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Friday, November 18, 2005

The Industrialization of Agriculture

Chapter 7 of Energy and Society (McGraw-Hill, 1955)

by William Frederick Cottrell

As we have seen, it is difficult to separate gains in agriculture made through the application of energy from oil, coal, gas, and falling water from gains secured through the application of other means of increasing efficiency. However, if we are to predict the future of mechanized agriculture, such an analysis must be attempted.

In a market economy, where labor has the alternative of working in the fields or in the factories, it may be cheaper in monetary terms to replace men with machines than the reverse. This is the situation in the United States and other large areas of the West. Because we are accustomed to these conditions we tend to translate money costs into physical costs and to assume that when money costs are lower energy costs must also be lower. This is not necessarily so, since great amounts of energy from nonfood sources may be equated in monetary terms with small amounts of energy in the form of food. Actually, as a little reflection will show, the energy costs of the operations involved in mechanized food raising are higher than those incurred in hand cultivation. For clarity the reasons for this are tabulated below.

1. More energy is required because the work is done more quickly. It will be recalled that the energy required to do a job varies not only with the mass and the distance involved but also with the time consumed. The amount of energy is not directly proportional to the increase in speed; rather it varies as the square of the velocity. Thus, decreases in time are purchased at greater and greater penalties in the form of the amount of energy used.

2. The tools which permit the great increase in the power used must themselves be larger, heavier, and more complex than the hand tools which they replace. Therefore, they take more energy for their production, maintenance, and repair.

3. The greater area per production unit involved requires that more energy be used in getting to and from the work site, and in transporting the product to the place where it will be consumed.

4. In most cases the productivity of land varies within the areas cultivated. In utilizing the larger and more powerful machines which permit increased speed, much of the selectivity possible in hand cultivation is sacrificed. The result is decreased yield for a given expenditure of energy.

5. In many areas where a shift to larger farms is to be made, there are already fixed assets in the form of farmhouses and barns, roads, fences, and hedges which become useless in relation to the larger unit. There may also be assets such as churches, shrines, and government facilities, and commercial enterprises such as stores and artisans' shops, as well as the residences of their operators, which become useless as the decline in population density reduces the number of people they can serve below the point necessary to maintain them. Thus, in addition to the operational costs of the new system there are initial physical losses to be compensated for, or the resistance of their owners to sustaining their loss otherwise to be overcome.

6. There is the previously noted fact that human sentiment and habit create inertia. To overcome this requires the expenditure of energy. {1}

7. Finally, of course, there is the problem of finding employment at favorable terms for the population no longer locally useful because it has been replaced by the use of other converters. This may be the problem most difficult of all to solve.


Before going further let us examine some concrete illustrations of what we have been discussing in the abstract. Fortunately there is a recent study {2} showing something of the relative costs of hoe and plow culture in terms that can be converted into energy units. Oscar Lewis compared the two systems in Tepoztlan, a village in Mexico, and gives specific figures drawn from a sample that is probably representative of many other areas. He shows that cultivating corn by hoe takes more than three times as many man-days as does plow cultivation. The figures average out at about 50 days for the plow and 165 days for the hoe, for each hectare cultivated. The proportion of those days in which oxen are used in plow areas as compared with those in which men work without oxen is not given; from the description of the work, however, it is clear that the oxen are used a good deal of the time. If we rate a team of oxen at 1.5 horsepower and assume that of the 50 days spent in plow-culture farming there are 30 days in which the team is used 10 hours a day, we get a total of 450 horsepower-hours for the oxen and 50 (figuring the man at 1/10 horsepower, or one horsepower-hour per day) for the men used, or a grand total of 500 horsepower-hours to produce a hectare of corn with the plow as compared with 165 horsepower-hours for hoe culture.

Oxen are about as efficient as men in converting plants to mechanical energy, so to produce fuel for a team of oxen rated at 15 horsepower-hours per day takes land on which plant food yields 15 times as much energy as is required for a man. This is not to say that it will take 15 times as much crop land, for the ox will eat food grown on land which will not grow food crops; moreover, it eats no energy-wasting animal products and does not require any land for the raising of fiber for clothes, as would a man. Nevertheless, the costs are real, and some of the land used for ox feed must be subtracted from that which could otherwise be used by the hoe-culture farmer for raising food. If land were available in sufficient quantities and the growing season were short, this loss could be compensated for by the increased crop made possible by the increase in the area which could be cultivated by the use of the ox. However, in Tepoztlan the growing and planting seasons are long, and land is not abundant. There are many other areas now using hoe culture where the same situation exists.

It is sometimes argued that the loss in energy occasioned by the use of the ox or horse may be offset by the greater fertility arising from the deeper tilth possible with the plow. Actually, it is more and more apparent that in most places it is the first few inches of topsoil that carries the highest fertility; deep plowing thus decreases rather than increases yield. In the case under study Lewis {3} found that "a comparison of the yields of the two types of agriculture reveals that hoe culture yields are equal to the best yields in plow culture and are generally about twice as high as the average yields of plow culture". This is primarily due to the facts that the hoe farmer can select soil of greater fertility and that he can raise a type of corn which cannot be raised with the plow. Curwen {4} has shown that the change in the character of the shape of the field which is required when the plow is introduced is an old phenomenon. With the hoe the field tends to be circular and otherwise to follow contour lines that reveal or have resulted in soil fertility. In horse plowing, since the mass put in motion is considerable, the effects of momentum induce the farmer to plow in more or less straight lines, thus cultivating both the more and the less fertile soil - and incidentally encouraging erosion. In the area which Lewis studied, the plow farmer has taken over most of the land which can be put under the plow, leaving to the hoe farmer only the fringes and the areas where rocks, thin soil, and other factors make plowing impracticable. The necessity of spreading his efforts over a large area have the effect of requiring the hoe farmer to spend a great deal of time and energy going to the work site and returning to the village. Thus hoe farming as it is now practiced is less productive on the average than it could be if the whole village were engaged in it. If hoe farming at its greatest possible efficiency could be compared with plow farming as it is now practiced, the general disparity in energy costs between the two systems could be shown to be even greater than the estimate just given.

Rising population in Tepoztlan has forced more and more of the hoe farmers to go back to the methods which characterized the country in an earlier period, when the forest was cleared by burning and two crops were taken from the soil so made available. But it takes land so long to recover its fertility, once it has been so cropped, that this offers no permanent solution. In the meantime the mounting pressure on the hoe-culture farmer induces him to offer higher and higher rents for the use of more convenient land. At the moment the plow farmer is attached, through the export of his surplus, to urban areas which will supply him products in amounts sufficient to overcome his relative inefficiency in producing surplus energy. But plow culture, which limits the size of the local population, is under constant and increasing pressure, and the resultant mounting rents make it probable that in time the owner of what is now plow land will get greater rewards from renting it to hoe farmers than from using draft animals to produce surplus to sell to those in urban areas.

In Yunnan {5} before the Second World War owners of as little as five to ten acres of land no longer thought of working, since they were able to secure labor for a small fraction of the total return from their land. It is easy to see why under such conditions tension between landowner and farm labor mounts, and why the peasantry is easily induced to join a movement for redistribution of the land, however wasteful by Western standards the hoe culture made necessary by this reduction of the size of individual holdings of land appears to be. At the same time we can anticipate that mounting costs of food in urban areas will result in support for political measures which will assure that the hoe farmer will be kept from preempting the urban food supply.


Comparing hoe culture with mechanized agriculture is even more difficult than comparing it with plow culture using draft animals because many of the factors in machine agriculture are not of local origin and no accounting exists to show just what their energy costs are. Such costs are usually known only in monetary terms and are therefore not directly usable. Moreover, the fact that the tractor does not require feed, and hence does not involve a reduction in crop land, removes one source of resistance to the introduction of tractor farming. Despite these complications, the same striking disparity is apparent. Available research limits our choice of illustration and makes it difficult to know how good a sample we are presenting, but these are merely illustrations; the principles involved are not dependent for their verification upon them, but upon abundant research in the field of physics and agrobiology.

Rice Production: Japan and the United States

The Japanese wet-rice farmers probably produce more than any other large class of hoe-culture people. The average return is about 50 bushels per acre. Cultivation and harvest take about 90 man-days per acre, or 90 horsepower-hours. Compare these figures with those of a study made in Arkansas in 1947, where wet-rice farming also yielded about 50 bushels per acre. {6} It is carefully done and represents an adequate sample for the area concerned. To raise 50 bushels of rice in Arkansas took 14.1 man-hours, 4.3 tractor-hours, 1.3 truck-hours, and 434 kilowatt-hours of electricity for pumping. In addition fertilizer containing 32 pounds of available nitrogen was put on the land. The tractors used 3.6 gallons of distillate and 0.05 gallons of gasoline per hour. The truck is figured at 1 gallon of gasoline per hour.

Since we shall be alluding to figures of this kind again, we give in detail the method of conversion into horsepower-hours. [Note from Bill Totten: I omit these detailed calculations here, but will happily provide them to anyone who asks. The total came to 806.54 horsepower-hours for raising 50 bushels of rice in Arkansas.]

Comparison shows that the operating-energy costs alone ran about 9 to 1 against machine agriculture. Japanese average production was 5,663 horsepower-hours per acre heat value, or, at 20 per cent, 1,132.6 horsepower-hours mechanical energy. Subtracting 90 horsepower-hours for the 90 man-days used in cultivation, the surplus was 1,042.6 horsepower-hours mechanical energy. Taking the Arkansas product at the same figure, subtracting the costs only of the energy actually used in operation and making no allowance for repairs and amortization of the machines, the surplus is only 326.06 horsepower-hours per acre. On the other hand, the Japanese surplus was 1.25 horsepower-hours per man-hour, while the American surplus was 23.1 horsepower-hours per man-hour.

The Japanese have utilized a great proportion of the means which modern technology provides to increase their physical productivity, while continuing to use hand labor. Their use of organic fertilizers and their methods of seed and plant selection, cultivation, and harvesting bring their productivity per acre up to that in the United States. Thus it is possible, at least in rice farming, to secure as much total energy, or feed as many people, from an acre with hand labor as is secured in the United States from an acre tilled with machines. From the Japanese point of view, to use in agriculture a large amount of energy which could otherwise be applied in industry, thus creating unemployment among erstwhile farm workers, who must as a consequence either starve or eat without producing, would not seem to be an efficient use of available energy.

From the American point of view - or considered strictly from the angle of producing surplus energy - the 23 horsepower-hours per man-hour of surplus energy to be gained by expending energy on the production of rice when compared with about 1,500 horsepower-hours per man-hour of surplus from the coal miner, and more from other sources, leads to the conclusion that the rice-producing operation represents an unwise choice. Of course, before any firm figure is used, the relative costs of the converters required to produce and maintain the tools used by both coal miner and rice grower must also be computed.

The case of rice was chosen because figures were available, and not because it is representative. Japanese rice production is very high as contrasted for example with that of India, where in 1932 only 14 bushels were raised per acre, though the yield in Japan is about 1/5 less than in Italy, which produces relatively small quantities. On the other hand, rice production in the United States in 1950 averaged 49.11 bushels per acre. Thus the comparison of American and Japanese production of rice is at least not unfair.

Other Comparisons

A more representative example is available in connection with wheat. Buck {7} found that in China in 1933 it took 26 man-days to produce an acre of wheat, with the average production 16 bushels per acre. A study made in Idaho, where, on irrigated land, average production was around 30 bushels per acre (more than double the United States average in 1949 of 14.1 bushels) showed an expenditure of about 45 horsepower-hours per acre. In this case, while the energy expended per bushel in the United States was almost the same as in China, the expenditure per acre in the United States was 19 horsepower-hours greater than in China, not taking into account the energy needed to compensate for the implements used or the costs of the irrigation system, which are in Idaho largely reflected in the price of land rather than, as in Arkansas, in pumping costs. On 30 bushels per acre of wheat, at the expense of 45 horsepower-hours, the surplus per acre yields 891.33 horsepower-hours. Assuming 12 man-hours per acre, the surplus produced in the United States is around 75 horsepower-hours per man-hour, or considerably more than that gained from pump-irrigated rice in Arkansas. However, on the national average of around 15 bushels the surplus is only 34.43 horsepower-hours per man-hour, assuming that costs in Idaho are typical.

Let us compare the costs in terms of corn, which is very widely used in the United States for livestock feed. A comparison of the energy costs of United States corn with those of corn raised in a Mexican village is enlightening. Average production of corn in the United States for 1949 was 37 bushels per acre. This is the equivalent of about 1,500 pounds of shelled corn. Lewis {8} reports that in Tepoztlan the average production using the plow is "9.6 cargas of shelled corn a hectare", or 1,181 pounds of shelled corn per acre. In accordance with his estimate that hoe culture produces much more than plow culture, running up to twice the average of plow land, we can assume for purposes of comparison an average production of about 1,500 pounds of shelled corn. On the other hand, the average cost of Tepoztlan corn, previously shown to be 66.8 horsepower-hours per acre, is to be contrasted with 158 horsepower-hours spent directly in Arkansas to produce only 25 bushels, or 1,000 pounds, of shelled corn. When we recall that hoe culture in Tepoztlan included clearing the land as well as planting and harvesting the crop, the contrast is the more startling.

Another type of comparison, from a study of Indiana farms, may be enlightening. {9} It was found that to produce an acre of corn required 8.8 hours of tractor time. At the rate of 3.5 gallons of gasoline per hour the fuel cost is about 31 gallons. Ayres and Scarlott estimate that an average acre of corn yields about 89 gallons of alcohol, which has a heat value about 4/5 that of gasoline, so that the corn would be equivalent to 71.2 gallons of gasoline. Deducting the energy costs, we have a yield of the equivalent of only 40 gallons of gasoline per man per 8.8 hour day from corn, which yields the highest energy of all the widely grown field crops in the United States.


