NATURAL RESOURCES AND PEACE
For the United States to attempt to
secure an economic internationalism, which shall form
the basis of an enduring peace, is to enter upon a
task which bristles with difficulties. These
difficulties fall into two classes, those which tend
to deprive America of her freedom of action and disqualify
her for leadership, and those which are found in deep
antagonisms among the nations to be reconciled.
America cannot succeed in her efforts to bring about
an economic internationalism if she herself is economically
or psychologically unstable or if her own foreign
policy is grasping, aggressive and imperialistic.
Nor can she succeed unless her efforts are wisely
directed towards the solution of the real problems
which now divide the world.
In all such discussions we are likely
to take America’s pacific intentions in the
future for granted. Such an assumption, however,
is unwarranted. To-day the peace-maker is the
organiser of the world and no nation can lead in the
peace movement, nor even be assured of its own peace,
unless it has reached a certain stage of economic stability
and is organised on a reasonably satisfactory economic
basis. Our danger of war lies partly within.
If we launch out upon an imperialistic policy, placing
our vital national interests within the area of keen
international rivalry, we shall be in peril of a war,
evoked by ourselves.
The time to prevent such a conflict
is not immediately before its threatened outbreak
but during the period in which the forces making for
war are slowly maturing. These forces, in our
case at least, take their rise in home conditions.
Our chance of peace with England, Germany, Japan
or Russia twenty or thirty years from now depends upon
what we do with our own territory and our own resources
This may at first glance seem a paradox.
Why should we fight Germany or Japan because our
agriculture is inefficient or our fiscal policy inadequate
or because our wealthy are too wealthy and our poor
too poor? Yet the connection is close.
Bellicosity is not spontaneous, a thing evolved out
of nothing. Peoples do not fight when they have
what they want, but only when they are frustrated
and cramped and need air and elbow room. War
is like emigration. The individual migrant leaves
home for personal reasons, but the great movement of
emigration is nothing but an escape from worse to
better economic conditions. If the natural resources
of a nation are too small or are badly utilised the
resulting insecurity and poverty may lead to international
conflicts. Or if the national economy though
otherwise efficient and self-contained is so ordered
that huge masses of the population are impoverished
and destitute, there will always be a centrifugal force
inciting to foreign adventures and wars. Where
there is no place at home for “younger sons”
they will seek a place outside.
Nowhere can one study this tremendous internal
outward-driving pressure better than in Japan. That nation, though extremely
poor, spends huge sums upon armies, navies and fortifications, and engages in a
dangerous and perhaps eventually fatal conflict with other powers. But it is not
pride of race or dynastic ambition which compels Japan to enter upon these
imperialistic courses, but a sheer lack
of economic reserves. Her area, not including
Korea, Formosa, Sakhalin, etc., is 149,000 square
miles, or less than that of California, while her
population (1914) is 56,000,000. Moreover, Japan
is so extraordinarily mountainous that the greater
part of her area is unfitted for agriculture.
Despite a very low standard of living, therefore,
and a highly intensive culture, the land cannot feed
the population, and foodstuffs must be imported.
The population is growing with great rapidity, the
excess of births over deaths amounting to over six
hundred thousand a year.
Nor has Japan a sufficient outlet
through emigration. The immigration of Japanese
into Australia, British Columbia, the United States
and South Africa is practically prohibited.
Most parts of Eastern Asia are too crowded with men
living still lower in the scale to permit any large
infiltration of Japanese. To Japan, therefore,
there are but two alternatives to an ultimate famine:
the settlement of Korea and Manchuria, and industrialism.
For industrialism, however, Japan is rather ill-fitted
by tradition and lack of raw materials. Her best
chance is to sell to China and to develop Manchuria
and Korea, in both of which directions she runs counter
to European ambitions. As a result, Japan becomes
imperialistic and militaristic.
