Once choice is made action cannot commence without means. We have already examined means as an apriori condition of action. It comes in the form of stored energy or capital. There cannot be action without means. The body and its available energy, the savings account and its money, the character and its virtue, the mind and its knowledge. The latter two have a kind of inexhaustibility, but the calories which their use involves is not inexhaustible.
Buddha, in his seminal sermon, Setting in Motion the Wheel of Dharma, recommends no craving or grasping. I call it letting go. For action to commence scarce resources must be employed which involves letting them go. It is the only way for the investment of action to take place.
For he who has excess of capital, for he whose capital does not feel scarce, the investment risks misallocation. For he who is sensitive to the scarcity of his means the cost is calculated and precision is called out. We should not become too readily focused on money here. There is a much more primary kind of cost to every action which is much closer to home: labor. We will explore labor costs in the next post. For now…
There is limited (scarce) time in the day. It has a value to the agent and it is used (spent) in one way or another. There is limited attention in an agent (though it can be developed which means there is more or less…it is not fixed, but it is always limited). That attention can be spent this way or that. There is limited development of virtue. Even if the ideal is inexhaustible, in any finite subjectivity patience is likely limited. So is endurance, temperance, courage, prudence. All of these feed into limitations of effort.
The cost of acting is that which is let go and invested. It is sacrificed. The cost is agent relative. Even dollars do not have the same value to different agents. The law of diminishing returns is at work here. We could if we wanted move into the analysis of this particular agent or that particular agent and examine, by what he does, what the costs of this or that action is to him.
What we see from the third-person perspective of an agent’s action or inaction may be judged as greed. But it is totally possible that we are simply misunderstanding the value of that which the action costs. Were we to look closer we might find that the conditions for action are such that the costs of that action have increased significantly. What looked like greed turns out to be care taken in bad conditions. We will look more closely at this when we are finished with the apriori analysis of action and begin to look at the difference between voluntary trade and initiated aggression.
In voluntary trade, where both parties to the transfer act, the trade is mutually beneficial in that what each party gives up is worth less to him than what he gets in return. How do we know? Because it is given up while something else is taken in.
There are, in many cultures social costs related to the judgments of the social club or association to which the agent is a member. There are costs to speech, costs to investment, costs to inaction, costs to rest (in the allocation of time in trade for recuperation, costs to virtuous action and costs to vicious action.
One of the most effective ways to become familiar with the costs of government activity is to look at the costs of the threat of initiated aggression where one party acts (government) and another is left out of the transfer such that it is forced and not agreed to. No society has eliminated initiated aggression, but my research suggests that the societies that do the best over the long-term, empirically, are the ones that use it the least against their own citizens. It is easy to see, once the apriori of action is understood, why this is.
The costs introduced by the threat of initiated aggression make less likely profit and more likely loss. He who calculates his scarce means and their employment in action will be such that a whole range of actions that would otherwise be interesting prospects are rendered unperformable because of the alterations of the costs. And, there is temptation to say, “pursuit of profit is selfish”. That would be a mistake.
An agent’s values determine profit and loss and costs associated with action. If profit is helping others, but more of my means are taken through initiated aggression, that makes the cost of helping others go up only under the supposition that my means become scarcer, and though that which is available for helping others is rendered less.
Actions have costs necessarily. When the prowler and aggressor lies in wait the costs of action increase tremendously. The proper response by the agent is to store away and conceal from the aggressor, not to action as investment. But to return to the broader consideration: all action has costs: consuming, saving, investing, resting. Next, before leaving costs and moving to profit and loss we look at labor, that primary capital almost any actor has which he can trade.