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were slain for food, are tamed to the labors of plough and cart ;


plants that grew wild on the hillside are brought under culture,
and by improvement and the selection of seed, produce an ever-
increasing quantity of food and clothing. The waterfall that
fell idly over the rocks, or the wind that blew unburdened as it
listed, turns the mill ; the peat and coal that lay neglected are
made iuto fuel. A division of labor separates the functions of
the human members of society, and each species of work is
done more effectively and productively for employing the whole
time and attention of the men employed in it. Better tools and
implements are invented; and last of all, machinery, and the
giant forces that actuate it, come into play in man's service,
taking the place of muscular strength, and at every advance
lowering the value of articles of utility, and making them
obtainable in larger quantities and by a larger number of

§ 52. At every step in this great past of man's industrial
development, the growth of numbers and of wealth has gone on
with equal strides. In the earlier stages the pressure of popu-
lation upon the means of subsistence is marked and painful;
yet beneficent, as thrusting men into closer and more helpful
association, and forcing them to adopt wiser and better methods.
But every advance has been richly rewarded, for with each
acceleration in the rapidity of social movement, the resistance to
be overcome has diminished. Each generation has worked not
for itself only, but for all that were to come ; and the result of
all wisely directed work has been to make easier and more
effective the task of those who came later. " Other men
labored ; ye have entered into their labors."

§ 53. It is, therefore, apart from all merely ethical considera-
tions, a wise economic policy for a nation to guard the lives and
the health of its people, and to remove all artificial obstructions
to the natural growth of population. It is indeed the duty cor-
relative to its right to command their lives and persons in its
own defence ; but it is also the best policy, in view of both the
military strength and the industrial welfare and contentment of
its people. For the more people there are productively employed


in any well-managed country, the greater the share of food and
clothing, of necessaries and comforts, that will fall to each one
of them. Whatever tends to diminish their numbers, — or, what
comes to much the same thing, to lower their bodily health and
strength — has also the tendency to impoverish them by diminish-
ing their power of cooperation and association. Every retro-
gression to the sparse numbers of earlier times, is also a retro-
gression to their poverty.

§ 54. " But," it will be said, " what need is there of state
interference in the matter ? In every man's breast is implanted
the instinct of self-preservation, to lead him to take care of him-
self. Surely we can leave this matter to individual action, and
to the voluntary cooperation of individuals." The instinct in
question is exceedingly effective as a motive in the presence of
visible and well-understood danger. But where the peril is
more recondite, though not less real, the instinct is good for
nothing. Only reflection and forethought, accompanied with a
large and exact knowledge of the scientific conditions of life and
health, and a readiness, by no means universal, to act upon
these, is sufficient in this case. The state can command the
services and opinions of the best judges ; it can carry out whole-
sale measures, and override the mulish opposition of wrong-
headed people, in cases where only general action is of any avail.
In so doing, it is not overriding " the judgments of individuals
respecting their own interests, but giving effect to that judgment;
they being unable to give effect to it except by concert, which
concert again cannot be effectual unless it receives validity and
sanction from the law" (J. S. Mill). Thus in England the law
recently passed to limit the hours of work in mills and factories
for married women, received the support of nearly all that class
of mill-hands. They were free to make such private contract
with the mill-owner as they pleased, but in fact their freedom
amounted to nothing whatever until the law required them to
refuse excessive work.

In other cases the right of state interference rests on the same
ground as the laws that forbid and furnish attempts at self


murder. The man who persists in maintaining a dunghill or a
cesspool under his windows, or in living in a house sordid with
filth or imperfectly ventilated, may have the excuse of igno-
rance, but society has not. The officers of the state have as
much right to force him to reform these things, as they would
have to dash a dose of jioison out of his hand. In some cases
there is not even this excuse. Certain trades, such as cutlery-
grinding in Sheffield, are paid at a high rate because they prove
fatal in ten or fifteen years to those who engage in them ; but
the workmen have been known to resist stoutly any provision
that was meant to diminish the risk (or rather to postpone the
certainty) of death, as tending to lower wages. "A short life
and a merry one !" is the reckless saying with which such
people take their lives in their hands.

