« PreviousContinue »
THE MEANS OF RETAINING
It has been asserted, that “ nothing can be done for mitigating the sufferings of the poor without violating the principles of political economy.” But has not the whole of our conduct during the last twenty-seven years been an almost perpetual violation of these principles ?
Did not the loans to merchants and planters, at the commencement of the late wars, by supporting them in their speculations and monopolies, enable them to add, in the course of a few months, thirty per cent. to the price of their commodities, and thus to levy a heavy tax on the community? And was not the great additional issue of bank notes made in consequence of these loans, the principal cause of the stoppage of the bank, which gave occasion to the indemnity bill? And was not, then, the granting of these loans a most palpable violation of the principles of political economy
Did not the bank indemnity bill throw all the property of the country, virtually, into the power of the bank directors ?' Has it not enabled them, by increasing the quantity, and consequently reducing the value of money, to levy a most grievous tax upon all those who had fixed incomes, particularly on annuitants ? Has it not added one million annually for upwards of twenty years to the profits of the bank; made an addition of eighty per cent. to the price of bank stock, and thus nearly doubled the value of the property of bank stock holders at the expense of their fellow subjects ? And is it possible, then, to imagine a measure in more direct oppo
sition to the principles of justice, as well as to those of political economy, than such a law ? Have not the corn laws, which were made for the
of indemnifying the landholders for the loss they sustained by the depreciation of money, enabled them, in the course of only twenty years, to double their rents, to raise the price of grain from fortyeight to eighty shillings a quarter; and thus to impose a tax upon the community equal to forty millions a year? Can these laws then be said to be consistent either with justice, or with the principles of political economy?
Is there any proposition more certainly true, than that all international commerce is wholly dependent on barter or exchange? that no country can sell unless it also buys ? that it cannot export unless it imports ? that if, for example, we refuse to take the productions of America, or of Poland, that these nations cannot take our manufactures ? and is it not, therefore, most certain, that by preventing the importation of grain, the exportation of manufactures of an equal value is also prevented ? and that, consequently, the corn laws act upon the poor laborers in manufactures as “ a twoedged sword,” by reducing the demand for labor, and consequently lowering the wages of labor, and at the same time heightening the price of the necessaries of life. And are not such measures manifest violations of every principle of justice and humanity, as well as of the principles of political economy?
And that such are the effects of the corn laws is fully admitted by those best acquainted with the subject. An increase of six shillings in the price of a quarter of wheat, it is acknowledged, must add two pounds twelve shillings to the annual expenses of a Jaborer having three children, which is equal to nearly three times the amount of all the taxes he pays to government, on what may be justly termed necessaries. But, instead of six shillings, the corn laws have, in the course of less than twenty years, added thirtytwo shillings per quarter to the price of grain ! And ought we then to wonder at the increase of the poor-rates, or at the sufferings of the poor? Or can any thing show greater cruelty, or want of humanity, than to affirm that, under such circumstances, nothing ought to be done for their relief ? Have not almost every class, so far as it depended on government, been relieved from the injury they sustained, by the loans to merchants and planters, by the bank indemnity bill, and by the corn laws ? Has not the pay of the soldiers been more than doubled, and the pay of the seamen greatly increased? Have not the salaries of all the officers under government, whether in the naval, military, or civil departments, been also greatly augmented ? And are the poor, the distressed, the helpless, laborers only, to be left without relief, on the pretence that it would be a violation of the principles of political economy?
But to affirm that any particular measure is contrary to these principles, without a proper reference to circumstances, is evidently absurd. For what is meant by political economy, or economy of any other kind? by the employment of means so as to produce the greatest possible good. To deny, therefore, that the propriety of adopting a particular measure, or line of conduct, must depend upon circumstances, amounts to the same thing, as to affirm that the same regimen ought to be adopted in sickness as in health, or that because medicines would be injurious to men in health, to contend that it ought not to be administered to the sick ! Supposing that all the ordinary relations of society had been deranged by a continued course of oppressive or impolitic measures, can it be imagined that general principles may be applied with equal advantage, as if an opposite course had always been pursued ?
But a very little attention will be sufficient to show, that it is not the principles of political economy, as generally understood by the terms, that these gentlemen are anxious to guard against violation. Their object is, by no means, the increase of the wealth and population, or the general happiness of the country, but quite the reverse. They imagine that the population is already too dense. Their wish, therefore, is to thin it, and with that view their desire is that the poor should be left in such a state of destitution, as that they may either perish of mere exhaustion, or through disease, the consequence of want. They seem, however, unwilling to speak out; but from the hints they have given it is impossible their real intentions should be misunderstood.
One depreciates the use of any means for relieving the poor, 66 because it counteracts those checks, which operate against an increase of the population, the only effectual remedy for the distress of the country.” Another “ mainly attributes the distress of the country to the superabundance of the population." seem all agreed, that the present is a fit season for adopting the remedies proposed so long ago ! They imagine that it is now the poor ought to be " taught that they are the unhappy persons who, in the lottery of life, have drawn a blank !” That “ they have no right whatever to support;" for that “ the laws of God have doomed them to suffer want!” And that, if in contravention of those laws, an attempt is made to mitigate their sufferings, « they are by no means to be allowed so much of the necessaries of life, as the worst paid common laborers !" But the worst paid common laborers have been for a long time unable to earn, by sixteen hours' labor, so much of the necessaries of life as are sufficient to
support nature : and can there, then, be the least doubt, but that it is intended the poor should be left to perish, either through want, or by an epidemic, the consequence of insufficient nourishment?
It is, however, much to be regretted, that they have not expressed their wishes or intentions more precisely. Yet the
very reason assigned for not being more explicit, sufficiently indicates the nature of their remedy. For it is asserted that, “ if any man were in the present humor of the times, to propose the only true remedy for the evils, he would subject himself to such obloquy, as would not only be most painful, but would destroy his means of ever reaching his plans at a future period !” And can there be the least doubt, but that the nature of a remedy must be revolting in the extreme, when we are afraid even to mention it? I, however, have no such fears, and, therefore, taking it for granted, that all the evils suffered by the poor originate, as they have stated, in the principle of population, I shall flatly, and openly, describe the means which appear to me best calculated for rendering it in future innoxious.
It has been stated, « that we must submit to the action of some great check to population, in some form or other, as an inevitable law of human nature; and the only inquiry remains is, how it may take place with the least possible prejudice to the virtue and happiness of society?” But the only check, on which either Mr. Malthus, or his disciples, appear to have any reliance, is famine ! or something approaching very nearly to famine. Misery, in short, and vice the consequence of misery, is their grand panacea! It must, however, I think, be sufficiently evident, that such a species of check cannot " take place," but with the greatest, instead of the least, possible prejudice to the virtue and happiness of society;" and it will also appear on consideration, wholly inadequate to effect any good purpose whatever. For, although it may prevent the population from passing certain limits, it never can prevent it from pressing against the means of subsistence, nor, consequently, from rendering perpetual the misery of a large portion of the community And this in fact is admitted. It is allowed that in poor countries, thinly inhabited, the population presses more upon the means of subsistence than in rich countries, where the population is more dense: and also that the supposed cause of the pressure is everywhere most operative amongst the poorest class, and a very little reflection will show that such ought to be the case. Those who will always be found most ready to gratify, without restraint, their animal propensities, are the very rich, and the very poor, and both for the same reason. The gratification is not likely to deteriorate their situations in life. Can it be a matter at all surprising, that persons placed in the situation of the poorest or worst paid class of laborers, who, by their utmost exertions, can barely earn the