Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/13

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THE ECONOMIC DISTURBANCES SINCE 1873.

affecting their supply and demand, ought to have exhibited evidence, in a decline of prices, of the influence of the scarcity of gold, if any such had been exerted; but they not only do not, but the drift of the evidence deducible from their price-experiences is rather in favor of the position recently taken by some economists, that gold in recent years, in place of becoming scarce for purposes of exchange, has really been more abundant.

The record of extreme changes in prices by reason of circumstances that are acknowledged to have been purely exceptional, is also most instructive, and removes not a few commodities from the domain of any controverted economic theory respecting monetary influences. thus, from 1863 to 1870, cotton, owing to war influences, ruled so high—from 70 to 800 per cent in excess of normal prices—that its inclusion in computations, with a view of determining any average of prices, or generalization of causes affecting prices during the years mentioned, would, without proper allowance, completely vitiate any conclusions.

War and interruption of traffic on the Upper Nile have increased the prices of "gum-Arabic," and of the drug "senna" in recent years more than 100 per cent. The prices for French and other competing light wines and brandies are much higher than the average for 186t6-'67, because the phylloxera has so impaired the production of French vineyards that France now imports more wines than she ex- ports. "Cochineal" and "madder" have greatly declined in price since 1873, because their use as dye-stuffs has been to a great extent superseded by equivalent and cheaper coloring-materials derived from coal-tar; and within a very recent period the discovery of a method of cheaply preparing a chemical preparation from cloves, having all the flavoring qualities of the vanilla-bean, has already diminished the demand, and bids fair to greatly impair the price of this heretofore scarce and costly tropical product. Certain animal products, notably entering into commerce, have rapidly advanced in price in recent years by reason of a rapid diminution in the number of the animals affording them, as buffalo-horns, ivory, and whalebone, which latter product has increased in price from 32½ cents per pound in 1850 to 85 cents in 1870, and $3.50 in 1886.

An agency which has been most influential in recent years, in occasioning a decline in the price of commodities, which has acted universally, which is entirely the outcome of new processes, construction, and machinery, and has no connection whatever with matters pertaining to currency or standards of value, has been the reduction in the cost of transportation or distribution. Its influence has also necessarily manifested itself very unequally, occasioning the greatest price-reductions in the case of articles—like cereals, meats, fibers, ores, and all coarser materials—in respect to which transportation constitutes the largest element of cost at the place of consumption; and least in the