The American temptation to imperialism
is far weaker than is that of Japan. There is
for us no overwhelming necessity to enter upon a scramble
for new territories or to fight wars to secure such
territories. Our aggressiveness is latent, though
with a capacity for growth. There are two ways
to lessen this potential aggressiveness. The
first is to weaken economic interests favouring imperialism
and war and strengthen opposed interests; the second
is to build up in the people a tough intellectual
and emotional resistance to martial incitement.
The remedy resolves itself into two factors,
economic completeness and internal stability and equality.
Economic completeness depends in the
first place upon a certain relation between natural
resources and population. If the fields and
mines of a country are too unproductive or its population
excessive, there will be an inevitable leaning upon
the resources of foreign countries and an intense
competition for new territory, trade or investment
facilities. A nation, however, may possess most
of the elements of economic completeness and yet suffer
through a bad geographical position. Its commerce,
even its coast-wise commerce, may be at the mercy
of a foreign country, or it may not control the mouths
of its own rivers, or may be shut off completely from
the sea. Switzerland, Hungary, Bohemia cannot
secure their economic independence of Spain or France,
but must depend upon the good will of other nations.
Because of such geographical conditions an otherwise
pacific nation may fail completely to build up a resistance
An event in our own history will illustrate
this point. From 1783 to 1803, our settlers
in the Ohio Valley were entirely dependent for the
sale of their products upon an outlet through the Mississippi
River. Unless Spain and later France would permit
the rude arks, laden with tobacco, flour and bacon,
to unload at New Orleans, the West would be shut off
from markets. Railroads had not yet been invented
and there were no good roads over the mountains.
Animosity towards the owner of New Orleans was therefore
inevitable, since unless we could control
the mouth of the Mississippi, we could not secure the
allegiance of our own settlers west of the Alleghenies.
The interests of our citizens lay beyond our borders;
the key to our door was in the hands of a foreign
power. But for the lucky accident that peacefully
gave us Louisiana, we should sooner or later have been
forced into war. The cession of this territory
tended to establish for us an economic completeness.
An economic completeness for the United
States does not of course mean that we should become
a hermit nation, absolutely shut up within our tariff
walls. It would be manifestly undesirable to
prohibit foreign commerce or the foreign investment
of American capital and no such sacrifice, even if
possible, would be necessary to prevent a too violent
friction with Europe. There is a more direct
way in which to increase America’s economic
reliance upon herself and diminish her dependence
upon the accidents and hostilities of the world competition.
It can be done by a better utilisation of our own resources.
As yet we have merely skimmed the cream of one of
the richest parts of the earth, and have exploited,
rather than developed, our great continental territory.
We have been superficial not thorough, hasty not
scientific, in our utilisation of our resources.
We have still a margin in which further to develop
agriculture and other great extractive industries
in order to lay at home the basis for a population
which is bound to increase during the coming decades.
How great our friction with Europe
is to be will depend on whether our economic development
in the main is to consist of activities which impinge upon those of the great
industrial countries or of activities which do not so impinge, whether for
example, five per cent. or thirty per cent. of our people are to be engaged in
industries which actively compete in foreign markets with the industries of
Europe. Certain of our economic activities are for us pacific in tendency,
inasmuch as they do not affect industrial Europe or actually benefit her. Of
such a nature is agriculture. Every added bushel of wheat or bale of cotton
raised in the United States improves the chances of European industry, lessens
our competition with Europe and increases our market for European wares. The
same is largely true of our production of copper, gold, silver, petroleum and
other natural products. Upon these extractive enterprises, including coal and
iron ore, is based a vast manufacturing industry which supplies our home
population, and an immense transportation and commercial system which has its
roots in our home resources. Our railroads do not appreciably compete with those
of England and Germany; on the contrary the industrial progress of those
countries is hastened by the development of our transportation system, which
cheapens their food and raw materials. On the other hand a development of the
American carrying trade, a growth of ship-building, shipping and export trade,
however necessary or desirable, trenches immediately upon British and German
shipbuilding, carrying and export trade, and leads directly and inevitably to
The dependence of our economic mutuality
with Europe upon our agriculture may be illustrated
by an hypothesis. Assume that our agricultural
products were permanently cut in half while our population
remained constant. We should have no food to
export and would be obliged to import food.
