« НазадПродовжити »
legal precautions against over-population. The famous act of 43 Elizabeth undertakes, on the part of the public, to provide work and wages for all the destitute able-bodied; and there is little doubt that if the intent of that act had fully been carried out, and no means had been adopted by the administrators of relief to neutralize its natural tendencies, the poor rate would by this time have absorbed the whole net produce of the land and labor of the country. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that Mr. Malthus and others should at first have concluded against all poor-laws whatever. It required much experience and careful examination of different modes of poor-law management, to give assurance that the admission of an absolute right to be sup ported at the cost of other people, could exist in law and in fact, without fatally relaxing the springs of industry and the restraints of prudence. This, however, was fully substantiated, by the investigations of the original Poor-Law Commissioners. Hostile as they are unjustly accused of being to the principle of legal relief, they are the first who fully proved the compatibility of any poor-law, in which a right to relief was recognized, with the permanent interests of the laboring class and of posterity. By a collation of facts, experimentally ascertained in parishes scattered throughout England, it was shown that the guarantee of support could be freed from its injurious effects upon the minds and habits of the people ; if the relief, though ample in respect to necessaries, was accompanied with conditions which they disliked, consisting of some restraints on their freedom, and the privation of certain indulgences. Under this proviso, it may be regarded as irrevocably established, that the fate of no member of the community needs be abandoned to chance; that society can and therefore ought to insure every individual belonging to it against the extreme of want ; that the condition even of those on the lowest step of the social ladder, needs not be one of phy
sical suffering, or the dread of it, but only of restricted indulgence, and enforced rigidity of discipline. This is surely something gained for humanity, important in itself, and still more so as a step to something beyond; and humanity has no worse enemies than those who lend themselves, either knowingly or unintentionally, to bring odium on this law, or on the principles in which it originated.
3. Next to the attempts to regulate wages, and provide artificially that all who are willing to work shall receive an adequate price for their labor, we have to consider another class of popular remedies, which do not profess to interfere with freedom of contract; which allow wages to be what the competition of the market makes them, but, when they are considered insufficient, endeavor by some subsidiary resource to make up to the laborers for the insufficiency. Of this nature was the expedient resorted to by parish authorities during thirty or forty years previous to 1834, generally known as the Allowance System. This was first introduced, when, through a succession of bad seasons, and consequent high prices of food, the wages of labor had become inadequate to afford to the families of the agricultural laborers the degree of support to which they had been accustomed. Sentiments of humanity, joined with the idea then inculcated in high quarters, that people ought not to be allowed to suffer for having enriched their country with a multitude of inhabitants, induced the magistrates of the rural districts to commence giving parish relief to persons already in private employment; and when the practice had once been sanctioned, the immediate interests of the fanners, whom it enabled to throw part of the support of their laborers upon the other inhabitants of the parish, led to a great and rapid extension of it. The principle of this sheme being avowedly that of adapting the means of every family to its necessities, it was a natural corollary that VOL. I.
more should be given to the married than to the single, and to those who had large families than to those who had not; in fact, an allowance was usually granted for every child. So direct and positive an encouragement to population is not, however, inseparable from the scheme; the allowance in aid of wages might be a fixed thing, given to all laborers alike, and as this is the least objectionable form which the system can assume, we will give it the benefit of the supposition.
It is obvious that this is merely another mode of fixing a minimum of wages, no otherwise differing from the direct mode, than in allowing the employer to buy the labor at its market price, the difference being made up to the laborer from a public fund. The one kind of guarantee is open to all the objections which have been urged against the other. It promises to the laborers that they shall all have a certain amount of wages, however numerous they may be; and removes, therefore, alike the positive and the prudential obstacles to an unlimited increase. But beside the objections common to all attempts to regulate wages without regulating population, the allowance system has a peculiar absurdity of its own. This is, that it inevitably takes from wages with one hand what it adds to them with the other. There is a rate of wages, either the lowest on which the people can, or the lowest on which they will, consent to live. We will suppose this to be seven shillings a week. Shocked at the wretchedness of this pittance, the parish authorities humanely make it up to ten. But the laborers are accustomed to seven, and though they would gladly have more, will live on that (as the fact proves) rather than restrain the instinct of multiplication. Their habits will not be altered for the better by giving them parish pay. Receiving three shillings from the parish, they will be as well off as before, though they should increase sufficiently to bring down wages to four shillings. They will accordingly people down to that point; or perhaps, without waiting for an increase of numbers, there are unemployed laborers enough in the work-house to produce the effect at once. It is weil known that the allowance system did practically operate in the mode described, and that under its influence wages sank to a lower rate than had been known in England before. During the last century, under a rather rigid administration of the poor-laws, population increased slowly, and agricultural wages were considerably above the starvation point. Under the allowance system the people increased so fast, and wages sunk so low, that with wages and allowance together, families were worse off than they had been before with wages alone. When the laborer depends solely on wages, there is an absolute minimum. Anything less than what will absolutely support him he will not take, for if he is to starve, he may as well do so without working as with it. But if the deficiency is to be made up by a forced contribution from all who have anything to give, wages may fall below starvation point ; they may fall almost to zero. This deplorable system, worse than any other form of poor-law abuse yet invented, inasmuch as it pauperizes not merely the unemployed part of the population but the whole, has now been abolished, and of this one abuse at least it may be said that nobody professes to wish for its revival. Even the agitators against the New Poor-Law have hitherto stopped short of patronizing the Allowance System.
$ 4. But while this is (it is to be hoped) exploded, there is another mode of relief in aid of wages, which is at the height of popularity; a mode greatly preferable, morally and socially, to parish allowance, but tending, it is to be feared, to a very similar economical result ; I mean the much boasted Allotment System. This, too, is a contrivance to compensate the laborer for the insufficiency of his wages, by giving him something else as a supplement to them; but instead of having them made up from the poor rate, he is enabled to make them up for himself, by renting a small piece of ground, which he cultivates like a garden by spade labor, raising potatoes and other vegetables for home consumption, with perhaps some additional quantity for sale. If he hires the ground ready manured, he sometimes pays for it at as high a rate as eight pounds an acre ; but getting his own labor and that of his family for nothing, he is able to gain several pounds by it even at so high a rent.* The patrons of the system make it a great point that the allotment shall be in aid of wages, and not a substitute for them; that it shall not be such as a laborer can live on, but only sufficient to occupy the spare hours and days of a man in tolerably regular agricultural employment, with assistance from his wife and children. They usually limit the extent of a single allotment to a quarter, or something between a quarter and half an acre. If it exceeds this, without being enough to occupy him entirely, it will make him, they say, a bad and uncertain workman for hire ; if it is sufficient to take him entirely out of the class of hired laborers, and to become his sole means of subsistence, it will make him an Irish cottier ; for which assertion, at the enormous rents usually demanded, there is some foundation. But in their precautions against cottierism, these well-meaning persons do not perceive, that if the system they patronize is not a cottier system, it is, in essentials, neither more nor less than a system of conacre.
There is no doubt a material difference between eking out insufficient wages by a fund raised by taxation, and doing the same thing by means which make a clear addition to the gross produce of the country. There is also a
* See the Evidence on the subject of Allotments, collected by the Com. missioners of Poor-Law Inquiry.