In every case these illustrations show hoe culture producing more surplus energy per acre than mechanized methods. It would, of course, have been possible to cite less efficient low-energy societies. The comparisons used indicate that it is possible for hoe culture to produce more food from a given land area, and more surplus energy, than mechanized farming. As a matter of
fact, hoe culture can more effectively make use of such scientific practices as plant and seed selection, hybridization, thinning and pruning, soil selection, the selective application of fertilizer and insecticides than can machine cultivation. Thus once the techniques are developed, more food and more energy can be produced from a unit of land without machines than with them. Other changes in culturally sanctioned practices that currently limit productivity, such as overgrazing (with resultant erosion) and the burning of manures for fuel, might also be made without adopting the use of machines. A direct supply of fuel for heating, for example, might increase the use of manures for fertilizer. The difficulties of modifying any or all of the social factors involved here might be very great, and it is not affirmed that they could in all cases be successfully overcome. Nevertheless these are real alternatives, which, if adopted, could result in an increase in the standard of living and/or survival in rural areas. It is more likely that such practices would be willingly accepted by rural people than the introduction of methods that would mean forced migration for some of them and continuous limitation of opportunity to use land for their own and their families' subsistence. Moreover, these practices are very likely to be introduced under the auspices of the same humane movements that work to reduce infant and maternal mortality and the death rate from disease and otherwise to promote population growth - in the very areas in which, with machine cultivation, the population would be locally less employable. With the size of the population base that exists in Asia and Eastern Europe and much of Oceania and Middle America, it is probable that, as in Japan, the introduction of more scientific agriculture will result in increased agricultural productivity but will also be accompanied by changes which increase population by such numbers as to make the continuation of intensive hand methods an absolute necessity if starvation for many people is to be avoided.

It appears that, if the objective is to secure support of the largest possible population, hand methods of intensive cultivation provide the answer. If a higher material standard of living is sought, it can be secured only by limiting population to the number that can be fed by methods that use high-energy converters to release men from the land. It must be kept clearly in mind that securing the largest possible population and securing a higher material standard of living are mutually exclusive objectives.

Another method of increasing the supply of food, where land is relatively abundant and labor is the bottleneck at certain periods has already been mentioned: the temporary use of migratory labor during these periods and its supplemental employment elsewhere. The difficulty encountered here, in a society completely or primarily dependent on low-energy converters, is that the energy increase available to this mobile part of the population can be no greater than the increase in productivity which results from its use in bottleneck operations. The increase is, except under unusual conditions, necessarily small, and the costs of transportation, the maintenance of dual living facilities, and/or costs of transporting and maintaining migratory families usually militate against any considerable use of migratory workers.

Some special relations between high-energy societies which provide seasonal employment for the labor surplus of overpopulated agricultural regions do, of course, help these regions at once to deal with their problem of overpopulation and to supply the demand for food in the urban areas to which they are attached. But this is merely another example of the way in which a high-energy system can be supplemental to a low-energy one. It offers no solution to the problems of the low-energy area taken as a self-contained unit.

Where those engaged in agriculture are permitted to operate in the same economic and political system as those using high-energy converters, with the population having the free choice of entering industry or staying on the farm, and prices reflect the monetary consequences of the choice, urban bids for food will be weighed against demands for food and other goods by those in the farming areas, who may choose either to remain and produce food or to leave and enter urban employment, there to produce agricultural machinery to replace them in supplying food. In a completely agricultural area, where people have no opportunity to migrate to high-energy-producing regions and no choice of using the products of such regions save through exchange of food or goods made with the aid of men and/or other plant-consuming converters, the purchase of agricultural machinery and the fuel to run it leads to a different kind of judgment about the use of men versus the use of machines.

The Primacy of Food as an Energy Source

Food is of course different from other energy sources, since it can be substituted for other forms of energy, which will not, in turn, replace it. Since life itself is dependent upon food, its value to the consumer may be so high that it will be exchanged for any amount of other energy available to him who seeks it. Where food is scarce enough, it may command services at a price equal to all the energy made available by a man consuming that food and producing another fuel, even though the other fuel so produced yields a hundred times the energy of the food consumed. For example, the coal miner might, as he apparently does in Russia, have to turn over all the coal he mined in a day for little more than the food he and his family eat in a day, even though the heat value of the coal he mined might be a thousand times that of the food he and his family consumed. The coal miner is not able, in the Russian system, to bargain directly with those who have food for sale. Between him and them stand not only the authority of government but also all those who must cooperate to make and to manage the converters by which coal is transformed into the goods sought by the farmer. All these must share in this energy, and judgment as to the validity of their claims on it must take into account technological, geographical, and social conditions.

What the industrialist demands from the farm is not the maximum energy he can secure, or necessarily any labor force; it is food itself, in sufficient amounts to maintain the industrial population and assure its growth. However, once this specific need is met, food, along with other goods and services, is sought at the least sacrifice of the values prevailing in the industrial society. It may be a matter of indifference whether the goods bought are produced with the energy of food put through a man or another animal or with that of coal, oil, or falling water put through a machine. The hoe-culture farmer faces different alternatives: he must use his food-fueled body either directly to produce what he wants or to produce food for exchange for other goods. In either case what he offers is a low-energy product. Those who control the use of land may consider substituting in the productive process the inputs of low-cost fuel for labor which must be fed with high-cost food. If his social system permits, the landowner may choose to exchange a day's supply of food for only a fraction of the energy made available by a coal miner in a day rather than a day's work from a laborer willing to work for him on the farm at subsistence but able only to deliver through his work the product of a hundredth of the energy that could be secured through employing the coal miner. Thus, apart from claims which can be made through kinship or other means of social identification, manpower produced in low-energy systems may be denied all claim to even a rising productivity.

Increasingly, modern men are for some purposes considered to be merely an alternative to machines, which can be run on the cheap surpluses of coal, oil, gas, and falling water. In comparison, food is a high-cost fuel to be put through an expensive converter. A man with converters which will use cheap energy can displace many men whose fuel costs make them unemployable in an economy that disregards claims not based on rational calculation of inputs in terms of outputs. If a population with equal access to both sorts of fuels and converters was allowed to increase so that it pressed on the available food supply, and food was offered in a free market, the food raiser could command all the other energy produced by the society in compensation for his cooperation in providing food. Such situations rarely, if ever, exist. There is a great deal of evidence showing how population is limited in primitive society. Similar evidence exists for early civilizations. It is likewise true that until recently most food was consumed by its producers directly and entered the market in only limited amounts.

In feudal times in the West population was limited by the fact that productivity was a function of organic converters. The worker's share was a fixed fraction of that productivity; it did not increase as his family increased. As a consequence, population could increase during years of plenty, but weaker individuals were bound to die off in the years of scarcity. The feudal lord sought the maximum surplus; increased labor beyond a given point yielded less than the food consumed by that labor. Those landlords too "humane" to recognize this fact were frequently conquered by those who restricted the number of laborers, raised horses, which produced greater surplus, and overran their weaker neighbors. The feudal lord was usually the only man who controlled food in excess of his needs; he was in control of more political and military power than those who might otherwise have forced him to disgorge that food on their own terms. He commanded the loyalty of those whom he protected and owned the land on which their horses fed. Since with low-energy techniques the greater portion of the population must be attached to the land, he was able to subordinate other men and their values to those which he favored. The balance between population and resources was kept at a point above subsistence, and the food raiser did not have to enter a free market.

