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he says, that "a greater number of people cannot, in any given state of civilization, be collectively so well provided for as a smaller."
I do not accept these gloomy views of the course of nature and Providence. I do not believe that any increase in the number of the civilized, Christian inhabitants of the earth is an evil, or that it entails any evil upon coming generations. Recognizing the facts, which must be obvious to all, that the civilized nations of the earth are now steadily advancing in numbers, though with various degrees of rapidity, while the barbarous tribes are either stationary, or are dwindling away, some of them with fearful speed, I see in them the beneficent working of a great law of Providence, which is giving the earth to be the exclusive habitation of those who know how to develop its resources, and apply them to the noblest uses. The arts of peace, and the discovery of new means and appliances of civilization, are at least keeping pace with, if they do not outstrip, the actual increase of mankind in numbers. A nicely graduated principle of restraint, applied just where it is most needed, checks the undue multiplication of the race in certain localities, where the pressure of population on the means of subsistence just begins to be felt; and this principle, mild and beneficent in its mode of operation, like all the general laws of Providence, must become universal in its effect, at that far distant day in the lapse of ages, when, if ever, the earth shall be so fully stocked with happy human beings, that there shall not be room and sustenance for more. The social evils which unquestionably now exist, and which are traced by such economists as Malthus, Ricardo, and McCulloch to an excess of population, appear clearly imputable to defective, unnatural, and unjust institutions of man's device, and admit of remedy without shaking the pillars of social order, or impiously calling on God to send war, inundations, or pestilence, wherewith to scourge mankind into a sense of their duty to restrain their natural inclinations, and destroy the sources of domestic happiness. Having established these points against the doctrines and the calculations of Malthus, I proceed to show that there is nothing in this theory of rent which ought to shake our confidence in them.
And first, I would call attention to the fact, that both these theories are of English origin, and were first suggested, as is obvious, by observation of those evils in the social condition of England, which only within the present century have become of crying magnitude. These evils have manifested themselves in the only country in Europe in which all the land, the great food-producing machine, has come to be owned by so small a class, that the great body of the community seem to have no part or lot in it; while, at the same time, those ancient patriarchal and religious institutions, which certainly did much to mitigate the effects of an undue aggregation of landed property in the hands of a few, have entirely died out or been destroyed. It is the boast of the English, that the relations of vassal and lord, clansman and chieftain, serf and master, no longer exist among them. The English barons no longer support each an army of retainers to be their followers in war, and to keep up their feudal state. English prelates and monks no longer dispense open-handed hospitality and charity at the gates of richly endowed monasteries. These institutions of the Middle Ages have been destroyed in England, root and branch; but their fall has not, as in many parts of the Continent, caused the landed property once aggregated in their support to be parcelled out again, with great minuteness and some approach to equality, among those who were formerly maintained by it in rude plenty, though not in peace or perfect freedom. Feudal relations have been done away, but the magnitude of feudal estates has not been diminished. The Highland chieftain has banished his clansmen from their hereditary possessions and hereditary dependence on him, has compelled them to emigrate or starve, has turned his vast Highland estate into sheepwalks and deer-parks, and has himself become a wealthy English nobleman. A cool pecuniary calculation of profit and loss has induced him to take this step. The same motive has caused the great English landholders to depopulate their estates, driving the rural tenantry into the towns and manufacturing districts, where they must become operatives or paupers. The consequence of this aggregation of landed estates, and this mode of deriving the largest possible rent from them, has been a fearful increase of pauperism, and a general apprehension lest the tax for the support of the poor should become so large as eventually to beggar the rich also. No wonder that any increase of the population should be deemed an evil, when it appears from the returns, that one tenth part of that population are legalized paupers; and as not the same individuals, in all cases, receive public relief each successive year, it is probable that as many as one sixth of the whole number of the people are, or have been, dependent on public charity.
Systems and theories of political economy suggested by circumstances so anomalous and peculiar as these, or contrived with a view to explain and justify them, are not likely to be applicable to other countries, or to contain many general truths. England is the only country in the world in which the laboring class is entirely dependent on the wages of hired labor; on the Continent, in most instances, they have a small property on which they can subsist, though poorly, in seasons when they cannot obtain employment elsewhere for time not needed at home, so as to add to their scanty incomes a small amount received as wages. If they have not a little land which is entirely their own, they have a sort of prescriptive right to cultivate the land of others, on certain fixed terms, either as metayer s, giving all the labor for a portion of the produce, or as feudal subjects bound to the soil, and having a right of maintenance from it. In neither case are they driven into the labor-market, as their only refuge from starvation, there constantly to depress wages by their frantic competition for employment, or to give up the struggle in despair by throwing themselves upon compulsory public charity.
Bicardo's theory of rent was discovered or invented with reference to this anomalous state of things. It is an attempt to establish as a law of nature the general fact, that an increase of the numbers of a people, under any circumstances, is an evil, because it creates an additional demand for food, which can only be met by having recourse to poorer or less advantageously situated soils, and by applying more labor and capital with constantly diminishing returns. It is abundantly confuted by facts, and can easily be shown to be unsound in principle. The assertion of Mr. Mill, "that a greater number of people cannot collectively be so well provided for as a smaller," becomes absurd when applied to an infant colony, established in a vast territory, on a virgin soil. Who can seriously maintain, that an increase of population is an evil in British Australia, or in the great valley of the Mississippi? It might as well be said that the people of Ohio, Indiana, and "Wisconsin are straitened for want of room, as that their proportionate supply of food was lessened by the increase of their numbers. Among them, surely, it is apparent that an increase of population is an increase of productive power, and hence a proportionate increase of the surplus of grain and other articles of sustenance, which, after satisfying all their own wants in the amplest manner, they are able to send off to satisfy the wants of other nations. The average price of flour in Philadelphia market between 1800 and 1810, exceeded eight dollars a barrel; from 1810 to 1820, the average was about nine dollars. The population of this country in 1800 was but little over five millions; in 1820, it was somewhat less than ten millions. It is now more than twenty-three millions. And is the nation, in consequence of this vast increase of numbers, less bountifully supplied with food? On the contrary, the price of flour and other bread-stuffs has greatly diminished, and we are supplying the world with them. The average price of flour for several years preceding 1853, was less than six dollars.
Our average annual export of articles of food now probably exceeds thirty-five millions of dollars in value; and in case of any failure of the crops in Europe, it could probably be raised to seventy-five millions, without materially lessening the enjoyments of the people of this country, or raising the price of grain to a point beyond the reach of the poorest class of the population. In 1847, the year of famine in Ireland, our export of bread-stuffs actually rose to nearly sixty-nine millions, and in 1853, owing to a partial failure of the crops and to the Russian war in Europe, it was about sixty-six millions. Do these facts afford any evidence that the twenty-three millions, who now constitute the American nation, are not so well provided for as the five millions who occupied their place only fifty years ago? Are they not rather a demonstration of the principle, that the increase of numbers is an increase of productive power, and a consequent proportionate increase of the means of subsistence, — of the necessaries, comforts, and luxuries of life?
But it may be said that America is an exceptional case, and that we have no right to argue from the fortunate circumstances in which we are placed, to general conclusions which would be wholly inapplicable in other portions of the world. "We answer, that the facilities afforded by commerce now really connect all the civilized nations of the earth into one great community, the supply of all articles being made everywhere proportionate to the demand and to the ability to pay for them. Grain and other articles of provision are matters both of foreign and domestic traffic; every country can obtain an abundance of them, though her own soil may be entirely barren. Great Britain has no difficulty in obtaining a supply of cotton, though the cotton-plant will not grow in the British Isles. Grain and other provisions can be purchased even with greater facility than cotton and tobacco, or coffee and tea; for these latter articles can be raised only in a few favored countries, while the market of the whole world is open for the sale of food. In fact, the markets of New York and Liverpool now regulate each other; since the abrogation of the cornlaws, the price of grain cannot rise five per cent in the latter place without a corresponding enhancement of price in New York within one fortnight, the time which it takes for a steamer to cross the Atlantic and convey the intelligence; and before another week has elapsed, ship-loads of corn are stemming their way eastward, to supply the trifling deficiency indicated even by this slight change in the market. It is no more a hardship or a disadvantage for England, than for our own State of Massachusetts, to be obliged to buy a portion of the articles of subsistence for her population; and the deficiency in our own case, it may be remarked, is relatively greater than in the mother country; for we never raise food enough for our own consumption, while the English crops, in ordinary years, suffice for nearly the whole English demand. In both cases, it may be said, the deficiency proceeds, not from natural causes, but from the choice of man. It is found more profitable to devote the larger portion of the labor of the two countries to commerce and manufactures, and to buy a portion of the food that is required, than to cultivate the soil to the full extent of which it is capable, and thereby raise the whole stock of provisions. If a given amount of labor employed in spinning yarn and weaving cloth will produce enough to buy two bushels of grain, while, if devoted immediately to tilling the ground, it will raise only one bushel, it is certain that the labor will be