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posing the capitalist to be brought into the humour required.* View it on which side you will, however, it involves an interference with the laws that regulate the proportion which profits and wages shall bear to each other, where industry is free. And be it added, that, its adoption being confessedly optional, it would occasion endless variety in the rates of profit, tending to dislocate the scale of prices—introducing a confusion into the economy of manufacturing life which might prove eminently disastrous to the whole community. The further effect of forcing up wages (and the plan is nothing else) would simply be to discourage capital from being set to work. On the ratio in which profits can be extracted from mill labour hinges our chance of holding our own in the markets of the world. Raise our rate of wages (the population continuing to increase, and to press upon profits as paupers), and you paralyse the power of competing with other nations. The dire necessity we labour under of keeping the increase of capital a-head of the increase of population, closes the door upon purely present humane considerations. This is a sad truth, but it had best be told. Your capital will flow out of the country if you increase the cost of production by raising wages. Of course, if bread be cheapened, Wages will virtually rise a trifle without deranging the rate of profit. Yet this alleviation cannot endure long. Fresh discoveries annually supersede human arms in mill machinery, and the excess in the supply of live labour will have to be provided for by a tax (or poor-rate), which tax, of course, falls upon profits and rent, and by so much lessens the return upon the capital of the country. A clever French writer expresses himself on this contingency as follows:—
* The incapacity of the workpeople to meet the reverses incident to commercial existence, would form an insuperable obstacle to such a copartnery. It is only a capitalist who can await the return of a profitable season; the workman must subsist himself in the meantime, since there are no profits on the concern. But subsist on what P
“Ce serait pour la nation Anglaise un immense malheur, si cet intérêt, au lieu d'augmenter, diminuait, et elle en est véritablement menacée. Mais ce qui doit, plus que toute autre chose, exciter la sollicitude du gouvernement Anglais, c'est la situation de la classe industrielle, qui forme une partie si forte et si énergique de la nation. Il n'est pas de grande ville en Angleterre oil cette classe si laborieuse et si pauvre n'inspire une pitié profonde,” &c. &c.—Rev. des Deuw Mondes, pour Février, 1842, p. 675.
No conclusion, it would seem, can rest upon sounder premises than this to which the writer in “La Revue des Deux Mondes” has arrived. The main instrument through which the deplorable evils attending the spread of pauperism may be staved off, consists in the steady increase of the capital of the nation. By means of a continual accumulation of capital, the sore may, perhaps, be kept at its present level. The same proportions which now pervade the shares of the respective classes, may be preserved. We shall continue to have a layer of want, disease, and vice at the bottom (and that a pretty thick one, alas !), a larger stratum above, of thriving industry; with, lastly, a thin top vein of wealthy capitalists, including the enjoyers of “rent.” This appears to be the best condition we can hope to realize, supposing population to proceed at its present pace. That charity, however extended, hardly makes any impression upon the evil it is engaged upon alleviating, we have, in this generous land at least, ample proof. By a
compulsory interference with the laws of distribution —in other words, taxing the rich for the enjoyment of the poor, or forcing up wages and lowering profits of trade, by way of diminishing the inequality of conditions; or by compelling capitalists to employ their fortune in augmenting the production of food (whether profitably or unprofitably, no matter), or by forcing persons having capital to employ more labour than is conveniently needed, or, by the fusion of “master” and “man,” to stimulate an increased production—by none of these violent experiments and expedients should we advance nearer to the desired object, whilst we should be storing up still more intractable difficulties for our successors. All the remedial suggestions we have heard (with the exception of emigration), may be resolved, ultimately, into an interference with the law of property, more or less plausibly veiled; and the modern phrase of “le droit de travail” would appear to have been invented to disguise, for a season, what must presently come to be recognised as an attack upon that principle. Such, therefore, as desire to uphold and defend that principle, our “ark of the covenant,” as it were, will do well to study the insidious artifices by which it is, in these days, imperilled. “Le droit de travail” is among the most formidable of them, and one which, if not grappled within time, may possibly come to serve, as the wooden horse of the Greeks served at Troy, to introduce the besiegers into the very citadel of the economic and Social structure of Europe.
Anything which sounds like a remedy will always be caught at by the mass of mankind, if it but relieve them from the task of probing the evil to the core. The dread we entertain of being forced to confess that mankind multiply inconveniently fast, drives us to employ the most untenable arguments and the shallowest devices. One of these is to affirm, “that the land of Great Britain ought to be made to produce a vast deal more food than it does.” “If the soil were adequately cultivated,” say they, “we should see all the labouring people employed, and every one would have enough to eat out of the abundance.” This is so attractive a nostrum, that it is worth while to communicate a mode of dealing with it which we have employed with tolerable success. We simply put the question—“Do you mean, that the increased food should be produced at a profit, or at a loss 2" In every case, the projector has seized the drift of our interrogatory reply, and been dumb. The same man would hardly sanction the Government in taking money from “Farmer Drill,” sending it to New York, and exchanging it for meal, to be distributed gratis, in due season, to the English poor; yet it comes to much the same thing as compelling him to produce corn at home at a loss. If produced at a profit, he will need no compulsion. The institution of the Poor Law, providing as it does against the necessity of any one individual starving for want of food and shelter, is, we think, sufficient to exculpate the English nation from the imputation of indifference to the claims of a sound humanity. M. Faucher lays it down that the State has no business to interdict the practice of mendicancy, unless it provide legal means of relief to the needy. Differing from him as we do upon the principle, we would nevertheless observe that this is precisely what the English government does. No one need die of hunger in England. But he who would eat the bread of others must eat it in the workhouse; and the State does well to reduce the cost of furnishing food and shelter to its lowest form. The sensitive but shortsighted advocates of a more generous provision ought to reserve a portion of sympathy for those who are taxed to furnish the subsistence of the indigent, among whom are the industrious and frugal peasants of the cottage class, as well as every possessor of a mansion. But there are agencies at work, having a contrary tendency, and of which we would say a passing word. The phases of misery in which the effects of overpopulation reveal themselves in the present day, are so various as to have actually engendered a literature of their own | A class of writers have betaken themselves to the composition of heart-rending fictions, bearing a resemblance with certain forms of life among our lower classes, and they have succeeded, to a certain extent, in inspiring every eater of daily dinners with something like a sentiment of shame and self-reproach. Where this feeling fructifies into almsgiving, all that ensues is a diminution of the operation of the “positive check” for the moment; a fraction of privation is absorbed, and the consequences of a great natural law interrupted for a brief season. But the law resumes its march, and the weeping reader of Mrs. Norton's, “Boz's,” Hood's, and other tragical works, must either Sacrifice more of his own substance, or let it march. We cannot too strenuously insist on the fact that every complaint uttered on behalf of the poor and needy, against the possessors of property, as such, is at variance with the recognised fundamental principles