Popular Science Monthly/Volume 11/September 1877/Correspondence

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To the Editor of the Popular Science monthly.

SIR: In the last number of The Popular Science Monthly Mr. E. R. Leland replies to my article in the July issue entitled "Over-Consumption, or Over-Production?" misstating some and misconceiving other of my arguments. It would be an infringement on your space for me to follow Mr. Leland through all his assertions, and at best I should be only repeating arguments already made. But Mr. Leland attempts to formulate my theories, and, as I think I can do this more accurately than he, permit me to reaffirm what I have said in this compact form, which will be the briefest and most satisfactory method of meeting Mr. Leland's reply:

1. The resources of Nature are gratuitous; they are practically exhaustless; and, as the activity of capital and the energy of labor are not fixities, large consumption or demand (Mr. Leland talks of wasteful consumption as if the word "wasteful" were mine) stimulates the energy of capitalists, leads to the application of improved machinery, brings about better transportation, so that as a result all, or nearly all, products are proportionately increased in abundance because of extended consumption, and the possibilities of consumption. Mr. Leland says: "That the demand for a commodity stimulates the supply is most true, and, where increase is possible, the supply is increased until the widest area of demand is filled at a minimum cost, but it is only by economy that this minimum can be reached." We repeat Mr. Leland's words—"most true." But large consumption is a powerful agent in securing minimum of cost in production; it brings in competition, it leads to the invention of machinery and improved methods of production or manufacture—in fact, minimum of cost is never reached except in those things that are in general use. Consumption or demand leads, therefore, as a rule, not only to greater abundance, but to greater cheapness. But I do not mean, and I did not speak of, wasteful destruction, which Mr. Leland dwells upon so much, but of use. Waste is foolish, in the first place, because it confers no good upon any one; and, secondly, because it is only the certainty and regularity of legitimate use that exercise a healthful stimulus upon production. Waste, that destroys machinery, permits bridges to go into decay, destroys roads, lets grain rot in its storehouses, burns up cities, exhausts the reserves of capital, is direful; but use, which is the means of setting millions of busy hands to work, is another thing. I know the economists say that capital alone determines the fact of production, demand merely governing the direction it shall take; but is it not clear that, if we reduce consumption to its minimum, production will shrivel up?

2. The extravagance of an individual has some essential difference from the extravagance of a whole community. Of course, one bankrupt multiplied ten thousand times simply gives us ten thousand bankrupts. It was scarcely necessary for Mr. Leland to point this out. But a community considered as a unit has for its resources the boundless wealth of Nature, which, as we have already seen, increases with the demands made upon it, so that liberal use makes rather than reduces abundance. This proposition hangs upon the first; if that is true, this is true. By extravagance I simply meant free use, not idle destruction; and what I wished to show is, that Nature yields her treasures in increasing proportion to the activity that demands them, so that we are richer in coal, iron, fabrics, food, etc., because our wants are many, our demand eager, our use of these things abundant. It is perfectly true that if the wealth of a community is simply the aggregate incomes of its members, then the whole must partake of the nature of its parts; but there is a kind of wealth that accrues to the individual and does not to the community as a whole, such as rent, for instance, which, enriching some, is a tax upon others, and no addition whatever to the sum total of the wealth of the community; and in like manner there is wealth which accrues to the whole, but is not a part of an individual's income.

3. Mr. Leland makes me affirm that no part of the nation's capital has been lost in unproductive enterprises. There have been, as all know, immense losses in foolish rail-road and speculative enterprises; but I consider these losses to have fallen upon our surplus rather than our reserves; that our ability to keep all our machinery in motion, to run our mills, erect warehouses, build ships, construct railroads really needed, do all forms of legitimate productive labor, is not impaired—while, according to Prof. Price, it is impaired, and this is the reason of our business distress. I can detect no evidence that business cannot revive because of insufficient capital, the difficulty being rather that capital is living idle.

4. I am accused of attributing the business depression to over-production, whereas I distinctly said speculative over-production—over-production brought about by centralization of wealth and vast appliances of machinery, which under artificial stimulus produces an excess at one period, and then at another, stopping all production, turns hosts of workmen into the streets idle and empty-handed, followed consequently by a great reduction of consumption.

5. I laid no stress upon cooperation to regulate production, merely mentioning it as the only remedy I could suggest. Such cooperation is doubtless impracticable except to a limited extent. The fear is, there is no remedy, and that we shall have—as, indeed, has been frequently predicted—continually our intermittent periods of overtrading and speculation, offset by those of prostration and suffering. The elimination of speculation and other "crazes"—that is, the maintenance of production in legitimate and healthful relation to consumption is, as I think, indisputably the only remedy; but how this is to be brought about is more than I can say. Economists, surveying the broad field over long distances of time, are contented to say that these periods are but perturbations; that production in the end does adjust itself to consumption. While this is true, our concern is how to reduce the intensity and duration of these perturbations.

