causes affecting one part of welfare only is open to a serious objection. Our ultimate interest is, of course, in the effects which the various causes investigated are likely to have upon welfare as a whole. But there is no guarantee that the effects produced on the part of welfare that can be brought into relation with the measuring-rod of money may not be cancelled by effects of a contrary kind brought about in other parts, or aspects, of welfare; and, if this happens, the practical usefulness of our conclusions is wholly destroyed. The difficulty, it must be carefully observed, is not that, since economic welfare is only a part of welfare as a whole, welfare will often change while economic welfare remains the same, so that a given change in economic welfare will seldom synchronise with an equal change in welfare as a whole. All that this means is that economic welfare will not serve for a barometer or index of total welfare. But that, for our purpose, is of no importance. What we wish to learn is, not how large welfare is, or has been, but how its magnitude would be affected by the introduction of causes which it is in the power of statesmen or private persons to call into being. The failure of economic welfare to serve as an index of total welfare is no evidence that the study of it will fail to afford this latter information: for, though a whole may consist of many varying parts, so that a change in one part never measures the change in the whole, yet the change in the part may always affect the change in the whole by its full amount. If this condition is satisfied, the practical importance of economic study is fully established. It will not, indeed, tell us how total welfare, after the introduction of an economic cause, will differ from what it was before; but it will tell us how total welfare will differ from what it would have been if that cause had not been introduced: and this, and not the other, is the information of which we are in search. The real objection then is, not that economic welfare is a bad index of total welfare, but that an economic cause may affect non-economic welfare in ways that cancel its effect on economic welfare. This objection requires careful consideration.


§7. One very important aspect of it is as follows. Human beings are both "ends in themselves" and instruments of production. On the one hand, a man who is attuned to the beautiful in nature or in art, whose character is simple and sincere, whose passions are controlled and sympathies developed, is in himself an important element in the ethical value of the world; the way in which he feels and thinks actually constitutes a part of welfare. On the other hand, a man who can perform complicated industrial operations, sift difficult evidence, or advance some branch of practical activity, is an instrument well fitted to produce things whose use yields welfare. The welfare to which the former of these men contributes directly is non-economic; that to which the latter contributes indirectly is economic. The fact we have to face is that, in some measure, it is open to the community to choose between these two sorts of men, and that, by concentrating its effort upon the economic welfare embodied in the second, it may unconsciously sacrifice the non-economic welfare embodied in the first. The point is easy of illustration. The weak and disjointed Germany of a century ago was the home of Goethe and Schiller, Kant and Fichte. "We know what the old Germany gave the world," says Mr. Dawson in a book published several years before the war, "and for that gift the world will ever be grateful; we do not know what modern Germany, the Germany of the overflowing barns and the full argosies, has to offer, beyond its materialistic science and its merchandise.... The German systems of education, which are incomparable so far as their purpose is the production of scholars and teachers, or of officials and functionaries, to move the cranks, turn the screws, gear the pulleys, and oil the wheels of the complicated national machine, are far from being equally successful in the making of character or individuality."*9 In short, the attention of the German people was so concentrated on the idea of learning to do that they did not care, as in former times, for learning to be. Nor does Germany stand alone before this charge; as witness the following description of modern England written by an Englishman from the standpoint of an Oriental spectator. "By your works you may be known. Your triumphs in the mechanical arts are the obverse of your failure in all that calls for spiritual insight. Machines of every kind you can make and use to perfection; but you cannot build a house, or write a poem, or paint a picture; still less can you worship or aspire.... Your outer man as well as your inner is dead; you are blind and deaf. Ratiocination has taken the place of perception; and your whole life is an infinite syllogism from premises you have not examined to conclusions you have not anticipated or willed. Everywhere means, nowhere an end. Society a huge engine and that engine itself out of gear. Such is the picture your civilisation presents to my imagination."*10 There is, of course, exaggeration in this indictment; but there is also truth. At all events it brings out vividly the point which is here at issue; that efforts devoted to the production of people who are good instruments may involve a failure to produce people who are good men.