§ 55. The state, then, is the steward of the life and the health
of its individual members. There are many measures by which
it naturally and fitly discharges this trust; such as (1) requir-
ing local governments and municipalities to enforce public clean-
liness and to provide thorough drainage, and good roads for safe
travel; (2) by quarantining vessels and persons who come from
places where infectious diseases are raging; (3) by enjoining the
adoption of preventive measures (disinfectants, vaccination,
&c), in times of epidemics; (4) by chartering and endowing
colleges competent to give medical instruction and to grant
medical degrees, and by requiring that a doctor so qualified
shall sign a certificate of death and of its cause, before legal in-
terment shall take place ; (5) by forbidding the sale of unripe,
overripe, diseased or adulterated articles of food ; (6) by forbid-
ding women and minors from engaging in excessive work or in
night-work in factories ; (7) by requiring that dangerous employ-
ments shall only be carried on, and explosive machines used,
with all possible precautions for the safety of the workmen and
the public, and by enforcing this by general state inspection.

Besides these negative checks on the waste of human life and
health, there are many positive measures that contribute to the
same end. Such are the public instruction of the young in the


first principles of practical hygiene; the establishment of public
baths, parks and gymnasia; the requiring of cities to furnish
an abundance of pure water, and to see that it is introduced into
every house.

It is questionable whether the sale of what are Called patent medicines
should be allowed by the state. Most of these substances, I believe, are
compounds that would be useful in some cases of disease, but are exceed-
ingly dangerous when used indiscriminatingly, as they must be in the
absence of competent advice. Others are simply fraudulent, and con-
tain nothing that could hare any effect, either good or bad. ,|

§ 56. But all this is open to a general objection, that has
occupied a very large space in the discussion of this subject.
It will be said that measures to hinder the action of those
destructive agencies, and more especially such as tend to promote
and foster the increase of a nation's population, will do a very
great deal of mischief instead of good. For unless something
check it, the number of people in a country will double every
twenty-five years, and go on increasing in a geometrical ratio,
while subsistence increases only by an arithmetical increment.
Thus in two centuries, " taking the whole earth and supposing
the present population equal to a thousand millions, the human
species would," if the growth were thus unchecked, " increase
as the numbers 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256; and subsist-
ence as 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. In two centuries the population
would be to the means of subsistence as 256 is to 9 ; in three
centuries as 4096 is to 13; and in two thousand years the dif-
ference would be incalculable" (Rev. T. 11. Malthus).

Mr. Malthus's Essay on Population appeared in 1798. Its main posi-
tion was anticipated by Herrenschwand (Biscours fondamental snr la
Population, 1786), but the theory obtained its wide currency through the
English writer. It was eloquently opposed by Godwin, the author of
Political Justice ; then in detail by Sadler, Allison, Doubleday, N. W.
Senior and Quetelet. Its latest English opponents are Herbert Spencer
and AV. R. Greg. The latter says : " The doctrine has been accepted by
every writer of repute on economical subjects. . . None of the many
authors who have questioned or assailed it, . . . have been able to shake
in any degree its hold upon the public mind. . . It has remained
the fixed, axiomatic belief of the educated world." ( The Enigmas of Life.)


§ 57. If this view be correct, it is not the growth of popula-
tion, but the efficiency of the " checks" upon it, that best con-
tributes to the well-being of the nation. These checks are of
two kinds: (1) positive, such as war, famine, pestilence, &c. ;
(2) preventive, such as sexual immorality and voluntary celi-
bacy. The practical inferences drawn by Mr. Malthus and his
school from this theory were that wherever the state can dis-
courage the increase of the population without interfering with
personal liberty, it should do so. Regarding pauperism as the
result of over-population, they were in general opposed to any
provision for the poor, either public or private; regarding that
as a premium upon recklessness and self-indulgence, and as a
useless interference between the violators of a divine law and
their divinely-appointed punishment. Or if provision must be
made for the poor, they would have it managed in such a way
as to discourage and prevent " the propagation of a race of
paupers/' They especially labored to create a strong public
opinion on the subject, and to diffuse this through all classes.
J. S. Mill would have " the producing large families" " regarded
with the same feeliug as drunkenness or any other physical