We have seen how the hold of the feudal lord was broken in England. He has undergone a similar fate in some other parts of the world. Today industrialists command tremendously greater quantities of energy for military purposes than do farmers. Consequently land can be made, by fire and sword if necessary, to serve the values of industrial populations. Those in industrial areas now have the means both to coerce and to persuade landowners to use land "wastefully" in terms of the maximum population it might feed, while denying people in low-energy areas access to the land on which they might maintain a larger population. For his part, the farmer with control over sufficient land and access to industrial workers may also secure more of his own values at the cost of less sacrifice of those values by producing "food-wasting" beef, poultry, and dairy products than by producing what he needs through cooperation with those who are willing to work for bread but can offer only their bodies to serve as converters. The industrial worker with 20 or 30 horsepower-hours a day of energy may, even though he demands beef in return, produce enough to deliver his product at less cost to the farmer than his low-energy counterpart. Thus the farmer, by attaching himself to the high-energy system, may reduce the efficiency of the land used - in terms of the numbers obtaining food from it - while increasing the supply of other goods which that food will provide for him.

The same situation prevails among those employing men for any other purpose. They may choose to employ workers who are able to demand a wage which offers to each of them much more goods than could be demanded by low-energy producers but who produce so much more in an hour or a day that the cost of their services is less than the alternative of employing hand labor. For example, in the United States the coal miner currently uses in the mine about one kilowatt-hour of energy derived from food daily. He is paid an average of about $18 for that energy. He daily mines about 7.3 tons of coal, each pound of which can produce about one kilowatt-hour of mechanical energy. So, even at $18 a day, the energy derived from food fed to the miner costs only a little more than 0.12 cent per kilowatt-hour. On the other hand, a man living on rice must, at 20 per cent efficiency, eat 2.35 pounds of rice in order to deliver daily one kilowatt-hour of energy; with rice at 20 cents a pound that kilowatt-hour of mechanical energy must cost at least 47 cents. The Japanese rice grower produces about ten kilowatt-hours surplus per day. Thus, with rice at 20 cents a pound, the energy he makes available costs about 4.7 cents, or almost forty times the cost of the energy obtained from the American coal miner, even though the miner gets 38 times as much as the rice-fed laborer must have merely to feed himself.


What is gained by using high-energy converters on the farm is not more total food, or more product per unit of energy expended, or more surplus energy. It is a reduction in the time which must be spent by human beings in producing food. Many units of energy from fuel may have to be expended for every unit of energy from food saved by this substitution. Because the time cost of securing that energy from coal, oil, or falling water is much less than that required to secure it from food, the farmer with more land than he can cultivate by himself seeks to substitute inputs of this time-cheap energy for inputs of more time-costly manpower. On the other hand, what is sought by the urban worker is food itself, and he will sacrifice whatever portion of the energy available to him is necessary to secure it. The release of manpower by the use of high-energy converters in farming has the effect, in areas where the population has previously been climactic for a hoe or plow culture, of releasing men - or creating agricultural unemployment. But that is seldom the objective: it is the inevitable result of this process of substitution.

We may now be able to see a little more clearly the factors that lead men to decide whether or not to increase the number and capacity of high-energy converters in agriculture. The key is to be found in the relation between the cost of time and the cost of energy. When the cost of the time used is greater than the cost of the energy from sources other than manpower required to replace it, machines replace men. When the cost of the time is less than the cost of the energy required to replace it, men will not be replaced. There are thus two sets of factors operating, each of which can be represented by a mathematical series. One series represents the rate of population growth, which determines both the maximum supply of labor and the minimum demand for food. The other stands for the rate of accumulation of other converters. This sets limits on the mechanical energy available from sources other than manpower. The ratio between them is a critical factor in the course of industrialization.

A given rate of population growth provides a certain number of bodies which are potential converters. Social arrangements may determine what proportion of those persons who might be used in production will be so used, and these vary tremendously from place to place and time to time. {10} Social arrangements may also dictate how the mouths shall be fed, that is, whether all shall eat bread before anyone eats cake, or whether the demand of some for steak is to be fulfilled before all the children are provided with milk. But these arrangements must supply a minimum diet if the population is to be maintained, and they cannot use more manpower than the total to be obtained from the population using that food. If England, for example, is to maintain its population at 45 million, it must supply food for that many people, even if to supply that food (whether by importing it or by raising it in England) means the sacrifice of ten times as much energy from coal as can be secured from the food. In turn, the proportion of the population required to secure British food - whether through direct production of that food on British farms or through the provision of the energy required either to trade for food or to produce it by the aid of such devices as hothouses, which increase its energy cost - limits the number of those in England who can produce other forms of energy and the products obtainable through their use. If the population grows, the problems increase accordingly.

The other series, the rate of accumulation of nonhuman converters, represents the means whereby energy from other sources can be made available to replace food-using men or provide them with the products they could not obtain through human effort alone. The limiting factor here is the rate at which converters other than men can be produced. As has been shown, the low cost of producing surplus energy from coal, oil, gas, and falling water makes man a relatively expensive converter using an expensive fuel. The calculation of opportunity costs will thus favor a continuous increase in the use of machines wherever they can successfully replace men. Here the choice lies between using energy to make converters which will increase the capacity to use cheap surplus energy and using energy to increase the production of food so that men can be released from agriculture. Frequently the latter course merely renders useless a portion of the manpower, whose demands for food require diversion of cheap fuel to produce relatively expensive food. If population can be limited, the increased number of high-energy converters can be used to increase the supply of surplus energy and of additional high-energy converters at a rate which results in a mounting per capita output of those goods which can be produced by machines. As a consequence the costs of reproducing high-energy converters fall, and their greater use causes the disparity between their costs and those of hand labor to increase even faster. Thus by limiting population growth and migration and accelerating the rate of accumulation of converters a society gains the means to increase material well-being. Hence if the series which represents the rate of accumulation of converters accelerates more rapidly than population, the society is likely to move in the direction of high energy. If the reverse is the case, movement in the direction of low energy is to be expected.

In determining whether to use converters to increase the supply of food or of other goods, those who control surplus energy may calculate the results of both courses. Investment in agricultural machinery competes with investment in machinery for industry. If converters are likely to be equally effective in the two fields, the bidding is as apt to result in expanded mechanization of agriculture as of industry. However, if agriculture has any inherent characteristic that necessarily limits the effectiveness with which high-energy converters can be used, a differential rate of entry into the two fields is, to the degree that purely economic considerations govern, to be expected. We need, then, to see whether the energy inputs required to secure in agriculture a given reduction in costs are in fact likely to be equal to or greater than similar inputs in industry. The significance of the difference will vary as energy costs represent a greater or smaller fraction of all the costs to be considered.

