Alfred Russell Wallace :
Our Poverty and our Wealth (1882)
On the causes of poverty in the midst of wealth
The great cities have all become greater, and all contain
within their bounds dense masses of people living in
cellars and hovels and airless, filthy courts, again and
again condemned as unfit for human habitation.
Among the characteristics of the present century, none is, perhaps, more striking than the enormous increase of the national wealth, which, during the last fifty years especially, has progressed with a rapidity altogether unprecedented. During this period the land of Great Britain has more than doubled in value, while in the great centres of industry it has often increased a hundred or even a thousandfold, and this increase has been mainly due, not to any expenditure made by the owners or occupiers of the land, but almost wholly to the growth of population and of wealth, and to the great advance in all the arts and industries which minister to our modern civilisation. The total annual value of this landed property is enormous. The estates which exceed 3,000 acres in extent or £3,000 in annual value, amounting in all to twenty-one and a-half million acres, are valued at £35,000,000, while those of less area or less annual value amount to more than thirty-two million acres; and as these latter will consist to a great extent of highly-cultivated suburban lands, small residential estates, and building lots, while the former include all the poorest and least valuable mountain and moor-land of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, their value can hardly be less than 65 millions, making a total of £100,000,000.(*1) This large sum is, however, only an indication of the wealth of the country; for a considerable proportion of the 320,000 landowners who possess more than an acre derive large incomes from manufacturing industries and mercantile or financial pursuits, or have invested capital in the British or Foreign Funds, in railways, or in other securities, so that the amount of accumulated property and the number of persons who are supported on this property without personal exertion, are both probably larger in proportion to the whole population than at any other period of our history, or than in any other country in the world. The increase of our wealth, as well as its great amount, is sufficiently indicated by the fact, that the “Property and Profits” assessed to Income Tax have more than doubled in the 30 years from 1848 to 1878, being in the former year (for Great Britain) £256,413,354, and in the latter £542,411,545; and there can be no doubt that these amounts are, on the whole, greatly under-estimated.
*1. The total annual value and rental of the landed property of the Kingdom given in the new Doomsday Book, is ú131,470,360, but this appears to include the rental of all the buildings, factories, houses, &c. on the land, while it excludes the whole of London where land is of fabulous value. The above estimate, therefore, is probably below the mark as the rental value of the land itself of the United Kingdom. That the increase in the value of land during the present century is not overstated in the first paragraph, appears from a recent Return of the Board of Inland Revenue, which gives the gross value of Land, Tenements, and Tithes assessed to Income Tax in Great Britain, as ú58,751,479 in 1814-15, and ú172,136,183 in 1879-80, being an increase of almost threefold in sixty-five years.
Pauperism does not Diminish with our Increasing Wealth.–This enormous increase in the wealth of the country–and that far greater proportionate increase of its manufactures and commerce of which our legislators are so proud that rarely do they speak in public without calling attention to it–have not, however, been attended by any proportionate increase in the general well-being of the people. Nothing tests this well-being so surely as the number of paupers, since, if the condition of the people were generally raised to any considerable extent, this number must largely diminish. We find, however, that though the number fluctuates much from year to year, and figures can be picked to show a decrease, yet, taking a large early and late average, there is no decrease, the numbers of paupers in England and Wales fluctuating around an average of about six-sevenths of a million. This, however, is only the number in receipt of relief on the first day of each year. The total number relieved during the year is, according to Mr. Dudley Baxter, three and a-half times as much, or an average of upwards of three millions. Allowing for the same individuals being relieved more than once, we shall be quite within the mark if we take the mean of the two numbers, or a little less than two millions, as the actual average number of paupers; but it must be remembered that this does not include either the vagrants, or the casual poor, or the criminals in our jails, or that large body who are permanently dependent on private charity, which altogether must bring up the number to at least three millions. Let us consider for a moment what this implies. The three million paupers in any year are all persons who are actually unable to obtain a sufficiency of the coarsest food and clothing to support life; and they form, as it were, the failures from among a much larger body, who constantly live from hand to mouth on the scanty wages of their daily labour. If we take this class of the population who are ever trembling on the verge of pauperism at only half the number of the actual paupers, we arrive at a total of 4,500,000–more than one-sixth of the whole population–who live constantly in a state of squalid penury, unable to obtain many of the necessaries of a healthy existence, and one-half of them continually falling into absolute destitution, and becoming dependent on public or private charity.(*2)