One inference drawn from the theory was that a high rate of
wages is exceedingly undesirable. For when working people
are paid abundantly they naturally become reckless as regards
the future; the rate of increase is accelerated, the labor-market
overstocked, and the workmen must suffer a fall of wages to or
even below "the natural rate" again. Any high rate must
therefore be merely temporary, and add to the misery and dis-
content of the working classes, by accustoming them to enjoy-
ments, which they afterwards lose the power to command.

§ 58. The theory obtained general currency in England and
some other countries as an easy and not unsatisfactory explana-
tion of the misery that existed in the closely settled countries
of Europe. It was an explanation that involved no censure of
the leaders in social policy, and that gave full sanction to their
disposition to give themselves as little trouble as need be about


the suffering classes. But it had such a plausibility in it, that
men of quite another stamp adopted it heartily, — men like
Chalmers and the younger Mill, who really longed and labored
for the social elevation and welfare of their countrymen.

§ 59. The earlier disciples of Malthus, and their master,
treated this alleged tendency of population to outrun subsistence
as an insurmountable obstacle to the permanent welfare of the
mass of mankind. In the several editions of the Essay on
Population, his statements of this opinion are somewhat toned
down in concession to hostile criticism ; but even the last re-
mains open to the same interpretation. Or if he has any hope,
it is from the progress of society in education and knowledge,
until all men shall be able to "read, mark, learn and inwardly
digest" his pleas for voluntary restraint in this matter. (He
himself had only eleven children, as M. de Sismondi tells us.)
Mr. McCulloch also lays it down as a " principle that the power
of increase in the human species must always, in the long run,
prove an overmatch for the increase of the means of subsist-
ence." James Mill says : " The general misery of mankind is
a fact which can be accounted for upon one only of two posi-
tions, either that there is a tendency in population to increase
faster than capital, or that capital has by some means been pre-
vented from increasing so fast as it has a tendency to increase."
Rejecting the latter of the two suppositions, he accepts the
former as the fact. And he declares that " however slow the in-
crease of population, provided that of capital is still slower,
wages will be reduced so low that a portion of the population
will regularly die of want."

§ 60. The later writers of this school seem inclined to lay
more stress upon the counteracting forces, viz. : the growth of
subsistence and the checks to population. Archbishop "Whatcly
even assigns to these the rank of a counter-tendency, comparing
the two to the centrifugal and the centripetal forces that keep
the earth for ever moving in the same orbit, and emphasizing
the fact that " much as our population has increased within the
last five centuries, it yet bears a far less ratio to subsistence than


it did five hundred years ago." N. W. Senior offering a mass
of evidence to the same purpose, says : " I believe in the actual
power of population to increase so as to press upon the means of
subsistence. I deny the habitual tendency. I believe the
tendency to be just the reverse." Yet he also says that " there
are few portions of Europe the inhabitants of which would not
be richer if their numbers were fewer, and would not be richer
hereafter if they were now to retard the rate at which their
population is increasing."

§ 61. Mr. John Stuart Mill better represents the great mass
of English writers on this topic. He holds that the tendency
pointed out by Malthus is the constant element in the problem,
and all others are inconstant and variable. Not that there is
any need to despair in view of this fact. If the mass of society
were really and generally enlightened, the preventive check of
abstinence would be quite sufficient to overmaster this uuhappy
and dangerous tendency. All the progress of human civiliza-
tion has been through the growing ascendancy of man's higher
over his lower nature. The race of men have their future in
their own hands in this matter, and as they awake to the realiza-
tion of the fact, they will govern themselves more wisely. The
social moralist might fairly object here that this constant victory
of the higher nature of man has been won through men .enter-
ing into those relationships from which Mr. Mill would have
them abstain, and from their being drawn out of their sordid ness
and selfishness thereby. Some of the social regulations and in-
stitutions on the Continent, which Mr. Mill unhappily chose for
eulogy, .show us by their effects that whatever discipline the
self-contained philosopher may find in this solitary life, it is to
the mass of meu the road to degradation aud debasement.

