Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

held that the hypothesis of Malthus is so far justified; perhaps, however, at so remote a period as not to be entitled to present consideration, if ever.

Thirdly. It may be asked, where is the man who can yet measure the potential of an acre of land anywhere, or where is there an acre of land of which it may be positively affirmed that it cannot yield a larger product than it has ever yet done, in ratio to the labor and capital which may be put upon it? Who can say that there is not some other limit to the increase of popula. tion than the violent methods which have heretofore been held to be the principal retarding forces in the case? May it not be held that the a priori concepts of Malthus in regard to population and of Ricardo in respect to rent are, to say the least, not yet proven? No man can venture to define the point at which the equilibrium between life and land or between population and production may be destroyed, or the utmost limit at which it can be maintained; for the reason that no one can yet venture to limit the applications of science and invention to the subsistence of man. It is not necessary to assume that there must be artificial restrictions upon the increase of population. Just as the most grasping and penurious money-getter accumulates capital and applies it to uses benefiting the community, while he costs only what he himself consumes, working almost automatically and without any knowledge of his own functions or utility in the social order and thus becoming a conservator of the force of capital, so may there be laws for the conservation of that form of force which constitutes human life of which science has as yet no comprehension. Land itself may be exhausted when treated as a mine; it may be maintained when worked as a laboratory. Its potential in the increase of fertility and production, when used as a tool or instrument for diverting nitrogen and carbon from the atmosphere and converting these elements into food for man and beast, is as yet an unknown quantity.

In support of these views, and in answer to the question whether the soil is not to be considered as a laboratory rather than as a mine, I am permitted to give the following extract from a letter by Prof. W. O. Atwater, than whom no one has done more excellent work in developing the sources of fertility,

or in the application of science to the use of land as an instrument of production:

“It is right to consider the soil as a laboratory and not as a mine, responding in just proportion to the intelligence and work put upon it. Of course there is a limit to the possible production, but it transcends all ideas that ever occurred to people in Malthus's time. The soil is the place of growth of the plant and the source of part of its food. Given plenty of water and food and proper temperature, and the amount of produce in a given area is immense. Professor Nobbe, a German experimenter, raised a single plant of buckwheat eight feet high and bearing nearly eight hundred perfect seeds, and this not in sand at all, but in water containing proper plant-food. Similar results are obtained with other plants. Our common ideas of area and soil-product are based upon the experience in which the factors promised in future progress are left out of account. The possible production of a given area is far outside our usual calculations.

“The problem of the world's future supply is conditioned upon two things: one is energy, power for manufacture and transport of plant-food and transport of water; the other is the supply of nitrogen. With the unmeasured energy of wind, flowing water, and tide, and the possibility of storage, transfer, and use of energy by electricity and other agencies, we may hope that the science of the future will provide the power. Late research makes an abundant nitrogen supply probable. Leaving out of account the question of present pecuniary cost and profit, the conditions of transport of plant-food, cultivation of soil, and water supply for the maximum production are theoretically capable of being provided. Science and discovery have already found in the earth practically inexhaustible stores of all the ingredients of plant-food but carbon and nitrogen. The atmosphere supplies an abundance of carbon to plants from its constantly replenished store of carbonic acid. This reduces the problem of ultimate supply of plant-food to one of nitrogen supply. Fourfifths of the air are nitrogen, but the question is whether this can be made available to plants. For a number of years the current doctrine has been that it cannot, but late experiments indicate that certain plants do have the power of assimilating atmospheric nitrogen in large quantities. Aside from investigations in this country (my own of which you already know), a number have lately been made in France, and particularly in Germany, which bring the most direct and convincing evidence that legumes, including, probably, clover, have this power of obtaining nitrogen from the air. It will interest you personally to know that we are just commencing a new series of experiments here on this subject, with pea, alfalfa, cow-pea, clover, maize, and other plants. ... Viewed from this standpoint the prospect for the future of the race is not one of Malthusian dreadfulness, but full of exalting inspiration."

The a priori objection to which the hypotheses of both Malthus and Ricardo are subjected in my own mind is, that they tend to promote a contest between labor and capital ; to antago

nism between the haves and the have-nots; to ultimate destruction rather than to the conservation of life; and they lead to the conclusion that the struggle for life must inevitably become more difficult and more violent, and must finally fail.