*2). The average number of paupers in England and Wales on the 1st of January for the twelve years 1849-1860 was 863,338, and for the twelve years 1869-1880 it was 864,398. The numbers were lowest in 1876-78 and in 1853, while they continued at a maximum during the period from 1863 to 1873, when it averaged over a million; and it is very curious that this was the very period when our commerce was increasing so rapidly as to excite the admiration and pride of our legislators, reaching the highest point it has ever attained in the last-named year. Our population has of course been increasing all this time, and therefore the percentage of official pauperism has decreased, sometimes rapidly, sometimes very slowly. But it must be remembered that there are many causes which have been increasingly in operation during the period we are considering, all of which have a tendency to diminish the official number of paupers, even though the actual percentage of pauperism has increased. First, and perhaps most important, is the increasing perception among all poor-law officials of the evils of outdoor relief, which at once encourages improvidence and affords opportunities for deception. Year by year the poor-law has been worked with increased stringency in this respect, and this alone must have largely reduced the official record of paupers relieved. The establishment of casual wards for the relief of vagrants is another comparatively recent movement, which has tended to diminish the list of official paupers. At the same time there has been a continually increasing movement among philanthropists for the relief by private charity of true cases of distress. Such associations as the Charity Organisation Society, the Mendicity Society, the Metropolitan Visiting and Relief Association, and many others, indicate the amount of systematic efforts in relief of poverty and prevention of pauperism, while year by year we find new institutions formed to succour all those who fall into unmerited poverty. If the increasing effects of all these causes and agencies could be fully estimated, it would probably be found that they are more than sufficient to account for the nominal decrease in the percentage of pauperism, while their mere enumeration is sufficient to indicate that a reference to the official statistics of pauperism, however accurate these may be, does not prove that pauperism is diminishing, or even demonstrate that it is not actually increasing.
Failure of our Social Organisation.–This is, surely, a most anomalous and altogether deplorable state of things. On the one side, wealth and luxury and all the refinements of life to an unprecedented extent–on the other, a vast, seething mass of poverty and crime, millions living with their barest physical wants unsatisfied, in dwellings where common decency is impossible, and, so far as any development of the higher faculties is concerned, in a condition actually inferior to that of many savages. And these poverty-stricken millions consist largely of the tillers of that very soil which has of late years so vastly increased in value, and thus added so much to the wealth and luxury of its possessors. The political economist points with pride to the vast increase of our wealth; but he ignores the fact that the distribution of that wealth is more unequal than ever, and that for every single addition to the exceptionally rich there are scores or hundreds added to the exceptionally poor. But the legislator should look at the question from a different point of view. Every government which is not a despotism is bound to make the well-being of the whole community its object; and mere wealth is no indication whatever of this general well-being. So long as poverty and degradation are the characteristics of large classes of the community, society and government are alike proved to be failures; and the rapid increase of wealth, with the great advances of science, art, and literature, only render this failure the more glaring, and prove more clearly that there is something radically wrong in the social organisation that is incompetent to remedy such gross and crying evils.
For some generations, at all events, there has been no lack of will on the part of our legislators and philanthropists. Many serious evils have been remedied; much cruelty and injustice have been abolished; and, as we have seen, vast wealth has been created; but no one who knows the condition and mode of life of the large class of agricultural labourers, and the horrible degradation of great masses of the inhabitants of all our chief cities, with the periodical distress, and even famine, in the manufacturing districts and in Ireland, can doubt the utter failure of all their attempts.
Increase of Labour-saving Machinery and Utilisation of Natural Forces.–But there is another circumstance which adds immensely to our conception of the vastness and horror of this failure. During the present century there has been a continual and ever-increasing growth in the use of steam-power and labour-saving machinery, which has been equivalent to the possession by us of a body of industrious slaves, ever labouring, patiently and without complaint, and exceeding in effective power probably ten-fold that of our whole working population. In addition to each actual workman there are, therefore, ten of these willing slaves constantly labouring for us, and every day of our lives we derive the benefit of their labour.(*3) Yet all this has only made the rich richer, the poor remaining as numerous, and, in many respects, even worse off than before we acquired this vast addition to our productive power.
