Book 3, Chapter 2: Wants in relation to activities

§1. The uncivilized man may only want basic goods but the civilized man desires an increasing variety of more and better (“change for the sake of change”), to the point where the richer man spends more on food, not for his own wants but those of hospitality.

§2. Moving to dress, variety is again valued but responsive to social norms. Thus, some cultures might dictate dress for occupations or castes, and the lower classes will emulate the refinements of their betters. The English upper classes tend to dress modestly compared to Europeans or Asians, with the women being stylish and costly thoughtful while the men dress simply… and thus set the standard for English lower classes.

§3. One’s home should provide shelter, but small “house room… stunts the facilities and limits higher activities” [p 75] — that’s without considering social activities.

§4. When it comes to activities, people [Marshall observes] are increasingly inclined to pursue athletic games and travel over the “mere stagnation” of leisure. (Marshall notes rising tea consumption and stagnating alcohol consumption.)

Turning to work and professions, Marshall says men are increasingly interested in producing (and consuming) clever inventions and finely crafted products. He claims craftsmen’s “activities” result in works that precede the wants for those works, rather than wants leading to works. This perspective echo’s Say’s Law of “supply creates its own demand,” but it rings true: I am attracted to the products artisans produce far more often than I am asked by artisans for ideas of what to make next! 😉

[Marshall then makes a comment of how the “West Indian negro… and English working classes” have little interest in developing their skills. I don’t get his point here.]

Marshall thus states that the driver of progress is not “wants” (demand) but “activities” (supply). He ends the chapter with some long footnotes on how other writers have (de)emphasized, classified and argued over the types, ranking and development of wants. Those nuances are not very interesting at a 100-year distance.

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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