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tinder 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 to 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 legal precautions against over-population. Ihe famous Act of the 43d of Elizabeth undertook, 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 been fully 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 labour of the country. It is not at all surprising, therefore, that Mr. Malthus and otheis should at first have concluded against all poorlaws 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 supported 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 recognised, with the permanent interests of the labouring class and of posterity. By a collection 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 some 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 ensure every individual belonging to it against the extreme of want; that the condition even of those who are unable to find their own support, needs not be one of physical 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 labour, we have to consider another class of popular remedies, which do not profess to interfere with freedom of contract; which leave wages to be fixed by the competition of the market, but, when they are considered insufficient, endeavour by some subsidiary resource to mako up to the labourers 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 labour had become inadequate to afford to the families of the agricultural labourers the amount 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 interest of the farmers, whom it enabled to throw part of the support of their labourers upon the other inhabitants of the parish, led to a great and rapid extension of it. The principle of this scheme being avowedly that of adapting the means of every family to its necessities, it was a natural consequence that 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 labourers 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 labour at its market price, the difference being made up to the labourer 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 labourers 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 besides 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 labourers 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 bo 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 labourers enough in the workhouse to produce the effect at once. It is well 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 sank so low, that with wages and allowance together, families were worse off than they had been before with wages alone. When the labourer depends solely on wages, there is a virtual minimum. If wages fall below the lowest rate which will enable the population to be kept up, depopulation at least restores them to that lowest rate. 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 been abolished, and of this one abuse at least it may be said that nobody professes to wish for its revival.
§ 4. But while this is (it is to be hoped) exploded, there is another mode of relief in aid of wages, which is still highly popular; 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 labourer for the insufficiency of bis 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 labour, 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 labour 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 labourer 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
* See the Evidence on the subject of Allotments, collected by the Commissioners of Poor Law Enquiry.
labourers, 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 difference between helping a labourer by means of his own industry, and subsidizing him in a mode which tends to make him careless and idle. On both these points, allotments have an unquestionable advantage over parish allowances. But in their effect on wages and population, I see no reason why the two plans should substantially differ. All subsidies in aid of wages enable the labourer to do with less remuneration, and therefore ultimately bring down the price of labour by the full amount, unless a change be wrought in the ideas and requirements of the labouring class; an alteration in the relative value which they set upon the gratification of their instincts, and upon the increase ot their comforts and the comforts of those connected with them. That any such change in their character should be produced by the allotment system, appears to me a thing not to be expected. The possession of land, we are sometimes told, renders the labourer provident. Property in land does so; or what is equivalent to property, occupation on fixed terms and on a permanent tenure. But mere hiring from year to year was never found to have any such effect. Did possession of land render the Irishman provident? Testimonies, it is true, abound, and I do not seek to discredit them, of the beneficial change produced in the conduct and condition of labourers, by receiving allotments. Such an effect is to be expected while those who hold them are a small number; a privileged class, having a status above the common level, which they are unwilling to lose. They are also, no doubt, almost always, originally a select class, composed of the most favourable specimens of the labouring people: which, however, is attended with the inconvenience, that the persons to whom the system facilitates marrying and having children, are precisely those who would otherwise be the most likely to practise prudential restraint. As affecting the general condition of the labouring class, the scheme, as it seems to me, must be either nugatory or mischievous. If only a few labourers have allotments, they are naturally those who could do best without them, and no good is done to the class: while, if the system were general, and every or almost every labourer had an allotment, I believe the effect would be much the same as when -every or almost every labourer had an allowance in aid of wages. I think there can be no doubt that if, at the end of the last century, the Allotment instead of the Allowance system had been generally adopted in England, it would equally have broken down the practical restraints on population which at that time did really exist; population would have started forward exactly as in fact it did; and in twenty years, wages plus the allotment would have been, as wages plus the allowance actually were, no more than equal to the former wages without any allotment. The only difference in favour of allotments would have been, that they make the people grow their own poor-rates.