(*3). There seems to be no means of getting at the exact amount of the steam-power now employed in Great Britain. A writer in the Radical newspaper states it at two million horse power. Mr. Thomas Briggs in The Peacemaker states that "in 1851 we had steam machinery which represented 500 million pair of hands," but I am informed he means by this the number which would be required to do the same work by the old hand-power machines. In a periodical called Design and Work (Vol. X. 1881), it is stated that England now employs 9 million horse-power. Taking this last estimate (which has been found for me by Mr. Anderson, one of the intelligent attendants in the British Museum Reading Room) as approximately correct, we have a power equal to 90 million men. One half our population (15 millions) consists of children and persons wholly dependent on the labours of others, and from the remainder we may deduct all the professional, literary, and independent classes, the army and navy, financiers and speculators, government officials, and most tradesmen and shopkeepers–none of whom are producers of wealth. Taking these, together with criminals, paupers, and tramps, at 6 millions, we have left 9 millions who do all the productive physical labour of the country, while the steam power at work for us is at least ten times as much.
Other sources of wealth have also been afforded us during the lives of the present generation altogether unique in the history of the world. In two hemispheres gold has been discovered in such quantities as to lead to a wonderful development of our commerce, while at the same time it has drawn off large numbers of our surplus population. Almost coincident with these great discoveries was the rise and rapid development of the railway systems of the world; and it was we English who, for a long time, had almost a monopoly of the construction of these railways. The demand for iron and coal for this purpose was enormous, and of this, too, we had the largest immediately available supply; and so eagerly did we make use of our opportunities that in one generation we have exhausted these stored-up treasures of our soil to an extent which would have supplied our home wants for centuries, and have thereby actually deteriorated our land for our descendants in order greedily to enrich ourselves.
The increase of the mere steam power employed does not, however, at all adequately represent the advantage we have over our immediate predecessors, for along with this increase of power has gone on an increased efficiency in our mode of applying that power to human uses, so that it is not improbable that each horse or man-power now employed in the production of all the countless forms of wealth which we enjoy, is five or ten times as efficient as it was a century ago. This will be clear if we think of the economy of the railway train as compared with the coach and waggon, and of the amount of clothing produced in a modern cotton-mill as compared with what was produced by the same actual power employed on the clumsy old machines of the hand-spinner and hand-weaver. Steam and electricity, and the thousand applications of modern science to the arts and industries, have economised time quite as much as they have economised mere labour. These various economies give us such an advantage over our ancestors that, although the average duration of life has been but little increased, yet, such is the intensity of modern existence that we may be said to live twice or thrice as long as they did.
What might have been Anticipated as the Result of Man’s Increasing Power over Nature.–Let anyone ask himself what ought to have been the consequence of such a vast increase of man’s power over nature? To quote the words of an eloquent and thoughtful modern writer:–”Could a man of the last century–a Franklin or a Priestly–have seen, in a vision of the future, the steamship taking the place of the sailing-vessel, the railroad-train of the waggon, the reaping-machine of the scythe, the thrashing-machine of the flail; could he have heard the throb of the engines that, in obedience to human will, and for the satisfaction of human desire, exert a power greater than that of all the men and all the beasts of burden of the earth combined; could he have seen the forest tree transformed into finished timber–into doors, sashes, blinds, boxes, or barrels, with hardly the touch of a human hand; the great workshops where boots and shoes are turned out by the case with less labour than the old-fashioned cobbler could have put on a sole; the factories where, under the eye of a girl, cotton becomes cloth faster than hundreds of stalwart weavers could have turned it out with their hand-looms; could he have seen steam-hammers shaping mammoth shafts, and delicate machinery making tiny watches; the diamond-drill cutting through the heart of the rocks, and coal-oil sparing the whale; could he have realised the enormous saving of labour resulting from improved facilities of exchange and communication–sheep killed in Australia eaten fresh in England, and the order given by the London banker in the afternoon executed in St. Francisco in the morning of the same day; could he have conceived of the hundred thousand improvements which these only suggest, what would he have inferred as to the social condition of mankind?
