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THE RURAL LIFE PROBLEM OF THE UNITED STATES



THE MACMILLAN COMPANY NEW YORK . BOSTON . CHICAGO DALLAS . SAN FRANCISCO

MACMILLAN & CO., LIMITED LONDON . BOMBAY . CALCUTTA MELBOURNE

THE MACMILLAN CO. OF CANADA, LTD. TORONTO



THE RURAL LIFE PROBLEM OF THE UNITED STATES

NOTES OF AN IRISH OBSERVER BY SIR HORACE PLUNKETT

New York THE MACMILLAN COMPANY 1919

All rights reserved

COPYRIGHT, 1910,

BY THE MACMILLAN COMPANY.

Set up and electrotyped. Published May, 1910. Reprinted October, 1910; January, 1911; October, 1912; September, 1913; January, 1917.

Norwood Press J. S. Cushing Co.—Berwick & Smith Co. Norwood, Mass., U.S.A.



PREFATORY NOTE

The thoughts contained in the following pages relate to one side of the life of a country which has been to me, as to many Irishmen, a second home. They are offered in friendly recognition of kindness I cannot hope to repay, received largely as a student of American social and economic problems, from public-spirited Americans who, I know, will appreciate most highly any slight service to their country.

The substance of the book appeared in five articles contributed to the New York Outlook under the title "Conservation and Rural Life." Several American friends, deeply interested in the Rural Life problem, asked me to republish the series. In doing so, I have felt that I ought to present a more comprehensive view of my subject than either the space allowed or the more casual publication demanded.

I have to thank the editors of the Outlook for the generous hospitality of their columns, and for full freedom to republish what belongs to them.

HORACE PLUNKETT.

THE PLUNKETT HOUSE, DUBLIN, April, 1910.



TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER I

THE SUBJECT AND THE POINT OF VIEW

PAGE The subject defined—A reconstruction of rural life in English-speaking communities essential to the progress of Western civilisation—A movement for a new rural civilisation to be proposed—The author's point of view derived from thirty years of Irish and American experience—The physical contrast and moral resemblances in the Irish and American rural problems—Mr. Roosevelt's interest in this aspect of the question—His Conservation and Country Life policies 1

CHAPTER II

THE LAUNCHING OF TWO ROOSEVELT POLICIES

The sane emotionalism of American public opinion—Gifford Pinchot as the Apostle of Conservation—His test of national efficiency—Mr. James J. Hill's notable pronouncements upon the wastage of natural resources—The evolution of the Conservation policy—Historical and present causes of national extravagance—The Conference of Governors and their pronouncement upon Conservation—Mr. Roosevelt's Country Life policy—His estimate of the lasting importance of the Conservation and Country Life ideas—The popularity of the Conservation policy and the lack of interest in the Country Life policy—The Country Life Commission's inquiries and the reality of the problem—The need and opportunity for reconstruction of rural life 17

CHAPTER III

THE ORIGIN AND CONSEQUENCES OF RURAL NEGLECT

The origin of rural neglect in English-speaking countries traced to the Industrial Revolution in England—Effect of modern economic changes upon the mutual relations of town and country populations—Respects in which the old relations ought to be restored—Three economic reasons for the study of rural conditions—The social consequences of rural neglect—The political importance of rustic experience to reenforce urban intelligence in modern democracies—The analogue of the European exodus in the United States—The moral aspects of rural neglect—The danger to national efficiency of sacrificing agricultural to commercial and industrial interests—The happy circumstance of Mr. Roosevelt's interest in rural well-being 35

CHAPTER IV

THE INNER LIFE OF THE AMERICAN FARMER

Reasons why the rural problem resulting from urban predominance exists only in English-speaking countries—Neglect of farmer more easily excused in the United States than elsewhere owing to his apparent prosperity—Country Life Commission's pronouncement on rural backwardness—Why the matter must be taken up by the towns—A survey of American rural life—The problem economically and sociologically considered in the Middle West—Causes and character of rural backwardness in the Southern States—The boll-weevil and the hookworm as illustrations of unconcern for the well-being of rural communities—The problem in the New England States not typically American—The progressive attitude of some communities in the Far West in rural reform 57

CHAPTER V

THE WEAK SPOT IN AMERICAN RURAL ECONOMY

The three elements of a rural existence—Mr. Roosevelt's formula: "Better farming, better business, better living"—A comparative analysis of urban and rural business methods shows that herein lies chief cause of rural backwardness—Reasons why farmers fail to adopt methods of combination—A description of the cooperative system in its application to agriculture—The introduction and development of agricultural cooperation in Ireland—The Raiffeisen Credit Association successful in poorest Irish districts—Summary of cooperative achievement by Irish farmers—British imitation of Irish agricultural organising methods—A criticism of American farmers' organisations—Lack of combination for business purposes the cause of political impotence—Urgent need for a reorganisation of American agriculture upon cooperative lines 83

CHAPTER VI

THE WAY TO BETTER FARMING AND BETTER LIVING

The retarded application of science to agriculture and neglect of agricultural education—Present progress in agricultural education—Full benefit of education must await cooperative organisation—Connection between cooperation and social progress—Mr. Roosevelt on the cause and cure of rural discontent—Two views upon the principles of rural betterment—The part cooperation is playing in Irish rural society—General observations on town and country pleasures—The social necessity for a redirection of rural education—The rural labour problem—The position of women in farm life—The reason why the remedy for rural backwardness must come from without—The paradox of the problem 117

CHAPTER VII

THE TWO THINGS NEEDFUL

Summary of diagnosis and indication of treatment—Chief aim the cooerdination of agencies available for social work in the country—Numerical strength and fine social spirit abroad, but leadership needed—Mutual interest of advocates of Conservation and of rural reform—The psychological difficulty due to predominance of urban idea—Roman history repeating itself in New York—The natural leaders of the Country Life movement to be found in the cities—The objects of the movement defined—Two new institutions to be created; the one executive and organising, the other academic—The National Conservation Association qualified to initiate and direct the movement—Possibly an American Agricultural Organisation Society should be founded for the work—The chief practical work the introduction of agricultural cooperation—Necessity for joining forces with existing philanthropic agencies—Suggested enlistment of country clergy in cooperative propagandism—The Country Life Institute, its purpose and functions—Reason why one body cannot undertake work assigned to the two new institutions—The financial requirements of the Institute—Summary and conclusions 145



THE RURAL LIFE PROBLEM



CHAPTER I

THE SUBJECT AND THE POINT OF VIEW

I submit in the following pages a proposition and a proposal—a distinction which an old-country writer of English may, perhaps, be permitted to preserve. The proposition is that, in the United States, as in other English-speaking communities, the city has been developed to the neglect of the country. I shall not have to labour the argument, as nobody seriously disputes the contention; but I shall trace the main causes of the neglect, and indicate what, in my view, must be its inevitable consequences. If I make my case, it will appear that our civilisation has thus become dangerously one-sided, and that, in the interests of national well-being, it is high time for steps to be taken to counteract the townward tendency.

My definite proposal to those who accept these conclusions is that a Country Life movement, upon lines which will be laid down, should be initiated by existing associations, whose efforts should be supplemented by a new organisation which I shall call a Country Life Institute. There are in the United States a multiplicity of agencies, both public and voluntary, available for this work. But the army of workers in this field of social service needs two things: first, some definite plan for cooerdinating their several activities, and, next, some recognised source of information collected from the experience of the Old and the New World. It is the purpose of these pages to show that these needs are real and can be met.

Two obvious questions will here suggest themselves. Why should the United States—of all countries in the world—be chosen for such a theme instead of a country like Ireland, where the population depends mainly upon agriculture? What qualifications has an Irishman, be he never so competent to advise upon the social and economic problems of his own country, to talk to Americans about the life of their rural population? I admit at once that, while I have made some study of American agriculture and rural economy, my actual work upon the problem of which I write has been restricted to Ireland. But I claim, with some pride, that, in thought upon rural economy, Ireland is ahead of any English-speaking country. She has troubles of her own, some inherent in the adverse physical conditions, and others due to well-known historical causes, that too often impede the action to which her best thoughts should lead. But the very fact that those who grapple with Irish problems have to work through failure to success will certainly not lessen the value to the social student of the experience gained. I recognise, however, that I must give the reader so much of personal narrative as is required to enable him to estimate the value of my facts, and of the conclusions which I base upon them.

