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doing anything to increase their industrial power of satisfying them.
This is the point which persons such as Mr. Lansbury and others neglect, and it is the cardinal fact of the situation. It will be referred to again presently.
LABOUR UNREST AS DIRECTLY CONNECTED WITH ECONOMIC
CONDITIONS : Facts versus AN OPTICAL ILLUSION
But a further cause of unrest (or rather an alleged cause) remains to be considered first. According to most agitators it is the principal cause, and consists of the fact that alike in this country, and in all others with a similar industrial system, every increase in national wealth is absorbed by a small minority, and that the income of the rest of the population, relatively to its number, not only does not increase but absolutely grows less and less; so that, to quote the words of a recent Socialist manifesto, ‘Labour Unrest, instead of originating in official tradeunion agitation, is (on the part of the rank and file) in the last analysis an appeal for life.'. These words are taken from a petition drawn up recently by the Executive Committee of the Church Socialist League, for presentation to the Convocation of the Provinces of Canterbury and York, by the Bishops of Birmingham and Wakefield. This is simply a reproduction by certain clerical and episcopal gentlemen to-day of assertions first popularised in definite form by Karl Marx in the year 1865, and subsequently repudiated, or at least very greatly modified, even by the more thoughtful Socialists in this country, in Germany, and in America. For purposes of popular agitation, as distinct from those of serious discussion, Socialists of all types have nevertheless continued to make use of it. Whilst rejecting it in their formal treatises, they have stimulated their propagandists to make use of it at the street corner; and now a certain section of the Anglican clergy have made a new departure by fishing it out of the gutter for themselves.
In an article on the statistics of Socialism, published recently in this Review, this statement, as set forth in detail by the two most eminent writers whom the Socialistic movement has produced, was submitted to a systematic analysis : each of the separate clauses into which it divides itself was tested by reference to definite official statistics covering a period of more than a hundred years, and every one of these clauses was shown to be not only not correct but a grotesque inversion of the specifically ascertainable truth.
1 •Socialistic Ideas and Practical Politics,' by W. H. Mallock, Nineteenth Century and After, April 1912.
There is, however, an aspect of the question (hitherto altogether neglected) which did not fall within the scope of the article just referred to—an aspect of the highest importance and with which I shall deal now. A consideration of this will incline us not indeed to modify our views as to the fallacy of the Socialist position, but to recognise that it has some foundation other than ignorance, or the desire to foment class hatred. We shall find that though the actual changes which have taken place in the distribution of wealth are the very reverse of what is asserted by such persons as Karl Marx, Henry George, by the Bishop of Birmingham and his flock of Anglican Socialists, they do nevertheless, when regarded from certain points of view, produce an illusory impression that the assertions of the Socialists are correct; just as on a person seated in a stationary train the movement of a train adjacent to him produces the impression that he is himself in motion.
What, then, is the actual something—the actual feature distinctive of the modern world—by which this impression is generated in the minds even of many who, in their cooler moments, repudiate it? The answer is simple, when once we know where to look for it.
When it is asserted that during the last hundred years or so the poor have been growing poorer, it cannot be meant, even by the Bishop of Birmingham, that those belonging to the poorest class of all have year by year been obtaining less and less to live upon—that is to say, that they have been becoming poorer and poorer as individuals; for if this class was on the verge of destitution in the year 1800, it cannot ever since then have been growing more destitute still, for otherwise it would have ceased to exist. The only possible meaning, then, of which the assertion that it has been growing continuously poorer is susceptible, is not that its members are individually getting less and less to live on, but that such persons as belong to it have been growing more and more numerous.
Now if we consider the conditions of this country as they are to-day and as they were at the beginning of the nineteenth century, we may, without committing ourselves to any specific figures, grant that the poorest class has, in point of absolute numbers, very greatly increased. This fact, however, taken by
, itself no more indicates that the modern industrial system results in an increase of poverty, than an absolute increase in the number of deaths occurring annually within the borders of Great Britain indicates that, owing to the developments of medical science, the population is growing more and more unhealthy. If we wish to know what the development of such science has accomplished, we do not compare the absolute number of annual deaths in a
country during one period with the absolute number of annual deaths during another. We take these numbers in each case in relation to the population as a whole.
Let us take, for example, some British Colony on the Gold Coast which fifty years ago comprised a thousand Englishmen, and which to-day comprises forty thousand. Let us further suppose that fifty years ago a hundred out of the thousand colonists annually fell victims to some malarial fever, but that to-day, owing to the development of medical science, the annual death-rate per thousand has sunk from a hundred to twenty. Everyone would admit that the health of such a colony had improved—that the malignity of the local fever had been very largely reduced, and yet the actual number of annual victims would have risen from a hundred at the earlier date to as much as eight hundred at the later.
And the same is the case with poverty. If at a given date out of every 1000 of the inhabitants of a given country 100 were subsisting on incomes not exceeding 301. a year; and if at a subsequent date the number of such persons per 1000 had sunk from 100 to 50, everyone would admit that extreme poverty was declining, and that amongst the population as a whole comparative wealth was on the increase ; and yet, if we take these figures as roughly indicative of what has happened in this country between the year 1800 and the present time, the increase of the population, taken as a whole, has been such that whereas at the beginning of the nineteenth century the poorest class in Great Britain would not have numbered more than 1,000,000, its actual number would be about 2,000,000 to-day.
