Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/656

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636

THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

rapidly going on. In almost all countries those who desire to change existing systems of taxation try to enlist in their behalf this popular feeling by ascribing the decline of rural population to the operation of the fiscal machinery they dislike. Thus, in free-trade England, "fair-traders" assert that some scheme of retaliatory duties is required to arrest the depopulation of the rural districts. In France an extremely protective tariff has recently been adopted, largely at the demand of the agricultural classes. In the United States, on the other hand, those who are opposed to protective taxes are equally positive in their assertions that such taxes are the principal cause of the decrease of population in so many fertile sections. Doubtless, like other local conditions, tariff changes may help or hinder the operation of the general causes which are at work the world over. Those causes, however, were not set in motion by legislation, and could not be permanently checked by it, unless it should take so drastic a form as to be fatal to the material welfare of the whole community.

That the urban shall grow more rapidly than the rural population is, under present conditions, an economic necessity. The generally low prices of agricultural products during the last few years unite with most other available data to show that the supply of such products is increasing at least as fast as and probably faster than the increase in aggregate population. In this country, although the census of 1890 showed an increase of but twelve per cent in the rural population, and of less than twenty-five per cent in the aggregate population, the average production of wheat for the decade preceding the census of 1890 was forty-four per cent greater than that for the decade preceding the census of 1880; that of corn forty-three per cent greater, and of oats eighty-five per cent greater. In the cotton belt, the only agricultural portion of the older States in which there has been any considerable increase of rural population, we see in the great overproduction of cotton for several years in succession what would necessarily happen in other staple products if as large a proportion of the population as formerly attempted to earn their living by tilling the soil.

In a neighborhood in which all the tillable land was taken up thirty years or more ago, as is the case in all or nearly all the counties of the older States in which the rural population has diminished, there are general causes at work to bring about the result. The constant and steady improvement in agricultural machinery enables fewer hands than were required thirty years ago to cultivate the land with equal efficiency. To employ the same number of men as formerly, closer cultivation would be necessary. Perhaps, because such closer cultivation will not pay when its products have to be sold in competition with the more easily raised crops of the trans-Mississippi or trans-Missouri