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WHAT'S THE REASON FOR THIS? THE FARMER GOT THIRTV-FIVE CENTS A BUSHEL
Now our farmer-man had not gone far in his investigations before he became convinced of several things. Railway charges did not account for the differ^ ence between the price on the field and the price on the city market. The farmer alone created the wealth; but he didn't create it for himself; and he didn't create it for the consumer. He created it for the man who came between the producer and the consumer; in a word, the middleman. A sort of colossus, or giant, that middleman appeared, as you thought about him, with one hand picking the farmer's pocket and the other hand digging into the eity man's coat tails: with one foot*out on the farmer's back and the other foot solidly planted on the consumer's stomach. Rut as our farmerman was not a Sir Galahad to knock his head against stone walls or a Don Quixote to tilt wind-mill theories, he accepted the gospel of things-as-theyare,*and came to a still more pertinent and personal conclusion. The town was the place to make big money. The town was the place to come to; and so the farmer comes and comes and comes in spite of the cry "back-to-the-land"; comes with Dick Whittington's hopes in "his heart to make good, and save money, and get in on this game that skins both going and coming; or know the reason why.
Before many weeks passed, he knows the reason why making good as a city man is still harder than making good as a country man. It is that matter of saving before you can get in on the game. Your farmer-man does not begrudge the railway its freight—even for dividends on watered stock. He does not begrudge the wholesaler and retailer their 20 or 40 per cent.; or the milk people their $8,000,000 surplus; or the pork packers their 500 per cent.; or the mill men their 1.000 per cent. He would make all that for himself, if he could. It is, that having been skinned off the land and forced to come to town, the high cost of living now skins him out of that margin he was going to save. The town salary that looked so big when he was out on the
farm has a surprising way of melting to nothing at the end of the week when bills are paid. lie is no longer a producer. He is a consumer. He is the man who is paying 75 per cent, too much for those grapes that ought not to have cost more than 10 cents.
If those potatoes could have been sold direct from the farmer to the city man for 75 cents, it would have netted the farmer 100 per cent, profit and saved the city man 100 per cent. cost.
If that asparagus could have gone straight from the producer to the consumer at 15 cents, it would have netted the farmer 100 per cent, profit and saved the city man 100 per cent. cost.
If that milk could go direct from farm to table, at the present cost of producing milk, the farmer could make 66 per cent, profit and the city man save 33 per cent.
Pork at 12 cents to the farmer would give him 200 per cent, profit and save the city man 100 per cent. cost.
And so on down the list as supply and demand determined natural values, with the undue depression of the middleman's foot removed from the farmer's back and from the consumer's stomach.
If this farmer-man were a story-book hero, he would rise from his figures fired with a great purpose to bring producer and consumer together; but he isn't a story-book hero. He is just a plain ordinary person, one of the million and million who have gone from country to
town to find the same insidious and unseen hand picking the same old stupid pocket.
If you want to know whether his figures are based on fact or fiction, just consider a few well-known Cases that are on record.
A farmer in New Jersey sold two hogs on the local meat market at the current prices for live squealers. Before going home, he asked the butcher to keep a couple of hams for him. A week later, he came around for the hams and asked for the balance of the money coming to him. The meat man presented him with a bill for $2.85 over and above the credit due for the live hogs. A like case is on record of a similar dicker in lamb. Why did the farmer sell at the low price of 4 to 6 cents, and buy at the high price of 25 cents? Because your middlemen are so leagued together, the prices are—one cannot say "fixed"—but uniform; and the dealer breaking those uniform prices will have to look out for independent means to supply himself with meat.
There was a great scarcity of turkeys one Thanksgiving. Vermont farmers supplying the Boston market could not understand why in a scarce year prices ruled uniformly 12 cents a pound lower than beef or bacon. A written agreement in restraint of prices would, of course, have been unlawful; but the fact remained, not a commission agent offered prices above 12 cents. The Vermont farmers picked and dressed their turkeys.
Then they pushed a tiny letter inside those t u rkeys, amidships, telling the unknown city buyer what price was paid in V e rmont and asking him to write back from Boston and report what
.price was charged there. The letters came back. Boston had paid 36 cents a pound for its turkey—an advance of 300 per cent.
