Review of the Book

The Growth and Distribution of Population
By S. Vere Pearson

Gilbert M. Tucker

[Reprinted from Land and Freedom, January-February 1936]

In this work Dr. S. Vere Pearson has made a most valuable contribution to the literature of sociology and, more especially, to the literature of sound economics and the philosophy of Henry George. The book is a broad and masterly study of population trends and the deep underlying causes of changes in the people of the earth. It is marred by no narrow provincialism or nationalism, for it is based on world-wide conditions and deals with widely scattered lands and civilizations. The author is an Englishman, a graduate of Cambridge, and a physician, but he has given much study to American conditions and, for this reason as well as for his breadth of vision, the book is quite as valuable on this side of the water as on his.

The book opens with a discussion of the problems of agriculture and food control, showing that our difficulties are attributable, not to any overcrowding or to limitations of nature, but to maladjustment and failure to use wisely and to distribute fairly what nature offers. He deals another crushing blow to the doctrines of Malthus and shows the fallacy of such statements as that of Mill: "The niggardliness of nature, not the injustice of society, is the cause of the penalty attached to overpopulation." By argument as well as by experience he demonstrates the error of such gloomy predictions as that made by Sir William Crookes nearly forty years ago that long ere now the world would be experiencing a real wheat famine. He shows how readily our food supply may be augmented, how there is abundant room and opportunity for all, if we will but use what nature has given us wisely and fairly. The theory of diminishing returns as applied to agricultural production is discredited for he points out that increasing population means increasing rather than diminishing production, pointing out that "The development of human skill coincidentally with the increase of numbers of human beings enables man to exist comfortably upon smaller and smaller areas of land." There is much in this section of the book worthy of study by rural economists.

Such a study brings us naturally to the subject of systems of land tenure and their consequences, of course with one inevitable lesson; in the author's words, "It is the first duty of government to collect the rent of the land." Again he says: "Tranquility and good government can go hand in hand when governments recognize that their first duty is to collect their own revenue and cease from robbery by taxation." Throughout the book there is much wise economic teaching, sometimes in definite concrete form but more often by inference, for the book is written to plead no cause nor to substantiate any doc- trine, but simply as a study of population trends from which study the conclusions are deduced. It covers a wide range of matter and evidences so much reading, thought and study that to attempt to summarise an outline of its more than four hundred pages in a brief review would be inadequate and unfair. In its discussion of housing, town planning, emigration, resettlement schemes and the complications of transportation and traffic there is wealth of material which might be well studied by those interested in the problems of housing and slum clearance. Were the workers in these fields to get down to fundamentals and study the real essentials of such problems, instead of devoting themselves almost entirely to the superficial aspects of the case, far more progress, and more substantial progress, would be made. To rural workers and economists his treatment of the big questions of rural and urban problems and the drift to cities should prove enlightening and the discussion of birth, marriage and death rates, including a very wise and well balanced consideration of birth control, free from bias and prejudice, is to be commended. To the public health worker the whole book should prove invaluable.

To readers of LAND AND FREEDOM perhaps the most interesting sections are those dealing with the functions and duties of government, the chapter on " Ground Values and Appraisals" (dealing very largely with American conditions) and the concluding chapters, "A Gracious Dispensation" and "Co-operation for the Commonweal," but the book fairly bristles with good Single Tax lessons for, from whatever angle these big problems are approached, the same remedy is always deduced, and no part of the book should be overlooked. The disastrous effects of tariffs and trade restrictions and the threats which they offer to the peace of the world are all touched on, and the author is clear-visioned enough to see the folly of the unsound features of our American " New Deal," especially in the wanton destruction and limitation of the very things which we must have if we are to prosper.

To the Single Tax cause the book is perhaps an almost unique contribution. The name of Henry George is mentioned only three times and the Single Tax scarcely at all, but this does not detract in the least from the merit of the work. Its unusual value to our mind is that it is a dispassionate study of a big question the whole problem of population and its tendencies and it is from this disinterested study, at first glance a bit remote from taxation theories and social betterment, that the lesson is drawn as to the obvious correction of difficulties. If the book finds its way, as we hope it does, into the proper hands, it will unquestionably be the means of enlisting the interest and support of many intelligent leaders in the quest for a better and saner organization of society. Agricultural students and students of rural sociology, housing authorities and public health workers, all who are students of those subjects embraced under the somewhat vague term of demography, all these are too often cold to the usual arguments for the reforms advocated by Henry George, especially when the approach is so often from standpoints of purely fiscal and taxation measures. To all these large and influential groups this book should serve as a sound introduction to a wiser philosophy of society and to bring it to their attention will mean a material accession to the ranks of those who see that only by following the teachings of Henry George shall we find our way to a greater measure of justice and a better social order. Read the book, and bring it to the attention of those to whom so often much existing Single Tax literature makes but little appeal.