Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

inquisitorial investigation into the question, What becomes of wages ? Economists long ago discovered the necessity of distinguishing between money wages and real wages. It is now necessary for us to distinguish between real wages and utilitiesnot to stop at the fact that so many shillings a week might procure such and such necessaries, comforts, or luxuries, but to ascertain how they are expended. From the first we can deduce what the economic condition of the people might be ; from the second we shall know what it is. And when we know what it is we shall see more clearly what with more wisdom it might become. Wealth, after all, is a means to an end. It is not enough to maximise wealth, we must strive to maximise utilities. And we can no more judge of the condition of a people from its receipts alone, than we can judge of the financial condition of a nation from a mere statement of its revenues.

The condition of the people has, of course, improved, and is improving. Public hygiene has made great progress, and houses are better and more sanitary, though for this and other reasons rents have risen. Wages are higher. Commodities are cheaper. Co-operation and the better organisation of retail business, giving no credit, have saved some of the profits of middlemen for the benefit of the consumer, while authority fights without ceasing against frauds in weights and measures, and adulteration. Free libraries, museums, picture galleries, parks, public gardens, and promenades have multiplied, and it is almost sufficient to observe that no one seems to be too poor to command the use of a bicycle. But with all this progress it is to be feared that housekeeping is no better understood than it was two centuries ago-perhaps even not so well. In the interval it has become enormously simplified. The complete housewife is no longer a brewer, a baker, a weaver, a dyer, and a host of other specialists rolled into one. But among the working classes the advent of the factory system has increased the employment of women and girls away from home to such an extent that many of them now marry with a minimum of domestic experience, and are with the best intentions the innocent agents of inefficiency and waste, even in this simplified household.

If we were suddenly swallowed up by the ocean it appears probable that the foreign student would find it easier to describe from existing documents the life and home of the British craftsman in the middle ages than of his descendant of to-day. In part, no doubt, our fiscal system, with its few taxes upon articles of food and its light pressure on the working classes, is responsible for this neglect. During the Napoleonic war Pitt sent for Arthur Young to ask him what were the ordinary and necessary expenses of a workman's family, and the question would again become one of practical politics if any large addition were required in the proceeds of indirect taxation. Taxation has the one advantage of providing us with statistics. We know tolerably well the facts in the mass about the consumption of tea and coffee, dried fruits and tobacco, and of alcohol, while the income tax (aided in the near future by returns of the death duties) may give us some idea of the stratification of the wealthier classes. But the details of consumption are still obscure. It has already been suggested that some restraint may arise from the sentiment that individuals are likely to resent what they may regard as a prying into their affairs. But when we travel abroad we are curious to notice, and do notice without giving offence, the dress, the habits, and the food of peasants and workmen; and it is difficult to resist the conclusion that we are less observant at home because these common and trivial details appear to us unworthy of attention. In his Principles of Economics Professor Marshall says :—“Perhaps £100,000,000 annually are spent even by the working classes, and £400,000,000 by the rest of the population of England, in ways that do little or nothing towards making life nobler or truly happier.” And, again, speaking before the Royal Statistical Society in 1893 :-" Something like the whole imperial revenue, say 100 millions a year, might be saved if a sufficient number of able women went about the country and induced the other women to manage their households as they did themselves.” These figures show, at any rate, the possibilities of greatness in the economic progress which may result from attention to the humblest details of domestic life.

Economics, like other sciences, lies under a great debt of obligation to French pioneers. The Physiocrats, or économistes, of the eighteenth century were the first school of writers to make it worthy of the name of a science. In Cournot France gave us a giant of originality in pure theory. In Comte we have a philosopher fruitful in suggestion to the narrower economist. In Le Play we have a writer as yet little known in England, but to whom recognition and respect are gradually coming for his early perception of the importance of ascertaining the facts of consumption, and it is to Le Play's “family Budgets,” the receipts and expenses of workmen's families, that I desire especially to call attention. I have given elsewhere an account of his life and work. Broadly speaking, he set himself by the comparative study of workmen's families in different countries of Europe to arrive at the causes of well-being and of misery among the labouring classes. The subject was too large to lead him in many directions to very precise conclusions. We are reminded in reading him of an incident at a dinner of the Political Economy Club in 1876, when Mr. Robert Lowe propounded the question, “What are the more important results which have followed from the publication of the Wealth of Nations just one hundred years ago

?Some of the most enthusiastic admirers of Adam Smith were present, Mr. Gladstone and M. Léon Say among the number : and Mr. Lowe trenchantly declared that it all came to this: “The causes of wealth are two, industry and thrift; the causes of poverty are two, idleness and waste." It was left to Mr. W. E. Forster to make the rugged remark, “You don't want to go to Adam Smith for that—you can get that out of the Proverbs of Solomon.” And Le Play's conclusions frequently go still further back, to the Decalogue. There are, however, many observations, suggestive and original, upon the material facts, the economic life, of the families he brought under review. And we are now concerned rather with his method than with his conclusions, Given half a dozen Le Plays applying their minds to the study of the consumption of wealth among the working classes of England, we might expect soon to see a greater advance in comfort, a greater rise in the standard of life, than improved arts of production alone are likely to yield in a generation. Certain English writers had, indeed, prepared family budgets before Le Play arose. But their method was usually incomplete, except for the specific purpose they had before them. David Davies and Sir F. Eden were chiefly concerned with the poor law, Arthur Young and Cobbett with agricultural politics, Dudley Baxter and Leone Levi with taxation. Le Play may fairiy be called the father of the scientific family budget. His studies of four English families are the most complete economic pictures of English popular life to be found in literature. With the aid of some local authority he chose what was thought a fairly typical family, and then, frankly explaining his scientific object and securing confidence, he set himself to study it. Nothing of economic interest is too unimportant for him to record. A minute inventory and valuation of clothes, furniture, and household goods; a detailed account, item by item, of income from all sources, and of expenditure upon all objects for a year, with the quantities and prices of foods, &c.; a description of the family member by member, their past history, their environment, how they came to be where they are and to earn their living as they do; their resources in the present, their provision for the future ; their meals, hygiene, and recreations; their social, moral, political, and religious observances-nothing escapes him. And the whole is organised, classified, fitted into a framework identical for all cases, with the painstaking and methodical industry of the naturalist. Contrasted with this the realism of novelists, the occasional excursions of journalists, the observations of professed economists, are pitiably incomplete. As early as 1857 Le Play found one ardent admirer in England, Mr. W. L. Sargant, whose Economy of the Labouring Classes, avowedly inspired by Le Play, is a valuable and interesting piece of work. Since then, however, with the magnificent exception of Mr. Charles Booth, little has been done to throw light upon the mode of life of the wage-earners of England. The Board of Trade heralded the formation of its Labour Department by issuing a Blue Book—unhappily without sequel-entitled Returns of Expenditure by Working Men, 1889, and the Economic Club has published a useful collection of studies in Family Budgets, 1896. But we shall probably still depend very much upon foreign observers for fuller knowledge of the subject. M. René Lavollée, an adherent who may almost be called a colleague of Le Play, has devoted to England a whole volume of his important work Les Classes Ouvrières en Europe : études sur leur situation matérielle et morale.1 M. Urbain Guérin, another member of the Société d'Économie Sociale founded by Le Play to carry on his work, has recently added a study of a tanner's family in Nottingham to Le Play's gallery of portraits ; and some of the young members of the Musée Social and the École Libre des Sciences Politiques have come among us animated with the same scientific curiosity. A vivid (and, so far as Newcastle is concerned, a trustworthy) sketch by a German miner, How the English Workman Lives, just translated into English, is our latest debt to foreign observers. It may be hoped that the British Association, largely attended as it is by persons who would shrink from more ambitious scientific labours, will furnish some workers ready to do their country the very real service

1 Harvard Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. iv., 1890 ; Journal of Royal Statistical Society, March, 1893 ; Palgrave's Dictionary of Political Economy, s.r. Le Play, 1896.

2 Les Ourriers Européens, Paris, folio, 1855.

? Paris, 1896, tom, iji. 656 pp., large 8vo.

of recording such facts as they can collect about the economic habits of our own people, and so helping us to know ourselves.

Consider, for a moment, the consumption of food. To the ordinary English workman life would seem unendurable without white wheaten bread. Other forms of bread he knows there are, but he has unreasoning prejudices against wholemeal bread—the food of workhouses and prisons—and against rye bread or other kinds of bread, the food of foreigners. But in many parts of Europe

the working classes have no bread. Cereals of some sort, prepared in some way, they of course employ. Wheat, oats, rye, barley, maize, buckwheat, even chestnuts, are used indifferently in different places, and rice and potatoes are among the substitutes. What is the relative value of these as food-stuffs, and what is the best mode of preparing them? The reasons which induced men in the middle ages to consume the cereals of their own neighbourhood have been so much weakened by the cheapening of transport and the international specialisation of industries, that the conservatism of food habits is brought into strong relief when we find neighbouring people abandoning, first in town and then in country, marked distinctions of national costumes, but clinging everywhere to national differences of food. We are perhaps on the eve of considerable changes here. Two years ago an American economist told me in Boston that fruit had been the great ally of the workmen in a recent severe strike. There had been an exceptionally large crop of bananas, which were sold at one cent. apiece, and the strikers had sustained themselves and their families almost entirely upon bananas at a trifling cost-very greatly below their usual expense for food. Returning to London I found bananas on sale in the streets for a halfpenny. No doubt they were consumed here in addition to, and not in substitution for, ordinary food; but they illustrate the fact that the foods of other latitudes are no longer the sole luxury of the rich, but are brought within the reach of all classes, and that our popular food habits need no longer be made to conform to the narrow range of former days, but may be put upon a wider rational basis. The vegetarians, largely dependent upon other countries, have recognised this. The chemist and the physiologist might give us great assistance in these matters. Most of the calculations which I have seen as to the constituents of foods, their heat-giving and nutritive properties, appear to ignore the greater or less facility with which the different foods are assimilated. It is surprising that rice, in some respects the most economical of all grains, needing no milling, easily cooked and easily digested, is

« НазадПродовжити »