At any particular time, especially if the budget system be in use, ordinary and extraordinary expenditures can be rather closely distinguished. The names, in reality, explain themselves. Ordinary expenditure is that which is expected, while the extraordinary is for the unanticipated demands Expenditure for war would be extraordinary, while that for the maintenance of a standing army or navy would be ordinary. While such a classification can be made at a particular time, it will not hold over a long period of time, nor often for even a period of short duration. Government activities have been increasing at such a pace that an extraordinary use of funds five years ago may now be considered perfectly regular. Even an extraordinary expenditure for war in a particular year may be considered as a normal expenditure the following year. It is seen, then, that the classification has no permanency, and a particular item of state activity cannot be referred to as " ordinary" with no reference to the time element.
Much the same objection can be raised against the "necessary, desirable, and superfluous" classification. A superfluous undertaking at one time may become desirable at another and necessary at still another. Besides the time element, the element of personal judgment plays an important part in this classification. The terms are at best relative, and what might be considered necessary at a particular time by one official or voter might be branded by others as superfluous and extravagant. The difficulty of getting any standard of measurement is insurmountable. Although the distinction of productive and unproductive expenditure held an important place for early students, it has little significance at present. The idea of production has changed from Adam Smith's notion of making a " material and vendable commodity" to that of a creation of utilities. The vast majority, if not all, of public funds are thus spent productively, although it might be impossible to justify them from the ethical standpoint. A historical classification is interesting, primarily, in showing the evolution of state activities.