Millions of men would be forced out of agriculture
into manufacturing industries, and as the home demand
for these industries would be lessened a foreign market
would be essential. Our railroad traffic would
diminish, and railroad workers, thrown out of employment,
would enter the export trade. We should be forced
to secure foreign markets, and if political pressure
were necessary, it would be forthcoming. Similarly,
our chances for investment in agriculture and in railroad
and industrial companies being lessened, capital would
be forced to find an outlet in other countries, especially
in semi-developed lands to which European capital flows.
The rate of interest would fall, big risks would be
taken, and if American investments were endangered
by unrest or disorder in the backward country, our
government would intervene. We should have no
choice and could afford no scruples. Given such
a fall in our agricultural product, the country would
become imperialistic and bellicose, and there would
be not the remotest possibility of our taking the
lead in a policy to promote international peace.
The hypothesis is far-fetched, but
exactly the same result would follow if instead of
our agricultural product dwindling, it remained constant
while our population grew. If our population
increased 100 per cent. and our agricultural product
remained stationary or increased only twenty or forty
per cent., it would be impossible to maintain our
present relation to the world. We must uphold
a certain, not quite constant relation between our
agricultural (and other extractive) industries and
our population if we are to keep out of the
thickest of the European complications.
A secure basis for a policy of non-aggression
lies therefore in the development of home agriculture.
It is not, however, to be expected that the proportion
of farm workers will remain constant. In the
United States this proportion has steadily fallen.
Of every thousand males in all occupations 483 were
engaged in agricultural pursuits in 1880 as compared
with only 358 in 1910. But despite this relative
decline agriculture did not become less productive.
More horses and more agricultural machinery were
used, and fewer persons were able to perform the same
amount of work.
What is more significant than the number of persons employed
is the amount of land available for agriculture. Until 1900 we were in the
extensive period of American farming, during which an increase in the population
was met by an increased farm acreage. From 1850 to 1900 our population increased
from 23 to 76 millions, but our farm area increased almost as fast and the
improved farm area even faster. During the decade ending 1910, however, a strong
pressure of population upon American agriculture became obvious. In these ten
years the countrys population increased 21 per cent. while the total farm area
increased only 4.8 per cent. While 16,000,000 people were added to the
population the increase in farm area was equal only to what would accommodate an
additional three and a half million people. It is no longer easy to stretch the
farm area and to a large extent our farms must grow by the increase of the
improved at the expense of the unimproved acres.
Actually the per capita agricultural
production in 1909 (the year covered by the census
of 1910) was less than that of a decade before.
Though the crops in the latter year were far higher
in value, the increase in the quantity of product
was only 10 per cent., as compared with an increase
in population of 21 per cent. Had the American
people consumed all the American product in both years,
they would have been obliged to cut down their ration
by about one-tenth; instead there was a vast diminution
of exports. The growing population began to
consume the agricultural products formerly exported.
The question is therefore pertinent whether it will
be possible for us indefinitely to feed from our own
fields our increasing millions or whether we shall
be forced to depend increasingly for food on outside
sources and to secure this food by a development of
our export trade in manufactured products. To
many this question will seem to answer itself.
It is commonly assumed that there are almost no limits
to our possible agricultural production and
therefore to our desirable increase of population.
France is almost self-sufficing with a population
of 189.5 to the square mile; when the United States
(continental area) has an equally dense population
we may maintain a population of five or six hundred
millions. We need merely take up new lands and
cultivate more intensively.
The opportunities for the further
development of American agriculture, however, while
undoubtedly great, are not immeasurable. At present
we have some 879,000,000 acres in farms, of which
478,000,000 (or 25.1 per cent. of our total land area)
are improved. But of the rest of our area much
is not useful. Some 465,000,000 acres in the
western part of the country have an annual precipitation
of fifteen inches or less, and of these acres, not
over 30,000,000 could be profitably irrigated at present
prices of farm products, labour, land and capital. This addition of 30,000,000
acres would increase our present improved area by less than seven per cent.