“It would not have seemed like an inference. Further than the vision went, it would have seemed as though he saw; and his heart would have leaped and his nerves would have thrilled, as one who from a height beholds just ahead of the thirst-stricken caravan the living gleam of rustling woods and the glint of laughing waters. Plainly in the sight of the imagination he would have beheld these new forces elevating society from its very foundations, lifting the very poorest above the possibility of want, exempting the very lowest from anxiety for the material needs of life; he would have seen these slaves of the lamp of knowledge taking on themselves the traditional curse, these muscles of iron and sinews of steel making the poorest labourer’s life a holiday, in which every high quality and noble impulse could have scope to grow.”(*4)
(*4). Progress and Poverty, by Henry George (p. 1, 2), a work, which only became known to the present writer after the greater part of the MSS of this volume was completed.
The Actual Effect.–This the anticipation, but what the reality? The great cities have all become greater, and all contain within their bounds dense masses of people living in cellars and hovels and airless, filthy courts, again and again condemned as unfit for human habitation. Many fair valleys and once fertile plains have become blasted by the smoke of our engine fires and the noxious gases from our furnaces, while almost all our once bright and limpid streams have become fetid sewers. Everywhere the workers work harder than before; they live in unsightly and unwholesome houses, packed together in rows like pens for cattle; they have no field or garden ground for profitable occupation or healthy enjoyment; their young children can get no wholesome milk, and often no playground but the alley and the kennel. Paupers and tramps abound everywhere. Men and women beg for work in all our streets, and many, failing to get it, die of want. Famine even attacks us as of old; and in the very same districts from which food or clothing is largely exported, the producers have now and again to be saved from starvation by public charity.
This is the outcome of our boasted civilisation. This is the final result of our unexampled increase in national wealth, of our improved laws, of our increased knowledge, of our vast strides in science. Our labourers not only do not participate in the comfort, refinement and relaxation which a fair share in our increased wealth would give them, but, so wretched is their condition that a great traveller in many barbarous lands solemnly declares that never among any savage tribe had he seen such utter wretchedness and degrading poverty as was to be found in Ireland at the present day. Nor is evidence wanting that the condition of some parts of England is hardly better. Professor Fawcett, in his work on “The British Labourer,” asserts that “A large proportion of our working population are in a state of miserable poverty. Many of them live in dwellings that do not deserve the name of human habitations.” In the same work he thus strongly supports the main allegations we have made in the present chapter:–
“The advance in the material prosperity of Liverpool, of Glasgow, and other centres of commerce is unprecedented, yet in close contiguity to this growing wealth there are still the same miserable homes of the poor, the same pestilential alleys, where fevers and other diseases decimate the infantile population with unerring certainty. . . . How is it that this vast production of wealth does not lead to a happier distribution? How is it that the rich seem to be constantly growing richer, while the poverty of the poor is not perceptibly diminished?” *5
*5).The British Labourer, p. 7, 1865. In order to show that these statements of Professor Fawcett are as true now as when he wrote, I will quote a few passages from a speech of Mr. Jesse Collings, M.P., at Ipswich, in October last year. He says:–"I have spent some time during the last two months in going down to the South of England to see what the increase of the labourers' wages has been. I visited districts in Worcestershire, in Hampshire, in Warwickshire, and in Wiltshire, and I found the labourer getting 10s. a week, and in one large district the men are at this moment receiving 9s. a week, out of which they have to pay 1s. 6d. a week rent, and as I sat by the hedge-side with them they would make their dinner off bread and an onion. I felt serious then; and at night when I went into their cottages, as I have done scores of times, and found the everlasting bread again for their children and themselves, with no comfort in the present, no pleasant retrospect of the past, no apparent hope for the future–one might well be a serious politician. I went into one lovely village, for the villages are lovely in England, and one regrets to see men driven from them; and there again the mother was in mourning for her child who had died of disease. I came away and called it starvation." And when doubt was thrown on his statements Mr. Collings in reply said:–"I have spent considerable time to satisfy myself; my utterance has not been mere hearsay. Go through Wiltshire, Hampshire, Worcestershire, Devonshire, and Somersetshire. There, I say, outside the influence of the towns, there are at this moment men and women with families living on 10s. a week, with no art, no science, no literature, to enlighten their lives; nothing but the everlasting grind of human toil for them."
Neither in the work here quoted nor elsewhere can I find that Professor Fawcett has given, or even attempted to give, a complete answer to this momentous question–What is the cause, or what are the causes, of this complete, this utter, this awful failure? A failure under circumstances so extremely favourable that, to anyone having these circumstances set forth beforehand, failure of this kind would have seemed impossible. A failure, be it remembered, not confined to our country alone, but one which is also manifested, though usually with less intensity, in every civilised community. The cause must be a fundamental one. It cannot depend on anything in which one civilised community differs from another civilised community–on race or on religion, on government or on climate–for all suffer, though in very different degrees, and these differences of degree will perhaps afford an important clue to the true cause as well as to the true remedy.
How to Discover the Cause of our Social Failure.–The fundamental error shown to exist in our Social System may perhaps be detected by noting the leading idea which has governed all social and industrial legislation for the last fifty years, a period on the whole of enlightened and progressive government. That ruling idea seems to have been that whatever favours and assists the production of wealth, of whatever kind, and the accumulation of capital by individuals, necessarily advances the well-being of the whole community. This idea is seen in the constant references by public writers and public speakers to our increased trade and manufactures, to our enormous exports and imports, to the high price of our public funds, to the vast extent of our shipping, to the increased amount of Income Tax, and such like indications of growing wealth and accumulated capital. And it has found expression in most of the reforms in our fiscal and industrial legislation during the last half century–reforms which have been advocated on these grounds, and have been adopted by the Legislature with this avowed object. Of such a character are–the repeal of the coal duties, leading to the use of coal as ballast and an enormously increased export; the extensive enclosures of commons, and their division among the surrounding great landowners; the encouragement of railways, even when quite unprofitable; the opening of distant lands to our commerce, even at the expense of costly wars; the Limited Liability Act to favour the extension of Joint Stock Companies; the continued enlargement of our eastern possessions, and the acquisition of fresh additions to our already too extensive Colonial system. These, with many less important measures, all tending in the same direction and advocated for a similar purpose, have been successful even beyond expectation in adding to the total wealth of the country, and more especially to that of our hereditary landowners, great merchants, great capitalists, and astute speculators. The greatly increased wealth of these classes has added largely to the emoluments of the more successful professional men–lawyers and doctors–as well as to the profits of the more enterprising traders, and thus an upper middle class has arisen far exceeding in wealth and luxurious living anything before known in England or to be met with in any other European country. But none of these legislative acts, or the movements and tendencies of which they are the expression, have had any effect towards the diffusion or equalisation of wealth, or to the diminution of that large class ever hovering on the verge of pauperism; and (so far as I know) hardly any of our recognised teachers of political economy has pointed out that the increase in the number of very wealthy people or of great capitalists (which is what all our legislation favours), so far from being beneficial, is, in every respect, antagonistic to the well-being of the community at large.
The Injurious Effects of Excessive Wealth-Accumulation.–This question is far too large to be adequately discussed here, but a few words of explanation will serve to indicate the idea sought to be conveyed, and may offer materials for deep consideration. The wealth of a country is produced solely by the working population of that country, including in that term all who produce anything that tends to human enjoyment or well-being. The laws of supply and demand, with freedom of exchange, will regulate the distribution of the products of labour, and, if all were producers and all had free access to those natural powers and agencies which furnish the raw material for human labour, the well-being of all would be ensured, since the exchangeable wealth each man could produce would far exceed what is necessary to supply the ordinary wants of existence. That this is so is proved by the fact that even the poorest countries–the poorest parts of Ireland, for example–always produce a large surplus over and above what is required for the subsistence of the inhabitants, the amount of this surplus being measured by the sum total of rent, taxes and savings. Accumulated wealth, however, introduces a disturbing agency. Just in proportion as it becomes great and can be made to produce a permanent income by investment in land or in the public funds, it leads to the existence of a large and ever-increasing class of non-producers, who necessarily live on the labour of the rest, since there is no other source from which they can live. This will be clear if we consider that the owners of the invested wealth purchase goods and pay for labour with money, which the workers first supply them with in the shape of rents for the use of land, and taxes to pay the interest on the public funds. It is clear, therefore, that all the wealth represented by these two sources is not real wealth, but, however it originated, is now merely taxation for the purpose of supporting a portion of the community without work.
