From The Maintenance Of Life by John Ruskin

Wealth, it has been said, consists of things essentially valuable. We now, therefore, need a definition of "value". Value signifies the strength or "availing" of anything towards the sustaining of life, and is always twofold; that is to say, primarily, Intrinsic, and, secondarily, Effectual.

The reader must, by anticipation, be warned against confusing value with cost, or with price. Value is the life-giving power of anything; cost, the quantity of labour required to produce it; price, the quantity of labour which its possessor will take in exchange for it. Cost and price are commercial conditions, to be studied under the head of Money.

Intrinsic Value
Intrinsic value is the absolute power of anything to support life. A sheaf of wheat of given quality and weight has in it a measurable power of sustaining the substance of the body; a cubic foot of pure air, a fixed power of sustaining its warmth; and a cluster of flowers of given beauty, a fixed power of enlivening or animating the senses and heart.

It does not in the least affect the intrinsic value of the wheat, the air, or the flowers, that men refuse or despise them. Used or not, their own power is in them, and that particular power is in nothing else.

Effectual Value
But in order that this value of theirs may become effectual, a certain state is necessary in the recipient of it. The digesting, the breathing, and perceiving functions must be perfect in the human creature before the food, air, or flowers can become their full value to it. The production of effectual value, therefore, always involves two needs; first, the production of a thing essentially useful; then the production of the capacity to use it. Where the intrinsic value and acceptant capacity come together there is Effectual value, or wealth. Where there is either no intrinsic value, or no acceptant capacity, there is no effectual value; that is to say, no wealth. A horse is no wealth to us if we cannot ride, nor a picture if we cannot see, nor can any noble thing be wealth, except to a noble person. As the aptness of the user increases, the effectual value of the thing used increases; and in its entirety can co-exist only with perfect skill of use, or harmony of nature. The effectual value of a given quantity of any commodity existing in the world at any moment is therefore a mathematical function of the capacity existing in the human race to enjoy it. Let its intrinsic value be represented by x, and the recipient faculty by y; its effectual value is xy, in which the sum varies as either co-efficient varies, is increased by either's increase, and cancelled by either's absence.

Valuable material things may be conveniently referred to five heads:

1. Land, with an associated air, water, and organisms.

2. Houses, furniture, and instruments.

3. Stored or prepared food and medicine, and articles of bodily luxury, including clothing.

4. Books.

5. Works of art.

We shall enter into separate inquiry as to the conditions of value under each of these heads. The following sketch of the entire subject may be useful for future reference:

1. Land.
Its value is twofold—

A. As producing food and mechanical power. Its value, as a means of producing food and mechanical power, varies with its form (as mountain or plain), with its substance (in soil or mineral contents), and with its climate. All these conditions of intrinsic value, in order to give effectual value, must be known and complied with by the men who have to deal with it; but at any given time, or place, the intrinsic value is fixed; such and such a piece of land, with its associated lakes and seas, rightly treated in surface and substance, can produce precisely so much food and power, and no more. Its surface treatment (agriculture) and substance treatment (practical geology and chemistry), are the first roots of economical science. By surface treatment, however, I mean more than agriculture as commonly understood; I mean land and sea culture; —dominion over both the fixed and the flowing fields; —perfect acquaintance with the laws of climate, and of vegetable and animal growth in the given tracts of earth or ocean, and of their relations regulating especially the production of those articles of food which, being in each particular spot producible in the highest perfection, will bring the best price in commercial exchanges.

B. As an object of sight and thought, producing intellectual power. The second element of value in land is its beauty, united with such conditions of space and form as are necessary for exercise, or pleasant to the eye, associated with vital organism.

Land of the highest value in these respects is that lying in temperate climates, and boldly varied in form; removed from unhealthy or dangerous influences (as of miasm or volcano); and capable of sustaining a rich fauna and flora. Such land, carefully tended by the hand of man, so far as to remove from it unsightlinesses and evidences of decay; guarded from violence, and inhabited, under man's affectionate protection, by every kind of living creature that can occupy it in peace, forms the most precious "property " that human beings can possess. The determination of the degree in which these two elements of value can be united in land, or in which either element must, or should, in particular cases, be sacrificed to the other, forms the most important branch of economical inquiry respecting preferences of things.

2. Buildings, furniture, and instruments.
The value of buildings consists—

A. in permanent strength, with convenience of form, of size, and of position ; so as to render employment peaceful, social intercourse easy, temperature and air healthy. The advisable or possible magnitude of cities and mode of their distribution in squares, streets, courts, etc., the relative value of sites of land, and the modes of structure which are healthiest and most permanent, have to be studied under this head.

B. The value of buildings consists, secondarily, in historical association and architectural beauty, of which we have to examine the influence on manners and life.

The value of instruments consists —

A. In their power of shortening labour, or otherwise accomplishing (as ships) what human strength unaided could not. The kinds of work which are severally best accomplished by hand or by machine;—the effect of machinery in gathering and multiplying population, and its influence on the minds and bodies of such population; together with the conceivable uses of machinery on a colossal scale in accomplishing mighty and useful works, hitherto unthought of, such as the deepening of large river channels; —changing the surface of mountainous districts; —irrigating tracts of desert in the torrid zone; —breaking up, and thus rendering capable of quicker fusion edges of ice in the northern and southern Arctic seas, etc., so rendering parts of the earth habitable which hitherto have not been so, are to be studied under this head.

B. The value of instruments is, secondarily, in their aid to abstract sciences. The degree in which the multiplication of such instruments should be encouraged, so as to make them, if large, easy of access to numbers (as costly telescopes), or so cheap as that they might, in a serviceable form, become a common part of the furniture of households, is to be considered under this head.

3. Food, medicine, and articles of luxury.
Under this head we shall have to examine the possible methods of obtaining pure and nourishing food in such security and equality of supply as to avoid both waste and famine; then the economy of medicine and just range of sanitary law; finally, the economy of luxury, partly an aesthetic and partly an ethical question.

4. Books.
The value of these consists—

A. In their power of preserving and communicating the knowledge of facts.

B. In their power of exciting vital or noble emotion and intellectual action. They have also their corresponding negative powers of disguising and effacing the memory of facts, and killing the noble emotions, or exciting base ones. Under these two heads we have to consider the economical and educational value, positive and negative, of literature; —the means of producing and educating good authors, and the means and advisability of rendering good books generally accessible, and directing the reader's choice to them.

5. Works of art.
The value of these is of the same nature as that of books, but the laws of their production and possible modes of distribution are very different, and require separate examination.

« NEXT » « The Maintenance Of Life » « Essays On Political Economy » « Classics » « Library »