In many factory operations, increased productivity follows directly from an increase in the energy used. This is not so in many farming operations. The energy converted by the plant is a function of the characteristics of that plant, the nutrients and water obtained from the soil, and the sunshine falling upon it. None of these factors is directly related to the speed with which the crop is put into or taken off the ground, the activities which are primarily affected by the use of high-energy converters. Only to the limited degree that some seed will get into the ground earlier and some be harvested later than if the work was done by hand does machine tillage necessarily affect the yield. Since the cost of the increased speed goes up as the square of the velocity, increasing the speed of agricultural operations through the use of machinery will ultimately bring the cost of that energy up to a point where it is equal to that of using hand methods to get the same result. But long before any such point is reached, the claims of other uses of energy will be likely to intervene, because there is a special handicap in the use of farm machinery. Few farm machines can be used for anything like the number of hours in a year that factory machines are commonly used. The tractor is being used more and more in the field, but it is in competition with self-propelled tools and also with more flexible electric power in stationary operations. The average use of tractors in the United States is still only about 600 hours a year, as compared with the 2,000 hours common for industrial machinery. The plow can seldom be used more than twenty to thirty days a year, and the cultivator less than that. A pickup hay baler will not often be used more than fifty hours a year, a silage cutter and elevator no more often. Even an all-purpose combine would hardly be used more than 300 hours a year, a corn picker not more than about 200.

In a capitalist economy, to get all the implements he needs the farmer has to bid against industry for the use of the machine tools and energy which are required to build his machinery. If instead of buying them he hires custom work, he pays a rental reflecting this fact, or loses as much in crops while waiting for machines (which are not available to everybody who needs them at once) as he would by buying or by paying enough rental to assure against such losses. On the other hand, in a "socialist" society someone must make the decision to use machine tools and energy to produce farm machinery or other machinery, and, if he is rational, must similarly calculate the advantage or disadvantage of investing energy in agricultural machines with a very limited usefulness as against machines with more extensive usefulness.

Thus, food suppliers seeking the cooperation of industrialists are at a disadvantage except during periods when food is scarce among industrial populations. Only then are they likely to be able to increase mechanized production. At other times the price of food is usually not high enough to provide profit margins equal to those secured by businessmen supplying demands for goods other than food. Not only is the cost of food necessarily higher than an equivalent amount of fuel; the differential cost of the converters used also mounts. In the earliest steps toward industrialization, or in areas entirely dependent upon the sale of low-energy products to secure high-energy converters, it may be possible to raise a child to the point where he becomes employable at a cost less than that of obtaining his mechanical equivalent. In the high-energy society a machine which will deliver energy equivalent to that of a fully grown man can frequently be secured for less than the fee of the obstetrician who delivers a baby. The energy devoted to bringing a man to maturity will, if put directly into operation by way of the coal mine, yield converters with far greater capacity than a man to do those tasks in which machines can be substituted for men. This would militate against unlimited expansion of investment in agriculture even if it were not true, as is the case, that the subsequent fuel and maintenance costs of machines are only a tithe of the costs of maintaining men.


It should be clear from the foregoing that a number of factors operate at present to induce industrial populations generally to claim surplus energy for themselves as against farm populations. This is true for the population generally, but it may not be true for those who wish to invest surplus in a distant market, where monetary costs are lower than in industrial areas. Whether or not, as the class interpretation of history would have it, this differential was the factor that motivated English capitalists to invest abroad, England did export a large portion of the goods which her industrial system was able to put out. The great majority of those in England who were in a position to direct the flow of energy believed in the virtues of trade. While it is true that the trader was forced to make some concession to landlords and to the state and otherwise to disperse part of his surplus at home, he was by modern standards quite free to disperse most of it abroad if he wished to do so. With a fundamental belief that "in the long run" he would get back all that he put in, and more, he traded goods for promises, many of which it turned out were never kept. Sometimes the energy which went into the goods returned to England, as compensation for that expended to produce what was exported from England, was negligible.

Today in England and elsewhere the trader occupies a less strategic position than he formerly did. Many of those in the economic and political system which uses many high-energy converters develop claims on what is produced, whether or not they are directly responsible as such for the increased productivity. If the market apparatus leaves them "underprivileged", they are likely to turn to institutions which recognize their claims. Doctors and other professionals gauge the worth of their services by the income of their clients, so that an increased claim by workers or businessmen translates itself into an increased claim by professionals. Similarly, government and business bureaucrats, teachers, postmen, and distributors may, while continuing to perform exactly the same physical operations that they formerly engaged in, organize to preserve their status position vis-a-vis the industrial worker or owner. Nor do farmers willingly see their share of the national product reduced.

As a consequence, industrial owners and traders have no such freedom as that enjoyed by merchants and industrialists in nineteenth-century Britain. National governments claim a very large part of the surplus, either for military undertakings and public works or for welfare purposes. After taxes, before the owner of converters gets his hands on the surplus produced with them, he has to contend with organized labor and management and with those who distribute the product. Moreover, he is limited by nationalistic efforts of other areas to preserve their own markets, their natural resources, or their way of living. Only within these limits is he free to choose whether or not to make an investment abroad, and whether there to invest in agriculture or other enterprises. Because, as we have seen, for reasons inherent in the nature of agriculture, physical productivity is likely to be higher in industry, investment in agriculture is not likely to prove attractive.

We must realize that most of the time, and for most products, the choice, to trade or not to trade, to invest or not to invest, is largely a unilateral one. That is to say, those in the higher-energy areas have the choice of using the products of low-energy areas or of producing these products, or substitutes for them, at home. People using high-energy technology and able to choose between producing goods to be exchanged with low-energy areas and using their own surplus energy to produce, at the cost of more energy but less time, those goods they might obtain through exchange with low-energy society, will presumably make the decision in terms of their own values. They will not be deterred by the evil consequences to those whom they may never have seen, and in whom they frequently have no interest, from pursuing a policy which maximizes their own values. Thus, where a substitute for the product of low-energy society can be produced in a high-energy society, the latter will probably choose to produce it even at the cost of energy greater than that which could be exchanged for that good.

Political Considerations

Many factors operate in favor of this choice. One of the most significant is the opportunity it affords to employ those displaced in industrial society by technological change and, particularly, to remove from the land the population no longer needed in the farm areas of the high-energy society. This effort toward full employment is an important aspect of continuing technological change in high-energy society. {10} Another important factor is the mounting cost of securing and maintaining in low-energy society conditions favorable to the growth of trade. We have shown why low-energy societies are likely to resist change. Local resistance organized into nationalist movements and equipped with fairly cheap but lethal weapons wielded by superabundant manpower makes foreign trade expensive in many of the old colonial regions today as compared with the days when an expeditionary force landed from a cruiser could be depended upon to keep large areas in check. The cost of holding the empires developed under sail may make trade unprofitable now. Such costs might in large part be eliminated by reducing dependence upon low-energy areas. This can be accomplished by subsidization of chemical and metallurgical research, the development of new plants, and the increased use of synthetic fertilization and other means to increase agricultural production. Industrial populations find it increasingly easier and less costly to devote energy to research which will make it possible for them to produce what they need within the area they politically control than to depend upon the natural products of areas outside that control. Nowadays the universities of the United States and Germany, for example, specialize in developing scientists who can deliver the kinds of facts which make this substitution possible, rather than in training men in the knowledge needed by the diplomat or the colonial administrator. Investment goes into synthetic dyes, rubber, and fiber. Investigation is made into alloys or processes of concentration or beneficiation of ores. Cheap materials-handling and earth-moving equipment make it possible to use low-grade ores economically as well as to invest energy within the boundaries of a political and economic system. Such usages are replacing that system of exploration and conquest or political domination over foreign lands which was once thought to be necessary for prosperity.


Britain's experience with "maturing" colonies and with the rise of nationalism in her "backward" areas makes it clear that increasing the energy available through foreign investment frequently has the effect of implementing ever more strongly the nationalistic feeling that arises in reaction to the disruption occasioned by the introduction of new techniques (or the products of new techniques) which upset accepted relationships. In such cases the autarchy which develops cuts out the possibility of getting any return from foreign investment and discourages further investment. This leads industrial states to stockpile specific goods through what amounts to barter rather than to encourage free trade and foreign investment. Certainly Japan's experience in China, Manchuria, and Korea - as well as British experience there and in India and Iran - demonstrates the fact that the reaction which sets in when trade and investment are undertaken may be much more costly than was calculated when that trade was originally contemplated. Such costs, while no part of those calculated by the trader or investor, are real and must be borne by the system in which he functions; other groups in the system who share the costs may choose to continue to pay them or may turn to any other available alternative.

Those who foresee a rapid expansion of industrial converters all over the world overlook many instructive examples. An outstanding one is the experience of the British in Ireland. In spite of tremendous effort, backed by overwhelming might, the British were finally forced to abandon the idea that the cultivation of large estates in Ireland could be made to yield large agricultural surpluses for Britain. In the United States even a Civil War costing four hundred thousand lives, forty billions of dollars, and untold misery failed immediately to create a new energy base for the South. Until quite recently, alongside the greatest concentration of industrial converters in the world, Southerners preserved a culture basically little different in energy terms from that of Egypt under the Pharaohs. The refusal of the French peasant, given a unified piece of land after the First World War, to keep it intact so that machinery could effectively be used is another case in point. Western theory has too long neglected the implications of this type of reaction to trade-induced change.

We have given too little consideration to the way in which trade disrupted Eastern culture. In China, for example, the introduction of cotton and silk from industrial countries had the effect of reducing productivity among those peasants who had hitherto used sheep to convert the grass of the cemetery and silkworms to convert the mulberry leaves that grew along the canals into fiber which frequently not only clothed them but also created surplus with which to pay taxes and to buy necessary articles from the towns. Cheap cotton, wool, and rayon from the West destroyed their market. With this source of income gone, many peasants lost their ability to hold on to their land. As Fei and Chiang {12} put it, "It seems that the main cause of the concentration of landownership in the hands of town-dwellers lies primarily in the decline of rural industry". As a consequence, much of the "liberty" which was bestowed upon the merchant by Western intervention had the effect of producing penury for the peasant. Efforts of the Kuomintang to introduce in China the Japanese methods of breeding silkworms and spinning and reeling silk with the aid of constant-speed electrical motors at central stations were defeated by the fact that these methods, similarly, had the effect of reducing the opportunity for productive activity among peasants who had to live by that activity.

It must constantly be kept in mind that mechanized agriculture reduces the number of people that can locally live off the land, so that if it is to be adopted something must constantly intervene in the food-raising area to induce reduction in the local population. Whether that reduction comes about through starvation, migration, infanticide, or birth control is only in part a matter of local choice; it is sometimes wholly determined by outsiders with power to implement their demands. In effect, industrial areas can ordain starvation in rural areas by preventing migration from those areas and at the same time removing surplus food from the land. They may concurrently invoke values which lead to increased survival (for example, decry infanticide and birth control) and take away the means by which that survival is made possible. It is not surprising that in these circumstances there is confusion, cynicism, and social disorganization.

This disorganization has been greatly intensified by the social and economic instability of industrial countries. Recurrent wars have had the effect of producing repeatedly a situation in which for a time the price of food is very high. During these periods mechanized agriculture is likely to be widely extended. Then, when war has ceased, areas which in wartime imported food are confronted with a choice between continuing to import food, and purchasing the products of high-energy technology. When food and human effort begin to compete for employment against fuel and its converters, the real costs of mechanized agriculture begin to show up. It becomes obvious in many cases that the costs of mechanized agriculture are too high to be sustained in the face of competition with the machine in industry or with hoe cultures and their "cheap" labor. Unless some cultural factor is set up to protect food raisers, disaster will follow. As soon as surplus food is available, at which point it must be measured by at least some of its potential users in terms of the energy which its converter, man, will yield in competition with other converters, food will no long command a price which reflects its unique function. The relative inefficiency of agriculture in producing surplus energy forces the price of food to a level which provides the food raiser with little more than his own subsistence, and even then much food becomes a glut on the market. And in the meantime food raisers lose their ability to claim the products which other industries are set up to deliver to them.


As we shall point out later, the widespread use of high-energy technology has had the effect of enormously increasing the range of adjustments which are made through the use of the price mechanism. This has been particularly disastrous to agriculture. It is not possible quickly to increase or decrease the factors affecting either the supply of or the demand for food, yet the price of food in industrial societies with a free market fluctuates more wildly than that of any other product. In agriculture taken as a whole, as distinguished from a group of diversified farmers in a favored area, changes in supply cannot quickly be made and consequently price fluctuates with demand. Demand in turn varies with conditions beyond the power of farmers to manipulate them. This is complicated by the fact that a shift in demand from beef or poultry, for example, to cereals has the effect of increasing the supply of cereals in relation to the demand for them. Industrial unemployment thus translates itself into immediate effects in terms of both reduced demand for and increased supply of certain foods. Furthermore, since many industrial workers are members of farm families and return to the farm when unemployed, industrial unemployment also increases the supply of farm labor at a time when it is employable only by increasing the supply of food or by decreasing the use of farm machinery. This also accentuates the instability of the demand for industrial products. It is little wonder that, all over the world, agricultural populations have rebelled against the operations of the pricing system. Schultz {12} points out that "the excess supply of resources in agriculture is primarily labor" and on the other hand that "the movement of labor resources into and out of agriculture has not been consistent with changes in prices. The cause for this paradox is that another economic force has superseded the effects of changes in relative prices. The availability or non-availability of jobs [in industry] has been the dominating force."

