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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 else, where 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
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 laté 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 prin ciple 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 abuse or inconveniences which the lapse of time, the alterations in society, and a long course of neglect or mismanagement, may have introduced into their execution. 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
very persons from whose pockets it is taken, (with a power of appeal afforded to both parties against abuse,) I think will plainly appear, upon reference to the extent of the humane results actually arising from the operation of the laws. Into the detail of these I am not entitled to enter in this place, but beg to refer the reader to a former work of mine on that subject.*
The augmentation therefore of the people's happiness, which such a system brings in the relief of individual misery and the accession of individual comfort, without injury to public wealth, is another political advantage, for which the public might well be satisfied to pay a high price, although, in fact, it is gratuitously conferred. The extent of this advantage is nothing less than the difference of feeling in the whole population, arising from the consciousness on the one hand, that they may starve and rot for any care which the state will take concerning them, or, on the other, that no circumstance can preclude them from that reasonable share of assistance, to which all human creatures in distress are entitled, so far as it is possible to afford it.
Upon the whole, then, of this argument, it may perhaps appear, that laws of this description are not quite so arrogant or inhuman as they have been sometimes declared; and that the Abbé Montesquieu did not greatly err, either in policy or humanity, when he wrote the following passages.
“ In trading countries where many men have no other subsistence but from the arts, the state is frequently obliged to supply the necessity of the aged, the sick, and the
* See a Short Inquiry into the Policy, Humanity, and past Effects of the Poor Laws.
orphan.” “ Those alms which are given to a naked man in the streets do not fulfil the obligations of the state, which owes to every citizen à certain subsistence, a proper nourishment, convenient clothing, and a kind of life not incompatible with health.” " The riches of a state suppose great industry. Amidst the numerous branches of trade it is impossible but some must suffer, and consequently the mechanics must be in a momentary necessity. Whenever this happens, the state is obliged to lend them a ready assistance, whether it be to prevent their sufferings or to avoid a rebellion.”—(Esprit des Loix, b. xxii. chap. 29.)
If these sentiments are confessedly humane, the principle stated in the title of this chapter seems to prove that they are also politic, and, in a free country at least, perfectly practical, and by no means obnoxious, as hath been asserted, to the arrogance of implying that the produce of the earth can be multiplied ad infinitum, upon the dictum of the legislature. Nor can I conceive any plausible objection to their validity, until a country is arrived nearly to the utmost verge of its power of cultivation.
of cultivation. It may indeed then be said, that to maintain a breeding stock, when the power of raising food is nearly exhausted, is calling them into existence only that they may dię of penury. But this objection will, I think, disappear, when we recollect that before the land is cultivated to the utmost, the whole popu. lation of the country would naturally have arrived at its point of non-reproduction. Deficiencies, therefore, which may eventually arise in the actual numbers, must be made up, in the first place, by the population artificially raised; deficiencies, let it be