This, however, is not the worst feature of such nominal wealth, for it has a tendency and a power to divert labour from the production of articles of use and beauty–beneficial wealth–to the production of such as minister only to luxury and amusement, often of a more or less wasteful and even degrading nature–injurious wealth. If we could reckon up the amount of human labour, physical and mental, expended on jewellery and fancy goods, on costly toys or elaborate displays of clothing and equipages, on horse-racing and yachting, on luxurious dinners and fashionable entertainments, we should arrive at an enormous sum total of wasted labour, energy and talent, all of which is positively injurious to the productive workers, since it is they who really have to support, by their ill-paid labour, not only the rich individually, but also that vast array of servants, artisans, and labourers, who in so many varied ways minister to their luxuries, their pleasures, or their vices. This argument is not intended to show that all accumulation of wealth is bad, for it is only by the accumulation of wealth in the form of reproductive capital that civilisation progresses; but merely that excessive wealth in the form of landed or funded property, which is perpetually transmitted from one generation to the next, is a perpetual and heavy tax on the producers of beneficial wealth.
Accumulated Wealth may be Beneficial or the Reverse.–Political economists, however, have glorified “capital” as the benefactor of mankind in general, and of the working-classes in particular; but they have not sufficiently distinguished between true productive capital–as expressed in roads and railways, mines, harbours, ships and buildings, machinery and tools, with a sufficient store of food, clothing and all other necessities of life–and the “capital” of the great fundholder or the great landholder, which, in both cases, is merely a power to appropriate the labour of others without any exertion on their part, a power not only to be supported themselves by the labour of the community, but to direct a large portion of that labour into wasteful, and even injurious, channels at their own will and pleasure. It is this latter form of capital that our recent increase in wealth has multiplied to a great and injurious extent–an extent to be measured by the immense number of persons of “independent means,” the hosts who live in the “City” by the mere manipulation of money, and the general increase of luxury in dress and living among the wealthy classes.
We are here introduced to another great question, the justice or morality of permitting permanent burdens on the community to be created for temporary purposes. Such are the wars of one Government or generation, which remain as a burden on succeeding generations; but the principle is equally applicable to all expenditure which does not produce a permanent equivalent. Thus, in our railroads the only really permanent result of the capital expenditure is the earthwork; all the rest is temporary, requiring constant annual repairs and complete renewals at greater or less intervals. Yet the cost of a large proportion of these temporary works remains as a burden on the public long after they have been worn out, in the form of interest on capital and debenture stock, so that the present generation really pays twice over for much of what it enjoys. Honesty no less than sound policy would dictate that every expenditure not producing a permanent result should be repaid out of profits, by a sinking fund calculated at somewhat less than its probable duration. The result of not doing so is that the enormous capital of our railways and of many other great industrial enterprises to a considerable extent represents no actual existing wealth, and the interest paid on it is, therefore, a tax on the travelling community and on the shareholders, for which they receive no return whatever.
How Great Accumulations of Capital Affect the Labourer.–This, however, is a digression. Let us now come back to the primary question we were discussing, of the fundamental error of our legislators in favouring the accumulation of wealth rather than its wider distribution; and let us endeavour to see exactly how this affects the labourer, and how it leads to his poverty and pauperism amidst ever-increasing national wealth.
One of the most obvious causes which leads to this sad result is the almost complete dependence of the mass of labourers in this country (as in most civilised countries) on capitalists and landowners for the means of earning a livelihood. The absence of work for daily wages means for them starvation, since they have no other resource whatever. They are, therefore, not in a condition to refuse work, at whatever wages may be offered them, and the severe competition among capitalists and manufacturers for the means of employing their capital and adding to their wealth obliges them to force down the wages of unskilled labour to the lowest point at which the labourer can live. The labourers, as a class, are thus absolutely dependent on the comparatively few capitalists–dependent on their prudence, their capacity, their honesty, and their judgment–wholly dependent on the judicious application of capital, without having any voice or any direct or immediate interest in that application. They go blindly to any labour offered them; and when, owing to reckless competition, dishonest adulteration, foreign wars, and other causes, a time of depression arrives, they are helpless. They have no means of productive home industry, they have not even a home from which they cannot be ejected at any moment on failure to pay the weekly rent; they have no land, garden, or domestic animals, the produce of which might support them till fresh work could be obtained. If they have any savings these are soon spent, and they then inevitably fall into pauperism.
The Nature of the Remedy Suggested.–The remedy for these evils is sufficiently obvious, though how the remedy is to be generally applied is not so clear. The first great evil, of dependence on capitalists, would be remedied by small associated communities of workmen, by home manufactures, or co-operative workshops. The second evil, that the labourer has no independence, no fixed home, nothing to fall back on in time of depression, nothing on which to employ his spare time and that of his family, can only be cured by giving to every labourer freedom to enjoy and cultivate a portion of his native soil. It is by this latter reform alone that the first will be rendered possible. By it the great and important class of agricultural labourers may be at once raised from chronic pauperism to comparative affluence, comfort, and independence. By it the mechanic or artisan may find a refuge from distress when his industrial occupation temporarily fails him; while the enormously increased production of food, caused by every labourer and peasant possessing land, would at once renovate the home commerce and internal resources of the country so as to render prosperous many domestic industries now languishing. It will be shown in the present volume, by the unvarying experience of all civilised nations, that the most important of all classes of labourers for the permanent prosperity of a country are those who occupy and cultivate their own land. Just in proportion as this class is extensive and varied–comprising the wealthy farmer on the one hand and the agricultural labourer with an acre or two of ground on the other–so is the country free from poverty and the people prosperous and contented; and it is because this class is so rare with us, and especially because our labourers have for generations past been more and more divorced from the soil, that we are in the disgraceful position of being at once the wealthiest and most pauperised country in Europe–that, while boasting of our religion and our philanthropy, a large proportion of our labourers live in cottages and hovels that, by the most competent authorities, have been again and again declared unfit for human habitation, necessarily leading to disease and vice, and altogether unparalleled in the civilised world for every bad quality a dwelling can possess. The facts are so uniform in character and so clearly point to one conclusion, that nothing but the circumstance of our legislators having a vested interest in the existing state of things could have so long delayed the clear perception of the causes of the evil. For not only does the same system of land-tenure always coincide with the same social phenomena, but when the system has been changed the social condition has undergone a corresponding change. This has notably been the case with France before and since the Revolution–with Prussia before and since the reform effected by Stein and Hardenberg–and with Denmark before and since the somewhat similar change of land tenure which has been effected during the present century; though it must be noted that in none of these countries had the evils of landlordism ever attained the same proportions as with us. Neither our reform of Parliament, our Free Trade policy, our vast emigration, our enormous manufacturing system, our widespread colonial empire, our maritime supremacy, nor our unprecedented accumulations of capital, have had any apparent effect in elevating our labouring classes or securing them even that measure of well-being and contentment which they attain in every country where the land is widely held and cultivated by them. We are, therefore, warranted in concluding that, in order to effect a real and vital improvement in the condition of the great mass of the English nation, not only as regards physical well-being, but also socially, intellectually, and morally, we must radically change our system of land-tenure. It is when the cultivator of the soil is its virtual owner, and all the products of his labour as well as the increased value he can confer upon the land are his own, that the maximum of human food is produced by it, the maximum of human enjoyment is derived from its cultivation, while the cultivator is, as a rule, healthy, moral and contented. In order that the largest possible number of the people may be thus benefited, and that the evils necessarily resulting from the opposite system of landlordism may be totally abolished, it is essential that the ownership of land, merely as a source of income from its rent or for commercial speculation, shall cease, and a system be substituted for it which shall make every farmer and every occupier, large or small, the virtual (but for reasons to be afterwards explained, not the absolute or unrestricted) owner of the land he cultivates or dwells upon. If the facts which lead us to this conclusion are as above stated–and an overwhelming mass of evidence will be adduced that they are so–it follows that the present system of land-tenure in this country is incompatible with the national well-being, and that every enlightened legislator, every lover of truth and justice, and every true philanthropist is bound to seek the means of changing it.
Scope of the Present Inquiry.–In the present volume I propose, as briefly as is consistent with a clear presentation of the question, to lay before my readers a sketch of the condition of the different parts of our own country and of other civilised lands as regards land-tenure, and of the corresponding effects. I shall then point out the conclusions to which the facts invariably lead us, and shall show how the evils under which we suffer may be most effectually and justly remedied. My proposals will be founded entirely on the facts recorded by the best and most impartial authorities, and I claim for my work a purely inductive character. But there is another and a most important mode of discussing the same question as a strictly scientific problem, deducing results from the admitted principles and data of political economy. This has been done with great force of logic and wealth of illustration in Mr. George’s work already alluded to. His conclusions support and his mode of argument supplements my own, and I shall, therefore, give a short summary of the essential part of his book before explaining in detail my practical scheme of Land Nationalisation.