Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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First Pub. Date
New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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CLIMATE, Politico-economic Aspects of. From an economic point of view the influence exercised by the different climates deserves considerable attention. Up to the present time human industry has made constant and increasing progress only in the temperate regions; outside these regions it has remained stationary, or acquired but a feeble development. These facts prove that the same conditions of development are not met with in all temperatures, and to seek out and state the causes of the differences is by no means unimportant.


—Evidently the greater or less abundance of the natural elements of wealth does not determine the different degrees of prosperity reserved to a people; for the equinoctial countries, which certainly possess these elements in greatest abundance, are among the poorest and most backward. That a people may flourish, it is not enough for them to have within their reach abundant means of production; they must, besides, be incited to make good use of these means. In the success which they achieve everything depends principally upon their progress in intelligence, activity and wisdom in employing the fruits of their labor; and it is because local circumstances do not everywhere equally favor this progress, that it has not everywhere been equally sure and rapid.


—The temperate zones enjoy a superiority in this respect. There everything combines to recommend to the inhabitants the active and vigorous use of their productive faculties. Numerous and various wants incessantly beset them; they have to defend themselves in turn from the scorching heat of summer and the prolonged severity of winter. They require clothing suited to the most opposite atmospheric conditions, appliances for heating, houses securely closed, and built solidly enough to bear the weight of the snow and withstand inclemencies of every kind. It is only by means of labor, of ingenious inventions, and of experiments upon the most different materials, that they are enabled to resist the extreme severity of the climate; and hence the necessity for them of the mental and bodily activity, the habit of which they acquire, and which becomes the very life of their continued prosperity.


—On the other hand, everything combines to form in them habits of economy and foresight. The harvests they reap are slow to mature, and require long continued care. They must be husbanded so as to serve for the consumption of the entire year. Woe to him who would forget in the summer season the needs of the winter that is to follow, and neglect to provide for them! Now there is nothing so rouses and develops the spirit of industry; nothing so surely leads to the reproductive employment of acquired wealth, as the necessity of reckoning with the future, and including it in the combinations and preoccupations of the present.


—The climatic conditions of countries which lie within the tropics or are contiguous to them, are far from acting thus happily upon the ideas and inclinations of the population. Changes of season are almost unknown, and a perpetually serene sky spares men the greater part of the sufferings against which they have to contend in climates of a changeable temperature. A hastily constructed cabin affords all the shelter they require either against the rays of the sun, or against the storms which occur at rare intervals; the least covering serves to preserve them from the inconveniences resulting from nudity, and as soon as they have provided themselves against suffering from hunger, they can enjoy the sweets of repose.


—Nor is there anything in the nature and succession of the labors which they are obliged to perform which is calculated effectually to remove the inconveniences resulting from the simplicity of their wants. Even agriculture requires of them but very little labor. The land hardened and dried by the excessive ardor of the sun, can be worked only during the five or six weeks which follow the rainy season each year; and the long season of idleness which it forces on those who cultivate it, does not fail to nourish their inclination to indolence. Nor is this all. There is no very evident necessity to calculate for the future. As the difference between the various seasons is but a difference of temperature scarcely appreciable, they have not to prepare in one season the resources and provisions which the other will require, and their from-hand-to-mouth subsistence is easily obtained. Thus, nature has in vain lavished the means of production upon the soil on which they dwell; she has not given them the only thing which could teach them to make good use of these means, that is, numerous wants for which they would have to provide under pain of severe privation.


—The effects of a diversity of climate manifest themselves also in the more or less useful direction given to the industrial arts. In countries subject to extreme climatic differences, everything, in the habitual use of wealth, concurs to give to labor a direction useful to all. Among the expenditures of the wealthiest there are few that have not for their object the satisfaction of real wants, or the increase of the well-being acquired; and even the seeking after the improvements of which articles of luxury are susceptible, becomes the source of a number of discoveries, which, in proportion as they come into general use, add to the effective power of the labors destined to supply the wants of general consumption. It is not thus in countries where the rigors of cold are not experienced. Life is there of a sweetness which one little cares to increase. Wealth is employed chiefly to gratify a taste for ostentation and display, and the puerile enjoyments of vanity: and the industries which its expenditures encourage are lamentably sterile. The princes and grandees of the east cover themselves with pearls and diamonds, and gold glitters even on the trappings of their horses; they are surrounded by a host of servants. But their palaces, though covered with the most costly ornaments, contain scarcely any furniture, and were it not for contact with Europeans, they would still be unacquainted with the use of our carriages and the possibility of eating otherwise than with their fingers.


