On Monday I attended the first part of a course on economics. The course was offered free to people in the organisation I work for and, knowing little about the subject I decided to attend.
One of the arguments advanced by the lecturer was that the value of things lessens the more of them we possess. So, for example many of us find it useful to own several pairs of shoes as it is helpful to be able to alternate them. However the more shoes we own the less value they possess as we can not possibly wear 20 pairs (or more) on a regular basis (no jokes please about ladies who have wardrobes full of shoes)!
It struck me that the argument holds good for shoes and many other consumables, however I do not feel that it holds water as regards books. For the lover of literature the more books one owns the greater the joy as one has more works in which to lose oneself. Merely possessing a small number of books would drive the average book lover to distraction.
When I raised this point with the lecturer his response was that one can only read so many books. Indeed one can but I still can’t help thinking that economics, while it undoubtedly has it’s uses falls down when applied to matters pertaining to culture. Not everything is susceptible of economic analysis thank the lord!
The central idea behind economics is scarcity. People have paid small fortunes historically for bread during fammons because food had become scarce. So it stands to reason that having a closet full of shoes means that the resource “shoes” is not as scarce as it might be in a different time and place with circumstances that make shoes difficult to come by. Books are not books from an economic standpoint. There is, of course, the material paper and ink; unless you have a Kindle. But no one is buying paper and ink when they buy a book. The value of books is in the intellectual resource they represent which would be present whether anyone reads them or not. You may have never read the book in the glove compartment of your car, but the resource contained within is invaluable if you ever need to understand how to, say, change a flat.
So, in your view do books only possess value in so far as they serve a utilitarian purpose, for example enabling the mottorist to change a flat tyre? What about high culture, can that, in your opinion, as an economist be reduced to it’s value, as a commodity in the market place and if so, how?
In my view all things viewed through the lens of “economics” is a de facto commodity in the marketplace. But that doesn’t mean that all things are reduced to a commodity in the marketplace.