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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/538

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POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

problems with the whole facts of which they were imperfectly acquainted. Given certain conditions of supply and certain conditions of demand, the economist should have no doubt as to the resulting determination of value; but he is more than ever alert to make sure that he has all the material factors of the case before him; that he understands the facts and their mutual relation before he ventures to pronounce an opinion upon any mixed question. He must have the facts before he can analyze them. A small array of syllogisms, which, as Bacon says, "master the assent and not the subject/' are not an adequate equipment for him. He sees more and more the need for careful and industrious investigation, and prominent among the subjects which await his trained observation are the condition of the people and the related subject of the consumption of wealth. Training is, indeed, indispensable. Every social question has its purely economic elements for the skilled economist to unravel, and when this part of his task has been achieved, he is at an advantage in approaching the other parts of it, while his habit of mind helps him to know what to look out for and what to expect.

It is a curious paradox that, busying ourselves as we do with the condition of the people, we are lamentably lacking in precision in our knowledge of the economic life and state of the British people in the present day. Political economy has, however, followed the lines of development of political power. At one time it was, as the Germans say, cameralistic—an affair of the council chamber, a question of the power and resources of the king. Taking a wider but still restricted view of society, it became capitalistic, identifying the economic interests of the community to a too great extent with those of the capitalist class. It has at length become frankly democratic, looking consciously and directly to the prosperity of the people at large.

Thus, then, we have at once a more accurate theory, a livelier sense of caution as to its limitations in practice, and the widest possible field of study. So far as most of us are concerned, we might as well spend our time in verifying the ready reckoner as in tracing and retracing the lines of pure theory. These tools are made for use. Economic science is likely to make the most satisfactory progress if we watch the social forces that surround us, detecting the operation of economic law in all its manifestations, and in observing, coördinating and recording the facts of economic life. It is not enough, to borrow the language of the biologist (part of which he himself borrowed from the old economist), to talk of the struggle for existence, the survival of the fittest and of evolution. We want, above all, his spirit and his method—the careful, minute, systematic observation of life as affected by environment, heredity and habit. Different problems are brought to the front by different circumstances and appeal to different minds; but at all