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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/761

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had their way among us with less interruption and under more favorable conditions than in any other country on the face of the earth. The wealth of Crœsus was nothing to that which we have accumulated, and our prosperity has filled the world with envy. But Nemesis did not forget Crœsus; has she forgotten us?

I think not. There are now thirty-six millions of people in our island, and every year considerably more than three hundred thousand are added to our numbers.[1] That is to say, about every hundred seconds, or so, a new claimant to a share in the common stock of maintenance presents him or herself among us. At the present time, the produce of the soil does not suffice to feed half its population. The other moiety has to be supplied with food which must be bought from the people of food-producing countries. That is to say, we have to offer them the things which they want in exchange for the things we want. And the things they want and which we can produce better than they can are mainly manufactures—industrial products.

The insolent reproach of the first Napoleon had a very solid foundation. We not only are, but, under penalty of starvation, we are bound to be, a nation of shopkeepers. But other nations also lie under the same necessity of keeping shop, and some of them deal in the same goods as ourselves. Our customers naturally seek to get the most and the best in exchange for their produce. If our goods are inferior to those of our competitors, there is no ground compatible with the sanity of the buyers, which can be alleged, why they should not prefer the latter. And, if that result should ever take place on a large and general scale, five or six millions of us would soon have nothing to eat. We know what the cotton famine was; and we can therefore form some notion of what a dearth of customers would be.

Judged by an ethical standard, nothing can be less satisfactory than the position in which we find ourselves. In a real, though incomplete, degree we have attained the condition of peace which is the main object of social organization; and it may, for argument's sake, be assumed that we desire nothing but that which is in itself innocent and praiseworthy—namely, the enjoyment of the fruits of honest industry. And lo! in spite of ourselves, we are in reality engaged in an internecine struggle for existence with our presumably no less peaceful and well-meaning neighbors. We seek peace and we do not ensue it. The moral nature in us asks for no more than is compatible with the general good; the non-moral nature proclaims and acts upon that fine old Scottish family motto, "Thou shalt starve ere I want." Let us be under no illusions, then. So long as unlimited multiplication goes on, no social organization which has ever been devised, or is

  1. These numbers are only approximately accurate. In 1881 our population amounted to 35,241,482, exceeding the number in 1871 by 3,396,103. The average annual increase in the decennial period 1871-1881 is therefore 339,610. The number of minutes in a calendar year is 525,600.