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Now if we consider what was stated in a previous chapter with respect to the small proportion of the whole labouring population which, in the advanced state of society here supposed, is in a condition (physically speaking) to rear many children, it is evident that the state will be a considerable gainer on this transaction; that is, it will save more on the depressed earnings of the bachelor or parent of few children, than it will expend in support of the excess of children in large families; and ultimately the result will be, that the saving in the general average, to which a rapid progress in prosperity, (if itcould have been maintained under high wages,) would naturally have raised the wages of all, is greater than the particular expense of supporting the large families only.
It may be said, perhaps, that this process is liable ultimately to reduce the rate of wages too low for the average wants of the people, and to lead to a larger supply of hands than the wants of the state require. But let it be observed that, where liberty gives to industry a free scope for exertion, a slight tendency towards the depression of wages, or even the mere prevention of a rise in wages, when caused by a plentiful supply of hands, will give a considerable impulse to every kind of exertion, and, consequently, to a demand for labour in those departments where the labourers do not keep up their own numbers. Agriculture is also doubly encouraged by the increased demand for food from the augmented population, and from the additional facilities arising from a redundancy of labour. And thus the three conditions of a sound progress in public prosperity are fulfilled. And, upon the whole operation, it may perhaps be asserted that, strictly speaking, wages are not so much actually lowered as industry and wealth promoted. For unless the extra stock of labourers had been previously raised to seize upon the opening sources of wealth as they presented themselves, they must probably have been abandoned, before the slow operation of increased demand could have raised an additional population to the condition of effective workmen. The rise in wages in that case therefore would have been merely momentary, and they would have sunk again only to plunge the labouring poor in the deepest distress, and to annihilate the children they had called into existence. So that, whether on the scorce of humanity or economy, the system appears unobjectionable. And, again, let it be recollected that the previously existing stock of labourers do, by their own demand, offer encouragement to every department of production, thus counteracting to a considerable extent the tendency towards lowering the price of labour which their existence would otherwise have produced. It should appear, then, that the system here detailed doth not, as it has been asserted, reduce the labouring poor to the most scanty pittance of wages upon which their bare existence can be maintained ; but that its real effect is to maintain an uniform rate of wages, tending, indeed, rather towards a depression than to an advance. This circumstance, however, is more than compensated, first, by the great impulse given to internal industry, whereby the community, and the condition of the labourer as an important part of it, are kept in the healthy and progressive state; and, secondly, by the uniformity introduced into the particular remuneration of the different
classes of labourers, whereby the fluctuations so detrimental to their own health and happiness, and to the due support of their children, are excluded, and all disproportion between their wants and their means effectually prevented. The saving, nevertheless, made by the public by this system, may enable it, without injury to the public prosperity, to extend the donations in money beyond the mere supply of the wants of parents of large families. In the advanced states of society, where the saving is evidently the greatest, from the small proportion of the people who have large families, legal relief may even be extended to all cases of individual distress, and yet the public be a considerable gainer on the whole transaction. Thus both the moral and political good consequences of the system appear evident;-the first in removing temptations to vice, and in the general relief of individual misery;-the second, in rendering these important objects co-existent with a rapid improvement in the public wealth. In short, as I have elsewhere written, the principle of encouragement to industry is found in the supply of effective labour constantly preserved in the market, ready to meet (and at a moderate price) the various and increasing demands of a powerful and progressive country. But a great and general rise in the wages of labour would, as I have already observed, (in a short period, and before a new set of efficient labourers could spring up to supply the demand in the market), annihilate the very industry which first gave the impulse. Preventing the necessity of this great and general rise is therefore an obvious benefit, for it could only end in misery to the population which N
the prospect of an increased demand for employment had called into existence. The general consequence, therefore, is to produce, really and truly, the same rapid progress of commercial and manufacturing prosperity under a regular but moderate rate of wages, as could only be contemplated in theory as possible under the previous operation of very high wages. Thus it appears, as the practical result of the whole system, that the fluctuations in price, so pernicious to industrious employers and consumers, and the fluctuations in wages and employment, so pregnant with vice and misery to the poor, which the ordinary oscillations of society and of the employment of capital bring with them, are completely avoided; and the supply, the demand, and the employment of labour, together with the well-being of the employer and the employed, and the progress of public wealth and private comfort, run in an uniform and equable current. Experience however is much more convincing than reasoning, how just soever it may appear; and to prove that the arguments here advanced are (politically speaking) not the mere wild effusions of a theoretic mind, I would appeal to the fact, that in a country where this system, (established indeed for other purposes, and once more requisite for the purposes of charity than of policy,) has been in operation for two centuries, the population is not redundant. Industry and wealth have been constantly advancing more rapidly than elsewhere, and the wages of labour have nominally risen, but in reality have uniformly continued sufficient to enable the common labourer in ordinary times to support himself, his wife, and two children without assistance; a rate which, I believe, is no where exceeded in a manufacturing country, and which may be conceived to be equally advantageous to the employer and the employed, where the difference can be made up to the parents of large families. For it enables the batchelor, or married man without a family, to lay by a portion of his earnings for old age, if he be frugal, and does not, by a superfluity of money, tempt him to extravagance or excess. It affords also to the man, who does not choose to rely upon the public for any part of the maintenance of his family, the means of saving, in early youth, enough to be independent of all foreign support in a late marriage; at the same time that the assistance held out to those who decline that abstinence, and prefer the comforts of matrimony, with the chance of dependance upon the laws for a part of their maintenance, enables the lower as well as the higher ranks to enjoy without public injury the free option of marriage, upon a fair consideration of their moral state. That these effects have been produced, without any moral deterioration of the character of the people, arising out of the principle of the laws, a long observation of their effects, made with an unbiassed mind, enables me to affirm, and will, I trust, appear from the work referred to in the following page. I beg, however, to observe that this is predicated of the LAws themselves, not of the abuses or inconveniences which the lapse of time, the alterations in society, and a long course of neglect or mismanagement, may have introduced into their earecution. That these, however, have not been very general or injurious, and have been much counteracted by the conservative regulation, which places the expenditure of the fund in the hands of those