WE have reached the stage of a five-dimension world. To the three classical dimensions of space we now add a fourth dimension of time and a fifth dimension of quality. From the earliest days of civilization to the present, quality has been the counsel of perfection. Only the occasional philosopher promulgated the truth that it is better not to know how to do a thing than to know how to do it badly. With the growth of democracies in the modern era we have had for the first time whole communities of men raised to a level of education and control over material power that enabled them to believe themselves to be at least moderately critical of the quality of their cultural world. Not only have whole masses of men here and there been raised above the level of mere literacy: they have acquired high speed and organized knowledge. The effect has been felt upon the edge of settlement everywhere, upon all the "frontiers" of the world. In some it has pushed the pioneer forward into new lands; in others it has drawn millions off the land and gathered them into the cities. City growth is a worldwide phenomenon. The statesmen of every country deplore it. It is attacked by commissions and councils and legislatures and foundations, and still it continues, irresistible as an elemental force of nature.

It is on the edge of the inhabited lands that we have long seen most clearly the challenge of mankind to nature. Now in increasing degree man asks questions that nature alone cannot answer, for the questions have to do with the quality of culture that he may enjoy or endure and this is a matter of economic law no less than of nature and human spirit. In the face of the great natural difficulties that the pioneer belts of the world exhibit man is asking what is the quality of the life that the pioneer must lead. It is a new question in pioneering. It is asked in every pioneer region, Canadian Northwest, Rhodesia, West Australia, where white men lead in settlement. It is hard to think of a phenomenon more extraordinary in the civilized world of today than the rival ideas now working in men's minds: the one leading a man to undertake settlement in the undeveloped or poorly developed pioneer belts of the world, the other drawing him toward his own kind in cities and thus creating a host of social problems that challenge the invention and the statesmanship of public leaders.

Throughout central and eastern Europe the division of the landed estates implies land hunger and so, too, has the phrase "land hunger" been applied to the pioneer, conceiving this creature to be a young man bent upon winning from the wilderness with strong hands and the hope of youth a homestead for himself and an inheritance for his children. In using the phrase "land hunger" we overlook the interplay of far more complex forces that now rule our better informed world. Rhodesia and Australia want new settlers with "capital" and a thousand pounds is thought to be little enough. The pioneer is no longer a man armed only with a rifle and an ax, carrying a sack of meal, a piece of salt pork, and a few other necessities with him into a clearing in the forest or a sod hut on the plains. He is not only equipped in a totally different manner, sometimes even with modern machinery, but his incentives are no longer the same. It is indeed a question whether the pioneer spirit as manifested in the westward spread of settlers in the United States still exists or whether it has passed out -- a fact of history, interesting enough in its time, valuable in its bearing upon our present character, but no longer a motivating force in the occupation of pioneer areas.

All the world has become interested in the land question, not merely through the division of landed estates in Europe or through the irrigation of arid lands but also through the existence of pioneer belts obviously underdeveloped or wholly undeveloped, obviously containing valuable resources, and with a political value that will rapidly increase through the present century. What is the reason for this interest in the fringe of settlement if people flock to the cities in increasing numbers and if abandoned farms are everywhere in evidence? If rural communities are in process of decay why should there be any concern about the land in which the pioneer is making his way? For one thing the problem is a challenge to science; for another it arouses our curiosity because of the anomaly in human behavior that it presents. In ten years, 1911-1921 (and chiefly for 1919 to 1921), 20,000 persons migrated into the Peace River Country of the Canadian Northwest, and the stream continues. West Australia is in the midst of a great extension of wheat farming and is rapidly acquiring population. In the corresponding period the farm problem in the United States became acute and the flow of population from the land has even reached the point of danger. Evidently there is much economics here as well as geography. Men hunger for land only when they can get it under favorable economic conditions. They ask much more of government than mere opportunity to own land.

We know, of course, why governments advocate settlement in new country. No government can afford to ignore the development of its resources. There is much clap-trap in the discussion of the agricultural question by government leaders but there is also much sound sense that makes a wide appeal to the masses of the people. There is the feeling that a growing enterprise is a healthy enterprise. When more land is occupied by a farming population, the demands upon the cities increase, land values rise, industries expand. To intrinsic values and assets is added the indispensable asset of hope: tomorrow will be better than today; the tone of business is good; new capital is invested. The phenomenon is familiar to all Americans who have sprung from any part of our expanding west. The sense of greatness invades the consciousness of even the humble. There is also the feeling that our kind of people ought to occupy the lands of which we are possessed. Believing in ourselves, we want more of our kind to inhabit the earth. This is true of most of the newer communities of men no matter where they are in the world.

Leaders may see even farther. Vacant land can be a source of political danger. It may attract another kind of people who also wish more land. A white South African policy has definite, even if distant, political objectives, but it also has social objectives of the highest order. Not the land alone or its resources but that land as a theatre for the working out of social and political ideals is at the root of the theory. The empty lands of the world are politically of two classes, active and passive. It is the business of government leaders not to permit any land that they may control to be politically passive. It is a source of power once its potentialities of settlement are realized. It not only helps "our own people" but it keeps out political and social undesirables.

Where are the pioneer belts of the world today and how should they be won to civilization? How shall one define a "pioneer" area? Where does close settlement end and pioneer life begin? We have to apply certain tests. The test of pioneer living is the small measure of control by the land settler over instruments of power. He has no telegraph line or he has merely a telegraph line and not a railroad. He has no made roads or he has only made roads, not motor roads. Our mail travels with high velocity. The mail of the pioneer may take a week to reach the railroad. A telephone call is made and forthwith an expressman stops at our door. If the pioneer wishes to make use of the facilities of transport it costs him more to reach those facilities than it does to make use of them. The list of his handicaps is too large to present in full detail. The few mentioned illustrate how wide is the difference between his enjoyment of the instruments of power, whatever their nature, and the degree of control that we enjoy.

Let us take South America as an example of how our test is applied. Upon Figure 1, a shaded area shows those parts of southern South America which are twenty-five miles or more from a railroad. It is true that this distance may be covered in an hour in an automobile on a well-surfaced road. It is also true that it may take an ox-cart or a pack train two days to travel the distance over muddy roads and at the end of such a journey one could well believe oneself a pioneer! In fact, by far the larger number of pioneers live not in the territory that is twenty-five miles from a railroad but in the ten to twenty-five mile strips that parallel the railroad. The shaded part of the map, therefore, includes potential pioneer land to a larger extent than land now in a pioneering stage of development.

Laid over the map is a heavy continuous line that exhibits certain seasonal elements that limit the pioneer. On the northern or high temperature edge of the favored area we have hot summers and warm winters; at the southern limit we have cold winters and cool summers. Outside of these temperature limits (i.e. equatorward of the one and poleward of the other), man is by no means excluded, but his handicaps have become much greater and his activities specialized and restricted. His form of living is so highly adapted that he does not possess the soil in the thorough-going way of full agricultural development. It is true that the rainforest belts of the tropics, as well as the drier tropical lands about their borders, have large areas of soil capable of high development. But a tropical settlement is (for the white man) still like the medieval walled town: the wild beasts of legend are the microbes and the wall is medical science. It still costs too much to keep the wall in repair and this slows down commercial development -- the one practical objective of the immediate future. The discussion that has raged over Queensland and North Australia as well as the actual condition of these territories shows that tropical settlement by the white man is still in the laboratory stage. The magic productivity of the tropics is a myth from the white man's standpoint. It is a fact if one accepts a low standard of living. For decent or high standards the obstacles are still formidable.

A second limitation of settlement is set by deficient rainfall. The broken lines of Figure 1 show the areas within which the rainfall is heavy enough to permit ordinary agricultural practice. At once the area of normal settlement is restricted or cut in half. We might restrict it still further by excluding from the pioneer area those strips adjacent to telegraph lines or motor roads and other improved roads. Eventually we are left with three large areas: two of them are located roughly in the Matto Grosso region and the Gran Chaco and a third in Patagonia. We know that here the pastoral industry is the only one of importance and that the fringe of settlement is broken and feebly occupied. Within the area of potential development we see further restrictions. Here is a porous soil that absorbs the rainfall so quickly that it is markedly sterile or semi-arid, supporting only drouth-resisting vegetation. In another part of the country sawgrass grows in substantial amounts; it lacerates the mouths of grazing animals, and this tends to restrict the grazing industry and still further limit the area of possible development. In southern South America patches and strips of agricultural land occur in Patagonia along the base of the mountains and on the transverse valley floors. An investigation of each pioneer belt would show the limits of those rigorous conditions of too porous soil, of repellant vegetation, of distant and unaccessible tracts regarding which expert knowledge is demanded if intelligent communities of people are expected to settle in the wilderness.

