Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/499

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495
THE PRICE FALLACY OF HIGH COSTS

First. Over-intensity of industry, nationally considered, thus passing the "summit" of maximum per capita productivity.
Second. Aspiration to ultra-standards of living, thus stimulating consumption regardless of productive efficiency.
Third. Centralization of industrial and commercial control resulting in suppressed output and monopoly-price.
Fourth. The accumulation of private fortunes and the consequent appearance of a leisure class and its concomitant of unsocial labor, capital and natural resources.

Among the above causes of changing values, there are certain items which exert a noteworthy influence in the readjustment of fundamental costs and incomes which is vastly more important than any question of prices. There are statistical data of unquestioned reliability which clearly demonstrate the course, although they do not afford an exact measure of the extent, of important kaleidoscopic changes in the distribution of income and the coextensive shifting of economic benefits among different classes of the population. It is this arbitrary shifting of cost-burdens, coincident with recent price fluctuations, that accounts for the prevailing outcry against advancing costs of living. Naturally, individuals and groups who fare badly in the process of pecuniary readjustment are prone to complain, and those who account an accelerating balance of income over costs are sanguine.

Whether the United States has reached or passed the industrial condition of maximum per capita productivity is a mooted question; some who have given much study to the problem of production are inclined to support an affirmative conclusion. That the multiplication of population and the exhaustion of natural resources have carried certain nations of Europe and Asia beyond the summit of production is well known. The Malthusian principle is inexorable, and when population threatens to overrun the natural springs of subsistence, the normal resultant is a scale of high prices and the exaction of excessive industrial costs in exchange for the means of living. Whatever may be the present relation of population to productivity in the United States, the cosmopolitan nature of modern trade and the fact that other countries have amassed populations in excess of their means to provide an average of comfortable living, have potential significance in problems of costs and subsistence. The further observation that the migration spillway of Europe conveys the surplus increment of prolific and improvident races to the United States at a rate of half a million a year, to be nurtured by "high-tariff wages" and the "fruits of abundant resources," suggests a factor of no mean proportions among the determinants of costs of living in America.

Advancing standards of living are properly considered as indicative of social progress; but economic limitations of social evolution are