On Value

1. After ownership had been introduced, and since all things were not of the same nature, and did not yield the same service to human necessities, and no one had that abundance which he desired for his needs, it soon became customary among men to exchange commodities. But it very often happened that things of unlike nature or use had to be transferred, and hence, that one party or the other might not suffer in this sort of exchange, it was necessary for human convention to assign things a quantity, according to which they could be compared and balanced with one another. This also was the case with actions, which men were unwilling to render for others' advantage for nothing. This quantity usually goes by the name of value.

2. Value is divided into common value and value par excellence. The former is seen in things, and actions or services, which enter into trade, in so far as they bring men some use and pleasure. The latter is seen in money, in so far as it is understood virtually to contain the price of all things and services, and to furnish them a common standard.

3. Of common value the foundation as such is that aptitude of the thing or the service, by which it can contribute something directly or indirectly to the necessities of human life, and to make it more comfortable or agreeable. Hence we usually call things that serve no use at all things of no value. Yet there are some things most useful for human life, upon which things no definite value is understood to have been set, either because they do not admit of ownership, and necessarily so, or because they are unsuited for exchange, and hence withdrawn from trade, or because in trade they are never considered otherwise than as an addition to something else. Moreover the law, human or divine, in placing certain actions outside of trade, or forbidding one to perform them for hire, is understood also to have deprived them of value. So too, inasmuch as the upper parts of the air, the ether, and the heavenly bodies, and the vast ocean, are exempt from human ownership, no value can be assigned to them either. Thus a free person has no value, because free men are not articles of commerce. Thus sunlight, clear and pure air, the fair face of the earth, in so far as it merely feasts the eyes, and wind, and shade, and the like, considered in and by themselves, have no value, since men cannot enjoy such things without the use of the earth. Yet these very things are of great moment in increasing or diminishing the value of regions, lands, and estates. So it is unlawful to set a price upon sacred acts, to which a moral effect has been assigned by divine ordinance. This crime is called simony. And a judge also commits a trine, if he sells justice.

4. Moreover, there are various reasons why the value of one and the same thing is increased or diminished, and one thing even preferred to another, though the latter may seem to have an equal or greater use in human life. For in this matter the necessity of the thing, or its exalted usefulness, are so far from always holding the first place, that we rather see men hold in lowest esteem the things with which human life cannot dispense. And this because nature, not without the singular providence of God, pours forth a bountiful supply of them. Hence an increase of value tends to be produced especially by scarcity; and this is made much of when things are brought from distant parts. Hence love of display and luxury have placed enormous prices on many things with which human life could very comfortably dispense, for instance pearls and jewels. But for articles in everyday use prices are raised especially when their scarcity is combined with necessity or want. In the case of artificial commodities, scarcity apart, the price is chiefly raised by the fineness and elegance of the workmanship which they display, sometimes too by the fame of the artificer, also the difficulty of the work, the scarcity of artisans and workmen, and so forth. As for services and acts, difficulty enhances their price, as do also skill, utility, necessity, the scarcity or rank or freedom of the agents, and finally even the reputation of the art, as being accounted noble or ignoble. The opposites of these things usually lower the price. Finally, at times a certain thing is highly rated, not by everybody, but by individuals, in consequence of a special affection, for example, because he from whom it came to us is made much of by us, and the thing was given to express his affection; or because we have grown accustomed to it, or it is a memorial of some great occurrence, or by its aid we have avoided a great danger, or it was made by our own hands. This is called sentimental value.

5. But in fixing the prices of single things, other matters too are usually considered. And among those who live together in natural freedom the values of single commodities are defined only by agreement of the contracting parties. For they are free to alienate or acquire what they please, and have no common master to regulate their dealings. In states, on the other hand, prices are determined in two ways: first, by decree of a superior, or by law; secondly, by the common estimate and judgment of men, that is, the custom of the market, with the consent also of the contracting parties. Some are in the habit of calling the former the legal price, the latter the common. When the legal price has been established in favor of the buyers, which is the more usual case, the sellers are not permitted to demand more. Yet, if they are willing to receive less, they are not forbidden to do so. Thus when the wages of laborers have been officially rated in favor of those who hire, the laborer may not demand more, but is not forbidden to receive less.

6. The common price, to be sure, not being fixed by law, admits a certain latitude, within which more or less can be, and usually is, given and received, according as the contracting parties have agreed. Generally, however, it follows the custom of the market. In this account is usually taken of the labor and expense ordinarily incurred by merchants in transporting and handling their wares; also of the manner of buying and selling, whether wholesale or retail. And sometimes the common price is suddenly changed, according to the abundance or scarcity of purchasers, money, or wares. For scarcity of purchasers and money (due to some special reason), and also abundance of wares, diminish the price. On the other hand abundance of would-be-purchasers and of money, and scarcity of wares, raise the price. So too it tends to lower the price, if wares seek a purchaser. On the contrary the price is raised when the seller is actually besought, and will not sell otherwise. Finally this too is usually considered, whether a man offers ready money, or puts off payment for a time; since time also is a part of the price.

7. But after men departed from their primitive simplicity, and various kinds of gain were introduced, it was readily understood that common value alone was not sufficient for the transaction of men's affairs and their increasing dealings. For at that time dealings consisted in barter only, and the services of others were not to be had except by an exchange of service, or by surrendering something. But after we began to desire such a variety of things for convenience or pleasure, it certainly was not easy for every man to possess the things which another would wish to exchange for his own, or which were equal in value to the other's things. And in civilized states, where the citizens are marked off into different classes, there must necessarily be several classes that would be entirely unable to make a living, or scarcely able to do so, if the old-time simple exchange of commodities and services were still in vogue. Hence most nations, attracted by a richer mode of life, have seen fit by convention to impose a value par excellence upon a certain thing, in order that the common values of the other things might be tested by this, and virtually contained in the same; so that by this medium one could acquire anything that is for sale, and engage conveniently in any sort of dealings and contracts.

8. For this purpose most nations have decided to employ the nobler and rarer metals. For they possess a very compact substance, so as not to be worn away easily in use, and also they admit of division into many small pieces. And they are no less convenient to keep and handle, while on account of their rarity they can equal the value of many other things. Sometimes, however, from necessity, and, among some nations, from lack of metals, other things have been employed in place of coins.

9. Moreover, in states the right to define the value of a coin belongs to the highest authorities, and hence official markings are usually impressed upon the coin. In this determination of value, however, the general estimation of neighboring nations, or those with whom we have dealings, must be considered. For otherwise, if a state should set an excessive valuation upon its coins, or not properly alloy their material, it will put a serious check upon the commerce of its citizens with foreigners, at least as regards all that cannot be settled by mere barter. And for this very reason no rash change should be made in the value of coins, unless the extreme necessity of the state should require it. But, with the increase of gold and silver, by degrees the value of coins decreases as it were of itself, in comparison with the price of lands and anything depending thereon.

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