To have enjoyed an Irish-American existence, to have been profoundly interested in, and more or less in touch with, public affairs in both countries, to have been an unwilling politician in Ireland and not a politician at all in America, is, to say the least, an unusual experience for an Irishman. But such has been my record during the last twenty years. Soon after graduating at Oxford, I was advised to live in mountain air for a while, and for the next decade I was a ranchman along the foothills of the Rockies. To those who knew that my heart was in Ireland, I used to explain that I might some day be in politics at home, and must take care of my lungs. In 1889 I returned to live and work in my own country, but I retained business interests, including some farming operations, in the Western States. Ever since then I have taken my annual holiday across the Atlantic, and have studied rural conditions over a wider area in the United States than my business interests demanded.

For eight years, commencing in 1892, I was a Member of Parliament. My legislative ambition was to get something done for Irish industry, and especially Irish agriculture. Having secured the assistance of an unprecedented combination of representative Irishmen, known as the Recess Committee (because it sat during the Parliamentary recess), we succeeded in getting the addition we wanted to the machinery of Irish Government. The functions of the new institution are sufficiently indicated by its cumbrous Parliamentary title, "The Department of Agriculture and other Industries and for Technical Instruction for Ireland." I mention this official experience because it not only intensified my desire to study American conditions, but it also brought me frequently to Washington to study the working of those Federal institutions which are concerned for the welfare of the rural population. There I enjoyed the unfailing courtesy of American public servants to the foreign inquirer.

On one of these visits, in the winter of 1905-1906, I called upon President Roosevelt to pay him my respects, and to express to him my obligations to some members of his Administration. I wished especially to acknowledge my indebtedness to that veteran statesman, Secretary Wilson, the value of whose long service to the American farmer it would be hard to exaggerate. Mr. Roosevelt questioned me as to the exact object of my inquiries, and asked me to come again and discuss with him more fully than was possible at the moment certain economic and social questions which had engaged much of his own thoughts. He was greatly interested to learn that in Ireland we have been approaching many of these questions from his own point of view. He made me tell him the story of Irish land legislation, and of recent Irish movements for the improvement of agricultural conditions. Ever since, his interest in these Irish questions—to the Irish Question we gave a wide berth—has been maintained on account of their bearing upon his Rural Life policy, for I had shown him how the economic strengthening and social elevation of the Irish farmer had become a matter of urgent Irish concern. I recall many things he said on that occasion, which show that his two great policies of Conservation and Country Life reform were maturing in his mind. I need hardly say how deeply interesting these policies are to me, embracing as they do economic and social problems, the working out of which in my own country happens to be the task to which I have devoted the best years of my life.

I must now offer to the reader so much of the story of the Country Life movement in my own country as will enable him to understand its interest to Mr. Roosevelt and to many another worker upon the analogous problems of the United States. Ireland is passing through an agrarian revolution. There, as in many other European countries, the title to most of the agricultural land rested upon conquest. The English attempt to colonise Ireland never completely succeeded nor completely failed; consequently the Irish never ceased to repudiate the title of the alien landlord. In 1881 Mr. Gladstone introduced one of the greatest agrarian reforms in history—rent-fixing by judicial authority—which was certainly a bold attempt to put an end to a desolating conflict, centuries old.

The scheme failed,—whether, as some hold, from its inherent defects, or from the circumstances of the time, is an open question. It is but fair to its author to point out that a rapidly increasing foreign competition, chiefly from the newly opened tracts of virgin soil in the New World, led to a fall in agricultural prices, which made the first rents fixed appear too high. Quicker and cheaper transit, together with processes for keeping produce fresh over the longest routes, soon showed that the new market conditions had come to stay. A bad land system on a rising market might succeed better than a good one on a falling. The land tenure reforms begun in 1881, having broken down under stress of foreign competition, and Purchase Acts on a smaller scale having been tentatively tried in the interval, in 1903 Parliament finally decreed that sufficient money should be provided to buy out all the remaining agricultural land. In a not remote future, some two hundred million pounds sterling—a billion dollars—will have been advanced by the British Government to enable the tenants to purchase their holdings, the money to be repaid in easy instalments during periods averaging over sixty years.

Twenty years ago this general course of events was foreseen, and a few Irishmen conceived and set to work upon what has come to be Ireland's Rural Life policy. The position taken up was simple. What Parliament was about to do would pull down the whole structure of Ireland's agricultural economy, and would clear away the chief hindrance to economic and social progress. But upon the ground thus cleared the edifice of a new rural social economy would have to be built. This work, although it needs the fostering care of government, and liberal facilities for a system of education intimately related to the people's working lives, belongs mainly to the sphere of voluntary effort.

The new movement, which was started in 1889 to meet the circumstances I have indicated, was thus a movement for the up-building of country life. It anticipated the lines of the formula which Mr. Roosevelt adopted in his Message transmitting to Congress the Report of the Country Life Commission—better farming, better business, better living: we began with better business, which consisted in the introduction of agricultural cooperation into the farming industry, for several reasons which will appear later, and for one which I must mention here. We found that we could not develop in unorganised farmers a political influence strong enough to enable them to get the Government to do its part towards better farming. Owing to the new agricultural opinion which had been developed indirectly by organising the farmer, we were able to win from Parliament the department I have named above. This institution was so framed and endowed that it is able to give to the Irish farmers all the assistance which can be legitimately given by public agencies and at public expense. The assistance consists chiefly of education. But education is interpreted in the widest sense. Practical instruction to old and young, in schools, upon the farms, and at meetings, lectures, experiments, and demonstrations, the circulation of useful information and advice, and all the usual methods known to progressive governments, are being introduced with the chief aim of enabling the farmer to apply to the practice of farming the teachings of modern science. Better living, which includes making country life more interesting and attractive, is sought by using voluntary associations, some organised primarily for business purposes, and others, having no business aim, for social and intellectual ends. But Irish rural reformers are agreed that by far the most important step towards a higher and a better rural life would be a redirection of education in the country schools. To this I shall return in the proper place.

I can now proceed with my American experiences without leaving any doubt as to the point of view from which I approach the problem of rural life in the United States. Having engaged in actual work upon that problem in Ireland, where a combination of economic changes and political events has made its solution imperative, and having been long in personal touch with rural conditions in some Western States, my interest in certain policies which were maturing at Washington may be easily surmised. There I found that, with wholly different conditions to be dealt with, the thoughts of the President and of others in his confidence were, as regards the main issue, moving in the same direction as my own. They too had come to feel that the welfare of the rural population had been too long neglected, and that it was high time to consider how the neglect might be repaired. In his annual message to Congress in 1904, Mr. Roosevelt had made it clear that he was fully conscious of this necessity. "Nearly half of the people of this country," he wrote, "devote their energies to growing things from the soil. Until a recent date little has been done to prepare these millions for their life work." I did not realise at the time the full import of these sentences. Nor did I foresee that the problem of rural life was to be forced to the front by the awakening of public opinion, upon another issue differing from and yet closely related to the subject of these pages. Mr. Roosevelt was thinking out the Conservation idea, which I believe will some day be recognised as the greatest of his policies.



CHAPTER II

THE LAUNCHING OF TWO ROOSEVELT POLICIES

Although somebody has already said something like it, I would say there is a tide in the thoughts of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to action. We make the general claim for our Western civilisation, that, whatever the form of government, once public opinion is thoroughly stirred upon a great and vital issue, it is but a question of time for the will to find the way. But in the life of the United States, the passage from thought to action is more rapid than in any country that I know. Nowhere do we find such a combination of emotionalism with sanity. No better illustration of these national qualities could be desired than that afforded by the inception and early growth of the Conservation policy.

I have already shown how my inquiries at Washington gave me access to the most accessible of the world's statesmen. At the same time there came into my life another remarkable personality. To the United States Forester of that day I owe my earliest interest in the Conservation policy. In counsel with him I came to regard the Conservation and Rural Life policies as one organic whole. So I must say here a word about the man who, more than any other, has inspired whatever in these pages may be worth printing.

