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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 a 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. xxiii. 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. 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 die of penury. But this objection will, I think, disappear, when we recollect that before the land is cultivated to the utmost, the whole population 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
observed, likely to increase with every subsequent advance in the progress of society, and which would therefore gradually absorb all the surplus stock of people; for these again would be continually decreasing, from the difficulty of procuring residences, and from that minute attention of proprietors even to the smallest portion of land, which a very full state of cultivation would induce. I have indeed attempted to answer this objection more with a view to illustrate, in every possible manner, the principle under discussion, than from a conviction that it can ever practically apply. An extensive country absolutely cultivated to the utmost, having never been known to exist in times past, it would be scarcely expedient to regulate our policy by any such expectation in future. An objection, therefore, resting upon the assumption of such a probability, can never weaken the practical policy of any system otherwise admissible. Many other particular applications of the principle, which forms the title of this chapter, might be made to the varying circumstances of the different conditions of society; but it will be recollected, that it is the fundamental principle of the whole treatise, and therefore connected with the three other propositions (see chap. iii.) whose application is the subject of the following chapters. In those chapters, therefore, which concern the second propositions, many political references will of course be made to this original principle. In those which concern the third and fourth propositions it will equally be applied for the purposes of moral illustration. I will therefore at present venture only briefly to suggest as general propositions, 1st, that whenever it shall appear, either from what may follow in the subsequent chapters of this treatise, or from any other deduction, that an increase of people is necessary to the further progress of a nation in wealth and prosperity; a statesman may not only give direct encouragements to population without danger, but will frequently be bound to afford them upon principles of sound policy: and 2dly, that whenever any moral or political object is thought to be desirable and justifiable, save in its probable tendency to increase population; that tendency by no means forms a justifiable ground of exception against the pursuit of the object, but may frequently be even an additional recommendation. I shall now conclude this chapter with the following extracts from Sir James Steuart's work on Political Economy. He appears to have obtained a clear insight into the difficulties in the way of a permanent progress in prosperity, which the deductions in this chapter propose to obviate: but his observation does not seem to have extended to a clear view of the remedy. “In order to have a flourishing state, which Sir William Temple beautifully compared to a pyramid, we must form a large and solid basis of the lowest classes of mankind. As the classes mount in wealth, the pyramid draws narrower, until it terminate in a point, as in monarchy, or in a small square as in the aristocratical and mixed governments. The lowest class therefore must be kept up, and, as we have said, by its own multiplication. But where every one lives by his own industry, a competition comes in ; and he who works cheapest gains the preference. How can a married man, who has children to maintain, dispute this preference with one who is
single? The unmarried therefore force the others to starve, and the basis of the pyramid is contracted. From this results the principal cause of decay in modern states.”* “Could a method be fallen upon to prevent competition among industrious people of the same professsion, the moment they come to be reduced within the limits of the physical-necessary (that is, the fair supply of the necessaries of life) it would prove the best security against decline in a modern state, and the most solid basis of lasting prosperity. But, as we have observed in the first book, the thing is impossible while marriage subsists on the present footing. From this one circumstance the condition of the industrious of the same profession is rendered totally different. Some are loaded with a family, others are not. The only expedient therefore for a statesman is to keep the general principles constantly in his eye, to destroy this competition as much as he can, at least in branches for exportation; to avoid in his administration every measure which may tend to promote it, by constituting a particular advantage in favour of some individuals of the same class above others; and if the management of publick affairs necessarily implies such inconveniences, he must find out a method of indemnifying those who suffer by the competition.”f Few writers in political economy have taken a more comprehensive view of the operations of society in its advanced stages than Sir James Steuart. He has here pointed, in very express terms, to an evil which he thought irremediable, and therefore one of the principal causes of decay in modern states. I