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relieved from the income tax, and also from other war duties, we were able to pay at least as much for goods as during the war. Yet the price of labor was everywhere reduced. It is evident therefore that the reduction did not take place, in consequence of any inability on the part of the masters; but as already observed, in consequence of the great numbers of men discharged from the Navy, the Army, the Militia, and from other branches of government service, which, by increasing competition among the laborers, enabled the masters to dictate what terms they thought proper.
But that which the masters in other branches of production, or in other employments have effected directly by secret combinations, the agricultural class have effected indirectly by open conibination ; and if we may believe the late Mr. Rose, by overawing the government. He assures us that the corn law of 1804 was forced upon Mr. Pitt, then prime minister; and that the law of 1816 was also forced upon ministers caunot be doubted, from the circ cumstance of their having so long refused to adopt it. And that these laws have had the same effect as directly reducing the wages of labor is not only evident both from reason and experience, but is fully acknowledged by those who procured their enactment. It appeared in evidence before a committee of the House of Commons in 1815, that in course of only about ten years the rent of land in Ireland had been nearly doubled, whilst scarcely a shade of difference had taken place in the price of labor. But the advance of rent njust have been the consequence of an advance in the price of agricultural produce; and an increase in the price of subsistence must have the same effect, as a reduction in the price of labor; and this is acknowledged by a late president of the Board of Agriculture to be really the case, and he proposes to indemnify the laborer by taking off a portion of government taxes, equal to what the landholders have imposed for their own personal benefit. The fact however is also admitted by Mr. Curwen. He allows that the six shillings which he proposes to add to the price of a quarter of wheat will make a difference of one shilling a week in the maintenance of a laborer's family, who has three children, which is equal to a tax of 21. 12s. a year. But in the course of only twelve years the price of wheat has been raised thirty-two shillings the quarter by the corn laws; and if six shillings makes, as it really does, a difference of two pounds twelve shillings, thirty-two shillings will make the difference of nearly fourteen pounds a year, which is deducted from the wages of labor, for the benefit of the landholder! And it is thus, as observed by Dr. Smith, “That in all old countries, rent and profit eat up the wages of labor, and the two superior classes oppress the interior. Yet the corn laws it was asserted would benefit the laborer, and 'I well remember it was also asserted that, increasing the paper currency would have a simi
lar effect. But, as I stated in my letter to Sir William Poultney on that occasion, whatever advantages such measures may produce to others, they will always prove detrimental to the laborers; and until they are taken under the protection of the legislature, as was formerly the case, the condition of the poorest class must ever remain miserable.
Nothing, it is true, is more generally admitted than that “the laborer is worthy of his hire.” But of what consequence is that admission, unless it is ascertained what his hire ought to be? We have frequent examples of great reductions taking place in the price of labor, wbilst the price of the produce of that labor remains unaltered. The laborer, having only the option of reduction or starvation, is compelled to submit. But surely nothing can be more unjust than to take advantage either of his ignorance or of his necessities. If in transfers of property, either more is obtained or less given, through false or fallacious representations, than the real value of the object, on proof of the facts the law will give redress. But, if any species of property merits the protection of the law more than another, the property a man has in the produce of his labor, unquestionably merits the preference, both on the score of justice and of humanity; and this indeed, I believe, is generally admitted. For every one admits that the laborer ought to be allowed to enjoy the produce of his labor. But if in a society consisting of any number of individuals only two-thirds' labor, and yet the produce of labor is divided among the whole, to those who do not labor as much as to those who do; or supposing the whole to labor equally, and the produce to be unequally divided, it is evident that, in either case, some or all of the laborers must be deprived of a portion of the produce of their labor. But such always has been, and always must be the case. It is greatly for the benefit of the laborers themselves, that other classes should exist besides those who labor. This indeed is absolutely necessary for the very existence of society, as well as for the progress of knowledge, of virtue, and consequently of happiness. The laborers therefore, properly so called, always must be deprived of a portion of the produce of their labor. On this all 'men must be agreed. The only question then is, how far this privation ought to extend. And although much difference of opinion on this point may exist, yet surely every one must allow, that he ought to be left at least such a share in the produce of his labor, as will enable him to command the comforts and conveniences appertaining to his situation in life. But this, as already observed, he never can have unless he is taken under the immediate protection of the legislature. Let it therefore be ascertained, what wages, under any given circumstances, are sufficient, with moderate but constant labor, for
VOL. XVI. Pam. NO. XXXII. 2 G
twelve hours in the day, to afford the means of a comfortable state of existence, and let that be fixed as the minimum, and no longer suffer inasters under any pretence whatever to offer less, or of themselves to alter the wages of labor. For the laborer is surely worthy of his hire.
To such a measure no objection can be offered on the score of novelty, as it was long the law of the land. Let it therefore now only be renewed, and applied to every species of labor in which the wages shall be found inadequate. Indeed, unless the laborer is to be actually starved, there is now no alternative, but either to support him as a pauper, or to regulate his wages. For as long as either farmers or manufacturers can have their laborers supported by the parish, they never will allow them sufficient wages unless compelled to it by law,
It has been already shown, that an advance of wages to the poorest class of laborers would be of an advantage to producers of all descriptions; and whatever doubts may be entertained in regard to its effects on particular classes, it is certain, that if not highly beneficial to the society at large, as I contend it would be, the measure could not possibly be injurious; and this will be sufficiently evident by considering the different circumstances in which the country has been placed, in the course of only a few years ; and also the measures now proposed to be adopted for increasing still further the price of grain.
