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a science, which depends on facts capable of being viewed in such various lights, is held forth as resting upon proofs nearly approaching to demonstration, they who have not examined all its foundations are apt to include, in one general estimate of weakness, those portions which possess but doubtful strength, with others, whose stability has been attested by the clearest evidence and the fullest experience.
It must be owned, likewise, that writers on political economy have not always preserved the tone and the temper best suited to soften hostility or win acquiescence. On the contrary, like many other advocates for absolute freedom, they have sometimes adopted a style as contemptuous and intolerant towards their opponents as if the subjects of discussion were too clear for doubt, and as if it were little short of wickedness to dissent from their conclusions. In some of the disputes which are now carried on concerning very knotty points in the science, they find, that although men will submit to be reasoned out of their errors, they will neither be scolded nor sneered into a surrender of the most palpable absurdities.
But perhaps no cause has tended so much to deprive the science of political economy of its due honours, among certain classes of very well-meaning persons, as the charge which has been made upon its votaries, and believed by many to be true, that they seek to exalt their favourite dogmas, to the exclusion of all other con, siderations in state-government. This imputation is most certainly unfounded, though it must be acknowledged that some colour is given to it by the omission of most writers on these subjects, to define the limits of the science, and to qualify the propositions in which they unfold it. They are too prone to assume, as a matter of course, that their readers will consider their doctrines only with reference to the production, distribution, and consumption of wealth, and not as excluding other maxims of policy essential to the welfare and security of nations. But it unfortunately happens very generally, that the terms in which the doctrines of political economy are stated convey an impression that the writer deems wealth the only source of human felicity, and holds it as an unimpeachable postulate, that all other veins of policy and government ought to be subservient to the increase, in the aggregate, of a nation's riches.
To prove that the teachers of political economy are very absurd in propounding this notion of its exclusive importance (which few among them, if any, entertain,) seems to be the chief design of M. Fodéré's work on the Poverty of Nations. Whatever may be thought of the usefulness of a work, confined to the execution of such a design, it might be so performed as at least to have the merit of being harmless. Unluckily, however, M. Fodéré, in his progress towards proving that the wealth or poverty of a nation: does not depend upon the aggregate of its riches, has contrived to stumble successively against some of the fundamental truths, and
many of the best established conclusions of the science with which he quarrels, and to entangle himself in discussions upon other parts of it, in which the wisest have paused. The range which he has taken is indeed extensive. Agriculture, manufactures, foreign and home trade, — population, pauperism and mendicity, hospitals, – education and taxation, - primogeniture, apprenticeships, and corporations, — all are discussed in this ambitious volume, not merely in their principles, but with historical details, and sketches of public establishments for carrying into practical operation the views of the author.
M. Fodéré has, we believe, more than once gained reputation as a writer, on subjects relating to agriculture, and to the profession of which he is a member. The work now before us contains many proofs of a benevolent temper and a cultivated mind. On the regulation of hospitals, and on some subjects which he treats of in his book, connected with the public health, his statements will be read with some interest. His opinions on these points are certainly entitled to much respect, for he seems to have had considerable experience, and the facts which he details show that he has had opportunities of extensive observation. But we must except against the whimsical claim which he makes in his avant-propos, in favour of the medical profession, and in disparagement of lawyers and statesmen. He considers, that of these three classes (to which, for some reason or other, he thinks speculations on political economy peculiarly appertain,) the former are in an especial manner favoured by Providence with the means of knowing what sort of institutions are best calculated to make a nation rich and happy. We are sorry to be obliged to think, that M. Fodéré has himself given singular proofs of the error of this new and curious theory. :
M. Fodéré has distributed the multifarious topics of which he treats among four sections. The first and most important is devoted to Pauperism, its causes, its effects, and its remedies; the second to Mendicity, as distinguished from Pauperism; the third to Hospitals, and other establishments for the poor; and the fourth to Illegitimacy and institutions for Foundlings. The subordinate arrangements of the work are made with great perspicuity; and although all the parts of M. Fodéré's system are not quite consistent, there is, throughout, no difficulty whatever of understanding what it means.
The grand principle which forms the basis of the whole structure, is, that a nation is rich, not in proportion to the total amount of its possessions, but in proportion as its wealth is so distributed as to produce the greatest degree of comfort among the whole of its inhabitants. Of this principle he gives many illustrations; one, however, will be quite sufficient for a reader at this side of the English Channel:
· Poor also is Great Britain (at least not so happy as her admirers deem her), of whose sixteen millions of subjects, eleven or twelve millions have no property whatever, subsisting upon their wages alone, but enabling, from day to day, some great and fortunate speculators to ruin all small traders, to purchase up estates, to change corn-fields into parks, and the labourers of the country into manufacturing workmen; a system of activity so little advantageous to the nation at large that, in order to maintain an equilibrium in the means of subsistence for the population, it has been found necessary to resort to the forced measure of a tax for the support of the poor; a tax which is every year increasing.'— pp. 54, 55.
To quarrel with the framer of a system or a theory about the words which he employs, is sometimes not quite fair, and is very commonly a waste of language. But we may surely say, without risking the imputation of substituting cavil for criticism, that to call England a poor country, because she possesses enormous wealth in company with much pauperism, is something too like a solecism to deserve a place in the very front of a new system of political economy. The meaning, however, of M. Fodéré is sufficiently clear; he thinks that it is a bad condition of society, in which wealth is so distributed that there are many paupers.
