Clement M. Hammond, “Then and Now” (1884)

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XIII.

OVER-PRODUCTION AND UNDER-CONSUMPTION.

Boston, February 28, 2085.

My Dear Louise:

I think that the following conversation between Mr. De Demain and myself may give you an idea of one very important change that Anarchy has wrought.

Said he: “A few weeks ago I was looking over an old scrap-book containing newspaper clippings, which nave been handed down in my family for two hundred years. I chanced, in turning the leaves, to notice an editorial clipped from a paper called the ‘New York Tribune’ according to a foot note made in ink by my great-great-great, etc., grandfather. The editorial was entitled ‘A Change of Phrase.’

“I suppose that the ‘Tribune’ in those days was considered one of the great papers, or my ancestor would not have clipped from it an article of this kind. After reading it, I did not wonder that the people of two hundred years ago could not see much good in Anarchy. If the writer of this article was a man of average intelligence,—and it is fair to suppose that an editorial writer for a great daily would be a man of at least average mental power.—it is not strange that humanity could not understand the goodness of a good thing.”

“Mr. De Demain, I think that reflects on me,” I was forced to say.

“I humbly beg your pardon,” he replied, “if my remark seemed at all personal. Of course you have been with us long enough to understand that we are so far advanced that we look upon the people of two hundred years ago as barbarians. You certainly were regarded as a barbarian—a fair barbarian—when you made your strange advent among us. But you are not so considered now. Our advanced thought and manner of living have had a remarkable influence upon you. You are not yet, I know, in full sympathy with the teachings of Anarchy, but, as you think deeper, you certainly will be.”

Louise, it really makes me tremble to think that, when I come back to live out my years among my old friends, I may be considered an Anarchist. Still, I think, if my mind does become impregnated with Anarchistic ideas while I am here, that I can easily kill them out by reading the daily papers when I return.

Mr. De Demain continued: “This brilliant editorial writer in the ‘Tribune’ says:

During the last two years the stock phrase used in explaining business depression has been ‘over-production.’ The enemies of the American system have even gone so far as to assert that this is the chief evil of protection, since it unduly stimulates industrial activity and speedily overstocks the market with products that cannot be disposed of without ruinous delay and disturbance to trade. Over-production is the besetting weakness of the industrial world, no matter what the economic system or the tariff schedules may be. The evil will last to the end of time, and there can never be any hope of obviating it, since the requirements of mankind will invariably be over-estimated by the industries of the world. People grow weary of stock phrases. Why not talk about under-consumption during the next twelve months? It will mean about the same thing, but it will be fresh and new, and will possibly have a more cheerful sound. It may be that a vigorous impulse will be given to the workaday American world, if it can be convinced that the hard times merely indicate the wholesome restraints of under-consumption.

“I have simply to quote facts to you to prove that the young man who wrote the above was a false prophet. We have not reached the end of time, and over production is not an evil, and we do not obviate it by juggling with words and calling it under-consumption.”

“Do you mean to say,” I asked, “that it is possible at all times and under all conditions to exactly estimate the quantity of everything the people will want for a given length of time? or that the supply is always kept below the demand?”

“I mean that without the intervention of the State supply and demand are so nicely balanced that what was once called over-production is never an evil. It was not Malthus who first discovered the fact that the increase of humanity is held in check by the wants of humanity. This fact was realized several thousand years before Malthus was born. Two hundred years ago your political economists and social reformers in the same breath spoke of over-production of the necessaries of life and told the laborers that they should have smaller families. Was it not the voice of ignorant barbarians who told the laborers that they were producing too much food and clothing and at the same time that they were producing too many stomachs for the food and too many bodies for the clothing?

“The trouble was that the State stood in the way of a rapid and equal distribution of the products of the world. There never was a time when the earth produced too much wheat, too many potatoes, too much Indian corn. There never was a time when there was an over-supply of good beef and mutton. There never were too many well-fitting, long-wearing boots and shoes. There never was too much warm, clean, strong, attractive clothing in the world. I will not say that such a time may never come, because I do not care to be called in the future a false prophet. But in the past where has been the over-production? There has been often under-consumption, but it was not merely a change of phrase! Over-production, if such could ever occur, would mean immense wealth; under-consumption means poverty. Any blockhead—even a barbarian blockhead—ought to know the difference.”

I don’t relish being called a barbarian, and seeing that Mr. De Demain was growing excited, I thought it better to draw his little lecture to a close, fearing that he might in his enthusiasm unintentionally say something unpleasant. I suppose I was very wicked, but I did wish that Mr. De Demain could have had Senator Hoar for a disputant, and that I could have been a listener. I would have been willing to share any unpleasant remarks about barbarians, etc., with our honorable senator.

Josephine.

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About Shawn P. Wilbur 2132 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.