less than one-tenth of their former amount.” At least I am persuaded that this would be the natural tendency, and that the lamentable result could only be averted by the necessary recurrence of very high prices of produce, in consequence of the rapidly diminishing supply, which, in spite of any law, would virtually restore high rents, and induce the capitalist again to set out in the career of cultivation from the point whence he started, perhaps a century or two before. So that the ultimate result might possibly be nothing more than throwing back the country a century or two behind its natural station in the progress of society.

We see then that where the investment of capital in agriculture meets with due encouragement, the office of renewing the improvements, and replacing the eventual deteriorations and wear and tear of the land, falls upon the rent or capital of the landlord, and not upon the profits of the tenant. It forms no part of his expenses, which are confined principally to the wages of labour, and the wear and tear of stock and implements, and taxes. Of each of these in their order.


Of the Wages of Labour.

THE wages of labour are evidently another constituent part of the price of raw produce; but this proposition is liable to many modifications, arising out of the circumstance that wages are also themselves affected, as to the money amount of them, by the price of raw produce itself. This influence is partly nominal, and partly real. It is nominal in proportion to the degree in which the consumption of the labourer consists of raw produce, because his remuneration is of course the same, whether he receive #0s. in wages when that sum will purchase a bushel of wheat at 80s. the quarter, or 8s. when wheat is sold at 64s. the quarter. But it is real in proportion to the degree in which the consumption of the labourer consists of other articles besides raw produce. For any rise in wages consequent upon an increased price of corn will evidently confer upon the labourer an additional command over every article of his consumption except raw produce, in proportion as the rise in his wages exceeds his additional outgoing in the article of corn. It will enable him, for example, to purchase just so much more of grocery, tobacco, leather, clothing, &c. This principle has been rendered so perfectly clear by Mr. Malthus in his Inquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent (p. 47, and seq.), that it is unnecessary to enter into any detail of the proof by which it is esta

blished. But a consequence necessarily follows which seems to have escaped observation, but which affords a signal instance of the principle of compensation to all ranks of the people, as society advances, contended for throughout this treatise. It is in the early stages of society, and in them only, when the artificial wants of individuals are few, and luxuries are scarcely known, that wages of labour are entirely expended in the purchase of raw produce. The peasant, who is then the only labourer, lives in rude and hardy plenty; himself and his children duly fed, he is happy and contented, nor feels a wish for articles which the simple structure of society has never brought within his notice. His immediate superior, the farmer, exhibits to him no provoking contrast of refined and luxurious enjoyment. Nor are the habits of the resident landlord's families, from whose servants and dependants the customs and wishes of the lower ranks are frequently derived, of a nature calculated to foster artificial wants. In such times the rough hospitality of the hall differs rather in quantity than in quality from the more sober plenty of the cottage; they are both derived almost exclusively from the immediate application of the raw produce of the neighbourhood. To constitute the happiness of the labourer, therefore, in that stage of society, nothing more is necessary than that a certain portion of raw produce should always be exchangable against the fair exertion of his industry. And a nominal money-rise of wages occasioned by a rise in the price of corn, as it leaves his real remuneration precisely where it was, neither improves nor deteriorates his condition, but leaves him as it found him, that is, happy and contented.

But as society advances, as manufactures bring into immediate contact in towns the labourer, the master manufacturer, and the independent proprietor living on the fruits of former industry; and as commerce and riches introduce among the two last mentioned classes artificial comforts and enjoyments arising from the extraordinary profits of labour, it is both reasonable to conclude and fair to expect that a portion of this improvement in the condition of the other ranks will be claimed by the lowest. They will by degrees adopt as necessaries many articles which their forefathers either never heard of, or looked upon with contempt, as absurd and permicious refinements. And it is ridiculous to suppose that, when once these principles have been engrafted into the general habits of the people, they can be torn away without endangering the vital principle of society. It is curious to observe the progress in which the general use of wheaten bread, and of the products of the East and West Indies, have been introduced into general consumption among the lower ranks in England. A Yorkshire peasant, whose father would have thought himself injured past redemption had wheaten bread been substituted for his oat-cake, by an apprenticeship to a clothier or cutler in one of the country towns not only becomes himself a consumer of wheaten bread, but the progenitor of a permanent set of such consumers. His sister, whose parents were satisfied with a competent portion of home brewed beer, by a few years service in a merchant's family not only becomes herself a consumer of tea and sugar, but the mother of a permanent posterity of such consumers. In process of time these new habits travel from the towns to the fur

[ocr errors]

thest recesses of the agricultural villages, and a lasting change is introduced into the mode of the people's subsistence. That the condition of the labourer should keep pace then with the progress of artificial enjoyment in the rest of the society, it is necessary that a real increase should take place in the wages of labour; that is, that the fair exertion of a man's industry should exchange against a larger portion of the comforts and conveniences of life than it did in the more simple stages of society; or else that the deficiency should be made up to him in some other way. I cannot help considering this result to be as fair in theory, as it is inevitable in practical operation in a free country. And it appears to me to be no less tyrannical than impolitic in the proprietors or government of a country to attempt either to counteract its effects by depressing the real wages of labour by positive enactment, or to avail themselves of the increased wants of the labourer, by obliging him in unfavourable times to labour for their supply beyond the fair degree which his bodily strength will bear without ultimate injury, or for a smaller sum than will supply his reasonable wants and those of his family. A machine overworked will the sooner wear out. But a man worn out must, in a christian country at least, be supported by the rest of the community without any further profitable return from himself. It is therefore with some indignation at the want of feeling, and some contempt for the want of policy exhibited, that I have noticed the approbation bestowed upon the economical effects of low and fluctuating wages in Scotland, where rents, it is well known, are extraordinarily high. It

« ForrigeFortsett »