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« England.' One writer, whose name carries with it very considerable weight,* has not scrupled to affirm, that "No Scheme • for the amendment of the Poor Laws' merits the least attention,
which has not their abolition for its ultimate object.' And even the Committee of the House of Commons seem to be of opinion, that their abolition would be decidedly beneficial, could it be effected with safety. In the interim, some reinedial regulations are on all sides admitted to be indispensably necessary, in order to arrest the accelerating progress of the evil. • The strongest conviction of the impolicy and mischievousness
of the system, has as yet,' remarks Mr. Courtenay, ' induced no man to propose its total and immediate abrogation ;' while those who are for proposing palliatives, are willing that every
partial amendment should have a tendency towards a general • abandonment.' As to the best means of introducing a reform, however, there fortunately exists a diversity of opinion which will, we hope, secure the rigid and suspicious examination of any legislative project of the nature of experiment. It will be well if the clamour and the panic which have spread through all ranks, on the subject of the Poor Laws, and the vehement eloquence with which the dangers arising from the Law of Relief have been aggravated, should not favour the passing of enactments not less injurious, in some points of view, than the evils they are ostensibly designed to remedy.
All that we shall attempt in the present Article, is, to introduce our readers to a general view of the question itself; we shall then proceed to examine the measures proposed, by way of mitigating the existing burden. There are a few previous considerations which, although some of them may appear little better than truisms, the reader may find it very convenient to carry with bim into the investigation.
In the first place, whether there exist a Law of Relief, or not, there will always remain a portion of the community in a state of poverty. Whether the Poor Laws tend to lessen, or to increase, the sum of Pauperisin, they are not the cause of poverty. This is a state which, under any conceivable circumstances of society, must be incidental to a large portion of the labouring classes. When the population of a country has attained the point at which the supply of labour is fully adequate to the demand, the wages of labour are not likely to remain much higher than suffices for the bare subsistence of the labourer and his family. This is poverty, when a man can earn no more than he must expend in the supply of his daily wants; and when his earnings fall below the sum requisite for his main
* Ricardo “ On the Principles of Political Economy and Tax“ation.” p. 113.
tenance, his poverty sinks to the point of indigence. Those of the labouring classes whose earnings are casual or uncertain, are, it is obvious, in perpetual danger of falling into temporary indigence. A depreciation of labour below the price of subsistence, will have the effect, without any fault on the part of the suffering class, of placing them in the permanent condition of paupers. This depreciation may take place in particular branches of labour, without implying any redundance in the population, or in the general supply of labour. It may arise from local and temporary causes. It is indeed, the inevitable consequence of the fluctuations which take place in the demand for the commodities which labour is employed in producing ; and unless the hands which have been habituated to one species of labour, could be immediately employed in a totally different species of manufacture, occasions of local and partial distress must occur continually in every country, the capital of which is liable to undergo any change in its application.* It is ridiculous to advert to the race between population and provision,' in proof of the necessary existence of poverty, since, in point of fact, it has, in this country at least, nothing to do with the cause of pauperism. If the whole capital of the country could be more beneficially employed in commercial enterprise or in manufactures, than in agriculture, and it was found more advantageous to import corn than to grow it, the quantity of provision obtained by home cultivation would be indefinitely lessened; but we should have in that case no more to fear from the geometric increase of population, than we have at present ; nor would there be necessarily any increase in the number of poor. The demonstrations of Malthus' on this subject, to which Mr. Jerram and some other writers appeal, may therefore be safely left out of the present question. There have been commercial states which have subsisted and risen to wealth and opulence, without any part of their resources being derived from agriculture. Were a nation wholly dependent, indeed, upon the physical powers of the soil of its own territory, long before the check of famine should be suffered to operate upon the population, we should expect that at least its waste lands should be brought universally into cultivation, and that the thousands of acres occupied by park-land and pleasure-ground, should not be put quite out of the calculation, nor yet the exhaustless provision of the waters which wash its shores. And before the poor were left absolutely to starve for want of a sufficient supply of food, the claims of a numerous rival class of superfluous consumers, sueh as dogs and hunters, might be reasonably called in question. After all, the remedy of Emi* Hence the impolicy of the old Apprentice Lawy.
gration, in the case of any real excess of people, remains to be extensively applied. That excess, however, must have relation to something different from the quantity of provision derivable from the soil.
In order to the production of any species of commodity, two things must co-operate, Labour, and Capital. Labour, unassisted by some species of Capital, is under scarcely any conceivable circumstances, adequate to give existence to even the rudest species of produce. But some-in fact the greater part of every civilized community, must of necessity be destitute of capital; must be in the condition of mere labourers, who, as such, are dependent upon the Capitalist for his co-operation in giving employment and efficiency to their industry. The general prosperity of a country depends upon the increase of its capital keeping pace with the increase of the supply of labour'; nor is there any possibility that the combination of these should ever fail to procure the supply of the utmost wants of the population. But where, in the natural progress of society, the capital of a country accumulates in the hands of a few, while the numerical proportion of labourers has become greatly increased, although the quantity of labour may not upon the whole exceed the demand, yet, it is obvious that the dependence of the labourer upon the capitalist places him in a much more precarious situation than formerly. The object for which the capital of the one, and the labour of the other, are brought to co-operate, is, the production of the means of subsistence and wealth ; and the basis of the contract, the only bond between them, is reciprocal benefit. If, therefore, the prospect of benefit to the capitalist be by any circumstances cut off, the withdrawment of his capital from that branch of productive industry, follows of course, and the labourer in that branch is left to form, if he can, a connexion with some new employer. The capital exists the same, but it is diverted into a different channel. The quantity of labour to which it gives an efficient direction, may also be the same, but a different species of labour is set in action by it, and a connexion is formed with a different class of individuals. The division of labour, which has conduced so powerfully to the increase of wealth, bas rendered the labouring classes at the same time more dependent, and more exposed, on any considerable fluctuations of capital, to sink into belpless indigence.