There are other points that call for answer in Mr. Leland's letter; he gives me some elementary instruction as to the meaning of capital and of money; and he decries the fact of "released labor;" but it seems unnecessary for me to take your space merely to vindicate my opinions or to establish my knowledge of elementary principles—your readers can have no concern in these matters. The thing is, to get at the truth of the causes of our business distress, and those interested are referred to the article of Mr. David A. Wells than whom there is no better authority—in the last North American Review, wherein we are told that the community is suffering today, "strange as the proposition may at first thought seem, not because we have not, but because we have; not from scarcity, but from abundance;" that is, not from impaired capital, according to Prof. Price; and that "the only remedy is the creation of more wants or demands for our products, and, as a consequence, more and enlarged employments for our labor." That is to say, it is not by the community economically reducing consumption to its minimum that a revival of trade is to come, as we hear asserted on every side, but by the creation of new wants, by the stimulus of consumption. This is the essential basis of my argument.

With respect, yours, etc.,
O. B. Bunce.


To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.

The article on "The Tides," in the July number of your Monthly, would be amusing had it not appeared in a scientific periodical of high standing; but, when such erroneous and ill-digested views are set forth in a reputable journal for public instruction, they call for a public notice which they do not at all deserve.

The author of the article referred to has unfortunately adopted the errors of statement and conception generally found in our text-books of natural philosophy, prepared by authors of no authority, for our public and preparatory schools. I have had occasion recently to examine several such books on the subject of "Centrifugal Force," so called, and have found very few that are not in error. If the author of "The Tides" had expended a portion of the time devoted to the elaboration of his subject in an examination of the basis of his explanation—centrifugal force—he could not have reached conclusions at variance with the simplest fundamental principles of physics.

Newton's first law teaches that a body, once set in motion, will continue to move on with uniform velocity in a straight line forever if left to itself. To produce circular motion a constant force directed toward a fixed point must be applied in addition to the original force. The fixed point then becomes the centre of revolution. The original impulsive force (or continued force acting during a finite time), and the constant force directed toward the centre, are the only forces concerned in uniform circular motion. "Centrifugal force" expresses merely the resistance of a body to deflection from a straight line in which it tends to move, according to Newton's first law of motion. It is its inertia with reference to motion in a specified direction toward the centre. If only that which produces or tends to produce motion or change of motion is force, then there is no such force as "centrifugal force;" for the only motions that a body moving in a circle has are tangential, due to the original impulsive force, and the radial toward the centre, due to the constant centripetal force. If the centripetal force ceases to act, the body moves on tangentially, in obedience to the tangential force; if its motion of rotation ceases, it falls toward the centre. It can take no other direction of motion unless some force, additional to those required for uniform circular motion, is impressed upon it. "Centrifugal force" is a misnomer—a convenient fiction to represent resistance. Resistance or inertia only opposes motion; it never produces it; and is, therefore, not force. Hence any explanation of phenomena that assigns "centrifugal force" as the real cause in producing motion or change of motion is wholly erroneous, and subversive of Newton's first law. No such resort to "centrifugal force" is necessary in the explanation of the tides.

I must confess entire ignorance of the experimental demonstration that bodies weigh more or are heavier at midnight than at any other hour of the twenty-four. If that be true, and the cause assigned by Prof. Schneider a sufficient explanation, then the lunar midnight should produce the same effect as the solar. On this point allow me to quote from Sir William Thomson and Prof. P. G. Tait's "Treatise on Natural Philosophy," vol. i., page 662. The authority of these physicists must be acknowledged: "Hence as the moon or anti-moon (an imaginary moon 180° from the real one) rises from the horizon to the zenith of any place on the earth's surface, the intensity of apparent gravity is diminished by about 16000000 part; and the plummet is deflected toward the point of the horizon under either moon or anti-moon by an amount which reaches its maximum value when the altitude is 45°. The corresponding effects of solar influence are of nearly half these amounts."

Does Prof Schneider mean to subvert Newton's third law that action and reaction are always equal? If he can prove that the centripetal force for any point of a revolving body is greater or less than its reaction, the "centrifugal force," he will certainly disprove Newton's law, and compel a reconstruction of most, if not all, mechanical propositions.

