Freeman

ARTICLE

Luxuries into Necessities

AUGUST 01, 1956 by LUDWIG VON MISES

Dr. Mises is Visiting Professor of Economics at New York University.

What was once a luxury becomes in the course of time a necessity.

There was in the past a considerable time lag between the emergence of something unheard of before and its becoming an article of everybody’s use. It sometimes took many centuries until an innovation was generally accepted, at least within the orbit of Western civilization. Think of the slow popularization of the use of forks, of soap, of handkerchiefs, and of a great variety of other things.

From its beginnings capitalism displayed the tendency to shorten this time lag and finally to eliminate it almost entirely. This is not a merely accidental feature of capitalistic production; it is inherent in its very nature. Capitalism is essentially mass production for the satisfaction of the wants of the masses. Its characteristic mark is big scale production by big business. For big business there cannot be any question of producing limited quantities for the sole satisfaction of a small elite. The bigger big business becomes, the more and the quicker it makes accessible to the whole people the new achievements of technology.

Centuries passed away before the fork turned from an implement of effeminate weaklings into a utensil of all people. The evolution of the motor car from a plaything of wealthy idlers into a universally used means of transportation still required more than twenty years. But nylon stockings became, in this country, an article of every woman’s wear within hardly more than two or three years. There was practically no period in which the enjoyment of such innovations as television or the products of the frozen food industry was restricted to a small minority.

The disciples of Marx are anxious to describe in their textbooks the “unspeakable horrors of capitalism” which, as their master has prognosticated, results “with the inexorability of a law of nature” in the progressing impoverishment of the “masses.” Their prejudices prevent them from noticing the fact that capitalism tends, by the instrumentality of big-scale production, to wipe out the striking contrast between the mode of life of a fortunate elite and that of the rest of a nation. []

From the Spring 1956 Newsletter of the New York University Graduate School of Business Administration.

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August 1956

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