“Man is a bundle of desires.” His wants are infinitum variety and number. Some of his wants are organic and natural.
He must have some food to live, some clothing to cover his body and some sort of shelter to protect himself against the in-clemencies of weather, and also against his enemies. Without these things man’s life would be impossible.
But a civilized man is not satisfied with bare necessaries of life. Even when the problem of bare existence has been solved, the struggle of life remains as keen as ever. The struggle now is for the comforts and joys of life. As man becomes more civilized, his wants multiply. He wants better food, fashionable clothing, comfortable lodging, and so on.
All people do not have the same wants. Wants vary from individual to individual. They are relative to one’s social and economic position. They are also the outcome of one’s education, temperament and tastes. The modem man is the product of a long-process of evolution which is reflected in his endless and ever-growing wants.
Characteristics of Human Wants:
A careful study of the nature of human wants snows mat they have some well- marked characteristics.
The important ones among these characteristics are explained below:
Human Wants are Unlimited:
There is no end the human wants. When one want is satisfied, another crops up to take its place. The never-ending cycle of wants goes on and on. Man’s mind is so made that he is never completely satisfied. He always hankers after more and more goods and services. There is no limit to his wants so long as he breathes. Human wants keep on multiplying.
Any Particular want is Satiable:
Although wants in the aggregate au unlimited, yet it is possible to satisfy a particular want, provided one has the means. If, for instance, a man wants a car he can have it and be satisfied. If he is hungry, he takes food and the want is satisfied. Thus a particular want can be satisfied, if one has money enough for the purpose.
Wants are Complementary:
Very seldom does one commodity by itself Satisfy a human want. Usually it calls for something else in audition. It we want to write a letter, we must buy a pen as well as ink and paper. The pen alone is not enough It is a common experience that we want things in groups. A single article out of a group cannot satisfy our wants by itself. It needs other things to complete its use. Thus, a motor-car needs petrol and mobiles oil before it starts working; shoes need laces, and so on. Thus wants are complementary.
Wants are Competitive:
Not only are our wants complementary, they are also competitive. One commodity competes with another for our choice. We all have a limited amount of money at our disposal, whereas we want so many things at the same time. We cannot buy them all. We must, therefore, choose between them by accepting some and rejecting others. Thus, there is competition between the various things that we could buy.
Some Wants are Both Complementary and Competitive:
Machinery competes with labour. A manufacturer can, to some extent, substitute one for the other. But they also go together. Both of them are used in factories. Thus, human wants not only compete, they also complement each other.
Wants are Alternative:
There are several ways of satisfying a particular want. If we feel thirsty, we can have soda, ‘sharbat’ or ‘lassi’ in summer, and tea, coffee or hot milk in winter. There are different alternatives open to us. The final choice depends on their relative prices and the money at our disposal.
Wants Vary with Time, Place and Person:
Wants are not always the same, nor the same with everyone. Different people want different things and the same man wants different things at different times and in different places.
Wants Vary in Urgency and Intensity:
All wants are not equally urgent and intense. Some wants are more urgent and intense than others. These are generally satisfied first, while others are postponed.
Wants Multiply with Civilization:
As civilization spreads among peoples, their wants also go on increasing. That is why people living in urban areas have more wants than people inhabiting villages. This largely explains why the wants of European and American peoples are generally more numerous than those of the African people. With the advance of civilisation, the demand for radio, cinema, television, motor cars and other modern amenities goes on increasing.
Most of the human wants are of a recurring nature. This applies to most of our routine expenditure, especially on food. From day to day and month to month, these wants arise again and again and clamour for satisfaction.
Wants Change into Habits:
If a particular want is regularly satisfied, a person becomes used to it and it grows into a habit. He must then use that particular commodity regularly. That is how young lads often become confirmed smokers and drug addicts.
Wants are influenced by Income, Salesmanship and Advertisement:
It is obvious that if income is higher, more wants can be satisfied, and a poor man cannot simply afford to have many wants. Besides, we do not always buy the things we need. We are often induced to buy particular brands by persuasive salesmen or clever advertisement even though better alternatives may be available.
Wants are the Result of Custom or Convention:
Custom still rules the world. All of us, whether living in villages or towns, are slaves of custom, more or less. Many of our wants are conventional. They are dictated to us by society. Whether we like it or not, we have to spend a lot of money on social ceremonies.
