The most fundamental notion in economics is consumption. It came first in the history of mankind, and it seems likely to continue to the end of time as the chief motive for economic activity. Desire to consume has been the strongest factor in the development of modern civilization. It is the force that has brought the human race step by step from the stone age to its present civilization. It accounts for the migration of whole nations, for the conquest of continents, for the settlement of vast agricultural areas, and for the building of populous cities. No other human desire, we may safely say, is so universal or so persistent. On it rest not only pleasure and enjoyment, education and culture, freedom and independence, but also life itself.
Consumption in its very nature is destructive, for with few exceptions we cannot consume without destroying. The food we eat is destroyed at once. We consume our clothing more gradually. Still longer does it ordinarily take to consume an automobile, while bouses often last a lifetime. In any case, consumption takes place, even though no immediate effect be discernible. Curiously enough, refraining from consuming a good does not usually preserve it intact, for time itself is an insatiable destroyer. Thus, two elements enter into the destruction of goods. One is the inability to consume without destroying, such as is the case with food and clothing; the other, the ravages of time, which destroy ruthlessly our food, our clothing, our home, and even the pictures on the wall.