I first met Gifford Pinchot in his office in Washington in 1905. I was not especially interested in forestry, but the Forester was so interesting that I listened with increasing delight to the story of his work. I noticed that as an administrator he had a grasp of detail and a mastery of method which are not usually found in men who have had no training in large business affairs. I thought the secret of his success lay between love of work and sympathy with workers, which gained him the devotion and enthusiastic cooperation of his staff. It is, however, as a statesman rather than as an administrator that his achievement is and will be known.

When I first knew the Forester, I found that already the conservation of timber was but a small part of his material aims: every national resource must be husbanded. But over the whole scheme of Conservation a great moral issue reigned supreme. He clung affectionately to his task, but it was not to him mere forestry administration. In his far vision he seemed to see men as trees walking. The saving of one great asset was broadening out into insistence upon a new test of national efficiency: the people of the United States were to be judged by the manner in which they applied their physical and mental energies to the conservation and development of their country's natural resources. The acceptance of this test would mean the success of a great policy for the initiation of which President Roosevelt gave almost the whole credit to Gifford Pinchot.

There is one other name which will be ever honorably associated with the dawn of the Conservation idea which Mr. Roosevelt elevated to the status and dignity of a national policy. In September, 1906, Mr. James J. Hill delivered (under the title of "The Future of the United States") what I think was an epoch-making address. It is significant that this great railway president opened his campaign for the economic salvation of the United States by addressing himself, not to politicians or professors, but to a representative body of Minnesota farmers. This address presented for the first time in popular form a remarkable collection of economic facts, which formed the basis of conclusions as startling as they were new. Let me attempt a brief summary of its contents.

The natural resources, to which the Conservation policy relates, may be divided into two classes: the minerals, which when used cannot be replaced, and things that grow from the soil, which admit of indefinitely augmented reproduction. At the head of the former category stands the supply of coal and iron. This factor in the nation's industry and commerce was being exhausted at a rate which made it certain that, long before the end of the century, the most important manufactures would be handicapped by a higher cost of production. The supply of merchantable timber was disappearing even more rapidly. But far more serious than all other forms of wastage was the reckless destruction of the natural fertility of the soil. The final result, according to Mr. Hill, must be that within a comparatively brief period—a period for which the present generation was bound to take thought—this veritable Land of Promise would be hard pressed to feed its own people, while the manufactured exports to pay for imported food would not be forthcoming. It should be added that this sensational forecast was no purposeless jeremiad. Mr. Hill told his hearers that the danger which threatened the future of the Nation would be averted only by the intelligence and industry of those who cultivated the farm lands, and that they had it in their power to provide a perfectly practicable and adequate remedy. This was to be found—if such a condensation be permissible—in the application of the physical sciences to the practice, and of economic science to the business, of farming.

In spite of the immense burden of great undertakings which he carried, Mr. Hill repeated the substance of this address on many occasions. Lord Rosebery once said that speeches were the most ephemeral of all ephemeral things, and for some time it looked as if one of the most important speeches ever delivered by a public man on a great public issue was going to illustrate the truth of this saying. It seems strange that his facts and arguments should have remained unchallenged, and yet unsupported, by other public men. Perhaps the best explanation is to be found in a recent dictum of Mr. James Bryce. Speaking at the University of California, the British Ambassador said: "We can all think of the present, and are only too apt to think chiefly about the present. The average man, be he educated or uneducated, seldom thinks of anything else." There are, however, special circumstances in the history of the United States which account for the extraordinary unconcern about what is going to happen to the race in a period which may seem long to those whose personal interest fixes a limit to their gaze, but which is indeed short in the life of a nation. After the religious, political, and military struggles through which the American nation was brought to birth, there followed a century of no less strenuous wrestling with the forces of nature. That century stands divided by the greatest civil conflict in the world's history; but this only served to strengthen in a united people those indomitable qualities to which the nation owes its leadership in the advancement of civilisation. The abundance (until now considered as virtual inexhaustibility) of natural resources, the call for capital and men for their development, the rich reward of conquest in the field of industry, may explain, but can hardly excuse, a National attitude which seems to go against the strongest human instinct—one not altogether wanting in lower animal life—that of the preservation of the race. It is an attitude which recalls the question said to have been asked by an Irishman: "What has posterity done for me?" But this was before Conservation was in the air.

I have now told what I came by chance to know about the origin of the Conservation idea. The story of its early growth was no less remarkable than the suddenness of its appearance. In the spring of 1908 matters had advanced so far that the governors of all the States and Territories met to discuss it. Before the Conference broke up they were moved to "declare the conviction that the great prosperity of our country rests upon the abundant resources of the land chosen by our forefathers for their homes," that these resources are "a heritage to be made use of in establishing and promoting the comfort, prosperity, and happiness of the American people, but not to be wasted, deteriorated, or needlessly destroyed; that this material basis is threatened with exhaustion"; that "conservation of our natural resources is a subject of transcendent importance which should engage unremittingly the attention of the Nation, the States, and the people in earnest cooperation"; and that "this cooperation should find expression in suitable action by the Congress and by the legislatures of the several States."

It is, of course, not with Conservation, but with Rural Life, that we are here directly concerned; but it should be borne in mind that the chief of all the nation's resources is the fertility of the soil. More than one competent authority declared at the Conference of Governors that this national asset was the subject of the greatest actual waste, and was at the same time capable of the greatest development and conservation. This interdependence of the two Roosevelt policies—the fact that neither of them can come to fruition without the success of the other—makes those of us who work for rural progress rest our chief hopes upon the newly aroused public opinion in the American Republic.

To my knowledge this view is shared by President Roosevelt, who always regarded his Conservation and Rural Life policies as complementary to each other. The last time I saw him—it was on Christmas Eve, 1908—he dwelt on this aspect of his public work and aims. I remember how he expressed the hope that, when the more striking incidents of his Administration were forgotten, public opinion would look kindly upon his Conservation and Rural Life policies. I ventured upon the confident prediction that he would not be disappointed in this anticipation. Already the authors of the Conservation policy have been rewarded by a general acceptance of the principle for which they stand. The national conscience now demands that the present generation, while enjoying the material blessings with which not only nature but also the labour and sacrifices of their forefathers have so bounteously endowed them, shall have due regard for the welfare of those who are to come after them.

Americans, who are accustomed to rapid developments in public opinion, will hardly appreciate the impression made by the story I have just told upon the mind of an observer from old countries, where action does not tread upon the heels of thought. But surely an amazing thing has happened. In the life of one Administration a great idea seizes the mind of the American people. This leads to a stock-taking of natural resources and a searching of the national conscience. Then, suddenly, there emerges a quite new national policy. Conceived during the last Administration, when it brought Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Bryan on to the same platform, Conservation at once rose above party, and will be the accepted policy of all future Administrations. It has already secured almost Pan-American endorsement at its birthplace in Washington. The fathers of Conservation are now looking forward to a still larger sphere of influence for their offspring at an International Conference which it is hoped to assemble at the Hague.

But it must be admitted that no such reception was accorded to Mr. Roosevelt's other policy, to which our attention must now be turned. The reasons for the comparative lack of interest in the problem of Rural Life are many and complex, but two of them may be noted in passing. Conservation calls for legislative and administrative action, and this always sets up a ferment in the political mind. The Rural Life idea, on the other hand, though it will demand some governmental assistance, must rely mainly upon voluntary effort. The methods necessary for its development, and their probable results, are also less obvious, and thus less easily appreciated by the public. Whatever the reason, while Conservation has rushed into the forefront of public interest and has won the status and dignity of a policy, the sister idea is still struggling for a platform, and its advocates must be content to see their efforts towards a higher and a better country life regarded as a movement.