His statements respecting the value of "centrifugal force" (properly centripetal force or acceleration toward the centre) as depending on the radius of curvature are incorrect. It is not unconditionally true that "in a short curve the centrifugal force is very great." On the contrary, if the time of revolution is constant, the "centrifugal force" varies directly as the radius, increasing as the radius increases. If the velocity of rotation is constant, "centrifugal force" varies inversely as the radius, increasing as the radius decreases. Neither of these conditions is met in the comparison of the revolutions of the earth and the moon in their orbits, since neither times nor velocities are the same in the two orbits. In fact, the acceleration of the earth (and, therefore, of the moon) toward the sun is about 23100 of an inch; while that of the moon toward the earth is a little less than 11100 of an inch a second. The acceleration of the earth toward the common centre of gravity of earth and moon is only a small fraction of the moon's acceleration toward the same point. These accelerations are the measures of "centrifugal force." Hence, according to Prof. Schneider's theory, the solar tide should be many times greater than the lunar.

My amazement reaches a climax when I read, near the close of the article in question, that "centrifugal force acts in a line tangent to the earth's orbit;" or, "in a direction at right angles with the radius-vector." Really, Mr. Editor, your compassion should have saved Prof Schneider from making such an egregious blunder.

In reference to the true explanation of the tides, the length of this communication will allow me to add only that, if Prof. Loomis, in his admirable "Treatise on Astronomy," had applied to the tides the same explanation and figure, mutatis mutandis, that he uses in estimating the amount of the sun's disturbing effect on the moon's motion, no uncertainty would remain in the mind of teacher or student respecting the cause of the tides.

H. S. Carhart.
Northwestern University,
Evanston, Illinois,
July 2, 1877.


To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.

Prof. Brame's article on "The Zodiacal Light," in The Popular Science Monthly for July, may make a recent observation of that phenomenon of interest. About eight o'clock in the evening of July 3d my attention was called to a peculiar appearance of the sky. The sun had been below the horizon about an hour. From the point in the horizon where it was last seen a broad band of pink or rose-colored light followed the ecliptic across the sky to the opposite horizon. Its south limit was sharply defined—its intensity nearly the same from horizon to horizon. Its north limit was not determinable, the pinkish light extending nearly or quite to the horizon, filling the entire northern sky. The southern sky from the ecliptic was of the normal blue color, with the exception of a single streak of a darker blue, extending from the point where the sun sank below the horizon about 90° into the southern sky, making an angle of say 30° with the southern limit of the rose-colored light, or the ecliptic.

There were none of the auroral characteristics. The light was steady, and the entire exhibition as described lasted for twenty minutes, when it all faded away gradually, leaving a perfectly clear sky, with only a trace of the pink in the west.

Charles A. Morey.
Winona, Minnesota, July 5, 1877.


To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.

Reading an item, attributed to a writer in Science Gossip, on the "Food of the Water-Tortoise," in the "Popular Miscellany" of your July number, showing that that reptile appears "to have a special relish for the food of the cat," it occurred to me that I might also relate a fact which came under my own observation bearing upon this subject: During last summer I found an ordinary snapping-turtle (Chelydra serpentina) in a field adjoining my residence, and near a brook which empties into Boone River, a few rods below. It was a vicious old fellow, and more than ordinarily curious to me from the fact that it had more than a hundred leeches clinging to its shell and various portions of its skin. I had some suspicions that my captive had committed depredations upon my young black Cayuga ducks; but disliking to murder it "in cold blood," I let it go, and it speedily disappeared in a deep hole in the brook. Some days afterward, while passing near the place, I heard a duck squawling and splashing in the water, and went at once to learn the cause. I found that this same turtle had seized one of my ducks by the foot, and was trying to drag her under the water—for "carnivorous purposes!" The duck was full-grown, and would have weighed five or six pounds, but would soon have been killed if I had not rescued it. I got hold of the bird and drew her to the shore, but the turtle held on, till I was able to secure him. Of course, he caught no more of my ducks.

But this reminds me of another interesting fact. These black Cayuga ducks—said to have descended from ancestors captured at Cayuga Lake, New York, by reason of long domestication and high feeding—have come to have very heavy bodies and short, small wings. Owing to the disuse of the latter, they have become so far atrophied that "well-bred" birds are quite incapable of flight. In the summer of 1875, one of my half-grown ducklings had the misfortune to lose one of its legs. After some days' absence it hobbled home from the river on one foot, the other having no doubt been torn off by one of these same predacious turtles. The little bird speedily recovered from the injury, though it never attained the full size of its mates. It hopped about quite briskly on its single foot, using its wings to surmount obstacles or increase its speed. The consequence was that its wings grew to such size and length that it was capable of flying twenty or thirty rods, and possibly much farther. It could rise easily out of the water, and once on the wing was able to clear the bank and a high fence—in all, a quite abrupt rise of fifteen or twenty feet—and thus speedily reach home, while its mates were slowly waddling through the grass. My flock of ducks showed in a striking manner the result produced by the long disuse of their wings; while the unfortunate one-legged bird as strikingly evidenced how rapidly "compulsion to more diligent use" produced a very decided and important modification of the wings, increasing their strength, as well as the length of the feathers.Charles Aldrich.

Webster City, Iowa, July 6, 1877.