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BOOK family, the competition of the labourers and the intereft of the mafters would foon reduce them to this lowest rate which is confiftent with common humanity. China has been long one of the richeft, that is, one of the moft fertile, beft cultivated, moft induftrious, and most populous countries in the world. It feems, however, to have been long ftationary. Marco Polo, who visited it more than five hundred years ago, defcribes its cultivation, industry, and populouf nefs, almoft in the fame terms in which they are defcribed by travellers in the present times. It had perhaps, even long before his time, acquired that full complement of riches which the nature of its laws and inftitutions permits it to acquire. The accounts of all travellers, inconfiftent in many other refpects, agree in the low wages of labour, and in the difficulty which a labourer finds in bringing up a family in China. If by digging the ground a whole day he can get what will purchase a small quantity of rice in the evening, he is contented. The condition of artificers is, if poffible, ftill worse. Inftead of waiting indolently in their work-houses, for the calls of their cuftomers, as in Europe, they are continually running about the streets with the tools of their respective trades, offering their fervice, and as it were begging employment. The poverty of the lower ranks of people in China far furpaffes that of the most beggarly nations in Europe. In the neighbourhood of Canton many hundred, it is commonly faid, many thousand families have no habitation on
the land, but live conftantly in little fishing boats CHA P. upon the rivers and canals. The fubfiftence which they find there is so scanty that they are eager to filh up the nastieft garbage thrown overboard from any European fhip. Any carrion, the carcafe of a dead dog or cat, for example, though half putrid and ftinking, is as welcome to them as the moft wholefome food to the people of other countries. Marriage is encou raged in China, not by the profitablenefs of children, but by the liberty of destroying them. In all great towns feveral are every night exposed in the street, or drowned like puppies in the water. The performance of this horrid office is even faid to be the avowed bufinefs by which fome people earn their subsistence.
China, however, though it may perhaps ftand ftill, does not feem to go backwards. Its towns are no-where deferted by their inhabitants. The lands which had once been cultivated, are nowhere neglected. The fame, or very nearly the fame, annual labour must therefore continue to be performed, and the funds destined for maintaining it muft not, confequently, be fenfibly diminished. The loweft clafs of labourers, therefore, notwithstanding their scanty fubfistence, muft fome way or another make shift to continue their race fo far as to keep up their ufual numbers.
But it would be otherwise in a country where the funds deftined for the maintenance of labour were fenfibly decaying. Every year the demand for fervants and labourers would, in all the dif
BOOK ferent claffes of employments, be less than it had been the year before. Many who had been bred in the fuperior claffes, not being able to find employment in their own bufinefs, would be glad to feek it in the loweft. The loweft clafs being not only overstocked with its own workmen, but with the overflowings of all the other claffes, the competition for employment would be fo great in it, as to reduce the wages of labour to the most miferable and fcanty fubfiftence of the labourer. Many would not be able to find employment even upon these hard terms, but would either ftarve, or be driven to feek a fubfiftence either by begging, or by the perpetration perhaps of the greatest enormities. Want, famine, and mortality, would immediately prevail in that clafs, and from thence extend themfelves to all the fuperior claffes, till the number of inhabitants in the country was reduced to what could easily be maintained by the revenue and ftock which remained in it, and which had efcaped either the tyranny or calamity which had destroyed the reft. This perhaps is nearly the prefent ftate of Bengal, and of fome other of the English fettlements in the Eaft Indies. In a fertile country which had before been much depopulated, where fubfiftence, confequently, fhould not be very difficult, and where, notwithstanding, three or four hundred thousand people die of hunger in one year, we may be affured that the funds deftined for the maintenance of the labouring poor are fast decaying. The difference between the genius of
the British constitution which protects and go. CHA P. verns North America, and that of the mercantile company which oppreffes and domineers in the Eaft Indies, cannot perhaps be better illuftrated than by the different state of those countries.
The liberal reward of labour, therefore, as it is the neceffary effect, fo it is the natural fymptom of increafing national wealth. The fcanty maintenance of the labouring poor, on the other hand, is the natural fymptom that things are at a stand, and their starving condition that they are going faft backwards.
In Great Britain the wages of labour feem, in the present times, to be evidently more than what is precifely neceffary to enable the labourer to bring up a family. In order to fatisfy ourfelves upon this point it will not be neceffary to enter into any tedious or doubtful calculation of what may be the loweft fum upon which it is poffible to do this. There are many plain fymptoms that the wages of labour are no-where in this country regulated by this loweft rate which is confiftent with common humanity.
First, in almost every part of Great Britain there is a diftinction, even in the loweft fpecies of labour, between summer and winter wages. Summer wages are always higheft. But on account of the extraordinary expence of fewel, the maintenance of a family is most expensive in winter. Wages, therefore, being highest when this expence is loweft, it seems evident that they are not regulated by what is neceffary for this expence; but by the quantity and fuppofed
BOOK value of the work. A labourer, it may be faid indeed, ought to fave part of his fummer wages in order to defray his winter expence; and that through the whole year they do not exceed what is neceffary to maintain his family through the whole year. A flave, however, or one abfolutely dependent on us for immediate fubfiftence, would not be treated in this manner. His daily fubfiftence would be proportioned to his daily neceffities.
Secondly, the wages of labour do not in Great Britain fluctuate with the price of provifions. Thefe vary every-where from year to year, frequently from month to month. But in many places the money price of labour remains uniformly the fame fometimes for half a century together. If in these places, therefore, the labouring poor can maintain their families in dear years, they must be at their eafe in times of moderate plenty, and in affluence in those of extraordinary cheapnefs. The high price of provifions during these ten years past has not in many parts of the kingdom been accompanied with any fenfible rise in the money price of labour. It has, indeed, in fome; owing probably more to the increase of the demand for labour, than to that of the price of provifions.
Thirdly, as the price of provifions varies more from year to year than the wages of labour, fo, on the other hand, the wages of labour vary more from place to place than the price of provifions. The prices of bread and butcher's meat are generally the fame, or very nearly the fame,