It is impossible, we may as well say at the outset, to draw a line through consumption, marking off, on the one side, the satisfactions of desires that bring nothing but an increased welfare both individual and social, and on the other, the satisfactions that produce the opposite effect. Every one will agree that bread contributes to our well-being, and that opium does not. Yet in a complete classification of goods there comes a time when disagreement will appear, when even learned and unbiased authorities will differ. The best we can do under these circumstances, therefore, is to weigh the facts in each case, both as individuals and in small social groups, hoping thereby to arrive at the truth.
It is obvious that a considerable portion of human consumption is unwise and even actually harmful. Intemperance abounds not alone in the consumption of such positively harmful goods as drugs and intoxicating liquors. Its baneful influence extends even to the use of food, of clothing, and of entertainment. Few people would now deny that the use of drugs or intoxicating liquors is detrimental, as well to the best interests of society as to the individual. The opinion once generally held that alcohol increased and sustained mental and physical energy has been discarded. Unfortunately, the great majority stop at that point in their opposition to intemperance, forgetting that it is also harmful to consume intemperately other economic goods. The typical American is much more likely to be overfed than underfed. The more frugal Europeans often marvel at our capacity for food, while many a physician can testify that his practice consists largely in doctoring the ailments that arise from overeating. Such consumption, we may safely say, is harmful as well as unwise. Also in the matter of dress many of us, perhaps a majority, protect our bodies with more care than nature demands, thereby lowering the physical vitality, instead of raising it. Entertainment, too, may be carried to an extreme, particularly that kind which consists of late hours, undue excitement, or inactivity.