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work for long periods without water. He is used in parts of
southwestern Asia and northern Africa The water buffalo
posseses qualities almost the opposite of those of the camel ;
that is to say, he can work only where water is abundant and
easily accessible, not only for drinking but for frequent bath-
ing or wetting of the skin. He is a powerful animal and well
adapted to working in muddy lands and irrigated rice fields.

In polar regions, where vegetation is scarce, the problem of
animal power is a more difficult one. Where moss and lichens
abound, the reindeer is a valuable source of power. In the

POWER r 37

high mountain regions of Peru the llama is used for carrying
loads but not for traction. Where forage is not found in
sufficient abundance, but where meat and fish can be provided,
some carnivorous animal has to be used. The dog is the only
one which is sufficiently well domesticated to serve the purpose.

Solar energy. The great physical source of power, so far as
man has been able to develop it, is understood to be the sun.
The amount of solar energy which comes to the earth in the
form of light and heat is so stupendous as to bewilder the
imagination. Its most important service is in the promotion
of plant growth, and, through plants, of animal growth ; but it
is also transformed into mechanical power in a number of ways.

In the first place, it vaporizes water. Since the air is
heavier than water vapor, the latter rises, or, more literally, the
air falls through gravitation. When this water vapor reaches
high altitudes and is congealed, it becomes heavier than air
and falls through gravitation in the form of rain, snow, etc.
Some small fraction of it falls on mountains and other high
portions of the earth's surface. Gravitation still pulls it down-
ward through the streams. These are harnessed and made to
turn water wheels, thus furnishing mechanical power to do
man's work ; that is, to move pieces of matter.

In the second place, through plant growth combustible
material is stored up in the bodies of trees and other
plants. When this material is burned, heat is developed which
may be used to vaporize water. In the form of vapor the
water expands and may be made to push a piston, which is,
again, a usable form of mechanical power for the moving
of other bodies. The accumulation and covering over of vast
masses of combustible vegetable material in previous geological
periods gave us our coal beds, which have recently become a
principal source of both artificial heat and mechanical power.
It is generally supposed that petroleum is of animal origin.
If so, it is, like coal, the product of solar energy and may be
used, like coal, to transform water into steam. The internal


combustion engine is a later development and is, in many
ways, a superior method of transforming combustion into
mechanical power.

In the third place, the direct rays of the sun may be so con-
centrated as to produce an intense heat, which may, in turn,
be used to transform water into steam. According to tradition,
the great mathematician, Archimedes, burned the Roman ships,
which were besieging his native city of Syracuse, by the use
of a large number of mirrors. By reflecting the sun's rays
from all these mirrors upon a single spot, so much heat was
concentrated as to set the ships on fire, one after another.
Whether there is any foundation of fact for this story or not,
there is no doubt as to the possibility of producing an intense
heat by the concentration of the rays of the sun. Anyone
can demonstrate this with a common burning glass. Solar
engines have already been constructed which make use of con-
verging mirrors for the concentration of the sun's rays. This
produces an intense heat, which, in turn converts water into
steam and moves a piston.

Winds. In the next place, if we may assume that winds are
in general caused by variations in temperature, they may be
said to be derived from solar energy. This mechanical power,
as used for the moving of boats, has been of the very greatest
importance in the development of commerce and the spread of
civilization. The epoch-making voyages of Columbus, as well as
the voyages of great numbers of men less noteworthy than he,
were made possible by the ingenuity with which man had learned
to utilize this vast source of power. For certain kinds of station-
ary work which does not have to be performed regularly, such
as pumping water, grinding grain, etc., the windmill has proved
an economical device for utilizing the power of the winds.

Tides. Another source of power of which some use has
been made is the tide. This can be traced to the momentum
of the earth rather than to solar energy. The rising and the
falling of the tides, especially along coasts with many inlets

POWER 1 39

and estuaries, have created opportunities for tide mills which
can be made to do certain kinds of work.

With all these sources of power, and possibly others which
may be developed, there is no likelihood that our ingenious
race will ever be compelled to fall back upon its own muscles,
or even to depend exclusively upon animal power. In that dis-
tant day when our coal beds and oil fields are exhausted, the
sun's rays will still continue to strike the earth. That being
the case, trees and other plants will still grow, though wood
could scarcely take the place of coal and petroleum. Alcohol
can scarcely become as cheap as gasoline has been in the past,
but it can be manufactured in considerable quantities from a
variety of plants. Again, the rains and the snows will continue
to feed our rivers and turn our water wheels. Electrical trans-
mission will enable us to utilize many streams now running idly
to the sea, and to distribute the power over wide areas and send
it long distances from the streams. Solar engines may be so
perfected as to enable us to utilize the inconceivable and inex-
haustible flow of energy which comes to us in the form of direct
rays from the sun. The winds will continue to blow and push
our sails and turn our windmills. And so long as the earth con-
tinues to revolve about its axis, the tides will continue to ebb and
flow, and these may furnish us considerable quantities of power.