§8. The possibility of conflict between the effects of economic causes upon economic welfare and upon welfare in general, which these considerations emphasise, is easily explained. The only aspects of conscious life which can, as a rule, be brought into relation with a money measure, and which, therefore, fall within economic welfare, are a certain limited group of satisfactions and dissatisfactions. But conscious life is a complex of many elements, and includes, not only these satisfactions and dissatisfactions, but also other satisfactions and dissatisfactions, and, along with them, cognitions, emotions and desires. Environmental causes operating to change economic satisfactions may, therefore, either in the same act or as a consequence of it, alter some of these other elements. The ways in which they do this may be distinguished, for purposes of illustration, into two principal groups.


First, non-economic welfare is liable to be modified by the manner in which income is earned. For the surroundings of work react upon the quality of life. Ethical quality is affected by the occupations—menial service, agricultural labour, artistic creation, independent as against subordinate economic positions,*11 monotonous repetition of the same operation,*12 and so on—into which the desires of consumers impel the people who work to satisfy them. It is affected, too, by the influence which these people exert on others with whom they may be brought into personal contact. The social aspect of Chinese labour in the Transvaal and of the attempt by Australian pastoralists to maintain the convict system, as a source of labour supply,*13 had relevance to welfare. So, too, have the unity of interest and occupation which characterise the farm family as distinguished from the town-dwelling family.*14 In the Indian village "the collaboration of the family members not only economises expenses, but sweetens labour. Culture and refinement come easily to the artisan through his work amidst his kith and kin."*15 Thus the industrial revolution, when it led the cottager from his home into the factory, had an effect on other things besides production. In like manner, increased efficiency in output was not the only result which the agricultural revolution, with its enclosures and large-scale farming, brought about. There was also a social change in the destruction of the old yeoman class. The human relations that arise out of industrial relations are also relevant. In the great co-operative movement, for example, there is a non-economic side at least as important as the economic. Whereas in the organisation of ordinary competitive industry opposition of interest, both as between competing sellers and as between sellers and buyers, necessarily stands in the forefront, and results at times in trickery and a sense of mutual suspicion, in a co-operative organisation unity of interest is paramount. This circumstance has its influence on the general tone of life. "As a member of a society with interests in common with others, the individual consciously and unconsciously develops the social virtues. Honesty becomes imperative, and is enforced by the whole group on the individual, loyalty to the whole group is made an essential for the better development of individual powers. To cheat the society is to injure a neighbour."*16 In the relations between employers and workpeople in ordinary industry the non-economic element is fully as significant. The esprit de corps and interest in the fortunes of the firm, which animate the workpeople in establishments where the personal intercourse of employers and employed is cordial, besides leading to increased production of wealth, is in itself an addition to welfare. As large-scale industry extended during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, employers and employed became more distant in station, and their opportunities of meeting one another diminished. In the wake of this inevitable physical separation there followed a moral separation—"the personal alienation of the employer from his fellow-men whom he engages to work for him in large numbers."*17 This spirit of hostility was an obvious negative element in non-economic welfare due to an economic cause; and the partial suppression of it through Boards of Conciliation, Whitley Councils and Copartnership arrangements is an equally obvious positive element. Nor is this all. It is more and more coming to be recognised that, if one root of "labour unrest" has been dissatisfaction with rates of wages, a second root, also of great importance, has been dissatisfaction with the general status of wage-labour—the feeling that the industrial system, as it is to-day, deprives the workpeople of the liberties and responsibilities proper to free men, and renders them mere tools to be used or dispensed with at the convenience of others: the sense, in short, as Mazzini put it long ago, that capital is the despot of labour.*18 Changes in industrial organisation that tend to give greater control over their own lives to workpeople, whether through workmen's councils to overlook matters of discipline and workshop organisation in conjunction with the employer, or through a democratically elected Parliament directly responsible for nationalised industries, or, if this should prove feasible, through some form of State-recognised and State-controlled national guilds,*19 might increase welfare as a whole, even though they were to leave unchanged, or actually to damage, economic welfare.


Secondly, non-economic welfare is liable to be modified by the manner in which income is spent. Of different acts of consumption that yield equal satisfactions, one may exercise a debasing, and another an elevating, influence.*20 The reflex effect upon the quality of people produced by public museums, or even by municipal baths,*21 is very different from the reflex effect of equal satisfactions in a public bar. The coarsening and brutalising influence of bad housing accommodation is an incident not less important than the direct dissatisfaction involved in it. Instances of the same kind could be multiplied. The point that they would illustrate is obviously of large practical importance. Imagine, for example, that a statesman is considering how far inequality in the distribution of wealth influences welfare as a whole, and not merely in its economic aspects. He will reflect that the satisfaction of some of the desires of the rich, such as gambling excitement or luxurious sensual enjoyment, or perhaps, in Eastern countries, opium-eating, involves reacitons on character ethically inferior to those involved in the satisfaction of primary physical needs, to the securing of which the capital and labour controlled by the demand of the rich would, if transferred to the poor, probably be devoted. On the other hand, he will reflect that other satisfactions purchased by the rich—those, for example, connected with literature and art*22—involve reactions that are ethically superior to those connected with the primary needs, and still more to those derived from excessive indulgence in stimulants. These very real elements in welfare will, indeed, enter into relation with the measuring rod of money, and so be counted in economic welfare, in so far as one group of people devote income to purchasing things for other people. When they do this, they are likely to take account of the total effect, and not merely of the effect on the satisfactions of those people—especially if the said people are their own children. For, as Sidgwick acutely observes: "A genuine regard for our neighbour, when not hampered by the tyranny of custom, prompts us to give him what we think really good for him, whereas natural self-regard prompts us to give ourselves what we like."*23 In these special circumstances, therefore, the gap between the effect on economic welfare and the effect on total welfare is partially bridged. Generally, however, it is not so bridged.


§9. There is one further consideration, of the great importance of which recent events can leave no doubt. It has to do with the possible conflict, long ago emphasised by Adam Smith, between opulence and defence. Lack of security against successful hostile attack may involve "dissatisfactions" of a very terrible kind. These things lie outside the economic sphere, but the risk of them may easily be affected by economic policy. It is true, no doubt, that between economic strength and capacity for war there is a certain rough agreement. As Adam Smith wrote: "The nation which, from the annual produce of its domestic industry, from the annual revenue arising out of its lands, labour and consumable stock, has wherewithal to purchase those consumable goods in distant countries, can maintain foreign wars there."*24 But agreement between economic and military strength is ultimate and general, not immediate and detailed. It must, therefore, be clearly recognised that the effect upon economic welfare of the policy which a State adopts towards agriculture, shipping and industries producing war material is often a very subordinate part of its whole effect. Injury to economic welfare may need to be accepted for the sake of defensive strategy. Economically it is probably to the advantage of this country to purchase the greater part of its food supplies from abroad in exchange for manufactured goods, and to keep more than two-thirds of its cultivated land under grass—in which state comparatively little capital and labour is employed upon it and correspondingly little human food produced.*25 In a world of perpetual peace this policy would also probably be advantageous on the whole; for a small proportion of the population engaged in agriculture does not necessarily imply a small proportion living under rural conditions. But, when account is taken of the possibility that imports may be cut off by blockade in war, that inference need not follow. There can be little doubt that Germany's policy of conserving and developing agriculture for many years at an economic loss enabled her to resist the British blockade in the Great War for a much longer period than would otherwise have been possible; and, though there are, of course, alternative means of defence, such as the establishment of large national grain stores, it is, from a general political point of view, a debatable question whether in this country some form of artificial encouragement should be given to agriculture as a partial insurance against the danger of food difficulties in the event of war. This issue, and the kindred issue concerning materials and industries essential for the conduct of war, cannot be decided by reference to economic considerations alone.


§10. The preceding discussion makes it plain that any rigid inference from effects on economic welfare to effects on total welfare is out of the question. In some fields the divergence between the two effects will be insignificant, but in others it will be very wide. Nevertheless, I submit that, in the absence of special knowledge, there is room for a judgment of probability. When we have ascertained the effect of any cause on economic welfare, we may, unless, of course, there is specific evidence to the contrary, regard this effect as probably equivalent in direction, though not in magnitude, to the effect on total welfare; and, when we have ascertained that the effect of one cause is more favourable than that of another cause to economic welfare, we may, on the same terms, conclude that the effect of this cause on total welfare is probably more favourable. In short, there is a presumption—what Edgeworth calls an "unverified probability"—that qualitative conclusions about the effect of an economic cause upon economic welfare will hold good also of the effect on total welfare. This presumption is especially strong where experience suggests that the non-economic effects produced are likely to be small. But in all circumstances the burden of proof lies upon those who hold that the presumption should be overruled.


§11. The above result suggests prima facie that economic science, when it shall have come to full development, is likely to furnish a powerful guide to practice. Against this suggestion there remains, however, one considerable obstacle. When the conclusion set out in the preceding section is admitted to be valid, a question may still be raised as to its practical utility. Granted, it may be said, that the effects produced by economic causes upon economic welfare are probably, in some measure, representative of those produced on total welfare, we have really gained nothing. For the effects produced upon economic welfare itself cannot, the argument runs, be ascertained beforehand by those partial and limited investigations which alone fall within the scope of economic science. The reason for this is that the effects upon economic welfare produced by any economic cause are likely to be modified by the non-economic conditions, which, in one form or another, are always present, but which economic science is not adapted to investigate. The difficulty is stated very clearly by J.S. Mill in his Logic. The study of a part of things, he points out, cannot in any circumstances be expected to yield more than approximate results: "Whatever affects, in an appreciable degree, any one element of the social state, affects through it all the other elements.... We can never either understand in theory or command in practice the condition of a society in any one respect, without taking into consideration its condition in all other respects. There is no social phenomenon which is not more or less influenced by every other part of the condition of the same society, and, therefore, by every cause which is influencing any other of the contemporaneous social phenomena."*26 In other words, the effects of economic causes are certain to be partially dependent on non-economic circumstances, in such wise that the same cause will produce somewhat different economic effects according to the general character of, say, the political or religious conditions that prevail. So far as this kind of dependence exists, it is obvious that casual propositions in economics can only be laid down subject to the condition that things outside the economic sphere either remain constant or, at least, do not vary beyond certain defined limits. Does this condition destroy the practical utility of our science? I hold that, among nations with a stable general culture, like those inhabiting Western Europe, the condition is fulfilled nearly enough to render the results reached by economic inquiry reasonably good approximations to truth. This is the view taken by Mill. While fully recognising "the paramount ascendancy which the general state of civilisation and social progress in any given society must exercise over all the partial and subordinate phenomena," he concludes that the portion of social phenomena, in which the immediately determining causes are principally those that act through the desire for wealth, "do mainly depend, at least in the first resort, on one class of circumstances only." He adds that, "even when other circumstances interfere, the ascertainment of the effect due to the one class of circumstances alone is a sufficiently intricate and difficult business to make it expedient to perform it once for all, and then allow for the effect of the modifying circumstances; especially as certain fixed combinations of the former are apt to recur often, in conjunction with ever-varying circumstances of the latter class."*27 I have nothing to add to this statement. If it is accepted, the difficulty discussed in this section need no longer give us pause. It is not necessarily impracticable to ascertain by means of economic science the approximate effects of economic causes upon economic welfare. The bridge that has been built in earlier sections between economic welfare and total welfare need not, therefore, rust unused.

