IN current discussions of country life there seems to be the implication if not the direct claim that the urban population of the nation is relatively too large as compared with country population. Regret is general because boys and girls leave the farm. The steady regression of percentage of rural as compared with urban population in the decades of our national life gives rise to apprehension. It is held as a disquieting fact that so many agricultural counties—230 by the last census—should show an absolute decline in population, while the growth of cities is phenomenal.
There are no doubt many reasons for the sentiment in favor of a larger agricultural population. We have not yet come to believe in the city as a normal mode of life. When the older people of the United States were young the country took precedence over the city, and the experiences of childhood passed on the farm perhaps affect the point of view at present. The sentimental claims of agricultural life no doubt color our economics. The sentiment, too, for a return to nature, recrudescing periodically with Horace, Rousseau, Emerson, Thoreau, and John Burroughs, and always deep in the nature of man, fallaciously carries with it the inference that the agricultural population should be relatively large. Of course, the desire for living close to nature has no connection with the economic question of how large the actual agricultural population should be.
But among the most active causes of interest in agricultural population is the high retail price of food. The products of the farm reach the consumer at high expense. It matters little to the consumer where the increase of cost attaches, so long as he must pay prices which by comparison with those formerly prevailing seem to be those of famine. There is perhaps a lurking feeling that farm products should not cost much. The time was when to help oneself to fruit from the farmer's trees or invade his vegetable garden bore not the slightest resemblance to larceny—it simply showed a confidence in the philanthropic nature of farming. Things were "free" in the country, though no one, of course, would feel free to carry off a peck of lead pencils from a stationer's or half a bushel of rubber balls from a toy store.
Let us admit the acceptability of cheaper food. How does this affect the question of agricultural population? Does it follow that