The minimum size of the farm which can effectively use large amounts of power is constantly increasing. Moreover, to maintain fertility a good deal of land has to be operated in rotation. This is no particular handicap where the tools are simple and the prime mover cheap, but when special machines are used, such as the hay baler, corn picker, and combine, it means that three complete sets of machines have to be used and that the land area in use each year for any one set must be great enough to justify its use. One study {14} showed that in Kentucky to use a disk harrow at a rate that would return its cost in 1946 prices, for both the machine and crops, required at least 200 acres. Tractor mowers required 100 acres. Hay balers required land yielding 150 tons, the combine 100 acres, the corn picker 75. Thus to use the baler and mower for the hay, the combine for the wheat, and the corn picker for the corn on a three-year rotation program requires for efficient operation 300 acres of land, even with a favorable ratio between food and agricultural machinery prices. On farms smaller than this the farmer is paying the implement maker part of the productivity derived from the land and from his labor. As we have already indicated, farms in the United States in 1950 averaged more than 215 acres; in that year there were more than 780,000 farms of over 260 acres in use.

The combined effects of shifting prices, fluctuating industrial employment, increased size of land unit, and increased capital investment are numerous, and they have revolutionized traditional farm life and farm communities. Fuel consumption and farm power and machinery have nearly doubled, and the proportion of income going for purchased inputs and depreciation has increased by approximately one-fifth since 1930. {15} Traditionally, farm income largely represented payments for services performed on the farm, that is, the income was largely disposable at the will of the owner. Today the farmer acts as collector for a good many men located in other sectors of the economy, over whom he exercises only the control that any other buyer in that market exercises, and on the same terms. The extreme variation in farm income as contrasted both with the stabilization of prices by institutional devices and with the more stable situation of industrial producers throws a great share of the risk upon the farmer. He must pay the suppliers of the goods and services he uses what they are able to get from other buyers, without reference to what he can get for his own product. The result has been an increasing demand for some form of insurance against these risks. The operations of the free market - which bring the farmer great gains during periods of food scarcity become an impossible burden when the number of those with access to food is limited while the productivity of industrial workers increases. The reaction, in many parts of the West is a demand for protection against industrialized agriculture abroad and "exploitation" by urbanites at home. Traditionally "liberal" policies are favorable only to the large farmer with adequate land located where he can rapidly shift production practices to meet changing demand. To do this he must be able to hire cheap migratory labor, for which he is responsible only a small part of the year, and be in many other respects quite untypical of food raisers in general.

There are also other necessary consequences industrialized agriculture which contravene past policy and make old institutions less efficient. The increase in the minimum size of the farm means a reduction in the number of farm owners and a great increase in the value of holdings. It is no longer a simple matter for a man to acquire the acreage necessary for efficient production, and it is almost impossible for him to save enough to supply other farms for his children. A farmer who is already possessed of large amounts of land can better afford to pay more for additional land which will make use of his now only partly employed equipment than one whose holdings are so small as to make the use of such equipment prohibitive. The aggregation of large farms in turn permits increased use of still more specialized equipment, earnings from which can be used to enlarge the production unit still further. Capital goes to those farms large enough to use it. {16} The result is a situation in which the farms that are "family-sized" in the technical sense that they can be farmed by an average family are tremendously larger than the farms that are family-sized in the sense that families are likely to be able to accumulate enough to purchase them, or to operate them once they are purchased, in the face of competition with large farmers. Moreover, in many countries the traditional system of inheritance requires division of the land among the children at the death of their parents. Thus the aggregation of land into larger units can be maintained after the death of the owner only by the sale of the farm and the division of its proceeds among the children or through some kind of arrangement which separates the function of ownership from that of management.

Demographic and Ecological Repercussions

The increase in the size of the farm has meant a great decrease in the density of the farm population in farming areas. In the United States the development of the railroad, which could cheaply carry the product of large farms to distant urban centers, together with the practices already discussed, led to residence on the farm, a pattern of agricultural living quite unlike that in older countries such as China, where, in the food-raising regions, villages are about as far apart as farm dwellings are in Iowa or Kansas. Here residence on the farm made it very difficult to obtain locally those goods and services which the villages provided in Europe and in Asia. To fill the need the mail-order house and the central market place, which could provide specialized services for a very extensive area, grew up. The decrease in local demand for these services reduced the demand for other services below the point necessary to support them. For example, the use of the mail-order house to supply implements reduced local demand for church services, schools, lodges, fire protection, theaters, doctors, and hospitals as well as stores, by the amount of demand that the machinery builders and agents of the implement manufacturers supplanted by the mail-order house would have created. The same holds, of course, for many other items, such as heating and plumbing, hardware and building supplies, et cetera.

Thus the reduction in local population had the effect of reducing effective demand for local services by far more than the difference in the number of persons required to till the farms. The outcome was a great reduction in the vitality of the village community in the farm areas and a transfer of functions to larger and more distant centers. Stewart has set forth statistical evidence indicating that the movement in the United States from farms to urban areas, if it continues to follow the present curve, will result in zero farm population. This situation is now approximated in some areas which formerly served subsistence farmers. In certain counties of Wisconsin increasingly populated by subsistence farmers living on scattered patches of fertile land, the costs of maintaining the schools, roads, utilities, welfare, and sanitary services demanded for all their people by the voters of the state mounted very high; to meet this situation the electorate in 1929 voted the complete removal of farmers from these areas and prohibited further farming there.

In some areas of the semiarid West, where farming could be made profitable only by the wholesale use of high-energy converters, the numbers of the needed continuous residents fell very low, and the overhead cost of maintaining families thus became very great. It was not profitable to farm if families were provided with adequate services either directly by the owner or by his paying sufficient wages or higher taxes. For example, where in order to profit it is necessary to operate 5,000 acres of land in a unit, on which machines might be used (for putting in the crop and taking it off) only twenty or thirty days a year, the maintenance of families during the whole year to supply the necessary labor becomes very uneconomical. If families remain on such large units, the bringing together of enough students in one school, or patients in one hospital, supplied with the equipment and trained professionals to provide the service expected, causes the costs per unit of service to mount so high as to be prohibitive except when very high returns can be made from the land. The result of economic choice is the temporary import of machines and men to put in the crop, and their temporary return to harvest it. In the years in which the crop is so small as to make harvesting prohibitively expensive, enough livestock to consume the scanty crop is put on the land to eat whatever has grown. Between times only a caretaker who will keep up the fences and prevent abuse of the land is needed. Frequently here, as in sheep-raising areas in Nevada, this task is assigned to bachelors or childless couples willing to live in almost complete isolation for fairly long periods. Similar land use is seen in Australia and New Zealand, where the use of refrigeration and ships as well as rail has brought about a situation in which the raising of livestock for a distant market brings greater return than subsistence farming. Here, too, the village community has lost many of its functions and a very large part of the population is urban.

We do not anticipate that the great bulk of farms will reach a parallel situation, for, as we have indicated, the mounting costs of mechanized farming are likely at some point to stop the further development of the process except in specialized circumstances such as those noted above. But it is quite probable that the ultimate limits to which it will go have not been reached.

The reduction of the number of those engaged in farming changes greatly the character of the political relations between farmers and other producers. The hold of the landowner in Britain was, as we have seen, finally broken with the repeal of the corn laws. The power of the farm bloc in the American Senate may disappear as suddenly as did the power of the old Tories in the British Parliament. The farm population will under such circumstances be at the mercy of the urban population.