This estimate of the relative positions of these two ideas in the public mind will, I think, be borne out when we contrast the quiet initiation of the movement with the dramatic debut of the policy. For all the officialism with which it was launched, President Roosevelt's Country Life Commission might as well have been appointed by some wealthy philanthropist who would, at least, have paid its members' travelling expenses,[1] and private initiation might also have spared us the ridicule which greeted the alleged proposal to "uplift" a body of citizens who were told that they were already adorning the heights of American civilisation. The names of the men who volunteered for this unpaid service should have been a sufficient guarantee that theirs was no fool's errand.[2]

How real was the problem the commissioners were investigating was abundantly proved to those who were present when they got into touch with working farmers and their wives, and discussed freely and informally the conditions, human and material, to which the problem of Rural Life relates. I shall refer again to their report. But I may here say I am firmly convinced that a complete change in the whole attitude of public opinion towards the old question of town and country must precede any large practical outcome to the labours of the Commission. It has to be brought home to those who lead public opinion that for many decades we, the English-speaking peoples, have been unconsciously guilty of having gravely neglected one side, and that perhaps the most important side, of Western civilisation.

To sustain this judgment I must now view the sequence of events which led to the subordination of rural to urban interests, and try to estimate its probable consequences. It will be seen that the neglect is comparatively recent, and of English origin. I believe that the New World offers just now a rare opportunity for launching a movement which will be directed to a reconstruction of rural life. It is this belief which has prompted an Irish advocate of rural reform to turn his thoughts away for a brief space from the poorer peasantry of his own country and to take counsel with his fellow-workers in the United States and Canada on a problem which affects them all.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] These, as a matter of fact, were defrayed by the trustees of the Russell Sage Foundation.

[2] The Commission consisted of L. H. Bailey, of the New York State College of Agriculture at Cornell University (chairman); Henry Wallace, editor of Wallace's Farmer, Des Moines, Iowa; Kenyon L. Butterfield, President of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, Amherst, Massachusetts; Walter H. Page, editor of The World's Work, New York City; Gifford Pinchot, United States Forester, and Chairman of the National Conservation Commission; C. S. Barrett, President of the Farmers' Co-operative and Educational Union of America, Union City, Georgia; W. A. Beard, of the Great West Magazine, Sacramento, California.



CHAPTER III

THE ORIGIN AND CONSEQUENCES OF RURAL NEGLECT

The most radical economic change which history records set in during the last half of the eighteenth century in England, as the result of that remarkable achievement of modern civilisation, the Industrial Revolution. Mechanical inventions changed all industry, setting up the factories of the town instead of the scattered home production of the country and its villages. In the wake of the new inventions economic science stepped in, and, scrupulously obeying its own law of demand and supply, told the then predominant middle classes just what they wished to be told. Adam Smith had made the wonderful discovery that money and wealth were not the same thing. Then Ricardo, and after him the Manchester School of economists, made division of labour the cardinal virtue in the new gospel of wealth. In order to give full play to this economic principle all workers in mechanical industries were huddled together in the towns. There they were to be transformed from capricious, undisciplined humans into mechanical attachments, and restricted to such functions as steam-driven automata had not yet learned to perform. That was the first stage of the Industrial Revolution, with its chief consequences, the rural exodus and urban overcrowding. It is a hideous nightmare to look back upon from these more enlightened days. Well might the angels weep over the flight of all that was best from the God-made country to the man-made town.

Before the middle of the last century the clouds began to lift. For a while the good Lord Shaftesbury seemed to be crying in the wilderness of middle-class plutocracy, but it was not long before the crying of the children in their factories stirred the national conscience. The health of nations was allowed to be considered as well as their wealth. Social and political science rose up in protest against both the economists and the manufacturers. There followed a period of beneficent social changes, no less radical than those which the new mechanical inventions had produced in the economics of industry. The factory town of to-day presents a strange contrast to that which sacrificed humanity to material aggrandisement. What with its shortened hours of labour, superior artisan dwellings, improved sanitation, parks, open spaces and playgrounds, free instruction and cheap entertainment for old and young, hospitals and charities, rapid transportation, a popular Press, and full political freedom, the modern hive of industry stands as a monument of what, under liberal laws, can be done by education and organisation to realise the higher aspirations of a people.

During this second period, another economic development produced upon the attitude of the urban mind towards the rural population an effect to which, I think, has not been given the consideration it deserves. Better and cheaper transportation, with the consequent establishment of what the economists call the world-market, completely changed the relationship between the townsman and the farmer. A sketch of their former mutual relations will make my meaning clear. Within the last century every town relied largely for its food supply on the produce of the fields around its walls. The countrymen coming into the weekly market were the chief customers for the wares of the town craftsmen. In this primitive state of trade, townsmen could not but realise the importance to themselves of a prosperous country population around them. But this simple exchange, as we all know, has developed into the complex commercial operations of modern times. To-day most large towns derive their household stuff from the food-growing tracts of the whole world, and I doubt whether any are dependent on the neighbouring farmers, or feel themselves specially concerned for their welfare. I do not think the general truth of this picture will be questioned, and I hope some consideration may be given to the conclusions I now draw.

In the transition we are considering, the reciprocity between the producers of food and the raw material of clothes on the one hand, and manufacturers and general traders of the towns on the other, has not ceased; it has actually increased since the days of steam and electricity. But it has become national, and even international, rather than local. Town consumers are still dependent upon agricultural producers, who, in turn, are much larger consumers than formerly of all kinds of commodities made in towns. Forty-two per cent of materials used in manufacture in the United States are from the farm, which also contributes seventy per cent of the country's exports. But in the complexity of these trade developments townsmen have been cut off more and more from personal contact with the country, and in this way have lost their sense of its importance. My point is that the shifting of the trade relationship of town and country from its former local to its present national and international basis in reality increases their interdependence. And I hold most strongly that until in this matter the obligations of a common citizenship are realised by the town, we cannot hope for any lasting National progress.

Whatever be the causes which have begotten the neglect of rural life, no one will gainsay the wisdom of estimating the consequences. These are economic, social, and political; and I will discuss them briefly under these heads. There are three main economic reasons which suggest a closer study of rural conditions. First, there is the interdependence of town and country, less obvious than it was in the days of the local market, but no less real. Any fall in the number, or decline in the efficiency, of the farming community, will be accompanied by a corresponding fall in the country sale of town products. This is especially true of America, where the foreign commerce is unimportant in comparison with internal trade. To nourish country life is the best way to help home trade. And quite as important as these considerations is the effect which good or bad farming must have upon the cost of living to the whole population. Excessive middle profits between producer and consumer may largely account for the very serious rise in the price of staple articles of food. This is a fact of the utmost significance, but, as I shall show later, the remedy for too high a cost of production and distribution lies with the farmer, the improvement of whose business methods will be seen to be the chief factor in the reform which the Rural Life movement must attempt to introduce.

The essential dependence of nations on agriculture is the second economic consideration. The author of "The Return to the Land," Senator Jules Meline (successively Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Commerce and Premier of France), tells us that this remarkable book is "merely an expansion of a profound thought uttered long ago by a Chinese philosopher: 'The well-being of a people is like a tree; agriculture is its root, manufacture and commerce are its branches and its life; if the root is injured the leaves fall, the branches break away and the tree dies.'"

This truth is not hard to apply to the conditions of to-day. The income of every country depends on its natural resources, and on the skill and energy of its inhabitants; and the quickest way to increase the income is to concentrate on the production of those articles for which there is the greatest demand throughout the commercial world. The relentless application of this principle has been characteristic of the nineteenth century. But the augmentation of income has in one special way been purchased by a diminution of capital. The industrial movement has been based on an immense expenditure of coal and iron; and in America and Great Britain the coal and iron which can be cheaply obtained are within measurable distance of exhaustion. As these supplies diminish, the industrial leadership of America and Great Britain must disappear, unless they can employ their activities in other forms of industry. Those, therefore, who desire that the English-speaking countries should maintain for many ages that high position which they now occupy, should do all in their power to encourage a proper system of agriculture—the one industry in which the fullest use can be made of natural resources without diminishing the inheritance of future generations—the industry "about which," Mr. James J. Hill emphatically declares, "all others revolve, and by which future America shall stand or fall."