Whatever moral claims an individual who has contributed to the wealth or convenience of another, may have upon his benevolence, it is obvious that the labourer has no right to expect that his employer shall continue to occupy his capital, in putting in action a species of labour which has ceased to be beneficially productive. In other words, no man has a natural right to be
einployed by another, no abstract right to employment. He is not entitled to say, You shall purchase my labour, although it cannot benefit you. There is no doubt that the Law of Relief, wbich directs the parish to find employment for the ablebodied poor, is founded upon a false view of the fundamental principles of political science. There is either capital enough in the country to give employment to the supply of labour, or there is not. If there is not, it is useless to divert it from the support of the workmen it is putting in action, to the relief of the pauper. If there is, it must be because the particular species of labour to which the individual was habituated, bas ceased to be beneficial to the capitalist, that the demand for it has subsided. In either case, additional employment can be created only by the increase of capital; and that which cannot be furnished, the poor have surely no right to demand, any more than the Legislature has the power to compel its production.
It is a very different question, whether labour, when actually co-operating with capital in the production of wealth, shall have its due remuneration in the shape of wages. Between the propositions, that every labourer has a right to be employed, and that every labourer who is employed shall be adequately paid for his labour, there is a most material distinction. The state of dependence in which the labouring classes are at all times placed, more or less, upon the holders of capital, tends to render them content with a very small share of the produce of their l'abour; and as the amount of the wages of labour, is always so much deducted from the profits of the capitalist, there is a constant conflict of interests between the workmen and their employer, wbu, under circumstances leading to a depreciation of the particular kind of labour, has often taken advantage of his power, to reduce the wages even below the price of subsistence. By this means, it is often pretended that he is enabled to give employment, with the same capital, to greater numbers than he could support, were he to give the full wages of labour.
It is easy to perceive the fallacy of this pretext for what amounts to a most unjust as well as a most impolitic species of oppression. It is unjust in two respects; first, to the labourer, not the less because he consents * to work upon the condition of
* Cases, however, have occurred, in which the consent of the workmen has been altogether dispensed with. In the evidence of Mr. Peter Gregory, before the Committee appointed to consider of the petitions relating to the Ribbon Weavers, the following question occurs: • Have the masters reduced the wages of weaving without • notice?' The answer returned is; · Yes : in many instances, when
a man has taken in his work at the end of the week, the master, ! without any previous information, has insisted upon paying less than he did the preceding week, and the weaver, being reduced to extreme poverty, has been obliged to submit.'
reduced wages, since the circumstances of wbich so unfair an advantage is taken, cannot be said to leave him the power of option. He must submit, or starve. Yet the fair price of labour is still his due, and no variations in the profits of stock, can be allowed justly to affect the value of labour. That which determines the share of produce which equitably belongs, in the shape of wages, to the labourer, is either the price of subsistence, (that is to say, the value of money in relation to the necessaries of life,) or the quantity of capital which must be associated with the given proportion of labour, in order to render it productive. This last, however, will operate in contributing to fix the price of the commodity, rather than in determining the value of labour. The variations in the demand for a commodity, which affect its market price, produce, of course, a very great rise or depression in the profits of the capitalist; but, so long as the price of subsistence continues the same, the equitable value of labour remains undiminished; it is therefore the grossest injustice for the capitalist to seek to repair his losses, by a tax upon the in-, dustry of the labourer, in the shape of a reduction of bis wages, when the speculation in which his property is embarked, is purely his own, and the average profits upon bis stock have been, as they almost always will be found to be, proportioned to the degree of speculation involved in the concern. Those wbo have no other resource than that physical power of labour which just suffices for their daily maintenance, are, in this case, made ostensibly to share, as partners, in the loss, although they had no corresponding share in the gain of their employer.
The practice of reducing wages below the means of subsistence, is unjust, however, in another respect. The labourer is in the first instance oppressed; and this oppression falls upon him just in proportion to his honesty and independence in struggling with the reverse in his circunstances. For let these fail him, and, by becoming a pauper, he at once transfers the burden to the community, who, according to the present system, are bound to make up the deficiency in his wages. That is to say, the capitalist, in consequence of the reduction in his own profits, claims the right of appropriating a certain portion of labour gratis, and this method of diminishing bis own risk or his own loss, at the expense of the cominunity, he represents as a favour done to the public, since, as he argues, the burden of pauperism is lessened just so far as he furnishes the wages of employment. But in the first place, no individual bas a right, because the supply of labour may at any time reach the point of excess, to serve himself with a double quantity at the same price, since it cannot be pretended that he is not benefited by the whole which he employs. A fall in the market price of his commodities, may leave him smaller profits upon his stock after he