In 1879, in an address before the London Statistical Society, Mr. G. Shaw-Lefevre, said: “If I were to venture a prediction on so difficult and obscure a question, I would incline to the opinion that wheat has during the past year reached its lowest point.” This forecast was made a couple of years before the beginning of the great

protracted decline in the prices of all agricultural produce that set in in the early years of the eighties. The forces which brought on the decline were already at work, and had been at work for some years before Mr. Shaw-Lefevre made his prediction; but the causes which seem very obvious after the fact may be quite obscure before it, and the causes that make for a permanent decline in agricultural produce are commonly more uncertain of prevision than those that make for a permanent rise. The former are apt to be of the nature of innovations, whose scope and efficacy can not well be foretold, while the latter are as apt to be simply the cumulative action of factors with whose scope and method we are already familiar. Recognising, then, the chance of an unforeseen decline, and recognising,

also, that there is more than one known factor already at work to bring about a decline in agricultural products in the near future, the purpose of this paper is to attempt an estimate of the possible maximum advance in the price of wheat (as a representative product of agriculture), supposing the factors that make for a decline to remain in abeyance for the next ten years. The great permanent fall in prices that took place during the first half of

the last decade has served as an object lesson to enforce the truth that there is a close dependence of price on supply. The fact of this dependence has been made much of both by those who hope for an advance in prices of farm produce, and by [366] those who deprecate the approach of a scarcity of bread. The assumption has been freely made that the date at which the land available for tillage shall have been definitively occupied is near at hand, and that when that day arrives a great and “sudden” advance in agricultural prices is to be looked for, with its consequences, of great gains for the farmer – for the American farmer perhaps, in an especial degree – and of distress for all peoples who get their supply of food largely from other countries. This sweeping generalisation merits some scrutiny.