But we need not go out of the strictly economic sphere, nor
even outside of Mr. Mill's concessions, to find arguments. Since
the law was enunciated, whatever its acceptance by the intellectual
classes, the mass of men have neither believed nor acted on it.
Yet, as Mr. Mill admits, the actual state of society, as compared
with what it was, does not bear out the theory. " This does not


prove that the law does not exist, but only that some antagonistic
principle is at work which is capable for a time of making head-
way against the law." This exceptional and antagonistical
principle he finds in the progress of material civilization ; that
is, in the growth of man's power over nature and her utilities.
He specifies the improvements in agriculture and in machinery,
better roads and means of communication, and the spread of
education. Very right, save in regarding civilization and its
progress as exceptional, whereas it is the law; and in accepting
misery as the law, whereas it is the needless exception. In this
point lies the deepest ground of distinction between the English
view of the subject and that here advocated. The latter looks
to the future hopefully, tracing there with prophetic foresight
all the great ascending lines of human progress as carried for-
ward without stop or limit. The other regards that future with
despondency, or at least a gloomy uncertainty, being most im-
pressed with the existence of forces and tendencies that have
wrought misery and promise ruin.

§ 62. The theory is discredited by the experience of the past
in this matter. The pressure of population upon subsistence is
characteristic of the periods and the places where population is
most sparse, — not of those where it is densest. " Let any one,"
says Mr. McCulloch, whom we quoted above, " compare the
state of this or of any other European country five hundred or a
thousand years ago, and he will be satisfied that prodigious
advances have been made, that the means of subsistence has in-
creased much more rapidly than population, and that the labor-
ing classes are now generally in possession of conveniences and
luxuries that once were not enjoyed by the richest lord."

Take the extreme case of Belgium, whose Flemish provinces,
though naturally poor in soil, are the most densely peopled
district in the world. In spite of the absence of large manu-
factures and a too general dependence on agriculture, the stand-
ard of comfort is high, and continues to rise. Switzerland rivals
these provinces in density of population and in the general diffu-
sion of comfort among her people. Were the population of


Europe to be doubled, there is no reason to suppose the soil
would furnish them insufficient support. Deducting one-third
of her soil as not arable, and assigning two acres per head to her
possible population, she would easily support 800 millions, or
three times her present population. Yet Zurich has one persou
to every one and a quarter acres.

Belgium has 440 people to the square mile; one of her Flemish pro-
vinees has 1800. Four cantons of Switzerland approach her average;
Basle 420; Argovie 398; Thurgovie 368; Zurich 365. Loinbard,y has
370; England and AVales 350; Holland 300; Italy 225; France, Ger-
many and Ireland 180; Austria 164; Switzerland 157; Spain 90; Turkey
in Europe 76; Russia 30; Sweden 22.

Asia is generally regarded as the cradle of the human race.

Here then we must find — if anywhere — the sad effects of a

prolonged multiplication of the race. Yet Asia is only one-third

as densely peopled as Europe, and the part of Asia in which

population is densest, Hindoostan, is capable of supporting a

much greater number.

The stories told of the density of the population in China, like many
other details about that empire that have come down from last century,
are apocryphal. China, according to the census of 1S64, has about 260
to the square mile; but Chinese statistics are not very trustworthy. The
census of 1812 put the density at 283 to the square mile.

America, Africa and Australasia are but very thinly settled,
and it is hardly possible to estimate the greatness of the popula-
tion that they are capable of supporting.