The third economic reason will hardly be disputed. Agricultural prosperity is an important factor in financial stability. The fluctuations of commerce depend largely on the good and bad harvests of the world, but, as they do not coincide with them in time, their violence is, on the whole, likely to be less in a nation where agricultural and manufacturing interests balance each other, than in one depending mainly or entirely on either. The small savings of numerous farmers, amounting in the aggregate to very large sums, are a powerful means of steadying the money market; they are not liable to the vicissitudes nor attracted by the temptations which affect the larger investors. They remain a permanent national resource, which, as the experience of France proves, may be confidently drawn upon in time of need. I have often thought that, were it not for the thrift and industry of the French peasantry, financial crises would be as frequent in France as political upheavals.

As regards the social aspect of rural neglect, I suggest that the city may be more seriously concerned than is generally imagined for the well-being of the country. One cannot but admire the civic pride with which Americans contemplate their great centres of industry and commerce, where, owing to the many and varied improvements, the townsman of the future is expected to unite the physical health and longevity of the Boeotian with the mental superiority of the Athenian. But we may ask whether this somewhat optimistic forecast does not ignore one important question. Has it been sufficiently considered how far the moral and physical health of the modern city depends upon the constant influx of fresh blood from the country, which has ever been the source from which the town draws its best citizenship? You cannot keep on indefinitely skimming the pan and have equally good milk left. In America the drain may continue a while longer without the inevitable consequences becoming plainly visible. But sooner or later, if the balance of trade in this human traffic be not adjusted, the raw material out of which urban society is made will be seriously deteriorated, and the symptoms of National degeneracy will be properly charged against those who neglected to foresee the evil and treat the cause. It is enough for my present purpose if it be admitted that the people of every state are largely bred in rural districts, and that the physical and moral well-being of these districts must eventually influence the quality of the whole people.

I come now to the political considerations which, I think, have not been sufficiently taken into account. In most countries political life depends largely for its steadiness and sanity upon a strong infusion of rural opinion into the counsels of the nation. It is a truism that democracy requires for success a higher level of intelligence and character in the mass of the people than other forms of government. But intelligence alone is not enough for the citizen of a democracy; he must have experience as well, and the experience of a townsman is essentially imperfect. He has generally a wider theoretical knowledge than the rustic of the main processes by which the community lives; but the rustic's practical knowledge of the more fundamental of them is wider than the townsman's. He knows actually and in detail how corn is grown and how beasts are bred, whereas the town artisan hardly knows how the whole of any one article of commerce is made. The townsman sees and takes part in the wonderful achievements of industrial science without any full understanding of its methods or of the relative importance and the interaction of the forces engaged. To this one-sided experience may be attributed in some measure that disregard of inconvenient facts, and that impatience of the limits of practicability, which many observers note as a characteristic defect of popular government.

However that may be, there is one symptom in modern politics of which the gravity is generally acknowledged, while its special connection with the towns is an easily ascertainable fact; I mean the growth of the cruder forms of Socialism. The town artisan or labourer, who sees displayed before him vast masses of property in which he has no share, and contrasts the smallness of his remuneration with the immense results of his labour, is easily attracted to remedies worse than the disease. A fuller and more exact understanding of the means by which the wealth of the community is created is, for the townsman, the best antidote to mischievous agitation so far as it is not merely the result of poverty. But the countryman, especially the proprietor of a piece of land, however small, is protected from this infection. The atmosphere in which Socialism of the predatory kind can grow up does not exist among a prosperous farming community—perhaps because in the country the question of the divorce of the worker from his raw material by capitalism does not arise. The farm furnishes the raw material of the farmer; yet he cannot be said to spend his life creating the alleged "surplus value" of Marxian doctrine. For these reasons I suggest that the orderly and safe progress of democracy demands a strong agricultural population. It is as true now as when Aristotle said it that "where husbandmen and men of small fortune predominate government will be guided by law."

I have now shown that for every reason the interests of the rural population ought no longer to be subordinated to those of the city. That such has been the tendency in English-speaking countries will hardly be questioned. In Great Britain the rural exodus has gone on with a vengeance. The last census (1901) showed that seventy-seven per cent of the population was urban, and only twenty-three per cent rural. A few years ago there were derelict farms within easy walk of the outskirts of London. In Ireland the rural exodus took the form of emigration, mainly to American cities, and this has been the chief factor in the reduction of the population in sixty years from more than eight millions to a trifle above four. But it may be thought that in the United States no similar tendency is in operation. Certainly those who admit the townward drift of country life may fairly say that it does not present so urgent a problem in the New World as in parts of the Old. Even granting that this is so, the fact remains that the town population of America is seriously outgrowing the rural population; for, while the towns are growing hugely, the country stands still. Moreover, we must not forget that, Australia apart, America is even still the most underpopulated part of the globe. We are accustomed to think Ireland underpopulated, owing to emigration, yet even to-day the scale of population is almost six times greater than that of the United States. If the Union were peopled as thickly as Ireland even still is, the population would be nearly five hundred millions. There is still a vast deal of filling-up to be done in America, mostly in the rural parts.

But the main consideration I wish to emphasise throughout is that the problem under review is moral and social far more than economic, human rather than material. This is the natural view of an Irish worker, who knows that the solution of his problem depends upon the possibility of endowing country life with such social improvements as will provide an effective compensation for a necessarily modest standard of comfort. But the citizens of the United States may be pardoned for being physiocrats. The statistical proof, annually furnished, of the growing agricultural wealth, is apt to obscure other essentials of progress. The astronomical proportions of the figures stagger the imagination, and engender the kind of pride a man feels when he is first told the number of red corpuscles luxuriating in his blood. How can there be agricultural depression in a country whose farm lands Secretary Wilson, in his notable Annual Report for 1905, declared to have increased in value over a period of five years at the astounding rate of $3,400,000 per day? Yet to the deeper insight, the same moral influence through which we in Ireland are seeking to combat the evils of material poverty may in the United States be needed as a moral corrective to a too rapidly growing material prosperity. The patriotic American, who thinks of the life of the Nation rather than of the individual, will, if he looks beneath the surface, discern in this God-prospered country symptoms of rural decadence fraught with danger to National efficiency.

The reckless sacrifice of agricultural interests by the legislators of the towns is condemned by the verdict of history. We need not now fear that invading hordes of hardy barbarians will mar the destiny of the great Western Republic, as they ended the career of the Roman Empire. There are, however, other clouds upon the horizon. Only a few years ago, the American people could well treat with contempt the bogy of the Yellow Peril. With a transformation unprecedented in history, the situation has been changed. Japan is already devoting to the arts of peace qualities but yesterday displayed in war, to the amazement of the Western world. In another Eastern empire there are vast resources—especially coal and iron in juxtaposition—awaiting only industrial leadership to utilise a practically limitless labour supply for their development. These are facts worthy of consideration for their potential bearing upon the industrial and commercial standing of the United States.

To the onlooker, it does seem a happy circumstance that there has just been, for seven critical years, at the head of American affairs the strenuous advocate of the strenuous life. I read through his Messages the warning that in the struggle for preeminence the ultimate victory will lie with those nations who found their prosperity on the high physical and ethical condition of the people. That is the oldest, as it is the latest, wisdom of the East. It is in this spirit that the neglected problem of Rural Life should now be given some share of the attention hitherto devoted to the life of the towns.



CHAPTER IV

THE INNER LIFE OF THE AMERICAN FARMER

I recently asked a German economist if he could tell me the best books to read upon the problem of rural life in Germany. His reply was: "There are no books, because there is no problem." It is generally true, no doubt, that the Rural Life problem, in so far as it consists in the subordination of the country to the town, is peculiar to the English-speaking countries, where it seems to be mainly attributable to three causes. The chief of these was no doubt the Industrial Revolution in England, of which enough has already been said. Secondly, in the United States and in some portions of the British Empire, the opening up of vast tracts of virgin soil led not unnaturally to the postponement of social development until the pioneer farmers had settled down to the new life. The third cause was immunity from the danger of foreign invasion, which eliminated the military reasons for maintaining a numerous, virile, and progressive rural population.

