To be sure, the growth of extravagance can easily be exaggerated. It must be admitted that the rising prices have also the effect of leading to certain economies. Many families have undoubtedly made proper adjustments in their expenses and savings all the time as prices have been moving upward. Also, even in the ordinary household, the resentment against constantly climbing charges has unquestionably resulted in many more frugal uses and cheaper food substitutions. For example, now with butter at 40 cents a pound and eggs at 35 cents a dozen, the various cake and other pastry recipes call for little more than half of these ingredients compared with fifteen years ago, when they were bought for less than half their present prices. Now, when desirable cuts of meat cost from 20 to 30 cents or more a pound, people are turning more and more to cereal and vegetable foods—probably with physiological as well as financial advantage. Other similar savings might easily be cited.
But, while such economies have undoubtedly been made, often even painful ones, the paradox which we have been discussing has not been necessarily avoided. Too often these economies are counterbalanced by extravagances in other directions. What is saved on butter and eggs and meat is more-than offset by moving pictures, nifty clothes, an automobile, or what not. Probably very few people have completely escaped the lure of living higher than their real income affords. How impossible, or at least how hard, it is even for the most prudent to know, and all the time to live as if knowing, that the dollar is not always a dollar!
Speculation and extravagance are closely related manias. Their worst feature is that they fasten themselves rather firmly upon the people. We can study their effects and their causes, but we do not know very well how to remove them. They will abide with us probably a long time after prices have reached their high point or have begun to swing downward, or after other causes have subsided. Customs and social standards change slowly.
In conclusion, the writer would admit that many causes have probably contributed to the growth of speculation and extravagance in recent years. He does not believe that the rising prices have been the sole cause. But he is convinced that in the ways pointed out they have been a powerful factor in fostering these social evils.
As a practical matter for the public at large, everything possible should be done to prevent any considerable change in the price level—either upward or downward. So far as possible, the dollar should always be a dollar; its value should be a fixed, absolute, unchanging thing. If not, the evils are bound to appear as they have been stated.