Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/505

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A BUGBEAR OF REFORMERS

tensive culture, such as wheat, beef, etc. This would mean a change in the standard of living. Possibly it might be a good thing to make this change in our habits; but why should it be necessary? Simply because of the law of diminishing returns. That is to say, in order that increasing populations may have plentiful supplies of bread and beef from the same areas, these crops would have to be cultivated more and more intensively. These crops do not respond readily to this method, and the cost per unit rises very rapidly, which, again, is due to the law of diminishing returns. Other crops respond somewhat better, but they also come under the same law, and eventually the point would be reached when more land would be better than less land, even for the growing of these crops. Wherever that is true, the point of diminishing returns has been reached. Wherever agricultural populations tend to spread as they are doing out west to-day, rather than to concentrate, it is a sign either of general insanity on their part, or of diminishing returns from land. I am one of those who believe that it is a sign of diminishing returns, that is, that these increasing populations find it more advantageous to spread over more land than to concentrate on the land already in their possession and try to get their living from those limited areas. That, again, means diminishing returns. Increasing the number of men working on a given area of agricultural land will not proportionally increase the products. That means a smaller product per man, though it may mean a larger product per acre.

The law of diminishing returns as ordinarily stated is, really, nothing more than a technically specialized statement of the fact that land is a limiting factor in production. A limiting factor is merely a factor upon whose quantity depends, in some degree, the quantity of the product. Wherever it is true that more land is better than less land, or where one can say, "more land more product, less land less product," there land is a limiting factor and the law of diminishing returns is in operation. From a narrow and piecemeal view, it sometimes appears that a manufacturing and commercial policy frees a nation from this limitation, because, so long as an abundance of raw materials can be brought in from the outside, and all the finished products of the manufacturing industries can be marketed somewhere else, there seems to be no assignable limit to the amount which a nation can manufacture, if it only have labor and capital enough. That is to say, there always seems to be room enough for manufacturing and business sites. Land, from the national point of view, does not seem to be a limiting factor in these industries, though occasionally, in the narrower limits of a single city, land becomes scarce even for these purposes. But, as suggested above, this is a piecemeal view of the problem, for economic laws and principles are no more confined within national boundaries than they are within city walls. If all the industries, both rural and