sunnuntai 3. maaliskuuta 2013
Praxeology: The Law of Returns
How do we derive the utility of a producer good?
How does one determine how much utility one of the machines that milled a diamond has to an actor?
The means we use satisfy our ends we call goods. We can classify goods into two main categories: 1) consumer goods and producer goods. Consumer goods are those goods that are used directly by an actor to satisfy an end. Producer goods are those factors which are combined with at least one other factor to create a definite quantity of a consumer good. For example, ham sandwich is a consumer good. You eat the ham sandwich to directly satisfy your hunger. The bread, ham and labor you employ to produce the ham sandwich are producer goods of factors of production.
If one wants to find the utility derived from any unit of a homogenous consumer good, all one needs to consider is - first - the fact that human action is an exchange. It means preferring one thing over another. Or in other words, the cost of choosing one end is determined by whatever other end you could have chosen. Second, that action determines what man values most - because logically - what he did must be considered what he thought was most urgent. And lastly, that these preferences can be arranged into a scale. This action shows us that because the most urgent want is satisfied first, each successive end must therefore less important. Therefore, a unit of a means that directly satisfy an end aimed at by an actor (consumer good), will command a diminishing value to the actor.
We now understand that the value of consumer goods (means that satisfy ends directly) are their marginal utility to the acting individual. This utility always diminishes with each successive unit and there is no way to calculate this fact arithmetically. There can be no adding or multiplying.
When it comes to producer goods (means that satisfy ends indirectly), first we have to acknowledge that there is no way of deriving utility from units of a homogeneous producer goods because they are not directly consumed. They don't satisfy ends directly, but only to contribute to producing a final product which satisfies ends. The utility of a marginal unit in a producer good is derived from the utility of it's marginal product (marginal productivity).
Goods are simply scarce means used to satisfy our ends. The very fact that we need to produce consumer goods implies that producer goods are scarce as well. Things that render unlimited supplies are not goods (means) at all! For example, the knowledge to make coffee is not something anyone has to economize. The "recipe" (idea) for how to make a cup of coffee is never exhausted. The only things we can run out of are coffee beans, filters, water etc. We must economize these goods.
We also mentioned that a producer good must be combined with at least one more producer good to create a consumer good. This is because if only one producer good were needed to create a consumer good, it would be a consumer good itself! There is a key concept that can be derived from understanding the fact that producer goods at all times must be combined with at least one other production good: while we cannot add, subtract or multiply value with utility, quantities of homogeneous units of supply can be measured! Therefore it follows logically that at some definite point the marginal productivity of producer goods reaches a optimum point. That is, if we keep all other inputs fixed and keep on increasing the quantity of one producer good by one unit, then at some point an optimum level will be reached where each additional unit of producer's good can no more increase it's marginal productivity. This is know as The Law of Returns.
What these optimums are must be determined by technological experience and are outside the realm of Praxeology, but The Law of Returns, the fact that scarce producer goods must have an optimum output is arrived through logic. As we can see, determining how men value means (whether they are directly consumed goods or or indirect producer goods) can be understood logically through categories of purposeful action. All we must do is to consider value starting from ends, working through consumer goods and then through factors of production. We can conclude that the utility of a producer is its contribution to the product! This conclusion, including the fact that definite producer goods have an optimum output will become more important once we start talking about markets and why products that seem almost indistinguishable have varying prices and how all of this plays into the concept of profit and loss. Nevertheless, they are indispensable logical implications in the science of Praxeology.