Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/389

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379
THE COST OF LIVING

by improvements in the arts of agriculture, and by the cultivation of new and better lands in the west. The crisis of 1907, by depressing conditions in general, caused a temporary retardation in the upward movement, making it more pronounced as prosperity returns. Moreover, the critical point in the proportion between the urban and rural classes is one which may be reached and passed in a brief period of time. Apparently we have just reached, or are just passing, this juncture in the United States. Finally, the explanation herein offered does not claim to be a complete one. For such a complicated phenomenon, there is undoubtedly a variety of causes, each with its own importance. But the division of population between city and country is the underlying condition which has made the operation of the other causes possible.

At this point the question naturally arises, why does not this state of affairs work out its own cure? Why does not the high price of farm products, bringing, as it apparently must, large profits to the farmer, make country life more attractive, and check the rush to the city, or even entice some of the urban dwellers back to the soil?

The first and most obvious answer to this query is that by no means all the profits accruing from the high price of food ever find their way. back to the pockets of the original producer. Farmers have never been able to secure for themselves, for long periods of time or over large areas, the benefits of combination. Under our modern system of supply, the products of the soil pass through a number of different hands before they reach the consumer, and each of the intermediaries must have his profit. A large part of the excess of price over the actual cost of production is absorbed by transportation companies, commission merchants, packers and retail dealers—themselves mainly city dwellers.

But this is only a very partial explanation. The factors which determine residence in city or country are something more than the financial advantages which this or that locality has to offer. That the opportunities for achieving marked success in business, and amassing huge fortunes are greatest in the centers of population is undoubted, and the decision of many a country lad to break away from the familiar home surroundings is forwarded by the hope that he may be one of the fortunate ones who find their place in the city, and win great rewards. Occasionally it turns out so. But it is a question whether the average young man stands a better chance of making a comfortable living in the city than on the farm, and monetary considerations alone could hardly exert such an attractive force as we see in operation.

The lure of the city is something infinitely more complex and intricate than this. A complete and adequate explanation of its power has long been sought in vain. Some of the elements of its irresistible charm are obvious, and may be easily stated—the excitement and variety of metropolitan life, the opportunities for recreation and diversion, the comforts of city houses, the chances for achieving success and fame in