No pioneer area is a broad unbroken belt; it is rather a series of scattered patches and strips loosely disposed in belt-like form beyond the fringe of present settlement. Taking a world view we see the pioneer lands in a rough zonal arrangement, each continent having its share. A world map (Fig. 2) shows a belt in each temperate zone and a large number of "spots" still in the pioneering stage. It shows two similar zones of subtropical development of which the southern has by far the largest extent, large enough to be shown on even a small world map. The rain forest belts of the tropical zones we have already mentioned as a special case. The "pioneer belts" map of the world includes only a little land in the United States, but much more in Canada -- a broad belt reaching from the prairie states eastward across northern Ontario and parts of Quebec with their newly developing "clay belts." In Asia it includes much territory on either side of the belt of settlement that has followed the Trans-Siberian railroad, expanding northward to distant subarctic limits of agriculture and eastwards to include most of the Amur country and especially northern Manchuria and Mongolia. In these two northern territories of China on a thousand-mile front the country is filling up at so rapid a rate that political rivalry and questions of sovereignty are more acute than before the World War. In the beginning of 1925 China signed a treaty with Soviet Russia restoring to Chinese sovereignty these two important areas, though giving Russia renewed rights over that most important key instrument of empire, the Chinese Eastern Railway. When we learn that forty years ago in northern Manchuria there were but three or four millions of Chinese where now there are fifteen millions we realize how fast the fecund Chinaman has pushed along the political problems of our time in one of the largest pioneer belts in the world today. In Inner Mongolia, Buxton notes an advance of the edge of settlement of 50 miles in 50 years northwest of Kalgan. Members of the Third Asiatic Expedition have reported an advance of four or five miles a year in some places. The Chinese agricultural pioneers, who oddly enough are chiefly Mohammedan, are here crowding back the Mongolian nomads and creating "outside the Wall" a new set of political problems and forging social and economic changes whose bearings we cannot yet see.

Every government is faced with the necessity of backing up its own settlers, its pioneers. Every government has a policy in relation to this class of person and to the lands that they occupy. These things are no longer isolated phenomena, each continent and country individually to solve its own problems of land division or land settlement. The world community is now sensitive to the happenings in its distant and separate parts. The international trade in wool and cotton shown in Figures 3 and 4 reveals this sensitiveness in a remarkable way. The textiles are closely related to each other and the conditions under which they are produced affect the welfare of the most widely separated communities. The agricultural practice of the United States during the next twenty-five years will develop not alone in accordance with the demands of our own cities and with development of our own lands but will be affected by what happens in Canada, Matto Grosso, and Australia. We shall constantly want better knowledge as to what happens there. Economic laws will oblige us to know, whether we want to or not. The effect of an invention that becomes a new instrument of power in agriculture is felt all over the world, for the agents of distribution carry it to the most distant fields and when it is put to work upon the land its cost and the cost of labor and the cost of land and the cost of transportation and the standard of living of the producer and the capacity of the buyer to buy all make an equation whose factors are of world origin not of local origin merely.

We see the bearing of pioneer areas upon world commerce perhaps most clearly in the case of grazing products. The shrinkage of the world's pasture lands is a fact. Every government is concerned with the problem. The cost of meat and hides is rising constantly. Despite slight variations in the price level there is a general upward trend. It is doubtful if there will be an end to the process. Only a great catastrophe to the human race would stop the shrinkage in area of grazing lands. Only a check to civilization would halt the process.

One might well suppose at this point that the picture is overdrawn, for cattle are raised in larger quantities upon lands of "close settlement." But there is a limit to cattle raising upon close-settled lands and the limit is set not by the taste of humans for meat but by economic law. A beast is a wasteful means for transforming vegetable life into human food. With growing density of population the route from the soil to the table must be shortened. With increasing density of population less meat and more vegetables is inexorably demanded. It is precisely in the pioneer areas, where man is living in more detached communities or where he has not yet penetrated at all, that we see a temporary means for slowing down though not stopping the rise in the prices of meat and hides.

