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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/307

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admit of any ready and satisfactory explanation; while others will unhesitatingly ascribe them to the influence and acceptation of protectionist theories and teachings, inculcated under the advantageous but specious circumstance, that the almost universal depression of trade and industry that has prevailed since 1873 commenced at a time when the general commerce of the world was absolutely more free from artificial restrictions than at any former period of its history.

The factors that have been concerned in effecting these economic changes and accompanying disturbances are not, however, simple, but somewhat numerous and complex. They, nevertheless, admit, it is believed, of clear recognition and statement. In the first place, the results of the Franco-German War—the radical changes in the character and construction of war-armaments since that period, and the continual augmentation of permanent military forces, have entailed upon all the states of Europe since 1873 continually increasing expenditures and indebtedness; and indirect taxation, by means of duties on imports, to meet these increasing financial burdens, has been found to be most in accord with the maxim attributed to Colbert, that the perfection of taxation consists in so plucking the goose—i. e., the people—as to procure the greatest amount of feathers with the least possible amount of squawking.

Again, with the introduction and use of new, more effective, and cheaper methods or instrumentalities of production, every nation of advanced civilization has experienced, in a greater or less degree, an increase in the product of nearly all its industries save those which are essentially handicraft in character, with not only no corresponding increase, but often an actual decrease in the number of laborers to whom regular and fairly remunerative employment constitutes the only means of obtaining an independent and comfortable livelihood. Every country with accumulating productions has accordingly felt the necessity of disposing of its surplus by exporting it to the markets most freely open to it; and, as a consequence, that has happened which might have been expected could the exact course of events have been anticipated, namely; increased competition in every home market, engendered by increasing domestic production and the efforts of foreign producers to export (introduce) their surplus; fiercer competition to effect sales of the excess of competitive products by the sellers of all nations in neutral markets; and an almost irresistible tendency toward a universal depression of prices and profits, and, to a greater or less extent, a displacement of labor. It is also to be noted that as the capacity for industrial production increases, and competition to effect sales becomes fiercer, the more feverish is the anxiety to meet competition—specially on the part of foreign rivals—by producing cheaper goods; and that this policy in the states of Continental Europe, and more particularly in Germany, is antagonizing efforts to shorten the hours of labor and restrict the factory employment of women and