Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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IMMATERIAL PRODUCTS. To "produce," in the economic sense of the word, is not to create matter, which is beyond human power, but a valid utility, that is to say, one that may be exchanged for other utilities. Now utility in itself has nothing material in it; it is a quality, a property which only exists by its relation to our wants. From this point of view all products without exception are immaterial; but it has been thought desirable to distinguish, among the utilities produced, those directly connected with man, and these have been called "immaterial products."


—Adam Smith, Malthus, and other economists, did not admit this last class of products. Smith, while recognizing the utility and even the necessity of the services of functionaries, magistrates, the army, etc., did not admit that these services were productive. "Their service," he says, "how honorable, how useful or how necessary soever, produces nothing for which an equal quantity of service can afterward be procured. The protection, security and defense of the commonwealth, the effect of their labor this year, will not purchase its protection, security and defense for the year to come. In the same class must be ranked, some both of the gravest and most important, and some of the most frivolous professions: churchmen, lawyers, physicians, men of letters of all kinds; players, buffoons, musicians, opera singers, opera dancers, etc. The labor of the meanest of these has a certain value, regulated by the very same principles which regulate that of every other sort of labor; and the labor of the noblest and most useful of these professions produces nothing which could afterward purchase or cause an equal quantity of labor to be performed. Like the declamation of the actor, the harangue of the orator, or the tune of the musician, the work of all of them perishes at the very instant of its production."


—Malthus thought that "from the moment the line of demarcation between material and immaterial objects is taken away, the explanation of the causes which determine the wealth of nations and every means of appraising it become extremely difficult, if not impossible."


—J. B. Say thus sums up the characteristics which seem to him to distinguish the products in question: "An immaterial product," he says, "is any sort of utility which is unconnected with any material body, and which consequently is consumed as soon as produced. Certain immaterial products, although consumed as soon as produced, are susceptible of accumulation, and consequently of forming capital when their consumed value is met with and fixed on a durable basis (fonds). It is thus that the oral lesson of a teacher of the art of healing is reproduced in the industrial faculties of those of his pupils who have profited by it. This value is then attached to a durable subject, the pupil." M. Dunoyer seems to us to have considerably elucidated and perfected the idea of immaterial products; he does not admit that they are consumed as soon as produced, and he thinks that this statement has only been made on account of a want of distinction between work and its results. M. Dunoyer has himself recalled in his article headed "Production," the theory evolved by him on this subject in his great work on "Freedom of Labor." His observations seem to us completely justified; but great care must be taken, in considerations relative to the class of products which we are dealing with, never to forget the distinction between labor and its results, a point on which in some respects, perhaps, M. Dunoyer has not sufficiently insisted. It is certain that all useful labor is productive, and that everything which can satisfy our various wants or assist in perfecting our intellectual or moral nature is useful; but the labor performed on man or his faculties, which, to use M. Dunoyer's expression, has man for its subject, is far from being always useful and productive. Too often, on the contrary, this labor is not only useless and unproductive, but to the last degree hurtful and destructive. It is then absolutely necessary, before deciding if labor having man for its subject is or is not productive, to examine its object and its results.


—An armed force, used exclusively, according to the need there may be of it, in preserving national independence, in assuring internal tranquillity and respect of persons and property, performs an unquestionably productive labor; for, on the one hand, it represses collective or individual violence with all its accompanying evils; while, on the other hand, it gives to all that feeling of security which is indispensable to activity and productiveness in labor. But an army which should become the tool of the ambition, pride or vanity of certain personages; which should serve to maintain at home an oppressive and grasping rule, and to carry abroad war and its devastations, would no longer be a productive force, but a scourge.


—Magistrates who conscientiously fulfill their duty, who administer with rigid impartiality the laws of justice as the general condition of enlightenment has established them, are eminently producers; for they contribute to insure to the nation security and at the same time to perfect the morality of the people. But a magistracy which should make itself the accomplice of a destructive and tyrannical power, would by so doing only contribute to produce evils of every description.


—A civil administration which applied itself to attending to, by efficacious means, but as simple and as little costly as possible, collective interests of such a nature that they could not be left with advantage to the care of individual activity; to collecting the taxes which the public service might render indispensable; to protecting without harassing the regular growth of general activity; to preventing dangers or hurtful acts in the few cases where the evil resulting from preventive measures would not equal or exceed that which the action is taken to prevent, would fulfill a mission whose usefulness and consequently whose productiveness could not be contested. But an administration, which, instead of confining its efforts to protecting, in the best way possible, the free and legitimate application of general activity, should pretend to direct and regulate it on all points; which supposed itself authorized in many cases to take from some to give to others; which, in order to extend its action everywhere, should complicate more and more the public service, and should without stay or limit increase the personnel of the administration, would only succeed by such a course in trammeling all useful works, in producing a forced and unjust distribution of part of the values produced, a more and more energetic and general desire for public employment, a progressive increase in the parasite population, the weakening and discouragement of productive activity in proportion to the development given to destructive activity, and finally, the insecurity and disorders inseparable from all these causes of disturbance. Such an administration, taken as a whole, would little merit to be considered productive of utility.


—Ministers of a religion, who, to propagate their faith or their beliefs, used no other arm than persuasion, the only one for that matter of any avail; who made themselves the teachers of ethics and the consolers of their adherents; who, by the help of religious sentiments, strove to elevate and purify more and more their intelligence and their habits, to develop and enlighten their better feelings, to resist and diminish their evil and mischievous propensities—in a word, to direct their desires, their tendencies and their activity into the path most beneficial for all, would undoubtedly be the most valuable of all producers, the most worthy of respect and veneration; for they would contribute more than all others to the perfecting of human life, to raising men to the highest level it is given them to attain. But a clergy who, to establish their influence, counted less on persuasion than on authority; who lacked the necessary enlightenment to enable them to act on the affective faculties of their followers in such a way as to improve them and wisely guide their natural tendencies; who, besides, ignored the importance of this part of their mission and devoted themselves mainly to obtaining a submission, a passive obedience, voluntary or forced, to all the tenets or forms prescribed by them, and should be contented with such a result as sufficient to assure their power and serve their temporal interests—could a clergy, we ask, who employed such means for such an object, be fitly classed among producers?


—The same may be said about the labor of the teacher, the professor, the man of letters, or the artist. We might ask if secondary education, as it exists in France for example, is in accordance with the needs or the real interests of the population; if the study and praise bestowed on the manners, the institutions, the opinions and the actions of the ancient peoples of Greece and Rome, are well fitted to make honorable and useful citizens; if the ideas drawn from such teaching are really utilities; if there might not be something better to teach, etc. We might ask if all authors, poets and artists have a good effect in improving the mind, elevating the soul, or refining the taste; but the reader can easily supply for himself what is here omitted. What has been said seems to us sufficient to, establish our statement that all labor which has man as its object is not productive. And that to distinguish such as is from such as is not, it is necessary to examine its results.


—It is of importance, however, to explain that utility "can not be estimated in political economy as it is in ethics, and that we must recognize here as useful everything which has an exchangeable value. There must in consequence be admitted as veritable products, all the results of the labors of the author, the artist, the doctor, etc., to which the public attaches a price freely agreed upon, even when to the eyes of reason some of these results are worth nothing or less than nothing, but it is quite otherwise with the labor whose wages are not freely determined, and the results of which men are forced to accept, whatever they may be, such as those regulated by authority; the effects of this labor have no price current which the economist is obliged to accept, whether reasonable or not, and their appraisement is entirely a matter for the decision of enlightened reason.


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