It looks, at first sight, as if it would be simple enough to achieve the occupation of vacant or undeveloped pioneer lands if the demands for pastoral products are increasing; but, unfortunately for so simple and beneficent a result, the qualities of men themselves have changed. Humanity is not the same today as it was yesterday. This is true of the prospective settler no less than of the upper classes in the confines of the towns. In men's heads are certain social concepts, certain standards of living, which make them unresponsive to the call of the cities for products from cheap pioneer lands. In earlier days when the settlement of our own west was proceeding rapidly, a man left society behind him when he went from the city or compact community to become an isolated dweller in the wilderness, but he left little more. In his home community there was only a low level of medical skill and there were no telephones, no bathtubs, no movies, and no many-other-things for him to relinquish in order to become a pioneer. If he subjected his family to the dangers of the wilderness he also offered them a healthy outdoor life. Today it requires courage to leave the telephone behind, for at the other end of it is a doctor who may save the life of a member of the family in a crisis. Social pleasures and social communication have increased enormously and these the pioneer must give up or enjoy in greatly attenuated forms. The man in between is content to move towards the city where these safeguards, these comforts, and these pleasures are known to be. The means of communication have multiplied to such an extent that he knows they exist, he hears about them constantly, he desires them, his family urge them upon him. He regards the comforts of living for himself also. To become a pioneer he has to turn his back upon many more things than his forefathers did.

One commonly held economic fallacy which ought to be destroyed in order to clear the way for sounder thinking as to the possibilities of development of the pioneer belts of the world relates to the magic of irrigation. The wealth of the irrigated lands of the world -- India, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Spain, and even of our own country -- has been borne in upon us with such insistence that we attribute to engineering skill the ability to transform the deserts of the world into productive gardens. If this were true we should pursue an easier course if we left the mid-zone of the pioneer lands where normal agriculture and grazing may be prosecuted and go at full stride into the desert. Unfortunately nature takes heavy toll of man's partial or conditional "conquests," so-called, whether it be by desert irrigation or tropical agriculture. Man can throw a railway across the mountain but every ton of freight that he carries across the mountain takes so much more coal because of the heavy grades; and the price of the coal is the toll that man pays to the mountain. It is the same with irrigation. We have had an admirable laboratory test in the United States. The Reclamation Service has been in existence for twenty-five years. It has done constructive work in providing water for valley floors and benchlands in selected places in the arid West. It has developed irrigation projects where water has been stored and where the settler has been invited to come in under terms regarded as generous. The government has thus tackled directly the problem of the population capacity of the land. Yet what has been the result? In twenty-five years how many people have we actually taken care of? The total farming population upon the twenty-four national irrigation projects of the West after twenty-five years of government aid and generosity is but 137,000, a population equal to that of the city of Hartford, Conn., or Grand Rapids, Mich. Irrigation alone will not solve questions of general overpopulation or the much deplored cityward movement. It is easy to see that the most trifling improvement of agricultural practice in settled communities will accomplish much more in the production of agricultural products and the growth of population than all the millions that have been poured out upon the irrigation projects of the West in a quarter of a century.

Only in a narrow and special sense is the distribution of man governed by the same laws that affect plants and animals. The spiritual realm is also his home and he has only crossed the threshold of it. The effect of social and political concepts upon the pioneers of the world is still unstudied. When there were vast empty spaces the field of experiment was wide. Man could wander this way and that and take his choice of natural resources and opportunities. Now we have reached the point where the paths of men converge. They no longer live in measurably self-contained units. What we have said of meat and leather, of wool and cotton as horizontally extended world enterprises is also true of a multitude of other products; in fact, all those in the billion- and half-billion-dollar class, besides many others of lesser degree. Our economic realms overlap. The solution of the problems resulting from this overlapping call for no end of ingenuity.

