This section is from the "Elementary Principles of Economics" book, by Richard T. Ely and George Ray Wicker. Also available from Amazon: Elementary Principles Of Economics: Together With A Short Sketch Of Economic History
General Characterization. Man's next accomplishment, which carries him a distinct stage farther in his development, is of immense importance. Already knowing how to manage animals to advantage, he now learns to " man age " plants, and to raise them at will. Agriculture, as a means of support, is thus added to the keeping of flocks and to the chase. A greater variety of food is in this way made possible for man, who now ceases his wandering life. A much denser population is the result. Professor Ratzel's calculations indicate that the early agricultural populations were about six times as dense as the pastoral populations. With a denser population remaining permanently in fixed abodes, new relations spring up among men, new duties, new arts, and new possibilities of civilization. It is in these conditions that the political whole which we know as a nation has its beginning.
Land Ownership. Along with growing density of population and increasing permanency of settlement goes a third result, the private ownership of land. Successful cultivation of the soil requires detailed personal care and attention, and some sort of division of the land was hence seen to be necessary. The first parcelling out of the land, however, by no means gave rise to permanent private ownership. The tribe, or community, still owned the land, as is the case to-day with the Russian village community known as the Mir, and the division was recognized as but temporary and for purposes of convenience.
The Origin of a Laboring Class. Perhaps the most important result of the change which produced the agricultural stage was the growth of slavery as an institution. As we have said, slavery had its beginnings in the preceding periods, but it is only in the agricultural stage that it becomes an important, almost a fundamental, economic institution. Tending the herds did not call for persistent labor, but the prose of tilling the soil is undisguised work, and primitive men were not fond of work, nor had they been' trained by long usage to submit to it as to an unpleasant habit. It is not strange, then, that they should have saved the lives of men conquered in battle with the design of putting upon them the task of tilling the soil. This seems to us perhaps a poor reason for being humane, but where humanity is the result, a poor reason is better than none. Free labor has become possible only because for century after century certain men labored not from choice but from necessity. As they became free, labor became free, and the habit of labor had become fixed in the race.
Commerce.With every increase of wealth the tendency to trade also increases, but as yet the occasion for trade was slight, since men's wants and wealth were still everywhere much the same. Such trade as existed ministered chiefly to the love of luxury, and this long continued to be the case. It was probably in part from this cause that the ancient philosophers and the early fathers of the Christian Church displayed great hostility to commerce.
Laws and Customs reflecting Ideas. There remains to be noted the change and enlargement in men's ideas, as reflected in their laws and customs. The Mosaic code, framed to govern a people in the pastoral and agricultural stages, furnishes us the best source of information regarding these new ideas. Even before this time there had been numerous customs regulating life, but in the Mosaic code we are struck by the great increase of duties and restrictions which were then recognized. With fixed residence had come the State, with its justice, its guidance, and its protection its many thou shalts and thou shalt nots; and all this because men had now come to be permanent neighbors, and therefore had the utmost need of a definite understanding to keep them from trespassing voluntarily and involuntarily on one another's liberty. If men are to live close together and accumulate property and enjoy it in peace, there must always be general agreement among the many, and vigorous compulsion for the few. "Neighbor" and "Stranger." It is worthy of notice, however, that for a long time duties and laws were chiefly recognized as being applicable at home. Beyond the boundaries of the tribe or nation they were scarcely held to be binding at all. Thus, for instance, in the early Germanic communities, when the scattered tribes were still small and separated by unoccupied land, the members of each tribe lived in relations of brotherhood, holding property in common and closely guarding all mutual rights. But when different tribes came together to trade on the neutral ground, or Mark, all kinds of sharp practice were deemed admissible. Things not to be thought of at home here passed unquestioned.
Duration of the Agricultural Stage. The agricultural stage lasted for centuries among many peoples. In the development of the civilization of Western Europe, it did not evolve into a higher form until the tenth and eleventh centuries, when the great movement toward the building of cities began. Of course it has not been wholly displaced by subsequent stages of economic life, but only modified unceasingly modified in the progress of time. The marks of the earlier stage are clearly discernible even in our industrial life in America.