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Of Poor Laws.

resorted to. Nor should we be too ready to complain of that high price of corn which by encouraging importation increases the supply.

As the inefficacy of poor laws, and of attempts forcibly to raise the price of labor, are most conspicuous in a scarcity, 'I have thought myself justified in considering them under this view; and as these causes of increased price received great ad. ditional force during the late scarcity from the increase of the circulating medium, I trust that the few observations which I have made on this subject will be considered as an allowable digression.

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CHAPTER VI.

Subject of Poor Laws continued.

INDEPENDENTLY of any considerationis respecting a year of deficient crops it is evident, that an increase of population without a proportional increase of food must lower the value of each man's earnings. The food must necessarily be distributed in smaller quantities, and consequently a day's labor will purchase a smaller quantity of provisions. An increase in the price of provisions will arise either from an increase of population faster than the means of subsistence, or from a different distribution of the money of the society, The food of a country which has been long peopled, if it be increasing, increases slowly and regularly, and cannot be made to answer any sudden demands; but variations in the distribution of the money of the society are not unfrequently occurring and are undoubtedly among the causes which occasion the continual variations in the prices of provisions.

Subject of Poor Laws, continued.

The poor laws of England tend to depress the general condition of the poor in these two ways. Their first obvious tendency is to increase population without increasing the food for its support. A

poor man may marry with little or no prospect of being able to support a family without parish assistance. They may be said therefore, to create the poor which they maintain ; and as the provi. sions of the country must, in consequence of the increased population, be distributed to every man in smaller proportions, it is evident that the labor of those who are not supported by parish assistance will purchase a smaller quantity of provisions than before, and consequently more of them must be driven to apply for assistance.

Secondly, the quantity of provisions consumed in workhouses, upon a part of the society that cannot in general be considered as the most valuable part, diminishes the shares that would otherwise belong to more industrious and more worthy members, and thus, in the same manner, forces more to become dependent. If the poor in the workhouses were to live better than they do now, this new distribution of the money of the society would tend more conspicuously to depress the condition of those out of the workhouses by occasioning an advance in the price of provisions.

Subject of Poor Laws, continued.

Fortunately for England, a spirit of independence still remains among

the
peasantry. The

poor laws are strongly calculated to eradicate this spirit. They have succeeded in part; but had they succeeded as completely as might have been expected, their pernicious tendency would not have been so long concealed.

Hard as it may appear in individual instances, dependent poverty ought to be held disgraceful. Such a stimulus seems to be absolutely necessary to promote the happiness of the great mass of mankind; and every general attempt to weaken this stimulus, however benevolent its intention, will always defeat its own purpose. If men be induced to marry from the mere prospect of parish provision, they are not only unjustly tempted to bring unhappiness and dependence upon themselves and children, but they are tempted without knowing it, to injure all in the same class with themselves.

The parish laws of England appear to have contributed to raise the price of provisions, and to lower the real price of labor. They have therefore contributed to impoverish that class of people whose only possession is their labor. It is also difficult to suppose that they have not power

Subject of Poor Laws, continued.

fully contributed to generate that carelessness and want of frugality observable among

the

poor, so contrary to the disposition generally to be re. marked

among petty tradesmen and small farmers. The laboring poor, to use a vulgar expression, seem always to live from hand to mouth. Their present wants employ their whole attention; and they seldom think of the future. Even when they have an opportunity of saving they seldom exercise it; but all that they earn beyond their present necessities goes, generally speaking, to the alehouse. The poor laws may therefore be said to diminish both the power and the will to save among the common people, and thus to weaken one of the strongest incentives to sobriety and industry, and consequently to happiness.

It is a general complaint among master manufacturers that high wages ruin all their workmen; but it is difficult to conceive that these men would not save a part of their high wages for the future support of their families, instead of spending it in drunkenness and dissipation, if they did not rely on parish assistance for support in case of accidents. And that the poor employed in manufactures consider this assistance as a reason why they may spend all the wages which they earn, and en

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