See what is happening in New England, for example. In 1920, New England spent about $800,000,000 outside its own territory to buy food; it consumed over a billion dollars' worth in all. As compared with forty years ago, New England has seven million fewer acres of food-producing land and nearly three and a half million more inhabitants to feed. Such a process calls for ever fresh study and for continuing and even accelerated adaptations. Today New England would live under paralyzing handicaps but for an excellent educational system, cheap sea-food, a considerable amount of water-power, and certain specific advantages of position. It has survived and grown in power because its merchants have reached out into the distant corners of the world. As the region became saturated with population, man to an increasing degree had to make things happen, not to wait for things to happen.

While man's culture may rise superior to his environment it is also true that man by the force of new ideas and the pressure of living has had in a sense to rise superior to his culture. He finds, for example, that grass grows best in regions where it is most difficult to cure, so he decides that he will not accept the handicap of poor grass in a good climate or good grass in a poor climate but checkmate the climate by artificially curing grass where it does grow best, and thus provide his stock with green feed the year round. Where deep snow blockades him for months at a time in winter he still pursues his economic objectives by inventing machines that to some degree conquer snow. When navigation demands the refinement of an instrument for measuring longitude the creative faculty is stimulated by a government that offers a commanding prize. For over a century the "Royal Commissioners Constituting the Board of Longitude" remained in existence and in its search for a perfected chronometer disbursed public money to the extent of half a million dollars.

An Australian economist points to the rapid growth of cities in the Commonwealth despite the spending of vast sums on railways, roads, land resumption, assisted immigration, and advances to settlers. With all of these artificial stimuli there were but ninety thousand more people engaged in agriculture in the Commonwealth in 1921 than in 1891. "Decaying rural towns are dotted all over the map of eastern Australia." The British Empire Settlement Act after the war sought to push settlers into the pioneer lands. Western Australia became a focus of activity. The assisted settlers, working in groups, cleared the land, fenced it, put houses upon it, elected members of the group to have the first permission to buy the land which the group had cleared. Curiously enough, some of them did not want to purchase but wished to continue upon the government payroll. Others tried farming for a time and then failed. On the one side the politician points to success; on the other, the economist to failure. To the politician the whole interior of Australia is capable of development up to the level of the United States. Patriotism and rainfall become confused in politics! The hard fact remains that no amount of political ardor can increase the rainfall. The semi-arid and arid interior of Australia will not yield to aspiration merely. Its climate takes no account of votes. It has been found that huge sums of money will not work magic. Money cannot invoke clouds and rain!

To conquer the pioneer areas on the semi-arid fringe of the interior of Australia requires the expenditure of vast sums on railways, public works, and water supplies, but to be successful they must be works that are established after painful experiment. Each region must have its own laboratory for the study of the science of settlement. The commission recently appointed to tackle the great problem of interior development in Australia first of all looked about for a practical engineer. How settlement works in a specialized agricultural area is shown in the new wheat lands of West Australia where a periodically deficient rainfall and lack of railways has hitherto kept out settlers. Light railways have been built and the land along each line surveyed to a distance of twelve miles on either side. Ten miles has been found the economic limit of distance from a railway for wheat raising. Beyond that the costs of transportation to the railway make wheat farming impossible. Each mile of railway in West Australia adds from 100 to 200 persons to the total population. To add a million would require at least 5,000 miles of railway at a cost of $25,000 per mile, or $12,500,000.

The world becomes new the moment a new idea is applied to it and its workings. A thing that is new in thought is just as new as newly found territory. In the past a great deterrent to the expansion of the human race has been fear and ignorance. The frozen North has retreated northward faster than our schoolbooks have been revised. The inertia of opinion has kept man from occupying much of the habitable lands. Only when they have been criss-crossed by the pioneer do we know the lines along which development will occur. Until that time fear in one form or another will play a large part in holding population back. "I am afraid that I can't do it," expresses a deep residual impulse in man. Slosson has given a forecast of the popular vote on a new idea: "When a new idea is born in the mind of one man, it starts out in the world with a majority of 1,600,000,000 against it." To an increasing degree must the dynamic knowledge of man emphasize the difference between the objective world over which man has spread in the past or over which he may spread, and the subjective world which lies within his own mind and often deceives him as to the nature of diversified and unfamiliar nature.

