the agricultural question is first and foremost a question of wages. [ . . . ] The small
receipts, and the impossibility of saving anything which can help him to rise in the
social scale, causes the laborer to seek conditions which afford a better prospect.
These he finds in factory labor at home, or in emigration to America, where
wages are high and the price of land proportionately small; there he may hope to
attain the goal of his ambition and to become independent, whereas here it is
hard, indeed, even for the most skilled and most diligent, to save enough for the
purchase money of a piece of land.
At the same time, it must be pointed out to those who regard small holdings as the universal and unfailing remedy, that of late a large number of small German proprietors have found themselves forced, by the continued depression of prices, to give up their holdings, and to emigrate. This is due largely to the poverty of the land which the great landowners had given for settlement, but it is a fact worthy of notice by the advocates of rural colonization.
To ascertain the exact economic effect of the migration of labor is, if possible, still more difficult than to determine its causes. On the one hand, the mother country gains by the settlement of lands which afford fresh markets for her products, and by the employment even over the seas of her surplus population. On the other hand, emigration beyond certain reasonable limits involves a drain upon the productive and military force of the country, and the relief afforded to the labor market may easily be neutralized by the presence of an excessive number of old men and children.
[ . . . ]
On the whole, it seems clear that though the eastern provinces suffer greatly from the drain upon agricultural labor, the inhabitants of more thickly peopled districts, and the representatives of the decaying small industries, would be in an even worse condition than at present were it not for the facilities afforded for migration.
Source: Royal Commission on Labour, Foreign Reports: Germany. London, 1893, pp. 98-99.
Original English text reprinted in Theodore S. Hamerow, ed., The Age of Bismarck: Documents and Interpretations. New York: Harper & Row, 1973, pp. 187-90.