I am at the same time quite ready to allow, that in some circumstances, the possession of land at a fair rent, even without ownership, by the generality of labourers for hire, operates as a cause not of low, but of high wages. This, however, is when their land renders them, to the extent of actual necessaries, independent of the market for labour. There is the greatest difference between the position of people who live by wages, with land as an 'extra resource, and of people who can,
in case of necessity, subsist entirely on their land, and only work for hire to add to their comforts. Wages are likely to be high where none are compelled by necessity to sell their labour. "People who have at home some kind of property to apply their labour to, will not sell their labour for wages that do not afford them a better diet than potatoes and maize, although in saving for themselves, they may live very much on potatoes and maize. We are often surprised in travelling on the Continent, to hear of a rate of day's wages very high, considering the abundance and cheapness of food. It is want of the necessity or inclination to take work, that makes daylabour scarce, and, considering the price of provisions, dear, in many parts of the Continent, where property in land is widely diffused among the people."* There are parts of the Continent where, even of the inhabitants of the towns, scarcely one seems to be exclusively dependent on his ostensible employment; and nothing else can explain the high price they put on their services, and the carelessness they evince as to whether they are employed at all. But the effect would be far different if their land or other resources gave them only a fraction of a subsistence, leaving them under an undiminished necessity of selling their labour for wages in an overstocked market. Their land would then merely enable them to exist on smaller wages, and to carry their multiplication so much the further before reaching the point below which they either could not, or would not, descend.
To the view I have taken of the effect of allotments, I see no argument which can be opposed, but that employed by Mr. Thornton,f with whom on this subject I am at issue. His defence of allotments is grounded on the general doctrine, that it is only the very poor who multiply without regard to consequences, and that if the condition of the existing generation could be greatly improved, which he thinks
* Laing's Notee of a Traveller, p. 456. t See Thornton on Over-Population, chviii.
might be done by the allotment system, their successors would grow up with an increased standard of requirements, and would not have families until they could keep them in as much comfort as that in which they had been brought up themselves. I agree in as much of this argument as goes to prove that a sudden and very great improvement in the condition of the poor, has always, through its effect on their habits of life, a chance of becoming permanent. What happened at the time of the French Revolution is an example. But I cannot think that the addition of a quarter or even half an acre to every labourer's cottage, and that too at a rack rent, would (after the fall of wages which would be necessary to absorb the already existing mass of pauper labour) make so great a difference in the comforts of the family for a generation to come, as to raise up from childhood a labouring population with a really higher permanent standard of requirements and habits. So small a portion of land could only be made a permanent benefit, by holding out encouragement to acquire by industry and saving, the means of buying it outright: a permission which, if extensively made use of, would be a kind of
education in forethought and frugality to the entire class, the effects of which might not cease with the occasion. The benefit would however arise, not from what was given them, but from what they were stimulated to acquire. No remedies for low wages have the smallest chance of being efficacious, which do not operate on and through the minds and habits of the people. While these are unaffected, any contrivance, even if successful, for temporarily improving the condition of the very poor, would but let slip the reins by which population was previously curbed; and could only, therefore, continue to produce its effect, if, by the whip and spur of taxation, capital were compelled to follow at an equally accelerated pace. But this process could not possibly continue for long together, and whenever it stopped, it would leave the country with an increased number of the poorest class, and a diminished proportion of all except the poorest, or, if it continued long enough, with none at all.' 'For "to this complexion must come at last" all social arrangements, which remove the natural checks to population without substituting any others.
THE REMEDIES FOR LOW WAGES FURTHER CONSIDERED.
§ 1. By what means, then, is poverty to be contended against? How is the evil of low wages to be remedied? If the expedients usually recommended for the purpose are not adapted to it, can no others be thought of? Is the problem incapable of solution? Can political economy do nothing, but only object to everything, and demonstrate that nothing can be done?
If this were so, political economy
might have a needful, but would have
a melancholy, and a thankless task.
If the bulk of the human race are
always to remain as at present, slaves to toil in which they have no interest, and therefore feel no interest—drudging from early morning till late at night for bare necessaries, and with all the intellectual and moral deficiencies which that implies—without resources either in mind or feelings—untaught, for they cannot be better taught than fed; selfish, for all their thoughts are required for themselves; without interests or sentiments as citizens and members of society, and with a sense of injustice rankling in their minds, equally for what they have not, and