Besides the permanently arid acres, moreover, there is other unusable land in
national forests, roads, cities and in swamps and over-flow lands difficult to
reclaim. With these deductions made, we have only 1,252,000,000 acres as the
maximum farm area of the future. This is 31.1 per cent. greater than the present
It is true that a larger part of the
farm area can be cultivated. From 1900 to 1910
the area of improved lands increased 15.4 per cent.
If this rate of increase could continue there would
be about one billion acres improved by 1960, and this
seems to be the absolutely outside upper limit.
But this does not mean that a billion acres could
be improved and cultivated at the same cost per acre
as at present. The improved lands would require
a constantly increasing amount of capital and labour
to secure returns equal to those which the farmer
Similarly there are limits to the
extent to which we can afford to divide up our land
into smaller farms in order to secure a larger production
per acre. Intensive cultivation is an alluring
phrase but in the production of many staple crops
intensive cultivation is dear cultivation. The
movement in progressive agricultural communities is
towards a moderately large farm. It is the smaller
farms (of from 20 to 99 acres) that the boys and girls
leave most rapidly. “The farm management
studies,” writes Mr. Eugene Merritt of the U.
S. Department of Agriculture “indicate that
on these small-sized farms, man labour, horse labour, and agricultural machinery
cannot be used efficiently. In other words, economic competition is eliminating
the unprofitable sized farms."
The pressure of agricultural population upon a given farm
area results either in the growth of an inefficient small scale production or of
a large rural proletariat. Both are undesirable and neither will permit farming
on as cheap a scale as at present. The actual trend to-day in districts where
cereals are raised is towards larger farms (of 150 to 300 acres), and this
tendency is likely to be increased by the introduction of cheap tractor engines,
which now seems to impend. There is doubtless a considerable opportunity in the
United States for an improvement in the average product per acre even though the
increase in the area of cultivation constantly brings in land of decreasing
fertility. If in the course of forty or fifty years we can increase the area
under cultivation by fifty per cent. and the product per acre by 20 per cent. we
shall have an increase in product of 80 per cent., which would provide for an
increase in the population of 80,000,000 without any greater leaning upon
foreign resources than to-day.
We are likely, however, to lean upon
certain foreign resources, and more especially upon
Canada and the Caribbean countries. Whatever
its political allegiance Canada is and will probably
remain economically a part of the United States.
The Iowa farmers, who sold out their home farms to
buy cheaper land in Canada, unconsciously illustrated
the closeness of this economic bond. We may
draw upon Canadian wheat, fish, lumber and iron ore
almost exactly as though the territory were our own.
It is Canada’s interest to sell to us and buy
from us, and even preferential duties cannot entirely
overcome our immense geographical advantage over Europe.
Similarly we shall draw upon the Caribbean
countries, whether or not we have a political union,
for vast quantities of tropical food stuffs.
Whatever our importation of food an
increase in agricultural efficiency is also probable.
We have already improved and cheapened our farm machinery
and have disseminated agricultural education and information.
But much progress remains to be made. We can
use better seeds, raise better crops and cattle, and
work more co-operatively instead of individualistically.
Our transportation system can be better co-ordinated with our agriculture, so
that food, now wasted because it will not pay the freight, can be brought to
A better knowledge of the science of farming would
greatly increase our agricultural production.
If our country roads were improved, if we varied
our crops more intelligently, if we refrained from
impoverishing our soils, if we drained some tracts
and irrigated others, we should speedily discover
a vast increase in our agricultural productiveness,
a larger return to the farmers, a greater home demand
for manufactured products, and a better opportunity
for capital at home. If by putting more capital
and intelligence upon our farms, we were to add several
billions to the value of their output, we should broaden
the base of our whole economic life, enlarge the volume
of our non-competitive exports, and in the end approximate
conditions that would make for a peaceful foreign
policy and for the promotion of an economic internationalism.