Or go West! A rancher in Washington found it hard to make ends meet. He could not sell wood at any price. His beef brought only 4 cents, his pork 8 cents. He went in one winter to Spokane. Wood was selling at $8 a cord, beef at 30 cents, ham at 35 cents.
A Michigan fruit man sent a specially fine lot of grapes by water-freight to Detroit. He realized only 10 cents a basket. He traced up that fruit. It had sold for 20 cents to the city people. One of the big potato growers of Maine sent a car load to a Massachusetts city. The commission agent credited him at 35 cents a bushel. Deductions of freight and commission left only 19 cents a bushel. Those potatoes sold in Springfield at $1. Another Maine man sold his at 36 cents. They sold in Boston at $1.15. A North Carolina trucker sent a half barrel of beans to New York. Deducting express and commission, they netted him only 78 cents. They sold in New York at $4.
Secretary Wilson says the farmer gets but 55 per cent, of the consumer's price. Mr. Yoakum says the middleman gets 60 per cent, of the city man's price; and whichever is right, the fact remains that the farmer is not getting market value for what he sells, and the city man is not getting farm value for what he buys. The same unseen hand is guilty of the underpay on one side and the overcharge on the other. And the hand that picks
the pockets is not the hand that toils. The middleman has not added one cent's value to the farm produce. He has been the drone of the commercial beehive.
We scorn m ediaeval
legends of vampire monsters devastating whole country sides. No such old wives' tales for us, thank you! Yet the high cost of living had reached such a point that in one city alone last winter—Brooklyn—more than three thousand children had to be taken out of school because parents could not afford to supply them with breakfast; and these youngsters were put to work on the industrial tread mills; whether the mills of the gods, that grind so slow and so exceedingly sure, I don't know. They may have been.
We have nothing but the most scornful pity for the people of middle-age Europe, who permitted monopolists to grind them clown to destitution. Italy, France, Spain—all passed through that era when country districts were literally depopulated by the advent of the tax collector. So extortionate were the demands on the tiller of the land, that the tiller literally deserted his land ; and vast tracts of it fell into the hands of the very monopolists who had fattened on the farmer's poverty. Why did the people supinely permit their own ruin? They were in the majority against their oppressors a thousand to one; but the monopolists were organized, a unit, in a word, an army. In Rome, free citizens actually sold themselves into slavery to pay their debts. Does history repeat itself under protean form? Herbert Spencer declares industrial pressure may develop greater hardship and destitution than the slavery of feudalism. Calamity howlers are at a discount in optimistic America; but isn't it worth while looking at a few facts, showing a little nerve in the matter, without blinking or side-stepping?
In one state alone, New York, 400,000 people have deserted the farm for the city.' Why? In another state—Vermont —rural population has gone back in many places 10 per cent, in ten years. Last year, the Russell Sage Foundation experts investigated what it cost in New York and Pittsburg at the lowest possible figure to sustain a family of five. Twist figures which way they might, those experts could not force the total lower than $600 for a year. Now the average wages of the average unskilled worker in the United States are not $600 a year. They are under $500. What is the result? Did men sell themselves to pay their debts? Not at all! The experts found whenever the price of meat went up, these people did without it. As the prices of food mounted the ascending scale of the last five years, the number of people renting dark inside windowless tenements increased. That is the way the game that skins at both ends works when you follow it off the market into the homes of the poor.
There is no use shouting vaguely in the air against "trust-trusts." If you bring a bill of indictment against the trusts, they are going to say "prove it."
And there's less use telling men living is high because lots of gold is coming down from Alaska. More gold has gone to England from South Africa than has come to the United States from Alaska; and prices have not gone up correspondingly in England. American meat sells cheaper in England than in the United States; and last year eggs were being imported to the United States from England because the price was cheaper. It is not convincing to tell a man hard up from high prices that his pocket book is empty because there is a lot of gold. He wants to know where that lot of gold goes.
And there is no use lecturing the farmer about his duties to stay on the land and feed the city. He is going to answer "show me"; and if you can show him more profit on the farm than in the factory, chains won't keep him in town.
