TRANSLATION EDITED BY THOMAS JEFFERSON
From the faculty of willing arise all our wants and all our mean;
To take these things in this generality, we perceive plainly that our riches are not composed solely of a precious stone, or of a mass of metal, of an estate in land, or of an utensil, or even of a store of eatables, or a habitation. The knowledge of a law of nature, the habit of a technical process, the use of a language by which to communicate with those of our kind, and to increase our force by theirs, or at least not to be disturbed by theirs in the exercise of our own, the enjoyment of conventions established, and of institutions created in this spirit, are so far the riches of the individual and of the species: for these are so many things useful towards increasing our means, or at least for the free use of them, that is to say, according to our will, and with the least possible obstacle, whether on the part of men or of nature, which is to augment their power, their energy, and their effect.
We call all these goods; for by contraction we give the name of goods to all those things that contribute to do us good, to augment our well being, to render our manner of being good or better; that is to say, to all those things, the possession of which is a good. Now whence come all those goods? We have already summarily seen, and we shall see it more in detail in the sequel. It is from the just, that is to say from the legitimate, employment, according to the laws of nature, which we make of our faculties. We do not often find a diamond, but because we search for it with intelligence; we have not a mass of metal, but because we have studied the means of procuring it. We do not possess a good field or a good utensil, but because we have well recognised the properties of the first material, and rendered easy the manner of making it useful. We have no provision whatsoever, or even a shelter, but because we have simplified the operations necessary for forming the one, or for constructing the other. It is then always from the employment of our faculties that all these goods arise.
Now all these goods have amongst us, to a certain point, a value determinate and fixed. They even have always two. The one is that of the sacrifices which their acquisition costs us; the other that of the advantages which their possession procures us. When I fabricate an utensil for my use, it has for me the double value of the labour which it costs me in the first place, and of that which it will save me in the sequel. I make a bad employment of my force, if its construction costs me more labour than its possession will save me. It is the same, if instead of making this utensil, I buy it, if the things I give in return have cost me more labor than the utensil would have cost me in making it, or if they would have saved me more labour than this will, I make a bad bargain, I lose more than I gain, I relinquish more than I acquire. This is evident. In the acquisition of any other good than an instrument of labour, the thing is not so clear. However, since it is certain that our physical and moral faculties are our only original riches; that the employment of these faculties, labour of some kind, is our only primitive treasure; and that it is always from this employment that all those things which we call goods arise, from the most necessary to the most purely agreeable, it is certain, in like manner, that all these goods are but a representation of the labour which has produced them; and that if they have a value, or even two distinct ones, they can only derive these values from that of the labour from which they emanate. Labour itself then has a value; it has then even two different ones, for no being can communicate a property which it has not. Yes labour has these two values, the one natural and necessary, the other more or less conventional and eventual. This will be seen very clearly.
An animated being, that is to say sensible and willing, has wants unceasingly reproduced, to the satisfaction of which is attached the continuation of his existence. He cannot provide for them but by the employment of his faculties, of his means; and if this employment (his labour) should cease during a certain time to meet these wants, his existence would end. The mass of these wants, is then the natural and necessary measure of the mass of labour which he can perform whilst they cause themselves to be felt; for if he employs this mass of labour for his direct and immediate use it must suffice for his service. If he consecrates it to another, this other must at least do for him, during this time, what he would have done for himself. If he employs it on objects of an utility less immediate and more remote, this utility, when realised, must at least replace the objects of an urgent utility, which he will have consumed whilst he was occupied with those less necessary. Thus this sum of indispensable wants, or rather that of the value of the objects necessary to supply them, is the natural and necessary measure of the value of the labour performed in the same time. This value is that which the labour inevitably costs. This is the first of the two values, the existence of which we have announced; it is purely natural and necessary.
