Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/388

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occupations. The old idea of the school of French economists, known as the physiocrats, that land is the source of all wealth, undoubtedly served a useful purpose at the time, but was long ago abandoned. To-day we readily recognize that any person engaged in any occupation which adds to the total enjoyment of mankind is a truly productive laborer. The drygoods clerk, the manufacturer of shoes, the bank president and the opera singer all make additions to the wealth of society, just as truly as do the farmer and the dairyman. We even go further, and assert that the greatest total wealth of society can be produced only when the efforts of the agricultural classes are supplemented by a certain proportion of laborers in industrial, professional and mercantile fields—the avocations of the city. But there comes a point in the economic development of a nation when the number of those engaged in city occupations—including the occupation of spending time, indulged in by the idle rich and the unemployed poor, who throng the cities—becomes excessive, and overbalances the number of country workers. Have we reached this point in the United States?

The price of food stuffs, like that of every other commodity, is governed by the laws of supply and demand. Assuming stable conditions of fertility of soil, of climate, and of methods of production, the price of agricultural products depends on the proportion between those who produce them and those who consume them. Broadly stated, this is the proportion between the country dwellers and the city dwellers. This proportion in the United States has been rapidly changing within the last century in the direction of the preponderance of the urban class. When the first census was taken in 1790, there were only six cities with over 8,000 population each, containing in all 131,472 persons, or 3.4 per cent, of the total population of the United States. In 1840 the percentage in cities of the specified size was still only 8.4. But in 1900 there were 545 cities of over 8,000, in which dwelt 33.1 per cent, of the total population. The significance of these figures becomes more evident if we consider the proportion between the urban and rural populations at different dates. In 1790, for every inhabitant of the cities of the specified size, there were 28 persons living in the smaller towns and in the country districts. Fifty years later, there was one city dweller to every eleven country dwellers. By 1880 the proportion had reached 1 to 3.4 and at the last census, in 1900, for each inhabitant of the cities there were only two dwellers in the country! Is it any wonder that the cost of agricultural products has gone up? The marvel is that prices did not go up long ago, or that they have not reached a much higher figure.

It may appear that the foregoing explanation is inadequate to account for the suddenness of the rise in prices within the last year or two. To this objection, there are two or three replies. During the last half of the nineteenth century the tendency of prices to rise was offset