Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/327

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OVER-CONSUMPTION OR OVER-PRODUCTION?

be inseparable from it. It may be asked, moreover, if the currency is the cause of our suffering here, how is it that a similar condition of business affairs exists in England, where the currency has remained unchanged? There is no doubt in the world that an inflated currency does have a hot-house effect upon trade and production, and, as with all forced things, a corresponding reaction follows; but it is wholly inadequate to account for the present difficulty, although it has doubtless contributed toward it.

What, then, is the real cause of the evil? In endeavoring to answer this question, we shall probably startle not a few well-established convictions; but we bespeak a fair and patient hearing.

Almost any practical man of business, upon being asked what the trouble is, would attribute it to over-production. To this the economist promptly exclaims that there can be no such thing. "What," he would say, "over-production! too much wealth! an excess of prosperity! The thing is impossible. No people ever yet was made poor by an excess of wealth, by a superfluity of goods." This seems very plausible; but, if the economist is pressed, he will admit that there may be, and often is, over-production in certain things—that more may be produced of special articles than there are goods of other kinds to exchange for them—but general over-production is, he will reaffirm, impossible. Inasmuuch, however, as production is fairly never general, never uniformly active, there is always over-production in some branches of trade; and it so happens that this over-production is commonly coupled with great centralization of wealth and enormous appliances of machinery.

We must not be understood to utter a word against the power, the advantages, the immense boon of machinery; but, as all things have their compensations and their penalties, so machinery, beneficent and marvelous as it is, is one means of bringing about certain unfortunate consequences, as we think may be demonstrated.

Production and consumption do not have that intimate relation to each other they once had. In old times the weaver, for instance, was in contact with his customers: he wove cloth as he discovered the need; he cautiously set up a second loom when it became fully evident that it could be kept employed; and thus supply and demand went, as it were, hand-in-hand. But now gigantic mills filled with many spindles have little accurate relation to consumption. The power of production by means of improved machinery is something immense, and it is exercised with no very watchful or cautious regard to the immediate needs of the community. Goods are piled up in vast quantities in waiting for a future market, or for an anticipated change in price; or they are pressed upon the market at such low rates or on such long credits that buyers are seduced into over-purchases. In favorable times these establishments are run at high pressure. The old-fashioned nice relation between producer and