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The importance of raising the Standard of Comfort. No circumstance would prevent over-population so effectually as a general raising of the customary standard of comfort among the poorer classes. If they had accustomed themselves to a more comfortable style of living, they would use every effort not again to sink below it. Ricardo says on this subject:-"The friends of humanity cannot but wish that in all countries the labouring classes should have a taste for comforts and enjoyments, and that they should be stimulated by all legal means in their exertions to procure them. There cannot be a better security
against a super-abundant population."
Malthus on Population. Malthus, in his celebrated essay on population, shewed that there is a constant tendency in animal life to increase beyond the nourishment prepared for it, and that therefore unless there are some checks placed upon population the total production of food would in course of time be insufficient to supply the wants of mankind. It has been thought by some that Malthus was manifestly in the wrong, because there appears no likelihood of the means of subsistence becoming insufficient for the wants of the population of the globe. It must, however, be remembered that what Malthus said was, that this insufficiency would prevail if there were no checks on population. These checks do exist, and are in active operation in every country; that is to say, in every country either the total number of births of which the population is capable does not take place, or else a large proportion of those who are born, die. The population is kept down, either by prudence, or by such agencies as war, famine, and pestilence. The germs of existence both in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, if they could freely develop themselves, would, as Malthus shewed, fill millions of worlds in the course of a few thousand years. "Necessity, that imperious, all-pervading law of nature,
restrains them within the prescribed limits... plants and irrational animals the view of the subject is simple. Wherever there is liberty, the power of increase is exerted; and the superabundant effects are repressed afterwards by want of room and nourishment." He then shewed that man had the same tendency to increase beyond his means of subsistence, and that where no other checks restrained the increase of population it is reduced by the difficulty of obtaining food, by disease, and by other agencies which bring misery and degradation in their train. But beside these positive checks on population, there are also preventive or prudential checks; and in his essay on population he examines the condition of many countries in order to ascertain whether the prudential or the positive check is the more operative. In most countries both checks are in operation : in London the number of children who die of diseases produced by want of food, clothing, and attention, and from overcrowding, is appalling, and is a blot upon the civilisation of this country; for it is hardly necessary to say that as civilisation advances the prudential check grows stronger, and the positive check less active. The civilisation of a country might almost be measured by comparing the activity of the prudential check with that of the positive check.
A right conception of the importance of population is fundamental to an understanding of the causes which regulate the wages of labour. An increase in population, unaccompanied by counterbalancing circumstances, acts upon the condition of the labourer in two ways; it increases the price of food by rendering a resort to less productive soils necessary; and by increasing the number of the wages-receiving class it decreases the share which each receives from the wages-fund.
Emigration is an insufficient remedy for Over-Population,
Emigration has been considered by some a sufficient remedy for over-population. There are, however, many objections to relying on emigration as the sole means of checking the natural increase of population. In the first place, those who are the poorest and the most destitute have not the means to emigrate, and if means were provided by the government or by a national subscription, the colonies would very probably object to being made the receptacles of the pauperism of the Old World. Those that we are anxious to get rid of the colonies would not accept; and those who are prosperous and in good employment would have no motive to leave their occupations. In the second place, unless prudential checks are in operation, the place of those who have emigrated will soon be filled by a new generation. And, in the third place, emigration cannot be looked upon as a permanent remedy for over-population, because in the course of time the colonies will be as thickly-peopled as the old countries of Europe now are, and the principal advantage of emigration will then cease to exist. Notwithstanding the incompleteness of this remedy for over-population, emigration may at the present time do great good, if it is accompanied by increased activity of the preventive or prudential check upon population. For some time to come every skilled labourer who reaches America or Australia will be a source of wealth to those nations, whilst his absence will tend to reduce the overstocked labour-markets of Europe. The emigration of labourers from Ireland to America has no doubt been very serviceable to both countries; and it may reasonably be supposed that a somewhat similar movement on the part of English agricultural labourers would go far in solving the labour question here, whilst skilled farmhands are most warmly welcomed in Canada and in the United States.
The effect on Wages of a Local Decline in Profits. An
historical survey shews that the rate of profit has in all countries declined with the increase of wealth and population. The causes which have produced this universal decline in the rate of profit will be investigated in the next chapter; it is sufficient here to shew the influence on wages of a local and not a general decline of profits. Suppose that the labourers engaged in any particular trade are receiving such an amount of wages that their employer's capital is remunerated by no more than the average rate of profit. If these men strike for higher wages, and succeed in obtaining them, the employer will carry on his business at a comparative loss, that is, he will be receiving less profit than he would realise in other trades. He will therefore be careful not to extend his business; and if the loss remain permanent he will gradually withdraw his capital, and invest it in other trades. The benefit, therefore, that the labourers derive from a rise in wages which causes profits to sink below the average rate, is only temporary. If it be true that previous to the agricultural strikes which have lately taken place, farmers were gaining something less than the ordinary rate of profit upon their capital, the success of the labourers in obtaining higher wages must produce a change in the conditions of agricultural industry. The farmers will not go on employing their capital for a less reward than they could obtain in other employments. Possibly the increased wages will make labour more efficient; if this be the case, the farmer will be compensated for his extra outlay by better crops, or by employing fewer hands. Possibly the higher rate of wages will induce the farmer to use more machinery than he has hitherto done; the size of farms will be increased, and the use of the steam-plough, the reaping-machine, and the haymaking-machine will become universal. If this be the case, the farmer will employ comparatively few
men; and those he does employ will be highly-skilled agricultural mechanics who will receive correspondingly high wages. In the mean time the extinction or the removal of the old-fashioned labourer, of the type suggested by the nick-name "Hodge," will be a process accompanied by acute suffering and much bitter heartburning. Hodge is not quick to emigrate, he is still less quick in developing into an agricultural engineer, or a town artisan; and his sufferings must be put down as a set-off against the advantages of a highly-skilled and highlypaid class of agricultural labourers. There is another way in which the farmer may be compensated for his loss, if his profits are reduced below the ordinary rate in consequence of the higher wages obtained by the labourers. His rent may be reduced. If this alternative be practicable, it would be accompanied by far less suffering than that involved in the summary extinction of Hodge.
The Effect of increased Efficiency upon the rate of Wages. Another means of increasing the wages-fund is provided by any circumstance which increases the efficiency of labour. If more wealth is produced by the joint agency of land, labour, and capital, there will be more to distribute as rent to the landlord, wages to the labourer, and profits to the capitalist. If education, or any similar agency, should cause the labourer to work with more intelligence and with more honesty, the efficiency of labour would be increased. The labourer would make a better use of his tools and materials, and the labour of superintendence and watching might be dispensed with; in this way the wages-fund might be increased, because more wealth would be produced; the cost of production at the same time would be diminished and the salary of the overlooker would be saved. Hitherto, as previously explained, circumstances, such as the repeal of the corn laws, which ought to have produced