Website owner: James Miller
Modern inventions have dramatically changed the world
Modern inventions have dramatically changed the world. I think a considerable amount of insight in this regard can be obtained from the following quotation from the 1950 World Book article on wheat:
“Effects of Modern Implements. The development of civilization follows closely the improvements in the efficient production of wheat. So long as men had to devote all or most of their energy to producing just enough food for existence, there was poverty and hunger for the many, and riches and leisure for the few. In fact, it was nearly the end of the 1700's before the inventive genius of man turned to more efficient production of the necessities of life. Once this was done, progress in many fields was surprisingly rapid.
No very great progress was made in reducing the amount of man-labor required to produce an acre of wheat until about 1800. The implements and methods available in 1830 were the walking plow, hand seeding, sickle, and flail. It is estimated that about fifty-eight hours of man-labor was required to grow, harvest, thresh, and clean an acre of wheat yielding twenty bushels. By 1896, the hours of man-labor had been reduced to nine. Implements available in 1896 included the gang plow, broadcast seeder, binder, and thresher. By 1940 the use of tractors, the combine, and other improved power machinery had reduced the number of hours of man-labor required to about three an acre.”
The cereal grains (wheat, rice, corn, oats, barley) are the main staple foods of man. Modern machinery, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. have reduced the number of man-hours required to produce a bushel of these grains to a small fraction of what it used to be. And in doing this, they have reduced their costs.
Modern mechanized farming involves using expensive machinery. Thus it is capital intensive. Farmers usually borrow the money to buy this machinery. If the yields are good and they can get a good price for what they grow they can make the payments on the machinery and have enough left over to live on. But problems may occur. Millions of farmers all growing some grain like wheat by modern efficient mechanized methods may produce excesses, oversupplies, more of the grain than the country can use or than can be sold overseas. In a market in which oversupplies exist, prices drop and may drop radically. Farmers may respond to this phenomenon by storing the grain instead of selling it, but this strategy has its limitations.
Consider the following excerpt from the 1973 World Book article on wheat:
“Nations that grow more wheat than their own people need must sell the extra wheat to other countries. In years of high yield, the wheat-growing nations often raise more grain than they can grow at home or sell abroad. Then they store the wheat. In some years, the world wheat supply in storage is greater than the next crop expected. This situation often causes an international problem. First one nation and then another cuts the price of wheat to get rid of the surplus. Finally, the price falls far below the cost of producing the wheat. Such radical drops can completely ruin a wheat farmer.”
If a farmer can’t sell his grain for some minimum price he may not be able to make the payments on all of his equipment and may go out of business. Should the farmer be left to take the consequences of his bad luck or should the government step in and help him? Farming is a high risk business. Farmers are at the mercy of the weather. They can be badly hurt by drought, hail storms, disease infestations or price collapses. It is part of the business.
How has our government handled this problem of overproduction and radical price drops? It has responded with such programs as using taxpayer money to pay farmers so much per acre to let their land lie fallow, not farm it. Does that sound like a sensible strategy?
Modern invention has had the effect of allowing mankind to produce goods at dramatically reduced costs. In doing this it has robbed mankind of many labor-intensive occupations. One can no longer make a living by spinning yarn, weaving, tailoring or shoemaking. In our modern day the manufacturing of almost anything requires capital and must be done on a large scale. It is the realm of the entrepreneur with access to capital. The common person, no longer able to make a living out on a small farm, migrates to the city and seeks some kind of city employment. He gives up the serenity and wholesomeness of the country for the drabness and stresses of the concrete jungle and all the pleasures of working for some boss who may fire him at the drop of a hat. And he exchanges long days of hard manual labor for what is often a life of much leisure, luxury and ease. But much leisure, luxury and ease is not always all that it is cracked up to be. It is closely linked to idleness and there are many dangers associated with idleness. There is more value in hard manual work than many people realize.
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