Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/387

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377
THE COST OF LIVING

THE COST OF LIVING
By HENRY PRATT FAIRCHILD

ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, YALE UNIVERSITY

"THE increased cost of living" is a phrase familiar to almost every American tongue in these days. Newspapers and magazines are full of the topic. A wide variety of investigators are earnestly searching for the causes, and divers explanations have been offered. Over-production of gold, the tariff, the trusts, cold storage and a host of other things have been mentioned—all, probably, with more or less of truth. Yet it is amazing to note how little attention has been paid to the most obvious and easily comprehended cause of the high prices of one great class of commodities, i. e., the food of the people. This is by far the most important aspect of the problem, and its primary and fundamental explanation lies in a perfectly simple and concrete fact—namely, the increasing proportion of the population of the United States which may be classed as city dwellers rather than country dwellers; in other words, the preponderance of the urban population.

The food element of the high prices problem is so thoroughly predominant in all discussions of the topic that one might almost say that, in the popular mind, the high cost of living is synonymous with the cost of food. The high prices which are causing such consternation in the families of the land are the prices of meat, eggs, butter, milk, bread and vegetables, and it is to this class of commodities that the following considerations apply most directly. These are all, primarily, the products of the country. We may then carry our analysis a step further and say that the cost of food is the cost of agricultural products. It may be observed, in passing, that many other necessaries of life, beside food, are products of the country. In fact, practically every commodity is derived ultimately from the land, and what is true of food is more or less true of other commodities, in proportion as they are the products of the extractive, rather than of the manufacturing industries. At the same time, most of the present discussion of this topic centers around that class of commodities, originally mentioned, which make up the food supply of the nation, and are directly the result of the application of labor to land. It is to this group that we wish to confine our main discussion.

Let us hasten, however, to disclaim any inclination to minimize the value of the contribution which is made to the wealth of society by the manufacturer, the merchant and others engaged in distinctively "city"