But however true it may be that, relatively to the population as a whole (and this is the only true test that we can apply in the matter) poverty has been continuously decreasing, it will nevertheless have been increasing relatively to something elsea permanent and unalterable something which is far more obvious to the senses, and has far more effect on the imagination, than the number of the population as a whole-which for many, even of those who are aware of it, is little more than an arithmetical expression. This is the geographical area which the population in question occupies. This means that, even if the number of very poor persons per 1000 in this country to-day be only half of what it was, say, in the year 1800, the average number of such persons per square mile is greater. And, when we consider that the main increase in the population has taken place in urban and semi-urban districts (the extent of which, as compared with the entire country, is small), we may admit that the increase of poverty has been very great indeed per square mile of those districts in which its presence is most noticeable.
The natural effect of this fact on the imagination may, perhaps, be best illustrated by referring again to the casestrictly parallel-of disease and death. Let us imagine, then, an area circumscribed by a circular line having a doctor's house for its centre, and let us suppose that a hundred years ago this area was occupied by a small and ill-drained village, in which few were really healthy and the death-rate was abnormally high, and that this area to-day is covered by a considerable town in which the drainage system is perfect, the good health of the inhabitants is exceptional, and the percentage of deaths from disease reduced to one-fifth of what it was in the original village. Finally, let us suppose that all these improvements are due to a single doctor, representing the general growth of medical and sanitary science, whose active life has been prolonged for more than a hundred years. If such a doctor, sitting every night at his window, could hear all the sounds of pain and loss in the area of which he was still the centre, though he would know that his whole life had been an increasing triumph over sickness and premature death, and that whereas twenty homes out of every hundred were desolated by such causes in his youth the corresponding number had now been reduced to four, the cries of suffering that would reach him from the modern healthy town would be more numerous, and would assail him in greater volume, than those which reached him in his youth from the old-world pestilential village.
Similarly, if we substitute for such a doctor a social reformer or an observer of social conditions, though poverty in the oldworld village might to his knowledge have been almost co-extensive with the inhabitants, and though it might have sunk in the modern town to one-fifteenth of them, yet the poverty-stricken roofs which he could identify from his window through an operaglass might be ten times as numerous as all the homes in the old-world village put together.
Out of this fact that, though in the only true sense of the words-namely, in relation to the population as a whole-poverty has been continuously decreasing, it has increased relatively to given geographical areas, there arises a kind of optical delusion. All persons are liable to it, and persons of an emotional temperament more especially so. Nor is this unnatural, for, ex. pressed in another way, the fact out of which it arises is simply this, that an increasing amount of poverty has become, as it were, physically perceptible from any one of those points of local observation which the observer is most apt to select for the purposes of his survey. But to argue, like the Bishop of Birmingham and the other signatories to his manifesto, that poverty has increased as a consequence of the capitalistic system, and ' that private ownership of capital should forthwith be made to
cease,' is like arguing that because medical science, by diminishing the death-rate per 100, has helped to increase the population, it has increased the number of those who each year must die, it has really been a multiplier of disease, and should forthwith' be abolished.
The illusion, however, of which persons like the Bishop of Birmingham are victims, does not arise only from what has happened in the case of the poor. It depends also on what has happened in the case of the rich. Just as one half of their charge against the present economic system is that, besides being the cause of an increasing volume of poverty it concomitantly results in an increasing concentration of enormous and increasing wealth in the hands of a small minority, so this impression, though it is no less illusory than the other, has its excuse in facts of an analogous kind. As I pointed out in my article in the April number, already referred to, the total income of the rich in this country, which is properly comparable with the total income of the rest of the community, forms (contrary to the loose ideas of the Bishop of Birmingham and his friends) not an overwhelming but a surprisingly small part. deduct from the national income that portion of it which comes into this country from abroad, and which depends in respect of its origin not on home labour but on foreign, and confine ourselves to the total which is produced in the United Kingdom, we shall find that of this total about 87 per cent. consists of incomes not exceeding 8001. a year; whilst all the incomes (of home origin) exceeding 50001. a year do not amount in the aggregate to more than 4 per cent. Moreover, the richer classes, those who, according to the Bishop of Birmingham, swallow up 'the whole of the vast increase of the national wealth '-will be found, if we examine the income-tax returns since the beginning of the present century, to be the classes which, alike in number and aggregate income, increase most slowly. This is shown partly by the fact that out of the separately assessed incomes during the period in question there has been an increase of 28,000,0001. in respect of incomes not exceeding 8001., whilst the aggregate of incomes exceeding that sum has suffered an actual, though a very slight, diminution; and also by the further fact that houses worth more than 801. a year have increased by a few thousands only, whilst houses worth between 201. and 801 have increased by 280,000.
But, in spite of all this, there is another fact which still remains to be considered. This is the average number of houses of various values per mile. The total number per mile, for England and Wales, was 94 in 1891 ; ten years later it was 107 ; at the present time the number is approximately 115. Now the