Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER XXIII.: The Use of Machinery by Nations. - Taxation and Work: A Series of Treatises on the Tariff and the Currency
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CHAPTER XXIII.: The Use of Machinery by Nations. - Edward Atkinson, Taxation and Work: A Series of Treatises on the Tariff and the Currency 
Taxation and Work: A Series of Treatises on the Tariff and the Currency (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1892).
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The Use of Machinery by Nations.
It may now be expedient to develop and describe some of the advantages of this country in comparison with other machine-using nations in order to determine in what those advantages consist and to what extent the power of this country, therefore, exists to supply an increasing proportion of food to nations or States that cannot provide the quantity or quality required for their own consumption, also to determine how far our power now exists or may be developed to meet the demand of the non-machine-using nations of the world with manufactured goods, metal-work, and other fabrics.
It may be observed that the application of machinery to production had been brought about in greatest measure in Great Britain until a recent period. The application of machinery and of modern tools and appliances has since been developed in the United States more effectively and universally within the present generation. We now stand at the head among nations in labor-saving processes. Among European countries, France (including Belgium) stands next to Great Britain, Germany comes third, the Netherlands fourth, while Italy, Austria, and Spain follow at long distance behind their continental competitors; Russia, in view of the handwork of her peasantry, can hardly be counted as a machine-using nation, although under an almost prohibitive system of duties a little unhealthy progress has been made.
The very slight impression that modern mechanism has made in India is of little account, while in China handwork is the rule, almost without exception.
It may, therefore, be observed that the chief competition in the supply of non-machine-using nations with the useful fabrics of common consumption that are made by machinery, rests between the United States and Great Britain. The population of the United States is now about sixty-five millions, Canada may be classed with this country in view of the certainty that within a very short time the grotesque absurdity of tariff barriers will become apparent when a commercial union will ensue. There are about thirty-three millions in England and Scotland; four and a half millions in Ireland.
The other machine-using populations of the continent of Europe number substantially as follows:
The States which have applied machinery in some small measure, and which may share with the principal machine-using nations in the production of useful articles by modern methods, mainly for home consumption, are:
Sweden and Norway compete in ocean transportation, but may be set aside with Russia, numbering together about one hundred millions, from any effective competition in the supply of other parts of the world with machine-made fabrics.
We may therefore classify nations in their effective application of machinery to production for the general consumption of the world upon the following lines:
Within this small limit of one-seventh of the population of the globe is to be found the only effective application of modern science and invention on any considerable scale, such as may entitle them to be included as in any sense among nations competing with each other in the service of other nations, by the application of machinery.
There remain the populations of Asia, Africa, Australasia, South America, Central America, and Mexico, containing a population of over one thousand million people (1,000,000,000), whose resources have only been developed by the railway and steamship within a single generation, and whose application of modern mechanism, aside from methods of transportation, is in its very infancy.
Endowed with unlimited power to supply by handwork crude materials in exchange for the products of machinery, these people stand waiting to exchange their products with those nations who will work them into the machine-made fabrics that they require. They will give ten, twenty, and even in some cases one hundred days of handwork in exchange for one day’s work of one man or woman occupied in the direction of modern machinery. We obstruct and try to stop this mutual service.
Great Britain admits these crude materials wholly free of taxation. France, Germany, Belgium, and Holland almost wholly free.
The United States, at the dictation of the Unholy Alliance of Pig-Iron, Wool, and Silver, taxes them heavily, and thus extends the benefit of her tariff protection to the manufacturers of Europe while crippling her own.
It will be observed that, with the exception of France, all European machine-using States import a large part of their necessary food; depending on other countries in greater measure than they export food products. In years when the harvest is not plentiful, even France is somewhat dependent upon other countries for food. The attempt to protect the farmers of France and Germany by duties upon the import of grain and meat has proved to be futile, and to the extent in which it has been a success in maintaining the prices of food higher than they would have been, it is a disadvantage to the consumers, especially to those engaged in the application of machinery to the arts of manufacturing.
Chancellor Caprivi rendered the verdict upon the McKinleyism of Germany in a recent speech to which reference will again be made. I can only quote a few detached paragraphs.
“German agriculture is in a bad way. . . . It is undoubtedly true that these high protective duties have not done for the farmer what was expected of them. . . . They have only given Protection when these high duties coincided with periods of calamity or short crops in other countries. . . . Even if we were willing to continue under our existing system, the continual struggle for existence would force Germany to give up one industry after another. . . . We have overreached ourselves. . . . Should we imitate the tendency which prevails in Russia, America, and France, and keep ourselves in isolation from other nations the consequences of such a fatal step would be a war of all against all. . . . It is not a question here whether we want Free Trade or Protection. The sole question is to find out the way of maintaining our agriculture and maintaining our industries at a reasonable profit, so that they may live and give work to the laborers. . . . We are inevitably compelled to an exchange of goods with other countries. . . . We must export goods or people. . . . The object of this measure is to ensure peace without the least aggressive aim.”
Chancellor Caprivi has been obliged to resign on the question of the control of the public education; but the policy of the Dreibund treaty for mutual service between Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Italy is established.
It will also be observed that the only countries in Europe which have a positive assurance of an abundant food supply by production or purchase are Great Britain and Holland, which are the only so-called Free Trade countries.