Even if it should happen that none of these sources, nor all
of them combined, should furnish power quite so cheap as that
which we now enjoy through the use of coal, still we may be-
come so well-to-do, through improved agriculture, improved
technical processes for utilizing power, and more rational habits
of living, as to enable us to bear the extra cost of these other
kinds of power with no great inconvenience. Even if this
should not happen, it must not be forgotten that a considerable
number of civilizations have been built up and multitudes of
people have lived comfortably and happily with no power ex-
cept that of their own muscles, their domestic animals, the
winds, and the waterfalls.


The steam engine. Next to the yoking of the ox at some time
in the prehistoric past, the most momentous event in the his-
tory of man's power was the invention of the steam engine.
The reason why this was so momentous was that the coal beds
of the north temperate zone furnish a vast quantity of very
cheap and very concentrated fuel. It is difficult to see how the
heat of burning coal could have been transformed into mechani-
cal power in any other economical way. The great cheapness
and economy of this source of power is what has made it such
a powerful factor in the development of modern industry. By
merely vaporizing water in a boiler by means of this cheap fuel,
enormous pressure can be exerted. This pressure can be made
to move a piston. From this point on, further developments
are merely the results of mechanical adjustments. Whenever
one object, such as a piston, can be made to move as we want
it to move, other objects can be hitched to it and be made to
move also. The first of these mechanical adjustments to pro-
duce great results was when the moving piston was made to
turn a wheel, thus converting linear motion into circular
motion. After that adjustment was made, every form of steam-
driven machinery became a mechanical possibility.

Time does not permit us to mention all even of the really
important adjustments which have been made for the greater
utilization of the pressure of steam on a movable piston. The
economical conversion of mechanical power into electricity, and
of electricity back into mechanical power, has enabled us to uti-
lize power in a variety of ways which were formerly impractical,
besides giving rise to an electrical industry of vast proportions.
The internal combustion engine has made possible automobiles
and flying machines.

Roads. The subject of roads and tracks would furnish an
interesting study to supplement a study of power. The better
the track, of course, the less power it requires to move an object.
This would include everything from the air and the ocean,
railway tracks, paved streets, and dirt roads, down to the



lubricated grooves, cylinders, and sockets through which the
parts of a machine are made to move. Roads, streets, and
railway tracks will be discussed under the head of transportation.
The rest must be left to the imagination of the student.



, Animal














( Streams
Water < Waves
[ Tides

_ . f Steam engines

\ Internal-combustion engines

Solar engines



. f i . Solidity . f i . Location

A. NoneconomicX B. Economic^

L 2. Extension j. 2. Fertility

Noneconomic properties of land. Some of the physical and
geometric properties of land which are the most fundamental
are not the most important from an economic point of view.
The solidity of the earth which serves to support our weight,
and that of the buildings which we erect and the plants which
we grow, is of course essential to our very existence. It is
not a matter of the greatest economic interest, however, because
it is not so scarce as some other properties. Rocky or desert
land, of which there is an abundance, furnishes support as well
as fertile land. The quality of extension, that is, superficial
area, is also essential. It is this which enables us to catch and
utilize the sun's rays, the rain, and the dew. It is this which
provides room for plants to grow, to spread their roots to the
soil and their leaves to the air. It is this which furnishes space
for the erection of buildings and the carrying on of all activi-
ties. This quality of extension, however, is possessed by sterile
as well as by fertile land, and by land which is badly located as
well as by land which is well located.

Economic properties. Location may also be said to be a
geometric property of land. It is a matter of great economic
importance, because there is such a scarcity of land in the best
locations. By location is meant proximity and convenience of
access to markets, roads, schools, scenery, and various other
desirable things. Some land is greatly superior to other land


LAND 143

in this respect, and this creates a great difference in the desir-
ability of different lands. Location is the chief, almost the
only factor in determining the value of urban land. In a
place where multitudes of people desire to live, land is neces-
sarily scarce, but the scarcity is a scarcity of land well located
for urban purposes ; that is, for business or for the dwellings
of those who have to live within reach of the business estab-
lishments. Moreover, the differences in the value of lands
within a city are due almost wholly to differences in location.
In agricultural communities location is a factor, but not the
only nor the most important factor, in determining land values.
Nearness to market or to railroads, the character of the wagon
roads, accessibility to schools and other social advantages, count
for much ; but the character of the soil and the subsoil, the
climate, the moisture, and the other factors which determine
plant growth, count far more. All these factors which promote
plant growth may be grouped under the name fertility. In
that case we may say that from an economic point of view
location and fertility are the most important properties of
agricultural land.

