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THE following Arguments and Suggestions have arisen out of some questions which occurred in the Poor Committee, on Saturday 29th of March, when the Committee had under their consideration the necessity of a reform in the present mode of administering relief to able-bodied paupers under the Poor Laws. It seemed universally admitted, that the present mode of administering relief to those who were able to work, without exacting labor in return, was pregnant with ruinous evil, as well to the morals of the paupers, as to the resources of the country: and these objections extended, as I conceive, though not in the same degree, to relief in food, clothing, and other necessaries, as well as to relief in money. But while all the Committee felt this conviction, some of its Members, to whose opinions the greatest weight is given by high station, powerful talents, and long experience, expressed alarming doubts of the practicability of a remedy in the existing state of the country. They admitted that the remedy would have been Employment; but said that unluckily it could not, in the present crisis, be found; or
if found, would now only aggravate the distresses it was intended to cure.
This objection was grounded on the supposed applicability of one of the most obvious principles of political œconomy, and indeed of common sense. It was said, "The labormarket is already overloaded: the corn-market is already overloaded: the supply exceeds the demand: the industrious labourer cannot find work the cannot obtain a remunerating price for his corn: the manufacturer cannot find a sale for the goods which he already has in store. Hence come the sufferings we are called to counteract. Hence rents are unpaid: the trader is become a bankrupt : and the poor-rates are trebled at a moment that the means to pay them are almost extinguished. The remedy proposed therefore is not a remedy-but the evil itself!"
It will be the business of these pages to endeavour to shew the fallacy of these assertions, by arguments which will be aimed to prove, that the principle of demand and supply does not attach itself to the growth of the soil, in the same way as it does to artificial productions, the work of man's hands.
In doing this, it will be necessary to trace up the subject of National Wealth to its very elements; and to involve considerations connected with all the main springs of National power and prosperity; which, if all their ramifications were pursued, would expand themselves into volumes. But as the time and urgency of the occasion require that I should confine myself within the briefest limits, I shall refrain from saying one word more, at present, than is necessary as an Answer to the immediate question before the Committee.
I mean to argue, that additional labour would not
injure those already employed; that additional corn would not add to the distress of the farmer; but, on the contrary, that both these additions would not only benefit, rather than injure themselves, but relieve the distress of the manufacturer.
If I shall prove these things, I shall shew an easy remedy to the present system of administering relief; and at the same time a mode of restoring the morals of the lower orders; of diminishing, if not nearly extinguishing, the parish rates; of reviving and augmenting the national wealth; and of making the Poor, who are now exhausting the stores of the Rich, a prolific stock of growing prosperity, instead of a rapacious cankerworm on the vitals of the State.
In the case of the produce of the soil, the means of Demand increase with the increase of Supply. If you take corn for wealth, (which no one will deny it to be,) who will refuse to admit the consequence in that shape? Noone will argue, that the price of corn, and the funds to employ the Poor, will not increase as the wealth of the country increases.
Such at least is the fact, whatever may be the reason.com But the following seems to me to be the distinction by which agricultural produce is taken out of the operation of the principle of supply and demand. Wherever that principle operates, the articles, by the proportions of which to each other the money-price is regulated, are parts of the same given whole, of which as one part increases, the other must diminish. But the corn of any year is a whole, of which the manufactured articles, together with the labour and other costs of production, are the parts in their converted state: in which case, the parts proportionally increase
with reference to that whole, though they may vary with regard to each other. Now as the surplus of corn in the hands of the farmer and land-owner is exchangeable for the manufactured article, or its representative in money, it will follow that, as more corn is grown, there will be a proportional augmentation of equivalent to give in exchange. Here, then, seems to be the whole secret. Additional labour will more than repay itself by additional corn; of which the additional surplus will subsist additional manufacturers while producing increased articles of their trade : and these will come back in added demand for the next produce of the soil: and so on in a reciprocity of increased bacter
If this reasoning be just, it will account for some phænomena in the state of this country, from about 1797 to 1812, compared with that of the period since elapsed, which have appeared surprising to many, who have judged of them by a theory (in my opinion at least) From 1797 to 1812, we saw our rapidly and stupendously extended; we saw enclosures every where take place; the barren heath smile with
* This may seem contrary to the fact, inasmuch as we see a large crop always cause a reduction in the market price. But this is (as I contend) a mere temporary effect, before the process of conversion has taken place; so that we must take an average of two or three years; in which case, I doubt not that increase of produce would bring with it an augmentation of price. See Additional Note, p. 159.
2 All this, it may be said, requires capital, as the machinery of exchange. But as the wealth itself exists, or is in the rapid course of conversion, the circulating medium will not long be wanting to aid the process. The distress for this article in the last three years, which so much aggravated the diffi. culty, and was the mingled cause and effect of it, arose from an extraordinary combination of peculiar circumstances: three years of defective home crop; a temporary inundation of foreign corn; alarm; and the sudden and vast diminution of the paper of the country banks. But as far as the farmer is. concerned, it is quite clear, that the sums which he can find for the poorrates, he can find for paying extra labourers.
corn; and new capital and astonishing increase of skill applied to increase the produce of the old arable. The additional supply to the corn market by these means can hardly be calculated. At the same time importations four-fold beyond those of former times were ad
mitted. During all this prosperous period, so little did increase of supply depress demand, that prices continued, with small variations, to risethe average of every three or five years exceeding that of the period immediately preceding it! On the contrary, from the harvest of 1813, the price, till within these few months, has been falling lower and lower; while three bad crops, a languid and decreased cultivation, thousands of acres returned into pasture, and an almost total cessation of inclosures, have reduced the produce perhaps a third; and while the foreign importations, to which the ports for part of the time were shut, have not during the same period been equal to half their former amount.
A large and intelligent Miller connected with many of those who carry on the greatest business in that way, in the South of England, and always in communication with them all, about a year ago was asked his opinion on the subject of prices, by one who observed to him, that the in great decrease in the crops and stock in hand must necessarily (as he conceived) soon bring about a great advance in the market. He answered, I know not how it happens, and I have observed it with some surprise; but the fact c tainly turns out to be, that the less we grow, and the less we bring to market, the less we find a demand for it. The very powers and habits of consumption seem to be on the wane and decrease still faster than the supply '8
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This conversation was repeated to me as paradoxical';
but, according to the reason which has occurred to my