Isreal Smith Clare.

Library of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) online

. (page 28 of 60)
Online LibraryIsreal Smith ClareLibrary of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) → online text (page 28 of 60)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

5. To intrust the carrying out of this programme, under the super-

vision of Government and of Parliament, to permanent Com-
missions of the best practical men in each department, with
large powers and clearly-defined responsibilities.

6. To provide for the interest and sinking fund of this loan by ap-

propriating to it the saving from the recent Conversion of Na-
tional Debt and a slight reduction of the sinking fund now ap-
propriated towards paying off its capital.


Malthusian theory that population tends to increase faster than
-L food is one which, at first sight, seems to commend itself by the
mere statement The particular ratio of increase may not be exactly that
of geometrical to arithmetical progression, but the general fact appears to
be incontestible that a single pair, whether of the human or of any other
animal race, would in a comparatively short time increase and multiply
beyond any conceivable increase in the supply of food available for their
support from a limited area. It is, in fact, only a particular instance of
that struggle for life, which Darwin has shown to be going on throughout
all branches of creation, and which ends in the weaker going to the wall,
and the survival of the fittest. It is illustrated clearly in the animal world
as by the swarms of rabbits which, in a few years have overrun the pastures
of Australia and New Zealand, from the progeny of single pairs.

And yet when we come to test the theory by facts, nothing can be
more evident than that in the recent history of the civilized nations of
Europe and America, the direct contrary has taken place, and food has
increased faster than population. Take the instance of England. The
population of Great Britan has increased in less than a century from fifteen
to over thirty millions, and yet it is clearly demonstrated by statistics that
each one of the thirty millions gets a far larger average share of food and
other commodities than fell to the lot of the smaller number.

Bread, the staff of life, has fallen with the price of wheat to a far lower
level than it stood at when the population was half the present amount,
and what is even more important, instead of fluctuating widely from year
to year, the price remains nearly uniform at this low level. The quantity
of wheat and flour imported from foreign countries has risen in less than
50 years from 42 Ibs. per head of the smaller, to 220 Ibs. per head of the
larger population; that of bacon and hams from almost nothing to 14
Ibs. per head; of cheese, from i to 6 Ibs.; of eggs, from 4,000,000 to
22, 000,000; and of other articles of consumption, such as tea, sugar, butter,
and rice, in proportion. Butcher's meat alone has slightly risen in price,
and this is being reduced by the importation of frozen carcasses from the
United States, Canada, the Argentine Republic, Australia and New


At the same time, while prices have greatly fallen, the purchasing
power of the community has been largely augmented. The average
money wages of the laboring classes have nearly doubled, deposits
in savings banks have increased from 16,000,000, to over 80,000,-
ooo and each id. in the pound of income-tax produces 2,000,000
instead of 1,000,000.

In America, the refutation of the Malthusian theory has been even
more signal. The population of the United States has increased in
little more than a century from six to sixty millions, fully realizing
the rate of increase by geometrical progression assumed by Malthus.
And yet the production of food has increased so much more rapidly,
that not only are the sixty millions better fed than any other nation
in the world, but a surplus remains for exportation, which feeds
probably not less than fifteen or twenty millions of mouths in foreign

How is a fact to be explained, which stands in such flat contra-
diction to what seems at first sight an almost self-evident theory?
The answer is obvious. The increased command over the powers
of nature given by the practical application of modern science, has
not only increased the productiveness of limited areas, but what is
more important, has by means of railways, steamers, and telegraphs,
enormously extended the area from which supplies can be drawn.
Wheat grown and cattle reared one thousand miles west of Chicago,
reach Liverpool and London as cheaply as they used to do from an
English or Scotch county.

India, Australia, New Zealand, California, and the Argentine
States pour their surplus food products into the markets of Europe.
The compound marine engine cheapens freights, and lower freights
bring with them lower rents, agricultural depression, and a serious
aggravation of the Irish question. At the same time the same
agencies triple and quadruple the power of producing commodities
wherewith to buy food, by the consuming nations which no longer
grow enough on their own soil to feed their population.

