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through their representatives on principles of equity, when no rule could be laid down to determine what was equitable, would merely exasperate their differences instead of healing them; but what it is useless to attempt by the legal sanction, these persons desire to compass by the moral. Every employer, they think, ought to give sufficient wages; and if he does it not willingly, should be compelled to it by general opinion; the test of sufficient wages being their own feelings, or what they suppose to be those of the public. This is, I think, a fair representation of a considerable body of existing opinion on the subject.
I desire to confine my remarks to the principle involved in all these suggestions, without taking into account practical difficulties, serious as these must at once be seen to be. I shall suppose that by one or other of these contrivances, wages could be kept above the point to which they would be brought by competition. This is as much as to say, above the highest rate which can be afforded by the existing capital, consistently with employing all the laborers. For it is a mistake to suppose that competition merely keeps down wages. It is equally the means by which they are kept up. When there are many laborers unemployed, these, unless maintained by charity, become competitors for hire, and wages fall; but when all who were out of work have found employment, wages will not, under the freest system of competition, fall lower. There are strange notions afloat, concerning the nature of competition. Some people seem to imagine that its effect is something indefinite; that the competition of sellers may lower prices, and the competition of laborers may lower wages, down to zero, or some unassignable minimum. Nothing can be more unfounded. Goods can only be lowered in price by competition, to the point which calls forth buyers sufficient to take them off; and wages can only be lowered by competition until room is made to admit all the laborers to a share in
the distribution of the wages-fund. If they fell below this point, a portion of capital would remain unemployed for want of laborers; a counter-competition would commence on the side of capitalists, and wages would rise.
Since, therefore, the rate of wages which results from competition distributes the whole wages-fund among the whole laboring population; if law or opinion succeeds in fixing wages above this rate, some laborers are kept out of employment; and as it is not the intention of the philanthropists that these should starve, they must be provided for by a forced increase of the wages-fund; by a compulsory saving. It is nothing to fix a minimum of wages, unless there be a provision that work, or wages at least, be found for all who apply for it. This, accordingly, is always part of the scheme; and is consistent with the ideas of more people than would approve of either a legal or a moral minimum of wages. Popular sentiment looks upon it as the duty of the rich, or of the state, to find employment for all the poor. If the moral influence of opinion does not induce the rich to spare from their consumption enough to set all the poor to work at “reasonable wages," it is supposed to be incumbent on the state to lay on taxes for the purpose, either by local rates or votes of public money. The proportion between labor and the wages-fund I would thus be modified to the advantage of the laborers, not by restriction of population, but by an increase of capital.
§ 2. If this claim on society could be limited to the existing generation ; if nothing more were necessary than a compulsory accumulation, sufficient to provide permanent employment at ample wages for the existing numbers of the people ; such a proposition would have no more strenuous supporter than myself. Society mainly consists of those who live by bodily labor ; and if society, that is, if the laborers, lend their physical force to protect individuals in the enjoyment of superfluities, they are entitled to do so, and have always done so, with the reservation of a power to tax those superfluities for purposes of public utility; among which purposes the subsistence of the people is the foremost. Since no one is responsible for having been born, no pecuniary sacrifice is too great to be made by those who have more than enough, for the purpose of securing enough to all persons already in existence.
But it is another thing altogether, when those who have produced and accumulated are called upon to abstain from consuming until they have given food and clothing, not only to all who now exist, but to all whom these or their descendants may think fit to call into existence. Such an obligation acknowledged and acted apon, would suspend all checks, both positive and preventive; there would be nothing to hinder population from starting forward at its rapidest rate; and as the natural increase of capital would, at the best, not be more rapid than before, taxation, to make up the growing deficiency, must advance with the same gigantic strides. The attempt would of course be made to exact labor in exchange for support. But experience has shown the sort of work to be expected from recipients of public charity. When the pay is not given for the sake of 1 the work, but the work found for the sake of the pay, inefficiency is a matter of certainty; to extract real work from day-laborers without the power of dismissal, is only practicable by the power of the lash. But let them work ever so efficiently, the increasing population could not, as we have so often shown, increase the produce proportionally; the surplus, after all were fed, would bear a less and less proportion to the whole produce and to the population; and the increase of people going on in a constant ratio, while the intrase of produce went on in a diminishing ratio, the surpius would in time be wholly absorbed ; taxation for the
support of the poor would engross the whole income of the country; the payers and the receivers would be melted down into one mass. The check to population either by death or prudence, could not then be staved off any longer, but must come into operation suddenly and at once; everything which places mankind above a nest of ants or a colony of beavers, having perished in the interval.
These consequences have been so often and so clearly pointed out by celebrated authors, in writings known and accessible, that ignorance of them on the part of educated persons is no longer pardonable. It is doubly discreditable in any person setting up for a public teacher, to ignore these considerations; to dismiss them silently, and discuss or declaim on wages and poor-laws, not as if these arguments could be refuted, but as if they did not exist. Yet such has been the tone of popular and newspaper discussion for some years past.
Every one has a right to live. We will suppose this | granted. But no one has a right to bring creatures into
life, to be supported by other people. Whoever means to stand upon the first of these rights, must renounce all pretension to the last. If a man cannot support even himself unless others help him, those others are entitled to say that they do not also undertake the support of all the offspring which it is physically possible for him to summon into the world. Yet there are abundance of writers and public speakers, including many of most ostentatious pretensions to high feeling, whose views of life are so truly brutish, that they see hardship in preventing paupers from breeding hereditary paupers in the very work-house itself. Posterity will one day ask with astonishment, what sort of people it could be among whom such preachers could find proselytes?
It is conceivable that the state might guarantee employment at ample wages to all who are born. But if it does this, it is bound in self-protection, and for the sake of every purpose for which government exists, to provide that no person shall be born without its consent. If the ordinary and natural motives to self-restraint are removed; others must be substituted. Restrictions on marriage, at least equivalent to those existing in some of the German states, or severe penalties on those who have children when unable to support them, would then be indispensable. Society may feed the necessitous, if it takes their multiplication under its control ; or it may leave the last to their discretion, if it abandons the first to their own care. But it cannot take half of the one course, and half of the other. Let it choose that, which circumstances or the public sentiment render most expedient. But it cannot with impunity take the feeding upon itself, and leave the multiplying free.
To give profusely to the people, whether under the name of charity or of employment, without placing them under such influences that prudential motives shall act powerfully upon them, is to lavish the means of benefiting mankind, without attaining the object. Leave the people in a situation in which their condition manifestly depends upon their numbers, and the greatest permanent benefit may be derived from any sacrifice made to improve the physical well-being of the present generation, and raise, by that means, the habits of their children. But remove the regulation of their wages from their own control; guarantee them a certain payment, either by law, or by the feeling of the community; and no amount of comfort that you can give them will make either them or their descendants look to their own self-restraint as the proper means for preserving them in that state. You will only make them indignantly claim the continuance of your guarantee to themselves and their full complement of possible posterity.
On these grounds some writers have altogether condemned the English poor-law, and any system of relief to the able-bodied, at least when uncombined with systematic