‘I am sure,’ he concluded, ‘that by proper organization and mass production I can bring the unit cost per dinner down to a record minimum. I think I can guarantee that the cash contribution from each member of the club will be smaller than has ever before been possible.’
Mrs. Smith interrupted him. ‘But, Mr. Jones,’ she said, ‘your proposal would upset all our arrangements. You see, each of our members has her own specialty to supply. Every summer when I put up jelly, for example, I always set aside a few extra jars for the church dinner. Mrs. Doe does the same with chowchow and pickles. Mrs. Roe supplies chickens from her own barnyard, and Mrs. Franklin furnishes potatoes from her farm. Very little actual money goes into the dinner. Each of us donates what she is best equipped to give.’
‘You see, John,’ spoke up Mrs. Jones with an indulgent smile, ‘none of us tries to capture the whole dinner market. We plan and cooperate. We don’t go about it as you manufacturers do when a new field is opened up, and every manufacturer sets out to capture the market in toto. If we did that, we should find ourselves spreading a dinner for a thousand people instead of a hundred. Mrs. Roe might make a full supply of potato salad, while Mrs. Doe, convinced that her own potato salad was far better, might make another full supply and place it in competition with Mrs. Roe’s product. Then we should have overproduction, and all of us would lose by it. We avoid this by estimating our market as closely as possible, and we plan and cooperate to supply the demand. I suppose, John, that this will strike you as very primitive indeed, but somehow it seems to accomplish our purpose with a minimum of waste.’
In the end Mr. Jones had nothing for it but to sneak away to the telephone and cancel the orders he had placed.
Thereafter he seemed a much chastened man. He did not again make himself the butt of his wife’s irony by producing more things than his family could use, just to demonstrate the efficiency of his household machinery. In a few days he took to spending an occasional afternoon at his club. He began playing golf, and devoted many of his leisure hours to exploring his rather large library, which had hitherto been merely an unused collection of books. He found himself becoming interested in all sorts of fascinating subjects. He was really enjoying himself immensely, although he had a guilty look on his face whenever Mrs. Jones caught him at any of these diversions during working hours.
One day she said to him, ‘Perhaps you can see now, John, that the purpose of labor-saving devices is really to save labor, so that more time can be devoted to pleasant and stimulating living.’
Not long after this, Mr. Jones decided that his business again required his attention. His wife is convinced that he returned to his office with a few elementary but enlightening lessons in economics well mastered.
No one, of course, would act as foolishly in the realm of household economics as did this mythical Mr. Jones, but there are many Mr. Joneses who have acted no less foolishly in their own sphere of large-scale industry, expanding plants and piling up goods with complete disregard of market demand. It may be argued that the parallel I have drawn is not a fair one because the family unit is so small and static that its requirements can be easily gauged, while there is no element of competition in supplying these requirements. But the nation, after all, is only the sum of these small units, and with proper cooperation it should not be impossible to estimate, within certain limits, the amount of goods the nation needs.