Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/186

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minerals, popularly accorded great importance, are of distinctly minor significance in their effects on national evolution and strength, and especially since many mineral supplies must be considered as more or less temporary. Gold and silver must be classed among the mineral resources of lesser importance, whatever the merits of their relations to national currency systems, for the reason that they serve man's needs but little when compared with iron, copper or even humble clay products, and consequently their effect on national evolution has been correspondingly less. Gold and silver, it is true, induce men to live where they otherwise would not be found in any large numbers, as in the cold wastes of Alaska and the desert of Australia, but such populations are rarely important or stable. Gold and silver, moreover, when given in exchange, may help to buy necessities for a nation, but all the world's annual output of gold would barely pay for the raw cotton purchased from this country yearly. A nation like Germany, for example, poverty-stricken in its gold and silver deposits, has advanced greatly in every respect in the last forty years despite its necessity of buying food, during the same time that a country like Australia, one of the leading gold localities of the world, has had but unimportant progress. In practically no nation has the possession of the so-called precious metals been a leading, or permanent, determining factor in development.

On the other hand, the use of stone and clay products in providing shelter, and the use of clay or the baser metal products in providing utensils, tools and the like, have lifted a burden from the soil and allowed more of it to be devoted to the production of the materials of food and clothing. They have also at the same time, through their application in machinery, made it possible to produce food and clothing on a far greater scale.

The existing scale of dependence on mineral supplies, however, implies a rate of consumption likely to exhaust any but the richest or most extensive accumulations at no very distant date, considered in terms of historical periods. Hence, once more it appears that restricted area and their limited natural opportunities are of critical significance in the evolution of nations. For such areas as Britain and Germany, already populated to the limit of soil capacity, with little prospect of expanding their power resources, and not over-stocked with supplies of the minerals which are essential to so many branches of industry, the future holds little or no prospect for further sound national growth. Such nations are to be regarded as having reached practically the culminating point in their evolution, with their future likely to be marked by the gradual adjustment of economic conditions to the permanent opportunities for supporting a population.

Conclusions.—It appears, therefore, that three general conclusions