It follows, as a corollary from this position, that the policy of a state should always be to increase the number of moderate fortunes. All those institutions or practices in society which tend to impede that policy ought, therefore, to be strenuously resisted, and if possible abolished'; and a great part of the first section of the work is occupied in showing how legislatures and statesmen ought to deal with those stubborn obstacles to a nation's happiness. M. Fodéré seems to think that these obstacles chiefly arise — from the state of the population, as it is either defective or redundant in proportion to the extent or resources of a state ; — from impolitic laws respecting the descent of property ; — from an improper distribution of the industry of the country, and in particular, the affording of encouragement to manufactures, and the withholding of it from agriculture; - the want of corporation and apprentice laws, which he thinks absolutely necessary to prevent too great freedom in the exercise of trades and ruinous competition among the tradesmen ; — from the disposition to engage in distant speculations of foreign commerce, to the neglect and decay of the hometrade within the country itself; - and from the employment of machinery (de forces mortes) instead of the labour of men and of cattle.
Were we to set ourselves seriously to work in an attempt to refute the speculations of M. Fodéré, we should never think of attacking his system in detail. Each particular bar to what he conceives the due distribution of wealth is only a particular illustration of that general law of Providence, which has decreed inequality of possessions to be the lot of all human societies.
Whether or not it would be desirable that things were otherwise, it is vain to argue. Undoubtedly it would be well for the world if there were no poor; and it is quite incontestable, that if wealth could increase as it is found to do, without becoming accumulated in masses, and if, under such circumstances, population increased no faster than it does now in England or in France, pauperism would be greatly diminished, or perhaps might wholly vanish. But the plain and pervading error of M. Fodéré, and of a little band of philanthropists in this country, who would fain carry similar views to an extent of wild absurdity which he never dreamt of, is, that the same institutions which would prevent the accumulation of wealth in single hands, would, as far forth as they could operate, prevent its accumulation at all. M. Fodéré has himself admitted, that strong motives are necessary to overcome the innate indolence of man, and induce him to labour. Sense of duty, generosity, philanthropy, supply no such motive. Laws are equally powerless to call forth those exertions which make a community rich. The slave has ever been an unprofitable labourer. It is only in that sordid feeling against which M. Fodéré has wasted so much invective, the auri sacra fames, that we are to find the springs of national opulence. The desire of gain is the only motive that ever did or ever will lead mankind along the toilsome and thorny paths which lead to riches. But the desire of gain can only operate where there is a prospect and an expectation of enjoyment; and it needs no reference to history to prove, what history, however, demonstrates in every page, that in proportion as the free enjoyment of wealth is abridged, the energies are slackened which are required for its production.
Whatever, therefore, be the condition of the population in a country where wealth is increasing, according to its natural course, in the hands of individuals, that condition must grow worse if measures be employed to force the currents of wealth from the larger and fewer channels, into others, smaller, but more numerous. The great streams may subside or grow dry; but the smaller will not be filled by their exhaustion. For it is quite obvious that what checks enterprize in any one direction, by means of laws or institutions which extend generally over the whole community, cannot encourage industry in other quarters. It should never be forgotten, (although it seems never to have occurred to M. Fodéré,) that the mass of the people, unless, indeed, there be a community of goods, must always be labourers for hire, and consequently must be comfortable or wretched according as the whole capital of the country, which can alone give them employment, is great or small, in proportion to their numbers. And it is surely a strange philanthropy, which seeks to better the condition of the poor by means that must diminish the general wealth on which they depend for subsistence.
M. Fodéré passes lightly over the subject of population, and the effect of increasing numbers in producing multitudes of poor.
His notions upon this subject do not appear to be very satisfactory to himself, though he inclines to the opinion that, at least in France, there is no redundancy of population. We cannot help regretting that his reflections did not dwell somewhat longer on this part of his enquiry. It ought indeed to have formed the key-stone to the whole. Until some means can be devised to prevent the increase of unemployed poor, all such measures as may be even successfully applied to secure a more equal distribution of wealth, can be only palliatives of a great and growing plague. If every pauper in France were put into a state of comfort, or even of opulence, by obtaining a share of the possessions of his richer neighbours, (and M. Fodéré is far from advising a measure so extreme,) another generation must produce another brood of claimants, differing from their progenitors only in being more numerous and more urgent. Nothing indeed serves so much to bewilder the philanthropist in his most favourite and alluring schemes, as the influence of increasing numbers, in situations and under circumstances apparently the best calculated to secure comfort and employment for the lower orders of the people. M. Fodéré, after noticing the growth of pauperism in Switzerland, very frankly, and somewhat feelingly, owns his inability to account for it.
• It will be said that this pauperism, which I find to exist no less on the other bank of the Rhine on the side of France, with an equal abundance of manufactures, (as if to show that a difference in the forms of governments avails but little to the real happiness of nations,) it will be said that this pauperism is the result of an excess in the population. But Switzerland was probably more populous when she inundated Europe with her soldiers. Neither can it be ascribed to the scarcity or the dearness of the necessaries of life; for articles of prime necessity were never so abundant or cheap as they have been for some years on both banks of the Rhine. And as to agriculture and the arts of industry, these are not wanting, and yet the people are wretched! My mind, I own it, is tortured in the attempt to reconcile these inconsistencies, although I have seen much, and enquired incessantly. I find myself, with respect to those writers on political economy who present us with every thing as plain and easy, who swallow down all that does not make for their opinions, as I was in my youth with respect to systems of medicine, which so often deceived me when I sought to apply them at the sick bed.'— pp. 98, 99.
It is a difficulty which has puzzled many a philanthropist as zealous as M. Fodéré, and which we fear is not destined to be solved in our generation. Our author, however, thinks he has discovered the means of removing pauperism, at least from France, and we shall endeavour to give a brief outline of his views.
After an eulogium on the institution of celibacy among the clergy, and some remarks on the influence of the droit d'áinesse in enhancing the evils of pauperism, by giving the force and sanction of the law to the inequality of property, he proceeds to show the importance of a well-regulated system of general education. On