Saturday, February 14, 2009

Menger on Foreseeing Requirements

This post is part of a series exploring Principles of Economics by Carl Menger.  The following explores content from chapter 2.

Previously in this series: Menger on Effective and Latent Requirements

According to Menger, the first prerequisite of effective planning (which is considering how to satisfy future needs) is foresight regarding requirements (the quantities of goods necessary to satisfy the needs that will arise in the planned-for time period). This, like all economic laws, is universal for all men at all times. Examples of it can be found even in ancient literature. In Works and Days, a didactic poem by Hesiod (circa 700 BC), the exasperated poet/farmer tries to enjoin his wayward brother Perses to plan for his future instead of idling about and leeching off his family and community.1 Hesiod instructed his brother to gather and work wood in the autumn, when wood is least wormy. He went on to exactly enumerate the higher order goods Perses should fashion from the wood (of what kind, of what dimensions, and of what quantity) in order to satisfy the needs that will arise in the coming year. Here is the relevant passage:

When the piercing power and sultry heat of the sun abate, and almighty Zeus sends the autumn rains, and men's flesh comes to feel far easier, -- for then the star Sirius passes over the heads of men, who are born to misery, only a little while by day and takes greater share of night, -- then, when it showers its leaves to the ground and stops sprouting, the wood you cut with your axe is least liable to worm. Then remember to hew your timber: it is the season for that work. Cut a mortar three feet wide and a pestle three cubits long, and an axle of seven feet, for it will do very well so; but if you make it eight feet long, you can cut a beetle from it as well. Cut a felloe three spans across for a waggon of ten palms' width. Hew also many bent timbers, and bring home a plough-tree when you have found it, and look out on the mountain or in the field for one of holm-oak; for this is the strongest for oxen to plough with when one of Athena's handmen has fixed in the share-beam and fastened it to the pole with dowels. Get two ploughs ready work on them at home, one all of a piece, and the other jointed. It is far better to do this, for if you should break one of them, you can put the oxen to the other. Poles of laurel or elm are most free from worms, and a share-beam of oak and a plough-tree of holm-oak.2

1Hesiod was impelled to write the poem after being sued by Perses, who by bribing the presiding judges, managed to seize a portion of Hesiod's inheritance from their father. 2Hesiod, Works and Days, ll. 414-447

Next in this series: Menger on Available Quantities

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