Notes for this chapter

Whitehead, Introduction to Mathematics, p. 100.
Principles of Mathematics, p. 5. I have substituted realistic for Mr. Russell's word applied in this passage.
Science and Hypothesis, p. 141.
Recent Developments in Physical Science, p. 30. The italics are mine.
Marshall, The Old Generation of Economists and the New, p. 11.
Lord Hugh Cecil, Conservatism, p. 18.
Plunkett, Ireland in the New Century, p. 19.
Wealth, pp. 17-18.
The Evolution of Modern Germany, pp. 15-16.
Dickinson, Letters of John Chinaman, pp. 25-6.
Thus it is important to notice that machinery, as it comes to be more elaborate and expensive, makes it, pro tanto, more difficult for small men, alike in industry and agriculture, to start independent businesses of their own. Cf. Quaintance, Farm Machinery, p. 58.
Munsterberg writes "that the feeling of monotony depends much less upon the particular kind of work than upon the special disposition of the individual" (Psychology and Industrial Efficiency, p. 198). But, of course, the ethical effect of monotony must be distinguished from the unpleasantness of it. Marshall maintains that monotony of life is the important thing, and argues that variety of life is compatible with monotony of occupation, in so far as machines take over straining forms of work, with the result that "nervous force is not very much exhausted by the ordinary work of a factory" (Principles of Economics, p. 263). Obviously much turns here on the length of the working day. Smart held that "the work of the majority is not only toilsome, monotonous, undeveloping, but takes up the better part of the day, and leaves little energy for other pursuits" (Second Thoughts of an Economist, p. 107).
Cf. V.S. Clark, The Labour Movement in Australia, p. 32.
Cf. Proceedings of the American Economic Association, vol. x. pp. 234-5.
Cf. Mukerjee, The Foundations of Indian Economics, p. 386.
Smith-Gordon and Staples, Rural Reconstruction in Ireland, p. 240. Cf. the enthusiastic picture which Wolff draws of the general social benefits of rural co-operation on the Raiffeisen plan: "How it creates a desire and readiness to receive and assimilate instruction, technical and general, how it helps to raise the character of the people united by it, making for sobriety, strict honesty, good family life, and good living generally." It has been seen, he says, to produce these effects "among the comparatively educated peasantry of Germany, the illiterate country folk of Italy, the primitive cultivators of Serbia, and it is beginning to have something the same effect among the ryots of India" (The Future of Agriculture, p. 481)
Gilman, A Dividend to Labour, p. 15.
Cf. Mazzini, The Duties of Man, p. 99.
Cf. The Meaning of National Guilds, by Beckhover and Reckitt, passim. "The essence of Labour's demand for responsibility is that it should be recognised as responsible to the community, not to the capitalist" (p. 100). The goal of National Guilds "is the control of production by self-governing Guilds of workers sharing with the State the control of the produce of their labour" (p. 285). The fact that schemes of industrial reorganisation on these lines are exposed to serious practical difficulties, which their authors do not as yet seem fully to have faced, does not render any less admirable the spirit of this ideal.
Mr. Hawtrey has criticised my analysis upon the ground that it implicitly makes equal satisfactions embody equal amounts of welfare, whereas, in fact, satisfactions are of various degrees of goodness and badness (The Economic Problem, pp. 184-5). There is, however, no difference in substance between Mr. Hawtrey and myself. We both take account of those variations of quality. Whether it is better to say, of two equal satisfactions, that one may in itself contain more good than the other, or to say that in themselves, qua satisfactions, they are equally good, but that their reactions upon the quality of the people enjoying them may differ in goodness, is chiefly a matter of words. I have substituted in the present text "the quality of people" for my original "people's characters."
Cf. Darwin, Municipal Trade, p. 75.
Thus, Sidgwick observes after a careful discussion: "There seems, therefore, to be a serious danger that a thorough-going equalisation of wealth among the members of a modern civilised community would have a tendency to check the growth of culture in the community" (Principles of Political Economy, p. 523).
Practical Ethics, p. 20. Cf. Effertz: "Ce que les intéressés savent généralement mieux que les non-intéressés, ce sont les moyens propres á réaliser ce qu'ils croient étre leur intérét. Mais, dans Is détermination de I'intérêt le non-interessé voit générslement plus clair" (Antagonismes économiques, pp. 237-8).
Wealth of Nations, p.333.
Cf. The Recent Development of German Agriculture [Cd. 8305], 1916, p. 42 and passim.
Logic, ii. p. 488
Logic, ii. p. 490-91.

Part I, Chapter II

End of Notes

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