Good location saves transportation. When we look for the
reason why location is a matter of such importance, we must
recall the fact that man's chief work, on the physical side, is
the moving of materials. It is this which requires power ; and
power is costly, whether it be generated in the human body
and exercised through the muscles, or whether it be developed
in the bodies of animals, or through mechanical agents. One
very important phase of the work of moving materials is that of
marketing products. The nearer a body of land is to a market,
and the better the means of transportation, the less labor and
power it takes to get its products to market. On land which is
well located with respect to markets it is therefore possible to
utilize labor more efficiently than on land which is badly, located.

It is also costly to move man himself. It is therefore advan-
tageous that he should live in close proximity to his work.


If he lives far away, the cost of transportation is greater, and
the labor force of the community is less efficiently applied, than
if he lives close by. Even though the trolley fare is the same
for a long as for a short distance, transportation costs more
over the long distance. In the first place, it takes a longer time
and the passenger loses that time. In the second place, it costs
the transportation company more, and that extra cost must ulti-
mately reduce the total productive power of the community.
The extra labor required to transport passengers a longer dis-
tance might otherwise be used in other lines of production.
However, the sheer scarcity of land, both for business and for
residence purposes, forces population to spread and makes long-
distance transportation necessary, however costly it may be.

In proportion as transportation can be cheapened, in that
proportion will questions of location become of less importance
from the standpoint of production. From the standpoint of con-
sumption or direct enjoyment, cheapened transportation would
apparently make little difference. Certain neighborhoods, be-
cause of neighbors, scenery, fashion, and a variety of reasons,
would still be preferred to others. If one could imagine cost-
less transportation, such as is pictured in the Arabian Nights
by the story of the magic rug, on which one could be instantly
transported to any distance, one location would be as desirable
for production as another ; that is to say, if there were no dif-
ference between two pieces of land in fertility or in anything
else except location, they would be equally desirable. It would
cost no more to transport products to market, or men to and
from their work, in one case than in another. So far as loca-
tion is concerned there would be no scarcity of land until all
the unoccupied portions of the earth were occupied and utilized.
In short, such a perfect system of transportation would vastly
increase our available supply of usable land.

While it is obvious that no such instantaneous and costless
system of transportation will ever be devised, it is equally
obvious that the more nearly we can approach that system the

LAND 145

more land we shall have available for all sorts of purposes. It
is the superiority of modern as compared with earlier means
of transportation which makes possible those vast aggregations
of people known as cities. They can draw their supplies from
greater distances and in greater abundance than would be pos-
sible with less efficient means of transportation. Ancient cities
that were situated on navigable rivers or on the seashore had the
advantage of water transportation, which, even before the days
of steamships, was fairly cheap and efficient. Nonperishable
products, such as wheat, could then and can still be transported
long distances in sailing vessels at low cost. Consequently,
where water transportation was possible, cities of considerable
size grew up long before the days of steam railways. But
inland cities, such as many of those which dot the maps of
every progressive country, would have been an impossibility.

Access to food supplies. It seems to be a general rule, apply-
ing to all forms of life, that numbers depend upon food supply.
Where food is abundant, numbers may be large. Since food
comes ultimately from the soil, the capacity of the soil to pro-
duce food places a limit upon numbers. One of two things
must, of course, follow : a large population must either spread
over wide areas of land in order to find sufficient food, or it
must transport food from these wide areas where it is produced
to the densely populated centers where the people live. Certain
birds reverse this process and manage to live a part of the
time in large flocks and transport themselves to and from their
feeding grounds. If they are strong fliers, as were the wild
pigeons which formerly inhabited this continent, they may feed
over large areas and return to their roosting places at night.
It was their remarkable powers of flight which enabled such
vast numbers to roost in the same locality ; otherwise they
would have been compelled to break up into smaller flocks in
order to live nearer their feeding grounds. The same law
seems to apply to human flocks. If we were not able to trans-
port food and other supplies such long distances, our large


cities would be compelled to scatter and build many smaller
cities, or else live as scattered families, in order to be nearer
the sources of supply. Even with our present means of trans-
portation there are limits beyond which it does not seem to
be advantageous to concentrate our population. Consequently
we find many small cities and towns whose people live by the
indoor industries. They are nearer sources of supplies of various
kinds, besides having more room for their own industries.