There are many in England who regret that it should have been forgotten how the English owed their commercial supremacy to the fighting qualities of the old yeoman class. In the United States it should be remembered that nowadays peace strength is quite as important as war strength, and it may be questioned whether there can be any sustained industrial efficiency where the great body of workers who conduct the chief—the only absolutely necessary—industry are wasting the resources at their command by bad husbandry. We may, however, concede that the neglect of rural life is much easier to explain and excuse in the United States than in the older English-speaking countries. Quite apart from the abundance of agricultural resources which the American farmers enjoy, it might well be thought that the rural communities are keeping pace with the progress of urban civilisation. The citizens who now occupy the farm lands of the United States have been largely drawn from the pick of the European peasantries. In the days of their coming, it took courage and enterprise to face the now almost forgotten terrors of the Atlantic Ocean. These immigrants, and the migrants from the Eastern States, have profited enormously by their change of residence. Their material well-being has already been admitted, and, with rare exceptions, they have displayed no overt symptoms of agrarian discontent.

It must not, however, be imagined that the apparent apathy of American farmers is due to contentment. Like others of their calling, they keep a full stock of grievances in their mental stores. They have very definite opinions as to what is wrong, but to these opinions no formal expression is given. They vaguely feel that they would like to remould "the sorry scheme of things entire," but they lack the public spirit which is required before concerted action can be taken successfully. The Country Life Commission held a series of conferences throughout the United States, which brought them into the closest touch with every type of American farm life. They received written replies from some 125,000 rural folk to whom they had sent a circular with a dozen questions covering the essential heads of inquiry. The Commissioners say in their report: "We have found by the testimony, not only of the farmers themselves, but of all persons in touch with farm life, more or less serious unrest in every part of the United States, even in the most prosperous regions."

The truth is that, while judged by the standard of living of European peasantries, the farmers of the United States are prosperous, in comparison with the other citizens of the most progressive country in the world they are not well-off. Their accumulation of material wealth is unnaturally and unnecessarily restricted; their social life is barren; their political influence is relatively small. American farmers have been used by politicians, but have still to learn how to use them. This may be due to the fact that my countrymen elected to devote their genius for organisation to the problems of city government. And in the sphere of private action they are, as will be seen when I discuss the need for a reorganisation of their business, even less effective than in public affairs.

It will be conceded that any hopeful plan to put things right will have to rely upon the organised efforts of those immediately concerned. Both in the sphere of governmental action, and in the vastly more important field of voluntary effort, the moving force will have to be public opinion. But the thought of the farming communities has long ago joined the rural exodus; and before the country life idea can find expression in an effective country life movement, those who are thinking out the problem will have to commend their arguments to the thought of the towns. Therefore I address these pages, not to farmers only, but to the general reader—who, I may observe, does not generally read if he happens to live in the open country.

In the course of my own studies of American rural life I have found it convenient to divide the United States into four sections, each of them more or less homogeneous. As this method of treatment may help my readers, I will give them a look at my map of American rural life. The four sections may be called the North Eastern, the Middle Western, the Southern, and the Far Western. The division has no pretensions to be scientific; the boundaries can be adjusted to fit in with the experience of each reader.

In my North Eastern section I include the New England States, New York, New Jersey, and most of Pennsylvania. This is a section where manufacturing communities have long been established, where migration from country to town has been most marked, and where the competition of the newly settled Western farm lands has been followed by effects upon agricultural society very similar to those produced by the same causes in many a rural community on the Continent of Europe. Second comes the Middle Western section, consisting mainly of the Mississippi Valley, with its vast area of high average fertility, the greatest food-producing tract on the continent. Third, I place the Southern section, where the governing factors in rural economy are the climate, the numerical strength of the colored population, the two staple industrial crops—cotton and tobacco—the comparatively recent abolition of slavery, and the long-drawn-out effects of the Civil War. My fourth division, the Far Western section, includes the ranching lands of the arid belt with their irrigation oases, and the fruit-growing and farming lands of the Pacific Coast.

As we are discussing the problem chiefly in its human aspect, which affects alike communities wealthy and impoverished, large and small, old-settled and newly established, it will not matter essentially where we first direct our attention for the purpose of illustration. But if, as I hold, nothing less than a reconstruction of rural civilisation is called for, our inquiries will be more profitably directed to those sections where agricultural society is permanently established, or where the rural population might abandon the migratory habit if the conditions were more favorable to an advanced civilisation. At the present stage I feel that the whole subject can be most profitably discussed in its application to the Middle Western and the Southern sections. Here the intimate relationship of the Conservation and the Country Life ideas is best illustrated. Here, too, we get into touch with the problem at its two extremes of prosperity and poverty, each in its own way retarding the progress of rural civilisation. In both sections the conditions are typical, and distinctively American.

Let us then consider first the general course of rural civilisation in the great food-producing tract of the Middle West. I have in my mind the portion I know best, the last-settled part of the corn belt. Thirty years ago I saw something of the newcomers who settled in this section, where there was still much raw land. These settlers, knowing that the land must rise rapidly in value, almost invariably purchased much larger farms than they could handle. They often sank their available working capital in making the first payments for their land, and went heavily into debt for the balance. They became "land poor," and, in order to meet the instalments of purchase and the high interest on their mortgages, they invented a system of farming unprecedented in its wastefulness. The farm was treated as a mine, or, to use Mr. James J. Hill's metaphor, as a bank where the depositors are always taking out more than they put in. A corn crop, year after year, without rotation or fertilisers, satisfied the new conception of husbandry—the easiest and least costly extraction of the wealth in the soil. Land, labour, capital, and ability I had been taught to regard as the essentials of production; but here capital was reduced to the minimum, and ability left to nature. Many of the young men who took Horace Greeley's advice and went West knew nothing about farming. I remember writing home that I was in a country where the rolling stone gathered most moss. Possibly the method adopted was the quickest way to get rich; living on capital is all right provided somebody will replace the squandered resources. While there were ample unoccupied lands, Uncle Sam looked kindly upon these enterprising pioneers. It was only in the second Roosevelt Administration that it dawned upon the national conscience that the nation had some claim to be considered as well as the individual. Of course all this is changed now; although I am not sure that western Canada is not being educated in soil exhaustion by some of these extemporised husbandmen whose habits and temperament lead them to seek "fresh fields and pastures new." "We are not out here for our health," was the reply I got when I showed that my old-fashioned economic sense was shocked by this substitution of land speculation for farming.

I am aware that this very uneconomic procedure is capable of some plausible explanations. The opening up of the vast new territory by the provision of local traffic for transcontinental lines was an object of national urgency and importance. Nevertheless, I think it must now be regretted that a little more thought was not given to the general problem of rural economy, of which transit is but one factor. This may be that irritating kind of wisdom which comes after the event, but I cannot help regarding the policy of rewarding railroad enterprises with unconditional grants of vast areas of agricultural land as one of the many evidences of the urban domination over rural affairs.

Of the earlier settled portions of this section I cannot speak from personal knowledge. But a recent magazine article,[3] "The Agrarian Revolution in the Middle West," follows closely the line of my own thoughts. In this article Mr. Joseph B. Ross, of Lafayette, Indiana, who is making a special study of the evolution of American rural life, considers it in three periods: from 1800 to 1835, from 1835 to 1890, and from 1890 to the present time. In the middle period he shows how the most progressive families raised their standard of living steadily with the growing prosperity of the country. They built themselves stately homes with substantial barns. The farmer was developing into a citizen with the solid virtues, the virile independence, the strong political opinions, religious interest, and social instincts which characterised the English yeoman of the preceding century. The social life which these communities built up, as soon as their economic position was assured, was a reflection of the best English traditions—it centred round the churches and the Sunday-school. There was a growing distribution of literature as well as organisation for intellectual, educational and social purposes. Mr. Ross notes the winter excursions to Florida and California, the adornment of the homes, and many other evidences of a social progress developing a character of its own. During this period there was a migration from the country homes to the cities; but it was only the natural outflow of the surplus members of the rural families into the professional and business life of the growing centres of commerce and industry.

