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ESSENTIAL TO THE
Welfare of Great Britain,
CAUSE OF THE PRESENT DISTRESSED
STATE OF THE COUNTRY,
AND THE CONSEQUENT
INCREASE OF PAUPERISM, MISERY, AND CRIME,
TO WHICH ARE ADDED,
SOME OBSERVATIONS ON TWO LETTERS
RIGHT HON. ROBERT PEEL, M. P.
BY ONE OF HIS CONSTITUENTS.
The First, on the Pernicious Effects of a Variable Standard of Value; the
Second, on the Causes of the Increase of Pauperism, &c.
“ The object of those, who really wish to better the condition of the lower classes of society, must be to raise the relative proportion between the price of labour and the price of provisions, so as to enable the laborer to command a larger share of the necessaries and comforts of life.”
BY JOHN CLAY.
A DESIRE to ascertain the cause of the distressed situation of the laboring classes, in 1816 and 1817, first turned my attention to the subject of political economy, as connected with the subsistence of the poor. After an attentive consideration of the subject, it appears to me, that the generally received opinion, that the price of the necessaries of life governs wages, or, in other words, that the natural, governs the market, price of labor, is, at least so far as relates to this country, erroneous.
For it is clear, that the price of manufactured articles is not advanced, in a country which exports them, by a rise in the price of agricultural produce, which does not extend to other countries, though manufactures are only agricultural produce in another form. If this be correct, whatever artificially raises the price of the necessaries of life, must increase pauperism, and cause the great bulk of the population to suffer much distress.
Unfortunately, experience has too fully confirmed the truth of this inference, and must have convinced most people, that something is radically defective in the present system. But so far from attributing the present distress to its true cause, viz. restrictions on the importation of foreign agricultural produce, one part of the community have presented numerous petitions to the House of Commons, for an increase of these restrictions, which, instead of being found a remedy for the evil, would greatly increase it, even to the petitioners themselves. In opposition to the prayer of these petitions, this pamphlet was prepared for publication, two or three months ago ; but the reception which they met with in Parliament was such as seemed to render its immediate publication unnecessary. Since then, however, alterations have been proposed in the Poor Laws, calculated to throw still heavier burdens upon those classes, which are already suffering much, from the same cause as that which increases pauperism. Most of the members also, who presented the petitions to the House of Commons, did not object to their principle, but only that this was not the proper time to legislate upon the subject ; and, as similar petitions are already preparing to be presented, in the next sessions of parliament, when it is understood a great effort is to be made to obtain, what is falsely called additional protection to agriculture, it appears highly necessary, that the effects of raising the price of the necessaries of life, by artificial means, should be more generally understood than they appear to be at present.
Though sorry that the task has not fallen into abler hands than mine, yet I should feel it a gross dereliction of the duty which I owe to my country, if I did not endeavour to call the attention of the public to a system, which, so long as it is persisted in, can produce nothing but distress and misery to the great body of the nation; and which must, eventually, prove ruinous, even to that class, whose present interest it appears to promote.
“During the continuance of the late war, while other orders of the community were burdened with taxes, the pressure of which many classes of society had no means of alleviating, the landholder, by his increased rents, not only parried off the taxes, but even enjoyed a larger revenue ; while most other classes of the community were depressed, the land-proprietor rose; his capital was improved, and his revenue increased." ;
But though the landholder did receive more benefit than any other class of society, yet the great bulk of the nation was not injured. At that time we were completely masters of the sea, and many countries were obliged to give us our own prices for our manufactures, because they could obtain similar articles through no other channel. As the same cause which prevented the importation of raw produce, enabled the manufacturer to obtain monopoly prices for his commodities, he had no right to complain of having to pay a monopoly price for the produce of the farmer. When peace was made corn could be imported, and it was soon found, that with the doubled and tripled rents which our farmers had to pay, they could not compete with the foreign agriculturist. Laws were passed in consequence, which raised the price at which wheat could be imported, from 63s. to 80s. per quarter, and that of other grain in a similar proportion; and duties were imposed on the importation of butter, cheese, seeds, and almost every other commodity that came into competition with our own produce. During the war, as we have before observed, people engaged in
! Dr. Crombie's Letter on the Agricultural Interest, p. 62.