Relation of Space In Production

Henry George
The Science of Political Economy

Book III, The Production of Wealth*

Chapter VII
The Relation of Space In Production

Showing That Space Has Relation to All Modes of Production

Matter being material, space must have relation to all production -- This relation readily seen in agriculture -- The concentration of labor in agriculture tends up to a certain point to increase and then to diminish production -- But it is a misapprehension to attribute this law to agriculture or to the mode of "growing" -- It holds in all modes and sub-divisions of these modes -- Instances: of the production of brick, of the mere storage of brick -- Man himself requires space -- The division of labor as requiring space -- Intensive and extensive use of land. 01

Production in political economy means the production of wealth. Wealth, as we have seen, consists in material substances so modified by human labor as to fit them for the satisfaction of human desires. Space, therefore, which has relation to all matter, must have relation to all production.


This relation of space to all production may be readily seen in agriculture, which is included in that mode of production we have called "growing." In this, the concentration of labor in space tends up to a certain point to increase the productiveness of labor; but the point of greatest productiveness attained, any further concentration of labor would tend to decrease productiveness. Thus, if a Robinson Crusoe, having a whole island on which to expend his labor, were to plant potatoes, each cutting a hundred yards apart from every other cutting, he would necessarily waste so much labor in planting, cultivating and gathering the crop that the return compared with his exertion would be very small. He would get a much larger return were he to concentrate his labor by planting his potatoes closer; and this increase would continue as he continued to exert his labor in lesser space, until his plants became too crowded, and the growth of one would lessen or prevent that of another. While if he continued the experiment so far as to put all his cuttings in one spot he would get no greater return than he might have had from the planting of one, and perhaps no return at all.


This spacial law of production holds good of course in labor exerted conjointly, as in labor exerted individually. On a given area, the application of labor to the growth of a crop or the breeding of animals may sometimes be increased with advantage, the exertion of two men producing more than twice as much as the exertion of one man; that of four men, more than twice as much as the exertion of two; and so on. But this increase of production with increased application of labor to any given area cannot go on indefinitely. A point is reached at which the further application of labor in the given area, though it may for a time result in a greater aggregate production, yields a less proportionate production, and finally a point is reached where the further application of labor ceases even to increase the aggregate result.


It is misapprehended appreciation of this law in so far as it applies to agricultural production, which has led to the formulation and maintenance in economic teaching of what is called "the law of diminishing productiveness in agriculture." But the law is not peculiar to agriculture nor to the second mode of production which I have called "growing." It is true that this mode of production consists in the utilization in aid of labor of the power of reproduction which characterizes life, and that living things in their growth and expansion require more space than things destitute of life. The plants that we grow require space below the surface of the ground in which to expand their roots and drink in certain constituents, and space above the surface in which to expand their leaves and drink in air and light. And the animals that we breed require space for their necessary movements. But though the spacial requirements of living things may be relatively greater than those of things not living, they are no less absolute in the one case than in the other. That two material things cannot exist in the same space is no more true of brutes than of beets, nor of beets than of bricks.


In every form or sub-division of its three modes the exertion of human labor in the production of wealth requires space; not merely standing or resting space, but moving space -- space for the movements of the human body and its organs, space for the storage and changing in place of materials and tools and products. This is as true of the tailor, the carpenter, the machinist, the merchant or the clerk, as of the farmer or stock-grower, or of the fisherman or miner. One occupation may require more elbow-room or tool-room or storage-room than another, but they all alike require space, and so must come to a point where any gain from concentrating labor in space ceases, and further concentration results in a proportionate lessening of product, and finally in an absolute decline. The same law, first of increasing and then of diminishing returns, from the concentration of labor in space, which the first exponents of the doctrine of diminishing returns in agriculture say is peculiar to that occupation, and its latter exponents say obtains in agriculture, and in the extraction of limited natural agents, such as coal, shows itself in all modes of production, and must continue to do so, even did we discover some means of producing wealth by solidifying atmospheric air or an all-pervading ether, which some modern scientists suppose. For this alleged "law of diminishing returns in agriculture" is nothing more nor less than the spacial law of material existence, the reversal or denial of which is absolutely unthinkable.


To see this, let us take a form of production widely differing from that of agriculture -- the production of brick. Brick is usually made from clay, but can be made from other inorganic substances, such as shale, coal-dust, marble-dust, slag, etc., and no part of its production involves any use of the principle of increase that characterizes life. Nor can any of the substances used in brickmaking be considered as limited natural substances or agents by any classification that would not destroy the distinction by including the whole earth itself as a limited natural agent. The production of brick is clearly one of the forms of production which those who uphold the doctrine of "diminishing returns in agriculture," or in its extension to the doctrine of "diminishing returns in the use of limited natural agents," would consider a form of production that can be continued indefinitely by the increased application of labor without diminishing returns.


Yet we have only to think of it to see that what is called the law of diminishing returns in agriculture applies to the making of brick as fully as to the growing of beets. A single man engaged in making a thousand bricks would greatly waste labor if he were to diffuse his exertions over a square mile or a square acre, digging and burning the clay for one brick here, and for another some distance apart. His exertion would yield a much larger return if more closely concentrated in space. But there is a point in this concentration in space where the increase of exertion will begin to diminish its proportionate yield. In the same superficial area required for the production of one brick, two bricks may be produced to advantage. But this concentration of labor in space cannot be continued indefinitely without diminishing the return and finally bringing production to a stop. To get the clay for a thousand bricks without use of more surface of the earth than is required to get the clay for one brick, would involve, even if it were possible at all, an enormous loss in the productiveness of the labor. And so if an attempt were made to put a thousand men to work in making brick on an area in which two men might work with advantage, the result would be not merely that the exertion of the thousand men could not produce five hundred times as much as the exertion of two men, but that it would produce nothing at all. Men so crowded would prevent each other from working.


Or let us take that part of the production of bricks that of all parts requires least space -- that which consists merely in the storage of bricks after they are made, so as to have them in readiness when required.


Two bricks must occupy twice as much cubical space as one brick. But if placed one on top of the other, the two require for resting-place no more superficial area than the one; while, as it requires on the part of a man of ordinary powers practically no more exertion to lay down or take up two bricks on the same surface than to lay down or take up one, there would be a greater gain in the productiveness of labor so applied to the storage of brick than if applied to the storing of brick side by side on the surface of the ground. But this economy in the storage of brick could not be continued indefinitely. Though two bricks may be rested one on top of the other without any more use of superficial area than is required for the resting of one brick, this is not true of a thousand bricks, nor even of a hundred. Much less than a hundred bricks so placed as to rest upon the superficies required for the resting of one brick would become so unstable as to fall with the slightest jar or breeze. Before ten or even half a dozen bricks had been rested one on top of another it would become evident that any further extension of the perpendicular would require a further extension of base. And even with such extension of base as would permit of perpendicular solidity, a point would finally be reached where, even if the surface continued solid, the weight of the upper bricks would crush the lower bricks to powder. Thus it is no more possible indefinitely to store bricks on a given area than on a given area indefinitely to grow beets.


Up to a point, moreover, which is about waist-high for an ordinary man, it requires less exertion to place or take from place the last brick than the first brick, or in other words, labor at this point is more productive. But this point of greatest productiveness reached, the productiveness of labor begins to decline with the further application of labor on the same area, until the point of no return or non-productiveness is reached. The reaching of this point of no return to the further application of labor in the storing of bricks on a given area may be delayed by the invention and use of such labor-saving devices as the wheelbarrow and steam -- engine, but it cannot be prevented. There is a point in the application of labor to the storage of bricks on any given area, whether a square foot or a square mile, where the application of successive "doses of labor" (to use the phrase of the writers who have most elaborately dwelt on this assumed "law of diminishing productiveness in agriculture") must cease to yield proportionate returns, and finally where they must cease to yield any return.


Thus the law of diminishing returns which has been held as peculiar to agriculture is as fully shown in the mere storage of bricks as it is in the growing of crops or the breeding of animals. It is quite as true that all the bricks now needed in the three kingdoms could not be stored on a single square yard, as it is that all the food needed in the three kingdoms could not be grown on a single acre. The point of greatest efficiency or maximum productiveness in the application of labor to land exists in all modes and all forms of production. It results in fact from nothing more nor less than the universal law or condition that all material existence, and consequently all production of wealth, requires space.


Nor has the spacial requirement of production merely regard to the material object of production; it has regard as well to the producer -- to labor itself. Man himself is a material being requiring space for his existence even when in the most passive condition, and still more space for the movements necessary to the continuous maintenance of life and the exertion of his powers in the production of wealth. For an hour or two men may, as in listening to a speech or looking at a spectacle, remain crowded together in a space which gives them little more than standing-room. But to bring a few more into such a crowd would mean illness, death, panic. Nor in such narrow space as men may for a while safely stand, could life be maintained for twenty-four hours, still less any mode of producing wealth be carried on.


The division of labor permits the concentration of workers whose particular parts in production require comparatively little space, and by building houses one story above another in our cities we economize superficial area in furnishing dwelling and working places in much the same way as by storing bricks one upon another. Improvements in the manufacture of steel and in the utilization of steam and electricity have much increased the height to which such structures can be carried, and we already have in our large American cities buildings of over twenty stories in which production of some sort is carried on.But though the requirement of superficial area may thus be pressed back a little by making use of cubical area (and in the tallest buildings of New York and Chicago rent is estimated in cubic not in square feet) this is only possible to a slight degree. The intensive use of land shown in the twenty-story building is in fact made possible by the extensive use of land brought about by improvements in transportation, and every one of these monstrous buildings erected lessens the availability of adjoining land for similar purposes.

* No introduction or motto supplied for Book III in MS. H.G., Jr.