In all problems in what is called political economy, which are commonly regarded as relating wholly to the production and distribution of the material substances constituting wealth or necessary to material existence, one is inevitably brought back to the immaterial or metaphysical. The mind of man when applied to the direction of natural forces is the principal agent in material production, in fact, the controlling element. Those who claim that labor is the source of all production are utterly misled because they do not admit this fundamental principle. May it not, therefore, be more consistent with the concepts of an enlightened faith of any type in which order is recognized in the universe, to present an hypothesis or a priori theory that, as the mental faculties of man are more developed and are more intelligently applied to the conversion of the forces of nature into material products, the general struggle for life will become less and not greater?

War, pestilence, and famine have devastated the world and have diminished the means of subsistence, during the last two centuries, far more than they have rendered the subsistence of the population, whose increase has been retarded by them, more easy and adequate. On the other hand, where peace and order have reigned production has been increased, and the interdependence of men has been more fully acknowledged. As it has become more and more fully admitted in political science that each man, each race, each state, each nation serves the other by exchange, the pressure of want has been diminished, and one can dimly foresee the time when the prophecy of the poet may become a living truth, when

“Down the dark future, through long generations,

The echoing sounds of war grow fainter and then cease."

Have the orthodox English economists since Adam Smith ever overcome the insular quality of their work, or sufficiently counted upon the mind of man as a factor in material production ? Perhaps these questions would occur only to one who has studied economic problems by the observation of the facts of life rather than in the treatises on which our economic reasoning has heretofore been based. Is it not desirable that more attention should be given to the method of Adam Smith than to the dogmas of Malthus, Ricardo, and Mill? If so, then the facts which are now being gathered by statisticians, especially in this country, may hereafter serve to give a broad extension of the narrow and insular habits of thought which the students of political economy have derived mainly from English writers. Let it not be supposed for an instant that I assume that there can be an American system of political economy as distinguished from an English system. Such a conception would be utterly inconsistent with any true idea of science. Yet, is it not true that habits of thought are unconsciously controlled by the environment of the writer? Witness the broad extension of the English commercial system and the very narrow and limited view which still obtains in respect to the local institutions of Great Britain. Witness the incapability of Parliament to conduct a centralized system of government, especially in respect to Ireland, while the members of Parliament appear to be equally incapable of grasping the idea of home rule and local self-government under the central sustaining power of a great nation.

On the other hand, have not the people of the United States developed the broadest system of mutual service and support in respect to their internal commerce and the conduct of their home affairs ? home rule and local self-government being maintained in the strictest sense, backed by the whole power of the nation ; while the ideas of the people as well as of their legislators are distinctly provincial and limited in all that relates to the great commerce among pations.

When the day dawns in which the English-speaking peoples of the world may become united under a system which shall give to every man the utmost liberty consistent with the rights of his fellow-men; when national prejudice is abated, and the whole great body moves onward in its effort to benefit the people of the world by mutual service, the word will then go forth to all other nations, Disarm or starve. The Statue of Liberty which

stands at the mouth of the great harbor of our country. may then, in truth, enlighten the world. This is the vision which lies back of the dry columns of figures, and which brings the imagination into play on the part of him who can read between their lines.

I venture to believe that although the province of statistical science has been held subordinate to that of political economy or political science, it may yet become of paramount importance to the development of either branch of study. Doubtful as statistics may be, much as they depend on the sincerity of purpose and integrity of him who compiles them, and easy as it is for them to become twisted and confused, even by the unconscious bias of the observer or compiler, they may get become a necessary foundation for any true inductive method in political economy, and must, therefore, be placed on an even plane, to say the least, in the estimation of the student.

For this reason it might well be that traveling scholarships should be established in universities as prizes in the department of political economy, in order that wider and more accurate investigations may be entered upon, whereby the a priori concepts of most of the writers of the text-books may be tested, and may be either sustained or put aside, as they are found to be consistent or otherwise with the facts of human life. The real man can be observed; has the economic man, who would bring into action all the processes conceived by writers of the type of Ricardo and Mill, yet been discovered? Is he not also an hypothesis? It would, of course, be futile to attempt to do more than to present the elements of this problem within the limits of a short essay; but it ought now to be observed that most of the causes of antagonism between labor and capital, as well as the basis of most of the undertakings of the socialist, the anarchist, and the communist, find their justification in one or the other of the hypotheses of Malthus or Ricardo.

The abstract nature of the concepts of political economy may perhaps be more fully comprehended by a consideration of the deplorable results which have ensued from the general adoption of false theories in respect to trade. The folly of the mercantile system attained its most pernicious result in the attempt of Great Britain to control the trade of the colonies of America for the

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »