But whence arises that phase of the conflict with nature out of which grows the conflict between man and man? Is man in any way responsible for it, or is it due wholly to the harshness or the niggardliness of nature? The fruitfulness of nature varies, of course, in different environments. But in any environment there are two conditions, for both of which man is in a measure responsible, and either of which will result in economic scarcity. One is the indefinite expansion of human wants, and the other is the multiplication of numbers.

The well-known expansive power of human wants, continually running beyond the power of nature to satisfy, has attracted the attention of moralists in all times and places. “When goods increase, they are increased that eat them; and what good is there to the owners thereof, saving the beholding of them with their eyes?” is the point of view of The Preacher.〖H. C., xliv, 341–342.〗 It was the same aspect of life, obviously throwing man out of harmony with nature, which gave point to the Stoic’s principle of “living according to nature.” To live according to nature would necessarily mean, among other things, to keep desires within such limits as nature could supply without too much coercion. Seeing that the best things in life cost nothing, and that the most ephemeral pleasures are the most expensive, there would appear to be much economic wisdom in the Stoic philosophy. But the pious Buddhist in his quest of Nirvana, overlooking the real point—that the expansion of wants beyond nature’s power to satisfy is what throws man inevitably out of harmony with nature and produces soul-killing conflicts—sees in desire itself the source of evil, and seeks release in the eradication of all desire. 26Out of the view that the conflict of man with nature is a source of evil grow two widely different practical conclusions as to social conduct. If we assume that nature is beneficent and man at fault, the conclusion follows as a matter of course that desires must be curbed and brought into harmony with nature, which is closely akin to Stoicism, if it be not its very essence. But if, on the contrary, we assume that human nature is sound, then the only practical conclusion is that external nature must be coerced into harmony with man’s desires and made to yield more and more for their satisfaction. This is the theory of the modern industrial spirit in its wild pursuit of wealth and luxury.

Even if the wants of the individual never expanded at all, it is quite obvious that an indefinite increase in the number of individuals in any locality would, sooner or later, result in scarcity and bring them into conflict with nature, and therefore into conflict with one another. That human populations are physiologically capable of indefinite increase, if time be allowed, is admitted, and must be admitted by anyone who has given the slightest attention to the subject. Among the non-economizing animals and plants, it is not the limits of their procreative power but the limits of subsistence which determine their numbers. Neither is it lack of procreative power which limits numbers in the case of man, the economic animal. With him also it is a question of subsistence, but of subsistence according to some standard. Being gifted with economic foresight, he will not multiply beyond the point where he can maintain that standard of life which he considers decent. But—and this is to be especially noted—so powerful are his procreative and domestic instincts that he will multiply up to the point where it is difficult to maintain whatever standard he has. Whether his standard of living be high or low to begin with, the multiplication of numbers will be carried to the point where he is in danger of being forced down to a lower standard. In other words, it will always be hard for us to make as good a living as we think we ought to have. Unsatisfied desires, or economic scarcity, which means the same thing, are therefore inevitable. It is a condition from which there is no possible escape. The cause lies deeper than forms of social organization: it grows out of the relation of man and nature.

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