Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 80.djvu/506

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
502
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

urban, which are necessary for the full economic support of a self-sufficing population are considered without respect to national or municipal boundaries, it will be found that land is, in all civilized countries, a real limiting factor of production, which is the same as saying that the law of diminishing returns is everywhere in where these conditions are considered.

Is there any occasion for alarm in this situation? Certainly not for us in the immediate future. From a scientific point of view, however, there are two things which ought to be said. In the first place, time is an element which may be left out of account. Whether the difficulties inherent in this situation will become acute in a hundred, a thousand or a million years, is not a matter of such importance as the question, are these difficulties inherent? In the second place, while we may not have any immediate cause for alarm, certain other people have, though that may not be our concern. The people of western Europe may not have had any cause for alarm in the days of Malthus, for the whole American continent lay before them. But the American Indians had ample cause for alarm had they understood the situation. Similarly, the civilized races of to-day may be at ease in Zion, their temporal salvation being assured, since South America and Africa lie open before them. But certain other races already in possession of those alluring Canaans may well be on the anxious seat, for their temporal damnation is imminent. It will be so easy for us to take these lands that, doubtless, it would be very foolish for us to worry about the land question. Fortunately, we are not the people who have to do the worrying, and doubtless a merciful providence has rendered the people who ought to worry incapable of seeing anything to worry about.

Since our growing agricultural population is showing a tendency, as all agricultural populations of the Occident have shown for thousands of years, to spread rather than to remain pent up in their national boundaries, one of three things must happen if our population should continue to increase: (1) We must become more and more a manufacturing and commercial people, depending more and more upon the outside world for our agricultural produce, and joining in the general scramble of the commercial nations for outside markets; (2) we must restrain our people at home by force to prevent their emigration until the pressure of population upon subsistence becomes strong enough to check further increase and restore an equilibrium; or, (3) our people will spread over the territories occupied by inferior races, dispossessing them of their lands and sending them the way the Tasmanians have gone and the American Indians are going. Why are we compelled to face these alternatives? For no reason in the world except the law of diminishing returns, which, by the way, is reason enough.