As long as this goes on, progress continues ; a larger number of
human souls live in the world, and the vast majority of them live
better. We can afford to dismiss Malthus and his theory to a remote
future, and look on it as a bogey no more affecting practical action
than the prospect of the world coming to an end by the dissipation
in space of solar heat.

But is it really so ? The Irish famine is there to teach us a sharp
lesson, that under given circumstances three millions out of eight
of a population may disappear from the effects of famine and pesti-
lence brought about by overcrowding. True the circumstances were
exceptional, and traceable to a considerable extent to bad laws and
had government, but when we come to look closer into the matter
we shall find that this inexorable law of Malthus is not reversed or
repealed, but merely suspended, and hangs like the sword of
Damocles by a thread over the head of future generations.


Behind the steam-plows and reaping-machines, behind the rail-
ways and steamers, lies the fundemental fact that there must be a
reserve of unoccupied land on which to employ them.

Suppose all North America west of the Great Lakes and the
Mississsippi had been an arid desert like the Sahara, where would
have been the food-products on which so many millions in the Old
and New Worlds depend for their daily bread ? No competition of
railways, no improvement of steamers could have brought wheat,
flour, beef, and pork from regions where they were not produced.
Nor could they be exported in continually increasing quantities
from countries where surplus land was getting scarce, and the native
population was already beginning to press closely on the means of
subsistence. In a comparatively few years cultivation will have
spread up to the base of the Rocky Mountains, and there will be an
urban population of ten or fifteen millions to feed in Chicago, St.
Louis, and other cities of the West; while New York, Boston,
Philadelphia, and the great manufacturing and mining Eastern and
Middle States will constantly require larger supplies.

It is stated in a recent article in the Century Magazine, that the
total arable and pasture land in the United States is estimated at
960,000,000 acres, of which 700,000,000 has been already taken up,
leaving only 260,000,000 acres, which will certainly be all appro-
priated in a few years, while the population, at the present rate of
increase, will be 120,000,000 by the year 1920. The United States,
therefore, will in a very few years be brought face to face with the
difficult problem, " a rapidly increasing population, and all the arable
land in the hands of private owners."

When we come to survey the extent of the remaining reserve of
land on which the fabric of progressive civilized society so mainly
depends, it is startling to find how little of it is left. By far the
greater portion of the earth's surface is excluded, either by climate
or by prior occupation. In the Old World scarcely anything is left.
Tropical regions are, for obvious reasons, unavailable, either as fields
for emigration or for producing a supply of the staple foods required
for the support of the principal white races. The highlands of
Central Africa might possibly support a white population, but they
are already occupied by native races. So also is South Africa,
except to a limited extent at its southern extremity. Central and
Eastern Asia are either desert and mountain, or occupied by the
already swarming millions of India and China. The vast territory
of the Russian empire is wanted for the rapidly increasing popu-
lation of Russians, which, in Russia in Europe alone, has risen in
less than a century from thirty-five to eighty-eight millions. The
climate. of Siberia is too rigorous, the distance by land too great,
and the Arctic Ocean too inaccessible for it to become a great grain-
exporting country. Western Asia, formerly the seat of a dense
population, great cities, and active commerce, remains a comparative
desert under Turkish rule. But even here the difficulty of prior
occupation exists, and although the governments might be got rid


of, it would not be so easy to dispose of the twenty or thirty millions
of Turks, Arabs, and Persians who already occupy, however
sparsely, the regions which, down to the fall of the Roman Empire,
supported such a vast population.

In Europe it is obvious that all the principal States are already
overcrowded, in the sense of having no reserves of land, and a larger
population than the soil can supply with food. It is only on the
Lower Danube, and in some parts of European Turkey, that some
reserves still remain, and these are to an extent quite inappreciable
as compared with the wants of Western Europe, and not more than
will be filled up in a generation or two by the Bulgarian and other
native Christian races.

