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reckoned so cruel to disapprove, is a degrading slavery to a brute instinct in one of the persons concerned, and most commonly, in the other, helpless submission to a revolting abuse of power.
It is not wonderful that the working classes themselves should cherish error on this subject. They obey a common propensity, in laying the blame of their misfortunes, and the responsibility of providing remedies, on any shoulders but their own. They must be above the average level of humanity if they chose the more disagreeable opinion, when nearly all their professed teachers, both in their own and in every other class, either silently reject or noisily declaim against it. The true theory of the causes of poverty seems to answer nobody's peculiar purpose. Those who share the growing and certainly well-grounded discontent with the place filled and the part performed in society by what are called the higher classes, and seem to think that acknowledging the necessary dependence of wages on population is removing some blame from those classes, and acquitting them at the bar of public opinion for doing so little for the people ; as if anything they could do, either in their present relation to them, or in any other, could be of permanent use to the people in their material interests, unless grounded on a recognition of all the facts on which their condition depends. To this class of opponents, the accidents of personal politics have latterly added nearly the whole effective literary strength of the party who proclaim themselves Conservative of existing social arrangements. Any one with whom the cause of the poor is a principle, and not a pretence, or a mere freak of sensibility, must contemplate with unfeigned bitterness the conduct, during ten important years, of a large portion of the Tory party, including nearly all its popular organs; who have studiously fostered the prejudices and inflamed the passions of the democracy, on the points on which democratic opinion
is most liable to be dangerously wrong, for the paltry advantage of turning into a handle of popular declamation against their Whig rivals, an enactment most salutary in principle, in which their own party had concurred, but of which those rivals were almost accidentally the nominal authors.
So long as mankind remained in a semi-barbarous state, with the indolence and the few wants of the savage, it probably was not desirable that population should be restrained ; the pressure of physical want may have been a necessary stimulus, in that stage of the human mind, to the exertion of labor and ingenuity required for accomplishing that greatest of all past changes in human modes of existence, by which industrial life attained predominance over the hunting, the pastoral, and the military or predatory state. Want, in that age of the world, had its uses, as even slavery had ; and there may be corners of the earth where those uses are not yet superseded, though they might easily be so were a helping hand held out by more civilized communities. But in Europe the time, if it ever existed, is long past, when a life of privation had the smallest tendency to make men either better workmen or more civilized beings. It is, on the contrary, evident, that if the agricultural laborers were better off, they would both work more efficiently, and be better citizens. I ask, then, is it true or not, that if their numbers were fewer, they would obtain higher wages? This is the question, and no other; and it is idle to divert attention from it, by attacking any incidental position of Malthus or some other writer, and pretending that to refute that, is to disprove the principle of population. Some, for instance, have achieved an easy victory-over-& passing remark of Mr. Malthus, hazarded chiefly by way of illustration, that the increase of food may perhaps be assumed to take place in an arithmetical ratio, while population increases in a geometrical : when every candid reader knows that Mr. Malthus (laid no stress on this unlucky attempt to give numerical precision to things which do not admit of it, and every person capable of reasoning must see that it is wholly superfluous to his argument. Others have laid immense stress upon a correction which more recent political economists have made in the mere language of the earlier followers of Mr. Malthus. Several writers had said that it is the tendency of population to increase faster than the means of subsistence. The assertion was true in the sense in which they meant it, namely, that population would in most circumstances increase faster than the means of subsistence, if it were not checked either by mortality or by prudence. But inasmuch as these checks act with unequal force at different times and places, it was possible to interpret the language of these writers as if they had meant that population is usually gaining ground upon subsistence, and the poverty of the people becoming greater. Under this interpretation of their meaning, it was urged that the reverse is the truth; that as civilization advances, the prudential check tends to become stronger, and population to slack its rate of increase, relatively to subsistence; and that it is an error to maintain that population, in any improving community, tends to increase faster than, or even so fast as, subsistence. The word tendency is here used in a totally different sense from that of the writers who affirmed the proposition; but waiving the verbal question, is it not allowed on both sides, that in old countries, population presses too closely upon the means of subsistence? And although its pressure diminishes, the more the ideas and habits of the poorest class of laborers can be improved, to which it is to be hoped that there is always some tendency in a progressive country, yet since that tendency has hitherto been, and still is, extremely faint, and (to descend to particulars) has not yet extended to giving to the Wiltshire laborers higher wages than eight shillings a week, the only thing which it is necessary to consider is, whether that is a sufficient and
suitable provision for a laborer; for if not, population does, as an existing fact, bear too great a proportion to the means of subsistence; and whether it pressed still harder or not quite so hard at some former period, is practically of no moment, except that, if the ratio is an improving one, there is the better hope that by proper aids and encouragements it may be made to improve more and faster.
It is not, however, against reason, that the argument on this subject has to struggle; but against a feeling of dislike, which will only reconcile itself to the unwelcome truth, when every device is exhausted by which the recognition of that truth can be evaded. It is necessary, therefore, to enter into a detailed examination of these devices, and to force every position which is taken up by the enemies of the population principle, in their determination to find some refuge for the laborer, some plausible means of improving his condition, without requiring the exercise, either enforced or voluntary, of any self-restraint, or any greater control than at present over the animal power of multiplication. This will be the object of the next chapter.
OF POPULAR REMEDIES FOR LOW WAGES.
$ 1. The simplest expedient which can be imagined for keeping the wages of labor up to the desirable point, would be to fix them by law; and this is virtually the object aimed at in a variety of plans which have at different times been, or still are, current, for remodelling the relation between laborers and employers. No one probably ever suggested that wages should be absolutely fixed; since the interests of all concerned often require that they should be variable; but some have proposed to fix a minimum of wages, leaving the variations above that point to be adjusted by competition. Another plan, which has found many advocates among the leaders of the operatives, is that councils should be formed, which in England have been called local boards of trade, in France, “conseils de prud'hommes,” and other names; consisting of delegates from the work-people and from the employers, who, meeting in fair conference, should agree upon a rate of wages, and promulgate it from authority, to be binding generally on employers and workmen; the ground of decision being, not the state of the labor-market, but natural equity; to provide that the workmen shall have reasonable wages, and the capitalist reasonable profits.
Others again (but these are rather philanthropists interesting themselves for the laboring classes, than the laboring classes themselves) are sly of admitting the interference of authority in contracts for labor; they fear that if law intervened, it would intervene rashly and ignorantly; they are convinced that two parties, with opposite interests, attempting to adjust those interests by negotiation