In the greatest pioneering experiment of history, the spread of English-speaking people from the American seaboard westward across the Central Plains, there was for generations a new world of experiment which men faced without fear. In that period men in the course of a few years lived through almost the whole experience of the race in rising century by century to a state of civilization. The key to success was experiment. This would hardly have been a conquerable earth if man had not engaged to conquer it by endless experiment, region by region, thus expanding, enriching, and adapting his life. The pioneer wanted to experiment for two reasons: he was not well versed in precedent and he was always looking for a new way. Nor was experimentation confined to the conquest of the land. A changing environment breeds liberalism if the resources are abundant enough to support close settlement and the development of independent social and political institutions.

These things are just as true of the great pioneering areas of the world today as they were in the days of the American pioneer. And in developing a science of settlement no one thing seems more important to the student of politics and society who wishes to understand the place of the pioneer belts in world politics and commerce than the study of the great regions of experiment. Scattered along the edge of settlement through thousands of miles of the world's pioneer communities, experimentation is being carried forward at different rates, has had different degrees of success. We ought to capture each experiment in process of development -- to see how forest land is occupied here, grazing land there, and the relation of short-lived mining towns to the settlement of border communities whose occupation would otherwise be indefinitely delayed. Here too one can find those two most interesting facts of pioneer life, namely, the social density and the economic density required by the modern pioneer. To a less degree than ever the pioneer does not wish to be out of touch with neighbors. People must see their own kind. What is the present limit of tolerance in this respect? What are the critical densities from the social standpoint? By economic density we mean a distribution not widely scattered but on the contrary economically assembled. There are efficient and inefficient densities of population. How far can land be settled from a railway line? In West Australia ten miles seems to be an economic limit. The individual can accept as low a standard of living as is tolerable to him but the labor he employs will not. Wheat farming of the extensive type requires the employment of seasonal labor. Here questions of social and economic density overlap. Some races are tolerable to social isolation; others are not. We have hints and suggestions about this element of the life of the pioneer but laboratory cases remain to be studied. We need both diagnosis and cure.

From the political standpoint the question of subsidy to the pioneer settler is now gravely troubling the makers of government policies. When the state steps in to help settlement how far should it go? What is the measure of state aid? At what point does it become mere subsidy paid by the people of better-favored lands to those of ill-favored lands? Those in charge of government policies are working haphazardly if they work on the basis of theory alone; they work in a narrow way if they work on a basis of purely local studies; they work in a political not a scientific way if they seek large appropriations merely to throw them into new, untried and uncritical projects on the theory that any development is better than none.

A science of settlement is capable of making a political contribution of a high order. The problem of population has received recognition everywhere since the World War because a state of saturation has been reached in many instances. This does not mean that all of the resources of a given country have been employed to the limits of possibility but only that the present standard of living would be lowered by further increase of population under the prevailing economic scheme. Not pioneer belts only but the colonial holdings of great powers come into consideration as outlets for population. But colonies alone do not provide a remedy. They have been looked to in vain in the past fifty years as seats of European settlement. To debt-ridden countries it is important to keep up contacts with emigrating surplus populations. But the streams of migration are curiously unresponsive to the desires of government. About half as many people migrate annually from England to Australia under the Empire Settlement Act as before the World War, though England and the Australian states together provide what amounts to a subsidy and add for good measure extraordinarily favorable conditions of land occupation. This, despite a million unemployed at home and the attractions of independent living upon the land.

The new forces working upon the spirits of men and affecting their attitude toward hardships, manifest in the abnormal increase in city populations -- these are hard to measure. We can tell that views and sentiments exist. We cannot express them quantitatively. By contrast the pioneer areas of the world contain thousands of laboratory examples of actual struggle and conquest on the part of men who live by different standards. It would greatly help the crowding populations of our time if the fringe of settlement in many countries and climates in the pioneer belts of the world were made an object of special study. Such a study would surely set wider bounds to the scientific application of ideas of settlement and it is conceivable that they might have some effect even upon the spirit of man, showing him the world in new forms, helping him to extend his conquest of the earth through the power of new ideas.

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  • ISAIAH BOWMAN, Director of the American Geographical Society, Chief Territorial Expert for the American delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, author of The New World and other works
  • More By Isaiah Bowman