Present Wants are more important than Future Wants:
It is a human instinct to regard the present wants as being more important than the future wants. The proverb “A bird in hand is better than two in the bush” is based on this universal phenomenon. Future is uncertain and unpredictable. Man is, therefore, more concerned with the satisfaction of his present wants rather than being worried about his future wants.
Importance of Characteristics of Wants in Economic Theory:
The characteristics of human wants need a close study as they give birth to some of the most important laws of the science of Economics. For instance, the fact that any single want is satiable leads to the law of diminishing marginal utility, which says that every successive unit of a commodity consumed has less utility. This is one of the fundamental laws of Economics on which are based several other economic laws, e.g., the law of demand, consumers’ surplus, elasticity of demand and the principle of progressive taxation.
Again, the competitive nature of human vans has given us the law of substitution. Some of the other characteristics of wants viz. that they become habits and run in groups led Dr. Engels (a German thinker) to lay down his law of family expenditure, which we shall study later. Two of the other characteristics of human wants that we have considered above are that many wants recur again and again and some of them change into habits. In this way, they become an integral part of a man’s standard of living.
The modern theory of wages is based, on the supply side, on the standard of living prevailing at any time. It states that on the lower side wages must be sufficient to enable a worker to maintain his standard of living. This is so because he is habituated to the consumption of certain commodities.
Similarly, the time-preference theory of interest is based on the characteristic that people prefer their present wants to their future wants. Broadly speaking, this theory states that the greater the preference of a lender for present wants to the future wants, the higher will be the rate of interest that he will demand. Likewise, the theory of joint demand is based on the characteristic that some wants are complementary.
Classification of Wants:
The commodities and services that we want are generally classified as necessaries, comforts and luxuries. Let us consider them one by one.
Necessaries may be further sub-divided as:
(a) Necessaries of Existence:
These are the things without which we cannot exist, e.g., a minimum of food, clothing and shelter.
(b) Necessaries of Efficiency:
Some goods may not be necessary to enable us to live, but necessary to make us efficient workers. A table and a chair are necessaries of efficiency for a student. Having these he will be able to read and write better.
(c) Conventional Necessaries:
These are the things which we are forced to use either by social custom or because the people around us expect us to do so. It is clear that we cannot dress ourselves in a strange fashion. We must dress according to our station in life and in a manner acceptable to the people. The term conventional necessaries are also applied to consumption of things like tobacco and wine to which people sometimes get addicted.
Having satisfied our wants for the necessaries of life, we desire to have some comforts too. For a student, a book is a necessity, a table and a chair are necessaries of efficiency; but cushioned chair is a comfort. Comforts make for a fuller life. In order to distinguish between a comfort and a necessary of efficiency we may say that the benefit from the former is less than the money spent on it, whereas the benefit in health and efficiency from the latter is greater. By way of illustration, we may say that while an electric fan for a college student in summer may be regarded as a necessary of efficiency, an air-conditioner is a comfort and even a luxury.
Man does not stop even at comforts. After comforts have been provided, he wants luxuries too. ‘Luxury’ has been defined as a superfluous consumption, something we could easily do without. Costly furniture, luxurious car shower baths, silk clothes, jewellery, a house fitted with refrigerators, electric cookers, washing machines, cushioned beds and meals consisting of a large number of costly dishes-are all luxuries.
They are unnecessary and one can lead a healthy and useful life even without them. Money spent on comforts brings some compensation, while the expenditure on luxuries brings negligible return. On the contrary, there may be a positive loss or harm.
Can We Justify Luxuries?
There are people who condemn all forms of luxury as morally bad and economically wasteful. As against this, there are those who say that everybody has a right to enjoy what he has.Then there are social considerations which compel us to examine the effect of a particular expenditure on society as a whole. The problem of luxury is thus complicated by these divergent views.
Luxuries are advocated on the following grounds:
(i) Production of articles of luxury creates employment and is good for the trade and industry of a country. It thus renders a social service, besides providing enjoyment for some.
(ii) Expense on luxuries transfers wealth from the idle rich to the active and useful members of society who badly need it and make a more profitable use of it. This transfer of wealth is good for society, as it brings about a more even distribution of wealth.
(iii) The production of luxury goods adds to the skill of the workers. Luxury articles require art and skill to produce them.
(iv) The desire for luxuries acts is a stimulant to new inventions, new labour-saving devices and new types of goods. It thus makes for technical and industrial progress.
(v) The use of luxuries is beneficial to society in that it makes people refined, cultured and aesthetic.