Nor is it logical to scold at the middleman! He sees his chance for 500 per cent, profit, and he takes it, just as you
or I would take it in similar circumstances. If you accuse him of high prices, he goes into elaborate explanations of risk and loss on perishable products and the expense of big storage plants in congested centers, though that hardly explains why it paid the cold-storage men this last year to dump millions of dozens of eggs in the sea rather than break 50 cent prices. While eggs were costing 4 and 5 cents each in New York and Chicago last winter, and were being imported in shiploads from Europe and Asia, cold-storage men were talking scarcity: but no sooner did half a dozen states prepare to pass laws forbidding the storage of food products for longer than a year, than those same cold-storage men who had talked scarcity began dumping old eggs by millions of dozens into the sea. Prices dropped from 50 and 60 cents a dozen to 8 cents; and the stored eggs could not find purchasers. The storage men explained the eggs had been dumped into the sea because they had spoiled. Tlie public that had been paying 60 cents a dozen wanted to know why those eggs had been held so long they had spoiled. Butter tumbled from 40 cents to 30, the lowest in ten years, though the number of cows had not increased; neither had the butter eaters decreased. And the drop in perishable foods within a week reacted on canned goods because people stopped buying canned vegetables when they could buy the fresh cheaper. In fact, for a family of three, the differences in prices from the time cold-storage laws forbade longtime keeping of food would run from 25 cents to $1 a day in food purchases.
But this sudden glut of the market from sudden release of stored foods can hardly prove other than temporary, like the drop in Wall Street values when certain court decisions have compelled speculators to sell. Long as the middleman plies his shuttle-like trade between producer and consumer, he will regulate prices. And can government regulations put him out of business? Would Supreme Court decisions sustain such regulations? It is so easy to hoist on the shoulders of government the duty that each man can and ought to do at first hand. The first people in the United States to wipe out the middleman have been the irrigation farmers of the West.
How? By getting together.
Why? Because the excessive cost of irrigation compelled the fanners to work together and pull in the same direction. When a valley of, say 20,000 people, all dip into the same well for
water, all draw prosperity or failure from the same ditch—there has to be harmony. In the East, each man is still dipping in his own little individual mud puddle. While Abram's herders quarreled with Lot's, the bandits stampeded the profits—same old problem as in scriptural days, isn't it? If irrigation never accomplished anything more than compelling co-operation, than pointing the way to elimination of the middleman, it would mark a new era in national life. In teaching communities how to use the same water; how to fight frosts and insects together; how to incorporate so they can borrow at lowest rates—2 per cent, instead of 6 per cent.; how to buy all supplies wholesale; how to keep their own agents, on the big world's markets; how to provide coldstorage warehouses and cars for their own perishable produce — irrigation has pointed to the one and only effective way to eliminate the middleman, a way that avoids costly longdrawn-out appeals to the Supreme Court.
You may think the remedy sounds too easy to be true. Don't flatter yourself! Try it. if
of living almost unendurable, a group of railroad men in a Pennsylvania city arranged to send one of their number to the country to buy direct from the farmer and save the swindle that cut the farmer 50 per cent, and jacked the buyer's price up 50 per cent. The office man hired a rig and drove out. At the first farm where he stopped he found the farmer busy in the barn.
"Good day," saluted Mr. Office Man.
Mr. Farmer returned a. gruff grunt with the cordiality ordinarily accorded a burglar. Undaunted, the city man launched his evangel. The farmer straightened up and listened. Wheat was selling at 60 cents in the country, bufter at 22 cents, apples at $1 a barrel, etc. The city people purposed paying an advance of 20 to 40 per cent, on these prices if they could induce the farmers to guarantee definite supplies for the year.
"But the prices might go higher." "But we are guaranteeing you 20 per cent, higher than you have ever got." The farmer hummed, and hawed and rolled the suggestion backward and forward for an hour looking suspiciously for some graft. Then he found a loop-hole of escape from the convictions that had been forced on him. "It was like this, you see. His three boys were not home—-c o u 1 d n't induce them to stay on the farm. Queer —wasn't it? One was getting $40 a month as a street car conductor, another $30 in a fac