Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

Mr. Malthus in this passage seems to prefer a little evil to a great good.

“ His

“The parish rates and the prodigious sum expended in voluntary charity, must have had a most

powerful effect in raising the price of the neces“ saries of life, if any reliance can be placed on the “ clearest general principles, confirmed as much as

possible by appearances. A man with a family, has “ received, to my knowledge, fourteen shillings a week “ from the parish.” [Shocking to be sure.] “common earnings were ten shillings a week, and his “ weekly revenue, therefore, twenty-four. Before the “scarcity, he had been in the habit of purchasing

a bushel of flour a week with eight shillings per-
haps, and consequently had two shillings out of his
ten, to

spare
for other necessaries.

During the “ scarcity, he was enabled to purchase the same

quantity at nearly three times the price. He paid “twenty-two shillings for his bushel of flour, and

had, as before, two shillings remaining for other “ wants.” [Good : but does Mr. Malthus deny that the scarcity would of itself have raised the price of wheat ? And in that case if the labourer had had no addition to his “ weekly revenue," instead of having the large sum of two shillings at the end of the week to lay out in other necessaries, he would have had nothing. Perhaps Mr. Malthus is ready to prove, that half a bushel of corn will go farther with a poor

family in a time.of scarcity than a whole one, because they would husband it more carefully]. “Such in“stances could not possibly have been universal, “without raising the price of every wheat much

[ocr errors]

higher than it really was during any part of the “ dearth. But similar instances were by no means in“ frequent, and the system itself, of measuring the relief

given by the price of grain, was general.

I cannot conceive of any better rule. But the gentleman is alarmed at the voluntary contributions extorted from the rich. After all, I do not see how the rich would suffer by their great charity, if, as our author says, the poor got nothing by it. I would ask, were the rich ever in danger of starving in the late scarcity, and were not the poor in danger of it, and would they not have starved, but for the assistance given to them? Is it better that the poor should starve than that the rich should be at the

expence of relieving them? Or if the pressure in scarce times falls on the middle classes, have they to complain, that they, in whom “life and death may always be said “ to contend for victory," are still just kept alive, or that the sleek and pampered continue to fatten on the distresses of others? The false feeling which runs through all Mr. Malthus's reasonings on this subject is, that the upperclasses cannot be expected to retrench any of their superfluities, to lie at the mercy of the seasons, or to contribute any thing to the general necessity, but that the whole burthen of a scarcity ought to fall on those whom Mr. Malthus calls “ the least fortunate “ members of the community," on those who are most used to distress, and in whom the transition is easy and natural from poverty to famine ! They lay

heavy burthens on the poor and needy, which they “will not touch with one of their fingers.” Would

it not be worth our author's while to comment on this text, and shew how little it has been understood ?-I remember to have heard of but one instance of a real, effectual, and judicious determination in the rich to retrench idle and superfluous waste and expence, some years ago at a time when the poor were in want of bread. It originated in a great and noble family, where seventy or eighty servants were kept, and where twenty or thirty guests of the first distinction “fared sumptuously

every day." These humane and enlightened persons, struck with the difference between their own good fortune, and the necessities of others, came to a resolution that the pieces of bread which they left at dinner should neither be thrown nor given away, but that the bread-baskets should be divided into little compartments with each person's name affixed to them, where he could conveniently put the piece of bread which he left, and have it saved till the next day. This humane example was much talked of in the neighbourhood, and soon after followed by several of the gentry, who got their bread-baskets divided into little compartments with the different names affixed, and eat the pieces of bread which they left one day, the day after-so that the poor were thus placed completely out of the reach of want!

Mr. Malthus next talks about the embarrassments of commerce, returning cheapness, &c. Now I do not see, according to his doctrine, what cheapness has to do with the question. He says, every thing depends on the quantity of provisions in the country, and that this being given, all the rest follows as a matter of

course.

What then does it signify whether you call a piece of paper one pound or two, if you can get a proportionable quantity of food for your money.?

“ If instead of giving the temporary assistance of

parish allowances, which might be withdrawn on the “ first fall of price, we had raised universally the wages “ of labour, it is evident, that the obstacles to a dimi“ nution of the circulation, and to returning cheap

ness, would have been still further increased; and “ the high price of labour would have become per“ manent, without any advantage whatever to the la“ bourer," —or disadvantage to the proprietor.

“ There is no one that more ardently desires to see

a real advance in the price of labour than myself; “ but the attempt to effect this object by forcibly “ raising the nominal price, which was practised to a “ certain degree, and recommended almost universally “ during the late scarcities, every thinking man must “ reprobate as puerile and ineffectual.”

“ The price of labour, when left to find its natural “ level, is a most important political barometer, ex

pressing the relation between the supply of pro“ visions, and the demand for them; between the

quantity to be consumed, and the number of consumers ;

and taken on the average, independently “ of accidental circumstances, it further expresses, “ clearly, the wants of the society respecting popu“ lation; that is, whatever may be the number of u children to a marriage necessary to maintain exactly “ the present population, the price of labour will be

just sufficient to support this number, or be above “ it, or below it, according to the state of the real “ funds for the maintainance of labour, whether sta

tionary, progressive, or retrograde. Instead, bow. “ ever, of considering it in this light, we consider it

as something which we may raise or depress at pleasure, something which depends principally upon his majesty's justices of the peace. When an advance in the price of provisions already ex

presses that the demand is too great for the supply, “ in order to put the labourer in the same condition

as before, we raise the price of labour, that is, we “ increase the demand, and are then much surprised " that the price of provisions continues rising. In

this, we act much in the same manner, as if, when “ the quicksilver in the common weather-glass stood

at stormy, we were to raise it by some forcible

pressure to settled fair, and then be greatly as, “ tonished that it continued raining.”

This is certainly a most excellent illustration. As to the argument itself, it is all false and hollow. With respect to the rise in the price of provisions consequent on the rise of wages, I am not I confess at all concerned about it, so that the labourer is still enabled to purchase the same necessary quantity as before. All that is wanted is that the one should keep pace with the other. What the natural level of the price of labour is, otherwise than as it is regulated by the positive institutions of society, or as I have before stated, by the power of one set of men, and

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »