Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/601

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A BUGBEAR OF ECONOMICS

Again I say, "to be sure," because under such conditions it is not operating. And at the end of his long chapter, considering the relative productiveness of different sorts of labor, he states, "that nothing could prevent its (the former of the cited classes of labor) declining relatively to that of the latter class except a radical change in the system of industry, which would call for more than a proportional increase in the former class." The contention of this article is that there has been this radical change in the system of industry, that increases are becoming more than proportional and that we are not yet even in sight of the beginning of the end. I am perfectly willing to admit that the law of diminishing returns has an illustrative value, but it is taught in many courses and economic articles as though the world in which we live were about to suffer from its "terrible reality" as it would in a world of stationary civilization. At a recent large gathering of economists there were but two expressed exceptions to the opinion that immigration was about to become dangerous because the additional numbers would make competition too keen. They thus implied the fear that this bugbear law of diminishing returns will soon deprive us of enough to eat. The whole difficulty is a mistaking of unjust and unequal distribution of wealth for an application of the law of diminishing returns. I presume that Mr. Rockefeller's difficulty arises from the fact that any other method of distribution than that which has been contributory to his own success is inconceivable. But economists ought to be able to see production and distribution at the same time and in their totality.

The law of diminishing returns is intimately related to another famous and equally archaic economic law, viz., Malthus's law of population. The substance of this law is that population tends to increase faster than the means of subsistence. There is something in this. It works in determining the number of wolves, but the last census report does not show human population in America confirming it. It is always a great satisfaction to find a single principle which will explain a condition; but we are becoming more and more convinced that social phenomena are the product of numerous forces and are not reducible to a single law. Malthus's law does not care whether a single family has many or few children, but whether population is increasing or decreasing. So the law of diminishing returns ought not to be limited to individual production, but extended to production as a whole. It is quite true that the surface of the earth is limited in extent, and that the population of the earth is multiplying; but it is likewise true that the sun is losing its heat, and that some time the earth will be uninhabitable. Any physicist might logically teach his classes the desirability that the human race accustom itself to the idea of being frozen