The Principles of Political Economy

Henry Sidgwick

Book 3

The Art of Political Economy

Chapter 2

The System of Natural Liberty Considered in Relation to Production

§7. Hitherto we have not made any distinction between the interests of living men and those of remote generations. But if we are examining the merits and demerits of the purely individualistic or competitive organization of society from the point of view of universal humanity, it should be observed that it does not necessarily provide to an adequate extent for utilities distant in time. It was shown before that an outlay of capital that would be useful to the community may not be made because it would be unremunerative to individuals at the only rate at which they could (owing to poverty, &c.) borrow the money. But we may go further and urge that an outlay which would be on the whole advantageous, if the interests of future generations are considered as much as those of the present may not be profitable for any individual at the current rate at which wealth can be commercially borrowed.

This may be merely because the return is too distant; since an average man's interest in his heirs is not sufficient to make him buy a very long deferred annuity, even if its price be calculated strictly according to the market-rate of interest. But, speaking more generally, I do not see how it can be argued from the point of view of the community that the current interest, the current price that individuals have to be paid for postponing consumption, is the exact condition that has to be fulfilled to make such postponement desirable; though of course it is a condition inevitably exacted in a society of economic men organised on a purely individualistic basis.

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