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leave it to the candid reader of this chapter to consider how far the remedy detailed in the preceding pages may obviate the difficulty, and whether a method has not at length been fallen upon for fulfilling those conditions, which Sir James Steuart thinks would “prove the best security against decline in a modern state, and the most solid basis of a lasting prosperity.” I cannot refuse my readers the pleasure they will derive from considering one other passage from the great work of this amiable and enlightened philosopher. It exhibits his opinion of the principle which ought to regulate all systems of compensation among the lower orders of mankind. “We are next to inquire, how it happens that many industrious people are rivalled in an industry which brings no more than a bare physical necessary, (that is, the bare necessaries of life.) This must proceed from some disadvantage either in their personal or political situation. In their personal situation when they are loaded with a numerous family, interrupted by sickness or other accidental avocations:— In their political situation, when they happen to be under a particular subordination from which others are free, or to be loaded with taxes which others do not pay. I shall only add, that in computing the value of the physical necessary of the lowest denomination, a just allowance must be made for all interruptions of labour. No person can be supposed to work every free day; and the labour of the year must defray the expense. This is evident. Farther, neither humanity nor policy, that is, the interest of the state, can recommend a rigorous economy in this essential quantity.”” * Sir J. Steuart, Pol. Ec. b. ii. c. xxi.
Application of the Second Principle: viz. that the Tendency of Population to keep within the Powers of the Soil to afford Subsistence CAN NEVER BE DESTROYED, and can only be altered or diverted from its natural Course, so as to induce a mischievous Pressure of Population against the actual Supply of Food, by grossly impolitic Laws and Customs; either, 1st, accelerating the Progress of Population beyond its natural Rate ; or 2dly, depressing Agriculture below its natural Standard.
IN the preceding book of this treatise, it appeared evident, that at no period during the whole progress of society did population increase so fast as to exceed the means of subsistence, which the soil, under reasonable encouragement, was capable of affording; and that any unnatural interference with the progress either of population, or of agriculture, would be so far from producing any good effect, that, unless influenced by moral circumstances as in the case stated in the last chapter, it would only disarrange the order of society, prevent the further developement of its resources, and remain a dead weight upon the national prosperity, until the inconvenience arising from the load should rouse the community to cast it off, and set itself free to resume the natural course. The interference with the natural progress of population by the poor laws of England, and by the negligent facility of the proprietors of Ireland, are respectively conclusive on this point: in the former case, being founded on moral expediency, it has led to a healthy advancement both in population and produce: in the latter case, being directly in opposition to every principle of moral good, it has promoted the increase of a vicious and useless population, and by leading to political disorders, has retarded rather than advanced the progress of cultivation; so that in both cases it has left the powers of the soil perfectly capable, under a reasonable system, of answering all the demands that may be made upon it. Now if, notwithstanding an interference with the natural order of things conducted on two such opposite principles, the tendency of population to keep within the powers of the soil is not DESTROYED, but continues as complete as when the natural order of things was preserved, I think we may fairly conclude that that tendency NEveR CAN BE DESTROYED. But further, since no record exists of any country cultivated up to the full extent of its productive powers, or within a great distance from that point, we may safely venture to affirm, that none ever did exist in that condition. It will indeed appear almost impossible that such a condition should practically exist, if we reflect that the advance towards the highest stages of society, which by their artificial habits introduce a progressive abatement in the progress of population, have also a strong tendency to convert a considerable portion of the land to the production of the luxuries, rather than of the necessaries of life. In proportion as a community advances from the purely agricultural state, the higher ranks of society multiply, more of the produce ef the land is consumed for purposes distinct from the
mere physical support of the people; more land especially is converted into pasture, with a view both to profit and to pleasure, and it is well known that its power of supporting people is thereby considerably diminished. The proposition may be worded thus: A constant advance in civilization being necessary to a corresponding progress in cultivation after the purely agricultural state of society is passed, and the same cause also progressively diverting more and more of the products of the increased cultivation from the bare support of the people, in consequence of the introduction of artificial habits; it follows that at no point during the continuance of such a system can the land be cultivated to its utmost point of production, or be incapable, by any alteration of system, of affording food for a further increase of people. In this point of view therefore it may be also said, that the tendency of population to keep within the powers of the soil to afford it subsistence CAN NEVER BE DESTROYED. But this is exceedingly far from proving, that an unlimited encouragement to population may not, during some steps in the progress, cause it to press permiciously against the actual supply of food, and even against that which can be conveniently supplied, consistently with preserving the artificial arrangements of society in its advanced stages; in other words, consistently with good order and regular government in those states of society. It should seem that something like a competition must be introduced between the luxuries of the higher orders and the necessities of the lower, the object of which is to induce the agriculturist to raise a supply for the respective demands of each party. It is not difficult to foresee on which side of the alterna
tive the competition will be successful (in a free country at least,) in producing the supply; but to point out the precise mode in which the victory will be obtained for the supply of the people's wants is not altogether so easy a task. In what manner to secure a further supply of food from the soil, for the wants of a commercial and manufacturing population, has been at all times a problem very far removed from mathematical demonstration. There is indeed scarcely any question in political economy, concerning which wider differences of opinion have prevailed: but as the application of the principle treated in this chapter essentially depends upon its solution, it will be absolutely necessary to investigate it in this place. The readiest mode of conducting such an investigation seems to be by an inquiry into the order of precedence between population and the production of food. I have freely given my own opinion upon this subject, and have not hesitated to argue upon it in the preceding chapters, as proved by the plain and obvious conclusion, that no man, after agriculture ceases to be the most profitable employment of capital, will expend his money in raising an inferior produce at an increased expense, unless he is impelled thereto by an extraordinary demand for that produce from a previously increasing population. But it is becoming, that on a point so controverted by political economists, especially when so many of great name hold an opposite opinion, that an inquiry into the truth should be regularly pursued by examining the arguments on each side.