§ 63. Of the soil actually under cultivation, not more than a
very small part is cultivated as it might be, even in the existing
stage of agricultural science. The average yield of wheat in
England, for instance, is 26 bushels to the acre. But the fact that
57 and even 60 bushels have been raised is enough to show that
England is under no necessity to import one-fourth of her bread-
stuffs. Only a very small part of her soil is farmed scientific-
ally, and official returns made in 1873 show that she has seven
and a half million acres, more than half of them in the most
fertile part of the island, not under cultivation. In the opinion
of N. W. Senior the yield of food would be quadrupled during


the ceutury then beginning (1835), and might possibly be multi-
plied tenfold. Even soil that is held too poor to repay cultiva-
tion, may be made fertile by the skill of the agricultural
chemist. Thus Mr. Huxtable on an acre of chalk down — gene-
rally given up to the sheep — raised twenty-five tons of turnips,
two years running, at a less expense than is usually required for
a scantier crop on good soil.

But these better methods are the product of an age when
population is dense, cooperation easy, and the human mind is in
high activity.

Great Britain contains 56,815,353 acres, of which only 31,102,600 acres
are cultivated, and 2,187,078 acres are returned as woods and plantations
for the growth of timber or the protection of game ; leaving 23,525,675
acres in a state of nature. Of this Wales has nearly 2,000,000; England
about 7,500,000, and the rest is in Scotland. Most of this is in the moun-
tainous counties, northern and south-western; but over 18 per cent, of the
most fertile parts of the kingdom are still uncultivated. Outside of the
Scandinavian kingdoms, which may be compared to Scotland, no Euro-
pean country of which we have trustworthy statistics, allows so much of
its domain to lie idle. Austria proper has eight per cent, uncultivated;
Bavaria less thau six and a half; Wurteraburg not five.

§ 64. The earlier records of all civilized countries, and the
existing state of savage nations, disclose to us habitual poverty,
frecpuent famines and consequent pestilences. In the Saxon
Chronicle and the earlier mediaeval historians, there is a sad and
monotonous record of famines, year after year; and England is
no exception among European nations. Since the populations
have trebled and quadrupled, they are rarely heard of, save in
thinly-settled countries like Sweden and Persia. If they occur
elsewhere, they are owing to drought or some other unforeseen
calamity, and owe much of their desolating force to the bad
economic management that has kept the whole people to a single
occupation, or made them dependent upon a single crop; for a
failure or a series of failures of that crop must produce dreadful
misery. But that is the condition of an undeveloped and im-
perfect society, not of one whose industrial growth has been
allowed to keep pace with its growth of numbers. " But even
Ireland, poor and populous as she is, suffers less from want with


her eight millions of people [1829] than when her only inhabit-
ants were a few septs of hunters and fishers." So again in our
own country, a large proportion of the early colonists from
Europe died of hunger and privation, and colonies were brokeu
up, because their lack of numbers and of the power of mutual
help made them unable to cope with the resistances of nature.
Their successors struggled long with the hardships of their life.
As numbers grew, famines disappeared; a century ago two or
three millions were abundantly fed on the soil that had hardly
supported forty thousand Indians before the coming of the white
man. A much vaster number is now still more abundantly pro-
vided for, from the food grown in the same area.

" Whatever tends to develop the natural resources of a
country, to call forth a spirit of enterprise among its inhabitants,
to render each part less dependent upon itself, and to bind up
the commonwealth by the ties of mutual assistance and common
interest, tends to mitigate the actual pressure of a famine. The
whole list may be expressed in four words — enlightened govern-
ment and modern civilization. These are the specifics for famine.
Where they exist, scarcity will never result in depopulation.
Where they do not, the utmost endeavors of government may
mitigate, but they cannot avert." — Hunter's Annals of Rural
Bengal, p. 55.

§ 65. II istoiy shows us also that a vast decrease in the popu-

Online LibraryRobert Ellis ThompsonSocial science and national economy → online text (page 5 of 38)