The purpose of this analysis is to call attention to what at first seems to be a very singular fact—to wit, that the only call for the protection of a high tariff in this country or in any European State is directed against the competition of the countries that are well furnished with a most abundant supply of food either by production or exchange. Our own tariff has been framed mainly for the purpose of obstructing imports from Great Britain, which is the best-fed nation in Europe. France and Germany have resisted the import free of duty both of the products of agriculture and of manufactured goods from the United States, which is the best-fed nation in the world; they also resist the import of the manufactures of Great Britain which stands next to the United States in its adequate supply of food; the one produces the excess of food that the other requires and imports free from taxation. If our trade were as free with Great Britain as it is among our several States, to the end that each country could supply itself with its relative wants by the exchange of its food and other products, there would not be a shadow of chance for any other machine-using nation on the continent of Europe to enter into competition upon any extensive scale with the manufactured goods of this country or Great Britain in the supply of the non-manufacturing nations of the world.
One of the reasons which I may assign in explanation of this condition, to wit, that any competition with the well paid and highly fed English-speaking people of Europe and America is impracticable is in the mere fact that they are well fed. We may reason upon this subject by analogy; a steam-engine may be of the very best type, the boiler made of the best kind and rightly set up; still, if the fuel is deficient, the supply of energy will be diminished in a proportion vastly greater than the measure of the pounds of fuel wanting. In other words, the steam-engine must be worked at its full standard and must be supplied with fuel adequate to that standard, or else it will do very ineffectual service. The engine must not only have its full supply of fuel, but it must have the right kind furnished in due proportion.
As coal supplies energy to the steam-engine so food supplies energy to the human engine. Food must be sufficient in quantity; it must be rightly prepared, and it must be of the right quality and kind. This supply of food is far more complex than the problem of the supply of fuel required by the steam boiler. Even the quantity may apparently suffice, but if the nutrients are not in right proportion, the man may almost starve and may be wholly incapable of effective work. These nutrients consist in certain proportions of the hydro-carbons, or starchy materials; of fats, which are derived from animal or vegetable products; and of nitrogenous materials, scientifically called Proteids, which are derived, in principal measure from meat, but may be derived, where meat is lacking, from the leguminous products of the field, such as peas, beans, and the like, and also from cheese. The nitrogenous element in food is the one by which muscular energy and power of work are mainly supported. If this element is deficient, the nation wherein it is deficient will be incapable of the highest measure of production and will be apt to have its working force classified under the head of “pauper laborers.” In other words, it begins to appear that the whole body of pauper labor of nations and States upon the continent of Europe is as a rule under-fed or ill-fed labor, the deficiency being mainly in the element of nitrogen: that is to say, in the special nutrient from which the working energy of man is mainly derived or without which, whatever may be the abundance of starch and fat, muscular energy and the power of continuous application to any kind of work will be wanting.
In the matter of food, the problem of this country is to stop the waste of our abundance, the problem in England is how to keep up an abundance by exchange, the problem in France how to distribute and convert into food a fairly adequate supply of food material, the problem in Germany how to supply the army without impairing the power of the people to work, the problem in Italy how to avoid starvation, the problem in Russia how to cope with famine.
If we follow this sequence it becomes apparent that the rates of wages or earnings of the working people rest either upon the adequacy of the supply of food as an antecedent, or follow downward with the increasing deficiency of food in the order given. Using figures as mere symbols and not as measures of the differences, and yet not varying very much in their proportion as a measure of relative conditions, the rule of cause and effect or of effect and cause may be defined in the following series:
As the supply of food is represented by the high numbers so is the rate of wages. As the supply of food diminishes so does the rate of wages lessen.
There is, however, one class of the population of each country which must be and is supplied not only with food but with an adequate supply of the nitrogenous element to keep it in full working condition, even if the work of the rest suffers.
The masses must yield even to starvation in order that the classes in the armies and navies may be well nourished. When nations are listed in ratio to the proportion of necesary food which is wasted in passive war, the foregoing order is reversed.
The sequence is as follows, interpolating Austria which has a fair supply of food, yet is forced to waste it in great preparations for war.
because we keep our army usefully employed as a border police, and we waste but little more money on the navy than is necessary to keep up our communications by swift cruisers with our foreign ministers and consuls. Therefore our wages are highest, being derived from the most abundant product.
The supreme importance of the food problem has been foreseen in Germany more than in any other country. In the recent epoch-making speech of the German Chancellor, Caprivi, previously quoted, in support of the reciprocity treaty with Austria and Italy, he said:
“All that we import from outside nations we need; it consists mainly of indispensable articles of food and of raw products for our industries.”
“ . . . In the past years, when I was a soldier myself I formed the unshaken conviction that in any future war the question of feeding the army of the country would play a most important rôle.”
That which was so apparent to Chancellor Caprivi when he was a soldier, became the chief work of Count von Moltke and the German Staff, and it was the German army sausage, compounded in the right proportions of nutrients in the smallest and lightest compass, that enabled the soldier to make a strong broth in his camp kettle wherever he encamped, and thus rendered possible the great concentration of troops at Sedan, and made the siege of Metz an assured victory.
That great army must still be sustained in full strength even though the supply of food for the working people of Germany has become so deficient that the water in which the meat sausage of one man has been boiled, possesses a commercial value and is sold to the next man who has no sausage to boil, but is nourished with black bread even in the rich city of Frankfort.
Within a few years the relation of the cost of food to earnings has begun to be examined by scientific methods. Enough is known to state the case in a general way. The proportionate cost of an inadequate supply of food in the families of working people upon the continent of Europe is from 55 to 70 per cent. of their meagre incomes; increasing in ratio as the income diminishes. In the eastern part of the United States the cost of a wasteful supply is about 50 per cent. of the average earnings of average mechanics and artisans. In the West it is much less and may even run below 40 per cent.
I have lately made a beginning in establishing the data of comparative nutrition.