Изображения страниц

independent of all popular elections. It may annul the popular will expressed in both houses of Congress, when it takes the form of a law repugnant to the written Constitution. It is the bulwark of minorities and of individuals against lawless, arbitrary, and encroaching majorities. No judicial tribunal with any such power exists in Great Britain.

We often hear it said that ours is a government of the people, meaning a majority of the people; but this is far from being true of our system. We are under a government of law, and the majority are just as much bound and restrained by that law as the minority. Indeed it often happens in the working of our government that the minority prevails and rules against the will of the majority. Several of our presidents and many senators and representatives have been chosen by minorities, with great majorities of the popular vote against them. If two representatives should be elected by an aggregate majority of two hundred votes, and one with a majority of two thousand votes, the popular minority would, in that case, have a more potential voice in legislation than the majority. If New York should choose her delegation to Congress by one thousand majority, and Pennsylvania by fifty thousand, the popular minority would, in that event, prevail over the majority in the legislation of Congress. It is well known that it was the intention of the framers of the Constitution that the President should be chosen by independent electors, each voting according to his individual judgment, and not by a majority of the popular vote.

In the organization of the Senate popular majorities are wholly ignored. Nevada, in that body, is equal to New York; Delaware to Pennsylvania. The six New England States, with a population numbering 4,010,529, have twelve senators; while New York, with 5,082,871 people, has but two senators. Florida, with 269,493 people, negatives Ohio with a population of 3,198,062. Vermont, with only 332,286 inhabitants, utters in the Senate as potent a voice as Illinois with not less than 3,077,871, Nevada with only 62,266, Oregon with 174,000, Colorado with 194,324 people may each confront and negative Pennsylvania with a population of 4,282,891, or New York with five millions.


[ocr errors]


IN a review of my analysis of the distribution of products, by Mr. Frederick B. Hawley,* to which I made a rejoinder in part in the July number of the FORUM, a much wider issue is raised than the mere question of the accuracy of my figures of distribution. Having treated some of the questions of fact which are at issue, a short treatise on the theory of wages may be timely.

Mr. Hawley says: "Mr. Atkinson's results will not be so readily accepted when his very inadequate comprehension of the theories of Malthus and of Ricardo are called to mind." Again he says: "Among economists, especially among those who believe that statistical investigation can rarely be fruitful of any valuable results except in the hands of an investigator well grounded in economic theory, Mr. Atkinson's results will not be readily accepted." In this latter statement Mr. Hawley presents an example of the danger to which the student of books is exposed in becoming a mere interpreter of the hypotheses of writers who may have failed to adopt a true inductive method or who may not have been capable observers. Possibly Malthus and Ricardo may have applied great ability to false theories, by which a vast deal of mischief has been done, and it may not be consistent with true economic science to adopt their hypotheses.

It may be fully admitted that in the physical sciences some of the most brilliant results have been attained by deductive methods based on hypotheses or a priori concepts, but one may well distrust such methods in economic science. If the a priori concepts of Malthus and Ricardo are to be received as demonstrations of science, then of what use are all our efforts to prevent war, to stop famine, to alleviate poverty, or to save life from

* "Quarterly Journal of Economics," Harvard University, for April, 1888.

disease and pestilence? The more we accomplish for the present generations of men the more must posterity suffer, the more urgent must the struggle for life become, the more fearful must be the anarchy when the whole art of living can consist only in securing a sufficient subsistence for the few by any method of force or fraud, even at the cost of those who starve. In other words, if human passions and human nature lead to a disproportion of population in ratio to the means of subsistence, or if the mind of man applied as a factor to production cannot provide for this tendency of population to increase without resort either to violent or to purely artificial methods for checking it, then indeed does political economy become a "dismal science;" and may we not as well "eat and drink, for to-morrow we die," without taking any thought for the future of our race?

The fault of these hypotheses may be that their proponents had not taken cognizance of the human mind as a factor in material production. They were based on very narrow observation, and when they were put forth the science of statistics had little more than an elementary existence. One may well ask whether so acute a reasoner as either Malthus or Ricardo would have ventured to present either hypothesis, had either one conceived that within a short period ironstone would be converted into food for man and beast, by grinding into powder the phosphoric slag which is the waste product of the iron furnace under the basic process of making steel and using it as a fertilizer.