Increasing floor space by erecting tall buildings. The neces-
sity for room for the indoor industries can be supplied in part
by tall buildings. Floor space can be increased by as many
stories as can be built, subtracting, of course, the space
necessary for elevators, stairways, airshafts, etc. But after
a very moderate height is reached, the cost of construction
increases more than in proportion to the added floor space.
To add one more story on the top of a tall building requires
stronger walls all the way down, and also a better foundation.
Besides, it costs more to carry the building materials to the
greater height; the cost of elevator service to the top floor
is somewhat higher than for lower floors. A twenty-story
building is of a very moderate height in some of our large
cities, where land is very scarce ; but even this height would
be absolutely unprofitable in a town where there was plenty of
room on the ground.

Streets. The traffic needs of a busy population also make
demands upon land for streets. Much the same methods are
used to economize land for street purposes as for building
purposes. The building of subways, sub-subways, elevated
roads, and viaducts is a familiar method. It used to be sug-
gested in a jocular way that a road through the air would
also economize land. Flying machines may eventually trans-
form that joke into a real economy. Superior pavements for
the support of larger and more powerful vehicles will also
economize road space somewhat, by permitting more traffic to
be carried on over a street of given width.

LAND 147

Economizing agricultural land. These methods of econo-
mizing land are suited to urban rather than to rural districts.
Space is required in agriculture, as suggested above, for the
utilization of solar energy, soil, and moisture in plant growth.
"Two-story farming," as Professor J. Russell Smith calls it,
consists in growing tree crops and ground crops underneath
the trees. Some space can be saved in these ways, where
there is plenty of sunlight, soil, and moisture, but not a great
deal. It enables the plants to utilize sunlight a little more
effectively, perhaps, because the low-growing plants can use
that which filters through the foliage of the trees ; but if the
trees use too much (that is, if the low-growing plants are
shaded too much), their development is retarded. There may
be some economy of soil fertility also if the trees send their
roots deeper than the smaller plants. In that case the two
kinds of growth do not compete directly for soil fertility.
Where an abundance of artificial fertilizer can be used and
water for irrigation is plentiful, an adequate supply of plant
food and moisture can be supplied to both kinds of vegetation.
In this case the limiting factor is sunlight. This is a factor
for which we have not yet found a good substitute. Therefore
we must continue to spread our cultivation over wider areas
if we are to support larger populations.

Intensive farming. " Two-story farming " is only one phase
of intensive agriculture, which may be defined as the use of
large quantities of labor and capital in the cultivation of rela-
tively small areas of land in order to get large crops per unit
of land ; that is, large crops per acre. As pointed out in
Chapter XV, extreme efforts to increase the productivity of land
tend to decrease the productivity of labor ; that is, to reduce
the product per unit of labor. When a country becomes thickly
populated, however, if its people are unwilling to migrate to
countries where land is abundant, the problem of economizing
land becomes one of great importance. So long as it can
find markets for the products of indoor industries, it may,


bring the products of the soil from less densely populated
countries. When these outside markets cease to expand, and
it is therefore compelled to live more and more from the
products of its own soil, it must perforce get more and more
out of its soil. Intensive agriculture is then forced upon it.
Yet, as a matter of observed fact, intensive agriculture the
world over is associated with the poverty of those who actually
work on the soil, though it may be also associated with the
riches of those who own the soil.

Intensive farming and poverty. This impoverishment of the
worker on the soil where the soil is intensively cultivated is
not absolutely necessary except where the intensive cultivation
is carried to extremes. It is a necessary result, however, if
the attempt is made to force a larger crop from the soil by the
mere application of more and more labor to each acre of land.
The yield is found not to increase in proportion as the labor
is increased, which necessarily means a smaller product per
man. But if more capital is used, as well as more labor,
particularly if better methods of cultivation are adopted and
carried out by means of the larger use of capital, increasing
yields per acre may be secured for a time, and up to a certain
point, without any diminution of yield per unit of labor. By
using more power and larger tools in order to plow deeper
and prepare a better seed bed, a given amount of labor may
cultivate the same acreage of land as before and yet get a
larger yield per acre. This would also give a larger yield per
man. Again, by cultivating a slightly smaller acreage and
cultivating it more thoroughly by means of better tools, the
same product per man may be secured and a somewhat larger
population may be supported without any diminution in aver-
age income. But experience shows that wherever even this
process is carried too far, a smaller product per man, and
consequent poverty, will be the result.

A seeming exception to this rule (but it is only a seeming ex-
ception) is found when a few cultivators turn from the growing



of staple crops to the growing of high-priced specialties. Only
a few can do this, for the reason that the market is very limited.
The mass of the farming population must grow the crops
which feed and clothe the people. Those who do succeed
in this field may manage to make good incomes from very
small plots of land. This does not prove by any means that
the growers of wheat or beef could do likewise. So long as

Online LibraryThomas Nixon CarverPrinciples of political economy → online text (page 12 of 48)