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D. Market Calculation and Implicit Earnings
We have seen that a musician or a doctor earns wages without being an employee; the wages of each are implicit in the income that he receives, even though they are received directly from the consumers.
In the real world, each function is not necessarily performed by a different person. The same person can be a landowner and a worker. Similarly, a particular firm, or rather its owner or owners, may own land and participate in the production of capital goods. The owner may also manage his own firm. In practice, the different sources of income can be separated only by referring to these incomes as determined by prices on the market. For example, suppose that a man owns a firm which invests its capital, owns its own ground land, and produces a capital good, and that he manages the plant himself. He receives a net income over a year's period of 1,000 gold ounces. How can he estimate the different sources of his income? Suppose that he had invested 5,000 gold ounces in the business. He looks around at the economy and finds that what he can pretty well call the ruling rate of interest, toward which the economy is tending, is 5 percent. He then concludes that 250 gold ounces of his net income was implicit interest. Next, he estimates approximately what he would have received in wages of management if he had gone to work for a competing firm rather than engaging in this business. Suppose he estimates that this would have been 500 gold ounces. He then looks to his ground land. What could he have received for the land if he had rented it out instead of using it himself in the business? Let us say that he could have received 400 ounces in rental income for the land.
Now, our owner received a net money income, as landowner-capitalist-laborer-entrepreneur, of 1,000 gold ounces for the year. He then estimates what his costs were, in money terms. These costs are not his explicit money expenses, which have already been deducted to find his net income, but his implicit expenses, i.e., his opportunities forgone by engaging in the business. Adding up these costs, he finds that they total:
Thus, the entrepreneur suffered a loss of 150 ounces over the period. If his opportunity costs had been less than 1,000, he would have gained an entrepreneurial profit.
It is true that such estimates are not precise. The estimates of what he would have received can never be wholly accurate. But this tool of ex post calculation is an indispensable one. It is the only way by which a man can guide his ex ante decisions, his future actions. By means of this calculation, he may realize that he is suffering a loss in this business. If the loss continues much longer, he will be impelled to shift his various resources to other lines of production. It is only by means of such estimates that an owner of more than one type of factor in the firm can determine his gains or losses in any situation and then allocate his resources to strive for the greatest gains.
A very important aspect of such estimates of implicit incomes has been overlooked: there can be no implicit estimates without an explicit market! When an entrepreneur receives income, in other words, he receives a complex of various functional incomes. To isolate them by calculation, there must be in existence an external market to which the entrepreneur can refer. This is an extremely important point, for, as we shall soon see in detail, this furnishes a most important limitation on the relative potential size of a single firm on the market.
For example, suppose we return for a moment to our old hypothetical example in which each firm is owned jointly by all its factor-owners. In that case, there is no separation at all between workers, landowners, capitalists, and entrepreneurs. There would be no way, then, of separating the wage incomes received from the interest or rent incomes or profits received. And now we finally arrive at the reason why the economy cannot consist completely of such firms (called “producers’ co-operatives”).54 For, without an external market for wage rates, rents, and interest, there would be no rational way for entrepreneurs to allocate factors in accordance with the wishes of the consumers. No one would know where he could allocate his land or his labor to provide the maximum monetary gains. No entrepreneur would know how to arrange factors in their most value-productive combinations to earn the greatest profit. There could be no efficiency in production because the requisite knowledge would be lacking. The productive system would be in complete chaos, and everyone, whether in his capacity as consumer or as producer, would be injured thereby. It is clear that a world of producers’ co-operatives would break down for any economy but the most primitive, because it could not calculate and therefore could not arrange productive factors to meet the desires of the consumers and hence earn the highest incomes for the producers.
- 54. Another reason why an economy of producers’ co-operatives could not calculate is that every original factor would be tied indissolubly to a specific line of production. There can be no calculation where all factors are purely specific.