The second value of our labour, that of what it produces, is from its nature eventual: It is often conventional and always more variable than the first. It is eventual, for no man in commencing any labour whatever, even when it is for his own account, can entirely assure himself of its product; a thousand circumstances, which do not depend on him and which often he cannot foresee, augment or diminish this product. It is often conventional; for when this same man undertakes a labour for another, the quantity of its product, which will result to himself, depends on that which the other shall have agreed to give him in return for his pains, whether the convention were made before the execution of the labour, as with day labourers or hirelings, or does not take place until after the labour has been perfected, as with merchants and manufacturers. Finally this second value of labour is more variable than its natural and necessary value; because it is determined not by the wants of him who performs the labour, but by the wants and means of him who profits from it, and it is influenced by a thousand concurrent causes, which it is not yet time to develope.
But even the natural value of labour is not of an absolute fixture: for first the wants of a man in a given time, even those which may be regarded as the most urgent, are susceptible of a certain latitude; and the flexibility of our nature is such that these wants are restrained or extended considerably by the empire of will and the effect of habit. Secondly, by the influence of favourable circumstances, of a mild climate, of a fertile soil, these wants may be largely satisfied for a given time by the effect of very little labour, while in less happy circumstances, under an inclement sky, on a sterile soil, greater efforts will he requisite to provide for them. Thus, according to the case, the labour of the same man, during the same time, must procure him a greater or smaller number of objects, or of objects more or less difficult to be acquired, solely that he may continue to exist.
By this small number of general reflections we see then, that the ideas of riches and poverty arise from our wants, that is to say from our desires, for riches consist in the possession of means of satisfying our wants, and poverty in their non-possession. We call these means goods, because they do us good. They are all the product and the representation of a certain quantity of labour; and they give birth in us to the idea of value, which is but a comparative idea; because they have all two values, that of the goods which they cost and that of the goods which they produce. Since these goods are but the representation of the labour which has produced them, it is then from labour they derive these two values. It has them then itself. In effect labour has necessarily these two values. The second is eventual, most generally conventional, and always very variable. The first is natural and necessary; it is not however of an absolute fixture, but it is always comprehended within certain limits.
Such is the connexion of general ideas, which necessarily follow one another on the first inspection of this subject. It shows us the application and the proof of several great truths previously established. In the first place we see that we never create any thing absolutely new and extra-natural. Thus, since we have the idea of value, and since artificial and conventional values exist among us, it was necessary there should be somewhere a natural and necessary value. Thus the labour, from whence all our goods emanate, has a value of this kind, and communicates it to them. This value is that of the objects necessary to the satisfaction of the wants, which inevitably arise in an animated being during the continuance of his labour.
Secondly, we have seen further, that to measure any quantity whatsoever, is always to compare it with a quantity of the same species, and that it is absolutely necessary that this quantity should be of the same species, without which it could not serve as an unit and a term of comparison.* Thus, when we say that the natural and necessary value of the labour which an animated being performs during a given time is measured by the indispensable wants which arise in this being during the same time, we give really for the measure of this value the value of a certain quantity of labour; for the goods necessary to the satisfaction of these wants, do not themselves derive their natural and necessary value but from the labour which their acquisition has cost. Thus labour, our only original good, is only valued by itself, and the unit is of the same kind as the quantities calculated.
Thirdly, in fine we have seen that, for a calculation to be just and certain, the unit must be determined in a manner the most rigorous, and absolutely invariable.† Here unhappily we are obliged to acknowledge that our unit of value is subject to variations, although comprehended within certain limits. It is an evil we cannot remedy, since it is derived from the very nature of an animated being, from his flexibility and his suppleness. We must never dissemble this evil. It was essential to recognize it. But it ought not to prevent us from making combinations of the effects of our faculties, in taking the necessary precautions; for since the variations of our sensible nature are comprehended within certain limits, we can always apply to them considerations drawn from the theory of the limits of numbers. But this observation ought to teach us how very delicate and scientific is the calculation of all moral and economical quantities, how much precaution it requires, and how imprudent it is to wish to apply to it indiscreetly the rigorous scale of numbers. However it be, as this rapid glance on the ideas of riches and poverty, derived from the sentiment of our wants, leads us to speak summarily of all our goods, we ought not to pass in silence the greatest of all, that which comprehends them all, without which none of them would exist, which we may call the only good, of a willing being, Liberty. It merits a separate article.