I have ventured to doubt the validity of the hypotheses of Malthus and Ricardo, whether I comprehended them or not, because they have not yet been sustained either by experience, by observation, or by statistics. The hypothesis of Malthus is very simple; it may be stated in a very few words, to wit: there is a tendency of the population of the world to increase faster than the means of subsistence. He even held that, while population might increase in a geometrical ratio, the means of subsistence might increase only in an arithmetical ratio. The hypothesis of Ricardo in respect to rent is also very simple; he holds that economic rent is the margin of product of the better or the more accessible land over and above the returns which can be obtained from the poorer or more distant land, of which the product will

only repay the cultivator for the cost of production. Both these hypotheses rest upon the so-called law of diminishing returns from land, under which it is held that land may fail to yield an equal increment of product in ratio to equal increments of labor and capital expended upon it. If these hypotheses are pushed to their logical conclusion, and if there is no countervailing force which may ultimately bring land and life, or population and production, to an equilibrium, does it not of necessity follow that all our humanitarian or philanthropic efforts may only make the final catastrophe so much the greater? Admitting that a century or less is quite insufficient to warrant absolute inductions from experience, yet it may well be considered that there has not been a single decade, since the hypothesis of Malthus was first presented, in which the means of subsistence have not gained very rapidly upon the population of the world.

What are the facts with respect to the hypothesis regarding rent presented by Ricardo?

First. Experience proves that a given and limited area of land of high fertility, when cultivated for a series of years in a certain manner, will doubtless yield diminishing returns in proportion to the amount of labor and capital expended upon it. Such land may finally cease to yield a profit sufficient to pay the cost of cultivating it, in which case there can be no economic rent, and the land may for a time go out of cultivation, until the pressure of population reduces the standard of living to such an extent as again to compel its cultivation even for the most meager returns. Such is the fact in regard to considerable areas of land in England to-day.

The present condition of Great Britain, under the system of large entailed estates which have been cultivated for a comparatively short historic period to the present time, mainly by tenantfarmers under leases which prevent free use, gives one example of the failure of land to yield adequate returns for the kind of labor and the method of directing the capital expended upon it. The failure may not happen for lack of abundant product, but because the product is of high cost and not suitable to present conditions. It does not follow that some other method would not yield adequate returns. Again, the present condition of

many parts of the continent of Europe, under the system of forced subdivision of land, by which the parcels have become too small for the application of machinery to them, affords another example of the limited truth of the hypothesis of diminishing returns.

But both in Great Britain and on the Continent examples may be found of such exceptions to this supposed law as to invalidate the rule; while, again, the whole area in which this alleged rule apparently finds a limited support constitutes so small a fraction of the surface of the earth as to make any deduction from the results obtained from it a mere exception, or else a result attained under such exceptional conditions as to be of no force whatever in sustaining a universal law supposed to cover general production.

Secondly. A given area of land of high fertility may be divided into two parts by a line. On one side the cultivation may be carried on as in the foregoing examples, and the land may be finally exhausted, so far as that kind of cultivation is concerned. On the other side of the line land of the same quality, treated by different men, or by a succession of men of a different or more intelligent type, or working under better institutions, may yield a larger and larger product through a period of at least a century. This has been proved in the history of this country. A fair example may perhaps be found in the relative conditions of the central part of the State of New York, as compared to some of the more fertile portions of the land of Lower Canada inhabited by the French population. In the one case a steadily increasing product may be found in proportion to the capital and labor; in the other, diminishing returns in ratio to population, accompanied by the forced migration of the French habitans.

Land of the same original quality, in the same field, divided only by a line, may, therefore, on the one hand, prove the law of diminishing returns and may be cited as an example of the entire loss of economic rent; while on the other side of the line, under a better mode of treatment, a law of increasing returns and of higher rent may be proved. Of course there may or must be a final limit, and by admitting a final limit it may be

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »