Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/16

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6
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

summary of the evidence in support of the view that this recent phenomenal decline of prices is due so largely to the great multiplication and cheapening of commodities through new conditions of production and distribution, that the influence of any or all other causes combined in contributing to such a result has been very inconsiderable, if not wholly inappreciable. Reasoning also from what may be termed the gold standpoint, the evidence to the same effect is not less conclusive.

It would seem, in the first place, that if the scarcity influence of gold on prices had originated and operated as the advocates of this theory claim, such influence would have been as all-pervasive, synchronous, irresistible, and constant as the influence of gravitation; and that something of correspondence, as respects time and degree, in the resulting price-movements of commodities, would have been recognized. But no such correspondence has been or can be established. On the contrary, the movement of general prices since 1873—although generally downward—has been exceedingly irregular; declining until 1878-'79; then rising until 1882-83; then again declining to an almost unprecedented low average in 1886; and in the year 1887 exhibiting, in respect to some commodities, a slight upward tendency. It might also have been expected that the influence of a scarcity of gold would have especially manifested itself at or shortly subsequent to the time (1873-'74) when Germany, having demonetized silver, was absorbing gold, and France and the Latin Union were suspending the coinage of silver. But the years from 1875 to 1879, inclusive, taking the English market as the criterion, were characterized generally by an excessive supply of money and currency of all kinds; and the same has been true of the period from 1880 to 1886-'87, when, if the supply of money from gold was constantly diminishing, contrary results would seem to have been inevitable.

The divergency in the price-movements of different and special commodities has also been very notable—so much so that, out of the long list of articles embraced in the numerous tables that have been prepared by European economists for determining the general average of prices during recent periods, the price-movements of no two commodities can be fairly regarded as harmonizing. While in the case of some staple products, prices fell immediately and rapidly after 1873, the prices of others, although subjected to the same gold-scarcity influence, and which did not have this influence neutralized by a decline of production concurrent with continuing demand, exhibited for a long time comparatively little or absolutely no disturbance. This was especially the case in respect to wool, the price of which, long after metals, breadstuffs, chemicals, and cotton goods had succumbed to the wave of depression subsequent to 1873, "continued" (to use the language of the trade) "remarkably healthy," notwithstanding a continually-increasing product was recognized; and it was not until 1884