In the period through which we are now passing a transformation is taking place. The rural exodus is no longer that of individuals, but of whole families. The farms thus vacated are let to tenants, generally on a three years' lease, at a competition rent. The Country Life Commission says that this tendency to move to the cities "is not peculiar to any region. In difficult farming regions, and where the competition with other farming sections is most severe, the young people may go to town to better their condition. In the best regions the older people retire to town because it is socially more attractive, and they see a prospect of living in comparative ease and comfort on the rental of their lands. Nearly everywhere there is a townward movement for the purpose of securing school advantages for the children. All this tends to sterilize the open country and to lower its social status." The Commission points out that the new addition of what is likely to be a stationary element, whose economic interests lie elsewhere, to the citizenship of the town, may create there a new social problem, while the tenant in the country will not have that interest in building up rural society which might be expected in the owners of land. Mr. Ross's studies lead him very definitely to the same conclusion. Churches and educational institutions, he tells us, are being starved, and rural society is fast reverting to the type which was prevalent from thirty to fifty years ago. But there is one great difference between then and now. Then, rural civilisation was passing through a stage of marked social advancement which was common throughout the country; now, there are distinct indications of social degeneration, which Mr. Ross regards as the inevitable consequence of the new landlord and tenant system. Many members of these communities must have left the Old World to escape from the selfsame conditions which they are reproducing in the New.

Rural society in the Middle West, as it presents itself to the observer whose authority I have cited, is obviously in a transitional stage. The lack of farm labourers, which is the common subject of complaint by farmers in all parts of the United States, cannot fail to be aggravated by the change in the conditions of tenancy just noted. The man whose chief concern is to get the most out of the land, at the least expense, in two or three years, will not treat his labourers so well—nor the land so well—as will the man who means to spend his life on the farm; and therefore the labourers will not stay. This scarcity of labour may be met to some extent by an increased use of machinery; but it is more likely to lead to poorer cultivation, which means the depopulation of agricultural districts. England and Ireland furnish too many examples of the rural decay immortalised in Goldsmith's "Deserted Village." It would be strange and sad if the experience were to be repeated on the richest soil of America.

In the Southern section we find a wastefulness similar to that in the corn belt, but due to wholly different causes. The communities are old-settled, but in many instances they are still abnormally depressed by the terrible effects of the great war, followed by a period of social and economic stagnation. Here there was little but agriculture for the people to rely upon, and their methods have, until recent years, been very backward. The growing of the same crops year after year upon the same fields, the neglect of precaution against the washing away of the soil surface, and the failure to use fertilisers, have made the profits of tillage disappointingly small. Billions of dollars have been lost by these communities through persistent soil exhaustion and erosion. In the last few years the Federal Department of Agriculture has maintained a most efficient staff of agricultural experts under the direction of Dr. Knapp, one of the ablest organisers of farm improvement I have ever met. The General Education Board, who administer large sums provided by Mr. Rockefeller, recognising the educational value of Dr. Knapp's operations, are contributing about one hundred thousand dollars a year to his work. Dr. Knapp and his field agents have no difficulty at all in demonstrating that the yield may be doubled, and the cost of production greatly reduced, merely by the application of the most elementary science to agriculture. I heard him tell of a farmer whom he had induced to allow his boy—still attending school—to cultivate one acre under his instructions. In the result the boy quadrupled the number of bushels of corn to the acre that his father, following the traditional methods, was able to raise. It would be easy to multiply such instances of thriftlessness and neglected opportunity, of poverty within easy reach of abundance, which have brought it about that the future of the nation is actually endangered by the failure of the food supply to keep pace with the increase of its still relatively sparse population.

The Southern section furnishes two illustrations of long-standing neglect, both well worthy of consideration for their pregnant suggestiveness. The Federal Department of Agriculture recently scored a notable success in dealing with an insect pest which was threatening the cotton-growing industry with economic ruin. The boll-weevil, like the legal and medical professions, thrives upon the follies of humanity. It attacks the cotton plants which have been weakened by bad husbandry. The scientists did not succeed in finding in the commonwealth of bugs the natural enemy of the pest they were after, but Dr. Knapp, with the wisdom which prefers prevention to cure, seized the opportunity of teaching cotton-growers to diversify their cultivation. The consequence was that the cotton crop itself is gradually responding to the treatment. Many other crops are adding their quota to the produce of the Southern farms, and an all-round improvement, moral as well as material, is accompanying the educational discipline through which this reformer is putting the communities with whom and for whom he is working.

There is another pest in the South which does not attack the farm crops, but goes straight for the farmer. If the Country Life Commission had done nothing more, they would have justified their appointment by the attention they called to the ravages of the hookworm, which have, no one knows how long, scourged the poor white communities in the Southern States. The effect of the disease set up by the hookworm, which infests the intestines, is a complete sapping of all energy, mental and physical. Mr. Rockefeller has provided a million dollars for the necessary research work and for such subsequent organisation of sanitary effort as may be required to extirpate this unquestionably preventable evil. I wonder how long such a state of affairs would have been permitted to interfere with the health and to paralyse the industry of urban communities. Had the hookworm, instead of lurking in country lanes, walked the streets, how would it have fared?

These two pests furnish a fine illustration of the length to which the neglect of rural life has been allowed to go in the Southern States.

Neither the Eastern nor the Far Western section presents aspects of special interest to the foreign student of the Rural problem in the United States, but in both the constructive statesman and the social worker will find a rich field for their efforts. In the New England States—more especially in the manufacturing districts—the competition between town and country for labour is as marked as in Industrial England. In this section, however, the lure of the city has a rival in the call of the West, which still makes its appeal to the farmer's boy. Secretary Wilson has recently given it as his opinion that land-seekers who pass by the farms now offered for sale in the western portions of New York State often go further and fare worse. In these relatively low-priced lands, it ought not to be difficult for agricultural communities to establish permanently a rural society worthy of American ideas of progress. But to do this is to solve the problem we are discussing. We have some other aspects of that problem to consider before we can agree upon the essentials of a philosophic and comprehensive scheme for the rehabilitation of rural life—before we can lay down the lines of a movement to give effect to our plan.

The Far Western section has hardly yet emerged from the frontier-pioneer stage, and its rural problem is still below the horizon. I may, however, note in passing a few evidences that the people of this section have already shown a very real concern for rural progress. The fruit-growers of the Pacific Coast have, in the cooperative marketing of their produce, made an excellent beginning in a matter of first importance in any scheme of rural development. On irrigation farm lands there has been developed, in connection with the upkeep and control of the water systems, a community spirit which will surely lead to many forms of organisation for mutual economic and social advantage. In the city of Spokane, Washington, the Chamber of Commerce has aroused a public interest in the work of the Country Life Commission which, so far as my information goes, has not been equalled elsewhere in the United States. The Chamber is republishing the Report of the Commission, for which no Federal appropriation appears to have been made. It would seem to be a not wild speculation that the statesmen and social workers who will first solve the rural problem of the English-speaking peoples may be found in the Far West of the New World as well as of the Old.

I must now conclude the diagnosis of rural decadence by a consideration of what in my judgment is the chief cause of the malady, and so get to a point where we can determine the nature of the remedy. It will then remain only to sketch the outlines of the movement which is to give practical effect to the agreed principles in the life of rural communities.

FOOTNOTE:

[3] North American Review, September, 1909.



CHAPTER V

THE WEAK SPOT IN AMERICAN RURAL ECONOMY

The evidence of competent American witnesses proves that there is, in the United States, notwithstanding its immense agricultural wealth, a Rural Life problem. Here, as elsewhere, on a fuller analysis, the utmost variety of race, soil, climate and market facilities serve but to emphasise the importance of the human factor. But this consideration does not lessen the need for a sternly practical treatment of the rural social economy under review. In this chapter, I propose to go right down to the roots of the rural problem, find what is wrong with the industry by which the country people live, and see how it can be righted. We should then have clearly in our minds the essentials of prosperity in a rural community.

Agriculture, the basis of a rural existence, must be regarded as a science, as a business and as a life. I have already adverted to President Roosevelt's formula for solving the rural problem—"better farming, better business, better living." Better farming simply means the application of modern science to the practice of agriculture. Better business is the no less necessary application of modern commercial methods to the business side of the farming industry. Better living is the building up, in rural communities, of a domestic and social life which will withstand the growing attractions of the modern city.

