Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/17

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7
THE ECONOMIC DISTURBANCES SINCE 1873.

that the decline in the general prices of this commodity gave any occasion for anxiety.

Careful comparisons of price-movements in recent years also fail to show any exact correspondence of results as respects different countries, the average fall of prices having been apparently less in France and Germany than in Great Britain during the same period; while the average fall in prices in the United States, in respect to all those commodities which enter into the general wants of man, have been undoubtedly greater than in any other country.[1]

Now, while such results are not in accordance with what might have been anticipated from and can not be satisfactorily explained by any theory of the predominating and depressing influence of a scarcity of gold on prices, they are exactly the results which might have been expected from and can be satisfactorily explained by the conditions of supply and demand—conditions so varying with time, place, and circumstance as to require in the case of every commodity a special examination to determine its price-experience, and which experience, once recognized, will rarely or never be found to exactly correspond with the experience of any other commodity: the leading factor

  1. The following extract from the "Report of the Chamber of Commerce of Cincinnati, Ohio," for the year ending August 31, 1886, strikingly illustrates the extraordinary decline in the price of staple commodities in this great interior market of the North American Continent:

    "There is one condition revealed"—i. e., by the statistics of 1885-'86—"that is very noticeable, which is that prices in general touched the lowest point in a quarter of a century. There were those who supposed that the shrinking processes had been arrested in the preceding year, and yet the figures for 1885-'86, in nearly all departments of business, show lower prices than the previous year. In presence of the low prices of 1884'85, it seemed almost incredible that so much of market value could be wrung from them as has been during the past year. Thus, commencing near the alphabetical list, bran declined 9 per cent; creamery butter, 20·7; butterine, 18; candles, 18·7; soap, 15·2; cattle, 8; coal, delivered, 7·8; middling cotton, 11·9; feathers, 6·7; dried apples, 27·4; No. 2 mixed (shelled) corn, 14·6; No. 2 oats, 5·3; New Orleans molasses, 11·6; Louisiana rice, 13·1; hay, 5; hops, 25·2; mess-pork, 21·1; prime lard, 10·7; lard-oil, 11·7; tallow, 22; white-leaf tobacco, 25; flax-seed, 18·4; starch, 13·4; high wines, not including the taxes, 16·3. In a few articles—tanners' bark, clover-seed, lead, barley, wool, etc.—there was an advance; yet the number is so small as to make them quite exceptionable.

    "While the depreciation which has taken place the past year (1885-86), compared with the prices of 1884-'85 has been marked, it may be interesting to take a glance at the tremendous reduction which has taken place in the past five years, which, in articles that enter into the every-day wants of man, in not a few instances has been equal to almost one half their value in 1881-'82. The gravitation to a lower plane of value has been so steady as to prevent a full appreciation of the enormous shrinkage to which commodities have been subjected. Thus, in mess-pork the depreciation in the general average price since 1881-'82 has been 48·5 per cent; in prime steam lard, 46; hams, 24·4; shelled corn, 43; oats (which in Europe have shown no tendency in recent years to fall in price), 39·4; rye, 32·6; bran, 33·8; extra butter, 46·9; tallow, 41·4; flour, 34·3; linseed oil, 30; salt, 18·6; cheese, 17·1; fair to medium cattle, 18·3; middling cotton, 21·7; Louisiana rice, 28·9; barley, 18·6; and wool, 15 per cent."