America and Australia remain ; but here it must be observed, that
for providing the surplus population of Europe with food, only those
districts are available which produce what may be called the staff of
life. Practically this means wheat-growing districts. Thus Brazil
may produce coffee and sugar, Florida oranges, and Southern Cali-
fornia grapes and peaches ; but valuable as these are as luxuries, and
as articles of commerce, people can not live on them ; and to go on
as we are going, we want cheap and ever-increasing supplies of
bread and meat. Even the great ranges of pasture land which support
vast herds and flocks in America and Australia supply a very small
per centage of food per acre, compared with the arable lands which
grow the cereals and fatten pigs and cattle.

These may be defined generally as the wheat-producing belt.
When this is exhausted, no increase of tropical products, and no
extension of commerce and manufactures can arrest the inevitable
result of an increasing population.

Now of this the area is limited and is rapidly being filled up. The
largest supply has hitherto come from the states east of the Missis-
sippi, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. But these, which used
to be the Western, have now become Central States, and the mass
of food products, of which Chicago is the centre, comes from new
Western states, such as Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Kansas.

The agricultural portion of the United States is very near advanc-
ing further west, through new states and territories, towards the
base of the Rocky Mountains, and has overleapt these, and brought
California, Oregon, and Washington territory into the position
occupied by the older states not twenty years ago of food-exporting

The centre of gravity, as it has been called, of the population of
the United States, which a century ago was almost on the Atlantic,
is now west of Cincinnati, and is moving uniformly westwards at the
average rate of about five miles per annum ; while the advanced
guard of cultivation is moving still more rapidly towards the Rocky
Mountains on a broad frontage from Texas to Dakota ; while the
Pacific states, California and Oregon, are filling: rp with even greater
rapidity. As we have already seen, the United States will in a very


few years be brought face to fact with Malthus's theory of a popu-
lation growing by geometrical progression to an amount which no
longer leaves any unoccupied land available for the production of
surplus food.

Fortunately a very large reserve of land remains in the north-
western districts of Canada, for experience has shown that, owing to
the bending of the isothermal lines to the south, an immense extent
of territory, reaching almost to the Polar Sea, which was recently
thought to be as barren as the tundras of Siberia, is in reality capable
of producing fine crops of wheat. The report of the Canadian
Senate Committee of 1888 estimates the area adapted for the culti-
vation of wheat in this territory at 202,240,000 acres, and that
adapted for pasture 512,000,000 acres, making a total reserve equal
to that of the whole original territory of the United States, and
promising a long respite before the inexorable pinch of Malthus's
law is fully felt.

But the growth of an urban and manufacturing population is
increasing with such rapidity in the New World, that the home
market will soon absorb the greater part of the home produce.
Chicago does not add 100,000 to its population every ten years with-
out consuming more of the bread and meat which would be other-
wise exported; and the same may be said of St. Louis, Pittsburg,
Cincinnati, Cleveland, and the numerous large cities and industrial
centres which are everywhere springing up in the States, which have
been reclaimed from the Indian and the buffalo. And in Canada
itself the same process is going on, though not so rapidly. Say that
the United States will, in the next fifty years, have increased its
population from 60,000,000 to 120,000,000, how much surplus food
will remain over for exportation to Europe ?

The tendency of population to accumulate in towns, and the
increasing proportion of industrial to agricultural pursuits which are
such marked features in England, are already producing similar
effects in America. A century ago less than four per cent, of the
total population of the United States lived in towns, the rest living
in the country, and being mainly agricultural. Today about twenty-
five per cent, of the population of the United States is urban, and of
the remainder a large and increasing number live by industrial
pursuits other than agriculture. In all the older States, such as
Pennsylvania, New York, and New England, the number of food-
consumers far exceeds that of food-producers, and a large propor-
tion of the native population migrates westwards every year in
search of land on which to settle. Even Central States, like Ohio,
are becoming too densely settled for an agricultural population, and
sending out contingents to swell the flood of westward emigration.

Europe also continues to pour in an enormous flood of emigration.
During the last fifty years upwards of 10,000,000 of Euro-
pean emigrants have landed in the United States, of whom
about 3,500,000 have come from Germany, and an equal
number form Ireland. Many of these have settled on land,
or become agricultural laborers, while others have taken


the places of native-born Americans who have become food-producers.
Thus the existence of this vast field for emigration has benefited the old
countries, both by affording an outlet for their surplus population, and
by increasing the production of the world's surplus food. But this,
again, depends on the existence of surplus land, and the operation of
such powerful causes tends every day to use it up.

Already the approaching scarcity of land is showing itself by a great
rise in the market value of real estate throughout the United States. It
is not too much to say, that the price per acre of cultivated land, or land
fit for cultivation from soil, climate, and proximity to any one of the
four or five great railways which now span the continent, has risen on the
average thirty or forty per cent in the last three or four years, and in
California the rise has been even greater. Railways are to a great extent
responsible for this result ; but while they tend, in the first instance, to
increase largely the area of emigration and production, they accelerate
the process by which reserves are used up, and the progress of population
overtakes that of surplus food. Assuming with Malthus that the ratio
between the two is that of geometrical to arithmetical progression, it is
certain that, although with a large common difference, the latter may at
first outstrip the former, it will soon be left far behind. Thus if we take
the series

Population, 2, 4, 8, 1 6, 32, 64, 128

Food 2, 12, 22, 32, 42, 52, 62

it is evident that while for the first five terms of the series food keeps ahead,
and the condition of the population improves, after the fifth term the
proportion between them is reversed, and very soon becomes one in
which existence would be impossible without some very severe and far-
reaching checks on the natural rate of increase of births over deaths. It
is probable that we are not very far removed now from the third or fourth
stage of this progression, and the next generation or the one after will
have to face very seriously the question of what checks nature has pro-
vided, and what measures it will be necessary to take to prevent, or miti-
gate as far as possible, the inevitable results of the struggle for existence.
In the first place, however, it is necessary to consider what prospect
there may be of increasing the supply of food produced in the older
countries. I am afraid it is very little. England might conceivably sup-
port a larger agricultural population if it were cut up into small holdings
of five or ten acres each. But manifestly this could only be done by
lowering the general average scale of living, and descending from wheat
to potatoes. To support a family by farming in decency and comfort, and
have a surplus produce to sell, it is essential, under our conditions of soil
and climate, that farms should be large enough to admit of cultivation by
the plow and a rotation of crops. This means that there must be at
least five or six fields of five or six acres each two in grain, one in green


crops, one in sown grass or clover for hay, and two in permanent or second
year grass or fallow. Thirty or forty acres is therefore the minimum size
of farms on which an agricultural population can live up to the standard
of well paid laborers and artisans, unless in a few exceptional cases of
market gardens and holdings near large towns; and any further subdivision
on an extensive scale would only land us in the state of Ireland.

Cottage allotments are often excellent things as a supplement to labor,
but as the sole support of a large population they can only lead to one
result, that of semi-starvation on half rations of potatoes. Moreover, the
question is not one of food only, but of surplus food. If four or five
millions more could live on the soil of England if cut up into small hold-
ings by consuming their own produce, what would become of the remain-
ing millions who are not agriculturists, and half of whom are now fed by
the surplus produce of British agriculture ? Large farms may not produce
so much in the aggregate as the same area would do in small holdings,
though this is doubtful, but it is beyond doubt that they produce more
surplus for sale, after feeding those who are actually employed. And
there is no doubt also that, as in Ireland, a population living poorly on
small holdings tends to increase more rapidly than the normal rate under
more favorable conditions.

