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poor, will prevent the population from again increasing with anything like the rapidity with which it increased from 1770 down to 1840.
The paramount importance of the increase of population being subordinate to that of capital, being thus evident, it may be inquired whether government may not assist in bringing about this result? But how desirable soever, this is a matter in which legislation can do comparatively little. Where government has secured the property and the rights of individuals, and has given that freedom to industry which is essential, it has done nearly all it can do to promote the increase of capital. If it interfere in industrious undertakings, its proceedings will be productive only of injury. The reliance of individuals on their own efforts, and their desire to advance themselves, are the only principles on which any dependence can be safely placed. When government engages in any department of industry it is obliged, inasmuch as it has no means of its own, to obtain the necessary funds from its subjects, either by loans or taxes. It is obvious, therefore, that its interference adds nothing to the capital of the country. At best it merely substitutes one sort of superintendence for another: a salaried officer, with but little, if any interest in the success of the undertaking, for the unwearied vigilance of an individual trading on his own account, and dependent, perhaps, for his subsistence on the issue of his labours. To suppose that undertakings carried on by such different agencies should be equally prosperous, is to suppose what is evidently contradictory. This is a matter in regard to which there is no longer any difference of opinion. It is now universally acknowledged, that every branch of industry that may be carried on by private parties, will be more successfully and economically prosecuted by them than by the servants of government; and that any advantage that may seem to arise in any particular case, from employing the latter, will be found on examination to be altogether illusory. By interfering in production government is sure, in so far as the influence of its measures extend, to weaken the industry and enterprise of
its subjects, occasioning at one and the same time a misapplication and waste of capital, and a diminution of its produce.
It is nugatory, therefore, to expect any advantageous results from the efforts of government directly to increase capital or the demand of labour. It may, however, promote its increase indirectly, by relieving industry from oppressive burdens and shackles, negotiating with foreign powers for the removal of impediments to trade, and endeavouring, in short, to give greater facilities to production. But beyond this, the presumption is, that its interference will be productive of mischief rather than of good. And, if it attempt to set up national workshops for the employment of the poor, it will increase the poverty it seeks to relieve, disturb all the usual channels of industry, and become a potent instrument of evil.
It may, perhaps, be asked, though government be thus ineapable of contributing to increase wages by increasing capital, may it not effect the same end by promoting emigration, and relieving the market of the surplus hands thrown upon it? This question should, we think, be answered in the affirmative. An extensive voluntary emigration has been going on for a lengthened period from Great Britain to which, as everybody knows, an extraordinary stimulus has been given by the discovery of the gold fields in California and Australia. And no one can doubt that this emigration has been signally advantageous not only to the emigrants themselves, but to all classes of the community. Wages have been raised, and the condition of the labourers materially improved. And at the same time that this has been done, the shipping interest has been enriched by the demand for vessels to carry away the emigrants; and a new and rapidly increasing demand has been created for all sorts of manufactured products. Hence the unprecedented increase of manufactures, commerce, and shipping; and the unexampled success that has latterly attended most sorts of industrial undertakings.