By a new mode of taking the averages, it is supposed that the price of a quarter of wheat will be increased six shillings; and supposing, as would be the case, that other grain would be augmented in price proportionally, the measure would produce about seven millions a year, which the community would have to pay to the agriculturists in addition to what it now pays.
But seven millions a year would give twelve shillings a week to upwards of two hundred and thirty thousand laborers, and thus provide for nearly one million of individuals, supposing them to average only four in a family; and this of itself would be more than sufficient to obviate all the evils now complained of.
But, within less than fifteen years, the price of grain has been raised by law from 48 to 80 shillings per quarter ; and the agriculturists allow that a difference of 40 shillings in wheat, with a proportioval difference in other grain, makes a difference of fifty millions on the whole produce. Now if 40 shillings makes a difference of 50 millions, S2 shillings will make a difference of 40 millions ; consequently, the law has the same effect as if it had imposed taxes to the amount of 40 millions on the society at large, for the benefit of what is termed the landed interest; and that in the course of only about fifteen years! But it was stated in the house of commons, and the statement was not contradicted, that the produce of agriculture sold, during the ten years ending in 1812, for 75 millions annually, more than what it sold for during the ten years which ended in 1792. It was also stated on the same occasion, that, with the exception of annuitants, the society never was in so prosperous a condition as at that period. Yet we were then paying 14 millions as an income tax, in addition to the 75 millions we were paying the agriculturists as the increased price of their commodities. Yet we have experienced, in the course of a very few years, still more rapid fluctuations in the distribution of property. It appears from the contracts made by government for grain in the year 1813, that the price of wheat was, in the month of January, 127 shillings per quarter, and that in the month of November it was only 67 shillings.. Again, in the month of April, 1816, the average price of wheat was only sixty shillings per quarter, and in the month of October the price had risen to 120 shillings, making in both cases a difference of about 75 millions a year, or upwards of six millions a month, in the payments made by the community for agricultural produce! But in a country which is but little affected by such immense and rapid fluctuation in the distribution of property, would it not be the height of absurdity to imagine, that the trifling fluctuation which might probably be the consequence of the proposed augmentation in the price of the lowest or worst paid class of labor, could be prejudicial in the smallest degree? It has been observed, that seven millions would give twelve shillings a week to upwards of two hundred and thirty thousand laborers; but if the same were applied in augmenting wages from six or eight to twelve shillings a week, it would give comfort to five hundred thousand laborers; or, including their families, to upwards of two millions of individuals, who are now comparatively in a state of misery.
Nor would this be all; for as the demands of these laborers would be increased exactly in proportion to their means, this of itself would occasion a demand for so much additional labor as would probably give full employment to all those who are now unoccupied. But unquestionably twelve hours is a sufficient length of time for continued labor ; whereas the present lowness of wages obliges the laborer to work sixteen hours. By enabling them, therefore, to earn a subsistence in twelve hours, room would be immediately provided for one-fourth more laborers than are now employed. In short, the more the subject is considered, the more clearly will it appear, that a rise in the price of labor, as proposed, would be of the highest advantage to the community at large, as well as to the laborers. By means of a gradual rise in the price of labor, coupled with the decent education, there is not the shadow of a doubt, but that the poorest class of laborers might, in a short space of time, be placed in better and more comfortable circumstances than most of the artificers now enjoy, whilst the circumstances of the latter, far from being deteriorated, would be still further improved. Indeed, nothing appears to me more certain, than that, by the means proposed, the whole community might be advanced to an almost indefinite degree of wealth and prosperity. For as long as the land can yield sufficient subsistence, every species of comfort and accommodation, houses, clothes, books, amusements, every thing termed wealth or deserving the name; whatever, in short, could contribute to the happiness of man, might be added, by the exertion of such a degree of labor only, as is best calculated to give a relish to every enjoyment, constant occupation for ten or twelve hours in the day.
But in addition to all the other benefits the measure is calculated to produce, would be that of its putting an immediate end to that state of misery, and consequent susceptibility of irritation, in which the poorest class of laborers are now placed : and by teaching them to look up with confidence to the legislature for protection, would immediately put an end to the influence of those wicked or ignorant men by whom they are constantly agitated.
The latter object, I am persuaded, might be effected without difficulty; and it has therefore always appeared to me very extraordinary that no means have ever been employed by Government for the purpose ; such as enlightening the public on those subjects which have formed the principal topics for declamation against its conduct, particularly in regard to taxation; for there is scarcely any subject in regard to which greater errors can be entertained than those which exist in respect to the effects of taxes on the community, when considered as a whole. Yet nothing, I think, would be easier than to do away' such errors, and convince the great mass of the people, that taxes, far from being injurious, are highly advantageous to the laboring classes ; that the whole income of government is really expended, though not with that design, directly or indirectly for their advantage ; and also that, in proportion to its amount, it contributes more to enhance the value of their labor, than any other species of income whatever. For the whole of the soldiers, the sailors, the artificers, and the great majority of those employed in the revenue and other civil departments of Government, must be considered as so many laborers taken out of the market for labor; and consequently, under existing circumstances, must enhance the value of labor directly, whilst the demand for stores, clothing, provisions, &c. &c. indirectly produce a similar effect. These truths are so palpable, that they must be perceived the moment they are presented to the mind; and therefore could not fail to produce the most salutary effects.