This threefold scheme of reform covers the whole ground and will become the basis of the Country Life movement to be suggested later. But in the working out of the general scheme, there must be one important change in the order of procedure—'better business' must come first. The dull commercial details of agriculture have been sadly neglected, perhaps on account of the more human interest of the scientific and social aspects of country life. Yet my own experience in working at the rural problem in Ireland has convinced me that our first step towards its solution is to be found in a better organisation of the farmer's business. It is strange but true that the level of efficiency reached in many European countries was due to American competition, which in the last half of the nineteenth century forced Continental farmers to reorganise their industry alike in production, in distribution and in its finance. Both Irish experience and Continental study have convinced me that neither good husbandry nor a worthy social life can be ensured unless accompanied by intelligent and efficient business methods. We must, therefore, examine somewhat critically the agricultural system of the American farmer, and see wherein its weakness lies.

The superiority of the business methods of the town to those of the country is obvious, but I do not think the precise nature of that superiority is generally understood. What strikes the eye is the material apparatus of business,—the street cars, the advertisements, the exchange, the telephone, the typewriter; all these form an impressive contrast with the slow, simple life of the farmer, who very likely scratches his accounts on a shingle or keeps them in his head. But most of this city apparatus is due merely to the necessity of swift movement in the concentrated process of exchange and distribution. Such swiftness is neither necessary nor possible in the process of isolated production. But there is an economic law, applicable alike to rural and to urban pursuits, which is being more and more fully recognised and obeyed by the farmers of most European countries, including Ireland, but which has been too little heeded by the farmers of the United States and Great Britain. Under modern economic conditions, things must be done in a large way if they are to be done profitably; and this necessitates a resort to combination.

The advantage which combination gives to the town over the country was recognised long before the recent economic changes forced men to combine. In the old towns of Europe all trades began as strict and exclusive corporations. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries new scientific and economic forces broke up these combinations, which were far too narrow for the growing volume of industrial activity, and an epoch of competition began. The great towns of America opened their business career during this epoch, and have brought the arts of competition to a higher perfection than exists in Europe. But it has always been known that competition did not exclude combination against the consumer; and it is now beginning to be perceived that the fiercer the competition, the more surely does it lead in the end to such combination.

A trade combination has three principal objects: it aims, first, at improving what I may call the internal business methods of the trade itself by eliminating the waste due to competition, by economising staff, plant, etc., and by the ready circulation of intelligence, and in other ways. In the second place, it aims at strengthening the trade against outside interests. These may be of various kinds; but in the typical case we are considering, namely, the combination of great middlemen who control exchange and distribution, the outside interests are those of the producer on one side and the consumer on the other; and the trade combination, by its organised unity of action, succeeds in lowering the prices it pays to the unorganised producer and in raising the prices it charges to the unorganised consumer. In the third place, the trade combination seeks to favour its own interests in their relation to other interests through political control—control not so much of the machinery of politics as of its products, legislation and administration. I am not now arguing the question whether or how far this action on the part of trade combinations is morally justifiable. My point is simply that the towns have flourished at the expense of the country by the use of these methods, and that the countryman must adopt them if he is to get his own again. Moreover, as organisation tends to increase the volume and lower the cost of agricultural production and to make possible large transactions between organised communities of farmers and the trade, it will be seen that the organised combination of farmers will simplify the whole commerce of those countries where it is adopted, and thus benefit alike the farmer and the trader.

This truth will be easily realised if we consider for a moment the system of distribution which the food demand of the modern market has evolved. Agricultural produce finds its chief market in the great cities. Their populations must have their food so sent in that it can be rapidly distributed; and this requires that the consignments must be delivered regularly, in large quantities, and of such uniform quality that a sample will give a correct indication of the whole. These three conditions are essential to rapid distribution, but their fulfilment is not within the power of isolated farmers, however large their operations. It is an open question whether farmers should themselves undertake the distribution of their produce through agencies of their own, thus saving the wholesale and possibly the retail profits. But unquestionably they should be so well organised at home that they can take this course if they are unfairly treated by organised middlemen. The Danish farmers, whose highly organised system of distribution has made them the chief competitors of the Irish farmers, have established (with Government assistance which their organisation enabled them to secure) very efficient machinery for distributing their butter, bacon and eggs in the British markets. Other European farming communities are becoming equally well organised, and similarly control the marketing of their produce. But where, as in America and the United Kingdom, the town dominates the country, and the machinery of distribution is owned by the business men of the towns, it is worked by them in their own interests. They naturally take from the unorganised producers as well as from the unorganised consumers the full business value of the service they render. With the growing cost of living, this has become a matter of urgent importance to the towns. In the cheaper-food campaign which began in the late fall of 1909, voices are heard calling the farmers to account for their uneconomical methods, while here and there organisations of consumers are endeavouring to solve the problem to their own satisfaction by acquiring land and raising upon it the produce which they require.

In the face of such facts it is not easy to account for the backwardness of American and British farmers in the obviously important matter of organisation. The farmer, we know, is everywhere the most conservative and individualistic of human beings. He dislikes change in his methods, and he venerates those which have come down to him from his fathers' fathers. Whatever else he may waste, these traditions he conserves. He does not wish to interfere with anybody else's business, and he is fixedly determined that others shall not interfere with his. These estimable qualities make agricultural organisation more difficult in Anglo-Saxon communities than in those where clan or tribal instincts seem to survive.[4]

Now it is fair to the farmer to admit that his calling does not lend itself readily to associative action. He lives apart; most of his time is spent in the open air, and in the evening of the working day physical repose is more congenial to him than mental activity. But when all this is said, we have not a complete explanation of the fact that, by failing to combine, American and British farmers, persistently disobey an accepted law, and refuse to follow the almost universal practice of modern business. I believe the true explanation to be one that has somehow escaped the notice of the agricultural economist. Those who accept it will feel that they have found the weak spot in American farming, and that the remedy is neither obscure nor difficult to apply.

The form of combination which the towns have invented for industrial and commercial purposes is the Joint Stock Company. Here a number of persons contribute their capital to a common fund and entrust the direction to a single head or committee, taking no further part in the business except to change the management if the undertaking does not yield a satisfactory dividend. Our urban way of looking at things has made us assume that this city system must be suitable to rural conditions. The contrary is the fact. When farmers combine, it is a combination not of money only, but of personal effort in relation to the entire business. In a cooperative creamery, for example, the chief contribution of a shareholder is in milk; in a cooperative elevator, corn; in other cases it may be fruit or vegetables, or a variety of material things rather than cash. But it is, most of all, a combination of neighbours within an area small enough to allow of all the members meeting frequently at the business centre. As the system develops, the local associations are federated for larger business transactions, but these are governed by delegates carefully chosen by the members of the constituent bodies.

The object of such associations is, primarily, not to declare a dividend, but rather to improve the conditions of the industry for the members. After an agreed interest has been paid upon the shares, the net profits are divided between the participants in the undertaking, to each in proportion as he has contributed to them through the business he has done with the institution. And the same idea is applied to the control of the management. It is recognised that the poor man's cooperation is as important as the rich man's subscription. 'One man, one vote,' is the almost universal principle in cooperative bodies.[5]

The distinction between the capitalistic basis of joint stock organisation and the more human character of the cooperative system is fundamentally important. It is recognised by law in England, where the cooperative trading societies are organised under The Industrial and Provident Societies' Act, and the cooperative credit associations under The Friendly Societies' Act. In the United States (I am told by friends in the legal profession), the Articles of Association of an ordinary limited liability company can be so drafted as to meet all the requirements I have named. Most countries have enacted laws specially devised to meet the requirements of cooperative societies. However it is done, the essential of success in agricultural cooperation is that the terms and conditions upon which it is based shall be accepted by all concerned as being equitable in the distribution of profits, risks and control. It then becomes the interest of every member to give his whole-hearted support and aid to the common undertaking. To accomplish this, it is necessary to explain and secure the acceptance of a constitution and procedure carefully thought out to suit each case. It will be readily believed that associations of farmers which will meet these conditions are not likely to be spontaneously generated; hence the necessity for a plan and for the machinery to carry it through.

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