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PROBLEMS OF THE AGE
Dealing with Religious, Social and Economic Questions and Their Solution.
A Study for the Quorums and Classes of the Melchizedek Priesthood. 1917-1918.
By Dr. Joseph M. Tanner
IX. – Co-operation
Counsels of Brigham Young. – Within the memory of many now living, it may be recalled that a strenuous effort was made in Utah to induce the people to conduct their business by co-operative methods. The writer once heard Brigham Young say to the people of Provo that the day would come when they would discover the fallacy of all their arguments in favor of competition, when the competitive methods about which people talked so much would be a burden to them. He declared that one distributive business of any kind was enough for the community; that the more the stores, the higher the prices would be; and that it was in the interest of the people to have as many as possible in some productive labor. His efforts were thwarted in time, partly by the insistence of large numbers who were determined to become merchants, and men of business in other pursuits, and partly by the miscarriage of many co-operative institutions. There was a clamor for the correction of these miscarriages in co-operation by competitive methods, rather than by the application of improved methods. In time small stores sprang up in all the communities. A half dozen or more stores took up the work of distribution where one might have sufficed. All these systems of business had to exist. For a time, no doubt, there was strenuous competition; but eventually, merchants found it more profitable to put their heavy burden upon the community at large than to carry it themselves. If they were to exist, they must come to some sort of understanding. Gradually they formed business men’s associations, where they regulated prices. Whenever a new man entered their ranks, there was but one or two courses to pursue. Either one of them must drop out, or prices must be raised to support them all. In bad times there were failures, but to protect themselves against failure it was necessary to raise prices again.
There can be no doubt that constantly rising prices were due in part to the growing and necessary cost of distribution.
Today there is a widespread discontent against the rising costs of living, and a considerable amount of suffering as a consequence. For a time the burden of these excessive costs fell upon the producer. Goods had to be bought as cheaply as possible, and they were cheap because production was large, in consequence of a considerable preponderance of farmers and manufacturers. Cheap production meant cheap labor, and men soon found that they could earn more in the ranks of those who distributed than in those of the producer. Labor unions began to force prices of labor up in manufacturing centers, but there were no unions among farmers. That meant that the higher prices for labor in the cities took men away from the farms. Farm products and live stock suffered. Wheat growing on a commercial scale began in later years to contract, as the prices for labor on the farm made large wheat farms unprofitable. Farmers soon began to reason that a general movement to raise less was more profitable, for the less raised, the higher the prices. There began an almost universal cry for mixed farming. That meant stockraising and dairying; it also meant less wheat. The higher cost of wheat is not merely a result of the war. Nor is the recent decline in amount of wheat raised due entirely to adverse conditions, such as drought and wheat insects.
Commercial System> – speculators have combined to force down prices at harvest time and to raise them when the wheat was bought up. Loans were all on short-time notes on which bankers could enforce payment. “Pay up,” they said; “we will renew the loan.” I have known stock buyers to go to a bank and make arrangements with the manager to buy a certain man’s livestock. What the manager was to get out of the transaction could, of course, not be known. He telephoned the stockman that his note was due and must be paid. “But I have not yet sold, I have plenty of feed to keep my stock over for months; and besides, prices are down just now,” came the reply from the stockman. The manager informed him that there was a buyer in town, and that he must sell. There was no alternative, and the buyer secured a cheap bunch of stock. Such methods, of course, in time resulted in loss of business to the bank by a restriction of business, or by the transfer of it to another bank, which did not make conditions much better. By combination they keep a uniform rate of interest and competition among them is practically unknown. The live stock was cheaper, but the packers’ products remained the same.
Illustrations. – Alberta is one of the best barley countries in the world. From this feed, millions of hogs could be fattened and yet today there are comparatively few hogs fattened for market in the Province. In 1914 the farmers were under fulls wing in the production of hogs. It was a dry year and feed was high, but hundreds of thousands of hogs were fitted for market. When they are ready they must be sold, as it would be a loss to hold them longer. The packers saw their opportunity to get them “dirt” cheap. They dropped prices to four cents a pound. That was an enormous loss to farmers, but they had to sell. They were disgusted, but they “took their medicine” and unloaded, breeding-stock and all. The packers sent an agent out to beg the farmers not to sell their brood sows, but to no purpose. They were done with a business whose control was in the hands of a few men who might ruin the farmers whenever they saw fit. The business was practically killed. It will be slow to revive. Did the packers bring down their products? Not a cent. Their fortunes are mounting into the millions. Yet their agents pull long and painful faces when they tell of the great chances they are taking, and how their company “lost last year.” The shrinkage in production is bringing prices to a higher level, and the consumer must suffer with the producer.
Co-operation. – What’s the remedy? That’s a question. It is certainly not competition. Is it co-operation? Perhaps so, but it will be an enforced co-operation by the Province regulating the business through provincial or municipal agencies. The important co-operation may be between the producer and consumer through the agencies of the state. Market slumps in the products of the farm and ranch are the bane of life in these industries. A monopoly in them is impossible, as in certain manufacturing products, where combination is comparatively easy. As a war measure, price-fixing has been established in the interests of the producer and consumer. The principle will not likely end with the war. Conditions have greatly changed within the past few years, and what has been found to be in the interest of the people, the people will insist shall continue.
Denmark is the most highly organized country in the world in her agricultural and live stock industries. Co-operative methods there are fostered and practiced by the government. The fixation of prices is there considered absolutely necessary to the country’s success. A few years ago the Hiollanders controlled largely the English market in butter and cheese. They were driven from that market by the Danes, whose co-operative method of buying and selling made it impossible for Hollanders longer to hold what they had gained. The Danes so standardized their products through government regulation that the chances of the Hollanders’ winning back what they had lost is quite unlikely. They naturally turned to Germany for a new market. To keep up a maximum of production, it was necessary to stabilize prices. A careful study of market conditions is made, and the price fixed by law. Any one within the country who does not sell at the established prices is fined heavily.
Dangers. – When the pinch is felt in the United States, as it is at present felt in some European countries, our government will intervene by law to stabilize certain industries which need fixed prices, in the interest of the consumer. Farmers and ranchers are becoming more independent, and will doubtless hold their products for a considerable length of time to secure what they consider a fair remuneration. They must demand more if they are to meet the higher cost of maintaining expenses on the farm and ranch. The United States has reached a place where it will require all the wheat raised in normal years to feed its own population. The loss of population to Europe will undoubtedly lessen consumption there, but laborers will be fewer and there will be also an increased demand for labor to rehabilitate all the countries of Europe after the war. Foreign trade will be sought in order to win back the losses in gold. Manufacture will increase rapidly and consume more labor. New complications will arise, whose adjustment cannot easily be foreseen. The intervention of government in all industrial life will be very different from what it has ever been, and a multitude of problems will arise to tax the new industrial age. Co-operation will come more and more into practice, and with the new changes there will come a great danger to the so-called middle classes, who are likely to be scattered into various industrial pursuits.
After all, it is a question of brotherhood. That is fundamental in business life as it is in religious life. Co-operation fosters brotherhood, competition endangers it. Every phase of life brings us face to face with the very thing the world needs most – religi9on.
Revelation. – “It is wisdom in me; therefore, a commandment I give unto you, that ye organize yourselves and appoint every man his stewardship.
“That every man may give an account unto me of his stewardship which is appointed unto him;
“Therefore if a man take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment” (Doc. and Cov. 104:11, 12, 18).