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1. The Fundamentals of Human Action

10. Action as an Exchange

We have stated that all action involves an exchange—a giving up of a state of affairs for what the actor expects will be a more satisfactory state.43 We may now elaborate on the implications of this truth, in the light of the numerous examples that have been given in this chapter. Every aspect of action has involved a choice among alternatives—a giving up of some goods for the sake of acquiring others. Wherever the choice occurred—whether among uses of durable consumers’ goods, or of capital goods; saving versus consumption; labor versus leisure; etc.—such choices among alternatives, such renouncing of one thing in favor of another, were always present. In each case, the actor adopted the course that he believed would afford him the highest utility on his value scale; and in each case, the actor gave up what he believed would turn out to be a lesser utility.

Before analyzing the range of alternative choices further, it is necessary to emphasize that man must always act. Since he is always in a position to improve his lot, even “doing nothing” is a form of acting. “Doing nothing”—or spending all of his time in leisure—is a choice that will affect his supply of consumers’ goods. Therefore, man must always be engaged in choosing and in action.

Since man is always acting, he must always be engaged in trying to attain the greatest height on his value scale, whatever the type of choice under consideration. There must always be room for improvement in his value scale; otherwise all of man's wants would be perfectly satisfied, and action would disappear. Since this cannot be the case, it means that there is always open to each actor the prospect of improving his lot, of attaining a value higher than he is giving up, i.e., of making a psychic profit. What he is giving up may be called his costs, i.e., the utilities that he is forgoing in order to attain a better position. Thus, an actor's costs are his forgone opportunities to enjoy consumers’ goods. Similarly, the (greater) utility that he expects to acquire because of the action may be considered his psychic income, or psychic revenue, which in turn will be equal to the utility of the goods he will consume as a result of the action. Hence, at the inauguration of any action, the actor will believe that this course of action will, among the alternatives, maximize his psychic income or psychic revenue, i.e., attain the greatest height on his value scale.

  • 43. See page 19 above.