But though we widen our agricultural
base, our population unless its rate of progress is
checked, will eventually, and perhaps soon, overtake
any extension. Though we increase agricultural
knowledge and substitute mechanical for animal power
and gasoline for hay, the law of diminishing returns
will remain. Ten men cannot secure as large
a per capita product from a given area as five, or
twenty as large as ten. But if our population
were to maintain its present geometrical increase
we should have 200,000,000 inhabitants in 1953 and,
to assume the almost impossible, 400,000,000 in 1990.
Long before the latter figure could be reached there
would be positive and preventive checks to further
growth, but if these checks were late in being applied,
there would come increased inequality, misery and economic
uncertainty, and an enhanced liability to war.
For us as for other nations a too
rapid increase in population spells this constant
danger of war. Our farms cannot absorb more than
a certain proportion of our population without causing
lowered wages and increasing poverty, and we cannot
expand our export trade without entering into the
range of international conflict. While therefore
an improved agriculture with high food prices will
permit of an increase in our population, it is
advantageous that that increase does not proceed too
rapidly. If we grow to two hundred millions in
seventy-five or one hundred years instead of in thirty-seven,
we shall still be strong enough to protect our present
territories and shall have less occasion to fight
Fortunately our rate of population
increase, despite immigration, is steadily decreasing.
In the decade ending 1860 our population increased
35.6 per cent., in the period 1860 to 1879 at an average
decennial rate of 26.3 per cent., and in the three
following decades 25.5 per cent., 20.7 per cent. and
21.1 per cent respectively. The fall in our
natural increase was even greater. While the
death rate has declined the birth rate has fallen off even more rapidly. Our
birth statistics are inadequate, but we can gain some idea of this decline by
comparing the number of children under 5 years of age living at each census year
with the number of women between the ages of 16 to 44 inclusive. In 1800 there
were 976 children per 1,000 women in these ages; in 1830, 877; in 1860, 714; in
1890, 554; in 1910, 508.
For a number of decades a continuation
in this falling off in the birth rate is probable.
It is rendered necessary by the fall in the death
rate and possible by the fact that birth has ceased
to be a mere physiological accident and is coming
under human control. “The most important
factor in the change,” says Dr. John Shaw Billings,
“is the deliberate and voluntary avoidance or
prevention of child-bearing on the part of a steadily
increasing number of married people who prefer to
have but few children." The spreading of the knowledge
of birth control and the increasing financial burden
of children in an urbanised society composed of economically ambitious people
will probably prevent our population from ever again increasing as rapidly as it
did half a century ago.
In the meanwhile our immigration (until
the outbreak of the present war) continued to increase.
In the ten years ending June 30, 1914, over ten million
immigrant aliens arrived in the United States, of whom
approximately seven millions remained. Nor has
the high point in immigration been surely attained.
The European population increases so rapidly that
the excess of births over deaths is between three and
four times the entire emigration. Immigration
tends to flow from countries where the pressure of
population is greater to countries like the United
States, where the pressure is less. Unless there
is restriction we may witness within the next decades
a new vast increase in immigration, which will result
in a rapid growth of our population and a resulting
pressure upon our agricultural (and other natural)
resources, that will vastly increase the intensity
and bitterness of our competition for the world’s
markets and the world’s investment opportunities.
By thus increasing our agricultural
product, and developing our home market and our less
directly competitive industries and by slackening
an increase in our population, which would otherwise
force us into foreign adventures, we tend to approach
a balanced economic system and a parallel growth of
extractive and manufacturing industries. Such
a dependence in the main on home resources for the
nation’s primal needs is in the circumstances
the best preventive of an imperialistic policy that
might lead to war. But there is an even closer-lying
incentive to imperialism and war. A nation may
have a sufficiently wide base and an efficient industrial
development but because of internal economic mal-adjustments
may be driven into imperialistic courses. A policy
not dictated by national needs may be forced upon
the nation by the necessities and ambitions of its