The results of the process of limiting those with access to farm land to the number which will bring the greatest return to the farm owner manifests itself most completely in the sphere of international relations. Here those with only a limited amount of arable land can exert even less pressure to see that that land is used to feed their children than it is possible for them to apply in municipal politics or a local market.

The plains of Argentina, for example, might be made to provide subsistence for millions emigrating from Central and Mediterranean Europe or from Asia, but it is much more likely that these plains will continue primarily to supply meat for Western Europe. The sheep runs of Australia, which could be made to support a larger population of subsistence farmers and herders, are likely to continue, so long as the United States and Britain rule the seas, and seek these products, to provide wool and mutton instead. The probable future of Denmark is to continue to supply meat, milk, and cheese for the populations of industrial workers elsewhere in Western Europe rather than to increase her own population to the point where food must be consumed in the form of plant products. Eighty per cent of the farm area of the United States is used to produce feed for livestock. {17} Only one-ninth of the Calories this feed would yield is made available for human consumption. But with the increased number of industrial workers bidding for meat, milk, poultry, and dairy products, it is not likely that the American Middle West will revert to the earlier pattern of sending abroad large quantities of grain, pork, and lard. On the contrary, it is much more likely that Canadian and Argentine wheat farmers will yield to the demand for high-cost, high-profit products to supply the tables of industrial workers rather than continue to deliver breadstuffs to low-energy areas, or cut up the land so that more local subsistence farmers can use it.

Some Political Implications

The size of the modern state has been increasing. If a state is to be able to actually enforce its edicts, it must have the power to do so. At present many states are actually less powerful, either in influence or in the ability to command force, than some large organizations which function within their borders. The growth of great centers of industrial power dwarfs the power of neighboring states using low-energy techniques. The need for a mass market, as well as other elements which determine the scale of operations, necessitates a very large area of operations. On the other hand, the possibility of creating a common culture which will support and maintain a very large state is limited. It does not appear that the size of the unit necessary for military protection or industrial efficiency is coincident with these limits. At the moment it does not seem that world-wide detailed social organization is necessary for efficient operation of modern technology. Nor does such organization seem possible, given the cultural, geographic, and psychological limits which have combined historically to shape the world as it now is. There seem, to be limits on the size of the effective social unit: beyond a certain point organization cannot be made comprehensible enough for succeeding generations to learn to operate it. It thus appears that large units such as the USSR, the British Commonwealth, and perhaps the United States have reached the point where any technological gains to be derived from an increase in size would be outweighed by the increased costs of creating and maintaining the necessary social, political, and legal controls. Assuming that these organizations are big enough to maintain their military defense, enlargement would weaken rather than strengthen them. Within such units as these it seems apparent that the greatest per capita energy surplus can be secured through limiting the number of food raisers and population to a minimum set by mechanized agriculture and through maximizing production which can be carried on with the aid of energy from other sources. For those regions where the population-to-land ratio is already so high as to require the continued production of food even if that means "regression" toward hoe culture, there seems little prospect of relief to be obtained from the possessors of abundant converters and coal, oil, falling water, gas, and uranium, save in the acceptance by the great mass of the industrial people of the world of some universal self-denying moral and religious code.


{1} Moore, Wilbert Ellis: Industrialization and Labor, published for New School for Social Research, Institute of World Affairs, Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1951.

This book discusses at length and with full documentation the social consequences of industrializing a number of low-energy societies. It shows how resistance arises, the forms it takes, and some of the results. The case material on special situations in Mexico provides a means of estimating roughly the energy which would be required to alter some of the blocks

{2} Lewis, Oscar: Life in a Mexican Village: Tepoztldn Revisited Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1951.

This is a reexamination of Tepoztlan, one of the villages studied by Redfield in the course of his work on the folk-urban classification of societies. For the characterization of the societies here called "low-energy" societies I have of course drawn largely on such studies as these. Lewis's book is particularly valuable because the "economic" base of the community is revealed so painstakingly in quantified terms which make comparison with other systems possible. The general tenor of his work and that of Redfield seems to be based upon the idea that industrialization will continue indefinitely in Mexico. Of this I am not nearly so certain as they.

{3} Lewis, cited, page 156.

{4} Curwen, E Cecil: Plough and Pasture, London: Cobbett Press, 1946, pages 48-49.

An expanded version of this book, containing a section by Gudmund Hatt, has been published in this country (New York: Abelard Press, Inc, 1953)

{5} Fei, Hsiao-tung, and Chih-i Chiang: Earthbound China: A Study of Rural Economy in Yunnan, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1946.

{6} Mullins, Troy and M W Slusher: Comparison of Farming Systems for Large Rice Farms in Arkansas, June 1951, University of Arkansas, College of Agriculture, Agricultural Experiment Station, cooperating with the US Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Fayetteville, Arkansas, Bulletin 509, page 36.

This is one of the very few reports which I was able to locate that provided all the data required to measure operations in energy terms. Undoubtedly a great deal of the field data basic to a very large number of other reports published in terms of monetary costs exist in terms which can be measured energywise. Should this approach prove fruitful, particularly in connection with such propositions as the Point Four program, publication of these data may be enlightening.

{7} Buck, John Lossing: Land Utilization in China, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, page 26.

{8} Lewis, cited, page 143.

{9} Low Cost Labor Power and Machinery Set-ups for Indiana Farms, Purdue University Agricultural Experiment Station cooperating with the Bureau of Agricultural Economics US Department of Agriculture. Bulletin 502, February, 1944.

{10} Jaffe, Abram J and C D Stewart: Manpower Resources and Utilization, New York, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 1951.

The discussion shows how the number and kinds of workers are modified by changing social conditions.

{11} Keynes, John Maynard: The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc, 1936.

Since Keynes's work has been so widely discussed, it is almost supererogation to cite it here. However, the struggle between Keynesian and anti-Keynsian is not resolved. Connection was made here chiefly to show how a shift in social objective from the championship of the theory that maximization of profits is an adequate measure of social welfare to the championship of the theory that practically puts "employment" in that position is related to the use of energy.

{12} Fei and Chiang, cited, page 6.

{13} Schultz, Theodore W: Production and Welfare of Agriculture: New York: The Macmillan Company, 1949, pages 87, 94.

Schultz urges the substitution or supplementation of price as a means of regulating agricultural production. Emphasis is on the effects that market operations are likely to have on the achievement of the social goal "to preserve agriculture as a way of life". The relative effectiveness with which farmers, as compared with their competitors, can deal with the events that control their fate as mediated in the market is given thoughtful treatment; it deserves wider consideration than it seems to have received.

{14} "Farm Horsepower", Fortune, vol 38, no 4, page 198, October 1948.

{15} Bachman, Kenneth L: "Changes in Scale in Commercial Farming and Their Implications", Journal of Farm Economics, vol 34, no 2, pages 157-172. May 1952.

{16} Schultz, cited, page 138.

Bill Totten


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