We cannot feel another persons’ wants; we cannot feel another person’s satisfactions; but we can render services to one another.
Introducing this chapter on value, Frédéric Bastiat reminds us that “the theory of value is to political economy what a numerical system is to arithmetic”. Unfortunately, it is also particularly complicated and has been subject to numerous errors, from what the physiocrats thought of it until Bastiat himself, going through Smith, Say, Ricardo and Marx. Indeed, it is only after Jevons, Walras and Menger that the debate has been settled.
That said, Frédéric Bastiat joins the debate towards the end of it, allowing him to identify a certain number of errors made by his venerable predecessors and to refine his own thinking, which is eventually not too far on a certain number of points from what the marginal revolution brought to the table. This is what makes this long chapter interesting and will allow me to choose thirteen quotes that will be published over the coming weeks.
Today’s quote is interesting because it allows to come back to the idea that exchange is what creates the social links within society. Moreover, it shows that within the Wants-Efforts-Satisfactions cycle, the first and last terms are eminently personal, which is something that constructivists do not understand while they regularly question other people’s actions by asking “does anybody really need (… you can add here any of your whim, be it the choice of spray deodorants, the engine power of a car or out of season fruits)?”.
Other quotes from On Value:
Introduction – Part 1 of 10 – Part 2 of 10 – Part 3 of 10 – Part 4 of 10 – Part 5 of 10 – Part 6 of 10 – Part 7 of 10 – Part 8 of 10 – Part 9 of 10 – Part 10 of 10 – Conclusion – Epilogue