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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/617

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United States it has been unqualifiedly asserted that, owing to the remarkable decline in the average prices of general commodities (estimated at about eighteen per cent from 1867 to 1877, and thirty-one per cent from 1867-'77 to 1886-'88), and which in turn has been assumed to have been occasioned by the demonetization of silver and consequent appreciation in the value or purchasing power of gold, the burden of the national debt of the United States and also all private debts, especially such as are in the nature of mortgages on land or on other productive fixed capital, has been greatly increased, inasmuch as a greater effort of labor or an increased amount of the products of labor—typically cotton and iron—had become necessary to liquidate such debts and the interest thereon.[1] The error in such reasoning or assumption is found in the circumstance that no consideration is given or allowance made for the different results of labor at the periods of price comparisons, and that the real cost of producing the staple commodities of the United States, or the effort needed to produce a given amount of general merchandise, or the number of days' work put into each piece of such merchandise, has on an average decreased during these periods more than their market prices have decreased, so that instead of the decline in the prices of commodities under consideration having increased the burden upon labor of national and other debts created before such decline, the burden has been lessened to just the extent that the average cost of producing commodities has declined to a greater degree than their average market prices. Thus all authorities are substantially agreed that there are few departments of industrial effort in which the saving of time and work in the twenty to thirty years next anterior to 1890 was at least forty per cent, and in not a few instances has been much greater (in the manufacture of boots and shoes, for example, eighty per cent). In North Carolina the relative increase in cotton product and population from 1870 to 1880 was as 4·5 to 1. With slight changes in the relation of labor to product, the cotton crop of the United States increased seventy-six per cent between the years 1866 and 1872, and forty-nine per cent between 1872 and 1886. Recent investigations have shown, in the case of certain leading articles in hardware, that a given quantity which represented a labor cost in

  1. In 1885 a memorial signed by ninety-five members of the United States House of Representatives of the Forty-eighth Congress and presented to the President of the United States contained the following statement: "Eighteen million bales of cotton were the equivalent in value of the entire interest-bearing national debt in 1865 ($2,221,000,000); but it will take thirty-five million bales at the price of cotton now (1885) to pay the remainder of such debt ($1,196,000,000). Twenty-five million tons of bar iron would have paid the whole debt ($2,674,000,000) in 1865; it will now take thirty-five million tons to pay what remains ($1,375,000,000) after all that has been paid."