THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
|THE CAUSE OF SOCIAL PROGRESS AND OF THE RATE OF INTEREST|
By Professor J. PEASE NORTON
IT has been generally considered by the scholars of the social sciences that there is no fundamental cause in human societies for social progress. Indeed, the whole Malthusian theory is to the effect that the overwhelming rate of increase possible in human societies tends to keep a considerable percentage of the members of a society on the threshold of continuous poverty. A moral hopelessness characterizes the books of a great many economists, when-they touch upon the subject of population. By reason of these gloomy chapters, political economy has been termed the dismal science.
How many established doctrines of good writers have been swept away by the light of subsequent discoveries and later reasoning! Were it not for the high improbability of any one scientific doctrine long standing without modification, I should hesitate seriously before advancing these notes on the views held by me and which are so completely at variance with the long-established and present theories of the science of political economy with respect to population and interest. Yet, because these views have greatly brightened my interest in all subjects of human history, I am interested in subjecting them to early criticism.
There seems to exist in the tendency of populations to increase in numbers the cause of progress, which, if unimpeded by certain destructive agencies, which I have termed to assist me in my thinking the "wastes of nations," would carry along on the waves of comfort and prosperity an ever-increasing population up to an unassignable limit, so great is the possibility at which a stationary state could be maintained. These destructive agencies are not a product of the increase in numbers, but they constitute the elements of the hostile environment against which progress has been continually made since the earliest historic times.
Now a social group on any habitat at a given time exists through the application of a series of arts which are possessed by the society and are exercised over the environment. The arts existing at any time may be inventoried and logically classified. The arts are productive and are ways of doing things which bring a return. There are the arts of the food supply, such as hunting, fishing, agriculture, food preser-