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Changes in the Social Organism with the Advance of Society

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



WE may readily imagine the arts of production to remain stationary for long periods of time. Economics would then be reduced to a system in which it would not be necessary to consider progressive changes of any kind. Such, however, is not the case with our generation. We recognize two great forms of change: the one common to the whole civilized world, the other confined to particular countries. In the first class we comprise all those improvements in capital and in knowledge which lead to a constant increase or improvement in the pro-ducts of labor. To a very great extent, increase of capital and increase of knowledge go hand in hand. The reason of this is that when we learn some new and better way of producing a given article, it is generally necessary to produce a new form of capital in order to utilize the discovery. To take a familiar example, when the compound engine was invented, the owners of Atlantic steamers, in order to utilize it, had to remove their old engines and put in new ones of the improved pattern.

Our knowledge of the best way of producing things is constantly increasing so rapidly that there is no immediate prospect of its reaching a stationary condition. Yet it would seem that it must ultimately approach such a condition, though it is difficult to say how many generations or how many centuries may be required. If we look closely into the matter, we see that the causes of progress form a very widely extended class. They include not merely improvements made and applied within any one country, but knowledge of the wants. and capacities of foreign countries, and the results of that experience which is gradually teaching us the best way of doing many things. Such results tend gradually to embody themselves in fixed habits. We readily perceive that the system by which the body of farmers on the prairies of the West exchange goods with various countries in Europe, Asia, and South America is exceedingly intricate in its details. Its successful operation depends upon the proper co-ordination of the efforts of manufacturers, merchants, ship-owners, and managers of railways. There being little real concert of action among these widely separated individuals, the co-ordination of their work is a matter of slowly growing habit.

Thus we may see that the commercial supremacy of New York is entirely a result of habit and of convenience. Men from all parts of the country send there to buy their goods, because they know that they can make a better selection and be more likely to find exactly what they want there than they can anywhere else. The very fact that so many kinds of people are thus led to going thither makes it pay the merchants of that place to supply themselves with every possible kind of goods to meet the demand. It does not pay the merchants of Boston to keep on hand so large a supply of everything the people want as is found in New York, because the people of the interior would not find it out, and are not in the habit of going in such great numbers to Boston to buy. The result is a tendency in the great movements of commerce of all countries to concentrate themselves along certain lines and in certain cities. The only limit to this concentration is the physical impossibility of handling more than a limited amount of goods within the limited space occupied by any one city.

In the same class of causes we must include the opening up of new sources of supply in distant and uncivilized countries. The great Asiatic countries, especially China and Japan, are gradually coming into communication with the rest of the world, and the resources of Africa are rapidly being discovered and opened out. Thus there is a gradual tendency towards a state of things in which every part of the world will supply every other part with the goods which it can make to the greatest advantage.

In the United States, besides this improvement in capital and methods of production, we have had a change due to the increase of population. This increase is productive both of advantages and disadvantages to the organism as a whole. The disadvantage is the continual diminution in the supply of the natural agents of production which can be commanded by each individual. The larger the population the less land each individual must draw his subsistence from. Of course until population reaches a certain density this diminution is not felt. No one needs more land than, with the least amount of labor, will yield him the food, cotton, tobacco; cattle, and timber necessary for his use. So long as the population is not dense enough to encroach upon this minimum, so long no disadvantage is felt. But when the individual has to raise his subsistence from a smaller surface of soil, he is obliged to introduce improved methods of cultivation; and to limit himself in the enjoyment of those products of the soil which require the cultivation of extended areas. Thus the denser the population becomes the more capital and labor it will be necessary to devote to subsistence, and the more liable the poorer members will be to suffer from privation.

The advantages of a dense population are obvious and numerous. The social attractions of great cities are powerful economic causes tending to bring men together in them. But the great advantage of a dense population in production arises from the increased facility with which closely associated men can co-operate in production. In a widely scattered population the division and organization of labor on a great scale are impossible, because these require large bodies of men to work together. The greater the number of such bodies of men the greater the variety of articles which can be made within convenient reach for the use of the whole community.

We must also notice that the result of improvements in production is not merely that each individual secures a larger supply of the necessaries of life, but that he gets those supplies of better quality and in a larger variety of forms, and therefore can better suit his taste and peculiarities. The farmer of today does not eat any more than his predecessor did a hundred years ago, nor does the rich man of today necessarily eat more than the poor man. But the modern farmer has better food than the farmer of a hundred years ago had, and the man of wealth has a greater variety of food than the poor man. We have not many more chairs in our houses now than our forefathers had, but they are a different kind of chair. Our watches and clocks are more numerons, and we have many more books and pictures. Altogether we devote nearly as much labor to production as they did, but we get far more variety and better results from it.

Looking at the matter more closely, we perceive that these improvements in production involve a change in the relative proportions of men engaged in various classes of , employments. The reason of this is that great improvements are confined to certain kinds of production. As one extreme case we may take the building of a brick house. We are scarcely able to do this to any better advantage than our ancestors. We have indeed learned to use machinery in moulding bricks, and in the case of large buildings we employ steam hoisting-apparatus to raise the materials as the walls go up. But, leaving out these comparatively small improvements, the labor of making the necessary material and erecting the walls is almost the sanie that it has been for thousands of years.

Improvements in. agriculture may be considered as intermediate between the two extremes. By the use of sowing and harvesting machinery, and by improvements in methods of cultivation, we are enabled to secure our supply of agricultural products with only a fraction of the labor necessary a few generations ago. But the labor necessary to care for the crop and take it to market cannot be greatly diminished.

The extreme cases of improvement are those already de. scribed. They consist principally in the making by machinery, on a large scale, of what was formerly done entirely by hand.

The spinning and weaving of cotton, the making of watches, the sewing of shirts, and the printing of books and newspapers may be taken as cases in point.

One result of such improvements is a continual increase in the ratio of the urban to the rural population. Since it is absolutely necessary that men shall live on the farms which they cultivate, an agricultural city is an impossibility. Hence we must always have, besides the dwellers in cities, a certain population scattered over the country. But the labor of this population is more and more confined to the management of the rude products of the soil. The grain once harvested, the cotton once gathered, and the cattle once killed, everything that follows can be more advantageously done by large co-operating bodies of men. Such bodies are most easily collected in towns and villages. Hence, as improvements go on, a continually larger proportion of the population is found congregated in the cities. We may see this by studying our Census reports. We find that not only does each individual city increase in about the same ratio as the entire population, but new cities are continually arising.

A general characteristic of social progress, the enunciation of which is due to Herbert Spencer, will give us a luminous and comprehensive view of the subject. Progress consists in two continuous and connected processes, the one called diiferentiation or specialization, the other integration.

The former term expresses the fact that individual men become different from their fellowmen by the acquisition of special powers or faculties. The denser the population, and the more refined the special kinds of skill found among particular men, the more numerous the men who can do some useful thing better than any of their fellows. In a primitive state of society there are very few trades. As society increases men differentiate themselves more and more by following more numerous and specialized occupations. The extremes of differentiation are approached when a man devotes himself to making some one part of a watch, or when, as in Switzerland, a manufacturing firm is devoted to making a particular kind of hands for a watch.

This process of differentiation necessarily implies that each individual must come into closer and more important relations with a continually increasing number of his fellow-men. The watchmaker of old needed but few customers. But the man who does nothing but make the hands of a watch must have a great number. Thus, as differentiation goes on, every part of the social organism becomes more closely connected with every other part. This increasing adaptation of the parts of the organism is called integration.



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