But in ordinary times, and in some degree even at present, voluntary emigrants do not always consist of those that might
be most advantageously spared. They are in most cases active, enterprising, and industrious; and sometimes their emigration rather serves to make room for an inferior class, than to improve the condition of the labouring class in general. The poorest classes, however desirous they may be, are unable to emigrate; and these are the very parties who might be advantageously assisted by the public. It is diffi cult, indeed, to see how the money of the latter could be more profitably laid out than in helping forward emigration. Poor families in towns, or poor cottars on estates in England or Ireland, for whose services there is little or no demand, were they conveyed to America or Australia, would most likely become industrious and thriving. And they might be conveyed to either of these continents, and some provision made for their temporary subsistence in them, for less than a year's cost of their miserable maintenance in England. And though, as a general rule, it might be wrong for a state to undertake the charge of emigration, still a great deal might be done by assisting parishes or landlords in removing paupers and other poor parties wishing to emigrate. So long as there is an extraordinary demand for labour in Australia and America, and anything like a surplus supply in England or Ireland, so long will it be for the interest of all classes, but especially the poor, that labour should, like other things, be carried to the best market. We shall be told, perhaps, that emigration may be carried to excess, and that the country may be deprived of an adequate supply of labour. But there is no real foundation for any such apprehension. That rise of wages which is the necessary consequence of every considerable emigration, progressively lessens the temptation to emigrate, and is an insuperable obstacle to its being carried to anything like an injurious extent. Previously to 1846, labour in Ireland was a mere drug; and low as wages were, the peasantry were not half employed. Even at present (1853), the towns are swarming with people driven from the country for whom there is no demand; and till they have pretty generally dis
appeared, there can be nothing like an excess of emigration. Ireland is not, in fact, a country which, were its social economy in a sound state, would have a large population. The want of coal renders her unsuitable to most descriptions of manufactures. And the humidity of her climate, while it makes her ill suited for the growth of most varieties of corn, renders her admirably well fitted for pastoral purposes. Her herbage is the finest and most luxuriant in Europe. And under the free commercial system which is now being established, the presumption is, that the land of Ireland will be found to be much more productively employed in grazing than in tillage. This, at all events, is the conviction of some of those best acquainted with the circumstances, and best qualified to form a sound opinion upon them. And supposing it to be realized, population may yet be very greatly reduced, not only without any injury, but with much advantage to her future well-being.
But without farther speculating on such contingent and uncertain events, it is true, and should never be forgotten, that legislation, when most successful, merely improves, to a greater or less extent, the condition of the labourers generally. It does nothing peculiar for individuals. It leaves them where they should and must always be left, to depend on their own conduct and exertions: to be comfortable, if they practise thrift and industry; and wretched, if they indulge in waste and idleness.
Natural or Necessary Rate of Wages, different in different Countries and Periods. Depends on the Quantity and Description of the Articles required for the Support of the Labourers. Influence of Fluctuations of the Rate of Wages over the Condition of the Labourers.
Ir has been seen, in the preceding chapter, that the market or current rate of wages in any country, at any given period, depends on the magnitude of its capital appropriated to the
payment of wages, compared with the number of its labourers. And it has also been seen, that in the event of the labouring population being increased more rapidly than capital, the rate of wages is inevitably reduced. But there are limits, however difficult it may be to specify them, to the extent to which a reduction of wages can be carried. The cost of producing labour, like that of producing other articles, must be paid by the purchaser. Work-people must, at all events, obtain a sufficient quantity of food, and of the other articles required for their support, and that of their families. This is the lowest amount to which the rate of wages can be permanently reduced; and it is for this reason that it has been called their natural or necessary rate. The market rate of wages may sink to the level of this necessary rate, but it is impossible it should continue below it. The labourer's ability to maintain himself, and to rear fresh labourers, does not, as already shown, depend on the money he receives as wages, but on the food and other articles required for his support for which that money will exchange. The natural or necessary rate of wages must, therefore, be determined by the cost of the food, clothes, &c., which form the maintenance of labourers. It will be high where that food consists principally of expensive articles, such as butcher's-meat, and wheaten bread; lower where less animal food is consumed, and an inferior species of grain, such as oats, is used in making bread; and lower still, where animal food is wholly, or all but wholly, disused, and the place of bread is supplied with potatoes, turnips, and such like vegetables. The rate of necessary wages will also, it is evident, depend a good deal on other circumstances, on the superior and inferior lodging and clothing, and generally on the habits and customs of the poor. How high soever the price of indis
1 Humboldt states, that miners in Saxony are paid at the rate of 18 sols a day; whereas those who are employed at the same sort of work in the mines of Choco, in Peru, are paid six or seven times as much. Inasmuch, however, as the food and other articles consumed by the latter, exceed the price of those consumed by the former, in about the same proportion as their money wages, they are not really in any better condition.