This section is from the "Economics In Two Volumes: Volume I. Economic Principles" book, by Frank A. Fetter. Also available from Amazon: Economic
§ 1. Volitional control; beginning and development. § 2. Volitional control and private property. § 3. Class differences in volitional control. § 4. The standard of life. § 5. The quality of population. § G. Decrease of the successful elements. § 7. The menace to progress. § 8. The net resultant of population. § 9. Volitional control decentralized. § 10. Conclusion on Malthusianism.
§ 1. Volitional control; beginning and development.
The action of mankind with relation to population gradually changes from merely instinctive to volitional control. By volitional control is meant any purposeful act of mankind by which the effects of the biologic factors determining the birth and survival of children are weakened. This may be done directly or indirectly in a great variety of ways, by individual men or women or by social customs, beliefs, and institutions which individuals share and which influence their actions. One of the crudest, earliest, and most general methods is the destruction of offspring before or after birth. The student of savage races finds in the methods applied to prevent the birth of children an almost inconceivable brutality. Infanticide was practised in ancient times among the most advanced peoples, as, for example, in Sparta and Rome, where not only deformed and weak children, but unwelcome ones, were destroyed. The practice is permitted even to-day by public opinion among some classes in the densely populated districts of the world. It is one of the dark spots on our own civilization.
In all savage tribes marriage is surrounded by ceremony and in many by economic obstacles. Usually the young man is unable to marry until he has become skilled in all the arts and learned in all the traditions of the tribe, and has proved his prowess in the hunt and in battle. It is the merit system with a qualifying examination for matrimony. Even then the young man must have enough pelf to buy a wife from her family, or (in exogamy) must steal her from a neighboring tribe or clan (not being allowed to marry within the clan). In modern days every artificial taste and sentiment that encourages bachelorhood or spinsterhood is an element in volitional control. Postponement of marriage (as recommended by Malthus) beyond the natural mating time, is one of the chief methods of volitional control. It is rare that the motive for postponing or altogether avoiding marriage is directly and immediately the wish to escape parenthood; now it is religious zeal (monasticism and celibacy of the priesthood) ; again it is disappointed sentiment; here it is conflicting duty (education, family ties) ; and there it is the individual's selfish wish to retain an undivided income for his own enjoyment. By countless strands of motive in the form of sentiments, social institutions, and interests the primitive impulses of humanity are firmly bound; and in varying degrees, in different classes, the enormous possibilities of reproduction are controlled by human volition.
§ 2. Volitional control and private property. Along with enmity for other tribes is found in many early societies an approximation to tribal communism. A condition of communism means that all enjoy together when food and wealth are abundant, and all starve together when food becomes scarce. In truly communistic conditions, if population increases all must sink together into want. Private property alters the nature of the struggle for subsistence and of the motives for limiting population. Society divides into a number of partially independent classes or family groups, each holding its share of wealth apart, not in common with the tribe. The pressure of increasing numbers upon resources is confined by individual industry and by private property to special portions of the population. A society with private property is like a ship divided into a number of water-tight compartments. The worst effects of famine, the growing want of food due to growth of numbers, the increased disease and starvation, are confined to the propertyless members. Both the rewards of industry and the penalties of idleness, incompetence, and improvidence are made more definite and calculable. This affects volitional control of population in two ways: it strengthens the motives for the production of wealth and for abstinence by individuals and in family groups; it gives a motive for the limitation of the number in the family, the consumers of the wealth. A smaller family with larger resources means a wider margin between numbers and misery, and less "pressure of population upon subsistence." This converts the problem of population from a material one of a balance of food and physical needs, to a psychic one of a balance of motives in the minds of men. When this stage is reached, the extreme objective limits either of the birth rate or of increase of population are no longer attained in the well-to-do classes; and at length every class down to the most improvident becomes in some measure affected by these motives.
§ 3. Class differences in volitional control. No wonder then that volitional control is effective in very different degrees in different families and industrial classes. The possession of property is both a sign of forethought and an incentive to it. Concern for the welfare of children is one of the most powerful motives, especially after social distinctions become marked. It may become abnormally strong, leading parents to sacrifice their own welfare or their own lives foolishly for their children, as is done often in the accumulation of property. Among the classes with property the provision for the children depends not only upon the amount of wealth, but upon the number among whom it is to be divided. It is simple division: wealth the dividend, number of children the divisor.
Among the poorer classes very different motives operate. After the first few years of the children's lives the parents' incomes are increased by the earnings of the children, both on the farm and in the factory districts if the laws do not prohibit child labor. Moreover, when the children are grown, their incomes (wages) will depend on the general labor market, not on the number of their brothers and sisters. So according as the family income is mainly from capital or from labor, the motives of the parents differ.
This view is supported not only by general observation but by many statistical studies wherein the marriage rates, birth rates and survival rates of different states, districts, territorial divisions of cities, and industrial classes have been compared with the economic forethought as indicated by some phenomenon such as per capita wealth, taxes, savings, education, etc. The correlation between volitional control and the economic factor is remarkable when large numbers are involved. Those detailed studies have shown that volitional control is not as clearly dependent on the amount of accumulated riches as it is on frugality, prudence, or abstinence, as one may prefer to call it. The middle class of shopkeepers, artists, professional workers, and small capitalists, striving to get ahead, and to give their children a good education and a start in life, show as a class the maximum of restraint of population, having smaller families than either the richest classes or the poorest.