It is a formidable question also, how long we can depend on the out-
let for a surplus population which is afforded by emigration. Already the
countries which have given a hospitable reception to so many millions of
the poorer class of emigrants are beginning to show an unwillingness to
receive an unlimited amount of cheap labor. The United States prohibit
the importation of Chinese, and are becoming more particular every day
as to the admission of destitute European emigrants. The Australian
colonies are ceasing to tax themselves in order to assist emigration, and
Canada and New Zealand are almost the only colonies left where a farther
influx of emigrants seems to be desired. Even here there is no opening
for the paupenzed classes whom, in our own interest, we should be most
anxious to get rid of. Emigration will doubtless go on, for, as we see in
the case of Ireland, with many millions of Irish already settled in new
countries, and the passage reduced to a question of ten days in time and
5 in money, there is an irresistible tendency impelling the Irish of old
Ireland to follow in the footsteps of their friends and relations. Labor,
like water, seeks to find its level, and nothing but invincible barriers of
ignorance and repressive legislation can prevent men going from a country
where wages are a shilling to one where they are a dollar a day. But
there is danger that by this process the old countries may be gradually
drained of the most able-bodied, intelligent, and energetic portion of their
population, and left with more and more of an unmanageable residuum.
We must recollect also that the rapid rate of increase which has tripled the
population of England during the present century has gone on concur-
rently with this tide of emigration, and unless it were to flow with increased


rapidity, each succeeding generation would find us with an ever-increas-
ing surplus of mouths to feed, unless either the death-rate or the birth-
rate were materially altered. And the same thing applies not to England
only, but to every European country except France. Russia is rapidly
filling up her immense empire; Germany, Italy, and Belgium are full to
overflowing, and send out swarms of emigrants; Spain sends a surplus to
Buenos Ayres; Portugal to Brazil.

We must look, therefore, to external checks to maintain the balance
between food and population in the not far distant time when the world's
reserves of arable land are approaching towards exhaustion.

Of such checks the general remark may be made, that in modern
history they all tend to operate with diminishing force, so that the nat-
ural increase of population is continually accelerated. What were the
checks which, in retracing the history of the human race, we find to have
been principally operative ? Infanticide, war, pestilence, and famine.
Infanticide has long since died out, except among a few savage tribes,
though it can be traced as once an important operating cause in the tra-
ditions of polyandry and descent through the female line, which point
to a deficiency in the female population only to be accounted for by fe-
male infanticide. But we can no more look to it as a possible check in
the future than we can to a reversion to the stone implements of our pa-
laeolithic ancestors. War has been in all ages a principal, and is still an
important check. But apart from the outcome of the growing feeling
that war is for the most part a mistake, the conditions of modern warfare
have so greatly changed that even great wars no longer play the import-
ant part they once did in checking population. In the first place they
are much shorter. A thirty years' war devastating all Central Europe,
and throwing its civilization back for a couple of generations, is no longer
possible. Invasions of barbarians like those of Goths, Huns, and Turks,
which reduced populous provinces to deserts, are no longer to be feared.
Contrast the invasion of Attila which rolled westward to Chalons, over
the plains of Champagne, with the advance of the Germany army only
the other day over the same line of march. Burning towns and villages,
slaughtered heaps of their inhabitants, droves of captive women and
children, marked the line of the Hunnish advance ; while in the Franco-
German war we read of the peasant girls of Champagne standing un-
alarmed at their cottage doors to gaze on the Crown Prince and his brill-
iant staff.

Even the gigantic wars of the first Napoleon produced no very per-
ceptible or permanent effect on the population of Europe A certain
ni. Tiber of able-bodied men were swept away, but their removal left room
for others, the rising generations married a little earlier and the population
grew up almost as rapidily as the grass over the blood-stained fields of

Online LibraryIsreal Smith ClareLibrary of Universal history and popular science ... (Volume 20) → online text (page 28 of 60)