—It is not the absence of imperious and varied wants which checks the development of wealth in the more northern latitudes. On the contrary, man's wants are nowhere so numerous; but nowhere either are there more obstacles to oppose his efforts. Beginning with the sixty second degree, the very short summers do not allow the cereals to mature, and the races whom the thankless soil compels to live upon the fruits of the chase and fishing can not possibly attain to a high degree of prosperity and civilization. In like manner where a less severe climate begins to render cultivation possible the meagreness of the crops, and the immense amount of land that must be reserved for forests to supply fuel, hinder the population from concentrating, and their dissemination deprives them of instruction, desires and emulation, without which men lack the stimulants essential to the energetic use of their resources and faculties.


—The excessive duration of the winters is another obstacle to the progress of labor. In northern countries the earth remains for six or seven months buried under the snow, and the extreme duration of this period inevitably leads those who cultivate it to form habits of idleness, which they can with difficulty abandon when the time for labor returns. Not that they do not endeavor to make use of the time of leisure which they are forced to accept. Far from it: they employ this time in making most of the things they use. Their furniture, clothing, shoes, household utensils, implements of labor, almost everything they need is the work of their own hands. But no matter how natural or conformable to their interests such a development of domestic industry may be, it always has the ill result of keeping a great many of the arts in a sort of infancy. There is little occasion for commerce in a country in which the rural families themselves produce nearly all the objects of their consumption. In like manner the large manufactories, those which, by means of the division of labor and the employment of machinery, besides the advantage of considerably reducing the cost of production, possess the additional recommendation of collecting the information most profitable to the application of human forces, have not sufficient room for their establishment and successful operation.


—These are the causes which, in countries that are subjected to extremes of climate, have to this day prevented the progressive increase of wealth and of the industry which produces it. The privilege of conferring upon the peoples which inhabit them all the qualities which the continued success of human activity requires, seems to have been reserved for the regions which we call temperate. It is these peoples who now collect all the discoveries of science and apply them practically; it is to their efforts that we are indebted for all the improvements which contribute to make labor more fruitful; it is they alone, in fine, who forge and collect all the arms which humanity needs to extend its conquests over the material world, and force it to supply more ample means of triumphing over the misery of its original state.


—We must, however, bear in mind that things were not always thus. The plains washed by the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris, India and Egypt, and the shores of ancient Phœnicia, witnessed the birth and earliest developments of the arts. Later on, Greece acquired a knowledge of them, and gave them a new and more brilliant flight; later, Italy and the banks of the Mediterranean became their principal home. Only during the last three centuries have the countries in which industry is now most richly rewarded begun to carry it to a degree of power and activity of which the world had had no example.


—These facts are easily explained, and, far from weakening, serve to confirm what we have said of the influence of climate. In the beginning the nations which found the least difficulty and met with the fewest obstacles in obtaining the necessaries of life were, despite their ignorance, the only ones which had the leisure which is indispensable to the progress of the human mind. Hence it was that those parts of the world where there was the greatest abundance of spontaneous productions of the soil, added to a warm temperature, became the cradle of industry and the arts. Men could there devote their entire attention to the few wants which absolutely demanded to be satisfied, and they soon found means to avoid suffering from them. But the very circumstances which in extremely warm countries most favored the first impulse to discovery, afterward became an obstacle to its advancement. As the climate added no formidable requirements to those which hunger made, as soon as a certain amount of prosperity was acquired by these nations, they no longer actively applied themselves to increase it.


—It is possible and even very probable that, without the aid of the light which came to them from the countries upon which civilization had shed its first rays, the nations which were weighed down with numerous wants would have been much slower in shaking off the overwhelming burden of their ignorance. But history clearly proves that, once in possession of the means of production discovered by other nations, they have made use of them with an activity hitherto unknown. Animated by the desire and hope of escaping from the sufferings which continued to pursue them, they brought to their work a spirit all the more inventive the more prosperity they had to achieve, and they imparted to the very arts, a knowledge of which they had just received, an impulse which rapidly increased their fecundity. Thus it is that industry multiplied and improved its appliances in proportion as it advanced from the south toward the north. If to become acclimated in the regions wherein such aggrandizement was reserved to it, industry required forces which perhaps it could not find there, it is at least certain that it met with conditions of development which had hitherto been wanting, and there extended more and more the circle of its conquests.


—May we infer from these facts that industry will eventually acquire, in the climes in which it has hitherto remained undeveloped, a degree of development to the attainment of which nothing is contributed by the climates in which it makes the most rapid advancement in our day? This would be to deceive ourselves. If it be possible that north of the line where it now shines with its greatest brilliancy, industry is to overcome many of the obstacles which have opposed its progress, it is evident that there will still remain enough others to limit its progress. As to the countries in which the simplicity of their wants retains the masses in a state of indolence opposed to their development, the influences at work there are not such as yield entirely to the action of time. Thus everything goes to prove that those nations upon whom is imposed the two-fold task of protecting themselves in turn against the inconveniences of summer and the rigors of winter, will continue to open to the rest of mankind the ways to work and to wealth, and to advance toward this goal with a most firm step.


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