Diminishing Returns in Agriculture

By F. Lester Patton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
THE TESTS OF DIMINISHING RETURNS

THE problem of determining whether a given set of data relating to the efficiency of a productive process do or do not exhibit diminishing returns is one which can be solved only by reference to the type of phenomena involved. In the case of secular diminishing returns the test is least dubious. It consists by definition in the diminution as time passes of the average physical returns to agricultural labor. In view of the fact, however, that such a diminution might conceivably be compensated by an increase in the returns to non-agricultural labor, a more convincing test would be the diminution as time passes of the average physical returns to labor in general.

As for physical and money returns, the matter is more complicated. Many distinguished economists have apparently supposed that here too the test was to be found in the diminution of average returns. A minority of mathematical economists, however, have long protested that such a test would be inaccurate. As long ago as 1838 Augustin Cournot explained in his Recherches sur les Principes Mathematiques de la Theorie des Richesses that the differential coefficient of the law of cost of a commodity is a function "the form of which exerts very great influence on the principal problems of economic science". In a later passage he added, "Whenever it is a question of working agricultural lands . . the differential coefficient increases with the out-

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