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XVI. PRICES


13. Prices and Income


A market price is a real historical phenomenon, the quantitative ratio at which at a definite place and at a definite date two individuals exchanged definite quantities of two definite goods. It refers to the special conditions of the concrete act of exchange. It is ultimately determined by the value judgments of the individuals involved. It is not derived from the general price structure or from the structure of the prices of a special class of commodities or services. What is called the price structure is an abstract notion derived from a multiplicity of individual concrete prices. The market does not generate prices of land or motorcars in general nor wage rates in general, but prices for a certain piece of land and for a certain car and wage rates for a performance of a certain kind. It does not make any difference for the pricing process to what class the things exchanged are to be assigned from any point of view. However they may differ in other regards, in the very act of exchange they are nothing but commodities, i.e., things valued on account of their power to remove felt uneasiness.

The market does not create or determine incomes. It is not a process of income formation. If the owner of a piece of land and the worker husband the physical resources concerned, the land and the man will renew and preserve their power to render services; the agricultural and urban land for a practically indefinite period, the man for a number of years. If the market situation for these factors of production does not deteriorate, it will be possible in the future too to attain a price for their productive employment. Land and working power can be considered as sources of income if they are dealt with as such, that is, if their capacity to produce is not prematurely exhausted by reckless exploitation. It is provident restraint in the use of factors of production, not their natural and physical properties, which convert them into somewhat durable sources of income. There is in nature no such thing as a stream of income. Income is a category of action; it is the outcome of careful economizing of scarce factors. This is still more obvious in the case of capital goods. The produced factors of production are not permanent. Although some of them may have a life of many years, all of them eventually become useless through wear and tear, sometimes even by the mere passing of time. They become durable sources of income only if their owners treat them as such. Capital can be preserved as a source of income if the consumption of its products, market conditions remaining unchanged, is restricted in such a way as not to impair the replacement of the worn out parts. [p. 394]

Changes in the market data can frustrate every endeavor to perpetuate a source of income. Industrial equipment becomes obsolete if demand changes or if it is superseded by something better. Land becomes useless if more fertile soil is made accessible in sufficient quantities. Expertness and skill for the performance of special kinds of work lose their remunerativeness when new fashions or new methods of production narrow the opportunity for their employment. The success of any provision for the uncertain future depends on the correctness of the anticipations which guided it. No income can be made safe against changes not adequately foreseen.

Neither is the pricing process a form of distribution. As has been pointed out already, there is nothing in the market economy to which the notion of distribution could be applied.

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